I don't mean to offend. It's probably going to happen anyway.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Dear Leader

In most revolutions, a person or group of personalities (almost like a cult, hmm) will emerge as figureheads and leaders. Their ideas and actions inspire the rest of the people to action.

Typically in successful revolutions, these people end up in power in the new government.

My question then is this. Is your glorious leader acting out of principle and service, or do they just want to be the ones holding the stick?

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Gay Rights

Ooookay. I'm feeling controversial, so it's can-o-worms time.

I'm not particularly well versed in all the legal ins and outs of this issue, so if I misspoke at any point here, my apologies, and please, PLEASE correct me. I don't want to labor under false assumptions.

People have a tendency to talk about the right to marry. Yet, when asked to define marriage, they generally have no idea. Occasionally, I'll get an answer concerning hospital visitation, power of attorney, and inheritance type stuff, but more often I get answers concerning love, choosing who you're going to be with, and symbolism.

To that, I just have to ask why you would need the government to validate the relationship? If you know what the other person means to you, and vice versa, why does it matter if the government says yea or nay? Whatever you as individuals choose to do behind closed doors is no business of me or the government.

There are also answers concerning social acceptability of the relationship, in that 'marriage' legitimizes the relationship. My response to that is twofold. First off, who cares if it's socially approved? It's your life and your love. No one else's business. Second, you can't legislate social change. It happens on it's own, or not at all. The mind will always do its own thing.

Now, there are some technical aspects of the institution of marriage in this country that are somewhat different, mostly dealing with money, power of attorney, and custody. As far as I know though, there are ways of getting all those benefits through channels other than marriage. Contracts can be written up for property issues, power of attorney can be given outside of marriage, and custody is a messy issue all on its own. (Also an issue that is of somewhat less impact in a same-sex marriage, due to that whole biology thing.) There are certain non-legal conventions concerning marriage in this country, such as health insurance providence from employers, but most of those seem to be reflective of social issues rather than things the legislature should be involved in.

The astute reader will have noticed that apart from custody issues, none of this is specific to same-sex marriage. All of these arguments apply equally well to traditional marriage. My response to that is twofold.

First off, marriage as an institution has really hazy definitions, but classically, the one common element to the different definitions is that it is an institution between a man and a woman. Whether this is a good institution or not is not in question. Changing that fundamental definition would, well, fundamentally change the institution. Marriage is awesome and all, but the way to get that awesomeness into a same-sex relationship is not by changing the nature of marriage.

Secondly, I ask why government is involved in marriage at all? Why do people need the fed to tell them that they are married? If you want to get the legal benefits (such as they are) write a contract. If you want the spiritual side of it, get married in a church. If you want social acceptance, good luck, but don't look to the government. Marriage just doesn't make sense to me as a legal institution. In the pure rights based government we're supposed to have, there shouldn't be room for people to be treated differently under the law for any reason, including marriage status.

Yes, there are real issues to be dealt with on this, but they are reflective once again (in my mind) of the larger governmental problems that we're dealing with. It's just another place the government has spent too much time with it's nose in.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Hey, Nature!

This is a long one, and went in a direction I was not expecting.

One of my long time favorite authors is Michael Crichton. For all that his books are at heart pulpy thrillers, the creative setups and grounding in real cutting edge science, usually mixed with a high concentration of plausibility and scientific trivia, appeal to me on many levels.

One of the things I've always liked about Crichton's work is his take on nature. He is far more respectful towards nature than most hippy environmentalists, when you really get down to it. To me, it seems that comes from treating nature on it's own merits, as best he could. He seemed driven by a strong curiosity, coupled with desire to understand things, and then educate the world about the things he came to understand. I was quite saddened to hear he had died a few years ago, because beyond writing books I enjoyed, I felt like reading them helped to open my eyes to the wider scientific world.

Looking out the window, it's easy to see a static environment. The same trees, most of the same plants, the same buildings, the same lawns, all looking much the same as they always do this time of year, and from day to day.  From our perspective and experience, it is. But on scales both larger and smaller than the one we fit in, the world is completely foreign, confusing, and fascinating.

Have you ever looked at dirt under a microscope? Pond water? Have you ever really looked at a leaf? Watched a beetle move? Looked at charts of air currents? The world that we call nature is immensely complicated, and far more involved that we generally think about.

Complicated systems are, well, complicated. The sheer number of factors involved in the natural world is staggering well past the point of incomprehensibility. While it can nicely be broken down by broad generalizations of stimulus/response and exploitation of energy gradients, applying those generalizations is rather like using a microscope and trying see the entire Sistine Chapel roof.

The other thing that entertains me is the extension of Heisenberg's uncertainty to all scientific study, in that it is impossible to study anything without influencing it. Whether you're sitting in a blind watching deer behaviors or using an electron microscope to study the physiology of a soil mite, it requires interacting with the system under study, adding a whole new set of factors.

This I think is one of the pitfalls of human vanity. It is all too easy to see humanity as separate or different from the natural world, and all the other complicated systems we interact with. Even with entirely human systems, like economics, this arrogance leads some to think that by changing one factor, everything will function identically. See the bailouts.

The fundamental failing of environmental regulation is that it is impossible to properly regulate a complicated system. All attempts at regulation of complex systems change factors far beyond the original scope and intent of the regulation. Add into that the irregular nature of the systems to begin with, and it becomes almost farcical.

This is not to say that all forms of management are impossible, merely that management of the natural world pretty much has to be a reactive sort. If we find that we're having a net negative (more on this in a moment) effect on our environment, it's possible to react and change some part of our interaction. However, given again the complex nature of the system, it has to be a constant process of reaction and study.

