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Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

I started this post several weeks ago, before the end of term and deadlines took over.  Before the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary and gun reform became a big topic.  

The Murder of Jordan Davis

The trial of Michael Dunn in the murder of 17 year old Jordan Davis, began at the end of 2012.  If you are new to the trial (like me), apparently, if you are at a gas station, and a group of teenagers blasting music is a bit loud for your liking, and then you shoot the car full of teenagers several times (who are unarmed, by the way) and then flee without telling the police, then this is an act of self-defense.  I think this is ridiculous.   Michael Dunn claims that he saw a shotgun, and thought the teens threatened his life.  It doesn’t explain why he would flee the scene and why he hid from the police.  I will be interested to see how the trial goes.

The Wild Wild Florida

Very un-technically, the Castle doctrine in the United States are the collection of laws that allow for the use of deadly force in the act of self defense against intruders on one’s property (protect your castle).   In some cases, this can itself be overreaching.  However, Stand Your Ground laws will do you one better and allow for the use of deadly force  outside of one’s home, and in the case of Mr. Dunn, it is being allowed anywhere.  Florida has famously found itself at the centre of a mess of “self-defense” related murders in recent months with its own Stand Your Ground law.  Getting to the point of ridiculous, a man was shot because he complained he was waiting too long for his pizza.

An Essay on Bargaining

I think the laws are inherently dangerous, and here’s why.  In its own twisted way, the interaction between a shooter and the victim is a negotiation or a bargain.  Each side communicates a commitment to an action, and then either follows through on that action, or doesn’t.  In other kinds of acts of bargaining, such as union-management negotiations, each side would communicate their demands, the actions they would commit to should those demands be met or not met, and sometimes, a signal that gives this commitment credibility.  In this case, union leaders could encourage members to fire them if they do not emerge from negotiations with the desired objectives.  This seems crazy, but what it does is sent a signal to management that the union’s demands are “binding and final”; leaders can’t leave with anything less without being fired.  It is less about career suicide and more about enforcing the credibility of a threat to stick to the original demands.

Another idea in bargaining theory is the idea of the “last clear chance”.  Sometimes in negotiations, it is advantageous to give the other party the “last chance” to change their minds.  Think about the simple game of chicken.  If somehow there was a perfect way to show that you are committed to driving straight no matter what, then you are placing the obligation to retreat (in order to avoid mutual destruction) on the shoulders of the other person.  The person who supposedly has the last say actually has none of the power, knowing they must bow to the credibility and commitment of their opponents.

Stand Your Ground laws affect both communication of credibility and the “last clear chance” principle.  First of all, it makes gun threats more credible since one can reasonably commit to shooting someone without having to worry about repercussions, like criminal charges (if it is in the name of self defense).  Additionally, Standing Your Ground means that the other party now has the “last clear chance” onus to retreat.  The responsibility of retreating is no longer on the individual making the threat of violent force.

The Problem?

This would all be great because it communicates to trespassers (Castle Doctrine) or random strangers (Stand Your Ground) that you have a gun, you are going to use it, they need to concede or face certain death.  In theory, it would mean the other party retreats faster and without protest in order to avoid getting shot, and this would make the world a safer happier place without all those trespassers and random strangers getting all up in your face at gas stations with their loud music.

The only problem in practice is that the act itself is not a clear cut act of bargaining on both sides.  In Jordan Davis’ murder, the teenagers were not aware that they were in the middle of a self-defense bargain.  They thought they were just arguing over the volume of their music with a grumpy stranger.  In the case of Yoshiro Hattori, he just happened to ring the doorbell of the wrong house.  And in the case of the Little Caesars pizza shooting, I’m sure the victim had no idea that the argument had escalated to a place where guns were necessary.  The problem in the Stand Your Ground laws is that they apply perfect rules of bargaining to imperfect situations where one side feels like it is absolved of all responsibility of diffusing a potentially fatal situation, and the other side is completely oblivious to the situation.

There are many other problems with Stand Your Ground laws.  For example, when does it no longer become a negotiation, and the party with the gun has actually no intent of withholding force?  What about it being used as a defense against pre-meditated murder?

