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Scott Atran on Why People Become Terrorists

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Scott Atran has done some really interesting research on why ordinary people become terrorists.

Academics who study warfare and terrorism typically don't conduct research just kilometers from the front lines of battle. But taking the laboratory to the fight is crucial for figuring out what impels people to make the ultimate sacrifice to, for example, impose Islamic law on others, says Atran, who is affiliated with the National Center for Scientific Research in Paris.

Atran's war zone research over the last few years, and interviews during the last decade with members of various groups engaged in militant jihad (or holy war in the name of Islamic law), give him a gritty perspective on this issue. He rejects popular assumptions that people frequently join up, fight and die for terrorist groups due to mental problems, poverty, brainwashing or savvy recruitment efforts by jihadist organizations.

Instead, he argues, young people adrift in a globalized world find their own way to ISIS, looking to don a social identity that gives their lives significance. Groups of dissatisfied young adult friends around the world ­ often with little knowledge of Islam but yearning for lives of profound meaning and glory ­ typically choose to become volunteers in the Islamic State army in Syria and Iraq, Atran contends. Many of these individuals connect via the internet and social media to form a global community of alienated youth seeking heroic sacrifice, he proposes.

Preliminary experimental evidence suggests that not only global terrorism, but also festering state and ethnic conflicts, revolutions and even human rights movements -- think of the U.S. civil rights movement in the 1960s -- depend on what Atran refers to as devoted actors. These individuals, he argues, will sacrifice themselves, their families and anyone or anything else when a volatile mix of conditions are in play. First, devoted actors adopt values they regard as sacred and nonnegotiable, to be defended at all costs. Then, when they join a like-minded group of nonkin that feels like a family ­ a band of brothers ­ a collective sense of invincibility and special destiny overwhelms feelings of individuality. As members of a tightly bound group that perceives its sacred values under attack, devoted actors will kill and die for each other.

Paper.

EDITED TO ADD (8/13): Related paper, also by Atran.

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Romanikque
4 days ago
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christophersw
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Courtney
8 days ago
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This is, in large part, why I don't have much to say to condescending liberal atheists anymore. Faith does a lot for the human brain. Without it, people seek meaning, and they will find it...just about anywhere.
Portland, OR
wreichard
16 days ago
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"looking to don a social identity that gives their lives significance"

One of my favorite quotes is from McLuhan: "All violence is a quest for identity." Few people understood the modern world as well as that strange Canadian poet.
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stefanetal
17 days ago
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Doing something useful and meaningful is probably right up there. Issue is lack of equivalent or better opportunities elsewhere.

Gifu Media Cosmos: Toyo Ito’s Beautiful New Library in Japan

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Minna no Mori - Gifu Media Cosmos (FB)

photos courtesy Nippon Design Center

Last year, a brand new community center and library opened to the public in Gifu, located in central Japan. On the morning of the opening ceremony, over 300 people waited out in the rain to see Minna no Mori (“Everyone’s Forest”) Gifu Media Cosmos – the library of the future.

Minna no Mori - Gifu Media Cosmos (4)

The structure and its interior was designed by architect Toyo Ito and is characterized by an undulating latticed wooden ceiling. Numerous curved globes act and look like giant lamp shades as they filter natural sunlight into the space while also defining the circular “knowledge hubs” they encapsulate. The space is a visual depiction of the facility’s concept: “From roots to branches, may our knowledge grow and blossom as we plant new seeds for the future.”

Minna no Mori - Gifu Media Cosmos (8)

However, Gifu Media Cosmos is much more than just a library. And a signage campaign by Kenya Hara helps make the vast multipurpose facility, which includes a library, as well as the gallery space and community exchange activity center on the ground level, easily identifiable and accessible. “Graphic patterns were applied to the giant umbrellas made of triaxial woven fabric,” says Hara, referring to the hanging domes. This forms “the starting point for spatial recognition.”

Minna no Mori - Gifu Media Cosmos (7)

Minna no Mori - Gifu Media Cosmos (6)

Minna no Mori - Gifu Media Cosmos (5)

various graphic patterns were applied to the hanging globes, allowing the various spaces to be easily identified on a map

Minna no Mori - Gifu Media Cosmos (3)

Minna no Mori - Gifu Media Cosmos (2)

“We worked to integrate the signage with the building space, including the 3D map providing an overview of the entire space, directional signs inlaid into the linoleum, and signs that can be viewed from any direction.” – Kenya Hara

Minna no Mori - Gifu Media Cosmos (1)

(thanks to Rumi for the tip!)

