Tag Archives: law

Forced diversity of race is racist

Let me browse through some thoughts on efforts to address endemic racism. I’m not sure I’ll get anywhere, but you might as well enter the laboratory of my mind on the issue.

I’d like to begin with a line of the bible (why not?) “‘Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great, but judge your neighbor fairly.” (Lev. 19:15). This sounds good, but in college admissions, I’ve found we try to do better by showing  favoritism to the descendants of those who’ve been historically left-out. This was called affirmative action, it’s now called “diversity”.  

In 1981, when I began teaching chemical engineering at Michigan State University, our department had race-based quotas to allow easier admission to the descendants of historically-disadvantaged groups. All major universities did this at the time. The claim was that it would be temporary; it continues to this day. In our case, the target was to get 15% or so black, Hispanics and American Indians students (7 in a class of 50). We achieved this target by accepting such students with a 2.0 GPA, and not requiring a math or science background; Caucasians required 3.0 minimum, and we did require math or science. I’m not sure we helped the disadvantaged by this, either personally or professionally, but we made the administration happy. The kids seemed happy too, at least for a while. The ones we got were, by and large, bright. To make up for the lack of background we offered tutoring and adjusted grades. Some diversity students did well, others didn’t. Mostly they went into HR or management after graduation, places they could have gone without our efforts.

After some years, the Supreme court ended our quota based selection, saying it was, itself racist. They said we could still reverse-discriminate for “diversity,” though. That is, if the purpose wasn’t to address previous wrongs, but to improve the class. We changed our literature, but kept our selection methods and kept the same percentage targets as before.

This is a popular meme about racism. It makes sense to me.

This is a popular meme about racism.

The only way we monitored that we met the race-percent target was by a check-box on forms. Students reported race, and we collected this, but we didn’t check that black students look black or Hispanic students spoke Spanish. There was no check on student honesty. Anyone who checked the box got the benefits. This lack of check bread cheating at MSU and elsewhere. Senator Elizabeth Warren got easy entry into Harvard and Penn, in part by claiming to be an Indian on her forms. She has no evidence of Indian blood or culture Here’s Snopes. My sense is that our methods mostly help the crooked.

The main problem with is, I suspect, is the goal. We’ve decided to make every university department match the state’s racial breakdown. It’s a pretty goal, but it doesn’t seem like one that helps students or the state. Would it help the MSU hockey squad to force to team to racially match the state; would it help the volleyball team, or the football team?  So why assume it helps every academic department to make it’s racial makeup match the state’s. Why not let talented black students head to business or management departments before graduation. They might go further without our intervention.

This is not to say there are not racial inequalities, but I suspect that these diversity programs don’t help the students, and may actually hurt. They promote crookedness, and divert student attention from achieving excellence to maintaining victim status. Any group that isn’t loud enough in claiming victim status is robbed of the reverse-discrimination that they’ve been told they need. They’re told they can’t really compete, and many come to believe it. In several universities, we gone so far as to hire “bias referees” to protect minorities from having to defend their intellectual views in open discussion. The referee robs people of the need to think, and serves, I suspect, no one but a group of powerful politicians and administrators — people you are not supposed to criticize. On that topic, here is a video of Malcolm X talking about the danger of white liberals. Clearly he can hold his own in a debate without having a bias referee, and he makes some very good points about white liberals doing more harm than good.

Robert Buxbaum, November 5, 2017. In a related problem, black folks are arrested too often. I suggest rational drug laws. Some financial training could help too.

West’s Batman vs Zen Batmen

“Holy kleenex Batman, it was right under our noses and we blew it.” I came of age with Adam West’s Batman on TV and a relatively sane Batman in the comic books. Batman was a sort of urban cowboy: a loner, but law-abiding, honest, and polite – both to the police and to the ordinary citizen. He was good, and he was “nice.” As with future Batmen, no one died, at least not from the Batman.


More recent Batmen have been not nice, and arguably not good either. They are above the law, trained in eastern monasteries by dark masters of kung fu, with a morality no one quite understands. One could say, quite literally, “He was a dark and stormy knight.”

Well, a few days ago, I found the item at left for sale on e-Bay, a plastic Batman-Buddha, and I started wondering about the meditations that produced Batman, and that Batman expounds on life and crime. It wasn’t pretty. They are not pretty. A quick check from the movie versions suggest the Zen Batman is pretty messed up, something that psychologists have noted.

Here’s a quote from the goofy, Adam West Batman of the 1960s: “Underneath this garb, we’re perfectly ordinary Americans.” Believing yourself to be normal helps improve sanity, and helps you relate to others. Calling yourself an American implies you keep American laws. Here’s another quote: “A reporter’s lot is not easy, making exciting stories out of plain, average, ordinary people like Robin and me.” It’s nice to see that the Adam West Batman feels for the other peoples’ problems, respects their professions, and does not profess to be better than they. By contrast, when a more recent Batman is asked: “What gives you the right? What’s the difference between you and me?” The Dark Knight responds, “I’m not wearing hockey pads.” This is a might-is-right approach, suggesting he’s above the law. The problem: a self-appointed vigilante is a criminal.

