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Recently a dipshit editor named Ben Smith over at Buzzfeed ambushed Uber executive Emil Michael by taking out of context something Michael said at a private dinner and publishing it under a misleading headline.

It was such a clever ambush that Emil Michael couldn't hope to explain himself without inflaming things further. So he wisely issued a half-assed non-apology-sort-of-apology to make it all go away.

But he's stained. That stuff lives forever on the Internet. It was a total hit job and Buzzfeed pulled it off. As Buzzfeed's own article explains, they have a grudge with Uber over some privacy issues. I assume this was either payback or a . . . coincidence?

If only there was some independent observer of this outrage who once cared what the public thought of him but no longer does. Perhaps that person could say some of the things that I imagine Emil Michael wants to say but can't. And what if that independent observer woke up in a bad mood? How fun might that be?

Well, it's your lucky day.

Let's start with Buzzfeed's totally manipulative and misleading headline:

Uber Executive Suggests Digging Up Dirt On Journalists

Holy shit! Uber must be evil! They are trying to suppress freedom of the media!

Except. . . that isn't what happened, according to Buzzfeed's own reporting in the article with the misleading headline.

Michael didn't "suggest" doing anything. Nor did he - then or now - even want to dig up dirt on journalists. Assuming Buzzfeed's reporting of the details is accurate, all he did was make a dinner party intellectual comparison between the evil of the media that was unfairly attacking them (which I assume is true) and their own civilized response to the attacks.

Michael's point, as Buzzfeed reports it, was that horrible people in the media mislead readers and there is nothing a victim can do about it within the realm of reasonable business practices. The Buzzfeed business model is totally legal. But, as Michael explained, probably over a cocktail, the only legal solution to this problem would be to use freedom of the press to push back on the bad actors by giving them a taste of their own medicine.

But it was just private cocktail talk. It wasn't a plan. It definitely wasn't a "suggestion." It was just an interesting way to make a point. The point, as I understand it from Buzzfeed's own reporting, is that Uber DOES play fair in a fight in which the opponents (bad actors in the press) do not. I find that interesting. It is also literally the opposite of what the headline of the story "suggests" happened.

And Michael made his point in a room full of writers/media people. Obviously it wasn't a plan.

It's not as if Michael was talking about manipulating the Wall Street Journal or the New York Times. Those publications might get some facts wrong now and then, but they don't have a business model that involves intentionally taking things out of context to manufacture news. No one suggested trying to strong-arm the legitimate media. Michael was talking about the bottom-feeder types that literally manufacture news, hurt innocent people, damage the reputation of companies, and hide behind the Constitution and freedom of speech. You can't compare the bad actors in the press with the legitimate press. And in my opinion it makes interesting dinner conversation to speculate how one can stop the bad actors without breaking any laws.

And then Buzzfeed proved Michael's point by taking his words out of context and showing that Michael could do nothing about it but apologize for . . . Buzzfeed's misleading description of what he said.

That's called "news."

[Update: A commenter points out that this ugly situation is even uglier than I thought. An executive at Buzzfeed is in investor in Uber's competition. See this take on it.]

Disclaimer and biases
: I don't own any Uber stock. I had lunch with the founder once.

------------------------------------------------------
Scott Adams
Co-founder of CalendarTree.com     
Author of this book 

Twitter Dilbert: @Dilbert_Daily

Twitter for Scott: @ScottAdamsSays

 

 

 
How do you know if you're living your life right? Is there a standard for that sort of thing?

I came up with a little graph of what I think a well-lived life looks like. The idea here is that we are born 100% selfish, as babies. But if we manage our lives well, our selfishness declines continuously until death. Death is the ultimate lack of selfishness.



I came to this idea by observing the natural evolution in my own selfishness over the years. In my twenties I would have chewed through a hundred not-yet-dead bodies to get to the top of the pile. In my fifties, I make most of my decisions based on how I can be useful to others.

I'm not awesome; I'm just rich and healthy. I have everything I need, and that doesn't seem likely to change soon, so my natural human inclination is to look around and see how I can be useful.

