Moving the Crowd

Mar 312008

An interesting tidbit from Paul, originally posted to the “activists” mailing list of FIRM (Freedom and Individual Rights in Medicine:

In the physical realm, a small group of people who know what they want and are willing to act in a concerted fashion to accomplish their goal can shape the direction of the rest of the crowd. Here is some interesting research.

“Recent research shows that as little as 5% of a crowd can influence the direction of the rest of the crowd”:

    Professor Krause, with PhD student John Dyer, conducted a series of experiments where groups of people were asked to walk randomly around a large hall. Within the group, a select few received more detailed information about where to walk. Participants were not allowed to communicate with one another but had to stay within arms length of another person.

    The findings show that in all cases, the “informed individuals” were followed by others in the crowd, forming a self-organising, snake-like structure. “We’ve all been in situations where we get swept along by the crowd,” says Professor Krause. “But what’s interesting about this research is that our participants ended up making a consensus decision despite the fact that they weren’t allowed to talk or gesture to one another. In most cases the participants didn’t realise they were being led by others.”

    Other experiments in the study used groups of different sizes, with different ratios of “informed individuals.” The research findings show that as the number of people in a crowd increases, the number of informed individuals decreases. In large crowds of 200 or more, five per cent of the group is enough to influence the direction in which it travels. The research also looked at different scenarios for the location of the “informed individuals” to determine whether where they were located had a bearing on the time it took for the crowd to follow.

    The equivalent from the world of ideas is best expressed in this scene from The Fountainhead:

    Kent Lansing: “All I mean is that a board of directors is one or two ambitious men–and a lot of ballast. I mean that groups of men are vacuums. Great big empty nothings. …Don’t worry. They’re all against me. But I have one advantage: they don’t know what they want. I do.”

    One could make the case that the same is true at the level of state politics — a relatively small number of people can have a disproportionately large impact on the direction of political discourse if they know what they want and they are willing to act in a consistent, concerted fashion towards their goal.

Why does Paul mention state (rather than national) politics? Because national politics is flooded with well-funded people attempting to move the crowd, almost always toward greater statism. In local and state politics, it’s far easier for a small group of people to shift the wind of public opinion. And if enough people are moving their respective states in a better direction, then that will help move the nation.

Fundamentalism in the Military

Mar 312008

US military accused of harboring fundamentalism:

Feb 13, 2008: Since his last combat deployment in Iraq, Jeremy Hall has had a rough time, getting shoved and threatened by his fellow soldiers.

The trouble started there when he would not pray in the mess hall.
“A senior ranking staff sergeant told me to leave and sit somewhere else because I refused to pray,” Hall, a 23-year-old US army specialist, told AFP. Later, Hall was confronted by a major for holding an authorized meeting of “atheists and freethinkers” on his base. The officer threatened to discipline him and block his re-enlistment. “He said: ‘You guys are being a problem and problems can be removed,’” Hall said. “He was yelling at us and stuff and at the very end he says, ‘I really love you guys, I want you to see the light.’”

Now Hall is suing the major and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, accusing them of breaching his constitutional rights. A campaign group, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, is waiting for the Pentagon to respond to a lawsuit filed in a Kansas federal court on Hall’s behalf. It alleges a “pernicious pattern and practice” of infringement of religious liberties in the military.

The group’s founder, former Air Force lawyer Mikey Weinstein, said he has documented 6,800 testimonies by military personnel — nearly all of them Christians — of sometimes punitive or humiliating attempts to make them accept a fundamentalist evangelical interpretation of Christianity.

“I am at war with those people who would create a fundamentalist Christian theocracy in the technologically most lethal organization ever created by our species, which is the United States armed forces,” he said.

He plans to add extra charges and possibly other lawsuits this month.

“It violates title seven of the US code for an employer to push their Biblical world view on an employee,” he said. “But it’s a trillion times worse when that is not just your shift manager at Starbucks but that is your military superior.”

He singles out one of the major Christian groups in the military, the Officers Christian Fellowship (OCF). The group represents 15,000 US military personnel around the world, according to its director, retired Air Force general Bruce Fister. “It is not the position of OCF to try and coerce people to believe what we believe,” Fister told AFP. OCF’s aim, as stated on its website, is to achieve “a spiritually transformed military, with ambassadors for Christ in uniform, empowered by the Holy Spirit.” It professes belief in “the eternal blessedness of the saved; and the everlasting, conscious punishment of the lost.”


