Tuesday, August 31, 2010

C-SPAN and Reclaiming the Dream Rally

Occasionally I like to watch C-SPAN, since I can watch raw coverage of events and create my own opinion instead of being told what to think by the news networks.

While watching a congressional hearing on the BP Oil Spill, I managed to chase away my own family due to boredom.  I enjoyed the coverage alone.  Even without special effects and high adrenaline action scenes, it still kept my attention.

I was surprised to watch the other night and find coverage of Al Sharpton's "Reclaim the Dream" rally.  I wonder if they also covered Glenn Beck's "Restoring Honor" rally the same day.  I was shocked during Barbara Williams-Skinner's prayer to hear her say
"Like Dr. King, we believe that the bank of justice is not bankrupt," she said. "We thank you God for raising up President Barack Obama as a small down payment on that dream." 
See 3:34 in the video below.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Traffic Ticket

I recently got a traffic ticket for going 50 in a 35 mph zone.  I was transitioning to a 45 mph zone, but the officer showed no mercy.  This is my third traffic ticket in less than a year and the previous 2 points on my record resulted in my insurance going up (I am still trying to get the courts to recognize traffic school for my first ticket). 

I decided to fight this 3rd ticket after consulting with friends and researching on the Internet.  I went to city hall and got a copy of the traffic survey for this road.  Local speed limits are determined by observing traffic, and then using the 85th percentile to set the limit.  The speed limit can be adjusted due to special circumstances (high accident rates, etc.)  The address of the survey was within 50 ft of the address on the citation.   I happen to be traveling at the 85th percentile (50 mph) but the traffic survey lowered the speed due to an "unsafe" intersection a mile up the road.

This ticket will cost me about $1350 (a $300 ticket and a $350 rise in my insurance rates per year for 3 years, until the tickets get off my record).

This has made me think about the our legislative, legal, enforcement system.  Here are my thoughts:

  1. The State Legislature.  It seems that a badge of courage for our state congressmen and senators is to sponsor legislation and have it pass.  The goal is improving our society, but it still results in more laws.  One such law is that Californian's are required to have auto insurance.  This creates the first problem by giving insurers an advantage.
  2. Law Enforcement.  The badge of courage for Law Enforcement is "being tough on crime".  That means more tickets, arrests, etc.  The goal is a safe society, but it still results in more citizens being accused of crimes.
  3. Prosecutors - From District Attorneys on down, the badge of courage is convictions - the percentage of accused criminals that are found or plead guilty.
More laws = more criminals. 
Better enforcement = even more criminals. 
Better prosecution = yet more criminals.

With this formula, is it surprising that our prisons are overflowing?

This may seem like a silly jump.  From traffic ticket to overcrowded prisons.  Somehow I'll come up with the extra $1350.  There are plenty of people, however, who this would be a burden.  Some of them might not be able to find legal ways to cope.  Thus starts the slippery slope to criminal behavior.

In his book "A Time To Fight", Senator Jim Webb tells of his experience visiting the Japanese prison system, which is designed to "re-socialize, reform, rehabilitate" offenders [1].  They incarcerate a much smaller percentage of the population and for shorter periods than in the United States.  The Japanese have had this system for about a century.

When Senator Webb asked how they started this system, they said they learned it from Europe and America.  Japan had a major prison reform [2] around the time that our politicians started "fixing" our prison system [3].  In fairness, Japan is a smaller county with a more homogenized culture, which may make it easier to implement their system than it would be in the United States.  That doesn't mean that I can't question our current formula.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Cool It

I just finished reading "Cool It: The Skeptical Environmentalist's Guide to Global Warming" by Bjorn Lomborg.  This book is a rare instance of someone crossing lines in the Global Warming battle, resulting in "friendly fire" from his fellow environmentalists.  I will provide a quick summary, provide my review, and then provide an alternate solution.
Quick Summary

Here's the book in a nutshell:
  1. Global Warming is bad, but not nearly as bad as people are saying.
  2. Rather than spend money to stop Global Warming, the money would be better spent prioritizing the problems we fix (HIV/AIDS, malaria, malnutrition, sanitation and water supply).
  3. We should also spend money on R&D to fix Global Warming.
  4. This approach will result in the world being stronger and more capable of fixing Global Warming when it starts to become a real problem.
 Whether these solutions cause the knot in your stomach to tighten or loosen is an indicator of which side of the battle you are on.  Since I am trying to be more civil, open and objective, I recommend that you resist the temptation to either brand Bjorn a traitor or fist pump and think "Yes! One more point for the AGW skeptics!". 

