Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Response to What Black People Want to Ask White People

First, if you haven't watched the video above, I suggest you do, because this blog post is in response to those 24 questions.

Have you watched it yet?


Here are my answers to these questions:

  1. Umm, horror movies are real life and don't reflect real life.  You really need to ask the Hollywood directors and writers about this, though I think you'll find that a group splits up to create tension and move the plot line forward.

  2. I don't freak out when a black person plays a white fictional character.  In fact, I like when Hollywood takes previously all-white media and changes the line-up to better reflect real life.
  3. Umm, okay I stopped watching James Bond movies a while ago, but I might start watching them again if Idris Elba played Mr. Bond.  He's a fantastic actor.

  4. I never heard this prejudice about big butts and big lips until right now.  Who says they're unattractive on a black woman?  

  5. No, I never thought Miley created twerking.  But I also am not a Miley fan.

  6. Has someone really asked you to teach him/her to twerk?

  7. Hmmm,  I think that you assume that everyone knows about every trend that ever existed.  Just because one set of people do or know something does not imply that everyone does or knows the same thing.  And this may not be a black vs white thing; it's probably an urban vs suburban thing.

  8. I don't think that anyone wearing her/his hair naturally is inappropriate. 

  9. Okay, I don't understand why you are  upset that someone wants to have hair similar to yours.  Imitation is the highest form of flattery.

  10. I don't think there is enough context for me to respond here.  I think you might be discussing how white people are "appropriating" black trends, but what does that have to do with student loans?  And how do you define a "black" trend?  Why can't it just be a trend?

  11. You ask a good question, sir.  Why do we tend to generalize a community's reputation on one person's crime in one case and not the other? Or does this truly happen?  In my experience, neighborhoods with low socio-economic factors tend to have more crime, regardless of who lives in the neighborhood..  Is it possible that you're misinterpreting someone's reaction to hearing about a crime that happens in a lower socioeconomic neighborhood with the color of the alleged criminal's skin?

  12. Thank you for not assuming all white people are serial killers.   Ironically, as a kid I moved to Florida the year that the authorities captured Ted Bundy.  Hearing about him and serial killers made me a bit paranoid around white men until I realized that only a teeny-tiny percentage of the population were serial killers.  All was well until my senior year of high school, when a friend of mine was kidnapped and killed by a serial killer.

  13. I'm not uncomfortable talking about race.

  14. No, I don't think I'll be perceived as a racist.

  15. No, I don't think that racism is over, though I do think that a non-white president is a good start.  By the way, I specifically said "non-white" because Mr. Obama is the first non-white person in the White House, as well as the first black president, but non-white is the larger category.

  16. I don't really notice either situation, because usually there are black, white, Latino, Asian... around.

  17. My goal has never to be colorblind.  I like both the green and red cones in my eyes.

  18. Again, not wanting colorblindness.

  19. I don't want to say "nigger" so badly.  It's never been a longing of mine.

  20. Nor do I say "nigger" unless I'm answering someone's question.

    Tangent:  I don't use the phrase "the n-word" because just like "Voldemort", not saying "nigger" you give the word more power.

  21. Ew!  Do people walk up to you and touch your hair?  

  22. No one should touch you without your permission.  How often does this happen to you?

  23. I don't think the number of black friends a person has or doesn't have relates to that person's racism.  Personally, I do have black friends because they are nice people, not because they are black.

  24. Again, I'm not racist because I'm not racist.  Friends don't have anything to do with it.

  25. I don't curse at my parents.

  26. I don't own a dog; I am exceedingly allergic to them.

  27. This is a linguistics question more than a race question.  English, French, German, Italian, and Spanish all come from the same source and are classified as "Romance Languages".  Each language, while distinct, has similar pronunciation rules, thereby allowing a speaker of one language to reasonably guess the pronunciation of a name in another Romance language.  African languages have a different source, different pronunciation rules, and different sounds.  So I know that I cannot look at an African name and pronounce it without asking for some help, because using English pronunciation rules won't work.

     However, since I know this I generally ask for help pronouncing a name the first time.  

  28. I'm going to address the next three questions/comments here.  Lions and black people - there is no limit to how many problems people care about.  People can care about Cecil the Lion getting killed and care about black people getting killed in America.  These are not mutually exclusive.  The media played up the death of the lion because it's a problem that mostly everyone can agree is wrong, and through solidarity get more ratings.  The media's approach does not reflect the general public's feelings on these subjects.

  29. I don't think the way white people are treated should be considered a "privilege".  I think that everyone should be treated this way, and that it should be the norm.

