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Please, Disagree With Me!

February 3, 2014 Leave a comment

ImageI write a semi-regular blog on the Skeptoid website, as well as post regular musings and ramblings on Twitter and Facebook. In these writings, I am usually inspired by some set of data. As a scientist, data is something that removes much of the bias we carry as humans. Even if the data analysis or the conclusions drawn are manipulated, the raw data is harder to manipulate. Yes, people can outright lie, or can use poor data collection or design a poor test, but that is usually revealed by the design itself, or data from someone else. So I always use this as my core in forming my beliefs and opinions.

Over the last year, I have had people unfollow me on Facebook and Twitter over my opinions. I do come across strong in my conclusions. If you don’t know that about me – please take this as your notice. It catches people off-guard at times. It can offend them. Please just know that is in almost every case not my intent. I want to learn new things. I post things because I want them to be challenged. I also am not going to simply accept your conclusion because you say it. I am going to need convincing. It needs to be logical. It needs to have supporting data. I don’t hate you nor do I mean to offend you. Let’s talk. And if we don’t agree – then we don’t. I bet on many other things we do agree.

I often get classified politically as a bad libertarian. It fits pretty well. The ideology of being libertarian makes the society as a whole stronger. But I also believe the weakest of the society would be left far behind if we followed those ideals perfectly. So to me I always fight the liberal part of me and the libertarian part of me. The hardest part is in many cases, we don’t have good data on what would work best, only economic theories which simply cannot account for all variations of real-life. So I’m a bad libertarian. I’m ok with that.

I have changed my opinion on many things over the years. I used to think we should punish drug users and sellers more. Now, after seeing the data and understanding the idea of personal freedom – I understand that drugs, while still harmful, should be legal. What should be illegal is putting others in a potentially harmful situation because of drugs (driving while under the influence for example). So I am for stopping this insane war on drugs. That’s a huge turn-around for me.  I used to think we should ban violent video games (we have plenty of data showing it doesn’t affect crime). I have a number of positions that have changed over the years – because I enjoy learning.

So yes, my mind can be changed. But it can’t be changed if you won’t talk about it. I can be swayed by good data. I can be swayed by good logic. It might take some time. If you really feel you need to unfollow me because we disagree – then that is your personal choice. I for one would love to have a reasonable conversation about our disagreement. We may not come to an agreement, but maybe we will better understand our own position. We can try again another day.

Oh – and I know I ramble sometimes. I hope you can like me for who I am. 

Gun Control – 1700s or 2000s?

March 21, 2013 Leave a comment

Note: I am not going to link all of the statistics or various references in this post. I don’t want the discussion to surround the validity of various sources. Confirmation bias too often clouds this issue, thus I want the discussion (if there is any) to be more about my thoughts and not on the sources I reference. 

I have been thinking about the subject of gun control lately, since it has been in the news with the couple of mass shootings over the last several months. Like in most instances, I don’t agree with either party’s stance, and the lack of logical and reasonable debate is appalling. I am going to somewhat randomly post my thoughts on the subject here, and hope I get some reasonable conversation on the matter.

One of the issues that always comes up is the 2nd amendment. This tends to be the core defense for having the least amount of gun control (up to no gun control). One of the key sticking points in the amendment is: what does it mean when the amendment states “a well-regulated militia?” Looking at quotes from the people involved in writing the bill of rights, it would appear the idea of a militia was more or less to make sure those not in the army were armed. The conservative position that having citizens own guns was to indeed keep the government in check by making them reluctant to use the standing military against the citizens. Other quotes assumed these “militia” members would have some sort of training, to ensure they were capable of using the weapons effectively and safely. Weighing that out, I don’t think the militia argument is one good enough to justify taking away guns.

On the other hand, does it make sense that the guns now owned by citizens would in any way make the government fearful? When the amendment was written, the military didn’t have tanks, fighter jets, bombers, smart bombs, etc. I don’t think a couple thousand citizens with AR-15s is in any way a match for the military might our government now possesses. I’m not sure the militia defense (in reference to the government fearful) really makes sense in the modern context.

