Monday, May 31, 2010

Memorial Day: Another Enabler for War

Speech by Mike Prysner (quotes used throughout post).

"We Were Told We Were Fighting Terrorists.
But the Real Terrorist Was Me."
(US "Shock and Awe" Attack on Iraq, May 2003)
  • Afghan civilian deaths by US troops since invasion: 6,500 (Guardian)
  • Iraqi civilian deaths by US troops since invasion: >100,000 (TAL interview with Lancet author--links study)
  • Serious injuries will be much higher than the death toll.
Terrorists from Saudi Arabia killed some 3,000 people on 9/11. We were told by our government that they did it because they were jealous of our freedom. This was our government's best rationale . . . and we took it. We were angry and we wanted a simple answer. And there it was--a ridiculous, nonsensical, and simple answer. Our freedom was just too enviable.

But there was a reality: these terrorists actually hated us for supplying weapons to Israel to attack Palestine. Bin Laden said this repeatedly (RP--checks with Frontline). The leader behind the attacks according to the 9-11 Commission, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, is repeatedly noted to give the same reason (RP9/11 Commission Report pg 147). When these facts came out in congressional testimony, they were silenced and minimized in the official report. Mainstream media blacked it out (see video).

The US gave Israel a $2.5 billion military grant in 2009. The US provided Israel with over $58 billion dollars in a steady stream of specifically military funds (aside from other aid) for the last 50 years (CRS pg 21). Israel's recent attack on a Gaza aid ship in international waters gives a sample of what these military funds go towards (DN).

Saddam was clumsily linked to Bin Laden by way of repetition in the media. There was nothing else. This had to be awkward for the US since they considered Saddam an ally (see photo) while he was using USA made chemical weapons to kill some 190K Kurds and 50K Iranian solders (SW). But we had to put Saddam back in line when he threatened our access to their oil (SW).

Normally, when the US wants to change the government of another country it does it with a bit less attention. The traditional rational is over trade policy. The US becomes particularly angry if a government wants to nationalize its natural resources--a sure sign the US will put you on its to-coup list (AN, KH).

The US's prolific modern overthrow record includes: Iran in 1953, Guatemala in 1954, British Guiana in 1953-64, Iraq in 1963, Cambodia in 1955-70, Laos in 1958-60, Ecuador in 1960-63, Brazil in 1962-64, Dominican Republic in 1963, Congo in 1960, Bolivia in 1964, Indonesia in 1965, Ghana in 1966,Chile in 1964-73, Greece in 1967, Bolivia in 1971 Australia in 1973-75, Portugal in 1974-76, Jamaica in 1976-80 Chad in 1981-82, Grenada in 1983, Fiji in 1987, Nicaragua in 1981-90, Panama in 1989, Bulgaria in 1990, Albania in 1991, Afghanistan in 1980s, Ecuador in 2000, Afghanistan in 2001, Venezuela in 2002, Iraq in 2003, then Haiti in 2004 and back in 1991 (See TRN video for excellent coverage). For the history of the US taking of Hawaii, see here: (PS).

See a complete history on the US's role in overthrowing foreign government from NY Times reporter Stephen Kinzer in Overthrow: America's Century of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq.

"Racism Is a Vital Weapon
Deployed by this Government."

Racism is a tool used to dehumanize the other side. It also helps to create an in-group versus out-group mentality. For more on dehumanizing, see previous post on the US military training to kill civilians.

"They Do Not Have to Fight the War. 
They Merely Have to Sell the War."
(Powell, former US SOS, presenting WMD argument to UN before US invasion of Iraq)

