Friday, June 29, 2007

Superstitions and Chain Letters

Why oh why do people send these things? Ok, I guess that's more of a rhetorical question. People are superstitious. People engage in magical thinking. I know I have on occasion, though perhaps with the slight difference that I generally knew at the time that was what I was doing. Sometimes this is harmless. Sometimes this can cause great harm indeed.

Sometimes it is just annoying. Chain letters go under the annoying label. When I was a tot, there was no internet (well, there was, but only nerds did much with it and there was no web). So the medium of choice for chain letters was actual letters - you know, the kind with paper and that don't mysteriously disappear from the White House just before being subpeonaed.

I read the letter with amusment. I was probably in elementary school at the time. It breathlessly told me of all of the wonderful things that happened to people who sent the letter on to the required ten others. It also gave dire warning of how if I did not send it on, horrible things would happen to me. So I decided to do an experiment. I figured that if merely not sending the letter was dire, completely destroying it would be even worse. So I took the letter and some matches out onto my front concrete porch and I burned the sucker into tiny bits of ash and then mashed them up and threw them to the wind.

I then patiently waited for the plague or locusts or whatever that would surely come. Well, I waited for about five seconds then went back inside the house and did something else and probably forgot about it for a while. I can safely say, over 25 years later, that nothing particularly bad happened to me for doing that. Sure, life has its ups and downs. I'm sure the superstitious type person would attribute every bad thing that happened after that to the letter (or if they sent it, they'd interpret every good thing as being related). I think that's called observation bias - we tend to remember the hits and forget the misses.

Why am I writing about this? Because I got yet another chain letter today in the current preferred form of the medium - email. From someone I barely know. One of those people who apparently, once they get your email address, add you to some list and then every stupid chain forwarding email they get they forward to everyone in it. Sort of like a virus, only without any actual computer code.

Please, everyone, for the love of all that is holy (or not) - please ask people to stop sending these things. Tell them nothing bad will happen. Tell them it is a waste of time. Maybe if enough people do this, it will stop. (Ok, probably not, but at least I tried).

Tuesday, June 26, 2007


We were all immigrants once. Yes, even the Native Americans. Pretty much everyone outside of some small valley in Africa is an immigrant. And since odds are good that those original Africans moved around a bit too, that pretty much means we all are immigrants if you go back far enough.

So now comes yet another plan to "fix" immigration in our country. But what is broken? Apparently businesses are fine with how things are - lots of cheap labor, made cheaper by the undocumented status of the workers. No need to pay extra taxes on them. No need to pay market wages. No worries about complaints if you treat them poorly because the workers can't complain for fear of deportation. Sounds like a sweet deal for employers.

And it still works out to be a decent deal for the workers as well, compared to what they had at home. If it wasn't, they would not take the risks and effort to come here. Not that things are all that great for them, but things must be really bad at home for them to come.

So where does that leave us? On the one hand, there are calls for closing the borders and enforcing the laws that make hiring illegal immigrants, well, illegal. On the other hand there are those calling basically for amnesty, allowing them to have their status changed to legal while at the same time opening up things for "guest" workers. In the end, I don't think what is being proposed will really fix anything and the system as it is is really messed up.

I can sympathize with those who don't want to give amnesty. After all, those people did violate the law to come here, so why should they be allowed to stay and even get citizenship even if they pay money to do it? I sympathize with that because my wife is an immigrant and we had to deal with INS (now BCIS) for years, pay lots of money, and it was a real pain in the ass, and we did it the legal way. So why let someone else just coast on by all of that if I had to go through it? In other words, this is a personal bias for me. But not one that is controlling of my thinking on the issue.

I can sympathize with the idea that we should close up our borders and enforce the law on employers. Heck, enforcing the law with employers is all we really need to do. Without that draw, no one will bother coming here just to sit and be unemployed. That said, if we REALLY wanted to slow the border crossing to a mere trickle, we could do it. It would be tremendously expensive, but we could do it. We would just need to set up a triple fence system with armed, live guards watching it 24/7, close enough together so that the guards at each post could see the guards at the posts to either side of them. And the no-man's land in between the fences could be further patrolled as well. It isn't rocket science to produce a hard to cross border. It just requires spending the money to build it and staff it adequately. Obviously, if making a wall hard to cross were impossible, we could not have prisons or security. Now, I'm sure the very clever would find some way around, perhaps going by sea, but the numbers would probably be reduced by over 95%, perhaps over 99%, simply because it is much harder to come by means other than just walking across at an unwatched border.

But again, it is probably much more economical just to hire a few thousand investigators and prosecutors to go after employers who employ illegal immigrants and would probably be just as effective, because you remove the incentive.

Of course, the reason we don't do the border is the cost, and the reason we don't go after employers is that big business gives lots of money to politicians because they WANT the laws unenforced so they can get lots of cheap labor.

The other side of the coin, amnesty, really doesn't solve anything either, not even with a guest worker program. You just legalize those that are here and give more incentive for more people to come because they figure in 20 years there will be another amnesty. The "guest worker" program is stupid because it isn't permanent - I think they can only be renewed for 5 or so years and then they can't come back. But the economics that drove workers here in the first place is not going to go away in 5 years. Then you'll still have the entire population of workers that come here still needing jobs, yet they will all have "expired" so they'll just have to keep coming, only now they'll come illegally, probably to the same employers they had as "guest workers." Really, a "guest worker" program would only work if it was something that was permanent, if seasonal, allowing a worker to come back as a "guest worker" for the rest of his or her working life. Otherwise, just what do people think they'll do when the time expires? It is not like they had jobs in Mexico - if they did, they would not have come all the way here.

So ultimately, nothing meaningful will get done. Really, the problem is that the powers that be want to keep a continuous supply of workers paid below market value. I really think we need to make up our mind. Either we enforce our border, build the triple wall and staff it, and enforce the laws against employers, or we just admit that we want those workers here, we just open up the borders, and let anyone who wants to come and work here freely. They are coming anyway. Letting them do it openly lets them get full market wages, as opposed to wages depressed by the fact that they fear deportation and can't complain, and it also allows the government to tax them, so those who worry about them costing "the natives" know that they will be paying their admission price to our society. Doing it halfway, which is what we do now, and what the proposed immigration "reform" will continue to do, is just pointless.

Those who worry that we'll get a lot of "undesirables" should just chill and realize that anyone who is willing to travel hundreds or thousands of miles, to another country, one where they might not even speak the language, just for a job is probably going to be a pretty hard and dedicated worker and a good contributor to the community. Lazy people would have just stayed home.

Of course, my views don't matter on this - I'm not in power, I'm one of the many powerless nobodies. But at least I can expess my opinion on the matter.

Monday, June 25, 2007

I have been Tagged

By Barefoot Bum. And this is a first for me. I've not been otherwise tagged since I was in elementary school... so now comes the hard part.

First, the rules of the random fact meme:
  1. We have to post these rules before we give you the facts.
  2. Players start with eight random facts/habits about themselves.
  3. People who are tagged need to write their own blog about their eight things and post these rules.
  4. At the end of your blog, you need to choose eight people to get tagged and list their names. Don’t forget to leave them a comment telling them they’re tagged, and to read your blog.
Ok, so here are my random facts.

  1. I have never misplaced my car keys my entire life.
  2. I've always wondered what it would be like to be an architect - I think I'd love to design buildings.
  3. I'm a history buff, but more than that, I have a strong interest in military history, particularly WWII, which I know far more about than any non-historian should. Thus, I love all (good) movies made during that era, even ones not directly focused on the battlefield.
  4. I almost never drink (alcohol) but I have nothing against drinking, in general.
  5. I have never used any form of illicit or illegal drugs and I never will, but I see no problem with legalizing them.
  6. I love strategy games and games that involve long term planning and simulated economics.
  7. I'm a political junkie but I'm almost clueless when it comes to actually being political.
  8. I hate shopping for clothes and often the only way I get new clothes is from what people (usually family) buy for me for gifts.

Ok, and now the really hard part - tagging more people. I'm going to have to add them later. I don't want to tag people who have been tagged already or who might not appreciate the meme...

Saturday, June 23, 2007

A Little Legal Question

Just a hypothetical. Say you are a lawyer at trial. Say there is a witness who does not seem particularly inclined to cooperate with your side and so refuses to testify. Enterprising lawyer that you are, you decide, hey, why not give the witness an incentive. So you offer the witness $50,000 in exchange for testifying, presumably truthfully. First, would you expect that the witness would not feel some incentive to be slanted toward your side? What if there was an implied threat that if the witness did not, in your personal judgment, testify truthfully, you could take back the money? Should this be allowed?

