Slaughter of the Innocent

There is a lot of talk of gun control after the recent school shooting in Connecticut. I consider “nonviolence” to be the term that most closely aligns with my political views. Why then do I generally disagree with gun control laws?

First, there are the practical problems:

  1. 3d printed guns are not far off. Are we going to outlaw 3d printing? Or try and regulate access to the plans? With anonymity networks like tor and other freedom-enabling technologies, it’s going to be difficult to effectively control access to weapons in the near future, without a level of surveillance that most people would find 1984-esque.
  2. Even if you do keep guns away from people, they will just build bombs. If somebody really wants to kill people and make a big stink, they can always build a homebrew bomb.

So we can try and keep the guns away from the killers, but will it actually be effective at what it seeks to do? Maybe somewhat, and for a short while. But is it worth it given the tradeoff in terms of our freedom?

Often when somebody uses their freedom to do something we don’t like, we are tempted to say “people shouldn’t have that freedom.” But if we follow this to its logical conclusion, we wind up living in a world where the lowest common denominator dictates the freedoms we all have.

Outlawing guns is kind of self-defeating. How is such a law going to be enforced? Ultimately, with guns. So what we’re saying is that we want to allow a certain class of people — those in the government with the blessings of the majority (at least ideally) — access to guns, but not ordinary citizens.

I reject the idea that the individuals within our government are any more responsible to carry a gun than the average citizen. As evidence for my position, I give you the fact that our government is regularly engaged in the killing of innocent children overseas. I don’t think the government has demonstrated enough restraint with their use of guns, so my stance is this: you can take away guns from the people only after the government has also laid theirs down.

Finally, there are spiritual problems with the whole argument of gun control vs gun freedom. It avoids the underlying question of why we want to kill each other in the first place. The only real solution is one which addresses why there is so much violence in our culture to begin with. This answer can not be understood without a critical look at our plates.

To avoid the innocent being senselessly slaughtered, we must stop senselessly slaughtering the innocent.”

getting what you want, robot-style

The robots are coming! And it’s going to be awesome.

Robots means we get to automate away a lot of our problems. I like automating. It frees us up from tedius work. I envision a future in which all the unpleasant work is done by robots, and we are free to spend our time on other pursuits; art, family, intellectual pursuits; heck, whatever we can dream up!

However, as our society becomes more automated, we need a stricter sense of ethics. There are three reasons this is more important than ever: automation scales, automation is fast, and automation can be powerful.

Automation scales

Whatever kind of automated system we create, we’re gonna get lots of.. whatever it does. So we’d better think hard and make sure that whatever it does is something we want to be a part of.

A fine example of this is factory farming. As we increase the efficiency and automation of raising and slaughtering animals for food, we have created an environment that would repulse even the strongest stomach. Almost everyone would agree that there’s got to be a better way.. and many are starting to search for that way. Some want to back off from the capitalist progression towards increased efficiency (and automation!) in terms of where our food comes from. Others (like me) think that’s a losing battle, and that the factory farm is simply showing us, in a concentrated fashion, what necessarily goes into a meat-based meal.

Automation is fast

Whatever we automate tends to get faster and faster at whatever it does. This means if we screw up the design, we could screw things up really fast — without time to intervene manually to fix it.

The perfect example of this is in finance. I used to work at a high-frequency trading company, where we wrote programs whose task was to exploit tiny market inefficiencies as fast as possible. We, together with other companies like us, automated away the work of many thousands of market traders. In 2010 there was a “flash crash” which was widely attributed to some particular funny interaction of — or bug in — robotic trading machines. The flash crash was a mini market crash that took place so quickly it would have been difficult for a person to evaluate the situation and react thoughtfully. Fortunately, most firms and exchanges have the forethought to engineer failsafe checks onto their robots that do things like halt trading when something seemingly unexpected occurs.

All this is simply to say that as we automate and increase the speed of our financial system, we are going to get results faster — so whatever direction it’s headed in had better be a good one. Once again I don’t oppose the automation per se, but I think it provides us a good opportunity to look deeply at our entire financial system and ask if it’s on solid legs. Because if it’s not, we’re bound to find out soon, and we may not have time to react.

Automation can be powerful

In my third example, automated killing robots (a.k.a. “drones”), the relationship between the ethics of our decisions and the reality on the ground is perhaps the most direct.

Automating war has been done for a long time. Warmakers often get access to technologies first because it sure is better to be the team that has airplanes than the team that doesn’t. However, until now, we’ve always had to risk losing lives when we went to war. Now, we don’t have to risk anything except a few (expensive) hunks of metal and computer parts.