Minna no Mori - Gifu Media Cosmos (1)

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[Sasha Volokh] Don’t end federal private prisons

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Yesterday, the DOJ announced that it would gradually end its use of private prisons. You can read the memo by Deputy AG Sally Yates here. She writes: “I am directing that, as each contract [with a private prison corporation] reaches the end of its term, the Bureau [of Prisons] should either decline to renew that contract or substantially reduce its scope in a manner consistent with the law and the overall decline of the Bureau’s inmate population.”

Why? The Yates memo says: “Private prisons . . . compare poorly to our own Bureau facilities. They simply do not provide the same level of correctional services, programs, and resources; they do not save substantially on costs; and as noted in a recent report by the Department’s Office of Inspector General, they do not maintain the same level of safety and security. The rehabilitative services that the Bureau provides, such as educational programs and job training, have proved difficult to replicate and outsource — and these services are essential to reducing recidivism and improving public safety.”

This is unfortunate, for two reasons.

First, Yates seems to be exaggerating what empirical studies tell us about private vs. public prison comparisons. They do save money (though how much is a matter of dispute). And they don’t clearly provide worse quality; in fact, the best empirical studies don’t give a strong edge to either sector. The best we can say about public vs. private prison comparisons is a cautious “We don’t really know, but the quality differences are probably pretty minor and don’t strongly cut in either direction.” The Inspector General’s report doesn’t give us strong reason to question that result.

Second, even if all the bad things people say about private prisons were true, why not pursue a “Mend it, don’t end it” strategy? there’s a new trend in corrections to develop good performance measures and make payments contingent on those performance measures. If the private sector hasn’t performed spectacularly on quality dimensions to date, it’s because good correctional quality hasn’t been strongly incentivized so far. But the advent of performance-based contracting has the potential to open up new vistas of quality improvements — and the federal system, if it abandons contracting, may miss out on these quality improvements.

* * *

First, how many people does this affect? The Bureau of Justice Statistics report on Prisoners in 2014 reports (Table 9) that 19% of federal prisoners were held in private facilities — about 40,000 in 2013 and in 2014. But that includes about 14,000 in nonsecure facilities and home confinement. The Yates memo says that in 2013 the number of private prison inmates was 30,000, or 15% of federal prisoners, and notes in a footnote that this doesn’t include federal halfway houses (and that halfway houses aren’t the focus of the memo). The IG report says federal private prisoners were 22,660 in 2015, or 12% of the total. Probably these numbers are all consistent, and the different is due to different years and slightly different definitions of who’s covered. So this memo affects probably about roughly 25,000 people today.

Compare that to the state prison system. Private prisons represent much less of the state systems — about 7% — but the state systems are much bigger. Overall, there were about 90,000 private state prisoners in 2014. (The 7% is of course an aggregate: it’s 0% in almost 20 states that don’t use privatization at all, over 25% in just three states (MT, NM, OK), and something in between (a median of about 10%) in others.) And these people are unaffected by the Yates memo, though maybe some states might be moved to follow the federal government’s lead.

Also, this doesn’t include immigrant detainees in ICE facilities — I haven’t looked into those numbers closely, but it looks like those total numbers are comparable to the federal Bureau of Prisons numbers.

* * *

Now, let’s look at what empirical studies can tell us about cost and quality. For a discussion at greater length, please see my Emory Law Journal article on Prison Accountability and Performance Measures, or this earlier post of mine (which this post quotes from liberally).

Costs are hard to compare between the public and private sectors, because the two sectors do their accounting differently. One obvious difference is that private prison firms have to pay all their own payroll, benefits, legal expenses, etc., while a lot of those costs in the public sector are borne by different agencies, not the Department of Corrections or Bureau of Prisons. Naive cost comparisons will typically be worthless, so one will need to do a sophisticated study that spells out all its accounting assumptions.

Perhaps the best example of competing, side-by-side cost studies comes from the evaluation of the federal facility in Taft, California, operated by The GEO Group.

