The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Talk to you tonight!

Lifewriting Talk tonight!

My wife Tananarive Due and I will discuss all aspects of the writing life. Bring your best questions!

Wed., May 5, 2010, 6:00 PM Pacific (Daylight Savings time)
To connect via phone: (724) 444-7444
Call ID: 77111

Registering an account at is optional, but encouraged (it helps me see people's name when they call in).
So the Times Square bomber is talking. Great. But I still have serious questions about why there has been so little terrorist activity since 9/11. The answer I will not accept is "they haven't tried" or "they don't want to." I mean, a single car bomb during the Christmas shopping season in 2001 could have been disastrous to the American economy. People were suggesting that Al Queda was biding its time, making us worry...which struck me as a bunch of crap said by people who couldn't admit that maybe, just maybe, the Bush administration had done something right.

What do I think is going on? A couple of different realities, working in concert.
1) Our geographical separation really does make a difference.
2) We really do have superb intelligence services. They have been playing havoc with terrorist networks behind the scenes. Our military has accomplished far more than it sometimes appears.
3) Al Queda had one big, nasty, terrific idea, something no one else had ever done--hijack planes and fly them into buildings as missiles. Because no one had ever done it, there was a gigantic perceptual hole that conspiracy theorists fill with vast plots demanding thousands of moving parts. My very favorite: that the World Trade Center was wired for demolition while tens of thousands of witnesses were traveling back and forth through it every day. And then, in addition, they rammed planes into them as well. And not only that, but no actual terrorists were on the planes. And no passengers, either...they were deplaned at secret bases in Montana, and...oh, I just can't keep a straight face.
4) Bin Laden is dead as Bozo's nuts. Has been for nine years. The idea that this guy on dialysis has been running around, hiding in caves, and hasn't aged a day in a decade is just hysterical. Now THAT is a fun plot to think about.
Looking forward to Iron Man. Especially to the dialogue between Downy Jr. and Paltrow, which was the highlight of #1.


Nancy Lebovitz said...

Why there aren't more terrorist attacks.

It's harder than it sounds, and it's hard to get people to be terrorists unless they feel as though they're living in occupied territory.

Weirdly, it seems that lone nuts are more likely to manage a successful attack than organizations, at least in the US.

Ethiopian_Infidel said...

"'s hard to get people to be terrorists unless they feel as though they're living in occupied territory"

Yet the 9/11 hijackers and the London subway bombers were composed of emigrants from non-occupied countries (Saudi Arabia and Somalia), with the former having lived posh lives at home and abroad. Possibly the influence of a creed that lauds terrorism combined with perceived kinship with those who claim to be oppressed can goad the sympathetic to violence as effectively as in-your-face oppression.

" seems that lone nuts are more likely to manage a successful attack than organizations.."

By virtue of sheer largess, organizations are more vulnerable to detection and foil than are individuals. A conspiracy consists of individuals driven by various motives, ranging from aspirations of True Believers to crassly financial drives of Hired Guns. The latter can always be bought off and turned. Further, as the plot expands and recruits more conspirators, the risk of divulging plans to infiltrators, loyalists or turncoats increases dramatically. This is particularly true in a country like the USA, where an extensive security apparatus operates with the near-unanimous support of a patriotic populace. The vast expansion of federal surveillance post-Patriot Act has doubtless made domestic conspiracy even more difficult (as Christians say, give the Devil his due). By contrast, a lone terrorist need divulge her plans to nobody, and may thus be as invisible as discretion and whit afford. As Machiavelli essentially said in The Prince, a stable regime backed by popular support and effective security needn't fear conspiracy, but all governments and rulers are perpetually vulnerable to the lone terrorist who plans shrewdly and cares nothing for her fate beyond that her plot succeeds.

Nancy Lebovitz said...

I didn't say it was impossible to get people to be terrorists if they don't feel they're living in occupied territory, just that it's hard.

Terrorism is very rare in the US.

Anonymous said...

"Weirdly, it seems that lone nuts are more likely to manage a successful attack than organizations, at least in the US."

It's only in the US that people reflexively buy that "lone nut" bullshit.

Ethiopian_Infidel said...

"It's only in the US that people reflexively buy that "lone nut" bullshit."

The Lone Nut's actually common enough to frequently serve as effective pretext for crackdown and terror the world over. Thus lone nut Fanya Kaplan's attempted assassination of Lenin was the perfect pretext for the Red Terror, as lone nut Charlotte Corday's assassination of Marat was for the Great Terror. And Lone pyromaniac Marius van der Luppe's match-play served as perfect cover for the Nazis' torching of the Reichstag, which unleashed panic sufficient to enable Hitler to cement his Reich.

The history of terror and assassination in America actually closely follows Machiavelli's precepts, with 9/11 being that rare extensive conspiracy that succeeds despite astronomical odds. The other notable plots that transpired on American soil were either conducted by tiny terror cells (the Oklahoma City bombing and the Lincoln assassination) or lone nuts (the Garfield, Kennedy and King assassinations and Hinkly's attempted assassination of Reagan).

Anonymous said...

You really should read at least the first part of George Friedman’s (STRATFOR) excellent book “America's Secret War" before discounting the idea that AQ doesn’t want to stage additional attacks.

Of course the reality is that all of the possible reasons are likely involved to varying extents
1) Of course geography, especially post-9-11 matters.
2) I can neither confirm nor deny any information on this subject.
3) Even prior to 9-11 AQ was keeping the lid on a lot of small scale stuff. Other organizations were told to wait because AQ had something big in the works. AQ wanted the US to feel secure before they dropped the big one.
4) This actually makes little difference in the day to day operations of AQ. He's important as a figurehead but has only ever had marginal operational importance. Imagine in the US, if Obama keels over the FBI, CIA, Military, etc. all go to work, if not the next day then certainly the day after.

Scott Masterton said...

"Dead as Bozo's nuts"...that may be the funniest phrase I've read in a long time :). Sorry...I'm going to have to borrow that one in my next conversation.