Jack Tame: Forever alert to an eternal threat

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My kingdom for some face cream! Does that wrinkle stuff work under your eyes? What about those caffeine pills at petrol stations: do they make any tangible difference?

It doesn't matter now, anyway. They've probably sold out. And though I'm far from the only person in America with eyes like blobs of toothpaste hanging out from an old tube, I could still really ... go for ... some sleep ...

It wasn't the 7.30am visit from the power meter-reader that did it. Nor could it be entirely blamed on the series of drunken phone calls I received from friends in California (so you've found a bar serving $3 margaritas, have you? Bra-vo).

No, if anything I've been reduced to a bumbling, weary despot by months of state-ordered living at the opposite extreme. For we, in America, are always on alert.

I don't intend to criticise the United States for evacuating its missions this week. Nineteen consulates and embassies shut up shop after an intercepted threat from al-Qaeda raised the US threat level to "extremely high". Given the attack on the consulate in Benghazi last year, it wouldn't have been the greatest look to leave hundreds of people in potential harm's way - but the threat and subsequent security extended all the way home.

It's usually tourists, hawkers and perverts in movie costumes that clog up Times Square. This week it's a slow-moving mass of bored-out-of-their-minds New York cops.

In California, though, they had to contend with an "amber alert" as well. Millions of residents were startled on Tuesday night by an irritating alarm droning from their cellphones. It spread news of a reported child abduction and gave the suspect's number plate - undoubtedly important stuff.

But given the alert had never been used before, and almost everyone with a smartphone in California received it, the blaring noise left more than a few startled, confused, and very awake. With a bit of luck it might've even startled some $3-margarita'd friends.

The same thing happens in New York State throughout the year. Blaring automatic messages are sent to anyone using a New York cell tower whenever there's a severe weather warning. The first time I was woken by one I snapped out of bed, panicked by an apparent impending flash flood. By the fifth time my cellphone blared at me, I didn't even read the message. I suppose that's the thing about being alert. Worthy as whatever the cause or threat may be, saturation of caution makes everyone a bit blase. It's like the kid who cried wolf: you never know when it's actually a biggie.

I want to help you, kid! But I've got fresh sheets and plumped pillows and just had a glass of milk. I'm afraid I'm out for the count.

- Herald on Sunday

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