Engineers of Jihad

by Henry on November 10, 2007

While looking for something entirely different (research on the Italian mafia), I just came across this absolutely fascinating new “paper”: (pdf) by Diego Gambetta and Steffen Hertog on engineers and Islamic terrorism. There’s been a lot of speculation about the visible elective affinity between education in certain technical disciplines and propensity to join Al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups, none of which has stopped “some loons”: from claiming that the jihadists were led astray by trendy leftist post-modernist academics in the humanities and social sciences. Gambetta and Hertog use a combination of illustrative statistics, qualitative data and logistic regression to show not only that there _is_ a strong relationship between an engineering background and involvement in a variety of Islamic terrorist groups, but to arrive at a plausible hypothesis as to why this relationship pertains.

Their preferred explanation lies in the combination of a particular mindset given to simplification, monistic understandings of the world and desire that existing social arrangements be preserved, with key environmental factors (most importantly, frustrated professional aspirations due to a lack of opportunities). Interestingly, Gambetta and Hertog suggest that the same mindset which drives engineers in the Islamic world to become terrorists, may lead to the marked tendency of US engineers to adhere to strongly conservative political views. This is the kind of topic that lends itself to the worst kind of uninformed pop-journalism academics, but as best as I can tell (I’m a consumer rather than a producer of the statistical literature) Gambetta and Hertog are extremely careful about their analysis, and up front about the limitations of their data. I’ve copied the piece’s abstract beneath the fold.

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The Underbelly of the Nordic Model

by Henry on November 10, 2007

“This FT article”: is pretty entertaining. First the shock horror headline and findings.

Cheats rife in Swedish welfare system

Swedes say they despise people who cheat the country’s generous welfare system at the same time as many do so themselves, government research has concluded.

A two-year study by the Delegation Against Benefit Fraud and Errors said 95 per cent of Swedes condemn cheating but up to a third have no problem either bending the rules, keeping unearned payments or defrauding the system.

The conclusion exposes the underbelly of one of Europe’s most successful welfare states by revealing that Swedes eagerly support their famed Nordic model while simultaneously tapping it for extra cash because “everyone else is doing it”.

Then the interesting figures:

The delegation said such activities cost the government about SKr20bn (€2.2bn, $3.2bn) last year, around 4 per cent of total social welfare payments from the country’s 60 social security systems of SKr520bn – far higher than has been estimated previously.

So 4 per cent of total social welfare payments seem to go to frauds. Isn’t this shockingly … low????? Perhaps this is enough to scandalize the Swedes (although the article hints that the public may be more upset by the fact that 10 out of 15 cabinet members in the newish right wing government have been caught cheating on taxes for their household employees), but by the standards, say, of US military subcontractors, 4% wastage doesn’t even qualify as chump change.

While Europe slept…..

by Chris Bertram on November 10, 2007

Simon Kuper, to my mind one of the sharpest journalists around, has “a nice review”: of four books in the “Eurabia” genre. The general thesis originates with Bat Ye’or and has Europe sleepwalking into “dhimmi” status as the (mysteriously unified) Muslims press home their demographic advantage against natives befuddled by multiculturalism and moral relativism. Mark Steyn is the great popularizer of all this, and the “decent left” are a minor sect in the Eurabian church (as can be seen by how readily their blogs recycle this tripe). You should “read the whole thing”, as a credulous Islamophobe likes to say.

Torture, torture, torture

by John Holbo on November 10, 2007

If you haven’t read Malcolm Nance’s Small Wars Journal essay, “Waterboarding is Torture … Period” – well, you should. It is a clear, cogent, forceful statement of the anti-torture position. At the bottom of that page you also get a long list of links and trackbacks, and a comment box. Here, for example, is a helpful explanation of why all the anti-torture complaints about ticking time bomb scenarios miss the point:

One need not imagine a ticking nuclear bomb, by the way. One only need imagine that they are a father who has captured a man who belongs to a pedophilia ring that managed to kidnap his 2 year old daughter. In other words, the life of the innocent need not be in direct or immediate danger, nor must there be a high number of innocents in danger. A single innocent babe in danger of being subjected to such inhuman cruelty deserves to be protected by any means necessary, provided one is certain they have collared a member of the ring. I would never ever be able to forgive myself for allowing my daughter to be degraded in that way, and believe I would sleep well and without guilty conscious should I subject such a man to the minimum force possible to rescue her.

Jesus wept. Meanwhile, another commenter earnestly wonders whether the reason there is so much resistance to torture is that leftists have been watching too much TV.

Then you get Alan “for it even while I was against it” Dershowitz. And Blackfive, on ‘the virtues of waterboarding and secret prisons’: “The reason that character is so important in choosing a President is that the Commander in Chief powers are almost unchecked.”


I don’t have original ideas to contribute to the ‘debate’. I’m against torture. Maybe this would have some rhetorical effect: you can’t waterboard your way to winning hearts and minds. Giving up our country’s longstanding commitments against torture means giving up any hope of winning any War on Terror we might think we are fighting.

I hereby add my humble voice to the chorus of indignation at the sorry sight of the Mukasey confirmation. What follows are my stray, semi-formulated musings about how we got to hell in this handbasket [click to continue…]

The five surviving British veterans of the first world war.

Poor US?

by John Quiggin on November 10, 2007

As I mentioned a few days ago on my blog, using current market exchange rates, Australia now has a higher income per person than the US. Matthew Turner observed the UK passing the US a few months ago and estimated several years ago that the critical value for the Eurozone is around $1.46, which was reached in the last couple of days. I haven’t checked on the GDP comparison, but the yen and franc are also rising

Of course, it would be silly to use these numbers to support a claim that Americans are, on average, worse off than people in other developed countries. The Purchasing Power Parity indexes produced by the International Comparisons Project of the World Bank provide a much better (though far from exact) basis for comparisons of this kind, not affected by short-term exchange rate movements, and on this basis the US is near the top of the ladder.

But, for advocates of free markets who’ve used the economic performance of the US as the basis for their case, there’s a rhetorical problem here. You can, I suppose, argue along the lines “The market values the output of the average American less than that of the average European (or Australian) but analyses prepared by international bureaucrats show that Americans are actually better off, and therefore we should prefer the market to the state”. But it’s not a position I’d want to defend.

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