Photo of the day

From an In Focus gallery of the year’s best photos:

A total solar eclipse is seen in Longyearbyen on Svalbard on March 20, 2015. A partial eclipse was visible on Friday, the first day of northern spring, across parts of Africa, Europe, and Asia. The total eclipse of the sun was only visible in the Faroe Islands and the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard in the Arctic Ocean.

Jon Olav Nesvold / NTB scanpix / Reuters

The president and keeping us safe

Loved this response from Seth Masket on the most recent Republican debate:

Finally, if I may be allowed to preach for a moment, I have a small bone to pick with the candidates’ obsession with safety. Jeb Bush concluded his remarks with a plea for American to be “safe and sound.” Chris Christie, answering a question about refugees, said, “The first job of the president of the United States is to protect your safety and your security and the security and safety of your family.” Marco Rubio echoed, “The first and most important priority of the president of the United States is to protect the safety and security of Americans.” Democratic candidates and presidents use this sort of language, as well.

But it just isn’t so. The Founding Fathers provided an explicit oath for presidents to take, and it says nothing about safety. Instead, it declares that the first priority of the president is to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution. That’s a very important distinction. If your number one priority is safety, you might push for a number of things that go against the Constitution. We might all be a lot safer with soldiers patrolling our neighborhoods and surveillance cameras in every home, but safety is not the only goal our nation and our presidents are supposed to pursue.

Now, of course we want presidents who care about our safety, and we want someone to be accountable if that safety is compromised. But that’s a political goal. And that’s a good thing! There’s nothing wrong with candidates stating their political goals and evaluating them based on those goals. But let’s not lose sight of the responsibilities of the office they seek.

Of course, nothing keeps us safe like bombing places with foreign sounding names. This recent tweet became PPP’s most re-tweeted tweet ever within 30 minutes.

More on risk and LA schools

Which I had seen this Michael O’Hare post about LA schools before the other one.  I love his take.  Especially these parts (emphases mine):

The Precautionary Principle requires that nobody should do anything that could come out very badly.  It sounds like a very sound but entirely different principle, which is that we shouldn’t do things whose odds of a very bad outcome are high enough that they aren’t good bets, but it isn’t; it’s fundamentally different.  Today’s performance of the PP shows that its real meaning is frequently “don’t let anything happen that I could be blamed for if it doesn’t go well.” …

What are the operational definitions of the italicized words in the previous paragraph, when the PP is invoked?  Well,could often means “an ignorant monomaniac with an internet connection said so”, and very badly means “another such has spun out a fact-free fantasy or borrowed it from a movie”.  The PP is why ignorant people don’t vaccinate their kids: it endorses believing that a scissors only has one blade.

The superintendent of schools in LA  closed 900 schools this morning in the face of an email threatening terrorism, putting a great city into complete chaos as parents missed work and tried to figure out what to do with their kids, not to mention losing a whole day’s learning, for which the district pays about $44m. All in all, a quarter of a day’s worth of the LA basin’s GDP is probably a good guess at the value Cortines and Garcetti put on a bonfire today for no good reason.  (In New York City, cooler heads prevailed in the face of the same “threat”.)  What would a responsible public official think about this decision?

(1) How does this threat look to a terrorist actually planning to pull off an attack?  It looks a lot like intending to minimize the death and destruction on tap, which is inconsistent with the whole idea from the get-go.

(2) How often are real attacks preceded by warnings? …warnings followed by actual attacks? Murders by death threats (domestic violence aside)? Bayes’ theorem, not to mention common sense, makes these questions central to the analysis.

(3) There is no avoiding risk, only choosing the right risks.  What can go wrong if we close the schools? Well, in addition to the immediate economic and social costs of the closure, we confirm to every crank and nutcase, and high schooler unprepared for today’s chemistry final, that any of them can close down the schools (courthouses? the Super Bowl?) with an anonymous email. These are pretty bad things to happen, and the LAUSD affirmatively chose to cause them with probability 1.0; not very precautionary, is it?

Yes!  Great stuff.  I actually had somewhat inchoately thought about point 3 yesterday, so I was especially happy to see it laid out so clearly here.

And as for points 1 and 2, and bomb threat warnings ever real?  Seriously.  I remember even way back in my HS days being evacuated once for a bomb threat.  What I cannot remember is ever hearing that authorities actually found a bomb after a bomb threat was called in.  Assuming I’m not missing something, that should be really important information in assessing these threats.

%d bloggers like this: