Sunday, August 27, 2017

Antifa, Paranoia and Preventive Strikes







In 1981 the Israeli Air Force bombed a nuclear reactor in Iraq which was purchased from France. Though Iraqi and French authorities claimed the reactor was for peaceful research, the Israeli authorities claimed that within a month the reactor could be weaponized.  The attack was widely condemned throughout the world, including the UN and the USA.  However in more recent years the air strike has been praised by prominent figures including Bill Clinton and Dick Cheney.

The 2002 National Security Strategy of the United States (also known as the Bush Doctrine) stated:
... The greater the threat, the greater is the risk of inaction – and the more compelling the case for taking anticipatory action to defend ourselves, even if uncertainty remains as to the time and place of the enemy’s attack. There are few greater threats than a terrorist attack with WMD.
To forestall or prevent such hostile acts by our adversaries, the United States will, if necessary, act preemptively in exercising our inherent right of self-defense. The United States will not resort to force in all cases to preempt emerging threats. Our preference is that nonmilitary actions succeed. And no country should ever use preemption as a pretext for aggression.
This policy was used to justify the 2003 Invasion of Iraq.  Apparently Israel's air strike twenty-two years earlier was not enough to prevent Saddam Hussein from developing Weapons of Mass Destruction (though during that time frame, North Korea developed those weapons).  Though the Iraq War had temporary victories, the instability within Iraq as well as Syria allowed for the formation of ISIS.  Though Saddam Hussein was a brutal dictator, by most measures he was not as bad as the leaders of ISIS.  Nonetheless, the preemptive or preventative strike remains a popular strategy for dealing with rogue nations.

The USA and Israel are not the only entities that perform surprise attacks based solely on the suspicion of wrong doing.  The Axis powers of WWII launched surprise attacks on several neutral countries, most notably the attacks at Pearl Harbor.  The victors of WWII occupied a moral high ground, they did not start the war but they won it.  Yet decades later, they are employing the tactics of their former enemies.

Additionally, a small group within the USA have started launching surprise attacks domestically.  The founder of the "alt-right" movement, Richard Spencer, has been punched by complete strangers twice.  I've read arguments of progressive thinkers justifying these actions, frequently accompanied by pictures of Captain America punching Nazis (as if comic books were a source of enduring morality).  It is worth noting that Spencer denies he is a Nazi, though his beliefs are clearly outside of mainstream USA political thought.  Furthermore, the 1922 Beer Hall Putsch shows the resilience of Nazis to violence.  Hitler and other Nazis attempted to overthrow the government of Bavaria, several of Hitler's followers were killed or injured and Hitler was imprisoned and wrote Mein Kampf...  So what benefits should we expect from punching people who think similarly to Hitler?

Aside from individual surprise attacks, a disorganized group known primarily as 'Antifa' has come to disrupt events where they believe disagreeable views will be expressed.  When conservative entertainer, Milo Yianopolis visited the University of California at Berkeley (the birthplace of the 1960s free speech movement) a number of masked protesters wearing black committed acts of mass vandalism.  More recently during the Charlottesville 'Unite the Right' rally marchers who had Nazi and Confederate symbols were fought by the Antifa.  In the Boston Free Speech Rally, they fought the police.  It's worth noting that their violence is limited and so far I am not aware of any acts of murder or terrorism that they have committed.

Many people condemn the Antifa, but few try to understand them.  It seems like they are trying to unite by fighting a common enemy.  Fascism was briefly a popular ideology in Italy, and though it is connected to Naziism, the ideologies are not identical.  Very few people today call themselves fascists, so Antifa is searching for an enemy that barely exists.  They are hypersensitive to symbols, speech and behavior that are associated with right-wing ideologies.  They are trying to prevent the rise of the forces that started WWII.  But their strategy may be so ineffective that it creates sympathy for their enemies.  It may be hard to understand why citizens of the USA would resort to violence against people who hold radically different political beliefs from them.  But if you examine the foreign policy of the US in recent years, you'll see that it's not that different from Antifa tactics, it's just that the military of the USA has much more resources at its disposal than Antifa and the violence is directed primarily towards areas which display Islamic symbols, behavior and speech.

If we want to implement principle-based politics we have to understand what causes violence.  If the solution to violence is more violence, we risk escalating conflicts and divisions.  If the solution is forgiveness, we risk being ruled by those who accept forgiveness but do not give it.  If the solution is dialog, then we need to assure those with extreme views that they won't be attacked simply for expressing them.  So we need to understand why people feel it is acceptable to be violent towards those who express extreme beliefs.  I believe that people who attack extremists usually do so because they are paranoid.

