International Tiananmen Square Day

May 30, 2013 at 10:23 am | Posted in Abuse of Office, Disinformation, Fairness | 3 Comments
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Tiananmen Square, Beijing, China, May 1988, one year before the protests.  Photo by Derzsi Elekes Andor.

Tiananmen Square, Beijing, China, May 1988, one year before the protests. Photo by Derzsi Elekes Andor.

It is now only a few days before June 4, International Tiananmen Square Day.

International Tiananmen Square Day commemorates the bravery, the good will, and the peaceful, principled behavior of the patriotic students who were killed near Tiananmen Square on June 3, June 4, and on subsequent days in 1989.

According to Wikipedia, the students “called for government accountability, freedom of the press, freedom of speech, and the restoration of workers’ control over industry.”  They also complained about “corruption of the party elite”.  All of those issues are still alive today.

A Chinese Type 59 tank at the Beijing Military Museum.   A Type 59 main battle tank on display at the Military Museum of the Chinese People's Revolution in western Beijing. On June 3, 1989, People's Liberation Army soldiers on Type 59 tanks began firing on civilian demonstrators at Muxidi near the military museum. (Wikipedia)  Photo by Max Smith.

A Chinese Type 59 tank at the Beijing Military Museum. A Type 59 main battle tank on display at the Military Museum of the Chinese People’s Revolution in western Beijing. On June 3, 1989, People’s Liberation Army soldiers on Type 59 tanks began firing on civilian demonstrators at Muxidi near the military museum.
(Wikipedia) Photo by Max Smith.

But International Tiananmen Square Day commemorates other brave and decent people, as well.

Many have heard of Tank Man, a single individual who on June 5 blocked tanks on Chang’an Avenue by standing in their path.  (The dramatic image is copyrighted, so it cannot be included here.  But you can see it via the hyperlink.)  The soldiers in these tanks respected this man’s rights as a citizen, and did not move forward until non-soldiers (whose identies are unknown) pulled Tank Man out of the street and took him away.  Tank Man subsequently disappeared.  He was a hero.

But the soldiers in the tanks who refused to run over him, or shoot him, or beat him, or even push him out of the way – they were heros, too.  Those soldiers insisted on treating a Chinese citizen as a citizen: as a person with a right to speak, and who deserved to be treated respectfully and humanely.  The soldiers in those first few tanks were honest soldiers, protecting their people instead of killing and cowing them.  Only insiders know for sure what happened to the commander of the lead tank.  Some claim that he was shot, others claim that he is still alive.  But there is no doubt that he was a hero, and a truer patriot than those who ordered the attack on the demonstrators, or than those who beat and shot them.

The commander of the lead tank on Chang’an Avenue was not the only Chinese soldier who acted nobly.  According to a remarkably illuminating page in Wikipedia, about two weeks before the massacre, ”On 17 May 1989, over 1,000 men from the People’s Liberation Army’s General Logistics Department showed their support for the movement by appearing on Chang’an Avenue and marching toward Tiananmen Square, all the while receiving enthusiastic applause from onlookers.”

According to the same Wikipedia page, “Martial law was declared on 20 May 1989. On the same day, eight retired generals, Wang Ping, Ye Fei, Zhang Aiping, Xiao Ke, Yang Dezhi, Chen Zaidao, Song Shilun and Li Jukui signed a one-sentence letter to Deng Xiaoping and the Central Military Commission, “request[ing] that troops not enter the city and that martial law not be carried out in Beijing.””

“The 38th Army is stationed near Beijing and therefore has a closer connection to the people of Beijing. Many students had also served in the unit before attending university and some students trained with the 38th in the summers as members of the army reserve. During the initial days when martial law was declared, the 38th Army, under General Xu Qinxian, openly refused to use force against student protestors.”

“During the Tiananmen repression an estimated 3,500 PLA officers disobeyed orders, resulting in scores of army officers being executed and several generals facing court martial, including 38th Army General Xu Qinxian.”

“The 28th Army was notable for its passive enforcement of the martial law order. The unit, led by commander He Yanran and political commissar Zhang Mingchun and based in Datong, Shanxi Province, received the mobilization order on May 19. They proceeded to lead the mechanized units to Yanqing County northwest of Beijing’s city centre. When ordered to enter the city on June 3, the 28th encountered protesting residents along route but did not open fire and missed the deadline to reach Tiananmen Square by 5:30 am on June 4. At 7:00am, the 28th Army ran into a throng of angry residents at Muxidi on West Chang’an Avenue west of the Square. The residents told the soldiers of the killings from earlier in the morning and showed blood stained shirts of victims.”

”At noon, Liu Huaqing, the commander of the martial law enforcement action, and Wang Hai, head of the PLA Air Force, flew over Muxidi in a helicopter and by loud speaker ordered the 28th Army to counterattack. But on the ground, the commanders of the 28th refused to comply. Instead the troops abandoned their positions en masse. By 5pm, many had retreated into the Military Museum of the Chinese People’s Revolution nearby. Of all units involved in the crackdown, the 28th Army lost by far the most equipment, as 74 vehicles including 31 armored personnel and two communications vehicles were burned.”

