They can tell you the likelihood that action A caused outcome B. They can tell you anything and everything. With enough data, statistics can rationally explain the past and also reasonably predict the future. Statistics are therefore magic.
They are also rather dull.
Statistics are the person at the party sipping ice water shaking their head and telling you how bad you are going to feel in the morning. They’re that post orgasmic clarity. They’re that point in the lesson when you realise how hard it’s going to be.
They are grey reality.
No one wants to know they will never win the lottery? Or that the chances of Scotland winning the world cup are a gazillion to one?
Statistics can also be wrong. But they’re generally not, statistically speaking that is.
I am currently travelling at 294KPH cocooned in a super-material composite tube with wheels. A young lady has just served me a breakfast of coffee, yoghurt and warm bread. The WIFI isn’t working but the toilets are clean. The ambiance is calm and quiet. People respectfully leave to take their phone calls in the vestibule between carriages and even the small children two rows away have managed to channel their explosive noise and energy into a civilised game of quietly finish the jigsaw.
Soon I will have to leave this tranquillity and return to noise, announcements, crowds and the ever-present trolley bag tripping danger.
To be granted access to this oasis I had to progress through multiple layers of security.
It started well away from the station with suspicious looks from serious looking men and women wearing dark uniforms and holding guns and eventually concluded with a full x-ray of my bags, clothes and body cavities.
It took a while but it works. I feel safer because of it. Which I think is the intention.
I take this for granted nowadays as I move between places. But its not always been this way, uniforms, guns and an x-ray doesn’t necessarily guarantee a calm ambience.
As with a lot of things in life its how its used, where its placed and how serious you look when doing it.
In the case of security – looks DO matter.
A few years ago I was travelling through Egypt doing my Indiana Jones thing. It was after that atrocity occurred near Luxor when 40+ British and Swiss tourists were mowed down indiscriminately by a nut job in search of paradise. Subsequently security needed to be stepped up to protect the vital tourist dollars so Egypt created the ‘Tourist Police’.
This hurriedly formed army seemed to be made up of untrained, or barely trained, students. The Egyptian authorities then issued them with a one size does not fit all uniform and more worryingly a gun.
This did not inspire confidence in me, in fact quite the opposite.
Would you feel safe if you turned up at a desert temple or pyramid to see a gang of young men smoking, laughing, drinking tea and twirling their guns around like Jesse James trying to impress the girls?
But anyway, this morning the French version looked nothing like their Egyptian counterparts from back then, and if we can take anything positive from the recent events in Paris and London its that these guys and girls don’t just look the part, they have shown they are very capable of doing what is required to be done when necessary.
Statistically though we are more likely to die falling down the stairs, being electrocuted at home or in some another equally unlikely scenario than we ever are of being caught up in a terrorist attack.
The big ones really prove the point; Tobacco 600x more likely, Alcohol 200x more likely, general violence on the street, with or without guns, 50x more likely. I think even without any experience in statistics its pretty clear, terrorism falls very low down on the list of ways to die.
Those numbers I have quoted are global numbers, if you live in the west, the chances drop to close to zero. In the US you are four times more likely to be struck by lightning, twice, than to be the victim of a terror attack.
To put todays situation into context if I look at my lifetime I was in much graver danger of being caught up in a terrorist attack in the 1970s & 1980s than I am now.
So with all that said does it really make sense for me to walk around London or Paris today with a heightened state of awareness, or fear? Does it make sense to glance around the cabin of the airplane I have just boarded seeking out the lunatic with a set of exploding underpants? Or worse, not get on the airplane at all?
Of course not, that would be silly, foolish, restrictive and doing exactly what the monsters who carry out such heinous crimes want.
They know that today with social media and the newly created fake news outlet in the white house that a little bit of disruption can go a very long way. They are banking on us all getting scared, changing what we do, sending more troops into harm’s way and disrupting our way of life. This is their goal.
But they’re failing.
It pleases me immensely to see the populations of whatever city has just gone through an attack to basically stick two fingers up, say fuck you, is that all you got? Carry on regardless.
Its not the Blitz spirit, nor is it the solidarity of the French or German discipline. Its good old fashioned common sense with a bit of defiance and dark humour thrown in for good measure. The drinks and language might be different but the reactions are basically the same.
Take a walk around Paris on pretty much any evening of the week. Every single bistro, of which there are thousands, is filled to bursting point with families and children, young dating couples, groups of young people, old people, office workers and street cleaners squashed in laughing, chatting, kissing and arguing. That old woman in the corner with her nose buried in a book is still there. The queues for the museums, the art, the music, the joie de vivre – very much present, and alive.
This scene is repeated in every city around Europe you might have the good fortune to visit.
The average person is just getting on with life, as they always have. The perpetual pursuit of happiness and it will take a whole lot more than a rag tag bunch of ideological lunatics with kitchen knives or guns to stop this.
Of course the political classes try to make capital from these events. Who can provide the best, most secure security? Who is willing to say enough is enough and take it a step further to show that they are doing something more, or better than the other party.
So, what exactly is that thing that they will do that we haven’t done already? Enough is enough sounds like they have only been playing at things so far and now the time has come to take the gloves to come off. Turn everywhere into a militarised zone, ban people on the streets? Vehicles? Travel? What exactly?
It’s a political game but there are those who still buy into it. Think the ill-conceived Muslim ban in the US for example. Some people actually believe this is the sensible and correct course of action given the real and present danger they face even though the official odds of dying from an attack by someone who has passed through the current visa waiver program is 0-1.
That’s zero chance just in case you misread it.
Arm all the police in the UK?
Judging from the events a couple of weeks ago it seems that the British police managed pretty well without having to resort to adding thousands of more guns into their cities.
But anyway, if you want to live in fear or imagine there are jihadi monsters under your bed, go ahead, nothing I say will stop you, but for almost everyone they are not real.
If you don’t believe me just ask a magic statistician to fire up his flux capacitor and read your palm.
If you smoke, drink, are fat, lazy, swallow swords or have the unusual hobby of playing golf in electrical storms you might not like what he going to tell you but with the odds of being killed by an illegal immigrant currently set today at 138,000,000 to 1 its unlikely he’s going to discuss them.
And there’s nothing alternative about that fact.