Sunday, February 27, 2022

The Tale of Princess Olga of Kiev


Gather 'round children and hear the tale of Princess Olga.


Olga was a brave and brilliant princess, but she was married to a bit of a jerk. It’s true.

Her husband was the Prince of Kiev, Igor. He held his lands with an iron fist and demanded huge tributes from his neighbors. Yet, she loved him with all her heart and gave him a son.

One day in 945, the Drevlian tribe got tired of paying tribute and killed him in a most cowardly manner. After killing Prince Igor, thinking that she was merely a weak and scared woman, they tried to get Princess Olga to marry one of their princes so that they could take over all of Kievan Rus – the most powerful Slavic kingdom of the age.

But Olga wasn’t weak. And she wasn’t scared. She was pissed.

Welcoming the Drevlian messengers into the city as they carried their deceitful offer, the people of the city seized their boat, dragged it onto the land, and tossed them all in a ditch, burying them alive.

But the Princess’ honor was not yet satisfied. Before word reached the Drevlians about the fate of their men, she asked for a second delegation to come so that their “distinguished men” could take her to their lands in honor before she married the new prince.

Excited that their ploy worked, the Drevlians came to Kiev. She offered up her own bathhouse to them for their comfort. As they sat in the hot steam, relaxing after their long journey, the vengeful princess had the doors barred and set the building on fire, burning them alive.

Still enraged at the slaughter of her husband and the Drevlians’ devious attempt to usurp her kingdom and kill her son, the unforgiving Olga left her palace to visit the tomb of her slain husband.

Acting as the grieving widow, she once again invited more Drevlians to hold a final funeral feast. Once the gullible horde was drunk, her army came out of the woods and beset the blurry-eyed crowd, killing 5,000 of them.

Now on the march, the Princess of Death reached the enemy’s capital, the city of Korosten. The city where her husband had been killed.

Her army besieged Korosten but the Drevlians held out for a year. Princess Olga beseeched them saying that all of their other cities had been conquered, pay tribute again, and now the people live their lives and tend to their fields, so why should Korosten resist and continue to suffer?

Our clever princess offered terms of peace to the city’s leaders. She acknowledged that her husband’s greed was tyrannical and only asked that if the city paid her a tribute of three pigeons and three sparrows for each household, they would all be spared.

The city rejoiced at such an offer and readily sent her the birds. But at night Princess Olga, the Regent of all Keivan Rus, the widow of the mighty Prince Igor, the mother of the future of his dynasty that would last a further six centuries had one last trick in store for the people who dared defy Kiev.

She had her men tie bits of sulfur and cloth onto the birds. They lit the cloth on fire and sent the birds back into the city where they landed in the homes of their former owners, carrying flaming, melting chunks of sulfur over the people’s heads.

This mighty princess firebombed her enemies a thousand years before airplanes, before carpet bombing, before Dresden became a byword for destroying a city by fire.

That night, all of her enemies perished. That night, Princess Olga guaranteed the survival of Kiev. 

*This is based on the life of a real princess, Olga of Kiev, who was born in either 890 or 925 and died in 969. The information comes from the Rus' Primary Chronicle. 

--Jacob Bogle, 2/27/2022

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

2020 - The Lost Year

As 2019 drew to an end, we began learning about a weird, unknown virus hitting eastern China. At the time, like most, my family was more focused on the upcoming year. 

We were planning on growing our savings so we could buy a new home in 2021, we were preparing to visit some close friends in Florida, and we were looking forward to taking an international trip to celebrate my partner’s 33rd birthday.

Then the economy collapsed as that wired little virus turned into a monster. My partner was furloughed as Nashville shutdown, Florida became an epicenter of the pandemic in America, and thanks to rising case numbers, many countries won’t even let Americans visit anymore. And there’s still four months left to go in the year.

Individual years, decades, even whole generations have been referred to as “lost”.

During the American Civil War about 2% of the population was killed. By one estimate, over a fifth of all Southern men aged 20-24 died in the war. One hundred and fifty-five years later, the American south now seems to be bearing the brunt of COVID-19 as well.

World War I is said to have cost the “flower of European youth”, and World War II resulted in the worst carnage imaginable. But as bad as they are, wars are expected to cost lives and destroy families. Unfortunately, economies can too.

During the Great Recession, approximately 10,000 people took their own lives in the US and European Union, and countless millions had their worlds turned upside down from the hardship. Japan “lost” an entire decade from 1991 to 2001 as economic stagnation took over and the country couldn’t crawl its way back to the prosperity that had marked the second half of the twentieth century.

But, from Japan’s lost decade to the lost generation of Europe, one thing all of these examples share is that they’re local or regional. The American Civil War was, well, American. Even a global war like WWII didn’t actually rage across every inch of the planet. No battle was fought in Nigeria and the harbor of Rio De Janeiro was never a prime target of Hitler’s. COVID-19 on the other hand has swept every corner of the globe.

Unlike artillery shells whizzing by that you can hear (and even see), trillions of invisible viral bullets permeate our environment, waiting to take another victim. And in the battle against it, we have been forced to alter the lives of far more people than were ever affected by war.

From the gay couple living near Nashville, Tennessee trying to survive the entertainment industry shutdown of “Music City USA” to the citizens of Mumbai, India where upwards of half the population living in its sprawling slums may have contracted the virus, it seems no place has gone untouched.

With four months in the year left and 4.6 million US cases already, it’s not unreasonable to suspect the United States will have 9 million cases by Christmas, and that a million people will have died worldwide.

Economically, US GDP fell 32.9% (the worst quarterly drop ever) and that trend is being seen everywhere. The European Union has entered into a recession and the World Bank predicts that Russia’s economy will contract by 6% (deepening their economic crisis). In fact, the World Bank predicts that the global economy will shrink by a combined 5.2%, “with the largest fraction of economies experiencing declines in per capita output since 1870.”

COVID-19 has resulted in a lost year in more than just Brazil or Europe or in rich countries or poor countries. It has taken away an entire year of family plans and of people’s education and graduations, a year of savings and a year of vacations, it has placed millions at risk of eviction and caused emergencies throughout the medical community as routine screenings go unperformed and patients stay at home with their chronic illness rather than risk catching COVID-19 by seeing their doctor for regular care.

