Sand dollars and silly laws

There is a law on MUNI busses. I think it’s a California law. That certain seats at the front of the bus have to be surrendered to the elderly or people with disabilities. I don’t think there should be designated seats or a law.

People should just be considerate of others without legislation. The other side of it is that people who have taken seats that aren’t designated as special feel like they should be able to just ignore the people who are standing, no matter how much they need to sit down. It’s an abdication of any consideration towards one another.

One day I had a seat on the bus during rush hour. A man got on with a large, heavy box. He had a hard time balancing it in one hand and trying to hold onto the railing with another, so I offered him my seat. He was grateful and relieved, but asked me if I was sure. Of course I was. Here’s the strange part. He must have found my act so unusual that he felt the need to somehow repay me for it. He dug in his box and handed me this sand dollar:

I thanked him for it. I don’t think I’ve ever found a whole one. “Where did you .. is the whole box full of them?” I asked. “Yeah! They were all over Baker Beach… and another beach further south of here.”

Instead of the law we have, why not encourage people to just use their judgement? The man with the sand dollars wasn’t elderly or disabled, but he was clearly having a harder time than most of the people with seats. It’s sad that it wouldn’t even occur to most people to get up for him. It’s sad that some elderly people who are able to stand just fine demand seats (sometimes from students with heavy backpacks) simply because they can. It’s sad that we need a law to tell us when someone might need our seat more than we do.


I would’ve posted a picture of it, but many would consider it not safe for life. Anencephaly is congenital neural tube defect wherein a fetus never develops a brain. Just a brain stem. Usually, babies with anencephaly do not survive more than a few hours past birth. There are a couple of exceptions though.  If you look it up on Youtube, there seem to be two popular types of videos: the medical anomaly or “isn’t this weird?” type, and then the personal “my little angel was diagnosed with this in utero but god told me to carry to full term” type.

It’s interesting to note that despite there being no chance for these babies to ever gain consciousness, let alone have any quality of life, it is not permitted by our current standard of medical ethics to harvest their organs upon birth — even with the consent of their parents. Organ harvest requires that the donor be brain dead: brain stem included. However, waiting that long in these patients makes the organs no longer viable. I guess it’s just not a common enough situation to warrant a reassessment of existing regulations, but if it isn’t possible for a person ever be conscious — to ever feel or sense anything, to ever have a thought or a personality — then in what sense are these human lives? Meanwhile, given that a leading cause of infant mortality in developed nations is congenital defects (eg, of the heart or other replaceable organs), wouldn’t we want policies that increase the availability of donated infant organs?

tl:dr – If we can fix her heart but not his brain, why should we let them both die?

Racism feedback loop

I came across two pieces today on race: one was an interview with the African (but not African American) author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie who wrote Americanah, and another on the Paula Deen racism scandal.

In the first, Adichie relates her experiences learning about what it means to be black in America. She has to be told what’s offensive, and why. The example given is a joke about watermelons. She also comments on how frequently she’s told that she’s refreshingly not-angry for a black person.

The second makes the case that racism is so ingrained in southern culture that most southern racists can’t see that they’re racist at all.

As a society, we’ve been attempting to stop this sort of racism (personal, attitude based — as opposed to structural or institutionalized) by “education”: that is, by telling people that certain words and joke topics are offensive and off-limits.

There’s an easier option. We could simply stop passing on the need to be offended. What if, instead of validating potentially hurtful words by going on rants about past injustices, parents decided to brush off these incidents? “Oh honey, she called you a n*gger? Who knows what that silly word means. Nevermind, call her out for ad hominem attacks next time.” Diffuse, distract, ignore. With time, words lose their ability to hurt anyone. It seems a more efficient solution than trying to convince people that they’re bad, bad, horrible, racist people. Besides, nothing’s so troubling to someone who intends to hurt feelings as a person whose only reaction is a puzzled gaze.

