Until recently there were just two things in this world that I was worried about, but now I have three concerns:

1) That George W Bush will somehow get to be president for a third term.
This is supposed to be impossible. No president had a better go at the job than George Washington, yet by the end of his second term even he felt that a third turn would have been pushing it. He heeded the call of his humble plough and the celebrity golf circuit, and so it has been for every president since. Yes, except for Roosevelt, but let’s give him a free pass on that. The last guy you want fighting Nazis is a new hire who hasn’t even been shown the workplace-safety video yet.

But I’m concerned Bush will simply forget that he’s supposed to move out in 2008. As for the Constitutional amendment limiting his term of office, remember that he seems to think anything written on Presidential letterhead immediately and irrevocably has the full force of law. Witness Executive Order 05A278-4, which bans the combination of anchovies and mushrooms on any pizza sold in the US and its territories. It may have started out as nothing more than an idle phone scribble that Bush made while trying to order food for an all-nighter, but at this writing, nearly 200 citizens have been jailed in a secret compound in Mozambique, with a long and uncertain appeals process ahead of them.

2) That the bird flu will sweep across the planet and destroy all human life.

I really couldn’t get worked up about this threat at first. I mean, I was chiefly hearing about it on the TV news, for God’s sake. Newscasters sell scary news with the same levels of deception that the folks at the electronics store use to sell you an extended warranty on a $30 DVD player. Witness a teaser for a recent newscast, for example: “Is a silent child killer lurking inside your house? Tune in to Chet and Natalie at 11.”

It was a story about faulty space heaters that leak carbon monoxide. The fact that it was a local newscast meant that it was quite feasible for me to drive to Chet and Natalie’s houses and bash in their mailboxes with a bat. When I got there, though, I discovered that they had already been set on fire.

I started to worry about bird flu this past autumn, when I made a trip overseas and saw that it was all over the papers in your part of the planet, too. Clearly, the bird flu is either a pandemic poised to claim my life and that of hundreds of millions of others, or it’s the most brilliant marketing campaign for beef and pork ever devised. Either way, it sounds like a good excuse to eat nothing but bacon cheeseburgers; proving that even the End of Days has a silver lining.

3) That the rate at which iPods are being sold has officially escalated from Enthusiastic to Absurd to actively Dangerous.

As I write this, Steve Jobs’ Macworld Expo keynote is still ringing in my ears. He blew straight through the iPod news, of course, as he had two Intel-based Macs to introduce and Apple had already released two hugely successful iPods in time for the holiday season. Five minutes, tops, and it was the same stock element that appears in all his keynotes: they’re selling like gangbusters, cool, here’s a chart explaining how much more of them Apple sold this year compared to last year, et cetera.

But the number caused my brain to freeze up momentarily. Ladies and gentlemen, you share this small, fragile planet with more than 40 million iPods. As for the aforementioned graph, if Sir Edmund Hillary had stood at the base of Mount Everest and seen that sort of vertical slope launching up and away from him, he would have muttered a quick ‘[email protected] it’ to Tenzing and headed right back to the RV for a coffee and a microwave burrit
The iPod is nice, but it’s nothing more than a hugely successful consumer product. Deservedly so, mind you, but it’s no Macintosh. The Mac quite simply changed the face of desktop computing, immediately and forever. That should be Apple’s enduring legacy.

Unfortunately, the same news industry that wanted me to think Jeffrey Dahmer was crouched behind my sofa stifling an urge to giggle also sees technological innovation as a simple matter of numbers: 5 per cent market share for the Mac, 86 per cent for the iPod. I returned to my hotel after the keynote and sure enough, the local news had assembled enough sentence fragments from enough attendees to create the impression that even the Mac faithful perceived the industry’s most advanced hardware and OS as nothing more than a quirky niche product slowly but steadily doomed to oblivion.

In the perception game, market share numbers falsely make the iPod into a winner and the Mac into a loser. And Macworld Expo’s show floor did little to dispel this impression. You couldn’t help but notice the sheer acreage devoted to iPods and iPod accessories. OK, I have to grudgingly acknowledge that it’s contributing to the ongoing health of the company, but does there have to be so much of it?

And as if those 40 million iPods weren’t bad enough, you want to know how many of those were sold in 2005 alone? 32 million. At this rate of expansion, there will be an iPod for every man, woman and child in the US by the end of 2008, and one for everyone on Earth by 2012.

Here, finally, my sense of optimism returns. To manufacture six billion iPods, the planet will have to convert to an almost entirely iPod-based economy, which is going to be great for Apple’s stock price. Better still, it means that no forest, mountain, river, or lake will be safe from development as 100 per cent of the Earth’s natural resources is harvested, mined, or paved over in order to secure raw materials and create new manufacturing facilities.

And what, I ask you, lives in each of those places I’ve named? Yes: evil, selfish, flu-ridden birds. They’ll die by the billions, and the deadly bird flu will die with them, thus saving Humanity and allowing us all to live in a new paradise filled with factory jobs and Apple Stores and no distractions such as fresh air or natural light.

In fact, I imagine that after the iPod eliminates the bird flu the world will look a lot like Apple depicted it in the “1984” commercial. Which is fair; the company promised only that 1984 wouldn’t be like “1984”. In retrospect, it was nice of them to give us an extra 22 years. MW