Kids!"I don't see why being overweight is such a big deal." And, "I think they should just keep selling soda in the school vending machines. We need it." Thanks to a high school senior for those. Then, to make it even better, when I tried to explain why soda is bad for you, and why being overweight should be a concern, this individual says, "You might as well just shut up. I don't care. I have an opinion, and facts are not going to change it."
Guns!One of the advantages to working at a job that doesn't require a lot of thought is that I get to listen to a lot of podcasts. At least, I keep telling myself that's an advantage, otherwise I wouldn't be able to tolerate my job. One of the podcasts I currently listen to is "Common Sense with Dan Carlin."
As it happens, I agree with some of Mr. Carlin's philosophies. In particular, I like that he thinks it's okay to change your mind when the information changes, something that some of his listeners don't particularly like. But the other night, I listened him talking about how we should change laws in order to stem the apparent tide of mass shootings that have been occurring over the last few years. It was an older podcast, and I don't think it's available for download any more. At least, I don't see it on the list.
First, let me say that I agree with Mr. Carlin's basic idea: that changing our culture is the way to reduce the frequency of this sort of tragedy. I just don't agree with Mr. Carlin's proposed method. He suggests that rather than pass gun control legislation, we should instead pass laws with heavier punishment for using weapons in the commission of crimes. It seems to me that we already do that, but he says punishments should be much harsher.
To back up this idea, Mr. Carlin points to Mothers Against Drunk Drivers (MADD), and the apparent success that has come about with harsher penalties for drunk driving. Indeed, on the surface, it actually appears to have had a positive affect given the statistics cited on the MADD website.
At least one of these statistics is questionable, so I decided to take a closer look. Here's the stat:
"In the United States, the number of drunk driving deaths has been cut in half since MADD was founded in 1980."Well that sounds good, but implies that the cut is somehow related to the founding of MADD. But, according to statistics on Wikipedia, the total number of highway fatalities over the same time decreased to 60 percent of the 1980 total. At the same time, the number of vehicle miles traveled actually increased, with the result that fatalities per vehicle mile traveled is only a third of the 1980 figure. Sounds more like vehicles are safer than they were in 1980 than anything else.
Of course, I may be biased on this point. Working nights, I typically leave work shortly after closing time at the bars, and with relative regularity I see a driver that I would pull over on suspicion of impaired driving if I were a police officer.
This is not to say that everything MADD does is worthless, or anything like that. And I'm not making the claim that drunk driving is okay. I'm just saying that I don't really believe that there's been any kind of cultural change that has reduced how often people drive drunk as a result of stiffer penalties.
So, why am I against stiffer penalties for much of anything? It's simple, really. I don't think the difference between a 5 year prison sentence and a 10 year sentence is really much of a deterrent. I actually believe that most crimes are committed without consideration of what the punishment will be. I actually believe that most criminals are fairly certain they won't get caught, which makes the punishment moot when it comes to committing the crime, and locking people up costs too much.
On the other hand, stiffer penalties will lead to increased resistance, at least that's the way it seems, and in the case of stiffer penalties for illegal gun use, that increased resistance could make things worse. Of course, that's merely speculation on my part.
This whole subject originally came to mind for me with this headline. It's actually two headlines, because the original story wasn't quite right:
Utah teacher shoots herself in leg with concealed weapon
Teacher Hurt When Gun Accidentally Shatters Toilet
So here we are, a month into the school year, and a gun has accidentally been fired. I don't really like the school's attitude, that "This just appears at this point in time to be an accident." Seems to me to be a pretty big "just an accident," and one that was completely avoidable. At any rate, perhaps we need to pass a law about carrying weapons in restrooms because I also happened on this:
Accidental shooting in Target bathroom never made public by HPD
Granted, this second shooting happened about a month ago, but somehow I'm just not feeling all that safe around the supposed "experts" carrying loaded weapons. As if I needed yet another reason to not want to use a public restroom.
But, it gets worse than that. Here are a few more accidental shootings from the past week.
Two injured in accidental shooting at Casselberry gun store
This shooting occurred because one of the people just had to show off their gun expertise.
Possibly accidental shooting wounds Oakland toddler
I can only guess what was going on here.
Teen injured in accidental shooting
Cuz, you know, guns are fun and awesome and stuff.
Woman charged with accidental shooting
And finally, the ultimate mix: guns and liquor. Each of them fun and awesome on their own, but twice the fun together.
