Dilemmas for Driverless Cars

Uber self-driving car on its side, March 25, 2017, Arizona

In the last week I’ve encountered half a dozen situations difficult for me, a human, to figure out and drive through.  Too bad they require my full attention and I cannot snap photos through the windshield.

walking stopsign

In one, signals were flashing on a 10 lane road (3 thru lanes and 2 turn lanes on each side, NASA Parkway, Houston, TX).  Usually cars treat this as a 4-way stop, complicated enough with so many lanes.  But a policeman was dragging a fold-up stop sign into the road.  He was several lanes away.  Wait for him?  Oh, there is another policeman farther away, also walking.  He makes some vague gesture.  I think he is telling the people to my right to go.  He gestures again and looks straight at the group of cars I’m in.  OK, I cautiously go.

dancing snow traffic

What would Uber do?  Probably treat it as a 4-way stop.  But how would it figure out whose turn it was?  It is extremely difficult in multi-lane intersections with turn lanes.  Would it run over the policeman (either of them) because they “failed to yield” as the other driver did in the wreck pictured above?  Most of my attention as I drive down the road is not on normal expected behavior, but is spent estimating whether approaching cars either on side roads or in other lanes are really going to yield as they should.  This is a “dance” that people do.  One develops a feel for it, which varies with culture and even by city or neighborhood.

traffic accident

Last night driving on Mississippi 17 between Vicksburg and Yazoo City, I saw blue blinking lights ahead in the dark.  I slowed down, thinking I should be prepared to pass in a different lane, but with no different lane available, perhaps go very slow.  My estimate of how slow kept decreasing.  I can’t imagine it being set by an algorithm.  When I got there, a wrecker was parked at an angle in the road, extending into my lane.  Apparently someone was off in the field, their car wheels so mired in the mud the frame was dragging.  I didn’t laugh.  I’ve been there myself.  On the other side some man was waving a little light back and forth.  Eventually I assumed he meant for me to go, as no one appeared to be coming from the other direction.  He didn’t shout or change what he was doing, so that must have been the correct thing to do.  I might have had to go off the pavement a little bit.


Frankel-ly, Gor-such a case got into the news last week.  It seems that even Supreme Court nominees cannot decide what to do in common road situations without engaging in the “absurd.”  The subject was Gorsuch’s dissenting opinion on a Minnesota truck driver whose company left him in 14 below weather to freeze.  After many hours, rather than die, he drove a trailer with locked breaks onto the highway.

Suppose you are in an Uber or Google or Apple or whatever, and it is 14 below, and the damn thing won’t go because some warning light is flashing, or maybe it simply cannot see the lane markers?


Even if it can see lane markers and cars, which might be 90% of freeway driving, it’s only, what 5% of residential driving?  0% of special situations?  Of course the easy part can be automated.  I heard a paper on automated driving at Oklahoma University in 1968.  Since then computers got smaller and cheaper and faster and sensors have improved, but I’m not aware of any progress on understanding special situations.

Frankly, the full range of human judgment is required in such situations, and even a judicial automaton is not adequate.  I don’t want Gorsuch for judge in the SCOTUS (where ALL the cases are difficult), nor do I want self-driving cars – until they can fully pass written and driving tests as humans do, under all conditions.

when red light shows


Who really undermined election credibility?

not my election

Choose the top two persons or organizations that you think undermined election credibility (if indeed any did), and at the end we’ll compare with my unscientific poll of one friend:

  1. Protestors who insist “Trump is NOT my president” after the election.
  2. James Comey FBI Director who announced re-opening of Clinton email investigation weeks before the election, withheld fact that he was investigating Russian counterintelligence since July, then later announced the Russian investigation and said that announcing it probably aided their goals
  3. Barak Obama whom Clinton thinks [now] should have announced the counterintelligence investigation in July
  4. Clinton herself who asserted Trump was unqualified and mentally unstable after he had won election as Republican nominee
  5. Putin-Russia who allegedly promoted fake news stories (the only one that comes to mind is the pizza-parlor child trafficking thing)
  6. Julian Assange-Wikileaks who released Podesta’s emails (whom some allege came from Russia, but Assange says not, and in any case he released them)

Here is what my friend said, which was not my list exactly but he persuaded me:

  1. Comey, who seems to have been squirrely for some time, possibly on a power trip.
  2. Obama a distant second, since what he says is not highly credible anyway
  3. Nothing else much matters


Travel ban blues? Take a que from Andrew Jackson

750px-Trails_of_Tears_enIndian removal, 1830-1835 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trail_of_Tears

 andrew jackson
Andrew Jackson

UPDATE 3/16/2017 – Apparently I am not the only one who thought of the Andrew Jackson angle.  See Robert Barnes: Trump Could ‘Go Full Andrew Jackson’ and Ignore Interference from Activist Judges.

Andrew Jackson is hardly one of my favorite people.  But his very existence refutes everything modern intellectual liberals “say” about what our country “is” whether you like Jackson or note, because he is in fact part of history, and along with a lot of other people did things in direct contravention of the liberal view, so much so that the preponderance of the constituent history of the USA has to be judged to be anti-liberal, anti-diversity, and totally discriminatory as to who is allowed to live within its borders.  Any recent counter-trend is just a blip in a long historical trend the other way.

