On Killing Book Review

On Killing

I finished Lt. Col Dave Grossman’s book On Killing recently. It’s about soldiers’ resistance to kill, how the military overcomes that instinct, and the larger reprecussions of that type of training on society. It is not a “how-to” book as I feared many people might’ve thought whenever I read it in public.

At the start I should say that Grossman presents a good case. He backs it up with hundreds of interviews with soldiers and his personal impressions from being in the service. Unfortunately, he doesn’t have a lot of hard data to support his point. Why? Because for the most part there just haven’t been a lot of studies on how to get someone to kill another person. It ranges into the unethical territory of psychological studies. The data he does have is convincing. Continue reading

David and Goliath Book Review

David&Goliath

I recently finished listening to an audiobook version of Malcolm Gladwell’s David and Goliath. The nonfiction piece focuses on how being an underdog can occasionally confer advantages that the “overdog” doesn’t expect.

The book uses a wide-range of examples of underdogs overcoming their disadvantages and actually using them as jumping off points to topple bigger and stronger opponents.

This isn’t a new idea to me or the world. Scholars were peddling this theory at least 1,500 years ago when the Roman Empire fell. I first read about it in Frank Herbert’s science fiction masterpiece, Dune, where the fictional race of Freman are hardened by their desert homeland and are able to overcome the forces of the Padishah Emperor. Continue reading

California Election 2016

The Presidential Election for the United States of America is tomorrow so it’s about time I do some sort of post about it.

I usually don’t like talking about politics with people who aren’t my friends. It’s pretty much guaranteed to be divisive, but I suppose I should use my teeny soapbox of the GoCorral website for what it’s worth.

I’ve got two categories I want to go over for the election, who should be President and California’s propositions. I’ll start with the propositions. Continue reading

Obama Asking Congress for War with ISIS

Looks like I’m going to write something political again because today President Obama asked the US Congress to declare war on the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

ISIS is a group that grew out of al-Qaeda in northern Iraq. Since its impossible to truly wipe out a terrorist group, they continued to operate during US occupation and after Bin Laden’s assassination.

When the Syrian Civil War broke out in 2011, ISIS took advantage of the situation and moved into eastern Syria.

ISIS has since absorbed or eliminated most of the other rebel groups in the Syrian Civil War, making the Civil War essentially a fight between Assad’s forces and ISIS.

The US has been providing training and weapons among other things to the original Syria government led by Assad.

The US has also been helping Assad with bombing raids and drone strikes on ISIS targets.

That’s about the limit of aid Obama can provide without going to war. The congressional acts that allow the war on terror don’t allow the President to deploy soldiers directly on the battlefield in Syria without a declaration of war from Congress.

Obama is now asking for that declaration.

Congress has said they will debate it and the discussion could take months.

Congress has been quick to declare war in the past when the President requests it, making the very existence of debate a sign that the USA probably won’t go to war.

And I don’t think we should be going to war with ISIS.

There are good reasons for going to war against ISIS. The group/country’s leaders are despotic theocrats.

Among the traditional offenses such a regime commits they’ve also made the Arabic acronym for ISIS, DAESH, illegal to pronounce as one word. You have to sound it out D-A-E-S-H. This is because Daesh is similar to the Arabic verb for “crushing opponents” which makes the regime sound evil? And what better way to not seem evil than to whip people who dare to pronounce your country’s acronym incorrectly! -_-

Going to war against ISIS could also lay the groundwork for forming the nation of Kurdistan for the Kurd population in Turkey, Syria, and Iraq. The Kurds have long been discriminated against either directly or through gerrymandering as a racial minority in the other countries, but that could change if they were given their own country.

So all that stuff is well and good. The UN is involved for those reasons.

But why is the USA involved? What do we get for declaring war on ISIS?

Well, we help out US allies, Iraq and Israel by keeping the region temporarily stable around them.

But we have allies for reasons right? What do Israel and Iraq give us in exchange for this help?

Well… As far as I can tell, they give us space to build military bases so that we can keep a presence in the Middle East region. And that presence is needed so that we can protect Israel and Iraq.

Wait, what?

I’m sure there are other reasons besides that, but that’s how it looks to me.

