Homeland Security, Death Cab for Cutie, Fuzzy Llamas, and the Square Root of Stupidity | Harper's Magazine

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[Washington Babylon]

Homeland Security, Death Cab for Cutie, Fuzzy Llamas, and the Square Root of Stupidity

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At times it’s hard to fathom exactly how stupid our nation has become. And then there’s this: though only reported thus far by MTV News, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security recently broke up a major terrorist plot that threatened to strike a painful blow to America’s collective loins. The strike was thwarted when DHS agents on the Canadian border confiscated a hard drive containing the song files for a new solo record by Death Cab for Cutie guitarist/producer Chris Walla. “I couldn’t even venture a guess as to where it is, or what it’s doing there,” Walla told MTV. “I mean, I can’t just call their customer-service center and ask about my drive. There’s nothing I can do. I don’t know if we can hire an attorney … is there a black-hole attorney? You can’t take a black hole to court . . . They could be water-boarding my drive for all I know.”

MTV says it’s “not abundantly clear” why the hard drive was confiscated, but I’ll sleep better at night knowing that it was. And this will help even more: DHS has come up with “a mathematical value purporting to represent the square root of terrorist intent,” according to Congressional Quarterly. In fact, that was reported nearly a year ago, but I only heard about it last night and wanted to share the discovery.

According to CQ, the “figure appears deep in the mind-numbingly complex risk-assessment formulas that the department used in 2006 to decide the likelihood that a place is or will become a terrorist target—an all-important estimate outside the Beltway, because greater slices of the federal anti-terrorism pie go to the locations with the highest scores.” Variables used by DHS in calculating the square root of terrorist intent included an “attractiveness factor,” which seeks “to establish how terrorists might prefer one sort of target over another,” and the “chatter factor,” which seeks “to gauge the intent of potential terror plotters based on communication intercepts.”

Maybe this is how DHS’s list of national assets to protect against terrorist attacks came to include Old MacDonald’s Petting Zoo in Woodville, Alabama. “Don’t just gaze at the animals–touch them!” says the zoo’s website. “Feel the wool of the sheep! Experience the fuzzy chin of the llama as he eats from your hand.” Will Al Qaeda stop at nothing?

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