War is not a natural human inclination. If that were true, drafts would have never been used, our media would not have to sell us the war, and protesters would not be beaten for their opposition (previous post). The government has long known that they must use lies and coercion to make us fight (See video Why We Fight). Here are some examples of lies and opportunism:
  • In 1898, President McKinley wanted the US to go to war with Spain. When the USS Maine exploded (cause unclear), McKinley quickly used this as a pretext for war (USN). The USS Maine was hyped so much as an excuse for war that it is now synonymous with the term yellow journalism.
  • In 1940, a year before the Pearl Harbor attack, Lieutenant Commander Arthur H. McCollum sent to naval commanders what is now referred to as the McCollum Memo. The memo outlined the need to provoke an attack by Japan against the US to raise public support for the war (Memo sec 9-10). Eventually, the US received its overt attack that gave Roosevelt just the public support he needed to attack Japan.
  • In 1964, there were two separate events collectively referred to as "The Gulf of Tonkin Incident." These events were used by President Lyndon Johnson to officially send the US to war with Vietnam. The first event occurred when the US sent the destroyer ship USS Maddox to gather intelligence on the coast of North Vietnam. While there was engagement, no US troops were killed (USN). In the "second event," the US Navy claimed that the North Vietnamese torpedoed and sank two US ships during another patrol. The Federation of American Scientists investigated this after the CIA released documents on the subject. Despite MacNamara's claim that the evidence of the second attack was unimpeachable, the group concluded that the Navy fabricated the entire event (AFP, CQ).
  • In 2001, the US was attacked in New York City. Immediately, the US government attempted to use this attack as a pretext to go to war with Iraq. Obviously, Colon Powell's and the Bush administration's argument of WMD's never attained evidence. But that didn't stop the US from attempting to connect Saddam to Bin Laden and having it numbingly repeated in media (DS). But Saddam had no recent connection to Bin Laden nor al-Qaida (NPR, MSNBC). And yet we are still there. President Obama continues to fund the war in the face of a weak anti-war movement.

"They Need a Public Who Is Willing to 
Send Their Soldiers into Harm's Way."
"Question War" bumper stickers (here).

And yes, supporting the troops is supporting the war. To say otherwise is to have no understanding of the blatant inconsistency. Who fires the rounds if not the troops? The request to kill another comes with it the nondelegable duty to investigate the merits. A government with a track record of lying for its own benefit should immediately make one skeptical of its argument for war.

So how does the US overcome its track record? It targets the youth and the poor.

When it's difficult to find work in order to pay rent, it becomes easier to justify joining the military. There is no mystery that economic hardship makes the job of military recruitment easier (NYT). But is it right to kill others for an unjust cause in order to pay rent?

According to a UN resolution adopted by the US, the military cannot engage in recruitment actions with those under age 18 without parental permission (Doc art 3). Yet, paramilitary JROTC programs exist in schools throughout the US affixing themselves in hallways and lunch halls of students. Deception and coercion used to recruit these students is commonplace, with 6,600 allegations of recruiter wrongdoing in 2005 alone (ACLU pg 19). Recruiters lied to enlistees that the US was not at war and that individuals could simply leave the military if they didn't like their experience (ACLU pg 20). Recruiters specifically targeted poorer schools after recognizing that they had less success getting college bound students (ACLU pg 29)

Some states such as California have what are called Cadet Corps. The California Cadet Corps proudly announces to have settled in over 100 schools throughout the state (CCC-bottom). This presence includes elementary schools.

There are more than half a million kids in over 3,600 JROTC programs across the US. Some 30-50% of these kids in JROTC will join the military (CSM).

"Not Only Do We Have Nothing to Gain,
but We Suffer More."

Every dollar we spend towards the military is used to kill those our government does not like. This subtracts what would otherwise go towards our social programs or paying down foreign debt. See the MLK Beyond Vietnam post for how Dr. King saw wars as an obstacle to fighting poverty.

"Our Enemies Are Not 5,000 Miles Away.
They Are Right Here at Home."

$700 billion was used to bail out the US's richest companies in 2008 (PP). This does not count the over $150 billion dollars in annual subsidies that the US government gives to US corporations (FPIF). This is despite the fact that between 1998 to 2005 2/3 of all US corporations paid no federal income tax (TP). These tax evaders include such giants as Exxon Mobile and General Electric despite their billions in income. 

