Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Overcoming White, Jewish, and Hungarian Privilege


Alice C. Linsley

At times and in places black and Hispanic Americans have been greatly inconvenienced. They have had to deal with discriminatory practices and abuses that "white" Americans have not. This is called "white privilege" but it isn't about race as much as it is about abuse motivated by fear of the unknown and self-serving attitudes. 

Palestinians experience great inconvenience when they try to take their children to school and have to cross Jewish checkpoints where they are often held up for hours. Should we call this "Jewish privilege"?

Muslims trying to immigrate to parts of Europe can't go through Hungary. This is a great inconvenience to them. Do we call that "Hungarian privilege"?

People who discriminate are motivated by many factors: fear, personal and familial histories, culture, economic forces, and socio-political trends.

Early exposure to people of other ethnic groups has a tremendous impact a person's perspective. Parents should introduce their young children to people, customs, and beliefs that are different from their own.

As I young child my parents provided many such experiences and these formed my love of Humanity in all its diversity. At age 9, I visited a remote village in the mountains of Luzon where we were greeted by the chief of the headhunters. The outskirts of the village were circled by shrunken heads on stakes.

In India, I saw extreme poverty, leprousy, ornate palaces, and Hindu temples. I saw the faces of hungry children as they pressed against the windows of our passing car. 

In Thailand, I ate unfamiliar foods and observed the Buddhist monks in their saffron robes enter the gilded temples. I heard the temple bells and smelled the incense as it was carried on the breeze.

Experiences like these made me who I am, and laid the groundwork for my research in anthropology. I realize that most parents cannot take their children to far-away places. However, they can expose them to diverse peoples where they live. Perhaps a neighbor is from Iran. Reach out to that person to learn about their culture. It takes effort, but the child will become a better citizen of the local community and of the world. 

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Arguing About Social Concerns

In a nation as polarized as the United States of America it is difficult to discuss social concerns in a rational way. This undermines democracy, and causes us to forget that as a nation of diverse peoples, we hold many essential things in common.

This article is not for ideologues and political fanatics. It is for people who genuinely want to discuss social concerns to become better informed. If you are driven to promote your political party, favorite candidate, single issue, or ideology, stop reading now.

To those who think ethically about social engagements, read on!

During the recent election, I sat with my family to watch the returns and projections on Fox News, CNN, and Bloomburg. My family members were fairly evenly divided. Some voted for Trump and some voted for Biden. That night we had an beneficial conversation about politics and our hopes for the future of the nation. The first rule of our family conversation is to respect disagreement. The second rule is to ask questions in a non-confrontational manner. Why do you believe that? What do you think is at stake for you? Questions like these help us to gain a better understanding of the concerns of the other person.

These days, social conversations are like cutting through thick brush to reach a sunlit clearing with open sky overhead. We have to navigate through gaslighting, misinformation, and heated rhetoric. We face shifting lines as news sources that have been considered reliable in the past are increasingly politicized. In other words, getting at the facts is hard work. Read and consider all sources with equal skepticism. Don't rely on official fact-checking. Check the facts for yourself.

Poorly informed people who cannot address the substance of an argument often resort to in-explicit language and obscurantism. If you are unable to understand what someone is saying, this may be the reason. Asking the person non-confrontational questions can help them to consider the topic on a deeper level.

In politics, obsurantism or the refusal to address issues of concern to the general public may be due to a hidden agenda. In this case, attempts to draw out pertinent information by asking questions usually does not work. A better approach is to research the political figure's past voting record.

In social media, the humble poorly informed tend to remain silent, and the arrogant tend to resort to ad hominem. Discern the difference. Engage the humble and ignore the arrogant. Respect traditional wisdom and community knowledge, but remember that the unconventional thinker may offer something of value. 

Social media platforms are mainly used to interact with family and friends. Many do not regard social media as a serious venue for social conversation, but it can be. This medium has great potential for sharing informed positions in a non-confrontational way. Consider social media a tool that should be used ethically.

Always consider your motivation when engaging others on social issues. Self-awareness is important for measuring your sensitivity to how issues are presented and discussed. Avoid presenting opinions as fact, and be respectful of all opinions. However, do not hesitate to present facts with reliable links. Social engagement should be viewed as an opportunity to learn and to share learning.

Friday, October 9, 2020

Questioning Aristotle on Democracy


Alice C. Linsley

A proper understanding of Aristotle's view of democracy requires recognizing his assertion that the Polis, or city-state, is prior to family and the individual. He sees this as a natural development along with nature's endowment of humans with speech and the ability to articulate moral concepts such as justice. As human beings are by nature political animals, we seek positions of power from which we can shape our communities.

The ideal of democracy is that we should be fair in the exercise of power. Yet "democracy" is elusive. No political system exists that is entirely fair. Further, the democracies of the world do not share a common political system.

This leads to another of Aristotle's questions: Does "democratic behavior" refer to actions that are pleasing to world democracies, or to actions that preserve world democracies?

If democratic behavior refers to actions that are pleasing to world democracies, some common substance must be universal to the ideal. What is that common substance? Is it that all are equal before the law? Sadly, that often is not the case in the best political environments. Is it that each citizen's vote counts for something? Unfortunately, sometimes those who scream the loudest about democracy manipulate voting. Perhaps the ideal of democracy is a nose ring by which the citizenry is yanked about?

Given Aristotle's view of government and human nature, it is likely that "democratic behavior" refers to actions that preserve the state. By this definition, insurrections and revolutions pose a grave threat to democracy. Too often they lead to unchecked power by those who take control. Congress is a community of communities, each working to tilt the balance in their favor. Winning the votes, passing the pork bill, getting the dirt on one's opponent - these non-democratic behaviors break bonds of friendship.

True democracy entails power sharing, conscientious public service, and mutual respect. These are fundamental. For Aristotle, the polis is held together by friendship. He regarded men with many friendships as good men. Today friendship in Washington is less important than politically advantageous alliances, and sharing power is rare because there is no trust between the parties.

