Random Thoughts

Anthrax Scare!
Worldwide Terrorism on the March

While I prefer to lean back and write about things in a fairly abstract, even timeless way, and certainly to think them through and mull them over before actually writing things for this web site, sometimes the nature of "current events" is compelling enough and, more importantly, clearly absurd enough, to justify contemporary comment. Thus this.

To date, as far as I have been informed, there have been three deaths due to the recent anthrax "mailings." Approximately fifteen people seem to have tested positive for the disease. A handful of locations have also been shown to have spores present. This is over a period of about one month since the first noticed occurrence (a letter containing spores sent to a media figure). During this period a similar anthrax-gram has been identified as addressed to a prominent politician, and surely there have been one or two more actual letters?

My first side note of astonishment is that in the same time period, roughly 1,300 people have perished in drunk driving accidents, statistically speaking (figure based on MADD provided number of 16,653 such fatalities in the year 2000)! These are utterly preventable deaths and yet the people in charge of preventing them do not want to interfere in the process of vending alcoholic beverages enough to do so. I am sure a so-called "zero tolerance" policy on drunk driving would not only rapidly reduce these figures tenfold, it would probably destroy many highly profitable entertainment businesses. Of course it would simpler to "ban" cars...

Now, on to what I feel is my duty to provide a skeptical and (almost) scientific "reality check." Three deaths in a month due to a fairly non-communicable disease sounds to me like an irrelevancy. If it were not for the destruction of September 11, 2001 (look it up if it's been so long no one remembers), who would be thinking of applying this incredible microscope of attention to possible cases of bioterrorism in the United States? Put another way, if 40 people were dying of anthrax each year over, say, the last two decades, would anyone have ever even noticed? Someone gets really sick with flu-like symptoms and dies. Do we perform an autopsy? Do we investigate their workplace for suspicious mailroom deliveries? Do we look through their trash for "odd looking" envelopes that may have held malicious messages in powder form?

Come on, folks. There is no control group with which to compare our statistically insignificant observations. It could be that for years someone, somewhere, has been mailing spores to various "targets" - and finally we have noticed, now that we are looking for this sort of activity.


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© Huw Powell

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