Well, fortunately, it usually isn't. At least, it doesn't appear to be at first glance. Statutes forbid you giving valuable consideration to a witness in exchange for testimony like that. That is what is known as "bribing a witness." It doesn't matter if everyone swears up and down that despite the payment, the witness is testifying truthfully. You simply can't do it, and I think it may even be a crime (I'm too lazy to look up the specific statutes now, but I may later - I have only a narrow window of opportunity to post).

Ok, all fine and dandy, then, right? Wrong. Unfortunately, the scenario I outlined above essentially is allowed and happens every day of the week in courts all across the country. What's the difference between that scenario and what actually happens? Not much, really, except semantics. You may have guessed by now that I'm talking about prosecutors who offer lesser charges or sentences to a witness in exchange for testimony. For really, say the crime a witness is facing has a $50,000 fine. Say the witness knows he or she is likely to be convicted if brought to trial. How is the prosecutor letting the witness avoid paying $50,000 any different from paying the witness $50,000? In an accounting sense, there is no difference. Either way, the witness is better off to the tune of $50,000. I think it only gets worse when there is not only a fine, but possible prison time, or perhaps guaranteed prison time. How much is your freedom worth to you? It is worth a hell of a lot to me. Offering years of your life in exchange for testimony sounds like even more valuable consideration. So truly, prosecutors are bribing witnesses for testimony. By the letter of the law, it is illegal. But by "tradition" it is allowed, despite the apparent violation of basic common sense and logic. One court, the 10th circuit, once actually pointed this out and threw out a case on exactly this basis. Unfortunately, it lasted only nine days before it was reinstated by the circuit en banc.

Personally, I think it is bullshit. A bribe is a bribe, no matter how you want to couch it and no matter what "tradition" says. It is made worse by the fact that ONLY the prosecutor can do it. If a defendant has a reluctant witness, he's out of luck. Talk about unfair.

Personally, I'd abolish the practice altogether. But of course that will never happen. Another alternative is to allow defense attorneys the same power. Any deal the prosecutor gives to a witness gives the defense attorney comparable power to give a deal to drop charges and reduce sentences for a witness for the defense, where appropriate. What, don't like that idea? Why should it be ok for only one side to have this power, to essentially bribe witnesses? Perhaps you could make it like a mutually assured reduction thing. Neither side can do it normally, but if the prosecutor REALLY wants to do it for a witness, they can petition the court for permission, and if granetd, then BOTH prosecutor and defendant get to do it. Perhaps let the defendant have the same right of petition. Then it would be fair and even on both sides. Perhaps after a while of doing it that way, people will figure out the corrupting influence it has on testimony in general and just abolish the practice altogether. That would be fine by me.

I'm reading an excellent book on prosecutors right now that I will comment on later (I've just started it). Of course, I'm not a prosecutor. I'm not a defense attorney either. I think I have finally figured out why I have such strong pet peeves about all of the bullshit I see prosecutors doing (and getting away with). It just plain violates my inner sense of fairness. I could not quite put my finger on it before, but really, the problem is that a huge, disproportionate amount of power is in the sole hands of prosecutors, and there is no appropriate check on that power. That to me is just inherintly unfair and needs to be rectified. Don't get me wrong. I have no patience for criminals and I favor prosecuting criminals. I just want it to be fair. I want to be able to look in the mirror at night and know that I'm working in a system that treats everyone fairly and has appropriate checks on power. Right now, I don't think we have that.

Unfortunately, what happened to Nifong is the exception. Most of the time, almost all of the time, prosecutorial misconduct goes unpunished and often doesn't even stop convictions. This troubles me. It should trouble everyone.

I was banned at IBTP

I can't say I'm surprised I was banned, though I did try to keep a very respectful tone and stuck to the topic at hand. I admit I just felt the need to offer my two cents since it was a legal issue and that is my chosen profession. Silly me. And I want to state clearly. I was not trying to get banned, I was not trying to stir up trouble. I did start to get a bit annoyed at the accusations of dishonesty, but truly, I was doing my best to avoid fighting with anyone and just tried to have a conversation.

I am posting this mostly to point to the absurdity of why I was banned, which should be self-evident from reading the thread (assuming they don't just delete my messages on there, which also would not suprise me). I did not post there to try to stir up trouble, just to offer my honest comments. I did not try to hide who I was in the sense that I used my name I use here. I guess men aren't allowed to be anonymous online, though, even in this sense.

I also post this just on the off chance anyone from that thread wishes to ask me any parting questions. I'll answer anything someone cares to ask me.

Friday, June 22, 2007


Cheney is now claiming that he doesn't have to follow a presidential order because, get this, his office is not part of the executive branch. Uh... I can't even think of anything to say, I'm speechless. Maybe Keith can help me out. Rahm provided some help as well. Or as Andrew says, "The idea of impeaching him really doesn't seem so outrageous as the months go by, does it?"

I guess Cheney ought to hand over those energy task force minutes now, since he can no longer claim executive privilege if he is not part of the executive branch.

Geez, just how fraking blatent can you get about ignoring the law?

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Cautious Happiness

As anyone who has read this post of mine is aware (and apparently a lot of people read it, far more than I would have ever imagined), five months ago my wife and I suffered a loss.

Today, we have happier news, though it is not something we intend to share with anyone right now. But I can share it here because, well, this is anonymous. I'm sure anyone with half a neuron who is reading this has by now figured out what I'm getting at. Yes, today, this very morning, less than two hours ago, two pink lines declared to us that my wife is pregnant. Again, this was about as planned a pregnancy as one can get. We had to make calculations, go around work schedules, schedule it so our daughter was taken care of, and so on. Some might say that takes the romance out of it. But then making a baby isn't about romance, it is about biology. And about being responsible enough to make sure you can take care of the baby when it comes.

We don't want to have to share it, then have to tell everyone we lost it again. That was too hard to do. So we are waiting until about 12 weeks into the pregnancy to do so (10 real weeks plus the fake two on the front - I've always found it strange that they measure weeks of gestation from two weeks before you had sex), if we make it that far. Which coincidentally will take us to right around our daughter's 2nd birthday. At first we weren't going to tell anyone, then my wife decided she just had to call her mother. Then she decided we should tell family in general. Again, because this is anonymous, I share this here. Mostly we don't want to let people at work know. At either of our works.

I realize this is early. Very early. As in, as early as the pregnancy tests of today can tell you at home - we went through three tests before we got the positive, but then we started checking rather, uh, quickly. The second pink line is definitely there, but faint. There was no second line at all for the first two tests, taken five and three days ago respectively. Truthfully, after the first test was negative, I was sure this meant she wasn't pregnant. I guess I was wrong about that. I was even more sure after the second test, which my wife took without mentioning to me. So today, when she decided to test again, I thought it would be a waste of a test and said so, but still, curiosity got the better of me. Sure enough, pregnant. We are both worried. We know first of all that a lot of early pregnancies terminate on their own. That actually wouldn't be as bad as what happened last time. We are going to be paying close attention to any bleeding. My wife is scared about that, not just about losing the pregnancy, but herself as well.

So for now, as the title of this post says, I'm cautiously happy. We are going to wait and see how it goes. But I just had to share it, even though this is anonymous. Wish us luck.

Oh, and by my calculations, the due date would be March 4, though that may be adjusted after an ultrasound at 20 weeks. We sure as heck know the date and time of the act that led to conception. But then there are variables after that that are less clear.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Stupid Network TV Execs

I hate it when they cancel shows without giving them a chance to find an audience. I've had it happen to me several times now in rapid succession.

I started watching "Daybreak" last year when "Lost" when on hiatus. After three or four episodes I really got into it and really enjoyed it. Then all of a sudden it wasn't in the schedule. No explanation. Just a rerun of some other show I wouldn't watch. I mean, what the hell? Not only do they pull it, they put in something no one will watch anyway? How does that help the network? It was obvious the shows were made, why not show them? And how can they tell if a show is going to work after only four freaking episodes?

I was a bit pissed. Then I started watching "Drive" when it opened. I found it interesting as well. And yet again, suddenly it wasn't on, and from my recent experience, I knew right away it had been cancelled. Geez, after like only three or four episodes. Talk about avoidance of risk!

I just am so annoyed at stuff like that. Like TV execs can ever really predict what shows will be good or not. Then there was "Jericho" - I really liked that. And it was cancelled. At least they had the decency to let the season end. Then a minor miracle - the show was saved by a massive writing, advertising, and "nut" sending campaign. They agreed to do seven or eight episodes end of next season, and if it does well enough, they'll do more after that. I guess I should feel grateful for that, but I still have the bitter taste of other shows that were not so lucky. ("Firefly" being the most infamous of all).

