Friday, August 3, 2012

When You Are Scared Of Your Own Shadow

You end up doing things that make you look silly.

I have a lot of friends from India and I just recently learned that Abdul Kalam, the former president of India, was subjected to a private screening and frisking at JFK airport in 2011. I'm told that this man is revered. He ran for president somewhat reluctantly and only at the strong urging of his many admirers. He comes from a very poor background. Apparently he delivered newspapers at a young age to contribute to his father's income. He has degrees in physics and aerospace engineering. If Abraham Lincoln had lived to an old age and after his distinguished presidency was treated in the same way, what would we think?

And why was Kalam treated in this way? Because of our fear of terrorism, a danger that is so remote that you are more likely to die by drowning in your own bathtub, or having a coconut fall on your head. For the threat of falling coconuts we are making fools of ourselves.

Shahrukh Khan (to the right) is India's most popular actor. Or so I'm told. It happens I saw a movie of his called "My Name is Khan". He plays a man with aspergers that embarks on an effort to convince Obama that he is not a terrorist. His signature line is "My name is Khan, and I am not a terrorist." You can be the biggest actor in the world and your biggest movie can be about an effort to convince America that you aren't a terrorist. You can star in that movie with the most popular actress in India (Kajol, to the left). But this doesn't stop you from being treated like a terrorist at US airports. I mean, think about this. His name is literally Khan. The movie didn't have to be "My Name is Khan". They could have used a different name. But they used the very last name of the actor. They are shouting from the rooftops exclaiming that they are not to be feared. But Khan (who is a Muslim and of course has a Muslim name, like Abdul Kalam) was detained a second time recently, which delayed his scheduled speech at Yale.

On the surface this seems very irrational. But if we want to be serious I guess we have to admit it's not irrational. The threat is not real. But the fear is very useful. And that's why we act this way.


Jonathan said...


I agree with you that the examples highlight actions which were unnecessary. I also agree that people act irrationally, and have irrational fears, such as being afraid to fly, but not wearing your seatbelt when you drive. However, I think you are forgetting a part of the equation. In my neighborhood, I lock my doors at night when I go to sleep. I imagine most people do in my neighborhood. What are the chances that a robber or home invader is going to try and break in? Pretty low. You could argue that this is an irrational action. However, what if no one in my neighborhood locked their doors at night, or if I never locked my doors at night, and people knew I never locked my doors at night? The chances of a break in greatly increase, because my action has acted like a deterrent.

I’m not saying there’s not a better way to mitigate risk at an airport, but when dealing with bureaucracy and wide scale implementation, I’m not sure what other viable systems would remove instances like this from happening.

Jon said...

Think of it this way. Back in the day when screening procedures were more lax, what was the likelihood that you'd die in a terrorist incident, even when you include 9-11? It's still basically nil. So back in the day when all the doors in the neighborhood were unlocked there still wasn't much of a threat. So if you go back to those conditions Abdul Kalam is not detained.

One good thing they did do was add locks to the cockpit doors. You can just live with that and you're in pretty good shape even without the screening. Turns out Ralph Nader was pushing for that long before 9-11, but the airline industry blocked it for profits.

In all honestly though I think locking your home doors at night is irrational. I think I read somewhere that Noam Chomsky actually doesn't lock his doors. Anybody could walk right into his house at night. We've had cases where we mistakenly leave our garage door open all night. In fact we've left it open all day while we are away from home. Nothing ever happens. We're conditioned to think we should be fearful in this way, but really we should be comfortable with our doors unlocked. Lightning would strike sometimes, like it already does sometimes, but on net not much would change.

Chad said...

Being brutally honest, if your house is a mark - the robbers will get in regardless of physical locks. However why make it easy and for us it is also about keeping kids in as well.

My NRA lighted sign and my sticker outlining that we are gun carrying nutso's is the real deterrent.

I've shared this before, but gun ownership has saved me on one occasion and helped to diffuse another crime I rolled up on. If the purchase of a home requires the purchase of a firearm and firearm training - home invasion rates would decline by an exponential amount. Think about Aurora, CO - if just 1 or 2 members in the audience was carrying that night - how many lives would have been saved? What if the staff was trained in firearm safety and they had access to a weapons cache? Now - This guy picked a theatre because he is a coward and he also knew there would be no weapons. If that theatre was a carry friendly or firearm trained facility - he would not have planned the attack there. He picked a soft target where resistance would be zero. I am not saying that every act of violence would be thwarted, but if a criminal thought for a minute that when he pulls his gun he might see 6 pointed back at him - I think they would move along.

Same is true - in my opinion - when it comes to air travel as well. Arm the flight crew and place an secret armed security guard on flights and the terrorist will be forced in another direction.

Chad said...

Jon - I was not saying that every person should carry. What I am talking about here is taking the concealed carry permit holders and allow them to go the next level. Regulate the heck put of the process. Quarterly firearm training, routine proficiency test and the whole nine. But - once complete these members are basically deputized to carry just like police officers do, but their charter is to act only in extreme situations.

Examinator said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Examinator said...

