Archive for October, 2007

Using and misusing words for political gain

Tuesday, October 30th, 2007

I read this article in Wired Magazine about how scientists use the word “theory” when they really mean something they are 99% sure about. Clive suggests that we use “law” instead, as in “the law of evolution” instead of the “the theory of evolution”.

I have a similar suggestion for the word “marriage”. I suggest that marriage be redefined strictly as a religious term, and as such, should be removed from the legal lexicon. I think this would be a great way to resolve the gay marriage debate. Each religion can then choose to allow or disallow marriage between anyone they want. And any one of any sexual persuasion can choose to belong to whatever religion they want, and conform to their requirements.

But when it comes to state sponsored benefits, such as the ability to designate one other person to inherit your estate without paying taxes, or share your health benefits, there should be no relationship to a religious “marriage”, any more than there is a state benefit attached to baptism, confirmation, or other religious rites. Then the state benefits can be applied with no discrimination, and without angering the religious folks. Now, there will likely be some debate around child care statutes, and a we’ll also need a new word for divorce, but these seem like pretty small problems.

Clear definitions make a lot of things easier.

FlyClear – to the front of the security line

Wednesday, October 24th, 2007

I’ve been flying more lately, so I signed up for the Fly Clear program. Takes quite a while and seems very thorough, but as a few folks have noted, it’s basically security theatre. You give fingerprints and retinal scans, fill out your life history, and wait while they do some sort of “background check.” Passing the background check gives you the privilege of paying $99/yr to go to the front of the security line.

I just went through it for my first time in SFO this morning. Of course, they have my retinal scans and my fingerprints, but I still have to dig out my driver’s license – what is that? The main benefit seems to be the “concierge” service – they take your bag, put the card in the machine for you, and basically hammer their way through to the front of the security line for you. I would never have the chutzpah to actually do that job – I’m a little embarrassed by the stares of the people who have been waiting. I kept my eyes averted and walked through with a murmured thanks.

You still have to take off your shoes and jacket, take out your laptop and toiletries, etc – where’s the security benefit for me? Basically it’s the same as paying more for valet parking. As for actual flight security, I’m pretty disappointed that they don’t seem to take advantage of it at all – who cares if the terrorists pay $99 to go to the front of the line? We’d catch them faster that way, right?

The world is getting better

Saturday, October 6th, 2007

I find it interesting that bad news sells newspapers, but good news is pretty much ignored. Sure there are the major triumphs of humanity, like landing on the moon, but mostly the news is of the “sky is falling” variety. There was column in the WSJ recently that described this perfectly:

Paul Ehrlich’s best-selling book “The Population Bomb” (1968) gave England a 50-50 chance of surviving into the 21st century. In 1980, Jimmy Carter released the “Global 2000 Report,” which declared that life on Earth was getting worse in every measurable way.

So imagine how shocked I was to learn, officially, that we’re not doomed after all. A new United Nations report called “State of the Future” concludes: “People around the world are becoming healthier, wealthier, better educated, more peaceful, more connected, and they are living longer.” …

The media’s collective yawn over “State of the Future” is typical of the reaction to just about any good news. When 2006 was declared the hottest year on record, there were thousands of news stories. But last month’s revised data, indicating that 1934 was actually warmer, barely warranted a paragraph-long correction in most papers.

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