Why can't they just let a new show "breathe" for a bit before pulling the plug? Piss me off enough and I'm liable to not watch any new TV programs - I already am hesitant because of what has already happened. So if the execs think it is all about the money, well, they are going to lose money from me if they don't quit this nonsense.

Some things are just beyond parody

Justice Scalia, of the United States Supreme Court, is citing, with approval, torture done by a fictional character (Jack Bauer) on the Republican Propeganda network (FOX) and justifies it by all of the (fictional) lives it has saved. Uh...

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Work Hours and Quality of Life

I read an article today scolding CEOs who work 100 hour weeks for years and thus neglect their families, in particular their children. The article also notes the double standard of berating poor fathers who don't spend time with their kids while giving CEOs who don't spend time with their kids cover stories in Fortune magazine.

I have to say, I agree with the sentiment. Probably the reason the CEOs get a pass is that they DO provide for their kids in the monetary sense, and further, many probably have stay-at-home parents, because CEOs can usually afford to live on a single income. And even those that don't can afford to hire nannies and such, so it isn't like the children of CEOs are abandoned or starving naked in the street. Which is, in some sense, what poor parents, particularly poor dads, are derided for more than not being there - not being financially supportive. Some mothers, in fact, want ONLY a check from the father of their children, and nothing else.

But, again, I still think children should get real quality time with parents. Why bother having kids if you will not spend time with them? No matter how rich or famous or powerful you are, all a tiny little toddler knows is he or she misses his or her mommy and daddy when they are away. It is heartbreaking for me every time I leave my daughter at day care or at home with a sitter when she plainly doesn't want me to go (and requires a crowbar to get her arms, legs, and tiny little fingers to let go of me). Fortunately, as she has gotten older, she isn't always like that, but it still happens often enough to give me pause every time I'm about to drop her off.

What inspired me to write wasn't just the article, but an article it linked to. An article about how a partner in a law firm deliberately works less hours so he can spend time with his ten year old daughter. The link between the articles was a notion that is quite often true - that what happens at the top trickles down, so if the CEO puts in 100 hour weeks, you end up having everyone else in the company putting in 100 hour weeks, so as not to be seen leaving before the "boss." Thus, where the boss works less hours and spends quality time with family, you'll see everyone else in the organization feel license to do the same.

One of the things I love about my current job is the fact that I don't have to work a lot of hours, giving me plenty of time to spend with my family. I pick up my daughter from day care every day relatively early. I sometimes drop her off as well. I watch her almost every weekday evening by myself (sometimes I get a sitter if I need or want to do something). In part, this works (and is necessary) because my wife often works much longer hours and also sometimes has long commute times (though that varies) so at least one of us needs to be there for the baby, and it can't be her a lot of the time. So I'm really limited in what sort of job I could take. I could not take a job that had long hours or even a commute because I need to get my daughter from daycare. And even if I did not have that restriction, I would not want to work long hours.

Jobs I had before I did law included some very very long hours. I also was paid very well, better than I am now as a lawyer, in fact. But I did not enjoy what I was doing very much. The long hours just made it that much worse. Fortunately, I had no child at that point - but then, it wasn't exactly an accident that we waited to have a child until after I stopped having long hours and after I graduated from law school. In short, in balancing work and life, I'd rather work shorter hours for less money than work long hours and be rich, but never see my family and miss seeing my daughter grow up.

Picking my daughter up from daycare is always the highlight of my day. Just thinking of seeing my daughter's smiling face or getting a hug from her as she chatters away is enough to bring a smile to my face, and I think of her often during the day.

Beyond the quality of life (and probable health) aspects, though, there are also very good reasons not to work very long hours. Quality goes down as fatigue sets in, particularly in any endeavor that requires a great deal of thought. Truly, you aren't going to get 10 quality "thinking" hours in a day, on a regular basis. You'll be lucky to get 5 or 6. The longer you work, the more the quality goes down. A client (in any business) has got to wonder if it is really worth paying for work that is so reduced in quality because of fatigue and burnout.

In the software industry, this is endemic. Working long hours on a late project making it later. It gets even worse when the results are magnified - a small error early on in the requirements stage can require literally thousands or tens of thousands of hours to find and correct when you are in the code implementation and debugging phase. Sensible, smart IT managers send their people home at 5 o'clock every day, keeping them fresh and much less likely to make costly mistakes. The same should be true of all knowledge workers. I'm sure it helps with other workers as well, though repetitive tasks that can be done without thinking are probably much less prone to this because of natural reflex memory (and because errors in such processes are easier to spot).

So the paradox is that you can get much more work done in a 40 hour week than in an 80 hour week. (I could go on and on with this, and maybe will at some point, but I will point out some great books on the subject: The Mythical Man-Month being the original work on this, along with Peopleware, and Rapid Development. I realize these are all about IT work, but much of what is in there really applies to any sort of thinking work).

I'll finish this with another half-thought - it makes good economic sense to work less hours (and have an organization that does so for everyone) because that will attract alot of really good workers. I know it would attract me. That is the sort of job I will be looking for as my next job when I leave my current job. It is interesting that I've read that alot of people of my generation are eschewing the big paychecks and are looking for quality of life in jobs, including shorter weeks. Hopefully this is a trend that will continue.

One last thing: At my high school graduation, like many graduations, there were a lot of silly platitudes in the speech given by the guest speaker, but there was one thing that has always stuck with me. She said that one thing you never hear people say on their deathbed is: "I wish I would have spent more time at work."

Sunday, June 17, 2007

This Post is Privileged

Barefoot Bum had a good post on the general concept of racism a few days back that finally got me thinking about this again, so I decided to try and post this today (hopefully I can finish this before my daughter wakes from her afternoon nap).

I have wanted to do a post about this for a long time. Apparently I was not "privileged" with enough time to do it until now. This is a post about privilege, and the overuse of the word I see in race and gender studies, in particular, at least from what I've read online in the various communities that take those issues seriously. I see the word often used as a weapon, usually to shut down discussion, or to shut my voice out. I've had several comments on self-identified feminist sites responded to with the claim that my even saying anything at all was evidence of special privilege (this despite the fact that the comments were open to everyone). So the claim of "privilege" was there used as a weapon to shut out my voice. I could safely be ignored because I was a white male who was somehow "privileged" for offering my two cents on something where comments were specifically asked for from anyone. Somewhat ironic, then, that those who shout the loudest about how horrible it is to ignore someone's voice for their gender or race then explicitly belittle someone's voice for their race and gender. Oh wait, they can't be racist or sexist, again by definition. Only I can be, because I'm an evil white male. Ok, enough on that.

Specifically why I wanted to post was to analyze this post that goes through 50 apparent "privileges" that "white" people have over "people of color." I read through the list and found almost all of the "privileges" to be rather amorphous things that really don't seem to be so much about privilege at all, but instead are about demographics. For instance, these alleged "privileges":

1. I can if I wish arrange to be in the company of people of my race most of the time.
6. I can turn on the television or open to the front page of the paper and see people of my race widely represented.
7. When I am told about our national heritage or about "civilization," I am shown that people of my color made it what it is.
8. I can be sure that my children will be given curricular materials that testify to the existence of their race.
12. I can go into a music shop and count on finding the music of my race represented, into a supermarket and find the staple foods which fit with my cultural traditions, into a hairdresser's shop and find someone who can cut my hair.
24. I can be pretty sure that if I ask to talk to the "person in charge", I will be facing a person of my race.
26. I can easily buy posters, post-cards, picture books, greeting cards, dolls, toys and children's magazines featuring people of my race.
45. I can expect figurative language and imagery in all of the arts to testify to experiences of my race.
46. I can chose blemish cover or bandages in "flesh" color and have them more or less match my skin.

What do they all have in common? They are all something you'd expect to find in any society anywhere where you are comparing a demographic that is the majority of the population versus one that is, at most, only 1/8th of the population. Even in utopia world where there is not now and never was any racism, unless there was an exactly equal number of every race, you would have everything in that list happening. If you live in Germany, you are going to find Germans everywhere you go. This is not some conspiracy to favor Germans, and Germans are not 'privileged' by this - it is just a function of demographics. And so already, for almost 20% of this author's list, we have a general failure of logic.