The protesters in Tiananmen Square wore something black.  It was the badge of their protest.  Wear at least one small bit of black on June 4, to commemorate the protesters, Tank Man, the soldiers who did not attack Tank Man, and the many officers and troops who refused to kill the protesters, and who were executed as a result.

Doing so will show that you look forward to the day when China – and all nations – will become humane and honorable.

As long as the government of China does not allow the Chinese people to voice their true opinions and aspirations, the policies and actions of the government of China are not those of the Chinese people.

As long as the government of China does not allow the Chinese people to voice their true opinions and aspirations, it deprives itself and China of its people’s ability to identify problems and to suggest solutions.

Since 1989 China has matured politically, and has become self-confident enough to allow people to point out selected problems.  But it still often responds thugishly, like a bully, punishing those who it should instead have thanked for speaking out, punishing even their relatives, in ways that dishonor China in the eyes of the world, and do not befit a great power.  Glaring recent examples are here, and here, and here.

Replica of the Goddess of Democracy statue at Freedom Park in Arlington, Virginia, photographed by Ben Schumin.

Replica of the Goddess of Democracy statue at Freedom Park in Arlington, Virginia, photographed by Ben Schumin.

On June 4, remember and act upon what the students stood for.

If you do, eventually China, and all countries, will be better.  They will thrive sustainably.  They will be more humane.  Their citizens will be able to become all they can be.

The Easy Way to Understand More, and Better

May 17, 2013 at 3:44 pm | Posted in Practical tips | 4 Comments
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Albert Einstein during a lecture in Vienna in 1921. Photograph by Ferdinand Schmutzer (1870–1928).

Albert Einstein during a lecture in Vienna in 1921. Photograph by Ferdinand Schmutzer (1870–1928).

Biographies, and then histories, are the pleasantest way to learn more, to understand more, and to understand better: any science, mathematics, politics, business, literature, the performing arts (including sports), and the military arts.  Biographies and histories are a useful supplement even for the studio arts.

Biographies, and then histories, are extremely effective aids to mastering new material.

Biographies and histories are narratives.  Our brains have evolved to be especially good at digesting narratives, and in basing actions on predictions of how narratives will play out.

It is easy to see why this is so.

Tyler's Tree Frog (Litoria tyleri).  Photo by LiquidGhoul (2006-01-10 (first version); 2007-03-07 (last version)).  Photo by LiquidGhoul.

Tyler’s Tree Frog (Litoria tyleri). Photo by LiquidGhoul (2006-01-10 (first version); 2007-03-07 (last version)). Photo by LiquidGhoul.

Consider a frog watching a fly swooping and buzzing almost within range of the frog’s tongue.  The frog’s brain has evolved the ability to fairly accurately guess where the fly will be next.  It does so by constructing scenarios in its brain, and playing them out there, conciously or unconciously.

Packsaddle (Kløv på Siberian Husky), photographed by Per Harald Olsen (Perhols)

Packsaddle (Kløv på Siberian Husky), photographed by Per Harald Olsen (Perhols)

A sleeping dog sometimes moves its legs, or even whimpers or growls.  It is dreaming.  A scenario is playing out in its brain.

President Reagan holds a oval office staff meeting on his first full day in office (from left to right) Deputy Chief of Staff Michael Deaver, Counsellor to the President Ed Meese, Chief of Staff James Baker III, Press Secretary James Brady, President Reagan, 1981  (http://www.reagan.utexas.edu/archives/photographs/photo.html; Courtesy Reagan Library, PD).

President Reagan holds a oval office staff meeting on his first full day in office (from left to right) Deputy Chief of Staff Michael Deaver, Counsellor to the President Ed Meese, Chief of Staff James Baker III, Press Secretary James Brady, President Reagan, 1981
(http://www.reagan.utexas.edu/archives/photographs/photo.html; Courtesy Reagan Library, PD).

Photo by Dennis Crowley. Here is a kitchen view during Wednesday night's green tea party, 30 May 2008, 10:07:15, Author: Nick Gray

Photo by Dennis Crowley. Here is a kitchen view during Wednesday night’s green tea party, 30 May 2008, 10:07:15, Author: Nick Gray

Picture taken at at Masters of Lindy Hop and Tap, Century Ballroom, Oddfellows Temple, Pine Street, Capitol Hill, Seattle, Washington, USA. At the tail end of the Friday night Masters' Exhibition, there was a general invitation to the audience to come up and dance. This picture was taken during that period. Photo by Joe Mabel/Century Ballroom, 14 August 2009.

Picture taken at at Masters of Lindy Hop and Tap, Century Ballroom, Oddfellows Temple, Pine Street, Capitol Hill, Seattle, Washington, USA. At the tail end of the Friday night Masters’ Exhibition, there was a general invitation to the audience to come up and dance. This picture was taken during that period. Photo by Joe Mabel/Century Ballroom, 14 August 2009.

