Friday, January 16, 2015



 One of the least mentioned pleasures of teaching is that you have a captive audience. When I’m on rounds with my trainees I get tell to tell stories, and they get to listen. I try to make them instructive of course, but only they could tell you whether I'm successful or not..

One of my favorites is to recount my cab driving career during graduate school in Chicago. I drove on my off days and on weekend nights. In those days you paid a flat rate to “lease” a cab for a 24 hour period (an effective union busting tactic); once you earned your nut the rest was yours to keep. It was exactly the kind of free market incentive you have written about so elegantly in these pages, and I responded to it, usually working long into my shift .  When the cab was empty I trolled for fares aggressively;  I was, to put it mildly, a speed demon in a 3000 lb mass of metal painted yellow, zooming around the city in a manner more befitting a bumper car ride than neighborhood streets. Inevitably, I had accidents, lots of them, and collected traffic tickets  the way some collect baseball cards. I learned that traffic court was almost always a free pass since the ticket would be dismissed if the ticketing police officer didn’t appear. Given that most Chicago cops have better things to do than testify against 22 year old cab drivers for traffic tickets, that outcome could be counted on, and my misdeeds were seldom punished.  The cab company didn’t care much either, since I never had an accident with a fare in the cab, it just meant a short trip to the company body shop,

I did learn, however, from a brief, stern, lecture from my supervisor that a small number of cabbies, (15%), were responsible for the vast majority of accidents, (75%). I was one of those folks. In that regard, I was no different than any other group of outliers that drives events,  like patients repeatedly readmitted to the hospital (the reason why I tell my cab driving story in the 1st place) or violent New York City cops repeatedly accused of police misconduct, or the religious extremists committing atrocities in Hebron, or Baga, or Peshawar, or Paris. This is the advantage of the extremist; he needs the support of few others; his actions by their nature are guaranteed to produce a disproportionate effect.  

In that regard, there isn't much value in trying to understand the mindset of the terrorist; the power of the few to impact the many will not be diluted.  The best, imperfect answer, in your humble correspondent's opinion  is old fashioned police work; surveillance ( I am sorry to say), infiltration, preemption, and finally defiance. The Islamist extremists of our era are hardly alone.  Human nature isn’t going to change any time soon.


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