Re: So Why Are We Letting Them Build Things On Hallowed Ground?

1

Maybe the humanities produce plenty of terrorists, but they often lack the skill. There are a great number of terrorist attacks that have failed for technical reasons, so we'd just have to see what those guys majored it.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 09-11-10 8:29 AM
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This quote seems to me the crux of the thing: "The engineer mind-set, Gambetta and Hertog suggest, might be a mix of emotional conservatism and intellectual habits that prefers clear answers to ambiguous questions -- "the combination of a sharp mind with a loyal acceptance of authority."

Engineers are trained to accept the authority of standard practice for very good reasons, and they constantly have to think about the ways things break. Those are strongly tied to conservative attitudes. Conservatism is obsessed with the potential destructive effects of tinkering with something that already basically works. That's the engineer's mindset, too.


Posted by: togolosh | Link to this comment | 09-11-10 8:37 AM
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Conservatism is obsessed with the potential destructive effects of tinkering with something that already basically works.

Not actually existing 'conservativism', of course, which is a radically transformative ideology.* But Burkean/Oakeshottian conservativism of yore, yeah.

* immanentize the hegemon, etc etc.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 09-11-10 8:42 AM
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You're male and going to college in Egypt - what else are you going to study?


Posted by: bjk | Link to this comment | 09-11-10 8:43 AM
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Hieroglyphs?


Posted by: chris y | Link to this comment | 09-11-10 8:44 AM
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I agree with 1. Engineers are more likely to be effective terrorists.


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 09-11-10 8:49 AM
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I think there are a number of things going on. One is that, to the extent that many "terrorists" are recruited rather than self-selected, if you, the terrorist mastermind, have a big explody piece of terrorism planned, you're probably not going to be seeking our philosophers and landscape architects to help you with it.

Another is that engineers often seem to be very directed people who are somewhat disconnected from the scrum of politics, emotions, etc. So if you find one who's 25 and is dissatisfied, it's a better bet that he hasn't already done a lot of activism or whatever that might give him a broader perspective on solutions to social problems.

A third thought is that engineers are probably going to reify other people a bit more. Easier to blow up a bridge if you tend to think of the individuals on it as a "load" that needs to be accounted for and designed around, rather than somebody's mom or nephew or whatever. Certainly, when we see pre-terrorist engineers on the internet, that sense of dehumanization comes up a lot. (Schools failing? Fire teachers. Can't fire them because of the union? Make unions illegal. Unions will protest? Send in the riot cops.) There's that overriding sense that people are a problem to be solved.

I bet it doesn't help one bit that engineering is still such a male-dominated field. Leads to a lot of group-think and us-vs-the-world perspectives. "Hah! Look at those puny humans at the base of the skyscraper! They're just like ants!"


Posted by: Natilo Paennim | Link to this comment | 09-11-10 8:49 AM
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4: When Gambetta and Hertog looked at only the militants whose education was known for certain to have gone beyond high school, close to half (44 percent) had trained in engineering. Among those with advanced degrees in the militants' homelands, only 18 percent are engineers.

Admittedly they do not mention gender.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 09-11-10 8:51 AM
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They're all engineers . . . so it's not surprise that the terrorists are too. Sports management is not a big draw in countries where the electricity is hit or miss.


Posted by: bjk | Link to this comment | 09-11-10 8:54 AM
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This thread to Doña Quixote on the other thread


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 09-11-10 8:57 AM
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I think there's a previous explanation somewhere that's more region-specific, about the experience of engineers in the Muslim/Arab world. Lots of career dreams opened up and then denied due to oil and economic sluggishness, I think it was (which Gambetta in the linked article does nod to when discussing Saudi Arabia). Of course now the article has put us on the track of thinking about engineering globally, but the dataset seems to only include Muslims; the rest is anecdotal.

One other bit of data: engineers do seem much more common in the Middle East than elsewhere. The article says in the countries studied, 3.5% of the working-age population are engineers. The BLS says there were 1.6 million engineering jobs in the US (2009), and from the Census the 18-64 population (2008) was 189.5 million, giving a proportion of 0.8%.


Posted by: Minivet | Link to this comment | 09-11-10 9:00 AM
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They're all engineers

True, other than the 82% who aren't.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 09-11-10 9:03 AM
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Other relevant comments on the other thread here and here.


