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Anthrax Ain't It

This is Dark Cloud on Wednesday, October 17, 2001.

I'm writing this on Tuesday, a day before you hear it. So bear that in mind: I'm twenty-four hours behind the news curve as you listen.

So we may all be dying of anthrax at the moment, but I severely doubt it. Despite all the coverage and hoopla, we have now about twenty victims of what is, in equal parts, an incompetent and rather pathetic attack against the United States. Because the attacks have been against people in the media, there has been hysterical outpouring of false sentiment and contrived emotion, but the dust has pretty much settled and it seems about four people are technically sick with the disease. One has died, and the others have only had provable contact with the pathogen. This, people, is not a catastrophe or even a major source of concern. It is a minor car wreck, is all.

However, because Tom Brokaw was targeted and one of his staffers has to take a paid illness leave, we are presented with coverage as if the Plague were among us. It isn't. Anthrax isn't even contagious, by the way. It is a horrible and painful death, but the fact is that if correctly diagnosed in time, it apparently isn't even that difficult to survive, even the air borne variety. The man who died had apparently been under treatment for something else, which is to say a misdiagnosis, and that two-week delay was the mortal factor. Now that every sneeze is nationally tabulated and every skin rash alerts the local firehouse, now that an antibiotic which easily handles one type of human anthrax in certain lights is being prescribed and stockpiled as if it were the bone meal of St. Christopher, I suspect the life span of an unwanted anthrax pod is today in America about as long as that of a lounge singer heard introducing his rendition of God Bless America in a Kabul topless bar.

I hate that song, by the by. Love America, like Irving Berlin, hate God Bless America.

But the fact is, the intent was massive death and terror - or merely to show us how easy it would be - and that alone is enough to cluster our wits. I'm just saying: get a grip.

If indeed it was Bin Laden, and not some Sumatran Rat Boy who feels his side was not addressed sufficiently in a recent tabloid, then his intent in attacking such low-end publications was to spread fear, which he has done, and to spread it by hysteria, which has not happened.

The facts are, the United States had a pretend security system at airports and medical facilities, featuring low paid, corrupt, and unmotivated personnel. If there had even been a marginally upgraded system, Bin Laden's masterly mind would have been stymied. That is the revealed truth of September 11.

And America is full of pretend, procedures without point. Criminal justice, where we spend millions to take punk children and mentor them with hardened crooks in a prison system that can only be called bizarre and counter productive, is just the starting place. Here's another.

Our institutionalized and financially indigent mentally handicapped receive about the same level of care and concern as the bag containing a rifle that passed through several airport checkpoints in recent weeks. Our handicapped, elderly, and imprisoned are in the hands of the same well paid, motivated, and inspired people of the sort who have been in charge of airport security and, no doubt, storage at biochemical plants. It took the deaths of six thousand to get our attention. Someday, a highly intelligent human being - misdiagnosed as mentally handicapped but merely deaf or autistic or the like - will get so frustrated he or she will become a mass murderer, leaving at night, killing, and returning every morning. Believe me, the staff would never know, the police will never suspect, the public would never believe such a thing could happen. We are only now believing that scores of people on death row are utterly innocent of any crime. We are only now realizing that our thirty-year-old airport security was an expensive and pointless joke to no real positive end. Out of sight, below the radar, or off the screen is where America likes its dichotomies and hypocrisies. We have Bin Laden to thank for forcing us to face just a few of them. We ought to take advantage of him to face a lot more.

We have twenty people who have been exposed to Anthrax. We have hundreds of thousands of people in prisons and institutions who don't belong there. We ought to chat about this when the war is over. At this rate, say next month?

This is Dark Cloud.