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Probability and Risk of a Second Civil War

Thursday, May 3rd, 2018

[mark safranski / “zen“]

See the source image

Fascinating post by B.J. Campbell, a stormwater hydrologist who crunches numbers for risk probabilities of flooding, who applies his tools to a simple (very simple) historical data set (hat tip Scholar’s Stage ):

The Surprisingly Solid Mathematical Case of the Tin Foil Hat Gun Prepper

….While we don’t have any good sources of data on how often zombies take over the world, we definitely have good sources of data on when the group of people on the piece of dirt we currently call the USA attempt to overthrow the ruling government. It’s happened twice since colonization. The first one, the American Revolution, succeeded. The second one, the Civil War, failed. But they are both qualifying events. Now we can do math.

Stepping through this, the average year for colony establishment is 1678, which is 340 years ago. Two qualifying events in 340 years is a 0.5882% annual chance of nationwide violent revolution against the ruling government. Do the same math as we did above with the floodplains, in precisely the same way, and we see a 37% chance that any American of average life expectancy will experience at least one nationwide violent revolution.

This is a bigger chance than your floodplain-bound home flooding during your mortgage.

Note, by using the American Revolution and the Civil War, Campbell has adopted an extremely conservative data position. Other events that would meet the threshold would include Bacon’s rebellion, the Whiskey Rebellion and John Brown’s Raid on Harper’s Ferry. Possibly meriting inclusion would be Aaron Burr’s Conspiracy, Nat Turner’s Revolt and the Nullification Crisis.

….In 2010, 8.5 million tourists visited Syria, accounting for 14% of their entire GDP. Eight years later, they have almost half a million dead citizens, and ten million more displaced into Europe. They didn’t see this coming, because if they did, they would have fled sooner. Nobody notices the signs of impending doom unless they’re looking carefully.Further, the elites of a nation rarely take it on the chin. They can hop on a plane. The poor, disenfranchised, and defenseless experience the preponderance of the suffering, violence, and death. They’re the ones that should be worried.
Pretend you’re someone with your eyes on the horizon. What would you be looking for, exactly? Increasing partisanship. Civil disorder. Coup rhetoric. A widening wealth gap. A further entrenching oligarchy. Dysfunctional governance. The rise of violent extremist ideologies such as Nazism and Communism. Violent street protests. People marching with masks and dressing like the Italian Blackshirts. Attempts at large scale political assassination. Any one of those might not necessarily be the canary in the coal mine, but all of them in aggregate might be alarming to someone with their eyes on the horizon. Someone with disproportionate faith in the state is naturally inclined to disregard these sorts of events as a cognitive bias, while someone with little faith in the state might take these signs to mean they should buy a few more boxes of ammunition.

Americans have been insulated from untoward events such as civil wars, famines, coups, epidemics and insurgencies for so long that they forget that such things are accepted as normal if distant risks by most people on Earth. Whether you wish to dispute Mr. Campbell’s odds or reasoning in his scenario the chances are and remain non-zero.

Play: a study in contrasts

Friday, April 15th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — tree-climbing, and what to do in the utter absence of trees ]

Both these papers — which together make an amazing study in contrasts in terms both of play and risk, adult and child — come from the American Journal of Play, Volume 8, Number 2:

Tablet DQ play contrasts

Take care you don’t fall off that space station and scrape your knee..

The “refugee” koan

Wednesday, November 18th, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — considering both sides, while tilting one way or the other ]

I call it a koan because you can flip it — there are two sides to it, and very possibly a serrated edge that it can balance on, foiling your best efforts to come up with a yes-no answer:

On the one side, Tsarnaev:

Not a Christian, BTW..


Okay, before the second shoe drops…

Consider this, from Benjamin Wittes, In Defense of Refugees today on Lawfare:

It is worth reflecting at least briefly on the security risks of turning our backs on hundreds of thousands of helpless people fleeing some combination of ISIS and Assad. Imagine teeming refugee camps in which everyone knows that America has abandoned them. Imagine the conspiracy theories that will be rife in those camps. Imagine the terrorist groups that will recruit from them and the righteous case they will make about how, for all its talk, the United States left Syria to burn and Syrians to live in squalor in wretched camps in neighboring countries. I don’t know if this situation is more dangerous, less dangerous, or about as dangerous as the situation in which we admit a goodly number of refugees, help resettle others, and run some risk—which we endeavor to mitigate — that we might admit some bad guys. But this is not a situation in which all of the risk is stacked on the side of doing good, while turning away is the safe option. There is risk whatever we do or don’t do.

Most profoundly, there is risk associated with saying loudly and unapologetically that we don’t care what happens to hundreds of thousands of innocent people — or that we care if they’re Christian but not if they’re Muslim, or that we care but we’ll keep them out anyway if there’s even a fraction of a percent chance they are not what they claim to be. They hear us when we say these things. And they will see what we do. And those things too have security consequences.

And, from a very different area of the political spectrum, this:

There’s a reason that hospitality is actually a religious virtue and not just a thing that nice people do: it is sacrificial. Real hospitality involves risk, an opening of the door to the unknown other. There is a reason it is so important in the Biblical narratives, which were an ancient people’s attempt to work out what they thought God required of them in order to be the people of God. Hospitality isn’t just vacuuming and putting out appetizers and a smile — it’s about saying, “Oh holy Lord, I hope these people don’t kill me or rape my daughters, but our human society relies on these acts of feeding and sheltering each other, so I must be brave and unlock the door.” Scary stuff. Big stuff. Ancient and timeless stuff. “You shall welcome the stranger.”

