Monday, December 26, 2016

Ono za što su Titu trebale dvije decenije, Slobi je uspjelo za manje od tri godine



Sunday, July 31, 2016

Zašto Oluja za mene nije bila (samo) tragedija

Prvo da naglasim da je ovo priča o mom ličnom, subjektivnom viđenju. Za neke ljude Oluja je bila samo i isključivo tragedija i to ne želim da sporim. Za mene nije. Drugo, to što za mene Oluja nije bila samo tragedija i što mi je donijela neke bitne pozitivne pomake u životu, ne znači da sam je priželjkivao i da mislim da su tragedije koje su drugi proživjeli bile neophodna cijena mojih pozitivnih pomaka. To ne znači ni da je Oluja bila jedini način da dođe do tih pozitivnih pomaka. Moglo je do njih doći i na druge načine, ali je činjenica da je sada, iz ove perspektive, Oluja jedini način na koji je do njih u stvari i došlo. Kao takav, treba ga ocijenjivati u odnosu na ono što je njoj prethodilo, a ne u odnosu na neki naš zamišljeni idealni način koji bi mogao promijeniti ono što je Oluji prethodilo. Što se tiče mojih tragedija, ja sam ih doživio nekoliko godina prije Oluje, a što se same Oluje tiče, za mene je to bio ektremno stresan, ali oslobađajući događaj. Međutim, nije bila oslobađajuća na način kako će to hrvatski mediji prikazivati za ovih dana. Oluja je za mene bila oslobađajuća iz nekoliko razloga.

1. To je bio kraj četvorogodišnjeg iščekivanja napada hravtske vojske koji je svako malo najavljivan.

Taj famozni predstojeći napad bio je povod za sijaset restrikcija od strane tadašnje nam države, Republike Srpske Krajine. Te su uvodili poličijski čas, te zabrane javnog okupljanja, te restrikcije struje i goriva "da bi bilo za vojsku." Najgore su ipak bile restrikcije koje su ljudi sami sebi dobrovoljno postavljali. Svaka značajnija odluka stavljena je na čekanje "dok se ne riješi situacija." Kupovima ili prodaja imovine, ulaganje u vlastita imanja pa čak i započinjanje porodice mnogi ljudi su stavili na čekanje. Oluja je konačno razriješila sve dileme. Nema više nesigurne budućnosti. Budućnost nije ružičasta, ali je bar sigurna. Znamo na čemu smo.

2. To je bio kraj vladavine ljudskog ološa koji je na površinu isplivao u svim sferama društvenog života tokom ratnih previranja 1991. 

Veliki je broj događaja koje sam sam posmatrao ili o kojima sam slušao od rođaka i prijatelja to potvrđuje. Ljudi koji su do prije rata bili beznačajni marginalci su se početkom rata istakli agresivnošu i okrutnošću i time stekli ključne pozicije u mafijaškoj strukturi koja je upravljala životom u Krajini. To se prelilo i u živote nas tinejdžera pa su glavni junaci naših priča postali lokalni siledžije. Pričalo se o tome ko je koga istukao, ubio ili "poslao u p... materinu". Agresivnost i intimidacija su bili vladajući obrazac ponašanja. Pokušao sam protiv njega da se borim, ali i da ga oponašam, i u oba slučaja sam iskusio samo frustracije. Oluja je stavila tačku na sve to.

3. To je bio početak života u većoj i otvorenijoj sredini. 

Iako mnogi Srbiju doživljavaju kao zatvorenu balkansku sredinu, u usporedbi sa ratnom Krajinom, Srbija je bila centar svijeta. Treću i četvrtu godinu srednje škole sam završio u Kruševcu, koji je bio dovoljno velik da svako može da nađe dovoljno ljudi koji će ga razumjeti i dovoljno velik da iz viđenja ne poznajemo gotovo sve ljude u gradu, što je bio slučaj sa mjestom iz koga sam došao. Kao i u svakom malom mjestu, obrazac ponašanja u mom rodnom gradu je bio usko ograničen na ono što je ta sredina smatrala ispravnim. Iskakanje iz tih okvira kažnjavalo se izvrgavanjem sudu palanke. Ta tortura je završena u avgustu 1995. Tačno je da sam izgubio kuću, ali nisam izgubio dom jer je moja porodica uspješno funkcionisala i u izbjeglištvu. Našao sam nove prijatelje, a i neke stare sam viđao.

Možda se isti ishod mogao postići i na drugi način, ali činjenica je da te druge načine nećemo nikada iskusiti. Da se Oluja desila godinu dana kasnije, to bi bila još jedna godina mučnog iščekivanja u toksičnoj, agresivnoj palanačkoj sredini. Da se Oluja nikad nije ni desila, to bi vjerovatno značilo još nekoliko decenija polu-života u takvoj sredini. Dakle, mene je Oluja oslobodila svega toga.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Your past doesn't determine your future: or how Rogers persuaded me to stop using their data services

Do you get annoyed when someone tells you that you are not capable of doing something just because you never did it before? Most people make this mistake even when they judge their own future. For example, many people get discouraged after a few unsuccessful attempts to quit smoking or to change some other behavior pattern. They think that their past offers information about their future. This is a common mistake that most of us sometimes do.

