Monday, January 18, 2010

Terrorism killed fewer people in the last 30 years than handguns in the last eight months. More people will die in Haiti than Hiroshima.

Fewer deaths occurred in Hiroshima in August 1945 than in Port-au-Prince last week and more people will die there soon than in Rwanda in 1994. Yet the modern global world was unprepared for it, so busy were they with Terrorism, which has killed fewer people in the last thirty years than quarrelsome Americans with handguns in the last eight months.

When are we going to get the arithmetic right, and distinguish what threatens us mightily from what threatens us barely at all?

Cuba, a socialist state, is well-prepared for natural disaster and few die there in the hurricane season, and rebuilding happens quickly. The United States, a capitalist nation, was ill-prepared for Hurricane Katrina though experts had warned for years of broken dykes, inundation, chaos, disease and looting, and its response was an international joke.

China, a socialist state, handles earthquakes well. Australia, a social democratic state, handles floods and bushfires fairly well. Yet on the US's back doorstep a million people may die soon, thirsting to death under piles of bricks or in those rapidly-spreading diseases that follow earthquake, unhelped by America whose borrowed billions were that day bombing Kandahar not funding ambulance teams in Port-au-Prince.

When will we get our priorities right, and realise our biggest foe is wild nature not militant Islam and do such things as we can to survive it?

Thirty per cent of earth's carbon asphyxiation comes each year from bushfires, and for a hundred billion in the next ten years we could fly a lot of Elvises over Indonesian forests round the clock and we do not. We're installing electronic peekaboo machines in airports instead, though strangely not in theatre foyers or football stadiums, lest one more Underpants Bomber board a plane. Half a billion dollars would redirect an eastern river and save the Lachlan, Murrumbidgee and Murray but we're spending the money instead on gyms and computers for private schools. While you've been reading this three Haitians have died under heaped-up stone unrescued and an AIG executive has earned two hundred dollars for helping wreck the world economy, and he'll earn three thousand more in the next hour while twenty more Haitians die.

When will we get our priorities right, and learn how useless the free market is in dealing with tsunamis, earthquakes, Aboriginal health, African AIDS, Middle Eastern pogroms, Chinese tyranny and the sort of shameful poverty that breeds terrorists everywhere and sends them walking in explosive underpants out of universities into airline waiting rooms? When will we understand that twenty dollars a week is better spent on tax-funded air ambulances and Elvises and hot rocks and wind power and stem cells and solar cars than on oil magnates who are killing the planet as we speak?

Hundreds of thousands of dead are piling up in Haiti and global capitalism has failed; discuss.

You can argue that Haiti was a basket-case already and had been that way for decades. But in those selfsame rapacious decades capitalist America had been refusing aid to it, and sending back Haitian immigrants who might not then have starved, or whored themselves, or taken up voodoo if America had taken them in, and not spent their money instead on the drug-running, election-cheating Karzai brothers for reasons that altered each month. Why was faraway Afghanistan more urgent to America than Haiti, its near neighbour? Why? Oh yes, that's right, a certain tall Saudi was thought to be living there so it had to be bombed to smithereens. Makes all the sense in the world, when you come to think of it.

Why don't we get our priorities right? Why don't we do our sums? We could spend five billion dollars on aid that civilises East Timor and ten billion dollars buying up Indonesia's forests and a billion buying eighty Elvises over three years and the cost per week per taxpayer would be nine dollars fifty, the price of an hour's parking or two Toblerones. Why don't we do this?

Why don't we get our priorities right, and pay the small sums they cost for the things we need, like flood mitigation or bushfire prevention or ambulance helicopters or stem cells or electric cars?

Why are we in a War on Terror at all? Why not a War on Earthquakes, which kill hundreds of thousands more people each year than some goose with incendiary BVDs who was on a suspect-list anyway?

Why are we getting it so wrong? Why are we so afraid of tax, and so welcoming of useless executives on ten million a year, or a hundred and forty an hour around the clock? Why are we spending so much of our money on them, and so little on bushfire prevention or flood rescue? Why are so many people dying because we find a young stranger's jockstrap more interesting than the end of life on earth? Are some people making money, perhaps, out of emphasising the unimportant and spinning the planet's fate into invisibility? Arms manufactures, oil barons, Halliburton, Blackwater and so on?

Could be, old friend, could be.

Helicopter-gunships have been illegally over-flying Pakistani villages while you've been reading this, and they could have been rescuing buried children in Port au Prince.

Was this well done? Was this honourably done? How clever was it? How useful in discouraging future terrorists to reject jihad and choose capitalism instead?

How are we doing, old friend?

Are we winning?

Or are they?


Monday, January 04, 2010

Odds of dying in terrorist attack on an airplane . . .

The numbers below show that the current terrorist hysteria is . . . complete hysteria. And that our entire society is completely illogical and our government is run by populist fools.

The more specific figures are based on 2001, the most recent year for which complete data are available. Other odds, indicated with an asterisk (*) are based on long-term data.

Cause of Death / Lifetime Odds

Heart Disease



Accidental Injury

Motor Vehicle Accident*

Intentional Self-harm (suicide)

Falling Down

Assault by Firearm

Fire or Smoke

Natural Forces (heat, cold, storms, quakes, etc.)



Air Travel Accident*

Flood* (included also in Natural Forces above)

Legal Execution

Tornado* (included also in Natural Forces above)

Lightning Strike (included also in Natural Forces above)

Snake, Bee or other Venomous Bite or Sting*

Earthquake (included also in Natural Forces above)

Dog Attack

Asteroid Impact*

Tsunami* 1-in-500,000
Fireworks Discharge

** Perhaps 1-in-500,000

SOURCES: National Center for Health Statistics, CDC; American Cancer Society; National Safety Council; International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies; World Health Organization; USGS; Clark Chapman, SwRI; David Morrison, NASA; Michael Paine, Planetary Society Australian Volunteers