Does Your Individual Vote Really Matter?

Everyone on Facebook seems to be talking about how they voted today, and why you should as well. To be a good citizen, they say, you must vote. “Go vote!” says every other status on my Facebook feed.

Yet there are plenty of reasons not to vote, and in fact, not voting has been historically a very powerful form of protest against a government. This article debunks many of the voting myths that attempt to place voting on the moral high-ground. I found the most significant part of the article to be number 5, which responds to the claim that your vote is your voice in the government:

In a democratic form of government it would be. In a democratic form of government, such as a direct or participatory democracy, people can vote on things like budgets, wars, and other important issues, and have a voice in government. In our representative government, people can only vote for representatives who may or may not listen to them or act in their interests, and who cannot be held accountable during their terms of office, which is the only time they hold power and are needed to represent the interests of their constituents. Waiting until somebody has killed a million people in a war based on lies, destroyed the economy, and taken away your civil rights, and then trying to elect somebody else, is much too late because by then much of the damage cannot be undone and your grandchildren will still be paying for it.

Indeed, the United States is not a true democracy (though the term “democracy” gets thrown around enough that it seems to be synonymous with anything moral).

There are two more main reasons why, for the majority of voters, your vote will be futile. Firstly, the electoral college system places all importance on the swing states such as Ohio. Unless you live in one of these states, your individual vote will have nearly zero chance of affecting the outcome of the election, as the vote of your state is already determined. Even if you do live in one of these states, one vote will not statistically make a difference. There has not ever been a case where a president has been decided by one vote, and basic probability tells you it will remain that way.

But what if everyone thinks like that, you might say. If everyone does this, then no one will vote, and the election will fail. The bad guy will be elected with just a handful of votes.

This is hardly a valid concern. We all agree that being a medical doctor is a good and respectable profession. However, if everyone thinks like that, then everyone will be doctors, and nobody will be there to grow crops, educate children, provide entertainment, forecast weather, write books, or produce art. This argument fails because even though one might respect doctors, one must not necessarily become one.

Secondly, if you really want to change the world, you’re not going to do it by casting a single ballot once and then posting once on Facebook that you voted and then never mention politics again. Suppose I had a button in front of me such that every time I pressed the button, it would add one vote randomly for Barack Obama or Mitt Romney in a random polling booth in the United States. Even if I pressed the button a thousand times it would have no statistical effect on the outcome.

If you want to change something, start a movement. Your government won’t listen to an insignificant statistic in a polling booth, but it sure as hell will listen to a provocative demonstration. The beauty of the United States is that you have the right to challenge the government, a right that is too often taken for granted, for in many countries, speaking out against the slightest flaw in your country could be a death sentence. So exercise this right! We the people control the government, yet we have allowed the government to control us.

So if you think that by voting, you have fulfilled your civic duty for the next four years, think again. If you really care about your country that much, you would do a lot more than broadcasting your vote on Facebook to a bunch of people you already know anyways.

All that said, in an age of technology and reason, I would be very unhappy if Romney were elected. It is important that the United States lead the world in advancing forward, not regressing back into an anti-intellectual dark age. If I were to choose between Romney and Obama, I would without the slightest hesitation pick President Obama. However, given that Ithaca, NY is guaranteed to vote Democrat (and the state of New York as a whole), and given that both major party candidates have been quiet about the environment in the weeks leading up to the election, my vote today went to Green Party candidate Jill Stein.

The Rise of Non-Religion as a Political Movement

After decades of stagnation, non-religion in America is finally on the move. See this recent report by the Pew Research Center.

In the past, America stood firm by the belief in God, while Europe become more and more secularized. Gallup poll results show that for the last nearly 40 years, the belief in God in America has remained at least 94% until the last few decade:

The corresponding numbers for Europe are different. From the 2005 Eurobarometer poll: in the United Kingdom, 20% do not believe in a god or universal spirit; in Germany, 25%; and in France, 33%. The United States of America, at 8%, has a long way to go.

