Two Wrongs Won’t Make This Right

Trayvon_Martin
Trayvon Martin - 17-yr old shooting victim

The news channels, the newspapers, and the Interwebs remain abuzz over the tragic Trayvon Martin shooting in Florida.  An online meme of pictures of people in hoodies has taken hold as a collective call for justice.  And a current CNN poll finds that 73% of Americans are calling for the arrest of Martin’s shooter, George Zimmerman.

Based on the publicly known elements of the case I personally think Zimmerman was carrying out some sort of misguided, and maybe racially motivated, vigilante justice.

I’m personally horrified that laws exist that allow a person to use deadly force in self-defense when there is reasonable belief of a threat, without an obligation to retreat first. It seems that’s just begging for situations like this to happen.

And I find it unbelievable that a 250 pound 28-year old man driving an SUV and armed with a semiautomatic pistol felt threatened by a 17-year old pedestrian who weighed all of 140 and was armed only with Skittles.  There’s no indication he was a trained ninja or the apprentice of a Sith Lord.  So what reasonable threat could Martin have posed?

Further, it’s not at all clear the Sanford Police have handled the case well, or even within established guidelines, and the investigation and intervention by higher legal authorities seems absolutely warranted.

Yet I’m also very aware that these are my opinions based on a very possibly slanted news cycle, and based on absolutely no legal expertise with how the Stand-your-ground law in Florida is adjudicated.  I completely get why everyone is up in arms about this.  I very much want due process and justice to occur here.

But I also want to be very careful that we don’t create a vigilante mob of public opinion to go after a man because he himself was a vigilante.  Those two wrongs will not add up to a right.  Zimmerman should be arrested and subsequently tried based on the merits of the case and the law of the state.  He should not be arrested because a CNN poll says it’s the will of the people.

We also need to be ready and aware that the result of all this could be a repeat of the Casey Anthony verdict.  Justice may be served, and yet not serve up the verdict the public wants.  It may well be that the Florida law, however misguided, allows for exactly what happened.  If that turns out to be true, I would hope for and support the repeal or modification of that law.  But that wouldn’t make Zimmerman guilty after the fact.

In the end, we are a country of laws. The implications of that are not always what feels right. I remain hopeful this is not one of those cases.


Why aren’t there more women in tech?

techiegirlCNet’s Benn Parr tackles the question of why the tech field is still short of women after all these years.  He says, “The lack of women in technology is disturbing. To fix it, we need to re-engineer the industry’s male-dominated culture.”

Certainly, the number of women in tech is not on par with the number of men. Although, there are way more of them now than when I entered the field 30 years ago, and it’s continuing to trend up. Yet parity remains a ways off and it’s quite reasonable to question why a field with lots of open jobs is having trouble attracting and keeping women in this economy.

Parr cites some examples of highly insensitive actions and downright hostile workplace issues as his reason for concluding that the male dominated field is simply not a welcoming place for women.  While I agree those issues exist to varying degrees at different employers and schools, I do not agree that this is the core issue.

In full recognition that I’m treading way out on a politically incorrect limb here, I think the core issue is that while women are every bit as capable as men in the tech field, far too few of them have it in their blood.  And in the tech field, that blood passion makes a difference.

A critical minority of the tech field is made up of tech geeks—people who live and breathe tech.  These are people who leave work and go home to their other tech projects.  They fix computers, create apps, build crazy gadgets, put up websites, and learn new languages and tools just for fun.  They own spudgers and Arduino boards and they don’t know why you can’t wire a simple TTL circuit to access the firmware controller on your hard drive.  And yes, they are almost exclusively guys.

I don’t know why they are almost all guys, but it starts early.  When my son was a toddler, I recall taking him to a friend’s house who had a daughter the same age. Both children were the offspring of two parents with engineering degrees. Yet while my friend’s daughter was excited that she would get to play with someone new, my son was looking forward to a whole house full of different toys.

In school, there were girls who were excellent engineering students. But when their hair dryers died, they called on the guys to fix it.  If repairing a hair dryer was a lab project, I have no doubt that any and all of them would have aced the assignment.  But this was not something they had to do, and they seemed to lack the innate drive many of the guys had to dive in and figure it out for fun.

