Skin In The Game

Common sense says I shouldn’t do this, but as a registered contrarian I can’t help myself. The school shooting the other day has sparked plenty of emotion, and for good reason. It’s hard to fathom such evil striking with such randomness. I can’t picture what I would feel finding out a loved one or friend was taken for no reason.

In the heat of such emotion it’s understandable to lash out and want to take action. And it’s always easy to take action against something when you have no skin in the game. As Jules says in Pulp Fiction, “well, allow me to retort”.

Starting at age 16 (or younger) we operate motor vehicles that weigh more than 3,000 pounds, often driving them 30-40 miles an hour in town mere feet away from  accidentpedestrians. We hurtle 70-80 miles an hour on the freeways. These monstrosities kill 37,000+ people a year. That’s 100 PEOPLE A DAY being killed. An average of 2000 of those are children. There are about 5.4 million vehicle accidents per year. Records estimate that there have been 3.6 million vehicle fatalities in the US since the advent of the automobile. Motor vehicle accidents are estimated to cost the US $100 billion a year.

Despite training, licensing, and testing, we continue to murder our fellow citizens. We drive drunk. We text and talk on the phone while driving. We drive too fast for conditions. Common sense says that if we have something that’s killing 100 people a day, shouldn’t we be marching on our state capitals and demanding our legislators take action? What sort of monster doesn’t care about 2,000 children a year being needlessly killed? Where are all the Facebook memes?

It would be appropriate to lower the speed limits to 15-20 mph on any city road. No more than 40 mph on freeways. Require annual requalification and background checks. Massively increase registration fees to pay for statewide safety measures. Caught with a phone that’s turned on should require jail time. A DUI means permanent loss of driving privileges. All vehicles must be retrofitted with breathalyzer devices in order to start. Increase the driving age to 21.

There would be a massive uproar across this nation if any of that were proposed. Why? Because it would personally impact your life. It’s easy to be judgmental when the actions you want won’t effect you. *

There are 300+ million guns in this country. As much as you may like to, you cannot put that genie back in the bottle. Virtually every criminal shooting is done with guns acquired outside the system. As in, they didn’t follow the laws and regulations. Shocking, I know. All the laws and regulations that get proposed after each mass shooting would not have prevented any of them from happening. Why? They either got their guns illegally, the system failed massively (as was with this latest one), or there were huge mental health red flags that were either missed or resources weren’t available.

I don’t know what the answer is. You could send the military to every home in the country to search and seize all guns, but I have a sneaking suspicion that wouldn’t go so well. We could choose to stop spending trillions overseas on silly wars and devote some of that money to mental health services in this country. And to ensure that the existing laws and systems and agencies we already have actually do their job. Or we can choose to let the Tide Pod eating generation drive legislation that only impacts normal law abiding folks.

It’s not an easy issue. Guns aren’t everyone’s cup of tea and I get that. But don’t get caught up in the sensationalism that is modern media. Because if you’re not fired up about 100 PEOPLE A DAY being killed by vehicles… aren’t you being just a tad hypocritical? (and I know you wouldn’t knowingly watch a movie or TV show that sensationalized guns, right?) You have every right to do what’s right for you and yours, and if guns aren’t for you I respect that. I choose to have the option to protect my family when the flesh eating zombie apocalypse comes.


* I spent at least twenty minutes trying to figure affect vs. effect. I’m still not sure in this context. Grammar is not my strong suite. I’m comma-happy and I know it.

 

You’re A Whiny Little B*tch

Something happened the other day that perfectly illustrates what’s wrong with politics, government, and the media today. The president may or may not have said something that called into question the general favorability ratings of a few countries. Whether or not his views mirror Haiti’s TripAdvisor reviews is not my concern. What got me thinking was the sequence of events.

A group of senators had a private meeting with the president. A sitting senator left the meeting and then immediately called someone at the Washington Post and tattled that he’d heard the president say something controversial. This was done for no other reasons than to sabotage the purpose of the meeting, to personally harm the president, and to score points for your own party.

In my book this makes you a whiny little bitch. A snitch. That one annoying kid in grade school who raised their hand near the end of class and said “Mrs Smith, you forgot you were going to give us a quiz.”

