Wednesday, March 29, 2017

On Terrorism

I don't truck with 'Islamophobia' and by virtue of the fact that I don't believe Islamophobes exist, the question of whether or not I truck with them is kind of moot in my mind. Let me just say, I'm pretty happy to be cast out of the kind of groups that rally around identifying Islamophobes, and am equally happy not to hang around with people that dedicate their psychic energy in criticizing Islam.

Upon close examination of both my pre and post September 11 life, I feel the evidence suggests that I don't need to have an opinion on Islam at all.

But when Bill Maher challenges his real time panel and 'fellow liberals' to name a non-Muslim terrorist attack and they say 'the IRA' and he says recently, and they say Timothy McVey or that guy in Norway or Sweden or whatever who shot those people at the camp, and Bill Maher says whatever... or Sam Harris... I'm not even aware of what Sam Harris has been saying recently. But much of his writing from and since the End of Faith, has been as far as I can paraphrase and speak for him, which is not very far - that the consequences of a faith based nuclear attack are so catastrophic that ending religious belief is an emergency and priority number one is Islam.

However In the last 7 days prior to writing this post, an alleged terrorist drove a car onto a pavement killing 4 people and injuring something like 40 people (I haven't checked the details, if you didn't deduce that already)

I was told by my parents that Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull had seen fit to make a statement regarding the incident about terrorism and what it means for the world...

My thought was - how much is this going to cost?

And not just in financial costs. The loss of personal freedoms, civilian and armed forces casualties in reinforced commitments to combat 'terrorism' through state-based warfare...

There is also a strikingly linear trend among "weaponized vehicles of choice" from Planes 15 years ago to trucks last year to a car in Westminster district last week.

Similarly the direct casualties from these attacks have dropped from almost 3000, to 86 in Nice, to 12 in Berlin, to 4 including the perpetrator in Westminster.

Does this mean I'm going to side with the conservatives and say the War on Terror is being won? No.

The war I would say, in terms of military action will go down in history as an ill conceived and costly exercise that almost certainly exacerbated terrorism. But the ordinary learning has probably been quite effective, a September 11 style attack, was probably impossible to replicate as of September 12th, 2001.

Not because W shocked and awed the residents of Afghanistan but because flights were grounded, temporary additional security measures were taken, and then further airport security measures were implemented. If the attacks had been carried out in a manner where it remained a mystery as to how the World Trade Center towers, then yeah, as of September 12th we'd be in the dark as to whether further attacks could be prevented. But we know exactly how it got carried out, and it was easy to adjust.

I would presume for large public gatherings, some simple but tedious traffic control solutions have been implemented. Concrete bollards spaced at less than the width of a truck around pedestrian gathering areas comes to mind.

Full scale military warfare, waged against foreign states probably contributes nothing to making the public safer. I would say there's a likelihood that it makes domestic civilian populations more at risk of terrorist attacks.

Thus I feel, Bill Maher and Sam Harris are barking up the wrong bush. And it isn't due to an irrational fear of Islam, but the problem being more actuarial.

Dick Dawkins pointed out that it was a failure of modern media that when there was a contentious moral issue in the news, the talking heads summoned to comment on the issue often featured clergy and almost never a Moral Philosopher. To be honest, I don't watch enough news to verify whether this conforms to my own experience, except to say, I've never seen a Moral Philosopher consulted over anything.

But in all the noise around terrorism, the big omission to me, is that I never see an actuary consulted. To walk the public and the policy makers through an equation that is something like the expected value equation. Which is the expected value = (odds of gain) x (value of gain). And it is never too late to consult an actuary.

Which I haven't done, so this is just speculation.

Starting with the value of the gain of 'fighting terrorism' you need to start with what it would cost (or profit - lets be open minded) to do nothing. In this case, I'm suggesting that 'nothing' excludes, clean up of the property damage, treating the wounded, compensating the berieved and wounded, investigating the incident and altering policy and practices to prevent future attacks. By nothing I mean failing to round up some military posse, identifying some state to target in traditional state based warfare and launching a military response against that state. Doing none of that military off-shore shit.

So you have that, and then you calculate the cost of doing something, fighting terrorism - so the tax dollar and human cost of financing military action against a foreign state - I personally would include the casualties on both side. And then you also have to calculate the revenues the income, the gains of military action. Here I would like my actuary to specify whether the gains would be public or privatized, as if privatized, then the gains are 0 for the people financing the enterprise - namely taxpayers. But even if military action is a complete cost exercise it could still be in tax payer interests if it costs them less than doing 'nothing' as above.

So you take the cost of doing nothing - the cost of military action and if that = 0 or more, then our actuary can give the go ahead.

Now look at the tricky element 'odds of gain' here as at September 12th, 2001 there could have been genuine ambiguity as to how effective military responses were in lowering the public risk of domestic terrorist attacks. However I would dare say that over the past 15+ years, the odds of successfully eradicating terrorism or militant Islamic groups via military action would have been significantly revised.

I speculate that looking at the cold hard data and intelligence - the probability might be zero and may well be negative.

