Thursday, June 15, 2017

FIRE Seeks Sponsors for Its Student Interns

The following message came the other day from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. Please help if you can.


Niklas Vakil
Good morning,
I’m excited to introduce you to Niklas Vakil. Nik joined
the FIRE team this week as part of our annual Internship
Program. Along with eight other undergraduate students
and three law school students, Nik will spend his summer
learning about free speech, due process, religious liberty,
free thought, and legal equality from FIRE staff and other
First Amendment experts and free speech advocates.
Back on campus, at the University of Wisconsin-Madison,
Nik is the solicitor General for the Associated Students of
Madison. In this role, Nik has represented fellow students
in numerous cases in front of the Student Judiciary,
including the defense of two student council members who,
after voicing criticism of affirmative action policies and
university sponsored “safe spaces,” were charged with
malfeasance in office and subject to removal from their
positions. In both of these cases, Nik won unanimous
Nik also serves on the Student Misconduct Panel on
campus. Participating in misconduct cases, Nik has
gotten a close-up look into the troubling lack of pro-
cedural protections for accused students. For example,
at UW-Madison — and most other institutions of higher
education nationwide — students’ cases are decided
using the low “preponderance of the evidence” standard.
(An unlawful mandate by the Department of Education
that nearly all colleges and universities use this standard
in adjudicating sexual misconduct cases is currently
being challenged in court through a lawsuit sponsored
by FIRE.)
These experiences have ignited Nik’s passion for civil
liberties and brought him to intern at FIRE. By completing
an internship at FIRE, Nik will get the hands-on training
he needs to better address free speech and due process
concerns on his campus. In total, it will cost $5,120 to
host Nik all summer. This cost completely covers his
stipend, books, materials, fees to attend our activism-
focused summer conference, and more, like a tour of the
National Constitution Center.
Would you consider sponsoring Nik?
You can sponsor Nik by making a donation to FIRE’s
Internship Program today. Our Internship Program lies
at the heart of our efforts to empower student activists.
It is one of our longest-standing and most successful
programs, and in a time when so many of today’s college
students are demanding “protective” speech codes, “safe
spaces,” and trigger warnings, it is also one of our most
important. Now more than ever, we need to make sure
that students who care about free speech and due process
rights are given the opportunity to gain the knowledge and
tools needed to fight for them on campus. This summer,
FIRE has 12 brilliant and dedicated students who want
that opportunity. Our interns are committed to the free and
robust exchange of ideas and have each chosen to spend
the summer learning strategies to change the culture on
Given your help, Nik and his fellow interns can become
effective advocates for liberty back on campus. Your
donation affords them the unique opportunity to gain the
experience they need to translate their passion into action.
It will also give them a lifelong appreciation for the First
Amendment, which they will carry into careers in law, public
policy, service, and education!
I hope you will think about this request and consider saying
yes! Thank you in advance for supporting this important
FIRE’s 2017 intern class
Kendall Burchard, University of Virginia
School of Law
Sam Foer, University of Rhode Island
Michael Frazier, University of Kentucky
Ethan Greist, Johns Hopkins University
Jacob Hill, The College of William &
Katherine Hung, Harvard College
Veronica Joyce, Pennsylvania State
Julia Kothmann, University of Virginia
Isaac Smith, University of Cincinnati College
of Law
Niklas Vakil, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Qi Xu, Swarthmore College
Lyndsey Wajert, Boston University School
of Law
FIRE Summer 2017 Interns
Molly Nocheck
Director of Campus Outreach, Internship Coordinator
Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE)
510 Walnut Street | Suite 1250 | Philadelphia, PA 19106

Friday, June 09, 2017

Quote of the Day

The most common justification for studying women without studying men is that "history is men's studies." True? No.... To a boy, history is pressure to perform, not relief from that pressure. Feminism is relief from the pressure to be confined to only the traditional female role. To a boy, then, history is not the equivalent of women's studies; it is the opposite of women's studies.

       --- Warren Farrell, The Myth of Male Power, Introduction

Today I completed a video interview for a position as a freelance math tutor. As qualifications, I cited my bachelor's degree in physics as well as favorable reviews as a personal or volunteer tutor in various subjects, and having several articles published.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Manchester and the Problem of Social Homelessness

I get rather aggravated with all the focus in the news on the question of whether Salman Abedi "acted alone" or in coordination with ISIS. I mean, it's pretty obvious that he acted under their social influence, whether or not there was practical coordination.

Okay, I understand there's a short-term concern that there might be more incidents, and understanding whether there was an actual conspiracy in this case could help prevent them. But I feel this is distracting people from the more important question. Someone's practically coordinating with ISIS isn't a prerequisite to their committing highly destructive acts like this; but their being under its social influence is. So, could we please have some discussion of how and why some people come under the influence of a group like this, and how it might be prevented?

