Saturday, October 31, 2015

Rich Lives Matter More: How Robert Kennedy Got to be U.S. Attorney General

A 19 year old black man hits another man over the head with a bear bottle. He is arrested by cops, charged with assault or even attempted murder. He is convicted and serves 2 years in jail. After that he is a felon, and so can't get a job, and ends up in a life of crime.

That is a believable story in the United States of America. Some variation of it has happened millions of times in our history. It could have been a true story in the 1920s, or 1950s, or in 2015.

Now consider this quote from The Passage of Power: The Years of Lyndon Johnson:

At a bar "Magnuson, happened to be already celebrating his birthday there, and his friends began singing Happy Birthday to him. Infuriated over what he apparently regarded as an intrusion into his celebration, Bob walked up behind Magnuson and hit him over the head with a beer bottle, sending him to the hospital for stitches." This was just an example of a pattern of illegal, criminal, violent behavior. In another fight friends said "Bobby would have killed him if we didn't pull him off."

Now there are many reasons an act of violence does not result in jail time. Much violence is simply hidden, as when the victim can't ID the assailant, or has his or her own reasons to avoid the police.

Anyone who thinks all white men and women carry get out of jail free cards with them, should take a look at prison statistics (there are about 120,000 white males in federal prison on any given day in the USA with about 77,000 black men).

Some times violent men avoid jail because they have good lawyers. Some times that may be a public defender, but more generally for serious violence only a private lawyer will do. As a result, black or white, having money for lawyers is the main prerequisite

Some violent men get off scott free because they are part of a system of corruption. That would include cops, friends of cops and judges and politicians, and other connected people.

The Bob above is better known as Bobby or Robert Kennedy. He is better known for being the brother and United States Attorney General of President John F. Kennedy. Bobby was assassinated and died on June 6, 1968. President Kennedy was assassinated and died on November 22, 1963.

Are you surprised? I am. I thought I knew quite a bit about the Kennedy family. Only recently I read Robert Kennedy's The Enemy Within, which is mostly about his (later successful) attempt to jail Jimmy Hoffa. Robert did not mention that he acted like a psychopath at least as late has his college years.

In this particular case the violent criminal was the son of one of the most powerful men in the world, Joseph Kennedy, a billionaire (when there were only a few in the world) who maximized profits by dancing back and forth over the imaginary line separating business from organized crime. Apparently no charges were every brought against Bobby for anything he did. The American Bar Association found nothing objectionable about his ethics. He joined the Justice Department, then became Joe McCarthy's henchman in his anti-communist crusade. And at last, through nepotism, the highest figure in American law enforcement.

My own, anecdotal experience in life confirms the picture. Mainly I stay away from criminals and crime. I figure being a political dissident in America is dangerous enough. But three friends of mine have been involved in crimes that were slightly more than petty. Two, probably binging on drugs, copied a scene out of Cool Hand Luke and one of them was caught. One friend, a cook, punched the restaurant owner in the face during an argument.

All three were white. The cook was charged with assault, convicted, and spent over a year in jail. One thief, as I said, got away. I later learned he followed Bobby's path, getting a law degree and a job at the Justice Department. The one who was caught was quickly released and only orally reprimanded by a judge. I don't know what he did for a career.

The difference? The cook was poor and had poor parents and a public defender. The thief had rich parents, with connections to the intelligence community, and an expensive lawyer.

I know black and hispanic and Native American Indians all get treated worse by law enforcement and the courts. But being white and poor or working class is no picnic.

One more anecdote comes to mind. If you are going to be a terrorist, it pays to be from a rich, powerful family. Ask Patty Hearst.

Black lives matter. We need to do more to end all forms of racism. But we also need to give the same justice to people who commit crimes regardless of their economic status and ability to hire lawyers of various levels of competency.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Parable of the Drunk and Sober Drivers

"When you (or somebody else) finally has the good idea, you feel very stupid for not having seen it sooner." — H. M. Georgi, "Grand Unified Theories" in The New Physics

One evening two men went to a social club event. One of the men had quite a bit of alcohol, the other stayed entirely sober.

Each man drove home in his car in the darkness. The sober man got distracted and drove off the road and smashed his car into a tree, but he was not hurt.

The drunk man weaved around a bit on the road and almost hit a car, a dog, and a mail box, but kept it together and made it home without scratching his car. He even managed to stumble unhurt into bed before passing out.

The men at the social club analyzed the event. The concluded that in the interest of safety, every man would be required to drink a minimum of two alcoholic beverages at all future events.

Obviously this is a false parable, but it illustrates some very interesting aspects of reality and the human mind. In shows the difference between anecdotal evidence and statistics. Also that drinking is preferable to sobriety, until it isn't.