It has done this everywhere. On every continent, every country. Even in the few with no reported cases, the effects of COVID-19 have probably touched more individual lives in one way or another than any other pandemic in history.

The upshot is that while 2020 may be a lost year for many, it doesn’t have to be a genuinely lost year in terms of the lives of thousands and thousands of others. And COVID’s death and economic ruin doesn’t have to carry on into another lost year and beyond.

Managing economies made up of millions of businesses and billions of customers is complicated. Managing a pandemic is actually pretty simple. 

It may take a few years at a university to learn about things like “behavioral economics” but the blueprint for controlling infectious diseases has its foundations dating back to the Plague – the one that burned through Europe 667 years ago.

We know how to limit the damage of outbreaks without having a vaccine. It was done with polio, it is being done with HIV/AIDS, it has been done with each Ebola recurrence, and it can definitely be done with COVID-19. The specific rules may vary depending on the exact disease, but in each case those rules can fit onto a single note card. For the current pandemic that has stolen so much and is trying to steal so much more, the rules are basic:

1. Everyone sneezes or coughs on their hands, so wash yours

2. Don’t make it easy to spread, so socially distance yourself

3. Assume you have it, so wear a mask while around others

4. And don’t let false information stand in the way of keeping others safe

These are fundamental to stopping a disease like COVID-19, and that’s what makes them so effective. If we collectively can’t follow such simple tasks for the benefit of others, then 2020 won’t be the last lost year.

For my family, the jury is still out whether we will be able to safely see our friends (as Florida grapples with continual daily case records) or if a new house is coming next year, but we will keep looking out for each other the way all families are supposed to.

--Jacob Bogle, 8/4/2020

Friday, February 7, 2020

The Case for a Delaware First in the Nation Vote

Iowa has be the "first in the nation" caucus for Democrats since 1972 and for Republicans since 1976 because of the state's complex system of local caucuses, county conventions, etc. 

In recent times, questions have been raised about the fairness, continued viability, and democratic (or anti-democratic) nature of continuing to allow Iowa to be the first state in the country to hold a vote in determining who will end up being the candidates for president. These questions have gone into overdrive since the 2020 Democratic caucus, when the results took days to become known and no candidate was able to lay claim to the title of "winner" as Pete Buttigieg won the delegate count but Sen. Bernie Sanders conclusively won the popular vote count. 
Additionally, the 2020 Democrat field began with a diverse group of dozens of candidates but by the time of the caucus it was realistically down to four white candidates. 

Iowa is not a representative state when it comes to race and minority candidates have long held that giving Iowa the first spot (and the electoral bump winning the state provides) disadvantages minority candidates. This is compounded by the fact that the second state to hold a vote is New Hampshire, also a very white state.

The United States as a whole is 73% white, 12.7% black, and 17.6% Hispanic. On the other hand, Iowa is 90.6% white. Additionally, it's a fairly rural state with an urbanization rate of 64% vs. 80.7% for the US.

A big reason why supporters of keeping Iowa the "first in the nation" is that its small population gives lesser-known candidates the ability to build up support easier than in other states and for less money.

I'd like to make the case that if we are going to continue having a "first in the nation" contest, that the state should be Delaware.

First, some similarities. 

Like Iowa, Delaware is small. Indeed, it's the second smallest state in the country. (New Hampshire isn't much bigger, it's the fifth smallest state). It size would allow campaigns of any size the opportunity to gain traction and visibility without having to spend tens of millions of dollars.

With Delaware's small population, candidates could very easily shake hands with the majority of voters and pursued them to their side face-to-face.

In terms of potential Electoral College votes during the general election, Delaware has 4, between Iowa's 6 and New Hampshire's 3. But the state physically sits near Maryland, New Jersey, Virginia, and Pennsylvania. People who vote for similar candidates don't exist within the boundaries of a county or state, support bleeds into other areas. The border regions hold a greater mix of party preference before you head out into solid red or blue territory. 

Maryland and New Jersey are fairly blue and Virginia and Pennsylvania have acted as toss-up states in recent elections. Toss-up states are what matters during the general election and winning a nearby state in a caucus/primary can help boost turnout elsewhere. The combined EC votes of those states plus Delaware is 60. Currently, when you look at the states that touch Iowa, the EC votes equal 64. Again, very similar.

Delaware and Iowa are tied when it comes to how often the state voted for the eventual winner during the general election. Since 1972, both states have gone to the winner 9 times.

Onto the differences.

Iowa is 90.6% white. Delaware is 68.9% white. The US is 73% white. This makes Delaware much more representative of the racial diversity of the country. Despite Iowa's larger population, there are actually more African Americans living in Delaware than in Iowa, around twice as many in fact.

In terms of urbanization, 83.3% of Delaware's population lives in a town or city. That's near the national rate of 80.7%. Iowa's urban population is a mere 64%.

When it comes to education, Delaware also more closely matches the country. Over 33% of Americans have a bachelor's degree or higher. In Delaware it's 31%, Iowa is 28%.


Iowa is simply not representative of either the United States or the base of the Democrat Party. On top of that, the Iowa Democratic Party has lost all faith and trust of voters after the colossal botching of the 2020 caucus.

Delaware maintains the positives associated with Iowa (a small population that gives lesser known or underfunded campaigns a chance to break through) while providing a number of metrics that are much more inline with the country as a whole.

On top of it all, there's historic symmetry with the fact that Delaware was the literal first state in the nation, having ratified the Constitution before any other state. 

If the parties continue to insist on a single, first state to hold a vote, I think Delaware should be given serious thought. 

--Jacob Bogle, 2/7/2020

Monday, December 9, 2019

Missiles and Castles and Planets, Oh My!

Open-source intelligence, crowd sourcing, and citizen science has revolutionized information gathering and analysis. From discovering illegal dumps or new wildlife habitats to verifying refugee stories of war crimes, it is changing the world. Image source:

I have a lot of interests. I mean, a lot. And although lots of people have lots of interests, most may only focus on one or two big ones. Traditionally, these interests would become a career and anything outside of that was relegated to the realm of "hobby", with little interconnection or effect on the outside world.

The "open source universe" has changed all of that. What once required a degree, or major grants, or was the sole domain of government has become part of the daily lives of millions of people around the world, all contributing their part to a wider universe of knowledge and policy.