There is yet hope, as religious affiliation declines drastically the younger the age group. Roughly one-third of Americans between 18 and 29 do not affiliate with a religion:

What I found the most insightful in the Pew report is the precise connection between non-religion and political affiliation:

So not only has non-religion increased in number, but it has become increasingly leaning towards the Democratic party. This trend may change with the results of the upcoming election; however, it is almost certain to lean Democrat with a significant majority.

Finally, the non-religious movement has also a similar leaning on many issues. Of these, it is strongly opinionated on abortion:

And on same-sex marriage:

Interestingly, the Atheist/Agnostic vote supporting abortion and same-sex marriage is more one-sided than even the Christian evangelical vote against them. And yet, there are still those who claim that religion is the absolute source of morals!

Non-religion is on the rise. Following the Civil Rights, feminist, and LGBT movements, the secularist movement will surely be next.

Orwell, Chomsky, and the Power of Twisting Language

Choosing the right word is very important, but I’ve recently found it to be far more important than I previously thought. Influences: George Orwell, Noam Chomsky.

An Experiment

Consider the 1974 Loftus and Palmer experiment [1][2][3]. Participants were shown identical short videos of car crashes, and were then asked one of the questions:

  1. About how fast were the cars going when they smashed into each other?
  2. About how fast were the cars going when they collided into each other?
  3. About how fast were the cars going when they bumped into each other?
  4. About how fast were the cars going when they hit each other?
  5. About how fast were the cars going when they contacted each other?

The only difference is the wording. Yet it was able to produce a statistically significant result:

People will believe what they hear.

Framing the Question: Politics and Religion

There are many issues today in America that suffer similar biases from wording.

Take immigration for example. Most people would probably be against illegal aliens, but would probably be more sympathetic towards undocumented workers. With this phrasing, the same person might support giving rights to undocumented workers, yet might vote the opposite way when the media or a political party calls them illegal aliens. Even though they are referring to the same people, one term focuses to the illegality, while the other focuses on their work. Of course when you call them illegal aliens, you’re going to have a biased discussion.

Abortion falls to the same bias. It is the termination of pregnancy, yet those who are opposed label it as bad as killing babies.

Or if you are not a Muslim, you are a non-Muslim; however, Islamist extremists label you as an infidel.

And don’t think Christianity gets off the hook here. A non-Christian is similarly labeled by extremists as a blasphemer (or infidel or heretic as well). And since one can’t be both Muslim and Christian at the same time, every person on Earth is an infidel or a blasphemer. That’s just the logical truth.

Framing the Question: Science and Religion

The power of twisting language is nowhere more important than in the evolution vs creationism “debate.” The reason I put the word “debate” in quotes is that it’s really not a debate where both sides use logic, reason, and facts. Yet, as long as the creationists manage to convince people there is still “debate” by labeling the whole thing as a “debate,” then they are winning their “debate.”

So far, every debate I’ve seen between evolution and creationism, and between logic and religion in general, is more of a lecture to a stubborn adolescent who still believes in fairy tales. The power of language is so strong that in labeling the conflict as a “debate” in the first place, the creationists are creating the false presumption that there even is a debate.

They use completely wrong and misleading words to describe the theory of evolution. Even calling it a theory or hypothesis in the first place is misleading, because the word theory in everyday speech strongly focuses on the possibility of being uncertain or wrong (if I said “My theory about why the grades were lower on this test…”), whereas the word theory in science implies strong logical mechanisms and the possibility to confirm or deny through evidence (such as the theory of gravity).

To adapt this “debate” to everyday speech, we should really call it the fact of evolution. One is of course allowed to call it a theory, but only seriously if one actually understands it scientifically. Most of those who claim “it’s just a theory” don’t actually understand it at all.

A debate would imply both sides are using reason. That is hardly the case. It is really more of a clearing of misunderstandings than the use of any higher cognitive skills.

The following words are extremely well misunderstood: random, chance, selection, adapt, and purpose. Consider the following dialog, which more or less actually happened (I am putting quotes around the word “Evolutionist” as it is really just a label that shouldn’t have to exist, just as you don’t have to call people who believe the world is round “Round-Earthers”):

Creationist: It’s hard to believe that the eye happened by accident.