This is the perfect illustration that allegiance to party and elections rule everything.  Our elected officials don’t care in the slightest bit about policy – they care about scoring points against the other party at all costs so they can raise more money and stay in office. Don’t get me wrong, this is not unique to one side of the aisle. Both parties are guilty.

What bothers me the most about all this is that the fourth estate and journalism is used to be a buffer of sorts against this. There were standards of tabloid sensationalism most true journalists wouldn’t resort to. Now the media is used daily like a weapon. Because page views and ad sales rule all, “reporters” will print anything they think will score them a few more views and a thirty second appearance on a talking head show. There must be a 1-800 number folks utilize to leak. Press 1 to leak info about the president. Press 2 to leak independent council investigations.

I don’t think it’s possible any longer for our government to implement actual thoughtful policy. How do you privately meet and discuss something when every single word uttered will show up on a CNN breaking news crawl two hours later? We’ve become a nation of political parties that are nothing more than battling social media departments, each vying for the approximately 60 seconds of attention span Americans have.

That kid that constantly reminded the teacher there was a homework assignment due? Nobody liked that kid. Now we elect them to public office.

____________________________

Charlotte: I’m going to tell mom on you.

Pete:  Try it. See what you get for Christmas. Nothing. Snitches end up in ditches. Remember that.

 

The Business Of Science

A question for you: What is the global warming   climate changeextreme climate” debate about? If you answered something along the lines of proving or disproving that warming is real, you’d be wrong. That is a talking point intended to prop up a strawman argument that has nothing to do with the actual debate.

All reputable “scientists” believe that the earth has warmed in the last century. There’s a little bit of quibbling around the margins of error regarding the degree of warming, but there is no doubt that there is warming. The actual debate is if that warming is entirely human caused (anthropogenic global warming or AGW), a product of natural cycles, or a mixture of the two. That’s it. There is no other debate. Anything else you hear is horribly ill-informed or intentional spin by folks with an agenda. The derisive label of “climate change denier” is a fabrication that has nothing to do with what the actual science is about.

The problem so many people have with the AGW hypothesis is that it’s (originally) based on a series of computer models that haven’t just been wroclimateng, they’ve been spectacularly wrong. For example, did you know that until 2016 we most likely had a pause in warming that lasted 18 years (yes, really).This seemingly contradicts the idea that exponential growth in CO2 emissions is the direct (and only) cause of warming. This alone should cause people to question the original idea. There are hundreds of other peer reviewed studies and papers postulating other potential reasons for warming. Shouldn’t the idea that there’s only one possible cause of warming be examined further?

The foundation of science is that you come up with a hypothesis, do a bunch of experiments to try and prove your idea, then open it up to others to try and disprove it. Consensus has no part in the scientific discussion. We have been unable to prove the idea that CO2 emissions are the sole cause of changes in our global climate. It’s still just an interesting idea so far.

Understanding climate is hard. Every year there are new discoveries about ocean currents, the ocean as a CO2 sink, and solar cycles, heat reservoirs, etc… Look at your local weather forecast (yes, I understand that weather is not climate). Arguably the bulk of our research dollars today goes into accurate weather forecasting – after all it can have real impact on peoples lives. With all the technology we currently have, the best we can do with a weather forecast is have a general idea a week out and a pretty good idea 48 hours out. Truly accurate forecasts of wind speeds, directions, rainfall amounts, etc… are still only in the 4-6 hour out range. This stuff is difficult. There are thousands of factors that can impact a storm as it travels towards you. Why would something as complex as figuring out global climate (measured in decades or centuries) be any easier or certain?

The entire purpose of science is to question. Unfortunately, the discussion has become religion for people, throwing around terms like “denier”. Let’s be clear – there is NO 97% of all scientists agree. As soon as you start hearing consensus in science you should be worried. There is no consensus – there’s facts. You can either prove it and have it stand up to peer review or you can’t. Until then, it’s just an idea. When Bill Nye “the science guy” and Al Gore resort to faking a science experiment to prove their point, you should question the motives.

