Why is there so much concern over the relatively unimportant subject of terrorism?

November 12th, 2014

Earlier this week, someone on CSPAN spoke on the subject of terrorism and the excessive amount of focus on something that probably doesn't deserve anywhere near as much attention as it gets.

Now, this doesn't mean that we shouldn't watch out for terrorism plans and make preparations to respond, same as we have fire drills and take preparations against natural disasters, but the amount of expense and concern given over to terrorism probably far outweighs the actual threat. Most terrorism attacks are not wholesale mass killing, usually they are effectively nasty crimes where a handful of people are injured, maybe one person died, and in some cases there aren't any deaths.

Consider this, what was the last major terrorism event in the U.S.? (By "terrorism event" I mean an act of violence intended to frighten the public and possibly cause political turmoil. By "major" I mean something with more than 5 people killed or 50 injured.) Obviously we'd have to refer to the World Trade Center and Pentagon Attacks on Tuesday, September 11, 2001, which killed about 3,000 people. But what was the one before that? The Oklahoma City Bombing on April 19, 1995, which killed 168. Before that? The first World Trade Center bombing on February 26, 1993, killing 6 and wounding 1,000. Before that? December 29, 1975 when 11 people were killed and 75 were injured in a bombing at LaGuardia Airport in New York. (Bet you don't even remember that one.) Before that, you have to go back to August 1, 1966, when Charles Whitman, who climbed up into the bell tower with a rifle at the University of Texas, Austin, killed 16 and wounded 51. (The Whitman shooting might not really be a terrorist act, however.)

Now, I didn't include events like school shootings, the Gabby Giffords shooting and such, because they're simply criminal acts, they aren't really terrorist attacks.

So, if we count small events we probably can say maybe 5,000 people were casualties of terrorist attacks in the U.S. in the last 40 years, say since 1974.

How many people have died in automobile accidents in the U.S. since then? 1,670,724. (Numbers through 2012; through 11/1/2014 it's probably another 70,000.)

Every person who goes out in public - or especially who rides in an automobile - takes a risk they may be injured or killed that is hundreds of times more likely than even being close to being in a terrorist attack of any size. In fact, since 2006, more people are killed by lightning strikes (216) than have died from terrorism over the same period.

Most people accept without even thinking about the fact there is a small risk of death from driving or being a passenger in an automobile; the risk is far, far higher than they would ever be the victim of a terrorist attack. Yet most people think their biggest risk to their life is terrorism, not even realizing the biggest risk they face is getting up and going to work each weekday.

The fact remains that there are many who would use irrational fear of terrorism for their own purposes, and are perfectly willing to encourage it in order to either focus attention away from other, more important and imperative issues, or to obtain resources for whatever special project they can claim has a relation to terrorism, which, were this red herring issue not present, would not be considered.

A new entry from the Tinfoil Hat club on the assassination of JFK

January 14th, 2014

CSPan's booktv had a showing on a new book coming out by Roger Stone, "The Man Who Killed Kennedy: The Case Against LBJ" in which he argues that Vice President Lyndon Baines Johnson had Kennedy killed so he could become President. This guy should not be confused with Oliver Stone, who directed "JFK" but as far as I'm concerned this Mr. Stone's book is as much fiction as the movie.

Stone points out that LBJ was a bully, when he was in the Senate he used his large size to get in people's personal space to make them uncomfortable, and when he became President he'd have aides come into the toilet and continue to hold meetings even while he was taking a dump. These, I knew. Stone also states that LBJ went from being a poor man to a multimillionaire as a result of being a senator and later president. I didn't know that but knowing the sort of environment back then I could believe it. Graft and payoffs were very common back then, and according to Stone, if you were anyone running any business and wanted any kind of legislation passed you had to pay off LBJ to get it.

So these I could believe. He also says Kennedy planned to pick someone else to be Vice President until LBJ and another member of congress strongarmed Kennedy into picking him for VP. LBJ was asked why he'd choose to go from being an important senate leader to Vice President, a position having almost no power. LBJ reportedly said that 25% of all presidents died in office so he'd take those odds.

Stone says when Johnson was VP Kennedy basically marginalized him; he wasn't kept in the loop of what was happening, he was mostly used for low-level meetings such as minor ceremonial functions, and more-or-less ignored him. He also says while LBJ was vice president he was being investigated for bribes he took while in the Senate, and he was very likely to go to prison, (similar to what happened to Vice President Spiro Agnew many years later although Stone didn't bring it up.) So LBJ has two choices, have Kennedy killed or end up disgraced and in prison.

Okay, so I can buy all this as plausible. It's not one of those theories that are so ridiculous as to be laughable. Plus there were some mobsters who'd paid bribes so they wouldn't get deported and helped to swing votes in some counties to the Kennedy camp, and JFK's brother Bobby basically double-crossed them and as Attorney General, went after them. So far, I can accept all these as a reasonable possible hypothesis.

