A little more on Boston and terrorism

Bruce Schneier has his own post at the Atlantic and it largely covers the same ground as the interview with Ezra, but I could not let this bit go unblogged:

There are things we can do to make us safer, mostly around investigation, intelligence, and emergency response, but we will never be 100-percent safe from terrorism; we need to accept that.
How well this attack succeeds depends much less on what happened in Boston than by our reactions in the coming weeks and months. Terrorism isn’t primarily a crime against people or property. It’s a crime against our minds, using the deaths of innocents and destruction of property as accomplices. When we react from fear, when we change our laws and policies to make our country less open, the terrorists succeed, even if their attacks fail. But when we refuse to be terrorized, when we’re indomitable in the face of terror, the terrorists fail, even if their attacks succeed.
Don’t glorify the terrorists and their actions by calling this part of a “war on terror.” Wars involve two legitimate sides. There’s only one legitimate side here; those on the other are criminals. They should be found, arrested, and punished. But we need to be vigilant not to weaken the very freedoms and liberties that make this country great, meanwhile, just because we’re scared.
Empathize, but refuse to be terrorized. Instead, be indomitable — and support leaders who are as well. That’s how to defeat terrorists.


What to make out of the Boston attack

Bruce Schneier is far and away the best person I’ve read since 9/11 on the issue of terrorism.  You should definitely read his whole interview with Ezra.  That said, here’s my favorite parts:

EK: What should policymakers do in the aftermath of this kind of event? 

BS: Nothing. This is a singular event, and not something that should drive policy. Unfortunately, you can’t prevent this sort of thing 100 percent. Luckily, terrorism is a lot harder than people think, and it happens rarely. The question people asked after 9/11 is what if we had three of these a year in the United States? Turns out there were none. People get their ideas on terrorism from movies and television…

EK: You seem skeptical of the ability of policy to keep us safe, but doesn’t the relative safety of the last few years suggest that our post-9/11 policies have actually worked?

BS: The problem with rare events is that you can’t make those sorts of assessments. I remember then-Attorney General Donald Rumsfeld, speaking two years after 9/11. He said that the lack of a repeat event was proof that his policies worked. But there were no terrorist attacks in the two years before 9/11, and he didn’t have any policies in place. What does that prove? It proves that terrorist attacks are rare.

Almost everything we have done post 9/11 is mere security theater. The stuff that did work was interdicting terrorist funding and rolling up terrorist networks…

EK: So what should we be afraid of?

BS: Car crashes. Global warming. It feels insensitive to say it so close to the tragedy, but it’s true. What people should worry about are things so common that they’re no longer news. That’s what kills people. Terrorism is so rare, it’s hardly a risk worth spending a lot of time worrying about.

EK: This doesn’t sound insensitive to me. It sounds affirming. It sounds like you’re saying that we aren’t as vulnerable as these acts make us feel.

BS: The damage from terrorism is primarily emotional. To the extent this terrorist attack succeeds has very little do with the attack itself. It’s all about our reaction. We must refuse to be terrorized. Imagine if the bombs were found and moved at the last second, and no one died, but everyone was just as scared. The terrorists would have succeeded anyway. If you are scared, they win. If you refuse to be scared, they lose, no matter how much carnage they commit.

Good stuff, indeed.  Of course, as as I was going through ridiculous “security theater” at Chicago-Midway airport on Saturday, I was actually sitting there thinking about how much I hate the damn terrorist and how they have won by forcing me into a 15-minute full-body pat-down because I was carrying 3 oz of contact lens disinfectant that contains hydrogen peroxide.  As annoying at is was, it was also interesting to experience just what happens with a pat down.  Damn thorough.  Outside of a medical environment, can’t say I’ve ever had another man touch me in those places, clothes or not.  That said, and to be graphic, one could have still quite easily hidden something in one’s “cheeks,” which thus seems to make the whole effort worthless.  But, anyway, I think Schneier is dead-on.  Let’s hope we don’t over-react.