Trump has called Jackson a “flawed and imperfect man” but in the same speech praised him for confronting and defying an arrogant elite.  So I guess the $20 will keep Jackson’s picture.  Jackson’s most famous fights were with the 2nd Bank of the US, and in opposing a Supreme Court decision protecting the rights of the Cherokee in Georgia.  He famously said of the chief justice, “John Marshall has made his decision, now let him enforce it.”

I disagree with Jackson on both counts.  But with goings on like this, the liberals simply can’t be right about the essence of America.  Even if I agreed with them, I’d have to admit this “fact.”  And it continued even after the Civil War.  In 1875 Congress passed a civil rights act forbidding discrimination by places of public accommodation, but in 1883 the Supreme Court struck it down.

A Federal Court in Hawaii has just struck down (or “blocked,” if there is any difference) the 2nd Trump executive order on immigration.  If you have read any of my recent blogs, you know I think there is constitutional grounds for discriminating against Islam, and not just on the basis of screening terrorists.  Maybe it is time to take the Jackson approach, to specifically cite Jackson, and direct the US Customs and Border Protection to carry on with the ban.

Is my view radical? Only relative to the liberal globalists who want no borders and no USA, just a monolithic one-world socialist melting pot with themselves at the top and everyone else their slaves.  I am dead center in American history, which has fought much less justified wars to settle borders and expel anyone who wasn’t fitting in.

Do I advocate expelling Muslims?  Of course.  Their holy book advocates killing any non-Muslims.  This is entirely treasonous.  If you don’t believe this (I have friends who don’t),   read the Quran for yourself.  Could this be successful?  Historically it has been one of the most successful things ever done.  Simply ask them to renounce the objectionable verses, or convert to another faith.  See previous post on a country that did this successfully.

CIA hacking story suppressed by U.S. Gov’t: real “Russian” hackers are CIA!

access denide

The above screen was obtained when attempting to access a CNN story at URL http://money.cnn.com/2017/03/07/technology/wikileaks-cia-hacking/ covering Wikileaks release of massive hacking and cyber-weapons activities at the CIA.  you should be able to get it if not using a government computer.  Civil servants are supposed to be able to use general web news and similar services when on lunch break, etc.  The rapid suppression of this article shows the intent of the U.S. government to suppress news.

I encountered the article this morning before coming to the office when I checked the BBC news, which I routinely do to get an outside perspective on U.S. and world events.  That article is here http://www.bbc.com/news/technology-39193008

They were not very thorough though.  The Yahoo version of the story was not blocked https://www.yahoo.com/tech/wikileaks-publish-1000s-says-cia-documents-141815829.html .  Probably because the Yahoo story is favorable to the CIA, criticizing the release and extolling the negatives.

I recommend watching the movie Snowden.  It already contained some of these revelations.  It explains why you might be targeted and your family messed with even if you have done nothing wrong.

The new release reveals hacking into self-driving cars.  There is a concern they could be used for untraceable assassinations.

So, what does the CNN story stay that got it suppressed that the Yahoo story doesn’t?  I will copy the full text below in case you can’t access it or it gets taken down later.  My guess is that the key fact is that the CIA has the capability to pretend to be Russian hackers.  That means that evidence for Russians hacking into the DNC and leaking emails favorable to the Trump campaign cannot ever be verified, because it might have been the CIA.

From http://money.cnn.com/2017/03/07/technology/wikileaks-cia-hacking/
(in case of takedown):

Wikileaks claims to reveal how CIA hacks TVs and phones all over the world

The CIA has become the preeminent hacking operation, sneaking into high-tech phones and televisions to spy on people worldwide, according to an explosive WikiLeaks publication of purported internal CIA documents on Tuesday.

To hide its operations, the CIA routinely adopted hacking techniques that enabled them to appear as if they were hackers in Russia, WikiLeaks said.  WikiLeaks also claimed that nearly all of the CIA’s arsenal of privacy-crushing cyberweapons have been stolen, and the tools are potentially in the hands of criminals and foreign spies.  WikiLeaks claimed the stolen tools ended up in the hands of “former U.S. government hackers and contractors… one of whom” leaked documents to WikiLeaks.

U.S. Rep. Ted Lieu of California called for an immediate congressional investigation.  “I am deeply disturbed by the allegation that the CIA lost its arsenal of hacking tools. The ramifications could be devastating,” he said in a statement. “”We need to know if the CIA lost control of its hacking tools, who may have those tools, and how do we now protect the privacy of Americans.”  “The potential privacy concerns are mind-boggling,” he said.  

WikiLeaks said it published the documents to show the potentially hazardous ramifications of the CIA’s covert hacking program — and the massive theft of those tools.  “There is an extreme proliferation risk in the development of cyber ‘weapons,'” said WikiLeaks editor Julian Assange in a statement.  WikiLeaks, an outfit that believes in transparency, backed up the claims by publishing a massive trove of what it says are secret CIA documents. It calls the collection “Year Zero,” and it consists of 8,761 documents and files.  

