Monday, January 21, 2013

Gun Control

Unless you have been living under a rock for the past 250 years, you know that gun control is a big issue in the United States.  This issue has become ever more contentious recently, since the concept of children being put in harm's way has arisen.  As many of you know, I am fiercely independent when it come to politics, and rarely weigh in on such political measures for one side or the other.  Keeping with that tradition, I would like to propose an interesting idea I had, which I believe might solve our conundrum.

First, let me briefly paraphrase the concerns of each side of this issue.  One one side, chiefly liberals, want more gun restrictions in order to reduce gun violence.  From their point of view, the equation is simple, the easier it is to get guns (and specifically high powered guns with large magazines, or hand guns which are easily concealed), the more frequent gun violence will be.  On the other side, chiefly conservatives, believe that guns are a pivotal part of our culture stretching back to the founding of our country.  They like to point out that the vast majority of gun owners use them fully within the extents of the law, and that owning a gun is a good means of defense against criminals.

As usual, I believe both sides have some good points, and some bad ones.  Also as usual, I don't believe that the solution is somewhere in the middle, a moderation of both side's ideas; but is somewhere off to the side, a solution that is outside the box, and neither side has looked at.  One thing that rarely comes up in these debates is the actual 2nd amendment.  Many people like to refer to the 2nd amendment as, "The right to bear arms". However, that is not the full text.  The full text is as follows;

"A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed"

Why is it that nobody talks about a well regulated militia anymore?  The founding fathers did not have hunters, or gun enthusiasts in mind when writing the 2nd amendment to the Constitution; they were thinking about King George, who wanted to take their guns away so they could not revolt.  The 2nd amendment is not for sportsmen, or for security against home invasion; it is about making sure the government has reason to be afraid of its people.

Now the first response I usually get when bringing this up is how, in this day and age, the militia is for all intents and purposes, defunct.  What militias we have are groups of  back water gun enthusiasts, who could never hope to take on the US military in any significant way.   Furthermore, no citizen militia, no matter how large or organized, could ever hope to take on the US military.  Essentially, that the original purpose of the 2nd amendment no longer applies, and that it should either be eliminated, or quietly devolved to sportsmanship and personal security.

Of course, I disagree; and here is my solution to our gun "problem".  I would restrict the types of guns that individuals can own, to the types of guns used legally in hunting or for personal defense. Such restrictions could easily ban assault rifles, large capacity magazines, armor piercing bullets, and even hand guns. Basically all the things democrats would like to get rid of altogether.  However, on the other side, I would like to set up a system for official regulation of militias.  Militias would be afforded the right to own and use more high powered weapons, depending on their size and structure.  Small militias would be allowed to have assault rifles, medium militias allowed high capacity magazines and automatic weapons, large militias allowed to have artillery or military vehicles.  The weapons accessible would far exceed what is currently available to individuals.  Members of militias would all be corporately responsible for the safety, legal use, and care of the weapons at their disposal.

Now I'm sure this concept will raise a few eyebrows, but hear me out.  Think about all the ways guns are used inappropriately right now.  Lone suicidal men committing mass shootings in schools or public places, gang violence, crimes of passion, or just people who are simply not mentally healthy.  None of these people would have access to these types of guns from a well regulated militia.  What regulating militias does is keeps track of these guns, and holds people responsible for keeping them safe. If a militia made up of 100 people owns a few dozen automatic assault rifles, those people are financial and legally on the hook for what happens with those guns.  You had better believe that they will take significant measures to assure that one lone person cannot access the guns, and do something drastic with them.

Now there are still people who are saying, "Why? These militias still could not hope to fend off the Marines!"  I somewhat disagree.  If ever our nation was cast down into a civil war, and specifically one where primarily the people were fighting its government, the "military" would not be united.  Undoubtedly many of our soldiers would cast off their official orders and defect to side with the civilian population, bringing their advanced weapons and training with them.  We also need to keep in mind that in this type of war, the government could not freely use large scale weapons such as fighter jets, bombs, or heavy artillery against the civilian population.  Both the international community, and the government's interest is preserving its own resources would prevent it from doing so.  If this type of war ever did happen, it would look much like the war in Syria does now.  It would be primarily fought street by street with AK-47s.

So that is the jist of my idea.  Obviously the issue is more complicate than this, and my idea would have to be fleshed out quite a bit.  There is also the incriminating fact that I am not a gun or legal expert.  But, I just wanted to throw the idea out there.  What am I missing?  What angle haven't I thought of?  Your comments and criticism would be very welcome.

Monday, July 28, 2008

The Trade Algorithm

It seems that recently (regardless of when recently is) there is a lot of international hoopla about some evil government hurting it's people, or building a weapon, or otherwise shaking the boat; and then the U.S. or the U.N tries to pass sanctions (usually vetoed by Russia or China), or threaten military intervention if said country persists. But then again, this only happens to countries in the current political spotlight. Nevermind the horrible governments in Africa or South America, keep your eye on Iran and Korea.

