Sorry I've been a bad blogfriend. I'll be better after this weekend.
My BossLady told me I was "a calming influence" late yesterday afternoon. Gods, if there was such a thing as Office Oscars, I'd at least be one of the nominees. There's been a lot of scary stuff going on this week. For the past couple of afternoons, everyone in my office has spent quite a bit of time looking at the TVs in the hall that show the news. I think my heart actually skipped a beat or two on Thursday afternoon, when the Dow went down almost a thousand points. But quite a few people were about to lose their minds. If I'd had paper bags to pass out for everyone to breathe into, I'd have done it.
That's what caused the steep drop in the first place--panic. The narrative has become that it was caused by a typo. It goes a little deeper than that, definitely, but the fact is, people freaked out. Of course there was going to be a decline, given world events like that horrific oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the meltdown of the Greek economy, and the protests of belt-tightening measures by Greek people. As I tweeted, I'd have been more scared if there wasn't a decline. We're probably not going to see 11,000 again for a while, and that's okay under the circumstances. The thousand-point freefall wasn't okay, though. I realized that I still have an almost childlike faith in "experts". Don't get me wrong here. I believe in education, especially in areas I don't know well like economics, and I believe in people who have that education. But they can be as wrong, as panicky, and as human as anyone else. Then their panic feeds everyone else's panic.
This is true all over. Yesterday, Times Square was shut down due to a bomb threat. I can sort of understand that. Last Saturday, everyone's cell phones went off with news about the SUV bomb in Times Square. We were watching the Richmond race. We figured that a potentially explosive vehicle in Times Square is far more important than one on the Richmond track, so we turned it to the news. New Yorkers claim to be calm and unflappable, but there was still a bit of fear in the air this week. So someone left a cooler on the sidewalk in Times Square. It contained books and water bottles. As some tourist no doubt wondered where the hell they left their cooler and regretfully paid an inflated price for a bottled water, the cops were clearing the sidewalks. The cell phones went nuts once again. We stood in front of the TVs again. Panic, again. As my favorite T-shirt, one I sell at CafePress.com 'cause I couldn't find another, says, "Living in fear sucks."
You know what? I think I want to let the late, great Molly Ivins communicate my point for me. She wrote and I read this back in 1993, and it's stuck with me since:
[John Henry Faulk] used to tell a story about when he was a Texas Ranger, a captain in fact. He was seven at the time. His friend Boots Cooper, who was six, was sheriff, and the two of them used to do a lot of heavy law enforcement behind the Faulk place in south Austin. One day Johnny's mama, having two such fine officers on the place, asked them to go down to the hen house and rout out the chicken snake that had been doing some damage there.
Johnny and Boots loped down to the hen house on their trusty brooms (which they tethered outside) and commenced to search for the snake. They went through all the nests on the bottom shelf of the hen house and couldn't find it, so the both of them stood on tippy-toes to look on the top shelf. I myself have never been nose-to-nose with a chicken snake, but I always took Johnny's word for it that it will just scare the living shit out of you. Scared those boys so bad that they both tried to exit the hen house at the same time, doing considerable damage to both themselves and the door.
Johnny's mama, Miz Faulk, was a kindly lady, but watching all this, it struck her funny. She was still laughin' when the captain and the sheriff trailed back up to the front porch. "Boys, boys," said Miz Faulk, "what is wrong with you? You know perfectly well that a chicken snake cannot hurt you."
That's when Boots Cooper made his semi-immortal observation. "Yes ma'am," he said, "but there's some things'll scare you so bad, you hurt yourself."
And isn't that what we keep doing in this country, over and over again? We get scared so bad--about the communist menace or illegal immigration or AIDS or pornography or violent crime, some damn scary thing--that we hurt ourselves. We take the odd notion that the only way to protect ourselves is to give up some of our freedom--just trim a little, hedge a bit, and we'll all be safe after all.
As I first started writing this, one of the Staten Island ferries crashed. Once again, NYC's first responders proved themselves to be the very best in the entire world. You know what they don't do? Give themselves over to panic.
For all the mothers who've read this far, Happy Mother's Day tomorrow!
Just a few links:
"Unwed mother" may mean an educated woman in her thirties or forties.
How probable Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan might do on civil liberties issues
Finally, if you've been as preoccupied with the NHL playoffs as my wife and I have, do yourself a favor and check out this trending topic on Twitter: #nhlsexacts I may have contributed one or, um, ten.