Jewish World Review Jan. 6, 2002 / 3 Shevat, 5763

Jerry Nachman

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Consumer Reports

Year of the frayed nerve | In the Chinese calendar, this is the year of the horse. In our calendar, we are saying goodbye to the year of the frayed nerve. From terror threats to eroded savings, we have worried about a lot of things this year. Alex Johnson, correspondent, has written about our fears and loathing. Below, is a list of the things we worried about it 2002.


The way we travel is gone. It used to be fear of flying. Now the anxiety is before the plane ever takes off.

"Now, even though the law says that your bags must be screened by electronic devices, a lot of them are still going to be checked only by bomb-sniffing dogs or by guards actually opening up your bags and going through them," says Johnson.


"What really bothered people was not so much the Anthrax, because a lot of that was confined to late last year and sort of dribbled over into this year," says Johnson. "What really scared people was a very small contained series of mail bombings that took place in the Midwest last spring."

In the world headquarters of MSNBC for example, people cannot get flower deliveries here. If someone wants to send somebody a floral bouquet, it sits on the loading dock all day until you go out and claim it and take it home. A basic thing like that changes our lives.

"In fact, if you want to send a letter to the editor of your local newspaper, for many newspapers, you can't do that anymore," Johnson adds. "A lot of them now accept only e-mail or faxes precisely because of that."


Then there was the Washington sniper. And we had a police chief saying, "Your children are not safe." A community was shut down: Kids stopped playing outdoors, people stopped going to restaurants, and people stopped going to the movies.

"I lived in D.C. for many, many years," says Johnson. "And I talked with a lot of my friends who still live there. Most of them were reduced to, if they needed to fill their car, they would get out of the car, put the hose into the tank, and then get back in the car and lock the doors until it stopped pumping. And then they would do this little sort of dance around the bay trying to make sure they weren't standing in one position."

Since stress is a cumulative problem, are we as a people are getting stressed by this accumulation of anxiety and fear?

"I think that's precisely what happened in 2002," says Johnson. "If you look at what happened this year and you look at the actual people whom these events affected, we're not really talking about most of America. Most Americans didn't get any mail bombs. Most Americans didn't receive an anthrax letter. Most Americans are not in the military and certainly are not going to be going to Iraq. Most Americans did not lose their jobs. Most Americans didn't get sick from something they ate. Most Americans didn't get manhandled at the airport. But the accumulation of the reports of all of these things bred a sense in, I think, a lot of Americans think that if I'm going to go outside my door, I need a guard with me."

We tend to relate to poignant stories, like the abduction and murder of several young kids last year - it doesn't matter that it's a statistical anomaly. Every parent felt it.

"In fact, the rate of child abductions has been falling consistently. And this year was the smallest number for many years," says Johnson. "One thing I think that may contribute to this is when a lot of these long-term events that happen every year- like shark attacks or child abductions -started up several years ago, we didn't have three 24-hour cable news networks bringing every detail to America."


"The tech economy, until it started imploding, was sort of assumed to have been the buttress for keeping everything afloat. And it was the tech economy that really brought us down," says Johnson. "While the Dow Jones on the year was down 16 percent through last week, it was the NASDAQ, which is a tech-heavy index that was down a full 30 percent for this calendar year. The Nasdaq lost 30 percent of its value in 12 months. And that's including what was a pretty significant jump in October that was wiped completely off the books."


Johnson is not so sure. "We still don't know what the full fallout from the business scandals is going to be. We still have all of the trials involved with Enron and WorldCom. That fallout is still going to have to come along and that will have an impact on the economy. And then there another thing that is going to have a big impact on the economy: Historically, whenever the United States goes into military action, there's a short-term sort of economic rally, followed a few months later by a fairly serious decline. And that is what happened in 1991."

JWR contributor Jerry Nachman is vice president and editor-in-chief of MSNBC, and the host of “Nachman,” which airs at 5 p.m. ET, weekdays on MSNBC. A former radio reporter, newspaper Editor-in-Chief, and even Hollywood screenwriter, he is the recipient of the prestigious Peabody Award, an Edward R. Murrow Award from the Radio-Television News Directors Association and an Emmy Award, plus numerous others. He has served twice as a Pulitzer Prize Juror in the Journalism competition. Comment by clicking here.


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