Dear Donald

Dear Donald Trump,

Congratulations on winning the election! It must be such a relief. Now that it’s over you don’t have to pretend you’re pro-life or religious or that you give a damn about building a wall at the Mexican border.

Maybe you can get the religious Republicans who voted for you to be pro-choice too! Here’s how. You tell them that when abortions are illegal, more unwanted children get born. And unwanted children end up being costly to the taxpayer. Most of the time, their parents can’t afford them. They’re a burden on welfare, food stamps, the school system. Then by the time they’re old enough to be productive members of society, they’re more likely than wanted children to be committing crimes instead. That means they’re costing the taxpayer in cop salaries, court time, prison accommodations. None of your base likes to pay for welfare, food stamps, schools, public housing or prison. All of that is costlier than just offering free and widely available contraception / abortion services.

It goes against their morality? Well, you tell them that these folks don’t live by the same set of moral standards they do anyway. Why would they want their tax dollars to go towards services for these people to continue reproducing? Why fund their immorality?

Speaking of religious convictions, you’re secretly an atheist, aren’t you? Oh, all right. You’re not. I’ve known people like you. You don’t even think about all of that spiritual, metaphysical mumbo-jumbo. Waste of your time. Maybe that’s something you can spread to your voter base too! Here’s how. Show them all your glorious business winnings. Your apartment in NYC, your piles of money, your illustrious orange.. err.. I mean… golden hotels soaring skyward. You’re a winner. Everyone wants to be a winner like you. They want to be just like you and guess what? You’re too smart to believe in god. You have better things to do. You got this far without a god — maybe they could get where they want to go too if they’d ditch that dead weight. What a waste of time, religion. Right?

Because once you’ve gotten them to let go of their Christian god, you know what? You can be their god. I’ll say it again. You, dear Donald, can be their GOD. It’s one thing to be a winner. That’s cool and that’s great, but lots of people are winners. How many people are gods? Just think of the glory. You’ll be the bigliest, winningest winner of them all.

Oh, but if you’re they’re god then you have to take care of them. They’re like your little children. And I know you love children, you have so many and they’re great. I heard that you liked some parts of Obamacare: that’s a great start! Also, did you know that the United States government currently pays 2nd most per capita in the entire world for health care? That’s not including what companies pay for their employees or out of pocket costs for individuals. Just government spending. That’s a terrible deal. We are getting a terrible deal on health care. It’s because we aren’t bargaining with drug manufacturers, care providers, hospitals. But when you’re the god of all your voters and you want to take care of them and make sure they’re in good health, you can change all that. You can do all the negotiating and make sure our government doesn’t get ripped off. You’ll make the best deal. We’ll get health care like Sweden has for a fraction of the cost. Everyone will have health care. I have faith in you.

Okay, that’s enough talking, you’ve done a good job reading all this. Have you a nice Big Mac now. And remember: you’re gonna be these people’s god. You have to take care of them.

In defense of harsher sentencing for crack

(versus powder cocaine)

It isn’t the least bit about race. Crack cocaine dealers have the same access to information about mandatory minimum sentences as anyone else, and if they choose to pursue a life of drug dealing, they can just as well switch to dealing powder cocaine. If a disproportionate number of blacks happen to continue choosing to deal one over the other, we’ll have to conclude either ignorance or stupidity.

Here’s why longer sentences for crack dealers is good: they deal in public. On street corners. Probably on the corner of a street where I used to live. One day I actually exited my building to see a body — someone who had been shot in the head on the (suspected) drug corner. That could’ve been anyone. In fact, it’s much more likely to be someone completely uninvolved because it’s in public.

I don’t really care if a drug dealer is going to someone’s upper east side apartment to deliver powder cocaine. Or their high rise office building. That’s a private transaction that has no bearing on me, and even if that drug user loses his job, his children probably won’t be the state’s problem. He’s probably not going to rob anyone. All that will happen is that he’ll get to go to an expensive rehab a few times. Not the same as when a highly addictive drug is popular among the poor: that increases everyone’s problems — the taxpayer (in the form of welfare, emergency room fees for the uninsured, food stamps, extra policing), the neighbor (armed robbery, burglaries), and even the random person walking in the street (muggings, gun violence/turf wars).