I have looked at plenty of statistics, which I think are much less conclusive than either side wants to admit. There is the example from Australia, where an assault weapons ban has been very effective. The caveat is that it included a buyback program, something that probably wouldn’t work here in the United States because of the much larger number of guns. There are examples of Canada, the UK, Switzerland, and other European countries where gun bans and gun ownership both work. I’m not sure any statistic from these places works well in the US, because of our unique relationship with guns.

Probably the closet example we have for comparison is Canada. Canada has experimented with various levels of gun control, with mixed results. Looking at the statistics, it would appear problems with guns is much more cultural. In both Canada and the United States, there is a wide spread in the number of gun crimes by province or state. The state by state statistics alone tell me there is a cultural problem with how we treat guns (and our fellow humans) much more than there is a problem with gun ownership itself.

There are some other interesting statistics about guns and how they are used. Homes with guns are much more likely to have gun violence take place. There are hundreds of reports of gun accidents every year. Does that mean people shouldn’t have guns? I don’t know. We have plenty of things in our homes that can both be used purposely as well as could accidentally kill someone. If we took away everything that people enjoyed for recreation because of danger, we’d have no sports, ATVs, cars, etc. I don’t think these statistics are enough to recommend taking away guns. They instead should be awareness for people to consider before purchasing one.

Regarding the idea of “assault” weapons, I have mixed feelings. The problem with some of these weapons is they are easily modified from semi-automatic to fully automatic, without too much effort. They also have the capacity to hold and fire many rounds in a minute, which is dangerous. There was a video comparing the use of buckshot in a shotgun versus a semi-automatic rifle, but it had a couple flaws. One, I think it in a sense proved it would be better to use a shotgun for self-defense, thus eliminating the justification for having an “assault-like” weapon for defense. It also showed one person shooting both guns, and it was obvious the woman shooting was more comfortable with shooting the shotgun over the rifle. A shotgun holds far fewer rounds, thus in a mass-shooting type attack, it isn’t as effective because it would need to be reloaded more often. Finally, there was another video pushed by the same anti-gun control people (all women in the video) showing “shotgun fails” trying to justify the need for the “assault” rifles. So one justification was a woman can do more damage with a shotgun, then in another instance women couldn’t shoot a shotgun properly. I found both ideas to carry a sexist tone, and obviously contrasted each other. I don’t think in either case it justified gun ownership, but instead showed how guns can be dangerous.

Assault weapons aren’t even our biggest issue with guns. Far more gun incidents happen with handguns. Most of these incidents are either gang related or suicides. With the number of handguns that are owned by citizens that have the right to own them, it would be difficult to try to revoke ownership, nor do I think it would make sense to do so, since handguns do also prevent crime, and there are examples of that happening if you look a bit. Statistics on crimes prevented by guns are much more difficult to obtain, because if a crime is prevented, how would one know for sure a crime would have happened. I believe some crimes are prevented because of guns, but I wouldn’t even try to quantify it because it is difficult to do so. Gun crimes per capita in the United States has continued to go down over the last few decades. Does it correlate to people owning and using guns for protection? It is hard to know.

One aspect not talked about is the mental health issue. And I am not talking about background checks and denying someone a purchase based on mental health history. Instead, I am talking about the human interaction in a gun purchase. In the late 1700s, gun manufacturing was still done largely by blacksmiths. So, if someone wanted a new gun, it required going to a blacksmith or gun manufacturer, making the request, and then waiting while the gun was made. This interaction and the long wait to have it made certainly provided a check on gun purchases. Other people in town would have known what the blacksmith was working on. The blacksmiths would have known most everyone because of their role in making and repairing horseshoes, tools, etc. Thus, there was a sort of waiting period and background check built in naturally to the system. Criminals and those with mental health issues certainly would have still obtained guns, but this built in check would have helped slow that down. It wasn’t until nearly 50 years later when Colt started mass producing machined revolvers that this check started to disappear. I wonder how the Founding Fathers would have treated the 2nd amendment knowing what “arms” would look like 50, 100, or 200+ years in the future.

