Below (at the end of the post) is a snapshot of two news stories of judicial sentencing. The first is a 3 year sentence for corporate fraud in the amount of $3 billion. The second is a 15 year sentence for theft in the amount of $100. Of course, the details of the cases are not completely clear so these serve as little more than just anecdotal evidence of flaws in our judicial system.
I’m not talking about sentencing disparity due to discrimination based on class, race, etc. Those a wider societal issues that will likely not be resolved by changing any aspect of the judicial process. I’m more concerned here with the fact that the sentencing for a case rests on the shoulders of one judge. And you don’t need to look very hard for evidence that sentencing is a subjective task with drastic variability in sentences for similar cases.
My solution: crowdsource the sentencing process. I’m not talking about a jury of 12 angry men. I’m talking about a Wikipedia-style army. It works for Wikipedia. It works for Stack Overflow. It works for Bitcoin. Why not make justice truly democratic?
Of course, the problem is the implementation of anything like that is flawed from the start. It’s very difficult to prevent people messing with the system. Nevertheless, I wish that our judicial system would enter the 21st century and make trials open to real-time discussion, debate, voting, etc.
I may be naive or “elitist” or some wonderful mixture of both, but I have a dream that one day U.S. politicians, especially ones running for president, will engage each other or perhaps other great thinkers in a number of real debates, each focused on a specific topic.
I draw inspiration for this dream from the following debate between prime minister Tony Blair and Christopher Hitchens:
The balls that Tony Blair, a head of state, has to go into a debate against Christopher Hitchens on the topic that the latter is a world renowned expert on are enormous. Why do we not see such debates between presidential candidates and other representative scholars such as Hitchens?
The answer is probably that our presidential candidates, even ones that can hold their own in such a debate (few though they might be), see little benefit in it, but see a huge potential cost if a damaging sound bite can be extracted from it. The culprit here is the 24-hour “news” media channels that have made the game of politics into a game show.
Sarah Palin can win a game show, but certainly not a debate against Christopher Hitchens.
A candidate that can argue intelligently for 2 hours about a topic that they care about deeply is a leader our nation desperately needs, to look up to, to learn from, to follow.
Per month, I send about 20-30 text messages (almost all as a response), and talk for about 30-60 minutes.
The bottom line is I just don’t use the cell phone to a degree that many people do. Why? Because I view it as a source of distraction. The productive aspects of my life are centered around periods of 3-4 hours where I focus on a single task without interruption or stress caused by the possibility of interruption.
Turning my cellphone off eliminates this possibility. The only problem with this is that true emergencies may go undetected by me for a day or more. This hasn’t happened yet, but it’s a distinct possibility. My family knows that I turn my cellphone off, and since they live 5 minutes away, I hope they also know to come get me in case of serious emergency.
The problem I encounter as a person that spends a large amount of my time programming is that I’m missing out on the mobile experience. I develop apps for Android, and yet I don’t own an Android phone that can run those apps. I test and simulate them using an Android emulator. This may seem like an absurd irony, but until a cell phone is distinct from the devices I use to get work done (laptop, desktop), it will remain a source of distraction that is belt left in the off state for the majority of its existence.
$6.6 billion, sent by plane in cash to Iraq were “lost”.
This story, to me, sums up the fundamental flaw in any argument for reconstruction of a developing nation, even one that lives in the 20th century (e.g. Iraq) as opposed to one that lives in the 18th century (e.g. Afghanistan).
I know it’s now become a lot more popular to question the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, etc. But that’s even more frustrating… To see the same people that blindly pushed for the invasion of Iraq, now finding “fiscal discipline” and calling for troop withdrawal. What happened to the “victory” they demanded before any such withdrawal could be made?
Such schizophrenic foreign policy debate convinces me that we are bound to make the same mistakes again in the future, over and over, watching billions and trillions of dollars be “lost” on their way from the U.S. taxpayer to some new yet unsold cause of grave concern.
I listened to the Daily Show interview with Howard Wasdin about the seal team 6 operation that killed Bin Laden, and thought that Wasdin’s summary of what Obama got right was spot on.
Wasdin described himself as a republican (which is a funny way to display objectivity) but was clear in complimenting Obama on making three correct decisions:
- Not telling Pakistan about the operation
- Burying Bin Laden at sea
- Not releasing the pictures
I’m sure this was planned thoroughly ahead of time, but these are still very difficult decisions, and I have to say that I’m proud of our president in a way that I haven’t been in a while. Often, with politicians, their every move reeks of political calculation: what will play well in the short term media cycle. Perhaps I’m naive, but these three decisions do not appear to me to be political calculations, and that is a damn good thing.
I have to say that I’m not sure I would have the balls to make either of these three decisions. Hats off, Mr. President.
Here’s a list of biggest US Banks. Top 3 are:
- Bank of America
- JPMorgan Chase
All have assets of approximately two trillion dollars.
