Friday, January 28, 2005

Is killing a man for defending an idea killing a man, or defending an idea?

From Jean-Luc Godard's Notre Musique, that I havent seen yet, but am planning to very soon.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Social Programs and Crime Rates

This will be a short post, as I have to jump the train. But it just occurred to me that if America has the worst social programs of most industrialized countries, then this has may have a direct correlation with high crime rates. With the dismantling of Social Security, tax-cuts for the rich, and no plans for a national healthcare program, it seems that the Republican party is creating a two class system: the rich and the poor. The only way that the poor can live would be to steal, sell drugs, sell sex, etc. Has there been any studies that link a countries addition of a social program to diminishing crime rates? If social programs diminish crime rates, then, secondly, has there been an analysis of the cost of crime (court costs, housing prisoners, etc.) versus what the cost of continuing Social Security and adopting a national healthcare program would be?

I am not suggesting that the 65+ people that have diminished benefits in social security hit the streets with their AK's so that they can support their previous lifestyle, but maybe their younger family members are effected and turn to crime to support the elder members of the family.

Anyway, this is hardly developed, but I was hoping to have some comments on the issue. I will try to develop this further, and look around for anything linking crime rates to social programs.

No bloggers are addressing the social security dismantling and what it may do to crime rates. It simply talks about seniors living in poverty with Bush's proposed plan. Could the dismantling of social security increase crime rates if younger, poor family members turn to crime to support their elderly? Does lack of social programs increase crime rates?

This is a very undefended thesis!

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Handguns and Bad Intentions

[Fair Warning: this is a rambling rant of the first degree.]

I want to teach the American people a lesson. I want to pull a Matthew 6:1-8 switch-a-roo on the public and show them that wolves cross-dress more often than we’d like to imagine.

Assume an issue, X. This issue is near and dear to Americans, but vulnerable to core Christian values and right-wing-speak. In other words, Americans would be loath to give up X, but through the use of the Christ-club scribed with rightish rhetoric, you may be able to batter them into a corner and admit X is bad. Of course this has been done before with Prohibition, but it never hurts to repeat history when it’s for your own benefit.

Say X equals handguns. What is the first defense for anyone looking to hang on to the unfettered right to tote a highly efficient machine designed to kill other people? That blasted second amendment to the Constitution of these United States...

“Amendment II: A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.”

To me, the fact that “the Constitution says so” is a flimsy argument. For eighty years the Constitution said slavery was legal. The Constitution at one time banned alcohol, denied a woman’s right to vote, and provided no term limits for the office of President. That brown bit of paper can be amended, so why shouldn’t it be amended to clarify or outright remove the second amendment? So the first challenge is to set the stage for debating handguns such that “the Constitution says so” is no longer a viable defense.

The typical NASCAR dad may shoot back that they need them guns to protect themselves ‘gainst the government. Well, you elected it, why would you need protection from it? What’s the matter, don’t trust the man you put in the office of President? And do you really think that handgun is going to protect you from M-16 assault rifles, M-60 machine guns, or Apache helicopters with Hellfire missiles? Don’t you trust the Pentagon? Why do you hate the armed forces and all those fine young men and women who are risking their lives everyday to protect your liberties!? Lather, rinse, and repeat.

With that pesky Constitutional shield out of the way, we come to my favorite part: You get to wrap your arguments in the banner of Christ. You get to use all those moral values you cursed the Right for whoring out during the last decade. I bet that if I read the Bible, I could find hundreds of passages where the Big J urges peace and tolerance and all that jazz. Why would a follower of Christ need a handgun? What right-wing Bible-thumper can argue against that stuff? Better yet, think of all the ministers, preachers, priests, and other religious leaders you could shame into signing on to this cause. Jackpot!

Of course you have to deal with the usual bullshit as well. “If you outlaw guns only outlaws will have guns.” I hate that weak-ass argument. You don’t see anyone throwing it around for drugs, ivory, or jarts (lawn darts). Which itself is a weak rebuttal. But think about it, they outlawed jarts, but fucking handguns are a mere 3-day wait? How does that make sense? What if I consider a jart my most trusty weapon, my “arms” so to speak? Shouldn’t it be legal then?

There’s another good angle we can take, in regards to military weaponry. I can buy a handgun, but not a machine gun. Why? Something to do with a machine gun being classified as military hardware. Sounds like my right to bear arms has just been infringed! No? OK, so classify handguns as military hardware. Again, this is sort of a weak argument. But not all arguments have to be cruise missiles. You need a couple flares and decoys to keep the enemy guessing and reacting, which forces them off their game plan and into playing yours.

Flippant accusations are always nice to throw people off too. If a legislator defends handguns, accuse him or her as being beholden to gun lobbyists or NRA stooges. It doesn’t matter if they really are or not. Make them switch to defending their reputation. Man, I love using my enemies’ own tactics against them!