See full speech: (Part 1, Part 2, Transcript) Ignore:[A6Y7PQK2FJG7]

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Facebook & Comedy Central Cave to Pressures on Depicting Muhammed

The Associated Press story above describes how the Pakistani government banned Facebook over the Everyone Draw Mohammad Day Campaign. The government has also answered by blocking YouTube (Guardian). This campaign came about after an artist from Seattle created a poster advertising the campaign. She did not expect it to be taken seriously, but it was. A Facebook group for the day soon formed and shot up to 100K followers. (CSM) Now, however, the group no longer comes up in searches. It appears Facebook has deleted the group. There is a replacement group that is still generating members (at around 1,000 at the time of this initial post). Similar groups have followed. Some members have changed their profile pictures to depict Muhammad. Numerous  groups have also formed to oppose Everyone Draw Mohammed Day.

However, Facebook retaliated against at least one user. It deleted his account after merely describing how science provided a better explanation for how the world worked than a deity (Interloper). This particular user lost four years of photos, messages, and contacts. A screenshot of the conversation shows the user didn't type any obscenities or slurs. A large number of users report Facebook deleting their accounts over Muhammed comments and postings. Users accuse Facebook of deleting many of their Muhammed pictures as well. (Examples of "offensive" pictures above. There are also harsher pictures that more forcefully try the issue.) The fact that Facebook has done all this is interesting considering its CEO Mark Zuckerberg identifies as atheist (WSJ).

If Facebook did remove the original group (not too improbable), it wouldn't be the first time pressure from Muslim groups was successful. But there may be some question to the cause of the page's removal. The author of the group, "Andy" did an interview with CNN and MSNBC (see above) using his Skype account for anonymity. The Jewish Business Magazine later did an interview with "Andy." He informed them that a man calling himself Ali Hassan hacked into his Skype account (likely the same one used for the news interviews). The hacker also claimed to know the author's home address though did not state what he would use the information for (JBM). It looks like the hacker also destroyed the creator's WordPress blog dedicated to the event (Blog).

The incident that pushed this recent movement was a South Park episode where the plot centered around presenting Muhammed in order to save their town. The episode satirized the censorship situation by hiding Muhammed in a mascot suit. This is despite a previous episode where  Muhammed was allowed to be shown. (See above left with Jesus cartoon) Interestingly, the episode sparking the controversy (above right) is also no longer available. See SouthPark website here. (See season 14 episode 5) Note that this is not a contract issue since more recent episodes do not have that warning.

The inconsistency is interesting. Because South Park did show Muhammed in a 2001 episode, but it refused to show him both in a 2006 episode (Cartoon Wars) and in the recent 2010 episode. The 2001 episode didn't follow with any protest and somehow slipped under the Muslim radar. (See summary of episodes in video above)

What makes the protests more serious is the death threats. These death threats refrain some from giving the support they would otherwise provide (See Simpsons intro screen caption from Squirt and Whale s21e19). And death threats were exactly what the creators Trey Park and Matt Stone received (Guardian). One website making a threat said they would be made to be like Van Gogh,  a Dutch film maker. Van Gogh was shot to death in retaliation after making a documentary on the abuse of women in Muslim countries. His attacker, Muhammed Bouyeri,  stuck a five page note into Van Gogh's chest with two knives (Ind). The note forced the documentary's script writer Ayaan Hirsi Ali into hiding by threatening her life (Ind). Ayaan had already fled Somalia to escape its subjugation against women and the stiff penalty for criticizing Islam (Guardian).

Part of the grounding for this controversy is from cartoons published in Danish newspapers during September 2005 (see above). Death threats and murder plots against the cartoonists followed after the publication (JP). Westergaard, the drawer of the Muhammed bomb cartoon, was attacked in January 2010 in his own home. The attacker had an ax and knife. He swore at Westergaard and chased him to his panic room. The attacker then went at police with the ax, but was shot down in the leg (Politiken).

Police arrested two individuals this month of May for firebombing the house of Mohammad cartoonist Lars Vilks (though unsuccessfully). Another man headbutted Vilks less than a week before this attack while Vilks was giving a controversial talk (NP, Video).

