The Roots of Terrorism

It seems like every week there is a new tragedy, a new attack that kills people senselessly.  One of the things that got me about the Boston Marathon bombing was, was this terrorism? There are many different definitions of terrorism, but the FBI defines it as “the unlawful use of force and violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives”.

I really was curious about why the marathon bombing was immediately defined as a terrorist attack, but not the shooting at Oak Creek.  Clearly, if the perpetrator is Muslim, it has to be terrorism, according to the media.  But is terrorism exclusively the domain of Muslims?  If a suspect of an attack is Muslim, does that immediately mean he/she is a terrorist?  Why can’t they just be a regular lunatic, like white people are afforded to be?

I decided to get at the data on terrorism in the last 12 years to see if there were any trends that might give some insight or perspective on why terrorism happens.  One of the first things I wanted to examine was the relationship between Islam and terrorism.  I should point out that I’m aware that there is a difference between normal followers of a religion and the perpetrators of crimes under that religious banner.

Before I show the data, some clarification of my methods (since people complained about it before).  So, I took all bombings and armed assaults from the Global Terrorism Database from 2001-2011 that met the following criteria:

  1. There must be evidence of an intention to coerce, intimidate, or convey some other message to a larger audience (or audiences) than the immediate victims.
  2. The action must be outside the context of legitimate warfare activities, i.e. the act must be outside the parameters permitted by international humanitarian law (particularly the admonition against deliberately targeting civilians or non-combatants).

Basically, the attacks cannot be associated with a war (though may be in a wartime setting), and must be with the intent to create “terror” in a broader context, not just among the victims of an attack.  So, school shootings in the US and the Norway attacks are not considered terrorism, as they are more isolated acts without a deeper political motivation.  Of these incidents, I counted the number of incidents and casualties that were ascribed to specific terrorist organizations (e.g. Al-Qaeda, Tamil Tigers, Eta, FARC).

TerroristAttribution CasualtyAttribution

I grouped terrorist organizations into groups, based upon shared ideology behind formation of that terrorist organization.  These groups are defined as “Islam-related” (meaning that the terms “al-“, “Islam”, and “Mujahadeen” appeared in the name of the group), Marxist-related (the terms “Red”, “Marx”, or “Communist” appeared in the name), or Freedom Group (meaning the terms “Freedom”, “Liberation”, or “Army” appeared in the name).  Obviously, there was some overlap, such as the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (who can affectionately be referred to as MILF), but the precedence of grouping went from left to right.  So, MILF is an Islam-related group, not a Freedom Group, along with being a popular genre of pornography.

What’s interesting about those graphs is that there are almost as many Freedom groups as there are Islamic groups, and there is no significant difference in the number of terrorist attacks among Islamic groups, Marxist groups, and Freedom groups.  However, there is a significant difference in the number of people hurt or killed in Islamic terrorist attacks compared to Marxists or Freedom group attacks.  So, while Islamic groups are no more prevalent than other groups of terrorists, they are the most efficient at killing people.

Even though I artificially grouped the terrorist organizations, there were three clear major influences on forming an organization: Islam, Marxism, and Freedom.  It seems unlikely that becoming Muslim, Communist, or pro-Liberty is the cause of terrorism, as these types of people exist in most countries without terrorism.  So, it is more likely that some other set of factors promotes the creation of terrorists using Islam, Marxism, or Liberty as a tool for conversion.

So, what are the factors that make people Islamists, Marxists, or Revolutionaries?

Studies have shown that education or wealth are not strong predictors on whether someone becomes a terrorist.  In fact, it appears that most terrorists are middle-class and well-educated, which makes sense, as there’s nothing more entitled and selfish than trying to kill people to prove a point.  So, if poverty and education aren’t responsible, what promotes terrorism?

I assumed that the underlying cause of terrorism is one of personal unhappiness.  People must have given up all hope to kill people to affect change rather than using non-violent means.  Fortunately, the Legatum Institute, releases a yearly “Happiness” index.  It scores prosperity in countries based upon 8 subcategories:

  • Economy
  • Entrepreneurship and Opportunity
  • Governance
  • Education
  • Health
  • Safety and Security
  • Personal Freedom
  • Social Capital

I wanted to see if there was any correlation between terrorism and the 8 metrics of the Legatum index, in hopes of identifying certain factors that are responsible for increased terrorism in a country.  If you’re observant and wondering why the X-axis is numbered strangely, I had to plot the log of the number of attacks against the subcategory index score because the sheer number of attacks in Iraq were so much higher than any other country (~4000 in Iraq compared to an average of 70 for all other countries).


After doing this, I found that there were only two relationships that were correlative, and both of them had a negative relationship: safety and security, and personal freedom.  Safety and security was a very strong relationship (p<0.01), most likely because number of terrorist attacks plays an important part in the calculation of safety and security in a country.  What is interesting is that there is a slight (but significant) correlation between personal freedom and number of terrorist attacks. The more a country values freedom of choice, expression, movement, and belief, the less likely a terrorist attack will occur there.  Societies that promote strong civil rights and individual freedoms have less terrorism.

So, I decided to look at the same index on a religious basis, by comparing the proportion of certain religions in a country against the Legatum Index.


Interestingly, there were extremely strong correlations (p<0.0001) when comparing a country’s Muslim population against 6 of the 8 Legatum subcategories.  The other 2 categories, Social Capital and Economy, were still quite significant, but had a weaker relationship (p<0.005).  It’s worth mentioning that all 8 showed a negative correlation between a country’s Muslim population and their “happiness”.  It’s hard to infer causality from correlations, but if you did, one of two possibilities exist: either Islam makes societies unhappy, or unhappy societies are more likely to become Muslim.

Meanwhile, there wasn’t a strong correlation between a country’s population and percentage that are Christian, with the exception of Education (p<0.005) and Personal Freedom (p<0.0001).  And there is no significant correlation to Hindu or Buddhist populations and any of the happiness scores (presumably because the numbers are so small).

I do think it’s interesting that relationships between Christianity and Islam compared to Personal Freedom go in similar, yet opposite, directions.  The more personal freedom a country has, the larger the Christian population, and the smaller the Muslim population.  Again, it’s unclear whether there is a causal effect of religion on the demand for personal freedoms, but it is clear that there is a strong and significant relationship between religion and personal freedoms.


