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Gender: Male
Hometown: California
Member since: 2003 before July 6th
Number of posts: 26,170

About Me

Inveniet quod quisque velit; non omnibus unum est, quod placet; hic spinas colligit, ille rosas.

Journal Archives

I think the overlooked question here is what does a degree mean, and what

is the value of a degree anymore? You mention that you love the MIT and Harvard open courses, and I take it that you value them as a venue to learn as an independent scholar. That is a major strength of MOOCs and online instruction, and it adds to the venues for independent learning that have always existed (e.g. libraries).

However, a degree ought to mean something more than passing through a series of instructional activities - there needs to be assessment, feedback, interaction. These things take place through the mediation of faculty, and work best when those faculty are responsible for relatively small numbers of students (certainly not 1000s).

My main complaint about the general trend of online education - towards cost effective delivery - is that it cheapens the meaning of a degree by automating the assessment and reducing or eliminating the critical feedback. A degree (or even a course grade) becomes more like those ridiculous online training activities that are common in the corporate and academic world - read a bunch of slides, pass a multiple choice quiz, be careful not to go too fast or too slow, print out your certificate...

Sadly, I think universities have been too complicit in this cheapening, and in a way we're reaping what we've sewn. Too much on-campus undergraduate education has shifted toward super-large classrooms, scantron exams, and a reduced emphasis on writing and discussion. When we do that in the classrooms, it's no surprise when people start thinking that the same thing can be done even cheaper online - but the question shouldn't be whether it's cheaper, the question ought to be whether this is a true university education at all.

So I really don't believe that MOOCs or similar online structures are the proper way forward. They provide opportunities for motivated individuals, and probably can produce some sort of basic employment-level competence in a lot of fields, but I'm not convinced they will provide what a university degree ought to represent. At most, they might reasonably fill in for some entry-level foundational courses, where lower-level learning objectives can be met and assessed in a more automated fashion.

That said, I do think some of the online pedagogies have value. The flipped classroom model, for example, strikes me as interesting, and many of the interactive tools such as Elluminate for online sessions are useful...

Philosophically, I lean more toward SYG than DTR: while I think the moral and

ethical thing to do is to avoid harming another person (i.e. to retreat) whenever possible, I don't think retreating should be codified into the law for subsequent second-guessing. If a person has a legitimate need to use self-defense - they are facing a genuine and imminent threat of death or harm - then I think they have the right to deploy that defense in the time and manner that best protects them.

However, it seems that having SYG articulated in the law perhaps can lead to problems. On the one hand, it may distract individuals from the actual question of self-defense - there have been news articles in which people who have wounded/killed seem more concerned with their right to stand their ground than with the question of whether self-defense was justified in the first place. Of more concern, it seems to encourage LE to drop investigations too early, on the presumption that a ground-stander must have been defending themselves.

So the point I'm at now is thinking it's better for the law to be silent on both SYG and DTR (as is the case here in CA). Focus entirely on the legitimacy of the self-defense itself: was the putative defender reasonably in fear of imminent and serious harm? (The exception I would keep is that civil suits should not be allowed to use non-retreat as a basis for a wrong-full death claim, in cases where the self-defense was found to be justified...)

A significant difference between guns and other items treated this way, such as

vaccines and cigarettes, is that the harm being caused by the vaccine or cigarette occurs when the product is used properly, and the harm from the gun occurs when the product is used improperly. In other words, with guns, unlike the other industries, there is a deliberate act of some sort - criminality or negligence - between the harm and the manufacturer. The responsibility should stop at that actor, and not be 'spread out' to all the consumers of the product who played no role in the harmful act.

The better analogy I think, is the idea of a private copying levy, in which all purchasers of recordable media pay a charge to compensate content producers for (il)legal copying, regardless of whether the individual purchaser uses the media for that purpose. I oppose those levies for the same reason I'd oppose the tax proposed in the OP - it's unfair to spread costs of a deliberate act onto those consumers not responsible for the act...

Two different stories of disastrous futures: Rahul Kanakia, Ken Liu

The Ships That Stir Upon The Shore, by Rahul Kanakia

The refugees drove west in a creaking convoy. Most of the cars were almost out of fuel. Many were on the verge of breaking down. The shoulders of the highway were littered with stopped and wrecked cars.

