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Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

I am now a US citizen

Last month, I posted that I was almost a US citizen. Well, now I am.

It happened last week. I went down for the interview, but before I did I had to pick up my lawyer. He was a bit late because he had another meeting, but we still made it on time to my appointment at 2:55 pm.

We waited for about half an hour before getting called in, and I was glad to have my lawyer present. The interview went smoothly; at first, they ask you a bunch of questions going over your application and asking me if I have ever been a member of the communist party, if I have ever practiced polygamy, or if I have ever been a habitual drunkard.

I answered ‘no’ to all of them.

They then asked me to read a single sentence, write a single sentence, and then asked me some of the civics questions that US citizen applicants are required to answer. I don’t know how many they ask in total, but I got the first six correct and that was it.

They then looked at my application and saw it was on the basis of being married to a US citizen. They looked over all the paperwork I supplied including joint bank statements, joint credit card statements, joint telephone statements, pictures of us on vacation, pictures with family, and airline tickets. The officer said that those were great but there may be a problem because I didn’t have proof of co-habitation – neither my wife’s name nor my name is on the title of the house where we live because my father-in-law owns it, and we are a couple of deadbeats living there (paying for the maintenance and upgrades). In the end, it was all fine and I was approved.

The next day I went down to the ceremony to be sworn in. The ceremony took about an hour. They played a video, told of us of our new responsibilities, had us all take an oath of allegiance, and then had us all collect our citizenship certificates.

And with that, I was a US citizen!

One thing that caught me completely off-guard was how emotionally moving the experience was. I was looking forward to it and the whole time leading up to it, I was like “Okay, now I will be a citizen.” But when I was there, I suddenly felt like “Man, this is a big deal. Why do I feel this way inside?” I felt trembling on the inside, moved by it all.

That’s how I felt.

There were 65 applicants for citizenship, including me, from 30 different countries. There people from Sweden, Latin America, the far East, and even Iraq. It was neat to see how many different people came to the US and went through the whole process.

And now I am a US citizen!

One thing that always comes up and I’ll answer it now is that I am still a Canadian citizen, in fact, I am a dual citizen. People seem to think that I can lose my old one, but since the 1960’s the United States has recognized dual citizenship although they don’t encourage it.

So don’t worry Canada, I’m still one of you.

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Did you ever wonder why people speak in innuendoes? Why they sometimes speak in riddles when they don’t come out and say what they’re really thinking, forcing you to decode their actual intent?

I do. Or at least, I used to. Now I think I know.

I think it’s because it’s an attempt to subvert common knowledge, because sometimes elevating something into common knowledge does more harm than good.

Huh?

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What is common knowledge?

Suppose that me and my neighbor are both politically active. I vote for the Giraffe Party, and my neighbor votes for the Buffalo Party. What these two parties stand for is irrelevant.

Now, I vote Giraffe. In a typical democracy, since it is a secret ballot you and only you know who you vote for and keep it a secret from everyone else unless you advertise it by joining a political party or babbling about how much you hate Buffaloes on Facebook. I vote Giraffe, and my neighbor knows I vote Giraffe.

But my neighbor’s voting pattern is Buffalo, and I know he votes Buffalo. So, we both know how each other votes.

But while my neighbor knows I vote Giraffe, I know that he knows how I vote. In other words, I’m fully aware that he knows my voting patterns. Furthermore, he also knows that I know he’s aware of how I vote. It’d be like him saying “Yeah, I know how Terry votes and I bug him about it that he should switch to the Buffaloes. It’s all in good fun.” Obviously, if he teases me about my voting patterns to my face, then there’s a level of awareness.

He knows something about me, and I know that he knows, and I know that he knows that I know, and so forth. And I know things about him and the pattern is the same. Humans can keep these sorts of knowledge awareness in their heads up to around 4 or 5 levels deep, perhaps a bit more. But this awareness of knowing how others think, and they being aware of it, and you being aware of their awareness, and they being aware of your awareness of their awareness, is called common knowledge.

If you’re marching in a protest with a bunch of other people, it’s common knowledge that you all share the same views because you’re expressing it.

And I think this is related to innuendo.

There’s the story the sculptor who is hosting an exhibit and has been talking to an attractive young woman and says to her “Would you like to come up to see my etchings?”

In context, at face value, he’s asking if she’d like to see his other works of art in a private display that he doesn’t normally show to the general public and that it’d be a privilege to her to see it. But that’s not what he’s asking, he’s asking for her to come up and spend the night by sleeping with him. He’s using an innuendo.

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So why doesn’t he come out and say it?

I think it’s because speaking in innuendo allows us to save face.

The common knowledge here should be that he is saying to the woman “Would you like to come up and see my etchings (but what I am really asking for is for you to sleep with me, an attractive artist).”

And, she needs to interpret the first question as “Do you want to sleep with me?”

And, he needs to know that’s how she interpreted his question that way; that is, that she had to decode the innuendo to get to his real intent.

And, she needs to signal to him that she understands his true intent. “I know you’re asking me to sleep with you.” She then has a couple of options:

  • If she understands what he means, she can either says Yes or No. If she says Yes, she goes upstairs under the pretext of viewing his other sculptures but really is signaling her intent for a night of amour.

  • However, if she doesn’t want to sleep with the artist, she can say “No, I am not interested in your other pieces of art but thank-you for the offer.”

Look at what her saying No does – she wasn’t interested in the artist and didn’t want to hurt his feelings by telling him straight up he isn’t attractive, but she can pretend that she wasn’t interested in seeing any of his private art collection.

He gets to pick between the option that either she wasn’t interested in seeing his art because she’s not really into that sort of thing, or she wasn’t interested in sleeping with him. If it’s the second option, it would undermine his ego because it’s well known that men take pride in work and in making these sorts of offers to women and having them accept. The artist has to choose between those two choices, and while the second is more realistic, the first gets to protect his ego. He simply shrugs it off and says “Well, the next one will want to see my etchings because she’ll understand what I meant.”

He gets to save face, and she lets him save face, thanks to innuendo.

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And I think this is why people talk in innuendoes. It’s not because people can’t communicate in a straightforward manner, but because we are aware of social circumstances. Much of human interaction forces us to delicately navigate our relationships with other people to make sure we don’t jeopardize them.

If the artist asked her straight out to sleep with him, that would make it common knowledge about what his intent was. But by concealing it in an innuendo, people get to maintain certain social niceties because you can’t necessarily be sure what the other person truly meant.