Here are some more quotes of the recent, eastern Batmen:
“Sometimes it’s only madness that makes us what we are.”
“That mask — it’s not to hide who I am, but to create what I am.”
“I won’t kill you, but I don’t have to save you.”

These quote are at least as messed up as the hockey pad quote above. It sometimes seems the Joker is the more sane of the two. For example, when Batman explains why he doesn’t kill: “If you kill a killer, the number of killers remains the same.” To which Joker replies: “Unless you kill more than one… but whatever you say, Batsy.”

Not a classic Batmobile, but I like the concept.

Not a classic Batmobile, but I like the concept; if that’s not Adam West, if could be.

The dark, depressive Batmen tend to leave Gotham City in shambles after every intervention, with piles of dead. West’s Batman left the city clean and whole. Given the damage, you wonder why the police call Batman or let him on the streets. Unlike West, the current Batmen never works with the police, quite. And to the extent that Robin appears at all, his relationship with Batman is more frenemy than friend or ward. Batgirl (mostly absent) has changed too. The original Batgirl, if you don’t recall, was Barbara Gordon, Commissioner Gordon’s daughter. She was a positive, female role model, with a supportive, non-sexist parent in Commissioner Gordon (an early version of Kim Possible’s dad). The current Batgirl appears only once, and is presented as the butler’s daughter. Until her appearance that day, you never see her at Wayne Manor, nor did she know quite what her dad was up to.

Here are some West Batman / Robin interactions showing an interest in Robin’s education and well-being:

“Haven’t you noticed how we always escape the vicious ensnarements of our enemies?” Robin: “Yeah, because we’re smarter than they are!”  “I like to think it’s because our hearts are pure.”

“Better put 5 cents in the meter.” Robin: “No policeman’s going to give the Batmobile a ticket.”
“This money goes to building better roads. We all must do our part.”

Robin: “You can’t get away from Batman that easy!” “Easily.” Robin: “Easily.”
“Good grammar is essential, Robin.” Robin: “Thank you.” “You’re welcome.”

Robin/Dick:”What’s so important about Chopin?” “All music is important, Dick. It’s the universal language. One of our best hopes for the eventual realization of the brotherhood of man.” Dick: “Gosh Bruce, yes, you’re right. I’ll practice harder from now on.”

“That’s one trouble with dual identities, Robin. Dual responsibilities.”

“Even crime fighters must eat. And especially you. You’re a growing boy and you need your nutrition.”

“What took you so long, Batgirl?” Batgirl: “Rush hour traffic, plus all the lights were against me. And you wouldn’t want me to speed, would you?” Robin: “Your good driving habits almost cost us our lives!” Batman: “Rules are rules, Robin. But you do have a point.”

And finally: “I think you should acquire a taste for opera, Robin, as one does for poetry and olives.”

Clearly this Batman takes an interest in Robin’s health and education, and in Batgirl’s. Robin is his ward, after all, rather a foster child, and it’s good to seem him treated as a foster child — admittedly with a foster-father whose profession is a odd.

Perhaps the most normal comment from a non-West Batman is this (it appears in many posters): “It’s not who I am underneath, but what I do that defines me.” It’s, more or less, a quote from Karl Jung (famous psychologist) and can serve as a motivator providing pride in one’s art, but job-attachment goes with suicide, e.g. when you lose your job. The far healthier approach is less identification with job; just be proud of doing good and developing virtue. West’s Batman finds Catwoman, a woman with her own moral code, odious, abhorrent, and insegrievious, and says so. The only difference between her and The Joker is the amount of damage done; he should find her insegrievious. Sorry to say, recent, Zen Batmen and Supermen are just as bad. To quote Robin: “Holy strawberries, Batman, we’re in a jam.”

Robert Buxbaum, June 26, 2017. Insegeivious is a made-up word, BTW. If we use it, it could become part of the real vocabulary.

Arrested for decriminalized possession

The arrest rate for marijuana is hardly down despite widespread decriminalization, but use is up. decriminalization, but use is up. A rate that exceeds that for all violent crime.

Despite years of marijuana decriminalization, arrest rates for marijuana are up from 20-25 years ago, and hardly down from last year. Why?

There are a couple of troubling patterns in US drug arrests. For one, though marijuana has been decriminalized in much of the USA, marijuana arrest rates are hardly down from five years ago, and higher than 20-30 years ago — see graph at right. Besides that, it’s still mostly black-people and Latinos arrested. And the crime is, 4/5 the of the time, drug possession, not sale.

