The only thing we can be sure of about the future is that it will be absolutely fantastic. So if what I say now seems to you to be very reasonable, then I have failed completely. Only if what I tell you appears absolutely unbelievable, have we any chance of visualizing the future as it really will happen.

- Arthur C. Clarke (h/t Brin)

Friday, August 22, 2014

Jury Duty in America

From the comments on a posting about Bill Moyers interviewing Tim DeChristopher:

One thing you're missing:
For the average person, jury duty can be a scary, nervous, anxiety-ridden experience.
Last year I was called for jury duty for the first time in my life. I'd only been in a courtroom twice before that: once accompanying my daughter to traffic court (the person who hit her and was ticketed was protesting their ticket, so we had to be there); and once for a custody case.
They'd pulled a large pool of potential jurors for multiple cases for that week. Officers of the Court (assistants) put us through a training video and a verbal lecture on what we were and weren't allowed to do or say, including things like whether or not we could leave the building or the grounds. While the officers were friendly at times, they also did a good job of transmitting their own anxiety over the judges to the potential jurors.
I spoke with several other people at different times on different lunch breaks, and they all said pretty much the same thing:
Jury duty made them nervous. Most were worried that if they did the wrong thing, spoke about the wrong thing, they'd not only screw up some case... but also, might be held in contempt in some way, possibly facing a fine or even jail. Some were nervous about the kind of personal information that might have to come out during the selection process, and they were right: people ended up having to talk about various family members who'd been arrested, or themselves, for various things. People ended up having to talk about having been sexually assaulted, or family/friends who'd been, or who'd been victims of other crimes. I understand the judge and lawyers need to know those things for some cases, but it's still harrowing.
While with some questions we were able to defer answering until we were brought in solo (not in the group) to help protect our privacy, at the same time, there were people constantly coming and going in the back of the courtroom (audience), and we were told NOTHING of who those people were. So not only were you discussing this stuff in front of the judge, their security officer, stenographer, clerks, the prosecution and defense lawyers and the defendant... but also random people in the back of the audience area. We also had to confirm our name, address, occupation, place of work, and a good bit of other personal information in front of those random people.
Now, imagine that you're in a jury pool for a violent crime, say a rape trial. You have to tell all that personal and often uncomfortable people not just to a room full of court workers, not just in front of the accused... but also, people who very likely *may* be family members of either the accused or the victim. All those people now know where you live, how many kids you have, where you work... and if you get picked for the jury and the verdict makes someone unhappy, THEY KNOW HOW TO GET TO YOU.
Plus, again, what if you say one word at the wrong time and place, and cause a mis-trial? What if there's a miscarriage of justice because you slipped up or were stupid?
And looming over all of it is the judicial system made real, that same system where you've heard countless stories of injustice, of capricious judges, of judges actually violating laws with their rulings or even experienced it yourself. One place in particular where people run into that a lot is family court: judges sometimes rule on visitation rights or even custody where they violate law---for instance, mandating visitation for a child old enough to choose *by law* who they will and won't visit or live with, and often despite various types of abuse. Yes, many people get traffic tickets and some end up in court---but I'm willing to bet that there's very few people who haven't either been through family court for a custody case and/or a divorce, or had friends and relatives who have---and family court is an especially tense prospect for people, because the disposition of someone they love is riding on it.
In short, between personal experiences, stories of family and friends, and stories in the media about capricious judges, hung juries, mis-trials, and contempt of court rulings... most people walk into the courthouse doors full of anxiety, when called to jury duty. That's on *top* of the anxiety caused by having to take off work or arrange child-sitters, the unpredictability of the schedule and the hours, and in general, the disruption to your daily life. Everyone dreads the thought of being on a jury in a trial that takes weeks, involves staying in a hotel, etc. Then you pile even more anxiety on by how they conduct themselves, the rules you must follow, and strangers hearing personal information from you.
Given all that, even the most civic-minded potential juror (someone who is determined to do their duty to the system) is likely to be in an intimidated state. Most don't understand all the laws, rules, and regulations... so again, when the court (judge or clerks) instructs them in something, they tend not to challenge it, or even know that they *can* challenge it. In my case, we weren't really told anything about what we could challenge or refuse to say---and there's the fear that if you refuse to answer, they'll think "what is she hiding?" and sic someone on you to investigate you... even if it's just that you're too uncomfortable to talk about something. There's the fear that refusal to serve, or refusal to answer, may get your taxes audited, or get you contempt charges, jail, and fines.
People in that state are far more pliable than they are in normal life. Authority looms over you.
It's not surprising that juries who don't understand the law themselves, and who are often in such a state of personal anxiety, take incorrect instructions from activist judges without a murmur.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Beyond the Work Ethic


I think we need to get away from the idea than the average person can allocate resources by supplying labor (or being under the protection of someone supplying labor). This is the problem - the Puritan idea that wealth is God's signifier of virtue and poverty God's signifier of sin; this model is adaptive in a preindustrial world and in an industrial world but is maladaptive in a crowded, information-driven world. Even the replacement of diligence and vigor with intelligence and study is a cruel lie. The world cares nothing for the individual, and the capacity to allocate resources comes down to luck and to pedigree.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

