Is the illusion of safety just as good as actually being safe?
Or, put another way, does the State Department's worldwide travel alert issued Friday that warns of an Al Qaeda-linked terrorist threat make you feel not just more informed but more secure?
Didn't think so.
On the other hand, what's a responsible government supposed to do?
Here's the problem; as my colleague Carol Williams reported Friday:
Intelligence-gatherers have picked up increasing "chatter" among suspected militants about attacks timed to the end of the Ramadan holy month observances and specific actions reportedly planned by the Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula group that counter-terrorism officials consider the biggest threat to U.S. and Western citizens and interests….
Out of "an abundance of caution," the State Department said, it was warning U.S. citizens to be particularly alert in places where tourists gather and on the conveyances that bring them there.
"U.S. citizens are reminded of the potential for terrorists to attack public transportation systems and other tourist infrastructure," the government warning reads. "Terrorists have targeted and attacked subway and rail systems, as well as aviation and maritime services."
So there you are: Terrorists are talking about attacking us. (Presumably we know this because of that nasty secret NSA program that Edward J. Snowden blabbed about.) In the past, terrorists have targeted trains and planes and boats -- which, unless you plan on backpacking, means you have two choices for traveling: Go, or don't go.
Now, it isn't that I'm not grateful the government is looking out for me. And heck, I'd rather have more information than less, especially when it comes to people trying to do me harm.
Really, though, this warning is the government equivalent of parents telling their kids not to talk to strangers. It makes the parents feel a bit better, it scares the kids, and it doesn't really prevent child abductions -- which are extremely rare anyway.
So, what to do?
Life is short: Get on that plane. Board that train, or boat. Enjoy the world. France is sublime. Britain is great. Greece is, uh, Greece. And so is Italy. A friend of my son's just came back from Israel, raving about the experience.
You're as safe as you can ever expect to be.