Obviously, we don’t talk in innuendo all the time in order to conceal our true intentions. But I think we learn it at such an early age that it comes naturally. And it comes naturally because evaluating your relationships with others and following social customs to maintain those relationships is critical, even if on face value they seem counterintuitive.

It’s because sometimes common knowledge is not necessarily a good thing.

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If you’re following the Republican nomination process to become the candidate for the party’s next nominee to run for President in 2016, you’re no doubt familiar with the hijinks of Donald Trump. He’s a businessman that has a larger-than-life personality and has said all sorts of wild and crazy things that you would think would negatively affect his campaign. But instead, he’s in first place among all Republicans running for office and by a wide margin.

Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks and famed Shark Tank investor, had this to say about Trump:

"I don’t care what his actual positions are," Cuban wrote. "I don’t care if he says the wrong thing. He says what’s on his mind. He gives honest answers rather than prepared answers. This is more important than anything any candidate has done in years."

Um, no.

Politicians are not supposed to say what’s on their mind. They’re supposed to give wishy-washy answers in public even if it annoys the general public (their wishy-washiness, not the answers). Why? Because if they say things that make a certain section of the public angry, different parts of the media latch on to it and it generates a lot of opposition. The opposition then feels alienated and they actively work against you, and this opposition fuels itself. If you want to be diplomatic, you bite your tongue in public and express your frustrations in private.

You may not actually be reconciliatory but you have to appear reconciliatory. That’s how you get people to work with you.

Mark Cuban praises Trump for saying what’s on his mind and not backing down. But a refusal to back down only works if you don’t show poor judgment to begin with, or you have overwhelming support. Trump is winning amount Republican primary voters but over half the country votes for the Democrats and they have the power to stop Trump.

You need to be aware of your reputation and how others perceive you if you want to work with people who are opposed to your ideas.

A few years ago, there was an episode on South Park where Eric Cartman signed up for a new social network called “Sh*tter”. He hooked up a wearable device to his brain, and the things that he was thinking was uploaded directly to the Internet. In other words, he ‘thought’ his mind for all to see.

South Park was poking fun at our oversharing culture with too much social media, but this was reinforced by the fact that there was no filter between Cartman’s thoughts and his mouth (which is true of Cartman anyhow, but more so on this social network).

All of us have to police our own opinions if we want to prevent ourselves from being socially ostracized. Trump can get away with it for now because his opinions have a home in some parts of the Republican party. Also, because he is wealthy, others will police their own interactions with him so they can benefit financially from a relationship with Donald Trump.

But opening it up to a wider audience inevitably invites resentment and ridicule, two things that are counterproductive to building the relationships required to get things done.

Especially in Washington.

D.C., that is.

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People sometimes tell me that they don’t know what my political beliefs are. When they say that, I am happy to hear it. It means that I identify more strongly with ideas on their merits rather than aligning myself with a particular party.

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When I was growing up, my views were conservative but I also lived in Canada; it’s not the same thing as being a Republican in the United States. Later on, in university, I took a sociology class and flipped my views to more left wing and identified with the Democratic party (but not any left-wing party in Canada). But then I read some books on Objectivism (Ayn Rand’s philosophy) and on Libertarianism. I never adopted Objectivism except for maybe 1 or 2 beliefs (out of dozens).

And so I was a free market capitalist. But then I started reading books on behavioral psychology and evolutionary psychology and came to understand that people are not inherently rational but have many different motivations and abandoned Libertarianism (I don’t remember how Libertarian I was; maybe 50%). I now see Libertarians as mostly a bunch of white guys who think we should get rid of the government because it’s holding them back and their rights are being oppressed. I see this as ironic because in North America, white men are the most privileged class this is by far.

Furthermore, I see Libertarians as trying to trick people into coming over to their side by saying “Hey everyone! We believe in gay marriage, too! Come to our side!” but what they’re really saying is “… come to our side and as soon as we get enough votes, we’ll cut 80% of the government because we (mistakenly) believe it’ll help everyone” but in reality will mostly help white males.

So, Libertarianism is out.

And so it’s hard to classify my views because it depends on the issue. And I find some beliefs of Republicans and Democrats are coupled when it doesn’t make sense. For example, why are gun control and support for abortion linked so closely (i.e., if you’re against gun control, you’re also less likely to support abortion, and are for lower taxes, too). That doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.

For me:

  1. The right wing is usually anti-abortion and pro-death penalty, and the left is the reverse. But to me, it seems like to be consistent you should be both pro-abortion (pro-choice) and pro-death penalty, and anti-abortion and anti-death penalty. Taking the life of a human is taking a life.

    For the anti-death penalty advocates, they say it’s mostly poor black people who receive it, and sometimes people are exonerated years or decades later. And I agree. The death penalty isn’t fair to all people.

    But there are some narrow cases (i.e., mass murder) where it is obvious. I don’t understand the pro-death penalty argument of putting someone in prison for life without any chance of parole. That’s just the death penalty in slow motion. It seems more like an attempt by anti-death penalty advocates to distance themselves from applying the death penalty, as if to say “Throw them in jail. Let them die there of natural causes in 40 years. Whew! My conscience is clean!”

    I don’t buy into that but I understand the psychology behind it.

    Similarly, for abortion, even among Americans who support it, most support with some restrictions (i.e., more support it if it occurs in the first trimester than the second trimester, and few support it if it occurs in the third trimester). Those lines seem arbitrary but at least they are lines.

    Some people are 100% against abortion one second after the moment of conception, while others argue that the cells do not have any consciousness for several weeks. But it doesn’t seem moral that a woman who does get pregnant but doesn’t want to carry the child to term, to be forced to do it so she could give it up for adoption at birth 9 months later.

    So, neither of those issues is clear cut.

  2. Those two issues are not neat. But one thing that identifies someone as a Republican is owning a gun and support for the 2nd Amendment. I have never had a gun (my dad owned a couple of rifles but I never used them, don’t even think I ever touched them), but I’m okay if Americans want to own a gun. I’d be okay with owning a gun but I have no plans to acquire one.

    But I think there should be reasonable levels of registration and restrictions that make sense, similar to how people have to take tests to drive a car, and register it when they own it. So on this issue, I play both sides.

  3. The right-wing places great emphasis upon religion and the value of family in daily life, and even in politics. The left-wing wants to keep religion out of it, and the family is important but it’s more important that government helps out.

    On this one, while I see the right’s point that religion is important in people’s lives and addresses needs that aren’t filled by other things, I don’t agree that Christian policy – or any strongly religious set of beliefs – should be setting government policy.