“Evolutionist”: Evolution doesn’t say it happened by accident.

Creationist: Then it has to have a purpose.

What’s going on here is not a debate at all, but an abuse of language. The eye does not have any intrinsic purpose, but it is also not an accident. Creationists often create this false dichotomy of purpose vs accident. And when they show it is preposterous for life to have developed by accident, they think they have shown it must have been done on purpose.

Randomness does not imply either purpose or accident. Why is a cheetah fast? Because in a larger pool of animals in an ecosystem, if it were slower, it wouldn’t be able to catch its prey, and it would die off, and that would have happened millions of years ago, so we wouldn’t see it today. That’s the simple logic. No accident or purpose is implied.

So many other words—good, evil, salvation, sin, faith, and I’m sure I’m missing a ton more—are all heavily loaded, ill-defined, ambiguous concepts that are twisted around by religion to suit its needs depending on the situation. This is Orwellian Doublespeak at its strongest.

Words and the Future

It is imperative that the American public understand how loaded words are affecting its choices and decisions. The election process should be dependent on the rational discussion of real issues, not by a massive popularity contest shrouded by mutual insults and loaded words oversimplifying the situation and vilifying the other party. News should be news, not political indoctrination. Language should be the way we voice our concerns to the government, not the way political parties usher us like pawns to certain death.

In addition to math and science education, which should most certainly be improved, we really do need to keep our English and history classes in able hands. But, in English classes, instead of teaching only books written long in the past, they should occasionally make students read current news articles and critically think about them. Then maybe people will realize that English is not all pointless. And once this happens, the government will be afraid, and it will be forced to listen to the educated American people, as history perhaps once intended.

People Who Agree With You for the Wrong Reasons

Yes, I’m attempting to write a post that talks about both politics AND religion. Yep, the two most heated things that always lead to flame wars on the Internet. In one post.

The Two Types of Disagreeing

We’ve all had those moments we just flat-out disagreed with everything someone said. No matter how many facts we throw at them, they never seemed to listen. And they probably thought the same about us. The argument turned into full-blown war, and we were ready to start throwing punches at each other.

But we’ve also had those debates where we disagreed with them, not in a hostile way at all, but in a calm, mature, intellectual manner. We realized some of the things we said were wrong, and so did they. And while we still had our differences in the end, we felt more connected and felt that we had uncovered some truth out of it. This is the good type of disagreement.

The Two Types of Agreeing

There’s the intellectual style of agreement as well, the good kind. You try to teach your kid about gravity, but she is skeptical, so you encourage her to try to throw a ball so high that it won’t return, to disprove gravity. She quickly learns that no matter how hard she throws it, it will always fall back down. Finally, she ends up agreeing with you, having learned a valuable lesson out of it.

Then there’s the wrong kind of agreement. The kind when once she becomes skeptical of gravity, you only assert that it’s true and don’t give any reason or evidence for it, and you say “Believe it, or else.” Of course, this example is pretty silly because no one needs to threaten someone else to get them to believe in gravity—there is overwhelming evidence for it everywhere on Earth. I’m really setting this up for matters which have no evidence or are misunderstood.

Agreeing Due to Party Alignment, Not Due to Facts

I’m going to go with politics first, and then religion. I consider myself to be a moderate liberal, but I usually don’t care about politics that much. However, sometimes when people talk about politics in stupid ways or completely misunderstand their political party, I do care. I don’t want them making misguided decisions in the ballot.

It’s common for liberals to criticize conservatives for outrageous claims, but many of these liberals don’t understand that they themselves also make outrageous claims. They say how bad conservatives are, but then when someone asks them what has Obama done in the last 4 years, they are silent. Not that Obama hasn’t done anything—he’s done quite a bit. But some of these liberals are just clueless about their own party and seem to vote Democrat just because their friends do or because they think Obama is charismatic.