Looking over the rest of the claims of "privilege" What hits me generally, having read through these alleged "privileges" is that there is also an underlying assumption that you have to be fully aware basically of the minute differences between every culture on the planet or else you are somehow "privileged" not to have to think about it. Which, of course, is utterly ridiculous.
How this is listed as a "privilege" is that the "dominant" group doesn't have to think about an individual "non-domonant" group while the reverse is taken to not be the case, presumably because the "non-dominant" group has to learn how the "dominant" group does things to get along in the world. However, there is a very basic problem with this idea, when you really dig down deep. The problem is that there is not just a single "dominant" group and there certainly is not a single "non-dominant" group. Instead, there are thousands of overlapping groups, some of which are dominant or not depending on the particular circumstances. And even if you think there are lots of groups that are never "dominant," you still then have lots of "non-dominant" groups, more than would necessarily meet the eye at first glance. So if there are thousands of "non-dominant" groups other than the one (or likely more than one) that you happen to inhabit, odds are pretty good that you also have essentially the same "privilege" as the "dominant" group - you don't have to think about any of those thousands of other groups, or their plight, either. So really, if that is a "privilege" it is one shared to some degree by EVERY group, because EVERY group has the "privilege" of ignoring most other groups in most situations.
The other problem with the concept is that there is more to life than race. Or gender. Or any other thing you can think of. You may look at a white male and decide that he must be a member of the "dominant" group. And yet, if it turns out that he's an atheist, openly gay, and has a physical disability, then suddenly he's far lower on the ladder, probably lower than a Christian straight black woman in our society in the eyes of much of the alleged "dominant" class.

Several of the "privileges" listed are equally applicable to everyone, regardless of race. Others are patently untrue. Like for instance: 39. I can be late to a meeting without having the lateness reflect on my race. I'm sure if the meeting included even a single non-white person in it, that person might attribute a white person being late in itself as some special privilege - in other words, they could attribute the lateness to race, even for a white person, though perahps for different reasons than what the author of the article was imagining.

And finally, there is one claim of "privilege" that is just repeated over and over phrased differnetly, the idea that if you are in the "non-dominant" group that your voice is maligned or ignored or singled out for retribution. And yet that really isn't even true. Watching political discourse in this country, for instance, what has hit me is that people don't get shut down by the powers that be for ANY demographic characteristics - they get shut down for one reason and one reason only - questioning the powers that be. White males who have done so are made into villains. Black women who support Bush are held up by the neocons as saints. It is all about power and protecting the power of a very tiny group, a group that could care less about your race or gender, so long as you are appropriately loyal to the "great leader."

In short, I reject the whole article. Perhaps if she had focused on one or two real privileges with real data to back it up, I would put more stock in the concept. Instead, it seems to have reduced and diluted the concept of "privilege" to things so vague and generally useless that it starts to look like one more reason to beat up on "white" people (and for another way for guilty-feeling white people to beat up on themselves in a self-flagellation that perhaps they feel will "cleanse" them of the evil of being "white" so they can interact with people of color guilt-free).
Privilege, for it to mean something, needs to be about tangible, measurable things, or else you are just basically arguing about whether Mighty Mouse can beat up Superman. It really is meaningless.

If you could show, for instance, that being a white male made me get more money in my position, that would be something. Of course, since I know my salary is exactly identical to everyone with the same level of seniority, I guess that one is out for me right now. Did it get me my house cheaper? Hard to say, since it was built based on a lot of estimates by people who had no idea what race I was. Did I get a better loan? Again hard to say because my initial mortgage financing was arranged over email so again, no notion of race in there. One certainly couldn't tell from my name. And my good credit is based on acting responsible, never buying something I can't afford, even if it means I lived for many years with a crappy old TV or without much furniture and with a very old car. My parents grew up dirt poor, so no advantages of wealth for them, though they certainly helped me at least stay out of debt starting out. So, show me something tangible, and maybe I'll consider it a "privilege."

But I'm not going to just accept a blanket assertion that someone is "privileged" just because of some rather all-encompasing demographics like race or gender. Paris Hilton is sure as hell far more "privileged" than me. Hell, her dog probably has a higher net worth than I do.

Ok, I wanted to wrap this up better than this and say a few more things, but duty calls (in the form of a high pitched voice) so I'll have to leave it here. If nothing else, there is room for discussion.

Oh, and one last thought - I'm sure someone will be tempted to accuse me of "privilege" for even daring to question this without fear for my life or something like that. I guess if that happens, "freedom of speech" is somehow a privilege too, despite the millions of non-white, non-male voices on the blogsphere (many many of which are much more widely read and respected than this tiny blog ever will be). Perhaps if people stopped comparing "victimhoods" and stopped trying to come up with more reasons to denigrate and scold people for having the awful audacity of being white or being male (or heaven forbid, being both), we could have a more rational conversation about real problems we could solve together instead of coming up with more 'us' versus 'them' issues. (Thanks Thorne for pointing out that particular point).

There are some areas I've had an advantage over others in my life. I had the advantage of having smart, responsible parents. I had the advantage of having half a brain in my head that I worked hard to develop. I have also had disadvantages as well. I won't go into them, simply because I am not looking for sympathy for them, just to point out that everyone has obstacles - even Paris Hilton (who is now in jail) - though some are self-made. I recall reading an article on luck, once. It said basically that people who are lucky don't have any better luck than others - they just have a different attitude about life and, in essence, make their own luck. Setbacks are seen as opportunities. I recognize that others have had things rougher than me in life, for various reasons. But bashing me isn't going to help them. Helping them "make their own luck" would probably have better results. That's part of why I'm so libertarian - I want everyone to have an opportunity to make it, without the uneven field of being kept down or having others unfairly elevated (for instance by special subsidies by government that favor the friends of those in power - and no, that doesn't include me - I have no real power and neither do my friends).

Ok, now I'm really rambling and my daughter is really insistent on some attention, so I have to go. Hopefully there's some sense in here somewhere. (I say this just to make clear that, as always, though I might sound like it, I really don't claim to have all the answers nor do I claim to always be right - well, except for my posts about Bush, Gonzales, and Nifong. All three of them definitely have got to go!)

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Nifong is Disbarred!!!

I can't begin to describe how satisfying it is for me to hear that Nifong will be disbarred. Perhaps it is just because unethical and inappropriate behavior by proseuctors is a pet peeve of mine (and because Nifong was a particularly egregious example of that sort of behavior) but I almost feel like gloating about this result. (Though too bad I'll probably not see AG Gonzales disbarred, though he dserves it even more than Nifong).

It is too bad that most bad behavior by prosecutors goes unpunished and doesn't result in any slack for defendants who have been subjected to it. I'll probably post more about my thoughts (and problems with) certain prosecutors at some point, but for now, I'm just going to bask in the enjoyment of this one small victory for justice.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Tax cuts do NOT pay for themselves (and aren't cuts at all if you don't cut spending)

The claim that "tax cuts pay for themselves" based on the infamous laffer curve is a lie that is repeated over and over by the GOP, and apparently they repeat it often enough that most of the rank-and-file seem to believe it, judging from conversations I've had with self-identified GOP supporters.

How do I know it is a lie? Well, I'll get to that in a moment, but first, I want to do a little thought experiment about this. The laffer curve idea starts out with the notion that if you tax 100%, then no one has any incentive to do anything, because they get no reward for it so there is no economic activity and tax revenues go to zero, and so if you cut taxes to 0.01%, that suddenly gives incentive for people to work so they will, and the economy is stimulated, so you'll actually collect more taxes with that 0.01% tax than a 100% tax. Seems simple enough. The problem is when tax rates aren't so extreme at either end of the scale. Where does the "hump" in the graph go in the middle?

I'll take this a step further now. Say taxes are 99% and you cut them to 90% (basically a 10% cut). On the taxpayer side of things, such a cut would change take-home from 1% to 10%. So people now would make ten times as much money for the same gross income and tax revenues would only have been reduced 10%. It again does not seem hard to suppose that increasing incentives by a factor of ten could produce sufficient increase in activity to offset an only 10% reduction in taxes. But on the other end of the scale, this starts to look rather harder to justify. If taxes are 20% and you cut them to 10%, on the taxpayer side you've only gone from take home pay of 80% to 90% - basically a 13% increase. But you've cut tax revenues in HALF. It seems rather unlikely that increasing the incentives only 13% is going to double an economy (which you would have to do to even offset the loss) much less MORE than double it.

So what's the point of my thought experiment? To show that there are diminishing returns to tax cuts. Eventually cutting taxes just plain will cut revenues. Given that our economy even in super booming years never grows more than in single digits, it seems very likely that the "hump" on the laffer curve is well to the right of our current level of taxation (which when you factor in all taxes is about 50% or so for most of the middle class). Some think it is as high as 80 or 90%. Which means that tax cuts right now can likely only lower revenues, not increase them. Which makes claims to the contrary lies.

Now, don't take my word for it. How about taking the word of George W. Bush's own economists. Brendan Nyhan has written on this quite a bit. There is also this interesting article on the subject.

