Thursday, July 07, 2005

What We Value
I really need to get back to work this morning, but I wanted to check in on the London bombings, and on terrorism in a larger sense. That the bombings are reportedly the work of Al Qaeda shouldn't surprise anyone--coordinated attacks at rush hour are their signature. (Digression: when the whole country was freaking out over anthrax in October 2001, I was absolutely certain that Al Qaeda had nothing to do with it. Scattered, random attacks are not their style. Dozens of envelopes full of anthrax spores arriving in the mail on the same day at state capitols or Congressional offices--that would show the necessary panache.)

We don't have much in the way of mass transit up here--a pretty good bus system serves Madison and several surrounding suburbs, but for the nearest commuter train system you have to go to Chicago. If I were a train commuter, I think it would be only natural to take my car for the next few days. Security has been beefed up on American transit systems, as it should be.

That the September 11 attacks accomplished one of their primary goals--scaring the living hell out of Americans--is pretty much beyond debate. What's debatable, I suppose, is how accustomed we've really gotten to the threat of terrorism at home since then. One one hand, if something were to happen again, especially if it were a smaller attack than 9/11, it would be horrifying, but maybe to a lesser degree than September 11 was. (Think of the national reaction to the Challenger disaster in 1986--and compare it to the much more muted reaction the Columbia disaster in 2003.) But it's just as easy to argue that we Americans still possess a deep streak of naivete--either that or a powerful ability to avoid confronting our own mortality. So it's entirely possible that, instead of a comparatively muted reaction to another strike on us, we might react more strongly than we did in 2001--accelerating our ongoing rush to police-state fascism, for example.

I haven't followed much of the news from London this morning, apart from frequent mentions of it on ESPN Radio, of all places. ESPN midday host Colin Cowherd was talking about terrorism when I popped the radio on a while ago, and noted an attack on civilians like the one in London has a more potent terrorizing effect generally than an attack on a government building like the Pentagon might have. "I can't get into the Pentagon," Cowherd remarked--and indeed, an attack on such a place, awful though it would be, takes place at a remove from the personal experience of most people. Which is why an attack on a commuter train--a place that's much easier for most of us to imagine--is a fiercer thing. Because his gig is sports talk, Cowherd segued into the idea of terrorism at sporting events. He mentioned that according to the 9/11 Commission's investigations, one potential terrorist target was Texas Stadium, home of the Dallas Cowboys. For a terrorist, the symbolic value of hitting a stadium where Americans play a uniquely American game would be enormous. Soccer, golf, basketball--those are worldwide sports. Football is all about us.

It's been my theory for a long time that simply hitting a city like Dallas--and never mind hitting the football stadium--instead of New York or Washington would have powerfully terrorizing effect on Americans. Unlike the woman from Flint, Michigan, in Fahrenheit 9/11 who was sure Flint was a prime target and living her life accordingly, I walked around after 9/11 feeling pretty safe here in the upper Midwest, even though I live only a few miles from a state capitol building. Granted, we can't know how many other airplanes were supposed to crash into how many other buildings on September 11--but the psychological effect of being far from the site of the attacks softened the blow, for me at least. Four years later, if you hit us on the East Coast--been there, done that. Hit us in Boise or Little Rock--or Madison--and that's something else again.

I've got no big wrapup for this--it's just some random thoughts before I plunge back into work I'm getting paid for. If you've got any thoughts, please share them.

Recommended Reading: I haven't been following the scandal involving California congressman Randy Cunningham very much. Only enough to know he apparently received enough financial benefits from contractors, real estate agents and so forth to make him look crooked even by Republican standards. As the story linked above notes, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has started an advertising campaign in his district criticizing him, but according to the Gadflyer, their newspaper ad is stone stupid. The ad is almost a parody of how Republicans think Democrats would talk, stressing that Cunningham has forgotten his "California values." Author Paul Waldman raises an interesting point--when was the last time you heard anybody from a blue state touting that state's values? California values? Oregon values? Wisconsin values? That's red-state talk, and primarily Southern talk at that.

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