Safety Tips

Big crowds can be dangerous. When people are densely packed, there’s always a danger that someone will accidentally be injured or even killed. As population on our planet is tending to both increase and concentrate in urban areas, we could use some public education aimed at people explaining why pushing and shoving and stampeding generally are not to be tolerated. I think young, large and male people in particular don’t appreciate how much injury they can do to others.

Anyway, as a safety rule, try not to be in large, dense crowds, and if you find yourself in one, work your way to the edge of it as quickly as possible. Whatever it is you are trying to get to can’t be as important as your life.

Also, if you are ever taken hostage, don’t be in India. I understand the SWAT teams there don’t negotiate or attempt to save hostages. They just shoot everybody.

I also suspect martyr complexes are bad for your health. At the very least, they make you seem way pathetic.

Update: I want to say a little more about the trampling death in the Wal-Mart. There’s been a lot of criticism about the crowds who broke through the glass doors and trampled right over the employee. And I am not saying they are blameless, but … having been in some frighteningly dense crowds a few times myself, I suspect that many of those people were being helplessly carried along in the rush and were terrified for their lives themselves. I suspect the people near the glass doors did not deliberately break the glass, but were pushed through the glass by the force of the surging crowd behind them. It’s entirely possible that much of the force was coming from people in the back of the crowd who couldn’t see what damage they were doing.

This may be hard to imagine if you’ve never been in a crowd so thick that you were helpless to move except with the crowd, but I have. The physics of the energy of the crowd can be very dangerous, and individuals within the crowd may be helpless to stop whatever is going on. It’s like being caught in a tide.

Big, thick crowds can be dangerous even when most of the people in the crowds have no intention to do harm. It’s the nature of big, thick crowds. Companies like Wal-Mart who encourage a big crowd to show up and expect them to move through one or two doors are asking for trouble.

This is the same thing that happened in the Who concert stampede in Cincinnati, in 1979. I wasn’t in that crowd but I was living in Cincinnati at the time and was familiar with the stadium. I agree with this Time magazine article that said the cause of the stampede was the ticketing system at the stadium.

Fewer than 20% of the Cincinnati tickets were for reserved seats. The rest were for so-called festival seating, a sort of first-come-best-seated system that many of the country’s major rock venues have long since given up as unworkable. Says Tony Tavares, director of the New Haven Coliseum where The Who will play this week: “When you sell a general admission ticket, you’re challenging your crowd to get to the best seats in the house first. You’re creating a system of pandemonium.” New York City’s Madison Square Garden, which brings its 20,000-capacity crowds in through four separate towers and a series of separate entrances, has never permitted festival seating. The Garden had 200 security people, 100 ushers and 20 supervisors at their Who concerts in September. “I paid $7,800 for security and staffing fees,” says Curbishley. “Where was that security Monday night?” Riverfront Coliseum concerts by Elton John in 1976 and Led Zeppelin in 1977 had resulted in serious crowd incidents.

As I remember, the Riverfront Coliseum kept the crowd waiting until less than an hour or so before the concert, then had only two doors open to take tickets. The crowd pushed forward to get the best seats, and people in the crowd had the breath squeezed out of them. I remember hearing people say they knew they were stepping on people but they were helpless to stop. They were being pushed along by such force they had no choice but to keep moving with the crowd.

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Let’s Start a War on Nonsense

The dreadful events in Mumbai are a reminder that during the time the U.S. has waged a “war on terror,” incidents of terrorism around the world have increased dramatically. Copious hard data back up this assertion.

The Status of George Bush's War on Terrorism

Look at the “fatalities” line on the graph above. I’m assuming the big spike after 2000 is 9/11. See what happens after. Which makes me wonder where peoples’ brains are when they write

America has been going after Al-Qaeda and the nations that harbor and fund terrorists for 7 years now. To blame the attacks in Mumbai on American policy in Iraq or Afghanistan or wherever is just wrong.