Mostly, I’m just tired of hearing this differential in sentencing trotted out as an example of racism in the legal system. Even if we ignore every point I just made, it still remains true that there was significant support from black leadership to enact these stricter sentencing laws.

Chik-fil-A

The recent hullabaloo embroiling Chik-fil-A and its president, Dan Cathy, has been interesting to watch. One point that seems confused in the press and in common discussions is whether the boycott and letters from various pro-gay-rights city leaders are about the personal beliefs of a corporation’s president. This is a misconception. The problem is that over $2 million in Chik-fil-A profits have been donated to anti-gay groups.

Now legal experts are chiming in about Cathy’s constitutional rights. I must have overlooked the constitutional right to build restaurants wherever one pleases. I’ve seen businesses banned from neighborhoods, and even cities for reasons like “it’s a chain” or “it serves unhealthy fast food” or “it would divert profits from existing businesses.” Certainly “its profits fund hate groups” is as valid a reason. Those donations have the potential to affect policy and to be at least as damaging to a community as other businesses that are blocked from moving in.

More generally, this is my problem with the “you’re not so tolerant of views different from yours” standpoint. It doesn’t matter to me that someone thinks my views are wrong. I am perfectly tolerant of their beliefs, and fully support their right to hold them and to live their lives in accordance to them. What I strongly disagree with is any attempt to encode these beliefs into laws which affect those who may not share the same beliefs. When “I believe X is morally wrong” implies “I will put money towards making X illegal” I think we can fairly call that intolerance. Can’t we agree that no one should stand for this kind of intolerance?

Is anything necessary?

(In response to the NYT article “Is Algebra Necessary“)

I am disturbed by how frequently I see opinion pieces advocating that we teach different “useful” math in school, or teach less math, or just not make math a requirement at all. I want to figure out the objection to having math requirements.

1. It is not useful

But a definitive analysis by the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce forecasts that in the decade ahead a mere 5 percent of entry-level workers will need to be proficient in algebra or above.

Do they also have an analysis about what percent of entry-level workers will need to know who won which battle in the Civil War? Or how many will need to know how to play volleyball or run a mile? How about the percent that need to know the plot of Of Mice and Men? Ah, that’s right. Probably nothing learned in high school is exactly useful.

2. It is hard
The argument is that many drop out of high school and college because* they have difficulty fulfilling math requirements. So, the answer is to either get rid of such requirements, or replace the difficult math requirements with “useful” math. But the reason we require algebra isn’t to ensure that the workforce knows the quadratic equation. While knowing algebra doesn’t necessarily prove that a person is capable of abstract, logical thought, a complete inability to do algebra probably screens out people who do not belong in college. Why not find out sooner than later that you are not college material? It is hard, but that’s why we require it.

3. Teach something else
There’s a suggestion about teaching an alternative, easier math called “citizen statistics.” This more practical math would be easier and more generally useful. Trouble is, the one example given, “teach students how the Consumer Price Index is computed” involves algebra. In general, it is not clear whether other math courses would actually be easier for students and also confer the same filtering benefits mentioned in 2.

This continual questioning of whether we should teach math and have math requirements in higher education is a result of our society’s allergy to math. What needs to change is the attitude that “I’m really bad at math” is an acceptable quirk for a well-educated person. We need to be as ashamed to announce that as we would be to say “I am barely literate.”

* It is not clear that this is a causal relationship

panhandling

this morning, on my way to work, a clinically obese (and then some!) woman had the audacity to beg me for money: “please help me buy some food.”

outrageous. i wanted to shout at her: “you’re fatter than me. you should be buying food for me.

before you lecture me about unhealthy food being cheapest, that’s a myth based on calculations of calories per dollar. more meaningful calculations such as cost per serving or cost per pound show healthy foods like fresh fruits and vegetables are much cheaper. they’re probably more filling per calorie as well.

i have a hard time feeling sorry for anyone that makes a completely tax-free living sitting in the streets all day doing nothing. perhaps the government could make itself useful and/or profitable by rounding up homeless people and putting them in forced labor camps. humane ones that provide room and board in exchange for labor, of course. it would at least rid us of the bane of panhandling. as a bonus, we might even make a dent on that massive national debt.

