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The Byrne Report

Ready or Not

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I RECEIVED THIS LETTER from "Worried North Bay Neoconservative who Wishes to Remain Anonymous."

Dear Peter,

Your snide column last week about Tom Ridge's supposed conflicts of interest horrified me more than Osama bin Laden ever did. Do you think that just because you live in left-wing Marin County or cow-poop-stinky Sebastopol, or are socially registered in Napa Valley that you are terrorist-proof? Living the good life here in the North Bay, it is easy to forget that someone might want to poison the drinking water in Novato, or drop tularemia spores onto the Luther Burbank Center from a hot air balloon, or wither all the grape vines in St. Helena with a mutant Round-up Ready gene.

I know that, aside from us decent folks, the North Bay is infested with greedy trial lawyers; salaried socialists; Wicca-leaning anarchists; atheist-leaning Presbyterians; nonmarried, non-Christian, nonstraight co-habitués; and hemp-wearing "progressives" who get all dewy-eyed about the kill-ratio in Iraq. (For chrissake, when are those people going to surrender?) But even bohemians need to think about what they are going to do when the likes of John Walker Lindh gets out on parole and invites some of his Taliban friends over for a barbecue in downtown Mill Valley.

If you can put your tofu dog down for a second, Peter, I advise you to pick up the Valley Yellow Pages. Under H you will find a two-page color announcement sponsored by the Department of Homeland Security. Superimposed on our nation's flag, the truth is revealed: "Terrorism forces us to make a choice. We can be afraid. Or we can be ready."

The question I have for you and your readers is: Are you ready to be afraid? You are a lot less safe then you think, living in your la-la land, laughing at the color codes. Last year Mr. Ridge said that terrorists are certain to unleash a weapon of mass destruction, soon, very soon, maybe tomorrow, probably around dawn. Better get ready, don't you think? Make out a will, put in some prescriptions, oil up your gun and stay far, far away from the fleshpots of San Francisco.

But what I am really afraid of, Peter, is that the Bush administration is moving too far to the left. A couple of weeks ago, the normally sensible American Enterprise Institute, a very powerful neoconservative think-tank in Washington, D.C., actually slandered Mr. Ridge, just like you did. A few days later, he was unceremoniously canned!

This newly renegade institute claims that inducing paranoia in the masses is a poor terrorism-fighting strategy. "The scale of terrorism risks might seem to be small relative to the attention they command," the AEI lied. "For instance, 3,029 people died in the U.S. from terrorist attack in 2001. During that same year, 156,005 people died from lung cancer and 44,091 from automobile accidents. . . . Media coverage of terrorism . . . creates circumstances wherein people are likely to overestimate risks . . . magnify[ing] the terrorist threat."

As you know, Peter, one of terror's main weapons is the irrational fear it causes before it acts. Obviously, the AEI is not rational, not afraid of the right things and too afraid of the wrong things. Furthermore, it is fueling the wrong kind of mass fear--irrational fear--by criticizing the government.

It is not giving real fear a chance to grow naturally.

Despite Mr. Ridge's preparations, the North Bay is in terrible danger. And I can prove it.

The folks at Risk Management Solutions say that terror groups usually abide by principles of proportionate violence and cost-benefit. Nice academic touch there! In other words, Peter, they are smart and ready, even if you and your commie editor are not.

Here is the kicker for the North Bay. Risk Management Solutions predicts that "as military and government targets increase their protection levels, softer targets, such as economic and commercial targets, become more attractive." Consequently, the surest way to drive a terrorist to attack the outlet mall in Petaluma, the Pacific movie theaters in Rohnert Park, the Swiss Hotel in Sonoma--or, Lord God, this is awful--the innocent bedroom communities of Healdsburg and Cloverdale, is to harden the security of military bases, government offices and trophy buildings in San Francisco. And they are hard. Sweet Jesus, are they hard.

Don't get me wrong. I am not questioning the wisdom of the Department.

I am just pointing out, Peter, that every time a terrorist sees those cop cars parked near the Golden Gate Bridge, he will just keep on driving north--until he finds people who are not ready.

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From the December 15-21, 2004 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.

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