Outer appearance simply can’t imply anything about inner character

Monday, June 26th, 2017

Blaise Aguera y Arcas leads Google’s Machine Intelligence group in Seattle, and he has written a remarkably unscientific piece decrying physiognomy’s new clothes:

The practice of using people’s outer appearance to infer inner character is called physiognomy. While today it is understood to be pseudoscience, the folk belief that there are inferior “types” of people, identifiable by their facial features and body measurements, has at various times been codified into country-wide law, providing a basis to acquire land, block immigration, justify slavery, and permit genocide. When put into practice, the pseudoscience of physiognomy becomes the pseudoscience of scientific racism.

Rapid developments in artificial intelligence and machine learning have enabled scientific racism to enter a new era, in which machine-learned models embed biases present in the human behavior used for model development. Whether intentional or not, this “laundering” of human prejudice through computer algorithms can make those biases appear to be justified objectively.

Outer appearance simply can’t imply anything about inner character. That would be wrong.

He goes on to cite a Chinese study that sounds (literally) incredible, but the case that machine-learning is being used to “launder” human biases is rather weak.

Wu and Zhang’s criminal images (top) and non-criminal images (bottom)

He has fangs and the capacity for violence

Friday, June 23rd, 2017

Josh Eells has written a rather unflattering piece on Lt. Col. Dave Grossman, the “Killologist” training America’s cops, for Men’s Journal:

After his talk, Grossman and I went for dinner at a nearby sports bar, where he told me about his life. He lives with his wife, Jeanne — his high school sweetheart — and their two dogs in a small town outside St. Louis, Missouri (as it happens, 45 minutes from Ferguson). He spends almost 300 days a year on the road, usually coming home one night a week for what he jokingly calls “a conjugal visit and clean underwear” before heading out again. His oldest son, Jon, runs a family-owned gunsmithing company; his youngest, Joe, helps manage the speaking business. His middle son, Eric, is an Air Force combat controller with nine combat tours and three Bronze Stars.

[...]

It was at Arkansas State that Grossman published On Killing, in 1995, to much acclaim. The Washington Post called it “an illuminating account of how soldiers learn to kill and how they live with the experience of having killed”; the New York Times called it “powerfully argued” and “full of arresting observations and insights.” The book even made fans in Hollywood: While promoting his World War II movie Fury a few years back, Brad Pitt told an interviewer, “If you want to better understand the accumulative psychic trauma incurred by our soldiers, read On Killing by Lt. Col. Dave Grossman.”

Though Grossman calls himself a behavioral scientist, he is not a researcher in the traditional academic sense. He wrote On Combat, a study on how soldiers and police officers cope with the stress associated with deadly conflict, using what he calls an “interactive feedback loop” — gathering stories from combat veterans, then presenting the information to people he trains. He’s more of a Malcolm Gladwell type, compiling anecdotes and fashioning them into a digestible narrative. As his chief qualifications, Grossman cites the “body of information I’ve crafted over the years” and his ability to “speak from the heart.” “I truly am one of the best people on the planet in a couple of areas,” he told me. “Whether it’s preparation for a life-or-death event or walking the sheepdog path, I really feel like I’m the preeminent authority.”

[...]

In his famous sheepdog essay, Grossman talked about how sheepdogs can sometimes accidentally scare the sheep. The sheepdog “looks a lot like the wolf,” he wrote. “He has fangs and the capacity for violence. The difference, though, is that the sheepdog must not, cannot, and will not ever harm the sheep. Any sheepdog who intentionally harms the lowliest little lamb will be punished and removed.”

Riot police embrace bicycles

Thursday, June 22nd, 2017

American protest is changing in the digital age, and in response riot police have enthusiastically embraced a surprisingly low-tech mobility solution, the bicycle:

It was here in Seattle back in 1999 that Dyment himself first pressed bicycles into use for “crowd management”, when 50,000 people showed up to protest at a meeting of the World Trade Organisation. Their numbers overwhelmed the city’s mid-size police department – but this was also a more sophisticated group of protesters than Seattle had ever seen. They were highly mobile, and they used new technologies to coordinate their actions.