So why would so many reputable scientists (or the UN) push an unproven idea… even cultivating a distracting narrative about the issue when that’s not the real discussion? As Rod Tidwell said in Jerry Maguire – it’s all about the Quan baby. Follow the money. You can’t risk having the research dollars dry up. I have no problem with continuing the research. I encourage it. What I disagree with is turning a scientific discussion into a religion that demonizes and characterizes people as non-believers and heretics, while in pursuit of money. Even scarier is crafting political policies that can have real economic impact based on an completely unproven idea.

If you believe that rising CO2 levels are the sole cause of the earths global temperature changes – prove it beyond a doubt and disprove the other ideas (i.e. science). Do that and I’ll be AGW’s biggest cheerleader. Until then keep it as what it is… an interesting scientific discussion that warrants further research. Nothing more, nothing less.


 

There are three misconceptions in particular that bedevil our thinking. The first: isn’t there a disagreement among scientists as to whether the problem is real or not? Actually… not really.

I believe this is a moral issue. It is your time to seize this issue. It is our time to rise again, to secure our future

– Al Gore, An Inconvenient Truth

Dr. Peter Venkman: [to librarian Alice] Are you currently menstruating?
Library Administrator: What has that got to do with anything?
Dr. Peter Venkman: Back off man, I’m a scientist.

Nobody Is On The Fence

Watching the chattering heads last night providing their “in depth analysis” of the RNC convention prompted a few thoughts. First, I’d like to gouge my eyeballs out with a spoon. Second, this notion that people are “on the fence” about a candidate is idiotic drivel and any pundit who says it should be banished to covering local school board meetings. Let me be clear – PEOPLE DON’T SWITCH PARTIES from election to election. Period. Full stop. End of discussion. People vote party line. Always have, always will. Sorry, but nobody is watching a speech and thinking “boy, my family has voted for the same party for four generations… but wow this guy from the other party is moving me to tears with his speech and he wears a really nice tie I think I’ll vote for him.” If such a shallow person actually exists they’re out playing Pokémon Go and won’t bother voting anyway.

There is only one valid discussion in a political campaign… voter turnout. All the verbal diarrhea spouted by both parties is not there to “welcome others into oublenderr tent” or to “broaden the base”. It’s to whip your followers into a frenzy so they’ll postpone stopping at the Fancy Freeze on the way home and vote instead. A politician has to convince his/her party that the other candidate grinds up small puppies and endangered koala bears in a blender and drinks them for morning smoothies and if you don’t vote, they’re coming for your little fluffy next.

The best gage of the probable outcome of this election isn’t polls or TV pundit lectures. It’s the MPM® factor. What is MPM? It’s the number of memes per minute created on social mememedia. Each speech, every rally, the daily news cycle spin, seems to produce a varying number of frantic meme and Facebook posting all showing some variation of the other candidate as a lying, evil, Chihuahua-smoothie drinking, troll. The ebb and flow of this is probably the most accurate measure of how motivated each parties faithful are. If the rabid followers of your particular meat puppet aren’t frantically creating clever posts showing that the other meat puppet did indeed fail to yield at a crosswalk in June of 1983, then they’re probably not going to turn out on election day.

I should write that app. Create and post the real-time meme posting trends. I could become the next Nate Silver. I could monetize it and make millions. But that would take motivation. And I’m a busy guy with actual real world adult stuff to do. I’ve got Pokémon to catch.

 

 

On Making Sausage. And Political Correctness

Who doesn’t enjoy a juicy sausage link hot off the grill? (apologies to my vegan and lacto-ovo vegetarian friends) However, as the saying goes – nobody wants to actually know what happens in the sausage factory. The same is apparently true when it comes to our pesky little conflict with some folks in that there middle east region of the world. When a certain orange politician says that we should temporarily ban Muslim immigration to the US until we have better screening… the more liberal half of the country collectively voids their bowels in horror at the inappropriateness of the comment.