Paranoia is a thought process heavily influenced by anxiety and fear.  Paranoid people are more likely to believe in conspiracy theories.  A single paranoid person isn't necessarily dangerous, but groups of paranoid people who share a world view that places them as better than other people and justifies violence is dangerous.  In practice, paranoia creates more paranoia.  When we look at history in hindsight, there are some cases when paranoia was clearly justified.  And their are patterns in history, but every year is distinct, in most cases paranoia is not rational.  The only solution to the escalation of paranoia that I can think of is trust in humanity and a belief that humans are fundamentally the same and our differences are insignificant compared to our similarities.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Remembering Keshab Ghimire

I first met Keshab in my Introduction to Computer Science class in 2003 at Hamilton College.  Almost all of the seats were full and he would usually arrive a few minutes after the lecture started and sit in the back.  I asked him why he was always late he told me he had another class on the other side of campus.  We were given ten minutes to get from class to class which should have been long enough, considering Hamilton had a physical education requirement (run 400 meters in less than 80 seconds, also swim four laps in a pool).  I'm not sure Keshab ever managed to fulfill that requirement.

Keshab was clearly the brightest computer scientist in our class, an attribute my 18-year-old ego wanted.  I was working on a project in the computer science lab, hoping to find some sort of adrenaline induced inspiration to finish the program before the rapidly approaching deadline.  The teaching assistants were unable to help me, another student was there and said he'd call Keshab.  I was slightly concerned, not just with my ego but also with the school's honor code.  I was reassured that as long as we weren't using copy paste or looking at each other's monitors helping each other was acceptable.  We waited for Keshab to arrive for about ten minutes, within five minutes of arriving he'd helped us solve our problem and explained to us why the solution worked.

I decided to take the next course towards a CS major, Data Structures.  Our new class had only six students and was taught by the experienced and charismatic Professor 1.  We worked together in two person teams building basic data structures in C++, after one team built a data structure another would test it.  Though Keshab was still probably the brightest student there were two new students whose skills were impressive.  I discovered my talent for mathematical computer science (I was able to determine the computational complexity of several algorithms immediately after Professor 1 wrote them).  It was the best class I've taken throughout all my educational experience.  Even though we were all freshmen, we won the Sam Welsch Memorial Prize Scholarship in Computer Science.

I saw Keshab more in my second semester.  I had also befriended another student from his home country, Nepal.  I didn't socialize with Keshab too much, but I would always talk with him when I saw him.  He once told me that he did go out drinking with a fraternity, but after his parents called him when he was drunk, he followed their instructions to never drink again.  Keshab had secured a research position for the summer working on electronics with a Professor from the physics department.  I'd secured a research position with Professor 0, trying to use automated reasoning to find relations between genes and hopefully cure cancer.  My old desktop computer broke down and I decided since I was going to be staring at a computer for eight hours a day in the summer I wasn't going to immediately replace it.  Towards the end of the summer, after I finally decided on a laptop, I got in touch with Keshab for help installing Linux on it and recovering data from my old hard drive.  I told him I'd drive him to the airport in exchange for his services.  Afterwards I decided that I didn't want to (his flight was very late at night) but gave him information about a cab company as well as $60.00 to pay for it.

My next semester was horrible.  I had decided to take five classes because I wasn't sure if I wanted to major in CS and Mathematics or double major in Neuroscience and Chemistry.  I also decided to work for ITS as well as continuing research for Professor 0.  I managed to enjoy some parties on campus and one night wandering around I ran into Keshab who gave me back the $60.00 I'd given him.  Another time Keshab asked me if he could have the Linux CD I'd used back.  When I told him I wasn't sure where it was he told me not to worry.  In the midst of a stressful semester I received an email from the ITS employee listserv saying that Keshab was 'sick' and had gone back to Nepal.  I never signed the card they sent him, I was too busy with my own problems.

I ended up taking a leave of absence midway through that semester.  I returned to the snowy campus with a sense of practical cynicism.  Aside from courses necessary for my CS major, I took Introduction to Hinduism.  The most salient thing I learned in the class was that many Hindus don't believe in acquiring 'good karma' but in ending life with 'no karma'.  Keshab and I shared a class and had lunch together occasionally.  He complained that when he asked a Professor for help the Professor called him stupid.  I discussed some of my business ideas with him, hoping that he'd help me implement some of them.  He told me about how he'd been translating Nepali poetry into English.  I knew his father worked for the Nepali government, but I did not know the tremendous upheaval Nepal was going through at that time.

