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Archive for July, 2015

If you’re following the Republican nomination process to become the candidate for the party’s next nominee to run for President in 2016, you’re no doubt familiar with the hijinks of Donald Trump. He’s a businessman that has a larger-than-life personality and has said all sorts of wild and crazy things that you would think would negatively affect his campaign. But instead, he’s in first place among all Republicans running for office and by a wide margin.

Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks and famed Shark Tank investor, had this to say about Trump:

"I don’t care what his actual positions are," Cuban wrote. "I don’t care if he says the wrong thing. He says what’s on his mind. He gives honest answers rather than prepared answers. This is more important than anything any candidate has done in years."

Um, no.

Politicians are not supposed to say what’s on their mind. They’re supposed to give wishy-washy answers in public even if it annoys the general public (their wishy-washiness, not the answers). Why? Because if they say things that make a certain section of the public angry, different parts of the media latch on to it and it generates a lot of opposition. The opposition then feels alienated and they actively work against you, and this opposition fuels itself. If you want to be diplomatic, you bite your tongue in public and express your frustrations in private.

You may not actually be reconciliatory but you have to appear reconciliatory. That’s how you get people to work with you.

Mark Cuban praises Trump for saying what’s on his mind and not backing down. But a refusal to back down only works if you don’t show poor judgment to begin with, or you have overwhelming support. Trump is winning amount Republican primary voters but over half the country votes for the Democrats and they have the power to stop Trump.

You need to be aware of your reputation and how others perceive you if you want to work with people who are opposed to your ideas.

A few years ago, there was an episode on South Park where Eric Cartman signed up for a new social network called “Sh*tter”. He hooked up a wearable device to his brain, and the things that he was thinking was uploaded directly to the Internet. In other words, he ‘thought’ his mind for all to see.

South Park was poking fun at our oversharing culture with too much social media, but this was reinforced by the fact that there was no filter between Cartman’s thoughts and his mouth (which is true of Cartman anyhow, but more so on this social network).

All of us have to police our own opinions if we want to prevent ourselves from being socially ostracized. Trump can get away with it for now because his opinions have a home in some parts of the Republican party. Also, because he is wealthy, others will police their own interactions with him so they can benefit financially from a relationship with Donald Trump.

But opening it up to a wider audience inevitably invites resentment and ridicule, two things that are counterproductive to building the relationships required to get things done.

Especially in Washington.

D.C., that is.

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A friend of mine posted something on Facebook today about guns. I think this is a pro-gun argument because my friend is a hardcore Libertarian and everything he posts about guns is how guns are good, we should all have more guns, gun control is bad, the government will come and infringe upon you unless you have your gun, etc.

I can’t find the article or post he commented on, but it’s something like this:

A bully at school threw a rock at a kid. So, the teacher gave that kid his own rock. And then the teacher gave rocks to all of the other kids too, because as we all know, the only way to prevent bad kids from throwing rocks is to also give rocks to the good kids.

My friend is too blinded by his own views to understand this but this is an argument against gun control, not for it.

The idea is that the teachers (police) can’t be everywhere, and bullies can do whatever they want undeterred because they know that people won’t or can’t fight back when they throw rocks. But, if they knew that other kids had rocks and could throw them back at them, and if plenty of other kids had rocks, they would be deterred from throwing them because they would be afraid of the retaliation.

The metaphor is supposed to be extended to gun ownership. If nobody but criminals have guns, then disarmed law-abiding citizens will be easy prey for them because the police can’t be everywhere, nor can they respond quick enough to a situation in progress. But if criminals knew that everyone had a gun and could shoot them back, then fear would keep them in line. The “good people” with guns could contain the “bad people” with guns.

Therefore, the government should be loosening people’s access to guns, rather than restricting them. See? We can solve our own problems!

Or so the thinking goes.

But I think my friend’s metaphor is an argument against gun control.

