Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Insane or stupid or both?

Being stupid is not a crime. I’ve heard that quoted several times, in movies or books, and I’ve even used it myself on occasion. Being stupid is not a crime, but maybe it should be.
My line of thinking in this regard was prompted by the results in the Norway case. Everyone remembers the nutbar Anders Breivik who went to an island youth camp and started shooting. His motive had something to do with teaching liberals a lesson, and maybe immigrants, too. Ultimately, his motives are irrelevant, because he butchered 77 people and wounded 151 more. I say his motives are irrelevant, because nothing can justify what he did. Is it any surprise at all that the psychiatrists involved are saying he was psychotic at the time of the assault? Really, psychotic? You don’t say. How many years of med school does it take to draw that conclusion? Because I figured that out the second I heard about the horrific attack. So did everyone else.
Nobody thought, “Hey, that Anders guy… he’s got a point. That’s a helluva argument he presents there.” At least, nobody rational would think that. And that’s the key word here: rational.
Criminals aren’t rational. They have a grossly distorted sense of cost/benefit assessment. They have the kind of brain that says, “The two hundred bucks and three cartons of smokes I’ll get from this gas station robbery is absolutely worth the chance of 2 years in jail. Time to play Cops and Robbers for realsies!” Or it’s a crime of passion, where they catch their old lady in bed with some other biker, and they just “gots’ta teach ‘em a lesson!” By definition, a crime of passion is one without reason, where your ability (no matter how stunted) to think rationally is overwhelmed by your emotional parts. Whether they can’t think deeply enough, or whether they consciously decide prison is worth the risk of the crime is irrelevant. The bottom line is, criminals aren’t in their right minds.
I wouldn't risk prison and a criminal record for a lifetime supply of money, and I don't know anyone more reasonable than me (others may argue). Criminals risk that much or more for a lot less. They aren’t, to use the legal term, “reasonable” people. So why do we have this division between criminals and insane who commit criminal acts?

“Oh, well, the insane aren’t themselves when they do these things. They can’t stop themselves.” Neither could the ordinary criminals, or they WOULD HAVE stopped themselves. Deliberating doing something stupid, knowing that it’s stupid, is even MORE insane than doing something stupid because you don’t know any better. Stamp the whole bunch of them with the INSANE label and move on.
Move on to where? To curing them, of course. Isn’t that what you do with insane people? You try to make them better. Sometimes you succeed, sometimes you don’t, but with the proper application of therapy and/or medications, you can get a helluva lot further than you can with the alternative (namely, nothing). Teach them to think clearly, think skeptically, think rationally (and while you're at it, teach everyone else, too).
Some of the hard-liners on the right side of the political fence have a problem with a soft-handed approach. I get it. You want wrong-doers punished and kept away from you. Making them productive members of society isn’t your priority. These are the kind of people that say things like “lock ‘em up and throw away the key.” They cheer the death penalty as a “Final Solution.” Certainly killing everyone who breaks the law does solve the problem of overcrowded jails. No one would accuse you of being soft on crime.
But what kind of person wants to kill someone just because they’re insane? You’d call someone like that a murderer. Probably you could even say they aren’t entirely rational. If they’re not rational, they’re nuts, and that means they get lined up to get those lethal injections they love to promote so strongly. I’m not sure who’s going to be left, but I hope I’m one of the lucky ones.
I have, after all, been practicing my Vulcan-esque logic since I was a boy.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Would you let a vampire date your daughter?

