Category Archives: Politics

Yet another way to harass Americans

…while offering no improvement whatsoever in security. I mean, of course, the Future Attribute Screening Technology, or FAST, that the DHS is testing to try and spot people who intend to commit acts of terrorism. How do I know that it won’t improve security? Just do the math. According to the article, in laboratory tests the technology was correct in discerning intentions 70% of the time. Let’s assume that they improve that with a little tweaking. In fact, I’ll assume that they can make it so good that it’s correct 90% of the time.

So they can catch 90% of the terrorists. Great! But how many terrorists is that? Since the implementation of new security after 9/11, the average number of terrorists per year that have attempted to board airlines at U.S. airports (the only ones where DHS has jurisdiction) is… zero. No terrorists have tried to get on to planes. Therefore, no terrorists were stopped by airline security. Were they deterred by the added security that the TSA has already deployed? It’s possible, but there weren’t any attacks in the ten years prior to 9/11 either.

But just for the sake of argument, suppose there was one person planning to attack an airliner. According to the United States Bureau of Transportation Statistics, approximately 786.7 million passengers traveled by air in the United States in 2010. Of these, the FAST machine would identify 78,670,000 people as possible terrorists, if it’s correct 90% of the time. That’s almost 80 million people, 1 of whom is a terrorist in this scenario. Can the TSA realistically stop 80 million people from flying? Of course not. So how do they determine which 1 of the 78,670,000 positive results is really the terrorist, when they don’t actually know that there is a terrorist in the group at all? And even if they do, absurdly, stop everybody who fails the test from getting on the plane, there’s still a 1 in 10 chance the actual terrorist got through.

And, of course, nearly every one of those 78,670,000 will try to fly again the next day. The TSA obviously can’t put these people on the no-fly list, or very soon nobody will be allowed to fly at all. And every time the terrorist tries again, there’s another 1 in 10 chance that he’ll succeed and get on the plane.

The best that FAST could do, even assuming an extremely unlikely 90% success rate, is delay a terrorist attack by a few days. This at the cost of harassing tens of millions of innocent people, disrupting business travel, and largely ending airline travel for tourists (a family of 4 has only a 66% chance of being allowed to board the plane together).

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The First Amendment

It was apparently one of the things damaged by the recent tornadoes. According to the Times Free Press, reporters in Chattanooga are being threatened with arrest for photographing storm damage and clean-up work.

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Gunwalker scandal – it just keeps getting stinkier

I mentioned this in a previous post. Now the former lead ATF official in Mexico claims the operation was approved by somebody very high up at the Department of Justice, according to this news report. Exactly how high is still to be determined.

I’m having a lot of trouble understanding what they thought they were going to accomplish. Once the guns got to Mexico they weren’t being tracked, and even if they could connect them to some particular drug kingpin, ATF has no police powers there. Any arrests would have to have been made by Mexican authorities. The same authorities who were being kept in the dark about the very existence of the operation.

This really sounds like an operation planned by Underpants Gnomes. Phase 1: Allow guns to be smuggled across the border. Phase 3: Profit Take down the drug cartels.

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Is ATF smuggling guns to Mexico?

Video here. If the allegations are true, and it looks like there’s a lot of evidence that they are, then there are some top people in the Department of Justice who should be in prison.

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Good Timing

The ironically named U.N. Human Rights Council has just accepted a report praising Libya, noting “with appreciation the country’s commitment to upholding human rights on the ground.”

The article goes on to say, “The UN launched the council in 2006 to replace a discredited Human Rights Commission, which had come to be manipulated by countries with poor human rights records.”

Boy, I sure am glad they fixed it.

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This seems a little much

Apparently U.S. Government has fifteen separate federal agencies to oversee food safety, and 82 programs intended to improve teacher quality. According to a story in the Wall Street Journal, a new GAO report has identified billions of dollars worth of redundant programs. One example: there are 56 federal programs to help people better understand finance. I can see how an argument could be made that there ought to be some sort of financial education available, but 56 separate programs is a bit of overkill, don’t you think?

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Black History Month

I like what Morgan Freeman had to say. (h/t to JDZ )

It has long been accepted in my field of anthropology* that race is not biological, but is a social contruct. Categories of any kind, including categories of people, do not exist in the natural world. They are created by culture. In the natural universe, every object is in some ways similar to and in other ways different from every other object. Categorization defines certain similarities as important. This is not necessarily a bad thing! In general, categories are useful, which is why we create them. I can, for example, easily say something about waterfowl, or staple crops, or registered voters. Without categories, I would have to name each individual that I am speaking about, which would be hugely impractical.

The category of race, however, is one that I think is harmful rather than helpful, at least in the United States in 2011. I believe it would be a good thing if we would stop thinking of people in racial terms at all.

*In the U.S., archaeology is taught as a sub-field of anthropology.

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