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 09-11-10 9:05 AM
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Insofar as it's true at all, I think it's the other way around. People with a black and white mindset, a penchant for a predictable, straightforward lens for looking at the world, and a sense that every problem has an answer....tend to choose engineering as a career path. (Or else become library catalogers.)

It's also true that in many areas across North Africa and the Middle East, an engineering degree plays the role that a law degree does in the US -- it's what smart, analytical college students who want to make a good living go for.*

*I am not talking out of my hat here; this is actually based on fairly extensive firsthand knowledge and experience.


Posted by: Witt | Link to this comment | 09-11-10 9:12 AM
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11.2 explains quite a bit, I'd guess. Also, I'd like to know how many non-science/engineering degrees are offered in Muslim countries. These are not governments with money to burn by and large, and I'd guess their funding is pretty ruthlessly prioritised towards the "useful".


Posted by: chris y | Link to this comment | 09-11-10 9:15 AM
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Maybe terrorist organizations recruit engineers, because they think they'll have useful skills?


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 09-11-10 9:23 AM
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pwned by 7.1, you evil mastermind of blog commenting darkness.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 09-11-10 9:24 AM
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The second clause was supposed to go in the next thread. Sorry.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 09-11-10 9:25 AM
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Yes. My comment in the previous thread wrt to complex systems, asshole engineers etc. was, in retrospect, clearly the kind of thing one arrives at when you look at the math in engineering from a theoretic mathematical perspective.

Many people have mentioned confounding factors, but honestly, I'd have to agree that engineers tend to have conservative temperaments, at least based on my experience. (Thinking back on it now, it's interesting how choice of majors seemed to track with choice of living arrangements...no hard data, but, interesting.) They like to control things. It happens. They're also not as into research, as, say, biologists, mathematicians, or physicists. It's not necessarily a discipline that requires an open mind. (Though I'd say the best engineers are the ones who do keep an open mind, and thus come up with awesomely novel solutions. But you don't need to be a genius to figure out how to blow up a bridge; probably it helps with your general feeling of dissatisfaction and "fuck the world!" if you're not.)

I'd actually really like to go back and see how engineers as a cohort score on the Openness to Experience metric...

Related: anyone see that futurama movie, with the Scammer aliens? They had these glands, called sprungers? They sensed and craved information. Data. Sometimes I feel like I have a sprunger.

Gross.


Posted by: donaquixote | Link to this comment | 09-11-10 9:27 AM
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3: Good point, but the ideology of the thing that passes itself off as conservatism these days is trying to return to an imagined past, one the true believers honestly believe is real.


Posted by: togolosh | Link to this comment | 09-11-10 9:46 AM
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Henry Farrell was not the first person to point that out.


Posted by: David | Link to this comment | 09-11-10 9:50 AM
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So, let's take occupation out of the equation, and figure out what you're looking for when you're recruiting terrorists:

*Male
*16-35
*Physically fit, or at least non-disabled
*Unmarried, no kids
*Literate, and able to follow directions, but not an intellectual

We're already at the point where engineers are probably going to be over-represented in the sample. Of course, these are pretty much the same criteria that legitimate armies tend to look for when recruiting.


Posted by: Natilo Paennim | Link to this comment | 09-11-10 9:53 AM
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my impression of the circa 1900 shifty european swarthy radical/ political agitator/anarchist/communist is someone who studied something non-engineering, like language or law or something.


Posted by: yoyo | Link to this comment | 09-11-10 9:57 AM
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though i suppose communism and libertarianism have rather more in common than supporters might admit.


Posted by: yoyo | Link to this comment | 09-11-10 9:58 AM
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Only very tangentially on topic, but this (December 2001) account of the Islamic influence on the architecture of the WTC is an interesting read (or re-read) in light of current events.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 09-11-10 10:00 AM
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14 amuses me because one of the most popular (perhaps because of not being too analytical) kids in my law school class was a guy who had, prior to school, been an engineer from the middle east.


Posted by: yoyo | Link to this comment | 09-11-10 10:01 AM
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23: Actually, the bulk of those people were either skilled tradesmen or factory workers. Johan Most, Errico Malatesta, Louis Lingg -- not engineers, but people who did know how to put things together. Also, I think a lot of them would qualify as auto-didacts. Galleani was a lawyer by training. Interestingly, Michael Collins was a postal employee and then a financial advisor.


