Friday, November 20, 2015

Syriaphobia: the latest fad in collectivism

It has been claimed that at least one of the terrorists of Paris November 13 hid among Syrian refugees to gain entrance into Europe. On the basis of that, some (Republican) governors of American states have declared that they will not accept Syrian refugees sent to them by the federal government. But immigrants to America have been associated with crimes since 1492. Immigrants also bring enterprise, initiative, invention, and, most of all, descendants.
Michael Ansara,
perhaps best known for his role 

as Cochise in Broken Arrow, 
was also Star Trek's Kang, 
above as "Soldier" 
from The Outer Limits.
In the wake of the French Revolution, Federalists and Republicans both supported and opposed the immigration of French refugees, depending on who was referring to whom.  To the Federalists, the French Revolution was the expression of everything evil in democracy.  However, many of the refugees were aristocrats, fleeing the Terror.

(And that is another point for another essay: Terrorism, as we understand it today, was invented by a native government. The Reign of Terror was not imported from Arabia.) 

Those aristocrats were worrisome for the Republicans whose sympathies were with the Revolutionaries. However, the Revolutionary government of France sent spies. Its envoys interfered in American politics,  attempting to influence our foreign policy. For all of that, and more, see the website of the Office of the Historian of the U.S. Department of State here
Anousha Ansari, entrepreneur,
ISS astronaut
and co-founder of the
Ansari X-Prize.
Long established as proper Bostonians, the English in America were appalled by the Irish immigrants of 1848. They lived like animals, bred like animals -- and bred crime. Or so the English of Boston claimed. Among the consequences of Irish in America was the cliché of the Irish cop, established following the War Between the States, and enduring even today. Another cliché was the Irish army sergeant. 

Many had enlisted in the North and South in order to obtain military experience that they could take home to fight Great Britain. Many more stayed here. And their descendants supported terrorism for over 150 years. With the founding of Sinn Fein in 1905, evermore American money flowed into the conflict. 

We worry today about Arab Americans and Islamic Americans supporting terrorism now, but no one was concerned when “professional Irish” in America paid for revolution in Ireland and terrorism in the United Kingdom. 
Like Boston and New York,
Cleveland was a center of Finnianism.
They were not alone. In the 1930s and 1940s, both Nazi Germany and Communist Russia maintained huge networks of supporters. It is also quite likely that the USSR insinuated its agents into the stream of European refugees from World War II. Similarly, communist agents probably were among the Vietnamese. We know that China sends its operatives in as students. Disturbing as that is to consider, actual harm is harder to prove.

Homegrown socialists, whether Fascist, Bolshevik, or others were common enough. Our coinage of the era should appear shocking to any thinking person today. It was not an accident: many progressives and intellectuals of the late 19th through mid-20th centuries were collectivists. In Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, the clones were named after great collectivists of the times, Polly Trotsky, Lenina Crowne, and Benito Hoover, and others. In our time, the political leaders charged with defeating ISIL actually share many of its philosophical foundations: mysticism, revelation, altruism and collectivism, and ascetisim.
Fasces on American dime 1917-1945. German half mark and US quarter dollar.
Among the spies for the USSR was Samuel Dickstein, a US Congressman and New York Supreme Court justice. Meanwhile Prescott Bush, scion to the presidents of our time was able to get out of being implicated in a Wall Street Coup against President Roosevelt.  The German-American Bund pushed the Nazi Party line here at home. It only resulted in more anti-German sentiment.  Unlike the Japanese, the Germans were not put in concentrations camps - it was a possibility. In the movie Wings, about World War I, when the comic German, Arnold Schwimpf enlists with his buddies, the recruiting sergeant (an Irishman) says, "If you ask me, all you Dutchmen ought to be locked up until this thing is over." Those were heady times.  And America survived.

Civilization will survive ISIL.

Ayn Rand used the term “muscle mystic” (likely invented by Nathaniel Branden) to explain people who worship brute force. They thought that seizing factories would make them productive. They saw goosestepping rows and columns followed by arrays of tanks and mobile artillery, and accepted that whoever brandished them must be strong. In fact, reality and reason required that the Nazis and Communists would fail. So, too, is ISIL's program ultimately unworkable.

