13 October, 2017

Is Driving (to and from work) a Right or a Privilege?

Courts are increasingly indicating their agreement with the view that suspending driver's licenses for certain offenders is unconstitutional and a violation of individual civil rights. This is especially so when it is held that licenses of indigent traffic offenders are lifted for failure to pay cascading fines and fees without benefit of some sort of means testing or harm reduction being considered.


I propose (modestly) a solution:

While I maintain that automobile ownership and use is actually a privilege as opposed to a God-given (or state-given) immutable right, it is clear that in many parts of the U.S., the ability to drive, or more to the point, access to private point-to-point personal transportation is essentially a necessity. Removing that access is a draconian measure and may perpetuate a cycle of poverty and law-breaking.

So how about this very simple solution? Local governments/municipalities establish and subsidize ride-share programs that get those that have lost their licenses to and from work, grocery stores, churches, the doctors, the library, etc. If you drive your own car for these purposes, it costs you something in terms of gas, insurance, maintenance, etc., so it would be only fair and reasonable for program participants to contribute those amounts towards their share of the project. The subsidies I mentioned would cover the shortfalls.

Participants might rely on Uber (a boost to Uber drivers), or ride-share in personal cars driven by others. It might be possible and even desirable if some program participants act as drivers, their license suspensions lifted in exchange for performing this task.

As a condition of program participation, a payment plan would be set for the fines and other fees that are currently blocking individuals from reinstating their licenses.

So how does that sound?

03 August, 2017

Is Corporate Diversity Real or is it a Game?

Yet again, "diversity" is being viewed as some extrinsic quality that by simple inspection can be identified, categorized, quantized, and classified. "Let's see, we need so many blacks, a few white males, some gays, as many increasingly au courant transgenders (male and female, pre- and post-transition) as we can find. Cross-dressers are always handy for immediate impact in the annual report... And then season with some women and those spicy Latinos. There, perfect." 

This form of diversity, if looked at objectively, might just as easily be deemed racism. True diversity is based on what the constituents of a company's workforce bring to the table based on: life experience, culture, education, ways of thinking, etc. It is definitely not, "Get me some Jewish guys because they'll be really good at contracts, and then some Asians because, you know, they're all great with numbers."

This goes back to the classic "nature versus nurture" debate: some of the dimensions of diversity may be "baked in" and carried by some ethnic or other affinity/identity group, but to totally rely on this to achieve an important goal is simplistic, overly reductive, and prone to failure. Perhaps worst of all there is a high likelihood of its either being perceived as or actually being a cynical ploy to keep government and activists off your back.

If diversity is important enough to do, it's important enough to do for real.


01 August, 2017

Why is the "Developing World" Still in Very Dire Need of Development?

Executive Summary: If you give a bunch of poor people a bunch of money and do nothing else for them, in the short term you'll have a bunch of poor people with money. In the long term, you'll again have a bunch of poor people. This is the state of things in Latin America, pockets of the United States, the middle east, and much of the continent of Africa (I feel the need to stress that Africa is indeed a continent, as many people, especially in the U.S., seem to view it as a monolithic country).

An article appeared today on Quartz (https://qz.com/1024546/stop-blaming-poor-countries-poverty-on-corruption-sometimes-its-just-bad-luck/) titled, "Stop blaming poor countries’ poverty on corruption—sometimes it’s just bad luck."

If we accept the hard luck thesis, it doesn't leave us much in the way of constructive ideas as to how to be of assistance in improving the lives of people in these benighted precincts. After all, how does one change luck for the better? If life is nothing more than a succession of (fair) coin flips, is there anything within the laws of physics that can guarantee nothing but heads coming up?

Having the temerity to observe that because, largely due to human nature (which can be pretty darned inhuman), oligarchy, corruption, theft, graft, "kleptocracy," and "the resource curse,"a lot of people in the world are stuck in poverty is not the same as shaming the poor and oppressed as being morally flawed. But demographic, social, and societal problems have taken generations to take root and result in the status quo that we see. Fixing problems of economics, education, health & welfare, and lack of opportunity for upward movement are not reasonably going to be amenable to an overnight fix. Bill and Melinda Gates, as a case in point, have done admirable and compassionate work to improve availability of drinking water in parts of Africa. Despite the dollars invested in easing this problem, the efforts still appear to stall when they confront the issue of sustainability. So, for example, a village water pump stops working because no one in the village understands how to replace a fan belt and the village is back to women carrying jugs of water on their heads.