My entire philosophy is two words: Be useful

When you are young, the most useful thing you can do is focus on your own health, happiness, and education. The world wants you to be selfish until you don't need to be that way. That's what keeps the system going. But if you maintain a high level of selfishness all of your life, your friends and family might only be pretending to like you.

My proposition is that you can only experience meaning in life when your selfishness trend is downward, or you are doing something (such as learning new skills) to make that happen. Life is complicated and messy, and that makes it hard to keep score. But if your selfishness levels have plateaued, you might want to consider a new plan.

------------------------------

Scott Adams

Co-founder of CalendarTree.com    

Author of this book 

Twitter Dilbert: @Dilbert_Daily

Twitter for Scott: @ScottAdamsSays

 
You would become a billionaire if you built a device to stop teens from texting and driving. The insurance companies would love it.

I think I figured out an elegant way to stop teens from texting. Yes, I could form a company to produce the product myself. But building a company takes time, and luck, and patent applications, and lots more. I would be dicking around trying to form a company while thousands of people die in the meantime.

So I'm going to release this idea for anyone who wants to take a run at it. I think insurance companies would be first in line. And I think they can act faster than I can.

Before you understand my solution, let me give you some context.

All newer cars have a standard jack that lets consumers add third-party devices that interact with the car's electronics. The jack is usually under the dashboard and most people have never seen it. Devices already exist that plug into that jack and record data about the car's operation.

The brute force method of preventing texting while driving involves, for example, having an app on your teen's phone that interacts with the plug-in device and shuts off texting functions while the car detects movement. That device already exists. I think AT&T offers one.

The problem with that approach is that whenever the teen is moving as a passenger in a car, or on a bus, texting is disabled. All the app knows is that the teen is in motion.

The problem no one has yet cracked is how to identify the driver of the car and disable that one phone's texting capability while allowing texting for passengers and public transit users.

That's the problem I solved.

My insight is that the problem lies with psychology, not technology. Here's my solution.

Like AT&T's solution, a device is jacked into the car's port below the dashboard. (You literally just plug it in.) The device works with an app that your teen has on his phone. That technology is all standard stuff.

All I am changing is the psychology, and to do that we require some tweaks in the software.

My solution requires one person to register as the non-texting driver for the specific vehicle or else a text alert will go to parents saying the car has no designated driver and is in motion.


That's it. That's the psychological fix. Think this through with me...

For starters, the passengers are all free to text, even if they have the app on their phones, because they have not registered as the driver of the moment. The speed of the vehicle is irrelevant to them.

If your teen is driving alone, he can still text and drive. The technology does not prevent it. But what does happen is that an immediate text is sent to a parent alerting of the behavior. And I can imagine also sending that data directly to the car insurance company as a way of knowing if the non-texting discount can apply.

I think it is important to allow texting and driving because sometimes the driver might hand his phone to a buddy and say, "Text my dad that we're heading to Bob's house." Or maybe the teen is stuck in stop-and-go traffic and just needs to tell his Mom, "home in 10." That's reasonably safe, but the parent will get an alert text anyway, including the highway speed at the moment of the text. If the car is at rest, the parent doesn't care. If the text says, "Eric says to tell you we are heading to Bob's house," it is obviously from a friend in the car, and again the parent isn't concerned.

My idea assumes that teens are selfish. (Fair enough?) Imagine a car full of teens, each with a phone, each texting continuously during the ride as passengers. Would any of those teens volunteer to be the designated driver - just to fool the app - so the real driver can text and drive? I don't think so, at least not often. Teens have lost the ability to be car passengers without texting. It isn't even a thing anymore. They need texting like they need air.

A teen is dumb enough to ride in a car with a driver that is texting, but that teen is too selfish to give up his own right to text. A system that relies on honesty, good judgment, or dependability will always fail with teens. But a system that depends on teens being selfish has a good shot at working.

Best of all, this system gives the teen passengers an easy way to protest if the driver somehow tries to beat the system and text anyway. Teens aren't good at saying, "Drive safely and don't text." But teens are great at saying, "Dude, I'm not going to be your designated non-texting bitch."

Your brain is now busy thinking of ways your teen can thwart my clever system, and those ways surely exist. No system is hole-free. But I think this system takes a huge bite out of the problem.

