Category Archives: Politics


Like many Hillary Clinton supporters, I was stunned upon learning that Donald Trump won the election. How could the so much obviously worse candidate win? How did the vote go to the candidate who promised to reverse decades of progress in international relations and is openly racist and sexist?

My very very blue Facebook feed was a deluge of people talking as if the apocalypse had just occurred. It was a funeral of collective mourning. Reassurances were made as if to calm the nerves after a global tragedy in which millions had perished. Some people felt that, because of aspects of their identity, they would now be demoted to second class citizens. I saw the hashtag spring forth: #notmypresident. Moving to Canada was on the table. People suddenly cared about how stupid the electoral college was. People were in shock. It was the beginning of the end of America.

And it went deeper than that. To the Left half, it was inconceivable that Trump would gain the vote of a single person, let alone half the American electorate. One person asked who are you, Trump voters? One can blame the social media echo chambers for this, but that is not the point. The real question is, for a liberal who values the rights and dignities of minorities, women, and LGBT people, how can one even begin to empathize with the other half of the nation, the Trump supporters?  The deporables? The racists, bigots, and homophobes?

In this small pocket of the electorate in my Facebook feed, I saw the great disconnect. It was an implicit assumption, an overriding narrative in almost all the posts, that anyone who voted for Trump must be all of these deplorable things: racists, bigots, and homophobes. And then I remembered why, despite voting for Clinton, I am becoming disillusioned with being a liberal. In previous posts I talked about being against the “safe space”/”social justice warrior” movement. Among the many reasons is the following. One of the tenets of of the current social justice movement is that “all white people are racist.” I’ve seen that phrase almost verbatim many times scrolling through Facebook in the past few years. I understand what it actually means, and I can definitely see where someone is coming from if they use that phrase. However, you can see the problem with this approach, right?

I try to imagine I am a random white person who just heard this statement for the first time. And then I am asked by the Left to join them, to sign on the dotted line under the phrase, “I AM A RACIST.” Sound appealing? Didn’t think so. It worries me a lot that the Left’s extreme faction is, for all its good intentions to combat racism and sexism and homophobia, building a wall that shuts out precisely the people who need most to be exposed to some liberal ideas or people. After vilifying big groups of people for so long, you’ve finally alienated them, leaving the alternative of Trump.

Most of the responses I saw after the election will only further this divide. Not everyone did this, but many people wrote off Trump supporters as the basket of deplorables: racists, bigots, misogynists, and homophobes. Can you see how this is a discussion ender, not a starter?


This was my attempt to empathize with a Trump voter. The story is not as simple as “all Trump supporters are deplorables.” In the CNN exit polls, for instance, Trump had the vote of 21% of non-white people, 42% of women, and 43% of college graduates. These are all considerably higher than zero.

In this post I pointed at the backlash against the recent social justice movement, but this is clearly not the only reason Trump was elected. I am also still optimistic that Trump won’t be that bad for the world, and I agree with Clinton’s plea that we keep an open mind.

Brains, Stories, and Yelling

Cognitive Styles

I’m always skeptical of any explanation that involves “culture,” but here is Jennifer Richler in the latest issue of Scientific American Mind:

Previous research has shown that people from cultures that are Western,educated, industrialized, rich and democratic (“WEIRD,” in psychological parlance) tend to think analytically, using logical rules, whereas those that are non-WEIRD process information more intuitively. They even perform differently on problem-solving tasks: Americans, who are more analytical, remember individual components of a complex visual scene better than East Asians, who are more holistic.

They compared the minds of liberals and conservatives by giving them three words, e.g. “panda”, “monkey”, and “banana”, and asking which two were most related:

Liberals acted more like Westerners, pairing items that belonged to the same abstract category (for instance, two animals), whereas conservatives tended to pair items that were functionally related (monkey and banana), as non-Westerners do. One other classic test of holistic thinking also suggested that liberals tended to use a more typically WEIRD cognitive style.

The finding that conservatives think more like those from collectivistic cultures might sound counterintuitive. Aren’t liberals, who favor safety-net programs for the needy, the collectivist ones? Thomas Talhelm, now a professor of behavior science at the University of Chicago and lead author of the study, explains that true collectivism “doesn’t mean general sharing with other people. It’s about social ties and responsibilities to those within your group.” Antipoverty programs usually serve to help individuals get a leg up rather than strengthening groups—thus aligning with WEIRD cultures’ focus on individuality.