This is in no way to suggest that girls aren’t capable of doing tech jobs. They absolutely are.  But there’s a motivational tech spark that, while not present in all guys, is almost exclusively present in guys.  Yes, I have known the occasional female tech geek, but they are few and far between.

What complicates the tech field is that it evolves at such a rapid pace.  Tools and techniques you learn in school are often obsolete before you graduate.  It’s virtually impossible to stay abreast of the field if you only work at it during business hours. One answer is to be a workaholic, and those come in both genders.  But the easier answer is to be a geek. Then you’re not working after hours, you’re playing.  Same result; less stress.

Over time, the demands of this rapidly changing field result in a large number of non-geeks migrating to management, support, or other tech-adjacent jobs.  Those are valuable jobs that need to get done, but the women in those jobs don’t contribute to the number of women in tech.  And so, over the years, the non-geeks tend to self-select out of the field.  As a result, the number of senior level non-management tech jobs filled by women is very small.

I will grant up-front that I have no scientific evidence or data to back this up.  It’s based entirely upon having spent decades in the tech field, where I worked with, and went to school with, lots of different men and women.  Perhaps my experience is unusual, but I suspect it’s not.  (Just in case I’m going to put on my flame-retardant underwear before I hit the Publish button.)


It’s Political God(less) Rally Weekend!

First Amendment ELater today, people of all faiths will gather is Washington at the Nationwide Rally for Religious Freedom.  Tomorrow, people of no faith will gather in the same spot for the Reason Rally.  Both sides claim the timing is a coincidence.

Moreover, both gatherings are hopelessly misnamed.

The Rally for Religious Freedom is actually motivated by the new mandate from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) that requires all employers provide free contraceptives through their health plans.  Further, it’s organized by two anti-abortion groups, the Pro-Life Action League and Citizens for a Pro-Life Society.  So the freedom they are advocating for is the freedom to observe their religious laws over secular ones.  While I suppose you can argue that’s freedom of a sort, it’s certainly not the sort enshrined in the First Amendment.  And let’s be clear, while cloaked as an “all faiths” gathering, this is a Christian rally.

Meanwhile, the Reason Rally is advocating for the acceptance of atheists as normal non-threatening members of society.  In part. the hope is to also encourage more atheists to come out of the closet by making them less alone.  While that’s a noble goal, a good place to start might be to name your rally something that doesn’t imply that all theists are irrational.  The concepts of faith and reason extend far beyond the notion of God.  Rejecting God doesn’t make you incapable of having faith in anything, nor does accepting God make you immune to reason.

What’s also interesting is that both groups are positioning themselves as the victims.

The Christians, despite being in the vast majority, feel the secularists are launching a war on their religion.  This is as comical as the claims that the LGBT movement is destroying the family.  Just because you don’t get to impose your values on everyone else does not translate to a conspiracy to deprive you of your beliefs.

The atheists, who actually are a minority struggling for acceptance, are staging “the largest gathering of the secular movement in world history” in an effort to appear less threatening.  They are trotting out speakers like The God Delusion author Richard Dawkins, who is a perennial lightening rod for those fearing so-called militant atheism.  Granted, when atheists get militant, they tend to write books rather than buy guns, but it’s hard to see this as a vehicle for winning the hearts and minds of those who fear you.  This is much more like the secular version of showing up in ass-less chaps and chanting “We’re Here! We’re Queer! Get used to it!”

In the end, expect a lot of noise in the news cycles about each event, expect a fair bit of manufactured outrage, expect a lot of unhelpful rhetoric, but don’t expect too much productive to come of it.


Dear GOP, Drill This

Either unregulated free markets work, or they don’t.  Either a thing is the President’s responsibility, or it isn’t.  You can’t have it both ways unless you’re inventing your own reality… Oh yeah, never mind.

US Oil ProductionOkay, maybe we should mind a little… The GOP’s message is that Obama is responsible for high gas prices and he should do something about that.  And that something is to “drill, baby, drill“.  Unfortunately, those damned liberally biased facts stand in stark opposition to the GOP’s message.  As the chart on the right shows, oil production under Obama has risen at a substantial rate, and contrasts markedly with the steady decline of production under George Bush.  In fact, the number of oil rigs in production in the U.S. has reached a 24-year high, according to oil field services company Baker Hughes. In 2005, domestic production was 1.89 billion barrels. This year, experts say, production is expected to surpass 2 billion barrels.

drilling_gas_prices_chartFurther, there’s no correlation between domestic oil production and gas prices.  The chart on the left shows instead that the two numbers seem to roughly track.  If we assume (moronically) that correlation is the same as causation, the obvious policy would be to stop domestic production in an effort to bring prices at the pump down.