Keshab managed to get a research position with Professor 0, I gave him some tips on how to deal with him, feeling that they'd get along well because Keshab had more patience with computers than I did.  I had tried to find an internship with a high powered company (like Microsoft or Google) that summer, but failed.  I managed to have a relatively relaxing summer.  I visited my Dad in New Jersey, driving there and back for the first time on my own.  I remember hearing the song Right Back Where We Started From on the radio just as I was reaching home.  It was the first time I'd heard the song but by the end of it I was singing along to the chorus.  It fit my feelings of returning to being half way through college with optimism that the second half would be better than the first.  When I got home and checked my email, I saw that the President of the Hamilton College had sent an email with the title 'Keshab Ghimire'.  I knew what happened before I opened it...

Keshab had killed himself.  There was no suicide note but police ruled out foul play.  I was devastated and considered seeing a grievance counselor but ultimately decided against it.  I knew that the area was dominated by Christian Philosophy and that some of Keshab's suicide had to do with not embracing that philosophy.  There was an article published on Hamilton's website... I never knew Keshab had worked with impoverished children until I read this.  I still managed to enjoy myself at some moments during that summer.  But I was worried about how Keshab's death would resonate with the college, particularly within the CS classes I would take.  I had Professor 0 for a class and I knew I'd have to suppress my feelings that he was partly responsible for the suicide.  Aside from demanding hard work and not taking excuses, Professor 0 had three bibles on his desk and was very open about being a Christian.  I thought that he might take Keshab's suicide as motivation to be easier on his students and to put his bibles away but it wasn't.

Keshab's memorial service was about a month into the semester.  I was more motivated to give a good speech than to comple any academic assignment I'd ever received (though Professor 0 did tell me that I did the best in the class for the first assignment).  For some reason, it never occurred to me that Professor 0 would also speak and I only discovered that he would a few hours before the service.  I thought about the recommendations I might need and how Professor 0 might not like some of what I had planned to say.  I decided not to change anything.

I visited the college chaplain shortly before the service.  He gave me some reassurance as well as a copy of the Bhagavad Gita which I planned to read from (though it was a different translation than the one I'd used in my class).  I was scheduled to speak after one of Keshab's friends from another college and Professor 0.  My emotions raced as I heard the other speakers (especially when Professor 0 spoke about how Keshab was a great computer scientist, glanced at me, then proceded to list Keshab's flaws).  Shortly before I spoke I felt like some external force was squeezing on my brain and forcing tears out of it.  I considered refusing to speak, or changing what I had originally written.  I stood up and moved to the podium and looked out at the crowd for a while, hoping to see some sort of encouraging smile.  Instead, the brown furniture turned into the outline of Keshab's face.  The white faces became his teeth and the sclera of the eye of Keshab, the few darker people became his iris and pupil.  I knew I was going to say exactly what I wanted to, regardless of what anybody in the audience thought.

I wish I could remember what I said; unfortunately it's all in the past now, I doubt anybody in that audience remembers it.  I mentioned Keshab a few times to people who knew him, but nobody wanted to talk about suicide so I pushed his memory away.  I suppose I could blame my less than stellar career as a programmer on Keshab's suicide, but that's a pretty lame excuse.

Why then, did I bother writing this?  Is it because I'm a noble saint who reminds people of the forgotten and tries to extract feelings of guilt?  Not really, I can't say I really knew why I wrote this until I'd already written everything besides the conclusion.  I suppose I might get some sympathy from friends (or reconnect with people in college I haven't spoken with in years).  Though ultimately, I think death is a major taboo in society that eludes rational thought.  Atheists turn to religion when death occurs, empires have fallen after their leaders die, and sometimes leaders claim that certain dead people deserved to die.  Many so called 'rationalists' turn to discredited ideas of freezing their brains and living forever.  They forget that the world may not be around to wake them up and that this procedure costs more than what it costs to save multitudes of less fortunate people then.  What then is the rational approach to death?  I still don't know, but I have a much better idea than ten years ago when my friend decided to end his own life.  