This confuses me a little because when I think about recent “liberal” examples in individualism vs collectivism, the thing that jumps out is the “check your privilege” movement, which is ultra anti-individualist. You belong to X racial group or Y social class? Privileged! Your “identity” is based on pre-defined groups (often which you did not make a choice to join) and not on your individual experience.

The counterintuitive story, that liberals are the individualistic ones, makes more sense after some thought. If you go through liberal vs conservative stances on social issues, it does seem like liberals in general favor the individual. The most glaring example is abortion, with the liberal position literally called “pro-choice.”

Here is a passage about where libertarians fit in this framework, from this article:

Historically, libertarians and modern liberals share an ideological ancestry, both tracing our roots to the classical liberal tradition of Locke, Hume, Smith, Mill, and others. In the 19th century, the classical liberals triumphed by advocating the primacy of the individual against the status quo of monarchy, mercantilism, aristocracy, theology, slavery, and the like. While the progressive movement stole our liberal terminology in the early 20th century, modern liberals and libertarians today still share that same valuation of the individual in society. This is most easily seen today in the issue of marriage equality, where social conservatives try to use the power of the state to control marriage because it is an important social institution, while liberals and libertarians focus on the importance of marriage in the lives of all individuals. It is the same core conflict between a holistic worldview that emphasizes tradition against a more analytic worldview that prioritizes the individual.

Oh, and I’m totally on team panda+monkey rather than monkey+banana. I would guess most people I know (liberals and math people) would pick the two animals as well.

Bonus: Here is a chart from the Scientific American Mind article on political party and Twitter language. It does further the story that “liberals are the real individualists”:



Saw this on Tyler Cowen’s blog, so here is the story within a story. Just to be clear, I am quoting Tyler Cowen quoting Marti Leimbach:

“A question of privilege”

An excellent short essay by Marti Leimbach.  Here is the opening:

My university-aged daughter is always telling me about the “privilege” that people like me have and how it makes it impossible for me to understand and empathise with those whose lives are without such privilege. I do see her point. I’ve never been black or gay or trans or gender queer or mentally ill. I don’t know what it would be like to grow up in a derelict building in a dangerous neighbourhood, to have drug addicts for parents, to fear for my safety while walking to school, to be openly despised for being female, denied education or refused employment based on my skin colour or gender. And while I have been poor enough not to be able to afford a car or health insurance, I have never been so poor I had to steal food. Clearly, I’ve not suffered the worst of what society can throw at a person.

Nonetheless, this whole notion of “privilege” vexes me. We talk about it as though we can all recognise what it is. I am not always so sure. I can tell one narrative of my life and it seems to describe someone who grew up without privilege, and I can tell another narrative and it seems almost as though my life was one of ease and privilege from the time I was born.

The story continues…it is hard to excerpt with its various twists and turns, definitely recommended…

As advertised, Leimbach paints two widely differing narratives of the same set of events. It is definitely worth a read. (It also reminds me of the underrated movie Vantage Point, which shows the same plot unfold several times from the perspective of different characters.)

The power of narrative is strong. You can take the same set of facts and wind up with opposite interpretations, as was the case in Leimbach’s story. For very different example, here is a graph of US stock market investment, via Gallup:


So should you buy into the market?

  • Story 1: “It is obviously a time to buy stocks. When the number of investors in the stock market recovers and comes back to normal levels near 60%, tens of millions of Americans will have bought stocks, making the market much higher than it is now.”
  • Story 2: “It is obviously a time to sell all your stocks. Fewer Americans are investing in the market than ever before, and this trend will only continue. Combined with the market near all-time highs, a crash is imminent.”
  • (Meta-story: “The markets are efficient and have priced in both stories 1 and 2, so it is not obviously a time to buy or to sell.”)

Do violent video games increase crime? [from this post]

  • Story 1: “People who play violent video games are likely to imitate the characters they play, thus becoming more aggressive in real life.”
  • Story 2: “People who would otherwise commit violent crimes satisfy their urges in video games and not in real life, thus decreasing the crime rate.”

So unless you have numbers to back you up or comprehensive explanations for complex issues, stay away from explaining things via simple stories.

These kinds of narratives make me skeptical of many political movements as well, whether from the right (e.g. the “war on Christianity” narrative) or from the left (e.g. the “privilege” narrative mentioned in Leimbach’s article).

Here is Cowen again, really hammering the point in a TED talk on narratives.

Basically, make sure you understand as much of the situation as you can, not just some simplified narrative.

