Wednesday, November 30, 2016

The legal heritage of the United States

I have not studied the legal heritage of the United States.  I've heard (and believe it's true) that the United States uses "common law" as the foundation of its legal system because it divorced itself from the rule of the king.  "Common law" is a "term of art" but it is also an English phrase.  The term of art and the phrase have different meanings, and I wonder which one more accurately reflects the legal foundation of the United States.  I root for the phrase rather than the term of art because the "artists" who use that term are lawyers, and lawyers have their own dilemmas.

The gist of the definition of the term of art is "the part of English law that is derived from custom and judicial precedent rather than statutes." (so says Google). But we're not talking about English law, so let's find something that would make sense for the United States.

Right now, Wikipedia says that common law is "law developed by judges, courts, and similar tribunals, stated in decisions that nominally decide individual cases but that in addition have precedential effect on future cases."  It provides some pretty good references for that meaning too, but let's remember that Wikipedia here is defining "common law," not the words "common" (which Wikipedia doesn't do - it just identifies several domains in which "common" can be used), and "law"(which Wikipedia DOES define, but fails to mention the oldest and most obvious source for "law" as a system "of rules that are enforced through social institutions to govern behavior."  What source is that?  Juries.

On the "Jury Trial" page, Wikipedia says "Jury trials are of far less importance (or of no importance) in countries that do not have a common law system."  This claim has been in Wikipedia since 2007, uncontested and unattributed.  It suggests to me that jury trials are important in common law jurisdictions.  This blog post is written to suggest and request anyone who has it to produce evidence that the phrase "common law" is more useful when one considers jury trials to be its main source.

As written above, the term of art does include "courts" as a source for the law described as "common law," but it does not mention juries.  Juries are groups of people that operate in courts, but there are also courts in which no jury is used.  Therefore, the referenced meaning of the term is ambiguous about the importance of jury trials as a source of "common law," but, as Wikipedia shows, a nine-year effort to define the term has steadfastly maintained that juries are important in common law jurisdictions.

The point here is not about the term of art or the phrase.  The point is that juries are important as a source of the laws we and our fellows ought to follow, or, more properly, can, in the eyes of "society" justifiably be punished for breaking

Let us suppose that judges were to make decisions based only on what juries decided in courts where two adversaries hashed out their differences, and only when both adversaries agree to allow a judge to decide the case instead of having a jury hear it to make the decision.  There is a theory that life would be far worse than it is today, and an opposing theory (to which I adhere) that life would be far better than it is today.

In 1933, Prohibition was repealed, attributed in part to juries that refused to convict criminals whose offense was related to the use of alcohol.  Lawyer Clay Conrad says "During the Prohibition era nearly 60% of cases ended in acquittals."  Sometimes the system actually enshrines jury decisions into the Constitution of the United States.  Granted, the cost of enforcement and the rise of organized crime also heavily contributed to the motivation to repeal prohibition, but one can see that what processes those circumstances into law could be the jury, if that mechanism was recognized and respected more heavily.

I use the phrase "common law" as the simplest way to identify the system of laws that is created through the judgments of juries because juries best represent the common understanding of "rules that are enforced through social institutions to govern behavior."  Since it's a term of art, I'm looking for a new phrase.  Please let me know if you have any ideas, or help me beat back the perception that politicians, lawyers, and judges, rather than twelve random people assigned to any given situation, should determine how we should behave.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Ring.com Video Doorbell

We recently bought one of these things (not the pro version) and we are considering buying more of their products.  They are kind of closed about how their stuff works, so I sent this in to their customer support, and this post is me making good on a promise I made them.