2006 World Series of Poker (WSOP) Main Event Table, 22 May 2007, http://www.lasvegasvegas.com/photogallery/3719-lg.jpg, Author: Photos by flipchip / LasVegasVegas.com

2006 World Series of Poker (WSOP) Main Event Table, 22 May 2007, http://www.lasvegasvegas.com/photogallery/3719-lg.jpg, Author: Photos by flipchip / LasVegasVegas.com

We are a social species, and moreover do not have our responses hard-wired, but create them on the fly.  We must continually guess what other people know about us and about the rest of the world, and what they want to accomplish.  We do so by imagining scenarios, usually consciously, but sometimes unconsciously.  We have built upon the scenario-building skills of our evolutionary ancestor-species, and our scenarios can be much more sophisticated than theirs, often resulting in greater predictive skill and longer predictive lead-times.

Our proclivity for making scenarios is so great that we do so in day dreams, in night dreams, in literature (broadly construed: including plays and movies, and childrens games, and fantasies).  Our day dreams and our night dreams are not snapshots, they are movies: scenarios playing themselves out.  Sometimes we put considerable care and expense into creating scenarios: war games involving many people, or practicing and rehearsing a presentation to an individual or to a group, or for an upcoming job interview.

Dogs, our most social companion species, have evolved to be intensely interested in our feelings and intentions about them, as individuals.  So most dogs become rather good at reading us, and at anticipating our reactions.  By observing our behavior they are able to accurately imagine scenarios involving us.  So they become sneaky, hiding evidence of actions that they know we wouldn’t like, or they act embarrassed when they know we will be unhappy with them, or they bring us their leash or make noises with their food bowl, or wake us up and whine when something unsettling has appeared in the house, such as smoke in the air.

Cats, a less social companion species, do this less so.  But house cats vary greatly, and some individuals act rather dog-like.

So now you see why narratives are a particularly congenial way for us to learn and to understand.

Read biographies first, then histories.  Biographies are vivid.  We can more easily relate to an individual (with affection, sympathy or disgust) than to crowd. A biography acquaints us with the flavor of a time and place.  A biography gives us questions about the person’s context: customs, prevailing scarcities, politics.  That prior knowledge and those questions provide a structure upon which we can hang the more general information provided by a history.

If There Were an NRA for Automobiles

May 1, 2013 at 12:28 pm | Posted in Dysfunctional Politics, Fairness | 2 Comments
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A Leclerc-IMG 1744 battle tank, photographed by Rana.

A Leclerc-IMG 1744 battle tank, photographed by Rana.

If there were an NRA for automobiles, what would it do?

Basing its statements on the freedom of travel that is implicit in the inter-state commerce clause of the Constitution, It would oppose any
– licensing of drivers,
– registration of cars,
– tests of driving skills and of the knowledge of traffic laws,  (Indeed, it would oppose the very existence of traffic laws.)
– requiring insurance,
– the legality of speed limits,
– the installation of traffic signals, and the requirement that they be obeyed,
– rules of the road.

It would insist that horse riding and carriage driving had no licensing and no restrictions, so automobiles should not, either.  After all, an automobile is to a horse-drawn carriage as a large-magazine assault rifle is to a 22 rifle.

On that basis, it would insist that anyone be able to buy – with no public record of the purchase – any car, any truck, any bus, any snow plow, and any battle tank.

Wayne LaPierre at a political conference in Orlando, Florida, on 23 September 2011.  Photo by Gage Skidmore, rotated for this blog posting.

Wayne LaPierre at a political conference in Orlando, Florida, on 23 September 2011. Photo by Gage Skidmore, rotated for this blog posting.

At every possible opportunity, its leader, Weenie DaPebble, would gruffly repeat his slogan: “Cars don’t kill people, bad drivers kill people”.  He might add, “Cars don’t drive themselves, you know”, and “If cars with machine guns were illegal, only criminals would have cars with machine guns.”

To evaluate any assertion by the NRA, ask yourself whether it would be reasonable to apply the same assertion to cars.

Applying this test, it becomes obvious that hunters and other sportsmen are not the NRA’s real focus.  Although those communities are good sources of recruits, the NRA’s real priorities are self defense and preserving the ability to revolt, and the short-term economic interests of the gun manufacturers who fund the NRA.

Paranoia drives the NRA, not sport, and not patriotism.  In fact, the NRA’s underlying agenda is nearly the antithesis of patriotism.  It claims to base its positions on the Second Amendment to Constitution, but that is only because the NRA has tricked others into viewing the Second Amendment through a distorting lens.  The NRA really accepts only the Declaration of Independence, and not the Constitution.

To put into perspective the position of the NRA and the gun manufacturers, ask yourself: would it make sense to require auto dealers to keep records of car buyers, but never to share that information with the police, nor with any other government agency?

Two recent articles in the Washington Post provide encouragement that sensible, balanced laws on guns will eventually be enacted: an article by Philip Rucker and Paul Kane, and an article by E.J. Dionne Jr.

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