Lastly, to try and get at what were the causes of terrorism, I decided to look at timelines of a few countries to try and identify potential trends that lead to terrorism.  I looked at 6 countries that experienced terrorism to varying degrees and tried to identify possible causes for changes in the amounts of terrorism seen in these countries.  These countries were:

  • Iraq – If we compare a 12 year window prior to 2003, there were a total of 76 terrorist attacks killing 295 people, and injuring 470.  After the Iraq invasion by the US in 2003, there have been 3,745 attacks that have killed and injured over 25,000 people (again, using the strictly defined criteria for terrorism I used before).  Interestingly, when you look at the announcement of a planned US troop withdrawal in 2008, the number of attacks decreased.
  • Sri Lanka – Since 1983, Sri Lanka has intermittently been engaged in a civil war, with a revolutionary organization (the Tamil Tigers) fighting for independence of the ethnic Tamil minority.  So, identifying what is responsible for increased terrorism is difficult.  One clear impetus for the observed rise in terrorism in 2004 would be the tsunami that ravaged the country.  International relief was not equally distributed between the Tamils and the majority Sinhalese population, which likely aggravated tensions leading to a rise in attacks after 2004.  Around 2008, the political leader of the Tamil Tiger movement, S. P. Tamilselvan, was killed, which began the dissolution of the resistance movement and led to a decrease in terrorism in the country.
  • Nigeria – Nigeria had been a relatively terrorist-free country until around 2005, when the Nigerian Oil Crisis served as a powder-keg for a rise in terrorist activity.  The years of unrest of an ethnically disenfranchised minority in the Nigerian delta, which was exploited by oil companies and the Nigerian government.  The conflict in Nigeria can be seen to be similar to that of Sri Lanka, with the rise and fall of the number of terrorist attacks coinciding with whether or not the leader of the Niger Delta independence movement (MEND), Henry Okah, was in prison or not.
  • Spain – Much like Nigeria and Sri Lanka, the number of attacks seen in Spain stem from a relationship that the Spanish government has with the minority Basque population.  Eta, the organization responsible for fighting for Basque independence, declared a ceasefire in 1998, which led to a decline in terrorist attacks until 2003, when the Spanish government banned Batasuna, the Basque Independence party, from elections. This temporarily increased attacks until a 2006 cease-fire was declared with Eta, which ended in 2008.  Terrorist attacks subsided in 2009, where the Basque regional parliament voted in the first non-nationalist government in 30 years, perhaps signaling a lack of support to the independence movement.
  • Thailand – Thailand also faced struggles handling its Muslim minority in the south, along with a harsh drug war that killed over 2500 people in 2003 followed by martial law imposition in 2004.  Instability of government along with corruption led to a military coup in 2006, and eventually a return to civilian rule in 2008.
  • Colombia – Colombia has had an ongoing civil war between a leftist paramilitary group called FARC.  In 2003, FARC announced that they would begin disarming which led to a decrease in attacks until 2007 peace talks failed that led to a rise in attacks.  In 2008, FARC leaders Raul Reyes and Manuel Marulanda both died, halting the FARC movement temporarily.  In 2009, FARC introduced Project Rebirth and began a widespread policy of attacking cities over the next two years.

Perhaps the biggest common thread among these 6 test cases is that terrorism stems from a disenfranchisement of a minority group.  This disenfranchisement leads to terrorism if the populations is particularly susceptible to Islamic, Marxist, or Revolutionary call to arms.  It appears the best approach to curbing terrorism is to either kill the figurehead(s) of prominent terrorist organizations or address the concerns of that disenfranchised minority.  As seen in Colombia, killing leadership only has a temporary effect on curbing terrorism.  However in Spain, Iraq, and Thailand, it appeared that improving democracy and removing the oppression leads to more permanent decreases in terrorism.

So, what does that mean for the US?  Do we have disenfranchised minorities?  Are we doing anything to address these issues, or are we just furthering their disenfranchisement?  I don’t really have an answer to these questions, but I think if we want to really fight a war on “terror”, we need to really understand what it is that we’re fighting.

State Gun Laws (or Lack Thereof)

I’ve been in Facebook feuds for the better part of the week with Libertarians, pro-gun supporters, and any other right-wing trolls willing to argue with me.  Of all their arguments that rankled most, it was when they say “States with the most draconian gun laws had the highest rate of gun crimes.”  This didn’t make any sense to me, as Ezra Klein had the exact opposite take in the Washington Post last week.

So, I tried to find out more information on gun laws by state, and for the most part, there aren’t any.  The wording of Ezra Klein’s infographic is interesting, it says “at least 1 gun law in place”.  This is because most states have NO restrictions on guns.  Here are the breakdown of states with gun laws:

  • Only 4 states have assault weapons bans (CA, MA, NJ, NY).  Another 5 have some restrictions on assault weapons, including Connecticut.
  • Only 9 states requires some registration for owning a firearm (AZ, CA, CT, HI, MD, MI, NE, NY, SD)
  • Only 5 states requires a permit to own a firearm (HI, IL, MA, NJ, NY)

So, clearly, there are no DRACONIAN gun laws in the United States, and 28 states have no restrictions to gun ownership (when looking at requirement for permits to purchase or own firearms, waiting periods for purchase, bans on any specific types of weapons, or required registration of firearms). Hawaii, the state with the most laws on gun control, has a gun homicide rate at 0.51 per 100,000 people.

Nevertheless, I wanted to look if there was a correlation between gun laws and homicide in any given state.  So, I came up with a scoring matrix, where lack of any measure gave a state 2 points, and half-measures (such as Illinois banning of assault weapons in Cook County only) would earn the state 1 point.  I then looked at six questions:

  1. Are you required to register your firearm?
  2. Do you require a permit to possess firearms?
  3. Do you require a permit to purchase handguns?
  4. Do you require a permit to purchase rifles?
  5. Has the state banned assault weapons?
  6. Is there a waiting period for acquiring a gun?

So, based upon these six questions, I came up with a scale from 0-12 (0 being most draconian, 12 being no gun restrictions), I determined the relationship between gun laws and homicides.

