2014 in review


Thanks to all who have read some part of this blog in 2014. Though this isn’t a blockbuster website, traffic did quadruple from 2013, which itself quadrupled from 2012. There is now a fairly active Twitter account tied to the blog (@MackayUnspoken), and almost 300 people subscribe through WordPress.

More content in 2015. There’s still chaos in central Africa, eastern Ukraine, and the Rohingya areas of Myanmar. Mass protests have stalled in Hong Kong, while radical left-wing party are on the brink of seizing power in Greece and Spain. We still live in an age of austerity, growing inequity, and environmental disaster. There is so much more to write about, because so much lies beyond the scope of cable news and social media. Immense problems need radical solutions.

Take care, looking forward to all this.


Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 8,100 times in 2014. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 7 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Bad logic: the argument from secrecy

Democracy Now! published an interview with academic Stephen Cohen about the Malaysian Airlines plane that crashed in eastern Ukraine.

Across many subjects and over a long arc of time, the core argument used by Cohen is familiar. I consider it a fallacy of sorts, dubbed “argument from secrecy“. Cohen notes that there is unreleased information about the crash, held (or assumed to be held) by powerful groups. He states:

They’re sitting on satellite intercepts. They have the images. They won’t release the air controller’s conversations in Kiev with the doomed aircraft. Why not? Did the pilot say—let me speculate—”Oh, my god, we’re being fired on by a jet fighter next to us! What’s going on?” Because we know there were two Ukrainian jet fighters. We don’t know, but somebody knows.

Emphasis mine. He uses this absence of information to draw a conclusion that strongly butts against the most obvious answer and the information publicly available. What is clear from the interview is that he is, under the guise of just asking questions, stating that the airplane was shot down by the Ukrainian government, using a fighter jet. Note the switch in the middle from a lack of exculpatory evidence to speculation that nobody has confirmed, including say, the Russians who would have every reason to back that up.

I am not attacking Cohen here. Nor am I asserting that secrecy is a good thing. Above all, the issue is using secrecy as a bridge towards a conclusion advocated by the individual. While the crash in the Ukraine is still not adequately sketched out, what exists does not jive well with the assertion that it a) was shot down by a jet, and b) that the jet was Ukrainian.

This method of analysis is the backbone of a continuum of scenarios. Legitimate journalists invoke it, so do academics like Cohen, and the argument from secrecy is the cornerstone of conspiracy theories. Secret information is a sort of rhetorical spackle.

Post-9/11 legislation has contributed to a secrecy culture and a deep mistrust of government explanations, though as the half-century since JFK was assassinated it’s not a new development. The JFK documents archive is a classic example- the ongoing declassification project has been slow. Secrecy has put an obstacle in front of getting the truth nailed down. But the preponderance of evidence doesn’t point to what those that use the argument from secrecy think.

There is a limited amount of information to glean from secret (or alleged to be secret) information, obviously. But rational and skeptical personalities should not use the unknown to create whatever tea leaves they would like to see. Even when facts are elusive, the temptation to switch into speculation mode needs to be resisted.

The fires return in Ukraine

Fires in Kiev.
Credit: David Mdzinarishvili/Reuters

After a lull where dialogue between the Ukrainian government and opposition was conducted and some concessions were agreed upon, a government raid on Independence Square in Kiev kicked off the deadliest day in the months of protests.

It is increasingly apparent that the western part of the country is no longer in firm government control. Compared to a mostly quiet east, it shows for outsiders the divisions that exist, and how they come to a head in the capital.

Between the lines, priests stand defiant

Credit: Sergey Gris/AP
Credit: Sergey Gris/AP

Despite plans and motions to ban religious services outside of places of worship, priests continue to give spiritual counsel amidst the increasingly violence protests in the Ukraine.

Often priests put themselves in between the riot police and protestors, in order to stand against violence and promote a peaceful resolution. An Orthodox priest in full garb is a start contrast to the ash and grime of the two sides.

Some of the greatest modern protests and struggles have had clergy in their midst- in many cases they have been led by religious leaders.