But, if it is true that we make choices, then our past is simply a series of choices that we made before. it is a historical record, not a causal relationship. Just because we made the same choice over and over again in the past doesn't mean that there is something deterministic about our behavior--it doesn't mean that we had to make that choice because if we had to do something, then that something wouldn't be a choice.

Now when we have the theory laid out, let me share an experience where a sales person tried to use the historical record of my past behavior to support the idea that I had to behave that way in the past and that I have to keep behaving the same way in the future. The following is my conversation between me and a Rogers sales person.

Sales person: We have a data plan that would give you 2.5 GB of data on your phone. The only thing we would need to do is to change your bill from the current $60 to $100. 

Me: I don't think I am interested in that. The only thing I would be interested in is that Rogers gives me more data without increasing what I am currently paying. But, since Rogers is using its oligopoly position, I know it will not do that. 

Sales person: But this is a great plan for you; you are already accumulating over $50 in extra charges for exceeding your data limit. Why don't you want to take this great plan?

Me: Because I like to make mistakes. 

Sales person: I am trying to help you not to make a mistake. Why not take this plan? 

Me: Because then I would not have an option to spend less than $100 on my phone bill, an option that I have now. 

Sales person: You have been exceeding your data limit for the past three months and accumulating more than $100 in total charges.

Me: My past doesn't determine my future.

This conversation persuaded me that Rogers doesn't deserve my money. I thought that they are capable of respecting their customers' free will and intelligence, but I was wrong. This is why I decided to stop using my phone data for anything other than emergencies. No more Facebook on the phone! This is what happened to my data usage history after the unfortunate conversation on June 16th. The flat part of the graph below starts on the same date.

So, there you go, Rogers. You lost about $50 per month from me. It may not be much for you, but given the persistence by which your sales person tried to sell your plan to me, maybe it is much.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Да ли је Ђоковић највећи Србин послије Тесле?



Врло је добро познато да је Новак Ђоковић нешто попут националног хероја за многе Србе. Недавно је назван и једним од два највећа Србина, а други би требало да буде  Никола Тесла. Мислим да је ово проблематично из два разлога.

Прво, зашто је толико важно да је Ђоковић из Србије? Ово је, чини се, особина која га дефинише, ако је вјеровати његовим поносним сународницима. Али, његово српство нема ништа са његовом тениском беличином. Изгледа да ово не говори толико о самом Ђоковићу колико говори о онима који дају овакве коментаре. Ово ме води до другог разлога зашто мислим да је сва та "највећи Србин" мантра забрињавајућа.

Ако његово српство није узрок његове тениске величине, а није, чини се онда да је наглашавање Ђоковићеве националности сигнал жеље осталих Срба да кажу свијету: "ево видите, он је један од нас; он нас представља." Али, зашто бих ја хтио да ме представља Ђоковић, а не моја лична постигнућа? Па, ако осјећам да су моја лична постигнућа безначајна, онда би имало смисла користити туђа постигнућа као да сам и ја дио њих.

Ово је тужно. Изгледа да опсесија Ђоковићем сигнализира врло низак степен самопоуздања код многих Срба. Занима ме шта ће бити кад Ђоковић више не буде на врхунцу каријере. Један могући сценарио је да он тада постане извор бијеса многима од оних којима је сада извор поноса.




Is Djokovic "the greatest Serb" after Tesla?

Large Caption: Two Greatest Serbs
It is well known that Novak Djokovic is somewhat of a national hero for many Serbs. Recently, people started calling him "one of the two greatest Serbs," the other being Nikola Tesla. I find this unfortunate for two reasons.

First, why is it so important that Djokovic comes form Serbia? This seems to be his defining feature according to the proud compatriots. His Serbianness has nothing to do with his greatness as a tennis player. It seems that this is not so much about Djokovic as much it is about the commentators. and this leads me to the second reason why I find this whole "the greatest Serb" thing troubling.

If being Serbian is not what caused Djokovic's tennis greatness, then it seems that the emphasis on Djokovic's nationality signals the desire of other Serbs to say to the world "see, he is one of us; he represents us." But, why would I want to use Djokovic to represent myself instead my own achievements? Well, if I feel that my own achievements are insignificant, then it would make sense to use someone else's achievements as if I am part of them.

This is saddening. The Djokovic obsession seems to signal a very low self esteem level by many Serbs. I am curious to see the reaction when Djokovic is not at his peak any more. One potential outcome is that he becomes a source of anger for many of those who now see him as a source of their pride.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Do we need evidence that Syrian refugees are human?

