Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Breakthrough In Physics: Florida Figures Out Time Travel!!!

Yes, that Nobel Prize winning feast has been accomplished in Marion County, in Central Florida, where they are bringing back beatings in elementary schools.

Gradebook reports:

Marion schools bring back paddling punishment

As the Ocala Star Banner reports as well:
The board ruled that paddling can be used only if a parent gives a standing written OK once a year. In addition, the principal must obtain verbal permission at the time the punishment is handed down. Under the policy, corporal punishment can only be used at the elementary school level. It can only be used on a child once a semester.
I would giggle reading it, if it weren't a bit scary. It also made me double-check the calendar to make sure we are in 2013. So, I guess, they did figure out how to go back in time after all. Not very shocking, since that area of Central Florida is very "conservative", if you know what I mean.

Friday, April 19, 2013

The Worst of Humanity

The worst of humanity comes out way too often. Columbine, 9/11, Aurora, Beslan, Sandy Hook, and now the Boston Marathon are just a few that come to mind when we think about evil acts that one human being can do to others. Some of those acts are unstoppable, as they come from the darkest corners of human psyche, some of them can be attributed to just plain craziness and mental instability and, as such, are even harder to predict and "control".

But should we give up and do nothing to protect ourselves, and our loved ones, just because it is almost impossible to predict the next act of terror, or the next deranged person who commits it? I don't think so. While removing all the danger is probably impossible, it is viable to limit access to the means of destruction and minimize the amount of damage that can be inflicted in our society, when a person, a group, or an entire country goes crazy (whether it is "real" crazy, or crazy for some ideology, is beyond this discussion). This is exactly why most of us agree that proliferation of nuclear weapons is not the best idea. We do not want a crazy regime (like Iran, for example) to loose their cool one day, and start nuking everyone around, even if it meant their own ultimate destruction. Totalitarian governments go nuts, and so do people, who can turn violent one day, without much warning.

In a western society that (most of the time) calls itself civilized and democratic, there is no need for individuals to posses means of killing others in large numbers. As individuals, we do not face threats greater that a single, evil or crazy person, and our means of defending ourselves should be adequate to such dangers. We also delegated personal protection duties to the society (in various forms: local, state, country, etc), as part of our contributions to this democratic and civilized society.

When individuals go crazy (again, call it crime, or madness, it is not relevant to this discussion, as it simply means taking that individual outside of bounds of our society), they should not have access to weapons that can kill scores of other people. Especially, weapons that are designed to do only one thing: kill many people quickly and efficiently. Evil people can always find a way, that's true, but we can make it as difficult as possible for those who just simply "flip". One way to make it difficult is to outlaw certain weapons (assault guns), make others difficult to obtain (especially for those who are already on the path to "crazy"), and control them all to some extent, so we have an idea where they are and how they are used.

Not doing that, and claiming that we are rational, intelligent beings, is immoral and just plain stupid. If we can take away the means of destruction and mayhem from evil and deranged individuals, but we refuse to do it for self-serving (money) reasons, we are showing the worst of humanity in all of us. The recent US debate about gun control (ban on assault weapons and large capacity magazines, and the extension of background checks to all gun sales) made it more visible than anything else could. One after another, those common sense measures were scraped under pressure from powerful, money welding interests, without even voting for them, with the last one (overwhelmingly supported by the public) being defeated in a vote two days ago, by the following senators:

Alexander (R-TN)
Ayotte (R-NH)
Barrasso (R-WY)
Baucus (D-MT)
Begich (D-AK)
Blunt (R-MO)
Boozman (R-AR)
Burr (R-NC)
Chambliss (R-GA)
Coats (R-IN)
Coburn (R-OK)
Cochran (R-MS)
Corker (R-TN)
Cornyn (R-TX)
Crapo (R-ID)
Cruz (R-TX)
Enzi (R-WY)
Fischer (R-NE)
Flake (R-AZ)
Graham (R-SC)
Grassley (R-IA)
Hatch (R-UT)
Heitkamp (D-ND)
Heller (R-NV)
Hoeven (R-ND)
Inhofe (R-OK)
Isakson (R-GA)
Johanns (R-NE)
Johnson (R-WI)
Lee (R-UT)
McConnell (R-KY)
Moran (R-KS)
Murkowski (R-AK)
Paul (R-KY)
Portman (R-OH)
Pryor (D-AR)
Reid (D-NV)
(voted "No" for procedural reasons)
Risch (R-ID)
Roberts (R-KS)
Rubio (R-FL)
Scott (R-SC)
Sessions (R-AL)
Shelby (R-AL)
Thune (R-SD)
Vitter (R-LA)
Wicker (R-MS)