Beyond these democratic behaviors, there is the necessity of a common vision of a good society. As we near the November 2020 presidential election it is clear that the Democratic and Republican parties have very different notions of what makes a society good. 

Related reading: Thoughts on Democracy; What Makes a Good Society?; When a Riot Becomes a Revolution

Sunday, October 4, 2020

Thoughts on Democracy


This is the first principle of democracy: that the essential things in men are the things they hold in common, not the things they hold separately. And the second principle is merely this: that the political instinct or desire is one of these things which they hold in common. Falling in love is more poetical than dropping into poetry. The democratic contention is that government ... is a thing like falling in love, and not a thing like dropping into poetry. It is not something analogous to playing the church organ, painting on vellum,..., being Astronomer Royal, and so on. For these things we do not wish a man to do at all unless he does them well. It is, on the contrary, a thing analogous to writing one's own love-letters or blowing one's own nose. These things we want a man to do for himself, even if he does them badly. .... In short, the democratic faith is this: that the most terribly important things must be left to ordinary men themselves--the mating of the sexes, the rearing of the young, the laws of the state. This is democracy; and in this I have always believed. ”

― G.K. Chesterton

I am a democrat because I believe in the Fall of Man. I think most people are democrats for the opposite reason. A great deal of democratic enthusiasm descends from the ideas of people like Rousseau, who believed in democracy because they thought mankind so wise and good that everyone deserved a share in the government. The danger of defending democracy on those grounds is that they are not true. And whenever their weakness is exposed, the people who prefer tyranny make capital out of the exposure. I find that they're not true without looking further than myself. I don't deserve a share in governing a henroost, much less a nation. Nor do most people - all the people who believe advertisements, and think in catchwords and spread rumors. The real reason for democracy is just the reserve. Mankind is so fallen that no man can be trusted with unchecked power over his fellows...."

― C.S. Lewis

"Government is not reason; it is not eloquent; it is a force. Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master. Never for a moment should it be left to irresponsible action."

― George Washington

Saturday, September 26, 2020

Women's Opportunities Throughout History

Alice C. Linsley

In the ancient world, priests' daughters, widows, and indentured virgins lived at temples and shrines. This provided a better way of life for women who might otherwise be destitute.

The custom is observed today in Africa and in India. Poor parents may chose to give their daughters to the local shrine of temple as a servant. In India, low caste girls are sometimes dedicated to the temple. These are called Devadasi (Deva - God and Dasi - female servant). They are sexually exploited and despised, but they can acquire status by joining the Yellama cult which confers power and responsibility. One of the most important duties of the Devadasi is the performance of votive dances in the temple.

This Harappan dancing girl of the Indus Valley resembles the dancing girls of ancient Nubia.

Some women gain patrons and are able to buy their way out of the system. Patrons often set them women up as inn keepers. Professional dancers worked in these inns. That was the case in ancient Nubia and Harappa, and continues in modern Ethiopia where the women dance in coffee houses. (See Egypt and Nubia by James Augustus Saint John, pages 240-242).

This may be the situation with the biblical figure Rahab. Different biblical sources use different Hebrew words to describe Rahab. One refers to a sacred prostitute, and the other to an inn keeper. The first word is qādēš and the second is the radical zn. Leah Bronner notes that the ZN root could refer to zona (one who sells her body) or to the word zon, an inn keeper. D. J. Wiseman points out that tzond can be translated as barmaid. Rahab married Salmon, a Horite Hebrew chief.

In West Africa, women consult deities at the water shrines in order to have children. These children are often pledged to the shrine or to the deity (as Hannah pledged Samuel to God in return for blessing her with a child). Osofu Ahadzi, a director of one such shrine, says that people who fail to redeem such pledges eventually lose those children. Ahadzi explains, “If there is a calamity befalling a family and they go back to the divinity or shrine and it is said that such a person should be trained in the shrine to learn the skills and acquire the power of divination to protect the family, that is when that person is devoted to the shrine." 

Ahadzi says that men may not marry a trokosi (indentured girl) without permission from the shrine. This is because the girls are regarded as spirit wives of the deity. He said marrying a trokosi without going through the proper procedure will attract severe punishment.

“There was a situation where the divinity asked one of the keepers not to marry this woman and he decided to go forward and marry. He thought that he was powerful and he went ahead and married. The mother died, he was going and the car had an accident. He died with his wife. In the traditional African religion the commandment is thou must not do this, if you do that you will get your punishment,” he said.

Ahadzi says, “It is completely out of place for anybody to claim that the keeper of the shrine plays around with the girls. You can’t do that. When you go against any of the regulations, it is not human beings that will punish you. The deity will punish you because all the girls who go in there for training are the daughters and princesses of the divinity. So if you take liberties with them you will be punished,” he said.

He believes that the girls, some of whom are as young as age 2, have a good life at the shrine, although they do not receive a formal education.

Ahadzi said the girls are not taken advantage of even though they are used as free labor on the farms. He said the chores they perform can be likened to what students are made to do in boarding schools.

Hindu temple dancer performs traditional hand language called "Mudra".

Similar practices are evident at Hindu temples. Dr. Shabhash C. Sharma writes, "Regarding the treatment of people (including the young girls and widows) in shelters, temples and orphanages, Hinduism is quite emphatic in its opposition to any abuse and exploitation at the hands of those in positions of power and authority: 'He who betrays one who has sought refuge, will meet destruction. The very earth will not let the seed that he sows sprout.'"

Dr. Sharma further explains: "Sometimes even if the parents of a young girl or boy are alive, they might not be in a good socio-economic condition to take care of their kid and thus could decide to send her/him to live in a temple thinking that the temple would do a better job in raising their child. Thus the temple might be considered by some people an ideal place to raise their child where free room, board and education (in spirituality, arts, music, dancing etc.) are available, perhaps in return for a small or light physical service to the temple."

