"There are 10^11 stars in the galaxy. That used to be a huge number. But it's only a hundred billion. It's less than the national deficit! We used to call them astronomical numbers. Now we should call them economical numbers." ~ Richard Feynman
The Kid in the Raincoat
When I was in grade school, we had this kid whose mom was incredibly over-protective. If there were any clouds in the sky at all, he would invariably show up to school in his raincoat. If the thermometer dipped below 50 degrees, you could count on the fact that he would be wearing his parka, scarf and mittens. I was never in his home, so I can only infer what his life was like there. I imagine a sneeze or a cough measured on the Richter scale, and he was immediately dosed with aspirin and cold remedies, and his body was slathered with Vicks. Some of the nicer things he and his mother were called was strange, unorthodox, and eccentric. More often they were called nut jobs, whackos and freaks. I suspect what they were, in reality, was very fearful.
We lived in a neighborhood that was so safe that no one ever locked their doors, and they left their keys in the ignition of their cars. But as my 'neighborhood' expanded, I became aware of areas where it was not safe to behave this way. I also met people with other, more exotic neuroses than a fear of the common cold, and I even developed a few annoying fears of my own. Only then did the fears of the mother of the kid in the raincoat make sense to me. I learned that irrational fears are some of the most crippling and devastating maladies a person can ever face.
I had to go pick up a friend at a civilian government facility recently. The first thing that you see as you turn off the street to enter this facility is a guard shack with three or more armed guards and two rows of two foot high, staggered steel posts set in the concrete to act as obstacles to cars moving at high speed. A guard then looks for the sticker on your windshield that gives you access to the area AND he has to see a picture ID of some sort before you can enter. As I passed the guard shack, I saw a daycare center surrounded by giant concrete barricades, the type used to separate lanes of traffic on interstate highways. On the short trip to my destination (200 yards), I saw three police vehicles (they have their own police force) and a fire station. This building too was surrounded by these giant concrete barricades.
I am not unmoved by the tragic loss of nearly 3,000 lives on 9-11-01 ; however, all situations require some perspective. Every month in the US , more people are killed in automobiles or by the negligence of doctors and hospitals than have been killed by terrorist attacks on our soil in the past ten years. More than 3,000 die every month from the effects of cigarettes, alcohol consumption and pollution. However, because of the events of 9-11, we have mobilized the world's most powerful army and invaded two foreign countries. We have passed a draconian Patriot Act that erodes the few rights we have left, and we have come out with a color coded system to predict terrorist threats the same way we do for pollen counts. In violation of the principle of due process, we have opened and filled prisons such as Gitmo and Abu Ghraib, where the rule of law is only an annoyance and we practice torture at our convenience. We have people hired to fondle and harass travelers at airports, and instituted a watch list that stopped a world renowned peace activist, Yusuf Islam (Cat Stevens), from entering our country.
I think of the countries that have a tiny fraction of the military that we have that have spent years dealing with terrorist attacks, and they battle these criminals without putting their countries into lockdowns. I wonder what they must think when they look at the mighty United States and see the cocoon we are trying to spin for ourselves to create a fleeting and imaginary sense of security. I think they see us much the same way we saw that kid in the raincoat back in grade school, and they think we have become a bunch of nut jobs, whackos and freaks. Benjamin Franklin said, 'Those who would trade liberty for a little security deserve neither.' He was right. Maybe if we would quit interfering in the functioning of foreign governments, that would help more than all the other stuff combined.