Only a few of those whose cars had failed--those with fuel to trade or young children to tug on the heartstrings of some brave bachelor--had seen rescue. The engorged sun and ambient radiation made short work of the rest. Once their cooling systems failed, they either sweated away their lives within a few hours or accumulated a lethal dose of radiation when they stepped outside to attempt repairs.

But that was the price they paid for being foolish and unprepared. Roger Deryn had spent his life on this highway, and he'd never come within a mile of death. Roger was prepared for everything. And that's why Roger was the one who was headed east, fast and cool, to turn a profit off the slowly-failing dome that these poor folks were fleeing.

--- Snip ---


Disturbing story; climate changes but people don't.

But on the other hand...

Mono no aware, by Ken Liu

The world is shaped like the kanji for umbrella, only written so poorly, like my handwriting, that all the parts are out of proportion.

My father would be greatly ashamed at the childish way I still form my characters. Indeed, I can barely write many of them anymore. My formal schooling back in Japan ceased when I was only eight.

Yet for present purposes, this badly drawn character will do.

The canopy up there is the solar sail. Even that distorted kanji can only give you a hint of its vast size. A hundred times thinner than rice paper, the spinning disc fans out a thousand kilometers into space like a giant kite intent on catching every passing photon. It literally blocks out the sky.

--- Snip ---


I support shall-issue CCW with a comprehensive training requirement

That requirement should address practical skills in firearms-handling, the legal ramifications of self-defense in all forms, and conflict management/avoidance techniques. I also think there should be no arbitrary or excessive fees to create a barrier to receiving a permit, nor any other requirements intended to discourage applicants - the regulation should be stringent but focused solely on valid questions of qualification...

It certainly seems that the modern application is not what Franklin meant

in 1755. Rather than being about the danger of oppressive/repressive (however the user defines those terms) laws aimed at individual civil rights, Franklin was concerned about the collective right of the people to self-govern (and protect themselves), versus the behind-the-scenes power of the wealthy. Perhaps a more modern translation would be "beware the 1%!". Or in other words, it was less about the king's laws and more about the king's friends.

That said, I don't think it's necessarily wrong to re-use or reapply a well-turned phrase or pithy quote. What would be an error would be to conclude that Franklin himself would support the modern application of the words; that on the basis of the quote he'd be saying "Fuck the NSA!" or "Down with gun control!" or "Hells yeah, I'll text while driving!" or whatever other 'essential liberty' is on the chopping block.

Maybe a better way of using that phrase currently would be to preface it: "As Benjamin Franklin once said in a completely different context, those who would..."

Sarah Grey: The Ballad of Marisol Brook

Her name, this time, is Marisol Lysium Brook. The media, long bored with the minutiae of her death, occupies itself by speculating which stars will grace the guest list at her reconstruction gala.

Marisol is the name she etched into the Hollywood concrete, beside her thin palm prints. Both lie beneath the tread of tourists, under a golden star, not far from the sea where the ashes of her first body sailed away on Pacific winds. The name, as she has insisted in countless interviews, praises the sea and sun, the golden sunshine and silver waves. She is a sun-kissed daughter of the California coast.

Brook is the name of her husband, Oliver, the esteemed director and father of her only child, a solitary young man named Peter with a bent mouth and sad eyes. Upon Marisolís death, alone, in the dark sea beneath a sailboat a half-mile off Catalina, Peter checked himself into the linen embrace of Blackwood Recovery Center, burrowed amongst Vermont evergreens, intent on trading his cocaine addiction for yoga and raw produce.

Lysium is the primary subsidiary of Conti Cosmetics Milan. For twenty years, it has specialized in cream eye shadows and high-gloss lipsticks in a spectrum to boggle the eyes, a stunning array of light-bending metallics designed to glitter like shattered glass beneath throbbing dance club lights.

Lysium, through a quiet sea of shell corporations, has sponsored Marisolís reconstruction. In return, she carries its name, along with a contractual obligation to serve as its otherwise uncompensated spokeswoman for ten years. Marisol, reborn from cells and brine, belongs to Lysium.