Notice we don’t need any statistics. That’s key. We don’t want to argue numbers. Numbers are mercenaries who work for whoever is mouthing them. They might bring up that annoying statistic that crime has dropped in states where carrying concealed weapons is legal. When someone brings up numbers, we just say, “this isn’t about numbers, it’s about saving lives, saving our children’s future, and rainbows, and Jesus Christ, who is my personal savior and would certainly wish to see these violent weapons out of the hands of our kids. Amen.” Then we bring up the statistic that handguns end up killing the people closest to the owner more often than home invaders. Hit and run, hit and run. And besides, if they want to argue numbers, ask them which numbers prove abortion should be outlawed. Tell them it’s a subductive argument. That’ll shut ‘em up... at least as long as it takes them to figure out subductive isn’t a word.

One nice thing about this issue is that we can give on so many fronts and still make the other side squirm. Don’t want to ban handguns altogether? OK, how about if every gun manufactured is fired once and its ballistic fingerprint kept in a database, along with information about the retailer and end buyer of the weapon. Then, if the gun were to be used for a nefarious deed, we could trace it back to its owner. Seems fair. We do it with cars. Why not guns? It would burn the gun-nuts that we could track them. They might feel the need to not compromise, while we innocently claim, “we tried to compromise, but they won’t budge.”

Or ban the ammunition. If you’re going to use constructionist arguments to protect the right to own the tool of a killer, then show me where the Constitution says buying ammo must be not be infringed. Bullets have gunpowder in them. That’s an explosive. Ban them! Bullets have lead in them. Lead? That’s bad for our children. What if some poor child were to swallow some bullets and get all retarded? Ban them! You want ammunition? Go ahead and make it yourself. I don’t see how that infringes on your right to bear arms.

Finally, we could go so far as to say, “we give up, as long as every handgun is colored blaze orange with fluorescent green stripes.” No more sexy nickel-plated revolvers or glossy black nines. All handguns newly manufactured, resold, or transported out of one’s residence must be blaze orange and have fluorescent green stripes. Think they’d cave? I’d love to see their reaction to that compromise. Meanwhile, we claim to have bargained in good faith. Why would they say no to that? It isn’t about how the gun looks, right? It’s just a tool, why not color it as such? (Because they’d look like fucking fruitcakes with those things; who’s gonna take a guy seriously with something as goofy-looking as that in his hand?)

So now the question becomes, what the hell is wrong with the anti-gun lobby that they haven’t thought of this shit yet? Or if they have, what arguments have the pro-gunners been using to shoot them down?

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Google: Size does matter

Its pretty interesting to look at Google's recent projects and acquisitions, and wonder where exactly they are going. Skitz has claimed that Google isnt really innovating, its already too big for that. I think they are. They are innovating at the level of basic systems infrastructure, with things like GFS and MapReduce. They are also innovating with domains to search and index: pictures, books, video, blogs. I think it was visionary to name the company Google, since if there is a common pattern here, it is that they are figuring out how to search and index huge amounts of information. Two or three years ago, I had said that Google was going to be the most important internet company. Now it seems like I was wrong, it just might be the most important company. Things to ponder over:
  • Will Google remain ~good~?
  • What's Google's vision, with what they have been doing lately?
  • What do you see 10 years from now?
EPIC 2014 is a vision, pretty interesting. Below is a list of recent Google accomplishments. Now what do you think?
It searches the full text of the closed captioning data and grabs screenshots from the video stream. Currently only a handful of stations back to December 2004, but looking to expand.
Google is digitizing the following library collections.
A terrific geospatial imagery software. I downloaded the trial version and loved it. I might have even liked Geography if this was around when I was a kid.
Pretty good software for managing pictures. I did download and install it, but since I dont have many pictures and dont own a digital camera, cant really comment.
Here we are.

Monday, January 10, 2005

Impossibilities of Debate

This in reply to Skitz's Debate is dead post. This reply got delayed. More so, since me and Skitz got together to talk about this. There are some fundamental impossibilities of debate. It is not technology we are talking about.
  • Psychological Impossibility: I claim that most people don't want to hear the other side at all. They don't want to begin such a thing. Cognitive dissonance is only one of the reasons for such behavior. We are extremely uncomfortable with conflict, and we don't want to go there.
  • Linguistic Impossibility: People on different sides speak different languages, and cant talk to each other. They don't understand each other. They want different things. In psycholinguistic literature, there is talk of framing. The frames are different for people on different sides.
  • Social Impossibility: When we have certain beliefs, we belong to the society that fosters those. Thus the swathes of red and blue on the US map. We don't even hang out with the other side. We don't even know who they are. Aliens. Meaningful conversation, with them? Something like this.
Thus, debate isn't dead, it never was possible. We in our hearts hope that its not this bad. This kind of analysis must be about a large fraction of people, not ALL of us. Not intellectuals, etc. So, here. Pick up something important, like which way you vote. Tell me how much debate with the other side you did, how much you tried to read, talk to, or understand the other side. If the other side is prima facie wrong, then you don't debate.

