Fear can make us foolish

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Editorial: Fear can make us foolish

Stocked up on silicone yet? How about a gas mask and Spam?

By Register Editorial Board


-------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Stores across the country have sold out of American flags. Now they're selling out of gas masks, bottled water, ammunition, silicone and canned goods. Pharmacies can't keep certain antibiotics in stock. Americans are shopping as if they're worried about the future.

It's no surprise when people behave this way. A forecast of snow sends Midwesterners rushing to the grocery store. The evening of Sept. 11 found motorists waiting in long lines to get gasoline. In the "50s, building bomb shelters and stockpiling Spam were common responses to nuclear threats. Perhaps it's just human nature to prepare to preserve oneself.

But this wouldn't be the first time human nature was responsible for what could be dubbed baseless behavior. Silicone to spread on skin so one doesn't absorb anthrax spores as easily and quickly? What would guns and ammunition do in the event of an air raid except keep the neighbors from stealing your bottled water? (Which, incidentally, is more vulnerable than tap water to tampering). There are reports of people carrying "emergency packs." Included is a pair of tennis shoes in case one needs to run quickly.

Then there's the rush of individuals to keep antibiotics on hand in case of exposure to anthrax. Apparently, thousands of people across the country are requesting prescriptions for the antibiotic Cipro from their doctors. It's believed this can be used to treat the deadly anthrax bacteria. Believed. There is nothing, however, that demonstrates it would have any effect. Some experts claim it would be useless, and any potential remedy would have to be administered before symptoms appear.

Public-health officials are chiming in with the voice of reason, reminding Americans that there is no way to prepare for the long list of infectious diseases that could wreak havoc on densely populated cities. It's unreasonable to prepare for one thing when the risk could be a variety of things - or no risk at all.

Yes, this is a scary time. America has just experienced a tragedy of unprecedented magnitude, and people will react out of fear. But the fear shouldn't make us foolish. Someone once said there are two kinds of fools: those who suspect nothing and those who suspect everything. There must be a happy medium between the two extremes.


-- Martin Thompson (mthom1927@aol.com), October 02, 2001


<<< there is no way to prepare for the long list of infectious diseases that could wreak havoc on densely populated cities >>>

Well, except the obvious (and obviously impractical for all people -- but very possible for each of us *as an individual*): GET OUT OF THE CITIES! GET OUT OF THE CITIES! GET OUT OF THE CITIES!

I seem to recall reading that litany once before, say, Gary North and Y2K. Oh that was so long ago...back when doomers were doomers, instead of mainstream (grin).

--Andre, (who moved to "the boonies" in 1996, before he had ever heard of Y2K...)

-- Andre Weltman (aweltman@state.pa.us), October 02, 2001.

And to further the point, here's one of many similar articles being run about New Yorkers wondering if they want to become ex-New Yorkers:


Headline: Even N.Y.'s Toughest Ask Whether There's (Better) Life Outside the City

Source: Los Angeles Times, 2 October 2001

URL: http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/nation/la- 000078754oct02.story?coll=la%2Dheadlines%2Dnation%2Dmanual

NEW YORK -- For all the talk of resistance and resolve, there is another conversation taking place among shaken New Yorkers about abandoning the city of their dreams for fear of more terror.

From a makeup artist who lives in a fourth-floor walk-up in Hell's Kitchen to a well-heeled movie producer who used to see the World Trade Center at the end of her SoHo block, the dilemma nags: To leave or not to leave. To flee or fight. To give up on a city where some have lived for decades and have sunk deep roots, or to escape a perceived threat of as much horror as the imagination will conjure.

These tense, on-the-one-hand, on-the-other-hand conversations with spouses, friends and family are often hard to resolve because many do not see a way out. Other places do not readily offer jobs, friends, a home. Others places are not New York. There are some who have fled already. But mostly people are still just talking, imagining a life elsewhere, parsing through what relocating would mean, even if it is just a move off the island of Manhattan or away from Brooklyn and Queens to nearby suburbs where, as these New Yorkers see it, at least the children would be safe in the event of another attack.

Real estate agents in towns ringing the city have been swamped with calls from urbanites, with money in hand, looking to rent or buy.

"I've had more phone calls in the last 10 days than I have ever had," says Lydia Maria Petrosino, an agent in Bronxville, N.Y. Nearly all mention the attacks, she says. "They want to come out to a quieter, gentler place."

Those most eager to leave had been debating a move in a couple of years, but the need seems more immediate since Sept. 11. One customer told Dan Ginnel, a Bedford Hills, N.Y., agent: "Three years went by in a week."

Some like Brian Pew, a filmmaker, and his fiancee, an Internet consultant, packed up their Queens apartment a few days after the disaster and drove to the airport. They got on a plane to Budapest, Hungary, where she was born, and have no plans to return. Or consider Dave Sellers' three friends, all in their 20s and working as waiters with him at downtown restaurants: All vanished from the city, all now living with their parents--in Pennsylvania, upstate New York and Australia.