These people annoy me greatly. They might agree with me, but for all the wrong reasons. For instance, I know people who like to make fun of Rush Limbaugh, despite never having read anything he wrote and never listening to anything he said, and rely instead only on what other people said of him. If you disagree with Rush Limbaugh because you disagree with his views, that’s fine. I respectfully disagree with much of what he says. But if you disagree with him just because it’s cool to disagree with him, then that is pathetic.

It seems that respect is all but forgotten in this era. I can disagree with someone but still understand what they are saying, and admit that some parts of what they say are correct. But respect doesn’t seem to be mainstream anymore. Case in point, in Obama’s 2008 election victory speech, he began in a noble manner by making a respectful statement about McCain’s campaign. But what did the crowd do? It booed him very audibly. And in McCain’s defeat speech, when he congratulated Obama, he got loudly booed by his crowd as well.

What has politics become, a spectator sport where you boo the other team, or boo anyone who says shows respect to the other team? If anything, Obama and McCain’s respect for each other in that moment of the election gives me some hope for the American political system. However, the behavior of the crowd does not.

Agreeing Due to Authority, Not Due to Evidence

Now for religion. I am an atheist. I don’t believe in god for the same reason I don’t believe in Santa or an Invisible Pink Unicorn or the Flying Spaghetti Monster or an invisible fire-breathing dragon. Simply, I believe it is childish and immature to believe in something that has zero evidence, just because other people believe in it.

That said, I am not claiming that Christianity is inherently bad. Despite its numerous provocations, injustices, and wars, I do not know where the world would be right now had Christianity not existed. Without its teaching of generosity and kindness to primitive cultures (and then enslaving them), civilization may not be as advanced as it is. However, given that we have already reached an early Space Age, where technology and the search for knowledge can unite us in place of the mass belief of ancient myths, I question whether Christianity will be of use for much longer.

So if you tell me, “I am a Christian because the moral system is wonderful,” then that is great. But if you say, “I am a Christian because there is evidence that God exists,” then I will facepalm, because that is like saying, “I believe in the Invisible Pink Unicorn because there is evidence that the Invisible Pink Unicorn exists.”

On the other side, people who believe in atheism might agree for the wrong reasons, though not usually, as they tend to be more open-minded. Saying “I am an atheist because there is no evidence of God” is perfectly fine, but saying “I am an atheist because Christianity is evil” is not a valid reason. However, I don’t know of anyone who actually believes that, so as far as I know, there are no atheist “extremists” like there are religious extremists.

So as far as this section goes, I cannot really talk about the atheist side as there are no examples of belief for the wrong reasons that I know of. Instead, I can try to empathize with the religious side and think about what they would consider to be belief in god for the wrong reasons.

The first one is probably believing in God for fear of ending up in Hell or some other divine punishment. That would be a terrible reason to believe in something, simply out of fear of threat for not believing in it. This is one reason I have a problem with Pascal’s wager (the other being that it can just be applied to other religions, forcing the player to have no good choice).

The second is argument from authority. People shouldn’t believe in God just because other people said they should; they should find it on their own. Despite how silly this sounds to me, at least I find it more noble than blindly following the will of other people. In practice, however, it seems most people are led into Christianity through authority, from their parents or community when they are young and vulnerable.

I mean, if someone is nonreligious but suffers a crisis when they are 30, and chooses to accept a religion to cope with it, that is fine. In fact, hooking people up to mythical virtual realities is a valid method these days of dealing with trauma. The real world is too harsh, so they can more easily cope in a fantasy world. But if a kid is forced to accept a religion when they wouldn’t know better, that is an entirely different thing, and is just wrong. (I agree with Bill Nye’s take on this.)

This would be entirely opposite of the gravity case presented in the “Two Types of Agreeing” section. When a kid learns about gravity, if she is skeptical she can try to disprove it by throwing a ball so high into the air that it does not come down. But the more gravity works, the more accepting she becomes. Whether she thinks gravity is true is determined by her own experiences.

However, if she is skeptical of religion, there is nothing she can do to disprove it, since anything could be justified by some made-up explanation, and this is probably very confusing for a young mind. Whether she thinks religion is true is determined solely by the statements of others, i.e. authority figures.

