It is no secret that the quality of content made by amateurs and semi-professionals on YouTube now routinely exceeds the crap produced by the “professionals” on network TV and even many cable channels. As many of you know, I am interested in technology of all sorts- especially the history of innovation in those areas (both successful and failed ideas) that led to where we are now.
I first came across a YouTube channel on rare firearms, especially prototypes, 2-3 years ago. At that time it was were mostly 10-15 minute clips about the history and mechanisms of somewhat uncommon guns. It has become even better since them and a lot of content on that channel, uploaded over previous year, is very good.
YouTube Channel Link – Forgotten Weapons
In the previous post of this series, I pointed out that Micah Xavier Johnson’s (MXJ) profile was remarkable for being unremarkable. In other words, there is nothing about him which would predict that he was going to shoot up a dozen cops on July 7. In my opinion, the plainness of his profile is by far the most problematic part of that shooting since it raises the possibility that many (potentially millions of) other people in USA are capable of doing similar things.
As many of you know, the difference between fringe rebellions and full-blown insurrections is that those who do the former are far more ideologically driven than the later- which is a fancy way of saying that insurrections are usually done by people who are average in every sense of that word. The profile of MXJ strongly suggests that what he did is better categorized as part of a wider decentralized insurrection than due to membership of fringe group or belief in a fringe ideology.
And this brings me to the use of a bomb disposal robot by the police to kill MXJ. In my opinion, it was a terribly stupid idea to kill him with an explosive carrying robot. My objections to that action by the police are based in long-term consequences of such an action- both intended and unintended.
It does not take a genius to figure out that use of such technology, primitive as it is, in the USA opens the door to its use in far more routine circumstances. What is going to stop local police departments, filled as they are with “people” who feel they are above the law, to start bombing people in far more mundane situations? What about bombing innocent people living in some house that was incorrectly identified as the hiding place of some “suspect”? What about due legal process? Well.. you get the picture. However, cops killing people in USA is by the far the least problematic aspect of using bomb carrying robots.
The far more problematic aspect of legitimizing and normalizing such behavior by cops is the potential for serious and unending blowback. Do you think that people who are being killed by bomb carrying robots will not use similar devices and methods against cops? I mean.. what is now going to stop some black or brown guy from using an improvised robot bomb, remote-controlled device or even the suicide vests you see in the middle-east against them or their families? Think that is too far-fetched? Look what happened in Iraq and Afghanistan after the USA unsuccessfully tried and failed to occupy them. Do you really think it cannot happen here? How much money would bet on there not being a similar blowback in the USA?
It is well-known that people in Iraq and Afghanistan had no worthwhile history of using IEDs and suicide bombs against “soft” targets (non-active combatants and supporting civilians) prior to the invasion and failed occupation of their countries by the USA. As many of you might also remember, all that changed very quickly after the invasions and explosive devices (IEDS and suicide bombs) eventually caused more casualties among american soldiers and their civilian supporters/ helpers than pretty much any other weapon system. Then, as now, the american response was to increase harassment and murder of potential terrorist sympathizers and try to find technological fixes. We all know how that worked out or not. In any case, both occupations ended in american defeat- despite massive technological and material superiority.
Will write about some other aspects of this incident (especially the tone-deaf response of politicians and cops) in future posts on this topic.
What do you think? Comments?
I am sure that all of you have seen, heard and read a lot about the July 7 shootings that killed a few cops in Dallas. It is also not exactly a secret that this shooting has a peculiar linkage to a couple of extensively documented extrajucidial killings of two black men (Alton Sterling, Philando Castile) in the previous two days. As some of you know, more than a few of my previous posts have been about how the hubris associated with unaccountable power (or perception thereof) ultimately creates the conditions for the rise of its nemesis.
It does not take a genius to see that, throughout human history, institutions and systems that seem invulnerable at their peak inevitably implode under the strain of their hubris- which principally manifests itself through unaccountability, overreach and inability to adjust to the changing reality. Even systems capable of incredible levels of repression and surveillance over decades fail- frequently because of doing exactly that. It is also no secret that the status quo in the USA (especially since 2008) has more in common with a slowly imploding system than one with any chance of a better future.
Having said that, I will now make some brief observations about the July 7 incident.