Another issue with helping the Syrian government is that we are helping Assad, a hereditary dictator. We call him President of Syria instead of King of Syria because it is polite to do so, not because he actually won any fair election to the presidential office.

Our continued presence in the Middle East helps root out terrorist organizations, but it also helps to create them. The US involvement in the Syrian Civil War has been with indiscriminate strikes. As much as we’d like to think that bombs and drones only hit military targets, they still harm more civilians than ISIS militants. And what do those civilians and their families think when the US bombs them? “I hate those Americans! The ISIS people hate them too! Maybe I’ll go join them after all!”

Those are the big points on the topic that I’ve landed on when debating with myself. My opinion is that the USA should not go to war in Syria. In fact, I wish we’d provide less aid to Assad by not bombing or performing drone strikes as those harm civilian lives.

But as with everything political, the situation is more complex than that. Would allowing ISIS to freely take over Syria result in the loss of more civilian life? Maybe.

My ill-informed mind can’t provide all the answers on this topic, so I’d encourage you to learn more on your own by visiting CNN’s website. They have a lot of cool videos that can tell you more.

-GoCorral

All This Ukraine Stuff

The crash site near Grabovo, 17 July

The unrest in Ukraine has been going on about since I started this blog, but I have yet to post on it.

Part of my reason for not posting is because I don’t know much about whats going on there. I feel like the topic deserves to be addressed regardless.

I’ll try to start from the top and see where that leads me.

In February the people in Crimea, the section of Ukraine that extends into the Black Sea,  decided they wanted to stop being part of Ukraine and start being a part of Russia.

Did they decide this on their own or did the Russians threaten them? I don’t know.

The Russians sent in their army and took over Crimea.

Within the next few months other parts of Ukraine started deciding they wanted to stop being part of Ukraine and start being part of Russia.

Again, its unclear if this was what the people in those areas want or if Russia is intimidating them.

People speaking Russian and using Russian weapons have taken over a lot of the government buildings in eastern Ukraine

Outside of Crimea, Russia appears to not be directly involved in hostile takeovers of government entities.

If the people of eastern Ukraine want to join Russia then it makes perfect sense that they would be speaking Russian and using Russian weapons.

But what if the people taking over government buildings in Ukraine are Russian soldiers disguised as Ukrainians?

It seemed plausible until I considered accents.

Ukraine does have a significant Russian speaking population, but I’d bet that their Russian is spoken with a different accent than the accent of a “real Russian.”

That accent would be noticed by the civilians and reporters in Ukraine, but so far I haven’t heard anyone mentioning it.

That means that people aren’t paying enough attention or that the accent fits with the local accents, indicating that the rebels are actually Ukrainians who want to join Russia.

Or my theory is wrong.

One of my other theories is that if Russia is aiding the rebels, then the CIA would almost definitely know about it.

That’s the exact sort of thing the CIA should be trying to find out and considering they were able to find Osama Bin Laden, I wouldn’t be surprised if they found out where the Ukrainian rebels’ weapons came from.

But is it bad if Russian aids one side of a civil war whose outcome directly affects their country?

I’m not sure.

The war is having bad effects on the rest of the world. For example, the above picture that I took from the BBC’s website shows the wreckage caused by the Malaysian plane shot down over Ukraine.

It’s unclear right now who shot it down. Was it rebels? The Ukrainian government? The Russian government? A random lunatic?

My wife said that one Russian news network is claiming the western world created a conspiracy with the plane going down.

The network claims that the western world filled a plane with passengers who were already dead. The two pilots parachuted out and the plane crashed. There was no missile that shot it down.

That makes me think that Russia must not have as strict laws on truthful reporting of the news as the USA does.

That covers most of the actual events. The rest of the unrest in Ukraine has been officials talking, but I doubt the actual people in eastern Ukraine are listening.

It seems like a war will be inevitable, but its not there yet.

-Mister Ed

Seth Rogen’s Film and North Korea

There’s a new movie coming out in the USA on October 10th 2014 called The Interview.

The movie is getting a lot of press because of the unusual plot. In The Interview two journalists travel to North Korea and attempt to assassinate Kim Jong-Un.

This has obviously upset Kim Jong-Un and some North Koreans. Every major news company has released something covering the North Korean response.

Here’s one of the articles I read put out by CBC.