The CIA, citing standing policy, declined to say whether the published documents are genuine.  “We do not comment on the authenticity or content of purported intelligence documents,” said CIA spokeswoman Heather Fritz Horniak.  

Shocking claims 

WikiLeaks portrays the CIA as a powerful hacking organization that has managed to infiltrate common personal devices — with the power to spy on nearly everybody’s personal lives.  

CIA frames other hackers: The CIA rules say that its hackers must use cyberweapons in a way that can’t get traced back to the “CIA, U.S. government, or its witting partner companies,” according to WikiLeaks.  After a person, company or government gets hacked, cybersecurity experts worldwide are typically hired to conduct reviews. These reviews of tools and techniques usually allow someone to identify the attacker.  WikiLeaks said there’s an entire department within the CIA whose job it is to “misdirect attribution by leaving behind the ‘fingerprints'” of others, such as hackers in Russia.  

Cybersecurity experts have repeatedly warned against the tendency to quickly blame a nation for a particular hack. This revelation could lend further credence to those, like President Trump, who doubt whether Russia did indeed hack the Democrats in an attempt to sway the recent American election.  

Phones, TVs spy on you: A team within the CIA developed spy software that infects Samsung smart TVs — placing televisions on a “fake-off” mode that still listens to conversations and sends them back to American spies, WikiLeaks claimed. The program, called “Weeping Angel,” was created with the help of the British spying agency MI5, it said.  WikiLeaks reports that another team within the CIA built hacking tools that can remotely control iPhones, iPads and Android devices — secretly taking video from the camera, listening with the microphone, and tracking your location.  

In the past, consumers have been warned that Samsung TVs were eavesdropping on private conversations — with the microphones implanted into the TV.  CNN has also reported how the NSA can “turn on” your phone remotely. But it was not previously known that the CIA has a similar capability.  Apple and Samsung — whose products were mentioned by WikiLeaks — did not immediately provide comment to CNN. Google declined to comment. Microsoft said: “We’re aware of the report and are looking into it.”  

People who are careful about their privacy have resorted to encrypted apps to place phone calls and send text messages. The most common are Signal and WhatsApp.  WikiLeaks pointed out that if a phone is infected by the CIA, spies could potentially still monitor communications. Cybersecurity experts have long noted that an infected device should be considered “compromised.”  

It’s currently impossible for the average person to know if their phone, computer, or TV has been hacked by the CIA.  

Potential car hacking: WikiLeaks also claims that the CIA in October 2014 was exploring the possibility of infecting the internet-connected systems of modern cars. In the past, CNN has documented how car hacking is a real possibility. Cybersecurity experts have long suspected the U.S. government has developed this capability.  

U.S. consulate in Germany is a secret American hacking base, WikiLeaks says: Several U.S. State Department employees who work out of the consulate in Frankfurt, Germany are actually undercover CIA hackers who spy on Africa, Europe, and the Middle East, according to WikiLeaks.  

Proving the documents are real 

WikiLeaks has a long history of publishing authentic documents that have been stolen or leaked from government agencies, corporations and powerful individuals. However, this latest batch has not been authenticated by independent experts. CNN is reviewing the material.  

In its statement on Tuesday, WikiLeaks said it withheld immediately publishing technical details about the malware allegedly used by CIA to prevent it from dispersing online. However, if and when those technical details are made public, computer experts could use them to track CIA hacking activity.  For example, cybersecurity researchers can pull together new information on alleged CIA hacking techniques and compare it with existing evidence of past cyberattacks. It’s an effort that could potentially prove whether the CIA hacked a specific person, company or government. 

CNN’s Ryan Browne contributed to this story.
CNNMoney (New York) First published March 7, 2017: 2:26 PM ET

How Trump will End Protests

jobs-and-protestsCNBC Feb 20, 2017 (article)

Subtitle: Negative effects in economic protest movements

Introduction & Thesis

I have long noted an anecdotal correlation between unemployment and countries that have a lot of protests of one kind or another.  Researchers have asked this question, but results are complicated because several factors influence protests (Kerbo & Shaffer, 1986). In 2011 The Economist noted (article) the dramatic increase in protests in developed economies, e.g. Occupy Wall Street in the US, and in Europe anti-austerity protests.

Anti-austerity protests attracted on average 60 times more protestors than anti-war protests, according to The Economist.  The large participation in economic protest movements might, we conjecture, lead to corresponding amplification in any negative effects.  Outright suppression of protests is not considered by this article.  We are looking for natural and indirect effects.

The objective will be to classify, understand, and show examples using existing data, to support our thesis that economic protests have a tendency to either undo themselves without actually accomplishing their stated goals, or generate a backlash that makes the original complaint worse.  For example, protestor sentiment could change, government policy could be aimed at supporting factors rather than the objective per se of the protests, and the government could be changed having an effect that produced consequential changes (which might include outright suppression in the end, but our analysis stops with the unfavorable change of government, not a critique of the policies).

Historical Data Analysis

The Economist finds a 1% increase in GDP decreases large protests by 0.4 events, but a 1% decrease in government budgets increases protests by about 1 event, or twice the sensitivity of general economic conditions.  On the face of it, austerity policies seem to be the trigger.  But austerity is a response to a declining economy, and may only be a trigger.