“They had great command and control,” says Dyment. “They used blogs and Nextels [a cellular phone with a “push to talk” function like a walkie-talkie]. Out of necessity, we used the bikes.”

[...]

“It allows you to be mobile as a group,” says Dyment. “Bikes also allow you to have constant presence with the group.”

This mobility is useful both in ordinary patrol and in first responder situations. In June 2014, when a shooter opened fire at Seattle Pacific University, “bike officers were one of the first ones there. They were the only ones who could make it through the downtown traffic.”

The bikes also turned out to be a highly effective – and cheap – tool for crowd control, allowing relatively few officers to form a relatively long line. “They provide a natural barrier,” Dyment says. “The European model is more on foot. The London Met or the NYPD can just throw resources at situations like that. For mid-majors like Seattle, this is a way of controlling large crowds with minimal resources.” (Historically, horses have played an analogous role, Vitale notes.)

A 2002 article written by the late Mike Goetz, a Seattle bike squad officer, describes manoeuvres including “the crossbow” and “the barrier technique”.

In the first, “the bike squad forms a double column behind the line, far enough behind so they can get a little speed up,” Goetz wrote. “On command, the line makes a gap in the center and the bikes ride through this gap.” In the second, officers focus on “lining the bikes, front wheel to rear wheel, across the area to be blocked or protected”.

Dyment also believes bike squads strike a less confrontational pose than massed platoons of officers in riot gear.

Seattle Bike Squad

There is certainly a Robocop feel to the outfits Seattle’s bike squad wear: despite the polo shirts and (optional) shorts, the officers wear Bell Super 3R helmets and body armour. Nor are the bikes themselves your casual BMX. They have a custom-built hardtail mountain bike frame from Volcanic, a company in Bellingham, Washington that specialises in catering to law enforcement.

The main weapon against rudeness

Friday, June 16th, 2017

Muscovites don’t always follow traffic and parking laws, but a polite request from the BodyMania guys can be very convincing:

Stigma-free consequences

Thursday, May 25th, 2017

Kay Hymowitz hasn’t visited Cheltenham High, in the prosperous Montgomery County suburbs of Philadelphia, since she graduated “in the faraway American Graffiti era,” but a recent brawl there went viral and raised the issue of unsayable truths about the failing high school:

Students described rape threats, stalking, kids sent back to classrooms after menacing teachers or classmates, teachers walking past fighting kids, security guards looking the other way. The problems, students insisted, weren’t limited to the high school; they remembered thuggery in middle and even elementary school, too.

There was no way to chalk up these complaints to adolescent theatrics. A February survey of CHS teachers had already revealed a school that resembled Lord of the Flies. Cursing, yelling students roamed the halls, pushing, shoving, ramming each other into walls, sometimes “accidentally” colliding with teachers. Thirty-six out of 79 teachers surveyed believed that they were unsafe in the hallways, and those who didn’t acknowledged either being big enough to stare down students or practiced at minding their own business. “What are you going to do about it? You can’t do anything,” “Fuck off, crazy old motherfucker,” were some of the choice rejoinders they told of hearing. “If I feel uncomfortable by the language and noise level a student displays,” one teacher wrote, “I can 1) address it and open myself up to insubordination and/or a verbal retaliation for which no consequences will be delivered or I can 2) choose to ignore it which I struggle with ethically because then I feel complicit. It’s a complete ‘no-win,’ and I battle this every day.”

What could not be said out loud was that the problem kids were all black, though the district superintendent did delicately indicate that the school’s trouble is “racialized.” Like many inner suburbs, once predominantly white Cheltenham has become increasingly African-American over the past decades. Back in the day, only about 10 percent of the high school population was black; Reggie Jackson, who graduated two years before me, remains the school’s most famous alum. The large majority of my classmates were the sons and daughters of second-generation Jews who had followed the immigrant dream into Philly’s northern suburbs in the postwar years. (Yoni “Jonathan” Netanyahu, who would die in the 1976 Entebbe raid, graduated the same year as Reggie; his brother Bibi picked up his diploma three years later. Their unflattering view of their coddled American baby boomer classmates is the subject of this blunt 2015 Washington Post article.)

