Thursday, April 21, 2005

What we should do to "terrorproof" the new WTC

This is an idea I had a while back which I posted here on Fark:

If we give the top third of the building [the Freedom Tower] to the United Nations, the current location can go back to NYC, the UN would get updated facilities (which they have complained about fairly recently), and diplomats would have their attention concentrated on the problem of terrorism. It's a win-win-win situation.

Later on, I went into more detail on one reason:

The United Nations currently wants to complete overhaul its current headquaters, to the tune of a $1.2-billion interest-free loan, and an additional $650 million spent on a 35-story building to house UN employees during the renovation as well as a 100,000-square-foot park. The total bill may be as much as $2.5 billion, with U.S. taxpayers expected to foot at least a fifth of that. For the same amount of money, they could get a penthouse view of New York with state-of-the-art facilities. One would wonder why they wouldn't want to do so.

Other than fear, of course, which I'm told concentrates one's attention quite effectively.

/Posting here because I'll lose the Fark thread otherwise :)

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

I'm number 2 in a Fark voting thread! Hooray!

I guess being in TotalFark helps, since I get to see things before the majority of Farkers do. Here's the link to the survey If you were pope, what would your name be?

Saturday, April 16, 2005

"Deadly influenza virus shipments missing!"

There is a story going around about a pandemic strain of flu virus being sent around the world. The story became even more frantic when those sent to Mexico and Lebanon turned up missing: link.

Since it's early in the morning here, I decided to come up with a fun conspiracy theory on this (specifically, why they didn't just say "this shipment is contaminated and unusable, please dispose of it" rather than "run for your lives, this is a killer pandemic in a bottle!").

Perhaps different harmless "tracker" viruses were sent to various labs with this particular cover story. A terrorist group sees the headlines and grabs the "killer virus." Once it is released, it can be traced back to the lab and a terrorist cell can be shut down before they release something really nasty.

Okay, so it's not the most exciting conspiracy, at least it's more clever than claiming the jets on 9/11 were radio-controlled.

Friday, April 15, 2005

Questions for those opposed to the death penalty.

I argue a lot on message boards, especially Fark. One question that comes up quite often is the morality of the death penalty. I've discovered a handy way to figure out whether or not it's worth arguing with someone opposed to it. It's a set of very simple hypothetical "button pushing" questions:

1. You have in front of you a button that will kill a single random, innocent person. If you do not push the button, two equally random, innocent people will be killed. Do you push the button or not?

2. An innocent people has been sentenced to death. By pressing a button, you can spare his life by sacrificing the life of a murderer. Do you push the button?

3. If you do not press a button, there is a 1% chance that 1000 people will die. If you do press the button, there is a 100% chance that a single person will die. Do you press the button?

For me, in every case I would press the button. Anyone who cannot answer these questions or would not press the button is not worth arguing with, because his or her moral calculus is different from mine. Mine is simple: max(good-bad) -- maximize the good and minimize the bad for the greatest number of people.

There is a valid arguments against the death penalty, and that is the cost compared to life in prison. If the cost to society is less to incarcerate than to execute, then prison is the way to go. If one can statistically show the death penalty harms more innocent people than it saves, that is a worthy argument, but claiming the death penalty is evil because it isn't perfect is not just nonsensical, it is evil if not acting harms more people.

Thoughts about the death penalty

People opposed to the death penalty claim many often contradictory things. They claim that execution is too cruel in one breath, and then claim it is less painful than life in prison. They claim they are against it because those wrongfully convicted can be executed, without even considering that those wrongfully convicted die in prison as well, and with fewer appeals. Finally, they claim to be against the religious sentiments of an "Eye for an Eye" while at the same time using "Thou shalt not kill." Apparently, anything that isn't perfect is not worth doing at all.

To which I offer this thought experiment:

You are sitting in front of a button and told that if you press it, there's a 5% chance an innocent person will die. Unfortunately, if you don't press it, there's a 10% chance an innocent person will die. Do you press it or not?

The same thing with the law. Justice is not perfect, and if you punish anyone there's always a chance that person is innocent. You have to balance the possibility of punishing the innocent with the chance that releasing a guilty person will cause other innocent people to suffer. The best course is to try to minimize suffering, not refusing to act.

That said, the cost of invoking the death penalty is very high, so it should be done only in the most egregious, clear-cut cases. Probably a cheaper way would be to drop those convicted of "capital" crimes on a barren island somewhere, to live out their lives as best they can.

Another idea: Death by cryogenics.

Take a person convicted of capital murder and dump him into a tank of liquid nitrogen, instantly freezing him. Alcor charges $150,000 for whole-body freezing, which is much less than the appeals process.

Sure, we don't have a way of unthawing them yet, but if the court ever determines they were not guilty on appeal we can keep them on ice until there is a way to revive them.

Plus, this would give valuable research data in cryogenic freezing for regular people and future space travelers.

/Thank you, Larry Niven.

Monday, April 11, 2005

Ode to a Chili Finger (to the tune of Mrs. Murphy's Chowder)

Ms. Ayala ate at lunchtime
Just about a week ago.
Shakes and fries was plentiful,
At Wendy's, they're not slow.
They treated her like gentlemen;
She tried to act the same,
If it weren't for what happened...
Well, it was a doggone shame.
When Ms. Ayala dished the chili out,
She fainted on the spot;
She found a human finger
That had floated to the top.
Her lawyer, he got roaring mad,
His eyes were bulging out,
He jumped onto the table
And loudly he did shout:

"Who threw the forefinger
In Ms. Ayala's chili?"
Nobody spoke, so he
Shouted willy-nilly.
"It's a Wendy's trick that's true,
I can sue the prick that threw
The forefinger in Ms. Ayala's chili."

They dragged the finger from the beans
And laid it on the top;
Each man swore upon his life
It never entered in the pot.
It was small and clearly manicured
From a woman, if you please,
It had several ups and downs
As we could plainly see.
And when Ms. Ayala, she came to,
She b'gan to cry and pout,
She'd put it in her bowl that day
And forgot to pull it out.
Her lawyer, he excused himself
For what he said that night,
So we put music to the words
And sang with all our might:

"Who threw the forefinger
In Ms. Ayala's chili?"
Nobody spoke, so he
Shouted willy-nilly.
"It's a Wendy's trick that's true,
I can sue the prick that threw
The forefinger in Ms. Ayala's chili."

Sunday, April 03, 2005

Some thoughts about discrimination in the workplace

(I originally posted this on Fark)

I personally believe that private business should be allowed to make decisions on hiring and firing as long as they state explicitly what those criteria are up front. I also believe the government has the obligation not to discriminate at all except on the basis of consistent, justifiable criteria, nor to purchase any good or service from a company that does discriminate.

For example, if a private business advertised a job opening, they would have to state any limitations on who they would hire in the advertisement. If they restricted access to a certain clientele, that would also have to be advertised as well as displayed prominantly at the entrance to the business. In addition, government agencies would be prohibited from doing any form of business with a company that practiced discrimination.

This all comes down to what I consider a fundamental right, the freedom of association. A business has the right to associate with whomever they want, but they have to explicitly tell all interested parties what the criteria are. Since government also has the right to purchase goods and services from whomever they want, they have the right to only purchase from companies that do not discriminate. It's all self-consistent.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

I got lucky on Slashdot

I normally post as an Anonymous Coward on Slashdot, and this time I got lucky by starting one of the first threads (which typically get seen by mods a lot more often than later posts). Here it is: