"[This book] embodies the Buddhist wisdom about change, life, and the
world more than anything written after the events of that day."
July 8, 2007
SKEPTICAL OF SKEPTICS
I titled my book Watching the World Change. But skeptics will tell me on occasion that the world really didn't change all that much on that day in September 2001. Within two years of 9/11, they claim, humankind went back to its destructive preoccupations and quotidian routines. Conflicts across the Middle East continued to bleed on. The Bush administration squandered reservoirs of good will that it had built up among the community of nations. Tensions grew between the U.S. and Europe, between the U.S. and Russia, between the U.S. and allies (and enemies) everywhere. And here at home Americans abandoned their cohesiveness and determination, seeking refuge in distraction from the War on Terror and the brewing campaign in Iraq by losing themselves in reality TV, the tabloids, Internet gossip, and all manner of electronic self-abosorption. Same old woeful same old.
But a quick perusal of this morning's paper is all one needs to find ample evidence that ours is indeed a post-9/11 world, one that has been irrevocably altered in ways large and small.
- Today the Times' new public editor, Clark Hoyt, observes that "[President] Bush mentioned [al Qaeda] 27 times in a recent speech on Iraq.... The Associated Press reported last month that although some 30 groups have claimed credit for attacks on United States and Iraqi government targets, press releases from the American military focus overwhelmingly on Al Qaeda."
- In a guest editorial, Rep. Jerrold Nadler (Dem., NY), who oversees the House subcommittee examining the government’s failure to warn of possible health hazards associated with the Ground Zero rescue effort, reminds readers of pronouncements made by ex-EPA chief Mrs. [Christie] Whitman on September 18, 2001, in which she said she was “glad to reassure the people of New York” that “their air is safe to breathe.”
- After New York City was promised increased anti-terror funding by Homeland Security chief Michael Chertoff earlier this year, New York lawmakers are now angered because of reports that the estimated outlay for the city has been mysteriously cut back yet again.
- In today's "Week in Review," the Times' Mark Landler, writing from London, discusses the dubious role played by closed-circuit cameras (CCTV) in deterring potential suicide bombers: "Video surveillance...is better at unraveling crimes than deterring criminals, particularly Islamist terrorists bent on bringing a holy war to Britain's streets. 'The idea of CCTV as a deterrent for something like this is no longer accepted,' said David Murakami Wood, an expert in video surveillance... 'If you don't think you're coming back, you're not going to mind if you're caught on a camera.'"
- And today's prime Page One piece announced: "U.S. ABORTED RAID ON QAEDA CHIEFS IN PAKISTAN IN '05: A secret miliatry operation in early 2005 to capture senior members of Al Qaeda in Pakistan's tribal areas was aborted at the last minute after top Bush administraton officials decided it was too risky and could jeopardize relations with Pakistan."
In 2007, we are still attuned to the tensions of 2001, and are still seeking to learn its lessons.
We've come to understand the bigger picture, surely: how internecine conflicts have international repercussions; how politics, once decidedly "local" affairs, now often have worldwide ramifications; how the global economy, new technologies, and the Web connect us all. And we've come to see how the state of the environment is everyone's concern. This last topic was highlighted by yesterday's mega-eco-concert, Live Earth, held on all seven continents. While I make much of the fact (pages 32-35 of the book) that the global television and Internet audience for news footage on September 11 was on the order of two to two-and-half billion (the largest viewership ever for a breaking-news event) -- the estimated aggregate audience for Live Earth (TV, Net, radio, plus concert-attendees) was reportedly as high as two billion as well, according to concert organizers.
Since the World Cup's largest viewership was also tallied at between one and two billion, I'm highly skeptical of this number, which I find incredibly inflated -- not to rain on Al Gore's impressive, resplendent, and truly inspirational parade of performers. According to Carl Bialik, the respected gadfly and blogger known as The Numbers Guy, who analyzes such stats for the Wall Street Journal Online, one should regard these figures warily, since estimates of Oscar audiences (one billion!), Olympic ceremonies (one billion!), and even Princess Diana's 1997 funeral (2.5 billion!) have always proven to have been jacked up by organizers or reporters or armchair historians by many many many millions.
Which brings us back to the theme at hand: Skepticism.
Never trust what you read. Especially what you read on a blog.
FOLLOW UP: The Wall Street Journal's "Numbers Guy," Carl Bialik, actually followed up on this suggestion and wrote a column that poured cold water on the Live Earth "two billion viewers" estimate. According to Bialik:
“In the U.S., 19 million Americans tuned in for some part of the Live Earth broadcast, which was shown for several hours on various networks, according to Nielsen ratings. 'It’s hard to believe that the rest of the world (including countries in Asia or Africa) watched at a higher level than the U.S.,' Nielsen spokesman Gary Holmes told me in an email. The U.S. audience was about 6 percent of the overall population. If the rest of the world did watch at the same rate, that would suggest an audience of about 420 million.
"Live Earth never intended for the figures to represent viewership, spokesman Yusef Robb told me. Instead, two billion is the organizers’ estimate of how many people would become aware of the concert in some fashion: Newspaper articles, television, radio coverage, promotion, advertising or online.”
Awareness ain't audience. But, hey. Four hundred twenty million ain't anything to shake a recycled stick at.