Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Obama the Carteresque

Jimmy Carter's recent visit to the Middle East has convinced me that Barack Obama is presidential after all. The problem is that the president he resembles is Carter, the guy who owes George W. Bush a favor for pushing him off the number one spot on the list of worst presidents of the last half century.

Both Obama and Carter are very intelligent people who are extremely naive with regard to diplomacy. They both support high-level talks with all the unrepentant bad guys of the world. Barack Obama is willing to sit down with Mahmoud Ahmedinijad without preconditions and without lower level talks first. Jimmy Carter wants Israel to talk to Hamas, an organization that still says all it can agree to is a 10 year ceasefire in return for all of their demands (a Palestinian state and return of refugees).

Of the two most recent Democratic presidents, Bill Clinton was far better than Jimmy Carter. Hillary Clinton is very Clintonian, and not just because of her last name. So this primary season it is Clintonian Democrats vs. Carteresque Democrats, and if the latter win, the United States will be in big trouble.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

J Street Lobby: Pro-Israel, Pro-Peace

Finally, a new organisation has been founded that will show Washington, DC that AIPAC's hawkishness isn't the only form of pro-Israel or pro-Zionist activism. J Street, which has two arms - a lobby and a political action committee, will endorse congressional candidates who support a two-state solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Good luck, J Street!

Friday, April 11, 2008

Barack Obama's Israeli Blog

Senator Barack Obama apparently believes Israel is the 51st state of the Union and it hasn't had its primary yet, or perhaps that the outcomes of American elections are decided in Jerusalem and Tel-Aviv. Why else would he open a blog on an Israeli website, intended for an Israeli audience (and apparently not just for American citizens in Israel) in both Hebrew and English?

As a dual citizen of Israel and the United States I'm supposed to be flattered by this move, but I'm not. Obama is trying to show he isn't anti-Semitic or anti-Israel in the wrong way. For one thing, as a candidate for president of the United States of America he shouldn't be courting foreign nationals. Second of all, if he decides to court foreigners anyway, he should try courting different countries. Does he have a French blog? A Mexican blog (and not just for Mexican Americans)? Does he have blogs in Kenya, his father's birthplace, or in Indonesia, where he spent some of his childhood? Does he have a blogs in Arabic, Greek, Portuguese, German, Swahili, etc.?

The fact that Obama's only foreign blog is in Israel is troubling. It seems he attributes too much power to Israel. Does he think that if Israelis don't like him American Jews won't vote for him? The Jews of the Land of Milk and Honey don't have that kind of influence and veto power over the Jews of the Land of Opportunities.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Test Your Biases

After reading an article and blog post by Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times about biases ingrained in us, I took a few of the on-line tests Kristof mentions. First, I played the Police Officer's Dilemma, in which pictures of whites and blacks holding guns and harmless objects appear and I have to quickly decide whether to shoot or holster my gun.

It took me an average of o.644 seconds to shoot armed blacks, 0.702 seconds to shoot armed whites, 0.708 seconds to holster my gun when faced with unarmed whites and 0.893 seconds to determine unarmed blacks are not a threat. By the way, I also shot 3 or 4 innocent black people and one or two innocent white people and holstered my gun at a few armed folks, both white and black, which resulted in me being virtually shot. I would not make a good police officer.

Then I took a few "implicit attitude tests" (IATs) at Harvard's Project Implicit. One of them was confirmed the findings of the previous test - I strongly associate guns with African Americans.

I took the presidential candidates IAT three times. The first time, it showed me that my favorite candidate is John McCain, though even he started in the middle of the graph, which means I'm not that crazy about him either. Right below him was Barack Obama, after that an empty space and then Hillary Clinton. What?!? Hillary is my favorite candidate in reality, and here she shows up far behind Barack Obama, who I really dislike? I expected Hillary to be on top, McCain in the middle and Obama right at the bottom. I took the test a second time, and the order was the same, except this time Clinton was directly below Obama without any space. Still unhappy with the results, I repeated the test again and it showed that I like all candidates equally, probably the result of being too familiar with the test than anything else.

Other results:

Sexuality IAT: I moderately prefer heterosexuals to homosexuals (sounds right - as a liberal I'd like to be able to say I'm free of any biases against gay people, but I am well aware that I'm not).

Presidents IAT: I moderately prefer Bill Clinton to George W. Bush (I'd expect it to be a strong preference).