I guess folks forget that we’ve put together a massive governmental security operation specifically to prevent a segment of the Muslim population from targeting our airline industry. We don’t willingly stand in three hour lines for invasive body scans because of tpche Swedes, Taylor Swift fans, or the seven remaining members of some sub-Saharan pigmy tribe. No, we submit to warrantless searches because a few of our Muslim friends have an annoying habit of blowing up airplanes. We make ourselves feel better by also letting the TSA shopping mall security guards randomly search 90 year old grandmothers from Nebraska. See, we’re being fair. God forbid someone thought we were actually profiling anyone.

I guess if the orange one had simply said “I’m temporarily banning all immigration” everything would be ok. Whew, thank god he didn’t single anyone out – they might have been offended and sparked global jihad and issuance of fatwas directing followers to do evil to us. Oh wait, we already have that. Never mind.

If you’re a Muslim American, I feel for you. A few of your brethren are making things difficult for you. I’m sure there are some instances where you’re being tarnished with the same brush. That, unfortunately, is human nature. I’m sure the vast majority of Catholic priests are fine, virtuous people. Unfortunately that group as a whole has pretty much lost their babysitting privileges for a while. As a country I think we tend to be one of the most tolerant places around most of the time. We certainly don’t always get it right, but there is a reason the rest of the world is trying to come here. So I think we can cut out the hyper vigilant “offensive speech” monitoring. I’m reasonably sure that some goat farmer in Afghanistan is not going to be driven to a murderous anti-American rage if you forget to include the “I stand with Muslims” hashtag on your latest facebook post. And that whole ISIS/ISIL/al-Qaeda/Taliban/Muslim brotherhood thing… well they pretty much already hate us. I doubt they’re going to stop the global jihad if we just hired a few really good speechwriters.

We need to get over our faux political correctness. Muslims are responsible for the vast majority of terror in the world at this moment in history. It’s ok, you can say it. It’s the truth. We’re smart enough to figure out that it’s not all Muslims. It doesn’t make you a racist xenophobe to be slightly concerned about folks declaring jihad against you. Similarly, we have folks streaming across our border from the south. No, they are not just “undocumented” as if they accidently got in the wrong line and their paperwork got lost. They entered into the country illegally. I shouldn’t have to feel like I’m being looked down upon by the intellectual elite like some sort of racist, uneducated, country bumpkin if I think securing our border is a good thing. Just because I don’t like Adel, Madonna, or the Beatles I shouldn’t be ostracized by the iTunes community like I’m some sort of music Neanderthal.

My point? I’m not sure. I got mesmerized looking at the Donald’s hair. It’s hard to look away. Someday the architectural blueprints for his hair will be published and we will marvel. Meanwhile, we’re a long ways from the racism that spawned Manzanar. I think we can be adults and speak about our security without the fear that we might offend someone. Besides, we have plenty of real offenses going on today. Like those Kim Jong-un pantsuits Hillary wears. Someone really needs to have a talk with her.

 

All Hail Conventional Wisdom

Rick Grimes once said, “The definition of insanity is doing something over and over and expecting a different result”. It might have been Simon Cowell who said it. I’m not very good with my fact checking. Anyway, I’ve been amused at the latest schoolyard spat over who’s the least qualified on foreign policy. It’s interesting watching the talking heads andpajamas foreign policy experts reporting in their pajamas from  their living rooms via skype, all expressing intellectual dismay at the “frightening, and frankly dangerous” lack of worldly knowledge certain candidates display.

Because I like to question everything, let me ask you something. What was the last foreign policy success we’ve had since, say the end of the cold war? Have we had an honest to goodness success that didn’t cost us untold billions, thousands of lost lives, or destroyed economies, infrastructures and inspired hatred for generations? Seriously? Bosnia, Yugoslavia, Kosovo? Afghanistan? Iraq? Iran? Syria, Libya, Egypt? Basically anywhere in the Middle East. How many billions have been spent stationing troops in South Korea for the last 50+ years? How’d Somalia work out for us? Nicaragua? I guess our bright shinning star is that we once liberated some medical students on the “Island of Spice“. You can pry my nutmeg from my cold, dead, fingers…

Given our track record, why would we listen to anything the experts tell us? What they appear to be expert at is maintaining the status quo. Which apparently consists of selling arms and issuing foreign aid at a rate which boggles the mind. Meanwhile we’re told we need to pay more taxes because we can’t afford to buy more number 2 pencils for little Johnny. At least we have enough checks left in the checkbook to afford the $1.4 million it cost to develop an app for the TSA that randomly points left and right.