How to Social Activism

Earlier this week, The Huffington Post on President Obama on Black Lives Matter:

President Barack Obama on Saturday praised the work the Black Lives Matter movement has done to highlight racial inequality, but also strongly cautioned activists that they needed to be realistic about their proposals and be willing to compromise.

Speaking at a town hall in London, the president mentioned Black Lives Matter specifically as he laid out his vision of how activists can achieve social change.

As a general rule, I think that what, for example, Black Lives Matter is doing now to bring attention to the problem of a criminal justice system that sometimes is not treating people fairly based on race, or reacting to shootings of individuals by police officers, has been really effective in bringing attention to problems,” Obama said.

But the president went on to say that activists needed to be realistic about what could be achieved immediately and sometimes needed to compromise to achieve long-term goals.

One of the things I caution young people about, though, that I don’t think is effective is once you’ve highlighted an issue and brought it to people’s attention and shined a spotlight, and elected officials or people who are in a position to start bringing about change are ready to sit down with you, then you can’t just keep on yelling at them,” Obama said.

Thanks Obama! And no, that was not sarcastic. As a rationalist and individualist, I generally disapprove of schemes in which your identity is based on something that you had no control over, such as race.

I’m on team Clinton and I think many of Sanders’s plans are insane. However, I fully support Sanders’s right to speak at his own rallies, especially with so many supporters there to see and listen to Sanders, not some random people who hijacked the podium, which happened in Aug. 2015.

Things like this just alienate would-be allies. I was generally favorable towards Black Lives Matter before this and certainly had a lower view of the group after the event. And it’s not like Sanders did anything horrible to them before or during the event. I am glad President Obama was not afraid to address this.

If You Think Charlie Hebdo Needs to Tone It Down, You Don’t Understand Free Speech (Or Satire)


In response to the Charlie Hebdo shooting, there have been roughly two kinds of sentiments:

  1. I support free speech, and the attacks were unjustified. (“I am Charlie”)
  2. I support free speech, and the attacks were unjustified, BUT Charlie Hebdo went too far and shouldn’t have been so offensive. (“I am not Charlie.”)

The second sentiment is what I have trouble with, and it is one that I feel needs to be addressed.

We should be on the same side here. Extremist Islam is not just anti-free speech—it’s also anti-feminist, anti-LGBT, and anti-Semitic, to name a few examples. In fact, to blow your mind further, Charlie Hebdo is actually a left-wing paper. This is just one of the problems of satire, that some people will confuse what a satirist is making fun of with what he or she is actually supporting. Unfortunately, this “some people” category includes people who I would normally view as very intelligent, and perhaps they just flew too quickly into the contrarian nest. (I say this because it’s the left that should be MORE supportive of Charlie Hebdo, whereas it seems that all the detractors I know of are from the left.) I imagine that if the terrorists had attacked an women’s rights convention, the response from the left would be far different. (“I don’t profess to be a scholar of Islam. But it’s plain that some branches or interpretations of the faith view any depictions of gender equality as blasphemy.”) After all, it’s extremist Islam, not offensive cartoons, that brought you Boko Haram’s kidnapping of schoolgirls, lashes for women as punishment for being raped, and the shooting of an oh-so-offensive Malala Yousafzai. You should have the right to call these out without having to worry about your life.

Now, the way of calling these out is where some people disagree. They think free speech is the right to say what you want so long as it doesn’t offend people. But this is a contradiction in terms: by definition, free speech isn’t free if there are restrictions on what you can and can’t say.

“This is because, in part, the use of printed (and now digital) satire is an old and honorable response to the excesses of government and religion. When the people have no other voice, when the main media outlets are controlled by the state (or too fearful to challenge the state), satire flourishes. One of the few ways the citizen can hold the rich and powerful accountable is to employ humor and satire.” —Robert F. Darden (source)

The right to free speech is the right to ridicule, the right to offend. By arguing that Charlie Hebdo should essentially censor itself, you are calling for the destruction of your own human rights, and this sentiment I find much scarier than a terrorist shooting.


I also feel the need to address the main side point surrounding the issue, which is the claim that Charlie Hebdo is “racist” or “hateful” or “Islamophobic.” I’m afraid most of the articles or comments I’ve read that make this claim seem completely unaware that Charlie Hebdo is a left-wing satirical newspaper as opposed to a right-wing serious newspaper, which you might think it is if you didn’t get the satire. Here’s an example where several articles that I know of seemed to completely miss the joke:


Yep, at first it looks quite offensive, even though I’m not sure what it’s saying. Other people had the same idea, but went ahead and created their own story for what it is saying. For example, this Chicago Tribune article titled “Sorry, I am not ‘Charlie'” interpreted this trivially and lumped it with a list of other “offensive” drawings, with the description:

One cover cartoon of four young black women in burqas was headlined: “The sex slaves of Boko Haram are angry. ‘Don’t touch our child benefits!'”