I do hunt and own guns for that purchase. I like shooting for recreation as well. I don’t advocate giving our guns to the government. I don’t advocate taking away the right of citizens to carry their guns if they so choose. However, I don’t know if the 1700s interpretation of the 2nd amendment is the best choice to balance safety and freedom. I would think it would be reasonable to make sure all gun purchases include a background check. We also need to look at mental health in this equation, though we must tread carefully to not take away freedom from someone based on an imperfect science of diagnosing these conditions.

More importantly, I really think we need to bring gun “control” back to the local level. I don’t normally advocate such strong government regulation on business, but perhaps we need to rethink chain stores selling guns, and instead have guns be sold by people who both live and work locally, and would be licensed by more local authorities (such as the states or even the counties). This way, the gun sellers could work with local law enforcement to make sure people who shouldn’t have guns don’t get them. These local sellers could also have licensing requirements which require them to provide education on safety, security, and other issues related to guns. We should concentrate on teaching respect for guns, and increase the punishments for those that use guns in crimes that go against that. 

I don’t think there is an easy solution to reduce gun crime and mass shootings. I also don’t think it is practical or in the tradition of freedom to take guns away from law abiding citizens. This doesn’t mean we should continue to analyze the balance of freedom and safety, and look for reasonable and innovative ways to improve both. I hope we can.

A List of Politicians Who Appeared On Non-News Programs

February 25, 2013 Leave a comment

My point for this list is this – being on TV as a politician or as a first lady is pretty much the standard, especially the last 15 years or so. From what I can tell, every President, Vice President, and First Lady have been on the Tonight Show. They all have several TV credits on IMDB. This is not unusual, so let’s just end the conversation and get back to issues, OK?

If there are more I should add, let me know!

Categories: Politics Tags: , ,

Picking on Rush Limbaugh

July 23, 2012 Leave a comment

Ok, I couldn’t help myself. All of this coverage on the new Batman movie, the Aurora, CO shootings, and the mass hysterical reaction to the whole thing is quite an insight into how politics and the media works. A perfect example of this is the partisan radio host Rush Limbaugh.  In my previous post, I mentioned how Rush Limbaugh was quoted before the movie was released as saying,  “Do you think that it is accidental that the name of the really vicious fire-breathing four-eyed whatever it is villain in this movie is named Bane?” He was speaking of Mitt Romney’s company Bain, which has been a democratic chanting point in this election. according the the Washington Examiner, some democrats were hoping the subliminal message would be that Bane (Bain) is evil and the superhero is good, again without context that Bane was a character almost 20 years before this election.

Now, Rush has come out saying Batman is more like Romney. He points out the fact that Batman is rich and fighting someone who doesn’t look as desirable and then compares them to people protesting in the Occupy Wall Street movement. He then later in the show goes back and says he still think it was a setup for the Obama campaign. What I find amazing is in the Washington Examiner, senior editorial writer Philip Klein had already made that statement days earlier. So it would appear that not only can Rush NOT make up his mind, he didn’t even have an original opinion on the matter.

I know it is Rush’s job to pick on the left and make the right look all lofty and mighty. It is the source of his ratings, and I’m sure at his core he believes only some of what he is saying. In order to build his radio show and to author books and build his brand, he must have at least some intelligence. What I hate is it is another example of where perhaps stepping away from the partisan politics at least on this subject makes the most sense in light of the recent events. Maybe Rush should wield his audience for good by starting a Rush Limbaugh Aurora Colorado victims fund that he could jump-start with a donation of his own and allow his audience to contribute as well. Those kids left behind are going to need help. This would be a time to leave a subject rest and help those victims.

Sorry Rush, but the more you talk about Batman, the more of a fool you appear to be.