I like vampires. I think they make a rich background for a whole variety of stories about human strengths and weaknesses. They can serve as a foil to display our savagery, kindness, ability to transcend personal tragedy, or capacity to wallow in selfish lusts. Like anything inhuman, the thematic merits of the vampire result from casting them in a role traditionally occupied by ourselves or something we struggle against. The vampire striving to be human (really, “humane”) is a constant motif in vamp TV, movies, and books. There are dozens of other versions as well, both protagonist and antagonist. Whatever the case, I think the vampire concept has a lot of potential, and like any potential, much of it is wasted.
Today we’re going to touch on the idea of vampire pedophiles. To most people, “pedophile” is an emotionally-charged word. It should be. The idea of an adult abusing a child is repugnant, and the sexual overlay of the term make it even worse. If there were a hierarchy of sins in society, “pedophile” is going to rank Top 5, if not number one.
So of course a vampire pedophile would be cast as a villain. Ah, not so! Most vampire pedophiles are the protagonists of their particular tales. If not the hero, they are at the very least often interpreted as a sympathetic character. When their evil nature is derided, the fact that they are pedophiles is rarely brought up. Why? Because they aren’t written as pedophiles. Oh, no. They are “in love.” They see the purity in the soul of the person they’re lusting after, somehow looking beyond the years between them to form some true, deep, spiritual connection. Horse apples, I say!
Can you truly fall in love with someone a tenth your age? Not ten years younger, mind you, but a TENTH. Anyone in their 40s who has had an extended conversation with someone in their teen  years is quickly bored, and that’s only a gulf of a couple decades. There’s just too vast a generational gap. The things you remember aren’t the things they know. In a way, they’re almost like alien species to each other.
Yet we’re supposed to believe that Twilight’s Eddy thinks Bella is all that? He’s over a hundred, born with all the baggage of an early 20th century upbringing, but she’s 17. Other than moony-eyes, what do they have in common? The same goes for Angel in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, only worse. He’s from the mid-18th century, and she’s fifteen or sixteen when they start canoodling. Yeah, a vampire can adapt to the present era, in theory. But very few humans are capable of staying with current trends over an 80 year lifespan. You think we can manage it for 200?
We all know the classic dating range formula, where you divide your age in half and add 7 for your minimum. For your maximum, you go (your age-7) x 2. If we apply the classic “acceptable dating range formula” to Eddy we find that he can date woman who are anywhere between 57 (the youngest) and 186 (the oldest), based on his age being 100. Bella’s a little below his target group. Like 40 years below.
By any standards, these vampires are generations older than their love interests. There’s no way there isn’t a gross imbalance of power, which is pretty much the case with pedophiles. Like pedophiles, these vampires claim something about their victims “calls to them.” They “can’t resist.” Sounds like a sickness to me.
Boycott Twilight (if you weren’t already). It’s nothing more than a sad tale of a creepy pedophile vampire. Go ahead and watch Buffy, though. At least there’s something to it beyond “vampire/child relations.”
Ick, Eddy. Ick.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Toll roads

I have to say, I love the trend towards targeted taxation. No one (except for crazy people) LIKES taxes, of course, since everyone would prefer to hoard their hard-earned (or stolen) dollars for their own nefarious purposes. It’s a common belief that governments waste 9 out of ever 10 dollars they grab, and spend the last buck on something you don’t like. Nevertheless, a targeted tax serves a higher purpose. Even if the money gained were stacked in a huge pile and burned, something else would be gained.
By targeted taxes, I’m referring to the host of sneaky little (and not so little) charges that we all pay whenever we use something of which the government doesn’t approve. Gas for your car, cigarettes for your kids, booze so you can get out of bed in the morning: all heavily taxed. Maybe that money does nothing useful, but the theory is that taxing something is a deterrent to its use. In theory, we have fewer smokers, drinkers, and drivers because we tax the berries out of those items.
It’s a clever way for a government to allow freedom while still punishing those who choose unwisely. Obviously smoking is bad for you. Alcohol is a toxin. Yes, we can tolerate it in small and even moderate doses, but it can kill you. Driving helps contribute to planetary pollution, which is bad, since this is currently our only house. (To quote the Tick: “That’s where I keep all my stuff!”) The government operates VLTs and casinos, snatching huge profits while at the same time running ads to say “Hey, ease up, idiots—you’re gambling too much!” (Not that anyone appears to listen.) If it’s bad for you, the government supplies it, but makes you pay through the nose for the privilege. It’s a commentary on our own stubbornness or stupidity that we haven’t stopped doing all this stuff yet.
This morning I saw an article on road tolls, which is what prompted this post. “Canada lags in use of road tolls,” was the headline. My first thought was “Yeah, that’s a shame. It’s like saying we need to catch up on gun-related crime. Some of the other G8 countries are way ahead of us.” After reading it, though, it made sense. Road tolls are a deliberate tool used to reduce the use of said road. This helps to control the flow of traffic, eases smog in certain areas, and reduce the need to constantly repair and expand existing roadways. They have been used with great effect in other countries. For instance, during peak hours, you have to pay 10 pounds to drive through London’s core. That’s reduced through-traffic by about 70 000 cars. Maybe those same cars are just dispersing to other roadways, but it has to create a more pleasant downtown London than experienced previously.
Why stop at roads, though? Why not a “cholesterol tax” on french fries? Or a “stink tax” on body sprays? (I’d be a huge fan of that one. You don’t need to bath in the stuff, people.) A “John tax” for those who dally with sex workers. “Flatulence tax” on cans of beans. My role-playing games would probably be subject to some sort of “nerd tax.” I’m sure a committee dedicated to finding vices and charging taxes on them could have a kilometre-long list in days. Drugs are almost certain to be on it, both legal and illegal.
We would be able to finally embrace the logical end to the targeted tax process. Let’s get drugs legalized. Marijuana, cocaine, heroin, all that crap. It isn’t as though they aren’t available on the street as it is. This way we could regulate it to make the products safer (did you know most drug overdoses are due to the toxic effects of the substances used to CUT the actual drug?). We’d generate revenue in the form of taxes and ease the burden on overworked narcotics cops. It would also probably spell an end to a large segment of organized crime, what with their most profitable products available next to packs of DuMaurier. The tax money we get would easily pay for the treatment facilities, whereas right now the drug users aren’t shouldering their share of the burden.
It would be a country where any vice is allowed, so long as you’re willing to pax the tax-man. A brave new world and, forgive the pun, but tolls are just the first stop on the road to reach it.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Ode to lawyers