Walker & Mann in 1987 studied two orientations that might lead to protest formation:

  1. Egoistic relative deprivation – perceived gap between personal expectations and attainments.
  2. Fraternalistic relative deprivation – gap between “ingroup” and “outgroup” expectations and attainments, i.e. whether certain social groups, be they simply non-elite workers, ethnic groups, immigrant vs non-immigrant, our nation vs other nations, etc. felt left behind.

Fraternalist relative deprivation was found to be more important.  One may suppose that people resort to collective action (e.g. protest) primarily in response to perceived collective harm.  After all, if only one person is out of a job, who is he going to get to protest with him or her?  But if he is a member of a group who perceives his or her plight as actually or potentially a slight on the group, they may join the cause.  The actual protestors may not even be the ones most grievously harmed.  This is especially evident when protests are on behalf of someone already dead or incarcerated or deported.

But the situation is neither static nor necessarily favorable to the protestors.  Successful movements like women’s suffrage (right to vote) and civil rights may be deceptively inspirational and not reflect the actual potential for success. Economic protests involve negative feedback over the long or short term.

Specific movement categorization and analysis

Examples of protest movement negative results:

  • Decades of a successful labor movement, promoting unionization and collective bargaining, resulted in migration of jobs to states with right-to-work laws, and to countries outright abusive of labor, even employing child or prison labor.  The effect even became obvious to workers, and on Feburary 15th workers at a Boeing South Carolina plant turned down a unionization proposal (article Washington Post) just days before a scheduled Trump visit.
  • The Arab Spring was triggered by a Tunisian man immolating himself, declaring “I just want to work.”  Four years later, unemployment among youth is higher in many of those countries, including Tunisia, where many reforms were initiated and the government changed.  (article, see table 2)
  • The Euromaidan (Ukrainian revolution of 2014) – Removal of a corrupt government and institution of reforms led to a still-unresolved civil war, over 9,000 deaths, worsening of the financial and economic conditions in Ukraine, and seemingly permanent loss of about a quarter of the country’s territory.
  • Communist revolutions generally.

The Euromaidan fits nicely with the theory of Walker and Mann.  Ethnic Russians, who are acutely aware of being hated by Ukrainians (I experienced this personally when speaking Russian in west Ukraine during a 2011 trip, and when I switched to English I was treated much better), felt threatened by laws excluding the use of their language in certain instances, and rhetoric of neo-Nazi factions even if they weren’t a majority.  The fraternally-Russian group was rapidly losing access to political (and one would presume as a consequence economic) power that they once took for granted.  However, their current situation is arguably worse.

It is not so obvious how the Arab Spring is fraternal, but I have several suggestions.  In Tunisia, the previous reference suggests youth vs. others are the two groups.  In Egypt, it was the Muslim Brotherhood vs. secularists.  In Syria it was the Shia Muslims vs. the Alawites and Christians.  Alawites believe in the Trinity, which Mohammad specifically condemned, calling it “a thing most monstrous“.  As the Alawites are (were) in complete control of the government, the majority Shia Muslims felt any economic problems they might have, which were worsening rapidly after the 2008-9 financial crisis (even though there were no bundles of Syrian mortgages, western markets for Middle Eastern goods took a nose dive).  So the fraternal basis was there.

With regard to our conjectured classification of feedback that makes the original complaint worse, it seems the most striking examples are where the protest has escalated to violence provoking a strong reaction from an outgroup (e.g. Syria) or violence directly destroying economic activity (Libya).  In Egypt there were two government changes, the second one “returning” to oppression, and clearly endorsed by a different fraternal class (secular groups, even if they are merely secular Islam).

Both the Euromaidan and Arab Spring are economic protests, even though racial and economic factors underlay them.  Clearly there are fraternal factors, ethnic and religious.

Likewise the labor movement is economic.  The fraternal aspect may be working class vs. capital class, echoing the motivational ideology of many communist revolutions of the early 20th century, all but a couple of which have now been undone.

We tentatively confirm Walker and Mann’s thesis.  However the economic protests particularly, and others in some instances, had a destructive feedback (negative in the sense of the opposite of the protest objective) specifically on the conditions instigating the protest – unemployment in the case of economic protests.

In most of the cases above, with fraternal basis, the protest itself and its immediate consequences diminished the opportunities for a different group, and so the back reaction was swift, taking only three or four years.  In these cases the fortunes of the protesting group may never rise at all, or only very briefly.

In the case of the labor movement, the protest group experienced rising fortunes over many years.  To the extent unions predominated, the “other” significant fraternal groups were management and consumers.  As long as the standard of living was rising and collective bargaining nearly universal, there wasn’t a specific group harmed as a result, and so the motivation for counter-protest was not supported by the stronger fraternal basis, and was largely individual.  At first as trade and outsourcing grew, the number of people impacted was small and did not gain a fraternal basis.  But as the percentage of companies engaging in such practices grew, a fraternal basis grew in several dimensions: those unemployed for related causes, those employed who had repudiated collective bargaining, etc.