Seeing all the sides must be good. This is something I deeply believe. So, the challenge is this. How do we make people get an itsy-bitsy glimpse the other side. Not debate. Just a tiny glimpse.

Kansas City Preventive Patrol experiment

The experiment began in October 1972 and continued through 1973; it was administered by the Kansas City Police Department and evaluated by the Police Foundation. It was designed to test the assumption that the presence (or potential presence) of police officers in marked cars reduced the likelihood of a crime being committed.
Patrols were varied within 15 police beats. Routine preventive patrol was eliminated in five beats, labeled "reactive" beats (meaning officers entered these areas only in response to calls from residents). Normal, routine patrol was maintained in five "control" beats. In five "proactive" beats, patrol was intensified by two to three times the norm.
The experiment asked the following questions:
  • Would citizens notice changes in the level of police patrol?
  • Would different levels of visible police patrol affect recorded crime or the outcome of victim surveys?
  • Would citizen fear of crime and attendant behavior change as a result of differing patrol levels?
  • Would their degree of satisfaction with police change?
Pause for a moment here. Whats your guess of what they found? Why do you think so?

OK. Here are the results

Did you expect this? Why/ why not?

Friday, January 07, 2005

Porno, North Dakota


It all started spring of 2001, with an article* I read in U.S. News & World Report. This article focused on the predicament of declining populations in the upper Midwest. It turns out certain counties have been losing citizens at rates approaching 30%. People die. Children leave. It’s fucking cold in the winter and humid in the summer, who’s gonna move there? The grim joke among some townsfolk in North Dakota was, “we’re going to have to start importing pall bearers soon.”

This got me to thinking: out there in the vast expanse of North Dakota are isolated towns with say 30 or fewer people. In fact, I have a road map of North Dakota on which towns with populations of 5 can be found, sometimes as the endpoint to miles of unpaved road. Now lets say I get together... fifty friends. The actual number is irrelevant, but we’ll just say fifty for the sake of argument. These fifty friends, myself included of course, pack up all our belongings and caravan out to some town where many many people have moved away. Maybe the town only has a population of 30, but had double or triple that at sometime in the past. We buy up, cheap mind you, all the houses we can afford. We move in!

Now, through the miracle of democracy, during the next election cycle my friends and I get voted into all the offices: mayor, treasurer, sheriff, etc. I get to be sheriff. That’s all I ask, for spearheading this endeavor. I get to be “the law.” My dad’s a cop, it’s in the blood. Anyway, after said elections, my friends and I run this town. If the old-timers don’t like it, they can move out. We took over this place fair and square! Who’s gonna argue with a fair democratic process?

Cue input from others... It’s November of 2001. It’s full-on Wisconsin winter outside but I’m warm and toasty sitting in Patty’s Irish Pub on the East Side of Milwaukee with some friends (Joe, Ani, & Paul). We’re drinking beer and talking about this and that. I regale them with my master plan to usurp some small town in North Dakota. They’re all in! Instantly! With great excitement we begin discussing what we’d do, what laws we’d pass or repeal, how work would be doled out, who’d we’d admit, who we wouldn’t. We go at great length about social harmony and community fabric, a place where we good friends can get on with the business of living and running a town together.

We also talk about what we’d call this place. I believe Ani came up with it and I know it wasn’t me, but we settled on Porno. Why Porno? Well, who would move to a place called Porno? Only someone with a sense of humor that parallels our own, that’s who. And think of the merchandising opportunities! T-shirts with “I love Porno,” on the front and “North Dakota” on the back. Bumper stickers with “Where the hell is Porno” on them. A newspaper called “Daily Porno” declaring Porno Appreciation Day. The possibilities are endless. Endless I say.

I won’t go into any more detail for now. There are a plethora of obvious problems with this plan. I’ll address some in forthcoming passages. In the end, if you take anything away from reading the above: this is more thought exercise than blueprint for revolution. Just sit there and think about this for a few minutes, “if my friends and I ran an entire town, what kind of environment would we foster?”

(I reserve the right to delete or change this passage as I please. Porno has been on my mind in various stages for a long time, and it is an idea that is constantly being tinkered with. Plus, I’m not entirely happy with this explanation, although I feel it is pretty much complete.)