No apology necessary

http://widget.newsinc.com/single.html?WID=2&VID=23629653&freewheel=69016&sitesection=breitbartprivate

After appearing on a show and saying “I don’t necessarily want to have a retard baby”, Margaret Cho issued an apology on her blog. I’m not sure why she did this, but my question to everyone is, who wants to have an impaired child? She is not saying there is anything wrong with retard babies, but even the most ardent lovers of retard babies will admit that they are more work than neuro-typical babies. What’s the problem here?

This isn’t any better or worse than saying “I don’t want steak for dinner tonight.” It’s not a judgement on people who eat steak or on steak itself. It’s a personal preference.

I don’t want retard babies either. To me, that’s the best use case for abortion. Others may disagree and choose to keep their impaired babies. Some women even choose to carry anencehpalic children to full term. Good for them. I’m actually glad that religious people tend to choose this course of action because it means there are fewer religious people (capable of reproducing) than there otherwise would be.

This isn’t to say that I would personally abort an anencephalic fetus. That would depend on whether I would be allowed to keep its corpse in a jar of formaldehyde. I think it’d be a great filter for whether or not I would get along with a new acquaintance — what she thinks of my baby.

Kansas and contraception

This is the conundrum with attempting to protect religious freedom. Pharmacists in Kansas may now refuse to fill prescriptions that they believe may lead to an abortion. “Belief” is important here. They can refuse to sell Plan B and not worry about losing their jobs even though Plan B doesn’t actually cause abortions.

The most important aspect of freedom of religion is that no one, not even the government, has the power to interfere with the religious beliefs and practices of anyone else. This is why atheists are upset. Whose beliefs are more important? Why should the beliefs of pharmacists and doctors trump the beliefs (or lack thereof) of their clients? Especially in a case like this, when the outcome probably has a much more profound impact on the life of the client?

A pharmacist should not be able to force his* religious beliefs on his clients. Think of any other profession. A waitress, for example. Let’s say an Orthodox Jewish waitress gets a job at Red Lobster then wants to refuse to serve diners who order items that aren’t kosher. Would the government ever pass a law to protect her job if she chose to do that? No, because it’s part of her job. A necessary part of her job that she knew about when she applied to work for Red Lobster.

It is just as absurd to allow pharmacists and doctors to refuse to perform necessary duties of their jobs due to religious beliefs when they knew all along that those duties would be required of them.

But there’s some good news! Plan B is apparently available for purchase online, and Amazon ships to Kansas. Better stock up. You’re welcome, much beleaguered women of Kansas:

* As always, gendered pronouns for notational convenience only.

Problems with “after-birth abortion” argument

A recent paper entitled After-birth abortion: why should the baby live? has caused quite a stir amongst the religious because it purportedly shows that abortion is morally equivalent to infanticide. Their argument is no more than an argument of the form “If you think abortion is morally acceptable for reason X, then you also think infanticide is acceptable.”

This begs the question “what is reason X?” In their paper, reason X is “because a fetus not a person.” It is very important to note that even if their logical argument is flawless, it only applies to people who support abortion rights for this one very specific reason: that a fetus is not a person (as defined below). They have not shown that anyone actually supports abortion rights for reason X or that any existing laws are based even in part on reason X. That is, they have not shown that the “if” statement actually applies to anyone.

This point is important enough to re-iterate: their conclusion does not hold in general. It only holds for those who support abortion rights specifically because of reason X.

Their argument

(1) A person is “an individual who is capable of attributing to her own existence some basic value such that being deprived of this existence represents a loss to her.”

(2) Neither fetuses nor newborns are capable of attributing value to their existence.

(3) Therefore, neither fetuses nor newborns are persons.

(4) Therefore, fetuses and newborns have the same moral standing.

Can you see the flaw?

Even if we accept (1) (2) and (3), (4) does not immediately follow. To see why, I will use a glaringly obvious and simple-minded analogy, following their line of reasoning.

(1) A cat is a creature that says “meow.”

(2) Neither horses nor dogs say “meow.”

(3) Therefore, neither horses nor dogs are cats.

(4) Therefore, horses and dogs are equivalent.

Sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it?  Even if you grant me the first three, (4) still doesn’t follow. Just because horses and dogs are both not cats doesn’t mean they’re the same animal!