Basically, regardless of where the exact point of the laffer curve lies, it is certainly to the right of where we are now. And this was made clear by the fact that not even Bush's own economists claim revenue was increased by his tax cuts and also actual budget numbers (as indicated in links above) show that a significant portion of missing revenues is from the tax cuts.

Now, libertarian that I am, I'm not exactly in favor of high taxes or keeping taxes where they are. But if you are going to advocate cutting taxes, use honest reasons, not bullshit. And further, tax cuts really aren't even tax cuts if you don't reduce spending. In fact, deficit spending is really just a stealth tax on us all. In some senses, it is a double tax. Because first, the money will have to be paid back later (and that can only come from increased taxes later), and it also can come in the form of a tax now - if you just print tons more money, you increase the money supply, thereby increasing inflation. So now all of the money you have now is reduced in value. There really is little difference between having a tax of 5% per year on your savings account and 5% inflation. So unless you cut spending, tax cuts are meaningless, irresponsible political pandering.

I'm all for lower taxes as a general rule, and lower spending as well. But I'm not for using lies and bullshit to get us there. And I'd rather pay higher taxes with a balanced budget than lower taxes while we deficit spend ourselves into oblivion. Call me crazy, but I favor responsible financial behavior (see previous post about that).

Thursday, June 14, 2007

A post about Power

Looking at the title, after having read so many blogs dealing with "feminism" and "racism" and other "-isms" one may think this post is going to talk about all of those "-isms." Nope. I'm talking about REAL power. You know, the kind that lets you read this post right now. Yep. That magical thing known as electricity.

We need more of it. We also need to conserve it. What we really need is a never-ending supply that has minimal pollution or damage to the environment. Am I talking about wind power or solar energy or ethanol? Nope, not really. In the end, none of those alternate sources of power will make the difference becasuse they could never supply more than the tiniest fraction of our power needs. Ethanol in particular is problematic because even if we used all of our farmable land to grow, say, corn for use as ethanol, we still would supply only a fraction of the fuel needed. And we'd starve. As it is, food prices are being pushed up significantly by the increased use of ethanol. Not exactly a wonderful tradeoff.

So what is the solution? Well, something we already have. Nuclear power. And for cars, electric cars with batteries recharged by plugging into that nuclear power grid. It is actually the safest and cleanest source of power we have that can actually supply 100% of our power needs. The only real problem is waste disposal, and that is something that Europe has figured out a way to deal with in a cheap and easy fashion - they reuse spent fuel, mixing in plutonium that was created by a plant's operation, so there is something like 90% less waste to begin with, and then they do a very simple process of encasing waste in solid glass cubes and burying it - which is actually very safe. And even if that bugs you, in the US we have the Yucca mountain facility that, while probably unnecessary, is certainly a safe place to store whatever waste there is from across the entire country.

What about Three Mile Island? Well, that was really a very minor thing. Moreover, that was with a plant made with 40 year old technology - plants today are even safer and more efficient. Except that we don't build any because of politics. The left protests out of ignorance. The right prevents it as a sop to oil companies, who would rather not have the competition. At least, that's how I see it.

But as with many things, politics and hysteria trumps reality, so we probably won't go there anytime soon. What got me thinking about this? A few articles I read recently. There was even a recent episode of Penn and Teller's Bullshit that covered this, though it did not get into what they are doing in Europe with nuclear power, which would have been a good addition to the show (if I'm remembering correctly).

I really like solutions to problems that are permanent. Oil always worries me, not just for the geopolitical problems associated with it, but because of the basic fact that it will run completely out and we won't be able to get any more. Even if that takes 1,000 years (it will be much sooner) it still bothers me, because then I think, what happens in year 1,001? The practical side of me always looks for things that are permanent - or self-sustaining. Like paper. If you use paper, you can always plant more trees. And in fact, all the fuss over recycling paper to save trees is bullshit, because really, if it were not for the paper, the trees never would have been planted in the first place - they have tree farms specifically for making paper. So without the paper creation, you might instead have had a parking lot for a mini-mall on that plot of land. Penn and Teller did an episode on that as well, come to think of it.

Anyway, back to my last point - I like solutions (or systems, if you will) to be self-sustaining, indefinitely. It just is something that satisfies me in the way that a fine piece of art can satisfy you. Perhaps that makes me a bit of a freak. I think it is also what makes me financially responsible and organized, amongst other things. And so that is why I really like nuclear power over all of the alternatives.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Educating one's child on economics

This is something I have some concerns about. I read an article today that made me think of this, though it is something I always have wondered how to handle. (The article refers to an older article that I also actually read a while ago).

I particularly like the older article. It says basically that the best way to teach a child about how to handle money is, well, let them handle money. Rather obvious, but then, sometimes we need to point out the obvious. I rather like the idea of giving allowances a month at a time and then letting that experience teach a child the value of planning. I wonder what is the right age to start with that. I think it is best to start early. I think even before you get to that, you can teach your child not to expect to get everything they want if you don't buy everything asked for even if you can afford it.

I seem to have good money habits. I don't go into debt - ever (not counting Mortgage on the house and buying a car, but even that I minimized as much as possible and now my car has been paid off for over five years and I expect to drive it another 10-15 years). I don't blow huge wads of cash on totally stupid things, and even when I do buy something some would consider dumb, I never spend money I don't have or can't afford to spend. But I don't remember my parents ever specifically teaching me anything about money. Maybe some of my money management skills are just part of my personality - I like to plan way way ahead and when I do have debt, like on my car, to me it feels like the money is already gone because I think of everything in terms of net value. (To the point that where I do have a debt, I really really want to pay it off so my cash on hand (or invested) as close as possible matches my net worth).

But I'm sure I also learned from my parents' example. They do the same thing I do. They don't spend money they don't have. They never have had any debt except that from buying a new car or house, and now they have cars and house paid off (and have been that way for a while). So that example must have counted, but then I'm sure not every financially irresponsible person has irresponsible parents. So there has to be more than just a good example.

I hope I can teach my daughter how to handle money well. I want to teach her about saving, investing for retirement, and all of that stuff and I'm actually eager and excited to tell her about it. I hope I don't bore her to tears when I finally talk to her about these things. Probably she's a tad young for it (almost 22 months now...) But I want her to grow up always knowing about money and how to be responsible for it. That's one of the most important things you can give someone for their independence.

I already have decided that when she gets into her pre-teens, she's going to be pretty much on her own when it comes to buying what she wants. I want her to know the value of money, to know that it takes hard work to get it, and to appreciate that when spending it so that she spends wisely. I don't necessarily want to mandate she get a job or anything - I think kids need to be kids, but I certainly would be glad to see her doing something to earn her own money, even if it is just extra chores (as I would not pay her for the ordinary chores I'd expect her to do - as part of the economic lesson on the fact that you don't get paid to do something for yourself - if she ever complains I'll ask her to pay me for doing all of my chores ;) ).

It is too bad they really don't teach this sort of thing in school. And not just in one class, but every single year, getting more advanced as time goes on. That would be terribly helpful and useful.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

If Democrats won't oppose the GOP even on the most basic issues, what good are they?

That title is a mouthful and says it all. I have thought about this before, and now this post by Barefoot Bum has me thinking of it again. Also Keith Olbermann has touched on this (and I commented on it, well, really just referenced it).

As I commented on BB's site, I am getting that feeling again - that Democrats are totally worthless because they just cave into the GOP talking points about what they think some mythical red state person is going to vote, and thus allow the entire dialogue to be framed and controlled by the GOP. The media just makes this worse and enables it, as Glenn Greenwald repeatedly has researched and documented.

It is depressing and enough to make one not even care anymore. What good are the Democrats if they just are going to always cave into the GOP? Why even bother putting them in control of Congress? Ok, sure, it is great that they are doing actual oversight and having actual hearings, but they have yet to challenge Bush on the tough issues - getting Rove to testify, for instance. They caved on the war funding. They haven't bothered even to try to impeach Gonzales, something that should be a cakewalk, given how little cred he has even with Republicans.

Of course, voting third party just is like not voting at all. It really accomplishes the same thing. But damnit, if those who would otherwise vote Democratic don't hold them accountable, who will? I'm not really all that thrilled with either party. But the GOP has made me downright scared for the future of this country. But then voting them out doesn't really seem to change anything. The Democrats are too spineless and disorganized to actually use their power. The GOP are much more polished with talking points, with their total domination of the media (just watch how the talking points are distributed from the top on down - pretty quickly in a day ALL MSM news outlets are repeating GOP talking points on all issues being discussed in a day. It is scary just how efficient they are at controlling the message).