For BBC listeners, there was a story this morning about the Prevent program in the UK, which is aimed at preventing Muslim youth from being fanaticized (a term I prefer to "radicalized," since one can be socially and politically radical without being violent). It was claimed that this has been successful in many cases, but also that some think such a program can make people in the targeted community feel stigmatized.

There could be some truth to both of these statements. But, even allowing that it may have done some good, I think focusing only on one community is a mistake, for two reasons. First, acts of mass violence come from people of all backgrounds, for various (stated) ideological motives or none at all. Think Sandy Hook, or abortion clinic bombers. Although they may seem to have little to do with Manchester, there's evidence that people who commit such acts tend to have similar psychological profiles. In many cases, even when an act is committed in the name of Islam, it's done by a convert who appears to have a sketchy knowledge of the religion. This suggests that, rather than being the actual cause of such actions, religious beliefs are often an ad hoc explanation latched onto by someone driven by demons they don't understand themselves. So, if you have a program aimed exclusively at preventing Muslim youth from becoming fanaticized, you're failing to protect non-Muslims who are equally at risk of recruitment by cults (Islamic or otherwise) and, for that matter, probably failing to help Muslim youth resist recruitment by non-Islamic cults as well.

And, of course, the other problem is that such a program may in fact make someone feel stigmatized based on their cultural and religious background and have a boomerang effect.

Let's instead recognize that cultism fundamentally isn't about doctrine, but social psychology. Especially under certain sorts of life circumstances, people become susceptible to psychological manipulation by whichever abusive group they're unlucky enough to come across. This is mainly a matter of situation rather than innate disposition; saying there must be something wrong with someone because they joined a cult is like saying there must be something wrong with someone because they stepped in quicksand. Cults can reference any religious tradition, be theologically orthodox or heterodox, or may reference a non-religious ideology (my own adolescent experience was with a political cult, for instance).

The life circumstances that are conducive to cult recruitment are typically those in which a person has limited social ties, such as because of a life transition. Much as outreach efforts are sometimes made to people who are visibly homeless, it would behoove us similarly to try and identify and reach out to those who are socially homeless, so to speak.

There's the cliche of rural communities' bringing pies to newcomers, but this kind of thing doesn't seem to usually happen any more, at least where I've lived. I learned about my neighborhood association from signs posted in advance of the annual Memorial Day potluck; at the potluck, which always includes a membership meeting, various activities are mentioned, but welcoming new neighbors with a visit hasn't been one of them.

What if every neighborhood or block association regularly visited every resident and tried to engage them in community activities that are meaningful as well as fun? If people who have difficulty making social connections on their own initiative are approached proactively in this way, it might greatly reduce the dange rof their being drawn into a manipulative group that will at best exploit them and keep them isolated, and at worst may lead them to engage in (self-)destructive violence. This is something that government could actively promote and even subsidize where necessary.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Green Party of Philadelphia's Statement on Primary Election Results

Friday, May 19, 2017 

Green Party of Philadelphia's Statement on Primary Election Results

      With preliminary results of the 2017 Primary Election now in, and given the Democratic Party's stranglehold on our city's politics, it is clear that Larry Krasner will be Philadelphia's next District Attorney. It is the Green Party of Philadelphia's hope that Krasner will abandon the longstanding pattern of corruption established by our city's elected officials, as most recently exemplified by our present District Attorney, Seth Williams.

      The Green Party of Philadelphia (GPOP) calls upon Krasner, if elected District Attorney, to bring an end to a criminal justice system that criminalizes poverty and race while letting white-collar corporate crimes go unpunished. The Green Party recognizes that Krasner's platform includes many reforms which are in line with our party's key values, and we hope that he honors these pledges in office, specifically:

***   In a city that is 43% African American, the Green Party calls for a District Attorney who reflects the truth that "Black lives matter" not only in his rhetoric, but also in his actions.
***   In a city where (according to the ACLU of Pennsylvania) 25% of pedestrian stops by police are made without reasonable suspicion and 80% of those pedestrians are people of color, the Green Party calls for a District Attorney who will push for an end to stop-and-frisk and who will refuse to bring cases resulting from these illegal, racist practices.
***   Only a few weeks after Philadelphia police arrested 22 people in Frankford for marijuana, the Green Party calls for an end to the failed War on Drugs and for the legalization of drug possession.
***   Only days after Philadelphians raised nearly $58,000 for the "Mama's Bail Out Day" campaign, the Green Party calls for the elimination of a cash bail system that is designed to keep low-income people behind bars.
***   Finally, the Green Party calls for a District Attorney who will never pursue the death penalty – a barbaric practice that brings neither closure nor healing, but only more pain and victims.