Lawyers are geniuses, every one of them. Even the worst of the bunch is smarter than the average citizen. Not because they score high on IQ tests. Not because they have more or better firing neurons in their brains. Not because they can throw around Latin phrases. No, they are smart because they bothered to learn the rules of the game we’re playing.
Think about it. Society has rules, written and unwritten, but the only ones that can land you in jail are the written ones. Laws. They can punish you. They can also reward you, via a little something called a “civil judgment.” This is a process by which you can sue someone (even if they don’t deserve it) and get awarded a ton of money (even if you don’t deserve it), so long as your lawyer is better than the other guy’s. Laws are important things, not because they are inherently valuable, but because they are valuable to our well-being. Break one, your life is ruined. Catch someone else breaking one, you might strike it rich.
Lawyers understand this. It’s like we’re all playing Monopoly, but they're the only ones that have bothered to read the rulebook. If we’re not sure whether we can buy Park Place or not, we have to check with one of them, and pay them for the privilege of their answer. Under a system like that, they don’t even have to be playing to eventually win, or at least make out very, very well.
None of this is to say that lawyers are evil. In spite of their dire reputation, they are as good or bad as any other batch of humans. But the good lawyers, the ones with an “LG” beside their alignment, know that the best way to make radical change is to know the system you’re trying to change. And the evil ones, the ol’ “LE” set, know that the man who profits the most is the one who understands the fine print.
The problem is that the old maxim about power corrupting is absolutely true. Given enough power and enough time, everyone cracks. Mother Teresa herself would have been a villain if she’d lived to be a thousand. It’s inevitable. Lawyers have the power, because they understand. They get it. They know the rules. In a society that styles itself civilized, its our rules that define, empower, and limit us. A lawyer is a magician, and the laws are mana. Without them, he’s powerless, but with them... oh, the world is his oyster. So how do any of them resist corruption?
It depends on how pure their motives at the start, I suppose. That’s why Momma Teresa lasted for 87 years: she started out pretty pure. If you’re more morally flexible, maybe you’ll only last a handful of months before you’re rubbing your hands, cackling in glee at the thought of all the lives you can control. The end is inevitable, it just remains to be seen if you die before evil takes you over.
Money doesn’t help matters. If a billionaire came up to you and said “I’ll pay you 400 dollars an hour to build me a house,” you’d be an idiot not to leap at the chance. If the offer came with no further provisions—timelines, size of house, location—wouldn’t you build the biggest freaking house you could? A mansion that makes the Vatican look like the Unibomber’s shack? Why not, right? They have the money. Who cares if it takes you the rest of your life to finish the thing? You’re getting 400 bucks an hour to saw wood and hammer nails! Talk about a living.
Contrast that with the same offer being made—you decide the sort of house to build—but the pay scale changes to 100 grand for the entire job. Now suddenly that shack idea sounds pretty good. You could bang that out in a weekend and be $100 000 richer. Woohoo!
In both cases, you may have to prove some sort of “good intentions” issue. You can’t make the $400/hour wage if you’re just sitting about thinking about the house, and you can’t collect the hundred grand pay-off if you build something with four walls and no roof. Either way, the temptation is to do the least you can to make the most. Even if you’re a saint and do a great job with no intention of screwing your employer, get offered that deal enough times, and you’ll cave.
Whether paid by the case or paid by the hour, a lawyer has to face that temptation all the time. A lot of professions do, granted, but lawyers are pre-set to bend to temptation. They know the rules. They are trained to know the rules. A lot of times their careers depend on their ability to massage those rules. So they’ll know how far they can push it while still maintaining their reputation and not getting into any trouble. They know how to make a case run long or how to cut it short.
They have the power. Believe it. If you're not scared, you should be.
(Insert evil laugh here.)