First, there was no relationship between gun laws and homicide rate, but if you broke down the data it gets more interesting.  If you look at percent of all homicides that are caused by guns compared to homicides caused by knives, you get this:

Data 26

Interestingly, as gun laws get more restrictive (i.e. they go to 0), gun homicide as a percentage of all homicides decrease, while knife homicide as a percent of all homicides increases.  These relationships are not statistically significant, likely due to the crudeness of my “gun law” metric.  But this is interesting because it implies that more restrictive gun laws lead to more knife crime and less gun crime.

This supports the argument from pro-gun people who say “If there weren’t guns, the same thing would happen with knives.”  The problem with that argument is that if you sum up the knife homicide rate in all the states that have some form of restriction (i.e. on the scale from 0-11) you have 7 people killed out of every million people.  However, if you sum the gun homicide rate in all the states with no restriction (i.e. 12 on the gun law scale), you have 38 people killed out of every one million people.  So, if banning guns leads to knife crime, you would still get a 5 fold decrease in all homicides with any laws restricting access to guns.

I noticed something interesting when looking at the overall homicide rate, it varied pretty drastically from state to state (see below):

Homicide Map US

Looking at that map, I was trying to see if there was any commonality between homicide rate and states.  I also read a recent post from Nate Silver in the New York Times, which basically said that more white people than minorities owned guns.  I was curious about that statistic, so I explored whether there was a relationship between the percent of the population in that state that was a minority (based upon 2010 Census data), and homicide rate.

Data 27

Not only is there a relationship, but there is a shockingly strong relationship if you look at just the 28 states with no restrictive gun laws.  I wanted to compare to a control to see if this is some population specific affect, and when you compare number of movie theaters in a state (based upon BoxOfficeMojo, a site affiliated with IMDB), you see this:

Data 28

A very weak correlation that is drawn out by the outliers of Pennsylvania and Texas.  So, the effect from before was not a population effect.  One conclusion that could be drawn is that white people, particularly in states with high minority populations, live in a constant state of fear.  This leads to a demand for guns to protect themselves, and attitudes against any measure to restrict their ability to protect themselves.

A Bureau of Justice Statistics report suggests that the majority of gun crimes is committed by ethnic minorities, which explains the strong association.  And these crimes are mostly black-on-black crimes.  A very small percentage of gun violence is committed interracially, though if it is, it is usually because the other race is a stranger.  So, the presence of minorities in a state means more gun violence, but most whites are pretty safe from this violence.

According to a Pew Research Center survey in 2011, it appears the most vocal gun supporters are white, with 54% demanding legislation protecting their right to own guns, while 30% of blacks and 21% of Hispanics asking for gun protection.  Most minorities requested more gun control measures (with 66% black and 75% Hispanics favoring this), compared to only 42% of white people who favor gun control measures. So, why are whites so vocal about owning guns if most gun homicides are committed within the black community, and most minorities don’t want as many guns in their community?

The problem with the gun debate is that there are two groups having two completely different debates.  Gun control advocates are saying “Guns are dangerous weapons and there should be some measures to control their access.”  Whereas, the NRA and their fringe supporters who fear any form of gun control say “Everyone is trying to kill me! I need a gun to protect myself before they get me! DON’T YOU DARE TRY AND STOP ME FROM GETTING GUNS!”

I don’t know how to reconcile the paranoia of the pro-gun advocates, but until we can convince them to calm down and put their guns away, we can’t have a serious discussion on guns in our society.  Gun control measures definitely reduce the number of gun homicides and overall homicides in states that have them.  And the measures I list as being restrictive, aren’t really that restrictive. I don’t see how having a registration for a firearm, or license to purchase a firearm can be seen as a draconian measure.  But again, I’m on the lunatic fringe that wants no guns in society.

A Time to Stop Killing

I was at a Brooklyn Nets game tonight, and the announcer asked for a moment of silence before the game for “one of the largest school shootings in recent memory.”  I don’t fault the announcer, but I am really appalled by the fact that you had to add qualifiers to that statement.  The fact that 28 people died today in an ELEMENTARY SCHOOL and it is not even the most amount of people that have been killed by maniacs is ridiculously unacceptable.  While I don’t think you can blame guns entirely for this disaster, I do believe limiting access to guns will dramatically reduce the likelihood of these types of disasters.

I’ve written before about gun violence and how the media is constantly hyping the violence which begets more violence in the long run.  So, to try and make a difference, I wrote a letter to my congressmen, which I welcome others to copy and send to their Congressional representatives.  If you don’t know who they are, click the links to find your House Representative by zip code or Senator by state.

The recommended length for letters to Congress is <1500 characters, so I tried to keep mine short:

Dear ________________________,

As your constituent, I felt it was my duty to write you a letter to express my desire for comprehensive gun reform.  While the 2nd amendment grants us the right to carry arms, this right is not unlimited. Guns were designed to kill things, and they do that very well, and in the hands of mentally ill people, they create disasters such as those seen in Sandy Hook, Aurora, Happy Valley (should I continue to list? I think you get the idea).

Unfettered access to guns allows deranged people to wreak havoc in our society. We should be focusing on the looming fiscal cliff, yet we’re talking about this.  I urge you to immediately promote the passage of a new assault weapons ban.  The criticism of the assault weapons ban is fair, as it did not effectively restrict access to semi-automatic assault weapons.  I would propose a new assault weapons ban that includes the following:

  • Universal background checks on all gun purchases (while most of the attackers we see do not have a history of criminal activity, it is a deterrent to those who seek access to guns for improper usage).
  • A universal ban on all semi-automatic weapons with high-capacity magazines (no hunter or sportsman worth their salt needs a weapon like this to kill animals, so why do we need them in our society?)
  • Microstamping of bullets (40% of murder investigations are unsolved because of missing evidence.  Having identification on every bullet will improve the ability of law enforcement to track the point-of-sale for every bullet used to kill a person and aid in finding potential killers.)

I am tired of waking up each day hearing about a new shooting or killing that has happened in America.  Too many innocent lives have been lost because the gun industry has more influence on elected officials than their constituents.  I do not believe that you will put the needs of the citizens of __________________ above financial assurances of future election victories, so I beseech you to pursue gun reform legislation immediately.  Thank you very much,


First blank is the elected official’s name, second is your state, third is your name.  I’m not trying to say that this is the definitive letter to Congress, but I think it’s so much easier to copy and paste a letter to your elected official than write one yourself.  So, hopefully you can help push for gun reform.  And I would recommend un-italicizing the letter, but whatever it takes to get you to harass congress about this, the better.

