Saturday, January 23, 2016

GMO Attention Misdirection

Story: The Debate About GMO Safety Is Over, Thanks To A New Trillion-Meal Study

 I've never had a problem with the safety of GMOs and I think that issue is distracting from the patent-based issues that are more important. It's complicated and I don't understand it all, but there is something really creepy about being able to patent life, something that is routine for GMOs.

I understand the need for a limited level of protections for patents and copyrights, but I am weary of laws continually being changed to keep GMO foods from becoming part of the public domain. As has happened with copyrights being extended to ridiculous lengths of time, patents will no doubt come under the same pressures and I suspect lawmakers will give in to the patent holders.

The world's food supply shouldn't be subject to the possibility of being held hostage by private companies who are run by design for the maximization of profit for a small number of people. It's more than a bit scary.

(A posting with some more details on legal issues here.)

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Pirate Democracies And The Second Amendment

I am currently reading my way through Under The Black Flag, The Romance and the Reality of Life Among the Pirates by David Cordingly and I wanted to share some things I found interesting from chapter 5 having to do with the typical way pirates organized themselves.

First, they were democracies. Unlike the crews of other ships, with each person having a vote, pirates elected their captain and the others who held positions of authority. They could also be voted out at any time. The entire crew voted anytime a new destination needed to be chosen. Pirate crews were also typically much larger than what was used on merchant and military ships. Finally, each ship had a set of articles they all had to sign, also agreed to by voting. The document outlined how each person was to be compensated, what payments were made for serious injuries, along with other rules to govern behavior.

In one of the examples of a set of articles that survives, I found it interesting that it included a section that appears to be very close to the U.S. Constitution's Second Amendment: "To keep their piece, pistols, and cutlass clean and fit for service." The book doesn't mention it, but it seems to me to be highly likely that a similar provision was common among articles created by all pirate crews.

For me, this helped give some related context to the acknowledgment of the need for the Second Amendment in a country that didn't have a large standing army. A "well-regulated militia" was the bulk of any potential army of the day when called to fight, and for that to be an option the people had to be able to "bear arms" in order to fight when called upon. The thinking is very closely related to the highly regulated pirate ships so they would be equipped to fight when called upon to do so. 

While I think I have always known that the Second Amendment was never meant to give people the right to "bear arms" universally under any circumstances, this pirate reference gives me a better picture of the mindset of the day when it comes to hand-held weapons and getting organized in some "well-regulated" manner when the need to fight arises.

Friday, January 8, 2016

The Past Is Not Qualified To Rule The Present

Story: Texas governor calls for constitutional convention

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott called for a constitutional convention of states to offer nine amendments in order to “restore the Rule of Law and return the Constitution to its intended purpose.”

This idea of making sure we try to align ourselves at any point in time to some point in the past (assuming we could even figure that out) is just nuts. We do not live in the 18th century. We live in a completely different society and we have much better information now on which to make decisions on how to solve our problems. Just like we would never be arrogant enough to come up with a set of rules today that we demand be used by our descendants, we shouldn't impose that burden on our ancestors.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

The Danger Of Stories As A Mechanism To Deliver Facts

Story: How Stories Deceive

"When a fact is plausible, we still need to test it. When a story is plausible, we often assume it’s true."

This article made me think of a recent commercial for "60 Minutes" I saw where instead of pushing the program as news, they were touting it as a story-telling TV show. I was put off by it when I saw it because telling a story requires no facts to be told and is, IMO, a step down from real news.

But we now live in a time where our long history of telling stories to one another is gaining ground on fact-based news as a means of learning something, even though what we "learn" this way is much more likely to be fraudulent.

A good story is something that we easily remember, which is one of the reasons it works. We remember it largely because we can relate to the emotional hooks in a good story which make it easy to recall when we encounter those emotions again. A set of facts is something we have a much harder time to recall and fit into our everyday lives because the emotion has been largely stripped away; we don't readily see the relevance to ourselves. This is why overblown stories about terrorists resonate, but facts about climate change do not motivate people. In addition, being entertained is something we wish to recall, whereas being bored isn't.

It would do us a world of good to be skeptical of any claimed facts when we feel too emotionally attached to the story within which they were delivered.