Age IAT: I have no preference one way or the other (sounds exactly right - I truly feel comfortable with people of all ages).

Religion IAT: I have a moderate preference for Judaism over other religions (since I'm a non-religious Jew that makes sense. Interestingly, most respondents have a more positive reaction to Jewish symbols than to symbols of other religions).

Asian IAT: I strongly associate European Americans with American and Asian Americans with foreign (I guess that I subconsciously do that).

Arab Muslim IAT: The biggest surprise of all - I have a slight preference for Muslim Arabs compared to other people. Huh? This doesn't make any sense. I feel that I am very biased against Arabs and Muslims, even though I would rather not be. Since the test is based on names and not pictures, maybe it shows I'm just more used to hearing Arab names than European and Asian names? Or maybe I am the open-minded liberal I'd like to be. I was so surprised by this result that I retook the test and the second time it even showed that I have a moderate preference for Arab Muslims, more than the slight preference I had the first time around.

Gender-Science IAT: Little or no association between Female and Male with Science and Liberal Arts. I guess that as a male in the social sciences I really don't associate different academic fields with a certain gender.

On the other hand, on the Gender-Career IAT I displayed a moderate association between male and career and female and family.

Weight IAT: I took it twice. The first time it said I have a slight automatic preference for fat people over thin people. As a skinny dude, that surprised me. I retook the test and the second time around it said I have a moderate preference for thin people. The truth is probably in the middle - that I don't really have a preference, as long as it isn't for romantic purposes.

Skin-color IAT: Little to no preference between dark and light skin.

And one last IAT (there are a few more I have not tried), the Native American IAT shows a slight association of Native Am. with Foreign and White Am. with American compared to White Am. with Foreign and Native Am. with American.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

My BSG Theory: Colonials Are Robots, Too

Beware! Geeky Battlestar Galactica theorizing ahead, as well as possible spoilers for whoever hasn't seen the entire first three seasons.

It is now a common theory to say that humans came from Earth to Kobol and not the other way around, but I don't think this is the whole story. The saying "All this has happened before and all this will happen again" leads me to believe that the Colonials are either actually descendants of humanoid robots or of human-robot hybrids.

Humans on Earth created robots, which I will call Earthbots to distinguish them from the present-day Cylons. The Earthbots rebelled and left Earth. Later, they developed humanoid-biological models who took over Earthbot society, eventually discarding the mechanical models and losing the ability to download into a new body. After a few centuries most of their descendants forgot their Earthbot roots and started calling themselves human. Only a select few, later to be known as the Lords of Kobol, were entrusted with the secret origin of "humanity" and with the ability to download, thus achieving immortality.

The Cylon god is a Lord of Kobol who wished to reveal the secrets and grant immortality to all colonials. The other Lords banished him and his followers to protect their secrets, and outlawed his worship. He became The One Whose Name Cannot Be Spoken. The five priests of the Temple of Five are actually this god (the Final Cylon) and his four main supporters (the four of the Final Five already revealed). These are what would later be known as the 13th tribe, which starts wandering across the galaxy separately from the rest. Shortly thereafter the twelve tribes settle on Kobol. Several centuries later, the 13th tribe finds Kobol as well and asks to settle there, sparking a war that would result in the Exodus to the twelve colonies and the annihilation of the 13th tribe, except for the five priests.

Two thousands years later, the Colonials, who still think they are humans despite being Earthbots (or the descendants thereof) create the Cylons. The Cylons rebel. They leave the Colonies, however they have extensive knowledge of Colonial religion, and they start worshipping the hated Lord of Kobol. They distort the message of this god, believing he wished to destroy humanity. He somehow discovers this and wishes to thwart their plans, however he doesn't think they'll believe him if he shows up and says "hi, I'm your Lord God", so instead he somehow manages to get himself and his four priests accepted as five of the 12 humanoid Cylon models, as counterweights to the 7 militant Cylons. He implants the four into Colonial society without them knowing who they are. Because the two sets of Cylons (or rather the seven Cylons and the five Earthbots) don't communicate with each other, the Lord of Kobol is unable to prevent the destruction of the Colonies, but he is determined to prevent the destruction of "Colonial humanity" by reuniting it with the "original humanity" of Earth.

I'm most likely way off about details like the origin of the Final Five and the Cylon god, but I'll be surprised if my basic premise - the robotic origin of the colonials - turns out to be wrong.