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Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Random Thoughts on the Orlando Jihad

When we have an episode of lunatics with guns:
  • One side wants to control the guns.
  • The other side wants to control the lunatics.
 Say... wait a minute... What if we got together and...?

Nah, that'll never happen.

Of course the delusion is that, even with the best will in the world, we could do either. The IRA used to arm themselves through raids on police stations and army barracks in a land with stringent gun control.How certain do you have to be to pre-emptively lock someone away?

If lunatics are deprived of guns, we would need worry only about their car bombs, suicide vests, hijacked airliners, and retail knife attacks. Or perhaps simply cars driven at high speed into crowds of pedestrians.

Is it an improvement if the attacker must plan more carefully?
The terrible slaughter of the schoolchildren in Michigan in 1927 was carried out using dynamite -- by a tax-protesting farmer who was facing foreclosure.
Was the killer in Orlando just a lunatic with fears about his own masculinity, or was he a jihadi propelled by the traditional teaching of the Qur'an? Maybe this is not an "either/or" question. It could be "both/and."

At his speech in Orlando, the president of the USA said, "We’ve reached no definitive judgment on the precise motivations of the killer." Really? Allahu akbar wasn't a clue? 
That's not entirely silly. The motto "Any port in a storm" applies to mental ports and mental storms as well. After the Soviet Union collapsed, Party members in the Near East started joining Islamist groups.Were they true blue muslims any more than they had been true blue reds? Or had they simply been anti-West all along?
Let's not jump to conclusions? Why not? Think of all the other conclusions we have jumped to when they fit our narrative. Remember when Gabby Giffords was shot "because" of talk radio? Or the embassy in Benghazi was sacked "because" some Copt made an insulting video? Or, as some initially supposed, the federal office building in Oklahoma City had been bombed by jihadis?

It's easy to talk about "X legislation," but the devil is in the details. What are the words in the law? What riders are attached? Even public legislation is apt to have fine print. There's more to a law than its title. Its provisions, for one.

In 2014, terrorists in China killed 29 people (other accounts say 31) and injured 140 at the Kunming railway station in Yunnan. They did it using long knives. Do the Chinese need long knife control?

Does anyone ever check the laws they propose? The Patriot Act was passed in response to 9/11, but had the act been in effect at the time, the attack would not have been prevented. Its like passing a law to regulate ham sandwiches following a shark attack.

Seth McFarlane and Susan Sarandon have tweeted for a ban on automatic weapons. Oh, that'll help. Possession of automatic weapons ("machine guns," "Tommy guns") has been tightly regulated since Prohibition. They have not been used in any of the mass killings that have taken place since, I think, the St. Valentine's Day Massacre. (when seven Irish gangsters were killed by Italian gangsters. Our threshold for shock was lower back then.)
Another tweet: "BBC just said the gun used in the shooting can 'fire 700 rounds per minute.'" We can only hope the Beeb is not that stupid. No semi-automatic can possibly do that, since the trigger must be pulled independently for each shot. Is there any reason to listen to people who don't know what they're talking about?
Insert comment on listening to favorite candidate X here.
Another tweet: "Clinton on CNN: We did have an assault weapons ban for 10 years, and i think it should be reinstated." But when the assault weapon ban was repealed, murders by rifle dropped by one-third, contrary to pearl-clutching predictions of the havoc about to be unleashed. In 2014, 248 people were murdered with rifles; 660 with hands, fists or feet. 

What exactly is an "assault" rifle? How does it differ from the more passive sort used in match play target competition?

The 1994 assault weapons law banned semi-automatic rifles if they had
1) a detachable magazine, plus
2) any two of the following five features:
  • a collapsible stock, 
  • a pistol grip, 
  • a bayonet mount, 
  • a flash suppressor, or 
  • a grenade launcher.
A grenade launcher? Really? And how does a collapsible stock make the rifle more deadly than a fixed stock -- but only if the rifle also has a bayonet lug?

IOW, they wanted to ban guns that looked scary

There is hoo-hah today that no one on a terrorist watch list or the no-fly list should be able to buy a gun legally. I agree. But the jihadi in question was on neither list at the time he bought his guns.
Well, then... anyone who has ever been on such a list. Even if he was investigated and cleared? Urrr. OK. Yes, even then. Better safe than due process. And what happens when our opponents win the elections? Do we let them put us on lists? Could there be civil liberty issues connected with these panicky over-responses?

Now imagine that Trump is president. Still want mere suspicion to be grounds for being listed? Do you suppose the authority will never be extended to other issues beside terrorism? Are the fears once expressed regarding the plasticity of the Patriot Act suddenly null and void?
One of the four bills voted down this week would have allowed a temporary bar for people merely suspected. The government would have 72 hours to substantiate the accusation or remove the hold. We can quibble about the time limit. Maybe it's too short. But it does try to address the issue of people unjustly accused, maybe because they "look muslim."