Statistically driving drunk is a bad bet. Take a sufficiently large sample and a trend will appear. Not everyone who drives sober drives safely every time. Not everyone who drives drunk gets in a wreck every time. But the frequency of accidents is quite a bit higher for drunk drivers than for sober drivers. The frequency of accidents also climbs as the amount of alcohol measured in the blood climbs.

I originally made up this parable to explain to my friends why one of my friends did not believe in global warming. Most of my believer friends have only the vaguest idea of how statistics work. That does not prevent them from sharing statistics that confirm their beliefs, even if it is easy to show the statistics are falsified. Math is just not a strong point with them. Let's call them artists, rather than math disabled.

On the other hand my global warming denier friend is a very capable guy. He is good at logical argument, at accounting, and at statistics. He knows more about the history of temperatures of the ancient earth than I do. So what are the chances that he is wrong and the artists are right?

We can know he is wrong by looking at the work of people, scientists, who know even more than he does. Those scientists have vast arrays of data available for analysis and know what can go wrong when data is collected.

We know he is wrong because we can step into a greenhouse during a sunny day in winter and notice it is warmer than outside. We can check (should we have the time and interest) the spectral characteristics of sunlight, of carbon dioxide, and of the radiation of heat from the earth, and see that carbon dioxide is indeed a greenhouse gas. And we can measure (in a home lab, if you have the money for equipment and the skill) the level of carbon dioxide in the air, and compare it to older measurements. And of course there are all those thermometers the scientists have set up around the world, starting in the 1700s.

But for a lot of stuff is even harder to distinguish between anecdotes, belief systems, and factual statistics. Recent studies showed many science experiments are difficult to reproduce, and that difficulty seems to be driven by mental (and ethical) problems of the scientists. In other words, Publish or Perish drives the survival of the best liars. In particular it seems like the entire profession of Psychology is run by nut cases. When specifically asked why their experimental techniques were so bad, most psychologists did not even seem to understand there was a problem. Yikes. [See How Scientists Fool Themselves]

Of course my global warming denier friend would take this information and say exactly: my global warming denier scientific minority has it right. Your ecology-warped green scientists are misinterpreting the data.

Even stay-at-home paranoid Internet mavens don't have time to check every fact. Politics and many other professions depend on lying as a basic tool. Yet we need truth or we will suffer bad consequences.

Fortunately most lies don't pass the basic smell test. My first order guess is that the scientists are right and the theologians are wrong. Scientists are not always right, and theologians are not always wrong. But it you drink the theological kool-aid, you are going to crash into reality at some point.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Why Israel (Secretly) Loves the Islamic State

Boundaries of the Islamic State (ISIL or ISIS or the Caliphate) shift from day to day. Currently most of the Islamic State territory is a good day's drive from northern Israel, about 350 miles. But pockets of Islamic State control are already within a few miles of Israel, or at least the Golan Heights (illegally and apparently permanently occupied by Israel), according to the Carter Center map that tracks the Syrian conflict:

Syria civil war areas of control map

The bottom left of the map touches Israel. Lebanon is to the east, Turkey to the north, and Jordan below the long slant at the bottom.

While many people in the world are upset at the to-date triumphs of the Islamic State, Israel is not. Here, by Israel, I mean the typically ultra-orthodox, nationalist Jews who have controlled the government for some time now. There are still many Jews in Israel that believe in human rights for all peoples, they just have been marginalized over time.

The Islamic State fits perfectly into the National Zionist Zeitgeist Ideology (NZZI) narrative. Zionists like to pretend that Palestine was empty, more or less, before they arrived. The existence of large numbers of Palestinian survivors of the Holocaust of 1948 has always been an embarrassment. Extremist Zionists have always advocated a Greater Israel with various boundaries, but typically including everything south of Turkey and north of Mecca, to be taken in bites, of course.

The Islamic State appears to Americans and Europeans to have no redeeming qualities. ISIS are ultra-orthodox Islamists hell bent on taking over the world and willing to kill anyone who disagrees with them, even other Sunni Islamic sects. Unlike the Palestinians, who traditionally were either moderates or secular, and the PLO, which was Marxist and therefore atheist, the Islamic State has no appeal to anyone outside its own camp.

The Islamic State is the Israeli caricature of Palestinians, Arabs and Islam made into reality.

So if the Islamic State takes over Syria, the Israelis can dust off the old war plans for the capture of Damascus. No one would stop their fighting ISIS, and the people of Damascus might actually welcome them. At first.

If the Islamic State takes Syria it will also take Lebanon and Jordan. Then Greater Israel is just a matter of eating, digesting, and eating again. Enough area can be left to the Islamic State to make it a permanent global threat that justified anything Israel does, including to the Palestinians within its borders.

For the Israelis and Islamic State, it is a win-win situation. Of course, as Hitler learned when he tried to create Greater Germany, things don't always go according to plan.