Today, the district is 53 percent black, though the demographics defy easy generalization. Most of those students are the children of a growing black middle class that had moved to Cheltenham for the same reason postwar Jewish families had: its relatively affordable, attractive homes and its highly regarded schools, the holy grail of American house-hunting parents of all races. A number of black parents at the meeting spoke poignantly of the hopes that had brought them to the district. “I moved heaven and earth to make sure my child had a chance,” one voluble mother of a 12-year-old pleaded. “I could have lived in a wonderful house in Philly. No way I’m sending my girl to those schools. I’d rather live in a box and let my kid get a good education.”

Some of Cheltenham’s arrivals are spillovers from nearby North Philadelphia, the city’s immense and long-suffering black ghetto. They have moved into aging apartment complexes on the district’s border, bringing with them the old neighborhood’s broken culture. Forty-five percent of the black children in Cheltenham are born to unmarried mothers; it’s jolting to realize that “illegitimacy,” as it was once called, was almost unheard of at the time my peers were piling into school bleachers to cheer Reggie Jackson. Poverty rates for these kids are well below the national average, but almost 30 percent of single-parent households in Cheltenham are nevertheless in the ranks of the poor or near-poor.

If those households are like the struggling single-parent homes studied by social scientists, then the children are experiencing radically different domestic lives than their middle-class black and white classmates—with few routines, disappearing fathers and stepfathers, and little adult interest in homework, teachers, and discipline. Researchers have repeatedly found that boys growing up in single-mother households are especially prone to “externalizing” behavior like fighting, impulsiveness, rudeness—in other words, precisely the sort of behavior that the community meeting was demanding the administration do something about.

This class and family divide, intertwined as it is with race, is off-limits to polite discussion, leading conversations like the one at the community meeting into a verbal traffic jam of contradictions and dodges. The student council president shed tears over the mayhem in one breath and in the next demanded an end to the black-white achievement gap and adoption of “data-driven solutions” like “restorative justice.” (Unsurprisingly, this popular education fad has yet to be subject to careful study.) The audience retreated to the familiar litany of policy fixes with a long history of uneven or meager results: more black teachers! More counselors! More mentors!

One solution is alternative schools, which would place the small number of students making education impossible for the majority into schools explicitly designed for kids unable to function in ordinary education environments. The February teacher survey showed that the vast majority of instructors supported the approach; several black parents also endorsed it at the meeting. (A white father reviled the idea as stigmatizing.) For three hours, parents and students demanded that the administration impose clear “consequences” for fighting and rudeness. The administrators have their self-contradicting marching orders: stigma-free consequences.

Murders in the US are extremely concentrated

Friday, May 12th, 2017

The United States can be divided up into three kinds of places: places where there are no murders, places where there are a few murders, and places where there are lots of murders:

In 2014, the most recent year that a county level breakdown is available, 54% of counties (with 11% of the population) have no murders. 69% of counties have no more than one murder, and about 20% of the population. These counties account for only 4% of all murders in the country.

The worst 1% of counties have 19% of the population and 37% of the murders. The worst 5% of counties contain 47% of the population and account for 68% of murders. As shown in figure 2, over half of murders occurred in only 2% of counties.

Murder-Map-of-US-Counties

Crime control is not actually a mystery

Wednesday, May 10th, 2017

Crime control is not actually a mystery, Devin Helton notes:

In the long run, men follow incentives. That is not to say we calculate benefits and potential punishment before every action. But over time we build up intuition and a general sense of what we can get away with, what results in social sanction, what results in criminal sanction, what gets status among friends, and what results in success or failure with women.

