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January 10, 2008

There Is No End To The Stupid

I particularly enjoy the excruciating stupidity of the American media when it strikes its "deep expertise" pose. I've been reading up on astronomy, they say, and I wonder how, as president, you'd deal with the way the sun orbits around the earth.

For instance, here's Charlie Gibson, moderating the recent Democratic debate in New Hampshire:

CHARLIE GIBSON: I want to go to another question. And it really is the central one in my mind in nuclear terrorism. The next president of the United States may have to deal with a nuclear attack on an American city. I've read a lot about this in recent days. The best nuclear experts in the world say there's a 30 percent chance in the next 10 years.

One thing Gibson didn't do when he "read a lot about this" was TO READ ANYTHING. If you feel like reading the study he's referring to yourself (pdf), you'll find that:

1. The question wasn't whether there would be nuclear terrorism in a U.S. city. Rather, it was "In your opinion, what is the probability (expressed as a percentage) of an attack involving a nuclear explosion occurring somewhere in the world in the next 10 years?" I.e., they were asked about the use of nuclear weapons anywhere by anyone, including by governments or outside the US or both.

2. The mean response was 29.2%. However, the median was lower, at 20%.

3. Among the 85 "best nuclear experts in the world" surveyed was Robert Joseph, a notorious hardliner who was on the National Security Council for four years before replacing John Bolton as Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security. Joseph supervised the section on Iraq's WMD in the 2003 State of the Union, and was responsible for the uranium-from-Africa claim.

Others inhabit the Bush administration's Dr. Strangelove-flavored penumbra. There's Richard Allen, who's on the Defense Advisory Board; Frank Carlucci, of the Carlyle Group and Project for a New American Century; and James Woolsey, Patrick Clawson, Reuel Marc Gerecht and Fred Ikle, all well-known for their role with PNAC and similar places.

GIBSON: Really, the central question in my mind is feet. I've been reading a lot about feet in recent days. And the best experts in the world say people each have nine feet. What would you do about this as president?

AND: On the same general subject, Sam Husseini makes a much more important point.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at January 10, 2008 08:43 PM

But I thought the United States IS the entire world.

Posted by: deang at January 10, 2008 08:48 PM

Good point. We're not literally the entire world, but we do in fact own the entire planet. So anything anyone does anywhere that we don't like is illegal.

Posted by: Jonathan Schwarz at January 10, 2008 08:52 PM

So really what they were saying is there's a 30% chance that we'll use nuclear weapons somewhere in the next ten years.

Posted by: ethan at January 10, 2008 08:55 PM

Gibson makes a common mistake, rather akin to those who confuse "always" and "frequently." When he says that he's been "reading a lot about" this issue, he really means to say that he has been reading, and this issues "appears to crop up a lot."

Posted by: David at January 10, 2008 10:09 PM

looking at the transcript, gibson knows more than he's letting on. let's torture him.

Posted by: hapa at January 10, 2008 10:57 PM

clearly we need to stop all those handouts to millionaire shoe farmers now that people have so many feet. The subsidy may have made some sense way back then, but times change. now I'm sleepy.

Posted by: Jonathan Versen at January 10, 2008 11:33 PM

Gibson was dim all through that debate. During the Iraq segment, he led off by asking, in essence, "You all opposed the surge. Don't you feel pretty stupid now that it's worked?" And when all the candidates argued that it hadn't worked, he got indignant! Like, geez! Hadn't they gotten the memo?

So, yeah, I'm not surprised to find out his statistics are bogus.

Posted by: Chris E. at January 10, 2008 11:41 PM

Chris, if violent death rates drop in Iraq, that's to America's credit. If they rise, it's all the fault of Iraqis. I mean, jeez, isn't this obvious?

Posted by: Donald Johnson at January 11, 2008 12:03 AM

When Gibson was reading about nuclear terrorism, did he read Larisa Alexandrovna or Sibel Edmonds?

Posted by: Bob In Pacifica at January 11, 2008 09:55 AM

That's what you Yanks get for permitting newsreaders to phrase questions and express opinions. Let them do what they can do: read the news, smile, nod or make a snuggly serious face.

Posted by: donescobar at January 11, 2008 10:28 AM

Jon, back in the early 1990s a big concern in certain quarters of the intelligence community -- particularly where I worked, the DOE Intelligence Office -- was "loose nukes" or, in a phrase we coined, "Russian Fission." The reasoning held that as the former USSR had spectacularly imploded and the new Russian Federation was bankrupt, there was greatly heightened danger that one of three things might happen: 1) impoverished nuclear weapons scientists and engineers would hire themselves out to anyone and everyone; 2) some fraction of the huge quantity of weapons-grade uranium or plutonium within the former USSR would go missing; and/or 3) some of the actual warheads (of which there were a huge number) would go missing. That none of these things happened, or at least not to any significant degree, suggests to me that the time of our greatest danger is past; that the Russians were actually more responsible than we gave them credit for; and that the Nunn-Lugar assistance (modest as it was) helped keep things under control during the time of Russia's most serious economic weakness. I've been out of the business for a while, but you'll have a hard time convincing me that nuclear proliferation is more of a crisis now than it was back then.

Posted by: Ralph Hitchens at January 11, 2008 11:16 AM

This is just a guess, but I think Charlie Gibson might be provided with health insurance through his employer.

So, for him (and that's all that really matters, to him) the threat of dying in a nuclear blast is greater than the risk of dying, unattended, in the local hospital emergency room.

Posted by: SteveB at January 11, 2008 11:50 AM

@RH: why didn't we do the same with small arms? no — nevermind.

Posted by: hapa at January 11, 2008 12:21 PM

Shucks, us God-fearing, law-abiding citizens have been preparing for the next terrorist attack. Even you socialist types, instead of whining, might start, and there'd be no better place than an article called "The Inurance Coverage Implications of Biochemical and Nuclear Terrorist Attacks," on the website of the IIAA, the Independent Insurance Agents of America, folks trying to help folks. Get with the program!

Posted by: donescobar at January 11, 2008 01:11 PM


Insurance Coverage...

Posted by: donescobar at January 11, 2008 02:06 PM

I want some of that Inurance Coverage..... to stop the sunburn on my eyeballs.

Posted by: at January 11, 2008 10:39 PM

I just assumed he meant to say the chance of someone using a dirty bomb was 30%. He's even dumber than I thought.

Of course the GOP candidates aren't exactly nuclear scientists themselves.

Posted by: Joe at January 12, 2008 12:19 AM

well, you showed him, didn't you?

OK, some journalist gets the details wrong, but he at least asked a relevent uestion. Nuclear proliferation is a threat, and while a dirt bom is not such a big deal, sometime or another a major city, most likely in the US, will experience a nuke event. (if you adopt a long enough timeline, it becomes nearly a certainty) so he asked a good question. oh but yes, you read the footnotes and showed how smart you are. ugh.

Posted by: milo at January 13, 2008 08:43 AM

Thanks for the links. That question drove me up the wall.

Posted by: Batocchio at January 14, 2008 08:36 PM