- Not sleeping.
That's about it, really. There have been a few other things, though: I'm watching the BBC documentary Planet Earth, which isn't really the most insightful scientific production in the world, but God almighty, is it gorgeous -- some incredibly rare footage of stuff never before seen, and especially stunning in high-definition. (I'm trying not to let it get to me that a lot of the animals filmed for this series will soon be completely gone, and it's almost working.) There's a sequence in the first episode where hunting dogs in Africa run down a herd of impala that's not only stunning for what it portrays -- the sheer athleticism, the gorgeous motion and incredible movement, the cunning strategy deployed by the doges -- but the way it was filmed, which leaves you breathless with wonder as to how they pulled it off.
I'm getting ready for my trip to my beloved Chicago August 3-8. If you wanna hang out with a brother, give a holla.
And I'm reading. A lot more than I have been of late; probably more than I should, given how much work I have to do. But I love reading, I love it, even now I love it more than almost anything, more than drinking or sleeping or whatever the fuck I do.
Overblown: How Politicians and the Terrorism Industry Inflate National Security Threats, and Why We Believe Them, by John Mueller. Sidled with a terrible title, lazy design, and a lack of editorial attention, this book -- by a historian and security expert who teaches at Ohio State -- the book is actually a quite edifying, well-written, and convincing argument that the war on terror is being fought in entirely the wrong way (I've always believed that terrorism should be approached as a police and intelligence matter, not a military and foreign policy one, but I've never seen the argument for that approach made this thoroughly) and that our entire societal view of terrorism is not only profoundly misguided, but hugely harmful to actual terror prevention.
Some interesting stuff, pulled as I progress:
In an interview, filmmaker-provocatuer Michael Moore happened to remark, "The chances of any of us dying in a terrorist incident is very, very, very small,", and his interviewer, Bob Simon, promptly admonished, "But no one sees the world like that." Remarkably, both statements are true -- the first only a bit more so than the second.
The United States is hardly likely to be toppled by dramatic acts of terrorist destruction, even extreme ones. The country can readily absorb considerable damage if necessary, and it has outlasted far more potent threats in the past. To suggest otherwise is to express contempt for America's capacity to deal with adversity.
If chemical and biological attacks are so easy and attractive to terrorists, it is impressive that none has so far been committed in Chechnya or in Israel...it seems to be a general historical regularity that terrorists tend to prefer weapons they know and understand, not new, exotic ones. Indeed, the truly notable innovation for terrorists over the past few decades has not been in qualitative improvements in ordnance at all, but rather in a more effective method for delivering it: the suicide bomber. And this innovation has applied processes that are essentially sociological, not technical.
As has often been noted, however, the media appear to have a congenital incapacity for dealing with the issues of risk and comparative probabilities -- except, of course, in the sports and financial sections. If a baseball player hits three home runs in a single game, press reports will include not only notice of that achievement, but also information about the rarity of the event as well as statistics about the hitter's batting and slugging averages and about how many home runs he normally hits...I have never heard anyone in the media stress that in every year except 2001 the number of people in the entire world killed by international terrorism outside of war zones has been a few hundred.
Every time we pretend we are fighting for our survival we not only confer greater power and importance to terrorists than they deserve but we also at the same time act as their main recruiting agent by suggesting that they have the slightest potential for success. Although a terrorist attack with a weapon of mass destruction could be serious and potentially catastrophic, it is highly unlikely that it could ever completely undermine the national security, much less threaten the survival, of the United States. To hold otherwise risks surrendering to the fear and intimidation that is precisely the terrorist's stick in trade.
The American people reacted to Pearl Harbor with a mind-staggering mixture of surprise, awe, mystification, grief, humiliation, and above all, cataclysmic fury. The response to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, was similar. These emotions are entirely understandable, but they do not relieve decision-makers of assessing and evaluating the wisdom of policy options other than lashing out in rage.
And, from a series of statements at the front of the book that he explores later on:
- Just about any damage terrorists are likely to perpetrate can be readily absorbed. To deem the threat an 'existential' one is somewhere between extravagant and absurd.
- Chemical and radiological weapons, and most biological once as well, are incapable fo perpetrating mass destruction.
- The likelihood that a terrorist group will be able to master nuclear weapons any time soon is extremely, perhaps vanishingly, small.
- Al-Q'aeda's terrorist efforts on 9/11 and in the years since have been substantially counterproductive.
- Policies that continually focus entirely on worst-case scenarios are unwise and can be exceedingly wasteful. In fact, much, and probably most, of the money and effort expended on counterterrorism since 2001 has been wasted.
On the other hand, balancing out all the facts, history, and logic that Mueller uses to marshal his argument, Michael Chertoff has a gut feeling.