Whether or not you think drones are a good idea, it’s unlikely that they are going away anytime soon. On the contrary, China and other nations are working overtime to create their own drone fleets to match ours.

The concept of drone wars isn’t all bad — if both sides are fighting with drones then nobody gets hurt, after all. What automation brings to the table is, once again, the necessity to look really hard at the ethics of each decision that goes into the drone war. Is this war truly being fought for just reasons? Because it’s easier than ever before for the military to go to war when it doesn’t have any weeping mothers and body bags to atone for. At least, not on the winning side. And perhaps it seems far-fetched to some in the U.S. right now, but in some parts of the world there is always the possibility that drones might be used to scare the populace of a country into supporting one leader or another.

Ultimately, somebody has to write the rules for how the robots act. In the case of drones, perhaps it’s constitutional law that ultimately governs the robots. In the case of markets, it’s financial companies, exchanges, and possibly regulators. And in the case of factory farming, it’s ultimately the consumer who decides what the history of their meal is going to be. In all cases, automation acutely brings to a head the need to look hard at the direction the automation is going and make sure it’s a world we want to live in. In a real sense, we need to be “careful what we wish for” because we are getting more of it, faster, every day.

It’s either that, or we may have to fire the robots. And I, for one, am looking forward to robotopia!

raw foods – first experiences

I have been on 100% raw foods for a little over 2 weeks now. I’m roughly following Doug Graham’s 80-10-10 program. The short version of how 80-10-10 breaks down is: eat macronutrients in the ratio: 80% (or more) carbs, 10% (or less) protein, 10% (or less) fat; all raw & vegan; and plenty of exercise, sleep, and sunshine. It translates into: eat a lot of raw fruit, particularly tropical fruits which are more voluminous and calorically dense, and a lot of raw vegetables, particularly green leafies. A small amount of avocado or a handful of nuts/seeds a day is all that’s allowed to stay under 10% fat.

For the moment, I’m following the strict version (no overt fats), except that I am supplementing vitamin B12 (if you’re considering not supplementing b12, please consider this article first!).

Here are some of the things I’ve learned so far.

Subjective things

Digestion is much better. This surprised me, because I didn’t think I had problems until I changed and discovered how much better it could be. With fruit monomeals as typical now, my digestive system does not struggle. Even if I overeat — which I used to fear because of the consequences — my system struggles a little but catches up in less than an hour. As a general rule, it finishes digesting a meal in minutes, not hours, freeing up all that digestive energy for me to use as I please.

My cardiovascular system feels much happier. Sure, it’s just subjective, but my heart feels like it never has to work very hard, even when exercising. I would not be surprised to find that my blood pressure is lower (unfortunately, I don’t have data on that from before the change either..).

On about the second or third night on the strict raw regimen, I noticed I was up all night peeing — what felt like about once an hour. When I woke up in the morning, I had lost 7 or 8 pounds. The only explanation I can find is this was a salt detox — the salt had been causing water retention in my tissues.

Within a couple of days on the diet, my energy took off like a rocket. I was unstoppable, running twice as far as I have in years, cycling much faster, doing more pullups, yoga felt much freer and easier — with more energy, almost everything was easier. In fact, I had so much energy that I found myself wanting to clean the kitchen in the middle of the night, go out with friends more, and just generally do stuff all the time, because life is so much easier with lots of energy. I attribute the increase in energy to a major shift towards high net gain foods, as well as simply getting sufficient carbohydrate to fuel my activities for the first time in years.

It’s not all wine and roses however. After the first couple of days, I started feeling spacey. I’m still spacey much of the time, excepting just after lots of strenuous exercise, and first thing in the morning. I’m particularly spacey after eating a lot of carbs. Could it just be lack of sufficient sleep? Perhaps. Or maybe it’s all the sugar. I do seem to notice it is more pointed just after a large sweet fruit meal.

Having all this energy, I was using it like crazy. And I wasn’t getting sufficient sleep, because I was too energized to stay in one place. And so I started to run out of fuel, both calorically and rest-ly. I hit a wall. By July 10th dinnertime, I felt lightheaded and like I was going to pass out. Luckily, I had a clue as to why:

I’m an active person. I ride my bike almost everywhere, and walk everywhere else. On top of that, I do 1-2 hours of yoga every day and almost every day I go out for some form of focused cardio exercise. On some days I add weight training. All this adds up to a need for quite a few calories. With fruit as the primary source of calories, I was caught off guard by just how much fruit is necessary to get to an adequate level of calories. As you can see in the graph above, when I started tracking things I quickly learned that I wasn’t getting even close to enough calories at first.

A typical day’s food

That is: about a half a watermelon for breakfast, some 10 bananas and half a head of lettuce for lunch, munching on fava beans and lettuce throughout the afternoon, and 5 bananas plus 4 mangos and 2 large kale/carrot/cucumber salads for dinner.