Now if you don't find maths interesting, let me quickly turn the crank on the expected value sausage machine - say there's a raffle with a total of 10 tickets, and tickets cost $10 each and the winning draw wins $2,000. Our E(x) = 0.1 x 2000 (one in 10 chance x $2,000 prize money) such that E(x) = $200. This means even though there's binary outcomes (you win or you lose) if you played this game enough you would expect to win $200 for every $10 you spent on tickets. This would literally be true if you bought all 10 tickets, holding 9 losing tickets and one winner.

The key thing being, in most expected value equations, the expected value is somewhat less than the best case outcome.

Fighting terrorism may well look like this: E(x) = (0 or less probability) x (some negative number)

Here our actuary would probably apologise, but say 'it costs you more to react than you gain by it, and should you react it would make the situation worse not better. To put it in terms of a raffle, it costs $10 a ticket and there is no prize money, all tickets are drawn and you then receive either a fine of $3,000 or $10,000 and maybe somebody you know and care about gets killed. My advice would be not to buy the ticket.'

This is not so unusual a situation, if somebody on the street calls you a wanker, then beating the shit out of them will make everyone's lives worse, not better. So most people do nothing. Situations like this are so common we have a word for a attempting to sell someone a raffle ticket they can only lose by should they buy it - that word is 'provocation'

Hence, post Westminster attack, where 2 civilians were killed, 1 unarmed police officer and 1 terrorist, I wonder how much this is going to cost Australian taxpayers, Australian armed forces, and Australian citizens in terms of personal freedoms. Especially given that two months earlier a non-terrorist man killed 4 civilians by driving his car onto the pavement in the Melbourne CBD including one child. Judging by the name of the driver, he is of Greek ethnic descent - I'm guessing he will simply be charged and prosecuted as an individual, with little to no chance of any meaningful regulations or state based warfare against Greece or Macedonia and thereabouts undertaken.

And, I observe, all these are acts of commission, that is the thing about terrorism.

I am no longer, and frankly, never have been scared by the prospect of being caught up in some terrorist act as I go about my daily life. Whether I am running a marathon, working in an office building, shopping at a market, taking the train or walking on a footpath. The odds are just much much lower than being killed by a driver opening their car door into the path of my bike. That is something I am scared of, and would welcome a change in Australian law to implement the 'Dutch-Reach' as a failing criteria of the drivers license test.

What stands to kill vast numbers, if not the entirety of Human civilization is climate change. Here the 1st and 2nd most powerful religious ideologies of the world make Islamic Terrorism look laughable.

The first and hardest to tackle is the widely held belief that corporations are people who need to be kept happy. I don't know how to begin tackling this one.

The second is the cluster of varying denominations of Christianity, clearly the most economically powerful, resource and territory rich of all the worlds major religions.

And here, let me shock you back into cognitive thought by asking, upon receiving a complaint from a parishioner that they or their child had been sexually assaulted by the clergy, why was the matter almost never referred to the police?

This question was the subject of the movie 'Spotlight' where they actually decoded the Boston Diocese' cypher for priests that were alleged to have committed sexual assaults, in publicly available directories.

Why when it was a statistically significant phenomena (6% by my recall) did the Church not adopt a policy of handing these men over to the police?

My answer is speculative, because thus far all I've heard as far as admissions of institutional guilt are things along the lines of 'we were more concerned about the scandal than the victims' or thereabouts.

my speculative answer being - 'moral authority'. It is easy to forget that the people who go to Church are there to here somebody speak as to their knowledge of the all-knowing, benevolent creator of the Universe.

It is an extraordinary claim, that you have expertise on the will of an all powerful and benevolent God. Implied in this is that not just anybody can do it.

But if it turns out that your rigorous recruiting method to identify those qualified to lecture others on what it is to live a good life and earn your place in heaven, can be infiltrated easily by somebody who likes to rape or otherwise assault children, it looks like your system doesn't work at all.

And so, Climate change. If you are one of the world's richest institutions, and you've been telling a bunch of hairless apes who walk in regularly and donate what little they have to the upkeep of your institution that they are the ultimate creation of the one and only creator a benevolent god who keeps you at the center of the Universe and sends floods to punish people for sin and decides who will win wars and so fourth...

You are practically obliged to deny that climate change needs addressing. Because God wouldn't let that happen, the book of revelations tells us how it is all going to end, and nothing in it says that burning fossil fuels (because fossils can only be 4000 years old anyway) and eating more beef than ever will gradually make increasing parts of the habit uninhabitable.

And these Christian's hold sway over who is elected and what their attitude is to climate change and environmental regulation.

Super douche Ken Hamm, has literally built an amusement park to try and lend credence to the Noah's Ark mythology.

Harris and Maher can give people like Ken Hamm a hard time, Bill Nye probably has done a better job, but where it is poised, Christianity is far more dangerous to the human race than Islam is. Christians already have the nukes, and the nukes are of little concern compared to irreversible damage to the ecosystem.

A nuclear winter sounds bad, but to my understanding this is why there is international support for the nuclear-non-proliferation treaty. There is nowhere near enough support to ensure the economies of the world clean up their acts.

So I guess, consult an actuary, because the expected value of fighting climate change may well be 'everything we have'.

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