Sunday, May 31, 2015

Peace is More Powerful

Imagine a successful protest in Berlin 1943 against the Holocaust.  Between February 27 and March 6, about 200 German women stood outside a detainment center, demanding the release of their Jewish husbands.  Between March 1 and March 12, although 25 were sent to Auschwitz, about 2,000 prisoners were let go. Soon, they were picked up again, but sent to work in labor camps in Berlin and other cities where they lived out the war. United States Holocaust Memorial Museum here.

Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict
Erica Chenoweth and Maria J. Stephan (Columbia University Press, 2011, ppb 2012) grew out of a challenge. As a professor at the University of Colorado at Boulder, she believed “back then [2006] power flows from the barrel of a gun.” What changed her mind was a challenge from the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict to prove her point.
Non-violent campaigns succeed more often.
They win compromise more often.
They fail completely less often.
(Chenoweth ICNC Webinar)

Chenoweth worked with Maria J. Stephan to gather data from every anti-government action since 1900 for reform or independence, whether violent or non-violent.  They published a paper, with only three exemplary cases, but dense with the mathematics of sociology parodied so well by Tom Lehrer (YouTube here). Nonetheless, they proved their point.  From that paper came several lectures and a book of narratives.
This new work by Chenoweth and Stephan validates earlier examinations, such as "A Force More Powerful" about peaceful resistance to modern dictatorships. 

DENMARK - LIVING WITH THE ENEMY:  By the summer of 1943, in the midst of World War II, Denmark had been occupied by German forces for more than three years. Resistance to the invaders was sporadic, mainly limited to displays of Danish cultural identity or scattered acts of sabotage. But then, provoked by German brutality, the Danes acted more boldly to resist the Nazi war machine. Mass nonviolent direct action began first with labor strikes. Then, when SS troops arrived to round up Danish Jews for deportation to the death camps, the Danes rescued their fellow citizens, ferrying most to safety in Sweden. The effort galvanized many Danes, and soon general strikes challenged German control. The Danish underground emphasized nonviolent operations. Although Denmark was not liberated until the end of the war, nonviolent resistance stymied German plans for extracting value from the occupation.  ("A Force More Powerful" from PBS here).
"Researchers used to say that no government could survive if just 5 percent of the population rose up against it," Chenoweth says. "Our data shows the number may be lower than that. No single campaign in that period failed after they'd achieved the active and sustained participation of just 3.5 percent of the population." She adds, "But get this: every single campaign that exceeded that 3.5 percent point was a nonviolent one. The nonviolent campaigns were on average four times larger than the average violent campaigns." – from Chenoweth’s TEDx Talk reported by Max Fisher, Washington Post, November 5, 2013 here. 
Non-violent campaigns (right) are more likely
to draw defections from the government
security forces.
Chenoweth ICNC Webinar.
The empirical results from Chenoweth and Stephan only validate many other narratives of successful peaceful resistance.  The American Civil Rights campaign took its lead from the independence movement in India led by Mohandas Gandhi.  That and many other stories – Chile, the Ukraine, Serbia – are told in A Force More Powerful, the premier product in a series of videos about social change through peace, produced by the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict

Confronting the Truth is another ICNC video explaining “truth and reconciliation campaigns.”  Perhaps the best known grew out of the genocide in Rwanda.  Rather than seeking punitive retribution, the commission's motive was to let the perpetrators admit their guilt and express their sorrow to the survivors.  Other commissions have worked in Peru, South Africa, East Timor, and Morocco. 


Thursday, May 28, 2015

Armies Without Weapons

Not all military units engage in combat.  Chaplains and medics are easy examples. Twenty-two Thirteen American states states and territories have home defense forces, and they generally do not carry weapons, but provide evacuation, sheltering, and other services in times of emergency and disaster.  Two federal agencies have their own unarmed commissioned officer corps with equivalent navy ranks: the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the Public Health Service. 

Some chaplains have carried small arms in combat. They stand out as exceptions.  More often, armed assistants accompanied chaplains.  Similarly, modern medics do carry sidearms to defend the wounded and supplies.  However, engaging in offensive combat removes the protection of the rules of war which otherwise cover medics.  If captured by an enemy who respects the Geneva Convention, medics can be held as prisoners of war, but must be allowed to carry out their duties as necessary.  By the Geneva Convention, chaplains who are captured cannot be held and must be repatriated.
Jewish, Muslim, and Catholic chaplains.Place de Strasbourg June 2013
(Photo by Claude Truong-Ngoc licensed under Creative Commons,Wikimedia Commons). 
The Inspector General of the US Department of Defense (DODIG), surveyed 22 state defense forces in 2014.  Nineteen responded to the questionnaire.  Only four states authorize their home guards to bear weapons. The report provided aggregate data only.  Therefore, some ambiguities were unresolved. Evaluation of Department of Defense Interaction with State Defense Forces, Department of Defense Inspector General, April 30, 2014.

