October 3, 2013

The Bystander Effect in Philadelphia

Filed under: Randomness, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 11:04

Techdirt‘s Tim Cushing talks about an incident in Philadelphia where a transit police officer was losing a fight with a suspect, yet none of the people came to the assistance of the cop or even called 911:

The fact is that a certain number of citizens aren’t going to come to a cop’s defense simply because they’ve seen too much abuse occur at the hands of cops. When law enforcement struggles with an arrestee, they’re not too shy about bringing in several more officers to help out, or just sending an attack dog after them. They’re also in possession of several more weapons than most citizens carry — including pepper spray, batons, tasers and guns.

The odds are stacked in favor of police officers. When one is suddenly unable to avail himself of all the weapons at his disposal, police leadership seems to think the public should jump in and save their “heroes,” or at least call 911.

Over at PINAC’s writeup of the event, the oft-arrested/hassled photographer Carlos Miller points out why that’s a bad idea.

    I admit I would be the one video recording, not necessarily because I wouldn’t want to help the cop, but because pulling out my camera and recording is very instinctive for me, while dialing 911 is anything but.

    In fact, my instinct is to avoid calling 911 at all costs because I don’t trust police enough not to turn me into a suspect when they arrive, which we have seen happen numerous times in the past.

Beyond the chilly relationship between citizens and cops are further factors, legal and otherwise, that Chief Nestle isn’t considering when he expresses his shock at the public’s inaction.

First, there’s the Bystander Effect. Very basically, the more people present in a situation, the less likely that someone will offer aid. Two factors that came into play during this beatdown are empathy and the “diffusion of responsibility.” Many people simply don’t empathize with cops, even when a citizen has gained the upper hand. This disconnect leads directly to less altruistic behavior. The more someone empathizes with the victim, the more likely they are to respond. Judging from the majority of the comments under the news report, it’s very unlikely that any crowd would be filled with empathetic individuals.

Postwar horror – the misery didn’t stop with VE day or VJ day

Filed under: Books, Europe, Germany, History, Japan, Media, Pacific, WW2 — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 08:38

In the last couple of years, I’ve read several books about the aftermath of World War Two, including Tony Judt’s Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945, Ronald Spector’s In the Ruins of Empire: The Japanese Surrender and the Battle for Postwar Asia, and David Stafford’s Endgame, 1945: The Missing Final Chapter of World War II. When you concentrate on the combat side of war, you can easily miss the destructive side-effects of that combat and it’s hard to imagine how long it can take for a city or a region to recover from being a battlefield. What is even more interesting is the complex interplay of humanitarian, political and social pressures on the winning side, too often leading to actions that we would have called war crimes if they’d happened just days or weeks earlier. In the New York Times, Adam Hochschild looks at an interesting new book covering the immediate postwar period:

Ian Buruma’s lively new history, Year Zero, is about the various ways in which the aftermath of the Good War turned out badly for many people, and splendidly for some who didn’t deserve it. It is enriched by his knowledge of six languages, a sense of personal connection to the era (his Dutch father was a forced laborer in Berlin) and his understanding of this period from a book he wrote two decades ago that is still worth reading, The Wages of Guilt: Memories of War in Germany and Japan. His survey rambles over a wide expanse of ground, from sexual behavior (imagine millions of Allied occupation troops in a Germany where women outnumbered men by eight to five), to British and American soldiers unintentionally killing thousands of liberated concentration camp inmates by feeding them more than their shriveled intestinal tracts could handle, to the Allies’ blindness to how much of their cornucopia of food and supplies found its way into the hands of Italian, French and Japanese gangsters, restoring some of their prewar power.

Despite the lofty democratic aura of World War II, Buruma points out that the Allies spent much of the latter half of 1945 reviving colonialism. After Algerian Arabs began an uprising on V-E Day, demanding equal rights, some of the troops the French governor general called in to suppress them included an elite infantry regiment that had just taken part in the final assault on Germany. Rebellious towns and villages were bombed, or shelled by naval vessels; in two months of fighting as many as 30,000 Algerians may have been killed. Thousands were made to kneel before the French flag and beg forgiveness.

On the other side of the world, inhabitants of the Dutch East Indies demanded freedom just after the Japanese surrender. But the Dutch government answered with troops, aided by soldiers from Britain’s large Indian Army, British battleships and abundant American military supplies. Fighting continued for four years. And in Vietnam, where a crowd of more than 300,000 gathered to hear Ho Chi Minh declare independence from France, the story would of course eventually become even bloodier. In 1945 British troops were crucial to restoring the colonial order in Vietnam, with help from French Foreign Legion detachments. These included many German volunteers, recruited from P.O.W. camps, who had recently been fighting the Allies in Europe or North Africa.