What about the criticisms that the law is applied unevenly across racial groups?  It feels almost too easy to go there.  It is really difficult to get the numbers but this is a good start.

PBS: Stand Your Ground Laws

The laws are a great example of what happens when theory and practice don’t mix well.   Kind of like how hot-tempered gun owners and just about anyone else don’t mix either.

Some extra stuff to think about: 

Are Stand Your Ground defenses racist?

The death of Trayvon Martin

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Why vote?

I found that really cute.

It’s my first time studying political science and now I wonder where it’s been for the last 24 years.  LSE might do it differently than other schools because it’s got quite an economics bent to it, but that’s what makes it really cool.  I’m working on a project right now about strategic voting and finding out all sorts of theories to explain things I kind of already had an intuition about.

Canada is the poster child for strategic voting.  After the right merged, we are left with a political spectrum with too many parties vying for the vote of a fairly liberal country, allowing a conservative minority to sneak away steady victories.

If you look at the political spectrum, you can see that Stephen Harper falls far to the right of where the country actually lies, and that well more than half of Canada is unhappy about it.

It is postulated that the median voter, the guy in the middle of a population, will be the tiebreak in any election (half the nation will be more liberal, half will be more conservative,) and his opinion will be the one that decides who wins and who loses.  When the party representing the country is so far to the right of our median, we have to wonder how we ended up with a country that is so unrepresentative of ourselves.

Strategic voting has become increasingly an issue of study in Canada because of how unsatisfied the voting process has left most Canadians; when I looked up strategic voting in general, all I could find was examples where Canadian ridings would try to vote in a coordinated fashion to defeat conservative candidates, share votes, trade votes, discuss their votes, etc.   It seems like no matter how the left has coordinated efforts, our attempts to unseat Harper has only been like struggling in quicksand; the more we try to escape the more deeply entrenched we are in his vision of Canada.

It is just the way the rules are designed that has led us to this.  But a bigger question to ask is this: in a system in which you know you are going to be dissatisfied with the result, why vote at all?

There are some academic papers that question the cost of voting; and it is a hugely costly exercise.  But the fact that even in elections, such as strategic-voting/dissatisfaction poster child Canada’s, there are rewards.  If they don’t come from winning your ideal choice of policy, then people must derive some kind of benefit beyond the results of voting.  Maybe the act itself is an act of love and devotion.  I think these benefits, not the likelihood of “your guy” winning, needs to drive a desire to vote nowadays.  Especially now with a growing sense of pervasive cynicism about the ability of candidates to commit to their promises.  We need to be motivated to continue, out of love and devotion, if the results themselves are not enough to get us to the polls on Tuesday morning.

I was flipping through facebook and found an old note I posted when I was 20, voting in my first federal election.  I was a bit idealistic back then, but I think I still harbour the same sentiments.

“Maybe it’s just me, but ever since I tracked the 2000 US presidential election as a seventh grader in California, I’ve been really looking forward to voting. Probably because I’m from China and therefore my parents are entirely apathetic about the democratic process (not a surprise). More likely because I naively believed my high school civics teacher, Mr. Serjeantson, when he said that it was a responsibility and a right. After all, I’m the first generation to take this seriously. Just think about all those who *fought* for this. Cool!

And that’s why I’m upset. I’ve heard more “I’m too busy”‘s with regards to this election than I have for any given invite to a birthday party or conference. Apathy in our age group is the highest it has ever been despite the huge investments made to get young people out to the polls. If you have enough time to get wasted with your friends and go out on a Saturday night, you clearly have enough time to get online and find out who shares your values in your riding. “I’m too busy” is bullshit. No one is ever too busy to take a right and a responsibility for granted.

I am a strong believer that people will make time for what they personally consider important (which is why I never sleep, haha!). So the next time you decide not to vote, just remember, it is not because you are too busy. It says you just plain don’t care. 

I personally don’t care who you vote for, but I care about the fact that you don’t care enough to vote. If you are too busy to vote, then are you too busy to know what you believe in? Are you too busy to care about your future and the future of those around you? What do you stand for? If you don’t know, how do you really know who you are?”