Dr Sharma says: "The same type of consideration, as indicated above for young girls, is generally applicable to adult women, especially the widows, when they decide to live in temples and religious places like Vrindavan. Note that even though the widows living in such places (temples etc.) might number in several thousand they still represent an extremely small minority relative to millions of Indian widows..."

Even the daughters of rich families and royalty have been dedicated to the temple, shrine, or to the Church. Royal virgins posed both potential trouble and opportunity for rulers. Marriage was a way to form alliances between royal families and kingdoms. Sometimes rulers sought to avoid alliances and refused to give their royal daughters in marriage, and at other times such arrangements were politically advantageous. In some cases, the virgins themselves appear to have sought the ruler’s protection from marriages they found displeasing. One way to escape undesired marriages was to enter the convent and to become a "bride of Christ."

In the Middle Ages, many royal daughters were destined for the monastic life. Only in circumstances of political advantage were their marriages allowed. Not surprisingly, female convents sprung up in all the regions were monarchs had residences. Some royal women lived saintly lives in the monasteries and others lived much as they had in their father’s palaces. The rich and powerful royal abbeys of Europe provided a luxurious lifestyle for the women who resided there.

The precedent for placing a royal daughter at a temple is found as early as the reign of Sargon (c. 2334-2284 BC). He appointed his daughter Heduanna as the En (Mistress-in-charge) of the shrine at Ur. En-Heduanna is credited with a large body of cuneiform poetry.

Likewise, some royal Egyptian daughters were appointed to the two highest positions a woman could hold: the positions of the God’s Wife (Hemet Netjer) and the Divine Adoratrice (Duat Netjer).

Pharaoh Ahmose’s principal wife was appointed to the office of the God’s Wife of Amun, and Ahmose endowed the office with more than adequate means, providing financial income, servants, real estate, and her own royal retinue. Many royal women attained high rank as priestesses in charge of Hathor shrines. The celibacy requirement for royal daughters dedicated to the temples and shrines certainly had religious significance, but it also served the ruler’s political purposes. Were some political advantage to be gained, the holders of the offices might be granted permission to marry.

Social reforms that benefited women were introduced when Christianity became institutionalized under Emperor Justinian (482-556 AD). The Imperial Code criminalized cultic prostitution and the practice of fathers selling their daughters into slavery. Noble women were able to exercise political power.

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Mass Hysterectomies of Detainees in Georgia

Michael Cook, Editor of BioEdge

More than 170 members of Congress have called for an inquiry into allegations that women immigrants in an ICE detention centre in Georgia had unnecessary hysterectomies.

The charges were made by whistle-blower at the facility, run by the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Health Service Corps. Dawn Wooten, a nurse, claims that several women told her that a local doctor who works in the facility had removed their womb. “That’s his specialty, he’s the uterus collector,” said one woman.

These claims are vehemently denied by the doctor and have not been verified. However, they are a disturbing echo of abuses alleged to have taken place a few years ago in two California prisons.

Ms Wooten told activists at Project South that that detainees complained that they didn’t fully understand what the doctor was doing. She said: “I’ve had several inmates tell me that they’ve been to see the doctor and they’ve had hysterectomies and they don’t know why they went or why they’re going.”

She also said: “When I met all these women who had had surgeries, I thought this was like an experimental concentration camp. It was like they’re experimenting with our bodies.”

Dr Ada Rivera, of the ICE Health Services Corps, told the New York Times that the allegations would be investigated, but that the agency “vehemently disputes the implication that detainees are used for experimental medical procedures.”

A letter from members of Congress demanded an immediate investigation:

The reports of mass hysterectomies cause grave concern for the violation of the bodily autonomy and reproductive rights of detained people. Everyone, regardless of their immigration status, their language, or their incarceration deserves to control their own reproductive choices, and make informed choices about their bodies.

Wednesday, September 2, 2020

Liberty and Justice Cancelled?


Men sleeping in front of an abandoned building in Whiteclay, Nebraska (population seventeen). Whiteclay is two miles from the Pine Ridge Reservation and consists of four liquor stores that sell an average of 12,500 cans of beer a day, mostly to the residents of the Reservation.

Alice C. Linsley

The recent violence in some of America's cities has focused attention on the failure of the American Republic to secure liberty and justice for all.

Black lives matter. To be black in the United States is not an identity. Some black Americans are rich and some are poor. Some commit crimes and some are law-abiding. Some are uneducated and some are well-educated. Some are on the Left politically and some are on the Right. Many are moderates who simply want to live securely in peaceful neighborhoods. 

Among the black Americans are African immigrants from Kenya, Ghana, Nigeria, and Somalia. Their problems and concerns are different from native black Americans.

The Black Lives Matter protests appear to represent a generation of left-leaning activists whose concerns for liberty and justice are focused too narrowly. Not all black lives matter to them. Some black voices are cancelled because they don't share the narrative of overthrow of the structures that make America a republic. 

Cancelled are the voices of black persons who applaud efforts at criminal justice reform.

Cancelled are the voices of black persons who speak against killing the unborn.

Cancelled are the voices a black persons who have decided to vote for the Trump-Pence ticket in November.

Cancelled are the voices of black persons who question the motivation of BLM leaders and organizers. 

Some wonder why recent photos of inner city riots do not show many black people? 

Some wonder if the Black Lives Movement has itself been cancelled by the violent actions of groups like Antifa?

Where is the "liberty and justice for all" that the socialist Francis Bellamy (1855-1931) hoped to see and which is enshrined in the words of the Pledge of Allegiance?

Who is speaking for other Americans who have suffered injustice? The Cheyenne Nation was once a proud and strong people. Today they are among the poorest in America. The most recent U.S. Census estimates show Zieback County, home of the Cheyenne River Indian Reservation, as the poorest in the United States. In fact, of the seven poorest counties in the United States, South Dakota has over half of them - all homes to Indian reservations.

Do Native American lives matter?

Do the poor whites of Appalachia matter? Although the Appalachia region’s poverty rate declined 1.2 percentage points since 2009–2013, Appalachia’s poverty rate remains higher than the U.S. average. However, the difference is not great: Appalachia 15.8% vs the nation 14.1 %.

