Friday, May 29, 2009

On Religious freedom & ridiculous laws

This post is inspired by this bit of news.

Now, for those who do not know me, I am not exactly a religious person, and actually hold at best apathy, and often antipathy towards organized religion. (Some exceptions for those I respect, like Buddhism.) But this is ridiculous. Misuse of land for bible studies? That set of questions could describe dinner for some families! They meet regularly (every night) and give grace (which is prayer and includes 'amen').

While freedom of religion does not give one the right to do anything one wants, it does mean the government doesn't get to interfere with private religious matters that are otherwise lawful. And having a regular group of friends (even if its 15 friends) over is otherwise a legal event, so having some special law make it illegal just because its religious in nature is offensive, in addition to being unconstitutional.

Now, if one of the couple turned out to be a pastor, or pastor-like figure, and some sort of monies were being collected for charities or something like that, then yes, I could see the argument being made that the house was being used as a church, but even then I'm not sure they should need a license.

So currently, I'm rather hoping the couple wins their case easily and quickly.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Evolution and the Stasis 'problem'.

It had come to my attention, in the course of exposure to more creationist/I.D. arguments, that there are some who find the puzzle of Stasis to be an issue unmining the theory of evolution, so I'm going to put my 2 cents in regarding this.

First, a quick cover of the Fact vs Theory argument. As far as biologists are concerned, that evolution has happened, and continues to happen, is fact. (Bacterial evolution is pretty obvious in the now resistant strains that are harder to kill off inside of a human body, as well as recent viral mutations in the swine flu virus). the mechanism behind the fact is considered still theory, with Darwin's theory of Natural Selection being the core, if modified, of modern evolution theory.

Stasis in evolution refers to thos species which have been around a very long time with little if any change in over all appearance and biology. So they haven't done much evolving.

it seems to me the answer is relatively simple, if one remembers that evolution itself (according to natural selection) is simply a by product of survivability. If a species' environment, including available food sources, predators, and competitors, remain consistent pressures thent here is little natural selection going on to force change.

Rnadom mutations may pile up and cause genetic drift, but if no mutation creates a shift in balance such that one variation is superior to the original, then at best that new gene will simply be drawn into the normal gene pool, becoming simply a variation of the species, rather than starting off a new track to follow.

As far as I'm concerned, the fact that some species live in stasis is a logic result of natural selection in an evironment where there is little pressure to force that selection.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Enlightened Self Interest and the Economy

So, a few ideas for the companies out there in dealing with this economy, that will help out every one in the long run. And remember, the flow of money is from the bottom up, all of these ideas reflect that reality.

1) Cut hours, not jobs. This has already been passed around a lot, but it's hard to over emphasize. Aside from avoiding the cost of increased unemployment insurance, this approach also has the benefits of keeping experienced staff around, so you don't have to retrain when you need more work hours again, garnering you good will from both inside and outside of your company, and reduce any drama involving people desperate to keep a job they fear they are loosing.

2) If you are renting a lot of office space, and have work that can be done off-hours, consider reducing your rent by shifting some of your office workers to evening shifts, and having them share computers/spaces with their daytime workers. As a secondary benefit, this also reduces the chances of your offices being targeted for breaking into at night, as there are people around, and recessions/depressions increase crime rates.

3) This one is for larger retail companies, and only the ones still doing well. It's also something I know isn't going to happen, but if we could get enough larger retailers doing this, I think it would help be a significant boost to the economy, especially in the long run. First, a stockholders meeting has to be held, as it effects stock prices, and the CEO convinces said stock holders to aim for a long term strategy, strengthening the company for survival at the cost of lush profits. Making the company lean and competitive.

That's when you start stretching store hours. Usually later rather than earlier, but it can vary. One extra hour a day, find out how it works after a full quarter. As long as there is a net profit in that hour, how ever slim, you keep it. Then you stretch another hour. If done right, your net profits narrow, your gross profits go up, and you help stimulate the economy by increasing total hours of paid work you are providing.

