Sunday, June 5, 2016

Liberty Day

So the government has 10 official holidays: new year's day, Martin Luther King Jr birthday, Washington birthday, memorial day, independence day, labor day, Columbus day, Veterans day, Thanksgiving day, and Christmas day.

The three days named after people commemorate the discovery of North America by Columbus, the leadership of Washington in securing independence from the English, and leadership of the civil rights movement by Martin Luther King Jr.

Labor day celebrates all workers. Veterans day celebrates all military veterans. Memorial day isn't a celebration but is a day to remember soldiers who died in the civil war, in the first world war, and all later conflicts.

Independence day celebrates independence from the English but ignores American Indians, who in that period were losing their lands to the colonists. More on this below.

Thanksgiving day celebrates a number of different things, depending on who you ask, but is both generic -- because cultures around the world have a celebration after the harvest -- and sad because like independence day, this specific celebration originated in a time when the American Indians were starting to lose their lands to the colonists. Also, even though the American Indians also had their own celebrations, thanksgiving day is distinctly colonial.

Christmas day is a religious holiday only for Christians, even though it's not purely Christian in nature. No official federal holidays for other religions.

New year's day is the most secular "holiday".

The government should officially drop Christmas as a federal holiday because it's religious in nature, even if that religious nature isn't entirely Christian. I'm not saying that people should stop celebrating Christmas, just that the government shouldn't give it any more weight than holidays of other religions. The fact is that a vast majority of Americans do claim to be Christian so if they all celebrate Christmas at the same time, businesses and offices will continue to be closed, but let that be a decision by each organization and not a federal standard.

Let us have four standard vacation weeks during the year: the week surrounding January first, the week surrounding April first, the week surrounding July first, and the week surrounding October first. If anyone wants to rearrange their vacations they should negotiate with their manager, but the standard should be four weeks in a year, equally spaced around the calendar, to ensure people have the time to spend with their families without being penalized for it. So winter vacation would be December 28 thru January 4th, and if someone wants to take extra days earlier to celebrate Christmas or just "round off" to an entire week, they should negotiate that with their manager.

Let's drop all official holidays based on individuals and get back to the meaning of things.

Instead of Washington's birthday, the federal government should officially change its name to President's day (which many people already call it) and move it to April 30th to celebrate when Washington took the oath of office to become the first President of the United States. Even though the inauguration day has since moved to January, as a commemorative holiday the first inauguration is better, and won't be confused with Washington or Lincoln's birthdays.

Instead of Martin Luther King Jr's birthday, the federal government should officially change its name to Civil Rights Day, maybe move it to December 1st to commemorate Rosa Parks' brave civil disobedience, or maybe move it to May 17th to commemorate the decision of Brown vs Board of Education of Topeka, when the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that segregation is inherently unequal. It's hard to pick a single point in time, because a long stream of events led to the improvement of civil rights. I just think it shouldn't be any one person's birthday. December 1st is probably a good choice because it's associated as the starting point of the modern civil rights movement led by Martin Luther King Jr.

Instead of Columbus day... actually, we can just drop it we don't need to replace it with anything (but I propose we should - read on). Columbus was a Spanish imperialist, his birthday just seems very irrelevant today. Some people celebrate a Native American day or some other substitution on the same day to make a statement, and that's not necessary either if we just drop this holiday.

Let's create a new federal celebration for liberty, and let's use it every year to remind ourselves what this country is about, because sometimes people forget that liberty is an important goal of our constitution. Past generations forgot about liberty when they continued to hold slaves after the declaration of independence, when they continued to fight American Indians after the signing of the declaration of independence, when they forced Japanese Americans into internment camps, when they authorized secret government programs to develop the most massive covert collection (spying) program on this plane on our own citizens, and many other incidents.  It's that declaration - remember  "all men are created equal ... with certain unalienable rights ... life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness"???  That was on July 4th and we are celebrating independence from the English but we've forgotten so many times the reasons we needed independence. If we celebrate a Liberty Day, and make it a tradition to talk about the meaning of liberty and the limits on pursuit of happiness (the boundaries being harm to other people individually or collectively, whether direct or indirect), and recounting past mistakes and making a commitment to do our best not to let that happen in the future, then maybe we'll have a chance at keeping our liberty a little longer.

I propose to celebrate Liberty Day on October 1st of each year.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Doctrine of Honorable Intent

When one person accuses another person of causing indirect harm, and the harm is evident, it is  straightforward to demand that the accused stop the activity that is harming others indirectly or modify the activity such that it no longer harms others. When the harm is not evident, there needs to be a process to determine if the indirect harm actually occurred, occurs, or will occur. All this is in the context of activities that are not already regulated -- clearly if there is already a law governing the activity and the accused did not comply with the law the government would investigate and there are already resources to deal with that. In cases where the activity is not regulated, the accuser may not have the resources or the access to fully investigate, and it would be unjust to burden the accused with providing the resources, whether or not the accused actually has the resources.

