Rationality as innovation

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Janet Napolitano is asking academics to work with her agency to develop "innovative initiatives" to protect the nation from terrorist threats. This is what I would call a faith-based initiative, in this case, faith in the technological fix. DHS could certainly use some help. It's one of the most clueless and incompetent agency in the federal government. But I don't think the answer to the problem is going to be found in nanotechnology, computer science or micrcomputer circuitry:

The DHS noted that the cooperation between its departments and the science community has already resulted in major innovations in developing state-of-the-art screening, bio-threat detection and other technologies.

These results are already deployed across the country—including equipment such as advanced imaging and explosives trace detection technologies designed to protect the traveling public from threats of terrorism at U.S. airports. (Tejinder Singh, AHN)

Pause. OK. I've stopped laughing uncontrollably while I was putting my shoes back on.

Of course for any tech fix there is some easy work around. Ask the computer security industry or the record industry. If you want to stop terrorism you have to stop people from wanting to kill themselves and other people. There are reasons why these acts are carried out and while solving them would bring us into conflict with powerful interests like the oil and energy companies or the hard right nutcases running Israel or Hamas, they are rationally solvable.

Using rationality to solve the terrorism problem? That would be innovative.


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Here is a MIT and Harvard discovery that I think goes along with (DHS) request.

Magnets Can Manipulate Morality
Magnetic fields targeting the moral center of the brain could scramble our sense of right and wrong.


* Strong magnetic fields could affect moral judgment.
* Targeted magnetic fields can make people more inclined to judge outcomes, not intentions.
* The findings could have implications for neuroscience, as well as the legal system.

Magnets can alter a person's sense of morality, according to a new report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Using a powerful magnetic field, scientists from MIT, Harvard University and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center are able to scramble the moral center of the brain, making it more difficult for people to separate innocent intentions from harmful outcomes. The research could have big implications for not only neuroscientists, but also for judges and juries.

Related Links:

* Brain 'Hears' Sound of Silence
* Does Insomnia Shrink Your Brain?
* HowStuffWorks.com: Brain Mapping
* Brain Waves Surge Moments Before Death



By Snowy Owl (not verified) on 31 Mar 2010 #permalink

Nothing like abandoning the women of Afghanistan to the tender mercies of a resurgent Taliban as a rational response to terrorism.

Also, don't forget, (I'm going to assume Chomsky and Zinn didn't tell you this) had Atta and Bin Laden called off the 9-11 attacks on 9-10, American forces would be enjoying more time with their families and we'd be enjoying smaller budget shortfalls. We went into Afghanistan after we were attacked on 9-11, not because of some imperialist design.

@History Punk

Osama bin Laden is a Saudi. He was hiding in Afghanistan. Had he been hiding in Paris, would we have invaded France?

You'll remember your history: the Taliban were Ronald Reagan's Freedom Fighters, "the moral equivalent of our founding fathers". The CIA created the Taliban to make it impossible for an invading army to successfully occupy the country, back when the enemy was the Soviet Union. Now we are fighting the CIA's success story? Why?

We invaded Afghanistan because the contractors who make money from war wanted to make more money from war. Corporations make US foreign policy.

The Freedom fighters Reagan was referring to were the Contras if I remember correctly.

After the Soviet armies left Afghanistan, the CIA-funded mujahadeen began fighting among themselves. It was this chaos (long after Reagan left office) that led to the rise of the Taliban. If any country can be blamed for creating them it would be Pakistan (through their intelligence service).


By your argument it sounds like we should eliminate all our police forces (after all, they are pretty incompetent just like DHS), and focus our resources solely on education, psychological counseling and economic opportunity. Will that be your next blog post?

You sarcasm and cynicism about our government's efforts to improve our security is unbecoming and stinks of TeaPartyism. Given that we will never live in a perfect world (or do you really believe that is attainable???), it seems quite reasonable for our government to continue to develop technologies and strategies to minimize the effectiveness and success rate of terrorists. Who else will do this? You sound much closer to a faith-based worldview than Napolitano.

To overcome advanced security technology requires terrorists to have technological and organizational sophistication that must be deployed in absolute secrecy to be successful (and it will likely work only once). Government efforts to keep ahead of terrorists' technological capabilities are particularly effective against the less sophisticated terrorist organizations and individuals, which constitute the vast majority. Thus these efforts are both necessary and effective. But perfect? No.

Revere, you do not have a better idea, do you?