The Hooded Utilitarian has an article titled “In the Wake of Charlie Hebdo, Free Speech Does Not Mean Freedom From Criticism,” where the author not only shows the above cover in a list of “offensive” covers, but also adds a clever (but in hindsight, non-intelligent) quip, saying “Yes, that last one depicts Boko Haram sex slaves as welfare queens.”

A quick Quora scan, on the other hand, reveals that some people just don’t understand satire. An explanation by Jean-Baptiste Froment:

This cover is mixing two unrelated elements which made the news at about the same time:
– Boko Haram victims likely to end up sex slaves in Nigeria
– Decrease of French welfare allocations

In France, as in probably every country who has welfare allocations, some people criticize this system because some people might try to game it (e.g., “welfare queens” idea). Note that if we didn’t had it there would probably be much more people complaining because the ones who really need it would end up in extreme poverty.

Charlie Hebdo is known for being left-wing attached and very controversial, and I think they wanted to parody people who criticize “welfare queens” by taking this point-of-view to the absurd, to show that immigrant women in France are more likely to be victims of patriarchy than evil manipulative profiteers.

And of course if we only stay on the first-degree approach, it’s a terrible racist and absurd cover.

And by another commentor, Adrien Lucas Ecoffet:

I can only confirm what Jean-Baptiste Froment and Stephen Reed’s answers have been saying: it’s easy now for non-French observers to imagine Charlie Hebdo as a right wing, racist, anti immigrant publication because of the fact that they have only seen covers about fundamentalist Islam.

The reality is, Charlie Hebdo is a far left, pro-immigrant publication, of which many contributors have been members of anti-racist organizations.

As the other answers have mentioned, this cover is simply the combination of two news stories to make a provocative joke. This is a very common occurrence in Charlie Hebdo front pages.

Overall I don’t think you should make much of this front page. Clearly people are cherry-picking Charlie Hebdo covers in an attempt to prove that it is a racist, anti-Islam publication, perhaps in some form of victim-blaming, when this assertion is absolutely preposterous to anyone who actually knows the newspaper.

Incidentally, this particular issue was preceded and followed by anti-Le Pen front pages, Le Pen being the front figure of the French anti-immigration far right.

I’m not French, I don’t speak French, nor am I familiar with French newspapers or political organizations, but with even a drop of critical thinking, I can say that these explanations make far more sense than what the “Charlie Hebdo is racist” crowd is shouting.

Let’s do more examples!

Here is a Tumblr post with 55,152 notes at the current moment of my writing this. I’m going to link one of the images and quote the entirety of it here (and I bolded a particularly interesting sentence):


Before social media sparks fire and everyone claims the phrase #jesuischarlie I want to point out some lovely truths about Charlie Hedbo that the news media may “forget” to point out.

Though my heart goes out to the victims to the shooting at the Charlie Hedbo headquarters ( I ALSO DO NOT CONDONE THE ACT OF VIOLENCE AS A SOLUTION TO RACISM OR HATE ) I need it to be known that this newspaper was not some sweet periodical that used it’s platform of freedom of speech as a catalyst to social change in France. Before you allow Fox News to label the shooters as Muslim Terrorist and that all Muslims are terrorist and that Charlie Hebdo was a magazines for families and saints you need to know that this newspaper was infamously known for being racist, homophobic, and highly islamophobic. I am not one to laugh at a blatant racist comic as “oh lol free speech” because with free speech comes RESPONSIBILITY.

It should be no secret that the Muslim community in France has often been abused, push to the side, and ignored. Even laws are put in place to prevent then from practicing their beliefs comfortably. For Charlie Hebdo to be a left wing newspaper that questioned the actions of the right wing, why does it often look like they are laughing along with them? Why can’t this magazine question why we are racist and islamophobic than to continue to justify their belief in supposed “ironic” comics?

My prayers go out to the victims of this shooing. As an artist, a person who works in magazines, a human, and as a French woman I feel their pain.



