The Terrorist Threat Index

David Galef uncovers the latest piece of applied research to come out of the U. of All People's ever-creative faculty.

January 23, 2007

For years, the field of political science at U. of All People has attracted failed economists and cast-offs from the philosophy and psychology departments. Not surprisingly, poli sci ranked only with the music department in its near-poverty-line salaries. Only in recent years, with the university administration insisting that its faculty demonstrate the utility of their discipline, has political science rallied, marketing its services to the U.S. government as everything from policy analysis to quick-fix government solutions.

As with the success of any department, much of it is traceable to an active chair, in this instance Dr. Terrence Temerity, now in his third year at the helm. Under Temerity, a cadre of professors last year set up a consulting firm called Wonks 4 Hire, focusing on issues of national security. And with the Department of Homeland Security in flux over the pending shift in Iraq policy, W4H saw its opportunity, offering a more nuanced alert system than the clumsy old code yellow, orange, and red..

To galvanize today’s voters for the troops increase, argued an internal memo (mistakenly e-mailed to REPLY ALL from Dr. Temerity’s office, then leaked to the campus newspaper, Hey U), domestic terrorist threats have got to appear imminent. It’s not how endangered the country is but how unsafe people feel. Borrowing from psychology, mathematics and weather forecasting’s Temperature Humidity Index, W4H has come up with the TTI, or Terrorist Threat Index. Here are out-takes from the memo in garbled form from the student-run newspaper.


On a scale that starts at 90, the TTI formula is 100 x Q / .37 + D, where Q = some Quotient counted in decimals, and D = a vague feeling of Doom, but really the whole thing depends on mood, depending on “news” carefully leaked by the U.S. administration.

90: nothing major in the newspaper headlines, just genocide in far-off places like Darfur. People can enjoy a drink after work without feeling as if the swarthy guy in the next booth is taking notes on their conversation. The administration can bide its time.

92: some terrorist group in Indonesia or Sri Lanka attacks a group of tourists that includes Americans. People think of blindfolded hostages and reconsider their summer vacation plans. The administration should issue a statement about the domino theory and hope that people will forget about Afghanistan.

94: another report of a suicide bombing in Iraq, with the premonition that this could happen in the U.S. People at traffic lights may glance uneasily at the panel truck in the next lane, wondering what’s in the back. Time for the administration to push through a bill for stringing yellow-and-black DANGER tape all across our borders.

96: an anniversary marks a tragic death that happened last year with the implication that it could happen again today. The administration must use this opportunity to pass a counter-terrorist act that also sanctions clear-cut logging in Seattle.

98: a new look at Saddam Hussein’s diary for 2002 shows that he intended to acquire weapons of mass destruction from Mars. Time to make an argument in Congress that Americans need to hold on to their assault rifles in case the war gets carried to U.S. shores.

100: morning news reveals a plot to bomb the Washington, D.C., subway system using explosives fashioned from old bottle tops and motor oil. Better not commute to work today. The administration delivers an “I told you so” speech and can then order up 20,000 more troops.

Government official [name deleted] should be quite pleased with the scale and its potential applications. After the provost receives his percentage of the payment, this just might be a banner year for internal grants awarded to the political science department. Who knows? This could be the start of a beautiful relationship.




David Galef is a professor of English and administrator of the M.F.A. program in creative writing at the University of Mississippi. His latest books are the novel How to Cope with Suburban Stress and the co-edited fiction anthology 20 over 40.


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