Los Angeles schools and threat assessment

Really liked this Wonkblog post by Christopher Ingraham.  Here’s the whole thing (with my emphasis):

The Los Angeles Times is reporting that a 17-year-old student was fatally struck by a car Tuesday morning after all city schools were closed following a ‘”credible threat” of violence. The decision to shut down the schools is drawing some criticism after New York City Police Commissioner William J. Bratton said New York schools received the same threat, which they did not deem credible. New York Mayor Bill de Blasio called the emailed threat “so generic, so outlandish” that it was obviously a hoax, the New York Times reported.

It’s impossible to know whether the Los Angeles student would still be alive had schools been open. But the incident underscores how our assessments of various risks are often wildly at odds with the actual dangers posed by them. As Wall Street Journal columnist Greg Ip argues in a recent book, things we do to keep ourselves safe may actually put us in even more danger.

We buy guns for self-defense, for instance — even though having a gun in the home increases your risk of being murdered or killing yourself, and guns are used at least as often against family members as they are against intruders. Companies proudly proclaim their aversion to genetically modified food, while overlooking the far more common dangers posed by food-borne illnesses.

In government, policymakers stoke fear of marijuana — which has no known toxic dose — while ignoring the hundreds of thousands of annual deaths due to alcohol and tobacco. They respond to the deaths of 2,977 Americans in a terror attack by sending thousands more soldiers to die in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Policymakers, in theory, are supposed to be able to draw on data and the experience of experts to protect us from the real dangers, rather than the imagined ones. But politicians are simply people, and too often they’re subject to the same irrational fears and overreactions as the rest of us. The risk of dying in a terror attack is about the same as the risk of getting crushed by falling furniture.

It goes without saying that the odds of getting killed by a car are much, much higher than either of those. If the reports out of Los Angeles are accurate, it appears that policymakers failed to keep these odds in perspective when deciding to shut down schools on the basis of an email.

Yes, policymakers are people subject to the same irrational fears, but I would argue that we pay them not to be.  It’s not like human’s innate irrational fears cannot be overcome with carefully considered decisions (think Kaheneman and Type I and Type II thinking).  There was time to make this decision and carefully consider things.  New York City got it right.  Oh, and those other things, yeah, human thinking sucks and many ways and despite the fact that it is politicians job to do it better, far too few of them actually do.

Photo of the day

Who knew there could be such amazing images from storms over Lake Erie.  This photographer and the editors of the Wired gallery, apparently:

Gallery Image

Dave Sandford

The unspoken arguments of affirmative action

It’s kind of funny how something like affirmative action can be all over the news one week and totally disappear the next.  So, sure, I suppose I should’ve posted this last week, but I didn’t.  That said, I still find this take from Garrett Epps very much worth sharing:

The Texas plan, Rein told the Court, is unconstitutional because it is a quota; it doesn’t actually measure how many students it affects or have a target number for a “critical mass” of students; only a few students are admitted because of race, suggesting that the program’s not needed; and it’s impossible to know how many students are really admitted because the University doesn’t keep detailed records. But this is a Catch-22—if the program did define a clear target and measure and record its progress, then it really would be an unconstitutional quota.

It is tempting to call this doublethink, but it’s not. The arguments aren’t meant seriously as arguments. There’s been a legal debate about “diversity” since 1978; everybody knows all the moves and nobody’s mind is changing. CFR’s real claim is that use of race to increase racial and ethnic diversity at institutions like the University of Texas is immoral, dangerous, and a violation of the equal-protection rights of whites. It can’t make that argument openly—Fisher I held that universities can use race. So it uses coded language.

The argument was as dispiriting to hear as it must have been to conduct. In the weird constitutional language of affirmative action, no one is allowed to say what they really mean. Under the Bakke rule, the only “compelling interest” a university can pursue is the benefit of “educational diversity”—that is, the idea that all students receive a better education if their classrooms include students of different racial and national origins.

Thus, a lawyer who argued that minority students deserved affirmative action, or received a special benefit from it, would lose on the spot. But the anti-affirmative action justices won’t play by that rule…

Here is a key question in this case: If the 10 percent plan already produces some increase in minority enrollment, why does UT need more?

Here are the unspoken questions in this case: How many minorities are “enough”? How many is too many? And when will all this affirmative action end?…


Does Islam promote violence?

No.  It’s pretty clear that the overwhelming majority of Muslims are peaceful, just like the overwhelming majority of adherents of most religions.  Does Islam promote violence more than other religions?  It seems to be one would have to be willfully obtuse to say otherwise?  While it may have been popular hundreds of years ago, you don’t see a lot of people killing in the name of Jesus these days  (Westboro Baptism and similar groups are horrible, but they don’t encourage violence).  Or Buddha for that matter.  Or Judaism.  Yes, of course, most Islam is actually peaceful, but it is also eminently clear that, in the present world, unfortunately, Islam is far more likely to be associated with violence conducted in its name.  Now, does that mean Islam “encourages violence” more than other religions?  Maybe it’s a semantic debate, but it also seems to me that the answer is “yes” and I don’t think saying so makes me one bit of a religious bigot.  But apparently, we actually have quite an interesting– and new– partisan divide on this.  From a new Pew study:

Growing partisan gap in views of whether Islam encourages violence

Anyway, pretty interesting.  That said, if I were asked this survey question, I might actually answer “no” to suggest that I think Islam is fundamentally a peaceful religion, despite what ISIS and Al Qaeda believe.  But again, based on the real world we live in, it seems to me hard to argue that those 68% of Republicans aren’t right given the number of groups that do promote violence in the name of Islam.

Also in this study it is nice to see that a solid majority of Americans do not think American Muslims should face extra scrutiny (only conservative Republicans disagreeing):

Should Muslims be subject to greater scrutiny because of their religion?


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