Chad is correct in that "Locks only keep honest People honest" however, he is mistaken that his NRA sign actually achieves anything more than HIS FEELING of security. It does advertise his susceptibility to emotional based decision making and a lot about his values.
It could be also argued, to serious crims, that sign advertises his house may contain something 'worth stealing'. The often made mistake is the assumption that break in motivation is accessibility.... it isn't it's worth of result. Real crims don't steal charity boxes not a big enough pay off. Likewise petrol stations/ convenience store may have elaborate security as do banks but that doesn't stop them being robbed
The best sources for this criminal info is the obvious presence of security systems and insurance details. The best security is anonymity and prevention.
The reality is that both history and research proves that deterrents don't work particularly 'passive' ones, signs. There is some case law to suggest that the presence of the sign can indicate premeditation, changing a police investigation even to murder. Visa vie the Florida Neighbourhood watch case.
BTW Be of no doubt that any court case like this is IS a PROTRACTED and TRAUMATIC event for the family too.

Deterrents are based on the assumption that the miscreant has insufficient MOTIVATION to target that house AND that they are acting rationally.
Statistics show that most home robberies/invasions are by irrational or serious crims who the deterrent is irrelevant.(look it up) . i.e. as a vice president if your most likely miscreant is someone who is desperate (drug addict etc) or a kidnapper. In fact your dog is more of a deterrent as he would draw what miscreants don't want most …. unexpected attention. Research also shows that local alarms (screamers strobe lights) are most often simply ignored.

Back to your point about the absurdity of USA entry searches scans, blood sample etc. No serious terrorist would bring IN weapons/ explosives give US absurd laws on their local availability etc.
911 was a failure of existing systems i.e. the FBI knew of the trainee pilots who weren't interested in landings they failed to pass it on.

The current level of 'paranoia' is political the military and its manufacturing complex need an enemy. It also justifies government controls and secrecy. Politically common threats solidifies the people behind their leaders.
Outward searches have some validity because there is always the psychotic zealot.
If the US really wanted to BE not just feel safer... changing their gun laws and foreign policy would be a BIG starting point..

Examinator said...

PS Security was the latter area of my expertise as a profession.

Examinator said...

Jon & Jonathan
Perhaps you should read " with Liberty and Justice for some" .I have and it has some really interesting perspective on 'in the name of Homeland security'
worth the read.
$9.75 on Amazon EBook ...

Chad said...

Ex - maybe your right, maybe it makes me feel good - but it also let's police and firefighters know that we have firearms in the house if prospective criminals don't notice.

One of my cousins turned to crime and was a thief. He broke into nearly 50 homes before getting nabbed and well he is the test subject. According to him - a criminal - when a home has a security system OR it displays openly that they might have guns in the house, he avoids that home. He is a thief, but doesn't want to be caught on camera or die.

In a twisted way, how he choose his targets makes me giggle a little bit and goes against your argument. Granted his one thief, but still he is one thief. He would drive through neighborhoods looking for 'rice' beaters and Democrat bumper stickers. Why? Because he said that half the time either a window, door or entry point was totally unlocked and because they hate guns so he felt safer. He didn't look twice at houses with security signs or anything referring to weapons.

I respect your opinion, but I also think your totally wrong. Like my cousin, if your a thief that does some research you look for easy scores. You know that if you hit a house that might have guns, you will probably - at best - will face a gun safe that you can't open and at worst you end up shot dead. The risks are too high for those types of criminals. Besides my cousin avoided guns when hitting a house anyhow, bad news - easy to move but also super easy to track. Jewelry, TV's, cash, computers were his targets.

I would be interested in the stats you mentioned if you got them. I do agree with your assessment that for irrational (high or drunk) offenders aren't going to stop because of a sign or nearly anything else for that matter. In those case - you best be armed or your family could be in for a really bad day.

Chad said...

I just caught the last line - Change gun laws how?

Hopefully your not advocating banning weapons - that would do nothing for crime other than make it easier for criminals. Ask Mexico how their gun laws are working - all the people with guns are the criminals.

Then look at the Swiss. Since they don't have a standing army they issue firearms to the men. Gun crime and crime in general is very low. I thought I read or heard somewhere that they have 8 million people and death by guns was under 70 for the year. Home invasion also is extremely low as well - in fact I recall seeing or reading that half the crimes committed in Switzerland are done so by foreigners.

The answer is most definitely not regulation, the answer is opposite - a safer America will be enjoyed by all when you can look in every direction and see a holstered firearm on the hip of card carrying registered US citizens. For the ladies out there (like my wife) holstered in your purse or ??

Would 9/11 have happened if there was an armed agent on the plane? What if the crew were armed? How about if specialty trained and certified citizens on that plane were carrying?

I would suggest that fist off the terrorists would not have even tried it if any of those were in place - the chane of success would be tiny at best..

Jon said...

Ex, I have read Greenwald's book. Greenwald is the one journalist that I read religiously. His blog is must reading for me. Excellent book.

Chad, you're right that if you had an armed agent on the plane. Today of course we do put armed agents on the plane. I think it's for flights that are a certain minimum distance. Also if we had listened to Ralph Nader 9-11 wouldn't have happened. Locks on the doors. What you are saying though is you agree with me. Airport screening procedures today are unnecessary and embarassing to us as we offend various people throughout the world. But these things remain for good reason. It conditions us to be afraid and do what we are told no matter how outrageous.