Republications months later incited vandals to set fire to Danish embassies in Iran, Lebanon and Syria. Not all Muslim leaders supported this reaction, however (DN). A mix of hostile and nonviolent protests also resulted in dozens of deaths (CNN, NYT--others besides these). One man attempted to murder editor Roger Köppel of a Berlin newspaper after reprinting the cartoons. Security within the building captured the assailant Amir Cheema with a large knife (Wiki ref to German Spiegel piece--family members claim German police killed Amir before trial rather than suicide).

There is a point of these drawings and of this article. One should never have to fear criticizing or satirizing any idea or religion. Indeed, the mythologies within religions are absurd and are fertile ground for such satire. (See a previous post on the absurdity of the geographic concentration of religions.) Religion is also often used to rationalize violent and abusive behavior. This last reason alone should justify keeping it within poking distance.


See End of Faith for a more critical look at religion by Sam Harris. See also Ayaan Hirsi Ali's autobiography and her criticism of Islam:

The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason     Infidel

Sunday, May 16, 2010

How the US Military Trains Soldiers to Kill Foreign Civilians

"I went down to the market where all the women shop. I pulled out my machete, and I began to chop. I went down to the park where all the children play. I pulled out my machine gun and I began to spray."  Stieber's commanding officer ordered him and the rest of his platoon to recite this chant.

This is an interesting interview of Josh Stieber. Stieber was within the same platoon on the ground as appeared in the recent Wikileaks video. Stieber, however, withdrew under a conscientious objector status shortly before that attack.

This interview does a nice job focusing on the cognitive barriers the US military uses to prevent soldiers from raising moral protest. Stieber volunteers himself as an example. He experienced extreme resistance after refusing to kill Iraqi civilians. His background is conservative Christian. This may be striking considering this background is generally considered inclined to be more favorable toward the US military.

The way Stieber deals with cognitive dissonance is particularly telling. Instead of continuing to rationalize his belief, he changes his mind. This is remarkable considering his background and the social pressure within the military. The interview begins below. . . .

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Anand Defeats Tapalov in 2010 World Chess Championship (Video Analysis)

That time has come once again for chess enthusiasts--The World Chess Championship. This title has been around since 1886 when William Steinitz won the first championship. Interestingly, there was some dispute over the managing of the title from the early 1990s to 2006 when two rival championship titles were introduced. But it soon went back on track for this being the sole title for official best chess player in the world.

The championship consists of 12 games where a win is one point, a draw is 1/2 point, and a loss is zero points. If there is a tie after 12 games, play continues with fast time controls. Standard time controls for tournaments are game in two hours for the first 40 moves and then a one hour extension once move 40 is played. A five second delay is normally included before each move. If you run out of time, you lose.

Below is a series of video analyses for the game. Before you tell yourself that you can't follow complicated chess games, know that the reviewer in the video explains the game very simply and intelligently. He focuses on main ideas, uses few computer analysis branches, and has great visuals. The videos below were created by jrobi whose blog can be found here, website here, and YouTube here.

This tournament was particularly exciting. The player listed first in the video has the white pieces. Enjoy the games . . .

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Wikileaks Founder Assange Decries Abusive Information Burying in the West

Wikileaks launched in late 2006 with the mission of bringing to light hidden information. In this talk, Assange describes how this burying of intelligence by the West sets precedent for other countries. This tactic by the West provides justification for other countries to hide abuses in power.

Wikileaks became well known after its recent leak capturing a helicopter shooting into a crowd of people in Iraq (above). The video shows two Reuters journalists being gunned down in a crowd. There is some evidence that individuals may have had AK-47s but at this point in time this was common in Iraq. The calm demeanor shows the lack of hostility. There was also never any return in gunfire. The begging by the helicopter pilot for the wounded reporter to touch a gun to justify shooting him is telling. The pilot then guns him down along with his rescuer. Two school children in the vehicle are hit with bullets in the exchange.