    One clear example of this is Young Earth Creationism. This is a set of beliefs that has been completely debunked by modern science, yet there is still a sizeable part of the population that believes it. That’s fine, but it should not be taught in public schools because the only reason people believe it is not because the science says it may be true, but because people try to align their religious beliefs with science.

    But on the other hand, I do think that the breakdown of the modern family is bad for society. While the left says “It was never the nucleus anyhow”, weak families do lead to societal problems.

  4. The right-wing is about lowering taxes and achieving balanced budgets by reducing social spending, and not military spending. If you want to balance budgets, I say you need to raise taxes and cut spending and no government program can be immune – neither social programs nor military can be exempt. But raising taxes can’t be so high such that people decide the risk/reward ratio isn’t worth it.

    Many right-wing capitalists say that free market capitalism is the best way to run your economy and I agree, but there are different flavors of free market economies. US style? Libertarian style? Scandinavian style?  China style? Japan style?

    It’s not so clear cut as the American right-wingers think.

  5. One way I depart from the political right is on environmental regulation. The free market economists tell us that industry will self-regulate and can be trusted to do the right thing since they don’t want to kill their golden goose (i.e., don’t pollute the lake too much). I, on the other hand, think that people are creative at rationalizing their short term returns at the expense of long term outlooks. They will pollute the lake if it leads to short term profits and there is no harm to them (but there is to others but others are too weak to stop them), or the effects manifest later on.

    I think environmental protections, and regulation in general, is required because people can’t be trusted to police themselves in all circumstances. That’s not how humans work.

So you see, the way I view things is on an issue-by-issue basis. I’m not in one camp vs. the other. I probably lean a bit closer to the Democratic party in the United States but only because the Republican party has leaned so far in one direction. But in the Democratic party, there are a lot of different ideologies competing for the dominant view.

But if I were in Canada, it wouldn’t be an easy decision. The Conservative party is less ideological than its American counterpart, and the Liberal party borrows ideas from the left and the right. So while I always used to vote Conservative, nowadays I probably would not and would depend on who was running and what they believed.

Politics is not so simple.

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For most of my life, I have identified with the conservative side of the political spectrum. I flirted with libertarianism for a while in my 20’s, but I had a pretty consistent voting pattern – in Canada, I always voted conservative whether it was in federal or provincial elections. I may have even voted for the Reform party once (a regional based in Canada that was right-wing) although I don’t remember.

Since that time I have mellowed out. I’m not sure who I would have voted for if I were an American citizen in 2008, but if I were a US citizen in 2012 I would have voted for Obama and not Romney, nor Gary Johnson (Libertarian party candidate).

That’s not a big deal, plenty of voters cross party lines. In the US, they are called “Independents” (you’re not an Independent if you vote the same way each time).

But what unnerves me is that I now shop at Whole Foods. For you see, Whole Foods serves a lot of organic foods and things that are good for the environment; they have a reputation as being the go-to store for rich urban hippies and limousine liberals (you know, people who drive around in limos and have a very highly consumptive lifestyle while simultaneously preaching that people are destroying the environment and politicians should redistribute other rich people’s money).

That’s my impression of Whole Foods – a certain type of people shop there. And my impression of liberals used to be that they are well meaning but out of touch and perhaps a bit (lot) hypocritical.

But I now shop there! It’s a decent store, they have good tuna (because our cat loves it) and I get fake meat there, too. Sometimes I get a few other things there.

But I go there over and over.

Does that make me a liberal hippie?

Combined with the fact that I no longer identify as politically conservative and I shop at Whole Foods and I reduced my consumption of meat because of ethical concerns about animal treatment… I’m not sure where that identifies me.

Quite frankly, if I were living in Canada, I’m not sure who I’d vote for in the next election.

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I was reading in the New York Times the other day an article entitled Snowden Defends Query to Putin on Surveillance. The article references a question-and-answer session with Russian President Vladimir Putin. In the interview, Snowden shows up unexpectedly and asks President Putin and asks him whether or not Russia engages in the same sort of unlawful surveillance that the NSA participates in.

Putin jockeys with him jokingly for a bit, saying that they’re both intelligence agents, and then denies it. They don’t have the money to do it, and their intelligence gathering is governed by society and by law. In other words, Russian intelligence agencies are more ethical than US intelligence agencies.

American journalists were quick to criticize Snowden. Just how, exactly, did he manage to conveniently show up on this telethon to ask President Putin these questions? The underlying message is that Snowden is being used as a propaganda piece for the Russian government, willingly or unknowingly. While pointing his arrows at the US for intelligence gathering practices he finds unethical (and the morality of which is still ambiguous, at least in the United States [you may disagree with my assessment but there is not universal condemnation]), how can he clearly miss the unethical actions that Russia is taking in Ukraine, first by annexing Crimea and then threatening to invade Ukraine, or at least causing unrest?

In other words, the criticism is that Snowden is picking-and-choosing at whom he feels outrage; it is hypocritical to give the Russian government a chance to showcase their moral superiority at the expense of the US, while ignoring the Russian government’s current transgressions.

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Snowden disagrees with this. He flat out denies it:

Calling Mr. Putin’s answer evasive, Mr. Snowden wrote that he was “surprised that people who witnessed me risk my life to expose the intelligence practices of my own country could not believe that I might criticize the surveillance policies of Russia, a country to which I have shown no allegiance, without ulterior motive.”

He also noted that a Russian investigative journalist, Andrei Soldatov, “perhaps the single most prominent critic of Russia’s surveillance apparatus” described his question as “extremely important for Russia.”

As soon as I read this, many red flags went up in my mind.

For you see, a few years ago I started studying up on deception – how humans do it and how to detect it. There’s no sure-fire way to tell when someone is lying, but with training you can get it right 80-90% of the time (without training you can get it right 53% of the time, roughly equal to a coin flip).

People don’t like to be labeled as deceivers. We have a great need to feel consistent and will often explain things to ourselves in order to convince ourselves of our actions to make that cognitive dissonance go away.

I am not an expert in detecting deception, nor am I a trained analyst. But I have read many books and Snowden’s answers jumped out at me with their obviousness.

What follows is what I think:

  1. The first red flag – Look at the past good things I have done!

    When someone is accused of something and they change the subject by bringing up past examples of good behavior, that is suspicious. This is known as a “convincing statement.”

    For example, suppose the police were interrogating a suspect about breaking-and-entering and he says “You know, this past weekend I was helping out at the homeless shelter.” The idea is to deflect suspicion by creating a halo effect – the tendency for us to believe that good characteristics about a person spills over into all traits about that person. Surely someone who helps out selflessly to assist the homeless would not commit a crime! But that this person helps the homeless does not mean they could not break-and-enter.