Poverty in the United States poses the greatest threat to our Constitutional Republic. Consider how the Covid-19 slowdowns, lockdowns, and shutdowns have worsened this problem. Until we as a nation care about all lives equally and take immediate steps to address poverty, our fragile hold on liberty and justice for all may slip away, possibly forever.

Related reading: History of the Pledge of Allegiance; When a Riot Becomes a Revolution; Anxiety About New Poverty Guidelines; What Makes a Good Society?

Friday, August 7, 2020

Beirut Explosion First Responders


Beirut Explosion First Responders

Lebanese authorities have taken 16 people into custody as part of an investigation into the Beirut explosions that shook the capital on the evening of 4 August 2020. Officials say that the blast was caused by a huge stockpile of explosive material stored in unsafe conditions at the port.

The powerful explosion has been linked to an estimated 2,750 tonnes (3,030 short tons) of ammonium nitrate that had been confiscated by the government from the abandoned ship MV Rhosus and stored in the Hanger 12 warehouse for six years.

The blast was detected by the United States Geological Survey as a seismic event of 3.3 magnitude. Many buildings in the Mar Mikhael neighborhood were severely damaged or destroyed, as were grain silos storing around 85 percent of the country’s grain.

Health Minister Hamad Hassan said at least 5,000 people were injured in the blast and 154 people died but the death toll is expected to rise as search-and-rescue operations continue. The government of Lebanon has declared a two-week state of emergency.

The firefighters who first responded to the call were obliterated. When First Lieutenant Raymond Farah arrived at the port, the fire truck and the ambulance he had dispatched were evaporated. Farah reported, "The biggest piece of them we're finding is the size of a hand."

Brigadier General Najib Khankarli said, "Had we known that there was this amount of explosive material in the port, we would have acted completely differently. We would have called for an evacuation of the area and definitely we wouldn't have sent these young men and women in."

Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have called for international experts to be involved in the investigation, citing a lack of trust in Lebanese authorities. I a statement on 6 August in Beirut French President Emmanuel Macron called it "a matter of credibility".

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Tech Giants Face Antitrust Hearings

Jeff Bezos 

Leaders of the world's four most powerful companies will defend the Internet giants, painting them as US success stories in a fiercely competitive world during a major antitrust hearing Wednesday.

The unprecedented hearing will feature chief executives Jeff Bezos of Amazon, Tim Cook of Apple, Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook and Sundar Pichai of Google and its parent firm Alphabet.

The CEOs will testify remotely at the hearing, which comes less than 100 days before the US election.

Zuckerberg is to say that the internet giant would not have succeeded without US laws fostering competition, but that the rules of the internet now need updating.

"Facebook is a proudly American company," Zuckerberg said in prepared remarks ahead of what will be a closely watched House Judiciary Committee hearing.

"Our story would not have been possible without US laws that encourage competition and innovation."

Bezos will paint online giant Amazon as an American "success" story, while accepting a need for scrutiny.

"I believe Amazon should be scrutinized," Bezos said in prepared remarks posted online ahead of the hearing.

Read it all here.

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Twitter Scam Address Blacklisted

Coinbase stopped around 1,100 customers from sending bitcoin to hackers who gained access to high-profile Twitter accounts last Wednesday. The attackers hacked over 100 Twitter accounts in a massive coordinated bitcoin scam.

According to Twitter, the hackers convinced some of the company’s employees to use internal systems and tools to access the accounts and help the hackers defraud users into sending them bitcoin.

According to Forbes, Coinbase and other cryptocurrency exchanges were able to stop some customers from sending bitcoin to the hackers by blacklisting the hackers’ wallet address. Coinbase says it prevented just over 1,000 customers from sending around $280,000 worth of bitcoin during last Wednesday’s attack. Roughly 14 Coinbase users sent around $3,000 worth of bitcoin to the scam’s bitcoin address before the company moved to blacklist it.

The cyber attack involved 130 accounts -- 45 of which were used to urge people to send them BTC. Data belonging to eight accounts was also downloaded and stolen; however, Twitter does not believe the hackers were able to access cleartext passwords and so mass password resets are not required.

Twitter is working with law enforcement to investigate the incident. The company is also conducting a forensic review of all impacted accounts.

Friday, July 17, 2020

Twitter Hack Highlights Security Concerns

This month the theme at Ethics Forum has been personal privacy and Big Tech. On Thursday, July 16, Twitter announced that 130 Twitter accounts were hacked in what constitutes one of the biggest security breaches of the social media platform.

The accounts that were hacked include high profile figures such as Barak Obama, Joe Biden, and Elon Musk.

Twitter reported, “For a small subset of these accounts, the attackers were able to gain control of the accounts and then send Tweets from those accounts.”

The first public signs of the intrusion came around 3 PM EDT on Wednesday, when the Twitter account for the cryptocurrency exchange Binance tweeted a message saying it had partnered with “CryptoForHealth” to give back 5000 bitcoin to the community, with a link where people could donate or send money.

The hack actually began on Tuesday night, when several verified Twitter accounts began tweeting out posts asking users to send them money through bitcoin. The hackers targeted employees with access to internal systems and tools in what the company described as a successful “coordinated social engineering attack.” The hackers raised the equivalent of over $115,000.
There is evidence that this attack was perpetrated by individuals who have specialized in hijacking social media accounts via “SIM swapping,” an increasingly rampant form of crime that involves bribing, hacking or coercing employees at mobile phone and social media companies into providing access to a target’s account.

KrebsOnSecurity reports a security source at one of the largest U.S.-based mobile carriers, who said the “j0e” and “dead” Instagram accounts are tied to a notorious SIM swapper who goes by the nickname “PlugWalkJoe.” Investigators have been tracking PlugWalkJoe because he is thought to have been involved in multiple SIM swapping attacks over the years that preceded high-dollar bitcoin heists.