    Instead of trying to get white people to give up their "privileges", maybe we need to change society so that everyone gets the same "privileges" as well.

  30. I don't consider you to be the spokesperson for all black people in America.  I don't really consider any person to be a spokesperson for a group of people, unless you're a formally chosen ambassador.

Wordless Wednesday: Camouflaged Pyramid

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Why We Need the Prime Directive

While the original "Star Trek" TV show seems a bit campy these days, the show actually broke many social taboos when it first aired.  The very first show had a woman as second in command, a black woman in charge of communications, and an American-Japanese man as the navigator.  The show presented a world where money didn't exist yet people still had enough,

"Star Trek" also introduced the Prime Directive.  Instead of describing this, I found the exact wording:
As the right of each sentient species to live in accordance with its normal cultural evolution is considered sacred, no Star Fleet personnel may interfere with the healthy development of alien life and culture. Such interference includes the introduction of superior knowledge, strength, or technology to a world whose society is incapable of handling such advantages wisely. Star Fleet personnel may not violate this Prime Directive, even to save their lives and/or their ship unless they are acting to right an earlier violation or an accidental contamination of said culture. This directive takes precedence over any and all other considerations, and carries with it the highest moral
The gist of the Prime directive is that a more technically advanced civilization should not interfere with less technically advanced civilizations.  I propose that we (The United States) need to start following the Prime Directive, or at least the non-Star Fleet parts of it, because we are spreading around technology to people who are incapable of handling it.

For example, we developed antibiotics to cure tuberculosis, and we gave those antibiotics to India.  But the Indian doctors haven't necessarily been through medical school, lack laboratory facilities, and lack the knowledge to use the drugs wisely.  Now, approximately 40% of India's population have tuberculosis; that means 480 million people are infected.  A lack of proper diagnosis and proper treatment has given rise to a new, drug-resistant TB, called XDR-TB, that can only be cured in about 30% of the cases.

In China, technology from the West comes in regularly without the accompanying wisdom gained through the development of said technology.  Coal ash falls like snow every year when they start the coal factories for winter.  The explosion last week in Tianjin happened because China has yet to build the infrastructure needed to safely move and store volatile chemicals.

In Africa, weapons from technologically advanced countries have turned previous stable areas into war zones, with whomever has the largest collection of weapons becoming the default leader.

I could cite more examples, but it all comes down to the U.S. handing over technology to people not prepared to handle it.  The biggest problems are heading our way, when the world's population reaches a few more billion and we don't have enough.  Not enough doctors.  Not enough food.  Not enough housing.  All because the U.S. spread around the means to grow enough food and improve the odds of a child living to adulthood, creating population booms in India, China, and soon Africa.

All for the lack of the Prime Directive.

I think Captain Picard said it best:
"The Prime Directive is not just a set of rules. It is a philosophy, and a very correct one. History has proven again and again that whenever mankind interferes with a less developed civilization, no matter how well intentioned that interference may be, the results are invariably disastrous."
     —Jean-Luc Picard, Symbiosis ("Quotes/Star Trek - Television Tropes & Idioms"

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

How to Improve Gun Control: A Clarification

After a few interesting conversation, I decided I need to clarify my earlier post about gun control.

First, I know that "well-regulated" means a well trained militia.  That would be accomplished through the licensing process.  In order to obtain a license, a person needs to show a complete understanding of the weapon, the ramifications of using said weapon, and the law pertaining to the weapon.  The range test would be a practical test, just like the road test is for a driver's license.

Side note:  I think the overall license fee needs to be small, such as $10, regardless of which weapon you want a license for.

Second, the militia class weapons would have strong requirements so that every Tom, Dick, and Harry cannot just load up on automatic weapons and tanks.  I think it is reasonable to required a person wanting to fly an Apache helicopter to have been a helicopter pilot in the Army.  In fact, I think the majority (if not all) of the arms in the militia class would only be available to those who served in the military where he or she received the appropriate training for said arm.

Another side note:  One of the biggest problems I see in our current police forces is that these men don't have gun discipline.  Guns are never to be used to intimidate, and an officer should generally not pull out a gun as a means to control a situation.  Why?  Because that limits the officer's actions to backing down (by putting the gun away) or shooting.