Dear Ring.com,

Your troubleshooter provides a little bit of useful information and leaves out a "crap load" of useful information. People like me would add it if there was a place to add it, and maybe there is, but I haven't found it. So if you want to help me and everyone else, then provide everyone with access to a common place where we can all share findings.
Examples:

  • When the doorbell flashes white at the top, it means the Wifi password was probably miskeyed.
  • When the doorbell flashes white on the left, it means the doorbell can't communicate with the Internet (I think! - Can you confirm that?)
  • When the doorbell shows a sliding blue, it is trying to connect to a wifi network.
  • When the doorbell determines that it can't communicate with the Internet, it ... ??? Is that when it flashes white on the left?

It seems that the doorbell needs a wireless 802.11 b network. The instructions say "Use mode g/b or n/b, but not 'n only'. Why don't you just tell us what kind of network the doorbell needs? I set my router to g/b/n, but I still have trouble. Maybe this is because whatever mechanism Ring uses to store data to the cloud is currently unavailable, and that makes the doorbell act like it can't connect to the Internet.

Here's the thing, and I think it's important. I get the sense that you don't want to tell everyone how your product works because of security concerns. The BEST security in the world is open source because everyone can see that it works, and when it doesn't work, someone figures that out and tells everyone (unless it's the CIA, in which case they save it to use later as in StuxNet, but I bet you that the zero days they used for Stuxnet were mostly if not all in proprietary code). Be open and honest and trust your customers to let you know about problems. You'll be far more successful and you won't piss off smart people who crave the kind of transparency they can use to solve problems.

I will try to find an appropriate place on the Internet to make these comments public. Please pass them up your chain of command and let's see if we can make your products super valuable to way more people.


Thursday, November 10, 2016

The Hard Reset Button for Humans

... is death and reproduction.  The contents of our minds comes from two sources, one being genes and the other being the environment.  When we have children, the genes get mixed around, but generally there are two people who are RE-presented to the environment, but the new mind lives in a brain and body that has to RE-assimilate that environment.

In a recent youtube video recommended to me by Francis Burns, I watched Ken Wilber speak for a while, and then read some comments.  One of the comments suggested that we can use the term "awareness" to refer to something that is shared by all sentient beings, and more shared when those beings are in close proximity.  Awareness is not unique to the creature experiencing it.  What is unique to the creature experiencing it is "consciousness" which is a relationship between a piece of physical reality and intention.  The physical reality, in a macroscopic way, obeys rules deterministically.  This is the "Newtonian physics" we learn, and which needs "Quantum Physics" to work in a microscopic (or, let's say nanoscopic or picoscopic) way.  It is at that level where intention can act, as far as I can tell.

I just heard Brett Veinotte mention the idea of living forever because he was telling his podcast audience about an upcoming discussion wherein the implications of living forever would be discussed.  It got me thinking "well maybe I have been."

In the bible, there is a story of a guy named Abraham who told people that "God" told Abraham his name, and it was "I am". To me, this story is hinting at what I described above as "awareness."  It's not just humans.  It's every physical system sensitive enough to have intention (which might be every physical system).  That sensitivity gives such a system awareness, and if it also has consciousness, then intention can be realized in it.

The game the universe is playing is to see how quickly intention can be realized.  You know that sometimes you have an intention but it doesn't happen until you actually do it.  I like to play this game in bed sometimes.  "I'm getting up now... Ready, here I go!" but I don't actually get up.  I'm playing with the intention but not actually realizing it because that takes more effort.  Also, feeling like I had the intention but nothing happened seems funny.  I hope I don't get Parkinson's Disease (See the movie "Awakenings" about Dr. Oliver Sachs if you're curious). Executing the intention will destroy some things (chemical bonds, probably some microbes, etc.), but it will create new ones.  So I think the whole universe is playing that game.  But what is the point?

The Landmark Forum showed me that life is empty and meaningless.  There is no point. But it's fun.  Why do we tell jokes?  So if the universe is trying to see how quickly its physical contents can be organized into systems sensitive enough to have and realize intention, then why don't we play along?  I don't think we can avoid plyaing along, but recognizing that that's what we're doing is certainly more enjoyable than feeling like life just keeps kicking us.