    Look at Snowden’s response: he risked his life to expose the intelligence practices of his own country. That was a very ethical thing to do, so why would he do such an unethical thing and appear as a propaganda piece for the Russian government now?

  2. The second red flag – you haven’t seen me do anything

    Snowden issued a non-specific denial: Russia is a country to which he has shown no allegiance. If the “no” statement is delivered in a way that’s open ended but overly specific, that can be a sign of deception. Snowden said he has not shown any allegiance, without ulterior motive. That is subtle; it doesn’t mean he has none, nor has no ulterior motive, only that others can’t see it.

  3. The third red flag – Turning around the accusations

    When someone is caught in a lie, they will often flip around the question and attack the accuser. In this case, Snowden expresses surprise that people who saw him do such a heroic action now can’t believe that he would break from his past ethical actions. In other words, they should be ashamed of themselves for not trusting his character.

  4. The fourth red flag – Redirection with an appeal to authority

    This one is not as strong, but Snowden dismisses the attack against him by appealing to another journalist who has similarly criticized Russia’s surveillance state, and this journalist says that Snowden’s question is very important.

    Snowden’s question is important, yes, but that is not what we are discussing; we are discussing whether or not this question-and-answer session was staged and whether or not Snowden is being used by the Russian government to further its own public relations.

Regardless of what you think of Snowden – that he’s a hero for exposing a corrupt government or that he is a traitor for giving away trade secrets – my view is that his most recent critics for this Putin Q&A session struck a nerve that he had to defend himself. But the way he phrased it indicates to me that he is hiding something. Maybe he realizes now that he initially thought he was asking Putin a hard question but upon further reflection, that he was used to further the Russian agenda and now has to rationalize what he did… but can’t admit it.

Or perhaps I am wrong and he actually means what he says and the red flags I detected are false positives.

I guess that depends on what I want to believe.

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Crime in the US and Canada

Recently, the Winnipeg Sun released a report comparing the homicide rate across all provinces in Canada, as well as the rate across the largest cities in Canada. When comparing crime rates, statisticians usually do it per 100,000 people. This is to adjust the rate across larger and smaller cities.

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The province where I am from originally – Manitoba – has the highest murder rate and the city where I was close to – Winnipeg – has the second highest rate of all cities, next to Thunder Bay which is an 8-hour drive east. But if you count large cities (population larger than 500,000), it has the highest rate in 2012 and it has had that title 16 times since 1981.

Indeed, the cities with the highest murder rates are all in Central Canada:

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Sheesh, I lived in a death zone!

I read through some of the comments on the article and there were numerous commenters saying that the reason the murder rate is so high is because of the native populations of Manitoba and Saskatchewan. They cause more of the homicides than other visible minorities.

To determine whether or not this is true, I went to Wikipedia and looked up the demographics of Canada. I then compared all of the populations and percent of visible minorities of each province against the crime rate of each province, and then did the same thing of each city in Canada (i.e., compared the crime rate of each city against the percentage of visible minorities).

The result?

Cities and provinces with higher proportions of Aboriginal people are correlated with higher rates of homicide. Across provinces, the correlation is 0.85 (which is a very strong correlation), and across cities it is 0.67 (also strong, and statistically significant).

So, the Internet commenters are right that there is a relationship between the proportion of the population that is Aboriginal and the amount of homicide in Canada.

But does this mean that Aboriginal people are the problem?

Comparisons to the United States

To determine this, I checked the demographics of the United States? Is there a relationship between the proportion of a US state’s population that is Aboriginal and its homicide rate?

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The answer is no, there is none. The correlation is –0.02 (which means no statistical relationship). I don’t have racial breakdown by city in the US to do the comparison the way I have for Canada.

There is, however, a strong correlation (0.76) between the proportion of a US state’s population that is black and its homicide rate. However, in Canada it is non-existent across provinces (0.04) or even negatively correlated (-0.23) across cities.

Border-by-border comparison

I took a look at the border-by-border comparison of the provinces with the highest crime rates and compared their homicide rates per 100,000 population:

– Manitoba – 4.23
– Saskatchewan – 3.59
– Alberta – 2.89
– BC – 1.9

Compared to the US:

– Minnesota – 1.5
– North Dakota – 2.0
– Montana – 3.2
– Idaho – 1.5
– Washington – 2.8


Canadians frequently like to boast about how their homicide rates are lower than the US’s. This is true for both countries as a whole but there is substantial variance within each country. From the above, four out of the five border states (Minnesota, North Dakota, Idaho and Washington) are lower than three out of the four border provinces (Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta).

Explanations – More weapons

So what can we make of this?

Advocates of gun control say that more guns = more violence. Do weapons explain it?

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The US has higher rates of gun ownership than Canada does. It is difficult to find accurate statistics on a state-by-state and province-by-province breakdown. Nationally, the US has nearly three times the number of guns per citizen compared to Canada. Unfortunately, this doesn’t mean that three times as many citizens have guns in the US compared to Canada because one person in the US could have multiple guns. In other words, one citizen in ten might have 3 guns in the US whereas one citizen in ten might have only 1 gun in Canada.

For the sake of simplification, let’s assume that the rate of gun ownership in terms of citizens who have them is at least double in the US as it is in Canada.

As we can see from the above, Canada’s homicide rate is higher than the US’s in border-by-border comparisons even with far fewer guns.

This is further complicated by the fact that while there is variability in homicide across provinces and states, cities in the US have higher rates of murder than they do in Canada. In the border states and provinces (nothing for Montana and North Dakota which skews this):

– Thunder Bay – 5.81
Winnipeg – 4.09
– Regina – 3.06
– Saskatoon – 2.08
– Edmonton – 2.68
– Calgary – 1.45
– Vancouver – 1.5

Compared to the US:

– Minneapolis – 4.7
– Boise – 2.9
– Spokane – 3.4
– Seattle – 3.7

The urban areas in Canada have lower rates of homicide than the rural areas, but it is reversed in the US. In Canada, cities suppress your violent tendencies but they make them worse in the US.

More and more, and better and better, weapons does not correlate that well with rates of murder. Gun ownership has decreased in the US even as gun sales have increased which means the same people are buying more of them. But the homicide rate has fallen since the 1990’s. So there may be some truth to the claim that fewer guns = fewer deaths, but it is a complicated relationship. It seems to be guns in the hands of fewer people, not just less guns overall, has more of an effect.

And even then, it doesn’t explain why we see such variability between urban and rural areas in Canada and the US.

What about poverty?