--- Snip ---


A nice, darkish, tale of technology to bring people back from the dead, who 'owns' the once-but-no-longer deceased, and what do they own of themselves...

That's why I'm less supportive of public funds being used, and why this article

caught my attention.

My feeling on privately-funded 'buybacks' is neutral to positive: I think it's good that people are encouraged to dispose of an unwanted (and maybe improperly-stored) forearm, I like that money goes into the pockets of people who may need it, and I think they provide an opportunity for a positive interaction between police and the community.

On the other hand, I feel a bit badly for people who may dispose of a valuable firearm for a pittance, but much more importantly it's clear that the overall benefits of buybacks are extremely limited and it's almost certain that a better return on investment - in terms of lives saved, safety increased, health improved - could be obtained by directing the money elsewhere.

So, while I'm far from outraged about it (at worst, neutral), I think the event described in the OP is an inefficient use of funds which could be better used otherwise.

I would say that I'm actively disapprove of destroying the guns, as that seems to be motivated entirely for politics and appearance. The entire benefit of the buyback has already accrued once the firearms are sold by the owner who doesn't want them - destroying them (if they could be profitably transferred instead to someone who will want and keep them properly) is nothing but a waste of public property...

Part of it is the scenery - I love the desert, and it's a visually stunning movie. Also,

the score is excellent. Plus, there are many bits of fun, quotable, entertaining dialogue (much of it from and between Ali and Auda). But I think the two aspects I like the most are the evolution of Ali: as he goes from a confident leader, to hero-worshiper, to disillusioned comrade, to childlike student, to political aspirant, and then sees it crash down again in Damascus. And the cynicism of it all, with Allenby, Dryden, and Faisal manipulating in the background, eventually shuffling Lawrence off stage. It's a mythic film, but it really questions the construction of myth and heroes, particularly through the character of Bentley.

It's also an epic film, but the characters really drive it. And it always strikes me that the characters who know who and what they are, and are satisfied with that or just don't care (Allenby, Auda, Brighton, Dryden) are generally happy. But those who dream (Lawrence, Ali) get hosed.

Also, of course, camels are just very very cool...

Current CA law with regard to firearm storage looks like this:

25100. (a) Except as provided in Section 25105, a person commits
the crime of "criminal storage of a firearm of the first degree" if
all of the following conditions are satisfied:
(1) The person keeps any loaded firearm within any premises that
are under the person's custody or control.
(2) The person knows or reasonably should know that a child is
likely to gain access to the firearm without the permission of the
child's parent or legal guardian.
(3) The child obtains access to the firearm and thereby causes
death or great bodily injury to the child or any other person.
(b) Except as provided in Section 25105, a person commits the
crime of "criminal storage of a firearm of the second degree" if all
of the following conditions are satisfied:
(1) The person keeps any loaded firearm within any premises that
are under the person's custody or control.
(2) The person knows or reasonably should know that a child is
likely to gain access to the firearm without the permission of the
child's parent or legal guardian.
(3) The child obtains access to the firearm and thereby causes
injury, other than great bodily injury, to the child or any other
person, or carries the firearm either to a public place or in
violation of Section 417.

25105. Section 25100 does not apply whenever any of the following
(a) The child obtains the firearm as a result of an illegal entry
to any premises by any person.
(b) The firearm is kept in a locked container or in a location
that a reasonable person would believe to be secure.
(c) The firearm is carried on the person or within close enough
proximity thereto that the individual can readily retrieve and use
the firearm as if carried on the person.
(d) The firearm is locked with a locking device, as defined in
Section 16860, which has rendered the firearm inoperable.
(e) The person is a peace officer or a member of the Armed Forces
or the National Guard and the child obtains the firearm during, or
incidental to, the performance of the person's duties.
(f) The child obtains, or obtains and discharges, the firearm in a
lawful act of self-defense or defense of another person.
(g) The person who keeps a loaded firearm on premises that are
under the person's custody or control has no reasonable expectation,
based on objective facts and circumstances, that a child is likely to
be present on the premises.


Assuming that the gun owner was a family member of the girl, and chose to keep the gun in the garage - which seem like likely guesses - I think the only reason not to file charges would be 25105b or 25105d. If there was some sort of un-reported locking container or device that the children broke...
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