When we compare the high crime and low crime poor communities, we see large differences in the incentives:

In low crime areas, disobedience at school results in harsh punishment — often corporal punishment.

In high crime areas, disobedience is either unpunished, or punished by suspension, which is hardly punishment to a kid who does not want to be in school anyways.

In low crime areas, the police are quick to crack down on even petty crime. If a gang is known to be harassing a certain area, they are not afraid to apply the billy clubs as needed until the gang is no longer a problem.

In high crime areas, the police ignore drug dealing for months at a time. Murders go unsolved. Police only enter areas when called in, if even then.

In low crime areas, men who lack motivation to work go hungry or enter a workhouse where they are isolated from their buddies and women.

In high crime areas, men who lack a commitment to work earn a living from side hustles, welfare, and living off of mom’s and girlfriends. They still get access to their friends and to sex.

In low crime areas, women are kept under the care of their parents until they are married off to a stable man. If a woman gets pregant out of wedlock and needs aid, she too would have to go the work house where she would be under curfew and discipline.

In high crime areas, women get pregant before locking in a husband, and have to raise their child alone. A rotating array of boyfriends often abuse the children, setting off a cycle of violence. (Non-father males in all human societies, and indeed, all primate societies, are often the most dangerous child abusers, as they have no genetic investment to the children).

In low crime areas, anti-social people are ostracised from the community. They lose access to friends, credit, and are shamed. Without a job, they must enter the workhouse, or they are in jail for their crimes.

In high crime areas, predators live in public housing for years, committing all sorts of crime, with no repurcussion.

(Note: I’m not advocating a return to Victorian era workhouses. I’m simply noting the obvious that if you want people to work a market job, then the “not-working” option has to be worse than the market job option. In the modern era, when we are much wealthier, there are many ways of doing this that wouldn’t entail the horrors of Dickensian workhouses.)

Does inequality cause crime?

Thursday, May 4th, 2017

It is often argued that inequality or poverty causes crime, Devin Helton notes, and that only by addressing these “root causes” can we reduce crime:

But as we know from Statistics 101, correlation does not prove causation. There are numerous variables that differ between countries or states that can have a correlated impact on inequality and crime: governance, ethnicity, culture, institutions, traditions, etc.

To avoid these confounders, another way to test the link between inequality and crime is to examine the treatment effect. If public policy choices increase inequality, does crime go up? If public policy choices decrease inequality, does crime go down?

From 1910 until the late 1970s, both England and America undertook concerted programs to reduce inequality. Both introduced progressive income taxes. Both changed laws to support unionization. And then in the 1980s both countries reversed course. Britain elected Thatcher, the U.S. elected Reagan. They lowered tax rates, made life more difficult for unions, and promoted business. Inequality rose in both countries for the next few decades.

I hope you see where this is going:

Turns out that inequality reduces crime, and equality increases crime. For every 10% decline in inequality according GINI coefficient, homicide nearly doubles! That is a very strong correlation. (You can download my spreadsheet here).

Does he actually believe this?

No. My results above are due to tricks and confounding factors.

[...]

In total, the statisical analysis above does not prove causation. But — all those studies using correlations to show the opposite, that inequality causes crime, are also bogus. They are also cherry-picked, confounded, and intellectually dishonest. With so many interlocking causal factors, anyone who calculates a correlation with regards to inequality and crime and tells you this proves X causes Y is either appallingly stupid or utterly mendacious.

Read the whole thing.

No cop had to deal with the trauma of killing him

Monday, May 1st, 2017

Reason looks at alternatives to deadly police force:

The man in the Camden, New Jersey, police video is practically begging to be shot. After using a knife to menace a cashier and a customer in a fast-food restaurant, he strides down a street slashing at the air as police repeatedly order him to drop his weapon. The man keeps walking, defiantly waving the knife.

Several cops form a ring around him and move along at a safe distance, block after block. This goes on for several tense minutes, as the viewer waits for shots to ring out. But they never do. Eventually, the man drops the knife and is collared.