Twitter has made this statement: "We have also been taking aggressive steps to secure our systems while our investigations are ongoing. We’re still in the process of assessing longer-term steps that we may take and will share more details as soon as we can."

Twitter removed any tweets across its platform that included screenshots of its internal tools, and in some cases temporarily suspended the ability of those accounts to tweet further.

Another Twitter account — @shinji — also was tweeting out screenshots of Twitter’s internal tools. Minutes before Twitter terminated the @shinji account, it was seen publishing a tweet saying “follow @6,” referring to the account hijacked from Lucky225.

Saturday, July 11, 2020

When a Riot Becomes a Revolution

Newgate Prison in London burned by rioters in 1780.

John H. Plumb was the European Advisory Editor for Horizon. This excerpt is from one of his essays. The essay appeared in the Autumn 1968 issue of Horizon. It is a timely reminder of some important history.

When Does a Riot Become a Revolution?

By J. H. Plumb

The senate house in flames; mobs roaring and rioting in the Forum, full of hate, hungry for blood - off they went looting and pillaging. Confronted by the rival gangs, they fought and killed even in the Sacra Via itself, not once, but year after year as the Roman Republic crumbled. And the empire of Augustus only brought an uneasy peace. Social welfare, free food, and free fun kept the excesses down, but it required little - rumor, bribes, stirring oratory - to bring the mobs back into the streets.

When the capital of empire moved to the east, the mob was not lost. At Byzantium it rioted with equal violence, played on by oligarchs and factions in politics and religion. For centuries the mob rose and destroyed, tearing down buildings, pillaging, burning, and howling as it went.

In the summer of 1780, London erupted. By June 7, the city was a sea of flames; the prisons were broken open; the breweries were looted, and the gutters flowed with beer. Roman Catholic chapels and households were first desecrated, then wrecked, and finally burned. Among the rioters at least 285 were shot dead, 173 wounded, and 450 taken prisoner. These, the famous Gordon Riots, were unusual only in their extent. There had been wild rioting, burning, and looting in the 1760's and 70's, in 1733, 1736, and 1753 London had been at the mercy of mobs, as it had been time and time again during the previous century.

Not only in London but in towns throughout the kingdom generations of Englishmen had to learn to live with riots as they did with disease or death. It became a part of the nature of society. Nor was rioting an Englishman's vice; across the Channel they were just as violent. Inn the 1620's, 30's, and 40's France erupted in bloody riots that, in Normandy, finally turned into a peasants' war. For the rest of the century scarcely a year passed without mobs coming out in the streets of some provincial town or of Paris itself. They wreaked their vengeance on those whom they thought responsible for their misery.

The French Revolution changed the nature of European riots quite fundamentally. The mobs began to acquire more than a directing intelligence (they had rarely been without that) and to fall under the leadership of political strategists bent on using them for long-term ideological ends. Gradually the dispossessed and the frustrated acquired a deeper, a more ruthless, sense of identity, which encompassed violence, tragedy, pain, and even death for the sake of the future. And so the riot became an instrument of revolution. The European towns and countryside became even more violent in the nineteenth century; and England did, too - at least until 1850.

Things got better toward the end of the nineteenth century. Baron Haussmann drove his great boulevards through the riotous heart of Paris, providing excellent vistas for the rifle and, later, the machine gun and the tank. The weapons at the command of authority outdistanced the capacity of the mob to retaliate once the issue was joined.  It was not until the 1920's and 30's that the riot was resuscitated by the paramilitary formation of the Fascists, the Nazis, and the Action Française on the one hand, and the Communist Party on the other. The military fanatics having been crushed, riots declined in Europe into protest that teetered along the border of violence but rarely broke into it.

Last spring Europe again burst into flames, with student riots from Colchester to Cracow. Although these riots were usually provoked by academic situations, they are being exploited by acute political leaders. The students have become a type of false proletariat (a California professor has written “a student is a nigger”), and they are exploited as such. Attempts have been made – and with some success this past spring in France – to harness student idealism to the political programs of the working class. These recent riots in Europe belong to the tradition of both radical socialism and anarchism, but they are different in dimension from most American student riots and totally different in kind from the Negro rioting that America is experiencing.

The American riot is, as it were, the grandchild of the classical riot, which was bigger, more incoherent, more desperate – a deeper convulsion in the bowels of society – than the recent disturbances in Europe. The present American experience is, more precisely, akin to the riots of prerevolutionary Europe, before the mobs became infiltrated with political agents and exploiters who turned the riot to social revolutionary ends. This stage may be beginning in America, however, and it could develop rapidly.

The classical riot was generally more than a sudden hysterical outburst of anguish and despair. While it lacked political leaders, it did not lack leadership. Usually there were journeymen, artisans, skilled craftsmen, modest yeoman farmers, who made up the hard core of the mob and led it to its targets. Their approach was often direct - to break open the granaries, to lower prices by threats of destruction, or to improve wages or even secure work.

But the root causes of most riots were economic and specific. They never aimed at overturning the structure of eighteenth-century society, any more than most rioting Negroes wished to overturn American capitalism and its social structure. The rioters were out to secure immediate benefits - economic, social, and local - not to start a revolution.

In England in the seventeenth century rioters tore down the hedges with which landowners had enclosed the peasants' common fields. In the eighteenth century they ripped up turnpike tollgates that taxed the movement of their goods. Riots worked more often than not. True, some rioters were caught, some hanged, some transported, some imprisoned; but the rioting mass escaped scot free, often with loot, and many times they were successful in winning their immediate short-term aims.

So far the American urban riot is working in the same way as it historic counterparts. "A little Easter shopping," said a Negro women going off with a coat in the Washington looting that followed the murder of Martin Luther King. And apart from immediate gains there are practical and psychological gains, too.

The practical gain is quite simple. Large physical losses of property scare owners into action. A urgent sense that something positive must be done for Negroes immediately follows riot. It is a sobering fact that, as in the past so in the present, riots rarely fail; the rioters always win - not in the long term, of course, but in the short term.