The constituency of immigrant groups

In the article associated with the lead photo above, workers at many companies were fired after participating in the “A Day Without Immigrants” protest.  Participation in the protest was not given as a reason for any of them, and likely was not or at least would not have been discovered without absence from work.  If the protestors had been unemployed, they would not have experienced a negative impact so immediately.  But one could say that prior reform such as the Reagan amnesty (widely criticized at the time for this potential) encouraged and enabled both illegal immigration and the employment of immigrants (which was a specific objective of the reform).  The long-term result is now an anti-immigrant political movement with power over both houses of Congress and the Executive Branch, and possibly soon the Supreme Court.

News articles have not reported the legal status of workers participating in “A Day Without Immigrants.”  Based on some protest slogans and interviews, it seems that a group has arisen which does not view legal and illegal immigrants as different groups.  For example the slogan “no human is illegal.”  This is counter-intuitive to political factions that wish to enforce immigration law.  They do not understand why a legal immigrant identifies with illegals, and assume illegals take jobs from legals.  But immigrants who were initially illegal or who have relatives or friends that are illegal have a stronger binding force (self, family) than legal status.  So employed, and in many cases we assume legal, immigrants took part in the protest.  Everyone in America is an immigrant, even the Native Americans who came from Asia.  it is a question of when and under what status.  One could suppose an ethnic bias, but there is no data for it (previous ethnically different groups were at first opposed due to ethnicity and later accepted – so the current situation may be in line with historical norms).  And some of the business owners who have fired workers are members of the same ethnic group (see video in lead photo reference).


The Trump administration has promised to increase jobs and deport illegal immigrants (especially those considered criminal or seditious).  Increasing jobs will increase jobs for immigrants as well, decreasing any threat they may not feel based on rhetoric.  Those who have lost jobs following the current event will, if they find new jobs, likely be deterred from further protest.  This could be a greater deterrence if it does not receive the attention most protests need (so far just the one article, which is fairly low key).

Deporting dangerous illegals, who are more likely to have no job and be available for and motivated for participation in protests, will directly decrease the fraternal constituency of the protesters.  In our estimation, loss of protestor jobs creates a split in the immigrant fraternity between the employed and unemployed, with a negative “personal expectations and attainments” motivation for participation in protests for the employed, likely the larger group.  Diverse small businesses do not make a good target for protests as there are too many of them and not a single point of influence.

Therefore IF Trump is successful, even partly, in either of both of the objectives of deportations and employment, indirect factors will fragment and reduce the size of the fraternal group motivated to protest.  I project that protests will peak in the first year of the Trump administration, and gradually decline in proportion to policies, one of which (employment) is not directly related to the perceived cause.  As the current fraternal group experiences a negative impact from protest participation, the actual impact will weigh against the perceived impact of group identification which includes either illegal immigrants or banned immigrant populations.  The problem of exclusion of legal immigrants who were swept up in the ban will likely be fixed, in order to get the ban reinstated, and as the ban is only for 90 days, that issue will go away on its on.

Side Note: The explicit right to protest?  And limits on freedom of religion.

It is interesting that many protest participants either did not call in to report their absence (which was in some cases grounds for firing), or reported their genuine reason (to participate in a protest).  Traditionally in the U.S., protests are conducted via “sick outs” in which employees call in sick, technically not violating their employment agreements.  It seems this omission was deliberate.  There is an element of suggesting protestors have the right to change government policy and even overturn elections by process of protest.  The U.S. constitution does not contain any such right.  Specifically the first amendment says:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

Thursday’s protest was not a petition to the government, nor was it assembly, nor were any speeches given, so it was not in any way protected.  The first amendment generally constrains only Congress.  It does NOT constrain the President or the executive branch generally.  Thus an order could be given to put a specific religious group in concentration camps, as were the Japanese in the US during WWII.  Nor does it constrain employers or state governments.  It appears from a strict reading state governments and the President could do all sorts of things that were prohibited to Congress.  The Executive Orders might likely be restricted.  But it is hard to see how state governments are restricted by the first amendment.  Islam could be banned state by state, or city by city, etc.

Price of Oil & Oil Stocks 2017

In addition to oil prices, this post contains some insight into stock prices before and after dividends are paid, which if you aren’t aware of it, might cause unnecessary consternation.


BP paid a 60 cent dividend based on shares held close of business Tuesday.  Therefore it opened Wednesday morning exactly 60 cents lower, because as of that moment shares bought did not have the right to the dividend.  There was no news or other reason for this gap down, and it is normal.  If you would rather have capital gains than dividends, in theory, you can buy it this week and sell it just before the next dividend.  Of course, other factors may intervene.  As of Friday afternoon, it has drifted down a bit further and the yield is now again over 7%, at which point I have usually accumulated the stock.  Occasionally there is company-specific news, but mostly it moves with the price of oil


Above is the price of oil over the last 5 days.  It really hasn’t done much.  It is maybe 50 cents lower than Monday morning, which is only 1%.  It has generally been in this range for months.  Does anyone know what it will do?  Absolutely not.  Opinions are all over the map, from crash to rise.  I believe neither, but as it is a game of guessing what other people will do, I will give you some considerations I’ve come up with after watching for several months, and you can make your own guess.  Here they are…

  1. OPEC and other producers have tolerated low prices as long as they can without losing control of their populations.  It will take time to replenish cash supplies.
  2. If OPEC wants to continue the strategy of bankrupting US shale producers, they will have to allow the US producers to ramp up and get much farther in debt than they are now.  This will take time and reasonable prices.
  3. OPEC eventually does what they are talking about, as they did when lowering prices.  All of the “talk” now is consistently about raising prices, and further/deeper cuts if necessary.