I’ve enjoyed watching the momentum Trump and Sanders have created with the people being pissed off at the establishment. It’s about time. But when the establishment parties ignore the people (you didn’t really think you had any say in this did you, silly rabbit) and put in place the candidates of their choosing, what are the people going to do? Will that initial momentum have enough inertia to continue to drift towards revolution… or will it just be the latest occupy movement that fizzles out as soon as we come to grips with the fact that American Idol is never coming back?

 

Tribes, Or I Just Wanna Surf

I’ve been following a story for a while now about a group of well-to-do, middle aged men in the Southern California town of Palos Verdes who’ve become a surf gang of sorts. Seriously, what 50 year-old belongs to a gang called the Lunada Bay Boys? It sounds like a skinny jean wearing boy band from the 80’s. Unfortunately they’re violent and preventkook anyone who’s not a local from surfing there. The conflict is heating up and now a federal class-action lawsuit has been filed against them. Way back in the day I spent more time surfing than I did going to high school (no, that didn’t work out so well for me kids) so I’m very familiar with the locals-only mentality. Back then you needed to know the rules of each break if you wanted to avoid your car getting keyed. Some places were short boards only. Some didn’t allow leashes. Others only allowed all black wetsuits. Pretty silly in retrospect, but violate the rules and something bad was sure to happen. You’d see some non-local kook come traipsing down the beach in a neon green wetsuit and just know it wasn’t going to end well.

Meanwhile, back in the batcave, I just watched a TED talk from one of my favorite writers, Anand Girdharadas. I’d highly encourage you to watch it when you have a moment. Powerful and motivating, it made me feel bad about myself and how judgmental and shallow I can be at times. He talks about inclusion and the American dream. And then he said something that really jumped out at me – that our tribal separations are the great moral challenge of our generation.

He’s right. But he’s also wrong. At the end of the day we are all tribes. We are not accepting of people who don’t fit into our tribe. I don’t think that’s right or wrong, it’s just human nature and has been from the beginning of time. A black kid with long dreads, saggy pants, and walking with the gangsta strut in a middle to upper class suburban neighborhood is going to get a very chilly reception at best, if he’s not first greeted by 5-0. But put some white dude wearing a suit and carrying a briefcase in the middle of Watts and he will be relieved of his Apple iWatch, Fitbit, and Starbucks rewards card in a jiffy. Two tribes, neither are tolerant of others that don’t fit in.

This will be true anywhere on this planet. It’s a myth that America is this great melting pot and somehow now we’re becoming less tolerant. We’ve always been tolerant – as long as you embrace the collective tribe that is the American culture AND you do your best to fit in with whatever local culture and tribe you’ve chosen to locate next to. If you continue to cling to your old tribe, the new tribe will remain a bit frosty. That doesn’t make it right and it certainly doesn’t justify some of the behaviors you’ll find in the news – but it is the human condition. We are all members of “our” tribe.

Intellectually, we’d like to think we can rise above our tribal loyalties. The reality is that it takes very little discomfort for us to revert back to our own groups. The solution is not for politicians to admonish us to “rise above” or “this is not who we are” at the slightest hint of opinion differences. It is who we are. We do not easily accept tribes that don’t look like us. It makes no difference if those tribes are political, religious, economic, racial, dress, or music. The dude will abide when it comes to the norms of my tribe. The answer is the economy. Generally the further down the economic ladder you are, the more you’ll cling to your tribe. A prosperous middle class will be tolerant of anything.  Want to get rid of tribal unrest in this country? Make sure you elect a political representative with a viable plan to spawn a new middle class economy. (hint, it’s probably none of the current meat puppets)

Meanwhile, I’m going to go figure out how to fit in with the mountain biking, climbing, fishing, craft beer drinking tribes. And stay away from that Taylor Swift tribe. They’re pretty damn scary.