To the overwhelming majority of Americans, black or white, rich or poor, a fundamental change in social structure is just as unthinkable as it was to eighteenth-century Englishmen. But as long as the conditions that lead to violence continue, the riot with its emotional release and its material windfalls and illusory social gains will go on and on, hot summer after hot summer, as it did for centuries in Europe.

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Regulation of Big Tech

When Bill Gates says it is necessary to regulate the Tech Sector, Americans should take this seriously. He appeared on "The David Rubenstein Show: Peer-to-Peer Conversations" on June 24, 2020.

“Technology has become so central that government has to think: What does that mean about elections? What does that mean about bullying?” Gates said in the interview at the Economic Club of Washington, DC. “So, yes, the government needs to get involved.”

Americans have concerns about personal privacy due to technologies that can collect massive amounts of data. According to a 2019 survey of the Pew Research Center, most Americans feel that they have little control over how their personal information is collected and used by businesses and government. About 6 out of 10 persons sampled believed that "it is not possible to go through daily life without having their data collected."

In other countries more than 80% of the people surveyed say the power of big tech companies should be limited. Those countries include Germany, India, Indonesia, Thailand and New Zealand.

Countries disagreeing the most with regulation of big tech companies include Nigeria and Japan. More than 40% of people surveyed in those nations say they didn't think those companies need more restrictions. 

About 74% of respondents worldwide agree with this survey statement: "Technology is displacing our jobs." 

Globally, about 77% say they worry that their internet privacy is at risk. 

85% of those sampled agree with the statement that "the world needs a global set of internet standards.

Monday, July 6, 2020

Personal Privacy and Data Collection

Concerns about personal privacy and data collection continue as more advanced technologies are applied. This issue is not going away. Federal protections are held up by partisan politics and the reality that legislation cannot keep pace with technological advances. The laws enacted today are likely to be obsolete within a matter of months.

According to a 2019 survey of the Pew Research Center, most Americans feel that they have little control over how their personal information is collected and used by businesses and government. around 6 out of 10 persons sampled believed that "it is not possible to go through daily life without having their data collected."

The survey discovered that 70% of those sampled believe that their personal data is less secure now than five years ago.

In general, we want protection from entities that seek to gain financially from our information, but we also want the government to effective use data to track potential terrorist activity. The Pew survey found that 49% say it is acceptable for government to collect data about all Americans to assess who might be a potential terrorist threat.

Nobody is fooled by the lengthy privacy notices from banks and financial services. They are written by lawyers who are retained by the companies to protect them from legal liability rather than to inform users as to how their personal information might be shared. The term “privacy notice” gives the impression that the organization is going to protect personal information instead of how it is going to disclose that information.

In the absence of a comprehensive federal data privacy and data security law, individual states fill the gap. An example is The California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) which took effect on 1 January 2020. The California Consumer Privacy Act requires that companies "notify users of the intent to monetize their data, and give them a straightforward means of opting out of said monetization."

For now, these are the best practices for protecting personal information: 

Be alert to impersonators and scammers.
Safely dispose of personal information.
Keep security software updated.
Lock your computer to avoid security breaches when not being used by you.
Avoid phishing emails.
Be wise about Wi-Fi use, especially in public venues such as coffee shops.
Do not click on social media surveys.
Never share personal information by email or on social media.
Change passwords every 6-8 months and keep these private.

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Notre Dame-IBM Launch Tech Ethics Lab

In the first season of The West Wing, Sam Seaborn made a poignant point that privacy and data security would be the hot button issue of the decades ahead. In this Big Data Age, huge sums of information can be captured more easily than ever. In this environment, the application of advanced technologies has become a two-edged sword. It is applied across every industry: banking, marketing, entertainment, small businesses, and government.

The 2020 US Census has a legitimate purpose. The data helps states achieve adequate representation in Congress and the appropriate level of federal funding. However, some citizens are not eager to share their personal information. We have become aware of the potential dangers of data collection. We know that data is used to sell us products that we really don't need and to slant political messages to target audiences. We have learned not to click on those Facebook surveys that collect personal information that is sold to make Facebook richer, while those surveyed receive no gain.

The ethics of advanced technologies concern everyone. However, the conversation about the reach of advanced technologies requires experts. To that end, the University of Notre Dame has launched a collaboration with IBM that will address the ethical issues surrounding the use of advanced technologies, including artificial intelligence, machine learning and quantum computing.

Funded by a 10-year, $20 million IBM commitment, the new Notre Dame-IBM Tech Ethics Lab will conduct research and promote models for the ethical application of technology within the tech sector, business and government.

The Tech Ethics Lab will be based at the University and will operate as a separate unit within the University’s Technology Ethics Center (ND-TEC).

Mark McKenna, Professor of Law at Notre Dame and founding director of ND-TEC, said: “Rather than following the ‘ready, fire, aim’ approach sometimes used in developing new technologies, we hope to provide resources that allow developers and industry to create better, more responsible technologies that positively benefit society.”

Friday, June 5, 2020

So Much for Self Determination

Western democracies have been known to tout self determination as a value, but history tells another story. Were the Palestinians given a say about their future when the state of Israel was established by foreign powers?

Consider what happened to Hungary.

In a speech marking the occasion in the Hungarian Parliament, President János Áder reminded his countrymen that:

In 1920, Hungary lost two-thirds of its territory. Its population shrank from 18 million to 7.5 million. More than three million Hungarians were left as minorities in neighbouring countries. Romania alone gained more territory than Hungary had left. A significant part of our cereal-growing areas, 90 percent of our forests, and two-thirds of our rail network were ceded to neighbouring countries.

The dissonance between political rhetoric and the Palestinian and the Hungarian reality is as striking as the dissonance between the slogan of "justice for all" and the dehumanizing effects of systemic poverty, racism, and violence.

