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Sunday, June 26, 2016

Terrorists Aren't Stupid (Nor Are They Ignorant)

I've written about all this before, but I think it bears repeating: terrorists aren't stupid, nor are they ignorant. Numerous studies have found that terrorists tend to be well educated, have middle class backgrounds, and have attended secular, rather than religious, schools as children ("The Root Causes of Terrorism"). Unfortunately, a number of our leaders (and potential leaders) seem to think that they stupid and/or ignorant. To wit:
  1. First, there is the contention of some that if attendees at the nightclub in Orlando had been better armed, they could have defended themselves. Seriously? Have those who make this claim really thought this through? If would-be terrorists plan to attack a venue where people are carrying (or at least they believe are carrying) concealed weapons, they won't bring semi-automatic rifles like the Sig Sauer MCX that Omar Mateen used in Orlando. Instead, they'll adapt to the situation and show up with suicide vests (or something similar) that they'll trigger before anyone can uncarry one of their weapons.
  2. Then, there is the argument that banning Muslims will prevent terrorists from entering the United States. This is even more ridiculous. Do you really think that a Muslim terrorist seeking to enter the U.S. will admit to custom officials that they're Muslim. As the conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer noted the first time Trump floated this idea, "If you think that bloodthirsty terrorists — 'people that believe only in Jihad, and have no sense of reason or respect for human life,' as Trump describes them — will feel honor-bound to tell the truth to an infidel customs officer. They kill wantonly but, like George Washington, cannot tell a lie."
  3. Finally, there is the belief that all would be terrorists need is more education. The unspoken assumption is here is that terrorists are acting out of ignorance (although not necessarily out of stupidity). Again, however, this is completely wrong headed. As someone with three masters degrees and one doctorate, I clearly value schooling, but education by itself will not do the trick. As I note above, the average terrorist (and not just the leaders) tends to be well educated, especially when compared to the societies from which they come, so obviously something more (or less) is needed.
Put simply, terrorism is a complex phenomenon that doesn't lend itself to easy answers. Elsewhere, I've discussed how we might be able to prevent, detect, and disrupt future terrorist attacks ("On the Complex Nature of Countering Terrorism"), but as Freakonomics co-author Steven Levitt has noted, "there is a virtually infinite array of incredibly simple strategies available to terrorists... [thus] if terrorists want to engage in low-grade, low-tech terror, we are powerless to stop it." ("Terrorism, Part II"). I'm not sure I agree that we're completely powerless, but if we keep treating terrorists as stupid (or ignorant), they will continue to outwit us and we might as well be.

Friday, June 17, 2016

The Warriors Need to Discover Their Jeremy Affeldt and Madison Bumgarner


Heading into the 6th game of the 2014 World Series, the San Francisco Giants held a 3-2 game lead over the Kansas City Royals, but the Royals hammered Giants' starter Jake Peavy for 5 runs in less than two innings en route to a 10-0 blowout to force a Game 7. Things didn't look good for the Giants because of their old and injury-riddled pitching staff and the fact that their ace, Madison Bumgarner, had pitched only two days before. However, although Giants' starting pitcher Tim Hudson didn't make it out of the second inning, pitchers Jeremy Affeldt (2 1/3 innings) and Madison Bumgarner (5 innings), put the Giants on their back and carried them to a 3-2 win and their 3rd World Series championship in 5 years.

Needless to say, after a Game 6 thrashing at the hands of the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Golden State Warriors need to discover their Affeldt and Bumgarner. They need two or three players to step up and put the rest of the team on their back. Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green are the obvious choices, but it could be someone else. It doesn't really matter who. All that matters is that it happens. Otherwise, it could be a long offseason of wondering what could have been.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Trump's Opponents Need to Dial it Back

I get why people don't like Donald Trump and fear a Trump presidency. Like many people I think he's remarkably ill-informed and rather mercurial in his decision-making. The thought of him at the head of the most powerful country in the world is frightening. I get it. I don't want it either. But Trump's opponents need to dial it back. This past Thursday in San Jose protestors attacked Trump supporters at one of his rallies. This only makes Trump look sympathetic. As an editorial in the San Jose Mercury News stated ("Donald Trump rally violence shames San Jose"):
We understand the anger and passion of protesters Thursday outside the San Jose Convention Center, in a city where Mexican heritage is something to celebrate and tolerance is a hallmark. We know violence is a human response to bullying, and Trump early on encouraged his own supporters to rough up protesters. 
But what happened in San Jose actually elevates Trump, making him a victim and his opponents thugs out to silence free speech. We know not everyone outside the convention center was there for a fight -- our reporters talked to many who felt strongly about Trump but wanted no part of the fighting -- but the fights are what people see all over the internet.
So, if you don't like Trump, don't vote for him. Voice your concerns. Sign up for a workshop on nonviolence. But please, please, don't attack his supporters. It's not helping.