Posted by: Natilo Paennim | Link to this comment | 09-11-10 10:01 AM
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Henry Farrell was not the first person to point that out.

But did the others do it in a lilting Irish accent?


Posted by: Sir Kraab | Link to this comment | 09-11-10 10:04 AM
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27. Yes. Very little formal education for the most part, but those who did tended to be philosophers. They were however anything but authoritarian.


Posted by: chris y | Link to this comment | 09-11-10 10:06 AM
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There are a great number of terrorist attacks that have failed for technical reasons, so we'd just have to see what those guys majored it.

The failed Times Square bomber has an MBA, which isn't surprising. B-school could turn anyone into a terrorist.


Posted by: Sir Kraab | Link to this comment | 09-11-10 10:08 AM
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25 goes with the general ambivalence of the red state GOP types to a area of real estate that when they aren't defending as the most sacred american soil, consider to be a nasty, crime ridden sardine tin overrun with immigrants (and not the good upstanding, educated irish kind of immigrants they descend from).

I wonder if there is a similar thought on the Right, about liberal NYC being home to liberal-hated corporate HQs and wall st.


Posted by: yoyo | Link to this comment | 09-11-10 10:08 AM
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It's come up here before, but engineers are also over-represented among proponents of creationism (the "Salem hypothesis"). But it goes a lot farther than that: the ranks of crackpots who deny simple facts like special relativity are also full of people with engineering credentials. Global warming denial too, I think. Google turns up lots of discussions of these things but I'm not sure how much solid statistical evidence there is. It feels true, though.

I don't really know what ties of all of this together, but it does seem like engineers are generally susceptible to right-wing tendencies and contrarianism. Maybe also to religion? I don't know many engineers, but a lot of people I went to high school with are engineers now, and they're generally the people who didn't exhibit much curiosity about anything, and tended to be at least moderately religious. But they have some minimal tinkering or arithmetic ability, so they went into engineering as the most lucrative path that didn't require too much independent thought. (There are a couple of exceptions -- people who are really quite bright. But they seem to function somewhat closer to being scientists.)


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 09-11-10 10:19 AM
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As against all this, very few of the Provisional IRA leadership have had any tertiary education. A quick google tells me that Ruairí Ó Brádaigh has a degree in Commerce, which I did not know. Abimael Guzman was another bloody philosopher. Most of the RAF had arts degrees.


Posted by: chris y | Link to this comment | 09-11-10 10:24 AM
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The Salem Hypothesis! That's the term I was looking for on this thread and the other one.

(Also, I feel kinda silly linking twice to the other thread now that I see that this thread grew directly out of that one.)


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 09-11-10 10:24 AM
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The Quran Issue and American Ecumenicism: The Secret the Media Will Not Tell You
Currently, the mass media is deliberately provoking a typical British "intellegence" gang countergang, divide and conquer religious warfare. The watchwords talking heads like Chris Matthews use of toleration versus extremism is a fraudulent misdirection away from the underlying principle that the Abrahamic religions (and others) share. That principle is behind the Pilgrims' mission to build a City on the Hill. It is simply the Mosaic injunction that the oligarchy wants to kill: Be fruitful, multiply and take dominion over nature. This principle put into practice is the only basis upon which future generations can ever secure a lasting peace.


Posted by: Thingumbobesquire | Link to this comment | 09-11-10 10:25 AM
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31: Well it is an interesting stew for sure. The Awl made some updates to that despicable human remains map in the NY Post. Human remains: YOU'RE SHOPPING IN IT. You're BOXING IN IT. You're DRINKING IN IT and ATTENDING CUNY IN IT and you're GOLDMAN SACHSING IN IT.

My blood still boils about the 2004 Repub Convention (purple bandages and all) being in NYC and the media generally giving them a pass on it (plus the Bloomberg admin being such asses--he's redeemed himself a bit with this latest, however). But even the Bushies realized they had to stay away from the site.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 09-11-10 10:26 AM
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Maybe I should go back to my Henry Petroski books and look for encoded directives and seekrit instructions for blowing stuff up.


Posted by: Jesus McQueen | Link to this comment | 09-11-10 10:33 AM
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35: Whoa, dude. We may be in the market for a new troll.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 09-11-10 10:33 AM
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I was going to mention the Salem hypo, too.