At the same time that violent crime rates are falling, marijuana possession arrests are rising (see graph below). Currently, according to FBI statistics,  more people are arrested for marijuana possession than for all violent crime combined. You’d expect it would not be this way, and a question I’d like to explore is why. But first, let’s look at more data. I note that part of an explanation is that marijuana use is up (18% in 2015 vs 12% in 1990). This still doesn’t explain the racial imbalance but it could explain the general rise. Marijuana isn’t quite legal, and if use is up, you’d expect arrests to be up. But even here, something is fishy: use rates are the same as in 1980, 35+ years ago in the midst of the “war on drugs,” but arrest rates have more than doubled since. Why? Take New York City as an example, 17,762 people were arrested for low-level marijuana possession in 2016 (smoking in public or possession of 25 gm to 2 oz). The low-level arrest rate is twice the national average in this Democratic-bastion city, where the drug was decriminalized years ago. Arrest rates in NYC went up an additional 10% in 2016, with black people arrested at 11 times the rate of white people. How could this be?

The race discrepancy of arrests persists across the US. Though black citizens use drugs only 15% or so more often than whites, and make up only 13% of the US population, they are arrested for drugs about three times as often and incarcerated about 4 times as often. It’s mostly for marijuana possession too, and the discrepancy varies very strongly by location In Louisiana, Illinois, and New York City arrests are particularly weighted to people of color. When New York City police precinct captains were asked about this, they explained that their instructions come from above. It’s a curious answer, I’d say, reflecting perhaps their dislike of the mayor.

Drug arrests are mostly for possession, not sale, and the spread is rising.

Drug arrests are mostly for possession, not sale and the spread is rising. More than half the time, it’s marijuana.

One of the race-affecting instructions is that the police are instructed to patrol black neighborhoods, but not the student unions of majority-white colleges like NYU. They’re mandated to stop and search junky cars but not nice ones, and to search people who have outstanding parking tickets, but not generally. They even get raises that depend on the number of tickets given, a practice that does not lead to a pattern of looking the other way — one many New Yorkers would prefer. Another issue: in many states, including New York, the police can keep money or cars, if they can claim that the asset was purchased with drug money or used in the drug trade. This leads to a practice where the city budget benefits when the police arrest persons they don’t expect will be convicted. It’s a practice called civil asset forfeiture, one lampooned, on Last Week Tonight, but jealously guarded. Since it is near impossible to prove that the money or car was not used in any way illegally, once they arrest someone, the police can expect to keep his or her money or cars indefinitely. The annoyance of lawyers perhaps encourages the arrest of people who do not seem to have them — people of color. New York mayor deBlassio justifies his arrests as a way to protect the neighborhoods, as his version of former mayor, Guilliani’s broken window approach. Maybe. But I think the profit motive is at least as relevant.

drug arrests hit black folks a lot more than white

Drug arrests hit black folks a lot more than white.

I note that strict justice tends to land hardest on the poor and defenseless. I also note that many important people have used marijuana without it damaging their lives in any obvious way. Both Jeb! Bush and Bill Clinton claimed to have smoked it; as did Barak Obama, Al Gore, and the Beatles. My bottom line: while marijuana decriminalization is worthwhile, it must go along with the repeal of civil asset forfeiture laws, and other means that make arrests into profit centers – or so it appears to me. Otherwise we’ll keep on flushing lives down the drain for no good reason.

Robert Buxbaum, March 6, 2017. I’ve previously blogged about the structure of criminal sentencing, coming to conclude that the least strict sentence that does the job is to be preferred. I also ran for water commissioner in 2016.

The straight flush

I’m not the wildest libertarian, but I’d like to see states rights extended to Michigan’s toilets and showers. Some twenty years ago, the federal government mandated that the maximum toilet flush volume could be only 1.6 gallons, the same as Canada. They also mandated a maximum shower-flow law, memorialized in this Seinfeld episode. Like the characters in those shows, I think this is government over-reach of states rights covered by the 10th amendment. As I understand it, the only powers of the federal government over states are in areas specifically in the constitution, in areas of civil rights (the 13th Amendment), or in areas of restraint of trade (the 14th Amendment). None of that applies here, IMHO. It seems to me that the states should be able to determine their own flush and shower volumes.

If this happen to you often, you might want to use more water for each flush, or  at least a different brand of toilet paper.

If your toilet clogs often, you might want to use more flush water, or at least a different brand of toilet paper.

There is a good reason for allowing larger flushes, too in a state with lots of water. People whose toilets have long, older pipe runs find that there is insufficient flow to carry their stuff to the city mains. Their older pipes were designed to work with 3.5 gallon flushes. When you flush with only 1.6 gallons, the waste only goes part way down and eventually you get a clog. It’s an issue known to every plumber – one that goes away with more flush volume.

Given my choice, I’d like to change the flush law through the legislature, perhaps following a test case in the Supreme court. Similar legislation is in progress with marijuana decriminalization, but perhaps it’s too much to ask folks to risk imprisonment for a better shower or flush. Unless one of my readers feels like violating the federal law to become the test case, I can suggest some things you can do immediately. When it comes to your shower, you’ll find you can modify the flow by buying a model with a flow restrictor and “ahem” accidentally losing the restrictor. When it comes to your toilet, I don’t recommend buying an older, larger tank. Those old tanks look old. A simpler method is to find a new flush cistern with a larger drain hole and flapper. The drain hole and flapper in most toilet tanks is only 2″ in diameter, but some have a full 3″ hole and valve. Bigger hole, more flush power. Perfectly legal. And then there’s the poor-man solution: keep a bucket or washing cup nearby. If the flush looks problematic, pour the extra water in to help the stuff go down. It works.

