"Let nothing human be alien to me"- Terence

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

A light touch of ugly regional parochialism

In Homage to Catalonia, George Orwell expressed some frustration with at the Spaniards ineffeciency and lack of punctuality.  He says "In theory I rather admire the Spaniards for not sharing our Northern time-neurosis, but unfortunately I share it myself."   I pretty much feel the same way when it comes to the mentality of my Chicago home- I admire people who don't have the "second city" chip on their shoulder, but I have it, and as much as I may try to pretend differently, it is huge. 

Which is why I have a mix of sympathy and amusement over our local media trying to figure out why the Yemen cargo bombs were addressed to Chicago.  There is a sort of sober glee in the stories; a strange kind of boosterism- see, New York, we can be attacked as well!   The stories all come with a mention that the packages were meant to blow up in mid-air (presumably), but that Chicago is still a target.  In this Tribune piece, there is a bit of subtle puffery about the last issue of Inspire.

A few weeks earlier, al-Qaida's online magazine had published a photograph of Chicago's skyline, with the nation's tallest building, the Willis Tower, front and center. 

That's right- front and center.  And did we mention it was the nation's tallest building?

Now, I think Chicago could be a target.  It is a major city, and one of the world's most important cities for international business (there's my boosterism, Rahm).  As Evan Kohlmann points out in the Trib story, "'I think the primary interest in Chicago is that it is the power base of President (Barack) Obama.'"  I think the "power base" line might be overstating the case- it is doubtful that AQAP thinks they can bring down the President by attacking Chicago, as an attack on a power base normally can (and that probably isn't what Kohlmann means; I just wanted to clarify).  But the symbolism is hugely important.  Additionally, Chicago is in the heartland, more or less, and an attack there could show a greater reach than "merely" attack cities on the coast.

In the article, Kohlmann was also paraphrased saying "At the same time, blowing up a plane near or over Chicago would likely cause more collateral damage on the ground because, unlike New York or Los Angeles, the city is not near an ocean, he said."  I hesitate to point out that Chicago is on a lake, a really big one, of which if you are close enough is virtually indistinguishable from the ocean (you can't see across either).  I am not totally sure what this means- I guess that the NY airports are on the ocean, so the route of the plane might be more over water than land, and therefore when it explodes it has a better chance of crashing into the sea.  O'Hare and Midway or more inland.  So this makes some sense, although no flight pattern is direct (when I've flown back from DC or NY or Philly lately, I've always been entirely over water at some point).

 This isn't at all to pick on Kohlmann, whose analysis I admire.  He was asked a question to which we really don't have an answer- all is speculation.   There isn't anything really inherently special about Chicago as a target, at least not more or less than other major cities (even though it is the best one- yeah!).  The main thing to take away is that terrorism is about body count and panic.  There is only so much we can do about the former.  The latter, though, is entirely in our control.

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