State laws in California, Indiana, Mississippi, and Virginia allow the governor to issue weapons to the state defense force.  “The Code of Virginia states that members of the Virginia State Defense Force shall not be armed with firearms during the performance of training duty or state active duty, except under circumstances and in instances authorized by the Governor." (Virginia § 44.54.12. See also California Military and Veterans Code Section 554.) The Alaska State Defense Force did carry weapons when acting as law enforcement in 2004. However, that changed in 2008. 
Maj. Liendo Alvaro, Texas State Guard Medical Rangers.
In recurring deployments of Operation Lone Star,
the Medical Rangers provide free
clinical care
to populations not well-served by other agencies.
(Soldiers Media Center. Licensed under Creative Commons
Wikimedia Commons.)
Here in Texas, the TXSG does provide training for those who want to earn a concealed handgun license (CHL).  However, guard members pay for the training, which is contracted.  The state CHL fee itself is waived for active TXSG members.  Nevertheless, TXSG members are absolutely forbidden from carrying firearms while on duty. That applies to those who are also commissioned (sworn) police and other law enforcement officers.  Whether on state guard active duty or at drills or just visiting on base, weapons must be secured in a locked compartment of the privately-owned vehicle. [24 Feb. 2016. Following the Chattanooga shootings of 16 July 2015, on 17 Dec. 2015, the Adjutant General of the Texas Military Department issued new orders to allow the carrying of concealed firearms. This order applies to the National Guard, the Air National Guard, and the State Guard. It also addresses the new "open carry" law in Texas. No guard member may display any weapon not issued by the appropriate command.]

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration grew out of a survey of the coastline that was authorized by Congress and signed by President Jefferson in 1807.  Seventy years later, its mission was expanded into a geodetic survey of the continent.  In 1917, the corps became commissioned so that surveyors on the battlefield could not be shot as spies.   Today the NOAA maintains strict standards of achievement with an “up or out” policy: If you cannot be promoted, you will be retired. 
“The NOAA Corps today provides a cadre of professionals
trained in engineering, earth sciences, oceanography,
meteorology, fisheries science, and other related disciplines.
Officers operate ships, fly aircraft, manage research projects,
conduct diving operations,
and serve in staff positions throughout NOAA.”
You can view their official recruitment videos for both officers and line mariners on YouTube.  They also have their own marching song, “Forward with NOAA.

 The US Public Health Service Commissioned Officer Corp includes professionals in 16 specialties from physicians, nurses, and dentists to veterinarians, pharmacists, and engineers.
“The Commissioned Corps traces its beginnings
back to the U.S. Marine Hospital Service
protecting against the spread of disease from sailors returning
from foreign ports and maintaining the health of immigrants
entering the country.
Currently, Commissioned Corps officers are involved in
health care delivery to ... vulnerable populations,
disease control and prevention, biomedical research,
food and drug regulation,
mental health and drug abuse services,
and response efforts for natural and man-made disasters
as an essential component of
the largest public health program in the world.”

Several small nations have no armed forces because they maintain special treaties with larger neighbors.   Andorra has treaties with Spain and France. Australia defends Nauru, and the US defends Palau and several other Pacific micro-nations.  However, among those, several have impressively large police forces.  In the Caribbean, a Regional Security System serves Grenada, Saint Lucia, and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.  Liechtenstein abolished its standing army in 1868.  Costa Rica has had no standing army since 1949. 

Military organization has its strengths.  Every job is defined, regardless of who performs it.  Grade and rank place everyone within a known hierarchy.  Also, military organization is common.  You could pluck someone off the street in Buenos Aires, and insert them in a job in police precinct in Beijing, and they would figure it all out pretty quickly.  So, the military model serves a purpose.  But armies are not necessarily synonymous with warfare.


Friday, May 22, 2015


In my personal life and professional life I have always worked best alone, and second best as a supporter. I do not join many clubs.  When I am in a community group, if I choose to volunteer for office, I get elected as secretary or vice president.  I never let myself be made president. 