My not quite full day away from Twitter and Facebook

July 20, 2012 Leave a comment

Occasionally, I find a few hours or a day away from social media is just easier than trying to fight what one of my Twitter friends calls the “outrage prism.” (Note: I love the term and have previously asked permission to openly plagiarize.) The ignorant statements, the political gamesmanship, and the misdirected outrage was enough to simply make me stop reading about the events of early this morning.

As pretty much everyone should know by this point, a young man marched into a midnight showing of the new Batman movie and killed 12 people and injured several more. What a horrible thing to happen to people who did nothing other than seek a couple hours away from reality by immersing themselves into a movie. It is truly a sad story. I know every time I see an incident like this, my thought is always to the family and friends left behind, and to those people who survived and have to relive that incident in their minds forever. We truly need to support the family and friends of those lost and those victims who are still here who will need our support to help them heal.

One story that made me truly tear up was the one of Jessica Redfield. As a person interested in hockey, I found out pretty early about her being one of the deceased victims via Twitter. What really made me tear up was the poignant piece Jessica wrote just a few weeks earlier as she narrowly avoided another shooting up in Canada. Thank you Jessica for reminding us to enjoy every minute.

What had me so upset in an angry way is the way some of the media responded. Today was not the day to play politics. Why can’t we wait even 24 hours to speculate on the motives and talk about how we should change laws to prevent future events. The first 24 hours should be dedicated to make sure all involved are apprehended. The first 24 hours should be dedicated to setting up support for the victims and families, including counselling, monetary support, planning for funerals or medical care, and helping businesses in the area while their customers avoid the area. Today is not the day for blame.

And yet it was. Within an hour, I saw posts on Twitter calling for tighter gun control. I saw posts saying if someone had been allowed to carry many people would have been saved. Mayor Bloomberg, from another city and state, immediately blamed the lack of strong gun control, without any details on how the weapons were obtained. All these posts came without context that in Colorado, you are allowed to carry openly without a permit. Concealed carry does require a permit. There are countries with gun bans that have lower homicide rates than the U.S. There are also countries like Switzerland where owning a military rifle and having it in the home is mandatory that also have a lower homicide rate. Correlating gun control with homicide is not as simple as proponents on either side would have you believe. How about taking some time to research the situation before posting. How about 24 hours of worrying about the families? Today was not the day to worry about gun control, especially when no one seemed to care what the circumstances actually were.

Also, within 6 hours of the crime, there were claims of the murderer being from both parties. I’m not sure which “accusation” came first, but this article addresses both (James Holmes, the suspect arrested in connection with the mass shootings… in Aurora, CO, could be a registered Democrat). ABC News speculated with very little information that Holmes was a Tea Party member. Breitbart News countered with speculation that the shooter might be a registered democrat. My point is, does this matter? In fact, that shouldn’t matter no matter if either was true. There is no political party saying “please shoot people for our political gain.” The shooter wasn’t targeting any specific party. Today was not the day to worry about political parties.

These accusations stemmed from more idiotic statements. Before the movie was released, Rush Limbaugh tried to claim this movie was a slight against Mitt Romney directly because the villain’s name in the movie is Bane, which is a homophone of Romney’s former company Bain. Limbaugh provides no other context or details, including the fact that Bane first showed up in a Batman comic in 1993 or that the word “bane” makes a great villain name due to its normal meaning of “a person or thing that ruins or spoils.” There were tweets then claiming that the shooting was Rush’s fault because of this statement. It was easy to see very early that this was planned by the shooter much before Limbaugh’s statement. Besides, today was not the day to put the blame on anyone but the shooter.

The idea that a political affiliation could cause this is a blatant logical fallacy. There are a few categories of fallacies this could fall under, but one that fits well is the “Questionable cause” fallacy. Even if a majority of shooters in these type of crimes belonged to one party or the other, one can reasonably state that the parties are not preaching to people to commit crimes, thus party affiliation is not the cause of shootings. The other fallacy is the “Post Hoc” fallacy – that just because someone spoke about the Batman movie that it somehow caused Holmes to target that movie. Logical fallacies are to be avoided on any day, but today especially was not the day to commit obvious ones.