Doesn't it seem like these sorts of threats and incentives are a little primitive for the international stage at this day and age? Well here is an idea I had a little while ago. But mind you, it is extremely experimental, and I'm not absolutely sure it would work. But then again, the system we have right now isn't working, so what have we got to lose? Here it is.

We should create an algorithm for international trade taxes and tariffs, to continuously and consistently give incentives for countries to act morally. And if they don't act morally, we hit them where it hurts, their wallet. So here is how it would work. Every country is basically given a rating which decides how much taxes and tariffs are going to be levied on their imports to our country, and our exports to their country. This rating would have several scores factored into it such as arms proliferation, political freedom, environmentalism, working standards, minority rights and many more. These ratings would be professionally updated continuously by teams of international inspectors. We would no longer have to pass sanctions in the U.N.. As soon as a country did something bad, every country that really cared about that issue would already have it's financial relationship with that country automatically strained by the algorithm. When a country fixes a problem it had, they are automatically rewarded financially by every country that cared about that issue.

Let me give you an example, the fictitious country of Latovia. If we have a ten point scale Latovia gets 8.5 for political freedom, 9.2 for working standards, 4.1 for environmentalism, 7.8 for fair trade and 8.2 for minority rights. Now our algorithm is not going to be a straight multiplier (8.5 + 9.2 + 4.1 + 7.8 + 8.2) / 5 = 7.6 (pretty good, so they'll get about average taxes), more likely in todays political climate would would have more emphasis on environmentalism and political freedom. So it might looks like ((1.2 x 8.5) + (0.7 x 9.2) + (1.3 x 4.1) + (0.8 x 7.8) + (1.0 x 8.2)) / 5 = 7.3 where Latovia get dinged for it's poor environmental stance but somewhat makes up for it in political freedom. Make sense so far? I understand if it doesn't.

But you might be asking who gets to decide how these ratings and ratios are set up? Why does environmentalism get more emphasis than arms proliferation? Who does the actual rating? well, I would say that each country should set up it's own system that relates to what its people care about. Here in the U.S., I think Congress should vote on the ratios every year so that what our government thinks is an immediate issue will have more weight for the short term. Changing the actual categories should be voted on by Congress and then signed by the President. This might also give us a better idea of what specific politicians really care about, because there will be hard numbers of what they voted for.

I think the expert inspectors should be hired by the international community, and there should be several teams rating each category, having their numbers averaged to reduce personal bias. Even countries such as Iran and Korea will want to allow the inspectors full access to their facilities, because refusing access will dangerously reduce their score in the given area. If a country does not allow inspectors in, they will be in a sense putting sanctions on themselves.

Hopefully the widely dispersed nature of this program will make corruption extremely difficult. It would also continuously hold countries accountable for their actions, and promote political and economic progress for all countries. It will be hard for a dictator to stay in power, when everyone around him knows they are poor directly because of his actions. If done well, this system could also be applied to corporations, encouraging them financially to use good business practices.

If you see any holes in my theory, please let me know.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Why "they" hate us

I recently read an article called, "Why 'they' hate us" that was written by a Pakistani American who has lived about half of his life in each country. The crux of his article was that the reason a majority of the rest of the world hates Americans is because of, what is to us, obscure foreign policy decisions which have greatly affected their lives, but which most Americans have never heard about. He said that America was like Gulliver, harming lilliputians with every unintentional move. Personally, I think he is exactly right.

When I was in Bosnia a few years ago, the local students were telling us about a hot topic there, their relationship to America. Everyone was frustrated with America for two reasons. First, we were redeploying our troops stationed there, to the Middle East (they actually wanted our troops to stay there long term). And second, the Eastern European block countries were pressured into signing a piece of legislation which said that if an American committed a felony in their country, they should be extradited to the United States to be prosecuted. The legislation did not have a mirrored part bringing Europeans home in the case that they have committed a crime in America. One might understand how frustrating it would be if an American murdered someone you love, and was sent to the United States to be prosecuted, where they would presumably have a much easier time getting off. I had never heard of either of these two happenings, and I have never heard anyone in America talk about them, which leads me to think that the Pakistani was right.

I think this generation desperately needs to reclaim America's image. We, as a nation, have already achieved military dominance and prosperity on a scale that has never even been dreamed of by any empire in all history. What should we do now? Seek more power and wealth? Down that path lies the end of every empire in history; self indulgence, laxity, and stretching ourselves too thin (think RISK). I think we should turn our efforts to humanitarianism, and helping poor economies get back on their feet, and technology which will benefit everyone. If we do that, we'll have done something no empire in history has ever done, sought to help it's neighbors instead of conquer them. And maybe then they will not all gang up on us in a moment of weakness. Like the wise Sean Connery said in First Knight, "God makes us strong only for a little while, so we can help each other." Here's a few ideas about how I think we can so that.

