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..but I feel happier about the death penalty being awarded to these guys that I have for any other case I can remember.

There are people whose crimes have led to far greater destruction and death. Terrorists, mass murderers, genocidal dictators. But there is something particularly chilling about a group of men hunting down and murdering a young couple in love for no other reason than to uphold their notions of collective honour. If individual liberty is the greatest moral good, and collectivist coercion the greatest horror,  then the murder of  Manoj and Babli was evil in the purest way imaginable. When their killers die, I will rejoice.

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The widow of the IRS worker who was killed by Joe’s Stack’s horrific plane-crashing act is suing Stack’s widow for ‘negligence’.

Valerie Hunter, the wife of Vernon Hunter, is accusing Sheryl Stack, wife of Andrew Joseph “Joe” Stack III, of negligence, alleging she she knew or should have known that her husband was a threat to others and, thus, could have prevented the attack, according to the lawsuit filed Monday in Travis County District Court.

“Stack was threatened enough by Joseph Stack that she took her daughter and stayed at a hotel the night before the plane crash. [She] owed a duty to exercise reasonable care to avoid a foreseeable risk of injury to others including [Vernon Hunter],” the suit says.

I am sorry for Ms. Hunter but no such duty exists in the American legal code and for good reason. It is one thing to say that there is a moral duty to try and prevent violence (even this is not clear-cut: it depends on whether you think that the violence is justified or not). It is quite another to declare that there ought to be legal obligation to do so. (A government that enforces such a do-good law is, in my view, dangerous and violative of rights.)

But back to current law. From the legal standpoint, it does not matter whether or not Sheryl Stack knew her late husband’s state of mind or even his exact plans. The law is very clear on this point: as long as Ms. Stack was not directly involved in the planning of the attack, she is free of all liability for this act. (There are exceptions to this, such as when a person is under the legal care of another and so on, but this case does not fall under any of those categories.)

I realize that Ms. Hunter is in a traumatic state of mind but I hope that her lawyer has informed her that the case is a complete loser.

Update: I guess someone nicely explained to Ms. Hunter the above facts. She has now dropped Sheryl Stack from the lawsuit. She is now only seeking damages from Joe Stack’s estate, and that I have more sympathy for.

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The reaction of the TSA — the umbrella organization formed after 9/11 to regulate airline security in the US — to the recent terrorist attempt has been along expected lines. More lines, more meaningless regulations, more stifling security measures. When Richard Reid had the bright idea a few years ago to hide explosives in his shoe, the TSA reacted by asking everyone to take off their shoes henceforth for the security check. Considering that Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab strapped the explosives onto his underwear, we ought to be thankful that the TSA’s imagination has so far been..um…restricted. I mean, sure, it has issued an order that all babies be put into overhead luggage bins during the last hour of the flight, but consider the much more sinister possibilities.

My thoughts on this issue can be summed up in one sentence: Umar Farouk failed, but we are doing our best to make sure his goal succeeds.

Stephen Bainbridge puts it well:

Has TSA ever considered the possibility that maybe the terrorists aren’t really interested in blowing up a plane. Maybe the terrorists figure they win everytime we in the West spend millions of man-hours being hassled, inconvenienced, and generally put upon by a myriad of stupid security measures.

Now Professor Bainbridge may be ascribing more subtlety to the terrorists’ modus operandi than they probably possess, but it is worthwhile to pause and think about what he is saying. A free society, by its very nature, offers many targets for terrorists. It is impossible to shut them all down. Nor is terrorism as transcendent a presence as some might want to believe. With smart, mostly non-intrusive measures, the threat can be further reduced. Sure, there will be attacks from time to time, just as there are crimes every day, but the real damage from these attacks are not caused by the incidents themselves, but by our terrorized reaction to them. It is when we fearfully overreach and put into place crippling regulations that cost us time, money and curtail our civil liberties, that the real harm occurs. As security expert Bruce Schneier puts it:

A terrorist attack cannot possibly destroy a country’s way of life; it’s only our reaction to that attack that can do that kind of damage. The more we undermine our own laws, the more we convert our buildings into fortresses, the more we reduce the freedoms and liberties at the foundation of our societies, the more we’re doing the terrorists’ job for them.

At some point, we need to do a cost benefit analysis: how much hassle, fear and security clampdown is too much? Is it worth going through so much TSA tyranny, much of it a charade,  and give up so much of our convenience, liberty and well-being in an attempt to make our existence slightly more secure against terrorist attacks?

Update: Nate Silver crunches the numbers and concludes that your chances of being on a given flight departure which is the subject of a terrorist incident have been 1 in 10,408,947 over the past decade. So you could take 20 flights a year and still be less likely to be attacked than you are to die of a lightning strike.

Update 2: This is hilarious:

Anyway, I have a better idea. Let’s ban all clothing from all flights. Both the shoe bomber and Abdulmutallab used clothing — not Wi-Fi and not live TV — to make their failed attempts. In addition to taking away the possibility of hiding incendiary devices, a total ban on all clothes will also have the following positive results:

1. Terrorists will have a further disincentive from targeting flights, because religious extremists tend to be squeamish about naked people.

2. It would reduce greenhouse gas emissions because shy people wouldn’t fly, thus reducing the number of flights overall.

3. I don’t know why, but I think people would be more courteous. Talk about friendly skies!

Of course, I’m not serious about the clothing ban. But it makes a lot more sense than the TSA’s new ban on Wi-Fi and in-flight TV.

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This is probably the best article that I have read so far on the Woods affair.

Whether you choose to have one partner or many, it is crucial that you invest in their emotional well-being if you care for your own. And try to be as honest as possible. Not just for their sakes, but for yours too.

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Gotta love xkcd!

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This is probably familiar to anyone who has been following the civil war — now declared over by the government — in Sri Lanka, but I missed it till today. It is an oped by Lasantha Wickramatunge, former editor of the Sunday Leader newspaper of Sri Lanka. It was published posthumously and is a chilling piece of writing — not just because it eloquently defends civil liberties — but because Wikramatunge was murdered in January this year, exactly as he predicted in the linked essay. Do read it if you haven’t already.

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I believe in the transformational power of liberty. I believe that the free Iraq is in this nation’s interests.”

I sent American troops to Iraq to make its people free, not to make them American. Iraqis will write their own history and find their own way.”

Freedom. This is how it smells.

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