Utopia - Part 5

In Part 4, I talked about the election process.  Now for the nifty bit about what elected officials do once elected.  The short answer is “what their constituents actually want”.  The long answer involves a whole lot of what they don’t get to do.

The biggest problem I see with legislation and legislators is conflict of interest.  The people in power make rules to benefit the people in power.  No one is actually working for the people as a whole.  Except for maybe Bernie Sanders, but he’s going to retire soon.

Government is supposed to be a public service, not a road to personal power.  Elected officials should be servants, not masters.  I have a few ideas of how to make sure they stay that way, but they’re nowhere near comprehensive.  I’m sure I’ll miss a few obvious things.  Feel free to point them out in the comments.

They get paid the national minimum wage plus a housing allowance.  No voting themselves a ridiculous salary while the rest of the nation suffers with insufficient income.  The independently wealthy must put their fortunes into a trust where they cannot access them the entire time they’re in office.  The trust must be both secret and blind.  Elected officials should have no clue who’s managing their money, and the trust should have no clue whose money they’re managing.

Corporate and other organizational lobbying is strictly and expressly forbidden.  Only the people have access to their elected officials, and corporations and organizations are not people.  I have more thoughts on corporations, but they’ll have to wait for another post.

So, if corporations and organizations can’t lobby for legislation, where does it come from?  The answer is, of course, the people.  But how do the people get ideas for legislation into the hands of their officials?  As often happens while an idea is floating about in my head, somebody else has already come up with the answer.

Crowdsourced legislation, while being the best way to get people input, is not necessarily going to do the job of making sure it’s constitutional, or even a good idea in the first place.  The question of constitutionality goes to an appropriately-named constitutional review board consisting of legal experts.  Assuming the proposed legislation passes constitutional muster, it can proceed to a vote.

By forcing legislation to pass through constitutional review before it can become law, you prevent all the legal challenges that are necessary to get bad laws off the books, saving an awful lot of money in legal fees and reducing workload on the court system.  The ounce of prevention rather than the pound of cure.


Utopia - Part 4

And now for the most topical utopia post so far: elections. It’s no secret the US election process is so messed up that it can barely reach “suboptimal” at even the best of times. Clearly a utopia can’t use the US system as a model. I shall instead take the best ideas I’ve heard and mash them together with a couple thoughts of my own.

Ideally, there should be no political parties. None of this group identification shortcut crap that shuts out candidates who don’t toe the party line exactly. They can, instead, represent their actual constituents.

Every candidate for office should run campaigns based on actual issues of interest to the public. Prior to election season (which shouldn’t last as long as an actual season), public comments and questions are submitted to a qualified news outlet (remember those from Part 2?), and are consolidated into a single questionnaire for candidates to fill out.

These questionnaires can pull double duty in an “I Side With” kind of way, allowing voters to see which candidates most closely represent their views once the election is underway.

Zero money changes hands as part of an election. Every candidate gets a few infomercials on qualified news outlets to explain policy positions; an equal amount of time across the board. And these must be factual - the independent fact-checkers get their review before the ads are allowed to air. Political advertising of any other kind is prohibited.

Candidates are encouraged to have blogs and participate in social media. In fact, I think that’s where the debates should go. Put the debates online, where everyone can participate in real-time chat; candidates, media, fact-checkers, and the public. The Google town hall with Obama earlier this year might make a decent template for these events.

Votes should be cast by ranked order of preference. This gets you a clear winner no matter how many candidates there are. In case you’re unfamiliar with the idea, here’s basically how it works. When you vote, you don’t just check one box; you order the entire slate of candidates from most preferred to least.

Vote counting starts with everyone’s most preferred candidate. If one of the candidates has a clear majority, that’s the winner. If no candidate has a clear majority, the candidate with the least amount of votes is removed, and all votes for that candidate switched to the next most preferred candidate. Repeat this procedure until one candidate gets a clear majority.

This kind of a system doesn't work well with human vote counters, so would have to be done by machine. Voting machines should be commodity-hardware, open source solutions. Any closed-source solution is capable of being subverted to the will of the controller. Only an open-source solution, where everyone can examine the source code for flaws, is trustworthy enough for a task as important as voting.

One assumption I haven't stated yet is that everyone gets to vote. Participatory systems work best when people actually participate. Online registration would be the easiest to implement since the entire population has internet access (Part 2 again).

I'm sure I've overlooked something. Feel free to let me know what I've missed.