On Dec. 6, 2019, Amy Zegart of The Atlantic wrote about "self-appointed spies" engaging in nuclear non-proliferation research and other serious matters where governments had once held a monopoly. Commercial satellite imagery, Google Earth, and various other open-source intelligence (OSINT) have busted down the doors of secrecy surrounding North Korea, Iran, Russia, China, and pretty much the entire world. PhD's and amateurs alike have helped to peer into nuclear activities, debunk misinformation coming from governments, and create detailed maps of mysterious countries (yours truly happened to be mentioned in the article).

The next day her article became extremely relevant as world events took their turn. On Dec. 7, North Korea conducted a "very important" test at their Sohae Satellite Launch Center. Days prior, warnings of activity at the site were sounded by one of these citizen spies (Dr. Jeffrey Lewis in this case, who was also mentioned in Zegart's article). 

There couldn't have been a more perfect example of the global importance of the democratization of technology and information.

By using Google Earth, I was able to locate this ancient fort in North Korea.

But missile hunting is only one part of what has become an entire biome based on OSINT, volunteer science and research, distributive computing, and the use of accessible and rapidly improving technology to open up the world and to solve problems.

Beyond North Korea, another area I am interested in is archaeology. Using Google Earth I have been able to locate thousands of castles, forts, defensive walls, and ancient tells around the globe. Dr. Sarah Parcak pioneered using satellites and remote sensing to uncover ancient Egypt, and these methods have helped to make major discoveries all around the world at an unprecedented rate.
Using these methods have enabled researchers to make these discoveries without needing to resort to years of hunting through dense rain forest or wasting time following false leds, saving countless man-hours and allowing already limited funding to be better utilized.

Indeed, from hunting for planets to finding new penguin colonies or modeling protein folding, non-traditional sources and methods have a combined value in the billions of dollars...that never ended up needing to be spent. At the same time, the added economic benefits from discoveries based on these sources is likewise in the billions. It has even contributed in ways that are priceless like discovering lost forests in Mozambique. 

Moving on, satellites and crowd sourcing have blown open the world of pollution management as illegal e-waste recycling centers and other illegal dumps have been located throughout southeast Asia, and similar endeavors to monitor pollution exist all over the world. The tech companies themselves are even getting into the action as Google has begun to use its Street View cars to gather data on air pollution as they drive through communities around the world.

Whether it's monitoring deforestation, crop yields, urban growth, or helping to build a case for war crimes committed by ISIS, the full impact of this biome is immeasurable.

Click this image of the Iranian launch site for a larger view.

The nature of this tectonic shift in information sharing and having countless interested individuals involved in any particular field can also serve as a warning to hapless elected officials releasing otherwise sensitive information without going through any proper channels. 

On Aug. 30, 2019, President Trump tweeted an image taken by satellite of a failed Iranian missile test. Within hours the name of the classified satellite had been discovered, as was its orbital path and flyover time. This was done over Twitter by people who knew a little about satellites and math.

While Iran certainly knows it is being observed from above, it now also knows what actual satellite is looking at this particular launch site and what times of day it will and won't be overhead. The satellite's imaging capabilities can also largely be deduced from the image Trump sent out. Those capabilities are undoubtedly shared by other satellites taking a look at Russia and China, too. Trump's "leak" isn't the same as giving adversaries the full specifications of our spy satellites, but it was a completely pointless overshare of information.

Now, I have been rather glowing in my praise to this point but that isn't to say everything is perfect. Mistakes do happen. Things are misidentified and unverified claims can easily end up making international news before the truth ever arrives. But this isn't anything inherent to the open-source universe.

Unproven scientific reports can suddenly become "proof" that Einstein was wrong and rumors becoming "fact" that Kim Jong Un executed his uncle by a pack of rabid dogs each show sensationalism is no stranger to major media outlets.

Just because intelligence and research has been democratized doesn't mean, on the whole, that it doesn't have tremendous value or can't compete. A major and longstanding argument against Wikipedia is that "anyone can edit it". While that's true and that false or inaccurate information can be added, erroneous information can be removed or corrected just as easily. Waiting on knighted experts from a print encyclopedia to issue corrections can take years. In comparison, Wikipedia is just as accurate as those traditional repositories of information while also being far more dynamic and containing exponentially more data.

In fact, the unique qualities of crowd sourcing and OSINT has musty old government agencies looking to study the field. US intelligence agencies like the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency have sought to study the capabilities of this brave new world in the hopes that OSINT might be able to augment more traditional information gathering and analysis methods.

And so, I am proud to be among the "major players", as Amy Zegart put it, when it comes to North Korea sleuthing. But, I am also proud to be one of millions of others who take part in the citizen science projects found in Zooniverse, one of the millions of Wikipedia editors, and one of countless people who believe that the future is Open.

I encourage all of you to not let your interests and passions go to waste. From subject matter experts to individuals who just want to help where they can, there's literally thousands of opportunities out there. And in the event you can't find an organization, app, think tank, or human rights group to help out or that doesn't quite fit what you're trying to do, then you can always do what I did and take the initiative for yourself.

--Jacob Bogle, 12/9/2019

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Happy Thanksgiving and I Have an Eating Disorder

When people think of eating disorders, they usually visualize a teenage girl who is far too thin but feels she's overweight. Like countless others, I don't fit that narrative.

According to the National Eating Disorders Association, one third of people with eating disorders is male. And of those men and boys, up to 42% identify as gay. It's a major problem that is largely being ignored. In fact, while trying to find help, I couldn't find a single health center in my state of Tennessee that treats men, either as inpatient or even outpatient. 

What confuses people, too, is that I don't think I'm overweight. I do not have anorexia nervosa or bulimia. I know very well that I am underweight and would absolutely love to gain weight. The problem is that I have no appetite and a fairly unhealthy relationship with food that began in childhood and has followed me all the way into my 30s.

Today things are better than they were two years ago. For one, I'm actually acknowledging the fact that I have an eating disorder, and that in my quest to gain weight I was indeed able to gain some. You see, two years ago I was so thin that we were actually worried I would end up in the hospital if I got something like the flu. I likely neither had the energy or reserves of fat to fight it off and risk losing another pound or two. At the time, my BMI was 13.7. A "healthy" BMI for my height is over 19.

What many would love to do, lose a few extra pounds, would have been extremely dangerous for me.