So, while it may be necessary for OPEC to revert to a price war, because of the above three considerations I do not think it is in the cards before 2018 at the earliest.  By that time the question could be overtaken by other developments we don’t foresee now, such as uptick or decline in the world economy, etc.

Islam vs. Religious Freedom

Is this true?


One argument against Trump’s immigration ban is that it might be a “Muslim ban.”  This morning Virginia inserted an argument into the ongoing case equating a Muslim ban with segregation.  My approach is different.

I asked a friend at lunch yesterday if Islam was legal under American law, or prohibited because the Quran (sometimes spelled Koran) advocates violence?  My friend surprisingly suggested that such a question cannot be investigated because authoritative translations of the Quran cannot be identified by those outside the Muslim community, especially online, in the era of fake news, etc.

Methodology & Sources

My friend’s position is that of the ostrich.  “The facts might be unpleasant so I won’t look at them.”  My approach is to investigate to the best of our ability, whatever that is.  Let us choose the most Islam-friendly sources we can find and make them known and open to critique:

  1. https://quran.com/ – Appears to be maintained by sincere Islamists, and provides Arabic original for comparison by those able to read it.
  2. http://www.clearquran.com/ – A fresh English translation by American educated electrical engineer and resident and converted Muslim, Talal Itani.

Then from various hostile sources, taken section by section below, we will identify the supposed offensive commands and cross reference them to the friendly sources 1 & 2 and see if the interpretation holds up.

During the course we will consider friendly defenses of the verses.  Actually we found only one of these, defending one verse, but it might apply more broadly and has an interesting relation to violent-advocacy verses in the Old Testament (O.T.).

This is not a comparison of religions.  There is plenty of violence in the O.T. (e.g. Deuteronomy 7:16), with the Hebrews being urged to exterminate the Canaanites.  There is even child sacrifice seemingly rewarded by God (Judges 11), and commands to stone non-believers (Deuteronomy 15:5).  Christians are told “he who is without sin cast the first stone” (John 8:7) and generally the Deuteronomic law is replaced by tolerance and forgiveness.  Jewish legalists both now and in ancient times carefully interpreted harsh laws as impossible because the preconditions could not be met (example of the rebellious son).  There exists Jewish terrorism (Wiki reference) but it is generally not linked to violent scripture.  It could be considered linked to land gifts in scripture.  Such claims are a matter of international law and diplomacy, however, not of U.S. legal code, and are to some degree at least opposed by U.N. resolutions against settlements.  (However, that suggests that comparable U.N. resolutions might be directed at Islam.)

Some sources claim “nearly all” O.T. injunctions are time limited (reference), but our examples refute that.  Trying to compare religions results in a sidetracked discussion.  The violent verses of the O.T. have never been cited by Jewish terrorists.  Christian terrorists either cite only political grievances (e.g. the IRA) or extremely vague scripture (e.g. Rev. Paul Hill, an abortion doctor assassin, quotes Psalms 91: “You will not be afraid of the terror by night, or of the arrow that flies by day.”  It does not seem possible to make a case for illegality of that scripture under the U.S. legal code.

Islamic terrorists themselves claim their acts are supported by the Quran, so on the face of it we could take them at their word, except that political leaders such as George Bush have denied it is a fundamental character of Islam (press release 9/17/2001, analysis).  My question here is more narrowly whether the claims of the Islamic terrorists that they were influenced to action by the Quran are supportable to the extent that the Quran could be considered to have substantially contributed and constitute illegal material in the manner of incitement to violence (18 U.S. Code § 2102) or advocacy of overthrow of the government (18 U.S. Code § 2385), which are illegal under U.S. law.

The Religion of Peace (TROP)

Our first hostile source, with a sarcastic title, claims to be a “fact-based site which examines the ideological threat that Islam poses to human dignity and freedom.”  It lists monthly terrorist attack statistics (which are daunting), and admonishes readers not to engage in similar tactics themselves, saying the site: “strongly condemns any attempt to harm or harass any Muslim anywhere in the world over their religion.  Every human is entitled to be treated as an individual and judged only by his or her own words and deeds.”  However, it makes the common error of assuming all O.T. incitements are time-limited.

TROP says “The Quran contains at least 109 verses that call Muslims to war with nonbelievers for the sake of Islamic rule.”  Obviously we’ll only look at a few.  One of the most often cited because of its dramatic form is Quran 9:5, from our friendly sources:

  1. And when the sacred months have passed, then kill the polytheists wherever you find them and capture them and besiege them and sit in wait for them at every place of ambush. But if they should repent, establish prayer, and give zakah, let them [go] on their way. Indeed, Allah is Forgiving and Merciful.
  2. When the Sacred Months have passed, kill the polytheists wherever you find them. And capture them, and besiege them, and lie in wait for them at every ambush. But if they repent, and perform the prayers, and pay the alms, then let them go their way. God is Most Forgiving, Most Merciful.