In order for (4) to be a logically valid conclusion in their case, they need a further claim — that personhood is the only relevant factor in determining moral equivalence classes. Otherwise, while fetuses and infants may both be non-persons, they have not been shown to be equivalent to each other. In order to show this, the authors must show that all other differences between fetuses and infants have no bearing on their moral standing. One particularly glaring omission is that the authors have conveniently ignored the fact that fetuses take residence inside the body of another human while infants do not. If this fact is irrelevant to the moral status of fetuses as compared to that of infants, an argument must be made to explain why. Since the authors have neither made nor proven this crucial claim, they cannot logically conclude (4).

Their claim that supporting abortion is the same as supporting infanticide has not been shown as a valid, even within their narrow framework and using their non-standard definition of personhood. I hope this analysis was of use to someone. Please feel free to share this with anyone attempting to equate abortion and infanticide, or with anyone experiencing doubt about their pro-choice stance due to Minerva and Giubilini’s paper.

Yoshihiro Hattori and Trayvon Martin

I recently read about the case of Yoshihiro Hattori, another shooting death of an unarmed teenager by someone (Rodney Peairs) who claimed self-defense. The Hattori case is like the Martin case, but with far more evidence that the shooter behaved with reckless disregard towards human life. There was also far less potential for riots and civil unrest. Peairs was subsequently acquitted. I honestly don’t believe either killing was racially motivated, but it will be interesting to see the differences in how the cases are resolved. It will show whether facts or political pressure play a bigger role in how our justice system works. Note: the two states in question (LA and FL) have similar self-defense laws, but FL grants even more protection to those claiming it. Here’s a side-by-side comparison of their cases:

What they looked like

Hattori: a 130 lb Japanese teen in a white suit
Martin: a 6′ tall, 160 lb black teen in a dark sweatshirt and dark pants

Why the shooter found them suspicious

Hattori: was a stranger who rang the doorbell on Halloween, prompting the shooter’s wife to panic and tell her husband, “Rodney, get your gun.”
Martin: was an unfamiliar person in a neighborhood recently plagued with burglaries

What they were doing when the confrontation began

Hattori: walking away from the house after no one answered the door
Martin: contested. No eyewitness testimony.

What they were allegedly doing when they were shot

Hattori: laughing, telling Peairs “we are here for the party,” and having an “extremely unusual manner of moving”
Martin: slamming Zimmerman’s head into the concrete and/or punching him in the face

Witnesses?

Hattori: his homestay brother witnessed everything up close, and his testimony agreed with that of Peairs.
Martin: no witnesses to the beginning of the physical altercation nor the moment of the shooting. Existing witnesses corroborate Zimmerman’s version of events (according to police).

Other options for the shooters?

Hattori: Peairs could have remained inside the house, called the cops and continued to observe from the window. He could have shot to wound, rather than kill. These options would not have been less safe than the one he chose.
Martin: contested. Dependent on who confronted whom. No eyewitness testimony.

My conclusion

If Rodney Peairs was acquitted after shooting an unarmed teenager for walking towards him in an “extremely unusual manner,” then George Zimmerman shouldn’t be convicted of any crime based on the facts in his case. If there was reasonable doubt that Peairs committed a crime, there is even more doubt that Zimmerman committed one. I keep hearing the inflammatory and false statement “Trayvon was killed for the crime of walking while black.” Here I’ve found a case where someone was actually killed for walking while Japanese — what, did he move like Samara in The Ring? But even that didn’t get his killer convicted. The Japanese have no equivalent of the Black Panthers, nor do they have a Jesse Jackson or an Al Sharpton. There was puzzlement and petition-signing after the acquittal, but no riots. If Zimmerman is convicted, that will be a pretty strong indication that political pressure is more important than evidence, and that is hardly justice.

Though state attorney Angela Corey claims “We do not prosecute by public pressure or by petition,” the fact that the state attorney’s office and the police chief originally declined to even arrest Zimmerman based on lack of probable cause shows otherwise. Harvard Law professor Alan Dershowitz claims that Corey’s decision to charge Zimmerman with second degree murder is “irresponsible and unethical” — probably a political move to get re-elected. This is worse than just a senseless death. It’s people capitalizing on a senseless death to further their racial agendas, to get re-elected, and to get on their soap-boxes about gun control and self-defense laws. Furthermore, they demand a senseless trial to senselessly waste tax dollars on something likely to result in the exact state of affairs before the media made this case their pet: George Zimmerman walking free and protesters flooding the streets.