Tuesday, January 23, 2018

The Wager

Imagine that you're a contestant on a game show and that the game consists of placing a sealed box in front of you and being told that the box contains either $1,000,000 or $1. There's a 50/50 chance of either. You have to guess which it is, and if you choose correctly you get to keep whatever it is that you guessed. Suppose further that refusing to guess at all is the same as guessing $1.

Those are the terms of the game. What would you do? Would you play? Which option would you choose?

Suppose you were told that the odds were not 50/50 but rather 100 to 1 that there was $1 in the box. Which option would you choose then?

The reasonable thing to do, of course, is to guess that there's a fortune in the box regardless of the odds. If you're right you gain $1,000,000, and if you're wrong you lose almost nothing. If, on the other hand, you bet that there's $1 in the box and you're right you gain very little, but if you're wrong you lose out on a fortune. To bet on the $1 seems irrational and foolish.

This is, broadly, the argument proposed by the brilliant French physicist and philosopher Blaise Pascal in the 17th century that's come to be known as Pascal's Wager. In Pascal's version the choice is between believing God exists and committing one's life to Him or declining to believe He exists. As with the box and the fortune, Pascal says that if you believe and you're wrong you lose relatively little, but if you believe and you're right you gain an immeasurable benefit.

By "believe" Pascal doesn't intend a simple intellectual assent but rather he means a placing of one's trust in the one in whom he believes. Nor is Pascal offering this argument as a "proof" that God exists. Nor does he assume that one can simply choose to believe or even should choose to believe as a result of a calculation of the benefits and liabilities. What he's saying is that belief, if one has it, makes perfect sense.

In other words, the skeptic who declares theistic belief to be irrational is simply wrong. The theist has everything to gain and relatively little to lose. The skeptic has relatively little to gain and everything to lose, so whose position, Pascal might ask, is the more rational?

This argument has triggered a lot of reaction, much of it negative. There are a number of objections to it, and although most of them are pretty weak, some of them are not. Susan Rinnard a philosopher at Harvard, did a video on Pascal's argument which does a pretty good job in just a few minutes of explaining the Wager and which offers a version of the argument that avoids some of the pitfalls of the original:
For those interested in reading an excellent treatment of the Wager with responses to the major objections Michael Rota's book Taking Pascal's Wager is one of the best resources out there. It's certainly much better than most of the stuff one finds on Pascal's Wager on YouTube.

Monday, January 22, 2018

Understanding and Believing

Keith Blanchard (who apparently has no particular expertise in biology) wrote a column for The Week a few years ago that gained some attention at the time and which perpetuates some common misunderstandings.

The ostensible purpose of his article was to exhort people to embrace evolution as science and not as a matter of faith. As Blanchard says, we should understand evolution, not believe in it. If his point is simply that we can grasp the basic points of evolutionary theory without making a doxastic commitment to them ourselves, well, then that seems a little banal, but if his point is that if you understand those points you will presumably believe them then his point is manifestly, glaringly false.

There are many people who understand the main idea of Darwinian evolution perfectly well, but who reject it nonetheless. Many of those who reject evolution are not so much hostile to the idea of some kind of universal relationship among living things, but rather the way naturalistic metaphysics is smuggled in with the less innocuous aspects of the evolutionary package.

I might add that I have no quarrel with evolution. It may be in some sense true for all I know. My quarrel is with naturalism and naturalistic views of evolution which tell us that evolution is a blind, unguided, completely natural process. That's a claim that goes well beyond the empirical evidence. In other words, human beings may have arrived here through some sort of descent through modification, but if so, there's much reason to believe that there was more to our developmental journey as a species than purely unintentional, unintelligent, physical processes like mutation and natural selection.

At any rate, Blanchard offers a summary of the basic claims of evolutionary theory which, were they correct, could apply to any kind of biological evolution, naturalistic or intelligently directed. The problem is, Blanchard's summary describes evolutionary theory as it stood about fifty years ago. Few evolutionists accept Blanchard's view today as anything more than a heuristic for elementary school children.

Here's his summary with a few comments. For a much more extensive critique of Blanchard's essay go here.