He also says that another guy's thumb print was in the area of the 6th Floor of the Texas School Book Depository, which was then owned by a private company, and that someone else was hurredly leaving the building, who didn't even look like Oswald, who supposedly was on the 2nd floor at the time, as he said he was, because the power was out in the building, the elevators were not operating.

Okay, so nothing Mr. Stone has said is out of the realm of possibility. He says he's done the research and many interviews. Now, next thing he says is that there was another shooter on the grassy knoll in front of Deally Plaza and there may have been one on the Gas Company building...

Now he lost me and he drops into the tinfoil hat crowd of crazy idea people.

Every single time someone has claimed (1) That you couldn't fire a Manchester-Carccanno rifle - a cheap Italian imported $12 rifle you could order by mail order (back then) - three times in 6 1/2 seconds; (2) that there was more than one shooter; (3) that there was a shooter on the Grassy Knoll in front and to the left of Kennedy's convertible and Deally Plaza; (4) that the shooter was anywhere other than above and to the right of JFK; (5) that one bullet could not have killed kennedy, bounced through him and broke Texas' Governor Connolly's wrist, they've been shown to be wrong.

Stone admits that Oswald was in the Marines, and was a "marksman" which he says is the lowest grade that you can have and stay in the Marines. That's like a C grade, there's "Sharpshooter" which is like B grade; and there is "Expert" which is the best class of rifleman you can have. And the guy who actually shot Kennedy was actually an Expert, not a mere Marksman.

Independent TV shows have shown that even a mere Marksman can fire a Manchester-Carcanno three times in 6 1/2 seconds. They've also done tests with bones and ballistic gel that one bullet could have done what happened with Kennedy and Connolly; the results were not exactly the same but were only slightly off because the bullet nicked one of the bones the wrong way and made a slightly different movement, but it still did almost exactly the same trajectory, and was in roughly the same condition as the one indicated as the so-called "magic" bullet. No magic was involved, just plain physics.

The Zapruder film is the key; you can't reconcile the images on the film with any event except a shooter from anywhere other than behind Kennedy to his right and above him. There were only three shots, this has even been proven from re-examination of the audio recording made by the Dallas Police when a motorcycle officer had his mike open at the exact moment of the shooting.

So you can argue that it was a conspiracy, and you can even argue it was someone other than Oswald who shot Kennedy. You cannot argue a conspiracy to shoot him (there could have been only one shooter), you can't argue that the shots came from anywhere but the 6th floor of the Texas School Book Depository, you cannot argue more than one person shot him, you can't argue the shots took longer than about 6 1/2 seconds; you can't argue it took more than 3 shots; and you can't argue any shots came from the Grassy Knoll behind Zapruder and in front of Kennedy.

Which puts this guy's book into the Tinfoil Hat bin of discredited theories of people who make an argument for something that the facts prove otherwise. Damn shame, if he hadn't tried to argue the discredited "grassy knoll" claim and a multiple shooter theory he might have had one of the first reasonable arguments to claim there was a conspiracy.

A new entry from the Tinfoil Hat club on the assassination of JFK

January 14th, 2014

In this article it mentions that Thompson Reuters reported stronger-than-expected financial results for the third quarter of 2013, but it's going to spend about $350 million in severance and other costs to lay off about 5% of its workforce, or about 3,500 people in its risk and finance divisions because those are weak performing sectors of the company.

What I find interesting is too many companies, when they have what they deem to be "surplus" people, are, instead of looking at new potential markets and products and services they could be offering, and using those people to develop those new products and services, immediately go for the fast buck by layoffs and staff cuts. I notice it's always the "little" people who get cut, the people who make around $20-$50,000 who are given severance packages or just simply dumped en masse, but it's almost never the executives with multi-million dollar compensation packages that these companies try to reduce.

This goes right along with companies that have decided that if you've been out of work for six months they will not hire you, and they won't hire people who have credit problems because they had large medical bills. Which really makes a lot of sense, don't hire someone who has no job because that allows them to get out of their problem and gives them the ability to do productive work, and don't hire someone who was out of work and has credit problems because they couldn't pay their medical bills, hiring them might allow them to actually now have an income and pay their bills!

Farmers have an expression for the exclusive focus on short-term income increases being done at the expense of long-term profitability and potential long-term growth: "eating the seed corn." If you don't save for investment and invest in the long term, eventually you'll have nothing. And do we wonder why people steal from cheap-jack employers like Walmart? (Not that that is a good idea either, because now you're having to spend more money on security and loss-prevention, plus if you start to get dishonest employees then the culture of dishonesty tarnishes the whole enterprise. The presence of rotten apples does spoil the whole bunch. Then the others either resent that they've been suckers by being honest and not getting their "fair share" of "honest graft," or they despise themselves for being dishonest. Or worse, they don't even care that they're dishonest and the corruption is so bad the company rots from the inside out. Requiem en Pace, Enron.)