This is a big deal. If you can't think of a serious flaw in the system I described, we just fixed a big problem. And if there is a flaw I don't see, perhaps this discussion will spark a better idea in one of you.

Let's see if we can do something good today.


----------------

Scott Adams
Co-founder of CalendarTree.com     
Author of this book 

Twitter Dilbert: @Dilbert_Daily

Twitter for Scott: @ScottAdamsSays

 
The other day a friend mentioned that he would vote for the first presidential candidate that agrees to wear a GoPro camera on her head and live-stream every working minute of the presidency.

My first reaction to the idea was that it was funny but impractical.

But . . . the idea was coming from one of the smartest people I know. So I listened as he unfolded his thoughts. There's a lot of cleverness baked into this simple idea, and it is more doable than you first think.

Imagine a charismatic, science-loving candidate, under 40, running a presidential campaign while wearing a GoPro on her head and live-streaming every bit of it to the Internet. The media LOVES that candidate because she is interesting news, assuming she is a serious candidate in every other way. How do you ignore her?

The biggest hurdle for a third-party candidate is getting attention. The GoPro camera on the head solves that problem in a big way. And it would force both the incumbent and the established challenger to defend keeping secrets from the public at the same time they strip away privacy from citizens.

Sure, politicians say they have good reasons for taking your privacy, but the public doesn't appreciate complex arguments. The public responds to imaginary notions of "fairness," and to most people it just sounds fair that the government should be more transparent than the citizens it governs.

The GoPro candidate could have an intellectually compelling reason for government transparency too, which I will explain in a moment. But the public needs to quickly understand their candidates with stereotypical labels.

Hilary Clinton: Liberal

Jeb Bush: Conservative

GoPro Candidate: Transparent

The GoPro candidate would have what I call the winning comparison. Half of the country is biased against anything labelled liberal and the other half dislikes anything labelled conservative, but no one is opposed to knowing whether their government is worth the money they pay for it.

Imagine a fit, qualified, 35-year old female presidential candidate with a GoPro on her head, debating Hilary Clinton on stage. The GoPro candidate would make Hilary look like that pile of rags in the garage that you intend to throw away but never do.

And the visual impact of the GoPro on the head would turn the national conversation to government transparency. How would competing old-school candidates sell the idea that the public is better off remaining ignorant while trusting the government?

The GoPro candidate could dominate the news cycle simply by being visually interesting every time. If a news editor has to choose between a cool video clip from the GoPro live feed versus a discussion of a candidate's tax policies that will never be implemented, which one is the top story?

And privacy is always a hot story. The GoPro candidate would put a face on one of the biggest topics of the times.

So the GoPro candidate could easily suck all of the attention out of a presidential campaign. But obviously there has to be some substance or it will play out like Donald Trump on the campaign trail - more of a joke than a real thing.

For the sake of seriousness, let's say the GoPro gimmick is for the campaign trail and not the Oval Office. Once in office, the candidate will have professional crews filming her instead of wearing the camera on her head. This would all be clearly stated during the campaign.

As a helpful citizen, I put together a platform that might make sense for the science-loving Transparency Party candidate. You have seen some of these ideas before.

Transparency Party Platform

Government should be transparent so the citizens can see what they are paying for. This is the only way to keep the influence of lobbyists at bay in a society that values free speech.

National security conversations would be tape-delayed. An independent, bi-partisan group would be formed to decide when to release tape-delayed stuff. The politicians would still feel the heat of public scrutiny because the public will someday see what happened behind closed doors.

The President should be less of a "leader" and more of a communicator-in-chief. During filmed business meetings the GoPro president would sometimes speak directly to the viewers at home to explain the context of the meeting. Then the President would challenge the opinions in the room and demand data, all on camera.

The government would fund private competition to build a website that would allow the best arguments on any issue to bubble to the top, for both pro and con. As communicator-in-chief, the president would refer to the two "best" arguments whenever explaining policy to the public.

A president's opinion should change when the data changes. Don't expect consistency.

States should be test beds for social and economic experiments. When something works at the state level the President would act as communicator-in-chief to persuade other states to adopting methods that are proven to work.

