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We Are the Roman Empire January 4, 2010

Posted by monty in politics.
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In the last few days I’ve attempted to write about the attempted bombing of the flight from Amsterdam to Detroit approximately a dozen times.  Specifically, I wanted to write about the GOP’s predictably panicky spaz attack about the incident, and what it means for our own convenience when we travel.  Each time I gave up after a sentence or two because my frustration with virtually every Republican who opens his/her mouth to the media has reached the point where I want to stick my head in a blender whenever I turn on the TV.  I feel like I need to write about it, but the act might very well kill me.

But I’ll give it a try.

The right wing’s response to the Underpants Bomber (and could there be any purer articulation of this guy’s ineptness than the nickname he’s been given?) has been this:

1) Obama sucks!

2) We need to profile people, and we especially need to profile black males!

3) Obama sucks!

I’m not going to get into the attacks on Obama.  They say he’s soft on terrorism, that he dropped the ball, that he’s got a pre-9/11 mentality.  Whatever.  By this point, it should be clear to anyone with even rudimentary intelligence that the GOP will attack him no matter what he does.  The profiling bit frustrates me, though, because of the lack of cultural understanding it represents.  The right-wing soft-peddles its racism by saying we need to profile Muslims.  But they do understand that not all Muslims look alike, right?  There are African Muslims, Middle Eastern Muslims, Mediterranean Muslims, Eastern European Muslims, even – whisper it – American Muslims. So how exactly do they propose we profile Muslims?  It’ll be based, just like the guy above says, on skin color.  And that, friends and neighbors, is racial prejudice.  Welcome to the Republican Party, circa 2010.  Looks a lot like 1910, doesn’t it?

But here’s why this shit fit about the Underpants Bomber is completely unwarranted:

1) Accidents happen.  We can tighten security all we want, but airport security depends on humans (at the moment, of course, because I’m not ruling out some sort of science-fictiony invention that renders us irrelevant), and where there’s humans, there’s human error.  No one is perfect.  No system works 100% of the time.  Of course we want to make things as secure as we can, but it’s foolhardy to think we can ever be completely safe.  It’s just not that world anymore.  And when an accident does happen, all the hyperbolic finger-pointing in the world isn’t going to change anything.

2) The best argument against the GOP’s crybaby antics, however, relies on sheer numbers and not on my (or anyone else’s) cynical criticism.  Statistician Nate Silver wrote a terrific piece where he simply crunches the numbers based on official figures from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics.  Here’s the most most salient part of his article:

Over the past decade, according to BTS, there have been 99,320,309 commercial airline departures that either originated or landed within the United States. Dividing by six, we get one terrorist incident per 16,553,385 departures.

These departures flew a collective 69,415,786,000 miles. That means there has been one terrorist incident per 11,569,297,667 mles flown. This distance is equivalent to 1,459,664 trips around the diameter of the Earth, 24,218 round trips to the Moon, or two round trips to Neptune.

Assuming an average airborne speed of 425 miles per hour, these airplanes were aloft for a total of 163,331,261 hours. Therefore, there has been one terrorist incident per 27,221,877 hours airborne. This can also be expressed as one incident per 1,134,245 days airborne, or one incident per 3,105 years airborne.

There were a total of 674 passengers, not counting crew or the terrorists themselves, on the flights on which these incidents occurred. By contrast, there have been 7,015,630,000 passenger enplanements over the past decade. Therefore, the odds of being on a given departure which is the subject of a terrorist incident have been 1 in 10,408,947 over the past decade. By contrast, the odds of being struck by lightning in a given year are about 1 in 500,000. This means that you could board 20 flights per year and still be less likely to be the subject of an attempted terrorist attack than to be struck by lightning.

Or, as Bob Cesca pointed out this morning, 45,000 Americans died last year due to a lack of health insurance.  Where’s the outrage there?  Perhaps the teabaggers would find their time better spent protesting lightning or ordering the strip-search of health insurance executives.


Current listening:

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Henry’s Dream

Last movie seen:

G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra (2009; Stephen Sommers, dir.)


Intermission November 19, 2009

Posted by monty in Nonsense.
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I should like air travel more than I do.  It’s (relatively) convenient, (relatively) fast, and (relatively) safe.  Those parentheticals, though, are a real kick in the bollocks.  Today’s a perfect case in point.  If you didn’t hear, there was some sort of nationwide glitch in the way flight plans are entered by air traffic control, which slowed flights down virtually everywhere.  My flight to Philadelphia was supposed to depart at 1:54.  I left at 11:30 for the airport and received a call on the way that my flight had been canceled.  I made a U-turn across the median* (not easy on I-75), sped home, and fortunately was able to reschedule for a new flight at 5:45.  I left home for the second time around 3:30, made it to the airport at 4:15, parked in the economy lot, and no sooner had I thrown my car into Park than I received a call from Delta.  My flight was now delayed until 8:00.  Awesome.

Air travel is fast and convenient when nonsense like this doesn’t happen, but more or less unbearable when it does.  It’s roughly a 12-hour drive from Atlanta to Philadelphia, which means I could have left in my car at 11:30 this morning, turned north to Philadelphia instead of south to the airport, and made it to my hotel at roughly the same time as I’ll be getting there after flying.

If the curious verb tense in the last sentence wasn’t a tipoff, I’m on one of those flights that offers wi-fi.  There’s something sort of fun about typing this at 35,000 feet while watching NBC’s Thursday night lineup, but it just doesn’t quite compensate for the stress and tedium of the rest of the day.  And it definitely doesn’t compensate if this flight makes an unscheduled landing in a cornfield.

* Didn’t actually happen