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 Post subject: The Perspective Thread
PostPosted: Sat Apr 29, 2006 10:50 am 
Post any statistic or point that you feel people should take into consideration. Here are a few I had in mind:
  • The total number of deaths in air accidents in US history (approxmately 13000 as of 1998) is less than half the annual death rate from car accidents. For a given flight, the odds of dying in an air crash are less than those of dying from a car crash in the airport parking lot, while travelling to or from the flight.
  • According to some estimates, the total number of terrorist-related deaths in human history is less than 15000, with the 9/11 attacks accounting for approxiately half of those deaths. In other words, those four aircraft killed more than all assassinations, poisonings, and bombings by the Zealots, Hashishim, Kabouters, Diggers, Bolsheviks, IRA, Viet Cong, Mau Maus, Al Qaida and the rest combined. Furthermore, even excluding the 9/11 attacks, the majority of terrorist deaths have been from aircraft-related attacks, primarily from the 15-20 bombing attacks on large airliners. However, the most important terrorist attack in history killed only two people: Archduke Ferdinand and his wife.
  • The population of New York City in 1900 was 3.5 million; in 2000, it was 8 million. However, in 1900, the number of murders in the city was approximately 3000, whereas in 2000, the number was less than 800. This is despite the fact that the definition of murder has been broadened in that time. However, it should be added that the murder rate in NYC was substantially less than that in the US as a whole in 1900, whereas it was substantially higher than the US as a whole in 2000.
  • Discounting alcohol and tobacco (the most commonly abused drugs used in the US since it's inception), the highest level of drug addiction in US history occurred between 1880 and 1900, affecting approximately 5% of the population. The primary drugs in question were cocaine, raw opium, and morphine, and the primary means of intoxication was from patent medicines, with the majority of other cases coming from morphine addiction following surgery. The majority of addicts were women aged 30-45 living in rural areas. After the passage of the Pure Food and Drug Act in 1905, the rate of drug addiction dropped to less than 1% of the population, and levels have generally continued to drop. Interestingly enough, more than half of all drug abuse in the US today are suburban women in the same age group, with the most commonly abused drug being Valium. As in the previous era, most of the women in question do not become aware of their addiction until it became life-threatening.
  • In 1900, the average age of puberty was 16, as was the average age of marriage; more than 60% of the all children were born to mothers under the age of 20. In 2000, the average age of puberty was 11, and the average age of marriage was 23. Less than 10% of all children were born to mothers under the age of 20.
  • Of the 29000 gun-related deaths in 2001, more than half were suicides; it is a matter of considerable debate whether the majority of these individuals would have killed themselves in some other manner had they had no access to guns, though evidence from repeated suicide attempts indicates that they would have at least tried. Outside of military or police service, less than 3% of all US citizens will ever be shot at in their entire lives (with less than 1% actually being shot), though 15% will have been threatened with a gun at some point (and in at least 40% of these cases, the gun in question will have been unloaded).
  • The total number of naturalized immigrants and resident aliens in the US is approximately 40 million (aproximately 14% of the US population), with approximately 10 million (3% of the US population) being illegal or undocumented. As many as 3 million of these are technically native-born US citizens but are undocumented because their parents were illegal immigrants. It is asserted by many experts that the majority of illegal 'immigrants' are in the US temporarily, many being seasonal migrant workers; of the 1 million illegal aliens entering the US each year, fewer than 10% stay more than six months. These migant workers earn an average of $4000 during their employment in the US, and most work in jobs which, in the absence of inexpensive unskilled labor, would be performed through automation; the remainder mostly work in 'opportunity' positions which exist only due to the presence of inexpensive labor and would otherwise be handled in some other manner (e.g., housekeeping).
  • All other factors being equal, the average US citizen born between 1945 and 2000 has an estimated 85% chance of living to the age of 65.
  • 90% of the statistics quoted were fabricated by me as I wrote this, including this one. I assume that most people here will have guessed that. There was a certain amount of research done on them, and they do reflect what at least some experts claim to be the truth. At least a few of them are indeed quoted statistics from various sources (for example, the 5% addiction rate for 1900 comes from Whitbread's "The History of the Non-Medical Use of Drugs in the United States" linked to above), but none of them are actual official statistics AFAIK, and the sources are unverified. The basic fact is that the numbers themselves are bullshit. I will try to find corroborating records, but at the same time, will gladly listen to any counter-arguments - though I doubt I'll take either very seriously.