I think rather than just giving out large amounts of money and food in crisis areas (such as Darfur now), we need to have teams of experts assessing what a poor country needs in the long run, and act on those needs to build up their own economy. I stress "build up their economy", because I think increasing the handing out of aid is not going to solve a poor countries problem, and it is not going to increase our image much either. We need to teach poor countries how to sustain themselves, implement technology to help their production, and implement financing to move it along that is not just a loan, which will put them in our debt later. Micro-financing is something that I have heard that would make a big step towards fighting poverty, but you will have to ask Christin about that.

In the end, I think America has to start making sacrifices to help the world. I'm not an expert on foreign policy, but even a layman can see that we are a superpower using virtually all of our resources to increase our wealth, influence and power. Frankly, we're being a bully, even if we don't think we are.

Living Forever?

Have you ever thought about living to be 1,000 years old? Have you ever thought that it could be really possible? Probably not. But what if I told you that it was possible, even probable.

Now that sounds like an enormous jump in technology, doesn't it? The good thing is that we don't need to do it all at once. Let me explain. Biologists in the field believe that in the next fifteen to thirty years we will be able to implement in people moderate age reduction techniques now used in mice. That means at minimum, a life expectancy increase of 30 years. Not preserving an old person for 30 more years, but being physiologically 30 years younger. On the exponential scale of technological advancement, this gives us the jump start we need to stave off aging indefinitely. Within that 30 years of life science has bought us, we will have found better ways of putting off the aging process, giving us an even greater lifespan. Soon enough, our life expectancy should rise more than a year, every year, effectively meaning that we will not age. Of course we can still die by a host of other means; accidents, violence, global catastrophe, certain diseases (although it's worth mentioning that 80% of diseases affect us in old age, and this same technology that is fighting aging is also fighting these other diseases).

Don't believe this is really science? Check this page out.

Now we have to ask ourselves, should we live forever? What about overpopulation, immortal dictators, the starving poor in Africa? Wouldn't it be boring to live so long? I think these are good questions, but I don't think they weigh as much as the fact that aging kills one out of one people that are not killed by something else first. Whats worse to me, is that it is a very slow, painful, and sometimes degrading death. These years are the ones I fear the most in life, all my friends dying around me, loosing my faculties to do the things I want, and knowing that it is only going to get worse until you die. So for me, dieing is not the scary thing, but being old. Personally, I would love to live to be a thousand. Then I could be the renaissance man that I always wanted to be.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Public Transportation

One of the things that I most hope changes soon with new technology (and yet seems least likely), is the matter of our dependence on the automobile. Technology is well underway in creating more fuel efficient cars, and politicians are lauding how we should decrease our dependence on foreign oil (all well and good). But nobody seems to give much thought about public transportation being the wave of the future. As world population increases, we are going to have to use our land more efficiently. Go ahead and look on Google Earth, fully two thirds of our developed land is dedicated towards roads and parking lots. But lets look at some other pros and cons.

On average, we spend $9,000 every year to own, maintain,and run a car. That's $18,000 for a two car family! Now lets start talking about taxes. I'm sure you can imagine the untold billions that are spent on building and maintaining our roads. Now lets think about energy consumption, our dependence on the Middle East, air pollution, water pollution because of impermeable surfaces, and auto accidents being the largest killer of kids 0-25. It seems to me that our use of the automobile is one of the worst habits we've got.

Ok, but lets step back for a moment. The car is what drives our society. It lets us get to work, live where we want to, truck cargo around the country, and it gives us the freedom to go virtually wherever we want. How can we give that up? Also, using public transportation is inconvenient, slow, unstylish, and sometimes dangerous. That's exactly what I would like to change. I think that if our government could spend half of it's transportation budget on public transportation, than these facilities would be clean, efficient, quick, safe, and free. That's right, free. The amount that it cost to run public transportation is so low compared to automobile travel, that I believe it would be simple matter for the government to pick up the cost completely, in order to encourage people to leave their cars behind.

Of course, this newly funded transportation system would need a massive overhaul. When I think of transportation in the future, I am not thinking about buses, subways and trains. When it comes to public transportation of the future, I think Walt Disney had it right; monorails and people movers. 1) Monorails; fairly long distance trains which would go at higher speed, and be elevated above the ground for minimal obstruction in urban areas, and minimal environmental intrusion in nature. The elevated trains might also to less susceptible to vandalism and crime. 2)People Movers; although the ones at Disneyland didn't go very fast (it was a '60s prototype after all), they could go as fast as a car once they sped up. Since you can jump right on at a station in a continuous line, there should almost never be any waiting. And because they are on tracks going a regulated speed, there will virtually never be any accidents. Unlike Disneyland, these people movers would be on a vast network which would connect society much the same way that roads do now, minus the inefficiency, fuel consumption and accidents. Very similar to the cars in Minority Report without the weirdness of going up the sides of buildings.