Blanchard writes:
  • Genes, stored in every cell, are the body's blueprints; they code for traits like eye color, disease susceptibility, and a bazillion other things that make you you.
No doubt our genes code for many aspects of our physical body, but Blanchard does not say that they code for everything that makes us us and for good reason. There's no genetic explanation for some our most important traits. It's a mystery, for example, how genes could possibly produce human consciousness, or many behaviors in the animal kingdom. How, after all, does something like an immaterial mind arise from material interactions of chemical compounds? Not only do we have no explanation for how conscious experience arises in individual persons, we have no explanation for how such a thing could ever have evolved by physical processes.

The same is true of behaviors. All birds of any particular species behave similarly, but how do genes, which code for proteins which in turn form structures or catalyze chemical reactions, produce a behavior? It's no more clear how molecules of DNA can produce behavior than it is how molecules of sucrose can produce the sensation of sweet.
  • Reproduction involves copying and recombining these blueprints, which is complicated, and errors happen.
Yes, they do and those errors are almost always dysgenic. They detract from fitness not enhance it. Just as an error in copying computer code is much more likely to cause a system to crash than it is to cause it to work better.
  • Errors are passed along in the code to future generations, the way a smudge on a photocopy will exist on all subsequent copies.
As I said above, a smudge is a flaw. As similar "smudges" accumulate the result is not a new and different picture of high quality, it's an increasingly weaker and useless representation of the old.
  • This modified code can (but doesn't always) produce new traits in successive generations: an extra finger, sickle-celled blood, increased tolerance for Miley Cyrus shenanigans.
These examples, particularly the last, are dysgenic to human beings. Polydactyly may not be dysgenic but neither does it confer a survival advantage. If it did it would spread through the population, but it hasn't.
  • When these new traits are advantageous (longer legs in gazelles), organisms survive and replicate at a higher rate than average, and when disadvantageous (brittle skulls in woodpeckers), they survive and replicate at a lower rate.
This is the selectionist theory of evolution, i.e. that natural selection, acting on genetic mutations, drives evolution. It is held today by few biologists because it's fraught with empirical difficulties. In order to finesse these difficulties biologists have adduced other mechanisms such as genetic drift to do the heavy lifting in evolution.

In fact, as Michael Behe pointed out in his book The Edge of Evolution, any theory based on fortuitous mutations defies probability. Many traits require more than one specific mutation occurring fairly rapidly in an organism, and the chances of this happening are astronomically poor.

I repeat, this might have happened through a long evolutionary process, but to say that the process was completely natural (a claim Blanchard doesn't make, by the way) is to go beyond empirical science and enter the realm of faith and metaphysics, and even the belief that it happened at all requires a considerable amount of blind faith.

We can understand the basic hypothesized lineaments of the process, but that doesn't mean that it's appropriate to believe that the process actually happened. To believe in it is to have faith that the theory is the true explanation for how we got to be here. There are people who understand the theory and who believe it's true. There are people who understand the theory and don't believe it, and there are many who understand it and are agnostic, believing that the scientific evidence often conflicts with the theory, as Stephen Meyer has so powerfully shown in his two books Signature in the Cell and Darwin's Doubt.

In my opinion, a humble agnosticism with respect to the means by which life originated and diversified is the most intellectually prudent course. I'm far more confident, however, in the truth of the claim that however we came to exist as a species it's far more probable that it was the result of the purposeful agency of an engineering genius than that blind chance accomplished the equivalent of producing a library of information entirely unintentionally.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

North Korea's Endgame

An article in The Atlantic by James Jeffrey reveals National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster's take on what North Korea is up to, and it's not good. The article isn't overlong, and I recommend that anyone concerned about the possibility of conflict with North Korea read it in its entirety. Here are a few excerpts:
McMaster explained to Chris Wallace on Fox in December that Kim Jong Un’s quest to hold the U.S. mainland at nuclear risk with his ICBM program could well be to advance his goal of conquering South Korea. North Korea’s intentions, he said, “are to use that weapon for nuclear blackmail, and then, to, quote … ‘reunify’ the peninsula under the red banner … and to drive the States and our allies away from this peninsula that he would then try to dominate.”

The problem is that conventional wisdom on North Korea contradicts McMaster, holding that North Korea seeks nuclear weapons primarily to deter an American attack, nuclear or otherwise. (As John Nagl tells Friedman: “I see North Korea pursuing a defensive mechanism to preserve its regime.”) One reason for the popularity of this point of view—that, in a common formula, Kim “doesn’t want to be the next Saddam”—is that it is reassuring. And if it is accurate, then absent an invasion of North Korea, Kim will have no reason to use his nuclear (or impressive conventional) arsenal against anyone.