Wordless Wednesday: In Case of Fire

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

How to Improve Gun Control

After researching death by firearms, I decided to look into the actual wording of the Second Amendment:
"A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed."
Let's start by rephrasing the amendment into common terms:

  • "A well regulated Militia" refers to citizen soldiers whose activities/responsibilities/privileges are defined by laws.
  • "being necessary to the security of a free State" means citizen soldiers and the ability of citizens to become part of a militia is required to keep a democratic government from descending into tyranny.
  • "the right of the people to keep and bear Arms" refers to the power each individual has to own and use arms.
  • "shall not be infringed." means that Congress does not have the authority to disband a citizen's militia or stop individuals from owning arms.
The Supreme Court of the United States issued two decisions in recent years that relate to the Second Amendment.  On June 26, 2008, the Supreme Court decided in the District of Columbia v. Heller that an individual living in a federal territory was allowed to own a handgun regardless of his participation in a militia.  On Jun 28, 2010, the Supreme Court ruled in McDonald v. City of Chicago that citizens in the states also had the right to own handguns, and local government could not infringe on these rights.

So keeping in mind these rulings and the Second Amendment, how should the U.S. handle gun control?

Here's my suggestion.

We need to treat guns like vehicles.  They are both dangerous items when mishandled.  Both also have a place in society when used properly.  Also, it takes different skills to use different types of vehicles, for which the government requires different licenses.

Therefore, I suggest we set up a series of licenses for owning the various types of weapons, with the category of firearms divided into two categories:  personal use (non-militia) and militia.  The requirements for owning a weapon in either category depend on how much damage a weapon can do relative to time.  The more damage per minute, the higher the requirements.

Personal Use

Various rifles, shotguns, and handguns (up to semi-automatic) would require formal training and licensing.  Just like getting your first driver's license, I think people need to pass both a written test and a range test.  The range test is for showing that the test taker knows range etiquette, knows gun safety, knows how to load and fire his/her weapons, and knows how to clean the gun after firing.  Hitting the bull's eye is completely optional, but hitting somewhere on the target paper is not.  A person only needs to pass one written test, but needs additional range test for each class of weapons he/she wants to own.  The government will not track people who have personal use licenses, or will at least not make that information publicly available.

"Apache DOS". Licensed under Public Domain
via Wikimedia Commons


Everything from automatic weapons to M1 Abrams fall into militia use.  No weapon listed in the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) is restricted from a person willing to put the time and effort into obtaining the proper training and licensing.  You need to take a separate written and range test for each class of weapons on top of meeting psychological requirements.

To be fair, someone with a militia license needs to be publicly locatable, in case someone need help.  So the government will not only track but make publicly available all the people with a militia license.    Also, the requirements for owning an M1 Abrams tank need to be considerably stricter than owning a .22 rifle.  

"Abrams tank with mine plow" by Unknown - This Image was released by the United States Armed Forces with the ID 951219-O-9805M-005.  It is in the public domain.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Guest Poet: My Dad

Today, I'm featuring a poem by my Dad.  I hope you enjoy it!!!

“Of Destiny”

According to one explanation
kismet falls to predestination;
no one opts for hell
nor heaven as well,
negating a rite exculpation.
Some will chose predestination
to posit a flee from damnation;
the thesis herein
courts virtue with sin
and thus begets justification.
What value is there then in pleasure
if one has no merits to measure,
what’s good or what’s bad,
what’s joyful or sad
are factors all humans may treasure.
Though tissues of life are unknown,
We color the weaves as our own;
and it may appear
we simply are here
to harvest the seeds we have sown.

Copyright 1982 by Christian M. Yoder

Friday, August 7, 2015

AI Weapons? Just Say "No"

On July 28th, the Future of Life Institute (FLI) announced an open letter asking the nations of the world to sign "a ban on offensive autonomous weapons beyond meaningful human control."  So far, over 18,000 people have signed this letter, including Stephen Hawking, Elon Musk, Steve Wozniak, over 2,700 AI researchers, Noah Chomsky, and me.

The problem... let me take a step back.  The letter addresses the problem of weapons that need either no or minimal human intervention for the weapon to work.  Scientist don't really care of a gun can hold a riddle contest with Bilbo or quote Dylan Thomas, but they do care if a weapons works mostly autonomously.  With the prevalence of inexpensive computer parts, once we have sophisticated enough AI it would be easy for an AI arms race to begin.  Unlike nuclear weapons, which require rare materials to build, AI weapons will be an order of magnitude easier to build and use.

That brings me back to the problem - we've had autonomous weapons since the 13th century.  Land mines are the analog version of autonomous weapons, first recorded in 1277 A.D. in China.  These weapons are autonomous in that they don't need someone to pull the trigger, figuratively speaking.  Of course, land mines also introduce problems after a war.  The world currently has several areas of land that we cannot inhabit or use due to unexploded land mines.

