February 2, 2009

Osama bin who? Or, the world changed back

Since it's easy and fun for smart people to talk about what smart people talk about -- it's called "intellectual history" -- I've come up with more graphs on how the NYT has covered various topics since 1981, when their search engine results become very reliable. Now we'll look at terrorism related themes.

First, the topic of terrorism in general:

There's a steady level through the 1980s and '90s, an unsurprising spike in 2001, a still high level through 2004, and then a sharp decline since, including another noticeable drop in 2008. Hopefully this means that the elites are becoming cured of the idea that we face our greatest threat from a handful of Third World loser males with less infrastructure than a First World pre-school.

Next, the topic of Muslim extremists:

There's an article here and there during the '90s when these groups get enough power to make an impression, a spike in 2001 or 2002, and then a decline afterward. The drop is pretty sharp for Bin Laden, slower for Al-Qaeda, and steep for the Taliban as well, but they have seen a steady increase since 2006. To the extent that the Taliban are at least in control of something rather than nothing, it's encouraging that they're the only group who's seen something of an increase lately. The declines overall are also reassuring.

And finally, the topic of our response to terrorism:

The phrase barely shows up before 2001, increases from then until a peak in 2004, just after the beginning of the recent occupation of Iraq, and a decline since then. This is good news too, since it means the atmosphere isn't so highly charged. It should be much easier to point out to people how little we're getting from being the bully who controls one of the most useless sandboxes of the world's playground.

Before 2008, there's an apparent 2-year cycle apart from the downward trend. It looks like it's a bit higher than you'd expect in election years and lower in non-election years. The trend was already sharply downward, but since the economy blew up, even fewer people during the 2008 election cared about luxury policies like war.

Eyeballing the "war on terror" graph, hopefully it'll be all done by 2012 at the latest. There's no reason Obama couldn't stop the waste tomorrow, but he'd have to be an individual who didn't give a shit about what the crowd thought. If he does respond to the crowd, it'll take longer, as the spread and disappearance of an infection (or whatever) from a large population happens over a much longer time scale than that at which an informed and reasonable person could make a decision about what to do.

That is because most people are neither informed nor reasonable, and so their preferences are mostly gut reactions to events and to other people's gut reactions -- they drive their own growth at the outset. Only someone quarantined from the crowd can come to a good decision more quickly.


  1. Agnostic -- this has to be the most spectacularly stupid post ever (sorry).

    You make two big errors here. First error: that the SWPL NYT crowd is anything but fashion driven. Indeed had Osama been "luckier" he would have accomplished killing 14,000 Americans in one swoop. In fact, in 1993 the plan was to topple one tower into the other, and kill 50,000 people. The plotters came close.

    Eight years later, and many plans foiled, they came back. With much the same people involved, i.e. Ramzi Yusef, the 1993 WTC bombing mastermind, was succeeded by his uncle Khalid Sheik Mohammed, who sold the "Bojinka" plot to Osama. These people all know each other and make a living from terrorism.

    Next, you ignore the elephant in the room. Nukes.

    The great equalizer. Pakistan has 100 plus, is increasing their arsenal, and as Bombay showed has no compunctions of staging provocative armed attacks at a NUCLEAR RIVAL. Next door even. Or more accurately, factions inside Pakistan have no compunction creating mass casualty terror attacks.

    Now imagine 9/11 with a few nukes borrowed, begged, stolen, or cajoled by factions inside Pakistan. Or Iran for that matter. Assisted by powerful enemies like the Russians (who would prefer America nuked so as to be less powerful) or China (same) or Iran, or Saudi Arabia, or simply factions inside.

    You have the same error in thinking that most affluent, safe, comfortable men of the West have. You cannot understand a man who kills for a living, to make himself more powerful and wealthy, and LIKES IT.

    Ayman Al Zawahari, when he discovered two young boys (12 years old) had been brutally blackmailed into bugging him, insisted on a trial (over the objections of his jihadis, hardened killers all, who knew well what had been done to the boys). Zawahari shot the boys himself, after pantsing them and pointing to their pubic hairs as evidence of manhood.

    Of course he'd nuke NYC. It would bring him great fame, wealth, power, glory, and little chance of meaningful retaliation, protected by Pakistan's terrain, tribes, and nukes. He has powerful allies inside Pakistan (riven by factions) who would like to help him do that. Indeed given that these factions are willing to risk nuclear war with India, a far larger nation in manpower, resources, military, and nukes, they will risk anything.

    America is not a "bully" (that's pathetic SWPL thinking). America is like a body builder in a neighborhood of weaklings who all got guns. Now, as buff and fit and intimidating as America used to be, now every two-bit punk can take the Bodybuilder down anytime with the great equalizer.