Another note is that YouTube initially froze the counter of the Collateral Murder video, though it is clearly unfrozen now (over 6.6M views). YouTube also refused to give Sunshine Press (Wikileaks) any of the awards popular videos normally get. These accolades help videos get more views. This abusive treatment was obvious because while the original video rose in popularity, it was the copied and re-uploaded videos that were making the top videos page. Viewers were clearly afraid the original video was going to be taken down and wanted it to be preserved. Obviously, YouTube's attempts to stifle the video were not enough. Its contents quickly became too large for even the mainstream press to ignore. Though, they did do their best to rationalize the military's actions.

The organization is planning the video release of a larger attack against a crowd of people in Afghanistan. The talk by Assange mentions a few other examples of the releases by Wikileaks. The organization also released a CIA report aiming to raise support in Europe for the Afghanistan war  and a report by the US government to undermine Wikileak's integrity and shut it down. The US report sites for justification the many stories embarrassing to the US government that the organization leaked.

Wikileaks does not accept support from government or corporations in order to maintain its integrity. It provides a service that few if any other outlets are able. If you are interested in supporting their cause, please donate.

Update! 5/18/10: Excellent Video interview with Assange on SBS Dateline here.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The Geographic Concentrations of Religious Belief Should Give Pause

Despite the geographic concentrations of religion, this does not cause believers to step back. Does the kind of God you believe in really have anything to do with your religion's merits? Or is this an example of a localized bandwagon fallacy? The peculiarity that Dawkins points out does a good job answering this question.

Dawkins, an evolutionary biologist, is most known on this subject for his book The God Delusion:
The God Delusion

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Propaganda Insists on Cutting Entitlement Benefits to Reduce Debt

We are constantly told that the solution to reducing our debt is to get rid of Medicare, Medicaid, and S-CHIP; cut welfare for the poor; and reduce entitlement benefits in general. Yet, there is always money for extraordinary war spending. There is always money to bail out corporations while we turn a blind eye to anti-trust law. From 1998 to 2005 we let two-thirds of all US corporations get by with paying no income tax by allowing them to use offshore tax havens. We refuse to do bulk purchasing discounts for pharmaceuticals. We assure there are huge subsidies available for oil, coal, and nuclear to push aside cleaner energy opportunities. And how many of these dirty sources of energy are found near the homes of the rich? The list goes on.

But the media and government demand that the poor and middle class step up first to sacrifice themselves. This forces them to fight against each other while the top 1% celebrate their unimaginable wealth. That fight conveniently distracts them from the real thieves and gluttons. In ludicrous rhetoric the middle class and the poor are told to throw their tax dollars up to the top 1% and to wait so that it may magically trickle back down for some greater benefit. And so the middle class and poor look up patiently at the millionaires and billionaires. But, of course, their money does not trickle down.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Michael Shermer Presents a Perception and Reasoning Clinic

It's amazing how we let our error prone brains get the best of our perception. But there's more than just being cautious with our perception. We frequently receive information or perform acts that don't match with our current thinking. This creates a phenomenon called cognitive dissonance--an uncomfortable need to resolve the conflict.

One way to resolve cognitive dissonance is to change our position so that it matches with the new behavior or information. But who wants to be wrong or change our personal identity? Instead, we often elect to rationalize the difference. This frequently takes the form of cognitive errors/biases. What are these cognitive errors? One teacher wrote a song about them. And it goes a little something like this . . .

Here's Michael Shermer's classic, Why People Believe Weird Things. Note the added section of why smart people believe weird things:
Why People Believe Weird Things: Pseudoscience, Superstition, and Other Confusions of Our Time

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Master Lock Responds to Lock Bumping Technique

Reminder: Don't break into people's personal belongings.

I'll eventually do a post on picking, which is what's appropriate when bumping isn't workable. But why pick a lock when you can just hit it? Bumping is an interesting concept when you think about the inside of a lock. This is applicable for a class of locks called pin tumblers (more complicated versions may use the same idea on other types of locks). These pin tumbler locks are found on common doors, shelves (cam locks), padlocks, and other usual places.