Digitally, we have had autonomous weapons for the past few decades.  Weapons that can find their targets, navigate various terrains, determine friend from foe, stand watch, and make split second defense decisions.  I started to research how many autonomous weapons we already have, and the list is staggeringly long:

    "BrahMos1" by DRDO India - DRDO India.
    Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons
  • The concept behind cruise missiles, a flying torpedo, began a century long race from 1909 to today to create such a unique weapon.  Both side in World War II attempted to create such missiles, but it wasn't until the Cold War that the technology became a reality.  Modern cruise missile navigate using satellite guidance, terrain contour maps, digital strip maps, and GPS, then acquire the appropriate target using automatic target recognition algorithms.  While people still need to launch these missiles, once launched a modern cruise missile takes care of the mission by itself.

  • The AGM-88 high-speed anti-radiation missile (HARM) uses special equipment to search and destroy radar installations.  

  • The U.S. funded the Iron Dome, a mobile all-weather air defense system created by Rafael Advanced Defense Systems and Israel Aircraft Industries.   The Iron Dome tracks missile and artillery launches, determines the target, and shoots down anything headed for protected areas.

    An Iron Dome CRAM launcher near Sderot
    Credit: Natan Flayer
    It's important to remember that artillery or missiles headed to open ground are not stopped; this saves on ammunition.  Considering it costs $70,000 to $100,000 per interceptor, it's important not to waste even one.  So far, the Iron Dome has shown 84% to 90% accuracy.

  • The Phalanx CIWS (Close-In Weapons System) works with the Navy's Aegis system to automatically take down missiles shot at our ships.  The Phalanx is a Vulcan Gatling Cannon, with the capability to shoot 4,500 rounds per minute at supersonic speeds.  A human only

    A Phalanx CIWS, nicknamed R2-D2
     because of the top cylinder
    Credit:  U.S. Navy
    needs to load the bullets and turn the machine on, and stand back.  Aegis scans the skies and the waves, determines who is a friend or a foe using IFF, assigns a specific gun to the target, and fires if necessary.

  • In 2004 and 2005, Team Terramax entered the DARPA Grand Challenge to create self-driving vehicles.  The result of this effort is the creation of unmanned vehicles that the military uses for logistics operations, route clearance, and explosion ordinance disposal.
    Terramax at the DARPA Grand Challenge
    Credit: Nick Fillippiano

  • South Korea uses robotic sentries built by Samsung (yes, that Samsung) to guard its side of the demilitarized zone.  The Samsung SGR-A1 has twin optical and infrared sensor with the ability to identify targets within 4 km during the day and 2 km at night.  Purportedly, the robot sentry distinguishes humans from wildlife and objects in the terrain, has a microphone and speakers to exchange passwords with friendlies, and the ability to ask a man to put his hands up.  So far, South Korea hasn't used these sentries in automatic mode due to concerns about programming mistakes (a PC way to say they're worried it will shoot someone whose friendly), but the automatic mode is already built in.
My list is not comprehensive.  Both the U.S. and the U,K. have unmanned planes that can take off, fly, refuel in midair, find targets, and land with no human interference.  But this is only the devices that have been made known to the public.  Do you really think the military doesn't have some AI weapon we've never seen?  I don't.  I believe the military only tells us about weapons when it has no choice.  

So while I agree with the open letter, I think it might be a little late.  I just hope we avoid an AI arms race, because that will not end well for anyone.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Teaching Center

The above video contains an amazing video by Key & Peele where they do a Sports Center parody using teaching and teachers.  While it's good comedy, I wonder - what would happen if we actually treated teachers like this?

What if school had to draft good teachers right out of college?  What if we based teacher's salaries on more that just test scores, and then paid them what they were worth to society?  Because teacher do hold the future in their hands, so why don't we pay them accordingly?

Part of the problem is taxes. Most people don't want to pay taxes, but that is where we get the money to pay teachers.  So lower taxes tends to influence teachers' salaries to the negative.

Another problem is that we don't have good measurements for teacher quality.  A classroom of students who come from families that value education will score higher than a classroom of students who come from families that don't care about education.  It doesn't matter who is teaching.  Also, a classroom full of transient students will not score as well, again regardless of the teacher.

Anyway, it's just something to think about.

Freaky Friday News: Unicorn Licenses

Los Angeles County Gives a Young Resident a Unicorn License Last month, a resident of Los Angeles county, Miss Madeline, sent a handwritte...