Friday, December 28, 2012

Guns and Weed

Guns and Weed: Perspectives of Personal Liberty vs Public Health 
Tony E Dillon-Hansen
14 December 2012

The recent referendums in Colorado and Washington to legalize recreational use (in addition to medical use) of marijuana restarted a long-standing conversation about whether cannabis is 1) truly a destructive substance and 2) whether the government should be prohibiting the use, sale or possession of this substance. In addition, the country has witness multiple seemingly random mass killings of people in public venues within the past few months. These seemingly divergent issues are affecting aspects of personal liberty in contrast to whether government should regulate those aspects

In the debate over legalizing recreational marijuana use, we see claims of personal liberty being expanded by the recent votes in the two states. We see this apparent expansion of rights in stark contrast to long-standing government regulation against cannabis use. There is a claim that the individual intoxicating use of marijuana is, in effect, a public health menace that must be controlled. The intoxicating effects of cannabis are readily related to alcohol, but the use of that cannabis results in far less deaths than alcohol. Also, the substance supposedly is a gateway drug to more hardcore substances or even a “life of crime”. Of this, one argues that stems from the often shady environment where people have to go to get their cannabis due to the illegal nature of that substance. People using pot are not doing themselves any favors if they abuse that drug (similar to alcohol abuse). Yet, cannabis usage does not generally result in catastrophic results (without something like a car being involved). 

With the recent shootings, the country has been pondering whether the second amendment is allegedly carried too far if people are allowed, without question, to own or to carry any type of weapon. No one is proposing to take away people’s rights to have a gun, but perhaps, we should consider if particular persons should be allowed to carry certain weapons. (Who is the judge?) Unlike marijuana, guns have been used in far more deaths. Also we know that no simple test will gauge whether a person is sane enough to warrant a purchase. This is evidenced by the recent shooting in Connecticut where the murderer used the weapons purchased by his mother. The shooter was readily taught by his mother to shoot those weapons even though she may not have taught how to plan a mass killing spree. Yet, this son was able to gain access to weapons that murdered an entire first grade class. Aurora, Colorado also saw what can occur when people get access to lots of weapons. Still folks want to say that there should be no prohibitions on weapons of any sort upon firearms. 
Each of these discussions shares a concern for the public well-being in contrast to personal liberties. The question is then begged at what point do these converge and which is the preferred position with respect to the convergence. Would legalizing pot allow people to find their substance in less shady places that ultimately lowers exposure to criminal activity or exposure to other more intense substances? This might even lower overall criminal activity. Does the ban on marijuana find justification when a person, wholly sober, can buy any caliber automatic weapon and then use such to destroy the peace of communities?
Most argue the right to bear arms is enshrined for citizens to be able to protect themselves from others and the government. Yet, the most literal interpretation of this amendment might suggest that people should be able to bear nuclear arms without restriction from the federal government. That would be ridiculous to most reasonable people because the ability to inflict harm upon indeterminate numbers of people warrants some limits. If “guns don’t kill people”, how many must die as a result of a firearm usage before there are limits? How many bullied individuals will realize mass murder as a means to end the taunting, threats and harassment before we intervene?

Now, if people are concerned about the criminal elements surrounding a particular element like cannabis, they might want to consider what loan-sharks do around legal gambling. Also today, alcohol is ranked as the third-leading cause of preventable death in America and a leading cause of automobile collisions. Gun usage has been linked to over 70,000 deaths a year (without regard to motive). Yet, cannabis is the one prohibited.

I am not advocating cannabis use, but we need to consider the legitimacy of laws in relevance to the actual impacts and goals of those laws were designed to achieve (e.g. lower crime and a secure public).
All guns do not have to be available to any buyer who wishes them, and their sellers should be willing to ask questions or to refuse service. Possibly, a reasonable thing to do is to follow some of limits on alcohol upon these other areas because we have many laws on the books that limit alcohol use without prohibition. Could this not be extended to cannabis use? Additionally, bartenders can and do refuse service to customers. Bartenders and retailers can also be held accountable for an improper sale that results in a death or serious injury of another. Should we consider the “right to bear arms” versus to sell arms? Should we not also consider the liability of a weapon sale? 

Public well-being collides with personal liberty within written policy statutes and policy desires. Yet, that does not mean we have to be extreme in application especially when statistics show there is a clear difference between the goal and the applied policy. Maybe, we could apply common sense to laws for once. Certain weapons are not a necessity to own, and cannabis is less of a threat than alcohol. How many more senseless and tragic deaths will we have to endure before we realize this?