Given the world as it is, there are some intentions you can immediately realize (like reading the next sentence), and some that require some steps, the first of which is an intention of the first kind.  That's really all there is when we are conscious and aware, but we often let that light go out and we go onto auto-pilot.  Maybe you just did that while reading.  If so, I recommend going back and letting these words get a little deeper into yourself so that maybe our awareness can be shared across time and space and you and I can be together right now, trying to understand each other a bit more.  If you imagine what I'm going through, just from the evidence of the writing you're reading, you might like it.  You might feel like we have been living forever too.

Friday, November 4, 2016

A message to United Global Shift

I sent the following message to United Global Shift after reading that their mission is very much aligned with my own.

I heard about you through Landmark.  I share your goals.  I'm aware of information that has been hidden.  You may be familiar with the occulting of information, or the omission of important information.  These passively deceptive strategies have been at work since our species began communicating.  They are getting harder to employ (YAY!) but that is because people are talking about them and communicating about them, and sharing information they have discovered that is being suppressed.  So I wanted to do that.

What I learned that's important in the context of this message, I learned from Peter Hendrickson.  He wrote a book about the law ("Title 26, Internal Revenue Code") that created the designation "501(c)(3)" called "Cracking the Code."  The U.S. Department of Justice was asked twice by the IRS to ban the book or issue an injunction against it, and the DOJ declined both times.  The point of the book is to show that most people and businesses (and probably United Global Shift) are deceived into believing that the U.S. federal government has some kind of claim on the money they get.  If that is a deception, then there is a vast amount of wealth available to do things like prevent war, but that wealth is being given to the U.S. federal government and a significant portion of it is being used in a way that encourages war.  "War is the health of the state."

It is in the interest of United Global Shift itself, but also very much aligned with its mission, to discover the deception and work toward diverting the vast amount of wealth currently being used to encourage war into our efforts to discourage it instead.

Do you dare question authority?  Landmark Forum suggests to me that either you do, or you will.  I'm here to encourage you.


Sunday, October 16, 2016

An Inventory of Brain Functions

In an earlier post, I mentioned that my body makes too many platelets.  These are the tiny particles in our blood that create clots when there is a hole in our circulatory system.  Having too many of these has some odd but not dangerous effects, like your spleen can grow larger.  Our spleens store up a bunch of platelets, presumably so that they can be released to help seal off the holes so we don't bleed out if we suffer a really bloody injury.  Another symptom is numbness or a tingling sensation in our extremities - fingertips, toes, hands, and feet.  My spleen has never been enlarged, but I think have felt the paresthesia in my fingertips, but I have proven to myself that the feeling can be psychosomatic.

There is a dangerous effect of having too many platelets, and that is the risk of ischemic stroke.  A stroke is the medical term for depriving brain cells of energy, either by creating static pools of blood ("hemorrhagic") or by preventing blood from getting there ("ischemic") by blocking an artery.  Of course, if your blood vessels are too weak, blocking them can lead to a hemorrhage "upstream" from the clot, and then you have both kinds of stroke.  Since I have too many platelets, I'm concerned about getting a clot that prevents blood from getting to where it's needed.

I decided it would be a good idea to create for myself an inventory of brain functions.  According to Wikipedia, brain tissue ceases to function after being deprived of oxygen for sixty to ninety seconds.  Of course, that doesn't mean the tissue is dying, but without oxygen, it will eventually die.  Meanwhile, if that tissue would normally help me restore oxygen to itself, I have only 60 - 90 seconds to use that help.  So I want to be able to run through some mental tests quickly.

