Wednesday, May 22, 2002
Today's Friedman column is pretty sensible. He says that the US administration should can this "Chicken Little warnings binge that another attack is imminent, inevitable and around the corner, but we can't tell you when, where or how."

Like various Secretaries of Defense and State and the FBI Director, he reminds us that another attack is inevitable. I would like for someone to quantify probabilistically the time frame for inevitable.

Lot's of things are inevitable. It's inevitable that there will be another year with more hurricanes than those in the year that had the most recorded to date. In fact, most situations contain an element that a quantifiable aspect of that situation will be exceeded at some point in the future. The new record is called a martingale, and the occurrances of martingales form what's called a point process (a probabilistic process where events happen at identifiable times: bus arrivals, neural firings, etc. You remember? Poisson processes? Those are among the simplest kind of point processes).

Okay, so it's established. At some point in the future, there will be another terrorist attack. At some point, there may even be one of larger magnitude than the one of last September 11.

What's the government doing to try an prevent that? Well, there was/is the war. Taking out Al Qaida operations and the Taliban government in Afghanistan has been of great success (as noted by Friedman). And the rounding up and interviewing suspects (as Friedman also notes) has had to have helped, too.

But I sure hope there's more going on to transportation security and civil defense than the surface-level airport security changes they've implemented. Those were pretty obviously intended to create the illusion of security to get passengers back into the air. The only plausable argument I've heard for actual security improvements due to these quasi-random checks of ordinary passengers is that it facilitates being able to deeply check suspicious passengers without worrying about civil-rights infringements. If Grandma is getting the once over, then Mr. Arabic Man can't cry racial profiling when Ms. Poorly Trained Security person gives his luggage and his body the once over.

Okay, it is nice to see heavily armed security personel (military?) at the metal detectors. But hopefully we're looking for a way to implement security at the level that the Israelis practice it for air travel. Yes it would take a lot of resources, but I'd rather see our resources go to that than transfered to the House of Saud for oil purchases.