Lifelong experience taught me that no one accepts my suggestions.   I know what to do. I see a solution. I question everything, even my own ideas.  My solutions are heuristics, not algorithms; theories, not formulas.  By “theory” I mean the formal, scientific definition: a conceptual explanation of facts that allows prediction and falsification.  New facts may require new a new theory. Not many people are comfortable with that.  

What everyone else does is common sense: it gets the job done, but is suboptimal. 

Informal leadership is chemical, like love.  The real leader of a club might be the vice president. If you gather all of a corporation's emails and graph the to: and from: fields - never mind the content - you will see the real organization chart. 
The military is all about leadership at a depth of commitment that the corporate world cannot understand.  Everyone from corporal to general is in charge of other people.  You do not go into leadership in a quantum leap.  Three grades separate the trainee, private, and specialist from the corporal who has earned responsibility for a group of four.   The army corporal is an E-4, Enlisted grade 4.  A command sergeant major is an E-9.  Above the 2nd and 1st lieutenants and the captain, is Officer grade 4, the major. The four-star general is an O-9.  It is all very granular. 

Customs and courtesies get complicated. Basically, enlisteds do not salute each other. We do salute officers.  Officers salute each other.  (Enlisted E-4 and above are “non-commissioned officers”; real officers are “commissioned officers.”)  Even though America was founded specifically and purposely as a democratic republic, the military follows the British tradition of a class-based society.  You address an officer as “Sir” or “Ma’am”, but they call you only by your rank.  Invitations to social events go out to “officers and their ladies, sailors and their wives.”  Just as in Animal Farm, our revolution left some of us more equal than others. 
Texas State Guard
Regional Basic Orientation Training
RBOT Class 009 graduation.
May 17, 2015

Customs and courtesies can get complicated. I am a petty officer third class in the Texas maritime regiment (TMAR), within the Texas State Guard, which is a component of the Texas Military Department, a state agency.  As an E-4, I am equivalent to a corporal. Teaching a class in computer operations earlier this month, I stood before a class of 14 people, from sergeants to captains.  I called attention, “Class… Ten…. Hut!” And they came to their feet.  I was in charge of the class.  It is common in the military for non-coms to train officers.  Unlike the corporate world and informal society, compliance does not depend on approval.


Sunday, May 10, 2015

The Man Who Loved Only Numbers

Paul Erdős was easily the most influential mathematician of the 20th century, and arguably so for all time.  He published 1475 papers almost all in collaboration.  Mathematicians have Erdős Numbers.  Your number is 1 if you co-authored with him, 2 if you co-authored with a co-author, and so on.  Movie star Natalie Portman has an Erdős number of 7.  Danika McKellar’s 4 is lower than her Kevin Bacon number. 
Sketch portrait of mathematician Paul Erdős pronounced like Air-dash created with numerals.

Erdős’s work was beyond prolific. He knew how to offer motivating challenges to people working at all levels of mathematics from his academic peers to children.  In that, Paul Erdős was responsible for hundreds of proven insights that extended the frontiers of number theory. 

The fact that Erdős’s life (1913-1996) intersected so many others allowed Paul Hoffman’s biography  to explore the domain and range of the history of mathematics.  The Greeks, Fibonacci, and pi are here along with Hardy, Ramanujan, and  transfinite numbers, as well a bit of graph theory, and “what’s behind door number two?”

The Man Who Loved Only Numbers by Paul Hoffman (Hyperion, 1998) explains most of the mathematics with integers.  After all, God created the integers and we built the rest – or so it was claimed by Leopold Kronecker (1821-1893) and echoed by Stephen Hawking.  As a result, many of these puzzles could be explained to a child in third through ninth grade.  The fact is, though, that few would be.  The stampede for standardized testing in K-12 education forces teachers to focus on the examinations to the detriment of the true understanding that comes from the artful competence of leisure and play.

Consider Ramsey theory.  Among the pursuits of Frank Plumpton Ramsey (1903-1930) was the question of the smallest possible "universe" that contains some element.  How many ordinary people would you have to fetch at random in order to be guaranteed one of each sex (not gender)?  Three, right?  If you want to plan a party, what is the smallest number of guests that guarantees that three of them must know each other?  Six; no proof is offered, so it must be hard.  (The opposite problem that no three of them will know each other is the same problem, again stated without proof.)  If you wrote out the first so-many integers in any order you wanted, how many would you need to guarantee a run of eleven in a row ascending (or descending)? 101, but 100 might work for special cases. To find a string of length n+1, you must have a universe of n^2 + 1.  Anyone in a first-term computer programming class could write a "Ramsey generator." 

