The sad thing is that Hugh has some sensible things to say, especially in the parts about fortifying the spirits by concentrating on the things you can control in your life, rather than confronting the danger international terrorism poses to the Sydney Opera House and the danger of contracting SARS from an overseas traveller with worry. I'm certainly finding that time spent watching goldfish mate is time well spent. I suspect some people might consider that a little perverse and regard the times I occasionally spend playing with a friend's dog "healthier". So would I, if I didn't occasionally suspect that some of her (the dog's) friendliness arises from hopes that can't be realised without breaking one or two laws and a few moral proscriptions. These questions don't arise with goldfish: one can pretend a purely scientific interest in the proceedings. At this point, I think it might be wise to end this digression.
What makes Hugh's advice unwelcome is that his quietly alarmist opening reinforces the very worries he advises us to simply avoid: especially his remark that international terrorism is likely to cross our threshhold very soon. Anyone who wants to remind Hugh of this stupid statement when he comes out with a column opposing the ASIO Bill won't get any disagreement from me.
A more productive alternative to Hugh's "Don't worry, fuck like minks, do the gardening, be happy" approach is to confront these big problems not with worry, but with reason. This is the approach advocated by Barry Glasner, author of The Culture of Fear: Why Americans Are Afraid of the Wrong Things (I haven't really read it - I heard him on the radio). It's a matter of asking the right questions, getting the facts and making a realistic assessment of the risk.
Dealing with all the concerns that arise from Mackay's article would take at least two posts, possibly of Den Bestean length and earnestness. As I'm trying not to do earnestness this week, I'll just finish by dealing with them quickly, in question and answer format.
Has our involvement in the war in Iraq increased the risk that terrorists will pick Australia as their next target?
On balance probably not, and not to a significant degree. For different reasons, both sides of politics have a vested interest in convincing you that it has, so don't expect either to provide an unbiased assessment of the risk.
What are my chances of catching SARS from an overseas traveller?
Damn small: most of the suspected SARS cases that have been found, in Victoria at least, have turned out to be something else. If you're really worried talk to your doctor about it. Find out what symptoms you need to watch for.
Is my suspicion that my friend's dog has a crush on me the sort of wishful thinking that shows that I'm a pathetic and rather desperate person?
Let's not go into that.