I'm a software "engineer" (Scare quotes because we don't have a guild or the title protected by law), and know a fair number of "real" engineers. Some possibly relevant traits that are easy to call out:

- As mentioned, being formally trained to seek, and usually find, a single correct answer for given conditions in a domain specific field, I think, bleeds over into more general questions. I don't know which is the chicken - really no idea as to whether rigid types are drawn to engineering, or the training makes people more rigid. The engineers I know are somewhat more likely than others to have definite opinions on, and certainty about, moral questions that most sane people have more flexibility and nuance on.

- A lot of engineers I know are not terribly verbal people. Questions that are necessarily matters of interpersonal concern tend to frustrate them. Questions of ethics, compromise, policy, law, etc. are inherently terribly nuanced, verbal questions.

- This was mentioned as well, but engineers are probably more likely to be chosen to do things involving blowing things up or knocking things over, due to technical skills. I alo think the average engineer is more likely to be successful doing such a thing than the average, say, psychologist.

- This one is more vague, and perhaps less defensible. A lot of the engineers I know at least seem to be more likely to see things in zero-sum terms. If someone is benefiting, someone else always must be losing.

Anyway, just some thoughts from a mostly lurker engineering type who's dumb enough to be headed to law school.


Posted by: grog | Link to this comment | 09-11-10 10:35 AM
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38: Did you just feed it?


Posted by: donaquixote | Link to this comment | 09-11-10 10:36 AM
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40: Maybe.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 09-11-10 10:41 AM
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From the comments to the post linked in 36:

Christians did much better job of neatly packing Muslim body parts in mass graves in the Balkans, so we can't blame them from keeping their heads so high in this whole controversy.
Nice.

Also, that people are still calling Park51 a mosque, without getting called on it, is making me yell at the radio.


Posted by: Jesus McQueen | Link to this comment | 09-11-10 10:46 AM
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So we all sit around saying conservative engineers are rigid minded puzzle solvers, and Sheerer doesn't show up to defend himself? Hm.


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 09-11-10 11:43 AM
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It's come up here before, but engineers are also over-represented among proponents of creationism (the "Salem hypothesis"). But it goes a lot farther than that: the ranks of crackpots who deny simple facts like special relativity are also full of people with engineering credentials. Global warming denial too, I think. Google turns up lots of discussions of these things but I'm not sure how much solid statistical evidence there is. It feels true, though.

As someone related to two engineers, I can say that it's not just a belief in a single correct answer, or a desire for a neatly ordered world, but an arrogance born of having their vision of the world proven correct every time some structure they build doesn't collapse or explode, or some circuit they've constructed decreases the response time by 1/1000th of a nanosecond, etc. Their entire intellectual lives are invested in being proven correct or, more to the point, not being proven to be incorrect. It's no wonder they take what they mistakenly be to the "skeptical" position, then insist that as long as this bridge doesn't fall or this computer's faster, you can't win this argument.


Posted by: SEK | Link to this comment | 09-11-10 12:28 PM
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My virulently anti-clerical, economically centrist, global warming is a hoax uncle does geological chemistry or at least is a chemist who does geology related stuff. Another climate change 'skeptic' uncle is an electrical engineer. Neither of them are terrorists though the latter loves Bush in spite of his excessive bleeding heart laxity on teh evil muslims. Both are atheists trained and educated under the auspices of the godless commies.


Posted by: teraz kurwa my | Link to this comment | 09-11-10 2:22 PM
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Turns out there had been a prayer space in the South Tower of the WTC.

Also Rachel Maddow with a good piece on the current wave of 9/11 exploitation. It turns out Newt Gingrich can get slimier.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 09-11-10 3:06 PM
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46: If that doesn't explode some heads, I don't know what will.


Posted by: Minivet | Link to this comment | 09-11-10 3:09 PM
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I don't buy Gambetta and Herzog's description of the engineer mind-set as "a mix of emotional conservatism and intellectual habits that prefers clear answers to ambiguous questions." My impression of engineers is that they're *more* than usually aware that every piece of knowledge has caveats and uncertainty, that your data may be incomplete or even wrong, that there are always going to be other failure modes you've never considered. Also, the desire to minimize risk is offset by pressure to find cleverer and more efficient ways of doing things.

I would guess that engineers tend to be more politically conservative simply because of the communities they hang out with: business and the military.