My Review

  1. I agree with Bjorn that the estimates of Global Warming are exaggerated, however this is based on my own analysis [1]
  2. I agree that focusing on solvable social problems makes more sense.
  3. I disagree with Bjorn's analysis on the cost-benefit analysis of these fixes.  As with any attempt by political scientists to "fix things", the hidden costs are ignored.  There are many issues he didn't address, for example the environmental impact of the oceans absorbing CO2. (I remember an experiment in my college Chemistry class where we put a digital acid meter in a cup of water.   When we stirred the water or blew bubbles in it with a straw, the acidity increased).
  4. I was glad to see someone willing to have a conversation about what to do.  It is much more palatable than "The debate is over.  We have to pass Cap and Trade now or else the oceans will boil, all the continents will turn into deserts and all animal life will die!!!".
Bonus Material - Alternate Solution

Congratulations!! You made it this far, so you get to hear my solution. 

By the year 2100, the world's population will grow to over 18 Billion (at current growth rates) which is 300% growth from the year 2000.  By 2100, each person would need to reduce their CO2 emissions by about 80% (Our current CO2 emissions need to be 40-80% of our current levels.  In 2010, each person's share is 1/3 or 13-27% of current levels, or a 73-87% reduction).  Breathing represents around 6-10% of all CO2 emissions, so there isn't much more to cut.

The real problem is not how much CO2 each person emits but how many people are on the earth!  Since it is politically unacceptable to reduce the number of living people while at the same time acceptable to reduce the number of births (abortions and China's one child policy), we need to provide incentives to reduce the population.

  1. Create CO2 tax on fashion and cosmetics.  Attractive people = more babies = more CO2 = bad.
  2. Create CO2 tax on alcoholic beverages.  Just reducing the attractiveness of people is not enough.  We also need to reduce the alcohol induced attraction.  I once saw a bumber sticker that read "Beer - Helping ugly people have sex for over 100 years".  Alcohol Consumption = more people = more CO2 = bad.  
  3. Create CO2 tax on automotive industry.  Any car shown to be a "chick magnet" should be slapped with a CO2 tax (This is also a nice payback to Japan for Kyoto and Europe for the Copenhagen Climate Summit).  Sexy car = more couples = more babies = more CO2 = bad.
  4. Create CO2 tax on Hollywood.  Any movie or TV show that shows people having sex or that show lavish lifestyles is a stimulus for irresponsible CO2 emissions.  Sex/Luxury = more babied and energy consumption = more CO2 = bad.
These solutions are of course silly, but I challenge anyone to show how Cap and Trade or other policies are more effective over the long run.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Prop 8 Declared Unconstitutional

Today, California's Proposition 8 was declared unconstitutional by a federal judge.

This blog was primarily started as a place to document my thoughts, feelings and research regarding this complicated issue.  A matter of fact, after Prop 8 passed, my wife was concerned that I wouldn't have anything to write about.

I've been asked several times today how I feel and this is my answer:

  • I'm happy for the people who fought for and wanted the recognition of same-sex marriage in California.
  • I'm sorry that the trial seemed "unfair" due to:

    The backers of Proposition 8 called only two witnesses, and both made concessions under cross-examination that helped the other side.

    The sponsors complained that Walker's pretrial rulings had been unfair and that some of their prospective witnesses decided not to testify out of fear for their safety.
  • I'm concerned that if this ruling stands, that this new "right" will be used as leverage to degrade aspects of our society: education, religion, etc. 
  • I hope that if this ruling stands, that it will not have a negative impact on our society
I am trying to deal with the psychological discomfort (no, not "hate" or "bigotry") that I feel towards homosexuality.   I know that if I knew more gays personally it would help.  My daughter mentioned that there was going to be a gay pride parade near her home.  I suggested she go so that she could form her own opinion.  She went.  She experienced severe "psychological discomfort".  If the gay community truly want more public acceptance, maybe they should be more selective in how they "expose" themselves to the public.