Also, I’ve attached an Excel spreadsheet of the money donated to each Congressman by the NRA (the aforementioned lobbying arm of the gun industry).  So, feel free to bring up their campaign money from the NRA in the letter if you feel it necessary.  Knowledge is power.  Good luck.

NRA Election Funding

The Predistribution of Wealth

I went back home to Kentucky for Thanksgiving, and I’ve been quietly biting my lips as I hear from friends of my family how concerned they are about Obama.  Obviously, since they’re friends I don’t think I can chalk it up to racism, so my next assumption is that they watch Fox News and have found themselves trapped in an echo chamber.

I just thought I’d make a little point about those people griping about Obama taxing the rich and being a socialist.  There is a very strange misconception that poor people are lazy and deserve to be poor.  This is in fact not true.  Many poor people have to work 2-3 jobs and experience considerably more stress than rich people, which prevents them from ever becoming middle-class.

People gripe about government redistribution of wealth, but taking taxes from the wealthy and creating government projects that pay poor people a decent living wage is really the best approach to rebuilding the middle class.  Don’t believe me?  Here are a couple of arguments in favor of this approach:

  1. Government jobs increases the private-sector economy.  People have increased disposable income and buy more stuff, which improves the private sector.  Also, most R&D arguably starts off by government subsidies or grants.
  2. Austerity measures increase social unrest, tax hikes do not. Another great argument to support taxing the rich.  Primarily because they will not be affected by it.
  3. Income over $75,000 is sufficient for happiness.  There is conflicting evidence over the benefit of having much more than this, but the fact that $75K is enough for happiness seems to be a reachable bar.

Taking these three points, it seems clear that supply-side economics is not the approach we should be taking to improve the economy.  We don’t need to make the “job-creators” richer, we need to augment the wealth of the poor.  If not from a social justice standpoint, from an economic one.  There’s a series of graphs that supports this argument (feel free to have a look here).  But, I modified a graph of my own using the $75,000 benchmark for happiness and Census and Bureau of Labor Statistics data to come up with a “Happiness Index”.

I wanted to see how income changed over time and how many people are happy now compared to ~35 years ago.  The formula I used is:

Average income is the average income in each income bracket (bottom 20%, top 1%, etc.), and Year Adjustment is the CPI value of any year divided by the CPI value of 2012 to get a sense of what $75,000 was equivalent to in 1979 (which may or may not be the same level of happiness).

So, plotting the happiness index over the last 33 years gives you this figure:

As you can see, the poor was always below 0 (i.e. unhappy), but since 1979 you see a slow dragging of the middle class into the unhappy zone (i.e. below 0).  As of 2005 (the last year I have data on this from the Congressional Budget Office), more that 50% of America is unhappy, compared to only 20% in 1979 (a year marked by recession and Iranian embassy invasion).

Obviously, this is not a true metric of happiness, but based upon only the happiness brought about by wealth 35 years ago to today, much more Americans are unhappy than before.  And if you look at the top of the graph, the top 1% is reaping the benefits while the bottom 50% is dragged into misery. The 49% between the two? They’re relatively static, so this is truly a battle of the rich vs. poor.  But in this case, it is the VERY rich (~500K and above) vs. “the middle class” (60K and below).

If the rich really are the “job-creators”, let’s get to making with the jobs, Ted DiBiase.  Otherwise, it’s about time those bastards paid their fair share.

My Letter to Republicans

Hey Guys,

Look, it’s been a rough couple of days.  I can sympathize.  I felt the same in 2004, when the Democrats had a out-of-touch, vanilla plutocrat from Massachusetts that I didn’t really care about. All I wanted was to make sure Bush wasn’t given another 4 years to destroy the country.

But the good news is that Kerry’s failure led to a revitalization of the Democratic Party, and – who’d a thunk it? – a black president!  Too soon? Ok, I’m sorry.

Though I’m sure you probably hate her, Rachel Maddow had a nice little piece about how you need to turn your act around for the betterment of the country. And I’m with her. While I don’t agree with your current policies, I’d like to see an alternative to what the Democrats are offering (some of which I don’t agree with).

So, here’s my advice to change your platform and make you potentially electable again:

  1. STOP DOUBTING FACTS.  I cannot emphasize this enough.  You said Nate Silver was wrong, and didn’t offer any evidence to prove his method wrong.  I know that’s really wonkish and doesn’t make for good TV, but at least Nate Silver’s logic is understandable.  He interprets and averages polling quite rigorously and scientifically.  If you’re going to come with an alternate interpretation that is better, PROVE IT.  That’s science.  You believe the most simple, logical explanation of something until someone offers something better.  You can’t just dismiss people because their facts are unpalatable.  This also applies to climate change, evolution, and the female reproductive system.
  2. STOP BEING RUN BY SELF-INTEREST GROUPS. That’s great that you don’t believe in taxes.  Actually, I don’t know of anyone that likes taxes.  You’d win tons of elections with your anti-tax platform. The problem is we need government to do things.  The only way we can pay for the government to do things is TAXES (or selling ourselves to China).  So, don’t sign dumb pledges to rich people where you will never raise taxes, when you know that people need the government to do things like build infrastructure, defend the country, etc.  You can’t say Obama supporters are lazy and want stuff, because EVERYONE wants stuff.  I don’t want to have to spend 30 minutes to go through a phone tree when my house is on fire to reach Fire Department Customer Service, only to discover that I don’t have a “fire prevention” plan.  It’s a much nicer way to realize that every time I pay 6% sales tax, I know that I can call 911 and know someone will be there promptly.  There is a universal expectation that government will provide some services, yet nobody wants to pay for it with taxes.  Democrats acknowledge this, and made the political decision of taxing the rich.  You need to figure out a way to keep taxes without cutting things people want, otherwise you’ll never get elected.
  3. BE CONSERVATIVE.  The traditional conservatives were focused on America and didn’t want to get involved in foreign wars (some might say isolationist).  The alternative to Obama’s drone strikes in Waziristan is not beating your chest and saying “MORE DRONE STRIKES!!!”  The world needs a Republican Party (or any party) that says “Maybe we don’t need to keep bothering other people because we’re paranoid of terrorists?”  Also, since we are on the precipice of an entitlement crisis, a drastic slashing in military spending might just be the solution that makes everyone happy.  We spend about $700 billion on defense spending, but only $60 billion on education.  Why don’t we cut the military budget by $500 billion (still $50 billion more than what China spends), and increase education and research by another $50 billion.  That’s a net $450 billion cut that will not hurt any entitlements, and won’t raise any tax cuts.  The world doesn’t want to be policed by the US, and we should behave accordingly, so a $450 billion cut would reflect this.
  4. LEAD ON EDUCATION.  I know you support charter/private schools, but so do the Democrats. And I think this is where they fail.  Unlike public schools, charter schools can cherry pick what students they have, so any progress seen in these schools is misleading.  How can Republicans offer a bold strategy to improve education? Eliminate all federal subsidies to charter/private schools and give them to public schools proportionally to student enrollment.  Also, don’t close schools because they “perform” poorly on tests. Provide those schools with the resources necessary for success (on a case-by-case basis, determined by principal or superintendent, whichever is most familiar with the school’s issues).  There is no such thing as a “bad” teacher, just like there’s no such thing as a bad student.  They both just need help to get better.  Finally, any student can go to any school they want.  Obama’s support of charter schools is hurting Democratic support from teacher’s unions.  Time for Republicans to tap into this market.  Oh yeah, you also doubled the education budget.  Suck on that Democrats.
  5. STOP RUNNING CANDIDATES WHO LIKE TO TALK ABOUT RAPE.  Most Americans believe abortion should be legal.  Even if you don’t believe it, the alternative is back-alley abortions or babies born in unfavorable situations.  We don’t need more children born behind an 8-ball (of cocaine). If you’re poor, having a baby that you can’t afford is not going to help your situation, nor is the baby going to grow up happy, healthy, and well-adjusted.  Being pro-life is like being religious, it’s an idea that’s best kept to yourself.
  6. STOP PREVENTING MINORITIES FROM VOTING.  It just makes you look like a dick. Just let people vote.
  7. ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS ARE PEOPLE TOO.  You’re keen on getting the Latino vote, so stop punishing people for seeking the American dream.  Fine, they didn’t follow the proper channels to come to America, but they’re here now.  They most likely came because of policies we’ve enacted in Latin America to screw over their families, anyway.  The least we could do is give them a chance to make it.  And if they’re troublemakers (e.g. MS13, LA Kings, Justin Bieber) we can kick them out.
  8. GAY PEOPLE DON’T RUIN INSTITUTIONS. They just make them more expensive.  Stop saying homosexuals “shouldn’t do this” or “have these rights”. They’re people.  Even if you think it’s a choice, it’s one that they seem keen to make (among others – voting Democrat).  If you’re so keen on the institution of marriage, why don’t you do some legislating against all those heterosexual people getting divorced?  That seems to be ruining the institution more than two people being committed to each other.  When you’re against gay marriage, you’re against love.  Also, think of all the jobs you’ve created in the wedding industry by letting gays get married.
  9. DON’T BE A SORE LOSER.  I know it sucks to lose, but you don’t need to try and prevent anything from happening in Congress because you’re in the minority.  Compromise on ideals is what makes the country stronger.  I would argue that Obamacare is a product of compromise, as it’s not the true public health care plan I would like America to have, even if you don’t like it either. However, it’s a definite improvement to no health care reform and everyone going to emergency rooms for colds.

Look, I know you’re bummed out about this, but there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.  You will survive, but you just have to adapt. It’s a thing called evolution.  I know you don’t believe in it, but you should look into it. While you’re at it, check out everything else that you’ve missed while you’ve had your head in the sand about the last 12 years listening to people who will happily mislead you for their own profit.  Best of luck,

Raj Sivaraman


Lessons I Learned From My Stupid, Boring, Losing Fight with a Non-profit Community Theater

If there’s one thing I can’t tolerate, it’s unfairness. Well, that and people who take the elevator to the second floor (but that’s a tirade for a different time). I never wanted to write this post, but recent events have forced my hand. NOTE: It’s long, and I hope you have the patience for it, but it’s the whole truth (if overly dramatic). If you know the story, skip to Lessons Learned portion.

I recently got into a spat with a non-profit community theater, which ultimately led to me getting banned from the theater. That may sound strange, as I don’t seem the type to kick old women out of their wheel chairs or maliciously steal jigsaw puzzle pieces, so what could I have done to get banned from a non-profit community theater?

It all started one Sunday night when I was doing a standup show at the theater. About 10 minutes before the show was supposed to start, the technician and an intern at the theater gathered all the comedians and informed us that we were going to be recorded for a “podcast”. They didn’t really know why or what it was about, but just that all our sets would be recorded and posted online at the theater’s website. Most of the experienced standups were disquieted by this, and one asked “Can we opt out?” They responded “We could probably edit you out if you don’t want to be in it.”

Then, the managing director of the theater (let’s call him Pete Rose), comes in and says, “Hey, we’re recording your sets, and going to put your clips online. It’ll be just like Rooftop,” and then left without answering any questions. Rooftop Comedy is a very popular website that records standup shows at various clubs across the country, and posts short 1-2 min clips online. If you’re familiar with podcasts, this explanation didn’t sync up with that of the tech and intern.

So, we’re all left wondering why we’re being recorded and what those recordings were being used for. I later emailed the person in charge of the standup shows (let’s call him Tony Perez) at the theater, saying I wanted to opt out of this recording. He simultaneously responded in an mass email saying:

Hello everyone!

Thanks for doing The Comedy Show last night.

I’m sorry I wasn’t there.(wedding, ugh)

I’m also sorry about not giving you a heads up about our podcast trial. I wasn’t aware that we’d be recording sets thereby requiring permission from each of you.

Thanks for all of your emails regarding audio usage – if you have any questions – I’m happy to answer them!

Hope to get you all on the show again soon!


APR (I changed his name from his usual signature)

So, I emailed a list of questions, including the following to Pete and Tony:

  1. Do you intend on having written consent forms, or is an oral agreement sufficient?
  2. If someone agrees orally, does this consent apply in perpetuity? Also, if someone agrees to written forms, how long does this consent apply?
  3. Who owns the rights to the clips?
  4. If they are posted online, can we have them removed if we do not like the clips that are used? If so, what is the procedure to do so?
  5. How long will the clips be online?
  6. Are there any plans to use the clips for monetary gain, and if so, are performers entitled to a portion of the profits?
  7. Are you only recording the Comedy Show show, or is this going to occur for other standup shows (Nighttime Comedy, Obscure Popular Comedy, etc.)?