For social issues, the GoPro candidate agrees to side with the majority opinion for lawmaking purposes while reserving the right to try and sway the majority with new data or better arguments. That takes social issues off the President's desk and puts them in the public's hands where they belong. If a new social policy succeeds at a state level, the President would encourage others to look at it.

-------

You might say there are obvious problems with government transparency because sometimes politicians really do need to make deals behind closed doors to get things done, or to save face for some partner country, or to "manage" the voters that are frankly not smart enough to understand the big issues. That was the old thinking, and it probably made sense in the past. But in today's world, government transparency might be the smarter approach.

The powerful idea here is that government secrecy is always a red flag that the government is doing something wrong. Remove the secrecy and the only remaining options are ideas that require effective selling to the public. And the best seller in the world would be the communicator-in-chief. The President would show his thinking process, show his data sources, show the counter-arguments, compare options, and present a reasoned opinion on every issue.

Sometimes the media, pundits, and other experts will make a strong counter-argument to the President's position. In those situations the Transparency president is free to change her opinions. In fact, doing so would bolster her credibility, so long as the reasoning is clearly explained to the public.

In the comments I expect to see lots of examples of things that would not work in a fully-transparent government. But watch how each of the reasons is debunked by your fellow commenters. It takes some effort to think through the reasoning of how transparency is a cure-all for government inefficiency, but I think you will be surprised how robust the idea is.

----------------

Scott Adams
Co-founder of CalendarTree.com     
Author of this book 

Twitter Dilbert: @Dilbert_Daily

Twitter for Scott: @ScottAdamsSays

 
I know from the comments on this blog that many of you are interested in the creative process. Let me take you for ride in my head. I took this journey yesterday. It is still fresh in my mind so I can explain it.

Most new ideas are combinations of existing ideas. I'll start by describing the random thoughts that inspired one of the most powerful ideas I have ever had. We'll get to the idea itself at the end. I think this idea could cut the unemployment rate in half and turbo-charge the entire economy for generations. And the plan could be fully implemented by the people reading this blog.

No government needed. I know you like that part.

The other day I saw a Kickstarter fund for a sincere-looking fellow that wanted to fix his truck and move to a place with better job prospects. I liked his style. I prefer helping people that have a concrete plan. But a Kickstarter fund? It seemed sketchy. I don't know anything about this guy.

That made me think of Uber. They had the same problem of credibility because the drivers are independent contractors. But it didn't stop them.

Then I was thinking about eBay. I wasn't sure why. My subconscious sniffed some eBay connection in all of this. Maybe that would become clear later.

Then I was thinking of unemployment in general, and how the real problem is that people and jobs are in the wrong locations. We don't have a shortage of good jobs; we have a location problem.

Then I was thinking about an idea I had last year for allowing anyone to create online education courses. Each online teacher might specialize in just one small lesson within a larger curriculum that could be pieced together by the user for the ultimate teaching experience. And over time the best lessons would get voted to the top until the best teachers with the best lesson segments emerged in a sped-up evolution way. I didn't know at the time what that thought had to do with the guy and his broken truck.

Then I was thinking about new app ideas. I do that often, sometimes for my side job and sometimes just with friends. Whenever I see a problem I automatically wonder if an app can fix it.

Then it was Veterans Day. I was thinking how shitty it would be to return home from the service and try to find work.

All of those thoughts swirled around in my head for half a day and then went off wherever ideas go when you are not actively thinking about them.

Later that day, the ideas returned. But this time they were not individuals. They had somehow combined into a new idea - a hybrid of several ideas. And the idea presented itself to me in the form of an app, probably because my mind is organized that way at the moment.

If might be the most important idea of my life. If not, I'm sure you will set me straight in the comments.

Suppose we build an app that allows anyone to sponsor specific part of people's plans for moving to where the good jobs are.

Let's take the example of the individual that wanted to fix his truck and move where the jobs are plentiful. If the app existed, he would open it and start piecing together his plan.

He might start by specifying his existing skill set. That would bring up a map of the country with glowing hot spots showing where his skills are most in demand. Once he selects a target location, he specifies in the app what he needs to make it happen.
  1. $5,000 for truck repair
  2. A place to stay at the destination end for one month (est.)
  3. Help putting together a good resume.
  4. $1,000 for travel and living expenses
The app would then allow anyone to offer help for any part of the plan. But the plan would not become active until all the parts were pledged. And let's say a minimum requirement for the job-seeker is that he has a Facebook page and accepts as friends any serious helpers so they can check out his situation and maybe message his other friends to ask about character.

