Sunday, July 20, 2014

My baby discovers number theory

While driving past a row of stores: "Mommy... there must be more people than shops."

Woot! Fields Medal, here we come!

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Police State back on track

Mother arrested for letting daughter play in park

So this woman is working at McDonald's. She can't afford child care, obviously, so she takes her daughter to work. The kid gets bored after a few days, so Mom gives her a cell phone and lets her go to the local park. Someone else at the park is so concerned about the possibility that the child will be snatched by strangers (never mind that the chance of that is lower now than any time in America's history) that she calls the police.

The end result? The police - who are of course strangers to the girl and her mom - take the kid away. Then they arrest the mom.

Once again, we see the police preventing a crime by committing it.

The only danger the child was in was the potential danger of being snatched. The only harm here was a child that might be abducted by strangers. And the state's response is to have the child abducted by strangers.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

America is now officially a Police State

Virgina police have a warrant to photograph a teenage boy's penis

On top of all the other stories - forced enemas, setting fire to toddlers, etc. - comes a story that, in its way, is worse than all of those. This is not just overzealousness; this is officially insane.

The basic story is that a teenage girl sexted her teenage boyfriend some naughty pictures, and he responded in kind. The girl's mother saw his picture and called the police.

The girl is 15 and the boy is 17. Whatever you think about teenagers having sex, the law in this case treats it as a misdemeanor. Calling the police in the first place was an insane act by the mother, which is going to cost her any chance at a relationship with her daughter, but whatever. The cops actually pursuing it is pretty stupid, but whatever.

But it doesn't stop there.

The cops are going for a child pornography charge, apparently under the theory that a law designed to stop sexual exploitation of minors can be used to charge a minor with sexually exploiting himself. The idea that two kids can have physical sex and be charged with a misdemeanor, but if they take pictures of themselves not having sex it's a felony that lands them on the pedophile list for life, is insane. If I stopped the story right now, you'd be like, "That's f*cking insane."

But it doesn't stop there.

In an effort to prove that the boy is the perpetrator, the cops apparently sought and received a warrant to reproduce the photograph as evidence. That's right, they plan to “just take him down to the hospital, give him a shot and then take the pictures that we need.”

So: to enforce a law that protects children from sexual trauma and exploitation for adult ends, the cops intend to sexually traumatize and exploit a child for adult ends.

Mind you, we're not talking about a rape/murder case where they need to prove who the perpetrator is. The only crime greater than a speeding ticket is a picture on a phone. We're not talking about harassment or stalking or assault; the girl is not an innocent victim of a brutish predator. The only sin here is a teenage girl disobeying her mother by her choice of boyfriend.

But even the wildly disproportionate response to the trivial issue is not the problem. That's just par for the course; that ship sailed long ago when SWAT teams started delivering summons. What makes this case so much worse than all the others is the Kafkian absurdity of the police obtaining evidence for a crime by committing the same crime.

How could any sane human being think that forcibly inducing an erection in an underage boy and then forcibly subjecting him to photography by strangers is an appropriate way to protect children from being sexually exploited by adults?

What the hell are the police going to do with the photograph? Show it to the jury as evidence? It's one thing to show a jury a stash of filthy pictures you found, it's something else to manufacture child pornography to show the jury.

Maybe they'll just have their experts examine it and determine if the two match. Can you imagine the defense attorney's cross examination? "Please tell the court, sir, what your professional qualifications are. Just how many hours have you spent looking at underage boy's erect penises?"

Setting fire to toddlers, however horrific, is still just violence out of control. Forcibly searching a person for drugs by administering enemas, however sick, is still just the cops trying to beat the bad guys. But this is another level entirely. This is the not the abandonment of reason, it is the embrace of unreason.

This is not just careless disregard for human life, this is not just viewing people as a means to an end, this is not just using the law without regards to its intent: this is the perversion of the entire concept of criminal justice, making the cops worse criminals than the bad guys. In a world where reporting sexual assault results in you being raped by the police, we are better off without police. Anarchy would be safer than living under the kind of police officers that could utter the above quote without spontaneously combusting out of pure irony.

But this is not madness. This is not simple insanity; the true offense here is obvious. The police offered the boy a chance to plead guilty, and only resorted to this strong-arm tactic when he dared to assert his rights under the law. This is punishment for defiance of state power. This is authority for authority's sake.

This is the Taliban.