Who was it who said, "Why let a good crisis go to waste"?
Probably not the same one who said, "Hard cases make bad law."

Someone thinks if we keep out illegal immigrants, these things would not happen. But none of these mass killings afik has been carried out by illegal immigrants. The Boston Marathon bombers were legal immigrants whose parents had been granted political asylum. The 9/11 hijackers were on visitor or student visas. The Ft. Hood, San Bernadino, Orlando perpetrators were all American-born. So were Timothy McVeigh, Charles Roberts, Dylan Roof, and others. But why let a good crisis go to waste if we can buffalo folks into pushing through a pet peeve of ours?

Someone thinks we can keep out jihadis by a ban on muslim immigration. That's like keeping out the Mafia by banning Italians or keeping out IRA terrorists by banning Irish.

The problem with banning guns or banning muslims is that most guns are never used to commit crimes, let alone mass murders; and most muslims never commit crimes, let alone mass murders.
This results in enormous waste of effort spent in reviewing or controlling people or things that will never be a problem. The consequence of conducting massive inspections that mostly yield nothing is that a) the inspectors become bored and routinized and stop paying close attention and/or b) they become bored and start "finding" things to keep themselves occupied. (TOF has seen industrial inspectors actually make defects just in order to find them.)
Surely, security agencies will not make terrorists just to have someone to find! But think of all the Fenians and IRB members the British created by their response to the '98 Rising. (And during and in the aftermath of the Easter Rising, the vast majority of the Irish were opposed to the republicans. What turned the tide was how the British overreacted afterward.) 

100% inspection is also remarkably inefficient.This is why:
  • Suppose you are screening a population of one million people for the dread disease Red Squamish. Unbeknownst to you, 5% of the population carries the virus. You have a test for the disease that is 95% effective on both the α and β risks. What happens? 
  • 50,000 people (5%) have Red Squamish. If the screening is 95% effective, 47,500 will be detected. That means 2,500 carriers will pass undetected (They are called "false negatives"). 
  • 950,000 people (95%) are uninfected. If the screening is 95% effective, 47,500 will fail the screening anyway. (They are called "false positives").
  • The screening therefore nets 95,000 cases half of whom are not actually infected. You will think the population is 9.5% infected instead of the actual 5%.
How many sheep do you want to round up with the goats? Especially if the sheep will grow irritable at long lines and false accusations and eventually vote for the other party?
The only solution is to pre-identify probable goats and focus the screening on them. It is generally more effective to look where something is more likely to be found. There ought to be a name for that.
They attack us with guns and IEDs. We retaliate with candlelight vigils, tears, and group hugs. That'll scare them into stopping.
A different kind of message: when a Jordanian pilot was tortured and killed by ISIS, the king of Jordan hopped in a jet and personally bombed ISIS targets in Syria.
What if the killer had targeted a Trump rally instead of a night club. Would we still have seen the same outpouring of sympathy? Or maybe an outpouring of Schadenfreud instead.

We were told yesterday not to let politics stand in the way of doing something about the problem. Was this a call for gun control or for profiling? And why isn't foot-dragging on the other one "playing politics"? Whichever one you think is the other.

A civil war is underway for the soul of Islam. Most of the victims of jihad have been other muslims. Westerners are stage props in an intra-muslim psychodrama.

And lest we forget, most mass murders in this country have been carried out by non-muslims. What price profiling or gun control when Timothy McVeigh parks his truck?
When a guy goes off his nut, he will wrap himself in whatever garb feels comfortable to him. He might wrap himself in the Qur'an, or he might wrap himself in the American flag.  Mostly, targets have been ex-wives and bosses and he wraps himself in a marriage certificate or visitation order or some other treasured but now abrogated relationship. 

There are many ideologies, but sometimes the murderous personality precedes adopting the ideology and sometimes it is a result thereof.

It was nice to see the president swell up with anger and denunciation. If only he spoke that way about jihadi terrorists and not only about Donald Trump.

How does road rage figure into this? Are these mass killings simply the most dramatic cases of a much broader retail problem: that people seem more ready to resort to physical violence against frustrations? 

Still waiting for the much-feared anti-muslim backlash. 
(If we didn't get one on 9/12, when will we?) 


  1. it's no so much muslims committing mass murder in the usa that gets trump fans as much as it is educated muslims coming here and prospering and then inviting more in to take their jobs. fear of globalization and the global trade in human capital is fueling the anger

    1. Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose. It's like the Know Nothings back in the 1850s who told the same story about the Irish and German immigrants coming to take away good Anglo-Saxon jobs. They were Catholics, too; so they didn't understand freedom and democracy.

      Now all the diners hereabouts are run by Greek immigrants and the dry cleaners by Koreans! All but one of my doctors is from India or Indian communities in Africa.