But really, what good is having an opposition party if they don't really oppose much? I admit I'm still keeping my hopes up about Obama - there are hints he might be a refreshing change. Then again, we may get more of the same, though at least he's thoughtful and ANYONE is better than Bush (on the Dem side). On the GOP side, well, there's a lot of the same - Rudy is even more of an authoritarian and patronage type than Bush is. Ron Paul is a breath of fresh air, but there's no way the GOP apparatus will let him survive. So I still hold out hope. In any case, I think we need a Dem president to wash the taste of Bush out of my mouth, even if it changes nothing significant. But after that, I really am rather disgusted with the Democrats. Not that I ever was one of them, but they are just pathetic. And having a choice between the evil, brutally efficient politically (but otherwise incompetent at running anything) GOP and the horribly inefficient, pathetic, though somewhat competent at running government Democratic party, it is hard to get up out of bed to go vote.

I guess there are some things that could be immediately improved - putting actual science back into the various federal science agencies, justice back into the department of justice, and so on. Yet I fear that the damage done to all such departments, up and down the government, is so bad that it would take decades to restore them and I doubt the Democrats, even if they do win big in 2008, would ever be politically competent enough to hold onto power that long.

Ok, now I'm just depressing myself.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Feminism Post that articulates more reasons I think the word needs to be retired

Renegade Evolution wrote an excellent post that discusses (much better than I could) alot of what I was trying to get at with my post on feminsim. I would comment more here, but I left a comment there, so why be redundant. (A comment based on a comment I left at Thorne's).

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Last one for today... Salary Transparency...

This article was an interesting article about whether your salary should be public knowledge or if it should be kept private.

I have somewhat mixed feelings about it. I can understand the desire to keep one's private information well, private. But then, I have also worked out in corporate america. At my first corporate job (long before I dreamed of law school), one of the first things I was told was that I was not allowed to discuss my salary with anyone else at the company. Then that was amended when it was determined that they can't control speech like that legally, so they just said that we can't make other people's salary an "issue" (presumably when discussing our own salary). My first thought about that was, well, the managers all know what all of their people make - if it is ok for them to know, why not us? It smacked to me of unfair advantage. How can I negotiate a salary with someone who holds all the salary information when I have none?

That's why, ultimately, I think transparency is the way to go. Really, your raw salary doesn't tell much about you, and often people can guess what it is anyway based on your lifestyle. And finally, it is not like it is ultimatley a secret - you have to report every single dime you earn to the government anyway. So this is not information that isn't floating around out there already anyway. As it is, those who know about it have a massive advantage over those who don't. How can the free market work to set market wages when wages are all mostly secret from everyone else? Almost all market activity is in the open. Prices are set from public trading on the open market. Sure, some transactions are secret, but most are not. Prices are advertised far and wide. People who work free-lance, by the hour or whatever, have their pay posted far and wide. Why not make salary information more available so we can all better negotiate our own worth? I think the minimal privacy loss for some will be more than offset by the benefits. And since the government has all that information already anyway, I don't get as worried about the big-brother issues involved with this.

And ok, this is my last post for the day - I'll have to save taxes for later... (whether tax cuts pay for themselves was the actual topic). At least I got through all of these today! I deserve a treat now!

Civil Liberties and if you should trust your Govenment

This is just a short article to ponder. I wonder if enough people in this nation will wake up to the devestation done to our civil liberties and to our core principles of government before it is too late.

Rate your Lawyer

I don't have much comment on this, beyond wondering what criteria they use and if it can be easily "gamed".

I do think something is needed to help people find a good lawyer. I think a lot of people don't realize just how good their lawyer is (or isn't) and since there are all sorts of draconian rules about advertising (especially comparative advertising) for lawyers, I wonder if there's any way anyone can find out who isn't very familiar with the lawyers in a community.

I do find it amusing that some take issue with low ratings given to sitting judges or Supreme Court Justices. Sure, they are often legal scholars, but being a legal scholar doesn't necessarily you'd be a great lawyer to a given client. And further, since judgeships are all political positions, it should not really be terribly surprising to find out that some otherwise average or below average lawyers find themselves in those positions. Having political connections also won't make you a great lawyer for a given client.

I tried to look myself up on the system, but I'm not in there - I guess they don't cover the state of Michigan - yet. Not that there'd be much information on me anyway.

Your government at work...(where's the safe beef?)

When I heard about this I was totally disgusted. This is what I mean when I say that so-called conservatives are not in any way libertarian. In fact, they are anti-libertarian.

Here, they are trying to use the power of the government to actually stop a business owner from making his product safer. And this is done really for the sake of large corporate donors who are afraid to compete in the free market against this business because they are afraid they will lose out or will be forced to follow suit (you know, that whole competition thing) to sell their beef.

Fortunately, I think this effort will ultimately fail because there simply is no rational basis for the government to argue that meat safety standards limit what you can do to make your meat safe. Still, it is so utterly disgusting that this was even attempted.

Republicans say that they are for a free market, but they really aren't. They see government as a tool they can use to favor their friends and their friends' businesses over others. That is about as anti-free market as you can get. No wonder they don't like Ron Paul.

Crime - Punishment and Justice versus A parent's desire

I was already thinking about this topic when I read this post by Apostate on the subject, which was interesting.

What had gotten me thinking about it in the first place was this tragic recent newsstory about the 18 year old girl who was abducted and then later found dead. In fact, I thought about it before she turned up dead, so I'm going to get into my thought process from that earlier point.

When I first heard about this, I confess, my first thought was rather cynical. I'm rather cynical about the media so I figured this was another big 'missing pretty young white girl' story. If she had been black or if she had been ugly or if she had been older, and definitely if she had been a he, well, there would be no story. Because no one cares if a man is missing. No one cares if a woman is missing unless she's young and beautiful and sexually appealing to the largest media demographic. Then I got a bit less cynical when I heard there was abduction video. That usually trumps everything else - the media business LOVES to have pictures, moving pictures especially - without that, many stories are not stories, and with it, many non-stories become stories because now, when the talking heads talk about it, you can loop the images while they speak. That's good tv, after all. Not only an abduction, but one you can watch! I remember there was a lawyer shot at outside a courthouse last year or so and that became news mostly, I think, because it was all on video - caught by a newscrew there, I think - the lawyer trying to hide behind a tree while the guy repeatedly shot him with a handgun.

In any case, once I got over my cynicism, I looked at the story itself, and started to think about my own daughter. How horrible it would be if she were kidnapped like that. How horrible I'd feel sitting and wondering if I'd ever see her again, and with each passing day, knowing that the odds were dropping down to zero. It especially hit home when they published pictures of the young woman. She looks very much like my daughter's sixteen-year old babysitter. So now I was thinking about both my babysitter and my daughter in that context. So it hit me really hard when they found the body, even though there was little doubt in my mind that this was what would happen. I guess there was small mercy in that it was not drawn out - they found the body within four or five days.

Then I began to think about what I'd want as a parent from this situation. Would I want the person who did this punished? Yes. But that would not matter to me one one-millionth as much as getting my daughter back alive. And I began to wonder, what could help with that? Why do these cases almost always end with a body found in the woods? Other serious violent crimes don't necessarily end that way. Could it be the potential punishment?

In my state, rape can have basically exactly the same sentence as murder. Life. Or any term of years, for that matter (which could even be longer than life, given the way that is reckoned - I saw one case where someone was sentenced to 95 years maximum for rape - a 'Life' sentence would have allowed parole sooner). I wondered, does that give the incentive to kill? I mean, if a rape will get you life anyway, you might as well kill the victim if you are a rapist because the penalty is no worse and even if you think you can't be identified, why risk it? I wondered if the penalty were substantially less than murder, if it would be more likely that a rapist would let a victim go afterwards. I really don't know the answer to that question. I'm sure it does play a part - how could it not? I remember hearing that in medieval times, when even petty crimes were punished with death, that a perpetrator of a petty crime would often go on crime sprees, getting revenge, settling scores, murdering and so on, because hey, they'll be killed in any case, so might as well make it for something worthwhile. So what if rape of the worst degree was punished with, at most, five years? I'm sure that would not seem enough for a rape victim. If my daughter was raped, I'd be ready to execute my own personal death sentence on the perpetrator. But in the end, if I had a choice between the rapist getting life in prison and a funeral for my daughter, and the rapist getting five years and my daughter comes home alive, I'd chose the latter, and it wouldn't require a second thought. Rape, for all its horrors, sure beats murder. You can recover from a rape. Murder is permanent. And I could not bear to lose my daughter.

