The Common Good
September-October 2002

Be afraid. Be very afraid. (It's the law.)

by Ed Spivey Jr. | September-October 2002

Those of you just back from vacation might need a quick reminder about the state of the
world. It's not good.

Those of you just back from vacation might need a quick reminder about the state of the world. It's not good. But you wouldn't know that, would you, since you were away on that annual orgy of beach-related self-centeredness, ignoring our wounded planet and wallowing in the unearned privileges of the American leisure class.

I know I did.

Well, there's a lot more to be afraid of now that you're back (and no, it's not because you're back— please, this isn't about you), and the government is making darn sure we don't forget any of it. Turns out, over the past few months federal officials got a little lax in warning us about the many threats to our way of life, and I'm not just talking about the brain-dissolving toxins recently discovered emanating from Menthos commercials.

No, these are SERIOUS threats, the kind that make President Bush talk publicly about being "firm in our resolve" and "resolute in our strength" and "Hey, I had to cancel the barbecue because of this!"

Now the federal government is taking every threat seriously, and has ordered that citizens caught having a good day are to be immediately stopped and reminded that, at any moment, SOMETHING REALLY BAD COULD HAPPEN!

Paper cut? CIA: "Told you so."

Funny noise in the bathroom? FBI: "Made you look."

Tummy ache from that second tube of Pringles? Department of Homeland Security: "Hey, if you want to live life on a razor's edge like that, don't blame us."

AND IF THAT WASN'T BAD ENOUGH, now we're told that federal agents discovered a plot to detonate a dirty bomb in Washington, D.C. A "dirty bomb"—which, it's safe to say, will never be featured in Martha Stewart Living—is particularly dangerous, experts tell us, because it could release hundreds of Fox News crews on unsuspecting Americans and subsequently fill the airwaves with the kind of commentary that should only be viewed from under your bed. While holding your blankie.

Not to be outdone by the previous paragraph, government officials are quick to add that there are OTHER really scary things that could be used against us, too, like car bombs and shoulder-fired missiles, although thank goodness neither of these is available in this country. Except at gun shows.

But don't worry, a terrorist can't just walk up and buy anything from gun show salesmen (motto: "Look, it's none of my business"). First he has to wait the five-day cooling off period, otherwise known as the "five days to work on your sinister plan" period. But hopefully by then federal SWAT teams would have burst through the front door and forced the occupants to lay face down on the floor, at least until one of them finally said, "Excuse me, officers, but I think you want the wacko next door. He left earlier in an unmarked van full of fertilizer. But while you're here, would you mind bursting into his garage and getting my lawn mower back? I think it's in the corner behind the hand grenades he got off e-Bay."

BUT NOT TO WORRY, these latest frightful announcements have unleashed one of the most powerful forces in our nation's arsenal of defense: Sunday morning talk shows. Every weekend, with dramatic music playing in the background (in case you forgot how important this stuff is) we watch such shows as "Meet the Press" and "This Week With Sam Donaldson's Eyebrows" (soon to be replaced by "This Week With George Stephanopoulos' Boyishly Rugged Jawline") where wealthy journalists ask wealthy political leaders about the fate of ordinary Americans, people that neither has actually met. There, in the "electronic marketplace of ideas," government representatives candidly reveal where they were when they first realized it was someone else's fault. It's a spirited "give and take" of ideas, with the seasoned journalists occasionally looking up from their Lexus accessories catalog to ask hard-hitting questions—the kind designed to make politicians squirm—such as, "Have you noticed how rotten the valet parking service is downtown?"

It's freedom of the press, one of America's most cherished principles, and something the people of Iraq have never experienced. Which is why we should immediately send Tim Russert over there to explain—with dramatic music playing in the background—why he gets paid so much for sitting in a chair on Sundays looking bug-eyed. (And then he could explain why he has a "Saddam Wears Women's Undergarments" T-shirt in his luggage, which we put there just for fun.)

Ed Spivey Jr. is art director of

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