Reading the book while commuting to work on the city busses, I misread one of the problems and worked a different one entirely.  It so happens that any odd positive integer raised to any integer power can always be expressed as the sum of two consecutive integers:  9^2 = 81; 81= 40+41.  7^5 = 16807 = 8403+8404. 

Suggestive as isolated cases may be, in mathematics, we need proof, and the more general the proof, better.  Best of all is a simple proof.  And a proof must reveal not merely that something is true, but why it must be true.  As abstract as mathematics is, when you work with integers these necessary truths became necessary factual truths because party guests and anything else we count are sensible evidentiary empirical objects.

So, one morning, I started with 2n+1, the common form of an odd number.  (2n+1)^2 = 4n^2 + 4n + 1.  That can be written as (2n^2 + 2n) + (2n^2 + 2n + 1), clearly some number and the next higher.  The next night, I did the same for cubes.  The following day, I had to open up a math book to see how to write out the expansion for any power n, an algebraic statement for Pascal’s Triangle.  I was pretty sure that I could complete the proof.  Then I realized that if an odd number can be expressed as 2n+1, that 2n is always some integer that admits to the existence of n and the next number would be one more than that.  More to the point, no matter what power (2n+1) is raised to, the last term of the polynomial will be 1.  You always will be able to find half the number and the integer next to it.  (I called it "Proving Gershon's Theorem" after the Sidney Harris cartoon: "You can't call it Gershon's Equation if everyone has known it for centuries.")

Then I tried it with negative integers.  They only work with odd powers.  And I can prove why.  It is child’s play, really.  But few people ever approach mathematics that way. Paul Erdős did.  In fact, he exhibited neoteny, never having any intimate relationships, being cared for by his mother into his sixties, being unwilling to cook for himself or otherwise look after the simplest daily tasks.  Instead, he was in constant motion, traveling to visit colleagues, imposing on their hospitality, in return for which, he gave them the impetus to publish over 1400 significant new ideas in mathematics.


Monday, May 4, 2015

Casa Brasil Coffee

Austin runs on cerebral energy.  Dell, Inc., is headquartered here, of course, but even South by Southwest gives top billing to mathematician and cybernetic futurist Stephen Wolfram. So, as freely as technology start-ups bring beer to user group meetings, we love coffee more. 

"Tuca left the Vale da Grama at a young age for Sao Paulo, pursuing a career in architecture and never imaging that farming would be in her future. After her grandfather passed away, the family considered renting out the farm, exiting the business they had been in since 1907. However, in 2010 Tuca returned to the Vale da Grama and, along with family business partner Rodrigo Fernandes, took over the management of Santa Alina. Their mission was two-fold, to increase the production of high quality micro-lots and to increase the living standard of those living and working on the farm."

The Casa Brasil website explains safra zero, or zero harvest.  “In the zero harvest system a producer prunes the branches of a coffee tree completely back to the trunk. After a year of regeneration with no yield, the tree will then produce larger amounts of coffee the following year. The process can then be repeated.”

If you shop directly with Casa Brasil, you can get blends or single-source (currently from the Fazenda Ambiental Fortaleza and Fazenda Recreio estates).  In all, they offer seven different roasts, including a Swiss water process decaf.


Sunday, May 3, 2015

Evolution vs. God

The premise is that Darwinian evolution is unproved and unprovable. It is accepted on faith, passed to students on the authority of professors.   Darwinian evolution has its problems, but this video does not address any of them.  It is a religious tract.

I got the video on the UT campus where they were being handed out.  Packaged as a bait and switch,  Evolution vs. God is a one-sided argument with an assortment of college students and professors. They are neatly boxed in by their own ignorance of Darwinian evolution and their personal failings as moral philosophers.  And, of course, we never see the ones who were not defeated.

Scientists have bombarded fruit flies with radiation for over 100 years, and never created a new species.  However the monsters turn out, they remain fruit flies, apparently still able to breed with others of their kind.  (Institute for Creation Research.)  On the other hand, the Archaeopteryx of the late Jurassic remains factually among several transitional animals between reptiles and birds. Gratefully, we can go swimming without meeting any of the creatures of the Devonian.  What survived is fearsome enough. 