Blacks in the United States are associated with higher rates of crime in the US, but not in Canada. Aboriginals are associated with higher rates of crime in Canada, but not in the US. This is not news to most people.

One explanation is that violence is more common among people of lower socio-economic classes – the poorer you are, the more likely you are to resort to violence.

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There is some truth to this claim. Higher proportions of white people in Canada and the US are associated with lower crime rates, and white people are higher on the economic ladder than any other race.

I won’t get into the background in this blog post about the relationship between poverty and crime because there is some association but as with weapons, the relationship is complicated.

There are examples of poor tribal groups in Africa that are non-violent, and examples of poor ones in South America that are.

Furthermore, historically, wealth and poverty have not tracked well with violence. For centuries in Europe, even up to the first half of the 20th century, it was the rich nations that were constantly attacking each other. Wealthy people used to be just as violent as poor people. One of the Founding Fathers of the United States, Alexander Hamilton, was shot and killed in a duel by the third Vice-President of the United States, Aaron Burr. Both men came from privileged classes.

It wasn’t until relatively recently in the past 75 years that wealthier people and nations started giving up violence and resolving their differences with reason, trade and respect for human rights. Violence does not necessarily result in violence, or even poverty amid affluence. There is some truth but it is more complicated than that.

Conclusions

I’ve been thinking about writing this blog post for a long time and I have much more to write. I think it’s fun to compare this stuff and get my thoughts all out on cyber-paper.

The good news is that violence has declined over time – both in the past two and a half decades and in the past two and a half millennia. There is more work to go, but we have made progress.

Even in the United States.

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You may have noticed my blogging has slowed down during the past couple of months. That’s because I’ve been busy at home writing for my app that I am developing for the iPad. Because it’s so much writing I don’t have the motivation to write on this blog. However, that part is nearly done so I hope to pick this one back up.

This past week, Barack Obama won his second term in office and won re-election over his challenger Mitt Romney. I believed it was coming; I was going to bet $1000 on it using the website InTrade but never got around to funding it. Here are my random thoughts.

  1. The margin of victory

    In 2008, Obama beat McCain in terms of the popular vote 52% to 45%. In 2012, he beat Romney 50.5% to 48%. But Romney got about a million fewer votes than Obama did. Some commentators are playing this up to mean that Romney was even less appealing than McCain.

    Maybe.

    But at the same time, Obama got 8 million fewer votes this time than he got last time. If Romney was that much less appealing, so was Obama. Voter apathy was higher this year and most people just said “Meh, we’re staying home.”

  2. My judgmental nature

    When I see people on either side of the aisle getting really passionate about politics, if I think they are ideological I roll my eyes. The reality is that politics is about politics – reality forces  candidates from campaigning one way but governing another. You can get as ideological as you want, but there’s so much stuff that doesn’t matter.

    I bring this up because I saw someone I knew in a picture at an Obama victory rally. I should be thinking “Oh, they’re excited about politics.” But I didn’t think that, my first reaction was to roll my eyes, as if to say “Geez, you’re so clueless about how things work. You’re only celebrating your own perception of what you think this means, not what it actually means.”

    I know I shouldn’t look down on people because I used to be the same way. Sometimes I can be arrogant.

  3. People say silly things

    On Facebook, I saw a friend of mine reply to a comment posted by one of his friends. I read through the thread, and the original comment was that “It’s better that Obama won instead of Romney. The reason is that Romney would have been a better friend to Israel than Obama. Obama will betray Israel to defend for itself. The Bible says that in the end times, Israel will have no friends and will be forced to turn to God and his son for help. Obama winning is a sign of the end times.”

    This attitude reflects the belief that the Democratic party is not pro-Israel, while the Republican party (which is heavily influenced by the religious right who believes in unwavering support for Israel due to their doctrines) is staunchly pro-Israel.

    My friend replied back to the thread saying “What are you talking about? Obama is the most pro-Israel president ever!” He then gave a bunch of links about the current administrations actions in Israel as well as quotes from Netanyahu about how Obama is a great American ally.

    I had to roll my eyes (again). Where do I even begin?

    There are some religious conservatives that believe everything is a sign of the end times. In addition, Republicans believe in God while Democrats are secular. They then look for ways to converge these two beliefs. The original post reflects this point of view. Since Democrats are secular, they will abandon Israel. But this is fortuitous since it’s a sign that the end times are near.

    I think that this thinking is wrong for many reasons which I won’t go into here.

    My friend, however, is a staunch left-wing supporter. The reason why he cherry picks quotes is that he likes Obama. Therefore, he may believe that the end times are near, but he tries to absolve Obama because he couldn’t possibly be one of the bad guys. Whether or not Obama has been a better friend to Israel than previous Republican administrations, it wouldn’t matter because people cherry pick the data they want to believe to resolve their cognitive dissonance. In this case, the end times are near but the good guy Obama is not part of it, because that would mean that he was tricked into believing something bad.

    That’s how I saw both of these view points.

That’s my political roundup.

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It’s 2012 and it’s election season! Romney vs. Obama? Who would I pick?

My views on politics have changed over time. When I was growing up, I lived in  a conservative part of the country (central Canada), and the constituency I lived in voted Conservative at the provincial level, and usually Conservative at the federal level (they once or twice went to the Liberal party, but the Liberal party in Canada is more centrist and the representative was fairly conservative). My family also typically voted Conservative, and those are the views I grew up with.

In 1999, I took a sociology class and for a year (or more?) I switched my affiliation to left-leaning and liberal in terms of my political beliefs. This is because I was awakened to a world of new information – all of the social structures I had taken for granted neglected all of the inequality in the world, and the left was going to fix it all. Eventually, I stopped agreeing with the left because there were way too many conspiracy theories (seriously, I think that class was all about how white men are responsible for all problems in the world). I went back to right leaning. This is reflected in some of my blog posts from several years ago.

As time passed, I switched again my affiliation from right-leaning to neutral. One of the best compliments I’ve been paid is that people don’t know who I affiliate with. Liberal? Conservative? Who?

A few years ago, I read the book “The Only Three Questions that Count” by financial writer Ken Fisher. In it, he makes the points that:

  1. The term politics comes from the Latin; poli meaning “man” and tics meaning “small, blood sucking creatures.” Politicians cannot be trusted to look out for your best interest because they spend time living off the system that the rest of us taxpayers support rather than they doing anything positive.

  2. Political gridlock is best for the financial markets. The reason is that if one party controls the legislature and the other controls the presidency (or a combination therein with the two houses), there is never any agreement and nothing gets done. This prevents politicians from passing stupid laws and screwing up the economy.

