U.S. – Top 1% Owns More than Bottom 90%

SourceThe Blue Street Journal  on Facebook

When I saw this graphic in my Facebook News Feed, I immediately recalled the days (early 1980’s) when we thought how unjust and oppressive it was that 14 families owned 90% of the land in El Salvador, and we said no wonder the people revolted. Now the U.S. is the same, but where is the revolt?

A Facebook Friend commented “The problem is that the 90% are easily distracted by lotteries, Faux News, terrorist attacks, wars, immigration, right to life issues and gay rights. They get sucked into voting for special issues. The 1% NEVER get distracted by those things. For them, every issue is only about how it affects their pocketbooks. The issues are adopted by Republicans because they draw votes; not because the 1% care or are even affected by them.”


Crowdsourcing Serengeti Photos

“After Ali Swanson, an ecology researcher from the University of Minnesota, set up 225 cameras over 400 square miles of Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park, she was hit by the curse of Big Data: how do you make sense of the head-spinning contents of more than a million photographs?” (Daily Beast)

To identify so many photos, the researchers decided to enlist the aid of the public.  Anyone could register at the Snapshot Serengeti Project and begin identifying the animals and birds in the photos.  Multiple identifications of each photo help ensure accuracy, although the researchers also check things over.  The project, which began in December of 1012 was so popular that by the following February two years of photos were already classified.  The project is now engaged in uploading more photos for the public to identify.

The Serengeti Project is part of a larger University of Minnesota Lion Project which  “has been studying African lions in Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park and the Ngorongoro Conservation Area since the 1960’s. At any given time, our field teams keep track of about 330 lions in 24 prides in the Serengeti, and 50–60 lions in 5 prides on the floor of Ngorongoro Crater. . . over 5,000 lions have been included in the Serengeti and Crater studies over the past 40+ years.”  (SnapshotSerengeti)  To learn more about the findings from this lion research, read the blog written at the Snapshot Serengeti web site.

The Snapshot Serengeti Lion Project is one of many crowdsourcing projects located at Zooniverse where the public can assist in such projects as transcribing weather data from Royal Navy WW1 era ships (OldWeather) to searching for planets (Planet Hunters).

Other popular crowdsourcing projects include:

  •  Transcribe Bentham, the University College London’s efforts to digitize all the unpublished manuscripts of Jeremy Bentham
  • Project organized by the New York Public Library to transcribe and digitize more than 40,000 old menus
  • The U.S. Geological Survey’s Bird Phrenology Program which asks the public to transcribe note cards recording bird migration observations
  • The Sixties Project which encourages members of the 60’s generation to contribute their own personal narratives.  The project also includes online exhibits, links to primary documents, and the online journal  Vietnam Generation.

GOP Principles = Decrimininalizing Drugs?

Conservative blogger Kavon Nikrad argues that decriminalizing drugs is a sound application of  GOP principles of small government and, furthermore, would help the GOP increase it share of young voters and black voters.

Conservatives used to argue that the federal government cannot fix cultural problems through social-engineering legislation. That argument was right, and the results of the Drug War are living proof of it. It is time for the Republican Party to take the lead in ending this failed policy. It’s good for families, it saves money, and it will engender a new perspective on the humanity of drug users.

Nikrad points out that heavy emphasis on drug arrests since the time of Nixon have not reduced drug use, although costing billions of dollars.  He cites the case of Portugal to show that decriminalizing drugs and treating addiction as a public health issue is much more successful.

Slightly over a decade ago, Portugal decriminalized all drugs, choosing instead to treat the matter as a public health concern. The result has been a staggering 50% decrease in estimated number of addicts, as well declining rates of overall drug use and drug-related diseases.

It is heartening to see a conservative concerned about racial discrimination resulting from government action.  Nikrad notes that “Despite comprising only 12% of the population, 62% of those who are sent to state prisons for drug offenses are black. Black men are sent to prison for drug offenses at 13 times the rate of white men.”

He urges the GOP to advocate for decriminalization.  “This is Big Government at its worst and most discriminatory. Where are Big Government’s supposed opponents when racial minorities need them? Republicans should stand up for the black community and call for an end to the failed Drug War.”


Kavon Nikrad, “Opposing the war on drugs: Good policy, good politics,” Star Tribune, April 18, 2013, P. A13. Reprinted in Kavon Nikrad’s blog of 4/17/13 under title “It’s Time for Republicans to End the Failed, Immoral Drug War.”  Online at http://kavonnikrad.blogspot.com/2013/04/its-time-for-republicans-to-end-failed.html.

The Abayudaya Jews of Uganda

The Star Tribune of 3/24/13 carried a story about a unique Jewish community in Uganda, East Africa. The Abayudaya of Uganda began in 1919 when one African man studying the Bible under the direction of early missionaries decided that the Torah was the true word of God and became the leader of a growing indigenous community of Jews.  Under the leadership of Semei Kakungulu, the Jewish community grew to 3,000 souls.  But then they suffered persecution under Idi Amin who banned the Jewish religion.  The community migrated to the more remote district of Mbale near the Kenyan border where they have been slowly rebuilding.  Today the Jewish community lives in several villages and supports 6 temples, under the leadership of Rabbi Gershom.  Now numbering about 1,500, they run a school to teach the children Hebrew and observe the same Shabbat rituals and Holy Days as Jews around the world.

Sources and Further Info:

West Bank water seized by Israel

Great infographic from Visualizing Palestine in honor of U.N.’s World Water Day (March 22).  The Israeli government, which controls the Ramallah acquifer located in Palestine’s West Bank, allocates only  70 litres a day for each Palestinian.  The majority of the water is reserved for Israelis – 300 litres a day per Israeli.  Note that the World Health Organization says 100 litres per day per person is the minimum for good health.  (Click on photo to enlarge and read everything – original is 2000 pixels wide.)