It’s a reasonably happy outcome. Had the 2015 incident occurred a year earlier, before the department adopted new tactics, “we would more than likely have deployed deadly force and moved on,” Chief J. Scott Thomson told The New York Times. Instead, the offender survived, and no cop had to deal with the trauma of killing him.

If you can deploy multiple cops, and no one is in immediate danger, I suppose that works out — but I do have to wonder if someone who menaces random folks with a knife is going to “get better” with a little time away.

Berkeley criminologist Franklin Zimring takes the expected point of view in his book When Police Kill:

Police in America face a far higher risk of being killed on duty than police in Europe — because criminals here are far likelier to have guns. That difference accounts for the far higher rate of fatal shootings of police and by police in this country.

The risk an officer faces of being killed with a knife, by contrast, is the same on both sides of the Atlantic. In a typical year, the number of cops killed with knives in the United States matches the number killed in England and Wales: zero. Criminals kill more police with their hands and feet than with knives.

But people armed with nothing but knives get killed by cops all the time in the United States—as many as 165 times per year, or more than three per week. In England and Wales—where cutting instruments are no less available to criminals than they are here—there were only three fatal shootings of any kind by police from 2011 to 2015.

So, people armed with “nothing but knives” get killed by cops all the time in the United States, and the number of cops killed with knives in the United States is zero. Hmm…

A more comprehensive and devious approach

Saturday, April 22nd, 2017

An enterprising group of hackers targeted a Brazilian bank with a more comprehensive and devious approach than usual:

At 1 pm on October 22 of last year, the researchers say, hackers changed the Domain Name System registrations of all 36 of the bank’s online properties, commandeering the bank’s desktop and mobile website domains to take users to phishing sites. In practice, that meant the hackers could steal login credentials at sites hosted at the bank’s legitimate web addresses. Kaspersky researchers believe the hackers may have even simultaneously redirected all transactions at ATMs or point-of-sale systems to their own servers, collecting the credit card details of anyone who used their card that Saturday afternoon.

“Absolutely all of the bank’s online operations were under the attackers’ control for five to six hours,” says Dmitry Bestuzhev, one of the Kaspersky researchers who analyzed the attack in real time after seeing malware infecting customers from what appeared to be the bank’s fully valid domain. From the hackers’ point of view, as Bestuzhev puts it, the DNS attack meant that “you become the bank. Everything belongs to you now.”

Decivilization in the 1960s

Friday, April 14th, 2017

Steven Pinker discusses decivilization in the 1960s:

After a three-decade free fall that spanned the Great Depression, World War II, and the Cold War, Americans multiplied their homicide rate by more than two and a half, from a low of 4.0 in 1957 to a high of 10.2 in 1980 (U.S. Bureau of Statistics; Fox and Zawitz: 2007). The upsurge included every other category of major crime as well, including rape, assault, robbery, and theft, and lasted (with ups and downs) for three decades. The cities got particularly dangerous, especially New York, which became a symbol of the new criminality. Though the surge in violence affected all the races and both genders, it was most dramatic among black men, whose annual homicide rate had shot up by the mid-1980s to 72 per 100,000.

[...]

The rebounding of violence in the 1960s defied every expectation. The decade was a time of unprecedented economic growth, nearly full employment, levels of economic equality for which people today are nostalgic, historic racial progress, and the blossoming of government social programs, not to mention medical advances that made victims more likely to survive being shot or knifed. Social theorists in 1962 would have happily bet that these fortunate conditions would lead to a continuing era of low crime. And they would have lost their shirts.

[...]

When rock music burst onto the scene in the 1950s, politicians and clergymen vilified it for corrupting morals and encouraging lawlessness. (An amusing video reel of fulminating fogies can be seen in Cleveland’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum.) Do we now have to – gulp – admit they were right? Can we connect the values of 1960s popular culture to the actual rise in violent crimes that accompanied them? Not directly, of course. Correlation is not causation, and a third factor, the pushback against the values of the Civilizing Process, presumably caused both the changes in popular culture and the increase in violent behavior. Also, the overwhelming majority of baby boomers committed no violence whatsoever. Still, attitudes and popular culture surely reinforce each other, and at the margins, where susceptible individuals and subcultures can be buffeted one way or another, there are plausible causal arrows from the decivilizing mindset to the facilitation of actual violence.