      In addition to restoring the idea of "justice" to our criminal justice system, Philadelphia's next District Attorney must guarantee voters' right to fair elections. We witnessed an astonishing attack of this right in March's special election in PA House District 197, which was rampant with election fraud and voter intimidation.The Green Party demands that the next District Attorney continues the investigation into the special election and takes concrete steps to ensure election integrity.

      Finally, we must highlight the urgent need for electoral reform as demonstrated by this election.
***   Krasner won the primary with 38% of the vote, representing only 6% of the city's registered voters. A system where a candidate can win office, despite only a minority of voters casting their ballots for him, is an insult to democracy. Therefore, the Green Party calls for Instant Runoff Voting (IRV), where voters rank candidates in their order of preference and a candidate only wins if they obtain majority support.
***   We must also acknowledge the legalized bribery that is our campaign finance system. Total spending in this election is expected to double what was spent in Philadelphia's last competitive primary for District Attorney. Indeed, Krasner's campaign was supported both by grassroots efforts and by a super PAC funded by George Soros; we hope that his actions as District Attorney will be influenced by the people of Philadelphia and not by an outside billionaire. Therefore, the Green Party calls for the full public financing of elections and for stricter limits on campaign spending and contributions.

      The Green Party is an independent political party founded on the four pillars of grassroots democracy, nonviolence, ecological wisdom, and social justice. For information about the Green Party of Philadelphia, please call 215-843-4256 or emailgpop@gpop.org. Follow us on Twitter at @GreenPartyofPHL and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/GreenPartyOfPhiladelphia.

Tuesday, May 09, 2017

Quantico Scaremongers Against Popular Sovereignty

This week's season-penultimate episode of Quantico promulgated a typical elitist dread of radical democracy by painting a Constitutional Convention as something scary that an authoritarian villain would use to get his way. I posted this to their Facebook page:

Very disappointed at your antidemocratic scaremongering about a Constitutional Convention. The Framers had the unprecedented wisdom to realize they couldn't anticipate the needs of future generations, and so incorporated procedures for amendment into their document -- piecemeal through submission by Congress but also, when time came for a thorough overhaul, through submission by a Convention called by Congress. Your script falsely suggests such a Convention might change the Constitution behind the country's back, when in reality nothing it proposes would become law unless ratified by three-fourths of the states, making majority popular support a prerequisite. Further, while Congress -- not the President -- is charged with setting the rules, it's politically inevitable they would call fresh elections for the delegates to such a convention. The whole procedure concretizes the principle stated in the Declaration of Independence: "Whenever any form of government becomes destructive of [life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness], it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundations on such principles, and organizing its powers in such forms, as shall to them seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness." This is the revolutionary-democratic idea at the founding of our country -- yet you find it not inspiring, but scary? And it's noteworthy that, while you portray this mechanism of popular sovereignty as the machination of a Trump-manquee villain, in real life it's not Trump, but the left-wing Justice Democrats who are calling for it in their platform. (If you haven't heard of them, they're the faction seeking to primary all corporatist Democrats in Congress and replace them with progressives.) For more information on the Article V Convention and why it's not only politically but legally overdue, check out Friends of the Article V Convention.

Thursday, May 04, 2017

As a Survivor of a Political Cult Myself, I Had to Watch This Video

As a survivor of a political cult myself, I had to watch this video when I saw it on YouTube: BAMN Are A Violent Cult

The descriptions are chillingly reminiscent of what I've heard about other groups, and some of what I experienced in my own. (In fact I'd already heard of the cult-within-the-cult, the RWL, and knew it was ultra-sectarian, so the connection came as no surprise.) There's a private website on WordPress called Secret Survivors of BAMN, and I've submitted a request for access to its administrator. Below is the written version of the video, which includes a link to the private group:

As is quoted from one of the ex-members, like other political cults BAMN either turns people into "drones" incapable of autonomous political thought or action, or tends to burn them out and make them give up on activism altogether. Hence it is both personally and politically destructive.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Visibility, Disruptiveness, and Effectiveness: What Actually Counts in a Demonstration

NPR ran this story the other day about research on which intuitions are correct about what makes a demonstration effective:


A couple notes: while this research shows the importance of protesters' not putting themselves in a negative light, it doesn't mean they should never do anything that could make people uncomfortable. As Nick Cooney points out in his book Change of Heart: What Psychology Can Teach Us About Spreading Social Change, disturbing images (as of animal abuse, for instance) may move people to action more effectively than warm-and-fuzzy ones. The key is whether the context makes viewers associate the unpleasant images with what's being protested or with those doing the protesting.

Another point: it's stated in the interview that sometimes there's a trade-off between visibility and effectiveness, with the latter being the bottom line that should determine protesters' choice of tactics. But there's also a sense in which they correlate, since the expectation of disruptive or violent tactics can reduce participation in an action. And, all other things being equal, a smaller action is a less visible one, as well as probably less effective.