But if his goal is [instead] to conquer the South, holding the U.S. as nuclear hostage gives him a strategic advantage that threatening Seoul with conventional artillery would not.

Once North Korea can strike the U.S., the willingness of Washington to come to Seoul’s defense would be called into question as during the Cold War. [After all,] would the U.S. risk Seattle to defend Seoul? The prospect would force the U.S. to choose one of three unpalatable options: fail to come to South Korea’s defense, thereby abandoning 80 years of global collective security; come to its defense and risk killing a huge number of Americans if Kim isn’t bluffing; or watch China intervene to “check” Pyongyang, thereby pulling South Korea (and Japan) into China’s security orbit and ending the security regime the U.S. has maintained in the Pacific since 1945.

Given these alternatives, a preemptive strike (or generating a credible threat of one to frighten China to act against Pyongyang), however awful, could be the least risky choice.

McMaster could be wrong about Kim’s motives, even if they arguably best explain his ICBMs and fit the regime’s history and ideology. But it’s not surprising that he considers this possibility; what is surprising is how much of the American security community dismisses out of hand this explanation for Kim’s risky, costly missile program to target the U.S.
The refusal of Americans to believe the worst of our foes is certainly not without historical precedent. Jeffrey gives a couple of examples:
The failure to countenance this possibility could well reflect the historic tendency of liberal societies to discount existential threats simply because they are terrible: The arguments before 1914 that global integration ruled out an extended world war; the appeasement of the Axis powers in the 1930s; and the blinders toward Soviet aggression immediately after World War II.
So what should we do? If McMaster is right and it is indeed Kim Jung Un's plan to conquer South Korea then there are a couple of options to letting both South Korea and Japan fall into either the hands of the NORKs or to become vassals of the Chinese:
Taking this possibility into account, as McMaster has, does not necessarily mean embracing preventive war. But it would justify far more risky Cold War-style military preparations, including redeployment of battlefield nukes in or near Korea, and encouraging the development of Japanese and South Korean long-range conventional strike capabilities or, in extremis, their own nuclear capabilities. The aim would be to affect both North Korean and Chinese calculations and introduce automaticity—an almost unstoppable escalation toward a nuclear exchange once any conflict begins—and thus [deter the initiation of conflict].

Furthermore, such risky military preparations would allow Washington to balance them, without appearing to appease Pyongyang, with more realistic, compromise political goals that give North Korea (and China) diplomatic “outs.” These could include a “temporary” diplomatic solution that stops North Korean development of systems that can strike the U.S., but accepts in practice some nuclear capability, rather than the unrealistic maximalist U.S. position of no nuclear weapons. If McMaster can spark such a discussion, the shiver down our spines is worth it.
It's a fact of history that often there simply are no good options. Decades of concessions and appeasement of North Korea by presidents of both parties, a reluctance to accept that tyrants simply cannot be appeased and will only use the space they're given to make themselves stronger and less vulnerable, have left us in the position we're in today.

In any case, we can be thankful that we have clear-eyed people in this administration who resist the delusion of believing that we live in the world as we'd like it to be rather than the world as it is.

Friday, January 19, 2018

Do Dems Really Want DACA?

Political Science professor Ed Zipperer doesn't think so. He has a piece at the Daily Caller which he begins this way:
Last September, President Donald Trump rescinded the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) immigration policy, and the Democratic Party went into full hyperventilation mode — as if Trump had rescinded oxygen.

The Democrats fired out an all-caps email blast saying: “ON TUESDAY, DONALD TRUMP SECURED HIS LEGACY AS A CHAMPION OF CRUELTY.” Democratic National Committee chairman Tom Perez emailed that the decision was “morally repugnant” and “rooted in prejudice.” And Deputy Chair Keith Ellison—not to be outdone with hyperbole — compared it to handing over Jews to the Nazis.