Recognizing I was at this danger point, and because I knew I couldn't do this by myself, I opted to begin taking a medicine that increases appetite. After a year I was still technically underweight, but my BMI had jumped to 17.2. I was clearly on the right path.

Unfortunately, that medication comes with side effects - especially for men. Not just embarrassing ones but also things like waking up drenched in sweat every single night, multiple times a night.
My goal had been to use the medicine to gain enough weight to where I was healthy again and, in the process, learn eating habits that I could stick with so I could keep that weight gain and then stop taking the meds. That hasn't worked out.

I still weigh more than I did when I started but I'm down 10 pounds from the high and I had to lower the dose of the medication to address the side effects, so it's not working that great anymore. In fact, it's a daily struggle to just try to maintain my weight at any given moment. Heaven forbid I get depressed or a bad cold because *poof* there goes another pound, and I can't seem to get it back.

So how did I get here?

A lot of people with eating disorders can point to a traumatic event, like assault, that led them down an unhealthy road. But I didn't have a single moment. My problems developed over years with a mix of good intentioned but oblivious adults when I was a kid and then with major physical issues that began in my early twenties.

I have always been skinny, always. My dad was also skinny, as was my grandfather, so there was never much of a chance of me becoming buff or fluff. Adding to that is the fact there's also plenty of food that I flat out don't like. It's not being picky, it's me finding certain things legitimately disgusting. However, people can't seem to mind their own business. A skinny kid isn't a problem and he certainly isn't your problem to try to fix.

Any time I was at a family gathering (like Thanksgiving) or any gathering of any kind where food was served, I would fill up my plate with what I wanted to eat and the amount I wanted to eat so I didn't waste anything. Evidently, that wasn't good enough. Loving aunts and uncles would prod me, "is that all you're getting?", "why don't you try this instead?", "you'll never become a man if you eat that little".
Instead of just leaving me alone to eat what I knew I could handle, situations involving food became a bad thing. I wasn't eating enough so it felt like I needed to be punished by being called out and made to feel ostracized. 

That didn't encourage me to eat more. It encouraged me to find quiet places in the house or church or school where I could eat in private and avoid being pestered over what should have been nothing but was constantly blown up into something. And eventually, it encouraged me to not even bother eating much at all during gatherings because it would never be enough for those around me.

Still, I managed. By the time I was around 21, I still dreaded eating with people and was still skinny but I also weighed the most I ever had, and I was generally healthy overall.

Fast forward a couple years and things began to get worse. I started having severe back pain, was no longer able to work, and my stomach (of all things) also decided it was going to mess up.
There were stretches of time where I was so sick, I would throw up every few days and would go a full week without having a single meal because I couldn't keep anything down. Any time I'd try, I'd get sick.

These periods were intense and frightening. I physically felt like I was dying from the pain and my emotional health began to suffer a lot, too.
It took years to figure out what was wrong with me and for us to finally learn I wasn't dying - I just had bad luck with my back and GI system.

But over the course of those years, my desire to eat fell dramatically. I had spent all of that time fighting to keep food down and slowly developed a bit of a fear of eating "too much" (which was never actually much) because whenever I happened to eat a legit meal, I felt like death soon after.

I was able to get on a good regimen of medications, I went to therapy to address the depression (but not eating issues), and I started to be able to reclaim some semblance of a life. Unfortunately, during all of this time I had dropped a lot of weight and my relationship with food was worse than ever. I was able to gain weight but would lose it. Gain it again, goodbye. 

This see-saw life meant that I was never able to gain weight and finally hold it. I still, ever so slowly, lost a pound here and another there. I could maintain my weight until I got sick or had a very stressful time, and then it would disappear. 

And that leads me back to the beginning and freaking out over having a BMI of 13.7.

People still "lovingly harass" me over my weight. At the same time, idiotic and cruel rumors popped up and even "friends" coldly tossed around bombs like "unattractive starving Ethiopian". None of which helps. At. All.

I have managed to overcome severe depression, survived a suicide attempt, and have been able to make a home with a loving partner, but here I am, two days from Thanksgiving feeling compelled to admit reality while also feeling rather lost.

I have been going to a therapist to deal with some social anxiety issues, but her expertise isn't eating disorders, it's anxiety. So I sit here with no substantive professional help anywhere near me. I'm also sitting here two days from Thanksgiving - an entire day dedicated to eating and overeating.

I genuinely envy people who get excited about food. People who have no problem eating everything off of their plate and maybe going back for seconds. I would love to take real enjoyment out of breaking bread with loved ones. But Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, birthdays, going to's always a minefield. 

Am I going to get judged for not eating the "right" amount? What if there's not much on the menu I can eat or hate what the host made? What if I don't feel well? How about eating before I go someplace so I can at least get needed calories and then pretend to eat at the restaurant/house to not come off as being too rude? 
Do I just get an appetizer, or should I get an entrée knowing I'm wasting money but at least I'll fit in? How much food should I try to "hide" by moving it around the plate, so no one asks about it?
Ugh, and now here comes the waiter asking me if everything is OK or would I like to talk to the manager since I haven't eaten.

While I fantasize about being a foodie and enjoy looking at well-toned Insta models, I have to come back to the reality of my life. Consistently getting over a thousand calories a day is like trying to climb a mountain. Sometimes it feels so daunting that I just give up for the day. This isn't just a problem for when I'm going someplace, either. Figuring out food at home isn't much easier and additional facets come into play like, wanting to be "attractive" (whatever that means) and then failing to live up to the expectations I place on myself and that I think others place on me as well.

And then there's the constant parade of know-it-all's who tell me I just haven't had food prepared correctly and that if only I applied myself it really isn't that hard (it really isn't so simple). They tell me to try this new fad diet and what about meditation...

I belong to me. The only memories and experiences I have are mine. Every victory and every struggle, mine. I know what I have tried. I remember the breakdowns over dinner. I know the amount of effort I have placed into trying to make my life better and body stronger. 

Thanks for trying, but that type of caring isn't helping. Instead of telling ME what I have or haven't tried, how about you acknowledge me and my truth? Be there for me emotionally. And if I happen to ask you for your dietary opinions, then give them, but don't shout them at me when I never asked.

"JuSt eAt mOAr!" has never helped anyone with an eating disorder.

Another moral of this story is, don't be a busy body. You might think you're just being caring, but the person on the other end of your interrogation certainly doesn't feel your good intentions. They feel embarrassed at best and attacked at worst.