Naming Political Parties

The political parties in the US are some of the worst-named ever.  They have no real descriptive power.  We should rename them for what they actually represent.  Let’s give some of them more descriptive names that actually show what they stand for:

Republican Party = Corporate Theocracy Party
Short, sweet, to the point, and far more accurate than anything that’s come out of their mouths in the last few decades.

Democratic Party = Moderate Conservative Party
Had the Republicans not been taken over by the wingnuts, their policies would look pretty much exactly like what the Democrats espouse today.

Libertarian Party = Randian Robber Baron Party
Let’s just quit mincing words, alright?  The whole damn lot of them are living in this fantasy world in which the “magic of the market” will somehow fix everything that’s wrong with the universe.  None of them have a good enough grasp of history to realize that we’ve been down that road before, and it resulted in monopolies, price fixing, and indentured servitude in the form of the “company store”.

It occurs to me that the Republicans could also be called the “Bronze Age Regressive Party”, but I think the one above is a little more accurate.  I also think the Randian Robber Baron Party’s name is a bit too long, but don’t really have anything better to replace it with.

Anyone else have better names?

My Producer/Consumer Ratio

There’s a reason I don’t write very often.  It’s because I consume too much.  That probably requires a bit of explanation.

I subscribe to a metric assload of blogs.  There are well over a hundred articles that hit my Reader feed daily.  I’m always several days behind.  Quite frequently, the most recent article I’ve read is already 2-3 days old, and that’s after I’ve made a concerted effort to try to catch up.

By the time I’ve read something that I want to write about, there are already several bloggers who’ve already said everything I was thinking, and better than I could.  And even when I do have something to say that hasn’t been said yet, I always want to catch up on my reading first.  By which time I’ve let what I wanted to say get shoved out of my brain.  I need to quit doing that.

It doesn’t take a huge amount of effort to open one more tab to a Google doc in which I can take notes as I read.  The notes themselves would be more than sufficient to remind me what I wanted to say.  And their existence alone would remind me that I wanted to write something.  And I’m pretty sure that writing more would please the one person I know for certain actually reads this thing.  (Hi Rachel!)

Since pausing to take notes will almost certainly slow down my reading, putting me even further behind than I already am, I’m probably going to have to stop reading quite so many blogs.  The trick, of course, will be figuring out which ones to drop.  But I can tackle that once I start paying attention to which feeds I’m skimming rather than reading.

Also, some of my thoughts might be too brief for full blog posts, so I’ll probably start posting more of them on G+.  If you want the tiny ones, follow me there.

Does this count as a promise that I’m going to post more?  No, because I don’t believe in making promises I might not be able to keep.  Is it a promise that I’ll make more of an effort with no guarantees?  Yeah, we can probably call it that.  Only time will tell how well that effort will convert to post counts.


National Coming Out Day

Today is national coming out day.  Or international coming out day, I'm not entirely certain.  At any rate, I figured I should post something for it.

I find the model in this video attractive.  If he asked me, I would have sex with him.*  What makes that a significant statement is that I have identified as straight my entire life.  Am I all of a sudden not?  Maybe, but maybe not.  He is, after all, rather feminine in appearance.

I grew up rather sheltered and repressed, a logical consequence of being born into a fairly devout Christian family.  As a result, I had no idea that it was even possible to be attracted to someone of the same gender.  Gay people weren’t mythical bogeymen; they weren’t even a concept in my worldview.

The existence of gay people became very real to me when my brother came out.  At first, it made me uncomfortable.  But when I finally became an atheist, I also became an equal rights supporter.  It was not an easy road for me; it took a lot of conscious effort to finally reject the poisonous religion I’d grown up with.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with being gay.  I might even be a little bit gay myself, if you count a self-assessed score of 1 on the Kinsey scale.  I’ve come to the conclusion that I shouldn’t let something as small as a penis stop me from being attracted to someone.

Besides, I like the penis.  I find it kind of fascinating.  It’s really a remarkable little piece of biological engineering.  Sometimes I want to play with someone else’s just so I can examine it up close and experiment with it.  I never got to do that when I was younger, and I feel like I missed out on something.

But that’s not the only reason.  I also want to play gay just to spite the self-righteous religious bigots.  “Oh look, fundamentalists are preaching about the evils of being gay again.  Want to give each other blowjobs?”  It’s kind of like a drinking game, only with sperm instead of booze.

