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.

No, you don’t want to be an astronaut

It’s an affliction of boys who don’t know any better. I like to ask people who would be an astronaut whether they like the physical realities of airline travel: being packed a confined volume for hours with inedible food, having to use a bathroom that’s barely big enough to turn around in, trying to sleep so far from the comfort of a real bed. None of them like it.

What about prison? Does anyone like the idea of being in the same cell day after day, stuck with the same people, shitting in a seatless toilet, looking out the same window? If prison is any deterrent, the answer must be “no”. So why on earth does anyone think they would enjoy being stuck on a spacecraft for months at a time?

Somehow, they think it will magically be wonderful to travel in conditions arguably worse than this (excrement vacuums? no hot food?) for months because space is cool!

The mortality rate of space travel is 4%: 200 times higher than the rate of Marines during the Afghan war.

During once such discussion, someone compared his desire for space travel with my plans to visit Paris and asked me why I wanted to go there. Food, architecture, history, people watching, art. Any of that in space? Not quite. I would have no interest in visiting Paris if my trip consisted of landing at CDG, looking through the window for a bit, then flying back. Even if I were allowed off the airplane to walk around on the tarmac and collect dirt samples, my answer would remain “hell no”.

In short, space travel is:
more uncomfortable than air travel
more confined than being incarcerated
more dangerous than being a Marine during our war with Afghanistan
more monotonous than any travel destination on earth

I wouldn’t go to space for any less than a million dollars. A month. For the rest of my life. Payable to my estate in perpetuity in case I ever die.

Convicts for Christ

Tonight, we were out in Waikiki and passed a group of men handing out pamphlets. One was shouting as loud as his voice would permit about JESUS and SIN. I had this conversation with a man who had a cross of red duct tape on his t-shirt:

man: [Something about Jesus. He died for my sins or loves me, or something.]
me: Jesus isn’t real.
man: What do you believe in then?
me: Have you seen the Avengers? I believe in Loki.
man: *snickers* But that’s fiction.
me: You’re telling me my god is fiction? Your god is fiction.
man: Well, is there written record of him?
me: YES! Loki is well documented in Norse mythology and there are writings about him which date back to pre-christian times.
man: …

The conversation went on far longer than this, but the rest was textbook and circular. He had nothing to offer me but Pascal’s Wager (repeated at least 8 times), the 2nd law of thermodynamics, “matter can’t arise from nothing”, “0 does not equal 1”, an appeal to authority, an appeal to large numbers, and something about “look at these wonderful things like love and babies”. Basically, arguments that Richard Dawkins rips to shreds in The God Delusion. I’ll leave you with a quote that I think got him to at least consider why he believes in his particular god and no other.

When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours.

— Stephen F Roberts

Strange diction

I’m not picking on anyone. These are just strange things I’ve noticed that I don’t like much.

Usage: software engineers, when veering off topic at a meeting, will say “let’s continue this conversation offline.”

Why I don’t like it: in what ways are in-person (aka, not actual over-the-internet) meetings “online”? So why is non-meeting time considered “offline”?

Usage: Mormons, speaking of enjoying something, e.g. “I just want to soak up these wonderful times at family home evenings.”

Why I don’t like it: sounds awkward. Soaking is also slang for swindling, right? And it’s what happens when you stand in the rain?

Usage: Parents of small children who don’t want to swear. “That is so stinkin cute.”

Why I don’t like it: it reminds me of parents who freak out if people swear near their precious children, as if they won’t eventually learn bad words anyway. As if exposure will scar them forever. It also lacks creativity in the same way that swearing does. But without the oomph.


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.

all door boarding

just a few days ago sf muni (the public transportation system) began a policy of all-door boarding of busses. i experienced just one unintended consequence of the new policy today. a homeless man boarded the bus without paying and asked people repeatedly “can you spare some change?”

he asked me at one point. so i responded
me: do you believe in god?
him: yes, i believe in god.
me: wrong answer.
him: can you spare some change?
me: not for you.
him: (mumbling) what’s believing in god got to do with me getting some change?

the woman sitting next to him suddenly had a handful of change to give to him, despite denying his request minutes earlier. perhaps she also believes in god. do i get credit for her donation? right after she gave him a handful of coins, he asked her “can i also have a dollar?”

they already get free health care. i don’t get near as good a deal. ironically, it’s because i am employed. someone should write a book about the homeless people of san francisco.  it would read just like that kids’ book If You Give a Mouse a Cookie

the communists are coming

on the bus to work there was a large sticker adorned with the communist sickle-and-hammers. it also said “working class > ruling class”.

i am not generally in favor of defacing property that isn’t mine, but i felt a strong desire to append an error message to it.

“error: working class and ruling class do not implement comparable”