If this forcing of views on a child concerned any subject other than religion, it would be called brainwashing. Yet when it’s religion, it’s not considered brainwashing, and—quite disturbingly—it’s actually considered by some to be education.

My writing of this section is inspired by Carl Sagan’s skeptical philosophy and Bill Nye’s recent video that was linked above.

Disagreeing and Agreeing

I’d rather someone disagree with me using the truth, rather than have someone agree with me based on a lie. Both in politics and religion, a shallow agreement based on lies is valueless, ridiculous, and devoid of morality.

This is often why there are such heated debates in both of these subjects on the Internet, where multiple people can chime in on both sides. The “Democrat” side of a forum thread might be extremely polarized within itself, and so is the “Republican” side. Thus, instead of there being a straight back-and-forth debate, there is a jumbled web of personal insults and baseless accusations. This would be avoided if people were actually knowledgeable and knew what they were talking about and as well as what other people are talking about. This is why knowledge and respect should be taught, not whatever is causing them to resort to insults.

In the case of religion, religious people generally don’t use logic, so even the terms “agree” and “disagree” begin to lose meaning. That’s why a religious debate usually never ends up being a peaceful debate. It always becomes derailed because logic itself is missing from one side, so it isn’t really a debate at all. It is a lecture where the student is willfully ignorant. At least that’s what happens in the case of an atheist vs theist debate. I can only imagine the horror of what a theist vs theist-of-a-different-religion debate on the Internet would be like, e.g. a Christian vs Muslim debate.

In the political system of the United States, I am somewhat hopeful. But I have almost no hope at all for the current education system. Until something like “Logic for First Graders” is taught—lies, misunderstandings, and ignorance will always be the face of our country.

Osama Bin Laden is Dead, So What?

Like everyone else, I learned about this about an hour ago through the most accurate and relevant news source available—the indisputable Facebook. I then checked CNN for some additional information, online of course, and then watched President Obama’s speech, live-streamed on my computer. (Everyone should watch that speech by the way. It’s great. You get to hear Obama say the word “perfectionalism” in it.)

It is interesting that the media has changed so much. In 2001, it was the TV that brought us the shock of 9/11. Today, in 2011, it was the Internet. The Internet told us Osama Bin Laden is dead.

I didn’t originally want to blog about this. But when I attempted to type up a short Facebook status, I found it would just be repeating what pages and pages of news feed said. So it would be time to write my first blog post in a month.

Terrorism and America

Back on September 11, 2001, it was a normal day of 4th grade at Laurel Mountain Elementary School, when my teacher told the class about what had just occurred. To be honest, I was confused at first. The teacher said that terrorists had hijacked passenger planes and used them to demolish the twin towers. I was thinking, don’t you need a military plane to do that? Why would passenger planes be armed with missiles?

Not until later in the day did it occur to me that the planes themselves were the missiles. I probably didn’t think this at the time, but it’s pretty scary if the enemy is willing to destroy themselves to destroy others, to destroy innocent civilians, and more relevantly, to destroy us. And here we are today, learning that the man behind those attacks is dead, killed by American forces. The first thing that comes to mind is a sense of long-awaited relief, that with one small step, we accomplished a giant leap for national and international security.

That’s probably how want to think of it. We’d like to think that the threat of terrorism has greatly subsided, or even disappeared. We would like it if this one event could cleanse the world of war and violence. Yet that is far from the case. Terrorism will continue, though likely not in full force. And given that it took nearly ten years to eliminate Osama Bin Laden, it is clear that we face a stubborn resistance, a dare-I-say tenacious resistance. America and the rest of the world need to be remain tenacious still. The last thing we want to do, seeing what has happened today, is to start celebrating thinking that this is over. It’s not.

Now I’m not saying this is an unimportant event. Of course it’s important. Even if we are unsure about the real consequences, it certainly is a psychological victory. So cheer up. Raise a flag. Show them who we really are.

Well, that’s probably not the right place for today, but you know what I mean.