Ph.D Scandal Rocks Germany

The quality of German Ph.D’s is being questioned after several high ranking politicians have been charged with plagiarizing their doctoral theses.

In February, Annette Schavan was forced to resign as the German Minister of Education when Heinrich Heine University revoked her Ph.D on grounds of plagiarism.  Schavan’s resignation followed that of Defense Minister Guttenberg, who was also found to have plagiarized his Ph.D thesis.  The President of Hungary, with a doctorate from the German University of Semmelweiss, was  also found guilty of plagiarism and forced to resign. These and other cases of less famous individuals have led the public to believe that plagiarism is widespread.  Lawyers now hire ‘plagiarism hunters’ to see if opposing expert witnesses can be discredited as cheaters.

Why so many problem Ph.D’s?

Market demand for Ph.D status symbol.  Ph.D’s are a real status symbol in Germany, with recipients listing themselves as “Dr.” on their mailboxes and in telephone directory listings.  Individuals planning to enter politics have been known to seek a Ph.D to enhance their chances of winning – 20% of the German Parliament hold Ph.D’s compared to 5% of U.S House of Representatives.  So great is the demand for this prestigious degree that German universities grant four times as many Ph.D’s per capita as do U.S. universities.

Little Quality Control in Universities.  Germany has a system of ‘external’ Ph.D’s with little quality control.  Unlike traditional Ph.D programs in Germany and the U.S., where candidates’ work is overseen by committees, in the ‘external’ system, the aspiring Ph.D only has to gain the approval of one professor.  These external students do not take classes or seminars – they just sit at home and write their thesis.  If it is approved by their professor, they get a Ph.D.  Degrees can be obtained with only a few months work.

Although there has been a push for reform, universities have resisted calls for thesis committees, external graders, and a single set of admission criteria applicable to all candidates.  Only recently have a few universities started to use the software designed to identify plagiarized passages.


Mobilizing against Online Hate Speech

One of the more creative approaches to addressing online hate speech is the Umati project in Kenya which is dedicated to monitoring online hate speech, educating about how online hate speech can promote violence, and identifying ways that individuals and non-governmental organizations can combat hate speech.

The Umati project is one of many initiatives organized in response to the horrific inter-ethnic violence – over 1,000 killed –  following the 2007 presidential elections in Kenya.  (Another initiative is a series of “Healing and Rebuilding our Communities” workshops organized by Kenyan Quakers and others.)

Findings:  The results of Umati’s monitoring of Kenyan cyberspace (blogs, Facebook, Twitter, and online newspapers and video streams of the major Kenyan media)  for the Oct. 2012 through Jan. 2013 period contained several surprises (to me anyway):

  • About 90% of the examples of dangerous speech found by Umati were made by individuals who identified themselves (as opposed to anonymous commenters).
  • Analyzing the actions promoted by hate speakers, calls to discriminate against some group were the most common – over 5 times as frequent as calls to kill (the second most common).  Less frequently advocated actions included calls to forcefully evict, to beat up, to riot, or to loot.
  • Calls to take violent action were far more prevalent on Facebook than on other online venues – almost 400 instances in the 4 month period covered compared to less than 50 in comments to an online news article.

What struck me most about the Umati project was the way its report explained the different kinds of hate speech (giving examples) and how each could contribute to the growth of intolerance and violence.


The final section of Umati’s report focuses on  actions that individuals and organizations can take to reduce or counteract hate speech.  One of the useful tactics suggested is the immediate dissemination of facts to correct a rumor or falsehood likely to inflame the audience to violence.

“Such responsible online activity was exemplified during the Mombasa violence that followed the death of Muslim cleric Sheikh Aboud Rogo, when inflammatory tweets were being spread that stated that a Mombasa church was being burned. A responsible social media user took a tweetpic of the church (which was not burning) and stated, “Stop the lies!”. This responsible action helped to quell the propagation of such inflammatory lies on social media.”

The overall context of the Umati project – based on Susan Benesch’s concept of dangerous speech – unites action and speech in a useful manner.

“Dangerous speech: This is a term coined by Professor Susan Benesch to describe incitement to collective violence that has a reasonable chance of succeeding, in other words speech that may help to catalyse violence, due to its content and also the context in which it is made or disseminated. This possibility can be gauged by studying five criteria that may contribute to the dangerousness of speech in context: the speaker (and his/her degree of influence over the audience most likely to react, the audience (and its susceptibility to inflammatory speech), the speech act itself, the historical and social context, and the means of dissemination (which may give greater influence or “force” to the speech).”

The project divides dangerous speech into three distinct categories, providing a framework for distinguishing between immediate threats of violence and comments which might be less likely to be recognized as dangerous by the speaker or the audience.  This framework implicitly recognizes that different educational activities and action strategies may be needed to address each type of dangerous speech.

The categories of dangerous speech addressed by Umati are:

  • Offensive speech:  comments mostly intended to insult a particular group
  • Moderately dangerous speech: “moderately inflammatory and are usually made by speakers with little to moderate influence over their audience.”
  • Extremely dangerous speech: “made by speakers with a moderate to high influence over the crowd, are extremely inflammatory” and are likely to include calls to violent action.

Source: “Monitoring Online Dangerous Speech: October 2012 – January 2013

For the results of a different online monitoring project in the Ukraine, see the 2012 Council of Europe’s report “Mapping Study of Projects against Hate Speech Online”  (pp. 30-31)