Obviously this can be tricky. People try to hide their eating disorders in all kinds of ways, but just being skinny or not gorging yourself until you can no longer fit into your jeans isn't a bad thing. There's nothing wrong with moderation. There's nothing wrong with not wanting a salad or passing on that second piece of pie. And if the bulk of your holiday interactions with that shy nephew boils down to "what's wrong with you", you're probably making him feel less worthy and risking a quirk becoming something worse down the line.

So here I am, Jacob with the eating disorder. It hasn't and won't define me, just as other aspects of my life don't define me, but it is something that's going to take a lot of work to overcome. And it's going to take a family, of my own choosing, to help be my support structure.

As for the holidays, thankfully, for this Thanksgiving I get to spend it with real friends who respect other people. No one expects me to eat four plates of food. They'd be thrilled if I just finished one, and I'd really like to do that, too.

--Jacob Bogle, 11/26/2019 

Friday, August 9, 2019

Ask Me Why I Think I Need A Gun

I first wrote about gun control in 2012, unfortunately things only seem to have gotten worse. There have been more mass shootings and calls for outright gun confiscation have commensurately grown louder.

There are a few main arguments for and against gun control. The pro-gun control crowd talks about "common sense" solutions and questions why anyone would "need" a "weapon of war". The pro-Second Amendment folks also hold a very diverse range of views with some supporting universal background checks and a tiny minority of others genuinely believing that the right to defend one's self is unlimited to the point that tanks should be sold at gun shows. And while it's true that most Americans fall into the middle of the extremes, popular opinion doesn't really matter much if you're talking about something that's a fundamental right.

Humans have always made weapons for hunting and defense, and they've also made them to conquer, rape, and pillage. The technology has decidedly changed over the years but that doesn't mean basic human rights change. In the past a trained archer might have been able to fire a bow at a rate of 10 arrows a minute. Can you imagine when the crossbow was invented and any regular guy (or woman or even child) could accurately knock out a bad guy with bolt after bolt after bolt? I can hear the calls for regulation even now. 
The gun, simply defined, has been around for a thousand years. It took the place of the crossbow, the arrow, and the sword because it is immeasurably more efficient. But like the old days of arrows and bolts, a gun that can fire 5 rounds a minute verses multiple rounds in a second doesn't change the ultimate fact: a person's ability to provide for their families and to protect is inviolable.

The Bill of Rights is called that because it lists well understood rights. Not privileges. Rights. The founding documents of the country and the countless letters and articles written at the time all go on at length about how humans are endowed with inalienable rights, that those rights don't become unnecessary when opinions change, that they can only be denied on an individual bases because that person did something wrong, and that the purpose of the Constitution is to limit the power of government, not the person.

While it is certainly true that America has never been able to fully live up to that promise of life, liberty, and happiness for all, the entire purpose of the country is that never-ending struggle to create a more perfect union. To that end, slavery was abolished and a woman's inherent right to vote was recognized. The whole course of the nation's history has been one of expanding liberty, not taking it away.

Sadly, when bad things happen people have a natural tendency to attack everything associated with the tragedy. After Pearl Harbor, we threw Japanese-Americans into prison. After 9/11, we eviscerated privacy rights, and many wanted to actually ban an entire religion. And after each senseless mass shooting, many want to restrict fundamental liberties for a false sense of security - regardless of the fact that this inherent right to personal, individual gun ownership is something the Supreme Court has validated.

The right to self-defense is both an individual right and a collective right. The individual has every right to defend themselves from a home invader and, collectively, we have the right to defend the nation from hostile forces. Neither the individual nor collective right can firmly be protected if the other isn't also protected. A country with a well-regulated military can still be invaded and overcome. But a country with millions of citizens who can all exercise their own right to defense is a whole lot harder to subdue, as history has shown many times over.

Mass grave of victims of the Srebrenica massacre.

My early childhood coincided with the end of the Cold War, and in that relatively short time countless tragedies have been visited upon the world by governments, criminal cartels, and terrorist groups. I don't consider these things merely distant and foreign warnings, nor do I think of them as some truism of the world that doesn't really mean that much. These are real events affecting real lives, and I think it's important to keep them in mind. There's little need to search the far-off past for examples of unarmed people being dragged off in cattle cars, a quick review of some of the things that have happened in my lifetime should be more than sufficient warning.

In my lifetime a terrorist group managed to take over one of the oldest societies in the world in Afghanistan, which also enabled the events of 9/11 a decade later.
I've seen the Chinese government engage in cultural genocide against millions of Uyghurs. It has imprisoned upwards of a million of them with no due process, broken up thousands of families, and created a biometric database to track the entire population.
I've seen civil war in the Balkans. And wars where the government turned completely against its own people in Libya and Syria.
I've seen genocides in Rwanda, Sudan, and against the Rohingya of Myanmar.
I watched as ISIS nearly overran two countries, killing thousands in the process.
I've seen the governments of Poland, Russia, and others take draconian actions against peaceful LGBT citizens, and the establishment of concentration camps for them in Chechnya.
I've seen drug cartels take over entire swaths of Central America.
I've watched Venezuela go from one of the richest countries to hell on earth.
As a North Korea analyst, I can see each and every day prison camps operating that hold upwards of 200,000 people.
I saw human rights abuses in Chile and throughout South America that resulted in the torture and deaths of tens of thousands. All with the backing of our own government.
And, yes, I also learned about Nazi Germany where six million died in the Holocaust. I learned about the Soviet government-sponsored famine in Ukraine that resulted in over three million deaths - and that even today evil men are prolonging a war in Ukraine with the backing of Russia. I learned about the killing fields in Cambodia, the mass purges in the Soviet Union, and the extensive crack downs on speech and religion that has never stopped in China.

Yet, despite the countless examples of international repression it is still hard to ever consider such tyranny happening in the United States. But the fact is most Americans actually think the federal government is a threat to liberty instead of the protector of liberty it was meant to be. And in 2017 only 23% felt the government had the consent of the governed - something that is the very cornerstone of the concept of government itself. Sadly, you don't need to look at polls or even consider the horrors foreign governments have visited on their own citizens. The concern about tyranny, government oppression, and state-sponsored violence can be dramatically justified by looking at our own history.

