Risk-Reward Against Religious Extremists

        The SUV IILM has sent for us dies halfway between Anahita’s house and IILM, drifting to dead and refusing to restart among the rickshaws on a major road. But it’s not nearly as dramatic as it sounds: we sit around for half an hour and then pile into Anahita’s sedan. The worst part’s that India makes amends for rewarding tastes through punishing scents. As much as I love the food, it’s barely enough to make up for some of the rancid odors I’ve encountered in the streets. It’s spicy curries against the worst possible blend of exhaust, decaying food, body odor, and fecal matter...
        The upside of breaking down is that we’re so late for the bullshit session at IILM that it’s shortened. We get IILM desk clocks we’ll never use, so it’s appropriate that we give the director a similarly useless Penn (R/TM/Inc.) timepiece.
        A wonderful invention is lunch: Naanza is naan, an Indian flatbread, as the dough of a pizza. It’s a United Nations party of taste in my mouth.
        Rest of the day’s getting to Lahore. Lots of security and delays in transit, tons of food upon arrival, sleep soon thereafter. We’re staying with Amna’s family; judging by last year and this dinner, they’ll be as great of hosts as Anahita’s folks were.
        So the title: an idea I had while flying to the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, vaguely nervous that some ass is going to launch a missile at / blow up his toupee / otherwise cause to explote my plane and reading Thomas Friedman’s “The World Is Flat.” He’s talking about how Islamic fundamentalists pose such a huge threat to all the great gains of globalization, and this gets me thinking. First, I start to worry about the fundamentalists in charge of my own government, but that’s just depressing. Then, it strikes me: idiots are trying to bomb / legislate their morality on me because they don’t understand just how much fun this crazy modern world of ours can be. Friedman talks about the key 9/11 hijackers coming from a sense of isolation in Europe and solace only found through fundamentalist prayer groups. What if they’d found solace in an Easyjet flight to explore the Louvre? Hell, their religion’s promising them, what, a couple dozen virgins (some say the proper translation is bottles of wine, not nonpromiscuous women)? They could at least hit double digits with a weekend trip to Amsterdam and a wad of cash; if they’re still feeling terroristic, even a dialup net connection will get them more porn than they can shake an angry, death-to-infidels fist at. And Christian fundamentalists: more loving from thy neighbors might lead to fewer assassinations of doctors who provide abortions. Yeah, religions get some traction by throwing around silly words like eternity, but behavioral psych shows that people prefer immediate payoffs to future benefits, even when the net present value of future payments is significantly greater. Also, people are risk averse to losses (dying for your cause with the possibility that you’re wrong?) and risk seeking in gains (sticking around and seeing how much fun you can have?). I remember reading at least 1 report saying that tracing “head hijacker” Mohammed Atta’s credit card showed he was at a strip joint in early September. Would he have been as likely to kill himself and so many others if he had been at a brothel? maybe more opportunities for “Western infidel decadence” is part of what’s needed to tip the cost-benefit analysis for religious nuts a bit more towards sanity. Yeah, discouraging suicide bombers is far from solving all the world’s problems, but wouldn’t it be nice if we could all bring nail clippers onto airplanes without worrying about landing in Guantanamo Bay, the Caribbean’s least enjoyable all-inclusive resort? OK, I’m done with my politically incorrect, bizarre rant:)

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