1] The shooter, Micah Xavier Johnson, was a black veteran. It is noteworthy that he had no worthwhile criminal record and grew up in a middle-class family. There is also no evidence to suggest that he was particularly shy, angry or had an otherwise unusual personality. In other words, there is nothing to suggest that he was destined to do what he did on July 7.
2] Ideologically, he did not seem to be especially partisan or religious. He certainly had an interest in black nationalist groups and was not exactly enamored by the behavior of white people (especially cops) towards blacks. Then again.. it is hard to blame him for having a fairly negative view of white cops in USA. However none of this rises to a level which would foreshadow what he did on July 7.
3] It is now obvious (based on his journal entries) that he was planning to go on a shooting spree for some time. However, it is not clear why he chose to do it on July 7. While he was fairly systematic in planning the shooing, the motive is unclear. I mean, we know he hated white cops.. but why now? What was the final event which pushed him into action?
4] Unlike most spree shooters who prefer venues where people are unarmed, he chose to shoot up an area with hundreds of cops. Also he was pretty accurate for a spree shooter as only two protesters were hit by stray bullets and neither died. In contrast, he was able to shoot 12 cops killing 5 of them. Perhaps most interestingly, all 5 dead cops were white men- which is pretty impressive when you consider that particular police department has many non-white cops.
5] One of peculiarities of the July 7 shooting was his choice of weapons. Why would he use a SKS carbine as his main weapon? As some of you know, the SKS is an older, but rugged, semi-auto carbine chambered for the same cartridge (7.62×39mm) as the AK-47. This is especially odd since a person who was in the US army would be more familiar with using an AR-15 derived semi-auto carbine.
6] He knew how to milk the fear of potential IEDs to cause maximal disruption and fear among his opponents. I mean.. think about it- one determined guy with a SKS, handgun and basic bullet-proof jacket was able to make hundreds of armed cops take shelter behind cars, garbage cans and pretty much anything they could find. Even if you do not agree with his actions- that is a pretty impressive result.
I will write about other aspects of this incident in future posts on this topic.
What do you think? comments?
One of the more significant, but largely overlooked, change in the american political arena within the last decade concerns the obvious impotency and rapidly declining role of political strategists in wining party nominations and elections. It was not that long ago when names like Lee Atwater, Karl Rove and Roger Ailes evoked feared in those who ran against the politicians who employed them.
While a significant part of their fearsome reputations was based on myth and hearsay, it is also clear that their “dirty tricks” were somewhat effective in winning close elections. We all remember how George W Bush “won” the 2000 presidential election. But that was over a decade ago and the presidential elections of 2004 were the last major elections in USA where such political consultants were able to influence the final electoral results to any measurable degree.
Since then political consultants have been, by and large, unable to influence major elections at the national and increasingly the state and local level. Some of you might remember the very public humiliations and irrelevancy suffered by once feared political operatives like Karl Rove and Roger Ailes during the 2008 and 2012 presidential campaigns. You might also be aware of how Donald Trump destroyed the presidential aspirations of his far better funded and establishment rivals in the still ongoing race for the republican nomination.
So what is going on? Why are all the old and new “machiavellian geniuses” unable to influence american elections like their predecessors? Why do they seem to spend more time as TV pundits, Authors and make most of their income from job descriptions that fit the definition of a Sinecure? Why is somebody like Donald Trump winning the republican primary? Why is Bernie Sanders still competitive in the democratic primary?
Well.. there are many reasons for this change ranging from the still ongoing impoverishment of the average american to the (also still ongoing) post-2008 loss of public trust in all credentialed professionals and institutions. However the most important, and central, reason for the terminal impotency of political strategists is linked to the rise of decentralized, fast and structurally uncontrollable spread of information over the internet. And it does not work the way most of you think…
The conventional narrative about the effects of information spreading over the internet is based on a pleasant-sounding fallacy. Most people believe political change over the internet is almost exclusively due to people using it the educate themselves about the “facts”. While that is sorta true for objective “facts” like the stuff found in textbooks on physics and chemistry- it is not the case for information about subjective issues such as politics.
The biggest, and most important, effect of the internet on politics is that it makes pretty much everyone extremely cynical of the whole political process. The sheer amount of opinions supporting or denouncing any given position on any issue almost guarantees that most people will stick to what they believed in the first place. It is this widespread cynicism which more than anything defeats attempts to sway opinions through sophistic rhetoric, “dirty tricks”, advertisements and appeals to morality.