My point here is that more "responsible" gun carriers doesn't really equate with greater safety, like some folks would like us to believe. And so, it does appear that Mr. Carlin from the podcast is right, that what we need is a cultural change. In my opinion, though, that cultural change won't come from passing more laws and throwing more people in prison. Instead, I believe the "cure" for this problem needs to come from education. I don't mean gun safety education, because that won't work as is shown by the accidental shootings involving people who have been educated. And I don't think that education in itself is the answer to everything. I do, however, think that education could handle a lot of the societal problems we're experiencing. And here's an educational idea that might be a pretty quick fix to so many people thinking they need to carry a gun. Part of the training could involve actually being shot. That way, at least people would truly understand the power, and responsibility, of wielding the weapon. Then again, maybe not.
The Value of a Human Life"ANY thief with a gun who steals my money deserves to die."
Yep, it sure sounds like we're really close to being enlightened. Reminds me of the time that Ford did a cost-benefit analysis over recalling some cars that exploded on impact from behind, and decided that you really could put a value on human life. And people were outraged over it. I wonder if there's a minimum amount of that individual's money that would warrant death, or if (s)he is taking the ethical approach and not actually valuing human life at all.
Big Brother Never ForgetsI heard the story of a person who was picked up over 50 years ago because the person they were with was shoplifting. This person was released, but FBI records still show the arrest, and apparently, some employers don't go any further than to see that an individual's record is "flagged." Well, like the sign says at the NSA Utah Data Center, "If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear." Of course, one might assume that being arrested on suspicion but released without being charged actually isn't anything to fear, which is, apparently, not true. At least there's a limit to how much data can actually be stored there… oh wait. Originally the center was expected to house a yottabyte of info, although some think it's more than that. The actual storage capacity is classified, but the facility was built with future expansion in mind, as if a yottabyte isn't enough. Our only hope may be that nobody will actually be able to figure out how to find anything in all that space. But, it's more likely that they'll be able to find whatever they want… the problem will likely be in the interpretation.
Reality is better than fiction… Oh wait.The New York Times Just Issued the Best Correction You'll Read All Week
So, I thought this was a bit funny, that the Times had misstated that Dick Cheney was the former president. Then, I happened on this:
Cheney Says Iraq Would Be Stable If He Were Still President
And thought to myself that the news was turning out to be better than anything anyone could ever make up. Of course, I was wrong. Someone did make it up.
If it Looks Like War...John Kerry: ISIS Action Is Not a War, It’s Counter-Terrorism
Yeah, it's not a war, just like Viet Nam and Korea weren't, well, until after the fact. I'm not saying those were the same, other than this shows that the word games that politicians use haven't changed much at all. Viet Nam and Korea were police actions. But these days, politicians don't want to use that term because the term police is an unfriendly term for a lot of people so they had to come up with a different name, something more, well, "user friendly."
You know, I'm no expert on the subject, but I do try to stay on top of what's happening in the world, and this whole thing with ISIS is, well, troubling. I really started thinking about it when ISIS began posting videos and pictures of executions and other atrocities they've committed. The story that came down through the media and from the government claimed that these things were apparently recruitment tools. Or, in some cases, meant to spread terror in the western world. Only, the more I thought about that, the less sense it seemed to make. To me, it seemed as if ISIS was egging us on, goading us into to doing exactly what we're going to do.
So now, it looks as if this is a win-win situation for ISIS and our own government, because just a month ago, I was reading about how "war-weary" Americans were becoming, only to turn around and see that now, a majority of Americans actually favor military action against ISIS, just in time for Obama to announce increased military action against ISIS. It's almost enough to make me start to believe the video about how the ISIS videos were faked. Well, not really. It's probably just a stroke of great luck on the part of our government. I don't believe they're actually smart enough to pull a coup like this off intentionally. Assuming, then, that these videos were produced by ISIS, I don't think ISIS is so stupid as to think we wouldn't respond in the precise way in which we are, hence a win-win for our government and ISIS. Not so much for the rest of us bag holders.
Book ReviewFlash Boys, by Michael Lewis
This book should be required reading for anyone considering a career in finance. It may contain some inaccuracies, it may be biased, I don't really know, although I didn't think it was any of those things. There were some comments to the contrary in the book reviews. Certain details about the financial markets were, perhaps, simplified, but the differences between what I've observed versus the book's description are not material. What this book does show is that having a good ethical grounding, and understanding the big picture in finance wasn't, and likely still isn't, the way to get hired by Wall Street. It's a good read, doesn't require a background in finance to understand, and may provide some food for thought that would be useful before choosing a major in finance.