Those senators went for the money, not the safety of us and our children. They decided that selling our peace of mind for their shady employment in Washington, is actually worth it. They showed us the worst of humanity, not because they did something illegal, but because they "rationally" and consciously chose to ignore morality and good of others. I don't expect much from my own Florida senator Marco Rubio, as he's been showing himself as nothing more than half-wit (the World is 6000 years old?) cynic (guns vs. immigration?), with no moral compass (please, don't bring his religion into it... it makes it even worse), but I was hoping that there are smarter and more decent people in the Senate. I was wrong...

As former representative Gabby Giffords said in her New York Times piece:
Mark my words: if we cannot make our communities safer with the Congress we have now, we will use every means available to make sure we have a different Congress, one that puts communities’ interests ahead of the gun lobby’s. To do nothing while others are in danger is not the American way.
Great idea! Let's vote them out next time we have a chance. They don't deserve to be any one's representatives.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Relative Morality

My interest in moral dilemmas was "tickled" recently, when I had heard a religious person stating that "stealing a dollar from a rich person is not as bad as stealing it from a poor one". Now, my reaction to such a statement in any other setting would be to ask a few follow up questions, but in this case, what struck me the most is the fact that the statement came from someone, who would be the first one accusing others (especially non-religious) of moral relativism.

In my mind, if we do not have any additional information, the question is simple to answer: there is no difference, when you are stealing from poor, or rich. A theft is a theft and, since your actions cause harm (physical, or mental) to others, they are morally wrong. We can, of course, expand this problem, by introducing variables, like your own wealth, or your current situation (Les Miserables comes to mind), and such differences can considerably change the outcome.

In any case, the answer might never be as obvious as one would expect, but my surprise was not so much with the problem itself, but with the person who stated it and "solved" it using some pretty relativistic criteria.

To follow up, here are some interesting readings on various moral philosophies and dilemmas:
1. Moral Dilemma: Would You Kill One Person to Save Five?
2. Stealing from the Rich
3. On ethics, part I: Moral philosophy’s third way
4. On ethics, part II: Consequentialism
5. On ethics, part III: Deontology
6. Of trolleys and morality

Monday, April 1, 2013

MLMs, Pyramids and A Hope of A Quick Buck

We have all been there... bombarded by hundreds of ads and commercials on how to make money fast, and, best of all, do it in the comfort of your own home. The salespeople make you feel guilty and stupid by showing off all the "successful" people who jumped in and made millions. MLMs, Multi Level Marketing schemes, or how I prefer calling them, scams, because after all those years, I still don't know anyone who actually made any significant amount of money out of them. That does not include those who set those scams up and profit from the people who fall prey to their marketing gimmicks and smooth talk.

I have seen Amway, coming and going in the early 1990s, then there was Herbalife, and numerous others, including some fancy "video e-mail/conferencing" in the mid 2000s, which seems to be making a comeback on Facebook in the recent months. For all of them, the idea is the same, but the math (and it's rather simple math) does not work, as you run out of potential customers very quickly.

However, there is always someone who's inventing new tricks to make money using old ideas.
As a good precaution, it's worth diving into this extensive article, published by The Verge, which explores the never ending variations on the good, old pyramid scheme:

Income At Home, Herbalife, and the $8 billion pyramid

It's also worth looking at some statistics on what is actually an average success rate for an MLM-type business:

The Likelihood of MLM Success

and, see the idea from a skeptical point of view:

MLM Watch