13 May 2007

The Deadliest Things

(Tune: My Favorite Things - from The Sound of Music, Rogers & Hammerstein)

Anthrax in orange juice and toxins in water
Chemical agents as means of mass slaughter
Plumes of chlorine wafting over DC
These are a few of the deadliest things.

Toxic nerve agents unleashed on civilians
Mutating strains of bird flu killing millions
Cattle with blisters transmit FMD*
This is what we have been analyzing

Suicide bombers blow buses to splinters
Slolen devices cause nuclear winter
Railcars torn open by an IED**
These effects we have been calculating

When the dog bites
When the bee stings
When I'm feeling sad
I simply remember what we're modeling
And then I don't feel so bad.

*Foot and Mouth Disease
**Improvised Explosive Device

Jim G-, my colleague who wrote this parody of sorts, wishes to remain anonymous. It's a bit hair-raising, but part of the tasking of our lab is to help the nation and its allies prepare to deal with the consequences of major natural or human-made disasters. We think them through, we model them with as much precision as we know how, and we report our results to our sponsors. We also work on attribution - figuring out where the stuff came from, and whodunit - so others of our sponsors can deal with the guilty parties and those who sponsored them. That's part of the Homeland Security side of the business, anyway.

It's scary stuff. It's only natural that it gives some folks in the government the willies, and induces them to occasional over-zealousness. To counter that, we also model which security measures make the greatest difference for the least amount of effort, money, and social change. The hard part about that is that politicians are used to doing what they want to do. They don't like rational calculation indicating priorities. The priorities are theirs for political posturing. A bunch of scientists trying to calculate priorities is received as stepping on their turf. And when it comes to turf, the politicians are the pros and the scientists are the amateurs. The pros always win. Our priorities are set by our politics, not by our systems analysis.

So we are still knee-jerking our way to greater homeland security, and the press tries to be "neutral," or as Mark Steyn puts in the Chicago Sun-Times:

According to genius New York Times headline writers, "Religion Guided Three Held In Fort Dix Plot." You don't say. Any religion in particular?

In other words, Homeland Security is only part of the solution to the present danger. Another part is making the bad guys feel insecure in their homelands. This is always problematic, and even more so when their homeland is our homeland. There is an essential tension between security and freedom, which can never be finally resolved. We must constantly strive for balance.

Yet another part of the solution is Religion itself. We must recognize that some of the greatest gifts God has planted in us - our capacities for Hope and Faith - can be perverted by the Evil One. As Pascal said, "Men never do evil so completely and so cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction." And Pascal himself was a devout Catholic.

Well. Got that off my desk. Happy Mother's Day everyone!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I can't believe I just sang that first part. The lyrics really do go well with the music.

Thanks for the IED & FMD reference. Would have probably never guessed it.