There is already a well known acronym that everyone can use to recognize when a person is having a stroke, and that is FAST.  The letters stand for "Facial drooping, Arm weakness, Speech difficulties, and Time."  So, look in the mirror to see if you look funny.  Well, I always look funny because the left side of my mouth is about half a millimeter lower than the right.  Pretty slight, but the guy who made a portrait of me in art class 25 years ago noticed.  Then close your eyes and raise your arms so they're straight out, and then look to see if they're really straight out.  Then say to someone "The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog" or something else (maybe "I think I might be having a stroke, how do I sound to you?" might be better). You can say it to yourself first, but we have powerful ways to mask our outward failures, so getting an external opinion would be useful here, especially if you really are having a stroke.  Finally, find the second hand on a clock, or memorize the seconds from your watch, close your eyes, and count off ten seconds and check if you are about right.

That is easy enough for me, but I have more concerns.  I've noticed late at night sometimes that my ability to think is off kilter.  Maybe it would be noticing motion in my field of vision, or naming a color, or doing math, getting a joke, remembering something I just said or something I've always known, or having a reasonable emotional response to something.  I attribute these peculiarities of cognition in myself to parts of my brain going to sleep.  I think "late night humor" is a good example to which most people can relate.  I imagine the same kind of thing could happen if some of my brain tissue ceased to function because it wasn't getting enough oxygen.  So I want to do more than look in the mirror, raise my arms, talk to someone, and look at my watch.  Here's what else I'll do:
  • Find the square of some number over 12.  I have most of them up to 20 memorized, so I can also compare the explicit mental multiplication to the memory, if the memory is there.
  • Remember my mom's name.
  • Read something.
  • Stand on one foot.
  • Be curious about something.
  • Sense something with each of my five senses.
  • Fold my fingers together, right thumb on top (normal, for me) and then left thumb on top to make sure it feels weird.
  • Sense other things with each of my five senses and compare the previous thing to the new one.

That's it.  Now the question is, if I'm having a stroke, how the hell am I going to find this blog post?

Monday, October 10, 2016

School is Like a Drug

I made this claim to my youngest daughter a few years ago because I had grown concerned about the effects of government indoctrination.  According to a few different schoolteachers (Brett Veinotte, John Taylor Gatto, and Alexander Inglis), school has six main functions, which, to be blunt, are 1) Remove judgement and opinion, 2) Fashion students to be obedient, 3) Sort students into normalized groups, 4) Create a ruling class, 5) Cut off students who don't fit the desired mold, and 6) Control the students.  I can see these things happening to all students who speak openly enough about their school experience, though they may not be able to see it themselves.

It's possible that I've taken the words of these three teachers too seriously and allowed their views to pollute my thinking, but all my efforts to verify that as the case have failed abysmally.  I conclude that they are correct, and that school tends to create unthinking "yes men."  It also, at least in the case of my own children, attracts many of its victims to itself.

Seeing the damage being done and the victims maintaining a desire for its source, I gave a few minutes of thought to finding a good analogy, and heroin is what I came up with.  Something makes school feel good enough, and the damage it does is subtle enough to prevent some of its victims from rejecting it.  It is my hope and, indeed, my expectation that, just as I did, my children will also eventually think their own way out of the habits that make most people into unthinking yes men.  I can't help but feel that my own relationships with them provide them ample opportunities to judge, have opinions, obey their consciences rather than anyone else, remain the beautiful distinct creatures my wife and I created, disavow power over others as I have, embrace the marginalized, and defy those who attempt to control them.

There are some other elements of drug use which have analogs to school too.  My friend Roslyn Ross shared the insight that what makes something a drug in the psychological sense is that it allows us to "numb out."  She writes that we also use substances as spices (to enhance whatever we're enjoying) and as medicine (to help change what needs to change). 

School demands that we do homework, listen, sit still, raise our hands to pee, and other things which cause a lot of psychological pain, but it numbs us to that pain also.  Gold stars, letters near the beginning of the alphabet, aka "high marks", and certificates of achievement help to salve the damage to our intrinsic motivation.