I don’t agree entirely with this line of thinking, but there’s merit to it (especially the second point). The U.S. Constitution is designed so that no one person or party can ever have too much power, and that it’s hard to get anything done (domestically).

I also read articles from Stratfor, a global intelligence service. Their main points about politics is that politicians can say many things but they are constrained by reality. As much as they might want to do something, circumstances usually force them to do another.

Because of these, my views have evolved. It’s best not to get too attached to any particular political party. It simply doesn’t matter as much as we think. And getting too attached to issues prevents us from seeing things rationally, and prevents us from changing our minds when we are wrong.

I’m well aware of how much my brain is working against me. I am full of cognitive biases and how politics plays into it, and I am shocked by how irrational I really am the more I learn about how my brain works.

And thus, I try to remain neutral. Sometimes I say that I would vote for one party depending upon who’s in power. The presidency, Congress and the Senate are all Democratic? Then maybe I vote Republican (unless the candidate says really crazy things). If all are Republican, then maybe I vote Democrat (if I could vote). The point is that I think gridlock is better than unabated power because when one party controls everything, it doesn’t turn out well.

Unfortunately, I still find I have a bias towards conservatism. Even though I say I’m okay with many socially liberal issues, am I really? I mean really? I don’t know.

But that brings us back to the question: if I could vote in this election, who would I vote for?

It’s complicated, but this year I’m picking Barack Obama.

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I was going to write a blog post about something else but I changed my mind.  I thought I’d post this cartoon instead.

I think it’s funny.

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I like politics. I like reading about them and discussing them.  The problem is that of all my friends who also like politics (i.e, the ones who regularly speak their beliefs on Facebook), I have no respect for any of their opinions.

Not a single one.

For those of you reading this who say "You have no respect for my opinions?” No, not you. If you’re reading this you almost likely never post on Facebook your political beliefs.  Instead, I’m referring to my friends who post article after article after article that contain slanted editorials about how much the other side is wrong (and by extension, that they are correct). I much prefer looking at both sides of the issue.

Maybe I’m just being ornery. But I post this because of an issue that has come up within the political environment.  It comes from this story about Congressman Todd Akin’s comments regarding rape and pregnancy:

Congressman Todd Akin, a conservative Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate, said in an interview broadcast Sunday that women’s bodies can prevent pregnancies in the case of "a legitimate rape," adding that conception in such cases is rare.

Akin, a six-term congressman running against incumbent Democrat Sen. Claire McCaskill, was asked in an interview on St. Louis television station KTVI if he would support abortions for women who have been raped.

"It seems to me first of all from what I understand from doctors that’s really rare," Akin said. "If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down," Akin said of a rape victim’s chances of becoming pregnant.

His comments raised a brouhaha, and rightly so, for two reasons:

  1. A “legitimate” rape? How can rape possibly be legitimate?  Akin later apologized for the comments and said he meant “forcible” rape, later asserting that no rape is legitimate.

    His retraction seems reasonable, as he went on to say "As the father of two daughters, I want tough justice for predators. I have a compassionate heart for the victims of sexual assault. I pray for them."

    He misspoke earlier as I find it hard to believe that anyone could think of a case where rape is legitimate.

  2. But the furor continued: the female body can shut down pregnancy in the event of rape? What is he thinking?  Of course it can’t!

Many of my friends on the left are all up in arms about Akin. He has either misinterpreted the female reproductive cycle (it’s true that there are only certain times when women can get pregnant), or has misinterpreted the female body’s ability to prevent pregnancy (psychological issues can get in the way of becoming pregnant, but it’s not a switch that the brain can flip to disable the reproductive process).

I suspect that Akin has to take the position he does (or did) because he has started at the end and worked his way backward:

  • He is against abortion in all cases.  Women should not choose to abort the fetus simply because they were “careless” enough to prevent pregnancy in the first place.

  • What about if a women becomes pregnant not by choice, such as in the case of rape?  Well, that is a corner case.  Women don’t become pregnant this way very often, and even if did, the body can stop most of this from even occurring.  Because there’s such a small number of cases left over, banning abortion in all circumstances does more public good (it is the moral thing to save the life of an unborn child) than public harm (only a very few number of women would be adversely affected by the illegitimate case).

His rationale, which I have theorized, is flawed. Women can (and do) get pregnant by rape and the body cannot automatically shut down to prevent it. That’s simply wrong. 

I think that the reason Akin said it is because of Confirmation Bias – believing things that agree with your own pre-conceived beliefs.  In addition, Cognitive Dissonance is at work here – trying to believe two contradictory things (all abortion is wrong but pregnancy by rape is unfair) and then resolving one of them to believe what you wish to believe (pregnancy by rape is almost non-existent and therefore all abortion is wrong).

The big problem I have with my Facebook friends is how they spin it to support their own confirmation bias (the other political party are evil and my side is enlightened and good). One friend posted the article GOP official says God chooses to bless raped women with pregnancy, saying “Another rape apologist from the GOP.” From the article:

Sharon Barnes, a high ranking state Republican, came to the defense of her conservative colleague who she believes only "phrased it (his statement) badly."

Barnes was quoted by The New York Times saying, "abortion is never an option." Barnes went on to biblically claim that, "If God has chosen to bless this person [the rape victim] with a life, you don’t kill it."

This is hardly an apologist for rape. The term “apologist” comes from the Greek term “apologia” which means to speak in defense of, and generally is associated with a reasoned defense of the Christian faith. In modern times, an apologist is someone who defends an idea.

Neither Barnes nor Akin was defending rape. Instead, they were saying that a third party – a child – should not be harmed even though a horrible act has been committed. They shouldn’t have to suffer the consequences.  Rape does not become legitimate because of a child, but abortion does not become legitimate because of rape, either.

I don’t really agree with this view. In fact, most Americans don’t agree with this view, either:

  1. A nationwide ban on abortion puts Akin and Barnes outside the mainstream of even evangelical women.

    A few months ago on Christianity Today I read an article entitled “Evangelical Women’s position on abortion more nuanced than previously thought” (unfortunately I can no longer find the link).  In it, while a majority of evangelical women opposed abortion for themselves personally, a majority did not want a ban on it.  This was a “this is wrong for me, but I don’t want to prevent it for you, too” position.

    Furthermore, the likelihood of women more likely to support abortion was inversely related to their socio-economic class (or maybe it was their race). White women were more likely to oppose the possibility of abortion for themselves than were Latino or black women. That is, wealthier women (whites have more money) would be more likely to be able to afford to raise a child and give birth to it, and therefore would be less likely to pursue an abortion.  Since black women are usually poorer than white women, on average, they would be more inclined to seek an abortion.