Analysis

The macronutrient ratio is 88-8-4. You may be surprised to find that with almost no “protein” foods (except a few fava beans), I’m already at 8% or 68g, which is over the CDC’s recommendation of 56 grams and sufficient, even for athletes, by a healthy margin according to all the research I’ve seen. Naturally, my glycemic load is high, but that’s to be expected on a high-carb diet. The theory goes that on a low fat diet this is not an issue.

It appears that the minerals I may need to watch are selenium and zinc, and the vitamins to watch are D, E, and B12. Everything else is off the charts.

Here’s an interesting one.. my omega 3/6 fat ratio is 1:2, when the theory goes that I want it to be close to 1:1. I wonder what a teaspoon of ground flax seeds would do to this number..

Again we can see that Zinc and Selenium are possibly on the low side. Calcium is also not super high. Sodium at 516mg is more than enough — research shows that around 200mg is sufficient. The RDAs are crazy high simply because you probably won’t die as long as you stay under 2000, not because you need that much.

Vitamins are where fruit works its magic. Check out all the loads of vitamin A goodnesses, and the vitamin C and K through the roof. Again, need to watch vitamin D (get lots of sunshine, supplement in the winter), b12 (supplement), and E (maybe a handful of the right kind of nuts?).

Challenges

Cost

All this fruit can cost a lot! Especially when organic. It’s been a learning experience, but I think soon I will have my cost down in the vicinity of $20/day or less. The day above cost about $25 (rough estimate). Buying some non-organic produce helps (using the dirty dozen/clean 15 helps here), as does choosing the right kinds of fruit. Bananas are cost effective, watermelon are pretty good, mangos, oranges decent. On the other hand, getting my primary calories from blackberries or even peaches would break the bank in a day.

Ripening

Just the other day I was caught with no calorie-dense, ripe fruit. I had to scour the town until I managed to find a bunch of ripe, organic bananas. And today, it seems all my bananas are ripe at once! It’s going to take some practice to have enough, but not too much, ripe fruit every day.

Calories

Eating large volumes of food is a new habit, and it continues to challenge me to get enough calories, particularly when I’m highly active.

Focus

While physically I feel better than I have in years, mentally I’m struggling to be as focused as before. Perhaps that’s because I have so much more energy and I haven’t figured out how to direct/channel it yet. Or it could be all the sugar.. or it could have to do with not getting enough sleep.

Balance

Right now, I get rocketship energy and so I go flying around the neighborhood at 1000 miles an hour, and then come crashing down. I want to learn to balance this energy so that I have smooth, vibrant energy almost all the time.

Anxieties

With a new diet come a new set of worries — will my teeth rot out of my head or will something else horrible happen to me? Oh well, I guess there’s always something to worry about.

Cravings!

Every fatty or salty food I see looks so delicious! My mouth waters! Perhaps this will abate, at least the fatty one, once I add more overt fats back in. Withdrawal, or natural survival instinct? Who knows?

fun story

A friend of mine wrote this little gem:

We make contact with an alien civilization. Our sensors detect they’ll arrive at earth in just a few hours time, but they send us an advance message. Our scientists receive it but nobody understands, it’s an audio recording in some kind of strange language. Sure enough, a lone translator finally decodes it with minutes to spare and delivers the message to the President.

“Thousands of years ago our ancestors crash-landed on your planet. They managed to send off a distress signal before they lost all power and once we heard we set a course for your planet at maximum speed, although we predict nearly 10,000 of your solar cycles have gone by since the distress signal was sent. Anyway, we’ve scanned your planet for traces of our ancestors but find only faint signal, as if they’ve been stamped out. What happened to them? We require answers.”

The President and his cabinet scratch their heads for a bit, confused. Finally the President turns to the translator and asks: “How did you decode this message so fast?”

“Oh, it was simple”, says the translator. “Turns out they speak Cherokee.”

who’s dead in the long run?

The long run is a misleading guide to current affairs. In the long run we are all dead.
– John Maynard Keynes

Many modern economists, including fed chair Ben Bernanke, basically believe in the validity of Keynesian economics — particularly the bit about the government intervening in the economy (through the federal reserve or debt spending) to mitigate perceived boom and bust cycles.

While in the long run you and I are clearly dead, our progeny are not. How good do you feel about mortgaging the economic future of our progeny? How good do you feel about it in the short run? I feel about as good about it as I do about stealing food from a baby.

So yes, we can quip a cute soundbite about the mortality of man, and use it to justify a flawed economic policy, bit is this really the sort of argument we want running our economy?