Change, the Change of Change, and the Change Thereof

In the fall of 1972 President Nixon announced that the rate of increase of inflation was decreasing. This was the first time a sitting president used the third derivative to advance his case for reelection.

—Hugo Rossi

Change we can believe in.

—2008 campaign slogan for Barack Obama

Change we can find in everything—especially a soda machine. Change comes in many denominations, and some people carry more of it in their pockets; others refuse it. Change is an ancient necessity, and absolutely a modern one. Change is the soul of existence.

Sometimes, even the lack of change is in itself a change. For example, every sentence so far has contained the word “change.” If the next sentence does not contain the sacred word, would it thereby be a change? Indeed.

And if this post is on change, then why have I included an epigram about the third derivative—a scary calculus term—in a post about change? Answer: Calculus is the study of change.

First Derivative: Change

If you heard from a stock analyst, “Google went up $24 yesterday,” then you have heard a statement about the first derivative. If—and it is a very likely possibility—you have not, then don’t worry; consider instead the subtly edited statement: “Google went up $27 yesterday.” You clearly see a change between the two sentences. This is also a first derivative.

But in any case—and this is an even more likely possibility—you should ignore the two examples above and consider the following car example, which is probably quite unbelievable, for in such examples, cars always drive on perfectly straight roads with speeds and accelerations that match formulas exactly.

Suppose a car is moving on a perfectly straight road from New York City to London, with a velocity of exactly 100 km per hour. Furthermore, suppose that someone were to ask you for the first derivative. If you answered, “100 km per hour,” congratulations. The first derivative is the change of something. In this case, the position of the car changes. By how much? The first derivative.

But this car example is a bit unbelievable, so I would like to present what I believe is a more reasonable situation, which in this case involves two groups of angry monkeys on an alien planet. The first group of angry monkeys we’ll call the Lazies, and the second group the Angries. Furthermore, suppose that the two groups are incompatible, and that for some reason, both groups are evolving more limbs over time.

At year 0, both the Lazies and the Angries have two arms per member. Due to evolution, the Lazies gain an extra arm every 100 years, and the Angries gain two extra arms every 100 years. When the difference in arm count reaches three, the group whose monkeys have more arms can defeat the other group. Suppose no human politician intervenes. Who will win, and when?

The Angries will win. They’re gaining limbs twice as fast as the Lazies: every 100 years, the Angries gain two limbs while the Lazies only gain one. After the first 100 years, the Lazies have 3 arms while the Angries have 4. After 100 more years, the score will be 4 to 6. And after another 100 years, it will be 5 to 8, and the Angries win. This occurs at year 300.

Second Derivative: The Change of Change

The second derivative is important when not only the original thing is changing, but the change itself is changing. For example, if Google’s stock rose $24 the first day, $27 the second day, $30 the next day, the second derivative is $3 per day per day. That’s not a typo: the first derivative is “per day,” the second is “per day per day.” The amount the stock changes per day is changing—per day.

For the car, acceleration is the second derivative. Let’s say the car is accelerating at 20 km per hour per hour. That is, after each hour, the car is moving 20 km per hour faster than it was before. In the first hour the car is moving at 100 km per hour, in the second it is at 120 km per hour, in the third, 140 km per hour, etc. Actually these are only approximations: in the first hour, the car is actually moving somewhere between 100 and 120, because it starts at 100 and accelerates to 120 in the span of an hour.

What if every time a monkey group gained an arm, it would gain arms faster? The actual term is rather awkward to say: “1 arm per century per century.” For example, the Lazies start out with 2, but then increase by 1 for a total of 3. The next time, they increase by 2 for a total of 5, then increase by 3 for a total of 8, and so on. The Angries also start with 2, and at first increase by 2 for a total of 4. They then increase by 3 for a total of 7, then increase by 4 for a total of 11. At this point, the Lazies only have 8, so the Angries win again at year 300.