The US is no stranger to the creation of a surveillance state. The government has shown it doesn't care about your right to privacy and is more than willing to violate it owns laws. It engaged in domestic genocidal activities all the way into the 20th century. Even the much-loved Lincoln ordered the largest mass lynching of Native Americans in history. And speaking of Lincoln, the causes of secession may have been slavery, but the war itself was ignited by the government's willingness to send soldiers to kill other Americans. Regardless of the historical debates, the Civil War resulted in over 600,000 deaths and the US was the only country in history to end slavery in the context of a war.
Later, you have Texas Rangers murdering innocent Mexican Americans by the hundreds during La Matanza.
In the aftermath of 9/11, it even became dangerous to openly support the Constitution or to belong to 3rd parties. Various training manuals and reports from military, police, and other law enforcement agencies have listed potential "extremists" as those who promote judicial reforms, supporters of Ron Paul, holding pro-2nd Amendment views, and even disparage against homeschooling.
The government maintains kill lists and "no fly" list (which are notoriously inaccurate), all compiled in secret and without giving citizens the benefit of due process. Incidentally, gun control advocates have wanted to use the no-fly list as part of a plan to prevent people from owning guns.

And all of this adds to the current background where millions of Americans believe the Trump administration is setting up concentration camps. Where people see the vast abuses of government and law enforcement, but still insist that the only people who should have guns are those very people keeping kids in cages. The cognitive dissonance is stunning.

Calls for "common sense" gun control or banning "assault weapon" sound benign, but the history of gun control in this country has a long a dangerous history. Just like many other things, governments used Jim Crow laws to deny blacks the ability to own guns (or even certain knives in the case of Florida). What seems like common sense is only valid if it doesn't infringe on the rights of other people. 
Something like a universal background check comes with very real questions. A true universal background check law would mean that a dad couldn't give his daughter an heirloom rifle for her 18th birthday or that two friends couldn't exchange guns without first seeking the permission of the government. Then you add in something like Red Flag laws. These laws deny due process, violate privacy, and would begin to infringe on the rights of everyone who has ever been to a therapist, anyone who is a veteran, and anyone who smokes weed.

What about common sense bans of "assault weapons"? First you have to define what an assault weapon is. Many guns used legitimately in hunting have the same general characteristics of guns people have called "assault" or "military style." There is no unified, clear-cut definition of what those phrases mean. Often, they simply mean a gun that looks scary. Additionally, the only way such a ban would work is if you take the guns off the streets. In other words, go house to house and confiscate them. Otherwise you'd still have millions of "bad" guns in circulation, able to be stolen or end up on the black market where only criminals will have access to them.
Gun confiscation is the only way to make bans work. But even in a country like New Zealand, where gun laws have traditionally been strict, after the Christchurch shootings the gun buyback rate was only around 1%. Put another way, 99% of the owners of the now illegal guns have refused to voluntarily surrender them. Should New Zealand police start busting down the doors of these otherwise innocent and peaceful citizens?

When all is said and done, these "common sense" reforms end up looking extremely complicated and would require vast amounts of new government power to enforce, all while not addressing the root causes or affecting many other shootings. A 2014 study looked at 142 mass shootings and found that semi-automatic rifles were used in only 25% of the cases, meaning that 75% were committed with things like pistols, revolvers, and regular rifles. Context is also very important when discussing gun violence overall. The US doesn't have the highest rate of gun violence in the world and the bulk of gun deaths in America come from suicides. Of course that's not a good thing, but these proposed changes to gun laws wouldn't have much of an affect at all. Not to mention that plenty of shooters got their guns either illegally or because law enforcement systems failed and allowed people who already shouldn't be able to purchase a firearm to acquire one. 

I also feel it's important to note that crime rates have fallen sharply since the 1990s.

Of the recent shootings in El Paso and Dayton, one was a Trump supporter while the other was a socialist. Clearly violence isn't the sole domain of any one political ideology. What every mass shooter has in common (or anyone who murders others for that matter) is the ideology of hate. They view Hispanics as invaders, they view Democrats as anti-American, they view gays as abominations, they view all conservatives as warmongers, they view a cheating spouse or rude boss as subhuman. They see other human beings as less valuable and less worthy of life. This points to a cultural problem we must look directly in the face. 

Japan has far higher consumption rates of video games than we do, but little violent crime (or any other type). The former countries of the USSR have much lower rates of religious adherence, but also have managed to not have the issues the United States does. Blaming violent games or a lack of God is just a way to try to oversimplify reality and skirt the very real problems driving violence.  
Just as systemic racism or police violence are uncomfortable things to confront (or to even acknowledge), we must look at what's fueling hate and "otherism," and why so many seem to be unable to find belonging within society as a whole, as well as their inability to find healthy ways to discuss and resolve their frustrations (real or imagined).

The reply to that by gun-control advocates is "why not at least stop them from being able to use those weapons?" Again, "those weapons" require definitions and preventing their use means a major growth of the very same government that abused its power countless times. Thus, while giving a government with an undisputed history of racism, discrimination, abuse, and murder even more power, we get to ignore the real problems indefinitely - just as with laying the blame at the feet of games. 

So, yes, I very much want mass shootings to end, but I am absolutely not willing take the word of our government that it won't do bad things. I am absolutely not willing to give up my right to defend myself. And more importantly, I recognize that just as I have no right to demand that you give up your rights to speech, a fair trial, or to not be a slave, I also have no right to demand you limit or give up your right to own a gun. And if I don't have that right, you certainly don't have the right to demand others do.

--Jacob Bogle, 8/9/2019

Saturday, December 15, 2018

North Korea is Calling. Where's the Libertarian?

People who are passionate about things tend to have a near savant ability to turn any feature of conversation back around to their topic of obsession. For many of those who lean libertarian in their philosophy and politics, it's either foreign policy (end the wars) or economics (End the Fed). In my case, it's North Korea. I have been studying the country for around seven years and there isn't a topic I can think of where I can't pull out some DPRK related story or use a news item about the country to underscore some libertarian concern elsewhere.

I have touched on a number of North Korea-related things in my own writings (or should I say, I have brought out topics of libertarian interest in articles on North Korea), but I try to avoid injecting strict lines of ideology into my work because so much of it is supposed to be based on things like the interpretation of satellite imagery, and less outright social and political commentary.