Jonorom: Why does it suggest we get rid of the police? And why do you think they are on average incompetent. I've had experience with both DHS and the police, and while they do different jobs, DHS doesn't do its job anywhere as well as most police do theirs. As for the TeaPartysm remark, it makes no sense. If I think DHS is incompetent does that mean I think there is no role for government in health care or even national security? Not a logical inference. As for the ability of technology to protect us, it is limited. Computer security people, who are far more sophisticated, know that. And your thought that individuals don't have the sophistication needed doesn't seem to be the argument that DHS uses for bioterrorism, which require far more sophistication than bombs and guns. Do I have a better idea? Yes. Adopt a foreign policy that makes sense. Obama hasn't done that yet and Bush's foreign policy may have been the greatest debacle in the country's history. The terrorism problem is one consequence, for Russia as for the US.

"Osama bin Laden is a Saudi. He was hiding in Afghanistan. Had he been hiding in Paris, would we have invaded France?"

Yes, if France, like the Taliban, had refused to prosecute him themselves or denied our requests for extradition. However, France is a sane democracy, so there was little risk of eitehr happening.

"You'll remember your history: the Taliban were Ronald Reagan's Freedom Fighters, "the moral equivalent of our founding fathers". The CIA created the Taliban to make it impossible for an invading army to successfully occupy the country, back when the enemy was the Soviet Union. Now we are fighting the CIA's success story? Why?"

I know my history so I am aware that the Taliban was organized in 1994, long after the CIA lost interest in Afghanistan. I also know that the United States' "Freedom Fighters" in Afghanistan were divided. Some did join the Taliban, however some, fearing the imposition of an Islamist regime that would make them behave, like Masood, joined the Northern Alliance.

"We invaded Afghanistan because the contractors who make money from war wanted to make more money from war. Corporations make US foreign policy."

For the mentioned gibberish to make the least sense, there would have to be a reason the power elite were able to mobilize Afghanistan and noy Syria, Oman, or Australia. Now, I am sane, so I'd suggest that 9-11 was that reason. But clearly corporations can dictate declarations of war against random nations, despite a powerful, gun-shy military, a general public that dislikes foreign adventures, and politicians who fear another Somalia.

There is a saying up-here in Québec,

One's liberty ends where the other ones start.

We should be able to understand with our consciousness to grasp the fact that if we do not solve injustices, imperialism and arrogance we are just simply doomed.

Why the 24 hours medias do not give an hour of prime time to educate people not from a propaganda point of view but from a collective Humanitarian point of view.

Maybe the concept, 'If it bleeds it leads' is after all a chimeria.

At least some should have the courage to give it a try.


By Snowy Owl (not verified) on 31 Mar 2010 #permalink

What we really, really need are itsy-bitsy nano-spy watchbugs that can creep in through the bloodstream and cross the brain barrier to read those "thoughts" even when hid behind the philosopho-barrier separating "neuro" from "mind." Then also we can spin the mags a bit to change them (change ideas). Actually, that magnet article is pretty scary; I mean, let's remagnetize the whole cerebellum and see what we get. . .oh sorry.

Pretty scary allright these magnets, on top of it, it fits well under an helmet or a uniform hat.

By Snowy Owl (not verified) on 31 Mar 2010 #permalink

That cooperation between the DHS and science community involves money for grants, and the technology is developed by private corporations taking a profit on their sales to the DHS. The latest feeble attempt by the underwear bomber was good for this business.

The fixation on airports and planes is curious to me, assuming the official explanation on terrorism to be true.
The point of terrorism it would seem to me would be to instill terror in the maximum number of people. Limiting operations to airports is inconsistent with this premise. Of course, if you wanted limited terror with minimal damage, this approach would make sense. But why would AQ want this?

Despite the GWOT, the drug trade is booming. Drugs still cross our borders, money still gets laundered, over 1 billion dollars a year according to estimates, although the actual amount may be higher. Yet the terrorists do not exploit this, and instead focus on the most secure target which presents the maximum resistance, instead of adjusting and taking the path of least resistance. Maybe they are just dumb, which is a good thing.

Once across the border of course, obtaining weapons is hardly a problem with our loose gun laws. I can imagine numerous scenarios which I will not mention for obvious reasons that could cause more terror than some guy blowing up his underwear at 30,000 ft.

So what are we to make of this. 9/11 was certainly real, we saw this live, so there are terrorists. But who are they actually. I don't mean those who execute the attacks, you can always find young disgruntled men and women and feed their hate to get them to do bad things, but those who plan and enable the attackers, and for what purpose?