Posted by: YK | Link to this comment | 09-11-10 3:17 PM
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Islamic community center, bad. Neofascist rally, good.


Posted by: Jesus McQueen | Link to this comment | 09-11-10 3:48 PM
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48: I think, given the data presented, that the most anyone can claim for an association between engineering and right-wing extremism / terrorism is as a conceptual, mental, philosophical, whatever sort of weakness that a minority of engineers are prey to. No explanations should assert that it's representative of engineers, just that it's more common than in the general population.


Posted by: Minivet | Link to this comment | 09-11-10 4:51 PM
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43

So we all sit around saying conservative engineers are rigid minded puzzle solvers, and Sheerer doesn't show up to defend himself? Hm.

I'm a mathematician not an engineer. And it's Shearer.


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 09-11-10 5:25 PM
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49: That guy just *looks* creepy.


Posted by: Di Kotimy | Link to this comment | 09-11-10 5:27 PM
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52: People also know him by the nickname "Captain Peroxide".


Posted by: Jesus McQueen | Link to this comment | 09-11-10 5:34 PM
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Something about him reminds me of The Joker in the Batman movie...


Posted by: Di Kotimy | Link to this comment | 09-11-10 5:43 PM
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54: meets Max Headroom.


Posted by: oudemia | Link to this comment | 09-11-10 5:44 PM
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In defense of chemists, we tend to have access to the explody stuff, but we don't seem to participate at a higher rate.


Posted by: Klug | Link to this comment | 09-11-10 5:53 PM
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51: Come to think, shouldn't Megan be defensive about this? Have there been any suspicious dam collapses in California lately?


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 09-11-10 5:57 PM
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Also, I agree with 48 that Gambetta's engineering mindset seems just a tad simplistic.


Posted by: Klug | Link to this comment | 09-11-10 6:04 PM
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57: Does this count? And suspicions.


Posted by: Minivet | Link to this comment | 09-11-10 6:07 PM
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51 should have been preceded by "Damn it Jim, ..."


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 09-11-10 6:09 PM
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Creepy Geert wasn't the only imported fascist thug.


Posted by: oudemia | Link to this comment | 09-11-10 6:20 PM
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Took a me while to figure that photo out. E, D, gamma? Epsilon, D, gamma? Oh, wait.

I have to confess to tribal feelings on looking through that slide show.


Posted by: Jesus McQueen | Link to this comment | 09-11-10 6:31 PM
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The "Waterboarding Instructor" t-shirt in the second image is really fucking chilling.


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 09-11-10 6:35 PM
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Guys, this is simple. Engineers are geeks. Geeks are bastards. Some bastards are terrorists.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 09-11-10 6:49 PM
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If only everyone was cheerful, supportive, and kind. Like the lawyers.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 09-11-10 6:53 PM
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re: 64

Yay! I'm liking this new-wave nastiness.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 09-11-10 6:57 PM
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But nothing relevant follows from that, Rob. All E are G; all G are B; some B are T—perfectly compatible with the truth of no E are T. Of course in this case we know that many E are T, but that could be for G-free reasons.


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 09-11-10 6:59 PM
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Something about 67 makes me want to phone home...


Posted by: Di Kotimy | Link to this comment | 09-11-10 7:04 PM
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51: My apologies for misjudging and misspelling you.


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 09-11-10 7:49 PM
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I kind of wonder if the numbers are pushed up a bit by the cultural currency that goes along with the title "engineer". I see this sort of credentialism among non-US Latinos*, many of whom tend to sign off their e-mails as "Fulano Tal, Ing." (where "Ing." is short for ingeniero. But you'll often later found out that the person's degree is in something akin to a Bachelor's in Business Administration or something like Econ or even Chemistry, but not in a way that we'd call engineering here.

No idea at all if that shows up in North Africa or the Middle East, but I wonder.

*Also, if it's not "Ing." it's "Lic." (for "Licenciado") which seems to mean they have the rough equivalent of a BA or maybe like a BA-plus, but it's not exactly very clear among different countries.


Posted by: Stanley | Link to this comment | 09-11-10 8:00 PM
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I really like the EDL guy with the L upside down on his Union Flag. Pro tip: if stuff is upside down before the explosion, fire, riot, firefight or whatever, your extremist cell probably needs more engineers.


Posted by: Alex | Link to this comment | 09-12-10 8:22 AM
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