Thursday, May 15, 2014

Do You Suffer from Normalcy Bias?

How many videos have you seen where a dirty, sweaty, wet, muddy, scared local exclaims to the camera, "I can't believe this! This just doesn't happen!"? Far too often, people are unprepared for the things that can happen in life… but it doesn't have to be that way.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Congressional Pay Cuts Undermine Dignity of Job, Pelosi Says

Congressional pay cuts undermine the dignity of the job, Pelosi says.

"The current salary for rank-and-file members of the House and Senate is $174,000 per year."[1]

About 70% of Marines hold the rank E4 or lower[2], and they each earn less than $30,000 per year[3].

You wanna compare retirement plans next, Representative?

To rate any sort of pay after exiting the services, one must serve on active duty at least 20 years (with certain exceptions based on combat injuries). At that point, they rate 40% of the base pay of their highest rank. After 30 years on active duty, they rate a maximum of 75% of their highest base pay.[4] The highest enlisted base pay is less than $65,000, making the maximum retirement pay less than $49,000.[5] But it is incredibly difficult to stay in service that long. Promotion and retention are performance-based but restricted numerically annually by law; less than 1% of enlisted Marines reach the rank of E9.

Those who serve in Congress also must serve 20 years to rate retirement pay (with certain exceptions based on age). A typical congressman earns $55,012 in retirement pay after 20 years. There is no maximum, however, it would take about 60 years of service to rate the 75% of base pay rated by 30 years in the military.[6]

The point is, Representative Pelosi, that all congressmen are already paid significantly more each year than the large portion their counterparts serving in the military, and only a small number of military servicemen come close to the level of congressional pay. Similarly, fewer military servicemen rate retirement pay, and when they do, they still aren't paid as much as congressional retirees.

And I sincerely hope I don't have to explain to you which of the two jobs is ACTUALLY more dignified.

[2] (A little old, but the percentages align with what I've been briefed officially within the past 12 months.)
[3] (Highest E4 base pay * 12 < $30,000.)
[5] (Highest E9 base pay * 12 < $65,000.)

I used the enlisted servicemen for the comparison because most servicemen are enlisted. Although it occurs to me now that perhaps a comparison with officers would be relevant as well since the numbers would more closely math the number of congressmen as well as the fact that officers are more likely to be college educated. However, the pay systems are the same for officers as enlisted.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Fight the Driver Texting Ban - Email Gov Daniels!

"Police struggle to enforce texting law" - WISH-TV
(10 June 2012)

Fellow Hoosiers,

The Indiana legislature has delivered a bill, HB 1129, to Governor Daniels' desk that would attempt to prohibit drivers from texting while driving. We must not let this ill bill become lousy law! Below is a copy of the letter I submitted to the governor using the form on his website, here:

If you're wondering why we all need to oppose laws of this nature, read my letter! Also, you might refer to my post from the last legislative session wherein I answer that question, here:

02 May 2011

Governor Daniels,

This letter is a plea for an ear to hear regarding HB 1129, the Driver Texting Ban.

In May 2009, you delivered the commencement address at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology. As I sat in my cap and gown, anxious to receive a paper validating my years of hard work, dreaming of the days to come in the new, "real" world I'd soon enter, your words gave me pause and have, in fact, never left me. I'm sure you have your address notes around somewhere for all the specifics, but the point you drove home was that our cities, counties, State, and nation are in dire need of more technical people speaking up about the issues we face. And so I am compelled to weigh in upon the matter of the Driver Txt Ban recently delivered to your desk: you absolutely must prevent HB1129 from becoming State Law!

There are several reasons to fight such legislation, but I only want to cover three of the best ones: enforceability, effectiveness, and accountability.

This law cannot be enforced without gross violation of personal rights. Since there are numerous - and legal - reasons to be interacting with a modern phone while driving, it is impossible for a law enforcement officer to develop any probable cause on a driver using a phone. A driver could just as easily be looking up a restaurant nearby, reviewing a shopping list, choosing a song or audio book, obtaining directions, et al., ad nauseum, and an observing officer would be absolutely unable to know if the driver is in violation of the law unless he first violates the driver's 4th amendment protection from illegal searches and seizures without a warrant or probable cause, or he convinces the  driver to waive his 5th amendment protection from saying something stupid. If passed, this law WILL contribute to the widespread violation of our enumerated rights, and, to add insult to injury, each violated driver will have to pay hundreds of dollars afterwards! Forgive the crude analogy, but this concept is akin to being being forced to pay your rapist for his "service."