A Bureau of Prisons cost study by Julianne Nelson compared the costs of Taft in fiscal years 1999 through 2002 to those of three federal public facilities: Elkton, Forrest City, and Yazoo City. The Taft costs ranged from $33.21 to $38.62; the costs of the three public facilities ranged from $34.84 to $40.71. Taft was cheaper than all comparison facilities and in all years, by up to $2.42 (about 6.6%)—except in fiscal year 2001, when the Taft facility was more expensive than the public Elkton facility by $0.25 (about 0.7%). Sloppily averaging over all years and all comparison institutions, the savings was about 2.8%.

A National Institute of Justice study by Douglas McDonald and Kenneth Carlson found much higher cost savings. They calculated Taft costs ranging from $33.25 to $38.37, and public facility costs ranging from $39.46 to $46.38. Private-sector savings ranged from 9.0% to 18.4%. Again averaging over all years and all comparison institutions, the savings was about 15.0%: the two cost studies differ in their estimates of private-sector savings by a factor of about five.

Why such a difference? First, the Nelson study (but not the McDonald and Carlson study) adjusted expenditures to iron out Taft’s economies of scale from handling about 300 more inmates each year than the public facilities. Second, the studies differed in what they included in overhead costs, with the Nelson study allocating a far higher overhead rate.

* * *

Now, on to quality. Here, too, naive comparisons aren’t much good, because how much quality one should expect depends on many factors like the demographic composition of a particular prison — which is something that the IG report didn’t control for.

Most damningly, many studies don’t rely on actual performance measures, relying instead on facility audits that are largely process-based. Some supposed performance measures don’t necessarily indicate good performance, especially when the prisons are compared based on a “laundry list” of available data items (for instance, staff satisfaction) whose relevance to good performance hasn’t been theoretically established.

Let’s consider the IG report itself. One of its evaluation categories is rates of assaults, both inmate-on-inmate and inmate-on-staff. That seems fine — I think we can all agree that assaults are bad — provided the measurement methods are comparable. But the report also says that “the contract prisons confiscated eight times as many contraband cell phones annually on average as the BOP institutions.” That’s not the actual number of contraband cell phones — it’s the number confiscated, because of course we don’t know the actual number. Well, I know a great way to get that number down: just stop looking hard for contraband phones. This is an inappropriate measure because it could indicate that there are a lot of phones or that enforcement is very vigorous; you can’t use it as a basis for comparison between prisons unless you know, for instance, that the level of enforcement is similar. And yet, the IG report uses that as a basis to criticize private prisons. Similarly, the IG report found that the private prisons “fail[ed] to initiate discipline in over 50 percent of incidents”. But whether you should initiate discipline in any given case is a matter of judgment, and I’m sure that, in another context, people would think that a bright-line insistence on initiating discipline 100% of the time is inflexible and overly punitive.

As an example of the problems with current quality metrics, consider the performance evaluations of the private federal Taft facility. As with the cost studies discussed above, we have two competing studies, the National Institute of Justice one by McDonald and Carlson and a Bureau of Prisons study by Scott Camp and Dawn Daggett — the companion paper to Julianne Nelson’s cost paper.

The Bureau of Prisons has evaluated public prisons by the Key Indicators/Strategic Support System since 1989. Taft, alas, didn’t use that system, but instead used the system designed in the contract for awarding performance-related bonuses. Therefore, McDonald and Carlson could only compare Taft’s performance with that of the public comparison prisons on a limited number of dimensions, and many of these dimensions—like accreditation of the facility, staffing levels, or frequency of seeing a doctor—aren’t even outcomes. Taft had lower assault rates than the average of its comparison institutions, though they were within the range of observed assault rates. No inmates or staff were killed. There were two escapes, which was higher than at public prisons. Drug use was also higher at Taft, as was the frequency of submitting grievances. On this very limited analysis, Taft seems neither clearly better nor clearly worse than its public counterparts.

The Camp and Daggett study, on the other hand, created performance measures from inmate misconduct data, and concluded not only that Taft “had higher counts than expected for most forms of misconduct, including all types of misconduct considered together,” but also that Taft “had the largest deviation of observed from expected values for most of the time period examined.” Camp and Daggett’s performance assessment was thus more pessimistic than McDonald and Carlson’s.