If anyone hears of victims’ funds being set up or any way that those of us can help, please let me know and I’ll be happy to spread the word as best I can. Today is a day we should support those who need us after such a tragedy. That is why I chose to get away from social media for a few hours – I’d rather reflect on the victims, spend some extra time close to my family, and not speculate on the why. At least not today.

Why Occupy Doesn’t Resonate With Me

November 19, 2011 Leave a comment

We had a very interesting incident in America today. As I am sure we’ve all heard, students at UC Davis were pepper sprayed by police for disobeying a police order to disperse and clear a path. From what I understand, there was a encampment of tents on campus much like other Occupy Wall Street type movements have in various spots across the US. These students had formed a circle, sitting down with their arms interlocked which blocked the path to this encampment. From the 2 different videos I saw, the police gave the students some warning that if they did not clear a path, that they would be sprayed and removed by force. And that is then what transpired.

Here’s the thing about this incident. The use of the pepper spray seemed to be unnecessary and excessive in this case. (Update: CNN has more parts to the story as to why the police ended up using the sprayOK, but maybe we should at the same time be talking about what everyone did wrong here. Just because the police officers were “more” wrong, does that make the protesters right? That’s the question I’ve been asking since I first saw the coverage of this incident. I even asked the question in a nice manner on BoingBoing where I first saw the article, for which apparently taking a viewpoint that wasn’t outrage against the police got me banned from commenting. I just feel it is important not to jump to conclusions. There are some things to consider.

Our freedoms, including those Constitutionally protected, have limits. Those limits generally are where they cross the line into interfering with the rights of others. If you commit a felony, you lose your right to bear arms. You are not allowed to shout “FIRE!” in a crowded theater because it can cause harm to others. In this case, the protesters were blocking access to a public space where a large number of people were gathered.

So what would have happened if someone was being assaulted in one of these tents and called 911 from their cell phone? The police would not have been able to get their squad car through without running over protesters. What if a cooking stove started a tent or tents on fire? How would you get a fire truck through? What if a protester inside the circle fell and had a serious head injury? How would the ambulance get through? Whenever these crowds gather, especially for an extended period of time, the police need access to them to protect them from each other and others. To say that every cop is evil and trying to suppress our rights by these actions is just as crazy as saying that every protester has good intentions.

I heard a comment last week that the NYPD has used up all of its goodwill from 9/11 due to its actions recently in Zuccotti Park . So if we had another terrorist attack somewhere in the United States, am I to believe that the NYPD or any other police force wouldn’t be there ready to serve just as those fine people did on that tragic day? Let’s try to put some sanity in this and realize that both the protesters and the police had some wrong-doing here, and that each should face their appropriate punishment, but it should not reflect on either as a whole.

Before I try to express why I the Occupy movement hasn’t resonated with me, everyone should go read Aaron Brown’s article on it. He’s a real writer, and expresses it much better than I could ever hope to. So go. Click on it. Then come back here.

If the Occupy movement wants to gain momentum and gain support from people like me, they need to do a few things. I think they would benefit from a leader. They need a more unified voice to give them a mission as to what it is they are really protesting. They could change their message from income equality to income fairness. If I get promoted at work, I shouldn’t keep making the same money I did previously. But I shouldn’t make 5000% more either. They should immediately support Congressman Walz’s bill to stop Congress from benefiting from insider stock knowledge. Occupy Wall Street needs to get a message that makes sense.

The police used excessive force. The protesters ignored their orders and did present a threat (I won’t make a judgement as to the degree) to public safety by blocking access to a large gathering in a public place. More than one wrong was committed here. And that’s really the point I want to make. The incorrect application of force does not vindicate the protesters. I don’t think we can properly place judgement on the degree as to which the force was excessive unless we can admit the amount of blame the protesters have in the situation. Other Occupiers should take note that they would better capture the hearts and minds of people like me if they did the right thing and admit when they cross the line, and let’s see if the police and our government can do the same.