Now, could there be other consequences? Might this leave a person free to rape after their five years are up? Yes, that could be a concern. But again, if it means that the second rape victim comes home alive, and that second victim was the one who was my daughter, it would still not even be a close issue. I'd chose that over a funeral. (yes, one may say, but what if the first term was longer and so your daughter was not raped at all? But unless every rape sentence is life, the felon gets out eventually, and so there'd still be the chance for my daughter to be victim number two, except perhaps, since the first sentence was so long, the odds of victim number two ending up a body in the woods is just that much greater.)

Because as I see these stories, and as I saw this story, unfold, I looked at it from the perspective of being a parent of a victim, and the only thing I would want, the only thing that would matter to me, is if my daughter came home alive. Sure, in some cases, that is selfish, but I can't help it. I love her so much. I can say honestly I would die for her if it would save her. My wife feels the same way. So a rapist can retire to a life of luxury for all I care, so long as my daughter comes home alive. That's my visceral reaction to thinking about this.

Now, I don't mean to trivialize rape or say that rapists should not be punished. As I said already, I'd want anyone who would hurt my daughter like that to not just face justice, but to die a horrible, painful death. But I'd give up any thoughts of revenge if I could have her home alive.

I don't know if things would really work out that way. If it turns out that rapists are going to kill victims no matter what the penalty is for rape, then I'd be all for life imprisonment for them because it wouldn't make any difference and that is what they deserve. But the practical side of me, the side of me that wants my daughter home alive, can't help but wonder. I hope I never have to face this situation first hand. I hope, really, that no one does. But people do. And I'm sure if you asked any parent in that situation, what they want more than anything else is simply to see their former babies home alive. Nothing else matters one iota to a parent.

(There is also a separate, but related issue, regarding rape - I've heard it speculated that long sentences can lead to juries to be reluctant to convict for date-rape type situations (for instance) because it may seem out of proportion if it was more a case of an honest mistake or boorish behavior versus an actual intent to have sex against someone else's will. I won't pretend to try and tackle that issue here. I hesitate to even mention it for fear of derailing the primary point of this post, but hey, it's my blog, my thoughts, and I just can't but help of think of that now, too. Suffice it to say that I'm sure there could be an interesting discussion about it, but I decline to get into it here or even state my thoughts on the matter beyond mentioning it came to mind. I feel somewhat better about mentioning this knowing that perhaps someone in comments would have mentioned this anyway.)

Irony Alert - Judge Bork files frivolous punitive damages lawsuit

I just had to point out this gem, though probably anyone who pays attention to such things knows already.

That paragon of Judicial bullshit, Judge Robert Bork, has filed a one million dollar (plus!) lawsuit claiming punitive damages for a simple fall in what was probably mostly his fault - an open and obvious sort of danger. Now, everyone deserves their day in court for a legitimate claim, but this guy has railed for years about how claims like his now should not be allowed for anyone, ever.

Some have speculated that this might be him making a point, but I somehow doubt it. Tom DeLay was also someone who railed against tort lawyers - and still does - except that when it was his own father who was the victim of a tort, well, then the shoe was on the other foot and he sued for millions. Apparently it is only OTHER people's claims that should be blocked.

I guess I could say more, but I'll just let the facts speak for themselves. (And note that more than ever, I feel like the whole nation dodged a bullet when Bork did not get confirmed to the Supreme Court - he is a real whackjob nutcase, IMHO, whose judicial views are so far out there that one almost couldn't satirize it.

So much time, so little to do!

Ok wait a minute, strike that, and reverse it... (ah, Willy Wonka!)

Such is the pitfall of being a parent of a young child and having so many responsibilities. I couldn't imagine how hard it would be to be single (though some nights I might as well be, when my wife works late). I'm sure it will get harder with more kids. I'm sure it will get easier, too, as older can watch younger and as they all get older.

My poor toddler is sick today. She had a fever of 101.2 and we took her to the doctor - always hard to do on a Sunday - and it turned out it is probably a viral throat infection, so the trip was really a waste of time, and it was a nightmare because she was tired, sick, and screaming the whole time she was there. Still, it probably isn't ultimately that serious, and hopefully she'll feel better in a few days to a week.

Ok, this was just going to be a short post to lament that I have all these things I wanted to post about and just wasn't able to this week (and previous weeks - I haven't forgotten about my tax post!) But I can try and knock some off now while baby sleeps with mommy. Here goes...

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Collectibles for Cash or Toys for Fun?

When I was a young kid, I got the Star Wars action figures from Kenner. Star Wars and Empire Strikes Back, in particular. By the time Return of the Jedi came out, I don't think I was getting them anymore. I also got a landspeeder, an X-wing, a Tie-Fighter, a Snow Speeder, and a Bespin cloud ship (whatever the heck that was called).

I don't think I got all of the figures. I never got any of the big ticket (expensive) stuff - no Death Star, no Millenium Falcon, no At-At Walker (though I did know kids who had those and played with theirs). My parents probably could have afforded to buy me those things, but they just didn't. They grew up poor. While they were solidly middle class by the time I got around, they still were very frugal. It probably helped me in the end. Now there are lots of things I could buy for myself that I don't simply because I have the mentality in the back of my mind that I just can't afford them (even when I can) that I think makes it not even occur to me that I can buy something. I hope I can instill similar habits with my children. I don't want to spoil my daughter. I want her to be happy - I think she will be much happier if she does not get everything she wants, even if we could get it for her.

Now all of those Star Wars toys are worth some money, at least if they are in their original packages and in good condition.

I also had some Star Trek action figures - a set of six tall figures with cloth uniforms, belts, and little phasers and communicators. Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Uhura, Scotty, and a Klingon. (Here's a pic of Spock and Klingon on ebay). Apparently those are also worth some money today, particularly in their original packages.

I mentioned this to someone and they pointed out how much money I could have today if I had just held onto those in their original packaging. And that is probably true. And I do wish I had the packaging still. Though some of the Star Wars packages had the 'proof of purchase' seals cut out so I could order the 'Survival Kit' - something that gave accessories you could add to the Star Wars figures and that I rememeber waiting a long time to get.

But really, would it have been worth it had I saved all of those things? I do have the figures and the vehicles still. Most of the vehicles are tremendously beat up. I played hard with them. Most of the Star Trek figures have their limbs broken and then taped back together. Some of the uniforms are stained and ripped. Most of the phasers and communicators are either missing or damaged (the tip at the end of the phasers were notorious for snapping off - I think only McCoy's is intact, and that is because I got him last, when I was older - my parents I guess got the figures all at once and only slowly gave them to me as gifts over the years). Spock is in particularly bad shape. All of his limbs have been broken off and then taped back on. All of his accessories are gone. This is in part because I taped a paper 'S' on his shirt and a paper cape on his back and then would repeatedly throw him up the stairs and into the railing as I shouted 'Super Spock!' So basically that figure is worthless, at least in monetary terms. But as it turns out, they are all priceless to me. Especially the Spock. Not the figures themselves, which I do still have and perhaps my children will play with them someday (if they are interested). I could have lost them all and they'd still be priceless to me. Because it isn't the figures that have value - it is all of the memories I have of all of the fun I had playing with those toys. That can never be taken away (well, save Alzheimers, and that usually affects later memories, I think). All of the fun that I had with 'Super Spock' over my childhood years is worth more to me than I can possibly explain. I had so much fun. It brings a smile to my face even now to think of it. Giving up all of those memories for $500 today or even $5,000 just wouldn't seem worth it, as much as I could use the money. A happy memory from childhood is priceless.

So while perhaps it would be nice to have some of those toys intact or with their boxes today, I really don't regret not saving them that way. I had way too much fun with them. That's what toys are for. To play with and have fun. And I hope my own children get to have the same fun with their toys. My daughter has already destroyed several books she really likes. We replaced one and just taped up the other one. But she is so happy when she plays with them, I don't mind. The smile on her face is worth it.

Monday, June 4, 2007

Blogging for Sex Education

This is a first for me - a post done to join other posts on other blogs on a 'blogging for x' day. I am mostly doing this because I thought about it and have a few things to say on the subject, though nothing as thorough as what Ren posted. Which brings me to where this originated. Renegade Evolution suggested in a previous post that today be a Blogging for Sex Education day and invited others to join in. I read her blog regularly and appreciate her writing greatly. So without further exposition, here's my own post on the subject.

(Oh, and incidentally, it looks like the Denialism blog has one up too - I wonder where they first heard about her site).

The first thing that came to mind when I thought about sex education was my own sex education in school. I don't really remember much about it. I think I already knew most of it by the time they got around to teaching it to us, I think in 8th grade health class. The only thing I remember about the class was that the teacher, after she had a detailed discussion of the penis and the rest of the male sexual organs with lots of specific terminology and full color pictures that I'm sure had most of the boys in the class squirming in their seats, she then sort of pointed at a picture of the female anatomy, in the area of the vagina, and said something along the lines of "oh, and you know what that is." That sticks out in my mind because it was such a contrast. I suspected at the time that she was uncomfortable talking about her own anatomy - but that could just be projection because I know I would have been more uncomfortable talking about penises at the time than I would have about vaginas. That disparity stuck in my mind and now is pretty much the only thing I remember about the class.