* Jeff Glasser, “A Broken Heartland”, U.S. News & World Report, May 7, 2001, p 16-17, 19-20, 22.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Debate is dead

So, reading over many of the blogs that Praveen sent in one of his previous emails, it occurred to me that a blog is not really about debate. The blogs that you read already says something about who you are, and that you are in partial agreement with the content. Not to call Praveen out here, but the blogs that he sent in a previous email, in some sense describes what Praveen has been thinking about recently. And I find them really good because they are related to many good conversations that Praveen and I have been having lately. The problem here (as it relates to debate), is that we read blogs that we are in agreement with already, and try to add factual information to them in order to better our world view in one direction.

The question I pose here, and I think I have an answer to, is this: Is there any open debate in the blogs? Would a conservative, right-winger read Talking Points Memo (TPM) and comment on what is being said? If people are not going to the blogs that are opposite from their ideology to educate people on the other side, then debate is truly dead. Blogs may be a place where debate can thrive, but the million dollar question is how do we get opposing sides of the issue to want to debate in a blog? Certainly to make a point, people will link other peoples blogs on the other side of the spectrum, but this is still just furthering ones mindset. People probably don't go to the other blog to comment, but more to get a handle on the point that their blog is making (or just to laugh at how stupid the other side is). They will most likely stay and comment in their own blog that shares their view.

Maybe I am wrong here, but do you guys see any open debate in the blogs? I mostly see people adding to one viewpoint and calling out the other side only in links in one links going back.

This is related to something that Praveen and I were talking about at one time related to right and left media. If we assume that blogging is a non-legacy, new form of media, then I think that what we need is a way to encourage debate between blogs; a way to display responses on both sides of any issue side by side in some sort of chronological ordering. A he-said, she-said type of format with links on the two sides of the pane. This, I think, encourages debate, because anyone can go and look to see if their blog is in debate with any other blog, and then join the debate.

For example, when TPM links, say some right-wing blog, wouldn't it be great if they were alerted to the fact that they have been linked by TPM. They can follow that link backward and reply to the attack on their own blog. The links back and forth between two blogs in frequency and time separation, imply an open debate between them, and these can be displayed side by side while the debate is in session. You can imagine whole teams of people (one blog) debating another whole team of people (the other blog). The front-end is something that looks at the time separation and frequency of links between all of the blogs, and displays debates that are in session. You can click on one of them, and it displays the two blogs, and updates any posts on either side of the issue. The user has control whether he wants to see a flame war, or a more thought out, slower debate by interacting with the time, frequency parameter of the front-end.

I am new to blogging, so I could be plain wrong in my assessments here, but I haven't really been able to identify debate between sets of blogs. They are typically one-sided, wherein a link is given, and there is silence from the other side. Silence because they probably have no idea that they are being called out in someone elses blog.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Tsunami: What went wrong?

The recent tsunami in the Indian ocean death tolls are 150,000 and still rising. What I have been surprised by is the lack of attention in the media on what went wrong. I heard somewhere that many lives could have been saved if people just walked fifteen minutes inland. The earthquakes in the ocean were registered hours in advance. Australia and California knew it before India, Sri Lanka and Indonesia did. Why? India invests in technology: nuclear weapons and space exploration. But they don't have warning systems for things that can kill hundreds of thousands of people? Or open phone lines to other places with better warning systems? Why couldn't Australia, with its high-tech wave stations, call up someone in India? Why doesn't the media talk about all of this? One of the few things I found was Bjorn Lomborg's article: the thesis of which is that if you are poor, don't worry about rare contingencies since you cant do anything about those anyway, but spend your money on day to day problems. Lomborg is the co-ordinator of Copenhagen Consensus, a group of Nobel laureates talking about global problems, and his views are similar to the consensus'. That is a very valid point. A warning/alarm system is a really expensive investment even for a rich nation. And given that at some level the world wants to help each other out, given the flurry of donations from all over to help with this tsunami. What follows is really simple: it will be more practical and economic for the world to have a shared alarm/warning system, with communication channels being as important as sensors. What we need to figure out is a way to pool together all our investments into avoiding contingency. That is how insurance works. When we all put our little premiums together, we have money to take care of all our expensive medical bills and enough left over to feed the evil insurance guys. Conclusions: 1. Communication channels are more important. 2. A pooling of international warning systems. 3. Some equivalent of a global insurance policy.

This post raises tonnes of naive questions. Send me pointers to anything I should be looking at.

And thats how it all began

Today, working on my thesis proposal, I felt sick. And I needed to think of something interesting. Mike had just replied to my email about free land in kansas and said something about wind turbines. And me and Jason had sketched out many ideas about making the world better. So this is what we should do. We are going to publish out ephemeral thoughts in our modest blog. The name is purely incidental and not related to our academic standing.

The thesis is more interesting than the defence (SM)