A lot of well-intentioned people in the west seem to view large swathes of the population of Africa the way marine biologists view dolphins: "They're super smart and industrious and the only reason they never invented the radio is because they live in water which would short everything out."

30 July, 2017

Why it's a bad idea to eat late in the evening. A prescient message for @ulalaunch @torybruno @SpaceX and @blueorigin ? A story of angst and foreign object damage? I had a vivid dream last night. A dream so strange it positively screams out to be documented. It has quite possibly changed my entire outlook on life and the nature of reality: 

My boss (whoever that was,
I never saw him – only heard his voice)) showed up at the house, urgently waking me to tell me I needed to get to a very important meeting. It was at the factory of a rocket engine manufacturer that had some sort of technical problem causing their engines to fail and blow up. I quickly threw on a blue seersucker suit (just like the one younger my brother wore to our nephew's wedding in Nashville last October). The boss approved of the choice and left to go on his own to the meeting.

I had a little lamp at bedside but was unable to turn it off. It had about six switches, but none of them seemed to do anything, individually or in combination, other than make it brighter. Finally, I just unplugged it. It was at this point that I noticed a small hole in the left leg of my suit pants
a few inches above the knee. It didn't seem to be a tear, but rather a circular hole due to wear, I’d guessed. I decided to keep the suit on since time was growing short and I needed to get going for the big meeting.

I walked into the bathroom to brush my teeth. Floating in the toilet was a capsule-shaped pill that was red and brightly striped
in a spiral. The colors were like a rainbow. It was gigantic for a pill one would be expected to swallow, at least 3 inches in length and maybe three-quarters of an inch in diameter. Next to it was a gray feather. Seeing that pill floating in the toilet invoked a feeling of deep existential dread in me for an unknown reason. I felt sick. I knew it was my wife's, but what was it for and why had she thrown it away? Did she leave it there intentionally for me to see? Just then, the wife (whom I had never seen before, though this didn't strike me as at all remarkable) entered the bathroom. She had what seemed to be reddish shoe polish on her face where a man might have a mustache and beard. It looked a bit like Kirk Douglas’s beard in ‘Lust For Life.’ "This marks the facial hair I'm going to remove; don't worry, this will all just come right off," she told me.

Next I know, I'm in a vehicle driven by
a good friend and former co-worker, Glenn. I say ‘vehicle’ because I'm not sure if it was a car, a van, or a truck. I'm not sitting but rather stretched out horizontally on my back with my feet at the back. We're on our way to the meeting at the rocket company. "Hey, I forgot my shoes," I tell Glenn. I'm hoping he'll turn back at the one opportunity to make a quick turn back. Instead, he passes it and presses on. We both know that there's no time to go back to get my shoes, especially now that we're on a road with no options for turning around. I'm thinking that my boss (and possibly my wife) are already en-route and maybe ten minutes ahead of us.

Glenn pulls into a MacDonald's drive-through and asks if there's a shoe store nearby. The kid in the window (who has the same croaky, breaking voice as the teenager in 'The Simpsons') tells us there is, just around the corner behind the MacDonald's, but
that he doesn't know how to get there. "You have to go through the junkyard," he says. Glenn and I both realize that neither the junkyard nor the shoe store will be open at this early hour. We also feel the pressure of time.

We pull out onto the street where we pass a couple of bums
(And I say ‘bums’ because they look like hobos from the 1930’s, carrying belongings in bindles on the end of sticks hoisted over their shoulders. They both wear fingerless gloves, the utility of which I’ve never quite figured out.). I ask if they have any shoes they'd sell me. On of them offers up several pairs, but they're all obviously too small. This prompts me to tell them that the size I need is ten and a half (which is untrue since I’m a size eleven and a half). The other bum removes his own beat up pair in that size, but I tell Glenn, "It's no good. They're brown. They won't go with this suit. So we drive on until we stop outside a Subway store. Glenn runs in and quickly returns with two foot-long sandwiches; tuna, I think. Clearly, his intent is for me to somehow clamp them to my feet. I try, but there's no way to make it work.

Now we're in the lobby of the rocket engine plant. I'm barefoot and stressing out over this. On the wall is a chart with the specifications of all their products
arranged from smallest to largest. The thrust of each is listed in Newtons, and I'm trying to convert them to pounds. I have no feel for what a Newton is. Our hosts arrive. Looking down at my bare feet, the chief engineer says, "I get it! I get what you're trying to tell us! The problem we're having is contamination and we can solve it by having all of our employees remove their shoes before entering the production floor. Thank you!"