A washing cup.

A washing cup. An extra liter for those difficult flushes.

Aside from these suggestions, if you have clog trouble, you should make sure to use only toilet paper, and not facial tissues or flushable wipes. If you do use these alternatives, only use one sheet at a flush, and the rest TP, and make sure your brand of wipe is really flushable. Given my choice, I would like see folks in Michigan have freedom of the flush. Let them install a larger tank if they like: 2 gallons, or 2.5; and I’d like to see them able to use Newman’s Serbian shower heads too, if it suits them. What do you folks think?

Dr. Robert E. Buxbaum, November 3, 2016. I’m running for Oakland county MI water resources commissioner. I’m for protecting our water supply, for better sewage treatment, and small wetlands for flood control. Among my less-normative views, I’ve also suggested changing the state bird to the turkey, and ending daylight savings time.

Republicans vs conservatives

Most of the great divides of the 1800s pitted conservatives against Republicans. This was the Divide in the Mexican civil wars of the 1800s, and there were several; it is the divide in the South American wars of Independence, and in much of the US and European political debate of the 1800s as well.

Ned Flanders, cartoon conservative from "The Simpsons" He's generally well meaning and helpful, but also a bit creepy.

Ned Flanders, cartoon conservative from “The Simpsons” He’s generally well-meaning and helpful, but also a bit creepy.

In general, the difference between conservatives and republicans is that conservative governments favor religion, and religion-based leadership, while republicans favor individual liberty. In 1800s Mexico, conservatives backed two emperors (Maximilian I and Agustin I) and Santa Anna, the ruler who suspended all personal rights an ignited the war of Texan independence. Conservatives generally favor the religion of the majority: Protestantism in England, Catholicism in Central and South America, Judaism in Israel, and Islam in most of the Muslim world. This tends to annoy the irreligious and minority religious populations, who tend to become republicans. Cinco de Mayo celebrates the 1862 victory of Mexican republicans over the French-backed, conservative Maximilian I, at the battle of Puebla. The US Civil War, in essence, pitted the irreligious, industrial, republican north against the conservative, evangelical South; slavery is in the Bible so it must be good.

Conservatives usually favor government actions against sin in all it’s forms: miserliness, drunkenness, drugs, pornography, wild music, money-making, and freedom as such. Conservative-ruled countries have generally had anti-blasphemy laws and enforced “blue laws”, restrictions on business on holidays. Republican governments have few, or none of these. In pre-revolution France, the penalty for blasphemy was death, just as the Bible mandates. This changed when the republicans came into power. In England, private blasphemy was prosecuted as late as 1977. Similar penalties are still in force in Iran and other conservative Islāmic countries. Many US states still restrict the sale of alcohol on Sunday, for similar, conservative reasons. Conservatives usually favor sexual morality laws, putting strong restrictions on homosexuality, abortion, and divorce. In England, amicable divorce wasn’t legalized until 1930, and homosexuality was illegal until 1970. In the US, sexual laws are a fairly bizarre mix, in my humble opinion, the result of republicans, liberals, and conservatives making inelegant compromises.

In republican democracies like modern-day France, Holland, and Germany, sexual immorality laws are more lax than in the US. Republican governments strive to protect the rights of the individual; among these their right to property and to a fairly unbridled pursuit of pleasure. Republican countries tend to suffer from (or benefit from) significant income inequality. People can become rich due to hard work, talent, luck, or birth. And they very often become arrogant and obnoxious after they become rich — and sometimes before — to an extent that bothers conservatives and liberals alike. People can also become very poor: from laziness or bad choices, or just from bad luck or having been born to the wrong parents. Conservative and liberal elements then strive to help the very poorest, providing them with food, money and basic housing — generally achieved by taxing the rich. This is good in moderation, but taken to excess, this can lead to dependency of the poor, and redirection of the rich into less-productive fields like politics and the church. Conservatives very rarely leave a good pathway for the poor out of dependency, nor have they found a way to keep scoundrels out of the government and the church.

Scrooge McDuck. he'd likely be a Republican, if only to protect his wealth.

Scrooge McDuck, banker, railroad tycoon, steel magnate; he’d likely be republican, though not likely conservative. Motivated by money and power, he may do good, but not in any direct way, usually.

At present, the US Republican Party, the GOP, consists of approximately equal halves conservatives and republicans. That is, GOP leadership is currently an approximate balance between kindly folks like Ned Flanders who would rule by the Bible, and an equal number of rougher individuals, more like Scrooge McDuck who would rule by money.  in a sense, this is a wonderful compromise as the excesses of each group reins in the excesses of the other. In another sense though, the balance between conservatives and republicans is an ungovernable mess that leads to regular de Condorcet failures. I’m not sure how this will play out in the 2016 elections.