In the USA, the killing of George Floyd was the match to the tinder. It is naive to believe that a political party can fix these problems. The virtue signaling of politicians on right and left simply exacerbates the turmoil. To stand in front of a church holding a Bible demeans both church and sacred Scripture. It also demeans the office to which the person has been elected.

Citizens of the United States of America should look seriously at themselves and their elected leaders. Either we will determine for ourselves what kind of society we want to be, or foreign powers will gladly do that for us.

Relate Reading: A Bitter Centenary for the Hungarian People; Anarchy and the Elites; What Are American Ideals?

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Science and Religion in a Time of Plague

This is an excerpt from a recent article at The Conversation. The writer is Phillip I. Lieberman, Associate Professor at Vanderbilt University in Tennessee. He has received funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities. He is a social historian of the medieval Islamic world.

Plagues were a fact of life in ancient and medieval worlds. Personal letters from the Cairo Geniza – a treasure trove of documents from the Jews of medieval Egypt – attest that bouts of widespread disease were so common that writers had different words for them. They varied from a simple outbreak – wabāʾ, or “infectious disease” in Arabic – to an epidemic – dever gadol, Hebrew for “massive pestilence,” which hearkens back to language from the 10 plagues of the Bible.

Fragment from Cairo Geniza held at Cambridge shows handwritten letter from Moses Maimonides. It was discovered in late 19th century. Culture Club/Getty Images
During the time of the jurist and philosopher Moses Maimonides (1138-1204), who led the Jewish community of Egypt, Fusṭāṭ (Old Cairo) faced a plague so daunting in 1201 that the city’s Jewish population never returned to its former glory.

Divine punishment?

Religious people throughout history often saw plagues as the manifestation of divine will, as a punishment for sin and a warning against moral laxity. The same chorus is heard by a minority today. As a Jewish person, I am embarrassed to read that a rabbi was recently quoted as saying that COVID-19 was divine punishment for gay pride parades.

In “A Mediterranean Society,” Geniza researcher S.D. Goitein describes Maimonides’ reaction to the plague: “Whatever the philosophers and theologians of that time might have said about man’s ability to influence God’s decisions by his deeds, the heart believed that they could be efficacious, that intense and sincere prayer, almsgiving, and fasts could keep catastrophe away.”

But the Jewish community also dealt with disease in other ways, and its holistic response to epidemics reveals a partnership – not a conflict – between science and religion.

Science and religion

In the medieval period, thinkers like Maimonides combined the study of science and religion. As Maimonides explains in his philosophical masterwork “The Guide to the Perplexed,” he believed that studying physics was a necessary precursor to metaphysics. Rather than seeing religion and science as inimical to one another, he saw them as mutually supportive.

Indeed, scholars of religious texts complemented their studies with science-centered writings. Maimonides’ Islamic contemporary, Ibn Rushd (1126-1198), is a perfect example. Though an important philosopher and religious thinker, Ibn Rushd also made meaningful contributions to medicine, including suggesting the existence of what would later come to be called Parkinson’s disease.

But it was not only elite scholars who saw religion and science as complementary. In “A Mediterranean Society,” Goitein says that “even the simplest Geniza person was a member of that hellenized Middle Eastern-Mediterranean society which believed in the power of science.” He adds: “Illness was conceived as a natural phenomenon and, therefore, had to be treated with the means provided by nature.”Tending to one’s inner life

Science and religion, therefore, were both integral to the soul of the Geniza person. There was no sense that these two pillars of thought challenged one another. By tending to their inner lives through rituals that helped them deal with the sadness and trepidation, and their bodies through the tools of medicine available to them, the Geniza people took a holistic approach to epidemics.

For them, following the medical advice of Maimonides or Ibn Rushd was an essential part of their response to plague. But while hunkered down in their homes, they also looked to the spiritual advice of these thinkers, and others, to care for their souls. Those of us experiencing stress, solitude and uncertainty amid the coronavirus pandemic could learn from the medieval world that our inner lives demand attention too.

Read the entire article here.

Friday, May 22, 2020

Lost Lives and Lost Livelihoods

Governments across the globe are facing difficult decisions. Economist John Robertson has written about the challenges facing governments. Here are excerpts from his article

The coronavirus pandemic is reshaping the nature of political decision making as government leaders are compelled to link changes in their policies to the number of lives lost or gained.

The toughest public policy challenges since the Second World War will confront governments in the next few months as they strive to save lives while simultaneously restarting businesses shuttered by their coronavirus fighting policies.

Despite the seriousness of the consequences, governments take great care to camouflage the trade-off between life and livelihood in day-to-day policymaking, counting on policy impacts being sufficiently diffused so as to make direct attribution unclear.

In the face of natural disasters or calamitous accidents, every effort is thrown at finding survivors, or even saving properties, no matter how improbable the task. Only when the risk of survival is deemed to be zero does the effort subside.

The Covid-19 crisis is on a different scale. The chance of eliminating fatalities is zero. The upper limit of deaths could be in the millions. Bad, bleak and catastrophic are the three daunting scenarios confronting those in charge.

The lowest possible death toll, government leaders of every political hue and temperament agree, involves knowingly imposing unprecedentedly severe and widespread economic hardship.

However reluctantly, the most well meaning governments now have to decide how many lost lives and how much financial pain can be tolerated. There is no ducking the responsibility. Even procrastination is a choice.

Read the entire article here.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

COVID-19 and Social Status

In this video, Audiey Kao, MD, PhD, talks with Kathryn Olivarius, PhD, about how yellow fever epidemics during the antebellum South provide a historical lens to examine power asymmetries and health inequities in the COVID-19 era. Dr Olivarius is assistant professor of history at Stanford University.

Thursday, February 20, 2020

The Return of Stolen Antiquities

Ethiopia's Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed receives the 18th-century crown from the Dutch.

Antiquities are being returned to their place of origin more regularly than recognized. Many Western governments have pledged to return stolen artifacts that were taken during colonization.

In February 2020, The Dutch government returned a stolen 18th-century ceremonial crown to Ethiopia. The crown has great religious significance, and was kept safe for 21 years by Sirak Asfaw, a Dutch national of Ethiopian heritage.

