Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

The problem of perspective

With the Agora buzzing incessantly over the coming swine flu apocalypse, former president Cheney's jeremiad about how we're all going to be murdered by islamofascist terrorists, and the 76.28 (according to my calculations) detainees previously released from Guantanmo who have returned to unspecified "terrorist" or "militant" activities, I am prompted once again to ponder the hopeless question of why people worry about the stuff they worry about.

One of today's headline, for example, is that "deaths from swine flu" in the U.S. have now reached double digits. Double digits is a meaningless milestone in the first place, an arbitrary property of a numbering system based on the number of digits [sic] on our hands. In the overall context of death, it is a very, very small number.

Approximately 6,650 Americans die every day. More than 1,700 of those deaths are attributed to heart disease. That means that on Sept. 11, 2001 the al Qaeda hijackers were responsbile for less than 1/3 of the deaths that happened in the United States on that day, and that in the period Sept. 11-12, more Americans died of heart disease than died of terrorism. About 122,000 Americans die of unintentional injuries every year. That means that more Americans died of violent trauma the week of Sept. 11 from causes other than the terrorist attack, than died in the attack. As for the swine flu armageddon, it is nothing. Absolutely nothing. Forget about it. Doesn't even deserve to be on page 17.

And yet here we are obssessing about the possibility that somebody somehow somewhere might set off a bomb, and because this prospect is so horrific and unthinkable, we need to repeal the Bill of Rights and half of the international treaties to which we previously subscribed. We are closing schools all over the country because of the prospect that some kids might come down with the sniffles, so what do you think the kids do? They go to the mall. With their cough and sniffles. What else would they do?

Idiotic. Utterly idiotic.

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