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Get a grip on fear 

What a year, right? And here we are, hurtling into one that will almost certainly be as event-full and challenging as the last.

War, international tension, and immigrants fleeing violence and famine abroad; floods and tornadoes, violence, homegrown terrorism, racism, political rancor and corruption at home.... All this and Donald Trump. It is more than the mind can absorb.

And in less than a year, we'll elect a new president.

Maybe the seriousness of our challenges will bring us to our senses and we'll have thoughtful, serious political campaigns. But based on what we saw in 2015, the odds aren't good. Too few of our leaders - and too few of our citizens - value facts, education, cooperation, and statesmanship. There is too much anger. Too much irrational fear. Too much capitalizing on both.

As an example, we have to look no further than our own alleged brush with terrorism on New Year's Eve. We all know the story: The FBI says 25-year-old Emanuel Lutchman had been communicating with ISIS and was planning a terrorist attack at Merchants Grill. We also know that Lutchman had a history of mental illness, domestic violence, and crime.

That's what we know. There's a lot we don't know, including whether Lutchman really had contacted ISIS. Maybe he had. Or maybe he had contacted someone he thought was connected to ISIS but wasn't.

We also don't know whether he was coached into action by over-zealous informants, who were paid by the FBI for their efforts. Or whether, if Lutchman intended to cause mayhem, he would have followed through without the informants' help.

I certainly wouldn't dismiss the possibility that this was the real thing. September 11 was real. The ISIS-inspired violence in other parts of the world is real. And in the end, whether it was directly ISIS-inspired, a copy-cat attack indirectly inspired by ISIS, or a delusional act unrelated to ISIS, if Lutchman had done what the FBI says he planned to do, it would have been very serious.

But it would not have been another 9/11. We should be cautious, absolutely. And government security and law enforcement personnel should do their job. But the rest of us need to get a grip. Seriously.

Our governor, applauding Lutchman's arrest on a local TV station, warned that we've entered "a new normal when it comes to terrorism," that we "are going to see this more and more." And the reporter discussing the arrest with Cuomo declared: "the people in Rochester are shaken."

Shaken? I don't know. I kinda liked the attitude of Merchants Grill owner John Page and his patrons, who went right on and celebrated New Year's Eve as they had planned.

We shouldn't be naïve about the danger of homegrown terrorism (whether it comes in the form of ISIS-inspired mayhem or an attack at a Planned Parenthood clinic, a church, or a movie theater). But we shouldn't be foolish, either. And we must not let irrational fear cause us to ostracize segments of society, erode civil liberties, and shape destructive police and military policies.

We're now in a big election year. In a more rational time, we might spend the next 11 months in a sober discussion of the nation's multiple challenges. But this year, too many politicians have decided to play to our fears. If, as a nation, we don't get a grip, we'll open the door for a demagogue. And that's truly something to be fearful of.

Arthur Goldfeder

The Rochester arts community has lost a champion, and Bill and I have lost a cherished friend with the death of Arthur Goldfeder. While Arthur's Fabrics and Findings was a Rochester retail fixture for years, to many of us his shining contribution is the conversion of his Goodman Street building into an eclectic community of artists, the Anderson Arts building, which also houses our publications.

Arthur was a giant of a man, in stature and heart, a wonderful human being, and we mourn his death.

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