In such cases, the doctrine of honorable intent is to assume that both the accuser and the accused have honorable intent, to establish a procedure for mediating the conflict, and to impose tough penalties if either accuser or accused is discovered to have dishonorable intent.

For the accuser, honorable intent means that the accuser truly believes that harm occurred, occurs, or will occur as a result of the actions of the accused, and that the accuser is not attempting to harm the accused via the accusation itself.

For the accused, honorable intent means that the accused did not know that the harm occurred, occurs, or will occur as a result of the actions of the accused, and is willing to stop or modify the activity in order to prevent further harm.

The mediation would start with an exploration of the harm that occurred, occurs, or will occur as a result of the activity. This is the time to raise concerns, share evidence, and generate theories about how the activity indirectly resulted or may result in harm. It is not the time for the accused to attempt to disprove anything. The exploration ends when the mediator understands the activity and the harm and how they are or may be related. If the mediator needs additional information to understand, the mediator will request government resources to fully investigate.  The request is prioritized by the mediator according to the scope and impact of the harm that occurred, occurs, or will occur.

The mediation continues with an exploration of what would have to stop or change in order to prevent further harm. The accuser, the accused, and interested other parties may provide ideas. There may be multiple ideas presented, and the focus is on preventing further harm and not compensating for any past harm. Some ideas may imply a cost to the accused, and the mediator must weigh this against the harm. Honorable intent means the accuser and accused will discuss the minimum possible change that would be required to stop or prevent the harm.

If at any point the accuser or the accused is discovered to have dishonorable intent, the mediation will stop and the matter will be forwarded to a judge for punishing the dishonorable party for attempting to use the legal procedure itself to harm the other party. Dishonorable intent is demonstrated by hiding evidence, lying or falsifying or omitting available information, interfering with the other party during the procedure, attempting to influence the mediator or any investigator, clerk, or expert assigned to the case, or other actions that may be deemed dishonorable. Such dishonorable conduct must be punished severely to ensure the integrity of legal procedures.

The mediation concludes with an agreement between the accuser and the accused on a plan to stop or prevent the harm. If an agreement cannot be reached, and the mediator has not yet requested a full investigation, the full investigation must be requested at this time. If an agreement is not reached and the mediator believes the harm is evident the mediator must forward the case with the mediator's comments to a judge. The judge will determine if any existing laws may apply to resolve the case. If the judge believes the harm is evident and there are no existing laws to resolve the case, the judge may order the accused to stop or modify the activity in a way that would prevent the harm, and impose penalties for not complying with the order. The judge would also forward the case to the legislature to consider writing a new law that would govern the same or similar situations in the future.

If at any point during the process either the accused or accuser believes that the other party or the mediator or the judge is acting with dishonorable intent, the case may be forwarded to a higher court to investigate the dishonorable conduct only and, if it is evident, to punish the dishonorable party and return the case to the lower court.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Eternalism vs Presentism

If eternalism is the idea that the past and the future coexist, and that we are just experiencing a safari - an observation adventure - through a world that is pre-determined, then it means our free will is just an illusion, but time travel would be possible because as "simply" movement along the time dimension.

If presentism is the idea that only the present exists, and that the past and the future are just concepts that we can use to relate to states that have changed and states that we expect to happen, then it means time travel is impossible and that time itself can only be a measure of the difference between states of the present, so that in an absolutely static world with no movement at all it would be impossible to measure time, and in other cases it would be possible for time to be measured differently at different places.

Since no one has been able to demonstrate travel either forward or backward in time, and since a concept of the present is required in order to form concepts of past and future, I believe the idea of presentism has to be assumed to be a better estimation of reality than eternalism; I live in the present and if anyone want to convince me otherwise, the burden of proof is on them!

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Animals

I think it's cruel to spay or neuter an animal for any reason other than its own health. Preventing an animal from having offspring does prevent cruelty from happening to its offspring but it's not preventing cruelty to the animal itself. I believe that if a survey were done of humans asking if they believe that they would be thankful for being neutered without their consent because it prevents them from having children who will experience cruelty, the results would be overwhelmingly negative (but maybe not entirely negative).


