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4.14.04 Al Qaeda -- a public health problem?

I feel like I wasted the whole day yesterday listening to officials and ex-officials flapping their jaws about our enemies.

Janet Reno was the most endearing of those who testified before the 9/11 Commission. She kind of understood that the boys over at the FBI were still fighting Al Capone.

One phrase I'm sick of hearing from George Bush is "no specific threat." He keeps saying something like, "If only I'd have known the day and time they were going to hijack those planes to crash into buildings, I'd have moved mountains to stop them."

Come on, George. What kind of idiots do you take us for?

In the past I've distinguished between "plans" and "preparedness." Sometimes it's hard to have specific plans because you don't know exactly what's coming your way. However, with enough forethought and weighing of odds, you can be prepared for a variety of likely scenarios.

"Nobody told me they were going to fly into the World Trade Towers, so what could I have done?"

Well, nobody is going to tell me the day I need to have an emergency appendectomy, so that's why I buy health insurance. I'm playing the odds.

During the 90s, the al Qaeda threat grew and grew and grew -- like AIDS did in the 1980s. Something new. Something unprecedented. Mind boggling. No one has stumbled upon the magic bullet to make AIDS go away. But multiple strategies have been developed for prevention, early detection, and then for keeping people alive and functioning if they do get AIDS.

That's all I really expect from my government in dealing with al Qaeda and its allied organizations. It's a public health approach. Accumulate data on the patterns -- don't go trying to chase after the next AIDS victim or the next al Qaeda attack. You don't know the next victim but you know the enemy. If you can't eliminate it, you can begin avoiding it. You start knowing the hot spots. You can begin to more cleverly infiltrate.

AIDS is still a horrible scourge. In the U.S., it is still a risk among careless people, but we no longer feel randomly victimized.

Maybe instead of trying to reform the FBI, they should turn the problem over to the Centers for Disease Control and let the shoe-leather epidemiologists have a go at it.

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