Now, however, it seems that the Dreamers are expendable pawns, to be sacrificed in pursuit of a bigger prize. What might that prize be? Why do Democrats who insisted up until last week that it'd be immoral to deport Dreamers and that they wanted border security as much as anyone, now refuse to give Trump the border security he wants in order to protect the Dreamers?
According to Zipperer the answer is simple. Compromising with Trump on DACA by giving him what he wants for border security would cost the Democrats dearly. Zipperer gives six reasons how the political cost would be high, the last of which is probably the worst of the lot from a Democratic point of view:
Democrats see illegal immigrants entering the country as a great bloc of potential, someday voters; we need no ghost come from the grave to tell us that. But many people don’t know that every 711,000 illegal immigrants who cross the border create a new congressional district that, due to the Permanent Apportionment Act which limits the House of Representatives to 435 seats, is taken away from another state.

As an unintended effect of the 14th amendment, each person — whether they’re here legally or illegally — must be counted as a whole person. “Representatives shall be apportioned among the several states according to their respective numbers, counting the whole number of persons in each state…” That includes illegal immigrants and nothing short of a Constitutional amendment can change it.

Before the Civil War, southern states were overrepresented because they counted slaves (who were denied the right to vote) as three-fifths of a person toward congressional representation. Today, California is overrepresented because millions of illegal immigrants who cannot vote are counted toward their population. Trump’s border security measures would slow down a process that essentially allows a state like California with an ever-growing population of illegal immigrants to steal House seats (and consequently electoral votes) from other states.

Democrats are going to fight for a “clean” DACA bill sans border security measures — even if it means shutting down the government instead of compromising — because of the political calculus. Why else would the minority party refuse a compromise which gives them everything they’ve been screaming for? For Democrats, the DACA compromise is not about immigration, morality, or Dreamers.

It is about the political costs of real border security which far outweigh the political benefits of helping President Trump pass DACA legislation.
If there's a government shutdown this weekend the reason will be that the Democrats will be refusing to grant the president the funds he demands for border security in exchange for granting Dreamers permanent status. Apparently, it's more important to the Democrats that illegal immigration continue than that the Dreamers be protected.

Zipperer's other five reasons why Democrats are balking at a compromise can be read at the link. Given the animus Democrats feel toward Trump each of the reasons makes a lot of sense.

There's a two minute video here that explains what'll happen if the government shuts down. Most people will hardly notice.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Trump's Latest Imbroglio

Dennis Prager offers some thoughts on the president’s alleged, and unfortunate, choice of adjectives in a private conversation describing Haiti and certain African countries. Prager makes a number of very good points. Here are a few:
1. There are few filters between President Donald Trump’s mind and mouth. That is his appeal and his weakness. It is very common that a person’s strengths are also weaknesses. I wish Trump’s tweets and comments were as forthright — as un-PC — as they are now but stated in a sophisticated way. I also wish that cheesecake were not fattening. But just as cheesecake comes with sugar, Donald Trump comes with unsophisticated rhetoric. People are packages, not a la carte menus.

2. As a rule, a president of the United States should not label countries, let alone continents, “sh**holes.” I don’t know what word the president actually used, but had he used the word “dysfunctional” instead of “sh**hole,” that actually might have been a service to the people of many of these countries. I have been to 20 African countries. Corruption is Africa’s greatest single problem. That’s why those who truly care about Africans, many of whom are terrific people, need to honestly describe the moral state of many or most African countries. What benefit is it to honest, hardworking Africans or Latin Americans or others to deny the endemic corruption of these societies?

As Guatemalan columnist Claudia Nunez wrote on Trump in the Guatemalan newspaper Siglio 21: “The epithets he uses to describe certain groups are unfortunate and exemplify the decadence of the current political scene. But he has also said things that are true, for example, that it is we citizens of migration countries who have accommodated ourselves to the need to export people, as we have calmly allowed excessive levels of corruption to grow for decades.”

3. Though many wonderful immigrants come from the world’s worst places, there is some connection between the moral state of an immigrant’s country and the immigrant’s contribution to America. According to data from the Center for Immigration Studies, 73 percent of households headed by Central American and Mexican immigrants use one or more welfare programs, as do 51 percent of Caribbean immigrants and 48 percent of African immigrants. Contrast that with 32 percent of East Asians and 26 percent of Europeans.