Update: The Military Religious Freedom Foundation can be found on the web at

GDP Made Concrete

Mar 302008

This map isn’t new, but it’s pretty damn cool: US States Renamed for Countries with Similar GDPs.

We’re in Finland!

Faith Versus Reason #5

Mar 292008

The Ayn Rand Institute recently posted eight short Q&As on faith versus reason to its YouTube account. They’re an excellent series, and I hope that ARI will post more such videos. Here’s the fifth:

If you like it, please give it a good rating! You can find links to all eight videos on the first one.


Mar 282008

Probably for only a brief time, you can watch the short movie Fitna on YouTube, via this page on Little Green Footballs. (I’m linking to that page rather than the YouTube video directly, in the hopes that if that version is taken down, LGF will post a new link if available.) You can also save a copy of the video for yourself.

Paul and I just watched it; I strongly recommend that you do so while you have the chance. What I find so astonishing is that the video does absolutely nothing but accurately report the violent words and deeds of Muslims — yet Muslims are threatening violence at this supposedly unjust accusation of their faith. By those very threats, the Islamic totalitarians prove their harshest critics right — yet again.

Update from Greg: Looks like beefed up their security against the death threats for hosting the film, and now the full 15-or-so-minute version is available at

Bin Laden Wants My Blood

Mar 282008

Paul recently sent the following to the OActivsts list, and I thought it worth reposting here:

Flemming Rose, the courageous newspaper editor made world-famous for publishing the “Danish Cartoons” depicting Mohammed, has just written another good column on free speech: “Bin Laden Wants My Blood

(Those of you who attended the special ARI conference on the “Jihad Against the West” may recall his fantastic talk entitled, “Islam and Europe after the Cartoon-Crisis.”)

As Rose asks, “What kind of civilization are we, after all, if we refrain from mocking and ridiculing bin Laden and his followers?”

If only we had more news editors like him in the United States…


Long Distance Wi-Fi

Mar 272008

This is just friggin’ awesome:

Long-Distance Wi-Fi

Intel has found a way to stretch a Wi-Fi signal from one antenna to another located more than 60 miles away.

Intel has announced plans to sell a specialized Wi-Fi platform later this year that can send data from a city to outlying rural areas tens of miles away, connecting sparsely populated villages to the Internet. The wireless technology, called the rural connectivity platform (RCP), will be helpful to computer-equipped students in poor countries, says Jeff Galinovsky, a senior platform manager at Intel. And the data rates are high enough–up to about 6.5 megabits per second–that the connection could be used for video conferencing and telemedicine, he says.

The RCP, which essentially consists of a processor, radios, specialized software, and an antenna, is an appealing way to connect remote areas that otherwise would go without the Internet, says Galinovsky. Wireless satellite connections are expensive, he points out. And it’s impractical to wire up some villages in Asian and African countries. “You can’t lay cable,” he says. “It’s difficult, expensive, and someone is going to pull it up out of the ground to sell it.”

…Importantly, the devices require relatively little power. Running two or three radios in a link, Galinvosky says, requires about five to six watts. This makes it possible to power the radios using solar energy.

Faith Versus Reason #4

Mar 262008

The Ayn Rand Institute recently posted eight short Q&As on faith versus reason to its YouTube account. They’re an excellent series, and I hope that ARI will post more such videos. Here’s the fourth:

If you like it, please give it a good rating! You can find links to all eight videos on the first one.


Mar 262008

Via Feedburner, you can subscribe to the NoodleFood RSS feed via e-mail. Basically, Feedburner will e-mail you once a day with that day’s NoodleFood posts. Here’s the subscription form:

To subscribe, enter your email address:

John Lewis Versus Islamic Totalitarians

Mar 252008

John Lewis recently e-mailed me the following about his recent speech at Georgia Tech:

I spoke at Georgia Tech last week on “No Substitute for Victory: The Defeat of Islamic Totalitarianism.” A pro-Islamic group in the audience (some at least were students) tried to filibuster the Q&A. Their attacks openly called for Islamic law (a “good thing”), praised jihad as a “wonderful” concept, and proclaimed that subjugated peoples forced to pay the Islamic tax should be “grateful” for the “protection” they receive. They whitewashed history as well as the present situation, demanded that we stop “offending” them, said that the Iranians had no reason to trust the United States, and called me a “criminal mind.” This was all-out support for a category of thoughtcrimes in American universities.

You can find the full report on Principles in Practice. It’s pretty stunning — and I can only admire John for keeping his cool in the face of such dishonest yet explicit Islamic totalitarians. Also, here’s an update on a conference of Muslims reported by an audience member to have condemned terrorism.

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