The first step is to make your key so that the valleys between the teeth are at the lowest point. This allows the bottom pins to hang low when the key is inserted. Keys have what you might call a combination of levels that operate as a sort of password for your lock. Here, your "password" would be 11111 as there are typically five pins and thus five valleys. The low cut assures that none of the pins interfere with the sheer-line (where the yellow core part meets the green hull of the lock). There is a light clockwise or counterclockwise tension that you put on the key as you strike it at the base (called the bow). This tension keeps the top pins in their new position. The energy from the striking device to the key to the bottom pins to the top pins transfers the same way pool balls react. This is why the top pins shoot up the way they do while the bottom pins stay low.

For a basic look at locks, I recommend:
Visual Guide to Lock Picking (2nd Edition)

If you're REALLY interested, then you have to go with THE book:

Locks, Safes and Security: An International Police Reference Two Volumes 

There are also many sites devoted to lock picking tricks. The most organized group is probably The Open Organization of Lock Pickers (TOOOL).

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Birth Control Pill Turns 50

The pill was originally approved by the FDA in 1957 for treatment of miscarriages and menstrual disorders. Three years later it was approved for birth control (1). Its landing was not quiet. Comstock (Victorian Style) laws passed in the 1870s still had residual effects. The head of a Planned Parenthood, Griswold, was arrested in New Haven, Connecticut just a few years after the pill's release. Her crime was giving out information to married couples on how to prevent pregnancies. The US Supreme Court decided 7-2 for Griswold under the right to privacy (2).

The pill has come a long way. The most salient observation to pill users is probably change in mood until a good match is found. Newer pills have lower levels of hormones than their ancestors. These lower levels have even observed reduced risk in certain cancers (pretty cool). Still, an elevated risk for heart attack is present among smokers, particularly those over 35. The incidence for smokers over 35 without using birth control is 88 per 100,000 per year. For oral contraception users in that demographic, the rate is 485 per 100,000 per yer.

Nonsmokers over 35 and smokers under 35 not using oral contraception have a risk of about 10 per 10,000 per year whereas their risk while using contraception jumps to roughly 40 per 10,000 per year (1). Many references use rates such as relative risk. But I think giving the actual numbers says more about the real risk, especially when they're low. Even the highest risk group here only has a risk of about .5% per yer compared to .1% not using the pill.

[Described Above] An interesting practice is using monophasic (same level of hormones) pills without taking the sugar pill breaks. This continuous use prevents menstruation and cramps (who wants those?). It is generally very rare to experience a pregnancy when no menstruation is taking place. For some, that news may not be enough. The anxiety of not having a period to know whether pregnancy has occurred may be rectified by using a pregnancy testing kit. Keep in mind, even having a period is no sure sign of having avoided a pregnancy (though obviously highly indicative). Some pills have been designed especially for continuous use. The most popular is probably Lybrel.

Above is a very simple description for how the pill works.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Sam Harris: The Science of Morality

Sam points out the obvious here--that there are at least some moral truths. And those truths do not come from a divine text. Rather, they come about from reasoning. Further, some questionable beliefs of moral truths should not warrant respect.

Importantly, Sam hits on moral relativism. What bearing does the location and cultural surrounding play in the  moral evaluation of some event? This "respect for culture" gets taken away as an out. I immediately think of how forced female circumcision frequently gets a moral waiver.

Sam gave an elaboration of his talk and response to criticism here.

He also is releasing a new book on the subject scheduled to appear in October:

 The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Dawkins Uses Dowsing to Demonstrate Scientific Testing

Dawkins exposes a practice here called dowsing. Dowsing uses a rod (not a metal detector) or stick of sorts to find precious metals or water. Sound silly? Don't say that to the people charging for it. The importance of this video is less about how silly dowsing looks. Rather, the importance is how Dawkins highlights logical fallacies that we are all susceptible to and how scientific methodology may rectify that faulty thinking.

Here are a couple big ones:

  • Having either the participant or the tester know a correct response can signal subtle cues. Classic example: Clever Hans (above) was thought to be able to do simple arithmetic by taping his hoof. His owner didn't even know he was signaling his horse. Solution: use a double blind method where neither the participant nor the experimenter knows what the correct answer is.

