Thursday, September 12, 2013

"Terrorism Totally Works!" and the five other "weirdest things we've learned since 9/11," courtesy of David Wong


by Ken

I was going to give 9/11 a pass. After all, we've already been through 11 post-9/11 9/11s.

Oh, I admit I had some flashes of déjà vu on Tuesday, even though that was only 9/10 -- especially in the early morning on my way to vote in the primary on my way to work. It was a pretty nice day Tuesday, though not a day in the class of, you know, the 9/11, one of those gloriously crisp, perfect blue-sky days of which we are vouchsafed a few sprinkled through September and October, days that make you feel grand to be alive.

And the morning went so smoothly that I got in and out of my polling place and actually made it all the way to my office in Midtown well before 9. And it was on my way to my cubicle that my coworker Pattie told me that a plane had flown into the World Trade Center. Which I naturally took to mean some little single-engine jobbie going "crash," and somebody was gonna be in trouble. The rest you know.

Maybe a little more eerily, that primary day in 2001 we were making at least a first effort at choosing a Democrat to run to be the first mayor after the many, many Giuliani years. Tuesday, of course, we were doing the same thing, except now looking ahead to the post-Bloomberg years. Like I said, just a little eerie.

So there's one way, a Gotham way, of measuring the period since the original 9/11: the reign of His Imperial Highness Mayor Mike.

My friend Jim Dawson turned me on to another: from "David Wong's End Times Report": "The 6 Weirdest Things We've Learned Since 9/11."
Hey, guys -- I'm starting to think we overreacted to the terrorism thing.

It hit me last year as I was standing in the naked airport scanner again, listening to the faint gasps and then applause from the monitoring booth, and realized that I wouldn't put up with that hassle to ward off the threat of, say, lightning. You know, like if scientists had figured out that you could reduce the already miniscule chance of being struck by merely standing outside and showing God your dick.

Anyway, that made me look back at the lessons we've learned in the 12 years since the 9/11 attacks, and I've got to say, it's not encouraging.
It's a seriously wacky, or wackily serious, run, starting with David's first "for instance," which I think we can all get behind (note that onsite there are many more examples and visual aids and lots of links):

#6. Terrorism Totally Works!

Al-Qaida spent about $500,000 executing the 9/11 terror attacks. The U.S. government has spent up to $5 trillion fighting back. One expert estimated we're spending about $400 million per life saved.

In other words, for every dollar the bad guys spent, we lost 10 million. And that's not even counting the money lost due to the economic slump that followed. That, friends, is one hell of a return on an investment. Also: The 9/11 attacks killed 2,996 people. The response has killed 224,475 and displaced another 7.8 million refugees.

Terrorism works. Now more than ever. That's right: I'm David Wong, and I'm here to endorse the effectiveness of terrorism. Buy my book.

And however effective terrorism might have been in the past, holy fuck does it work in the era of mass communication -- the World Trade Center attacks didn't happen once, they happened millions of times, as the news replayed the terrible orange/black blooms of impact over, and over, and over, and over. Amplifying the trauma, reverberating through the culture until every nerve was rubbed raw, creating what would come to be called the "Post-9/11 World." The sheer existence of that as an everyday term says it all:

Keep in mind, a tsunami killed a quarter-million people in 2004, and another one killed 16,000 people in 2011, but neither caused us to refer to a "post-tsunami world." Only terrorism can utterly dominate our thinking that way.

And as a result, a bad guy can now make the whole world stop dead in its goddamned tracks with nothing more than a device built with about a hundred bucks' worth of shit he got at Walmart. If you pick up a gun and shoot six people at your office over a change in dress code, you'll be gone from the front page of CNN by the next day. But build a crude bomb and kill three people in the name of jihad while cameras are rolling? You'll cause an entire city to go on lockdown, utterly dominate the consciousness of a nation for months. . . .
"It wasn't long," David points out, before --
a couple of kids made bombs out of black powder and pressure cookers, a random guy in New York Googled "pressure cooker bomb," as you'd expect in the aftermath of a huge news story about pressure cooker bombs. He was surprised to see the cops immediately show up at his house. It turns out his employers were monitoring his searches and called the police. And that, too, is part of our life now, because you can never be too careful in a Post-9/11 World, when absolutely everything we do and think revolves around avoiding terrorism, 24 hours a day.
"And it didn't take long," David says, "for people looking to take advantage to realize . . ."


#5. Apparently Anything Can Be Called "Terrorism"

In 2001, David says, he was "absolutely, completely for the 'War on Terror,' " which "seemed like the clearest-cut conflict in world history: the modern, democratic world versus primitive fundamentalist savages who thought they could rewind the clock on civilization by a thousand years if they blew up enough innocent children. His liberal friends "asked things like 'But how do we know when it's over?," and he thought them "either terrifyingly oblivious or outright evil."