Now, I'm not an economist, but I'm fairly smart, and I understand the concepts fairly well. The more people who are working, the more taxes they are paying, and the more money they are spending. The more money people spend, the more money goes to companies over all, though in a diffused, averaged fashion. Luxuries suffer the most when there is a lack of money of course. The ideas I posted above are aimed at increasing the trend towards people working, and thus spending. None of it is a cure-all for our economy. But it is a small thing to try and make things better, which can have synergistic effects with other stimulation efforts.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Improving the Economy and Society Through Decriminalization

It's an incredibly simple idea really. In one stroke, you reduce income to gangs and other criminal organizations, reduce prison populations of non-violent and often otherwise productive citizens, and reduce costs spent by Lew Enforcement agencies following and prosecuting minor, victimless 'crimes' instead of chasing after more dangerous criminals.

So what to decriminalize? Cannabis is an obvious choice, it's being pushed for already. But honestly, I have to say all but the very most dangerous of the recreational drugs should be decriminalized. This comes from some one who has no intention of partaking in these substances, and who does not smoke, rarely drinks, and always in moderation when I do drink.

There are a multiple reasons behind this. 1) Prohibition doesn't work. History shows us that. 2) the only reason most (not all) drugs are related to violent crime, is because the drugs themselves are illegal. When alcohol was illegal, it was related to gang activity too. Now it's legal, you don't find criminal gangs trying to sell it on the streets. 3) If there is no threat of jail or fines, someone who is addicted is much more likely to seek help once they realize that they have a problem. 4) If some one is determined to self destruct, making a method of it illegal isn't going to stop them.

For the most part, law adjustments will be easy. All intoxicants should follow the same rules as alcohol (age to purchase/imbibe, being drunk in public, etc), and if it's smokable, then it has to also follow all rules for smoking, the same as tobacco. However, a more generalized rule shoudl be added, making 'being intoxicated while [...]' be an additive to any crime, increasing penalties. I believe in responsibility for ones own actions, and that includes making the choice to be intoxicated in the first place. If you tend to get so drunk that you make bad choices, you need to make the decision to not drink. And that same goes with every other mind altering chemical. If you make the choice to take it, you are taking responsibility for every action you do while under the influence.

A small set of drugs (PHP topping the list) are however to dangerous. Taking them even once creates a high risk of violence towards others, or similiar issues, thus making it necessary to keep them illegal. Others are dangerous to make in most settings, such as meth, which would remain illegal to create in a home brew operation, even if it is otherwise legal to take.

Natually, Taxes could now be applied to these intoxicants, much like it's applied to alcohol and tobacco. This increases revenue to the government with out raising general taxes, which is good.

But are drugs the only things that we can decriminalize? Not by a long shot. This next one will get short-sighted feminists, and conservative religious types, equally outraged. Legalize prostitution.

Yes, I understand prostitution usually takes advantage of women in vulnerable positions. No, I wouldn't want any woman I know to become a prositute. Once again I reffer to the issue of prohibition, and to an insight others have had before me: It's legal to have sex, and it's legal to sell stuff including services, but it's illegal to sell sex. How does this possibly make any sense?

Naturally, pimping is kept illegal, as it involves coercion of the prostitutes into doing that job, and not seeking a way out, so depending on circumstances, would include rape, blackmail, theft, and conspiracy to rape (he's working to have others effectively rape her, as she's unwilling, even if they don't know she's being forced, so they don't know they are participating in rape).

Again, LE agencies don't have to spend time and money on vice squads for this issue, which I consider a legitimate if degrading way to earn money for anyone, male or female. And it would involve normal income tax of course, as well as taking away another source of income for gangs.

The third thing is gambling. This is a state by state law in the first place, and people just travel to go do it elsewhere anyway, such as indian reservations. Make it legal, you reduce underground bookies and such, and again, remove income from gangs.

So if all three things are decriminalized and legalized, you increase the revenue of the government, thus reducing national debt, you redirect money to much more important issues, decrease prison populations, and you automatically weaken the power and influence of gangs, both internal and external.

All three of these things are false sins in the first place. Some religions are offended by them for ideological reasons, but we are a free country, not bound by what the Muslims, Christians or other religions want. They can continue to impose their additional restrictions upon their own adherents, and let the rest of us do as we please.

