Monday, June 14, 2010

Stupid, stupid terrorists!

An article in The Atlantic this month by Daniel Byman and Christine Fair makes the case that terrorists are, well, stupid. In general, most of their plots are small in scope and even those fail. They're essentially a ragtag bunch of fumbling morons - lucky for us.

I think this might be overstating it a bit - click through and read the comments after the article for a good debate - but it reminded me that I do make a related argument in my book. It's useful to remind ourselves that terrorists, by definition, are not as powerful as we think they are, or as powerful as they claim to be. (The entire reason to use terrorist tactics is because you're not strong enough to use conventional tactics.) So, our fears of terrorism and the reactions we've been taking as a country are practically guaranteed to be overblown.

Of course, you can counter with this argument: better safe than sorry, right? Better to overdo it than to be unprepared.

Not a bad point of course, but nevertheless, keeping the War on Terror expansive does have the nasty side effect of playing right into the terrorists' hands in terms of messaging. Treating them as powerful warriors makes them feel as such, and makes more recruitment possible.

A better attitude? Treat them as petty criminal scum. Vandals, not soldiers. A type of (loosely) organized crime, not a righteous army. The sort of group you'd have to be a nitwit to join up with.

(The Secret Peace delves into this in a lot more detail (hint, hint.))

Image by Frank Stockton

Monday, June 7, 2010

More Improvements in Global Health

The Health chapter is perhaps the least controversial in my book. It's easy to see how much global health is improving, especially over the long term - the last 100 years, say. Here's another tidbit to add to the list.

A new report revises down the estimates of the number of infants that die every year. An article in the Economist focuses on how this new way of reporting contrasts with past methods, notably the UN's. Some organizations are upset because they feel that if the public thinks that this issue is improving, they'll stop donating, even though obviously there is still a lot of work to be done. That would be a shame if that happened ... you would think it would instead be a good opportunity to say, "Look, what we're doing is working! Keep it up! Donate more and let's beat this."

The irony is that regardless of which statistical method you prefer, the trend is pretty straightforward. Check out this chart I made.

What's even crazier is that this huge decrease is happening while the total world population is still increasing*, making it an even larger success in terms of percentage.

* And no, the world's population growth isn't a big problem. It's slowing down. I talk about that quite a bit in the book.