Meanwhile, I was really bothered with the way the whole evening went. We were forcibly recorded for unknown reasons or usage, and after pressing for it, we were able to say we don’t want to be recorded. However, there were a couple of new comedians on that show who didn’t know any better. Nobody told them that being recorded and posting their clips of performing standup for 7 people wasn’t going to be helpful for their career. I found it especially troubling since these people were taking classes with Tony Perez. Since he was the one who came up with the idea of recording, he would be in a conflict of interest to tell his students that they should be judicious on what they post online.

So, I decided to start a discussion on a private Facebook forum for standup comedians in Boston. I posted:

CONTROVERSY OF THE WEEK: Non-profit Theater is now recording standup sets to put on a Non-profit Theater “podcast” (it’s unclear what it will be because some people said “podcast”, while Pete (Rose) said it was just going to be clips, like Rooftop). They started doing it yesterday as a trial, though didn’t have us sign waivers granting permission to use our material. The default is they will use material, unless we opt out. Thoughts?

I led with “Controversy of the Week” because that forum is filled with standup comedians bitching about one thing versus another. It’s what I would like to call “humor”, but that unfortunately was not taken that way, as I found out later. What followed was a series of posts by other comedians decrying this policy, and questioning the motivations of Non-profit Theater.  Finally, Tony Perez (a member of the private group) posted:

I’d like to jump in here just to clarify something that caused more confusion on Sunday night than anything else. Non-profit Theater rebranded Comedy Show Sundays as Comedy Show and we intend to record the audio of comedians’ sets for podcast purposes in the future WITH written consent from the comedians before each show (and an option to opt out after the show if you would rather your set not be used). This past Sunday we had a dry run with two of our Techs so we could test our audio recording capabilities during The Comedy Show. It was a test run for us and we had no intention of using any content for release anywhere. That said, since we were recording, we wanted to inform the comics on the lineup to make sure they knew that we were recording, and what we intended for the content in the future. That was it. The issue might have been a miscommunication of “Future content” rather than “Your content tonight, IN the future”. Once we are set up and know that the podcast was ready to launch, we’ll publish details so comics can get involved. Non-profit Theater is working to create opportunities for the Stand Up community and Comedy Show and Comedy Show podcast are just some of those opportunities – Anyone can opt out. Intellectual Property and material rights are not my specialty, but I know Non-profit Theater would NEVER assume to own a comedian’s set or the jokes themselves, only the right to publish the clips recorded at Non-profit Theater with the consent of the comic. The published clips would be used to showcase the local scene, highlighting comics that have played shows at Non-profit Theater and promoting future appearances by those comics. My apologies to anyone who was confused or concerned on Sunday. But really, with The Comedy Show and any other shows, feedback by people who are actively involved, who want to help, or who want to be involved in the scene at Non-profit Theater will always be welcome. I’ll take questions on or offline – I’ll also take shit with a smile on my face.

While this didn’t coincide with anything we were told previously, I accepted what Tony said regarding the recording issue. So, for me, the issue was over. Meanwhile, little did I know that Tony and Pete were getting hateful emails from standups about this (what they told me, don’t know if this is true or not), and felt that I was responsible for the whole thing. They thought, “I can’t believe Raj, a regular performer at this theater, would shit all over the theater so publicly.” It was never my intention to do so, and I did everything possible to put the theater in a positive light, while still maintaining the point that I disagreed with this new policy of recording standups (because until Tony’s post, it was a fixed policy in my mind and probably the minds of other standups that Sunday evening).

So, Tony tried calling me later that day to talk about this whole thread, and after seeing his post, I thought “This isn’t a big deal anymore”, and I had a work project due the next day, so I texted him later and said “Hey, I’m busy, can we talk about it later in the week?”

Tony never responded, and I just figured he moved on also. But the events that transpired reflect the opposite. I can only presume that my dismissal of their attempt to reach out to me because I was too busy with my day job was Tony and Pete’s conclusion that I wanted to destroy the Theater to it’s very core, and that I should be considered some sort of Enemy of the State.

Then began the second phase of total irrationality.

Pete contacted the Artistic Director of the theater, Dave Concepcion (again, fake name). I don’t know what exactly the course of events took place, but Dave sent me an email the day after Tony tried calling me saying:

Hey man…can we chat about this whole Sunday thing when you have a chance? I just want to make sure we’re on the same page.



I emailed him back saying “Sure, when would you want to talk?”, but didn’t hear back from him until Sunday. He then sent another email:

Hey man…sorry that I didn’t get back to right away. I’m available all day before 6pm. Can you give me a call at 123-456-7890 when you have a chance? Thanks!


So, I spoke to him on Sunday (a week after the infamous standup show), which he told me that my comments on Facebook were very unpleasant to Pete Rose. In fact, Pete found them to be “inflammatory”. And as a result, I would not be allowed to perform on the September 12 Ballyhoo show (or any other Non-profit theater show), UNTIL I met personally with Pete Rose to ensure that I wouldn’t make such comments online again.

I tried defending myself, mentioning the fact that I intentionally tried to be diplomatic and say nothing negative about the theater. Dave agreed that he didn’t see anything wrong with what I wrote, but Pete was very upset about it, so it made sense to have a meeting. I then mentioned the fact that it seemed pointless for me to have a meeting with Pete Rose over this issue as he still hadn’t responded to my original email or emailed me himself whatsoever (especially since Pete brags on Twitter about how efficiently he responds to emails, with a hashtag of #inboxzero). It was clear that Pete didn’t want to talk to me, so what would me trying to meet with him achieve?

I nevertheless agreed with Dave, who was trying to broker a peace (which in my mind was never a war). So he sent an email to me and Pete on Monday to try and set up a meeting. I responded immediately saying “I’m free anytime from Tuesday to Friday this week. My schedule is more erratic after that.”

A day passes by and still no response from Pete. Up until this point, he has still not said ONE WORD to me about this whole affair. He ran a festival that I performed at for 3 years, so it’s not like I was some stranger. So, it was a bit surprising that he was stonewalling me.