William Smith’s geological map of England was possible only because he relied on the facts of evolution. Simpler forms of the same kind never appear in rock strata higher than more complex forms.  Smith died 20 years before Charles Darwin published The Origin of Species.  

None of that is discussed in this video.  Nor did anyone ask the interviewer what happened to the dinosaurs.  And why do we not find fossil dogs and cats in rocks 150 million years old?

In the nineteenth century, geologists debated catastrophism versus uniformitarianism, and volcanism versus neptunism.  In other words, did the world we know now come about by sudden changes or gradual processes?  Were the primary forces violent explosions or accreting deposits?  Today, we regard those as false dichotomies. 

The debate between Darwinian evolution and Lamarckism may be another false dichotomy.  Epigenetics is the relatively new study of how the environment affects heredity.  The evidence seems compelling – and it seems unlikely that the environment would have no affect, leaving all evolutionary processes at the level of quantum physics.  The easy answer is: “I don’t know.” 

In science we live with our limits.  Science is self-correcting as we work to discover more about the world around us, and put that knowledge into an order that allows predictions.  Religion has no such limits.  They all claim absolute knowledge and – obviously and tragically – disagree about what that absolute truth may be.  Several times near the end, the interviewer (Ray Comfort, the producer) quoted an English translation of the Bible.  Which translation is right?  What happens when they disagree?  And, for that matter, the Qu’ran mentions Jesus about 25 times calling him Messiah and the Son of God.  And the Qu’ran acknowledges Mary as the Virgin and Mother of God.  Yet, somehow Muslims and Christians seem not to get along well. 

Evolution vs. God offers a second thesis: Darwinian evolution allows (even encourages and advocates) immorality.  According to this video, survival of the fittest excuses the harms, crimes, and horrors we perpetrate.  People embrace evolution to avoid following God’s Commandments.  “Are you a good person?” the interviewer asks.  Of course the subjects think well of themselves.  “Have you ever told a lie?”  “Have you ever stolen anything?” "Have you ever had lust in  your heart?" “Have you ever taken God’s name in vain?”  If you stop and think about it, the interviewer is also a sinner, but having accepted Christ’s sacrifice, he does not need to worry about that – or even mention it.  That being as it may, it is not a divine revelation that a selected handful of university undergraduates and professors have no idea what morality is.

All in all, the presentation was no better or worse than Reason TV productions where university students who say they voted for President Obama are happy to sign a petition based on the 1931 Nazi Party election platform. 


Friday, May 1, 2015

Happy May Day, Comrades

"Defending Capitalism Against Ayn Rand" by Steven Farron on Liberty Unbound, the website successor to R. William Bradford's print magazine, challenges mainstream Objectivism on what it means to be a capitalist.  Farron's thesis is that Ayn Rand was deeply influenced by the grand ideas of the Bolshevik Revolution while capitalism is really concerned with the seeming trivialities of life such as soap and lipstick. 

The essay resonated with me because from my first reading of The Fountainhead in 1966, it was obvious that Howard Roark was some kind of beatnik.  "He pulled his clothes on: old denim trousers, sandals, a shirt with short sleeves and most of its buttons missing."  At one of several crossroads in the story, we meet his antithesis, Hopton Stoddard, a mushy man, terrified by religion, and successful in several lines of business including real estate and contraceptives.  

The heroes of Atlas Shrugged could have continued living materially very well from page one if they just put up with some inconvenient government regulations.  But as The Internationale tells us: "You have nothing if you have no rights."

The Internationale
modern English lyrics

Stand up, all victims of oppression,
For the tyrants fear your might.
Don't cling so hard to your possessions
For you have nothing, if you have no rights.

Let racist ignorance be ended
For respect makes the empires fall.
Freedom is merely privilege extended
Unless enjoyed by one and all.

So come brothers and sisters
For the struggle carries on!
The Internationale
Unites the world in song.
So comrades come rally
For this is the time and place!
The international ideal
Unites the human race!

Let no one build walls to divide us,
Walls of hatred nor walls of stone.
Come greet the dawn and stand beside us;
We'll live together or we'll die alone.
In our world poisoned by exploitation,
Those who have taken, now they must give.
And end the vanity of nations;
We've but one Earth on which to live.

And so begins the final drama
In the streets and in the fields.
We stand unbowed before their armor.
We defy their guns and shields.
When we fight, provoked by their aggression,
Let us be inspired by like and love.
For though they offer us concessions,
Change will not come from above.

You can find many montages on YouTube.  
This is my favorite so far.

Also on NecessaryFacts