If the individual needs job training, the cost of training could be in his plan. That sort of plan has a longer horizon but it is still appealing because training works.

Each of us has different resources to offer this imagined job-seeker. I might have a spare room he could use for a month in return for mowing my lawn. You might be good at editing and improving resumes. Maybe someone in his town can fix his truck for the price of parts. Maybe someone has the truck parts he needs. For people that don't have any form of transportation, maybe someone is driving in the direction you are headed and wants to share gas expenses. Maybe I can't afford to fund all of the expenses for this particular job-seeker but I am happy to kick in $10 if other people do.

And let's say multiple people can bid on any part of a plan in which they want to help. I might offer a couch to sleep on for a month but you outbid me with a full guest room for two months. The plan can continue improving as it fills in its holes.

Once the journey begins, the app updates contributors on the physical location of the job-seeker and how the plan is going. The job-seeker could post photos of the journey to keep sponsors in the loop. If the plan falls apart at any point, such as not having a promised place to stay at the destination end, an alert goes out to everyone in the target area that a priority job-seeker is nearby, so someone can jump in to help.

Are you not yet convinced that this is a great idea? That's okay because I saved the best part for last.

The risk in this plan is not so much in the execution of the app, because we know how to make software of this type. The risk is in awareness of the app and in getting enough people excited about being sponsors. If we don't solve the awareness problem, the quality of the app is irrelevant.

So let's solve that.

Let's make the app for veterans only, at least to start. Later, if it works as hoped, it would be available for the general public.

A veterans-only job-finding app would be instantly popular. If I tell you that a random guy needs money for his truck, you shrug. If I tell you that a returning vet needs help with a concrete plan to get a good job, your wallet flies out of your pocket before your hand even touches it.

So we launch the service for vets first, and get all the goodwill and energy that the effort deserves. Later, when you release the app for the general public, you keep vets on some sort of priority plan within the app so they continue getting preferential attention.

I think you would need to build this app as a commercial enterprise just to attract the talent you need. And it should have a big name attached to it to scare away any smaller players that would muddy the waters. (My name isn't big enough for that space.)

I'm willing to put up $25K seed money for this app. But I would need to see a serious team in place to execute.

One of my systems for happiness involves always working on at least one project that can change the world for the better. This is my contribution for today.

Would it work?

--------------------------------------

Scott Adams
Co-founder of CalendarTree.com     
Author of this book 

Twitter Dilbert: @Dilbert_Daily

Twitter for Scott: @ScottAdamsSays

 
This is a post about my own cognitive dissonance. There is a strange little hole in my knowledge and I believe it is caused by some sort of psychological malfunction. I'll tell you where the hole is, and perhaps you can fill it in for me.

In my experience, which I fully understand to be selective memory, discussions about the existence of God generally go this way...

Atheist
: blah, blah, blah

Believer: You can't explain how everything got here without God.

Atheist: You can't explain how God got here.

Believer: God has always existed.

Atheist: Why can't the universe always exist the same way as God?

Believer: I'm double-parked. Gotta run. Great talking to you.

That is literally my memory of perhaps a hundred conversations on this topic over a lifetime. When it gets to that last part, in which an atheist asks why the universe can't always exist the same way we imagine God to always exist, the believer usually realizes there was something he needed to do and excuses himself.

On the Internet, this can take the form of pointing to a link that doesn't answer the question, or changing the topic, or mentioning a book that explains it better, or failing to respond.

But I have no memory in which anyone stayed in the conversation and answered the question. Interestingly, I know that my memory of these situations could be false. Perhaps someone answered the question so convincingly that it rocked my worldview then cognitive dissonance set in and I literally imagined the conversation not happening. Science would say that could have happened.

So let's do an experiment. My hypothesis is that no one will make a serious attempt to answer the question "Why can't the universe always exist the same way as God?"

You may now prove me wrong.