    The fact that evangelical women, the very constituency that Akin and Barnes represent, are not in favor of an all-out ban on abortion places them outside the mainstream of their very own base of support.

  2. Why are men leading the charge to ban abortion when they don’t even bear the majority of the cost?

    In pregnancy, women bear the majority of the cost of having a child. They are the ones that must carry the child to term for 9 months. For men to ban abortion, they are putting a requirement upon others (women) that they will never have to bear. If men had a 50/50 chance of getting pregnant, how strongly would they be leading the charge to ban abortion?

    I’m not in favor of one group of people voting for a set of laws that will disproportionately affect another group.  For example, there are many people that are in favor of higher taxes and redistribution of wealth, but most of the time, the people are in favor of redistributing someone else’s wealth, not their own.  In similar manner, it’s easy for men to say “We oppose abortion” when they never have to worry about enduring the (majority of the) consequences of that belief.

For both of these reasons, I find Akin and Barnes’s position untenable. It’s one thing to oppose abortion personally, but quite another to impose it on everyone else as the law of the land.

This is the type of discussion I’d like to see. Unfortunately, it’s nearly impossible to have a rational one because someone blows up and starts distorting someone else’s position.  People find very strong group identity in politics (as I’ve talked about earlier), and unfortunately, this is reflected in the us-vs-them, good-guys-and-bad-guys mentality that we see today. Flying off the handle is counterproductive because I pretty much just write off what my friends say in regards to all of their opinions.

Even if they have something valuable to say.

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Two days ago, the state of North Carolina voted to adopt a constitutional ban on same-sex marriages.  Across my Facebook page, most people are responding with outrage.  In numerous news articles, people are similarly complaining about it.

There are a few states in the US that have recognized same-sex marriage, including the one that I live in (Washington).  My advice for proponents of same-sex marriage is to be patient; opposition to it won’t last forever.  My advice to opponents of same-sex marriage is similar: eventually, you will lose this battle whether you like it or not.

As evidence, I present the following graph:

Since about 2004, opposition to same-sex marriage has been declining by 2-3 percentage points per year, while support for it has been increasing by 2-3 percentage points per year.

In 1996, opposition/support for same-sex marriage was 68-27.  Now, it is 50-47 (roughly a tie since it is within the statistical margin of error).  Yet if the current trends hold, in a decade support will be 70% while opposition will be 27%.  Even if it doesn’t get that far, it will be nearly impossible for governments to oppose it when 2/3 of the electorate is for it.

Some US states will hold out longer than others, but they can only hold out for so long.

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I have a theory.

This theory is based on personal observation.  I have a lot of friends who are hyper-political.  They love to post articles that build caricature portraits of their political opponents, ridicule those caricatures, and then congratulate themselves for being so enlightened.

Nearly all of these friends are left-wingers, although as I understand, people who watch Fox News (or at least post articles in support of it) are similar.  I wouldn’t know, I don’t watch Fox News and have never watched it.  But the point is, there are people who occupy the far left and the far right.

My friends on the far left decry Fox News as right-wing outlet that occupies the far right and drag otherwise normal people from the center (or possibly the left) to the far right.  By contrast, conservatives think that people like Keith Olbermann, Rachel Maddow and the New York Times draw people from the center and right over to the far left.

image

After having observed everyone’s confirmation bias and that politics contributes to people’s self-actualization, and that there are a lot of people that just aren’t interested in politics, I don’t think that the the above diagram is accurate.

Instead, there are just crazy people on the left, and crazy people on the right, and the entertainment industry caters to them.  There’s a market for people who enjoy sports, and ESPN broadcasts every type of sporting event.  There’s a market for people who like home renovation products and HGTV caters to them.  There’s a market history wonks, and the the Discovery or History channel is for them.

There are crazy people on the left who believe crazy things, and there are crazy people on the right who believe weird things.  Media responds.  They are not creating the demand, they are responding to it.

image

That’s how I see it.  People seek out media outlets that conform to their own ideology, and media outlets are happy to fill in that gap.  They don’t need to drag people over because there are plenty of people already there, happy to be part of the choir that wants to be preached to.

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Albert Einstein

Continuing on from my previous post, my brother disagreed with Time Magazine’s honor of Person of Century.  Just what were Einstein’s accomplishments?

Well, the one that my brother referred to is urging the president of the United States to start constructing a nuclear bomb because if they wouldn’t, the Germans would and would take over Europe.  Thus, without Einstein’s prodding that may not have occurred.

Yet Einstein’s biggest accomplishments predate that.  Einstein won the Nobel Prize not for the Theory of Relativity, but his discovery of the photoelectric effect.  The photoelectric effect is when you shine light on a metal plate, electrons are released (i.e., you can electricity if you shine light on metal).  Einstein’s theory was that electromagnetic radiation had to be thought of as a series of particles, called photons.  Previously, it was thought that light was only a wave and had no mass.  But, Einstein was correct; light does behave as a particle.  It’s weird.

Why should you care?  It’s because of the photoelectric effect that you are reading this.  Modern electronics use the photoelectric effect to generate electricity inside your computer, and it is also used by semiconductors.  This theory has been built upon by science for the entire 20th century.  It is one of the major underpinnings of our society.

But the one that Einstein is most known for is the theory of relativity.  You know this one, it is the famous E = mc2.  It means that mass can be converted into energy.  But more importantly, it changed our view of physics.  Whereas classical physics is interested in forces, springs, friction and so forth – Newtonian physics – modern physics shows that things can behave relativisitically.  As you approach the speed of light, the nature of reality changes.

From GPS navigation to nuclear energy, the theory of relativity is used by this.  I took a course in Modern Physics in my third year of engineering where I learned way more about this stuff.  I wish I could remember it.

But the weirdest thing about relativity is the way that speed is measured.  It is constant.  For example, if I am on a bus going 60 miles an hour and I toss a football at 20 miles an hour forward, to an observer the ball is moving at 80 miles an hour.  However, if the person on the bus shines a beam of light, and a person on the side of the road shines a beam of light, the speed of that beam of light remains constant – 186,000 miles per second.  The extra 60 miles per hour of the person on the bus doesn’t matter.

This new understanding of physics had profound implications and it was a major step forward in science.  Like I said, it affects to this day. 

Thus, because of Einstein’s understanding of these two phenomenon, I give the award to Einstein.  His discoveries affected the way people live and the way people understand the world.  Hitler’s motivations were political, and he changed the way people lived for a time… but Einstein will change the way people live forever.

