Friday, January 08, 2010

Obama and the underwear bomber

I’ve not written much about the underwear bomber, mostly because the inanity of the public discussion is so depressing.

Schneier, as usual, has the most rational coverage. He points out that even our inevitably imperfect security measures do increase the challenges of bomb preparation, and thus the probability that an attack will fail. So even though metal-free recto-vaginal or intra-abdominal bombs can bypass millimeter-wave scanners or backscatter x-ray these devices will still increase the cost of a successful attack. (Though there are probably more cost-effective measures to increase security.)

One lesson from this attack is that we need to make an understanding of positive predictive value a requirement for high school graduation. It’s also clear that the controversial ridiculous fashion for teaching Latin is a major distraction from a desperate need to teach logic.

Lessons aside, I think the response of the Obama administration is interesting to watch. They clearly know that there’s not much that could have been done to stop this attack, and they know that they have to placate our spine-free hysterical nation. More interestingly, it looks like they’re trying to use this to attack the incompetent intelligence network we’ve inherited – even though, in this case, even a very good network would have failed.

It’s the equivalent of jailing a mobster for tax evasion when you can’t get ‘em for murder and mayhem.

PS. I’m so glad our heroic savior is a leftie foreigner who makes “low budget films”. At least we’ve been spared the usual celebratory histrionics.

Update: On further reflection, inspired by a polite comment, I was a bit harsh on the teaching of Latin. I do think there are substantially better uses of educational resources, but "ridiculous" was unmerited.

Update b: Schneier has summarized his recommendations. Perfect, as usual.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Lots of good points as usual. However, I think your prescription of NOT teaching Latin is 180 degrees off target. I only took 2 years of it in high school, but the rules of grammar (like the precision of meaning achieved and necessitated by the various cases of nouns as well as the many tenses of verbs) enforced a logic and clarity of thinking seldom or never seen in any other subjects besides mathematics. Even the sciences at that level are more a matter of acquiring the accumulated knowledge than of critical thinking. So "Latin for everyone!" say I.