Serving All Your Phobia Needs

By Molly Ivins

At the mythical Fearmonger's Shoppe ("Serving all your phobia needs") in Lake Wobegon last week, there was a special on ways to prevent your early death from the frightful menace of bad handwriting by doctors. A puzzled pharmacist studies an impenetrable prescription and mutters: "Hmm, hmm, looks like 50 milligrams arsenic ... odd. ... Oh well") and you go home. In eight hours, you're lying in a huge refrigerator and your family is planning the memorial service.

Poor penmanship among doctors is estimated to cause as many as 198,000 deaths a year. I bring this up because my reaction to this wonderful whimsy was, "I bet it's happened." And that brings us to the most useful paranoia in our public life: growing concerns about privacy.

Paranoia has its uses, and the good news is that our well-justified paranoia about people collecting information about us is finally beginning to make the politicians stir. Unfortunately, it will have to get a lot worse before it moves the pols beyond their gratitude for big campaign contributions from the high-tech industry. The dirty little secret of the information age is that what it sells is information, and information about us is where much of its profit will come.