These banks are companies that play with risk and reward. It’s simple math. If you add in the possibility of a bail-out by the U.S. government then the risk is significantly reduced for companies (such as these banks) that the government considers “too big to fail”.
Just like we enforce the break-up of monopolies, the regulatory power of the government needs to break up companies which are “too big to exist”. But more importantly, it needs to prevent the creation of new such companies through some regulatory mechanism such as a “too big to fail” tax. Tax “excessive” size. If you don’t like it, then the alternative is we have to let these giants fail, and suffer the consequences on the financial system. Period. Otherwise, the tax payer incentivizes “excessive” risk-taking.
A story about in-flight etiquette on NPR cracked me up. There were some interviews which indicated that people in general do not get along. Put them in a tight space together for hours, and that fact becomes more apparent.
Click on the image, it’s a good one.
What I find most entertaining, in particular, is the age old battle of “who gets the armrest?” Apparently, this is a major debate on the internet.
Opinions are as varied as political views. Some people want to share fairly based on size, some people want to help the least fortunate (middle seat), and some believe in survival of the fittest: claim it and hold on.
I think it probably depends on the size, sex, attitude, mood of the person, and many other details of the specific circumstance. But I find these little day-to-day situations strangely representative of human characteristics which lead to or around larger social conflicts and compromises.
If we can resolve the armrest issue, surely peace in the Middle East will soon follow.
I don’t usually talk politics with people. Not because I don’t want to, but because usually they don’t want to. Finding another human being interested in discussing politics on a philosophical level is kind of like finding another person that’s into some specific kinky sex thing. You don’t want to ask because in so doing you reveal something quite personal about yourself which may affect your casual friendly acquaintance.
However, even given that complex conversation dynamics, I have noticed that the most popular position among the people I talk to is apathy (lack of interest). Somehow, that’s viewed as the higher ground. The claim that it doesn’t matter who wins an election is somehow viewed as a fundamental truth which one arrives at after years of study and rigorous discourse.
I disagree. You may say that both McCain and Obama would’ve kept us in Iraq and Afghanistan, would’ve increased the debt, etc. There is some truth to that point, but it does not logically lead to apathy as the right worldview, in the age of huge armies, of nuclear weapons, of enormously complex financial systems, etc.
The swarm of seemingly small consequences of actions, policies, speeches, public relations campaigns can make the difference between a decade of economic growth and a decade of economic decline, a major scientific revolution or an nationwide drought in research efforts, etc.
John Edwards was indicted today by a federal grand jury for using campaign funds to cover up an affair.
It may be completely wrong of me to feel the way I do, but I see moral behavior within a relationship as completely separate from moral behavior in public office.
I believe that you can be a scumbag to your wife, and yet be an ethical equivalent of Chuck Norris (in a good way) as a political leader. I believe that the behavior and policy decisions of a politician holding public office should be based on a philosophy: a consistent, well-reasoned, objective view of the world. Such a philosophy is not dependent on whether you’re drunk, horny, lonely, or self-obsessed. However, all those factors do contribute to the decision that that same politician makes in his personal life.
It may be naïve of me, but I feel like a politician should be able to say what Newt Gingrich tried to say in the most inarticulate way. Something like:
“The stress of public office has had a toll on my personal relationships. I made mistakes that damaged those relationships. I slept with a hooker, and now I have to pay the price in the years ahead of mistrust and tension in my relationship with my wife. But that has nothing to do with you. I balanced the budget. I passed a bill that helped revitalize the healthcare system for 21st century. That’s what matters for you. And no number of hookers I sleep with will change that.”
Rereading the above… it does sound naïve. But I stand by it. I vote for a separation of Sex and State.
Mike Gravel (pictured to the left) is just one of many unique visiting lecturers at a UC Berkeley course on Political Science run by Alan Ross.
If you want to listen to a few entertaining, moving, and even educational lectures on life and politics, I would highly recommend you visit this page and give a listen.
One of the biggest things you’ll notice is that a lot of these professors, businessmen, and world-renowned leaders say a lot of edgy things you probably wouldn’t hear them say in any other venue. This is because Alan Ross encourages the speakers to get away from rigid political correctness that is so prevalent in public speaking today. He says f***, he says s***, and he makes light jokes at the expense of a person’s race, sex, looks, hygiene, and/or intelligence.
These are seemingly minor freedoms but the result is a much more vibrant discussion of what makes life worth living, the challenges we face as individuals and as communities, and many other topics that couldn’t be addressed quite as effectively without letting go just in this way.
Given the power and hunger of the media to pick up on any gaffs, people are less and less willing to speak their mind on controversial issues. The result is a drier and less productive public debate.
Here’s a nice quick video on Alan Ross that makes him seem the opposite of what I just described, but still at least it shows that he can fake being a nice guy too