I lived about one quarter of my life as a refugee--six years in Serbia and four years in Canada. That experience gave me a special "insider" perspective on racism that I would like to share here. The reason I would like to share my perspective is to point to the idea that sometimes we think we are helping refugees, but we are in fact not helping at all. We might even be helping those who want to harm refugees, and we may be dancing to the racists' tune.

Those unfortunate situations when we are dancing to the racists' tune may occur when news articles are geared toward "dispelling the negative image of refugees." For example, a recent article titled "What Are Syrian Refugees Like? This Canadian Found Out" talks about a Syrian who helped his Canadian neighbours during the recent ice storm.

Although it seems like a good idea to point out the positive deeds of refugees, this article is sending a racist message. First, it implies that it was important to specifically point out that the good-doer was a refugee, as if we wouldn't expect refugees to help their neighbours. But, why wouldn't a refugee help? The article is trying to say to those who don't like refugees: "See, refugees are good people." By doing that, it is implying that it is necessary to persuade others that refugees are capable of being good, as if refugees are somehow different from the rest of us and we need to verify their humanity.

Many believe that stories like this are needed since there is an opinion shared by some that refugees will not contribute to their new homes and societies. But, the thing is--most of us Canadians won't contribute to our neighbourhoods in any special way, and that's considered OK. I don't know the names of most of my neighbours, but no one is questioning my decency because of that. We don't have to contribute to our neighbourhoods in any special way to be considered decent people. It is taken as default that we are good people until we do something bad. But, articles like the one I linked above imply that refugees need to show extra effort just to get to the level where the rest of us get by default. 

We still might try to defend the article's narrative by saying say that stories like these are meant to reinforce the idea that suspicion of refugees is unwarranted. But, if we take this claim seriously, we are insulting the intelligence of our fellow Canadians. I am confident that the average Canadian does not need anyone to tell him that refugees are human just like the rest of us. Just like within any group of people, there are good people among refugees, but there are also some nasty ones. Neither the good ones nor the bad ones represent the whole group. If I am wrong in this assumption about the ability of our fellow Canadians to recognize the humanity of other people, then we should be afraid of our fellow Canadians, not the refugees. The most dangerous people are those whose belief in other people's humanity depends on anecdotal evidence and public opinion.

If you have lived as a refugee anywhere, you know that no amount of effort to show that you are as good of a human as anyone else will ever be enough for those who are racist. Therefore, don't. Don't play to the racist's tune and let them manipulate you into trying to prove your humanity. Those who don't have faith in your humanity to begin with will not be persuaded by any amount of evidence.




Sunday, January 3, 2016

Does more guns mean more gun violence?

Gun laws are a big issue in the US. Some argue that more people need to carry guns as a deterrent against criminals. Others argue that allowing more people to own and carry guns would lead to more gun violence. The first natural step in this debate would be to compare US states in terms of gun ownership rates and gun violence rates to see if there are any correlations. So, I did just that. The graph below plots US states (each blue dot represents one state) in terms of gun ownership (as a percent of state population) and gun murder rates per 100,000 people. The plot indicates that there is almost no correlation between the two. If any, there is a weak negative correlation, which means higher gun ownership rates may be associated with lower rates of gun murders.


One state (DC) had an extremely low rate of gun ownership but it also had the highest rate of gun murders among all states. DC was excluded from the plot above, but if DC is added, the negative relationship becomes a bit stronger. In the plot below DC is the dot that shows over 16 murders per 100,000 people.


So, we are getting either a weakly negative correlation or no correlation at all between gun ownership and gun murder rates. We know that the existence of correlation between two variables does not imply causation. But, if there is an absence of correlation, this signals either no relationship between the two variables or a really weak relationship masked by other, more powerful factors.

Thus, our rudimentary statistical analysis suggests that more guns does not mean more gun violence in the US.

Then again, some people argue that the US is in some ways different from the rest of the world. Let's check if this is true for the correlation between gun ownership and gun violence. The diagram below shows gun ownership rates and gun murder rates for different countries.

 Again, we see almost no correlation or a an extremely weak negative correlation. But, this graph looks a bit "crowded" due to a high range of differences across countries. We could see the data better if we split them into "high," "medium" and "low" categories. Below are three graphs that show gun ownership rates and gun murder rates for three sets of countries: (1) countries with murder rates from 0 to 1 murder per 100,000 people, (2) countries with murder rates from 1 to 10 murders per 100,000 people, and (3) countries with more than 10 murders per 100,000 people.



Again, we see almost no correlation between gun ownership and gun murder rates for the three subsets of countries. Thus, whatever is causing the differences across countries in gun murder rates, we can be pretty sure it is not the gun ownership rates.