Fortunately, not all irreconcilable differences are as irreconcilable as one might think. Many de Condorcet problems are solvable by compromise, or by the effects of time. Compromise between charity and commerce can produce the best of all worlds, a major theme point, as I understand it, of Dickens’s Christmas Carol.

Robert E. Buxbaum, October 20, 2015. I use these essays to refine my thinking — here, more than usual. Any help you can provide will be welcome, feedback, corrections, comments. I’m trying to figure out what I, myself think. The divide between Conservatives and Liberals produces some of the most wonderful quote – exchanges, e.g. between Churchill and Attlee in 1950s England. Liberals, and I have not quite made up my understanding here, seem like a sort of like conservatives in that they believe in wealth redistribution, but without the guidance of a church, or church-based morality. At some point in the future, I’ll hope to arrange my thoughts about them, and about the difference between liberals and democrats.

Racial symbols: OK or racist

Washington Redskins logo and symbol. Shows race or racism?

Washington Redskins lost protection of their logo and indian symbol. Symbol of race or racism?

In law, one generally strives for uniformity, as in Leviticus 24:22: “You shall have one manner of law; the same for the home-born as for the stranger,”  but there are problems with putting this into effect when dealing with racism. The law seems to allow each individual group to denigrate itself with words that outsiders are not permitted. This is seen regularly in rap songs but also in advertising.

Roughly a year ago, the US Patent office revoked the copyright protection for the Washington Redskin logo and for the team name causing large financial loss to the Redskins organization. The patent office cited this symbol as the most racist-offensive in sports. I suspect this is bad law, in part because it appears non-uniform, and in part because I’m fairly sure it isn’t the most racist-offensive name or symbol. To pick to punish this team seems (to me) an arbitrary, capricious use of power. I’ll assume there are some who are bothered by the name Redskin, but suspect there are others who take pride in the name and symbol. The image is of a strong, healthy individual, as befits a sports team. If some are offended, is his (or her) opinion enough to deprive the team of its merchandise copyright, and to deprive those who approve?

More racist, in my opinion, is the fighting Irishman of Notre Dame. He looks thick-headed, unfit, and not particularly bright: more like a Leprechaun than a human being. As for offensive, he seems to fit a racial stereotype that Irishmen get drunk and get into fights. Yet the US Patent office protects him for the organization, but not the Washington Redskin. Doesn’t the 14th amendment guarantee “equal protection of the laws;” why does Notre Dame get unequal protection?

Notre Damme Fighting Irish. Is this an offensive stereotype.

Notre Dame’s Fighting Irishman is still a protected symbol. Is he a less-offensive, racist stereotype?

Perhaps what protects the Notre Dame Irishman is that he’s a white man, and we worry more about insulting brown people than white ones. But this too seems unequal: a sort of reverse discrimination. And I’m not sure the protection of the 14th was meant to extend to feelings this way. In either case, I note there are many other indian-named sports teams, e.g. the Indians, Braves, and Chiefs, and some of their mascots seem worse: the Cleveland Indians’ mascot, “Chief Wahoo,” for example.

Chief Wahoo, symbol of the Cleveland Indians. Still protected logo --looks more racist than the Redskin to me.

Chief Wahoo, Still protected symbol of the Cleveland Indians –looks more racist than the Redskin to me.

And then there’s the problem of figuring out how racist is too racist. I’m told that Canadians find the words Indian and Eskimo offensive, and have banned these words in all official forms. I imagine some Americans find them racist too, but we have not. To me it seems that an insult-based law must include a clear standard of  how insulting the racist comment has to be. If there is no standard, there should be no law. In the US, there is a hockey team called the Escanaba (Michigan) Eskimos; their name is protected. There is also an ice-cream sandwich called Eskimo Pie — with an Eskimo on the label. Are these protected because there are relatively fewer Eskimos or because eskimos are assumed to be less-easily insulted? All this seems like an arbitrary distinction, and thus a violation of the “equal protection” clause.

And is no weight given if some people take pride in the symbol: should their pride be allowed balance the offense taken by others? Yankee, originally an insulting term for a colonial New Englander became a sign of pride in the American Revolution. Similarly, Knickerbocker was once an insulting term for a Dutch New Yorker; I don’t think there are many Dutch who are still insulted, but if a few are, can we allow the non-insulted to balance them. Then there’s “The Canucks”, an offensive term for Canadian, and the Boston Celtic, a stereotypical Irishman, but also a mark of pride of how far the Irish have come in Boston society. Tar-heel and Hoosiers are regional terms for white trash, but now accepted. There must be some standard of insult here, but I see none.

The Frito Bandito, ambassador of Frito Lays corn chips.

The Frito Bandito, ambassador of Frito Lays corn chips; still protected, but looks racist to me.