One of them was a self-handicapping of the criminal justice Leviathan. Though rock musicians seldom influence public policy directly, writers and intellectuals do, and they got caught up in the zeitgeist and began to rationalize the new licentiousness. Marxism made violent class conflict seem like a route to a better world. Influential thinkers like Herbert Marcuse and Paul Goodman tried to merge Marxism or anarchism with a new interpretation of Freud that connected sexual and emotional repression to political repression and championed a release from inhibitions as part of the revolutionary struggle. Troublemakers were increasingly seen as rebels and nonconformists, or as victims of racism, poverty, and bad parenting. Graffiti vandals were now ‘artists,’ thieves were ‘class warriors,’ and neighborhood hooligans were ‘community leaders.’ Many smart people, intoxicated by radical chic, did incredibly stupid things. Graduates of elite universities built bombs to be set off at army social functions, or drove getaway cars while ‘radicals’ shot guards during armed robberies. New York intellectuals were conned by Marxobabble-spouting psychopaths into lobbying for their release from prison (Pinker 2002: 261–262).

Read the whole thing. (It’s an excerpt from The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined.)

Addicts wake up “sick” and need to “make money”

Tuesday, March 21st, 2017

Addicts wake up “sick” and need to “make money”:

Some neighborhood bodegas — the addicts know which ones — will pay 50 cents on the dollar for anything stolen from CVS. That is why razor blades, printer cartridges, and other expensive portable items are now kept under lock and key where you shop. Addicts shoplift from Home Depot and drag things from the loading docks. They pull off scams. They will scavenge for thrown-out receipts in trash cans outside an appliance store, enter the store, find the receipted item, and try to return it for cash. On the edge of the White Mountains in Maine, word spread that the policy at Hannaford, the dominant supermarket chain, was not to dispute returns of under $25. For a while, there was a run on the big cans of extra virgin olive oil that sold for $24.99, which were brought to the cash registers every day by a succession of men and women who did not, at first sight, look like connoisseurs of Mediterranean cuisine. Women prostitute themselves on Internet sites. Others go into hospital emergency rooms, claiming a desperately painful toothache that can be fixed only with some opioid. (Because if pain is a “fifth vital sign,” it is the only one that requires a patient’s own testimony to measure.) This is generally repeated until the pain-sufferer grows familiar enough to the triage nurses to get “red-flagged.”

The culture of addiction treatment is marked by an extraordinary level of political correctness:

Several of the addiction professionals interviewed for this article sent lists of the proper terminology to use when writing about opioid addiction, and instructions on how to write about it in a caring way. These people are mostly generous, hard-working, and devoted. But their codes are neither scientific nor explanatory; they are political.

The director of a Midwestern state’s mental health programs emailed a chart called “‘Watch What You Call Me’: The Changing Language of Addiction and Mental Illness,” compiled by the Boston University doctor Richard Saltz. It is a document so Orwellian that one’s first reaction is to suspect it is a parody, or some kind of “fake news” dreamed up on a cynical website. We are not supposed to say “drug abuse”; use “substance use disorder” instead. To say that an addict’s urine sample is “clean” is to use “words that wound”; better to say he had a “negative drug test.” “Binge drinking” is out — “heavy alcohol use” is what you should say. Bizarrely, “attempted suicide” is deemed unacceptable; we need to call it an “unsuccessful suicide.” These terms are periphrastic and antiscientific. Imprecision is their goal. Some of them (like the concept of a “successful suicide”) are downright insane. This habit of euphemism and propaganda is not merely widespread. It is official. In January 2017, less than two weeks before the end of the last presidential administration, drug office head Michael Botticelli issued a memo called “Changing the Language of Addiction,” a similarly fussy list of officially approved euphemisms.