You compare a company like Walmart to a place like Costco, which pays better than average wages, has better treatment of employees, has discovered they have lower turnover, less employee theft and their profitability can often be equal to or greater than that of much larger competitors. You can't fake this stuff, when the company cares about its people, it shows, and people respond when they see that their employer does care. The Hawthorne Experiments conducted by Western Electric back in the 1920s confirmed this. Management concern for employees increases employee efficiency and makes them better workers.

Ford Motor Company decided to try something. It used to be that the emergency stop button for the assembly line for cars was placed about every 20 stations, and woe to you if you shut down the line for anything short of someone about to lose their arm or get beheaded. So Ford did something unheard of. They put the stop and start button at every workstation! And the employees use them! Hundreds of times a day, workers stop and start the line, and what is it for, usually for a second or two, maybe 3 or 4 seconds, because they need just a tiny amount of extra time to tighten a bolt or to get a piece inserted correctly. The company "loses" about 5 minutes of production time a day. But the quality of the product went up dramatically and worker complaints and grievances dropped.

I wish companies like Walmart would stop lying in their advertisements and trying to make themselves look like they care about employees. Their practices put paid to these claims. They're interested in just two things, how much in short-term revenue increases they can generate and how they can get away with paying people as little as possible, up to and including breaking the law to do it by hiding what they're up to or intentionally underpaying people in any way they can, legal or otherwise. Plus their employees are starting to realize the employer doesn't care about them at all and if it could run the place with 100% automation and unceremoniously jettison every employee, they would.

I read requests for bids from various public agencies because the stuff they're looking for tells me what buyers actually want in software packages, not what I think they want but the features they need to do what they need to do, or to convert what are excessively manual-based systems over to computerized ones. This allows them to get more done and allows them to scale up operations. When a bus company can implement a voice-activated or touch-tone controlled system for schedule information, this doesn't mean they cut all the information operators, it means they can have them do other things, and chances are, now, if you need a live operator you can get one in less than a minute instead of sitting on hold for 20 minutes waiting for an operator to get free. And often the automated system gives you faster results for routine queries.

Discovering what potential customers really want means you have the capacity to solve their needs, and when you can do that, you can make a lot of money. But you have to have good, motivated people to implement these solutions. And in some cases the ideas can come out of the strangest places.

An undertaker by the name of Strowger was unhappy because he felt that his business was suffering because when people called the operator asking for his mortuary that the operators might be taking bribes to divert his calls to other funeral homes. So Strowger, who had no experience in telephony, sat down and figured out how to build an automated switch that allowed people to dial their own phone calls directly. Strowger's invention came at just the right time, because in the early 1930s, phone companies were having problems scaling up as more customers were making more phone calls and it was getting harder to hire more and more operators, eventually you'd have to hire almost everyone to handle the call volumes. And in a way, that's what they did. Now, we all make our calls self-service by dialing them ourselves, we get better performance (because we can have things like memory dialing where you can program the number into the phone) and the results are faster.

With automatic dialing it's made phone service much cheaper since they have lower labor costs. And those people that don't have to be phone operators are doing other things. Possibly providing new products and services that are more valuable. Strowger was a special case of someone not in the industry inventing something desperately needed at just the right time; one of the biggest wins at 3M was the guy who invented Post-it notes.

But the excessive focus on short-term profitability at the expense of long-term growth means we'll never know what could have been. We'll never see the new software applications that weren't developed and we'll never know about what doesn't exist. The large amounts of money made long term from new revenue streams and new development will never appear when we don't think long term, but only go for short-term increases in profitability and what are essentially quick-buck schemes.

Why no concern over larger quantities of killing in the mideast vs. the Boston Marathon deaths?

April 19th, 2013

On a bbs I infest, someone asked about why there was so much concern about 3 dead and a few dozen injured in the bombing at the Boston Marathon versus

How about the [Iraq bombing where] 42 people [were] killed on the same day as the Boston bombing? Or [another mideast bombing, killing] 27 people about an hour ago?

Because, to put it bluntly like Mel Brooks does as the American Indian in Blazing Saddles, "They darker than us!" Or because they're considered Muslim and Muslims are less valuable than people. That's a real cynical remark, but it does represent people's opinions about the so-called "lesser people" of the Middle East.