According to Gerald Gaes, the strongest studies include one from Tennessee, which shows essentially no difference, one from Washington, which shows somewhat positive results, and three more recent studies of federal prisons by himself and coauthors, which found public prisons to be equivalent to private prisons on some measures, higher on others, and lower on yet others.

(I’ll add that we similarly don’t know well which sector does better on recidivism: for details, see my Emory Law Journal article or my earlier blog post.)

* * *

Bottom line: I think Yates is exaggerating what we know about the cost and quality of public vs. private prisons, and perhaps giving undue weight to the negative findings of the IG report, even though that report didn’t control for inmate demographics, didn’t fully use valid performance measures, and so on.

But here’s what’s possibly even more important: prisons have begun experimenting with performance measures and performance-based contracting. The UK has been a pioneer in this movement, but it’s been used to a limited extent in the U.S. too. A small amount of the contract payment in the Taft case was performance-based. Also, there was a prison-privatization bill in Florida that never became law; it was defeated for general anti-privatization reasons, but if it had passed, it would have implemented some performance-based contracting.

It might seem surprising, but private prisons have almost never been evaluated on their performance and compensated on that basis. Pro-privatization people have often favored prison privatization on the grounds that the market (unlike, usually, government) has the advantage of greater flexibility to experiment and also has greater scope for incentives to work. Maybe that’s usually true, but in the case of prisons, both of these elements have usually been false: private prisons have had limited scope for experimentation (the contracts have often reproduced the entire public-sector rulebook in excruciating detail) and have also had limited incentives (contract payments have rarely incorporated performance-based elements).

In light of that, maybe it’s even surprising that private prisons have done as well as they have in the comparative studies. Be that as it may, the advent of performance-based contracting could open up possibilities for substantial quality improvements. This could work in the public sector too (bonus payments for public prison wardens?), but the private sector is probably better situated to take advantage of monetary incentives. So if the federal government stops contracting with private prison firms now, it may miss out on these potential quality improvements. Not only that: if the federal government continued contracting with private prison firms, it could itself take the lead in implementing performance-based contracting and thus be a driver in these quality gains.

This means that even if all the bad things about private prisons are true, the best strategy may be instead “Mend it, don’t end it.”

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The Spectrum Auction: How Economists Saved the Day

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The airwaves are worth billions, but it took three academics to figure out how to sell them.
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5G in the sub-6 Ghz spectrum bands

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Straight to mmWave? Not so fast

It is becoming increasingly accepted that mmWave (extremely high frequency), the frequencies in the spectrum between 30 Ghz and 300 Ghz, will define 5G networks. But there are still problems to be solved with mmWave before it is ready for prime time.

Nutaq provides a list of mmWave weaknesses:

  • Atmospheric absorption– The atmosphere absorbs millimeter waves, thus restricting their transmission range. Rain, fog, and moisture in the air make the signal attenuation very high. Oxygen (O2) absorption is especially high at 60 GHz.
  • Mechanical resonance– The mechanical resonance frequencies of gaseous molecules also coincide with the millimeter wave signal. For current technology, the important absorption peaks occur at 24 and 60 GHz.
  • Scattering– Millimeter wave propagation is also affected by rain. Raindrops are roughly the same size as the radio wavelengths and therefore cause scattering of the signal.
  • Non-line of sight issues –When a line-of-sight path between transmitter and receiver isn’t present, the travelling signal still has alternative ways to reach the receiver, be it through diffraction, reflection or bending. Diffraction in millimeter waves is scarce due to the short wavelengths.
  • Brightness temperature –When millimeter waves are subjected to absorption by water vapor, oxygen and rain, these molecules absorb high frequency electromagnetic radiation. This energy emission, when received by a receiver antenna, is called brightness temperature and it degrades system performance
source: The University of Texas at Austin

source: The University of Texas at Austin In a report titled Comparing Massive MIMO at Sub-6 GHz and Millimeter Wave Using Stochastic Geometry by Dr. Robert W. Heath Jr

The difficulties associated with mmWave means standards organizations and mobile operators will continue to rely heavily on sub-6 Ghz spectrum. Especially since it likely take three years or more for mmWave technology to be developed and to harmonize the availability of the new spectrum bands.

