Most ‘worst fears’ never came to pass through the years

“Let’s Stop Scaring Ourselves,” reads the cover of the Dec. 5, 2004, Parade Magazine. “From world overpopulation to Y2K to killer bees, many of the dangers we’re warned about never materialize. Isn’t it time for some healthy skepticism?” writes Michael Crichton.

Crichton, whom you may know as the author of “Jurassic Park” and several other of my favorite books, was in the process of pushing his latest novel, “State of Fear.”

He writes that for most of his life he has felt “burdened by highly publicized fears that decades later did not turn out to be true.”

Examples? He cites a 1972 statement from the science community: “The implications that our climate can soon change for the worse are too strong to be reasonably ignored.”

The author of this paper was not warning of global warming, but rather he was noting a steady drop in temperatures for 30 years and was worried about a new ice age.

Similarly, in the 1960s, experts shouted that the world’s population was so out of control that the earth would be home for 14 billion people by the year 2030.

However, fertility rates began steadily dropping, and by 1950, according to Crichton, they were about half what was predicted.

Many scientists now expect the population to peak at 9 billion and then begin to decline. The current number is around 6 billion.

Crichton’s list goes on.

We’re running out of everything. The machines are taking over. Electrical lines are giving us cancer. He does have a point, and as we ponder the predicted attack of the killer avian flu pandemic, perhaps we should receive such dire predictions with the proverbial grain of salt.

I can clearly remember taking my position under my desk as an elementary student while the air raid sirens wailed. Even then, I didn’t believe my desk would save me from a nuclear attack. But, we were instructed to practice anyway as the doomsday clock ticked toward midnight.

A couple of decades later, the Berlin Wall fell, and tensions eased. We no longer live in fear that an attack by the Soviets is imminent. These days, they don’t have the resources to attack a shopping mall. And it appears they don’t really hate us that much anyway.

Remember the killer bees that were supposed to be overrunning our neck of the woods by now? They have made some northerly advances out of Texas, but they are not the menacing swarm they were predicted to be.

Or, how about the fact that, by this decade, we were not supposed to have any more antibiotics that would work? While I am sure strains of bacteria have evolved a resistance to treatment (can I say that in Kansas?), doctors are still using medications to effectively treat infections.

More recently, we have been threatened by shark attacks, increased numbers of child-snatching perverts, a homicidal U.S. Highway 50 and that persistent green scum on our very own Marion Reservoir.

We have been warned to protect ourselves from the insidiousness of marriage-minded homosexuals, evolutionists, illegal aliens and Democrats.

We were told the sanctity of our wedding vows, our churches, our jobs as custodians and our conservative doctrines were in danger.

And, now, it’s bird flu. This is a disease that has yet to infect anyone on this continent, and it still has the power to drop the Dow by nearly 500 points.

“I’ve seen a heap of trouble in my life,” Crichton quotes Mark Twain, “and most of it never came to pass.”

* * *

I have always wondered where automakers got their ideas for new car names. It must be a monumental task.

So, on a recent trip to Lawrence for a yearbook workshop, my students and I came up with some new names, most of which will likely be rejected. But, if one of the big three auto manufacturers gives us a call, we’ll be ready.

Here are some of our favorites:

The Ford Freeloader: The perfect vehicle for the hobo at heart.

The Dodge Dork: A clear choice for the geeks among us.

The Toyota Tornado: Take one out for a spin.

The Nissan Numchuck: Comes with black-belted tires.

The Honda Hostile: For the soccer mom with an attitude.

The Dodge Deerslayer: Comes in one color…camouflage.

The Saturn Stoplight: A hybrid for people who do all their driving in the city, where electric/gas combination engines are at their best.

Though a good number of new cars seem to have alliterate names (first letters of the model that match the first letters of the brand), not all of our suggestions flow forth from the tongue.


The Chrysler Bootlegger: Designed to keep the music pirate constantly on the move and out of the reach of the FCC. Standard options (is that even possible?) include a dual CD burner and a wireless Internet system.

The PT Loser: This beauty boasts the classic lines of the Edsel and Tucker.

The Hyundai Taxpayer: A favorite among certified public accountants.

The Nissan Random: Standard features include an anti-GPS system for those who really don’t want to know where they are, and a radio that chooses a different station each time the vehicle is started.

Then, there are car names that would be just plain wrong, such as the Chrysler Cancer Coupe, the Oldsmobile Cialis or the Pontiac Grand Vomit.

Detroit might want to consider the Buick Buffalo, the largest SUV ever made, or the Bellybutton by Audi.

I also doubt any automaker, however fond of the numbering system for cars it may be, would stoop so low as to name a car the Mazda 666 or the Cadillac 1040EZ.

Of course, you never know. Look at some of the actual car names we’ve been blessed with lately.

Slide down the hill in a Chevy Avalanche. Sing the praises of the Nissan Stanza. Attempt to pronounce the Volkswagen Touareg.

Perhaps our prospective names are not so far off after all. I’ll keep checking my phone messages.

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