I think I don’t make any sense.  Maybe I’m too tired from studying this.  I think what I’m trying to say is, if you love something enough, you will do it without asking what’s in it for you.  And you hope.

 

 

(Obama 2012)

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Pizza as a Vegetable

Sorry that I’m missing.  My life has been taken over by self-admittedly selfish activities such as working out way too much, drinking, and otherwise being a burden on society.

Everyone knows I am a fat kid at heart.  Don’t let my svelt 113 lbs fool you.  I swear to God, I’ll order the onion rings and feel no guilt about it either.  There is an emergency cookie dough ball supply in my freezer right now, just waiting for the rainy day when they will get popped in the oven.  But even though I love all things butter/cheese/chocolate/bacon-laden, the story below is ridiculous.

If you haven’t heard last week:

Pizza keeps vegetable status on school lunch menus; House rules

That’s right.  Two tablespoons of tomato paste are enough even though a half a cup is a full serving.  I’m not sure if this is on a slice of pizza or the whole thing, but let’s give Congress the benefit of the doubt and assume they are talking about each slice.  This means one slice has roughly one quarter of a serving of vegetables.  If we are talking about the paste requirement covering (no pun intended) the entire pizza (assuming eight slices), that’s each slice having about three percent of a vegetable serving.

This is hilarious. But it also illustrates a failure of the government to do what they should be doing all along.

The free market (and people’s tastebuds) dictate what food products become successful, and there is no doubt in my mind that pizza is delicious enough to survive in the face of school lunch program regulations.  There will be junk food enthusiasts (like me!) who love pizza in all its greasy, cheesy goodness.  However, the role of government is to ensure market efficiency.  That market efficiency includes an obligation to account for long-term societal costs, to internalize those costs and to spit them out in some sort of society-protecting regulation.  That’s why alcohol and tobacco are heavily controlled and you can’t walk around killing people.  Pizza leads to childhood obesity, a cost that the government should have factored into its decision making process, knowing that the processed food manufacturers had no private interests to do this themselves.  The government’s role in the free market should be (IMHO) to therefore include these costs in producing school lunch regulations that protect students’ long-term health, to a reasonable degree. Within those options, students are obviously free to choose what tastes good to them, but at least then it wouldn’t be open season on their pudgy behinds.

What we have here is not only a blatant unwillingness to account for those costs and do what regulations were designed to do, but also an errant lesson in the science of what counts as a vegetable.  What are kids going to think now?  Is Kool-aid a fruit?

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In an effort to distract me from some frustrating problems of a personal nature, God has tonight, plagued me with not only a roommate’s cat that refuses to sleep on any surface that isn’t my neck, but also with a fire alarm at 2:15 in the morning that didn’t stop until just recently.  I just got back from standing outside in light rain and I don’t have an umbrella.  I’m awake!  I’m awake for all the worst reasons!   Are you happy now?

x_x

Now the cat’s back.

 

Anyways,

 

A Bloody Sunday in Cairo

I feel strangely apologetic to Egypt after reading about this.  As if the West has promised you some magical cure-all called “Democracy” and it turns out that we can’t really help at all.  All we have done is shifted power and brought to surface a new plague of issues you are not prepared to deal with.  I’m already wincing at what might be next, because if this ends badly for Egypt during the November elections, then what has/will everyone in Libya, Syria, Bahrain be dying for?

Maybe we are just sham salesmen selling a faulty product.  I may or may not be overly pessimistic because of sleeplessness, but now I’ma try to do something about that after attempt number three.

Over and out!

 

 

 

 

 

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Harper says ‘Islamicism’ biggest threat to Canada – Canada – CBC News

This is what happens when you give the man a majority government.  He begins to reintroduce measures for criminal proceedings that are unconstitutional.

What worries me more is that Stephen Harper is the leader of Canada and he has the power to espouse his own thinly veiled racism as the foundation for those new measures.   Did you see how he brushed off the point about Norway’s terrorist being anti-Islamic?

Look up the highest rated responses.  You’ll see a common thread is less a fear of Muslims in Canada, than a fear of Harper himself.