In 1972 we had over nineteen hundred domestic bombings

Monday, March 20th, 2017

“People have completely forgotten that in 1972 we had over nineteen hundred domestic bombings in the United States.” — Max Noel, FBI (ret.)

As Bryan Burrough’s Days of Rage explains, in 1968, many radicals absolutely believed that the United States was getting ready to collapse:

SDS leadership is disproportionately well-off Jewish kids at elite universities. The kind of people who create Facebook.

Well, in 1968 you can’t go to the Bay Area & create a killer app, so if you want to disrupt stuff you literally have to start a revolution. And that’s the equation: Paranoid fervor of chemtrail-sniffers + Silicon Valley’s faith in its ability to change the world = the Weather Underground.

When it shakes out, two of the big SDS movers and shakers are John “JJ” Jacobs and Bernadine Dorne. Their goal: to take over SDS entirely. Because, remember, organization is critical. SDS is a nationwide organization. And college campuses are receptive to radical messages.

How receptive? In fall of 1968, there were 41 bombings and arson cases on college campuses. We’re not talking letters under doors or vandalism, here. We’re talking about Molotov cocktails setting shit on fire. Here’s how radical SDS was: Burrough notes that Weatherman’s opponents for leadership in SDS elections were “Progressive Labor,” who were literal Maoists. To distinguish themselves, Weatherman called for white radicals to live like John Brown: ie, to kill the enemies of black liberty.

The election was nuts; Weatherman literally expelled their opponents from the party before the vote, so SDS split. But Weatherman occupied the national office, which meant they could evaluate SDS members as potential recruits.

The FBI was up SDS’s ass, and Weatherman’s. They harassed the core cadre. Beat them. Threatened them. This does not dissuade revolutionaries. Weatherman started doing crazy stuff with SDS: street brawls, public nudity, sexual orgies, ordering established couples to break up. If you think it sounds like a cult, you’re right. This is literally cult indoctrination stuff. They were remaking people, seeking the hardest of hardcore.

[...]

In the end, the Weather’s fugitives turned themselves in with little trouble. To give you an idea: Bill Ayers was scott-free. Cathy Wilkerson did a year. Bernardine Dohrn got three years probation and a $1500 fine. The radical lawyers, accessories to Weather’s bombings? Nada. Zip. Zero.

They did pretty well afterwards. Bernardine Dohrn was a clinical associate professor of law at Northwestern University for more than twenty years. Another Weatherman, Eleanor Stein, was arrested on the run in 1981; she got a law degree in 1986 and became an administrative law judge. Radical attorney Michael Kennedy, who did more than any to keep Weather alive, has been special advisor to President of the UN General Assembly. And, of course, Barack Obama, twice President of the United States, started his political career in Bill Ayers’s living room.

This is the difference between the hard Left & hard Right: you can be a violent leftist radical and go on to live a pretty kickass life. This is especially true if you’re a leftist of the credentialed class: Ph.D. or J.D.

The big three takeaways for me about Weatherman, when it comes to political violence in America as we might see it in 2016:

  1. Radicalism can come from anywhere. The Weathermen weren’t oppressed, or poor, or anything like that. They were hard leftists. That’s it.
  2. Sustained political violence is dependent on the willing cooperation of admirers and accomplices. The Left has these. The Right does not.
  3. Not a violent issue, but a political one: ethnic issues involving access to power can both empower and derail radical movements.

The story gets much, much crazier.

I’m reminded of The Baader Meinhof Complex and Carlos.

Skin on Fire: A Firsthand Account of a VX Attack

Wednesday, March 1st, 2017

Police say that Kim Jong Nam was killed with VX, the same nerve agent the Aum Shinrikyo cult used on Hiroyuki Nagaoka in Japan in 1995:

The first sign that Hiroyuki Nagaoka had been attacked with VX, the nerve agent that Malaysian police say killed Kim Jong Nam, came when the room he was in appeared to go dark.