The official and popular belief is that it is Al Qaeda leadership, who hate our way of life, and are against Israel and our support for their treatment of the Palestinians. But most of us hate or disagree with something or another, but are not compelled to fight. Only when it is close to home do we get riled up enough to fight. But maybe it's true.

One needs to consider how AQ came into existence though. To add to the history discussion one must agree that AQ is not the Taliban, and those who make up AQ were trained in 1979 onward to be resistance fighters to destabilize Russian occupied Afghanistan. Actually, they were being trained 6 months before the invasion. Is the connection really broken, or is AQ simply a useful tool for those who wish to instill terror for domestic reasons. If not, how did we go from being friends to foes, and hated so much. I mean, Israel was not treating the Palestinians any better in 1979 than in 2001.

It is interesting, and perhaps not coincidental, that at this same time, the Ayatollah was allowed to leave France (after residing in Iraq) for Iran and topple the US supported Shah, leading to the first Islamist state (Islamic fundamentalist government). It is also interesting that Irans military, which was well supported by the US was told not to intervene and support the Shah at the risk of losing the ability to procure arms and replacement parts for their equipment. As the Iran-Contra arms sales shows, military sales continued. Promises kept.

It was shortly after the Ayatollah took over, that our then friend Saddam Hussein was led to believe the time was right to invade Iran (this was repeated 10 years later when he invaded Kuwait thinking he had the green light from the US). Thus began a great war. The US funded both sides of the war, since both sides needed weapons to continue killing each other, and that Iranian backed Kurdish resistance in the North was stopped with chemical weapons, the ingredients sold by the US (which was why Saddam was not tried for crimes agaisnt the Kurds). At the end of this war, Saddam was greatly weakened, as was Iran.

Most folks don't know since it is not reported much was that Israel had a plan to Balkanize the Middle east, this plan was published in 1982 as Israel invaded Lebanon, an act which led to the defacto breakup of Lebanon with Shia control of the south by the newly created Hizbollah, funded by the Ayatollah.

Break it up into small pieces so the Arab world could not unite under one leader or government as in the Ottoman Empire. Divide and Rule. This was the best security strategy for Israel, and it's likely that the US agreed with it and this strategy played a role in Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan in 1979 and today.

Our invasion of Iraq in 2003 had nothing to do with Al Qaeda, but to ensure Iraq would be broken up, and it has been broken up into 3 zones after a prolonged period of ethnic cleansing (Kurds, Shia and Sunni controlled). Iran is next.

After the Soviets left Afghanistan, before their break up, some of those resistance fighters went on and fought for the various factions in Afghanistan seeking control, and some did indeed go over to the Taliban. BTW, the Talibans religous practices were not new to Afghanistan, just read Micheners book "The Caravaan". The US did not oppose the Talibans take-over since it was felt this was the best chance for Afghanistan to be stabilized and allow the building of an oil pipeline between the Caspian sea and India.

The official reason to invade Afghanistan is hard to refute. Obviously, it is hard to argue that overthrowing the Taliban and weeding out Al Qaeda after 9/11 was a bad thing. But there were other reasons, perhaps the main ones.

First Afghanistan has a geostrategic importance. Located next to Iran and Pakistan, with routes to Russia and China. Should war break out in any of those places, having bases and troops in Afghanistan would be convenient.

It is an important future energy route from the Caspian Sea to the East which we would like to control.

And then there is the opium. The Taliban had all bet crushed the opium business, today it is much larger than ever before, supplying 95% of the globes global sales, with enough surplus to double the supply. Drugs are a weapon which are can used against your opponents. Drug addicts don't meake good fighters, and are not productive members of society. It is also a great way to fund covert operations.

Back to Al Qaeda, some of those fighters were recruited to fight in Bosnia in the 1990's, destabilizing the former Yugoslavia which led to NATO's 1998 war against the Serbs. As a result, today we have one of our largest bases globally in Kosovo. This is a convenient location to serve as a base to protect/control energy routes to Europe from the East.

Other resistance fighters fled to different parts of the world after the Soviets left Afghanistan, including OBL, kicked out of Saudi Arabia, on to Yemen and then to Afghanistan with the permission of the Taliban. These are who we refer to as AQ.

OBL from all accounts is still alive and kicking, somewhere, making his videos and tapes. I sometimes wonder if he has a production studio in Crawford TX. I jest of course.