On the situation in Israel / Palestine

I habitually self-identify as Jewish. Though it would never occur to me to practice the religion, looking at me it's hard to miss the genetic, cultural and philosophical influences anyway. Sometimes in driving around the south I feel that I have a blue neon Star of David floating above my head just out of my sight.
But my ethnicity doesn't determine my loyalty. I have had little affection or enthusiasm for Israel for a long time. The Likud victory after Rabin's assassination sealed this for me. I've been quite distressed by the turns in Israeli society since those horrible events in 1995. Like most modern Jews outside Israel with family ties to Israel, I've kept these feelings to myself. But the history of our people, and of my own immediate family, shows that there's an ethical requirement at some point to speak out. Ultimately, tritely but truly, silence is acquiescence. I can no longer even implicitly support what Israel has become.
I am not sure how to make amends for my past silence.
I'm a bit shocked at myself for taking so long to say this publicly, actually. My circumstances are such that I risk little by coming out as explicitly non-suportive of the actions of the contemporary Israeli state or the majority of its voting population.
People like Moti Rieber require far more courage than the likes of me to speak out. I have to say that Rabbi Rieber's writings and tweets have been a comfort as well as an inspiration amid the recent outrages. For example:
http://rebmoti.blogspot.com/2014/07/tribalism-vs-universalism.html

Note that my admiration of Reb Moti's writings doesn't imply that he reciprocates - my opinions here are my own. That said I would be thrilled to hear from him.


Sunday, July 6, 2014

Neither Optimist nor Pessimist, Just Activist

Posted to Dot Earth:

===
I'm not an optimist. I do not predict a good outcome. Nor am I a pessimist. I do not predict a bad outcome. I think the whole question is wrong-headed in the extreme.

The whole point of calling our time the anthropocene is to emphasize that we control our destiny. Good, or bad? It's our decision and our responsibility.

I believe a tolerably good outcome is possible, if and only if we work together toward it. It's not a question of predicting. It's a question of deciding.

Though some losses are already behind us and many more are inevitable, there is still much we can celebrate and build upon. We must stop treating the natural world as something to exploit, and start realizing that it is our home. If we do that, we can thrive. The other choices look dire. Why not choose to do our best?

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Climate Uncertainty and Climate Risk

Captured from Facebook (by me):

There is a great deal we do not know about climate. People use this to contest greenhouse gas emissions policy but that is wrong-headed.

In real life, the more uncertainty one has about bad outcomes the more careful one is in taking risks. 

In the climate world, uncertainty is used to urge continued and increasing risk-taking. This is backwards!

One thing we know for certain about changing the greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is that the climate cannot stay the same. That is very simple physical reasoning. Another is that the more we change the greenhouse gases the more it will change. And another is that we are already changing the greenhouse gases enough to matter. 

Beyond that, there are many bad things that are more or less likely to happen, but the idea that it will all come out fine forever as we keep increasing the risk-taking smacks of delusion.

If scientists are overly encouraged by their institutions to get press coverage, there is a bias toward too much certainty and too much polarization. This may motivate people in the short run but only adds to dismissive skepticism in the long run. 

What we should say is that while we understand a great deal about the climate system, it is very complicated and it's impossible to predict its exact behavior from one decade to the next. However, we know that we are forcing it into unprecedented configurations, and the more we do so, the crazier the risks we are taking.

Friday, March 7, 2014

prix du cafe

It's the other way around in Montreal, actually.


This Quora stream is great though.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Rohrbacher and Putin

The Russian presence in Ukraine presents a fierce puzzle for us Central European Jews. On the one hand, we have no love for Russian troops wandering around other countries, to say the least. On the other hand, the existence of Israel cannot really be ethically defended on any grounds that don't justify continued Russian occupation of Crimea; the population on the ground is Russian and they have no interest in living in a Ukraina that has developed a pretty serious dislike for them, also to say the least. Those people live there perhaps through the machinations of previous generations of politicians, but not through any fault of their own.

The analogy to the Israeli Jews (not to mention their claim on the West Bank) is obvious.

I wonder if it isn't this analogy isn't behind the surprising tendency of the American right to be soft on Putin. Of course, there's also the always-be-opposite-of-Obama thing, but Obama could be attacked for being insufficiently belligerent too.

http://www.buzzfeed.com/andrewkaczynski/gop-congressman-thinks-putin-is-being-demonized-in-the-us

Anyway, the way I look at it is like this. The Russians are not going to give up Crimea.

I doubt anybody in Washington is really surprised by this. The words "territorial integrity" are used in international circles as if they were a high moral principle, but that is and always has been self-serving BS that all existing powers defend against all potential separatist movements. In fact, borders are, obviously, artifacts of convenience, mostly the convenience of the incumbent powers, and have always shifted as power shifts. Of course the US must pay lip service to it.

To the extent that a conventional military matters at all anymore, Russian access to the Mediterranean is enforced only by their presence in Crimea, and they are not going to give it up. They filled the peninsula with their own nationals to enhance their claim in the event of a Ukrainian government that was not compliant to their needs. That's the card they have in their hands. To expect them not to play it is naive.

To turn around and act as if this were reasonable is a bit bizarre. The real issue here is not just whether Crimea is Russian but whether Putin's imperialism is an improvement over Communist imperialism.

The sheer corruption of Putin's puppet government in Ukraina should surprise nobody. But its exposure does Putin no good, and is what should give us more than a little hesitation in supporting him.

It is convenient that Moscow has lost its communist ideology, but to start treating them as friends and allies doesn't make the right look pretty. We have to bluster about this and then let it slide. But we don't have to look happy about it.

The Republican capitulation to oligarchy is clear enough, but to cozy up to the level of contemptible corruption in the Russia of Putin is nauseating.