I knew everything in the class much earlier, though I can't recall exactly when I learned it. It may have been from reading through my mother's health textbooks. I vaguely recall that back when I was really little, girls in the neighborhood would come to talk to my mother if they had questions in that area. But maybe that is just what my sister told me. I really did not pay attention to such things as a little kid - who does?

So I guess from my perspective, I really can't comment on the quality of my own public sex education since I don't think I really got it from school, but then I doubt most kids had the same experience. I think it is a very important thing to teach, and teach as young as possible. I think it is so ridiculous that some want to keep it out of schools altogether, as if not teaching about sex will somehow prevent all those hormone-laden teenagers from showing an interest in sex and acting on it. It is obviously a strong biological drive. And it is a drive that is NOT dependant on any formal education to manifest, otherwise none of us would be here because sex long predated any sort of formal education.

I just would also like to second everything in Ren's post about abstinence-only education (which has been shown to be an abysmal failure). She said it much better than I could, and she even had real data to back it up. So I won't repeat it.

And finally, I want to say this: I don't think sex education ultimately has to be all that complicated. If you use a condom properly and don't share fluids, odds are you won't catch any STDs with the possible exception of herpes, which everyone seems to catch in one form or another and is probably almost to a symbiotic relationship with our species. I was sexually active for years (ah, the "joys" of dating) and followed that simple rule and never got anyone pregnant unintentionally and also never got any STDs (and yes, I was tested for pretty much all of them - paranoia is a healthy thing sometimes).

On the flip side, when the goal was pregnancy, it was a relatively easy matter to arrange as well. We were fortunate that my wife had a regular cycle, so we just aimed for 14 days before the start of the next cycle and voila, a baby - in the first try. And this was after years of avoiding a baby when we didn't want one either through use of a condom or watching the calendar (really a combination of both). It was that easy the second time as well (though it did not turn out so well in the end).

Also, I wanted to add that when we were trying to get pregnant the second time, I double checked all of the timing issues by simply looking things up online. That has to be very different from how it was before. Sure, if you search for sex, you'll get lots of porn sites, but if you search for reproduction, you'll get lots of very useful information online. There's probably some stuff that is inaccurate as well, but there are plenty of very good very accurate resources for everyone out there on the web. Given that, probably any kid genuinely interested in how reproduction works these days could probably find that information out pretty quickly no matter how sheltered. That gives me hope.

Given how easy it is to prevent disease and unwanted pregnancy (and no, I'm not talking about abstinence) it is really sad to see both so prevalent. There's just no reason for it and it is especially infuriating to see people attempt to foster deliberate ignorance out of fears about sex, religious superstition, and bullshit morality about how only some preferred form of sex is the only one "allowed" between consenting adults.

I wonder when my own daughter will first learn about sex. I expect it may come sooner than I think. She already is exploring in that regard in the sense that she sometimes spends rather a long period of time with her hands (or her toothbrush or something else) on her genital area when she's taking a bath, something that my wife and I laugh about and basically ignore. I shudder to think that some overly religious parents punish for such things, some even burning their poor daughter's or son's hands. Talk about being messed up for life. But probably that is rare. I hope it is. Though I've known enough people, particularly women, messed up about sex because of nasty things told to them about it by their parents (and other family members).

I hope I don't botch it when the time comes to talk to my daughter. I hope I have the courage to tell it to my daughter straight, though I'm sure that parents always have trouble talking about it and kids have even more trouble hearing about sex from their parents. (This was nicely illustrated in a commercial that I found very humorous - where the kid comes home and his father is there with charts and books and graphs all in full color, all about sex, and offers to talk to his kid about sex... or they could talk about drugs. So the kid, visibly relieved, says "yeah, let's talk about drugs.")

Thus ends another stream of consciousness.

Saturday, June 2, 2007

An Evil Post

Or rather, a post about 'evil'. I almost want to say it with a long, drawn out 'e', for 'eeeeeeeevil' like you'd see come from the mouth of a cartoon villain.

This may meander, this is really just train of thought. I should point out again that I'm not a philosopher. I don't find it all that useful to even do philosophy - but that's my bias in favor of practicality. You can't build a bridge out of philosophy, unless you build it out of large, long-winded books. And if it was designed by philsophers, I'd be afraid to stand on it. I'd rather put myself into the hands of professional engineers. But I digress.

I want to comment on evil because I see so much of our discourse, particularly the political discourse today, focus on the whole 'we're good' and 'the other is evil' dichotomy, something which appeals really strongly to the fundamentalists and the right-wing-authoritarians. And of course, it is totally bogus. Not that I think the U.S. is evil (though it has done some evil things, like break the law, doing things such as wiretapping and torture) or that Osama Bin Laden is all warm and fuzzy. I take issue with it because it is a cartoon villain view of the world, and last I noticed, we don't live in a cartoon world.

Sure, there are people that do horrible things. But I think we are too quick to paint those that do as 'evil' so we can distance ourselves from them and not realize that all it takes is one bad decision for any of us to become one of 'them' - though obviously there are degrees of bad things to consider here - I don't mean to equate, for instance, someone who carelessly speeds and hits and kills a family of four with someone who stalks, tortures, and murders someone for the sheer joy of it). But both individuals are criminals, felons who have killed innocents.

Ok, so this still hasn't quite crystalized (in this post) so perhaps another example is in order.

Pedophiles. Not just pedophiles, but those who act on their impulses and sexually abuse children, are people that everyone, even hardened criminals, seem to agree are evil and deserve all sorts of nasty things. Nasty things that I would probably want to do myself to anyone who hurt my own bundle of joy, my 21 month old daughter. But are they really 'evil'?

Think about this. Are homosexuals evil? Some say they are. (And no, I'm not saying they are or that they should be equated with pedophiles - but bear with me). I bring up homosexuals to point out that it is generally agreed now that someone is not homosexual (or heterosexual for that matter) by choice. People simply are attracted to one gender or they are not.

By the same token, I would think that those who are sexually attracted only to small children don't choose this, either. Of course, they can choose whether to act on those impulses or not, but let's get real. Sexual impulses are amongst the strongest ones we have. How likely is it that someone will manage to go through his or her entire life without being sexual with whomever it is they are sexually attracted to? Not very likely.

Now, I have the fortune to be sexually attracted to sexually mature women. But I did not chose this. I don't think this makes me superior to someone who isn't. I don't even think this makes me superior to a pedophile. It certainly makes life easier for me because I can be sexually active and it is perfectly legal.

Hopefully what I'm trying to say makes some sense now. What I'm saying is that I don't think pedophiles are evil. Tragic, yes, and unfortunate, but not evil.

I'm still not going to let any near my little girl if I have anything to say about it. I still advocte locking them up for acting on their impulses because I want my little girl and all children to be protected from them. I even wonder if it would be a good idea, as some have advocated, to lock them up forever, or at least always keep them away from children. Because as I noted above, if children are all you are sexually attracted to - well, odds are, that will lead to action because an urge for celibacy isn't something strongly hereditary (or rather, if it is, it certainly isn't selected for). But that doesn't mean they are evil any more than a lion is evil for eating a child who falls into the lion pit at the zoo.

One further comment. One can't have a good post on evil without mentioning Hitler. He was certainly vile, and one often hears him described as a monster. But I don't think that is what was bad about Hitler. I think it is always important to realize that Hitler was NOT a monster. He was a human being. It is important to realize that in order to always remember what human beings are capable of, particularly when corrupted by absolute power. The people of Germany in WWII weren't monsters, either. They were ordinary women and men who either went along (as RWAs) or turned a blind eye to the smoke of the gas chambers and slaughter houses. This is important to remember as we see authoritarianism come to the fore in the United States.

So in the end, I wonder if there really is such a thing as 'eeeeeevil.' I do think there is good - I think that is generally the default in people. Perhaps it is best to think of evil as what happens when good people do nothing or simply nothing good happens.

Feminism Follow-up (Mostly for Thorne)

Ok, so this is mostly for Thorne - I was going to put it in comments, then decided I was lazy and it would be easier to do it in a post. I just wanted to point out a link to this discussion that references the link Thorne pointed out to me in comments. And now I'm going to attempt to do a somewhat more ambitious post on 'evil'... (no relation to this discussion on feminism, by the way, just something I've been thinking about for a while).