The North Korean statement went something like this, “If the U.S. government doesn’t block the movie’s release, it will face stern and merciless retaliation. The reckless U.S. provocative insanity of mobilizing a gangster filmmaker to challenge the North’s leadership is triggering a gust of hatred and rage among North Korean people and soldiers. The film’s release would be considered an act of war that we will never tolerate.”

So if the statement is to be interpreted accurately, the North Korean people are upset over the upcoming film’s release (I doubt many of them even know about it. I certainly didn’t until this news article popped up on Facebook as “trending.”)

Seth Rogen is apparently a provocative, insane, gangster filmmaker (Provocative for sure, but the other statements are just insults).

And the final point, North Korea will view the release of the film as an act of war.

If that’s taken seriously, then North Korea intends to declare war on the USA because we didn’t censor a film.

Granted the film is highly offensive to North Korea, but that’s only because the North Korean administration doesn’t understand how free speech works.

If we censor the film then what other films should we censor? Should Olympus Has Fallen have been censored because it portrayed the North Koreans attacking a fictional US President? No.

And perhaps that’s the point of it. Past movies of this kind have always dealt with fictional leaders of countries. The person at risk is never the real President or the Supreme Leader of North Korea. It’s always some random person in an alternate past or unknown future.

And I think Seth Rogen wrote his script with the actual leader because he knew this type of response was coming.

He knew the North Koreans would flip out and make a statement of some kind.

And he knew that other news networks would pick up the story.

And now his film gets free international publicity.

It may be provocative and insulting, but it was also a smart business decision.

Anyways, I doubt North Korea will attack the USA once the film is released.

More likely they will use this as their excuse to launch missiles at South Korea this year. There will be a tense standoff and then once again nothing will be resolved in the eternal Korean War.

That’s all for today!

-Mister Ed

Recent Survey on Attitudes Towards Jews

One of my Jewish friends posted a New York Times article on Facebook recently.

The article is about a survey conducted by the Anti-Defamation League over the past year and released last week on world-wide attitudes towards Jews.

I encourage you to look at the survey results yourself at this the link.

The results can be looked at in an interactive Javascript or in PDF labeled as “Executive Summary” at the top right of the page.

The results were a lot of fun to look at, but nothing was particularly surprising.

The main point of the survey was to discover demographic information about anti-Semites.

Anti-Semitism was gauged by seeing if people surveyed thought 11 statements about Jews were “probably true” or “probably false.”

The statements are all vaguely anti-Semitic. If a surveyed person answered “probably true” to 6 or more of the questions then the survey considered them anti-Semitic.

The results of the survey show that the greatest predictor for anti-Semitism is location.

Anti-Semitism is common in the Middle East and North Africa, probably because Israel is an an enemy of practically every country in the region.

No other region of the world had high rates of anti-Semitism, but the highest besides the Middle East and North Africa were Europe and The Americas.

Europe and the American continents were likely higher because of legally supported anti-Semitism in the past.

The data supports that conclusion as well, with older people “from the past” having higher rates of anti-Semitism than younger people.

One of the facts discovered by the survey that interested me most pertained to education.

In most of the world, a higher education level correlated with a reduction in the rate of anti-Semitism.

In the Middle East and North Africa, a higher education level correlated with an increase in anti-Semitism.

I’d figured more education would universally reduce anti-Semitism, but I guess that isn’t true.

My first thought was that there might be something wrong with the education system in the Middle East and North Africa.

When I thought about it more a different idea seemed more plausible to me.

In an area with lots of anti-Semitism, people are rewarded for being anti-Semitic (social rewards, career advancement, etc).

If someone becomes educated, they’ll realize that being anti-Semitic is advantageous and exhibit the behavior more often or to greater degrees.

This also leads to avenues for reducing anti-Semitism. Make it so the behavior isn’t rewarded and it will stop.

Course, the means of doing that in regions where anti-Semitism is deeply entrenched are a mystery to me.

Regardless, the survey has a lot of cool data in an easily accessible format. I’d suggest looking at it yourself and talking about what you found!

-Mister Ed

Montana Home Invasion

A still from a security camera of Diren Dede stealing from Markus Kaarma's garage.
A still from a security camera of Diren Dede stealing from Markus Kaarma’s garage.