Sub-6Ghz, a more immediate solution

Some of the advantages of sub-6 Ghz spectrum include, according to the Pacific Telecommunications Council (PTC):

  • The existing investment by satellite industry (169 commercial satellites, $50-60b and growing, user base = several hundred millions)
  • Unique technical properties (rain fade, coverage) & often preferred solution for broadcasting, telemetry, disaster relief, meteorological, aeronautical, etc.

The International Telecommunications Union’s (ITU) WRC-15, held in Geneva, reached agreements and identified new spectrum for mobile communications for International Mobile Telecommunications (IMT), the collective term for 3G, 4G and 5G.

  • A decision was reached to make the L-Band (1427 – 1518MHz) and part of the C-Band (3.4 – 3.6GHz) available for mobile broadband on a global basis.
  • The 700MHz band (694 – 790MHz) is now also globally harmonized following the initial decisions made at WRC-12 and the follow-up action at WRC-15 for its use in Europe, Middle East and Africa.
  • Additional spectrum is identified in some countries in the frequency bands 470 – 694/698MHz, 3.3-3.4GHz, 3.6-3.7GHz and 4.8 – 4.99GHz.
  • Spectrum at higher frequencies in the range from 24.25GHz up to 86GHz will be subject to study work for 5G (IMT-2020) usage in ITU, providing one of the cornerstones for future 5G services.

WRC-19, held in 2019, will decide mmWave spectrums.

Companies already on the way to sub-6Ghz 5G.

source: Huawei

source: Huawei

Last year Huawei proposed bands blow 6 GHz as the primary working frequency of 5G. At the Mobile World Congress Shanghai 2015, Huawei demonstrated the world’s first 5G testbed working on sub-6 GHz frequency band.

Qualcomm announced a 5G New Radio (NR) prototype system and trial platform. The 5G NR prototype system operates in the sub-6 GHz spectrum bands and is being utilized to showcase the company’s 5G designs to efficiently achieve multi-gigabit per second data rates and low latency.

“We are happy to be working with Qualcomm to showcase the sub-6 GHz 5G prototype system at Mobile World Congress Shanghai,” said Madam Huang Yuhong, the DGM of China Mobile Research Institute in a statement. “This is a great example of the 5G technology collaboration we set out to accomplish when we announced the 5G Joint Innovation Center earlier this year.”

5G will make the best use of a wide range of spectrum bands, and utilizing spectrum bands below 6 GHz is a critical part of allowing for flexible deployments with ubiquitous network coverage and a wide range of use cases, according to Qualcomm. Designs implemented on the company’s prototype system are being utilized to drive 3GPP standardization for a new, OFDM-based 5G NR air interface. The prototype system will closely track 3GPP progress to help achieve 5G NR trials with mobile operators, infrastructure vendors, and other industry players, as well as future 5G NR commercial network launches.

The post 5G in the sub-6 Ghz spectrum bands appeared first on RCR Wireless News.

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"I was giving some lectures in Germany about the death penalty. It was fascinating because one of the..."

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“I was giving some lectures in Germany about the death penalty. It was fascinating because one of the scholars stood up after the presentation and said, “Well you know it’s deeply troubling to hear what you’re talking about.” He said, “We don’t have the death penalty in Germany. And of course, we can never have the death penalty in Germany.” And the room got very quiet, and this woman said, “There’s no way, with our history, we could ever engage in the systematic killing of human beings. It would be unconscionable for us to, in an intentional and deliberate way, set about executing people.” And I thought about that. What would it feel like to be living in a world where the nation state of Germany was executing people, especially if they were disproportionately Jewish? I couldn’t bear it. It would be unconscionable.
And yet, in this country, in the states of the Old South, we execute people – where you’re 11 times more likely to get the death penalty if the victim is white than if the victim is black, 22 times more likely to get it if the defendant is black and the victim is white – in the very states where there are buried in the ground the bodies of people who were lynched. And yet, there is this disconnect.”

- Bryan Stevenson (We Need to Talk About Injustice)
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christophersw
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sirshannon
18 days ago
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Land of the free...
jhamill
19 days ago
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I can't believe that there is even a debate about how we execute (intentionally or not) people in this country. The state shouldn't be killing people, period.
California
norb
18 days ago
But how can we be tough on crime if we aren't sanctioning murder at the state level!?!? /s (obvs)
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