School forces us to associate with a lot of people our own age with whom we wouldn't normally interact.  It also provides group projects, activities, and sometimes actual discussions in which we get to interact with those whom we do enjoy.  We are wired to remember and appreciate the good things in life, and the togetherness of similarly aged children provides episodes both good and bad.  School magnifies the experience of being a child, and in that sense, it provides an enhancement.

Importantly, school teaches that government is good, which is an altered perception. As we age, our trust in government falls.  Teenage rebellion is a kind of rejection of authority that is natural in cultures that value and teach authority - the coercive kind, not the expertise kind.  It is also only through school that the Rite of Passage goes backwards, pushing students away from their own consciences and back toward authorities as the guides for their lives.  This is the necessary change from the point of view of (coercive) authority, obviously.

I thank Anne Stirling Hastings for motivating me to write this post. I recommend her and her work to anyone with an appreciation and love for humankind.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

A Think Tank Game

Would you pay for good little pieces of data?  Would you like to get paid for creating good little pieces of data?  My answer to both is YES, and I bet yours is too.  I will be reaching out to everyone I know because Brett Veinotte has inspired me.  We all share information all the time, and sometimes we thank each other for it.  If we set it up well, as I think Brett has done, we even, sometimes, pay each other for it.  I have, in fact, paid Brett a few times because of all the great information he has provided to me and everyone else who might benefit from it.

The goal of this blog post, I hope, will be met in one of the next few paragraphs.  It will be a few sentences that will catch your eye and uncork your mind.  You will look forward to sitting at your computer, or on your phone, just as you are now, reading and writing.  A seed will be planted in your subconscious driving you to research and brainstorm how you might benefit from or encourage the input of others.

One of my favorite things to do is respond to comments on the Internet. You can browse my comments on Disqus or what I've written on Quora to see what I have to say.  In my experience, most other people don't comment very much, if at all.  It makes me sad.  Most people are good, and that goodness would show up in comments if they were to make them.  Do you comment on the Internet much?

Of course, our foolishness also shows up if we are lazy when we write comments.  Because school teaches us to, we might parrot a claim we read somewhere but which we never bothered to examine, and a response might come back providing us with strong evidence that the claim is wrong.  That hurts because we have presented the claim as our own.

If you do examine my comments on Disqus, you'll see my strategies to avoid that pain.  Most folks who comment a lot follow such strategies, and they tend to improve critical thinking and communications skills.  Either you already know this, or else, since I've (hopefully) planted a seed, you will come to know it soon, and that will make you a great contributor to my "think tank game."

I will soon announce a date for the commencement of the "think tank game."  If all goes well, it will go on for a few days or, if it goes really well, indefinitely.  During that time, you'll visit memeracing.net every now and then to answer or ask questions and maybe invest a few dollars worth of bitcoin.  If you write something good, you'll get an email asking you to visit the site and check out what six other people had to say in the same context.  You'll put these six blurbs, along with your own, in order by quality.  Perhaps you will put yours first, even if you think someone else's was better, or perhaps you'll be more honest.  Either way, you and those six other people will combine your judgements to find the best of the seven things, and bitcoin will be redistributed as encouragement.

That's what I have to offer.  Well, one of the things I have to offer.  I look forward to your suggestions and ideas.

I have some more background information for those who decided to keep reading this far.  Many people, once they understand what memeracing.net is trying to do, say that it's a great idea.  The problem is that a "great idea" is only great until it's old, which takes a few days or weeks.  After that, it's either useful or forgotten.  Memeracing.net has been forgotten by many people who recognized its value.  One might say they are just waiting for it to become useful.  I'm pretty sure that the usefulness will come from the density of traffic, so I wanted to get a lot of people on board for a kind of event on memeracing.

Do you think I should identify some particular topic for this "think tank game" event?  I do.  The link above ("suggestions and ideas") goes to a page where you can enter whatever topic you think would work well.  One of the answers already has about $30 backing it, but it isn't the one I think is best.

Thanks for reading, and I look forward to comments as well as input on memeracing.net.