As Kiev burns

Protesters in Kiev, 23 Jan
Protestors amid carnage in Kiev // Credit: BBC

The protests in the Ukraine are intensified and now have their first fatalities. Such conflict should not be a surprise- the Ukraine has struggled since its independence from the Soviet Union to determine whether it will align with Russia or with Europe. 

These protests are wide-ranging in scope and the groups that participate. Far-right groups, anti-corruption, those advocating a better democracy. What is clear is that the Ukrainian government led by President Viktor Yanukovych has lost a great deal of its legitimacy.

Spectacular photos of fireworks weaponry from the Ukraine protests
Protestors feed their smokescreen with burning tires. // Credit: Ilya Varlamov
Riot police form a shield formation while attempting to disperse protestors. // Credit: REUTERS/Maks Levin


Resistance in 2013: Gezi Park

A protester in Gezi Park, Istanbul. June 1st, 2013. Credit: Daniel Etter

2013 was marked by mass actions in Turkey, Chile, Thailand, Cambodia, the Ukraine and many others. Egypt saw street protests become more divided and conflicting, as politically it began to grapple with what a post-Mubarak society should look like.

Gezi Park was a great example of how mass resistance can arise and turn a small, local dispute into a large scale response to national politics. Sometimes all there needs to be is an outlet, a location to rally around- the passion and anger is already there.

Photo is by Daniel Etter, who has done a whole series of photos around the Gezi conflict.

Donate some money towards nonviolent struggle

So we’re at the end of 2013, and it’s that period where most people sort out their pledges and donations. Personally I don’t have a lot of money, but I try to support Doctors Without Borders and the American Friends Service Committee, as well as the local Unitarian Universalist congregation.

But I’d like to make a pitch for the Albert Einstein Institution , a tiny non-profit based in Boston that serves to create and publish works about nonviolent forms of struggle. Gene Sharp, the founder and main author, is best known for the pamphlet From Dictatorship to Democracy, written for Burmese rebels at their request. It’s been translated into at least 34 other languages and played a role in nonviolent revolutions in Serbia, the Ukraine, and Egypt. Much what has been published is available for free online.

Sharp has gained quite a bit of recognition since the Arab Spring, in both news outlets and from NGOs and other organizations. He has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize three times, and last year won the Right Livelihood Award, an alternative to the Nobel. His work was the subject of a 2011 documentary, How to Start a Revolution (available online here).

Let’s get to the point. If you’re in the situation where you have moral or practical opposition to both pure pacifism and violent revolution, Gene Sharp is the most important person to examine and propose an alternative. As he says, nonviolent struggle is combat, just using weapons beyond guns and bombs. And it works.

The Albert Einstein Institution is run on a shoestring- it presently lists five employees and operates out of Sharp’s house. The time-intensive work they do is then published for free, and they do not collect royalties. But if there is hope for a world filled with democratic societies, in which the revolution does not in time become the dictatorship, then nonviolent struggle is the path that needs to be taken. And there needs to be a guide. The Albert Einstein Institution writes these guides, refines them, improves them. Give them some money.

You can through PayPal on the front page of their website.

In the midst of history

Several years ago, in the summer before I started high school, I attended an academic summer program for gifted children. It was a collection of the best my generation had to offer- a collection of pure genius from all around the world.

There were many different classes one could take. Over the previous year, I had moved away from math and science, and became interested in politics and writing- if you read what I wrote at 13 from what I wrote at 14, the change in quality is substantial. I chose a global politics class, taught by an eccentric instructor, Karl, who specialized in the Caucasus, and before this class had spent a semester teaching in Baku, Azerbaijan.

Great discussions were the norm- things from globalization to weapons proliferation, the bloodbath in Chechnya and the stalemate in Israel/Palestine.

What truly touched me, and fills me with deep emotion, is a short video shot by Karl himself. It’s not on the Internet and I assume relatively few people have ever watched it. Simply put, it is history unfolding.

Continue reading “In the midst of history”