I listed this one first because it is the one for which we have a rebuttal from Kabir Helminski (article in Huffington Post).  The rebuttal follows:

  • This was a guidance to the Prophet at that specific time to fight those idolaters who, as 9:4 mentions, violated their treaty obligations and helped others fight against the Muslims. It is not a general command to attack all non-Muslims, and it has never signified this to the overwhelming majority of Muslims throughout history. Had it been so, then every year, after the “sacred months are past,” (The “sacred months” are four months out of the year during which fighting is not allowed) history would have witnessed Muslims attacking every non-Muslim in sight. This yearly slaughter never occurred. Though the present verse is only one example, none of the Quranic verses that mention fighting justify aggression nor propose attacking anyone because of their religious beliefs. Nor were forced conversions recognized as valid under Islamic law.

Helminski does generalize his rebuttal to basically all other verses.  This is too general and cannot be accepted without question.  We might, however, examine them for ourselves, and we will.  We will also compare what TROP says about this verse:

  • According to this verse, the best way of staying safe from Muslim violence at the time of Muhammad was to convert to Islam: prayer (salat) and the poor tax (zakat) are among the religion’s Five Pillars. The popular claim that the Quran only inspires violence within the context of self-defense is seriously challenged by this passage as well, since the Muslims to whom it was written were obviously not under attack. Had they been, then there would have been no waiting period (earlier verses make it a duty for Muslims to fight in self-defense, even during the sacred months). The historical context is Mecca after the idolaters were subjugated by Muhammad and posed no threat. Once the Muslims had power, they violently evicted those unbelievers who would not convert.

    [Note: The verse says to fight unbelievers “wherever you find them”. Even if the context is in a time of battle (which it was not) the reading appears to sanction attacks against those “unbelievers” who are not on the battlefield. In 2016, the Islamic State referred to this verse in urging the faithful to commit terror attacks: Allah did not only command the ‘fighting’ of disbelievers, as if to say He only wants us to conduct frontline operations against them. Rather, He has also ordered that they be slain wherever they may be – on or off the battlefield.]

It seems to me from internal evidence in the text (the waiting period, and “wherever you find them,”) that TROP carries the day and Helminski’s defense is inadequate.  You, of course will make up your own mind, or already have.

I am greatly disappointed at not finding more elaborate defenses from the Islamists themselves.  It was so trivially easy, by comparison, to find Jewish analyses of violent verses which didn’t just excuse them as historically constrained, but vanquished them to the realm of the hypothetical with intricate and seemingly impenetrable argumentation.  (Not so much on the land verses, unfortunately.)  If Islam wants to be taken at least as seriously as the Jews, let them come forward with the point by point defense of comparable intensity and logical focus.  Some of this may be cultural disparity.  Jews tend to have higher verbal IQ (with an average as high as 125, reference) than spatial IQ.  By comparison the average Muslim IQ is 81 (reference, which has been used in Britain as a terrorist defense, reference).  So we shouldn’t demand subtlety or a high degree of abstraction from the Quran.  The straightforward meaning should be taken, as that is what will be taken by its audience.

Let’s take two more examples from TROP which illustrate certain points, beginning with the “terror verse,” Quran 8:12:

  1. [Remember] when your Lord inspired to the angels, “I am with you, so strengthen those who have believed. I will cast terror into the hearts of those who disbelieved, so strike [them] upon the necks and strike from them every fingertip.”
  2. Your Lord inspired the angels: “I am with you, so support those who believe. I will cast terror into the hearts of those who disbelieve. So strike above the necks, and strike off every fingertip of theirs.”

The point here is use of the word “terror” in the Quran, as a divine objective, along with the apparent command to followers to lop off heads (strike above the neck) and perform other mutilations associated with kidnapper-style terrorism (striking off fingertips).  You can imagine a defense of this verse possibly, and if you do, then read what TROP says about it.  Now we consider the “fighting verse,” Quran 2:216:

  1. Fighting has been enjoined upon you while it is hateful to you. But perhaps you hate a thing and it is good for you; and perhaps you love a thing and it is bad for you. And Allah Knows, while you know not.
  2. Fighting is ordained for you, even though you dislike it. But it may be that you dislike something while it is good for you, and it may be that you like something while it is bad for you. God knows, and you do not know.

TROP points out Mohammad was urging his followers to rob caravans.  But apparently the idea that war was an essential part of Islam stuck.

164 Jihad Verses in the Koran (Yoel Natan)

Natan does not give as much commentary as TROP, and some of his interpretations do not hold up, but as the subject is Jihad rather than violence generally.  Indirectly from Natan I realized that the entire chapter 8 is instructions regarding the spoils of war (or raiding).  For brevity, I will now use only friendly source 2, as it does seem so far to have the clearest English and not to materially differ from source 1.  In the context of discussion of the spoils of war, 8:12 considered above can only be taken literally!