I will not stand for this magazine, I will not celebrate the privilege of “free speech” to be a disguise for hate. I am a black woman who understands how frustrated one can be as whites continue to use laws as an excuse to be abusive to who we are whether it be religion, skin color, or sexual orientation. I know France is scared, I know people are hurting. But I cannot be this newspaper’s ally. I am an ally for the people of France, I am an ally to the victims and their families but I will not stand in solidarity for this hateful newspaper.


Clearly this author senses something wrong: “For Charlie Hebdo to be a left wing newspaper that questioned the actions of the right wing, why does it often look like they are laughing along with them?” But she doesn’t go any further or investigate, and instead concludes she understands what the newspaper is about.

The author included the above Charlie Hebdo cartoon, which at first glance looks incredibly racist. However, the first warning bell that went off in my head was the word “raciste.” Now, as I said before, I don’t know any French, but it seems like you’re actually a real racist and drawing a racist depiction of someone, you wouldn’t include the word “raciste” in your depiction. Indeed, some digging reveals the full story (by John Courouble):

In November 2013 a cartoon in Charlie Hebdo depicted the Justice Minister Christiane Taubira, who is black (not literally African, specifically she was born in French Guiana), as a monkey. This has been a very popular image to share on Twitter as evidence that Charlie is a racist publication.

The first clue that all is not what it seems is that the cartoon was drawn by Charb – the editor himself. He was a Communist, and his girlfriend’s parents were North African. A funny kind of racist. Next you have to note that the text next to that cartoon says “Rassemblement Bleu Raciste”. This is a play on “Rassemblement Bleu Marine”, the slogan of Marine Le Pen’s national front, and the tricolor flame next to it is the party logo.

So, what you then need to know is that the cartoon was published after a National Front politician Facebooked a photoshop of the woman in the cartoon as a monkey, and then said on French TV that she should be “in a tree swinging from the branches rather than in government”.

The cartoon is literally saying the National Front are racists. I’m genuinely not sure whether propagating the imagery is or isn’t a useful way of mocking the FN, but turning an antifascist cartoon into evidence of racism based on no understanding at all takes some real pathology.

Again, this makes way more sense. It’s like when Obama was portrayed in the following way in The New Yorker, and many people missed the joke.


These are quite entertaining, so let’s do one more, and this time, a more relevant one. This one portrays Muhammad (which you basically aren’t supposed to do, if you believe in censorship and blasphemy laws):


Once again, this looks quite racist at first.

Finished judging yet? Let’s look at a translation:


Yeah. Let that sink in for a while.

Basically, people in the second group assumed that Charlie Hebdo was a bunch of classic right-wing sweep-all-Muslims-into-one-category racists, but hopefully they realize now that it is not the case. As this cover illustrates, they are actually criticizing the extremist parts, by figuratively saying that extremists have turned on their prophet.

So basically:

  • Satirical newspaper staff was attacked.
  • People were sad.
  • People wanted to defend free speech.
  • Some people thought Charlie Hebdo shouldn’t be so offensive.
  • These “some people” don’t realize that Charlie Hebdo is actually satirical and making fun of racists.
  • Hopefully they will realize this and stop with the “I am not Charlie” nonsense.

Once again, to those I’m criticizing (those of you in the “I am not Charlie” group): I think we’re ultimately on the same side here, you might have just been misinformed or leapt too quickly to judgment without careful thought.  The enemy isn’t Charlie Hebdo, it’s religious extremists.

I haven’t looked at or evaluated every Charlie Hebdo cartoon for racism, but based on several examples that seemed clearly racist at first but were actually not (and were actually anti-racist), and based on their track record for supporting free speech, it seems like Charlie Hebdo is an excellent publication to support.

May the freedom of speech prevail.

I am Charlie.

More on Pride in Race, and Social Revolutions

US Capitol

This is a followup to my earlier post “Pride in Things Out of Your Control“. In that article, I argued that it does not make sense to be proud of anything that is purely random, such as your race. An even more important argument is that race should not a factor when judging anyone, since no one chose their own race. More strongly, and perhaps, race should not be a factor when making laws.

For the same reason as before, namely that no one actually chose their own race, it is strange for laws to target certain racial groups. Is that not the very definition of racial discrimination, or shall I say, racism? Now, from a utilitarian perspective, it is possible to justify temporary measures that target specific race groups in order to increase the total social utility, namely affirmative action. However, the real difference to bridge in these cases is usually not so much race as it is socioeconomic conditions. Affirmative action is defined in terms of race rather than socioeconomic status because it is easier for the common person to understand and easier to enforce.

