higgs boson scientist and academia

The guy who discovered the Higgs boson “doubts a similar breakthrough could be achieved in today’s academic culture.” He seems to believe academia has devolved into a place where one’s “productivity” is judged based on exclusively on frequent publications.

He also turned down knighthood, and laments the term “God particle.”

In related news, an argument that most people really don’t like it when people are creative, preferring conformity instead.

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snowden and greenwald

The story of two unlikely heroes, Edward Snowden and Glenn Greenwald – the risks both men took, the sacrifices they made, and the motivations that led to their fateful union to change the world.

Long article, but worth reading in full.

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americans don’t trust each other

According to this article.

The best-known analysis comes from “Bowling Alone” author Robert Putnam’s nearly two decades of studying the United States’ declining “social capital,” including trust.

I’m tempted to read the book, though my reading list is already high at the moment.

Some possible reasons suggested have to do with income inequality, racial bias, and 24-hour news coverage. Let me propose another.

I’ve argued before that institutions that are too good might also degrade trust. To give an example, if your son gets into a fight with a neighbor’s son, do you and that neighbor get together and force the respective kids to apologize to one another and make up? Nope, not anymore. Apologizing is akin to an admission of guilt, one that could lead to a criminal charge and/or civil liability. A parent might call Social Services, the cops, or a lawyer. And the other parent might do the same out of concern that the one who contacts authorities first wins benefit of the doubt. This is a contrived example and may not typify this sort of interaction, but it nonetheless illustrates a point: we increasingly rely on institutions to resolve disputes with others to such a degree that trust in each other declines. Those institutions can be a friend or a foe, and we want them on our side. As these sorts of scenarios play out, others will learn: you can’t really trust anyone, and the one who calls authorities or a lawyer first has the upper hand.

A societal breakdown would force people to band together, though that outcome certainly isn’t ideal. I’d prefer something less dramatic than chaos to bring community back. And once order is restored, there’s no guarantee that feelings of community would endure anyway.

Other factors are no doubt at play as well. Fewer people attend community-oriented and spiritually engaging activities like church. More people might spend leisure time on the internet–not a place known for polite discourse.

I don’t predict any substantial change in our collective trust of one another, and so I’m not optimistic. But perhaps we can adapt to the times and learn to be content with a lack of trust, cultivate strong bonds with a small group of select friends, and learn to live in this brave new world. I’m optimistic that, if we accept our collective fate, we can find a way to adapt and thrive, regardless of our lost faith in each other.

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guy “steals” 5 cents of electricity, is arrested

Guy is arrested for charging his car for 20 minutes at a school.

A man in an Atlanta suburb was confronted by a police officer for plugging his electric car into an outside outlet at a school. Ten days later, he was arrested at home and charged with theft for taking about 5 cents worth of electricity “without consent.”

It seems silly to consider this a crime, under the circumstances, though I understand it can be argued both ways (imagine if there was a spike in energy prices and everyone started charging their cars in available power outlets). Still, what surprises me is that the man was arrested more than a week later. Not given a citation and asked to appear in court to argue his case, but arrested. Normally, we citizens lose custody of our body when we represent a public threat and police have no other reasonable option. It’s hard to imagine the guy briefly charging his electric car as representing a danger to the public.

The slippery slope argument in favor of criminalizing this trivial theft notwithstanding, consider the aggregate costs associated with police action investigating the “crime”; subsequent police action performing the arrest, filing paperwork, booking and processing, court and lawyer fees, etc. That adds up to much more than 5 cents, the direct cost of the crime, if a crime even occurred (and I’m of the opinion that, given the circumstances, the man committed a non-crime).

Other scenarios spring to mind, such as picking up a penny off the ground (on any public or private property not owned by you) and then being arrested for theft, for “stealing” a penny without consent of the landowner (or the government, in the case of public property). Is that really the direction we want to go with regard to our law enforcement and judicial system?

As I’ve argued before on this blog, in countries like the US (et al) with falling crime rates and growing (or at least non-declining) law enforcement personnel, smaller and less significant “crimes” will be prosecuted, such that even seemingly innocent actions could brand one a “criminal.”

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lawsuit against Macy’s for in-store imprisonment

Lawsuit is for one million dollars (which sounds excessive; I’m guessing Macy’s will settle). Perhaps surprising is that Macy’s maintains a room used for imprisoning shoppers. (link)

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summer of snowden, recap

An excellent recap of the Snowden revelations and the extent to which the US government is spying on us all, Americans and non-Americans alike. Worth reading in full, details past abuses of power by US government, then describes current state of affairs. Also details NSA’s creative use of legal terminology to expand its purview as well as outright non-compliance.

Related – the guy who invented the web (not Al Gore, but Tim Berners-Lee), warns that government surveillance might be worse than (Chinese-style) censorship.

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watched cops are good cops

It seems that cops with wearable video cameras are a win/win, for us and for them.

University researchers revealed that when the city of Rialto, California, required its cops to wear cameras, the number of complaints filed against officers fell by 88 percent and the use of force by officers dropped by almost 60 percent. Watched cops are polite cops.

The good officers also benefit; they are better protected from bogus complaints against them.

The benefits to the public are not hard to imagine. Cops are flawed human beings too; some of them are very flawed indeed.

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