The reason is that giving everyone a rock in the playground does not prevent the first kid/bully from throwing a rock. It makes rational people think twice, but people are not rational. The first bully might take a group of his friends and start throwing rocks, and then the other kids’ friends get together and start throwing rocks back. Now, instead of one person throwing a rock we have an entire group of people throwing them. Far from containing the bully, we have escalated the situation into one with more widespread consequences.

Giving everyone a gun only works if humans are perfectly capable of using reason and logic all of the time. But that’s not the case, humans don’t work that way. We get angry, make decisions based upon incomplete information, and respond to social pressure when we are “hot” in ways that we might not normally act when we are “cold.” If everybody has a gun, then the only person deciding whether or not to fire it is that gun owner.

And if a person does fire the gun, the results are much more devastating than if a kid throws a rock. A rock can cause injury and more rarely, death. But a gun is designed to cause serious injury and more frequently, death. The implications are much worse if everyone shoots a gun at each other than throws a rock at each other.

Giving everyone a gun in a society is by no means a guarantee of containing violence that a “bad person” might do.

And anyway, the definition of a “bad person” and the counter distinction of a “good person” is only in the eye of the beholder.

The “gun is a deterrent” argument sort of works. During the Cold War, we didn’t have any major wars between the United States and the USSR because each had nuclear weapons and the other knew it. If it came to blows, the other knew that it might end humanity and therefore they decided not to come to blows. Each having nuclear weapons acted as a deterrent, and this is known as The Long Peace. If you know someone has firepower and can fight back, you’ll think twice before striking unless you know you can deal a decisive blow to prevent that counter attack.

This is much different than giving individuals a gun. If the government has massive firepower, they can deliberate upon a decision and cooler heads can prevail because the decision to strike has predictable consequences. Most governments don’t think they can deal a decisive enough first attack to prevent a massive counter attack.

But if you’re a one-on-one gun owner, you certainly might think you can strike first. Unfortunately, you’re a poor judge of circumstance and are probably overestimating your own abilities – both in your ability to execute a devastating first strike, and in preventing a counterattack where the allies of the person you struck rally together and hit back. Thus, the situation escalates (you hit their group, they hit you back, your group hits back, your group retaliates, and so forth).

So no, I don’t think that giving everyone a gun will necessarily result in less gun violence. It might work some of the time, but not all of the time.

This doesn’t mean I am against guns. But I think some arguments for them are wrong.

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I’ve had a couple of close calls driving in the past couple of days.

First, this past Friday, I was driving home from work at Microsoft. I was driving up a hill that curved left and a lady was trying to make a left turn. She had to cross traffic, and I was in the far lane. In between us there was a middle turning lane.

I was driving and had the right of way when she decided to turn left. “Okay”, I said to myself. “I probably wouldn’t have made that turn but I guess if you’re going to take advantage of that turning middle lane…”

Here’s a picture with the arrows indicating the direction of traffic:

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The lady then pulls out and rather than going into the middle turning lane/duplicate merge lane, she starts pulling into my lane!

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I seriously thought that she was going to sideswipe me. And it’s not like I couldn’t be seen because the sun was in the direction we were going, not in the direction I was coming from.

My skipped a beat or two and she may have seen me at the last second because she put up her hands as if to say “Oops! I’m sorry!” but I heard a slight brushing sound like my car was hit slightly. I inspected it later and there was no damage, but it sure was a close call.

The second time occurred yesterday – Saturday – as the wife and I were driving back from Mt. Baker in northern Washington. We were coming back down the highway, and it’s quite windy with a lane in each direction. Like every time we come back from hiking, we were driving behind a slow poke who was holding up traffic, traveling 5-10 mph below the speed limit.

It’s hard to pass on that highway because it is so windy (not windy as in the air, but windy as in there are lots of twists and turns). Visibility is limited. So, we were stuck.