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Correlation is not causality

The Occupy movement had a death in Vancouver this week. Obviously this is not a good thing. Preliminary reports point towards the woman dying as a result of a drug overdose. Whenever someone dies, or is hurt, or is even mildly put out, of course others rush forward to use the tragedy to further their own agendas. In this case, the woman’s death also rings the bell on the tent city that the Occupiers have built in Vancouver. A directive has been issued to clear the whole thing away under the guise of “public safety.” One hopes it can be managed peacefully, but I doubt it.
Living in a tent is not ideal, clearly, or we would never have bothered invented the house, much less the mansion. But where is causal relationship between “sleep in tent” and “drug overdose?” If the cause of death is “exposure” or “too much fresh air,” maybe they’ve got a case, but drugs? Vancouver has a well-documented drug issue. For the last few years they have had between 26 and 37 confirmed drug overdose deaths per year, or about 1 every 11 days on average. Occupy Vancouver has been going on for three weeks and this is the first death (from any cause) that has been attributed to the protestors. So, really, they’re doing pretty good. If, as many right-wingers believe, the movement is composed of nothing but drug-addled hippies, they should have had 2 drug-related deaths by now.
Correlation isn’t the same as causality. Intelligent, rational people know that, but all too many forget (or don’t understand) that crucial fact. Finding a dead bird on your front lawn doesn’t mean that it was killed by your grass. Dying of a drug overdose in a protestor’s tent does not imply the movement itself is the problem. But panicky people can easily be convinced that it does, and so ends Tent City.
It reminds me a little of the D&D controversy from back in the 80s. A teenager committed suicide and among his possessions was found the rulebooks for D&D. Instantly the group that feared and hated D&D for its own (usually religious) reasons jumped on it. “Aha! Finally, proof that D&D is evil!” they cackled. “We have a statistic!” Right away the public believed the conclusion that D&D caused teens to off themselves.
Obviously this is wrong. When you look at the numbers, you actually discover that the instances of suicide among D&D players are WAY below the national average. D&D saves lives. Logic, however, rarely convinces a horde of gibbering goobers.
Gibbering goober. That would make an awesome D&D monster.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Sack up, Herman

That’s right. Grow a pair. Just come clean and admit that settlements were made on your behalf to silence accusations of sexual harassment. Admitting a matter was settled out of court is not the same as an admission of guilt. It can’t be, otherwise the second you signed the paper the bailiff and judge would show up and yell “Gotcha!” before dragging you off to jail. “Ah, you sucker. You fell for the oldest trick in the book. A settlement? Oh, that’s rich.” And then the judicial system would chortle to itself, smug and happy. But it doesn’t work that way because there are plenty of instances where it is easier and cheaper to pay an accuser some hush-money and then just go on living your life.
For those who don’t follow American politics or the Daily Show (and you really should, both are entertaining as anything else on TV), one of the Republican presidential nominees Herman Cain is being dodgy about former potential issues with sexual harassment. Maybe he did it (probably) and maybe he didn’t (doubtful) but the point I’m trying to make is this: When something is FACTUALLY TRUE, don’t try and skirt around it. Among many other examples, Clinton tried it with Lewinsky, and it just ends up making you look guiltier when you’re finally forced to capitulate.
What compels a public figure to delude themselves into thinking for one second that anything they have ever done, imagined, written about, or whispered down a deep well won’t get uncovered by some reporter? The media has a pretty good track record on this stuff. Sure, they don’t always find out in a timely fashion, but if you have dirt on you, they’ll sniff it out eventually. The 24-hour news cycle demands it. Those all-day channels need more grist for the mill. Their attention is only going to be magnified when you’re running for the most powerful job (sort of) in the most powerful country in the world (unfortunately).
So sack up, Herman Cain. The same goes for all the rest of you wannabes. You don’t have to offer up your darkest secrets, but when some newshound discovers photos of you in Victoria’s Secret underwear, just own up to it. Sadly we’re living in an era of blame and victim. Nothing you do is ever your fault, and somehow every situation can be spun so that you are actually the victim. My dad was a jerk, so I never learned how to love. The media is out to get me. The woman was out for attention. I didn’t get into the school I wanted (that’s a Hitler special, there, probably the historical figure who most changed the world as a result of a university rejection letter). Blah, blah, blah. Basically, it’s all garbage.
They are cowards, and stupid ones at that. Every kindergarten kid knows you get in way less trouble if you admit that YOU were the one that did it. This is basic stuff, guys. Really. If you can't grow a spine, at least grow a brain.