Somehow, things seem to get more acceptable, not less if the racial slur is over the top. This is the case, I guess with the Frito Bandito — as insulting a Mexican as I can imagine, actually worse than Chief Wahoo. I’d think that the law should not allow for an arbitrary distinction like this. What sort of normal person objects to the handsome Redskin Indian, but not to Wahoo or the Bandito? And where does Uncle Ben fit in? The symbol of uncle Ben’s rice appears to me as a handsome, older black man dressed as a high-end waiter. This seems respectable, but I can imagine someone seeing an “uncle tom,” or being insulted that a black man is a waiter. Is this enough offense  to upend the company? Upending a company over that would seem to offend all other waiters: is their job so disgusting that no black man can ever be depicted doing it? I’m not a lawyer or a preacher, but it seems to me that promoting the higher levels of respect and civil society is the job of preachers not of the law. I imagine it’s the job of the law to protect contracts, life, and property. As such the law should be clear, uniform and simple. I can imagine the law removing a symbol to prevent a riot, or to maintain intellectual property rights (e.g. keeping the Atlanta Brave from looking too much like the Cleveland Indian). But I’d think to give people wide berth to choose their brand expression. Still, what do I know?

Robert Buxbaum, August 26, 2015. I hold 12 patents, mostly in hydrogen, and have at least one more pending. I hope they are not revoked on the basis that someone is offended. I’ve also blogged a racist joke about Canadians, and about an Italian funeral.

Hong Kong and Palestine; what makes a country?

As I write this, Hong Kong protesters are battling for a degree of independence from China — something China seemed to have agreed to when taking over the province in 1997. While there is some sympathy for the protesters, not one country so far supports them. Meanwhile, by a vote of 138 to 9, the United Nations has accepted Palestine as an independent, observer state, the same status as the Vatican and Switzerland. A majority of nations have further stated that it is illegal for Israel to erect a wall between itself and Palestine as the wall implies a de-facto border. Why the differences, and what’s wrong with borders?

Distinctive dress, traditions, or physiology can justify a country's independence, as can a military tradition.

Britain has been shaved of many of its possessions since WWII, The possessions have demanded independent nation status based on their distinctive dress, language, history, traditions, or physiology.

Perhaps a good place to start is with British ownership of Hong Kong and Israel/Palestine. Britain acquired both by war, and both were possessions during World War II. Hong Kong island was ceded to Great Britain by the Treaty of Nanking ending the first Opium War. British control of Israel/ Palestine was achieved by invasion in World War I and confirmed by the League of Nations. Following WWII, British Palestine was split into several nations: Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Saudi Arabia … Israel declared independence in 1948 — and was accepted to the United Nations in 1949 following its war of independence. Hong Kong did not fight any war, but was handed to China in 1997 in return for guarantees of autonomy. If Hong Kong had not been handed over, it would probably be independent today, like Ireland, Canada, Jamaica, Belize, Micronesia, Malaysia, Bali, Indonesia, etc.

Clearly part of the reason no one accepts Hong Kong as a country, while a majority of the UN accepts Palestine (and Israel?) as countries, is that both Arab Palestine and Israel have fought wars for independence, while Hong Kong has been a peaceful go-along. Another difference is related to how the world perceives China and Arab Palestine. China may be a semi-autocratic, one party oppressor of Inner Mongolia and Tibet, but its economic and military power helps insure that China is considered the respected, socialist owner of semi-democratic HK. Israel is much weaker, and much less-well regarded. It is viewed as a dispensable, European annoyance stuck improbably into the Middle east, and thus its claim on existence is weakened. The UN resolved in 1975 that Zionism is racism, and world leaders routinely called Israel a racist or apartheid occupier, as a state religion is considered anathema to freedom — they don’t have this problem with the state religions of the Vatican or Saudi Arabia. Ex-president Jimmy Carter calls Israel an occupier state, suggesting that Israel has no right to exist, and many western religious and academic groups agree or have voted to treat it as such. In 2013 alone, the UN passed 21 resolutions of protest against Israel, and only 3 against all other nations combined (A historical list is presented here). But disdained or not Israel goes on, in part by military might, in part by meeting the Montevideo requirements of 1933.

Comparison Hong Kong and Gaza

A map used to support Hong Kong Independence showing that Hong Kong is roughly 4 times the size of Gaza; and about twice the population. The government is more stable, and less divided too.

The UN’s grudging acceptance of Israel rests in part, on its meeting the four Montevideo conference (1933) requirements. A country must have: 1. a fixed population (more-or-less met) 2. fixed borders (war gains are an issue here, as is Palestine’s claim to all of Israel). 3. an internal government with internal control (here Israel exceeds Arab Palestine having a stable government. While Palestine manages to keep some law on a local level there are no unified elections, and only minimal education and healthcare. The two halves would likely shoot each other if they could shoot over Israel). The final Montevideo requirement, 4 is that a country must have the ability to make binding foreign treaties. This something Israel has, while neither Hong Kong nor Arab Palestine does. Both Palestine and Hong Kong are prevented from making treaties– with Israel and with China. Some in The United Nations have seen fit to waive this requirement for Palestine, but not Hong Kong.