After talking to some friends, one of whom (Carlton Fisk) was in the middle of an intellectual property dispute with Non-profit Theater, because he ran a festival at the theater, and he wanted to branch out and do it somewhere else. The theater told him that he didn’t have the rights to the festival, and that despite spending his own money to promote the festival (what Carlton tells me), anything developed at Non-profit Theater belongs to Non-profit Theater.

I don’t want to get into Carlton’s problems, as that’s another 5000 word story.  But I mention it for context, and that Carlton is a good friend of mine. While his fight was never my fight, I tried to support him as best a friend could. Carlton told me that he went to the board to resolve his dispute with Pete, so I thought that would be a reasonable avenue to resolve my dispute with Pete. Carlton would always say “the board is there for you”.

Monday passes, and Tuesday passes, and I still haven’t heard from Pete about meeting, and as things stood, I wouldn’t be allowed to perform on the Ballyhoo. The people who were producing the Ballyhoo were saying they’re trying to email Pete and Dave and get them to change their mind, but ultimately I’m the one who was banned for the forseeable future for (as one person eloquently put it) an Orwellian Thoughtcrime.  While we agreed that this abuse of power didn’t sit well with us on a principle level, I was still hurt on a personal level.

I eventually decided to email a couple of members of the board. Formation of a board of directors is an essential part of any 501(c)3, but most of the people on the Non-profit Theater board just consider board membership a “resume stuffer”. So, I sent a lengthy email to the board of my plight (yet still slightly shorter than this post), and what safeguards there were against Pete’s abuse of power. But I didn’t hear back from them.

I simultaneously sent an email to everyone I thought was important at Non-profit Theater to tell them what was happening at the theater they and I so loved. Nowhere in my email to them did I ask them to take action (except maybe to forward my email).  I simply was laying out the story as it was, and said it troubles me that this is allowed to happen.  Out of ~30 people I emailed, about 6 responded back to me saying they support me, and they’re sorry about what happened.  A few of them volunteered to write letters to the board on my behalf.

At this point, I’m frustrated and feeling ignored by everyone. I started out not wanting blood, but in my frustration and loneliness of being ignored by people I considered “friends” I became irrational and bloodthirsty.  I get 6 supportive emails out of 30 people I contacted, so I think “Nobody give a damn what happened to me. Nor do they realize that this could happen to them.” I’d finally given up on trying to rally support from theater that I’ve performed, teched, taught, and took classes at. So, I decided to make an appeal to the standup community. I posted on another standup forum what had happened to me, and that standups should consider against performing there, possibly even boycott the theater until Pete Rose is forced to step down.  While this attracted many views, few people expressed support.  So, I removed the post a day later, as I was ashamed that my emotions got the best of me.

Meanwhile, one of the people I emailed (Jim Rice) who emailed the board himself, told me that the board responded to him on Wednesday saying this is the first that they heard of what happened to me (still no response from Pete yet). Funnily enough, I was the one who gave Jim the board members’ email address! So, I re-sent my email to the board, and they informed me that they spoke to Pete on Tuesday evening, after receiving Jim’s email about this, and they hope the issue would be resolved shortly.

No less than 6 hrs after I received the board’s email (but 2 days after Dave and I try to arrange a meeting), Pete emails me:

I understand that Tony Perez left you a message last week and that you spoke with Dave Concepcion over the weekend.
I’m not sure exactly what was communicated on behalf of myself or the Theater, but if you are available for and interested in a personal conversation about the communication issues over the last week and where we both find ourselves now, I can schedule time tomorrow morning before 11AM or anytime Monday.
So I agree to meet with Pete the next day (Thursday), and lead off with the obvious question, “What did I do wrong?” He then explains his side of the story (which I tried to mingle into this post), and said that he was really busy on Sunday night and that he didn’t have time to explain what was happening with the recording, and that they were only testing equipment. I said to him, “It took 3 minutes to say that. You owe us at least that much time to explain what you’re doing with our sets if you’re going to record them or set up recording equipment.” He shrugged it off and then says “What’s your end plan? The board is saying there are all these people demanding my resignation. I’ll be fine. I have a wife and baby, I can go back to my other theater.”
After my half-hearted plea for a boycott on Tuesday, I sort of realized that nobody had my back and realized that no-one was going to boycott, so there’s no point in fighting the system.  I told him I didn’t want blood. I apologized for my boycott demands, and said that came out of a low place in my life, and I hope he can see where I came from. I presumed that his demand that I was removed from performing was a similar knee-jerk reaction. He conceded this to be true. We both sort of felt like wronged parties, but we at least had an understanding.
I left the meeting feeling a little better, and Pete said that everything goes back to status quo and I get to perform on the Ballyhoo. I emailed the 30 people I emailed before (whether they responded or not), telling them the conclusions from our meeting. These included:
  1. There is a code of conduct which I was not familiar with, which precludes people from saying things negatively about Non-profit Theater. That Code of Conduct would be made available.
  2. I said I would work with Pete to come up with a Bill of Rights for performers, so that these types of shenanigans didn’t happen again.
  3. Non-profit Theater would come up with a definitive guide of intellectual property so it’s clear that when you perform at the theater, you know who owns what rights (Carlton’s fight bled into mine over whether standup rights were being violated by this “recording fiasco”).
I started formulating a list of the Bill of Rights, as I emailed the board, assuming they would care about the result of this dispute. Their response was:

Greetings Raj,

And Thank You for communicating and resolving your immediate concerns directly with Pete in your meeting this week. Working things out directly with the Managing Director is clearly in the best interest of all parties involved. On behalf of the Board, I would like to express appreciation for direct communication with the the MD and AD for all matters at the theater. We are in constant communication with Pete and pay very close attention to all concerns that are posed.

The Bill of Rights idea is a good one the way you pose it, and invite you to continue sharing your ideas with the MD and AD at the theater.

There are a number of initiatives in process, many of which we hope will address the concerns that you have posed. Stay tuned for sure, and I think you will be pleased with the progress we make in the weeks/months ahead.

Please do continue to offer suggestions, and rest assured that the Board is diligently working behind the scenes to advance policies, procedures, upgrades and long range planning that benefit all parties involved for years to come.
Sparky Anderson
President and Board Chairperson

I interpreted this as: “Next time you get in a feud with the MD and he bans you from the theater, don’t bother us. Also, you have some interesting ideas, tell them to the MD or AD and stop wasting our time.” So, I gave up on formulating the Bill of Rights.