Finally, there came a point the road with an extra large shoulder to permit cars to pass. We weren’t the first car behind the driver holding us up, but the second. There was a truck in front of us. The lead car decided to pull over onto the shoulder and let the truck behind him pass (in the same lane we were currently in).

Fine.

Then we started to pass, too. I thought that the car was pulling over to stop to do more sight seeing, but no. He decided that he would let the first truck behind him pass and then pull right back into traffic. Exactly as I was passing him.

In other words, he nearly sideswiped me as I was passing him because he didn’t bother to check to see if any other cars were behind him trying to pass.

I had to swerve a bit to avoid being hit by him. And after I got ahead of him, I sped up and left him behind.

But yet again, another close call.

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This afternoon, I went for a massage. I have a membership but I don’t go as often as I should. But today I did.

I always go for a deep tissue massage which usually isn’t relaxing. The reason is that I ask them to work on my shoulders, upper back, and neck; and those three regions have a lot of tension. The massage therapist today went over them and every time he worked on my upper left neck, it went “crunch, crunch, crunch” as we rubbed it back and forth.

The “crunch, crunch, crunch” sound is not normal. It means that I have a lot of knots in my neck/back/shoulder and the connective tissue has lost some elasticity. I attribute this to doing a lot of office work sitting at a computer for long periods of time, doing the same thing at home, inadequate posture, and lack of stretching at home.

I really need to fix that. I need to stretch more and self-massage more. I have all the tools and I do it, but not regularly. It should be every single day, or at least every second day and alternate with exercise.

Even though doing office work is less physically strenuous than having to dig ditches, what I find is that the micro-trauma of having poor posture or sitting in stress positions adds up over time and is hard to correct.

I’ve had a bad shoulder for a decade but over the past 2-3 years I’ve noticed it a lot more in my neck and upper shoulders.

I’ll repeat it to myself one more time: I need to fix this.

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People sometimes tell me that they don’t know what my political beliefs are. When they say that, I am happy to hear it. It means that I identify more strongly with ideas on their merits rather than aligning myself with a particular party.

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When I was growing up, my views were conservative but I also lived in Canada; it’s not the same thing as being a Republican in the United States. Later on, in university, I took a sociology class and flipped my views to more left wing and identified with the Democratic party (but not any left-wing party in Canada). But then I read some books on Objectivism (Ayn Rand’s philosophy) and on Libertarianism. I never adopted Objectivism except for maybe 1 or 2 beliefs (out of dozens).

And so I was a free market capitalist. But then I started reading books on behavioral psychology and evolutionary psychology and came to understand that people are not inherently rational but have many different motivations and abandoned Libertarianism (I don’t remember how Libertarian I was; maybe 50%). I now see Libertarians as mostly a bunch of white guys who think we should get rid of the government because it’s holding them back and their rights are being oppressed. I see this as ironic because in North America, white men are the most privileged class this is by far.

Furthermore, I see Libertarians as trying to trick people into coming over to their side by saying “Hey everyone! We believe in gay marriage, too! Come to our side!” but what they’re really saying is “… come to our side and as soon as we get enough votes, we’ll cut 80% of the government because we (mistakenly) believe it’ll help everyone” but in reality will mostly help white males.

So, Libertarianism is out.

And so it’s hard to classify my views because it depends on the issue. And I find some beliefs of Republicans and Democrats are coupled when it doesn’t make sense. For example, why are gun control and support for abortion linked so closely (i.e., if you’re against gun control, you’re also less likely to support abortion, and are for lower taxes, too). That doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.

For me:

  1. The right wing is usually anti-abortion and pro-death penalty, and the left is the reverse. But to me, it seems like to be consistent you should be both pro-abortion (pro-choice) and pro-death penalty, and anti-abortion and anti-death penalty. Taking the life of a human is taking a life.

    For the anti-death penalty advocates, they say it’s mostly poor black people who receive it, and sometimes people are exonerated years or decades later. And I agree. The death penalty isn’t fair to all people.