    If anything, we ought to stop listening to the SWPL stuff and be ruthless. Inspire fear and terror in all the factions that inhabit Pakistan and Iran. By making a brutal, explicit example of one country to deter the other, and clearly state the "rules" by which we will act. Creating a rational fear not just among a President (who is likely a figurehead or powerless) but all factions and leaders.

    It's very likely we won't however, weakness is provocative and America is seen overtly as weak. Even Iran says so, in response to Obama. Obama's Muslim background and soft words encourage the thinking that he won't retaliate (which he won't) if NYC gets nuked. Meanwhile whoever does it gets a flood of men and money flocking to him.

    Bin Laden is more relevant now than ever. So too Khameni, and a whole bunch of factional leaders we've never heard of but have the ability to grab up nukes. And use them.

    Just ask the people of Bombay about deterrence.

    The NYT is like that classic New Yorker cartoon. If it's not happening in Manhattan it does not exist. And contra Hillaire Belloc, they have got the Maxim Gun.

  2. Most spectacularly stupid comment ever.

  3. As a demographer I was greatly alarmed by the differential TFR's of muslims in the West and the war on terror. John Mueller's book made me re-evaluate the risk of the war on terror.

    If the West and especially the US have open borders, than why aren't more terrorists and radicals, if there are so many, setting of bombs?

    The answer can only be that the risk is overblown, most muslims are not violent and current government measures seem to prevent terrorist attacks just fine.

  4. I'm somewhere between Agnostic and Whiskey, in that I see the Islamic problem as neither something you wanna dismiss as "third world losers" nor as an imminent apocalypse.

    I have no doubt that if even one nuke went off in an American city, several Middle Eastern cities would become glass. Even Obama would do it.

    Instead, the Muslinm threat is a racial/demographic one by way of immigration, fecundity, and cultural assertiveness.

    The problem is compounded by an elite that uses Muslim immigrants and their offspring as a tool for intimidating its own people, and as an excuse to remove these countries' freedoms through hitherto-unnecessary surveillance practices, "anti-racism laws" etc.

    (So no, Peter, this isn't panty-piddling paranoia about ovens; please put that dumb taunt away once and for all)

  5. I'm surprised by the very big drop in terrorism coverage (first graph) from 2004 to 2005. If the drop had occurred a year earlier it might be attributed to terrorism's being displaced by the Iraqi war as the topic du jour, but Iraq was no longer breaking news by then.


  6. I agree with Whiskey with respect to nukes. There is a substantial chance that one of the nuclear-armed Muslim countries will lose control of their bombs during one of their periodic political upheavals. The Western response would be ... forceful.

  7. Whiskey,

    Thank you for talking sense. I've never seen such rubbish on DiA, which is usually a very intelligent blog, and was debating whether or not it was worthwhile to comment pointing out that terrorism is not a "fad" and that every empire has eventually been brought down by barbarians.

    Then I found that you had done so more thoroughly that I ever could have. Thank you!

  8. Right, that's one of the key parts of any political debate in the US, going back decades -- how to fight street crime, what to do about trade, social security and health care, and... what to do about those terrorists.

    This is the US, not Israel or India. Terrorism *was* a passing fad here.

    There are 0 barbarians at the gates. We're letting in a bunch of parasites from Central America, but that's not being conquered by barbarians.

    And when you think about the organization, solidarity, *sheer numbers*, and weaponry that the Germanic invaders of Rome had -- it hardly makes you think of suicide bombers. Unless you're a moron.

  9. ...

    I came back to see if you had come up with an intelligent reply to Whiskey's thorough refutation of your silly post, instead of just asserting that her irrefutable facts and impeccable logic are "stupid".

    Instead I find you further denying the screamingly obvious facts of reality.

    I have to wonder if you made this post as some sort of a joke, because you usually seem like a sane human being, not to mention an intelligent one. But if you actually believe the things you've said in this thread, your blog isn't worth wasting my time on. *drops from blogreader*

  10. Yeah, you'll be missed. In reality, Whiskey presented no data, other than Pakistan having nukes -- so we should keep an eye on them.

    What he said was, "imagine if..." or "he would surely do..." or "had Osama been luckier..." Pure speculation -- and not very good either. Iran has basically jack squat in nucler technology. Read Greg Cochran's article in The American Conservative, "Size Matters."

    You're just as stupid in comparing the tiny blip of Muslim terrorists to barbarians conquering civilization. Funny -- we're still here, and they're still a bunch of losers without a state or any impressive weaponry.

  11. there are some very nice and useful correlation and interesting data here. however, i think the impact rummy (Rumsfeld) had on these chaos in the asia was understated a little here. Great post overall.

  12. hello Whiskey...
    i can imagine your sort of propaganda/strategy coming from ultra alarmist neocon circles. Why not join thinktank for dangerous loons like yourself. you would make a great columnist for one of those=)


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