UPDATE: Apparently the police have decided not to pursue this opportunity because of the public outcry. So apocalypse is averted - but only temporarily. It's not like any of the police or the judge will lose their jobs. They'll just wait a until next time and hope the press doesn't catch wind of it.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

D&D 5.0

I just downloaded the D&D 5.0 Basic Rules and read through them. I got to this part:

At the end of a long rest (8 hours), a character regains all lost hit points.

Nope. Sorry. I appreciate the various attempts to clean up the system and standardize the mechanics (although what is with that funky XP per level table?), but this here is a deal breaker. I can't tell a story in which no one ever breaks a leg.

Admittedly previous editions were a bit sketchy on the relationship between hit points and injury, but this edition has just flat out erased it. Even if you are reduced to 0 hit points, as long as you are not killed out-right, you will be fully healed in 12 hours (4 hours to heal 1 hit point, and then one long rest to heal the rest).

Nope. Sorry. Can't do it.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Game of Thrones

Just watched this season's finale. The Hound was brilliant, his best scene ever. Martin has made clear why you don't write books in which the main characters die: because when you make it into a movie, you keep killing off the actors just as they hit their stride.

At least we still have Jorah Mormont to kick around. I wasn't that attached to the character in the book, but I am a big fan of Iain Glen ever since his bit part in Downton Abbey. This is another problem with film; a good actor makes his character more likeable than the plot expects. Sean Bean did the same thing with Boromir.

At the end, I was struck by the unhappy revelation that this book series will never be finished. The TV show is burning through the plot; they have maybe one more season and they'll be out of books. Martin will have to devote his time to script treatments to finish out the show. After that, he'll just be too tired of the whole thing to actually write the books.

On the other hand, as much as I like Martin's discursive writing, the show is dramatically and narratively tighter. Maybe they'll hire somebody to write the final books based on the show.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Paul Krugman has a more optimistic view

Well, think about global warming from the point of view of someone who grew up taking Ayn Rand seriously, believing that the untrammeled pursuit of self-interest is always good and that government is always the problem, never the solution. Along come some scientists declaring that unrestricted pursuit of self-interest will destroy the world, and that government intervention is the only answer. It doesn’t matter how market-friendly you make the proposed intervention; this is a direct challenge to the libertarian worldview.
Interests, Ideology And Climate 
In Krugman's view, the only real problem is ideological. I agree. All of my arguments with libertarians have gone the most screwy at precisely the moment when I point out that the looming environmental crisis cannot be managed by the free market.

These are data points that are unassailable: we are heading for disaster, and the only solution is collective action. Libertarians can only respond by ignoring the scientific facts, ignoring the consequences of their own ideology, or by embracing defeatism - essentially, our destruction is inevitable and inescapable.

Think about that. These people would rather see the world burn than admit that their governing philosophy is simply bunk. But that's not as defamatory as it seems, since it basically describes all people ever. It is only now, with the advent of science, that people can separate their personal worth and self-esteem from the factual positions they happen to hold at the moment. And even now, most people simply can't do it.

Because most people have built an edifice on those "facts," an edifice they know is unfair and unjust, and they rightly fear that if they surrender on those "facts" they will have to dismantle their edifice, and at that point they may well be required to account for the injustice they have done (or even merely be subject to someone else's injustice). By most people, of course, I mean the entire Western world which has consumed the lion's share of the Earth's resources for centuries.

An accounting is coming, either at our own hands or at the hands of Nature, in the form of brute reality; and as any biologist will rush to assure you, Nature is not by any definition merciful.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Blogging the end of the world

It starts here: Erza Klein lists seven reasons why it's too late.

1. We waited too long. Self-explanatory.

2. The people most affected don't get to vote. For those of you who read Collapse by Jared Diamond, this is the number one reason societies collapse.

3. We're bad at sacrificing now for the future. As Neil Degrasse Tyson and Thomas Piketty keep pointing out, that is a design feature of capitalism.

4. The effects are not reversible. It's not like if we just stop burning carbon, things will go back to the way they were. These changes are effectively permanent.

5. The Republican party. Self-explanatory.

6. International cooperation is too hard. Here I think he is wrong; if America were leading the way on this, we could actually pull it off. There is a value to having a military roughly equivalent to the rest of the world combined; people listen when you speak. If the USA were of one heart and mind on this, we could make it happen. But see #5.

7. Blind faith in magic doesn't work. But I guess this is really just #5, again.

What am I doing about it? I only had one child, we own a single car, and I will be buying a house at least 10 meters above sea level.