Miscellaneous musings from the perspective of a lefty (both senses) atheist with a warped sense of humor.

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Location: Madison, WI, United States

I am a geek, but I do have some redeeming social skills. I love other people's dogs, cats, and kids. Snow sucks, but I'm willing to put up with it just to live in Madison.

Friday, September 11, 2009

The Real Terrorists

Ever hear of the “availability heuristic”? That’s the term scholars and risk managers use to refer to your ability to call up a memory or image of any particular hazard. Think of an airplane crash. Now think of a car crash. Which one produced an immediate, recognizable picture in your brain, perhaps associated with a specific date, time, location, and name?

If you’re like most people, it’s the airplane crash that’s most readily available to your recollection. Such disasters are big and spectacular. They’re also quite rare, which in a perverse way makes them news and thus more likely to get media coverage than car crashes.

So most people, when asked which mode of transportation is most dangerous, will quickly be able to recall airplane disasters and will bubble air travel up to the top of their worry list. Justified? Hmph. Here are the US fatality data for a typical year:
 • motor vehicles: 45,000
 • motorcycles: 3,700
 • bicycles: 750
 • airplanes: 140

Many, many small events, almost unnoticeable individually, often add up to outweigh something big and spectacular but really rare. Mice and termites — many, many of them nibbling away in tiny little bites, but never quitting — do more damage than floods or earthquakes. King Gillette lowballed his razors and made money selling the blades. Apple gives away iTunes and makes billions at 99¢ per song. The best thing you can do for your car is blow $4 on a quart of oil every 3,000 miles.

So consider these fatality counts (IE, dead Americans), in which RFA = religious fanatic attacks and LoHC = lack of health coverage:
 • 2000: RFA, 0; LoHC, 17,000
 • 2001: RFA, 3,000; LoHC, 17,000
 • 2002: RFA, 0; LoHC, 17,000
 • 2003: RFA, 0; LoHC, 17,000
 • 2004: RFA, 0; LoHC, 17,000
 • 2005: RFA, 0; LoHC, 17,000
 • 2006: RFA, 0; LoHC, 17,000
 • 2007: RFA, 0; LoHC, 17,000
 • 2008: RFA, 0; LoHC, 17,000

Religious-fanatic attacks are perpetrated by ideological zealots.

National health care is opposed by ideological zealots.

Terrorists, by definition, are those who seek to affect your behavior by terrifying you. They are not at all hesitant about using lies, threats, and violence to do so.

Based on the numbers, which group of terrorists poses the larger threat to America?


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