10 Violent Koran Verses and the Terror They Spawned (Taki’s Magazine)

Gavin McInnes in a January 2016 article (linked above) gives more examples of “baby bashing” verses in the Bible, and points out the Quran is not the only reason the Middle East is turning back to barbarism while the West has been turning away for at least 500 years.  But it is a significant one:

  • 9:29: Fight those who do not believe in God, nor in the Last Day, nor forbid what God and His Messenger have forbidden, nor abide by the religion of truth—from among those who received the Scripture—until they pay the due tax, willingly or unwillingly.

That seems pretty clear.  And it’s hard not to notice the very next verse which pretty much clarifies how Mohammad feels about Christians and Jews:

  • 9:30: The Jews said, “Ezra is the son of God,” and the Christians said, “The Messiah is the son of God.” These are their statements, out of their mouths. They emulate the statements of those who blasphemed before. May God assail them! How deceived they are!

Citations from much later chapters show that Mohammad has not changed his mind about anything:

  • 47:4: When you encounter those who disbelieve, strike at their necks. Then, when you have routed them, bind them firmly. Then, either release them by grace, or by ransom, until war lays down its burdens. Had God willed, He could have defeated them Himself, but He thus tests some of you by means of others. As for those who are killed in the way of God, He will not let their deeds go to waste.

And finally, a glimpse at what Islam (and Mohammad) think is the proper treatment of women:

  • 4:34: Men are the protectors and maintainers of women, as God has given some of them an advantage over others, and because they spend out of their wealth. The good women are obedient, guarding what God would have them guard. As for those from whom you fear disloyalty, admonish them, and abandon them in their beds, then strike them. But if they obey you, seek no way against them. God is Sublime, Great.

By the ending of that paragraph, one would think abusing and striking women was “sublime”.

What does the Koran say about nonbelievers? (Freethought Nation)

So, we can find individual verses that say this or that, or the opposite of it (just as we can in the Bible) until we are blue in the face.  But what is the net balance?  According to Dr. Moorthy Muthuswamy, quoted in a September 2013 article in Freethought Nation by Acharya and Murdock (the citation is a bit unclear), 61% of the Quran speaks ill of unbelievers or calls for their violent conquest.  Only 2.6% of the verses show goodwill toward humanity.  And 75% of Mohammad’s biography consists of Jihad waged on unbelievers.

Based on the material I discarded from the above sources (which I did not go through in this article), some percentage of hostile sources may be in error about specific Quran verses.  Perhaps as much as half, unless one discounts completely the more egregious sources.  In the interest of conservative estimation, let’s use the figure of half, and throw out half of Muthuswamy’s verses.  We still have 30% of the Quran railing against unbelievers and 37% of Mohammad’s life waging war on them.  With similar generosity we might suppose an optimistic investigator could find 5% of the Quran to be positive toward humanity.

Conclusion & Precedent

We do not seem to have produced an exoneration of the Quran.  In fact, if this were a Grand Jury, we probably have enough evidence to recommend indictment under the two articles of U.S. code previously cited.  There is a good bit of evidence of incitement to individual violence, and since it is organized in some cases as incitements to organized warfare, as one would conduct against state entities, and as the constitution of the U.S. protects the so-called unbelievers, then it implicitly advocates overthrow of our government.

Final determination would need to be made according to rules of evidence, with some representatives of Islam allowed to construct a point defense and cross examine witnesses.  Except that we do not have a way of prosecuting an idea in the courts, so it would presumably be handled by the more fuzzy legislative process.  Still, I would recommend a trial type exposition, in the format of a reality TV series, to frame the debate prior to legislative action.  It could probably be done with executive order, legally, but there is such a favorable opinion of Islam after George Bush’s 9/17/2011 statement about the “religion of peace” that that approach wouldn’t fly anymore than the executive order on immigration.  So, legislation it is.  In that case, forget the trial, let’s just cut them off at the border.

There is precedent, some good and some bad, for dealing with situations like this.  The best method is for the religious group themselves to identify and handle the problem.  The Mormons, for example, when they wanted Utah to become a state, did away with their divine revelations on polygamy (which I don’t find nearly as objectionable as LBGTQ marriage, but anyway).  Muslim Americans could define an American Islam which repudiates the verses necessary to comply with American law.  Then, of course, they would find themselves in Jihad with their overseas fellows.  How they solve that is their business.  But the border guards would be at their service in the common defense.  Let them fix some of the women’s issues with Islam while they are at it, and I’ll have no further objection.

The bad precedent, or at least it is assumed bad, is the Spanish Inquisition.  Ferdinand and Isabella did much more than fund Columbus.  After uniting most of Spain, they wished their citizens to be able to live in peace.  They invited first the Jews and then the Muslims to convert or leave, and established the Spanish Inquisition, initially headed by a converted Jew, to make sure the converted congregations weren’t continuing to practice their contentious religions in secret.  In order for it not to come to a matter of the thought police, which no one likes, I hope American Islamists will wise up and handle the problem like the Mormons did.  This circumvents the need for any legislation or government involvement at all, which is preferable when possible.