According to the news reports now about the Paris bombings, this murder of 180 people was carefully planned and executed over months.  Over 700 million people live in Europe, about 68 million of them in France. A million years will not be enough time for the terrorists to kill everyone they dislike.

Meanwhile, immigrants to Europe and the USA and everywhere else bring valuable human capital away from ISIL.

Yes, some may be criminals, as were the boys at Five Points, the Purple Gang, and the Mafia. It is a fact of human population distribution, however, that there must be at least as many Kennedys, Reagans, Einsteins, Fermis, Scalias, and Ayn Rands. And the creative work of good people outlast the destruction of evil people. 

It is an axiom of criminology that "crime knows no neighborhood." In other words, no place, no population is especially criminogenic. Crimes are committed by individuals who make bad choices. That is why Dr. Martin Luther King's dream was a world where a person is judged by the content of their character, not the color of their skin. The basic error, the fundamental fallacy, is considering masses of people as collectives. Including or excluding groups, tribes, ethnicities, etc., is the wrong way to consider the question. In point of fact, US immigration policy requires each legal immigrant to prove their case on their own merits. That is appropriate. 


Thursday, November 19, 2015

Texans Serving Texans

Texans Serving Texas: The Texas State Guard March
Lyrics (Rev 3.3) by PO3 Michael Marotta and Po3 Buckwalter
November 15, 2015 19:22 hrs
Music by PO3 Rodney Buckwalter

We are Texans serving Texans.
We are volunteers for you.
We are the Texas State Guard.
We’re the red, white and blue.
The Lone Star shines within us.
We’re always more than equal to the task.
Your community is in our care.
To republic and union we are true.

We are Texans serving Texans.
We are volunteers for you:
Medical Rangers and Maritime, 
Army and Air Components, too.
Faithful and constant in hardship,
First responders, we are stronger than steel.
Your community is in our care.
To republic and union we are true.


Saturday, November 7, 2015


An asterism is a recognizable group of stars that is not accepted as a constellation by the International Astronomical Union. The Big Dipper is the perfect example: it is part of Ursa Major. The Dipper, the Wagon, or the Plough was recognized as a distinct image by various peoples in what is today “Great Britain.” To ancient people in modern Finland, it was a net. To some native Americans (Ojibiway or “Chippewa”) the bowl of the Dipper was a Bear, and the three (or four) stars of the Handle were cubs trailing, or else hunters in pursuit. Mizar was supposed to be one of the hunters, and Alcor was the pot in which the Bear was to be cooked, something of a challenge to be sure - hunters are optimists.

The Pleiades.
Australian Astronomical Observatory
Essay by Pleiade Architects of Bristol UK.
The Belt of Orion, the Sword of Orion, the Spout of the Tea Kettle, the Pleiades the Northern Cross, … we find them useful.  

In that utility, asterisms remain important to the societal institution that we call astronomy. Certainly, the physics of astronomy also must remain important. We are not merely gaping open-mouthed at the splendor of the night skies like slack-jawed anthropoids. However, the sociology of the science of astronomy is a different pursuit entirely. Papers published in peer-reviewed academic journals may or may not illuminate the thrills and wonders of the night sky. The distinction between an asterism and a constellation must remain a modern nicety. After all, nothing about these is actually written in the stars. We decide what images to see when we connect the dots.

It is true that some of them do look similar to things we know. The first three recorded constellations were the Bull, the Lion, and the Scorpion. They marked the year in old Sumeria. But the head of the Lion is also the Sickle... and the poor Scorpion lost his powerful claws when the Romans invented the constellation of Libra: 12 constellations, for 12 months, for 12 gods, 12 ounces to the pound, and a dozen more that made them feel that the universe is an orderly place. And, indeed, it is. Just look at the night sky.

"Frosty November is often called the month of the Pleiades, because it’s when this star cluster – sometimes called the Seven Sisters – shines from dusk until dawn." -- here from

List of asterisms from Farmers' Almanac.
List of 88 official constellations from The International Astronomical Union.


Saturday, October 31, 2015

The Bloodless Corpse

I knew that he was dead, tucked into a fetal position, stuffed under the instructor’s station at the front of room LAS 327.  I saw the tiny gray holes.  My spine chilled.  I left the room to call dispatch.  Later, the other patrollers in Safety thought I got out of the room because of the body, but it wasn’t that.  I knew that there was a vampire on campus. 