Righties can’t see how phenomena interconnect. It’s something like a learning disability. As far as this guy is concerned, because the U.S. “has been going after Al-Qaeda and the nations that harbor and fund terrorists for 7 years now,” then the increase in incidents of terrorism can’t possibly have been caused, directly or indirectly, by U.S. policy. That our “policy,” whatever its intentions, is failing, and in fact is making the problem of global terrorism worse, because it is a stupid policy being carried out by twisted people, is too subtle an idea for some brains to handle.

The rightie linked above was objecting to something Deepak Chopra (who, as a rule, annoys the hell out of me) said —

Ultimately the message is always toward Washington because it’s also the perception that Washington, in their way, directly or indirectly funds both sides of the war on terror. They fund our side, then our petrol dollars going to Saudi Arabia through Pakistan and ultimately these terrorist groups, which are very organized. You know Jonathan, it takes a lot of money to do this. It takes a lot of organization to do this. Where’s the money coming from, you know? The money is coming from the vested interests.

I don’t know that the attacks in Mumbai took all that much money, but his larger point is right. We can declare wars on terror and send troops all over the place to fight jihadists, and the fact remains that our support of people like Musharraf of Pakistan, who appeared to be using our tax dollars to play both sides of the fence, fuels “the perception that Washington, in their way, directly or indirectly funds both sides of the war on terror.” The ham-handed way the occupation of Iraq was carried out, and the obscene amounts of money shoveled to Dick Cheney’s private contractors for which there is no accounting, also creates “perceptions.”

Later in the same interview Chopra says the terrorist attacks in Mumbai are “not Washington’s fault,” a bit that the rightie blogger linked above missed.

A few basic points —

  1. Not everything is about America. There are all manner of feuds and enmities in foreign places that don’t involve us (except in a “six degrees of separation” kind of way), don’t directly affect us and of which most of us are ignorant. However,
  2. Item #1 is a big reason why sending troops into hot spots to make people behave isn’t always a good idea. Generally it just pisses people off more and sometimes forces our troops to take sides in conflicts they shouldn’t be involved in to begin with, because they weren’t about us until we poked out noses into them. This is pretty much what got 241 marines killed in Lebanon in 1983.
  3. Not everything bad that happens in the Middle East happened because the U.S. did something evil. First, see item #1 — not everything is about us. I doubt anything in the Middle East is entirely about us. U.S. policy is often a factor, but there are always myriad other factors. However, when we act in ignorance of those other factors, as if everything is just about us, we can make things worse.
  4. Sometimes stuff is in part about us, but saying that is not always “blaming America.” Bin Laden got pissed off at America because U.S. troops were stationed on Saudi soil, but that was not a “bad” thing. Bin Laden is a whackjob. Whackjobs get set off by just about anything. I remember reading about a guy in Europe who became a serial killer after watching Cecil B. DeMille’s “The Ten Commandments.” To say that our stationing of troops in Saudi Arabia was a factor in bringing about 9/11 is not “blaming America.” It’s just a statement of fact.
  5. Whenever we do something in a foreign country, we ought to stop and consider how we’d feel if some foreign power came along and did that same thing in our country. However that might make us feel, we should assume that’s how people in that other foreign country feel about us. Sometimes we have to take action in foreign countries, in our own self-defense, but there will always be messy repercussions.
  6. Because there will always be messy repercussions, messing around in foreign countries needs to be kept to a minimum. Sincere people will disagree on where that “minimum” line might be drawn. But military action requires a sense of reluctance. When people are fired up and eager to go to war, beware. This is a sure indication that emotions are overruling intellect.
  7. As far as righties are concerned, I propose an “automatic tax increase” amendment. Whenever we send troops to foreign soil, taxes (especially on capital gains) must be raised to pay for it. If the thought of a tax increase causes people to think twice about sending troops, we probably don’t need to be sending troops.
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