So the result of all that was I wasn’t banned anymore, and there would be no more recording of standup sets without permission.  Seems like a victory, right?

Well, at a Town Hall Meeting of Non-profit Theater four days ago (which I didn’t attend, but read reports of), Pete decided to address my situation by saying I was angry about the recording that occurred at Non-profit Theater, so I decided to talk negatively about Non-profit Theater online. According to him, Pete, Dave, and Tony all tried to reach out to me, but I was clearly too “busy” to reply, but not too busy to start a nation-wide boycott of the theater to demand Pete to step down.

And thus began the revisionist history. Just like Tony and Pete changed the story of what happened the night of the recordings (the current story is that it was just a “test” and that nobody was recorded), they were beginning to revise the picture of me being a person being banned for innocuously posting something online, to me being banned for making personal attacks online towards Non-profit theater members (and for possibly murdering kittens, I did miss the meeting, so I don’t know what I was accused of).

Tony and Pete each made appeals to the Non-profit Theater community to give them the benefit of the doubt over what happened and that they’re all looking out for the community members. I heard that and couldn’t help but wonder “Who looked out for me? Who said, ‘Raj is a good dude, I’m sure he had a reason for posting his concerns online, rather than talking to us. Maybe we should speak to him first, rather than immediately preventing him from performing?'”

I’m done fighting over this. I just wanted to put my truth out there for people’s consumption. I’m writing this because I concede that Non-profit theater won, and I just want to move on. I don’t care what happens to any of the people at the Theater anymore.  I just want them to stop fabricating the truth over what I did to demonize me and portray themselves as victims.  As I said before, I may have a skewed interpretation of the facts, but I want them to be available for people to make their own conclusions, rather be presented with falsehoods.  When I told Pete that I was frustrated about how frequently the story changed over this recording thing, he ominously replied, “You’re just going to have to accept that people will lie to you.”


Why did all of this happen? Because I tried to act like a goddamn hero. I was speaking to one of the new performers before the infamous standup show, and then saw that this recording was going to happen. I realized “This guy’s not going to know that recording his set is a bad idea!” I had to start a discussion on a local standup forum so that new comics (most of the people who read that forum) know that it’s not great to have all your sets online. Because a potential booker might see a set where you’re bombing (or sound like you’re bombing) and decide “I won’t book him/her.”  And it’s unfair for them to be punished for not knowing better.

I was trying to look out for these new comics because I thought I was doing a good thing by putting facts out in the air. I emailed my “friends” and people at the board to notify them of what happened to me after I was banned for my Facebook comments, because if it happens to me, it could happen to anyone else.  I thought my banning was also unfair.

I’ve never been in a fight in my life, and I would have happily gone along with Pete banning me from Non-profit theater forever. I am moving to New York, and I didn’t need to perform at Non-profit Theater anymore. But I again decided to be a goddamn hero and put up a fight over this, because if he was going to try and bully me out of a theater I loved, then who’s to stop him from doing that to anyone else? And what if that person isn’t funny (which I once believed I was, but now I’m not sure anymore), and Non-profit theater is the only place that lets him perform. I thought that I was standing up for the Everyman.

Non-profit theater exists as a non-profit theater because it’s a community of people. Some people are funny, many are not, but they all agree to come and meet at this location to be friends and bond over comedy (good or bad). Despite winning the battles over recording standup sets and performing at the Ballyhoo, I lost the war.

I don’t feel welcome at the theater anymore, and while I’m technically not “banned”, I have been forbidden from teaching sketch writing there, and probably will never be booked there again.  Finally, I can’t look at people at the theater as friends anymore. The ethos of Non-profit Theater is meant to be “community”, but when push came to shove, their stagetime was more important than my right to fair treatment or friendship.

It’s very easy to paint me or Pete as a villain, but nobody’s a villain and nobody’s a hero. Everyone behaves their own selfish ways. I foolishly thought that I’m doing something for a perceived little guy, but that person doesn’t exist. I’m just quixotically trying to uphold principles that nobody cares about. Pete and Tony thought they were trying to be helpful to the standup community by recording our sets and putting them online for our benefit.  But really, they just wanted to legitimize Non-profit Theater as a venue for standup and make themselves more relevant in the Boston comedy community.

So, the lesson I learned from this is, if you see something, say nothing. That’s what anyone else is going to do.

I will now return to minding my own business.

Which Party Makes Jobs?

The last couple weeks has been filled with fêtes for the presidential nominees, and the common denominator in each convention has been “Who’s going to create jobs?”

Bill Clinton gave a very passionate speech which referenced the fact that, since 1961, Democratic Presidents created 42 million jobs, while Republicans created 24 million.  A Politifact article broke down the job creation stats by president, with the emphasis that these are private sector jobs.  This is important for several reasons, the most important of which is that while each party differs in their attitudes towards the size of government (i.e. public sector jobs), they both want to increase the number of jobs in the private sector.

So, I decided to break down the track record of each party and compare it to the amount of jobs each created as president, or with a majority in the Senate, or a majority in the House.

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These are complicated datasets, and open to all sorts of interpretations.  But it seems that the only reliable trend over the last 30 years is that Republicans start job growth, then begin a spiral of decline, which Democrats come in and fix the job losses so that Republicans can continue the cycle.

Average jobs created per year for each combination of party in power. D/D = Democrat president, Democrat-controlled Congress; D/R = Democrat president, Republican-controlled Congress; D/M = Democrat president, One house of Congress controlled by Democrats, other by Republicans; R/M = Republican president, One house of Congress controlled by Democrats, other by Republicans; R/D = Republican president, Democrat-controlled Congress; R/R = Republican president, Republican-controlled Congress.

This can be even more apparent if you look at the above graph which calculates percent jobs created per year.  When Republicans are in power of any branch of government, they have generally less job growth than when Democrats are in power.  The notable exception is when Democrats controlled both branches and both houses from 2009-2011.  If you exclude this 2-year period (1st D/D), this looks really good for Democrats.  If you include it (2nd D/D, far right), it still looks good, but with larger error. But either way, there doesn’t appear to be a statistical difference from one column to the next.

So, there appears to be a weak trend that Democrats make more private sector jobs than Republicans.  However, this doesn’t take into account that the growth of government under Democrats will also create public sector jobs, which Republicans are eager to cut.  So, I guess in a period where everyone needs jobs (public or private), we probably should vote Democrat.