The medical examiner did not report the wounds – most likely for the same reason I did not mention them in my incident report.  The cause of death remained open. 

The school turned edgy, even in the daytime.  At night, people hurried to their cars in groups.

The sheriff lent us two deputies “to re-establish a sense of safety.”  Each walked halls during the day, and cruised the parking lots from 5:00 PM until 10:30 PM.  Our own patrols changed to a buddy system – at least in theory.  Typically, we hit the doors, split up, made our checklists, and met on the way out.  Some of the patrollers did not like it.  Long used to being on their own, they would take off and meet up a couple of buildings later.  It was all right with me.  I take a lot in stride at my age.  Campus safety patrol was the second job in the fourth career in 35 years.  The student’s death was hard– he looked like a nice kid – but I was not shocked.

What kept me awake was the vampire.  A man who does not believe in God cannot believe in the Devil.  I argued with myself, but no sophistry could contradict the observation.  That immutable empirical fact demanded its own logic.

After two weeks, campus life settled into a surreal imitation of itself.  Until someone was arrested and charged, we all waited for the next one.

When I saw her on the east third floor of the life sciences building, everything about her said “victim” – shoulders slightly dropped and pulled in, head down watching her shoes, backpack too heavy with books.  And she was being followed by Death.  The smell was not the pain of fetal pigs and dissected rats from the biology labs, or even cadavers from the biology core.  But it was.  It was in the air.  “Miss!” I called. “Miss!”  When she turned around, I knew that Death was inside her.  Her reptile stare lacked even the pleasure of a meal.  I wanted to be hers.  She was twenty feet away when I whispered, “Take me.” 

She flew to me in a stride, gripped me to her, her talons in my back, her hand grabbing my hair, pulling my head to bare my neck.  My hand leapt to my shirt pocket, yanked out the pencil and stabbed it into her heart, pressing the shaft home, my hand flat against her cold breast. 

Her eyes lit up with shock, then horror, … disbelief … hatred – and then release.  She died in my arms.  There was no blood.

First posted here October 29, 2012. Written for and rejected by Blood Orange literary magazine, Washtenaw Community College, 2007.

Monsters from the Id
Fantastic Voyages: Teaching Science with Science Fiction
Atheists in Foxholes
Kicking Nuns for Fun and Profit

Monday, October 26, 2015

Ahmed Mohamed Doesn't Live Here Any More

A good news story polarizes friends. Ahmed Mohamed and his family are moving to Qatar after his meeting the President of the United States following his arrest for bringing a clock to school. Apparently, the clock was old Radio Shack from the 70s. He took it from its housing and put it in a "pencil box" (metal art supply box). The third teacher who saw it called it a bomb and the principal called the police. It was easy for me to see Ahmed's point of view. My conservative comrades disagreed.

We did agree that no news story provided all of the same significant facts. Read Huffington Post, Breitbart, and Wikipedia to piece the story together -- and consider the sources.

Huffington Post 9/21: "The clock, which he invented, and built in 20 minutes using basic materials, led to his arrest ..."  
​Still on 10./22: "... arrested for bringing a homemade clock to school,..."​

​But putting "ahmed mohamed did not build clock" into Bing and Google returned a slew of articles from right wing sources.  Among those, though, was Mark Zuckerberg's interview in which he conceded that the kid spoke intelligently about electronics, but that he could hear Ahmed's sister in the background coaching him on the politics of the incident.
From Wikipedia:  "Some of Mohamed's teachers at Sam Houston middle school were surprised to learn that staff at the high school called police, as they have known Mohamed to bring more elaborate gizmos to their school."[7] [7]  Selk, Avi (September 26, 2015).Before Ahmed's fame: fantastic inventions and a fight with authority". The Dallas Morning News. Archived from the original on September 27, 2015. Retrieved September 27, 2015.
An "elaborate gizmo" is pretty much in the eye of the beholder. Last winter when Laurel wanted to build a security system for the house, I took out the Radio Shack project kit that she bought me one Christmas long ago. In a couple of weeks, we had integrated circuits on breadboards, and she was programming the controller.It is pretty easy to do.  But by comparison, I went to a computer security conference a couple of weeks ago, and one of the vendors had two motorized animals built from Leggos. I thought that was impressive.