4. The press’s constant description of Trump as a racist, a white supremacist, a fascist, and an anti-Semite has been a Big Lie. It is meant to hurt the president, but it mostly damages the country and the media. To cite the most often provided “evidence” for the president’s racism, the president never said or implied that the neo-Nazis at the infamous Charlottesville, Va, demonstrations were “fine people.” The “fine people” he referred to were the pro- and anti-statue removal demonstrators.
The notion that Trump is a racist can be credibly sustained only if one believes that anything remotely critical of anyone with a swarthy complexion is ipso facto racist. Otherwise, the evidence for Trump's alleged racism is gossamer thin, but when you're in the opposition party, and you see everything you've worked for over the past decades being systematically undone, and the country appear to be thriving as a result, I guess you reach for your most trusty weapon, which for some forty years has been the allegation of racism. The trouble is, that tactic is getting increasingly threadbare, and the people who invoke it at every opportunity are looking increasingly foolish.

In any case, it's hard to square the imputation of racism to Trump with what Senator Rand Paul describes here:
I suspect that a lot of the criticism that has befallen the president over this latest episode has little to do with his scatological description of these countries, which is surely accurate in its general sense. After all, the chief argument for expanded immigration from the countries to which Mr. Trump was inartfully referring is that the people residing in them are living amidst hellish conditions and that compassion demands we give those poor wretches a chance to escape the horrors to which they're daily subjected.

Indeed, many of those who come here from those lands are willing to risk everything they have, including their lives, to escape them. Why would they do this unless they felt they were escaping a country that offers its people nothing but hopelessness and misery?

Nor does the controversy seem to have much to do with whether we should be admitting so many immigrants from countries wracked with poverty, dysfunction and lack of education. It surely is not in our national interest to open our doors to millions of the world's poor any more than it would be in a family's interest to permanently and indiscriminately open their home to the poor and homeless on their community's streets.

No, the outrage expressed over Trump's choice of words is more about laying hold of one more cudgel with which to beat him over the head than it is about his inveterate poor taste, or racism or whatever.

Here's a thought experiment one can apply to the immigration issue that'll serve as a kind of hypocrisy detector. Imagine that it were believed that all immigrants from third-world countries, whether legal or illegal, were granted citizenship and could reasonably be expected to vote Republican while any immigrants from first-world European countries were likely to vote Democrat. If so, how much enthusiasm would there be right now among Democrats for DACA, for open borders, amnesty and mass immigration from those blighted nations?

I can't prove it, of course, but I suspect that were this the case many Democrats would be clamoring for a border wall, demanding that we expand immigration from Europe and that we impose strict quotas on the immigration of people from the third world who lack skills and education. In other words, if I'm right, much of the outrage over Trump's comment is really about leveraging dissatisfaction and dislike for the president into votes and political power for themselves.

Check out the rest of Prager's comments on this matter at the link. They're very good.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Willful Blindness

The Washington Examiner has an annotated list of about 165 companies that have given their employees substantial bonuses, and/or have raised their minimum wage and/or have otherwise pledged to invest more in their communities all because of the newly enacted tax reform law.

Nevertheless, liberal opponents, particularly on MSNBC, continue to insist that the tax reform law will only help the rich and that workers will, in House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi's words, get only "crumbs". $1000 bonuses may be "crumbs" for wealthy people like Pelosi, but it's a godsend to a lot of ordinary people.

Here's a video that interpolates some opponents' criticisms of the bill with what workers are actually receiving from it. After a while you have to wonder at what point are people so blinded by their anachronistic ideology and their contempt for the president that they become oblivious to reality and consequently make themselves foolish:
As I skimmed through the list of companies at the Examiner I noticed that companies run by liberals, tech companies like Apple and Google or banks associated with Tom Steyer, were not represented. Maybe I missed them or maybe their employee bonuses are still in the works. Or maybe they're just going to take their tax cuts and keep them for themselves. UPDATE: Apple just announced that it'll be investing 350 billion in the U.S. economy over the next five years as a result of the tax reform bill and has plans to create 20,000 new jobs. The benefits to Americans keep on coming. The Democrats are going to have a hard time defending the fact that not a single one of them voted for this reform.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Top Ten Military Developments of 2017

An article at Strategy Page discusses the ten most noteworthy developments in 2017 that had military implications. I was a bit surprised that North Korea wasn't on their list, but in any case here are the ten with just a brief excerpt from SP's discussion. There's much more of interest said about each of these at the link for anyone who'd like to follow up.