Maybe I’m a bit gayer than I’ve been self-identifying.  Maybe I’m overreacting to the repression of my youth.  Maybe this is my version of a mid-life crisis.  Maybe I’m coming to the conclusion that gender, at least for me, isn’t as relevant to physical attraction as I’ve always thought it was.  Or maybe I just haven’t been laid recently enough.  Perhaps it’s a combination of things.  I really don’t know.

I’m also not sure that it actually matters.  If I don’t care what gender my sexual partners are (or aren’t, as the case may be), why should anyone else?  They’re not the ones having the sex, after all.

* I am not mis-gendering him; he does self-identify as male.


Utopia - Part 3

In the last installment, I talked about providing reliable information to the population.  This time I’m going to go over what prepares the population to use that information: education.  A proper education is a necessity in a modern society.  The more educated a society is, the better off it will be.

To ensure a proper education for everyone, there should be a single national curriculum.  That curriculum should be designed by recognized experts in the appropriate fields, and it should be reviewed annually.  Education must keep pace with scientific development in order for people to be capable of meaningful contributions to their communities and the world at large.

Education should focus more on critical thinking skills and less on rote memorization of facts that can easily become outdated.  While every student needs to learn the same skills before they finish school, students should be allowed to progress in each subject at their own pace.  We shouldn’t hold back children who learn faster than others any more than we should force children to learn faster than they are able.

Education should also be free.  Its benefit to society as a whole far outweighs the cost of providing it.  And I don’t mean just primary education, either.  When I say education, I mean all education, including community colleges, technical and trade schools, vocational schools, and universities.  “I can’t afford it” is the most tragic reason I can think of for people to fail to realize their potential.


Utopia - Part 2

Welcome to my second post discussing Utopia.  To see the first, just click the “Older Post” link at the bottom of the page.

In creating the large disorganized pile of notes that will eventually take coherent form here, I’ve realized that most of my ideas won’t work as intended without a well-informed populace.  I’d love to add well-educated to that, but education is a separate topic that I will address later.  It’s impossible to prevent willful ignorance, but we can at least minimize unintentional ignorance.  I’ve come up with two things that I think would do the job.

The first is universal broadband internet access.  Make the internet a public utility, no different than electricity, water, or sewer.  I don’t care so much about the actual implementation.  In some locales it could be community wi-fi, in others fiber or copper, or perhaps even satellite.  No one should be required to take advantage of it, but it needs to be available to everyone.

The second is trickier to implement, but probably far more important.  It’s the idea of “qualified news media”.  In order to be called “news”, such media must clearly mark the difference between fact and opinion, publish prominent retractions and corrections of material published as factual that is wrong or misleading, and disclose any financial ties to people or organizations in their stories.  And it must be made freely available to the public.

Any individual or organization that meets these requirements can be a qualified news source.  Citizen journalism is not only allowed; it is encouraged.  In fact, I see no reason foreign news services couldn’t set up local news outlets, as long as they follow all the rules.

The people have a right to correct, factual information that can be trusted.  The news must be the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.  And it must be constitutionally protected from persecution or prosecution.  The truth must never be a crime, under any circumstances.

I’m not exactly sure how to protect legitimately classified information from inappropriate release while still guaranteeing the journalistic rights I’ve already outlined.  I’d be happy to hear your suggestions.


Utopia - Part 1

For anyone who actually bothered to read my ramblings when last I posted something here, sorry about the really long wait.  But I’ve come up with something that kind of demands that I put it out here for the world to see, so I’ll be writing again.

It’s no secret that the US political system is far from optimal if you’re merely a citizen and not a corporation or multimillionaire.  Its society has a few shortcomings as well, although I’m pretty sure there’s disagreement about exactly what those are.

I have some ideas about what the ideal government and society would be, and I’m going to put them out here for everyone to see.  I welcome discussion, as long as it’s civil and reasonable.  Consider this a combination constitutional congress and interim legislature with an ultimate veto authority in the form of me.

The foundation of our utopian society is the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  Our constitution will include the declaration by reference.  Laws that violate it will be considered unconstitutional and unenforceable.

The function of government is to provide for the common good of all its citizens, with no exceptions.  Because Article 2 of the Universal Declaration allows for no exceptions based on nationality or lack thereof, we have to make sure not to violate the rights of any foreigners while we’re at it.

Here are some of the things I intend to cover in this series:
  • Electoral process
  • Judicial process
  • Public services
  • Civil Rights Laws

I’m sure I’ll come up with more later, and will also happily address issues brought up in comments.  Speaking of comments, I have enabled anonymous commenting in an effort to spur additional discussion.  If said discussion becomes trolling, I may be forced to revisit that policy.