The libertarian side of the political spectrum, of course, isn't for want of publications or think-tanks. From large outfits like Reason and CATO to countless smaller bloggers who may only have a few hundred regular readers, a lot of things get discussed. But what I have noticed is that there seems to be a shortage of articles dealing with North Korea. That isn't to say they don't exist, but, from my perspective, North Korea is a pool whose depths can never be fully plumed and, unfortunately, rarely are. Now, that could be because I am a DPRK wonk, but it's not exactly a super obscure area of research, either.

Unlike having to draw from the past to show how socialism fails or that the natural state of being is freedom, North Korea offers us a live, real-world drama that is unfolding before our very eyes. And this drama demonstrates with ever greater force how the underpinnings of libertarianism are not only valid, but the outcome of greater liberty is shown to be unavoidable. Exploring the past offers tremendous value to any form of study and commentary but relying on the past to carry an argument also runs the risk of being less relatable to those who didn't experience those events in some way.

Most of my life has been lived after the Cold War. Often quoted people like Mencken or Rand are distant voices whose own lives and views were shaped by events very few of today's population lived with. And so, I return to North Korea. It is a communist hold over that has been undergoing a slow-motion evolution toward greater freedom and openness, not because of orders from on-high, but driven by the people from the ground up; an ultimate expression of libertarianism in action.

I have countless ideas for articles, most of which I am certain I will never write. So at the risk of losing out on page views but in the hopes of spurring on interest in this field (as well as giving liberty-minded people new examples to use to bolster their message), I want to run down a few main topics that should offer a lot of depth to anyone willing to write about it.

1) Women's Rights

Image source: BBC/GETTY

Yes, I know, the only rights are individual rights, but North Korea is the most collectivized country one can think of. Individuality is severely suppressed, and group mindsets are the norm. Women's groups, youth groups, worker's groups, are all mixed with the historic Confucian traditions regarding sex and family. Despite technically being granted equal rights, for much of North Korean society, the woman retained her traditional role; unable to find agency for herself and at the mercy of both the state and her husband (domestic abuse is a rampant problem). However, in the years following the 1990s famine, women have become the driving force in the marketization of the country. They have also been brave enough to take full charge of their lives and make up the majority of those defecting the country.

The general opening of society as a result of economic growth and a rising middle class has also given women greater agency in their personal lives. Dating, hereunto largely a family/state arranged matter, has become something the younger generation can now actually engage in. Sneaking out of the house, holding hands, and taking nighttime walks have all become part of life. And the overall understanding of how sex works (which has been medieval in many instances for both boys and girls) is now helping women take charge over their lives, be safer, and no longer exist solely as the property of their husbands. Even the more "seedier" side of things has become more common with older women renting out extra rooms for an hour or two for couples to get to know each other.

With their hard work and immense bravery, the economics of North Korea have changed drastically over the years. And since economics affects pretty much everything else, most of the other topics flow from this point.

This NK News article from 2013 and Reuters' "In North Korea, men call the shots, women make the money" have good rundowns on the topic.

2) Access to Information and Communication

Open-access to information is nonexistent in North Korea, and information and communication controls are among the tightest in the world. However, that veil has begun to show cracks. 
The practice of control is a balancing act. If you enact measures that are too strict or that move the bar too rapidly, you risk setting off rebellion in the form of black markets in goods and information, which could eventually lead to the collapse of the regime. If your new attempts at control aren't tough enough, you risk the people ignoring them, which, in turn, can also lead to the collapse of the regime.

North Korea has, thus far, managed to be responsive enough and harsh enough to prevent open acts of revolt on large scales, but also acquiesced enough to respond to the desires of the people. This has allowed the government to survive for 70 years, but the trend is still the same: greater freedom. One day, this will either lead to massive and brutal crackdowns to save the ruling class, or it will have North Korea finding itself sitting in the place of an open and free country. And while the North Korean government may currently be more advanced technologically than its people, the story in the rest of the world is that of average citizens finding ways around censorship and control. There is no reason why the people of North Korea will be any different when it comes to closing this gap.

North Korea was one of the last hold outs when it came to allowing cell phone use. In 2002 approximately 20,000 North Koreans had cell phones. These users were the country's elite. Today that number has swelled to nearly 4 million people and users now extend to every strata of society. Telecommunication infrastructure has likewise grown by leaps and bounds and today there are at least 920 cell phone towers in the country, with new ones coming online all the times. Use of cell phones in a country where even getting a landline requires a substantial government approval process, has helped enable trade among citizens, trade across borders, the sharing of otherwise banned information and political gossip, facilitate escapes, and much more.

Granting cell phone use is, of course, also used by the government to promote its own ends (the same can be said for allowing market activity). It gives the government new tools for surveillance and new sources of cash (the DPRK has partnered with the Egyptian company Orascom and this nets the country millions in revenue). At the same time, they also provide the people with ways to avoid the government, to earn money under the table, and to breakaway (even if ever so slightly) from the all-powerful grasp of Pyongyang. As mentioned, it's a balancing act for survival to the eyes of the government. 

Access to the global internet is impossible for all but a few hundred to a few thousand highly trusted individuals. However, the country does have its own "walled garden"; a closed intranet system that can be accessed at schools, libraries and other institutions. Here too, the computers needed to use the intranet means there are disk drives and USB ports all over the country. This has led to the country being flooded with otherwise highly illegal content like South Korean TV shows, news from Chinese sources, and even Hollywood films. This outside information has, more than anything else, been the vehicle that has helped break the spell of the Kim family. Today's youth no longer worship the leadership or believe that their country is the greatest on earth. It helps give them tools the government has worked hard to eradicate like, critical thinking skills. With access to more information, the lies and controls of this 70 year old system begin to fall away.  

3) Housing, Consumer Choice, and Leisure

2017 International Trade Fair. Source: Kyodo News.

North Korea is ostensibly guided by the Juche Idea, which is often translated as "self-reliance". This is supposed to mean that North Korea should develop itself free from outside control or reliance on external aid. Under this philosophy, the goal of building their socialist paradise can only be achieved by feeding themselves, developing their own technology, creating their own unique art, and producing their own goods and services in their own way. In theory, it's a form of autarky. In practice, however, North Korea is heavily dependent on the outside world. From an economic perspective, this isn't necessarily a negative thing. It shows that trade is the life blood of any country and that reaching out economically enables survival, as opposed to the ideas of would-be isolationists.