This is why all attempts by MSM to attack Bernie Sanders or Donald Trump have had virtually no negative effects on those who support their campaigns. Indeed, the scorn of the MSM and its paid pundits has increased, rather than decreased, public support for both outsider candidates. This is why Bernie and Trump rallies can easily get tens of thousands of enthusiastic supporters while mainstream politicians like Hillary or Cruz struggle to get a tenth or twentieth of that number.
Another interesting effect of internet driven cynicism is that the physical appearance of politicians is far less important than it was even ten years ago. People have now come to associate a “professional” look and grooming with dishonesty. In other words, people are now far more likely to trust (or not distrust) somebody who looks like Bernie or Trump than somebody who looks like Hillary, Rubio, Cruz or Mitt Romney. I had predicted something along these lines in one of my older posts- How ‘Anodyne’ Communication Destroys Societal Trust.
What do you think? Comments?
I was going to complete and post this article a few days, but decided to wait for reasons that will be more obvious when you read it further. Well.. as many of you have read or heard in the last two weeks, many presstitutes and media personalities in the main-stream media have been busy peddling their allegedly original opinions about how Bernie Sanders cannot win the democratic presidential nomination. You might have also seen articles about how he should (or soon will) “gracefully” step aside and participate in the DNC-led anointing of Shrillary. I, for one, think that the course of events might take a rather unexpected turn- and it is not what most of you are thinking.
To be clear, Bernie’s Plan A is to win the democratic presidential nomination. However, I strongly suspect he has a Plan B- specifically, one that involves damaging the electability of Shrillary in a general election to a point where she will lose to most potential republican candidates. The beauty of this Plan B is that it runs in parallel with Plan A and does not make Bernie look bad or vindictive.
To understand what Bernie is trying to pull off, you have to first look at this from his viewpoint. First a little history and context. As some of you know, Bernie Sanders is no newcomer to electoral politics and has been involved in it at various levels for over three decades. Secondly, he always ran as an independent- even though he could have made far more money and wielded much more power if he had joined the democratic party. So, it is clear that the guy has a pretty good understanding of the political system and what he wants as a person. In other words, he knows what he is doing..
Some people think that he entered the 2016 race with the naive expectation that he would not face a very determined PR campaign against him by Shrillary, her legions of flying monkeys (media personalities and presstitutes) and the DNC. Some also think that he underestimated the support of the establishment for Shrillary. But is that really so? Do you really think a guy who has been successfully elected (and re-elected) to the house and senate is that naive? Do you really think he underestimated the support of the political and corporate establishment for Shrillary?
So why would a worldly 74-year Jewish senator from Vermont decide to seriously run for the democratic nomination against Shrillary? And why in 2016? And what does he intend to achieve in case he cannot get the democratic nomination? Why is he not taking corporate donation? Is it just out of principles or is he trying to achieve something that is not that obvious? why does he keep talking about the ‘revolution’? What is the ‘revolution’ really about? And why is he acting as if the DNC does not exist or matter?
The short answer to these and other questions lies in a peculiar convergence of electoral rules, demographic realities and the general mood of people in the country.
The somewhat longer answer is as follows: As some of you might remember from 2000, the president of USA is elected by a majority of votes by the electoral college rather than a simple majority of voters. For a large part of american history, it was possible for candidates of either party to win a significant number of states- irrespective of which candidate had won them in the previous election. To put it another way, there were many more ‘swing states‘ in the past than there are now. Starting in the 1990s, polarization of the electorate in most states reached levels that rendered most of them noncompetitive for one party or the other. Consequently, presidential candidates of each party can be fairly certain about which states they will win or not before a single vote is cast.
You might also have noticed that the swing states for the last few elections have a peculiar geographical distribution and demographic profiles. For the 2016 election- we can consider Ohio, Colorado, Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, Virginia, and Florida to be definite ‘swing states’. Did you notice that the major swing states (except Virginia) are somewhat poor and full of working class whites with an increasing number of Hispanics? And what does any of this have to do with Bernie’s Plan ‘B’?
As it turns out.. a lot.