The most extreme Islamic terror group on the planet, hated by all other Islamic terrorists, was defeated but not destroyed in 2017. It was driven underground where, if tradition holds, it will fester for a generation or so and then revive and repeat. In effect this is a chronic problem. It is an unending Moslem civil war between those (mainly Islamic terrorists) who want a worldwide religious dictatorship run by themselves, versus those representing the majority of Moslems who are getting tired of being threatened and murdered by Moslem religious fanatics.


The defeat of ISIL changed the outcome of the rebellion, or did it? Until late 2017 everyone more (the West and their Arab allies) or less (Assads, Russia, Iran, Turkey) concentrated on fighting ISIL. This effort appeared to have destroyed the rebel advantage because early on most Syrian rebels embraced Islamic radicalism. This was because most of the population was Sunni Moslems who the Shia Assads suppressed and exploited for decades. That meant that after 2012 Islamic radical rebels spent most of their time fighting other rebels. With the defeat of ISIL the rebels are much weakened but more willing to cooperate with each other. Meanwhile the coalition that saved the Assads is falling apart.


Colombia has finally ended over 70 years of fighting and general misery. In 2017 the main leftist rebel force (FARC) made peace and the much smaller ELN is negotiating a similar deal. The death rate is way down as is crime in general. The drug cartels are moving their operations out of the country and the economy is one of the healthiest in Latin America.


China has been building modern warships at a record rate, something rarely seen in peacetime. China has been building world class warships faster and cheaper than anyone else. There is nothing magical about this, the Chinese simply were practical and ruthless in catching up. Practical in the sense that they managed to merge a market economy with a communist police state. That rather unnatural act may yet come apart but since the 1980s China has been learning from what Russia did wrong during the Cold War and putting their more effective methods into practice.


The American F-35 has entered service and mass production is under way and on schedule. F-35s are entering service in large numbers (a hundred plus a year) over the next few years and will be used operationally. Some are already operating near combat zones, like the ones Israel has put into service. Israeli pilots, and all others who have flown the F-35 agree that the software and the degree of automation built in is spectacular.... The F-35 has a large number of sensors (receivers for electronic signals, six cameras and a very capable radar) and the fusion of all that data and presentation to the pilot based on the current situation is impressive and makes the F-35 much easier to fly, despite all the additional capabilities it has.


In 2017 it finally happened. Saudi Arabia and Kuwait went public in support of an Arab-Israeli alliance to oppose Iran.... The Israelis know that the anti-Semitic attitudes in the Arab world go back to before the emergence of Islam in the 7th century and have waxed and waned ever since. Anti-Semitism is again widely tolerated in Europe. But the United States has a new president who grew up in and around New York City, built a fortune there, has a Jewish son-in-law, Jewish grandchildren and a pro-Israel attitude that is more decisive and imaginative than that of the last few American presidents.


It’s been a long time coming but the Palestinians are losing all their primary sources of income and special status with the UN. The Americans, long the largest contributor, are withdrawing support as are a growing number of European donors. The Arab oil states are also cutting way back because of Palestinian corruption, inability to unite and the Palestinian refusal to make some kind of peace deal with Israel. The Arab oil states are also mad at the Palestinians for supporting Saddam Hussein’s plans to conquer all of Arabia (starting with Kuwait in 1990) and now working with Iran.


Pakistan fears the United States and India will carry out more air strikes and commando operations in Pakistan against Islamic terrorist targets. Pakistan is particularly concerned with protecting the Haqqani Network, an Afghan led group that has prospered under Pakistani protection and is now believed to control the leadership of the Afghan Taliban, Pakistan has long denied any connection with Haqqani, much less control of the group, but there is much evidence that ISI (Pakistani Intelligence) works closely with Haqqani. Growing American (and international) pressure has forced Pakistan to say it is acting against Haqqani. There is little evidence of that.


After decades of effort the Philippines has finally made decisive progress in dealing with its endemic corruption, communist rebels and violence by Moslem separatists and bandits.


For the second time since 2009 Iran is undergoing a nationwide protest against the religious dictatorship. It’s not an armed revolution. The protestors have been loud but not violent unless attacked. Nearly all the deaths have been protestors attacked by the security forces. The government has called out its supporters (or simply those with a government job) to stage pro-government rallies. These are well guarded and thoroughly covered by state controlled media. The goal of the protests is to, at the very least, get the clerical dictatorship to openly discuss the mess they have made of the economy and much else in Iran.