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Person of the century

My brother recently wrote an article entitled Person of the Century.  In it, he refers to Time Magazine’s recent contest for who they thought was the most influential person of the 20th century.  The finalists were Franklin Roosevelt (FDR), Albert Einstein, Adolf Hitler, and Mohatma Gandhi.  Time eventually picked Einstein.

Time’s criteria for finalists is not whether the person affected the world in a positive way, but rather, the magnitude of what they did, for good or bad.  My brother disagreed with the pick of Einstein.  Instead, Hitler had the most profound effect on the citizens of the 20th century.

Whereas Einstein was involved in the Manhattan Project, developed by the United States to end the second world war, Hitler is the one that caused Einstein to write to FDR to start working on it.  Had he not, the Germans would have gotten it first and would have won World War II.  But even then, other scientists were skilled and talented enough to work on it without Einstein.  He’s hardly that influential.

Franklin Roosevelt entered the war and turned the tide of the war, but only because Hitler started it.  Had Hitler not been around, FDR’s footprint in history would have been much lighter. Thus, the other major players were only there because they were reacting to events started by someone else. 

I disagree with this assessment and think that Time’s choice was the correct one.

While it is true that Hitler influenced events of geopolitics, he did not define them.

Regarding FDR

The United States, at various times in its history, has had an isolationist foreign policy.  They don’t want to meddle into other countries’ affairs.  This was their stance in World War 1 and their stance in World War 2.  In both cases, they were dragged into the war.

Yet Roosevelt’s actions eclipse more than just the war.  The US was brought into the war because they were bombed by Japan at Pearl Harbor, but Japan bombed the US because they (incorrectly) believed that the US was going to cut off its its supply routes in the Pacific.  Thus, their attack was a pre-emptive strike based upon their perceived strength of the US.  Clearly, the US was already a rising superpower.

FDR also launched numerous other initiatives that are with us to this day.  In 1941, most of the western countries agreed to take part in the Bretton Woods agreement.  Bretton Woods, at its heart, was the US saying that they would allow other countries access to its consumer market in exchange for them agreeing to use the US dollar as its de facto currency, which was pegged to the price of gold.  In effect, the US said “We will allow you to make money off of all our rich citizens.  In exchange, we control your money supply.”  This agreement still works today.  Did you ever wonder why the US can’t push around Iran or Russia?  It’s because neither country is part of Bretton Woods.

In addition, FDR launched the New Deal which redefined economic theory up to this very day.  The New Deal was a bunch of government spending projects designed to get the nation working until the Depression was over.  It was founded upon the philosophy of John Maynard Keynes.  This is an economic philosophy that is the dominant one in the world today, and it used by every single nation in the world.  It started under FDR in the US and we still feel its influences.

Finally, under FDR, we started Social Security.  This is the program that takes care of the elderly and it is facing massive shortfalls today.  At the time, the system worked.  As people started living longer and longer and people started having fewer and fewer kids, the implications of this program would have ramifications across the world.

Note how this is linked to Bretton Woods.  Other countries depend on the US’s huge consumer market.  If the countries that are part of Bretton Woods can’t sell their stuff, they are in serious trouble.

Thus, FDR wasn’t just reacting to Hitler in World War II, his accomplishments (well, actions) also encompass economic policy independent of that.  He wasn’t just about the war.

More in my next post.

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Did you hear the latest news?  The US and Israel are increasing pressure on Iran to sabotage their nuclear power plants which pretty much the whole world believes is being to create a nuclear weapon.

Negotiations have failed so far, and so have international economic sanctions.  What else is going on?

  • In 2009, the US and Israel worked together on a project to create a computer virus called Stuxnet to infect the Natanz enrichment plan in Iran.  Stuxnet was a very clever piece of code, it spun canisters around too fast inside the power plant, rendering the uranium useless and damaging the spinning canisters (which are difficult to replace).  Furthermore, the virus showed to the scientists watching the meters that everything was just fine.  When things broke down, nobody would know why because the virus covered its tracks.

    Unfortunately, the virus was discovered and patched.  Iran was ticked off and their nuclear program was set back about a year… but the total amount of damage was nowhere close to what it could have been had it not been discovered.

  • In January 2010, a bomb-rigged motorcycle exploded near the car of a senior physics professor.

  • In November 2010, a pair of back-to-back bomb attacks in different parts of the capital killed another nuclear scientist and wounded one more.  The slain scientist, Majid Shahriari, was a member of the nuclear engineering faculty at Shahid Beheshti University in Tehran and co-operated with the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran. The wounded scientist, Fereidoun Abbasi, was almost immediately appointed head of Iran’s atomic agency.

  • In July 2011, motorcycle-riding gunmen killed Darioush Rezaeinejad, an electronics student. Other reports identified him as a scientist involved in suspected Iranian attempts to make nuclear weapons.

  • Today (January 11, 2012), Motorcycle riders flashed by and attached a magnetic bomb onto a car carrying a nuclear scientist, Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan, a chemistry expert and a director of the Natanz uranium enrichment facility.

You know, I’m beginning to think that working at that place provides pretty poor job security.  I don’t think it’d be worth the money that the Iranian government is paying.

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Where was I ten years ago?

Today is the tenth anniversary of the September 11th attacks on the United States (in the US and Canada we say 9/11 and the notation is month/year, but the rest of the world says year/month which is why I say Sept 11, not 9/11).  Other people have been posting where they were during the attacks that day, almost like my generation’s version of the JFK assassination.

I was living in England at the time.  I had been informed, along with the rest of my team, that I was laid off, effective at the end of September 2001.  I was on a train ride home from a job interview in the town of Oxford.  I didn’t have a cell phone at the time.  But I was on the train and the guy in front of me got a phone call and I could kind of overhear it.  He answered it and I didn’t hear everything, but I could hear his reaction.  Something awful had happened, and he was saying things like “Oh, that’s terrible!  I can’t believe that happened!  How horrible!”  It sounded pretty serious.  I remember thinking that it did not sound like a personal tragedy like a family member dying, but instead something far worse.

I got home but I didn’t turn on the TV right away.  Instead, I went to the post office to pick up a package of new magic supplies that I had ordered a few days before.  I went to the office, picked it up, brought it home and began to finagle with it.

After a bit of time, I remembered the phone call and turned on the TV.  There, on every channel, was footage of what was going on in the US that day.  I was stunned, I just watched it over and over and over again.  I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.

I don’t remember much else from that day, but I definitely remember that train ride and hearing the guy pick up his phone and expressing horror at what had just transpired.

I remember that part clearly to this day.

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