Now, here's the big thing. How do you define a negative effect? The standard line of the environmentalist movement would have that be stasis. To me, that is stupid on quite a few levels. First off, the earth is not, nor has it ever been, static. The only constant thing about life on this planet is that it changes. Even the most foundational notions we have about what life is fail in the face of nature. Phosphorus in DNA can be replaced by arsenic in certain life forms, and prions have no genetic structure whatsoever (leading to debate about whether they are in fact life, but just go with me here.) The geological epochs have had such widely varied forms of life as to be completely unrecognizable by modern standards. To say that the way life is now is the best, and any deviation or change is a thing of evil is ignorant almost to the point of farce.

Other factors include yet again the problem of preserving something you don't understand (how can we tell if a species of Andorran singing beetle goes extinct if we never knew it existed in the first place?) incompetence in execution of the plans (Dallas is spraying for west nile mosquitos right now, and have had major problems actually getting it done due to weather problems) and a few others of minor importance.

The biggest reason is that if we're going for minimal human impact or stasis or however you want to define that mindset, it's rather rough on humanity. Back a few thousand years, humanity's influence on the system they were in was lower. It was NOT nonexistent, by definition, but the modern humanity has a greater effect, even if for no other reason than there being more of us now. (And no, that isn't the only reason.) The thing is, the human standard of living has increased hundredsfold since that time. The state of life in nature of Hobbes and Locke, being nasty, brutish, and short, isn't my idea of a good way to live.

This is why I say that the only reasonable standard for environmental programs is what is best for the present and future good of humans. It's honestly the standard that every other creature in history has been using (theoretically) and it encompasses a lot of the good varieties of environmentalism. The green sorts decry this sort of mindset as destructive, and claim it will be toxic for generations down the line. The thing is, clear cutting forests, hunting species to extinction, and toxifying our environment may be convenient in the present, but it's a little less so for generations down the line. The constitution opens with ordaining for ourselves and our posterity. Likewise, keeping in mind the effects of current action on our posterity will keep things livable. What is livable for a human is in fact pretty nicely livable for lots of creatures. See again that we are an inextricable part of the system with largely similar needs.

There's lots more I could get into with this, particularly in regards to global warming, but I think this is enough for one post. If people like this sort of thing, I'll write more. If people don't like it, I might just write more anyways.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Texas Once More

I once again find myself in Texas. Having unpacked my life from a series of boxes, I am now well ensconced in my new apartment. It's refreshing to be back.

One thing that struck me the past few days has been the number of "Help Wanted" type signs. While most of the ones I have seen have been for low pay, unskilled labor, I know a great many people up north are looking for any work, including of that sort. Whether this is just an anecdotal anomaly or reflective of Texas actually being in notably better shape, I am unsure, but I find it interesting nonetheless.

In other news, I am now possessed of a kitchen, and am in search of easy, tasty recipes. Any suggestions?

I'll try to have a real post up in the next couple days.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Is Knife

This topic has been covered to the point of being done to death, but oh well. I feel like ranting.

I carry a knife every day. My current piece is a Kershaw Crown, and I'm quite fond of it. It lives clipped to my pocket. The only times I am without a knife on my person are when I go into some area, such as an airport or amusement park, that specifically bans them. Interestingly enough, I haven't killed anyone yet. No one has ever been hurt by my blade, apart from a couple careless knicks to my own thumbs.

Why then do so many people give me the hairy eyeball when I pull my knife for something? Why do so many people comment about how there's no reason to carry a knife, as I use my knife to open a package or cut a tag for them?

A knife is one of, if not solely, the most useful tools mankind has ever created. At it's heart, a knife makes one thing and makes it into two. It creates space. Knives and their derivatives have at some point been involved in the construction of probably 99%+ of everything that people create. Cutting things is useful. Rare is the week where I don't use my knife for something. I probably use it for something more days than not. It is a phenomenal tool, with probably more varied uses than anything else I ever carry.

One of those potential uses of course is violence towards fellow man. While I acknowledge that my tool could be used as a weapon,* I do not carry it as one.** I have heard that a gentleman is never without a blade on his person. This has been true, in some form or another, for pretty much as long as there have been blades. Even the peace loving Sikh carry knives as part of their religious beliefs.

A knife is not a weapon. I am not carrying a knife because I am expecting to need to use it on a human being. Fear of a tool is just goofy. I'm getting tired of people freaking out about this.

This sorta got me thinking about a couple other things I want to touch on briefly. I do not carry a gun. This is not by any choice of my own. A combination of my age and my student status make carrying a gun illegal for me. But I would carry one if I could.

Here's the thing about carrying a gun. In that case, the gun is being treated as a weapon. Exceptionally few are the cases where a carry gun is used in another capacity in daily carry. However, that doesn't equate with expecting trouble, or expecting to use it on another human. It just means being prepared for that eventuality. A weapon is a legitimate purpose for a gun or knife. When talking to an anti in reasoned discourse** this point is a sticky one, because it's the foundational disparity between gunnies and antis. But guess what. If it comes to my life, or the lives of those I care about, or the life of the goblin threatening, I'd much rather it be the goblin, and I'd rather have the best tool for the purpose.

Only tangentially related, I've been thinking some about what I want to do with this blog. I am by nature a private person, so particularly personal content is unlikely. I don't want to become just another box spewing out the same tired stuff either. I like to think I sometimes have interesting things to say about stuff, but I don't like to put my scribbles up against the writing of the people who really know what they are talking about. Between these factors, it means that content can be a bit sparse. I write about things I find interesting that I think I can either add to the debate in or entertain with.

That was probably an overly long intro to this, but what would you, the readers, like to see here? Anything you'd particularly not want to see?

*I have lately come to the conclusion that a weapon is not an object. It is a use. No object can be by it's nature a weapon. Objects can only be used as one.

*No, really. It's possible! Ish!