Now what if the Angries evolved as above but the Lazies reverted back to the rule in the first section? That is, the Lazies will gain 1 limb in the first century, 1 limb in the second, and 1 limb in the third. The Angries will gain 2 limbs in the first century, 3 limbs in the second, and 4 limbs in the third. By the second century, the Angries have already won: the Angries have 2+2+3 = 7 limbs while the Lazies only have 2+1+1 = 4. The Angries win at year 200.

The Red Queen’s quote from Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass is a classic demonstration:

“Now, HERE, you see, it takes all the running YOU can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!”

If two things are moving at the same rate, it is as if neither one is moving. To go twice as fast, one must accelerate, i.e., use the second derivative. Of course I’m taking the quotation out of context.

Third Derivative: The Change of Change of Change

The third derivative is one step up from the second. It is the change of the second derivative, which is in turn the change of the first.

This level is out of the human comfort zone. It is difficult to explain the third derivative with the stock market or evolutionary examples, so we’ll go to the car once again. We examine the pressing of the gas pedal.

Suppose a fully pressed gas pedal causes the car to accelerate at 20 km per hour per hour. This is sluggishly unrealistic, but it’s for example. To go from zero acceleration to the max, the driver can step on the pedal gradually or suddenly. Now the acceleration itself is the second derivative, so the change of acceleration—the pressing of the gas pedal—is the third derivative. Pressed slowly, it exemplifies a low third derivative, and quickly, a high third derivative. The latter case doesn’t feel good.

Numerically, if the pedal is completely pushed down in 1 second, we have the third derivative as 20 km per hour per hour per second. If it’s done in 5 seconds, the third derivative is just 4 km per hour per hour per second. If “the third derivative” sounds tedious, there is a scientific name for this: jerk. I’m not kidding. Jerk is the change in acceleration, which is in turn the change in velocity, in turn the change in position.

Let us now return to Rossi’s quote: “In the fall of 1972 President Nixon announced that the rate of increase of inflation was decreasing. This was the first time a sitting president used the third derivative to advance his case for reelection.”

Inflation is the first derivative, i.e. the change in prices. The “rate of increase of inflation” is the second derivative. Then to say that the “rate of increase of inflation was decreasing” is to say that the third derivative was negative, as it caused the second derivative to decrease.

Concluding Remarks

Next time somebody says, “Spare some change,” be more willing to share some first derivatives. After all, to restock on the first derivative, try a soda machine. You never know what you’ll find in them.

Freedom of the Press: Baidu vs Google

Freedom of the press is a privilege that most of us take for granted—we assume its rooted existence without question, thanks to the blessings of our First Amendment. But what about nations who lack a liberal constitution, nations whose political systems are far from Western democracy?

China is one example. On the Internet alone, nearly all potentially subversive material is banned, as are many of the platforms upon which it can be published. The social networking/blogging sites Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr are prohibited as part of what is referred to as The Great Firewall of China. The Firewall also blocks many parts of other sites that might contain information on topics like anti-communism, the history of China, or—most strikingly—the Tiananmen Square Protests of 1989.

For example, in mainland China, if I google “tiananmen square protest,” the search results page will fail to load. Even just “tiananmen square” will activate the firewall and trigger an Internet failure. If I switch to Bing, I get the same results. This is where China’s main search engine, Baidu, comes into play. On it you can type in “tiananmen square protest,” but the results are next to irrelevant: they’re related to Tiananmen Square, but either are totally unrelated to the 1989 protests, write them off, or condemn them.

An image search shows the disparity more clearly (click to enlarge):

Tiananmen Square Protest Search

Note that I am actually using Google UK on the right-hand side as the proxy server I am using routes there. The difference between the results from Baidu and Google is astounding—you’d think they were searching two completely different events.

More interestingly, according to the Chinese Internet, the Tank Man never existed. The man who stopped a column of tanks by standing in front of them. This guy:

Tank Man

He’s nowhere to be found in China. It’s as if he were a Western myth. For amusement, I have attached here the image comparison from above, with the word “tank” added to the end of the query:

Tiananmen Square Tank

So neither the tank man nor the tanks existed—if you know what I mean.

Happy Fourth of July!