Meanwhile, the victorious Allies were uprooting some 10 million ethnic Germans from parts of Eastern Europe, where they had lived for generations, and forcing them to move to a shrunken Germany, with perhaps a half-million or more dying in the process from hunger, exposure or attacks by vengeful neighbors. Buruma, like others before him, notes the paradox of the Allied armies carrying out something that echoed “Hitler’s project . . . of ethnic purity.”

Everything old is new again … this time it’s mead making a comeback

Filed under: Business, USA, Wine — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 07:50

BBC News Magazine looks at the rise of modern-day mead in the North American market:

Long relegated to the dusty corners of history, mead — the drink of kings and Vikings — is making a comeback in the US.

But what’s brewing in this new crop of commercial meaderies — as they are known — is lot more refined from the drink that once decorated tables across medieval Europe.


Mr Alexander is not the only one to have caught on to the commercial potential of mead.

Vicky Rowe, the owner of mead information website GotMead, says interest in the product in the US has exploded in the past decade.

“We went from 30-40 meaderies making mead to somewhere in the vicinity of 250 in the last 10 years,” she says.

“I like to say that everything old is new again — people come back to what was good once.”


The mead of the past was often sweet, and didn’t appeal to many drinkers who were just looking for something good to pair with food. But mead has since changed.

“People don’t realise that just because it has honey in it, [mead] doesn’t need to be sweet,” says Ms Rowe, citing the proliferation of not only dry meads but also meads flavoured with fruits, herbs, and spicy peppers.

Yet hampering efforts towards building mead awareness is also the name mead itself.

Technically, mead is classified as wine by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, which regulates alcohol sales and labelling in the US.

This means that mead has to be labelled as “honey wine”, which doesn’t help combat people’s perception of the drink as being as cloyingly sweet.

“How do people recognise it as mead if you can’t say the word?” says Ms Rowe.

QotD: Biographies of Abraham Lincoln

Filed under: Books, History, Media, Quotations, USA — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 00:01

… Lincoln is yet to be got vividly between the covers of a book. The Nicolay-Hay work is quite impossible; it is not a biography, but simply a huge storehouse of biographical raw materials; whoever can read it can also read the official Records of the Rebellion. All the other standard lives of old Abe — for instance, those of Lamon, Herndon and Weil, Stoddard, Morse and Miss Tarbell — fail still worse; when they are not grossly preachy and disingenuous they are trivial. So far as I can make out, no genuinely scientific study of the man has ever been attempted. The amazing conflict of testimony about him remains a conflict; the most elemental facts are yet to be established; he grows vaguer and more fabulous as year follows year. One would think that, by this time, the question of his religious views (to take one example) ought to be settled, but apparently it is not, for no longer than a year ago there came a reverend author Dr. William E. Barton, with a whole volume upon the subject, and I was as much in the dark after reading it as I had been before I opened it. All previous biographers, it appeared by this author’s evidence, had either dodged the problem, or lied. The official doctrine, in this as in other departments, is obviously quite unsound. One hears in the Sunday-schools that Abe was an austere and pious fellow, constantly taking the name of God in whispers, just as one reads in the school history-books that he was a shining idealist, holding all his vast powers by the magic of an inner and ineffable virtue. Imagine a man getting on in American politics, interesting and enchanting the boobery, sawing off the horns of other politicians, elbowing his way through primaries and conventions, by the magic of virtue! As well talk of fetching the mob by hawking exact and arctic justice! Abe, in fact, must have been a fellow highly skilled at the great democratic art of gum-shoeing. I like to think of him as one who defeated such politicians as Stanton, Douglas and Sumner with their own weapons — deftly leading them into ambuscades, boldly pulling their noses, magnificently ham-stringing and horn-swoggling them — in brief, as a politician of extraordinary talents, who loved the game for its own sake, and had the measure of the crowd. His official portraits, both in prose and in daguerreotype, show him wearing the mien of a man about to be hanged; one never sees him smiling. Nevertheless, one hears that, until he emerged from Illinois, they always put the women, children and clergy to bed when he got a few gourds of corn aboard, and it is a matter of unescapable record that his career in the State Legislature was indistinguishable from that of a Tammany Nietzsche.

But, as I say, it is hopeless to look for the real man in the biographies of him: they are all full of distortion, chiefly pious and sentimental. The defect runs through the whole of American political biography, and even through the whole of American history.

H.L. Mencken, “Roosevelt: An Autopsy”, Prejudices, part 2, 1920.

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