In the June 21, 2012 episode of The Colbert Report during the segment entitled "Threat Down", our humorous pundit declared the number one threat in America to be terrorist furniture. Referring to an article in The Atlantic which in turn refers to the recently published 2011 Report on Terrorism by The National Counterterrorism Center, Colbert notes that of the 13,288 people killed worldwide by terrorist attacks in 2011, seventeen were private U.S. citizens or 0.1%, one tenth of one percent of the total. The article, in referring to a 2011 consumer report, states that in 2010 (the last reported year) twenty-one people died from a falling television, piece of furniture or an appliance.
What? 17 private U.S. citizens are killed in terrorist attacks while 21 people die from furniture falling on them? Wait. Can I get my head around that one? Do I come back to the opening question? Do we worry about the right things?
I quote the journalist Micah Zenko:
This is not to diminish the real--albeit shrinking--threat of terrorism, or to minimize the loss and suffering of the 13,000 killed and over 45,000 injured around the world. For Americans, however, it should emphasize that an irrational fear of terrorism is both unwarranted and a poor basis for public policy decisions.
If you can't properly assess the nature of a threat, how do you develop effective and proportionate solutions? Mr. Zenko uses the expression "irrational fear" and in looking at the above statistics, how rational is it to be collectively unafraid of our own furniture? But let's not stop there.
According to UNAIDS.Org, there are 33 million on the planet currently living with HIV (2009). The same report estimates that in 2009, 1.8 million died from AIDS.
In the United States, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) reports that 18,000 people die each year from AIDS.
UNAIDS reports that world-wide, there were 2,200,000 adults newly infected with the disease in 2009.
Cancer.Org estimates that 571,000 people died from cancer in 2011.
According to the CDC (Center for Disease Control), there were 34,598 suicides in the United States in 2007. The CDC reports that approximately 18,000 die each year from AIDS. In 2007, the CDC states there were 18,361 homicides.
As a comparison, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration published that in 2009, 33,808 people died in traffic accidents. The CDC also reports that every year 82 people die from being struck by lightning.
I shake my head. 17 people die from terrorist attacks but 82 were killed by lightning. We are all scared to death about terrorism but don't think twice about playing a round of golf. By my calculation, Tiger Woods is 482% more likely to die by getting zapped than by getting blown up. (82 divided by 17 times 100)
Okay, it all seems funny but is the journalist of The Atlantic article onto something when he says, "an irrational fear of terrorism is both unwarranted and a poor basis for public policy decisions"?
Some estimates put the total cost of the War in Afghanistan and Iraq at $5 trillion (Wikipedia: The Three Trillion War). I have seen journalists portray this as the U.S. spent five trillion dollars to basically kill one man, Osama bin Laden. Whether it is true or false, there is no denying that a great deal was set in motion by the actions of this man on September 11, 2001. (Salon: the CIA had bin Laden in its cross hairs a full year before 9/11 — but didn’t get the funding from the Bush administration White House to take him out or even continue monitoring him.)
Are we crazy?
When I did my first and only (so far) tandem parachute jump, I was admittedly a tad apprehensive. Oh boy, now what have I gotten myself into? Is this it? Is this how I (inadvertently) end it all? (see my blog Parachuting: If God had meant me to...)
I investigated and discovered I had a one chance in one hundred thousand of dying in a parachute jump but had one chance in six thousand of dying in my car. What? 1 in 100,000 vs. 1 in 6,000? But when I get into my car, I'm not the least bit worried about dying. Heck, I don't even think about having an accident. Am I crazy? The web site howstuffworks explains why we're afraid.
* Skydiving accidents are so infrequent, they usually hit the headlines. In contrast, car accidents are so frequent, they are either not reported or we just tend to ignore them.
* Familiarity: we are familiar with cars; we drive them; nothing bad happens; we think it's safe. It's only when we check out the stats we may clue in to just how dangerous cars really are.
Hmmm, am I worrying about the right things? Are we worrying about the right things? According to the United States Parachute Association, there were 21 fatalities in 2010. And yet the Center for Disease Control says 82 people are killed each year by lightning. Am I 390% more likely to die playing golf then jumping out of an airplane?
The Colbert Report - June 21, 2012
[Watch the segment "Threat Down": threat #1: terrorist furniture]
United States: http://www.colbertnation.com/full-episodes/thu-june-21-2012-lawrence-krauss
Politicians have known for a long time that collectively, we have the attention span of a mayfly. It is easy to sway us with talk of the next big thing without bothering with what may in front of our faces. I could blame the politician but isn't it our fault?
Do we worry about the right things? If you can't properly assess the nature of a threat, how do you develop effective and proportionate solutions? "[An] irrational fear of terrorism is both unwarranted and a poor basis for public policy decisions." What's the number one threat in America? Probably our own inability to stay focused on the real issues. Don't forget, 189 people died from carbon monoxide poisoning in 2008 (Consumer Protection Safety Commission), 17 children suffered a toy-related fatality in 2010 (CPSC) and 50 people were electrocuted with a household appliance in 2008 (CPSC). Oh yeah, and when you get behind the wheel of your car, be careful. Statistically speaking, you've got one chance in six thousand of not making it home for dinner.
The Atlantic - Jun 6/2012
Americans Are as Likely to Be Killed by Their Own Furniture as by Terrorism by Micah Zenko
According to the report, the number of U.S. citizens who died in terrorist attacks increased by two between 2010 and 2011; overall, a comparable number of Americans are crushed to death by their televisions or furniture each year. This is not to diminish the real--albeit shrinking--threat of terrorism, or to minimize the loss and suffering of the 13,000 killed and over 45,000 injured around the world. For Americans, however, it should emphasize that an irrational fear of terrorism is both unwarranted and a poor basis for public policy decisions.
The National Counterterrorism Center
2011 Report on Terrorism (published on March 21, 2012)
Consumer Product Safety Commission
Instability of Televisions, Furniture, and Appliances:
Estimated Injuries and Reported Fatalities, 2011 Report
Salon - Jun 19/2012
New NSA docs contradict 9/11 claims By Jordan Michael Smith
Perhaps most damning are the documents showing that the CIA had bin Laden in its cross hairs a full year before 9/11 — but didn’t get the funding from the Bush administration White House to take him out or even continue monitoring him. The CIA materials directly contradict the many claims of Bush officials that it was aggressively pursuing al-Qaida prior to 9/11, and that nobody could have predicted the attacks. “I don’t think the Bush administration would want to see these released, because they paint a picture of the CIA knowing something would happen before 9/11, but they didn’t get the institutional support they needed,” says Barbara Elias-Sanborn, the NSA fellow who edited the materials.
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