Another nail in the coffin of the failure to drill position is the U.S. Energy Information Administration report that the U.S. exported 430,000 more barrels of gasoline than it imported for the month of September. This is an historic change, because we’ve been a net importer of gasoline, mostly from Europe, since the 1960s. We are not domestically constrained on gasoline supply.

Another inconvenient truth is U.S. net petroleum imports have fallen to about 47% of the nation’s consumption, down from a record 60.3% in 2005, Energy Information Administration statistics show. It’s been 15 years since the nation’s reliance on foreign oil has been this low.

So does Obama deserve all the credit for this?  No, absolutely not.  While he’s called for ending the $40B in annual subsidies to big oil, so far the money flows unabated.  While there was a brief moratorium on deep water drilling after the BP oil spill, that was long ago lifted.  Obama subsequently opened up drilling in the Arctic to the howl of environmentalists, and also agreed to open leases for drilling off the eastern seaboard, despite his reputation on the right for shutting down oil exploration.  Obama may not be responsible for the boom in production, but it’s not at all clear how you can claim he’s a hindrance to it.  There might be a claim that he could do more to spur drilling, but there’s no evidence he’s done anything yet to impede drilling.  If anything, his policies lean the other way.

Meanwhile, in reality, the major reasons for increases in domestic oil production lie with recent advances in geologic imaging allowing accurate identification of underground oil deposits, as well as the development of new extraction techniques making previously unprofitable wells productive.

oil -- u.s. oil efficiency improvingThe impact of energy efficiency should also not be underestimated. Not only are our homes, cars, and appliances cleaner and greener, but advances in technology have reduced the need for travel. More of us are telecommuting to work, or using GoToMeeting instead of jumping on a plane.

Hmmm… domestic production is up, domestic use is down, and gas prices are still rising.  That doesn’t sound like the supply & demand model we learned about in school!  But wait, I’ve heard rumors that the US is not the only country on the planet.  Maybe there are other players here influencing the market.

It turns out that growing industrialized counties like China and India are consuming an ever larger portion of the global oil supply.  In aggregate, the global demand is expected to barely keep pace with global production.  So there’s minimal excess capacity in the market, and that helps keep prices high.  Granted, additional production will definitely help this problem.  However, if China and India continue growing at their current rate and eventually consume oil at rates approaching what we do in the U.S., the need will far outstrip the supply of oil on the entire globe.  So long term, most of us have to find an energy alternative to oil anyway.  The only way “Drill, Baby, Drill” solves this problem is if the US becomes entirely oil self-sufficient, and then detaches itself from the global oil markets.  And that flies directly in the face of the GOP position on open, free, and unregulated markets.  Can you imagine the cries when the law is passed that prevents Exxon from exporting?

And speaking of free markets, oil speculators are in no small part responsible for the current price spike.  Almost 70% of the current oil commodities market is driven by speculators.  Why is speculation driving prices up?  Primarily, the speculation that there is an imminent military intervention in Iran that will dramatically impact the delivery of Mid-East oil.  Meaning, the increased saber-rattling toward Iran is helping drive prices up by driving speculation of a coming supply crunch.  Keep in mind that while Obama has offered stern warnings to Iran, the current GOP Presidential contenders (excluding Ron Paul) have all promised to attack Iran if they don’t fall in line to U.S. demands.  Commodities speculation is fairly unregulated, and it seems highly unlikely the GOP would support such financial regulation.  Meanwhile, their militaristic approach to foreign policy exacerbates fears that are driving the free market in the direction they claim to not want it to go.

Mitt Romney is on record saying that rather than bail out the auto industry, the market should just have been allowed to run its natural course.  That’s what’s best for the markets and ultimately best for America. Why then, is it not best for the markets and best for America to let gas hit $5/gallon if that is the natural course of things?  Why should the government intervene on gas prices?

If your mantra is, shut up and take your medicine while the markets sort it out, then shut up and take your medicine.