Freakonomics Blog in NYT

Old Aug 9, 07, 5:29 pm
  #1  
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Freakonomics Blog in NYT

Excellent few entries by Steven Levitt over at the NYT website. I believe one needs a subscription.

In today's post (Part II), he posits that it is impossible to stop low-tech, low-intensity terrorism. The best option is to realize that the actual costs are extremely low when compared to car crashes, etc. and not to fear inordinately.

Here's an excerpt:

Ultimately, though, it strikes me that there are two possible interpretations of our current situation vis-à-vis terrorism.

One view is the following: the main reason we aren’t currently being decimated by terrorists is that the government’s anti-terror efforts have been successful.

The alternative interpretation is that the terror risk just isn’t that high and we are greatly overspending on fighting it, or at least appearing to fight it. For most government officials, there is much more pressure to look like you are trying to stop terrorism than there is to actually stop it.
This was written after the reaction to yesterday's post, entitled, "If You Were a Terrorist, How Would You Attack?" His answer: Nothing having to do with air travel.

Of course, nothing new for readers here. Apparently his posts have generated a lot of hate-email along the lines that he is giving ideas to the bad guys.
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Old Aug 9, 07, 9:21 pm
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Option #2 - Activity Over Accomplishment

I suppose this wouldn't be the first time appearances were more important than reality.

Sometimes, the stronger the reaction, the more true it is.

We like to shoot the messenger. Much easier than fixing the problem.
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Old Aug 10, 07, 12:54 am
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Kinda reminds me of a comment by someone I was talking to a couple of years after 9/11; guy who works in law enforcement.

He said that the terrorists have already gotten a lot of their goals by getting US to spend many billions on non-productive "security". He also suggested that it was helping cut unemployment among certain segments of US population which, to him, was just about the only plus.
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Old Aug 10, 07, 3:49 am
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Well yes, exactly. All the security measures are designed to stop the LAST terror attack, not the next one. I remember when the IRA bombed Canary Wharf, and next day they had it surrounded with multiple levels of security. They needn't have bothered. That was probably the only place in the UK that now was NOT a potential target for the IRA's next attack. Just sit down some time and ask yourself if you have 6 months to plan, and a budget of a few hundrded thousand dollars, and an objective of carrying out an attack that kills minimum 100 people, and you don't care if you survive, really, is it very difficult to come up with at least a dozen simple, effective ideas in about 15 minutes? Do any of them involve trying to smuggle something (Evian?) onto an airplane. Probably not.

But what I love about Leavitt's FACT-BASED reasoning (as opposed to the hysteria of the terror-mongers) is that it exposes an even more ridiculous issue. Compared to other causes of death, terror is almost irrelevant. How many people die in terror incidents every year -- 500? 1000? How is that we have a society that quietly and casually accepts a half-million people dying in auto accidents every year (including an average of around 3000 in New York state, meaning that New York suffers the equivalent of a WTC attack EVERY year due to automobiles), without people running around hysterically trying to take away a PRIVILEGE as relatively unimportant as automobiles, yet they DO think it's justified to systematically deprive people of basic civil RIGHTS, start illegal wars, kidnap hundreds and hold them in secret cells in response to a relatively tiny number of deaths from terrorism?
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Old Aug 10, 07, 5:25 am
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To polonius,

It's all about control... the real problem, I believe, lies with the majority of people who just suck the bs that's fed to them believing that they are safer. It's also because TSA has a very effective PR, spinning everything they do to make it golden, while in reality, it's not.

People are EASY to control when fear comes in as a factor, and the government has been running 9/11 ragged as an excuse for everything. It's time to stop, and I'm seriously considering donating to ACLU. I'm gonna tell you one thing, though - I LOVE my country, I am VERY proud to be an American. This is just a deep low America has reached, but I have faith things will eventually improve. We've gone through rough times before.

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Old Aug 10, 07, 7:23 am
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And the winning quote is:

The head of the TSA canít be blamed if a plane gets shot down by a shoulder-launched missile, but he is in serious trouble if a tube of explosive toothpaste takes down a plane. Consequently, we put much more effort into the toothpaste even though it is probably a much less important threat.
Mike
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Old Aug 10, 07, 1:07 pm
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Originally Posted by polonius View Post
But what I love about Leavitt's FACT-BASED reasoning (as opposed to the hysteria of the terror-mongers) is that it exposes an even more ridiculous issue. Compared to other causes of death, terror is almost irrelevant. How many people die in terror incidents every year -- 500? 1000? How is that we have a society that quietly and casually accepts a half-million people dying in auto accidents every year (including an average of around 3000 in New York state, meaning that New York suffers the equivalent of a WTC attack EVERY year due to automobiles), without people running around hysterically trying to take away a PRIVILEGE as relatively unimportant as automobiles, yet they DO think it's justified to systematically deprive people of basic civil RIGHTS, start illegal wars, kidnap hundreds and hold them in secret cells in response to a relatively tiny number of deaths from terrorism?
I thought we typically had 45,000-50,000 deaths from auto accidents every year in the US...no matter, I agree with your point. How many die from smoking-related illnesses, heart disease, etc.?

There's big money (and big poll numbers/votes) in fear, and it's easier to go after "terrorists" who may or may not actually exist than to go after our own bad habits or the corporations who help sponsor them, because the terrorists are not "us" and they admittedly don't play by the "rules".
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Old Aug 10, 07, 6:24 pm
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Originally Posted by polonius View Post
Compared to other causes of death, terror is almost irrelevant. How many people die in terror incidents every year -- 500? 1000? How is that we have a society that quietly and casually accepts a half-million people dying in auto accidents every year (including an average of around 3000 in New York state, meaning that New York suffers the equivalent of a WTC attack EVERY year due to automobiles), without people running around hysterically trying to take away a PRIVILEGE as relatively unimportant as automobiles, yet they DO think it's justified to systematically deprive people of basic civil RIGHTS, start illegal wars, kidnap hundreds and hold them in secret cells in response to a relatively tiny number of deaths from terrorism?
This is EXACTLY the explanation I use when people say they are afraid of terrorists, flying or traveling abroad. I ask them how many people they know that have died from a terrorist attack. Then I ask them how many people they know that have died in car accidents. I ask how many people they know that have died from smoking-related illnesses. I ask how many people they know that have died from heart disease or cancer. This response either shuts down the discussion or opens up a new discussion on the ridiculousness of the Kabuki-We-Care-About-Feeling-Safe-Not-Being-Safe-Security-Charade.
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