A Matter of Time

I spent an awful lot of time earlier this week looking for a way to get the time of day to better than Solaris' default 10 millisecond resolution. There were plenty of ways to get relative times at resolutions pretty darn close to a nanosecond, but no time of day. This strikes me as a giant void in operating system time services. Surely I'm not the only person who's wanted this before now.

Of course I'm not really the person who wants it. It's simply a requirement that the software has to meet. I wouldn't levy a better than 10 microsecond accuracy requirement on software timestamps for a soft real time system. As far as I'm concerned, down to the millisecond is usually good enough. But I'm not the one who gets to decide these things; I just have to make them happen.

I can think of several ways to do it. I just don't like any of them. They all have significant drawbacks. The whole task is complicated by the need to synchronize two separate pieces to the same high-resolution time source.

The easiest solution, but also the one most likely to have negative consequences, is to simply change the system clock resolution to the required 10 microseconds. The obvious negative to this approach is the fact that the system will have to process 1000 times more clock interrupts. This is not particularly conducive to performance.

The second is to write software for the two separate pieces to read the high-resolution time source directly. Aside from the negative of having to write JNI to access the time source from within the Java application, there's the high probability that the time source does not behave nicely when trying to access it from two separate processes.

Another is to create a separate service to manage the time source for the entire system. That would entail inter-process communication, which would probably introduce unacceptable delays in acquiring the time. This approach would probably not meet the accuracy requirement in the first place.

Analogous to the last is folding the second synchronization piece into the operational software, but that would require granting its user privileges it probably ought not to have. If it's not deemed an unacceptable security risk, this is probably the approach I'll have to take.

Making a computer dance to a specific tune is not always fun and games. Sometimes there are real problems to be solved. Most of the time, a solution is fairly evident. This is not one of those times.


Not Quite Straight

As a single guy without a very busy schedule, I have time to "research" physical attractiveness. Yes, that's a euphemism, and it means pretty much what you think it means. There is a more or less endless supply of such research material available on the internet. So much so, in fact, that people can be forgiven for assuming that's what it was invented for.

There's nearly an endless variety of it as well. No matter what you're into, I'm sure you can find something to suit your taste. But I don't want to go there right now. I want to talk about women. There are an infinite variety of women of all shapes and sizes. There are big ones, small ones, tall ones, short ones, well-endowed ones, hairy ones, shaved ones, pierced ones, tattooed ones... and some that don't fit into a binary gender definition.

It may or may not surprise you to learn that I find some of that last kind attractive. And not just in the "oh, she's kind of pretty" way, either. I'm talking about the "I want to have adult naked fun with her" kind of attractive capable of producing a physical reaction. It surprised me when I first discovered this, as I'd always self-identified as a straight man.

I'd always thought my options were straight, bi, and gay, and not being attracted to men eliminated two of the three. It turns out there were options I hadn't even known existed. I think that what we're attracted to, gender-wise, is not an either-or kind of thing. Rather than a single value, it's a series of discrete, continuous blocks on a scale, from masculine on one end to feminine on the other. I've become convinced that gender itself actually falls on the same scale.

At first, I think I was just fascinated at my discovery. I had always been naive enough to think that a sex change was something you could do overnight, rather than a long, drawn out process. There's a reason it's called transition, as I have since come to learn. But after the initial fascination wore off, I realized that I was genuinely attracted to some of these women.

I use the word women on purpose. The ones I'm attracted to look like women. Even with the dangly bits, I still think of them as women. But those dangly bits are part of the attraction. They're included in the fantasy. I don't imagine what the girls would be like without them. I want them the way they are.

Part of it, I suspect, is the whole notion of trying something forbidden. I was taught growing up that it was very bad to even consider having sex with someone who had the same equipment as you. Consciously, I now know there's nothing wrong with that, but there's a part of me that still lives in my childhood naivete, and gets excited about that sort of thing.

Maybe once I've tried it, and I do intend to try it, the novelty of the idea might wear off and I'll decide it was just a phase. But then again, maybe I'll discover I like it and want to do it more. The part of me that finds the idea of the forbidden exciting is also the part that finds the idea I might like it to be rather scary. But you only live once, so I'm not going to let the fear stop me.

It's a real shame that it took so much of my life to discover this about myself. I really wish I could have discovered this earlier. I feel like I've lost something. Maybe this is just my version of a mid-life crisis.