With affirmative action aside, even though its true motivation is only indirectly related to race, there are very few possible justifications for using race in law. And while the Zimmerman case should not have been related to race, the public perception of it certainly seemed like it. The law argued in court and the racism argued outside of it were out of sync.

Yes, in my last post, I wrote about how little this case mattered, but the more time that time goes by, the more I see people talking about it, and often with completely wrong accounts.

The question is, who has failed? Are the people so ignorant of the court system and brainwashed by the media that they have no clue what the trial was actually about? Or is the court system so disconnected from reality that it failed to serve justice?

A Historical Tangent: Changing the Mindset of Other Groups

It is important to keep in mind that when groups do agitate for rights, their practical purpose is to convince whomever is in charge to give them rights. Just looking at American history, we see that every time there is a major social revolution granting rights to a previously discriminated group, the government itself contained extremely few, if any, members of that group.

Abraham Lincoln was white, and so was the rest of the US government when the Civil War occurred. When Congress granted women the right to vote, there were no women in Congress. And when the LGBT community first agitated for rights, no member of Congress of such an orientation had openly declared it.

While this is not directly related to the main topic, I wished to remind you of what protests are actually for. A discriminated group MUST convince fellow citizens who are not of that discriminated group that something must be changed. This in turn will, after a number of years, cause a change in public sentiment which will be reflected in the election, and in turn into law.

In this respect the LGBT movement is sort of a model modern movement, in that it successfully convinced a majority of straight people to accept LGBT people as equal.

So to the public who thinks that the result of the Zimmerman trial was unjust and that racism or the self-defense law should be changed, you must try to convince people who disagree with you of your position. The reason I point this out, when it seems completely obvious, is that it is not easy to do in the current world.

Yes you can announce your ideas to hundreds if not thousands of people with social media, but social media is also highly self-clustering, in that on a given social issue, discussion between the two groups is far more rare than among one group. That is, you may think that you champion good causes on Facebook, but your good intent may be useless because the only people listening are the ones who already agree with you anyway. This is especially true if you are not highly aggressive or confrontational in your posts. Unless you explicitly provoke the other side, your posts and resulting discussions will be nothing more than friendly groupthink, and which will only increase confirmation bias. An argument between people who disagree is far more useful than an argument between people who agree.

So go ahead and discuss, debate, and disagree.

Religious Logic: Fundamentalists vs Moderates/Liberals

You might expect from my politically liberal views that this article is going to bash religious fundamentalists. But in fact, this article offers a defense of one aspect of fundamentalism: its use of logic. The criticism is of the inconsistent beliefs of religious “moderates” and “liberals”. (Note, from here on out, the words “moderate” and “liberal” will denote degree of religiosity, not political views, though the two are often related.)

Disclaimer: I am an atheist and would be the last person to try to justify religion’s countless atrocities and impediments of social progress. However, this article was written to give a different perspective of religious fundamentalism, especially on the liberal criticism of conservatives or fundamentalists for taking things too far.

Disclaimer 2: This article is written with Christianity in mind. Many of the arguments do not apply to other religions due to the specific position of Christianity in the US.

Fundamentalists Hold More Consistent Worldviews than “Moderates” and “Liberals”

First, consider the following thought experiment. You’re standing in the middle of a highway, with no cars around. However, there are two people standing on the curb. They both think that a giant truck is going to appear out of nowhere and slam into you, killing you. However, you don’t think such a truck is going to appear.

One of the people on the side is more “respectful” of your beliefs, and just lets you stay in the middle of the highway, even though he sincerely believes you will be run over any minute. The other person, also sincerely believing you will be run over, starts yelling at you to get off of the highway. When you ignore her, she runs into the highway and shoves you out of the way. Which is the better person?

Of course, given that both of them sincerely thought you would be run over, the person who tried to save you (even by knocking you over) is a more sympathetic person.

In case the analogy wasn’t clear, the highway can be thought of as some path of sin, the truck is Hell, the onlooker who did nothing is the moderate or liberal religious person, and the one who yelled and shoved you out of the way is the fundamentalist.


