The Barbershop has re-located

The proprietor has moved the shop to ChicagoNow, a Chicago Tribune site that showcases some of the best bloggers in the Chicago area. You can logo on to the Barbershop home page here. The ChicagoNow home page is here.

You'll still be able to post comments with the same ease as in this location. The proprietor also will keep this web site alive if you wish to review old posts.

Monday, July 30, 2007

When fear (about everything) lurks around every corner

By Dennis Byrne
Chicago Tribune

I'm done. I'm alarmed out. Alarm numbness has set in.

There's no escaping the alarms about our lives, nation, globe and universe. The number of alarms issued by experts, politicians and media has become, well, alarming. Everywhere we turn, we're greeted with more "alarming" news. NBC's evening news guy Brian Williams, for one, can't seem to get through a single show without once saying, "In alarming news, ..."

Alarming news about our health, children, marriage, weather, life savings, retirement, schools, national security, politics, religion, driving, environment?go ahead, name any topic, and you'll discover something alarming about it. So many alarms are going off at the same time that it has become impossible to know which one we ought to be alarmed about. Or, we're so overwhelmed, we can't pay attention to any of them.

Take a ride on Google News, and you'll find stories about "alarming cop vacancies," "alarming evolution of germs," "young pitching arms breaking down at alarming rates," "reducing the alarming trade gap," "the alarming spread of fascism in Putin's Russia," "car rental excise taxes proliferate at alarming rate," "alarming rise in global HIV," "teen sex trends hit alarming plateau," "Kashmir battles alarming increase in suicides," "alarming increase" in multiple driving-under-the influence cases in Sheboygan County, "alarming number of tourists go without travel insurance." This, in just a few hours.

Wait, breaking news; this just in from a Google News alert: The dry spell in Northern Luzon threatens a "very alarming impact on agriculture, water resources, health conditions and energy supply" and could last months, the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration said.

Now back to our regular programming: The European Union says it is "very alarming" that not enough companies have "independent directors" on their boards to limit the potential of abuse. "Very alarming," I guess is one notch above merely alarming, which is akin to just an orange, rather than a red, homeland threat level.

None of which may be as alarming as the two-for-one alarm, as in the "double dose of alarming reports" that Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) cited when arguing that America should get out of Iraq pronto. Which makes, I should imagine, the alarming report of thousands of dead carp in Ontario's cottage country only half as alarming. Which is about as much "cause for alarm" as the bazookas, snakes and toys stuffed with narcotics making their way into Canada through the mail.

Rates are alarming -- whether increasing or decreasing, such as "anorexia [in India] rising at an alarming rate," or "Tibet warming at an alarming rate." Most frequently alarming, of course, is global alarming, err, warming. Even in Chattanooga, Tenn., the local Kiwanis Club couldn't escape a professor's warning that "global warming trends are alarming" and that "it's kind of like we're running out of time." From China we hear about "glaciers melting at alarming rate."

Health alarms are prolific and sometimes conflicting, such as "84 percent of sunscreen products are harmful to health, says alarming [study]." If you're befuddled by that, plenty of clear-cut health alarms are available: "[The World Health Organization] warns of alarming health situation in Sri Lanka," "Aluminum and possible alarming health hazards," "Alarming health statistics -- Obesity," "New research reveals alarming increase in mental health prejudice," "Alarming health effects of global warming," "secondhand smoke is an 'alarming' public health hazard," "Rising trade in human organs is alarming," on and on to dumbfounding lengths.

The job of alarming us has turned into a mega business. The alarmers usually are found lurking in non-profit "public-interest" groups, whose members make a profitable living spinning out news releases about the latest "risk" at dizzying speed. An editor who tries to read and evaluate them all is guaranteed permanent brain damage. Reporters who try to verify every claim end up disappearing into a quagmire of minutiae.

Perhaps we haven't gone far enough. We need a company (consultants take note) that can rate the alarms for everyone. A 10 would be a comet five minutes away from hitting New York City. A 1 or a 0 would be anything that Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) calls alarming.

Far be it for me to diminish the importance of any of these alarms, but we need a breather. The act of being alarmed is a subjective thing, rooted in the mind and emotions of the beholder. If I'm alarmed, I'll know it. I don't need the likes of Brian Williams and the rest of alarmhood to tell me when I'm scared. So, just shut up, will ya; we are all exhausted.


7 comments:

Anonymous said...

Dennis Byrne says he is exhausted from being told he should be alarmed about things. He can't contain his disdain for the evil nonprofit organizations who are warning us about dangers in our environment, to our health, and so on. Funny that he didn't mention the USA's Alarmist-in-Chief, George W. Bush, who is still milking 9/11, six years later.

Anonymous said...

Are Dennis Bryne's examples of "Alarming Events" exclusive of the fear mongering tactics employed by this administration for political gain since 2001?

Dan Houghton said...

Well said, anonymous. I'm always left wondering if Byrne is on Karl Rove's payroll.

Adam Grymkowski said...

Mr. Byrne, the truly alarming thing is that the arrogant statements you've been pounding around remind me of the Bush-Cheney team you seem to not be alarmed at all. And yes, indeed, shup up because we are all exhausted and very alarmed by your ignorance and insensitivity.

Adam Grymkowski said...

The truly alarming thing is that the arrogant statements Byrne has been pounding around remind me of the Bush-Cheney team he seems to not be alarmed about at all. And yes, indeed, shut up Byrne because we are all very exhausted and alarmed by your ignorance.

lake county democrat said...

I think Michael Moore's high point comes at the end of Bowling for Columbine, when he makes a suprisingly subtle, nuanced argument that the endless hyping of fear in the media (out of whack with statistical dangers) is uniquely American and has made us a more violent society. Michael Chricton does something similar in "State of Fear."

anderballs said...

"The alarmers usually are found lurking in non-profit "public-interest" groups, whose members make a profitable living spinning out news releases about the latest "risk" at dizzying speed."

Really? The alarmists are USUALLY found in non-profit groups? That is an AWFULLY broad statement. Oh, by the way, it's also false.

Sounds to me like you're just trying to alarm people about the dangers of non-profits.

You actually had a great article going for a while...but none of your "alarming" examples had much to do with non-profits. Sounds to me like you're trying to hide your true agenda. Now THAT is alarming.