Friday, October 24, 2014

Review of No Place To Hide

Edward Snowden's leak of NSA documents caused a great deal of controversy and shock, however I was not surprised.  I always thought the NSA was spying on whomever it could.  Glenn Greenwald's latest book, No Place To Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the U.S. describes exactly how Snowden leaked his documents and what they mean.  Greenwald makes no attempt to separate his personal views and experience from the NSA, Snowden or surveillance in general.  As a reviewer, I will follow Greenwald's lead and inject my personal opinion into this review.

At less than 300 pages, the book didn't take me that long to read.  However, there were only five chapters so I found my attention span stretched further than usual.  The first chapter deals with how Snowden contacted Greenwald, Greenwald's reluctance and ignorance to indulge in cryptographic technologies, his discussions with a friend and how he dealt with The Guardian (the UK newspaper which he chose to initially publish the leaks to).  The next chapter explains exactly how he met Snowden in Hong Kong and is full of praise for Snowden.  The middle chapter contains many documents which show the extensive surveillance the NSA commits on US allies and  US citizens and how US technology companies have allowed the NSA to do so.  The penultimate chapter explains why surveillance is bad with some interesting rhetoric, including references to historical figures.  The last chapter explains the problem with the state of journalism and why so many journalists have condemned Snowden and Greenwald.  Lastly an epilogue explains the harassment that Greenwald's husband faced; having his computer stolen (in Brazil) and being detained after a flight (in the UK).

I appreciate the courage Glenn Greenwald has, but his book is far from perfect.  I was slightly surprised it was published (after my research, I discovered the publisher is one of the oldest in the USA).  I noticed several errors/typos: JKF airport (meaning JFK), 2012 Boston Marathon Bombing (it happened in 2013!) and image is used where imagine should be used.  Perhaps the editors at Metropolitan Books were scared of the NSA and neglected to examine the book thoroughly.  The book also demonstrates that while some people cannot explain Snowden's behavior without claiming he hates America or is working for China or Russia, others are willing to criticize the NSA.  A bipartisan bill to defund the NSA was narrowly defeated in congress.

All of the controversial claims in No Place To Hide are substantiated by documents, Greenwald clearly establishes that the NSA collects massive amounts of information most of which is outside of its legally established mandates.  He counters variations of the 'if you have nothing to hide, you don't need to worry about being watched argument' but does little to speculate on what harmful activities the NSA may be committing.  Snowden was only a contractor for the NSA, so the information he had access to was limited.  An astute reader may remember events that occurred amidst the 2008 Presidential Election which the NSA may have been involved in:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2008_submarine_cable_disruption   

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

A review of Arkham Asylum: A serious house on serious earth

Grant Morrison's classic comic arkham asylum: A serious house on serious earth is haunting, it could easily give you nightmares.  Dave McKean's artwork drives the story, making the mysterious Arkham Asylum a real place.  There are so many minor details in the artwork that the reader will either obsessively examine everything or be left fearing some subtle symbol has been left in their subconsciousness.  Interspliced within the comic is the journal of Amadeus Arkham, who founded the Asylum but also suffered from insanity due to the death of his mother and daughter. Unlike most Batman comics, there isn't much action in arkham asylum.  His sanity is tested as the inhabitants of the Asylum (including the doctor) suggest that he belongs with them.  The reader is left turning page after page, wandering if some revelation about Batman and the Joker will explain the nature of insanity itself.  

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Comic Book Review, Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?

Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader is one of my favorite tellings of the Batman story, but it shouldn't be read by people unfamiliar with Batman. I've tried reading some of Gaiman's other work and found it boring, this book shows that Gaiman is a good writer and able to bring advanced narrative techniques into comic books (though he must use other author's characters and plots to be entertaining). Due to the narration style, this review may contain what some readers consider to be spoilers.

The artwork is amazing, perhaps it's because Gaiman tells the story in such a way that each panel is sufficiently different from any other panel. Additionally the artwork changes to match the style of the stories being told. The title comic involves Batman's major enemies and ends in a way that will disappoint the most hardcore fans. There are four other, shorter stories in this collection. A Black and White World shows Batman and Joker as actors, complaining about the roles they've been playing for so long. Pavane tells the story of a psychiatrist who tries to understand Poison Ivy, though it appears he ends up going crazy in doing so. Based on the artwork, When is a Door appears to be a story entirely contained within Original Sins. Original Sins tells the story of a rich couple threatened by Batman whom decide to interview Batman's enemies in attempt to earn them the public's sympathy (this is the least original story in the collection, it's been done before). When is a Door gives a partial origins story for my favorite Batman villain, the Riddler, my only complaint is that it's not long enough.

