Saturday, January 08, 2005

Terror's one track mind

If terrorists attacked a US community in the dead of night with a chemical warfare gas, killing eight and injuring over 300 and with more than 70 admitted to the hospital, you can believe we would be doing some serious ass-kicking, civil liberties be damned. If the same thing happens as a result of a rail "accident," however, we quickly return to business as usual.

And how is that business conducted? As Jordan Barab reports in Confined Space, federal oversight of the rail industry is not exactly, shall we say, rigorous. But you'll have to read Jordan's account. It is really too depressing to write about here.

But it is worth reflecting a bit about this difference. Is it just that a terrorist event is singular and the rail accident too familiar? I don't think so, but I don't feel confident I can clearly articulate the difference, either. The explanation that one has a larger political reach while the other doesn't also seems to avoid the issue of why and how we allow our public health response to be modified by external issues. It would perhaps be easy to give rhetorical answers to this. But I think we need more.

Ideas solicited from our growing readership and community.