Laws of this type have not proven effective elsewhere. Arizona Democratic State Rep. Steve Farley, who was the first legislator in the country to introduce a bill that would ban texting while driving, has noted that "hands-free" legislation has not proven successful [1]. The California DMV also notes that keeping phones out of a driver's hand doesn't make the road safer [2].  More frustratingly, our own "Criminal Justice Institute Traffic Safety Division Director Ryan Klitzsch says it’s as much an informational campaign as an effort to crack down on distracted drivers" [3]. Passing a bill which would, if law, violate the rights of every citizen out of compliance therewith is the worst possible way to embark upon a public education campaign.

It is not for the People of Indiana to decide which distractions a driver can handle and which he cannot. In a free State, a driver is able to determine for himself what his own limitations are. No law can be appropriately tough on some and loose on others; at least, no law that focuses on the minutiae over the true issue can. A ban on texting utterly ignores the danger of drivers doing any of the other millions of things modern phones can do! To truly make the roads safer, the use of the phone altogether must be banned. But we cannot stop there, either: how could a driver focus on the road if his passenger is talking? Or if he is listening to music? God forbid the driver be a parent with misbehaving children in the car! Or reading an actual book! No, each driver must take the personal responsibility to make such decisions on his own, and he must be held accountable for those decisions. But this bill does not achieve this goal in an American way.

Governor, I won't even start to get into the discussions about the "nanny state." I'm sure you have heard them all before. Furthermore, given your success in your current office, I know you understand and embrace responsibility at a governmental and a personal scope. I implore you to send this abusive, misguided albeit well-intentioned, and un-American bill back to the drawing board. Similar bills have been defeated before in our Legislature; we can't allow this one to make it into law this time either. 

Links for sources

Additional reading: in the last legislative session, I penned the following article fighting the idea of a driver texting ban and even presented a much more viable and less intrusive approach to improving road safety and decreasing the leading cause of accidents--driver distractions.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Maj. Hasan, the "Accused" Ft. Hood Shooter

A discussion on the dilemma between calling an apple an apple and upholding the American justice system's "innocent until proven guilty in a court of law" standard and on the mainstream media's motives.

Why not call it like it is?
We're not calling apples "apples", but it wasn't always this way.

Today, while reading this story about the US Senate's report on the Fort Hood shooting, I was reminded again of an issue with which I've struggled. Here's the bit that caught my eye (emphasis mine),
According to portions of the report obtained by the Associated Press, military supervisors had the authority to discipline or discharge Army Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, the Army psychiatrist accused of killing 13 people and wounding more than 30 in the shootings at the Texas military post in November 2009.

Why do we refer to this individual as "the man accused of mass murder" instead of "the man who murdered 13 people in November of 2009"?

These are facts:
  1. A gunman opened fire at the Soldiers Readiness Processing Center on the grounds of Fort Hood, a US Army base near Killeen, TX, at about 13:30 CST on 5 NOV 2009.
  2. Thirteen people were murdered by this gunman and more than 30 others were wounded.
  3. The gunman was shot but not killed.
  4. This gunman was identified as Major Nadal Hasan, an Army psychiatrist who worked on the base.
So, really, why are we still only referring to him as "the accused Fort Hood shooter" in lieu of "the Fort Hood shooter"?

News reports published in the immediate aftermath did not pull punches. For example, a story published on 5 NOV 2009 by MSNBC came right out and said what happened and who did it.
An Army psychiatrist who opened fire at Fort Hood, Texas, killing 12 people and wounding 31 others, was shot but captured alive, military officials said late Thursday.

The gunman, identified as Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, was wounded at the scene but was captured alive and was in stable condition….

What changed? Why did we not call him only "the accused" then but do so now?

It's the American Way
We protect the innocent, sometimes risking not punishing the guilty.

Is it common for the media to refer to those who have been arrested and charged with crimes as "accused" until the verdict is returned? That's possible. But in this case, should they bother? He was caught red-handed! In the act of murdering people!