From http://www.beefusa.org/beefindustrystatistics.aspx:

2014 Cattle inventory (as of July 1, 2014):  95 million, 3% down from July 2012.
Economic impact:  $44 billion in farm gate receipts (USDA NASS)
Number of beef cow operations: 729,000
Number of cattle & calf operations: 915,000
29.0 million beef cows (down 1%)
33.9 million head calf crop (2013)
The average cow herd size: 40 head
2014 U.S. total beef exports: 5.6 billion pounds
Top export markets:  Canada, Japan, Mexico, South Korea and Hong Kong

More than 50 percent of the total value of U.S. sales of cattle and calves comes from the top 5 states:
  1. Texas
  2. Nebraska
  3. Kansas
  4. California
  5. Oklahoma
Average producer age:  58.3, up 1.2 years since 2007 (USDA 2012 Ag Census)
U.S. beef production (commercial carcass weight) was 25.8 billion pounds.
The total U.S. beef consumed was 25.5 billion pounds.
Average annual U.S. retail Choice beef price in 2013 was $5.29/lb.
U.S. commercial slaughter total was 31.9 million head


From http://www.humanesociety.org/issues/pet_overpopulation/facts/pet_ownership_statistics.html:

U.S. pet-ownership estimates from the APPA for 2012

Dogs
83.3 million—Number of owned dogs
47 percent—Percentage of households that own at least one dog
70 percent—Percentage of owners with one dog
20 percent—Percentage of owners with two dogs
10 percent—Percentage of owners with three or more dogs
1.47—Average number of owned dogs per household
20 percent—Percentage of owned dogs who were adopted from animal shelters
$231—Average annual amount spent by dog owners on routine veterinary visits
83 percent—Percentage of owned dogs who are spayed or neutered
Even—Proportion of male to female owned dogs

Cats
95.6 million—Number of owned cats
46 percent—Percentage of owners with one cat
31 percent—Percentage of owners with two cats
24 percent—Percentage of owners with three or more cats
2.11—Average number of owned cats per household
26 percent—Percentage of owned cats who were adopted from an animal shelter
$193—Average annual amount spent by cat owners on routine veterinary visits
91 percent—Percentage of owned cats who are spayed or neutered
73 percent vs. 62 percent—The difference in number of owned female cats and owned male cats, respectively

Monday, December 30, 2013

Functions of government

In a news story http://politicalticker.blogs.cnn.com/2013/12/28/unemployment-benefits-expire-dems-vow-to-fight-on/ about unemployment benefits, Dean Heller, R-Nevada, was quoted: "providing a safety net for those in need is one of the most important functions of the federal government"

Dean Heller is wrong. Providing for people in need is the function of charities, not the government. 

The government does have a useful role to play in coordinating efforts to help people in need, especially during a crisis such as natural disaster or violence. Paying people to do nothing is something our government has a long history of doing but is not something that should be a function of any government.

Among the most important functions of government are:

Protecting each citizen's right to life, liberty, justice, property, and equal opportunity. 

Organizing the national defense - which supports protecting citizen rights.

Engaging other nations with diplomacy to protect citizens traveling abroad and to resolve disputes with other nations peacefully.

Coordinating public efforts such as building infrastructure for transportation, communications, water and electricity distribution, education, recycling, and waste disposal; and controlling the use or preservation of natural resources.



Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Anonymous Corporations

If a corporation can hide the personal involvement of its true owners - the people who control it and benefit most from its existence - what else can it hide?

Unethical behavior? Illegal activity? It's certain that shell corporations have been used to hide these things.

I'm not saying that a person should be unable to maintain some anonymity. But I am saying that corporations should pay taxes on their income, and being entities formed specifically for certain legal standing they should not have the same right to privacy that individuals have.

So if one wants to be anonymous in one's personal activities, one should not form a corporation to conduct them. 

And if one wants to be anonymous in one's business activities, one should move to another country that is more supportive of organized crime.






Sunday, July 21, 2013

Thoughts and Policies

A person's thoughts are private. If that person is an elected official, then his official thoughts are private too. This means anyone employed or appointed by the elected official has a duty to keep their internal discussions private and not to leak any information. This provides the official room to think and to discuss issues with other smart people in the room without fear of being judged prematurely. Elected officials are people and it is unreasonable to expect them to think and speak perfectly all the time.

An elected official therefore needs a means to express thoughts to the public in a way that invites discussion and criticism. That means should be the written word, in the form of speeches, policies, and policy drafts. Speeches are usually a public reading of a written essay. Policies should be the product of a lot of thought, reason, discussion, criticism, and editing to clarify, mitigate, explain, emphasize, and revise. Policy drafts should be the product of some initial thought and discussion with some problems remaining for which the elected official is soliciting debate and criticism from the public in order to identify points or issues that need clarification, mitigation, explanation, emphasis, or revision.

Policy drafts are requests for comments. However, to be helpful those comments must be constructive. For example, a comment like "this is the dumbest idea I've ever seen" should be immediately discarded by a clerk and replaced with a single tick in a count of opposing viewpoints. Similar constructive comments should be grouped together, rephrased if necessary to capture the point clearly, and tallied.