      When the Irish came over, they would get established and then send money home for their parents or brothers to come over too. This is what my grandfather's grandfather did. There were so many Irish working on the DL&W that the shanty town by the Washington NJ rail yards was called "Dublin." So has it always been. The golden door always did have a lamp beside it. I have ancestors who fled famine and revolution in Ireland and Germany, politics in France, and just plain old poverty. (My wife's immigrant ancestors had the good sense to come over before there was a United States or on one line before the ice caps had melted entirely. So YMMV.)

      A colleague was picked up by a driver at the Metropark train station a few years back. When they reached the corner at the top of the hill, the driver pointed at the Sikhs operating the pumps and complained, "They are taking jobs away from us Americans." The driver was from El Salvador.

      Of course, if you look around you'll find auto assembly plants for Japanese cars in places like Tennessee and Ohio. Up the Valley here there is a plant making Japanese cameras and another making colonoscopes. And so on. I don't hear anyone complaining about Americans taking away Japanese jobs. Or about the Canadians, for that matter. There's a plant making Fords in Canada.

      There simply aren't enough muslims coming to the US to make a difference in the jobs picture. If someone starts up a shop selling cell phones, whose job has he taken? There was no shop before that.

      At one time, there was a complaint that the vast majority of children in the public schools here in town did not speak English. They spoke German. That eventually changed, as the superintendent of those days (1854) predicted. So geht's im Leben, doch?

    2. I'm not a Trump supporter, but it doesn't seem like you know any at all. Trump fans' xenophobia is mostly comes from fears of increased crime, whether from rape/murder/robbery committed by illegal aliens to acts of terrorism. In some ways this is a rational xenophobia in that illegal aliens do, in fact, bring more crime and strain social services. To the extent they fear job loss, it isn't from losing jobs to immigrants so much as it is to lower cost international competition. The anger comes from the failure of the government to enforce its own immigration laws. This failure appears more and more like a deliberate act by one political party to change the demographics of the country to its favor and by the other party to appeal to high-donor corporations who want cheap labor. They are also upset because of the administrations silly attempts to obfuscate that radical islamism is a motivating factor in terrorist attacks both here and abroad.

    3. In my now-countless conversations with Trump supporters, defenders, and rationalizers, I find I agree with many of the arguments they make for Donald Trump right up until the point they say “and therefore Donald Trump.”
      —Jonah Goldberg, National Review

      Trump is not in any way a solution to any of these problems, not least because he himself has been one of those "high-donor corporations who want cheap labor" (I believe his illegal workers were mostly from Poland).

    4. Trump may not be an ideal candidate or even a 'good' solution to any of these problems. In fact, there may be little difference (to someone like me) between a Trump and a Clinton administration besides court appointments. But, there has never been an ideal candidate for either party. I thought Romney was a terrible candidate whose religious views I don't trust and whose political history was noxious. I still voted for him.

      The reality is that our election system ensures that only two candidates are viable. It is always a case of lesser evils, and Trump is clearly less evil (in a policy relevant way) than the toxic Clintons.

    5. Trump supporter here. Sometimes it's about preserving what we have left of civilization rather than worrying about mere jobs, even though those jobs also have a non-economic value in cultivating virtue and should be reserved for citizens first or foreigners who are at least not so likely to raise terrorist offspring.

      Some of us are more concerned about the so-called equal needs and abilities of all barbarian nations, or the speculation that liberal governance turns anyone in the world into Westerners who will faithfully preserve our traditions (that irony) when we aren't the majority here anymore. Muslims aren't the only problem but they're the most explosive one.

    6. Yeah, they used to say that about the Irish.

    7. But the Irish and Germans also followed a similar religion and culture as the descendents of the original colonists, compared to, say, Syrians.

      Do you think Syrian Muslims would compromise their religion and culture in order to live in Western culture, or at least become apathetic regarding the conflicts? It does seem like the Islamic world has some kind of spiritual strength, unlike the West: I'm not sure if enough Muslims would choose materialism and liberalism over Islam, at least in the "of the boat" generation.

      Christi pax,


    8. But the Irish and Germans also followed a similar religion and culture

      So do the Mexicans.

      But you'd have a hard time convincing the Real Americans of the 1850s that Catholicism was a similar religion to their righteous Protestantism. Remember, they had no trouble accepting the Scots-Irish from Northern Ireland or the Lutheran Germans from the northern Germanies.

      There have been Syrians up the river here in Allentown since the cows came home. Lo, they are Antiochene Christians, as are many of the Syrians being driven out of their homeland even today. Others are Druse and Alawites. Most muslims, like most everyone else, just want to live their lives and most victims of the jihad have been other muslims. As for fitting in with our way of life, there are a lot of Chinese-Americans from a culture even more alien who have done remarkably well.

  2. I agree that Trump is a terrible candidate and completely unsuitable for the office of president. I am merely responding to the anonymous poster above who is providing a caricature of Trump supporters, either to project his/her own prejudice or because he/she fails to understand what actually motivates Trump supporters.

  3. What a wonderful set of observations. Gave me something to think about.


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