Photo of the day

Liked this Behold set of parkour photos by Andy Day.  This one is pretty awesome:


Andy Day


Who gets hired

Why, people who can think and write, that’s who.  Regardless of major.  Though, I’d argue that certain majors– especially social sciences— do a far better job of this than other majors (here’s looking at you undergradaute business degrees).  From a recent article in Inside Higher Ed:

Business executives care more about their new hires’ thinking, communication and problem-solving skills than they do about their undergraduate majors, according to a survey being released today by the Association of  American Colleges and Universities. The association first conducted the survey in 2006, and has done so periodically since then.

The report, entitled “It Takes More Than a Major: Employer Priorities for College Learning and Student Success,” features the percentage of business executives responding positively to a number of statements, and the results suggest that these employers are not just looking for STEM majors — or for any one kind of major.

What Employers Want

Statement Employers who strongly agree Employers who strongly or moderately agree
Our company puts a priority on hiring people with the intellectual and interpersonal skills that will help them contribute to innovation in the workplace 57% 95%
A candidate’s demonstrated capacity to think critically, communicate clearly, and solve complex problems is more important than undergraduate major 59% 93%
Our company is asking employees to take on more responsibilities and to use a broader set of skills than in the past 52% 93%
Innovation is essential to our company/organization’s continued success 51% 92%
The challenges employees face within our company are more complex today than they were in the past 50% 91%

The survey was conducted among executives of 318 nonprofits and private sector organizations in January.


Worst false equivalency ever?

From Carter Wrenn— the man who used to run Jesse Helms’ political campaigns:

Years ago some crafty Democratic gnome sitting cloistered in a cell pouring over reams of demographics (trying to figure out the political inclinations of people who didn’t vote) had a revelation: If those folks did vote, a lot more Democrats were going to get elected.

Now, in a way, that sounds odd (after all, How could he know?) but as far as political theory goes he was standing on rock-solid ground. Demographics seldom lie.

Of course there was no way to keep an earthshaking fact like that secret – word of the gnome’s discovery quickly reached Democratic legislators. About the kindest thing to say about what happened next is: Those legislators started passing laws to help themselves get elected – they passed a ‘motor-voter’ law so that every time anyone over eighteen years old applied for a driver’s license they were also handed a voter registration form. But, to the Democrats’ chagrin, while registration soared, most of the new voters never even bothered to go to the polls.

It was a setback but the Democrats legislators took it in stride. They went back to work and tackled the problem from a different direction, writing a whole new set of laws – they passed ‘early voting’ and ‘same-day registration’ and ‘Sunday voting’ and, suddenly, in 2008 what they’d been dreaming of actually happened: Those non-voters flocked to the polls and for the first time in forty-eight years – in the same election – the Democrats elected a Governor, a U.S. Senator and the Democratic candidate for President won North Carolina.

The Democrats must have felt the Promised Land was within reach but then the unexpected happened: Republicans won the next two elections. Suddenly, Republicans were in control of the State House and Senate, and – the way they saw it – if Democrats could pass laws to elect Democrats, they could repeal them, or better still, add a few new laws to elect Republicans. They rolled out bills to repeal Sunday voting, end same-day registration, end straight-party voting and curtail early voting. Then proposed laws to make it tougher for college students to vote and to make absentee voting easier (since Republicans vote more often by absentee than Democrats).

There’s a kind of rough justice in all that but looked another way it’s also proof of an unkind truth: One bad deed begets another and, after that, it’s an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth with no remorse anywhere.

Right because the “bad deed” of making it easier for people to vote in a democracy is matched by the “bad deed” of making it harder for people to vote.   As political analysis goes, it’s also pretty weak.  North Carolina was close enough in 2008 that these laws probably did make enough difference for Obama to eke out a victory here, but 95% of Obama’s performance had to do with the candidate and the campaign (not to mention the changing demographics of North Carolina).  Anyway, not surprising that somebody who thinks more people voting is a bad thing made his political fortune working for Jesse Helms.

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