On the other hand, the way we’re doing things now results in too many people with chips on their shoulders. Angry, sensitive people looking to be offended. This difference makes racists feel justified. Vindicated, even: “see? I’m right! Those people are just nasty, angry violent people, so unlike us decent people!” Setting aside special taboos for words, jokes, subjects and phrases just gives them special power. Really, it seems useless to teach our children they have to be upset about certain things.

Feral humans

For the purposes of this entry I will define a feral human* as one who is dependent on government or foreign aid and will be for the entirety or near entirety of its existence. This dependence can be due to either lack of personal or regional development.

I’ve defined it this way because I’d like you to think of feral cat populations. The ASPCA has determined that a strategy called TNR (trap-neuter-return) is the most humane and efficient way to deal with feral cat populations. I think a similar solution can be used on feral human populations. That is, we can make aid dependent on voluntary sterilisation — for the recipient and its children.

Instead, we seem to be pouring billions in aid money a year into populations of feral humans that will never be able to live without it. Even with this aid, most are barely subsisting. Yet, they breed at an alarming rate, just like feral cats. If the goal of all these programs is really to reduce or ameliorate human suffering, I think a my suggested equivalent of TNR would be both more cost-effective and more humane.

*I know there is already a commonly accepted definition which differs from mine, so bear with me.

PS – if you enjoyed this, you might also like A Modest Proposal, which I’m sure was written just as seriously.


There are charities for saving lives (call it type A). Then there are charities (do we call them that, though?) for making lives worth living (type B). There’s a subtle difference. Most people agree that charities for saving lives from things like malaria and malnutrition (A) are more worthwhile than those for supporting the symphony or the arts (B).

I disagree.

When type A initiatives are successful, they result in more lives that need saving from the same problems. This is not an improvement. If we think of charity as an investment in a better world, then type A gives negative returns.

Now, consider type B. I value those more because a thing of beauty is a joy forever.

In fact, B doesn’t even have to be a charity. It can even be an ostentatious display of wealth, like Hearst Castle:

But it’s a better way to spend money because the beauty of the result will bring joy to countless others forever. Just think of what the Medici money did for the Italian Renaissance. Positive return on investment.

This is how I use my infallible logic to argue that consumerism is morally superior to feeding starving orphans. You’re welcome.

Worst place to be gay

This documentary on attitudes and policies towards gays in Uganda came out last year, but I just saw it a few days ago. I noted with interest that in every interview, when people were asked why they wanted homosexuals to be locked up or put to death, they responded with some variant of “because the bible says it’s wrong.”

Here’s the thing: throughout the world, gay people are contributing positively to society. They are parents who never have children by accident, they are (on average in the US) more highly educated and earn larger salaries, they’ve been pioneers in fields from cryptography to play writing. Rather than persecuting homosexuals because the bible says we should*, why not ignore the bible instead? Treat it as another book. Take to heart only the lessons that are worth learning. Give it no more respect or reverence than any other work of fiction.

All of this reminds me of something Steven Weinberg asserts:

Religion is an insult to human dignity. With or without it you’d have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things it takes religion.

* Is there even consensus that it says this?

Avoid TSA inspections

I’ve said it so often it’ll probably be my gravestone quote. I would rather risk the small chance of something horrible happening (dying in a plane crash due to terrorists) than face the absolute certainty of something annoying happening (being inspected/pilfered from by the TSA).

I have a theory about TSA inspectors: if they see anything that might be electronics or related goods, thats good enough to qualify you for a “random” inspection. The TSA has done nothing for me this past decade besides stealing various chargers and cables. The latest? My toothbrush charger. New, it’s $30. On eBay, it’s around $20. That’s what, 2 hours pay for a TSA inspector?

To avoid being inspected, don’t pack anything worthwhile. In particular, keep the following in your carry-ons:

* chargers and cables
* computers
* cameras (especially nice ones)
* other small electronics (Kindle, iPad, DS, etc)
* jewelry

The rest they have no interest in. Even if you did pack Prada stilettos.