I hate to support even a tiny aspect of the Westboro Baptist Church, but you gotta consider the situation from their perspective. They are being very logical, given what they think to be true. Remember that in a logical argument, one makes axioms (aka. hypotheses, assumptions, premises) and deductions (or a deduction system), and then draws a conclusion. Of course, even if the logical deductions are perfect, the conclusion can be nonsense if the assumptions are false. I would guess that their logic is something like this:

  • Premise 1: The Bible is true.
  • Premise 2: It is good to save people from horrible things.
  • Result 1: From Premise 1, homosexuality is a sin.
  • Result 2: From Premise 1 and Result 1, one burns in Hell for being homosexual.
  • Result 3: From Premise 1, Hell is the worst possible punishment.
  • Result 4: From Result 3 and Premise 2, it is good to save people from Hell.
  • Conclusion: From Result 2 and Result 4, it is good to stop people from being homosexual.

The reason this is a bad argument is that Premise 1 is obviously false (at least, obviously to atheists).

However, I know some Christians who consider themselves moderate/liberal, yet still trust main points in the Bible (such as the concept of hell and that homosexuality is a sin), even if they do not interpret it literally.

So if you are in this group, my question to you is, why do you NOT actively try to save people? Again, I am nonreligious and I think the Bible is absurd; however, if you believe in heaven and hell, and if you believe that a certain behavior from your friends is going to send them to hell, and if you value that friendship, then why are you NOT trying to guide them away from hell?

I can think of a few possible answers for this:

  1. You are secretly nonreligious, and are afraid due to social/economic concerns to come out.
  2. You actually do NOT accept concepts from the Bible like heaven and hell, or sin.
  3. You actually hate people and want them to go to hell.
  4. You can’t do simple logic.
  5. You never spent time thinking about these things, and only go with the flow. For example, you only support things like gay marriage because it’s the popular thing to do, not because you came to the conclusion from a rational perspective. (In this option, you can still support the concepts of heaven/hell and sin, be a supporter gay marriage, and be good at logic—it just didn’t occur to you to actually apply logic to this situation. This could be due to social norms.)
  6. You can both keep the idea that homosexuality is a sin, and at the same time support gay marriage by using doublethink/cognitive dissonance.
  7. You are mentally ill.

In any case, #1 is easily understandable  #4, #6, and #7 we cannot really do anything about. #5  just means you should think about the issue some more (or at all). #3 means you are a sociopath. And if it is #2 for you, then why are you still a Christian? (Though the answer to that might tie in with #1.)

Going back to the truck analogy, why would the passive onlooker NOT try to get you off the road? The corresponding bullets:

  • He does not actually believe that a truck will appear and kill you, thus it would be absurd to try to shove you off the road.
  • He believes some aspects of the truck myth, but believes that a the truck is benevolent (for example) and will not injure you.
  • He wants you to be run over by the truck.
  • He cannot conclude that saving you is the correct move.
  • He was brought up in a household/society where it is a social norm to NOT warn people of oncoming trucks, and to NOT try to shove people out of the way, even if it saves their lives, and he has not questioned those norms yet.
  • He used doublethink to simultaneously believe that it is correct to save you from being run over and that it is correct to not save you from being run over.
  • He is mentally ill.

On the contrary, fundamentalists at least speak and act on what they think is right. After all, if you really believe that some sinful action will lead someone to hell, then isn’t the right thing to stop them from doing that? Again, I am against the views and actions of the WBC (e.g. I support marriage equality), but the way they come to their views makes a lot more sense than how many liberal Christians arrive at the opposing views. Here is a WBC member speaking in a Russell Brand interview (1:39):

He seems like a nice person but is just playing with the wrong set of facts. Of course, immediately after the statement the audience starts laughing, but did they even catch the logic, let alone understand it? I know it might be comedy for them, but to solve the issue we need to understand what the other side is thinking.

This is one of the qualms I have with religious liberals. When a fundamentalist does or says something bad, religious liberals are quick to defend their own beliefs by calling out the fundamentalist, with sayings like, “He’s not a true Christian,” or “He is misinterpreting the Bible.” This is absurd, since fundamentalists are taking the most literal interpretation of the Bible, taking it as the word of God, and are in a sense the most Christian.

Instead of addressing the root cause (the Bible and its outdated, barbaric myths), Christian liberals blame the fundamentalists for taking the book too far, yet they themselves never criticize the book. So what they do instead is cherry-pick the currently convenient quotes from the book. In other words, they are the ones deciding which laws from the book are moral and which are not. Does this not directly contradict their belief that morals come alone from God? At least the fundamentalists are consistent about it. And, by not criticizing the book, religious liberals are only helping fundamentalists to impede social progress. (On the other hand, atheist authors like Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins directly criticize the Bible/Quran/etc.)

