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Showing posts with label fear. Show all posts
Showing posts with label fear. Show all posts

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

COVID SIDE OF LIFE. Day 24: Strangers in the Night

Pandemic Log: Wednesday, 8th April 2020

Since the lock down began a few weeks ago the streets around our neighbourhood have started to get more desolate, and I have noticed some sketchy men wandering around at night.

Last night, when I was out waking my dog I saw a man walking towards me. He was behaving very erratically and looked threatening, but as I turned onto the street, he kept going up the avenue.

From the corner of my eye I spotted a young woman walking alone in the same direction that the man had just walked off in; instinctively I doubled back towards the avenue.

Sure enough the man had started to menacingly block this woman's path. Clearly scared she crossed the street to avoid him but he proceeded to follow her;,crossing diagonally so that he could stay a few feet ahead. As she proceeded, he moved to block her path again. She said something and then turned and started to walk faster, and he picked up his pace to follow her.

Again she began to cross the street and again he followed; now openly chasing after her.

At this point I picked up my dog and walked into the middle of the street, to meet her halfway, and said to her, "Walk with me."

She was visibly shaken but grateful as we started walking together. He had again followed and was now approaching us head-on. She told me that she said to him that she was not carrying money, but that he just kept coming at her. I told her that, I had noticed him behaving erratically.

As we walked past him, I put myself as a buffer between him and the girl and looked him in the eye, at that point he mumbled something about looking for someone and then crossed and skulked away.

She kept thanking me and saying me how grateful she was, and how she never felt unsafe on the Upper West Side before. I told her I was happy to walk as many blocks as she wanted, but after about three blocks when it became clear that he was not turning back, she told me she was fine.

She thanked me again, and I told her it was not necessary, but added that I had seen a lot of strange folks wandering around out at night and it was probably better to walk during the day, for now.

Nobody should feel unsafe walking our streets at night, but these are strange times...

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

The Patriot Act, Terrorism and the Irrationality of Fear (Part 1)

“The essence of Government is power; and power, lodged as it must be in human hands, will ever be liable to abuse.”
James Madison

I believe most can agree that, no matter what your stance on national security, terrorism is and always will be a heinous and cowardly act of violence committed against innocent people, motivated by political, religious or social fanaticism. However, how we chose to let our government protect us and how we decide to fight this cowardly and invisible enemy is a choice we must make. 

The questions we have to ask ourselves are: How many hard-fought freedoms are we willing to let our government sacrifice in the name of protecting us? And how much privacy are we are willing to give up to feel safer? To say that we need to make an absolute choice between our freedoms and our security is a false argument because it’s impossible to be 100% safe from an enemy that is willing to give up their own lives to take ours. 

This is an extremely important debate given the revelations about the opaque nature with which our government and the NSA have been operating and abusing their powers. They have gone beyond our borders, bypassed our laws and their severely overextended their remit. The NSA no longer felt the need to keep the President of the United States of America informed about some of their spying programs. 

We urgently need a new framework for the NSA, one that has sufficient and effective oversight by the executive, legislative and the judicial branches of government. The NSA has shown they cannot be trusted, operating with complete impunity, little transparency and zero accountability. Beyond the argument to protect privacy, there are a number of other reasons why the current NSA spying program needs to be curtailed and have some reasonable limits applied to it, before it is too late.

Let’s start with the simple fact that, while fear is an irrational thing, it does have a tangible effect in our daily lives and societies. Take the stock market, for example, it goes up and down based on a number of rational factors, but is also directly driven by irrational sentiment – our level of confidence or lack thereof, in the economy, personal job prospects and optimism or pessimism about our future. So too with terrorism, there are irrational and rational elements that we need to consider when determining the level of security that is reasonable to protect against attacks.

First, security experts around the world agree that the majority of airport security procedures are completely ineffective in preventing an act of terror; yet the TSA’s budget in 2014 was over $7 Billion (source: Wikipedia). There have been numerous studies and reports published on how ineffective the TSA and their methods are (Source: “Airport Security Is Making Americans Less Safe” and “Report Says T.S.A. Screening Is Not Objective” and “TSA Chief Out After Agents Fail 95 Percent of Airport Breach Tests”.)  

If you examine these facts rationally, you could build a strong argument for getting rid of most of these airport security measures, or at the very least cut down on the number of inconveniences travelers face. Yet, the reason for all this security is simple and has little to do with making us more secure on an aircraft. It is psychological and driven by the fact that air travel is vital for global commerce and economic growth.

Imagine if people became too scared to fly - the world and business would come to a grinding halt. So even though the amount of money spent on airport security is disproportionate to the actual security it provides, the visibility and inconvenience makes people feel safer, which in turn helps them go about their daily lives. For this reason, there are sometimes important and valid reasons to make a show of security. There is a tangible economic benefit involved and this is why airports and not train stations, bus depots or sea ports are protected in the same manner. This is also the reason we always see a beefed up security presence on the streets in the aftermath of a terror attack anywhere in the world.

The second thing to weigh in this debate is that we have a disproportionate emotional response to terrorism as compared to every other event that ends with loss of life. Consider our response to the Boston Marathon bombings against our response to the Texas refinery explosion that happened the same week. Three people died in Boston and fifteen in Texas. In Boston, a number of people were maimed; in Texas an entire town was leveled with hospitals, schools and homes all destroyed. 

Yet, we and the media fixated entirely on the events in Boston and the subsequent manhunt for two young men. Within a few weeks America had donated $61 Million to the OneFund for the Boston victims; while Texas has received little more than $1M of our kindness in that time. I am not arguing that one was less or more devastating than the other, simply pointing out how disproportionate, both our fixation and our tangible responses is to terrorism versus any other calamitous event. 

Ultimately it is much easier to unite against a common enemy that has a name and face, and get some sense of closure when our government hunts down and kills them.