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Connection or Technology

Connection or Technology
Tony E Hansen
10 Nov 2012

Technology has been helpful with increasing our communication capability and has undeniably altered the way people interact.  With the increased capability via the myriad of devices, we have seen a change in how people interact and in how people view patience. Further, people seem to have replaced compassion with a text. We forgo the personal interaction for the instant communication through our devices, and we forget how to self-reflect.

In Sherry Turkle’s TED talk “Connected, but alone”, she describes the profound nature of technology intersecting with human intimacy that is worth our attention.  She asserts that messages can be like getting a hug when you need it, but too many can be a problem. Turkle posits that “if we’re not able to be alone, we’re going to be more lonely” because we have used technology to replace the human intimacy and connection. This is a revelation about how people have turned toward using these devices to building connections rather than understanding parts of our inmost being. 

With chat rooms, messenger programs, social media, and our devices, technology has provided ample opportunity for communication. Technology can be exciting so much that we sleep with the devices and we take them on vacation with us. Yet, is that technology helping us to understand ourselves? 

Technology changes what we do as well as our perspectives, and if we do not take care, it can change who we are.  Etiquette of using these devices has changed what we consider as proper behavior. Consider the perspective of being able to get instant communication on 2-to-5 inch diagonal screen. Your focus is there in that semi-private conversation (regardless of where you are) rather than observing what is around you and learning from that. 

It was only a few years ago that this instant communication was not possible, but easily, one can find a group of friends that are together in a room but having their conversations with completely different people not even in the same city.  Whether at funerals, at the dinner table, during a movie, or during work meeting, messaging removes us from the location and the experience of what we are doing (whether grief or enjoyment). We should think about what is so important that we forgo the experience before us with the often grammatically incorrect bursts coming from our devices. 

In Star Wars, Master Yoda spoke to Luke Skywalker, “All his life has he looked away… to the future, the horizon. Never his mind on where he was” and later, “always with you what cannot be done.”  Luke was so focused with what was missing (regardless of relevance) that he would easily forget the graces and resources that were there with him. 

We are lost in our many bursts through our devices that we cannot see what is beautiful here. Where does self-reflection happen if you are never alone? Further, real-time observations and notations are not required because we can present things in the way we want to present them at the pace we can control.  Real-time conversations and human relationships lose their richness and rewards but instead become more like annoying attention demanders. 

Messaging is good for getting small bits like saying “thinking of you”, but they do not help us truly gain a context for the person (learning and understanding differences). Yet, people will easily prefer texting over talking. As well, if a message response is not fast enough, people may be offended via the assumption that the bits of texting is automatically more important than the other person enjoying or learning where they are at that moment (never mind possibly driving).  Thus, enjoyment and learning of the moment are forever lost in the inferred priority of perpetual bursts from unrelated elements. 

We can attempt to “hide” our real emotions by ignoring the current circumstance via instant gratis with people through our devices.  Contrastingly, some vividly show their pain and vulnerability in the online-self that you would think their world is infinitely a disaster. Do these not ultimately reflect what people expect from the technology or from others? What scares us that we immerse ourselves in our technology instead of intimacy? What illusions trap us in the technology that we avoid our basic humanity?

Perhaps, we think “no one is listening”. Perhaps, we must “spend time with machines that seem to care.” Maybe, something is happening in the world (drawing our attention) that we would rather be doing at that moment. These can be captivating questions about personal vulnerability and comfort. We could choose to “unplug” for a while and attempt to rediscover the humanity within ourselves. Whether one intentionally chooses to “unplug”, people will ridicule those for being “offline”, but again, why is that considered odd behavior? Consider why people go fishing or hunting. Some enjoy the game, but many will relate to the quietness of being somewhere without disturbance, of being able to self-reflect without noise. 

Ms. Turkle also advocates “reclaiming” spaces at home and work where conversation is primary. I can relate to this because my kitchen table is a place for dinner or coffee with conversation, often over a card game of gin-rummy. Here, my husband and I can relate with and learn about each other. Here, we can build upon each other without technology interfering. 