While neither the Montevideo protocols nor the UN requires that a country must be democratic in any sense (most every country signing was a monarchy or dictatorship, and many still are (Jordan, Syria, Cuba, China….), there is a growing consensus that the age of kings is over, or ending. That a united Palestine would likely be a dictatorship, or kleptocracy thus runs afoul of another, uniquely American approach to state-hood — natural law, and the Rights of Man.

The United States, at its inception, appealed to the self-evident, Rights of Man, as a justification for its independence. That is to Justice, and to “Nature and Nature’s God.” We never claimed to have clear borders, or a fixed population, or any other Montevideo requirement. Instead we claimed nation-status by “the powers of the earth.” It was never clear what the legal limits of these powers were, not what Nature’s God demanded, but the idea is not mere poetry, but shows up throughout the policy speeches of Lincoln, Wilson, and Kennedy and Reagan. I’ve speculated that the poor reviews Lincoln got for his Gettysburg Address were due to the foreign-ness of these claims back in 1863, but 150 years later many thinkers seem to accept, at least as an ideal, that the legitimacy of a county rests on the will of its people, freely exercised. It’s a standard that hardly any country of the 19th century met, but that Israel meets, while Arab Palestine does not.

And that brings us back to the first and oldest basis of statehood: force of arms; self-preservation as a raison d’estat. If the people see death around them and are willing fight hard enough to keep out an enemy, they become a country. Even if they can not keep fixed borders, and even if they disband their army later, the fight for independence makes them so. (Micronesia has no army, but presumably would fight if they had to, and while Costa Rica had army once, the president disbanded it after he took over by military coup — it’s a threat to his life-long leadership). This view is the grim side of Nature’s law, that country is any organized horde who manage, by any means, to keep from being killed or disbanded. So long as the group survives, anywhere, it’s a nation. The Confederate States are not any sort of country, largely because the union has had such a stronger military that their army could operate against us, nor could the paramilitary remnant (the KKK) remain as an operational horde within our borders. China so over-matches Hong Kong that there can be no independent Hong Kong without China’s approval. Israel’s army, similarly, is strong enough to defeat any likely invasion or civil insurrection, though it might lose land, or gain it. It’s the dark version of natural law: the strong and vigorous survive at the expense of the weak and willing.

My observation is that neither Hong Kong nor Palestine is ready for independent statehood, via any of the justifications above, while Israel is a country by all of them. As for when to step in to create a state, my answer is only rarely; see my essay, when to enter a neighbor’s war.

Robert Buxbaum, December 4, 2014.

Political tensegrity: the west is best

We are regularly lectured about the lack of kindness and humility of the western countries. Eastern and communist leaders in Russia, Iran, Saudi Arabia point to Western pollution, consumerism, unemployment as prof you need a strong leader and central control to do good by regulation, thought policing, and wealth redistribution.

Let me point out that the good these leaders provide is extracted from the populace, and the advantage of central control is rarely as clear to the populous as to the leadership. When leaders redistribute wealth or place limits on the internet, movies or books, the leaders are generally exempted, and the populous are not made more moral or generous either. One does not say a prisoner or slave-worker is more generous of moral than one on the outside despite the prisoner working for free. The leaders feel certain they are protecting their people from thought and greed, but it isn’t clear outside of the leadership that these dangers are as great as the danger of despotism or rule by whim.

Authors and thoughts are blocked in the East by the whim of a supreme leader who also determines who is an infidel or enemy, or friend, and which businesses should flourish, and who should be rich (his buddies). By contrast, two fundamentals of western society — things that lead to purported immorality, are citizen rights and the rule of law: that citizens can possess things and do things for their own reasons, or no reason at all, and that citizens may stand as equals before a bar of law, to be judged by spelled-out laws or freed, with equal believability and claim.

In Russia or Iran, the Commissar and Imam have special rights: they can take possessions from others at whim, shut down businesses at whim; imprison at whim  — all based on their own interpretation of God’s will, the Koran, or “the good of the state.” Only they can sense the true good, or the true God well enough to make these decisions and laws. And when they violate those laws they are protected from the consequences; the masses can be prosecuted to the full extent of the law, and then some, not even requiring a trial in many places (Gaza, for example) if the leader feels speed is needed. The rule of law with equal treatment is a fundamental of western civilization (republicanism). It is commanded by Moses in the Bible at least seven times: Numbers 15:15, Numbers 15:16, Numbers 15:29, Exodus 12:49, Numbers 9:14, and Leviticus 24:22, “One law and one ordinance you should have, for the home-born, and the foreigner who dwells among you.”