History Punk -- You may also recall that the Bush Administration gave the Taliban in the realm of $30 million dollars in May of 2001, in recognition of their efforts in curtailing the heroin trade. This was with full knowledge of their atrocious treatment of women. Everyone knew, but few but Americans other than women's rights organizations cared.

Funny how suddenly on September 12, 2001, Americans suddenly gave so much of a damn about the rights of Afghan women. Give me a break.


So because the United States failed to stand up for the women of Afghanistan before 9-11 and gave token support to the Taliban for doing something good for Americans, we should now throw them to the wolves that are the Taliban and Al-Qaeda? Nice.

"Back to Al Qaeda, some of those fighters were recruited to fight in Bosnia in the 1990's, destabilizing the former Yugoslavia which led to NATO's 1998 war against the Serbs. As a result, today we have one of our largest bases globally in Kosovo."

Serbian propaganda aside, Al-Qaeda was a limited force in both Bosnia and Kosovo. Camp Bondsteel (that base in Kosovo) exists because Serbian forces rampaged through Kosovo in an effort to drive the Albanians out in 1999. It was on TV non-stop for 79 days. Surely you saw the massive trail of refugees fleeing Serbian marauders. Right?

find new flu-drugs and vaccines, prepare cities for full respiratory protection
before some terrorist gets the idea of reassorting Eurasian and American
Swine/Turkey/ flus. We just saw how easy it is to create a pandemic.

While their faith in techno-fixes may be misplaced, your faith in finding rational fixes is at least as naive.

The causes of terrorism are often not rational and appeasing the demands of terrorists is often not an option, whether they be home-grown Chrisitian militias intent on attacking The Brotherhood by killing a randomly chosen police officer and attacking the funeral, or an Islamist fundamentalist intent on imposing a new Caliphate.

Converting them to your active form disbelief is also not a realistic solution.

You have previously wisely pointed out how, statistically, terror attacks on an airplane are extremely rare, and how in reality even a small false positive rate for screening for explosives et al will result in many many more false positives than true positives (Bayes and all). The same sort of logic applies the other way. In our very connected world it only takes a tiny percentage of crazies to cause harm. Even if rational solutions could appease 99% of those with what you and I believe are irrational beliefs (which, let's face it, is most of the rest of the world's population) that still leaves many many millions unappeased and of those many who have the ability to come together to attack the rest of us.

That which is just should be done (even though we may disagree about that what is just) but because it is just, not because doing so will protect us from the world's nutjobs; it won't.

Don: You misunderstand. I think rationality would be nice but I don't expect it. On the other hand, getting at the root causes of terrorism isn't so mysterious or the fixes so hard to see. Settling the Israeli-Palestinian problem would be a huge step forward. Right now it is being held hostage by US and Israeli politics. Then getting US military out of the Mid East would be a second huge step forward. Those are two rational acts that would do much to reduce the roots of terrorism. What I find naive is the thought it could be done any other way.

Just because we disagree does not mean I misunderstand. In this case I believe you do.

Let us assume that a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian problem is mutually agreed to by the major power brokers on each side and signed off on by each of those sides. Do you believe that the most extreme elements of each side would uniformly say "Well okay then. That's that." Or would they perhaps continue to resort to violent acts? Maybe even ramp them up some? "There are reasons why these acts are carried out" is true enough; the assumption that those are rational reasons, or reasons that can be addressed by providing whatever it is that you or I would call a just solution (and of course everyone has a different opinion about what that would be) is the part that is naive. Simplistic even.

Don: I said you didn't understand me, not because you disagreed, but because your version of what I said was not correct. And as for your counter comment, it is ambiguous. Do you believe I don't understand you or don't understand the situation? If the former, I'll just say I disagree with you. As for the latter, it is, alas, a question where coming to a mutual understanding is elusive. Your position seems to be that no solution is possible because there are people on each side that will never understand each other. Probably, true. Are we to let them govern the situation? If the answer is no, then we should do something about it. If the answer is yes, then we should stop taking sides since both sides are culpable. Why is a crazy irrational vicious Jew any different than a crazy, irrational vicious Palestinian and why should I prefer one to the other. For my part I don't, so I don't know why we are continually taking the side of one but not the other. That's the kind of more rational response I think would decrease terrorist acts against Americans, which is what the post was about. I also think it would decrease terrorist acts against Israelis and Palestinians, so it's a win-win in my book. And getting out of the Middle East would also be a big step. And a rational one. And do more than taking off my shoes at the airport to make me safe. Of course almost anything beats taking off my shoes. I won't accuse you of being naive since you clearly pride yourself in your realism. One person's realism is another person's naiveté, I guess.