Monday, September 9, 2013

The 10 Principles of Burning Man Analyzed

The 2013 Burning Man is over, participants have returned home to continue their normal lives.  They will return with new experiences and ideas, and they'll change in ways they can't quite explain to their non-burner friends.  Part of Burning Man's appeal is that it eludes formal description and is best understood by direct experience.

The intentions which provide the theoretical foundations of Burning Man (and all other Burning Man regional events) are the 10 principles.  As with Christians and the 10 commandments, most burners haven't memorized the 10 principles and will probably violate some of them.  Unfortunately, the 10 principles come into conflict with one another, aren’t implemented perfectly or lead to undesirable outcomes.

THE 10 PRINCIPLES


Radical Inclusion
Anyone may be a part of Burning Man. We welcome and respect the stranger. No prerequisites exist for participation in our community.

Burning Man is more inclusive than most places, but it's not perfectly inclusive.  The city is divided into camps of people who typically know each other before the event starts, you cannot expect to receive anything from camps you don't belong to. Realistically, you need to spend at least a thousand dollars and take a week off to attend, so poor people are excluded by default. The demographics of Burning Man show that groups (many of which have been excluded throughout history) are drastically underrepresented.  A slight majority of Burning Man attendees are male, and an overwhelming majority are white.  The most successfully included group are LGBQT people, they are overrepresented at Burning Man.


Gifting
Burning Man is devoted to acts of gift giving. The value of a gift is unconditional. Gifting does not contemplate a return or an exchange for something of equal value.

Getting gifts is great, and it's not hard to get gifts from strangers at Burning Man.  But you won't necessarily want the gifts you're given, and other people won't necessarily want what you give them. Many participants put little or no effort into giving gifts and many gifts end up being trashed.  Other gifts (mainly services like massages) are so popular that long lines to receive them.

Decommodification
In order to preserve the spirit of gifting, our community seeks to create social environments that are unmediated by commercial sponsorships, transactions, or advertising. We stand ready to protect our culture from such exploitation. We resist the substitution of consumption for participatory experience.

There is no money, stores, banks or stock exchanges at Burning Man.  Normal economic transactions (besides purchasing ice and coffee) do not occur.  Large amounts of unique art is created for Burning Man.  While Burning Man does succeed in preventing the creation of large numbers of identical products, there exist many services that commidify the Burning Man experience.  You can buy your way into camps which will provide you with everything you need without any participation on your part.


Radical Self-reliance
Burning Man encourages the individual to discover, exercise and rely on his or her inner resources.

To a degree, this principle serves the interest of the owners of Burning Man (Black Rock City, LLC).  The less people rely on BRC, the easier it is for the company to make large profits. Inner resources are of limited use if you're getting dehydrated.  Still, burners do usually leave the event stronger and less dependent on others.

Radical Self-expression
Radical self-expression arises from the unique gifts of the individual. No one other than the individual or a collaborating group can determine its content. It is offered as a gift to others. In this spirit, the giver should respect the rights and liberties of the recipient.

The description of this principle isn't entirely clear.  Gifting is a principle, but here BRC is claiming expressing yourself is a gift to others.  You will see forms of expression at Burning Man you won't see anywhere else. You'll probably receive compliments on your form of expression, no matter how strange it is.  But if Radical Inclusion and Radical Self-expression were both implemented perfectly, Burning Man would be a hotbed of conflict.

Communal Effort
Our community values creative cooperation and collaboration. We strive to produce, promote and protect social networks, public spaces, works of art, and methods of communication that support such interaction.

Building a city from scratch requires lots of work, and most of that work is done communally.  But Burning Man is composed of tribes that usually don't work together.  Large scale Communal Effort does occur, but it's mostly on dance floors or small projects, the big projects are mainly composed by tribes which aren't always Radically Inclusive.

Civic Responsibility
We value civil society. Community members who organize events should assume responsibility for public welfare and endeavor to communicate civic responsibilities to participants. They must also assume responsibility for conducting events in accordance with local, state and federal laws.

This principle also enables BRC to make more money.  Roads, Port-a-Potties, police force and medical care are all provided by BRC or volunteers.  Beyond this, it’s not clear what level of civic responsibility is useful, especially if people are Radically Self-Reliant.

Leaving No Trace
Our community respects the environment. We are committed to leaving no physical trace of our activities wherever we gather. We clean up after ourselves and endeavor, whenever possible, to leave such places in a better state than when we found them.