Bernie has figured a way to use Shrillary’s greatest weakness, her visceral unlikeability, against her in a way that does not make him look bad. The easiest way to pull that off is to drag Shrillary and her supporters through a series of contested democratic primaries in all 50 states, but especially in those ‘swing states’ where she desperately needs a high turnout of white democratic voters. He also knows that Shrillary and her backers will do all the things that a conventionally successful political campaign will do to win the democratic nomination. He also knows that all of those things will dramatically increase her unfavorability ratings among the white working class voters she so desperately needs later in the year.
Bernie is trying to reduce the potential democratic voter turnout for her in ‘swing states’ during the 2016 presidential election.
But why take this somewhat circuitous route? And what is he really trying to achieve by making her lose the 2016 presidential election? Well.. for starters- attacking her directly at this stage might make her look more human and actually reduce her unfavorability ratings. Remember that most people felt sorry for Shrillary all through the 1990s- when she was a relative political unknown and under constant attack by republicans. The best way to defeat and degrade Hillary in a conventional political setting, as Obama demonstrated in 2008, is to get her (and her backers) to attack you.
But that still does not answer one question- why now (in 2016)?
Well.. for one major but non-obvious reason. Bernie knows that the corporate-owned DNC, not Hillary, is the biggest impediment for any real change. He also knows that the machinery of the DNC will not stop (or even slow down) as long as it is regularly fueled by its corporate backers. So how do you cut off or reduce the flow of corporate money to the DNC? The answer is.. make sure that democrats do not control the presidency, senate, house of representatives, most state legislatures, most governorships and the supreme court. Corporations do not pay political machines that lack political power. As it turns out the democrats have already achieved most of those goals- on their own.
Losing the presidency (and not regaining the senate) in 2016 will basically finish of the current incarnation of the democratic party. Of course, winning all of them might finish of the republicans via a different mechanism- but that is a discussion best left to a future post. In short, Bernie is trying to destroy the DNC by pushing it to make that one big final mistake.
What do you think? Comments?
I have been trying to finish and post this somewhat odd blog post for the last few weeks, but was distracted by other posts and life in general. The idea for this article comes from some blog post (or discussion thread?) I came across a few months ago. The post (or discussion thread?) was about how smartphones with cameras have exposed many hitherto hidden events and facts- from “normal” women being narcissistic and slutty to police routinely killing unarmed black men. One of the commentators in that thread also talked about how trail cameras have been able to catch images of unknown or seldom seen species of animals.
All of this got me thinking- Why has the global proliferation of cheap and ubiquitous smartphones in the previous few years not provided us much more visual evidence (photos or videos) of UFOs?
Here is why I find this odd.. Reports and accounts of unidentified Flying Objects (UFOs) are not exactly new. Accounts of unidentified flying objects under apparently intelligent control can be found in literature from classical antiquity. Similarly multiple written accounts from the 16th-17th century also talk about mass sightings of flying objects what we would today call UFOs. Even more oddly, more than a few of these accounts are from east-asian cultures. Perhaps most significantly, almost all these older sightings occurred in the era before humans started building lighter-than-air or heavier-than-air flying machines.
As many of you know- accounts of UFO sightings exploded in the 20th century. While a significant part of this increase in number of alleged sightings can be accounted by the human desire to “see” more than what they actually saw- it is also clear that more than a few sightings of UFOs (especially by experienced pilots and amateur astronomers) are based in reality. Perhaps most tellingly, sightings of UFOs by pilots and astronomers almost always describe objects that are so different from existing aircraft (and balloons) that we have to consider the possibility that they were seeing real physical objects matching the description.
The worldwide proliferation of film cameras in the mid-1900s resulted in a wave of photos of objects alleged to be UFOs. While many have since been exposed as hoaxes or misidentification, a few have always remained explainable. We saw another mini-wave of recorded visual evidence for alleged UFOs after the proliferation of camcorders in the 1980s and 1990s. But then something curious happened. The introduction and even wider and global proliferation of digital cameras (standalone or in smartphones) has not resulted in an even larger wave of photographic evidence for UFOs. The question is- why not?
FYI- here is where I stand on the whole UFO issue. In my opinion, there is no reason for sentient life-forms to be unique to our planet. Furthermore, it is very likely that sentient and technologically capable life-forms in other planetary systems would explore other stellar systems using autonomous (and artificially intelligent) space probes.
What do you think? Comments?