Examinator said...

Chad and every one
I covered that point by saying his motivation was limited. He wanted easy 'convertibles'.
Good solid Doors with steel frames multi point locks,appropriate screens and a barking dog would keep him at bay. There a fly wire meshes one can buy that virtually preclude entry by burglary *carry tools*

Same job exclusion of 'opportunistic burglars' like your cuz.To him there are many more homes that don't have any appreciable security.
By the way a hoodie will make cameras where they are usually mounted ...roof level ...useless for capture...then the resolution is poor and complicates the issue. An experienced burglar can strip a house of what HE wants in less than 4 minutes and be gone by the time an alarm monitoring company can get the police/ security there.
I've dealt with houses in closed/gated estates with guards on site.... in one incident it was teenagers FROM community. They knew the residents were away.
we tracked them down because a party they held outside the community in a house while the owners were a way.
They drank the house owners booze, did drugs, had sex on the beds shat in the owner's wife's lingerie draw, and masturbated on the young daughters beds. and trashed the house. the damage was in the order of $50,000. Clearly not all the party-ers were from the estate. Naturally the owners had to sell up the wife had nightmares as did their two young girls.
It turned out they could watch the house from the upper story of their home inside the community. NB the options I suggested would have stopped them from entering.
a pound of exclusions is worth a ton of deterrents.
Historically even Capital punishment doesn't stop crime. As Greenwald says in his videos of his book the US also has some of the longest terms of imprisonment yet it has 25% of the worlds inmates! several times worse than China and Russia!
It has far and away the biggest % of its population in jail and it has open slather on guns....go figure.
There are indisputable figures. Clearly something isn't working.
The ones I'm reasonably concern about are those who case a joint because they know there is Valuable jewellery, significant cash Collectables ...big ticket items and therefore come with tools and intent to harm.
But in an environment where even under performing deterrents are lacking I can see how you gain some comfort from your sign.
Me personally I live in an ordinary street and because of my career I am security conscious. You would be amazed how some people 'invite' in the yard, even a trowel, access to ladders houses covered hidden by trees. Bushes covering access through windows etc.
FYI the most common entry site is the toilet window.
One common entry point is through the roof , removing a tile,solution, chicken wire under the tiles and house only access to roof man hole cover Mines locked and armed .
This is intended to help not prove anyone wrong. In truth security is an acquired skill one which experience develops. People would be stunned if they knew what burglars will use to get in.

Examinator said...

Chad sorry to be verbose But the stats I quoted are from a number of publicly crime reports from the police stats division . And assorted studies over time they are available by reading the appropriate industry mags.As for incarceration stats some of them are on the Washington post Site and the rest are from various Western Institutes of Criminology.
Keep in mind it was my job to keep up with these figures and trends.
My involvement in home security also ran to design of systems.We had techs who tailor made the electronics... although we did use commercial detectors etc.
Gents it is very easy and inexpensive to proof ones home. i.e. Chains on doors are a weak spot so I simply drilled 5/8th holes in the floor tiles by the front door in which I put an inexpensive 8" chrome bolt. Stopping the door from being opened beyond the predetermined gap (too small for a intruder to squeeze through and too far back for them to reach around and remove it. No amount of BFI will permit someone forcing their way in. Total cost (32 cents per exterior door) Be advised that women when in a house on their own are vulnerable to rapists etc.
There I go again ...sorry.
This doesn't work on the ,continent as some countries' doors open outwards.

Examinator said...

A different perspective. To bring the issue into proportion.
think about poor old Wisconsin 2 mass gun shootings in what 3 weeks?
Some research in the 'Washington Post' showed the gun deaths US wide were In my view concerning (way to high) something like 8-9 per 1000. so I did some research into Australia and it's so low they don't actually analysis the figures something like 1.3 per thousand.
So I decided to dig deeper it turns out that of that startlingly small number 60% are Criminal on criminal shootings. There hasn't been a Wisconsin Type mass shooting since since the Port Arthur massacre in 1996....which prompted the Control on weapons NOT the banning as the NRA likes to say.
Since then how many US mass murders? There were two before that in the late 70'.

Now one is entitled to ask what's different about Australians less Nut? hardly, less fascination with fire arms ....mmm perhaps. They still have their 'hunters' (sic), shooters and "yobos". They don't have as many religious zealots and fundies.

The point here is ask your self which is more likely in US being killed in a plane attack (terrorism) or some nut with a gun? The answer is clearly the nut with a gun by orders of magnitude.

Then ask yourself why the difference between the two responses? Answer...... the *manufactures *, propaganda via NRA and assorted fearmongering fronts.

Australia's small arms manufacturers Are limited to one medium player "Winchester".
Now consider that the USA is the biggest weapons manufacturing/ dealer in the world …. Why? Profit. they have the clout to sway foreign policy ... there are so many JOB votes in at stake.
Wars etc are profit opportunities for these manufacturers.

Examinator said...

Check this out