Consider your holiday rituals and festivities, remember why you are there, and enjoy the moment fully.  Escape the technology for the intimacy of family and friends (regardless of irritations or boredom). Those are moments that make us human and they teach us to use what we have rather than worry about what we do not have. Those are moments that teach us etiquette, compassion and mental reflection.  Those moments are the ones that teach us real understanding and love.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Form Follows Function: An Energy Strategy

Form Follows Function: An Energy Strategy        
Tony E Hansen 
29 August 2012 

The phrase “form follows function” comes primarily from architecture, but we can see applications in music, literature and software development.  This primarily suggests that the shape of the building or “form” should be based upon the “function” or purpose where ornamentation varies in consideration to the proposed function.  In the recent few weeks, we have seen considerable attention paid to mining and to wind farms by the different political campaigns.  Both have said, rhetorically, we should have an “all of the above” approach, but those approaches tend to favor one form of energy generation over another.  Both proposals will mean a measure of jobs and technology that will be created (or not) at the expense of others as part of their proposal.  What we need to is to consider what form is following which function of energy policies both from the past, the present, the proposed and the potential future of each.  

Author Tim Berglund, in a keynote address, suggested that form and function are important to considering how we build things.  He seems to agree with the notion that we build things to a form that is prevalent, but then at some point, we become that form.  Then, someone comes along and introduces a twist on the idea. Then, we get another “form” where new designs and new innovations spur from that idea.  Until that twist, we are beholden to the limits of the current form and the functions therein.  Yet, there has to be willingness in the environment that fosters new ideas because reverting to an old idea is 1) based upon the paradigms of its time, 2) those paradigms may not exist anymore, and 3) the old idea may not be appropriate for the future.  We can think of many applications of this, but we can see this principle in the energy strategies, both historic and proposed. 

First, let us review what each party is proposing and then we can consider what has been the rule of policy for the past century in order to envision what is possible in the future Romney wants to end tax breaks for wind energy, wants to remove safety regulations, and wants to promote the coal and gas industries, which is primarily been our energy policy for the last several decades. That innovation stinks like the old and stale “form” of the past century without doing anything to reduce consumption.  That policy was written by the oil and coal companies, especially since Reagan’s term. Obama wants, however, to expand tax credits for renewable energy, to expand all domestic generation, and to promote new efficiency standards to bring down overall energy usage. 

If we follow the old “form of energy production in comparison to computer industry over the past few decades, we see drastically lower innovation in the energy industry in favor of milking the current profit models using aging infrastructure. The computer industry went from large, inefficient, and room-sized units to small compact handheld devices with an exponential increase in more computing power. This old form of energy policy does not value dynamics and competition while lining the pockets of the Koch brothers and other Romney friends. Those people (and unfortunately, society at large) have become (or been beholden to) that limited “form.  In contrast, Obama seems to be pushing towards a more opportunistic model (form) where everything is more competitive against each other with the idea that competition spurs innovation If the society does eventually become the “form” by adopting the opportunistic approach in energy production, then we may discover more opportunities in other areas as well.  

The libertarian side of me thinks we should eliminate all government subsidies including corporate welfare and let the markets decide which will flourish. This might work but the market forces have been rigged to support the entrenched (e.g. Koch brothers and friends). The progressive side of me wants more emphasis upon sustainable energy with a strong focus upon eliminating our dependence upon foreign resources while reducing pollution. This might favor more diversified portfolios of Mr. W. Buffet (via MidAmerican Energy) and the so-called Pickens Plan. 

The truth is that the oil, coal and gas industries have already enjoyed many tax breaks to encourage the widespread use of these fuels as part of that old “form. Only recently, thanks in part to Obama, have we seen government promotion of alternative energy. There is clear political and financial motivation that favors West Virginia mines to be promoted over Iowa wind turbine plants. Further, the money trail leads back to a specific profit formula that relegates our energy industry to stagnate innovators as well as America to be reliant upon that stagnation. Since there also is no incentive to make the mines better or safer, that seems to be a lose-lose proposition.  As well, the lack of interest in new forms locks us into the mindset of the current or past functions and forms. Imagine what is possible if we could power devices over the air instead of wires. 

With energy, we have been using the same relative techniques for decades.   Our society has become beholden to that form while limited to the functions and capabilities of these technologies. If we mean to have the economy of the future, we cannot continue to limit ourselves in this respect. As well, reverting to old ideas is completely contrary to finding new, or better, ones.   With that old form, we will never be more than what we were, and we will never discover what we could be.  If we want a competitive economy, we have to “think differently” and beyond what we know today because the paths to the past only lead us backwards