The equal treatment under the law: for rich and poor, king and commoner, citizen and foreigner is a revolutionary idea of the west; that justice is blind. Another idea is personal possessions and freedoms. There is no concept of equality under business law unless there is a business that you can own, and personal possessions and rights. These are not in place in eastern theocracies: they tend to treat the preachers (imams) better than non preachers because they are presumed smarter and better; similarly men are treated better than women, who have few rights, and the state religion is treated better than infidels. In communist countries and dictatorships the dictator can get away with anything. Admittedly, in capitalistic states the rich and powerful find loopholes while the poor find prison, but not always (our Detroit’s ex-mayor is in prison) and it’s not the law. A feature of Eastern theocracies and dictatorships is that they lack a free press, and thus no forum for public exposure of legal mischief.

Einstein on freedom producing good. I'd say freedom is also a good in itself

Einstein on freedom producing good. I’d say freedom is also a good in itself.

The strongest arguments for socialist dictatorship and theocracy is that this is needed to protect the weak. Clement Attlee (labor socialist British Prime Minister, 1945 -56) explained his government’s take over of almost all British business: “There was a time when employers were free to work little children for sixteen hours a day… when employers were free to employ sweated women workers on finishing trousers at a penny halfpenny a pair. There was a time when people were free to neglect sanitation so that thousands died of preventable diseases. For years every attempt to remedy these crying evils was blocked by the same plea of freedom for the individual. It was in fact freedom for the rich and slavery for the poor. Make no mistake, it has only been through the power of the State, given to it by Parliament, that the general public has been protected against the greed of ruthless profit-makers and property owners.”  (Quotes from Spartacus.edu). it’s a brilliant speech, and it taps into the government’s role in the common defense, but it’s not at all clear that a chinless bureaucrat will be a better boss than the capitalist who built the firm. Nor is it clear that you help people by preventing them from work at a salary you decide is too low

England suffered a malaise from public ownership and the distribution of profit by those close the liberal party. Under Attlee there was lack of food and coal while the rest of Europe, and particularly Germany prospered, and passed England in productivity. Germany had no minimum wage, and  still doesn’t have one. In eastern countries, ingenuity is deadened by the knowledge that whatever a genius or worker achieves is taken by the state and redistributed. A cute joke exchange: Churchill and Attlee are supposed to have found themselves in adjoining stalls of the men’s room of Parliament. Churchill is supposed to have moved as far as possible from Attlee. “Feeling standoffish, Winston” Attlee is supposed to have said. “No. Frightened. “Whenever you see something large you try to nationalize it.” Perhaps more telling is this Margret Thatcher’s comment, and exchange. Making everyone’s outcome equal does more to penalize those with real pride in their ideas and work than it does to help the truly needy.

While there is a need for government in regards to safety, roads, and standards, and to maintain that equality of law. It seems to me the state should aid the poor only to the extent that it does not turn them into dependents. There is thus a natural tension between private good and public service similar to the tensegrity that holds cells together. Capitalists can only make money by providing desired goods and services at worthwhile rate, and paying enough to keep workers; they should be allowed to keep some of that, while some must be taken from them to get great things done. I’ve related the tensegrity of society to the balance between order and disorder in a chemical system.

Robert E. Buxbaum August 27, 2014. This essay owes special thanks to a Princeton chum, Val Martinez. Though my training is in engineering, I’ve written hobby pieces on art, governance, history, and society. Check out the links at right.

Einstein’s fuzzy slippers — and a fetish lawyer joke

First, the joke about the fetishistic lawyer: He got off on a technicality.

It’s funny because  ….  it’s a double entendre, a multi-word, sexual homophone (no insult  to the homophone community). It also relates to a fact as true and significant as any in life. What a person considers enjoyable, fun (or not) depends mostly on what’s in his mind. Whether judging sexy or scary; pleasant or disagreeable, it has relatively little to do with a physical reality, and is mostly in the imagination of the person. As a result, the happiest people seem to be those who embrace their inner weirdness. They try to find jobs that they are good at, that allow them to take perverse pleasure in their own weird way within the bounds of a civil society.

Take pleasure in your own weirdness.

Einstein in fuzzy slippers outside of his Princeton home; take pleasure in your own weirdness.

Einstein, at left, seems to have enjoyed doing physics, playing the violin, and wearing odd clothes: sweaters, and these (pink) fuzzy slippers. the odd clothes didn’t detract from his physics, and may have even helped him think. Boris Spassky (the Russian chess champion) was asked which he preferred: sex or chess, he said: “it very much depends on the position.” Do what you like, and like what you do. As the old joke goes, “I don’t suffer from insanity: I enjoy every moment.”

Robert Buxbaum. April 1, 2014; I mostly blog about science and hydrogen, but sometimes, like here, about personal relations, or last week economics (dismal). Here’s a thermodynamic look at life. And a picture of an odd sculpture I made. I take my own advice, by the way: this blog doesn’t get me any money but it’s fun, and maybe I’ll help some day — e.g. maybe it’ll spark my creativity. Here’s a bit about Einstein’s mustache, and the universe being curved in.