Revere, Don--You both make excellent and not particularly divergent points, but also some questionable ones. Revere in particular, it is naive to assume that resolving the Israel-Palestine issues "justly" would much stop terrorism, since (1) war is terrorism too, and (2) less sophistically (though (1) is not solely sophistic), oil seems more likely than that conflict to be the key to US Mideast military presence. The more important point, though, is this throwing around of "irrational" regarding "terrorists." Yes, violence has its irrational aspects, but lots of actions are violent, and people do stick out their claws to fight back.

Paula: Both issues, the Palestinian one and US occupation of the Middle East are given as the reasons for actions against the US. Support for Israel's war on the Palestinians and occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan are things that would meliorate if not eliminate threats against the US. Both are their objectives and while I don't advocate "giving in" to unjust demands, in this case, both demands seem to me both just and in everyone's interest, including the interests of average Israelis, Palestinians, Iraqis and Afghans, although not, of course, in the interest of Afghani and Iraqi kleptocrats and murderous and deranged Palestinians and Israelis now in control of their respective governments in Tel Aviv and Gaza. If the question is what rationale actions can be taken to decrease the threat of terrorism, it isn't better technology.

My first point is that solution, no matter how just either you or I think it is, will appease the most extreme on both sides. That is not a reason to not aim for a just solution (again acknowledging that we each may have different answers as to what that just solution is and how to get there). A just solution is no more a cure-all for terror attacks than is technology. Those with extreme views will not be appeased by that which either of us believe is justice.

Also my humble opinion is that there is more at stake in the Arab world than Arab sympathies for their brethren Palestinians or the American presence in the ME. There is a battle between those who would have the Arab world join the world's community of communities and accept some basic secular precepts that others are allowed to believe differently or not at all, and those who would create an insular world according to Islamic fundamentalist laws. In that battle the Israeli issue and the American presence are useful props but not the issue and terror is used to sucker the props to be useful tools, providing an "other" to rally against. Yet that only captures one small level to the complexity that includes religion, tyranny, energy, and a variety of tribal identities.

I'll like to Land here Revere, please

Intro in a Nutshell,

You have two Aborigals Genes and Cultures. Scottish and mostly French Genes and Cultures, add it up Jew and Sikhs Genes and Culrures.

There are two Oriental Historical Precedent to Revere Lamp Light Significances,

One in Persia and the other in Kaboul.

Sadly Western Academician are not muvh knowledgeable of Oriental History, I presume it is mainly due to the fact that in Orient the Historical Experiences are integrated in Religions and thus disregard by Cartesian Minds.

That being said, I take this opportunity to present my sincere thanks to Revere for His Encyclopedic Oeuvre.

Gengis Khan introduce the Light, implacable new hight tech arm, a new kind of Sword.

Now few centuries later in Kaboul, Afghanistan; there is a sanguinary Muslim Emperor named Aurangzeb.

Northern India is the pray of barbaric coordonnated army invasions and massacrers in the name of ''Allah''.

The Mission to get Nanak, known in Islam as the Pir of India, alive and in prison was succesfull.

To his Letter to Aurangzeb Emperor, from memory here,

He used the Karam of Kabir, an outmost respect Inspired Islamists and it is via the Coran itself that Nanak made a very Harsh Critic to Aurangzeb the shamefull Moslim.

Nanak letter shook so much Aurangzeb that his military and Social Policies changed, saving thus hundreds of millions Innocents.

The point I try to make is that ''Frankness, Respect, getting into the Foreign Context and find solutions, ajustments, formal and informal Understandings.

The whole ''Informal'' activities are not solely Foreign Policy it is a Universal Force called 'Understanding and ajust in respect of mutually favorable narrow relations.


When people will live on love


Kim Phuc, the little girl lives up here and is now A Peace Ambassador.
She is known to be a International Icon .

For those who understand French
Par 4 chemins/Transcription de l'émission du 3 septembre 2000/Le ...

... Kim Phuc Phan Thi, 9 ans, court pour échapper aux bombes au napalm
(8 juin 1972), Ils avaient pour invitée une victime d'une ...

www.radio-canada.ca/par4/Mag/20000903/vb/victimologie.html - 10k - 1972-06-01