 

 

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Iran’s Wet Blankets Put a Damper on Water-Park Fun

 

I don’t really have much to add, except that given my recent fascination with starting a new brand of burlesque titled “poli-strip” (and Bahareh’s Persian heritage), I got really excited by this link.  Maybe some sort of a wet-t-shirt routine that is broken up by a slutty cop?  Eh?  Eh???

It looks much better in my head.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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When I was in high school, I went through this existential crisis for a period of about a year.  I had no idea what the point of living was supposed to be.  In that period, a classmate who shall remain unnamed unloaded a pile of books on Christianity unto my proverbial lap and told me to get reading.  After a period of about three years of trying to get into it, all that work was quickly undone by the work of Tetsuro, whose lack of knowledge about anything science related (and subsequent blame on the philosophy of his Christian school upbringing) convinced me that Christianity was something for which I had no stomach.  A weak excuse, I am aware, but still something that stuck with me.  I’m still a wandering soul.

One of the major arguments in the books was that without Christ, people had no moral code by which to live, since cultural notions of right and wrong are so variant across time and geography.  I didn’t really make the connection between that argument and my current conclusions until much later, which is that without a stated moral code, are atheists really doomed to live a directionless existence?

In boxing class, one of my fellow trainees was talking about a business deal that just went horribly wrong, how jaded people are in the industry, how eager they are to trample over their peers to make a buck.  He described how he felt like he was living in a world with no rules, where if he were to follow his own moral conscience, it would be the equivalent of sucking through the proverbial exhaust pipe of humanity’s garbage and swallowing all the waste that comes with being proverbially sodomized by bandits.  I am using more colourful imagery, mind you.

This is kind of also driven by my recent foray into an industry I consider purely hedonistic.  The restaurant industry in Vancouver is driven by clients who spend too much money on enjoyment and too little time thinking about what they are doing.  I’ll admit, I’ve had more alcohol in the last two months than I have consumed in the prior eight combined.  I’ve also had more fun.  And then a friend sent me my old Tedx Talk on deforestation in developing countries and said, of the speaker,

Haven’t seen her in ages… I think she voluntarily immersed herself in hairspray, and how all she can do is talk about Cosmopolitan.

Ouch, a joke (I don’t talk about hairspray or read Cosmo) but the sentiment was felt, and I have definitely seen a bit of a change in my daily routine.

When there’s no God character playing referee, how are we to maintain any sense of integrity in our lives?  Does it even matter if I veer “off-track”?  Whose keeping score anyhow?

Sometimes I feel like the world is one giant experiment in game theory for all irreligious and culturally religious people.  You “gain” in a selfish sense by buying into a certain cut-throat set of values, or we can all collectively choose a more noble option and prosper.  Too bad most of us choose option a.

I may also be taking this too seriously.  After all, plenty of religious folk still live their private lives in the absence or a moral referee, or worse, use one as a justification for things that I’d consider wrong.  Like that guy who killed an abortion doctor.

The only reason I’ve started wondering this is because I’ve grown plainly comfortable in my summer of working and drinking.  You can probably tell that I’ve been reading a lot less, definitely writing less, and probably thinking a lot less.  It wasn’t until we finished shooting Tiananmen square that I even remembered the kind of person I used to be.  I felt inspired by the possibility of making more videos, about starting a whole genre where art and politics could coexist through a form of striptease that has become quite boring and commercial.  I came home and read articles about wars, drones, Europe, the ME, stuff that used to be my bread and butter.  I mentioned Jack Layton’s death and how devastating it was to Tetsuro and he apparently thought to himself, the old Gu still lives.

the full video will be on Youtube at "shiggytv" when I am back from China

Maybe a break from work will be good for me.  But how do I prevent it from happening again?  And instead of simply moving into a world of plain old narcisissm, what’s to stop me from completely selling out to some darker values later on?  What’s to stop me from pursuing a career in a field that will screw other people over?

For once, I feel the complete absence of a referee.  I feel like my actions and decisions will not earn me any consequence, because I now feel, strongly, the absence of an afterlife.  A place where the score is settled.

And that is terrifying.

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