    But there are some narrow cases (i.e., mass murder) where it is obvious. I don’t understand the pro-death penalty argument of putting someone in prison for life without any chance of parole. That’s just the death penalty in slow motion. It seems more like an attempt by anti-death penalty advocates to distance themselves from applying the death penalty, as if to say “Throw them in jail. Let them die there of natural causes in 40 years. Whew! My conscience is clean!”

    I don’t buy into that but I understand the psychology behind it.

    Similarly, for abortion, even among Americans who support it, most support with some restrictions (i.e., more support it if it occurs in the first trimester than the second trimester, and few support it if it occurs in the third trimester). Those lines seem arbitrary but at least they are lines.

    Some people are 100% against abortion one second after the moment of conception, while others argue that the cells do not have any consciousness for several weeks. But it doesn’t seem moral that a woman who does get pregnant but doesn’t want to carry the child to term, to be forced to do it so she could give it up for adoption at birth 9 months later.

    So, neither of those issues is clear cut.

  2. Those two issues are not neat. But one thing that identifies someone as a Republican is owning a gun and support for the 2nd Amendment. I have never had a gun (my dad owned a couple of rifles but I never used them, don’t even think I ever touched them), but I’m okay if Americans want to own a gun. I’d be okay with owning a gun but I have no plans to acquire one.

    But I think there should be reasonable levels of registration and restrictions that make sense, similar to how people have to take tests to drive a car, and register it when they own it. So on this issue, I play both sides.

  3. The right-wing places great emphasis upon religion and the value of family in daily life, and even in politics. The left-wing wants to keep religion out of it, and the family is important but it’s more important that government helps out.

    On this one, while I see the right’s point that religion is important in people’s lives and addresses needs that aren’t filled by other things, I don’t agree that Christian policy – or any strongly religious set of beliefs – should be setting government policy.

    One clear example of this is Young Earth Creationism. This is a set of beliefs that has been completely debunked by modern science, yet there is still a sizeable part of the population that believes it. That’s fine, but it should not be taught in public schools because the only reason people believe it is not because the science says it may be true, but because people try to align their religious beliefs with science.

    But on the other hand, I do think that the breakdown of the modern family is bad for society. While the left says “It was never the nucleus anyhow”, weak families do lead to societal problems.

  4. The right-wing is about lowering taxes and achieving balanced budgets by reducing social spending, and not military spending. If you want to balance budgets, I say you need to raise taxes and cut spending and no government program can be immune – neither social programs nor military can be exempt. But raising taxes can’t be so high such that people decide the risk/reward ratio isn’t worth it.

    Many right-wing capitalists say that free market capitalism is the best way to run your economy and I agree, but there are different flavors of free market economies. US style? Libertarian style? Scandinavian style?  China style? Japan style?

    It’s not so clear cut as the American right-wingers think.

  5. One way I depart from the political right is on environmental regulation. The free market economists tell us that industry will self-regulate and can be trusted to do the right thing since they don’t want to kill their golden goose (i.e., don’t pollute the lake too much). I, on the other hand, think that people are creative at rationalizing their short term returns at the expense of long term outlooks. They will pollute the lake if it leads to short term profits and there is no harm to them (but there is to others but others are too weak to stop them), or the effects manifest later on.

    I think environmental protections, and regulation in general, is required because people can’t be trusted to police themselves in all circumstances. That’s not how humans work.

So you see, the way I view things is on an issue-by-issue basis. I’m not in one camp vs. the other. I probably lean a bit closer to the Democratic party in the United States but only because the Republican party has leaned so far in one direction. But in the Democratic party, there are a lot of different ideologies competing for the dominant view.

But if I were in Canada, it wouldn’t be an easy decision. The Conservative party is less ideological than its American counterpart, and the Liberal party borrows ideas from the left and the right. So while I always used to vote Conservative, nowadays I probably would not and would depend on who was running and what they believed.

Politics is not so simple.

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