[Update Minutes Later: Mystery solved. The problem IS on my side, in a sense. And by my side, I mean science. I hate it when my side does a shitty job of explaining something and in so doing spreads more ignorance than it resolves. For example, I think science-loving people are guilty of allowing this interpretation of the Big Bang Theory to become popularized:

Big Bang Poorly Explained: Once there was nothing. Then the universe appeared. We don't know why.

That sounds like a causeless explanation. Nature hates a vacuum, so religion fills in the gaps.

But a more accurate description of the Big Bang Theory (the cartoonist version) is more like this.

Big Bang Explained Slightly Better: Our universe appears to be expanding. We don't know why.

The better understanding of the Big Bang is that as far back as we can go, it appears that it was always smaller. At some degree of compactness and smallness we lose the ability to continue measuring or comparing. So what science knows is that shit seems to be getting bigger lately, as in the past 15 billion years or so. That doesn't speak to the question of a beginning.

Correct me if I am wrong on any of that, but it seems to me that we science-loving peeps have sucked at explaining stuff to . . . let's say . . . the tourists. Isn't some of the ignorance our fault? If your ideas have holes, you have to expect people to fill them in.

Or to put it another way, perhaps scientists should use the science of psychology and persuasion to get their message across instead of gluing together some facts and spraying them in the general direction of the ignorant. I think this is one of those situations in which it isn't anyone's job to explain science in ways that are scientifically crafted to be convincing. To my ear, half of all the scientific theories that I regard as probably true sound like practical jokes when a non-scientist explains them over a cocktail. Science has a problem in the message department.




----------------------------------------------------

Scott Adams
Co-founder of CalendarTree.com     
Author of this book 

Twitter Dilbert: @Dilbert_Daily

Twitter for Scott: @ScottAdamsSays

 

 

 

 
Some research-dudes in Denmark have expressed doubts about whether the so-called "God particle" (Higgs Boson) has really been discovered. The doubters say the experiments that allegedly found the God particle are not precise enough to know for sure.

Although the "God particle" is just a clever name, and has nothing to do with anyone's actual God, I have recently learned that the real, actual, literal God was discovered some time ago. The discovery doesn't get much mention in the article so you have to read between the lines.

To understand why I say the real God has been discovered, first you must know that something called techni-quarks are thought to be the fundamental bits of the universe. Humans, for example, are comprised of lots of different particles, but a techni-quark is just made of more techni-quark stuff. It has no parts that are different from the whole except in quantity.

Here's the quote from the article about techni-quarks that tells you God has already been discovered: "If techni-quarks exist, there must be a force to bind them together so that they can form particles," Frandsen said. "None of the four known forces of nature are any good at binding techni-quarks together. There must therefore be a yet undiscovered force of nature."

In my 2001 fiction book, God's Debris, I talk about a hypothetical fundamental particle and how someday we will understand that at the bottom of reality is nothing but one material (perhaps techni-quarks) plus the laws of probability. If that accurately describes reality, and I think it someday will, then here's the interesting part:

For all practical purposes, probability and God are the same thing. Both are cause-free forces that define the universe without over-specifying the details. Probability is the root cause behind motion, evolution, and eventually the writing of holy books.


In God's Debris I hypothesize in fiction form that probability is the only force that can never be understood or explained by science. And probability is the engine that drives every particle in the universe. Interestingly, probability looks just like intelligence if you back up far enough. Probability gave us natural selection and in effect "designed" every living creature through its rules. That's the same way humans create things: We try something and see how it works. If it doesn't work we discard it and try something new. That's evolution in a nutshell. And if it doesn't look like intelligence to you, I would say you have an overly romantic notion of what human minds are capable of. To me, human minds are just moist computers operating according to the laws of probability. Free will and intelligence are just illusion. You might argue that evolution is not an "intelligent" process, but I would argue that neither is anything else you do. Everything in the universe including our thoughts is nothing but techni-quarks bouncing around according to the laws of probability. Intelligence is an illusion, so we should not expect God to possess any of this illusion.

When I wrote God's Debris I imagined that science would someday discover that at the bottom of all reality is one fundamental piece of matter that conforms to the laws of probability to create every other piece of matter in the universe. That would be science's dead-end. Probability will never be understood. It is causeless and infinite. And because it is so consistent across time and space, one could say that fundamental force is the author of all we see.