The government, despite the potential for increased revenue, would rather keep these things illegal, because it gives them more excuses to be strong and powerful and intrusive into our lives. By decriminalizing these, we reduce the power of the government over us. This is a good thing.

Monday, May 11, 2009

A step to Fixing the American economy: Start with the legal system

My proposal is simple in some ways, yet with potential wide ranging effects:

Fines Instead of Prison.

All non-violent crimes would move under this category. For most crimes, you simply multiply the estimated financial cost to any victims by a given, large, amount (I prefer by x10 for simplicity), and split that fine, 1/2 to the victim(s) , the other half to the government. Plus an additional fine for the cost of the case. An example:

A criminal robs a convenience store, takes two wallets and a bunch of cash, a window gets broken in the process. He gets caught, charged, tried, found guilty, and sentenced. In addition to the cash and the wallets being returned to the owners, the robber now owes each man 5x the total value of everything in their wallets (cash, gift cards, etc), and the store 5x the amount of cash stolen, plus 5x the cost of replacing the window. If the store's window is covered by insurance, then that amount is owed to the insurance company instead. He also owes the government the total of all that, plus the cost of being tried in court.

Now, the next question that comes to mind, is what if the criminal can not pay? If the criminal has a job, then his wages are garnished and the monies distributed automatically. If the criminal is unemployed, then he is assigned to either an available basic government job that fits his skills, or to a supervised manual labor job, doing jobs such as trash pick up or other duties that need to be done, at the higher of state or federal minimum wage, and his wages are garnished until everything he owes is paid off. He may only quit this job if he finds another job.

And now I'm going to here complaints that this looks like slavery. No, prison is like slavery: You live in a confined cell, get up when you are told, go to bed when you are told, eat when you are told and what is served to you. My proposal is like a grown up version of a punishment parents inflict: "You broke the neighbor's window! You are going to get an after school job and work until you can pay them back!"

That's the easy part. What about crimes that have no direct financial cost? for example, in a robbery (as opposed to a burglary) there is a threat of force involved. That's a crime in and of itself. Well, we currently have prison sentences for these crimes, we replace prison with fines of appropriate amounts.

A threat with a fist might be a fine of $100, while a threat with knife or other weapon might be $1,000, and a threat with a gun would be $10,000. Note, that this is per person. So in the scenario I used before, if the robber was using a gun, the criminal would also owe $20,000 minimum more (if one 0f the wallents belonged to the cashier, and the only customer was the other person whose wallet was stolen.) That's an addition $5000 that each victim would receive, the other half of that $10,000 fine going to the government.

Non-lethal bodily harm would probably start at $1,000, and increment from there. Rape and murder would have to include prison time combined with incredible fines, with release to only come IF the person is ever deemed to no longer be considered a danger to society.

If fined for causing another person's death (including man slaughter, etc, but not for self defense), half the fine would go to the government as usual, the other half would be split amongst all immediate family members (excluding the convict of course, should the situation arise).

Some advantageous side effects would be insurance companies might lower their rates for certain shops and persons, if they know they can recoup and profit off of any costs incurred by criminal activity, prison population would drop dramatically (thus reducing costs), the legal system in general would become a lot less costly, a lot more labor intensive public jobs would get done at minimal cost, and hopefully a lot more.

It is true that the rich would be able to afford to perform crimes a lot more easily, but at the same time, depending on the crime, they may waste a whole lot less of the court's time. "I pleased guilty, and I have my cheque book ready to go. Whom do I make these out to, and for how much each?" Not fair, but their ability to spend massive amounts of money on lawyers to keep themselves out of jail on technicalities isn't fair either. The unfairness in my proposal costs the taxpayers less than the current unfairness, so I consider it the better option.

I am sure there are other objections, and I am even more certain my concept can be refined. But this has the potential to do us a lot of good, and reduce cost instead of increasing it.

Effect on government control on our lives: Neutral, maybe slight reduction. It does not increase government intrusion, but at best, in reduces jail time to "pay your fine and be on your way." Which has the benifit of letting some one who made a mistake but is otherwise in a decent position in life to continue on. Garnished wages are certainly no more, and most likely a lot less, intrusive than time spent in prison.