Thursday, December 20, 2012

Averting the worst case consquences from violent actors

I read this today about bulletproof backpacks for children and arming teachers, and so I write this brief post.

Putting a crunchy shell around the little piggy should not be the first thing to think about if you are trying to thwart big bad wolves.

If you want to avoid a big bad wolf, you don't build a straw house then sit inside it holding a gun that you're not sure how to use, dressed in an outfit that makes you harder to chew.

Of course, first you build a brick house or a castle.

Then even better, you set up a perimeter around your house that will detect the presence of big bad wolves and inhibit their approach. On the brick house's lawn you have all manner of things that detect things that seem to be big bad wolves and alert you to their presence.

Then, once they approach the brick house, you make it more difficult to get in. Castles had a great security mechanism called a "bent entrance". Basically, it was a hallway that an attacker had to walk through with at least one turn in it. This meant that they wouldn't see what was beyond that turn, and also that the entrance could be instrumented with windows and angled archer's windows, and which closed remotely at the far end. But it wasn't so obstructive that significant traffic could not move in and out of the castle under normal circumstances.

So, if they get to that point, you have the big bad wolf in a bent entrance.

If the wolf has the wherewithal to break into the door at the end of the bent entrance, upon their first attempt the most urgent and alarming klaxon possible should sound, along with a silent alarm that would call help.

This allows everyone in the castle to get to battle positions or safety, depending on their role, and alerts the countryside.

But if the door is broken, then, on the other side of the door is another bent entrance! And then, when they went through the broken door, a door that would slide down on the other side of the broken door! You see?  Now you've trapped the wolf.

All during this time people inside the castle are manning the archer's windows that point into the bent entrances and the people who aren't archers have gotten into their safe positions.

Now the wolf is trapped and surrounded by arrows.

Also, these things needn't be medieval or prison-like in their function or aesthetic. In a bank lobby, there is significant security, and even more security between a person in the lobby and the vault, and bank lobbies can be pleasant enough. Surely a classroom full of children is worth more than what's in a bank vault.

If we think about the most recent tragedies perpetrated by wolves, we see that no alarms at all were triggered upon the initial illicit entry. Remember the video of the 9/11 hijacker strolling through airport security? Recall the description of the person entering the back entrance of the movie theatre? Think about how loud a firearm is and then realize that people inside a building whose door is being shot open either still can't hear it or understand the implication of the sound they are hearing?

Then, think about how the most recent shooter incident on the Virginia Tech campus after their initial tragedy was thwarted by a series of sightings of someone walking along with something that appeared to be a rifle, how these sightings were conveyed immediately to authorities and how the police swarmed over the campus while faculty locked down and students sheltered in place. Nobody was shot, no shots were fired. Was it a false alarm?

If it was or wasn't, who cares? It had a happy ending.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Some more on the whole 2012 thing...

I think I'm like a lot of people when I want to be a part of some new spiritual/cultural/intellectual dawning/awakening event. Even if that event is the end of the physical world as we know it. So, I will freely admit, the thought of a worldwide ascension to a higher plane is not something I'd be totally against, even if it meant a giant catastrophic extinction event.

Other people would think that's crazy. Understand I am absolutely not saying this is something I think we should try to bring about, but that if a worldwide extinction event were to happen due to gigantic forces beyond our control, I tend to look at as all of humanity moving to some different plane of being. 

The various outre' theories about the impending end of the world have got me to thinking about things and I've gotten a lot of amusement from it. A lot! One way I do this is by giving the doomsayers the benefit of a doubt: "Ok, you're right, it's going to end! But, gosh, just how is that going to happen?" and then try to get all the crazy theories to mesh somehow.  So, treat it like a hypothetical, "If the world was to end on a certain day without any warning, how could we see this as feasibly happening?"

1) So far, any asteroids large enough to cause a giant kaboom that have whizzed near us have missed, and there are none on the radar screen. But that doesn't mean there isn't one that we haven't seen yet!! Asteroids explode in the atmosphere all the time before they are discovered, or just hours or days after they are discovered.

2) The sun, gigantic explosions coming off the face of the sun and hurtling a massive amount of energy towards us. Now, that sort of thing has been going on forever, but we could have a really big one, and we'd have only days to react!!

3) Finally, intense radiation from some source outside of our solar system. A supernova within a 25 light year radius could do it. Can we predict supernovas?? Shouldn't we be carefully watching all the nearby stars for this kind of thing?? A star could have already exploded nearby, undetected, sending a deadly blast of invisible radiation hurtling our way, to arrive at some unknown time..

So there are those things. Now, in past blog posts I have amused myself with "what if" musings about an apocalypse, but the items on the above list have one thing in common: there's not a damn thing that can be done about them. There is maybe a perspective that one gets from contemplating these things, and that's a positive, but if you actually worry about them, then that is only harmful.

Then, there is the "government knows that this is coming, but they're not telling us" aspect of this genre of thinking. This is a widely popular mode of thought game, and like a lot of these thought games it skips over some essential realities, the primary one being "if an extinction level event can be predicted, and our government knew, then what if other governments know?". 

Because, for one, for better or worse, the government is charged with dealing with just this sort of wide-ranging catastrophe,and for another, do you really want everybody freaking out all at once? Where we might like it to go something like the David Bowie song, "Five Years", it wouldn't be as orderly as that. People regarding the notion of being blasted into oblivion by an extinction event as somehow a path to a higher spiritual plane being decidedly in the minority, who can imagine what last minute scores would be settled either personally or internationally given the knowledge that it is a matter of days left for the world? The real game would be the various governments wondering about what other governments might know. So of course it would be a closely guarded secret, and possibly used by less scrupulous government officials for their own benefit, but not kept secret out of malice for the populace at large.

In China, people are being arrested for spreading Nibiru-like rumors, and in the US these stories are generally exasperating scientists. Setting aside any of the religiously oriented prophecies, there is a long, rich history of pseudo-scientific doom cults and people making themselves famous with world catastrophe predictions based on some physical event due to occur. It takes just a few ingredients: a commonly understood principle (cyanide kills things) an unusual cosmic event (Halley's Comet) and a more esoteric observation (a scientific analysis of Halley's comet that indicated at least a portion of it was cyanide-bearing ice). Therefore,"Oh no, we're going to fly through the tail of Halley's comet, we're all gonna die!" 

Now, the best part about coming up with some kind of doomsday narrative is that you look up information to either support it, improve it or debunk it. So the "we're all gonna die" aspect of it provides some motivation to know more, but after doing some reading it's "well, we're not all gonna die... but this and this and that sure is interesting". 

So, maybe the best view is to take the predictions for the end of the world in a couple of days as a learning opportunity.