At a glance, BRC succeeds at this principle tremendously.  But upon further inspection, this principle (and its alleged concern with the environment) is flawed and likely only exists because of a deal that BRC made with the BLM (Bureau of Land Management) in exchange for access to the land where Burning Man occurs.  The Black Rock Desert contains almost no life, if Burning Man didn’t exist it would be a good candidate for a toxic waste dump.  BRC’s is more concerned with clearing biodegradable matter from the desert than discouraging its attendees from bringing gas guzzling Recreational Vehicles from the event. 

Participation
Our community is committed to a radically participatory ethic. We believe that transformative change, whether in the individual or in society, can occur only through the medium of deeply personal participation. We achieve being through doing. Everyone is invited to work. Everyone is invited to play. We make the world real through actions that open the heart.

The amount of effort people put into Burning Man is amazing, but it’s not equally distributed amongst all participants.  The camps which have a track record of participation are in the center of the city.  So new camps on the outskirts will have a hard time finding an audience to participate with, and their members will likely spend most of their time participating in other people's projects.

Immediacy
Immediate experience is, in many ways, the most important touchstone of value in our culture. We seek to overcome barriers that stand between us and a recognition of our inner selves, the reality of those around us, participation in society, and contact with a natural world exceeding human powers. No idea can substitute for this experience.

This principle is the hardest to understand.  Long term planning is necessary for a successful burn.  The man takes hundreds of people months to build and it is almost completely incinerated within half an hour.  When participants return to reality, they won’t remember the many hours they spent preparing or even most of the time they spent on the playa.  They’ll remember the short serendipitous moments  

Though my analysis of the 10 Principles may seem harsh, it should not be taken as a condemnation of Burning Man itself. The event existed before the principles and it's not clear how the Principles have impacted the event. Sometimes codifying a ritual ruins the ritual. It's important for Burning Man participants not to take the Principles too literally or to follow one principle at the expense of another. Ultimately, the Burning Man experience is created by the attendees, not the administrators. Participants should feel free to make their own principles and express and justify them to other participants.

Monday, April 1, 2013

What Can We Learn from Traditional Societies?


I recently finished reading The World Until Yesterday: What Can We Learn from Traditional Societies? by Jared Diamond.  Before writing this review I looked for reviews of his books and was surprised at all the controversy he has generated.  Most reviewers of this book have given undue attention to Diamond's previous work and don't cover much of the content in his most recent work.

I can understand why Diamond generates so much controversy, he makes bold claims and doesn't give them adequate support.  He does reference many works in his book, but the book is dominated by stories of his own personal experience and things his friends have told him.  Of course, Diamond doesn't claim to be a scientist, his books are non-fiction but that's not to say that everything in them is 100% accurate.

If The World Until Yesterday were a fictional book, it would be entertaining and spark the imagination of whoever read it.  But it's not, so we have to question Diamond's conclusions with a healthy degree of skepticism.  Clearly the New Guinean people are culturally different from most people who speak English (and most people who speak the thousands of language not spoken in New Guinea), and language is just one of the barriers of communication between different cultures.  Diamond claims to have an understanding of New Guinean culture, but it's not clear that he does.

Diamond's claims are difficult to disprove.  It's pretty clear that they have a negative effect on the New Guinean tourism industry.  His claims about cannibalism in New Guinea aren't that different from the claims that the Natives of the Carribean were cannibals.  There is no concrete evidence of either.  So while Diamond does inform people of cultural differences, this information isn't 100% accurate and the reader of The World Until Yesterday can't tell what parts are inaccurate without doing some research on their own.

One could interpret Diamond's motives in writing very cynically.  You could say he's profiting from telling lies about cultures that have been oppressed.  That he's an agent of Christian, Western, and Corporate Imperialism.  He is critical of some Western cultural practices but he makes it clear that he prefers living in Los Angeles to New Guinea.  He may be informing people who are extremely ignorant about culture, but he's not enabling Westerners to appreciate New Guinean culture the same way that Westerners appreciate Chinese and other Eastern cultures.  He's just giving people a model of culture that is less wrong than models created by imperialists.

It's worth noting that Diamond is a victim of the same phenomena he is creating with his books.  He's descended from Eastern European jews who had the foresight to come to the USA before the Holocaust.  When Diamond was growing up, people were misinformed about jews and judaism, even in the USA.  Diamond has escaped many of the stereotypes jews have suffered from over the course of his life, but he's created a new set of stereotypes for another group of people.