PostPosted: Sat Apr 29, 2006 3:44 pm 
Schol-R-LEA wrote:
  • According to some estimates, the total number of terrorist-related deaths in human history is less than 15000

No doubt you've already guessed the reason for this estimate is that "Terrorist" is more or less a PR term these days. Historically, terrorists have been called guerillas, rebels, freedom fighters, etc., depending on who won the conflict. The American revolutionary war involved a great deal of terrorism, as did Japan's attacks on China during WW2, and so on and so on. And don't even get me started on the Romans. ;)

(And yes, I did read the disclaimer... heh.)

Here's my favorite: 95% of all statistics are made up on the spot.

 Post subject:
PostPosted: Mon May 01, 2006 10:12 am 
Excellent point; these terms are all pretty much propaganda terms, not descriptive ones. However, you'll notice that I did include groups historically referred to as either guerrillas and/or 'freedom fighters' (a term I really would argue is meaningless - just about all 'terrorists' and 'guerrillas' see themselves as fighting for their freedom, regardless of their cause).

The main practical difference is the target - guerrillas are mostly fighting a military campaign, whereas 'terrorists' mostly target civilians, and more importantly, targetting popular opinion. Interestingly, by that definition, the attacks going on in Iraq right now are not terrorism, a meme which TPTB would definitely not want spread - nor, for that matter, would the guerrillas in question themselves, I suspect - because that would involve acknowledging that this is a war, not an 'uprising'. Conversely, this definition would 're-imagine' a lot of groups that US official position currently views favorably as terrorists, including, as you pointed out, the US Founding Fathers.

However, the real point of most of these factoids was to point out that many of the things currently mooted as crucial issues are, in fact, of very little real importance - most of them have hardly any real impact on the majority of peoples' lives, except for the public scares they inspire. This isn't to diminish the impact they have on those who are affected, but really, when the realistic risks are as low as they are for most of these things, you would be better off worrying about more serious dangers - like the chances of drowning in the tub, or being struck by lightning :) The main reason that these problems get the attention they do is because they are a) dramatic, b) out of human control, and c) unfamiliar enough that they seem uniquely threatening.

It's like the commonly noted observation that, despite the fact that nuclear power is, overall, safer and less envronmentally damaging than fossil fuels (even factoring in major radiation releases like Chernobyl and Chelobinsk-40, and the problem of long term waste storage), most people are far more afraid of nuclear power. Why? Well, partly it's because the worst-case accident for nuclear power (massive, continued radiation release from amelted down reactor; weaponizing of civilian power resources) is far worse than that for fossil fuel (massive oil spills; refinery explosions; cola mine collapses); and partly because the risks involved in fossil fuels are familiar ones, where as radiation seems exotic and unnatural (despite that fact that there has always been background radiation, and the fact that in most places in the world people get more ionizing-radiation exposure stepping out into bright sunlight than they do from all the nuclear tests and radiation releases combined). Again, the dangers from nuclear power are real; much of central Europe and the Middle East have drastically increased background radiation levels today due to the two accidents mentioned above. But for most people, the actual risk (the chances of being harmed weighted by the severity of each possible danger, as opposed to threat, which is the combination of all possible ways that something can cause harm) in nulcear power is less than that from fossil fuels.

So what am I getting at? That most of the things I listed - terrorism, gun rights/control, illegal immigration, air crashes, etc - are non-issues. The import which they are given far outweighs their real impact. In most of these cases, both sides in the argument are all wet - they might as well be arguing of which end of an egg to crack. These non-issues remain in the public eye, however, because it is easier (and more profitable for the media and the politicians) to focus on distant, but frightening-seeming, intractable problems than addressing those which actually impact peoples lives.

This cuts both ways: people don't notice when things are going well, but are very quick to complain when they go wrong (or even just seem to have), so a successful administrator is always at a disadvantage when compared to someone whose main skill is at whipping up a public panic. People look to 'leadership', despite the fact that you only really need a 'strong leader' in a crisis - most of the time, you need a steady managerial type, who can compromise and get things accomplished, rather than a dynamic hard-head who bulls his way forward without considering the consequences. This isn't to say that innovative or even radical approaches are wrong - I've always been in favor of trying unconventional solutions to long-term problems - but rather that the goal should be to 'promote the general welfare', preferably by leveraging existing resources, rather than score short-term publicity points.

But then, what do I know about competent leadership? There hasn't been any in the US in my lifetime.

 Post subject:
PostPosted: Mon May 01, 2006 1:41 pm 
In retrospect, I really should have put this in D&E.

 Post subject:
PostPosted: Mon May 01, 2006 5:36 pm 
That'll teach you.

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