Your gut or mine?

In a meeting last week with the Chicago Tribune, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said, "This is a summer of increased risk." When asked on what he was basing that disturbing assessment, Chertoff said it was "a gut feeling," and not the result of any specific intelligence. It was more, like, well, it's summer and that's a time the terrorists find "appealing."

Whew. And for a minute, there, it seemed like the secretary was going to share with the American people some hard-core data that said the bad guys were on their way and the alert was being raised from yellow to cinnabar. But instead it was all coming from his gut.

The only question remaining, then, is how much faith should we place in Mr. Chertoff's gut?

Perhaps we should begin by understanding how such a serious assessment ended up in the secretary's gut as opposed to some other location in his person. Of course, we know that when Mr. Chertoff says it's a gut feeling he's not talking about his long intestine. A gut feeling refers to something a bit more nebulous.

Good chance it's '60s speak for an overall emotion that likely starts in the left hemisphere of the brain (home to intuition and the desire to write poetry), then spreads out and works its way down to a, well, overall feeling. And actually, that feeling may never reach the actual gut; then again, it is diffuse enough to feel as if it's close.

Actually, gut feelings are more like one part sensation and two parts persistent tingling, often identified as a sense of foreboding; however, it can be a good, even cheerful feeling. Regarding Mr. Chertoff's gut sensation, it was of the foreboding type. Like, "I'm sensing, here, that the summer scene may not have a right ending." From the glass is half full department: When he said this, he was not wearing a tinfoil hat with an antennae. Feel better?

When pressed about his gut, he did lapse into vagueness, then got a tad metaphysical. But still, some folks absolutely swear by their gut, while others attribute said mood most likely due to a late night pizza with anchovies and extra bread with the dip.

Others are certain that a gut feeling comes with a voice that whispers like a warning. "Don't board this particular flight to Omaha. Better to go by train." Or, on occasion, that whispery, little gut feeling voice might say, "What the heck, it feels right, go for it. Unprotected sex can't hurt just this once." Lot of kids walking around might dispute that.

But there is another question that comes to mind. How reassuring is it that the head honcho of Homeland Security has at his disposal all of this really serious intelligence, gathered by thousands of operatives from all over the planet, and not to forget a bevy of satellites that can look down and tell if you put the garbage can lid on nice and tight, and his fallback position is his gut. Should that concern us, even just a little? No one wants to be too critical, here.

I mean, when did the gut become a more reliable barometer of the threat of a terrorist attack than say five DHS guys listening to al-Qaida talking to one another on their new iPhones, trying to hatch a plan involving the Sears Tower? Okay, so maybe only one of those five eavesdroppers speak Arabic, but still ... six years after 9/11 someone's got to be working on the language issue. Right? What's your gut tell you? You're picking up foreboding. Well, you're not alone.

OK, maybe it's just me. But I was not all that disappointed when the '60s ended and people started to make decisions based on information that didn't involve the gut. That would be about the same time they stopped saying they were feeling "groovy," and that the converted milk truck that had a Coleman stove, one lantern, tie-dyed curtains and five sleeping bags inside was "far-out."

I mean consider the source: In the '60s, people loaded up old school buses and headed back to the land, man, to, like, grow their own food and get back in touch with the earth. But, like, within three months a whole lot of folks found out that chickens don't come when you call them, goats wander off, milking the one cow was just a tad tricky, and trying to raise squash in a rainstorm was making no one feel too "groovy."

"Groovy" would be if Mr. Chertoff might, like, forget about his gut and maybe stick to the intel, and stuff like that. Now that would be "far-out." But no one wants to be too critical, here.

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