[ by Charles Cameron — this post is about comparisons — what you make of them, and what they make of you, death calculus, and Handel ]
Scraped from my morning read, these two quotes — a tweeted headline from Breitbart and a gobbit of the Jerusalem Post — neatly illustrate a paradox I’ve been wrestling with, the way more profound souls wrestle with angels [link is to Rilke].
It’s the paradox of comparison.
On the one hand, I can barely imagine what it would be like to build — with, say, enough funds for a latter-day Manhattan Project — a Department whose job it was to monitor all activities and ensure even-handedness in the allocation of resources.
So that not ever would a Presidential aide on vacation receive a security detail until each and every ambassador had an equivalent force of marines around them at any given moment, in embassy or out.
I mean, what about consuls, or CIA heads of station — are they ambassadorial enough? Members of the cabinet on vacation? Members of the National Security Council? How far do we need to go with our even-handedness? Is Benghazi different from London? Londonistan?
How would one possibly assure oneself that no “hand” of government, left, right, center, upper, lower, or oblique to all of the above, ever arranged things in a way that compared foolishly with the way some other “hand” of government had arranged something more or less similar?
Let’s go to what my friend Bryan Alexander calls the death calculus. Since we’re interested in terrorism here, I’ll pull quotes from a couple of pieces that you can read in full if this topic interests you. Two paras from TomDispatch:
In 2008, 14,180 Americans were murdered, according to the FBI. In that year, there were 34,017 fatal vehicle crashes in the U.S. and, so the U.S. Fire Administration tells us, 3,320 deaths by fire. More than 11,000 Americans died of the swine flu between April and mid-December 2009, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; on average, a staggering 443,600 Americans die yearly of illnesses related to tobacco use, reports the American Cancer Society;5,000 Americans die annually from food-borne diseases; an estimated 1,760children died from abuse or neglect in 2007; and the next year, 560 Americans died of weather-related conditions, according to the National Weather Service, including 126 from tornadoes, 67 from rip tides, 58 from flash floods, 27 from lightning, 27 from avalanches, and 1 from a dust devil.
The now-infamous Northwest Airlines Flight 253, carrying Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab and his bomb-laden underwear toward Detroit on Christmas Day 2009, had 290 passengers and crew, all of whom survived. Had the inept Abdulmutallab actually succeeded, the death toll would not have equaled the 324 traffic fatalities in Nevada in 2008; while the destruction of four Flight 253s from terrorism would not have equaled New York State’s 2008 traffic death toll of1,231, 341 of whom, or 51 more than those on Flight 253, were classified as “alcohol-impaired fatalities.”
Two paras from a Salon piece [copied here sans links and emphases]:
“The number of people worldwide who are killed by Muslim-type terrorists, Al Qaeda wannabes, is maybe a few hundred outside of war zones. It’s basically the same number of people who die drowning in the bathtub each year,” said John Mueller, an Ohio State University professor who has written extensively about the balance between threat and expenditures in fighting terrorism.
Last year, McClatchy characterized this threat in similar terms: “undoubtedly more American citizens died overseas from traffic accidents or intestinal illnesses than from terrorism.” The March, 2011, Harper’s Index expressed the point this way: “Number of American civilians who died worldwide in terrorist attacks last year: 8 — Minimum number who died after being struck by lightning: 29.” That’s the threat in the name of which a vast domestic Security State is constructed, wars and other attacks are and continue to be launched, and trillions of dollars are transferred to the private security and defense contracting industry at exactly the time that Americans — even as they face massive wealth inequality — are told that they must sacrifice basic economic security because of budgetary constraints.
On the one hand, that the world is far too complex to avoid disparities that can draw mockery down on the heads of those one might wish to mock.
And on the other, that comparisons also have an invaluable role to play in giving us a sense of the relative peaks and valleys of the terrain we live in — and may be literally or metaphorically mountaintop removal / valley fill coal mining in preparation for our children’s children…
Here’s a “DoubleQuote” for you:
Or for the musically inclined:
Now there’s a fascinating comparison (between the mining and the music) that doesn’t tell you much. Or does it?
Onwards to the issue of that sacred plateau in Jerusalem, featured as my second “reading for the day” at the top of this post.
It appears that you can be arrested for carrying a concealed knife on the Noble Sanctuary — or tallit or tefillin on Temple Mount — same place, different perspective.
That’s the sort of comparison that makes me catch my breath with wonder.
As the Famous Thinkers School might ask, giving you a pencil and a blank sheet of paper: can you draw this conclusion?
The full text of Matthew 6.3 reads in the KJV:
But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth:
Marangolo P and associates uses a significant variant of that verse in the title of a learned paper: Let not thy left hand know what thy right hand knoweth. The case of a patient with an infarct involving the callosal pathways.
Brain malfunctions (and brain surgeries) can provide windows of considerable interest on our human condition, as the writings of Oliver Sacks so eloquently demonstrate.