What topic do I want to write about tonight?

Hurray! It’s another sketchy self-defense/homicide case that went international on the news! (sarcasm)

I read this on the New York Times. You can check it out at this article.

So what’s the story?

Diren Dede was a 17 year-old exchange student from Germany going to school in Montana.

He thought it’d be fun to go out and steal stuff from someone’s garage.

He found an open garage and went in to take some stuff.

The owners, Markus Kaarma and Janelle Pflager, were cautious because there had been other burglaries in the area.

They’d installed cameras and motion sensors in the garage.

They chose not to actually close the garage all the way because they like to duck under it to smoke outside.

Not closing the garage didn’t make sense to my Californian mind at first. Why not just open your door to go smoke?

The case is in cold Montana though. The couple probably smoke in their garage and just duck down to breathe the smoke outside.

Anyways, Markus Kaarma saw the motion detectors. He grabbed his shotgun and fired into the garage.

Janelle Pflager says she heard someone in the garage shouting, “Hey! Wait!”

Montana law gives someone the right to use a gun against a home invader only if the trespasser is violently threatening someone in the house.

That’s pretty clearly not the case.

To make it worse, Kaarma had spoken with his barber recently about wanting to “shoot some kid.”

And there’s a purse at the back of the garage that was placed there with marked items, so that if it was stolen they could track down the thief.

So… it’s almost a clear case of premeditation.

They didn’t burglar proof their house. They set up stuff to tell them if a thief was in the garage. And Markus talked about wanting to kill someone.

The facts as I see them make the case clearly second-degree murder, if not first.

People have the right to protect themselves and their property, but there is a limit to how far that protection goes.

Kaarma could use his gun for intimidation, but when he heard Dede telling him to wait, he should’ve realized that firing his gun was a bad choice.

All that aside, I’m also a little surprised he could afford bail for a murder case.

That’s all for tonight!

-Mister Ed

Danish Minecraft

One of my friends posted this wonderful article on Facebook today.

There’s a game called Minecraft that you might’ve heard of.

In Minecraft you don’t really do anything except mine for cool minerals that you need to build things. Then you build things.

You can build pretty much anything in Minecraft.

Some people have built skyscrapers. A lot of people do pyramids. A few people build programs that can do basic math calculations. I saw one guy build a scale model of the Enterprise from Star Trek.

The article says that the Danish Geodata Agency recently released a map of Denmark for Minecraft.

I had to look up what the Danish Geodata Agency is. It’s apparently the land surveying part of the government in Denmark.

So they surveyed all that land and then turned it into a map for Minecraft.

Upon the maps release, some lovely Americans did what you can see above to the map.

They steered some dynamite carts into various Danish towns in the game and blew them up, planting American flags on the ruins.

The Danish Geodata Agency had this to say, “We consider that as a nature of playing Minecraft – elements are broken down and new are being created…We are very happy to see so many players around the world creating fancy nice things and have fun.”

Basically, they are totally cool with Americans pretending to blow up Denmark.

I think that’s pretty funny. I laughed my horse laugh.

-Mister Ed

Bible Videos

A still from one of DarkMatter2525's videos on Genesis.
A still from one of DarkMatter2525’s videos on Genesis.

Today I found this series of videos on Youtube made by DarkMatter2525.

His videos look at Biblical stories from a modern perspective.

Is the same logic that was true thousands of years ago true today?

What happens if you look at the mythological stories from a different perspective?

One of the ones I’ve watched so far is about how the world would’ve turned out if Adam and Eve never committed original sin.

Since death doesn’t exist without sin, the world just fills up with people until there is a second crust around the Earth made of animals and people.

The people don’t need to eat because they can’t die.

Eventually God gets fed up and force feeds Adam the apple.

The point DarkMatter2525 was trying to make is that Creation makes no sense if original sin isn’t included.

People would multiple with no end and a lot of the carnivorous creatures that are designed to eat other creatures would seem odd in a world where such an act isn’t possible.

Why does a lion have sharp teeth and killing claws if it doesn’t hunt its prey?

I grew up watching Veggie Tales videos at my friend’s house, so its especially interesting for me to see cartoon Biblical stories from a more adult perspective.

That’s all for tonight!

-Mister Ed