  • Confirmation biases are when we tend to remember events that confirm our belief and dismiss events that disconfirm. Imagine those who think they have ESP because they can predict a friend calling. They may dismiss all the times they didn't think of their friend and their friend called anyway. They also dismiss when they thought of their friend and their friend didn't call. Solution: Use statistics to determine whether the outcome would have likely occurred by chance. Retest to avoid false positives (Type I error).

But no one falls for these things . . . right?

The military in Iraq and Afghanistan have mud on their faces after this one. Thailand government beat them to the punch in halting use of the "high tech" dowsing rod.

Perhaps the reason the US didn't fall prey is because they learned from their mistake from Quadro Corp. Quadro Corp. sold a substantially similar looking device to police, schools, and airports in multiple states in the US in the 90's. The cost to tax payers: $400 to $8,000 per unit. This is embarrassing.

But this is not quite as embarrassing as when the US government gave millions of dollars to the CIA from the 1970's to 1995 to research "remote viewing" to psychically survey enemies from afar. This was code named Project Stargate.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Tavis Smiley: MLK and Beyond Vietnam

Tavis Smiley's Program showed that MLK experienced heavy backlash (shown above) for speaking up against the war in Vietnam.This backlash hit him from within the Civil Rights Movement to the mainstream media. . . .

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

40th Anniversary of National Guard Killing Four at Kent State Anti-War Protest

Democracy Now! covers the 40th anniversary of the Kent State Shooting. There, the National Guard killed four students at a non-violent protest of the Vietnam War. This did not help morale for the war. Having learned its lesson, the government's attacks on anti-war protesters have been less deadly. But that is not to say the physical attacks have not been brutal. . . .Update! (5-10-10)

Monday, May 3, 2010

Range Voting Idea Springs Up in BC's Clearwater Times

British Columbia (BC) has failed twice attempting to overhaul their voting system. The first time it wanted to implement a system called single transferrable vote (STV). This is a more complicated, though more proportional and mathematically fair system. It just missed the 60% needed to implement the system. The second attempt to implement STV was worse. Its support dropped by 20%.

Currently, BC uses the traditional first past the post/plurality system. Plurality suffers from numerous flaws such as distorting the representation of officials to the voters when electing an office body. It is probably best known for its high vulnerability to vote splitting.

This Clearwater Times article tosses around the idea of an alternate voting system: range voting, described in detail within the article. Given that the voters of B.C. rejected STV (nonsensically in my opinion), I think a transition from plurality to range voting is good. However, this is not where range voting shines its brightest. The proposal suggested is for electing a legislature whereas range voting is good for single office positions. Yes, those elected under a range system would be better than under plurality, no doubt. But those selected under range would not be proportional to the voter population.

This is like having Nolan Ryan replace a minor leaguer in the outfield. Sure, he'll do much better than the chump being replaced. But you'd be better off having him pitch. Others are much better outfielders. I will be split in happiness if this goes through. I'll be happy that range is implemented somewhere, but disappointed that it's not playing its best position.


For a modern discussion on range voting, see: Gaming the Vote or visit The Center for Range Voting.

NewScientist Magazine Article on Vote Theory Misleading and Damaging

The piece linked communicates numerous misunderstandings of both vote theory as well as political systems. I directly communicated with the author who explained to me that it is difficult to convey these principles to a readership with  an assumed limited math background. There is also limited space. He states his claims are upheld by journals, yet NewScientist chooses to save space by omitting references.

Following is a detailed criticism. References to article are in italics and bulleted. . . .

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Howard Zinn on the US's Fascination with War.

Howard Zinn's words narrate the history of the U.S.'s desire to expand through land-grabbing and obtaining power. He repeats the coined words used to rationalize and diminish the behavior's face value: manifest destiny, expansionism, et cetera. Evidence such as the government's own records (Pentagon Papers) give us a less kind impression.

Of course, I can't post Zinn without recommending the best history book in existence:

A People's History of the United States: 1492 to Present

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