Asfaw, who emigrated to the Netherlands in the late 1970s, said in a video recording that the crown "came into his hands" in 1998.

In November 2019, France returned a sword to Senegal as part of its commitment to return artifacts stolen during colonial times. The sword belonged to Omar Saidou Tall, a west African ruler and Islamic scholar who led an anti-colonial struggle against the French in the 1850s.

He eventually signed a peace treaty with France in 1860. According to French historian, Jean Suret-Canele, Omar Saidou Tall died from a gunpowder explosion in 1864. After his death, his sword and books from his library were seized by the French.

In October 2019, US authorities returned a stolen coffin to Egypt, two years after it was acquired by the Metropolitan Museum of Art for $4m (£3.2m) from a Parisian art dealer.

The 2,100-year-old coffin was that of a priest called Nedjemankh who served Horus as a Ram (Heryshef). The decorated surface includes scenes and prayers in gesso relief meant to protect and guide Nedjemankh on his journey to immortality.

The coffin was looted and smuggled out of Egypt in 2011 and was sold to the Met by a global art trafficking network, which used fraudulent documents.

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Five Million March in Nigerian Protests

On 10 February, militant Islamists killed at least 30 people and abducted women and children in Auno town on a major highway in Borno State, north-eastern Nigeria.

M. Buhari’s government has repeatedly said that the militants have been defeated, but the attempted genocide against Nigerian Christians have continued for over a decade.

Meanwhile, on February 2, five million people took part in marches across Nigeria to protest the murder of Pastor Lawan Andimi by Boko Haram, and the failure of the Buhari government to halt the violent attacks against Christians by Islamist extremists.

Pastor Andimi was a local chairman of CAN in Adamawa State. He was kidnapped on 2 January and murdered by Boko Haram on 20 January.

On the same day as Pastor Andimi’s murder, the terrorist group released video footage of its murder of kidnapped student Ropvil Dalep. In Plateau State, at least 32 Christians were killed in January during attacks by Fulani extremists on two villages.

In 2019 the Islamic extremists expanded their terrorist attacks to Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Burkina Faso.

In Burkina Faso a series of attacks began on 28 April in Silgadji, when gunman rounded up a pastor, his son and four of his congregation and demanded they deny their Christian faith and convert to Islam. After refusing they were executed one-by-one. Six were then killed at a church on 12 May and four at a Christian parade on 13 May. Four were then murdered at another church on 26 May. The fifth and sixth reported attacks took place on 9 and 10 June in which 29 were butchered by Islamist extremists.

Burkina Faso is part of a five-nation regional force against extremism, known as the G5 Sahel. Islamic extremist violence has increased in Burkina Faso's north and east near its Mali border. Hundreds have been killed in the attacks thousands have fled.

Islamic terrorists attacked the Christian village of Kalau in the North Kivu province in the Democratic Republic of Congo on 6 March 2019. They attempted to infiltrate the village under the guise of being security agents, but some village youth warned the villagers. The militants shot the village leader’s guard dogs and then opened fire, killing six Christians, including three women and a child.

The attack was launched by members of the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), a group that attempted the overthrow the Ugandan government in the 90’s, seeking to replace it with an Islamic regime. The group has ties to other terrorist groups such as al-Shabaab and al-Qaeda. They are responsible for thousands of deaths throughout Uganda and eastern DRC.

For a partial list of attacks by Boko Haram from 2011 to the present, see this post.

Monday, February 3, 2020

Organ Harvesting and Trafficking

Organ harvesting is a surgical procedure that removes organs or tissues for reuse, typically for organ transplantation. Organ procurement is heavily regulated in most countries to prevent unethical allocation of organs. However, it is a big business in China.

Human rights groups have known about forced organ harvesting in China for over a decade. Minorities and prisoners are especially vulnerable. They are killed and theirs organ removed. The victims are people who follow Falun Gong, Uyghur Muslims detained in the Xinjiang region, Tibetan Buddhists, and Christians.

The organ recipients are wealthy Chinese or transplant tourists who travel to China and pay a substantial sum to receive the transplant. The waiting times are short and at times vital organs are booked in advance.

Monday, January 20, 2020

Peter Singer on Harvesting Organs from the Living Dead

The controversial bioethicist Peter Singer has suggested that we abandon brain death altogether. He said:
“I think that the view most conducive to clear thinking about these issues is to stick with the traditional definition of death, in terms of the irreversible cessation of heartbeat and of the circulation of blood, and leave all the other issues – when one may turn off respirators, or remove the heart and other organs – as ethical questions, with the best answer not determined solely by whether the patient is alive or dead.”

In this paper Singer discusses where brain death should be thought of as an ethical matter or a matter of fact. Singer concludes that it is permissible to harvest organs from an individual who is living with brain death. That is to say, that "the irreversible loss of consciousness is a necessary and sufficient condition" for organs to be harvested.

His position is consistent with his atheist utilitarianism. As Singer has said: "Belonging to the human species is not what makes it morally wrong to kill a living being. Why should all members of the species homo sapiens have a right to life, whereas other species do not? This idea is merely a remnant of our religious legacy. For centuries, we have been told that man was created in the image of God, that God granted us dominion over the animals and that we have an immortal soul."

Peter Singer sees moral obligation in terms of the reciprocity of the Golden Rule. Before taking an action that affects another living being, one should ask if this action is something they would want done to themselves. He argues that it is ethical to euthanize the terminally ill, the handicapped and seriously sick babies as long as this can be done painlessly. This is to be a family decision and one decided on the basis of compassion. Singer stands squarely in the Positivist tradition. He rejects what he regards as metaphysical understandings of human beings. He finds “sanctity-of-life,” “human dignity,” and “created in the image of God” to be spurious notions without basis in fact.

Related reading: Peter Singer Disinvited Again; Ethics of the Post Modern Era; Is Peter Singer Joining the Transhumanism Movement?