Then, consider that this is about politicizing the behaviors of children. And the response of the police to an ignoramus.  The teacher who sounded the alarm teaches English.  Ahmed's technical teachers had no problem with what to them was obviously a clock.  
All of My Friends Got in Trouble in School

Texas law, it is said in an article, makes it illegal to possess a fake bomb. Well, OK, that's like robbing a bank with a fake gun, so I get that, but in order to fake a bomb (or fake a gun), it has to resemble the intended object.  In Iraq, they set off IEDs with cell phones.  So, are cell phones fake bombs?  The kid had a clock.  A clock is a clock -- unless you are an English teacher.

As for his having built a clicker to take control of the classroom projector, so what?  It's a prank for a moment.  Laurel had an uncle. When he was in high school, he brought a brown paper bag to class and told the girl next to him that it was candy for later....  knowing full well that the girl in front of him would put her hand in the bag... and find a snake. 

At our Model United Nations meeting in 1966, one of the delegations came with a "bomb" in a briefcase: a tape recorder that played tick-tock tick-tock .... and then boom!  

Of course that was before Columbine., 9/11, Homeland Security, and the militarization of the police. Those new conditions are real. For an insightful analysis of the sociology of mass violence, see "Thresholds of Violence" in a recent The New Yorker article by Malcolm Gladwell.

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Nerd Nation
Teaching Science Through Science Fiction
The CSI Effect

Monday, October 19, 2015

Innumeracy at Macaroni Grill

Choosing any one of four entrées along with any one of three different garnishes gives you twelve choices, not seven.  If you decline the meat (vegetarian, or just not interested), you have 16 possibilities, the null set being an element of every set. 

My wife and I are fans of Romano’s Macaroni Grill.  She can avoid gluten by substituting vegetables for pasta with her fish or chicken dish. I like to build my own pasta by selecting pomodoro or bolognese sauce with different vegetables and meats to go with the spaghetti. 

I was washing my hands when I heard a commercial for their “Seven Dollars in Seven Minutes” lunch menu. “Seven pasta choices for seven dollars in seven minutes,” the man’s voice said.  He listed them: Spaghetti Bolognese, Sausage Rigatoni, Baked Ravioli, and Spaghetti Verdi. “That’s just four,” countered the woman.  The man replied that you could add your choice of grilled chicken, Italian sausage, or shrimp. “That’s seven!” the woman beamed.  She was wrong.

One of four entrées times one of three garnishes is twelve possible selections.  Add the no-meat option and you get sixteen choices for seven dollars in less than seven minutes. 

If you want to tweet about combinatorics, you can find an international Twitter group managed from Italy:


Sunday, October 18, 2015

Julia Louis-Dreyfus as The [Bleep]

My wife and I have seen many shows that we did not like, both new and famous oldies that made us wonder why we liked them the first time.  De gustibus non est disputandum. The marketplace is agnostic. You do not have to drive through the order lane if you do not want the food. Obviously, millions of others do. That said, I have not seen a show so bad and so highly acclaimed as The Veep. We watched 20 minutes of the first episode and ejected the disk.

Emmy Awards 2015
The first challenge for the writers was to force as many expletives into each line as possible. Discussing Wiseguy (made into the movie Goodfellas), author Nicholas Pileggi says that the gangsters have a limited vocabulary in the first place, and they use profanity so often, that the only way to achieve emphasis in discourse is to resort to echolalia: "Why the fucking fuck did you fuck up the fucking job?" The people in The Veep are as erudite as the Goodfellas.  

The next challenge for the writers was to make politicians, especially our nation's leaders, look stupid. As a libertarian I can appreciate that.  But it takes some finesse. You have to have smart people as standards in order to portray lamebrains. The Three Stooges were the standard against which Nazis, gangsters, and other bullies were set. Writing from the post modernist school, The Veep has no standards: everyone is dumber than the audience.  On the other hand, in The West Wing, the dullards included Gov. Robert Ritchie of Florida (played by James Brolin), and Dr. Jenna Jacobs (Claire Yarlette).  Of course, we had a couple dozen smart people from both parties to compare them to.  The Veep could use one.

A Culture of Reason, Reality, and Freedom
The Science of Liberty
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Nerd Nation 4.0