Now: is that wisdom, or foolishness?


Aha, the second shoe..

Besides Tsarnaev, who else do we know who came here as a refugee?

albert einstein non christian refugee

Einstein, no less.

And Einstein was not a Christian either, FWIW.

Rasputin’s Apocalypse

Friday, August 23rd, 2013

[ by Charles Cameron — most likely a “foolish virgin” (Matthew 25) — I had no idea today was the day until today ]


According to Pravda, which I believe means Truth:

August 23, 2013 is the day, for which the infamous Grigory Rasputin predicted the end of the world in the beginning of the last century. Rasputin predicted a “terrible storm” in which fire would swallow all life on land, and then life would die on the whole planet. He also said that Jesus Christ would come down to Earth to comfort people in distress.

I would be remiss if I did not attempt to warn you…

The easy way or the hard way?

Saturday, June 1st, 2013

[ by Charles Cameron — thinking more in terms of challenge than of threat, and skipping via Chicago Law, Everest, and Handel’s Messiah to a Venn diagram of the workings of conscience ]

Well, I don’t always read the Chicago Law Review cover to cover, or even at all to be honest — but I confess I did like this opening paragraph from George Loewenstein† & Ted O’Donoghue†† (love those daggers after your names, guys):

If you ever have the misfortune to be interrogated, and the experience resembles its depiction in movies, it is likely that your interrogator will inform you that “we can do this the easy way or the hard way.” The interrogator is telling you, with an economy of words, that you are going to spill the beans; the only question is whether you will also get tortured — which is the hard way. In this Essay, we argue that much consumption follows a similar pattern, except that the torturer is oneself.


Here’s the easy vs hard contrast I was thinking about as I googled my way to the Law Review — as you’ll see, it has nothing to do with interrogation:


So, a little background. Jason Burke has been covering Everest for The Guardian lately, since it has been almost exactly sixty years since Hillary and Tenzing were the first to “conquer” the highest peak on earth — and one of his reports caught my eye — Everest may have ladder installed to ease congestion on Hillary Step:

It was the final obstacle, the 40 feet of technical climbing up a near vertical rock face that pushed Sir Edmund Hillary to the limit. Once climbed, the way to the summit of Mount Everest lay open.

Now, almost exactly 60 years after the New Zealander and his rope-mate, Sherpa Tenzing Norgay, stood on the highest point in the planet, a new plan has been mooted to install a ladder on the famous Hillary Step, as the crucial pitch at nearly 29,000ft has been known since it was first ascended. The aim is to ease congestion.

That’s what the upper panel, above, is all about — and I think it contrasts nicely with the bottom panel, which shows a rurp. Should you need one, you can obtain your own Black Diamond rurp here.


Rurps are awesome. Here are two descriptions of them, both taken from the mountaineering literature, and neither one of them focusing in too closely on the poetry of the name…

Steve Rope, Camp 4: Recollections of a Yosemite Rockclimber, p. 107:

Chouinard’s “rurp” was obviously something special. An acronym for “realized ultimate reality piton,” this ludicrously small fragment of heat-treated steel opened our eyes to untold possibilities.

and Chris Jones, Climbing in North America, p. 273:

It was about the size of a postage stamp. The business end was the thickness of a knife blade and penetrated only a quarter-inch into the rock. With several of these Realized Ultimate Reality Pitons, or rurps, Chouinard and Frost made the crux pitch on Kat Pinnacle (A4). It was the most difficult aid climb in North America.

Chouinard named this postage-stamp-sized thing the realized ultimate reality piton (RURP) because if you willingly and literally hang your life on that quarter-inch of steel, you’re liable to realize, well, ultimate reality.

Zen — yours for $15 and exemplary courage.


Here’s my question: should we make the hard way easier?

When is that a kindness, and when is it foolish?


In its own way, of course, a rurp is an assist — it makes the hard way a tad easier for the serious climber.

As indeed would the proposed “ladder” on Everest: here’s why it might be not-such-a-bad idea:

This year, 520 climbers have reached the summit of Everest. On 19 May, around 150 climbed the last 3,000ft of the peak from Camp IV within hours of each other, causing lengthy delays as mountaineers queued to descend or ascend harder sections.

“Most of the traffic jams are at the Hillary Step because only one person can go up or down. If you have people waiting two, three or even four hours that means lots of exposure [to risk]. To make the climbing easier, that would be wrong. But this is a safety feature,” said Sherpa…

Besides, the idea is to set it up as a one-way street…

Frits Vrijlandt, the president of the International Mountaineering and Climbing Federation (UIAA), said the ladder could be a solution to the increasing numbers of climbers on the mountain.

“It’s for the way down, so it won’t change the climb,” Vrijlandt told the Guardian.

Ah, but then there’s human nature to consider:

It is unlikely, however, that tired ascending climbers close to their ultimate goal will spurn such an obvious aid at such an altitude.



Shouldn’t we just level the top off, as Handel and Isaiah 4.4 suggest, and as we’re doing in the Appalachians?

A little mountaintop removal mining, a helipad, and voilà — even I could make it to the summit!


But to return to Loewenstein† & O’Donoghue†† — their paper’s full title was “We Can Do This the Easy Way or the Hard Way”: Negative Emotions, Self-Regulation, and the Law — how can a theologian such as myself resist a diagram such as this?

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