The result of trade is economic growth. That growth means disposable income, a rise in private property, and a middle class (or jangmadang) for the first time in generations. Where people had been wholly dependent on the government's Public Distribution System prior to the famine and economic collapse, the invisible hand of the market has shown that even after recovery, nothing can compete with people making their own choices.

Pyongyang has grown from a collection of Soviet-style block apartments to one with rows of modern-looking high rises and futuristic districts. Greater wealth and choice breed the desire for more choice and better living conditions. In response, the government has built ski resorts, new beachfront properties, improved infrastructure, and has recently began to build new kinds of parks in every major city. This has all been a result of the government bowing to public pressure. But the government isn't the only player. Private citizens, upstart companies (legal, black market and grey market), new military endeavors, and other entities have risen to fuel construction booms.

People's desires for modern apartments means military carpentry groups (the best skilled in the country) are paid to fulfill their wishes. This puts money into the hands of military families and the military itself, which in turn helps the government overcome problems related to sanctions (more on sanctions below). New mining companies means greater levels of resource extraction and thus higher levels of trade with China. A ton of coal goes out, flat screen TVs come in.
Again, this leads to more money in the hands of the people and broadens their range of choices. And all of this trade means people are travelling around the country more than ever. What used to be a difficult process of obtaining travel permits (as you are not allowed to leave your city without permission) has now become a fairly straight forward system of paying bribes. This means the government gets their money and the people can earn theirs through trading. All of this internal travel and trade also results in people wanting to move to new towns. The result that is residency permits are now widely bought and sold (the houses themselves still technically belong to the state), which helps to fuel further residential growth and construction. 

It's all a rather large self-supporting cycle borne from people taking matters into their own hands. An ineffective and highly restrictive system has turned into an albeit messy but functional process through which people make their own choices and help grow the economy, reaping the benefits of consumer choice in process. 

4) Long-term Sanctions Don't Work

That long-term sanctions don't work, is something libertarians have understood for a very long time. Be it the Soviet Union, Vietnam, Cuba, Iran, or North Korea, sanctions overwhelmingly harm civilian populations and the poorest stratum of society far more than the elite, leadership classes. Sanctions are also an act of violence, and so are incongruent with many of the values espoused by the nations who so often vote for and enforce them. Sanctions fail at a fundamental level because, by their very nature, they challenge people to overcome them. Whether it is outright avoidance, developing methods to lessen their effect by becoming more efficient in the affected sectors, or developing ways to get around them by inventing new technologies, sanctions act as a kind of evolutionary pressure selection system, but for economics. North Korea is no stranger to this.

The goal of sanctions is to pressure the government into giving up their weapons of mass destruction. Specifically, their nuclear and ballistic missile programs. But North Korea has been under various sanction regimes for decades, and today not only do they have fully functional nuclear weapons, but they have the capacity to fire a missile and hit any part of the United States they wish. This has been accomplished through a mix of sanctions avoidance (by working with other rogue countries and with the assistance of China) and the forced development of domestically produced weapons components. Instead of stopping WMD development, North Korea just took the long view and used many indirect routes to accomplish their goals.

Similarly, sanctions have only had a limited effect on the lifestyles of the country's elite. Luxury goods continue to flow into the country and North Korea has been making their own cloned versions of popular electronic devices, such as the iPhone. The country has also found the hundreds of millions needed to construct ski resorts and beach condos, high rise apartment blocks and 4D theaters.

In both the military and domestic spheres, the growing development of their internal economy (which had languished for many years) has enabled the creation of an ever-expanding middle class. This unique mix of official and unofficial, domestic and military economies provides each of these sectors with crossover support. In other words, there's a lot (relatively speaking) of money being made all over the place and that has allowed the regime to overcome sanctions in many ways.

5) Average People Can Force Change

North Korean defectors reaching South Korea in 1997. Source: AP

As Alex Gladstein, member of the group Flash Drives for Freedom, has said, "History has told us that outside information and culture have helped end dictatorships in many places around the world". From workers rising in Poland and creating Solidarity to the bold actions of average people at Tiananmen Square, to even the current Yellow Vest movements in France, when the people have had enough, governments will respond. Trying to stop dissent with force is only the final move before a government either relents or is overthrown. History has shown us this countless times.

Through legal and illegal economic activity, reclaiming personal agency, gaining knowledge about the outside world, breaking through indoctrination and learning that your country isn't a socialist paradise, engaging in normally common tasks like switching apartments or crossing a border, through all of these people are daring to have more and to be more than what their government decides. And because of this, the Kim regime has had to make changes. They have had to acknowledge that a famine happened and that it was "partially" the fault of government policy. They have had to allow the growth of market activity. They had to turn a blind eye to property ownership in many instances. And they have had to allow in things like cell phones and personal computers.
The recurrent theme? For a regime to survive it must bend to the will of the people.

The examples I have given (and in so many other ways) all provide evidence that people can indeed change things. The axiom that all governments are derived by the consent of the governed applies just as much to liberal democracies as it does to totalitarian states. If the people get fed up with something, governments are going to have to make changes or start shooting. North Korea has been smart enough to make limited official changes and wise enough to turn their eyes away from what is going on in the streets. 

There are many paths toward liberty and not all of them are clean. North Korea's path has been rather messy. From rampant corruption (which is needed to bypass the official Party line on economics) to the fact people are still executed for trade and passing on South Korean dramas, this hasn't been an easy journey, but there is still no doubt it's a national journey that is opening up the country to the world more and more.

None of this is to say that North Korea has turned into some laissez-faire utopia. North Korea is still the most repressive, centralized, and cruel regime in existence. However, the trend from total control to greater liberty has been inexorable. Today's Northern citizen has more de facto freedom, economic choice, and access to information than at any other time in the history of the country. And all of this continues to grow. There's no need to focus on the Cold War or the Soviet Union to find examples of the never-ending drive toward freedom. We can watch it happen every day in North Korea. The full cycle from tyranny to liberty may take years more to complete, but, make no mistake, it is happening, and we should use North Korea as both a warning and as an example to the world.

To bring things back to the title question, where's the libertarian, I hope I have shown that these five areas are filled with potential content, and that they serve as inspiration for liberty-minded writers to take on these subjects and more within the setting of North Korea.

--Jacob Bogle, 12/15/2018