Mr. Nagaoka then felt an intense burning sensation inside his chest and lungs that quickly spread throughout his body. He dropped to the floor screaming as his wife cried out, “Are you OK?! Are you OK?!”

He tore at his skin, which felt like it had caught fire. His body was soaked in sweat. Soon after he lost consciousness. When he awoke two weeks later in a hospital, Mr. Nagaoka said his wrists were tied to the bed frame to stop his constant thrashing around.

Nerve agents like VX cause muscles to experience constant stimulation.

[...]

Mr. Nagaoka, who is now 78, survived in large part because when he was sprayed with VX by religious cult members it landed on the rear of his sweater, below the collar.

He didn’t even notice the attack at the time, the details of which were revealed when the cult members described it at a trial. Mr. Nagaoka was attacked outside his home in Tokyo but continued on to post new-year greeting cards before the agent took effect when he returned home.

Mr. Nagaoka was targeted because he led a support group of parents whose children had become members of the cult, Aum Shinrikyo. Mr. Nagaoka’s son had joined the cult but left it before the attack.

The cult attacked two other men with VX around the same time as Mr. Nagaoka, one of whom died. Cult members sprayed the three men with syringes while pretending to be out jogging.

[...]

Mr. Nagaoka, who had to quit his job as an office worker because of harassment by Aum before the attack, also recovered because a doctor at the hospital in Tokyo where he was treated recognized his symptoms after he had treated victims of another Aum attack with a similar nerve agent called sarin in 1994.

Aum Shinrikyo would go on to orchestrate one of the worst terrorist attacks in Japanese history.

On March 20, 1995, five members of the cult boarded three separate subway trains in Tokyo with plastic bags that contained sarin. They punctured the bags with their umbrellas just as the morning rush hour was peaking, killing 13 people and wounding 6,300.

Mr. Nagaoka says his eyesight became weaker after the VX attack and that he continues to experience numbness in his right arm.

Terrorism Denial

Saturday, February 25th, 2017

It’s become increasingly apparent that some proportion of the left is engaged in a kind of terrorism denial:

They cite the relatively modest fatalities in the US and other western countries from terrorist attacks since September 11 — and it’s always ‘since’ — as evidence of this apparent lack of threat.

These numbers are misleading for a number of reasons. Simply adding up the body count from various causes of death doesn’t reflect why terrorism should concern us — how and why these deaths occurred is also important. Accidental deaths should be less concerning to us than deaths caused on purpose. Lawnmowers and armed toddlers may indeed do us harm, but they don’t intend to do it. More importantly, they don’t seek to do more harm than they actually do. In contrast, the ambition of a terrorist is rarely modest. In almost all cases, the goal is to create as many casualties as possible in any given attack. As a matter of public interest and public policy, those who have no upper limit in the amount of harm they want to cause are more of an existential threat than those who do. As Sam Harris argues, jihadist inspired terrorism ‘takes the guard rails off of civilisation’ in a way that these more mundane causes of death don’t.

But what is most spurious about these numbers is that they ignore the deaths prevented from security and counter-terrorism measures that managed to thwart attacks before they occur. Every day the US and other Western countries are fighting the war on terrorism. They are saving lives before it becomes apparent to the rest of us that they ever needed saving. This may sound dramatic, but it needs to be understood if people believe that the war on terror is a fantasy, or less of a threat than bathtubs. The relatively low death tolls from terrorism in the West are, in part, due to the success in thwarting attacks, not because there is no threat in the first place.

In this respect, terrorism denial commits the same faulty reasoning that the anti-vaxx movement uses to deny the reality of the threat posed by infectious diseases and pandemics. Anti-vaxxers argue that the small number of deaths caused by infectious diseases in recent times is evidence of them posing no threat. However, those who understand the underlying science recognise the nature and scale of the threat, and the critical role that vaccination and pandemic prevention play in neutralising it. Were we to stop vaccinations — or counter-terrorism — it’s clear that the death toll from both these threats would rise significantly.