"These aren't people like me, born and raised in New York," says Sellers, whose parents live 15 blocks from him and who remains loyal to the city.

"They're contributing to the faceless enemy," he says. "OK, if the other shoe drops, we will all look stupid and they'll look smart. But until then, I'm in the foxhole, staying put."

Los Angeles faced similar angst and population shifts in the 1990s after the race riots and the Northridge earthquake.

'No Reason to Have This Increased Fear'

Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, hearing of New Yorkers' fears of biological or chemical attacks, has urged them not to give in to what lurks in the darkest part of their minds, but to carry on, to go back to normal life.

"Life is risky," he said recently, downplaying possibilities of another attack. "There's no reason to have this increased fear. That incident was a once-in-our-history incident. . . . The chances of your being victimized by a crime, your being hurt, harmed on a day-to- day basis are very, very small, and people should feel some confidence."

But Lisa Katselas, the producer from SoHo, does not feel confidence in New York anymore. The morning she woke up and started thinking about moving out of New York, she says, it felt like she had fallen out of love overnight.

Since coming here 30 years ago, Katselas, 42, had never stopped experiencing the city's charms. A stroll past the stores on Madison Avenue, a fantasy about owning a townhouse in Gramercy Park, or something as simple as a lovely evening in a busy neighborhood restaurant still struck a chord in her after all those years. But now, she says, "the thrill is gone."

She spent the first week after the attack with an aunt in Princeton, N.J., returning only because her 2-year-old was to start preschool. "Do I want a bunch of terrorists to chase me out of my house?" she asks, answering before she can catch her breath, "No, no. But then I think I would want them to chase me out if that meant at least I and my daughter and husband would be alive."

She escaped to a country house on Long Island the second weekend after the attack. But the return to Manhattan was agonizing because she was so wrought with what-ifs--what if she was on Long Island and there was another attack and the bridges were closed and food and water supplies gave out. She says, "We'd be trapped.

"We've agreed for now to take it one day at a time," she says. "We're pretending like we're getting on with life."

Natasha Steinhagen was similarly infatuated with New York for seven years since moving here from Houston to be a Broadway makeup artist. She too is weighing an escape, perhaps returning to live with family in Texas after her current show, "Kiss Me Kate," closes.

"I just got off the phone with my family, and they're like, 'Come home now!' " she says.

Steinhagen, 38, lives alone in a small West 46th Street apartment that she now feels is dangerously close to Times Square and other places symbolic enough to possibly attract a terrorist's ire.

"When I heard the Empire State Building had a bomb scare, I was so sick to my stomach I went into the bathroom and threw up," she says. "That's getting too close to my home."

Without a car, without a place nearby to go, without her family around her, she can not calculate how she would get out in a hurry, how she would survive more horror. Her mind races as she discusses her strategies. She then slows down, her Southern drawl resurfaces, and she tries to describe what it would be like to return to working in regional theater.

"I'm scared to stay here and scared to leave," she says. "Of course I have some place to go, but then I have to rebuild my life again."

Then she lingers on a fear that people in cities across America are having these days: "Are we safe anywhere? Is Houston really that much safer than New York?"

This intense debate has drawn many couples into daily arguments, in which they flip-flop in their roles. One day, he wants to leave and she wants to stay; the next, she's gone and he's a "dyed-in-the-wool" New Yorker.

Torn Over What to Do Next

Irene and Frederick Franklin were raising three children in a Battery Park apartment before their lives and neighborhood were upended by the adjacent World Trade Center devastation.

Their building now is filled with debris, their rent-stabilized apartment still shuttered. They are living with their children--ages 2, 5 and 9--in hotels, aided by the Red Cross. And they seem to be in a permanent state of disagreement over what to do next.

Mostly, Frederick, who is 44 and in the jewelry business, wants to go. Irene, who is 45 and a homemaker, wants to remain.

"My husband thinks we should take the kids and move to the suburbs, even though his business is in midtown," Irene Franklin says. "I'm a little suburb-phobic."

But she can also understand why it might be better for the kids not to set foot again in the old neighborhood. She does not want the constant reminders, like the cleanup effort, which the mayor expects will take at least a year. She also fears how her family will adjust to the towers being gone, stores being closed and fewer people walking around.

"That might be an issue for them, as well as for me," she says.

Debbie Stoller, an editor of a magazine for young women, is wistful for her graduate school days, when a friend would rhapsodize about wanting to live on an island, and she and her boyfriend would shout gleefully at her: "Yeah. Like the island of Manhattan."

"I had such hopes," she says.

Now, Stoller, 38, wants out. She has not ridden the subways since Sept. 11 or left her East Village apartment often. But she feels trapped by her job.

"My parents just moved to a retirement community where they're allowed to have one adult child live with them and I can honestly tell you that in the last two weeks I've actually thought about going there so I can swim in the pool and see birds out my window."

Will she do it?

"Ask me tomorrow," she says. "And then the day after and the day after that."

-- Andre Weltman (aweltman@state.pa.us), October 02, 2001.

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