I challenge religious moderates and liberals to re-examine your views—both religious and social views. Are they really consistent with each other? Do they contradict each other? If so, how can you proudly embrace both?

I want you to show your true colors.

How to (Theoretically) Win a 2-Party Presidential Election with Just 21.8% of the Popular Vote

In an extreme case, consider the following electoral map:

Of course, this is nonsensical as DC is red and Texas is blue, but let’s assume this happened for the sake of argument. Despite the map being overwhelmingly red, the red states win the electoral vote by only the slightest margin of 270 to 268.

Let us assume that every single state was nearly evenly split, something like 50.01% to 49.99%. Then even though the red states won the electoral vote, the blue states contain 56.4% of the population, thus the blue candidate actually wins the popular vote 56.4% to 43.6%, a huge lead.

Now, suppose the vote was nearly even in the red states, but let the blue candidate win 100% of the vote in all the blue states. Then the red candidate wins only 21.8% of the popular vote, yet still wins the election, despite 78.2% of the electorate voting against him.

List of states in our hypothetical model: Red – Wyoming, District of Columbia, Vermont, North Dakota, Alaska, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Delaware, New Hampshire, Montana, Maine, Hawaii, Nebraska, West Virginia, Idaho, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah, Kansas, Arkansas, Mississippi, Iowa, Connecticut, South Carolina, Minnesota, Alabama, Oklahoma, Kentucky, Oregon, Colorado, Washington, Louisiana, Wisconsin  Maryland, Tennessee, Arizona, Indiana, Massachusetts, Missouri, and North CarolinaBlue – Virginia, Michigan, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Georgia, Ohio, Illinois, Florida, Texas, New York, and California.

Note: After I wrote this post, I googled the 21.8% and found a few cases where people used intense computer computation with exponential-time algorithms to figure this out.

I was shocked when I discovered these methods, as my own method was extraordinarily simple, taking all of two minutes in Excel, with otherwise no number-crunching: just list out the states in ascending order of population per electoral vote, and then go down the list until you get to 270 or more. The list I got started with Wyoming, and went all the way down to Georgia. However, this added up to 271, so I searched for any way to shave off 1 electoral vote. As it turns out, there was a way: I replaced Georgia (16 electoral votes) by North Carolina (15 electoral votes), which has a smaller population.

Bonus Round #1:

Now pretend there are more than 2 parties. Then it is possible to win 270 with an even smaller percentage of the popular vote. Let n be the number of parties. Then you can win with 43.6/n % of the popular vote. The 2-party example of 21.8% is just a special case of this. For example, with 3 parties the red candidate just needs to win a 33.34% vs 33.33% vs 33.33% plurality in each of the required states, so to win the presidency, he only needs to win 43.6/3 %, or 14.5%, of the popular vote.

Bonus Round #2:

Let’s go back to 2 parties. Someone on Facebook asked:

What if the electoral college reps were voted in based on district? The representatives are based on members of congress, right? So what if every state did what Maine and Nebraska does and allow their representatives to split? Two elected based on statewide votes, the rest by congressional district. Keeps the small states relevant to the campaign while making the electoral process more representative.

As it turns out, the answer doesn’t change if we let electors vote by district. Just let the red candidate win every single district in every single red state listed above by one vote. Then it’s still an electoral win with 21.8% of the popular vote.

The number does change, however, if we remove the two state votes from each state and have the vote counted purely by district. Then a candidate must win 23.2% of the popular vote (win the 219 smallest districts by a marginal amount, outright lose the other 217 districts).


The Perfect Prediction

Many have heard of Nate Silver’s prediction of the 2012 presidential election. For those of you who haven’t seen it yet, here was his prediction for last Tuesday, which may seem uncannily familiar:

It seems familiar because it bears a striking resemblance the actual results:

In fact, that’s all 50 states correctly predicted.

Given two equally likely options for each states, the chance to predict all 50 states correctly is one in 2^{50}, or one in 1.126 quadrillion. Granted, we already knew which direction states like Texas or Vermont would vote for, so for the sake of simplicity let’s consider only the 9 “swing” states: Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Virginia and Wisconsin. That’s still a one in 512 chance to guess all 9 states correctly from sheer luck.

How did he do it? The answer is high-caliber aggregate statistics. When you conduct a poll, you are going to have very high uncertainty if you poll only a few people. But if you poll a lot of people, your prediction gets more accurate. And one way to poll many people at once is to aggregate the data from many, many polls.

In 2008, Silver’s prediction was accurate in 49 of the 50 states, missing only Indiana.