I am torn because on the one hand, I do not believe that Maj. Hasan is the wrong person. He did it: he murdered those people. Furthermore, on 22 NOV 2009, the AP reported, "John Galligan, the civilian attorney for Maj. Nidal Hasan, said, … 'an insanity defense has to be considered.'” (And I just noticed that, even then, the author calls Maj. Hasan "an Army psychiatrist accused of killing 13 people".) Claiming a person is insane does not imply the person did not commit the crime for which he was arrested, only that he should be excused from the just consequences. I mean, there is just no way out of the truth that this Muslim murdered those people. I don't like reading all the pussyfooting around the matter.

But, on the other hand, I do believe that the right thing is to call ANY such person "the accused" until they have been judged to be guilty in a court of law. The American justice system ought to be one that favors protection of the innocent at risk of allowing some guilty to go free rather than one that catches all the guilty at the risk of wrongly imprisoning some innocents.

And so, begrudgingly, I concur that we should honor the American Way by continuing to call him "the accused" until he is found guilty in court.

But, wait! Is there more?
Is there more to the matter than meets the eye?

That was where I meant to end this post when I first set out to write it. My initial supposition was that the media is honoring the American concept of "innocent until proven guilty," but maybe I am giving the media too much credit. Should I really trust the media to do the right thing? Do they have some other motive? Are we being conditioned by the media to consider him only "the accused Fort Hood shooter" instead of calling him what he really is, "the Fort Hood murderer"? Does the fact that he is an Islamic extremist compel the media into giving this man special treatment?

What do you think? Is the media no longer blatantly calling Major Hasad "the Fort Hood shooter" out of respect for true American ideals, or is there some other reason?

Monday, December 13, 2010

The Righteous Man's Prayer is Powerful, But Who is Righteous?

I have long had this in my head: The prayer of a righteous man is powerful. It was only recently, though, that this finally began to "apply" to me. I'd like to share a short devotional with you about what I've learned.

I like the New Living Translation, so here is its version of James 5:16, from which the saying above is derived:
"The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results."

Whenever I thought about praying, I thought to myself, "What's the point? I'm not a good person. I SUCK at doing what I know I should do. So obviously my prayers aren't going to be powerful." It was very discouraging to me. But in the past few weeks another line of thought began to accompany that old train. "But, wait a second, Caleb—'there is none righteous; no, not one.' Well, who is supposed to pray, then?"

Another saying that has been in my head since childhood is the command to "pray without ceasing." Steven Curtis Chapman made a good song about that concept to which I was introduced by WOW 1998 called "Let Us Pray" (click here to listen to it).

I was pretty sure I knew the answer to my own question. But who among us learns so easily?

Last week in my Bible reading, I read a particular parable Jesus told that really drove home the lesson I needed to learn. Here is Luke 11:5-10.

Then, teaching them more about prayer, he used this story: “Suppose you went to a friend’s house at midnight, wanting to borrow three loaves of bread. You say to him, ‘A friend of mine has just arrived for a visit, and I have nothing for him to eat.’ And suppose he calls out from his bedroom, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is locked for the night, and my family and I are all in bed. I can’t help you.’ But I tell you this—though he won’t do it for friendship’s sake, if you keep knocking long enough, he will get up and give you whatever you need because of your shameless persistence.

“And so I tell you, keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened."

So here is my resolution: though my righteousness is as filthy rags, when I undertake to pray for something, I will pray without ceasing for it in the holy name of my Savior, the very one name under Heaven given among men whereby I am saved. I will shamelessly enter into the throne room of the Creator—who knit me together in my mother's womb, who has numbered the hairs on my head, who calls the stars by name, who provides for the lilies, and whose eye is on the sparrow—and boldly make my request in the powerful name of Jesus Christ!

I am no longer afraid to ask for anything. I have long believed that faith was one of my spiritual gifts; it is time for me to grow that faith some more. With faith the size of a mustard seed, I will say to the mountain, "Throw yourself into the sea," and it shall.

What mountains will you command? Don't limit yourself! Have you forgotten that Jesus cursed a fig tree for such a petty reason that it did not have fruit when he went up to it? (It's in Mark's gospel.) And did Jesus not tell us that we will do greater things than He? (It's in John's gospel.)

Don't be like the seeds sewn among weeds who started out strong but were choked out by the worries and fears of the world. Fear not! Worry not! Have faith! And know that our prayer is powerful because it is in the name of Jesus Christ who alone is righteous, who alone is worthy, and who alone stands with us before the Father and pleads our case (1 Jn 2:1).