If you think the caste system only exists in India, guess again. And it applies just as much within the Muslim community. I suspect your typical Muslim is about the same as your typical Westerner, worried about scratching a living and wanting to "tend his own garden" and hopes the world just leaves him alone to manage his affairs as best he can. While the radicals hate us Westerners ("Death to America, insha Allah"), they hate other Muslims as much as the Protestants and Catholics of Northern Ireland back in the '70s and '80s hated each other, up to and including approving wholesale slaughter as be an acceptable practice. You more-or-less have two factions in the Muslim community, Shia and Sunni, and they like each other about as much as oil and water find each other compatible. They can have religious differences over minor points that are so severe that we can look at them and find them laughable. At least, when it's not our own religion:

I was walking across a bridge one day, and I saw a man standing on the edge, about to jump. I ran over and said: “Stop. Don’t do it.”
“Why shouldn’t I?” he asked.
“Well, there’s so much to live for!”
“Like what?”
“Are you religious?”
“Yes.”
I said, “Me too. Are you Christian or Buddhist?”
“Christian.”
“Me too. Are you Catholic or Protestant?”
“Protestant.”
“Me too. Are you Episcopalian or Baptist?”
“Baptist.”
“Wow. Me too. Are you Baptist Church of God or Baptist Church of the Lord?”
“Baptist Church of God.”
“Me too. Are you original Baptist Church of God, or are you Reformed Baptist Church of God?”
“Reformed Baptist Church of God.”
“Me too. Are you Reformed Baptist Church of God, Reformation of 1879, or Reformed Baptist Church of God, Reformation of 1915?”
He said, “Reformed Baptist Church of God, Reformation of 1915.”
I said, “Die, heretic scum,” and pushed him off.

And, of course, nobody likes the Jews for being Christ killers. (That's straight out of the play Fiddler on the Roof.)

I commented about the whole Mideast violence thing in my book:

The Jews believe they are the chosen people. They also believe the Muslims are the bastard children of one of their ancestors. So if you're a Muslim, and have been told you're someone's illegitimate half-brother, who believes he's superior to you because he's been specifically chosen by God, you're probably not going to like him much. And if you're a Jew, you're not going to like that inferior, snotty little towel-headed, distant relative you want to shove in a closet much either.
- Supervisor 246, Instrument of God

Note, these are not my opinions, but they represent how other people see religions not their own. And if you're a member of a disapproved class, you're easy pickings to be declared subhuman, and thus an acceptable target for violence or killing; the problems with the Ku Klux Klan in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries and skinheads even today bear this out. The Japanese saw the captured prisoners of World War II as a problem to be dealt with (witness the Bataan Death March) and not as human beings, the same way the U.S. Army saw the American Indians during the Trail of Tears of the 19th Century, and when you see something as a problem rather than as a human being same as yourself, then it's easy to consider it something that, if it dies off, it's a reduction of your problem.

So the fact remains that the Middle East consists of the garbage Muslims and the garbage Jews engaging in trash removal against each other, so the rest of the world just plain doesn't care as long as we don't have to clean up the mess. I said something similar on this blog seven years ago about the genocide in Darfur and how the rest of the world turned a blind eye rather than deal with it:

To put it bluntly, and the only way I can put it is bluntly, is that the rest of the world sees the Genocide in Darfur, Sudan as "niggers killing niggers" and it's that the killings are of no significance. If the victims in Darfur were white (as was the case in Bosnia), you'd see people - and representatives of governments in Europe and elsewhere - protesting and demands for UN Peacekeepers to stop it, and very likely military intervention would take place.

The part of Obamacare that was struck down

September 19th, 2012

Paul Clement, a former Solicitor General of the United States - he's the government's lawyer if it has to defend or prosecute a case in the U.S. Supreme Court - was talking on CSPAN about the Supreme Court's decision in the case involving Obamacare ("The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act", National Federation of Independent Business, et al. v. Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of Health and Human Services, et al), in which it basically upheld most of the controversial health-care law. But one part of the law was struck down.

There was a provision in the law that required states to agree to accept being a part of the new Medicare addition package, in which a lot more people are put on Medicare in order to give them some sort of coverage, and giving the state a little more money (but extremely likely, not enough to cover the extra costs they'd have to cover for all the new sick people put on the Medicare rolls). Well, what the law basically said was that if a state refused to take the extra money (and the extra patients), they then suffered a complete loss of all medicare funding, in effect blackmailing them into either taking all the new patients or being made to look the bad guy for having to essentially shut down medicare in their state.

Well, the Supreme Court found this was just way overboard, States can't be coerced into joining a federal program on these kind of onerous terms, and struck that provision of the law down. The Federal Government can offer incentives to a state to do some things - like the increased funding for states that agreed to raise their drinking age to 21 - but it can't nakedly force a state into taking an additional program on pain of complete elimination of funding for the program with which it is otherwise in compliance.