And then from the TV he learned "that anyone who bought or sold marijuana was also a terrorist, and from there most everything turned out to be terrorism -- Muslims who wanted to build a community center in New York, the mere existence of a Middle Eastern news network, labor unions, the 2008 economic meltdown, congressional Republicans demanding budget cuts, the rsulting political stalemate, the "Occupy" protests, leaks of secret government papers, pro-abortion-rights protesters, a teenager posting rap lyrics on Facebook, and on and on.

"Meanwhile, we kind of lost track of the fact that the thing we were originally calling terrorism -- extremists blowing the shit out of large numbers of innocent people -- had kind of stopped happening. Because as it turned out . . .

#4. It's Actually Really Hard to Pull Off a Large-Scale Terror Attack
If on September 12, 2001, you had predicted that we'd make it to 2013 with no further large-scale terror attacks, I'd have said you had your goddamned head in the sand. "Don't you know we're in the middle of an epic clash of civilizations, and either radical Islam or Western civilization itself will be wiped from the Earth forever? This shit is going to end in a mushroom cloud, bitch!"
Surely, David thought, "the USA had become Palestine."
Bombings would be weekly news, soldiers would stand at the entrance of the Mall of America with M4 rifles. Instead, it's been just small-scale, bullshit attempts, usually by fucktards more likely to blow themselves to bits before they even leave the safe house. Their primary source for bomb-making materials is undercover ATF agents.
Yes, David allows, the Boston marathon bombing brought the nation to a standstill. "But the sheer fact that we're able to regard the deaths of three people and the wounding of dozens more as a massive event rather than 'the 10th largest bombing of the month' is the point -- you get twice as many murder victims in an average weekend of Chicago gang violence." And the fact that, with "a dense crowd of 500,000 people standing shoulder to shoulder," there were only three deaths underlines the reality: "it's really fucking hard to carry out a terror attack." And he provides an extended logical explanation why.

#3. The Era of Awesome "Good vs. Evil" Wars Is Over

It's not like World War II, David says, which in popular memory "is basically The Lord of the Rings or Star Wars" --
a clearly evil bad guy dressed in black with a clearly evil army versus clearly good protagonists who take him out with a clean, neat ending where the bad guy dies and his dark empire lies in rubble, never to be resurrected. And when the war was over, it was over -- clear objective, clear outcome, good guys win, roll credits.
No, it doesn't look as if "we're going to get that kind of war again." No clearcut evil, not even a clearcut enemy, and no clearcut resolution. We don't even have any decent enemies. Not China certainly. ("What are we going to do, bomb the factory where they make our iPads? And what are they going to do, bomb the people who buy their iPads?") And not Iran. (Why, that evil President Ahmadinejad isn't even president anymore, having left office "because his term ran out," because two terms is the limit for presidents there, where yes, they have elections.)

#2. Patriotism Got Really Weird at Some Point
These days, if an organization has "patriot" in the name, I get scared. Seriously, Google the word "patriot" -- once you get past the links involving the NFL and that Mel Gibson movie, you get shit like Patriot Depot, which sells shirts that say things like "Due to Price Increase on Ammo, Do Not Expect a Warning Shot."

Somebody tell me when the entire concept of patriotism got hijacked by the pickup truck and gun rack brigade. It's at the point where if anyone I knew wore a shirt with an American flag on it, I'd assume they were being ironic, unless it was the Fourth of July. If I pass a crowd of protesters waving American flags, I assume somebody in the group is also wearing a T-shirt bearing a racist caricature of Barack Obama.

#1. Sometimes the Alarmist Tinfoil Hat Crowd Is Right

Airport security (David recalls the 1982 slapstick fantasy of Airplane II: The Sequel which included an airport body scanner that showed naked images of passengers), billions of dollars devoted to spying on our communications.
Now here we are, in a world where you're told that A) only an idiot would expect any online or cellphone communication to be secure, just by its nature and B) from now on all of your communications -- from banking to work projects to shopping to romance -- will be done with the Internet or cellphone.
And "we can't imagine it any other way."
And over time, we'll just come to accept that typing a weird search into Google might get you a visit from the cops, that a crude joke on Facebook might get you arrested and/or fired, that certain things uttered in phone calls might land you on a no-fly list, that suspicious conversations might be recorded by a nearby pair of Google Glasses. And so, over time, you make a mental note to not say anything too weird, or make crude jokes, or think too far outside the box. You'll learn to automatically rein in that crazy, irresponsible part of the brain that incidentally also has resulted in all human creativity through history.

I haven't done anything like justice to the piece, which I hope you'll look at yourself. Whatever 9/11 once may have meant, at the remove of a dozen years, this is what we've learned from it.


For a "Sunday Classics" fix anytime, visit the stand-alone "Sunday Classics with Ken."

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