I don't believe in a supreme being with a human-like personality because humans are, for the most part, fucked-up basket-cases, and it wouldn't make sense for an omnipotent being to have any of our flaws. But I do think science will someday hit a dead end and find that something - perhaps probability - just "is" and cannot be explained or changed. If you don't want to call that "God," I understand, but I also think we would be discussing semantics at that point, not concepts.

I'm overstating my case here, for fun. But I do think that someday science will hit a brick wall and realize that reality is nothing but one particle and a handful of simple rules of probability that cannot be further understood. If that isn't God, what is?

-----------------------------------------------
Scott Adams
Co-founder of CalendarTree.com     
Author of this book  and also this one and this one

Twitter Dilbert: @Dilbert_Daily

Twitter for Scott: @ScottAdamsSays

 

 
My stalker is back.

Regular readers know that a Canadian woman named Christina Lane goes off her meds every few years and fills the Internet with stories of how I secretly travel to Canada to ransack her apartment and sexually abuse everyone I meet along the way. She also believes everything I write in any forum is actually an intended insult to her personally.

Ever wonder what it's like to be a little famous?

Imagine a woman calling all of your professional associates (publishers, syndication company, my restaurant employees) to tell them you have been sexually abusing her for years. That's what my stalker did.

Anyway, she's back, and on Twitter now. Look out for @faeralane.

And if anyone up in Canada can help get Christina Lane back on her meds, that would be a big help.
 
I'm in my home office, working, a few minutes ago.

Caller ID says the incoming call is probably a telemarketer.

Yeah, I'm in the mood for this.

I answer and put it on speaker, knowing there is usually a wait before a human appears. I wait a full half-minute.

Operator comes on and says hello.

I say nothing. She calls out again. I say nothing. This cycle repeats about seven times.

Then I yell, "HOW'S IT FEEL TO BE KEPT WAITING ON THE PHONE FOR NOTHING?!!! DO YOU LIKE IT??? HOW'S IT FEEL?!!"

Telemarketer: Um, hello. . .

Me: (Shouting like a maniac) TAKE ME OFF YOUR FUCKING LIST! STOP CALLING MY HOUSE! NOW! DO IT NOW! ...and so on, for about a minute.

Telemarketer: I. . . will . . . take you off the list now...

Line goes quiet for about a minute. I wait patiently while drawing my morning comic.

Supervisor dude comes on the line. Evidently the first caller turned me over to someone more experienced at handling the criminally insane.

Supervisor: "How can I help you?"

Me: "YOU called MEEEEE!!!!! HOW ABOUT TAKING ME OFF YOUR LIST AND NEVER CALLING AGAIN? HOW ABOUT THAT FOR A FUCKING START?"

I won't bore you with the rest of the conversation. It sort of went downhill after that.

 
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I wonder if a legal doctor-assisted suicide machine could be designed using a random number generator. That would make the laws against doctor-assisted suicide irrelevant because the deaths would always be an accident in the sense that no human could reliably predict the specific outcome in advance.

Let's say the random part of the device is attached by electronics to another part of the device that delivers a fatal dose of sedatives and poison to whoever is attached to it. You push the button and one of two things can randomly happen:
  1. Nothing
  2. Lethal drugs are released
The person attached to the death machine can tap the "go" button as many times as he wants in rapid succession. If the first tap does nothing, the next ten taps will likely get it done, and the entire process happens in only a few seconds. The person using the device might not even be aware of which tap was the lethal one.

Optionally, perhaps the "go" button is published on the Internet with the offer that folks in other countries can press it as often as they like. Perhaps the chance of a lethal outcome is designed into the system to be one in ten-thousand - which is similar to the risk in some sports - but thanks to the large number of people pushing the button you get a lethal outcome for an individual in less than a second.

Another idea is to use anonymity on the Internet to transform suicide into an unsolved murder case. Suppose I connect myself to the lethal dose machine and publish a kill button on the Internet. Technology conceals the identity of whoever pushes the kill button and erases the digital trail. Even the killer is unaware of whether his tap of the button was a placebo or the one that mattered. Perhaps thousands of people tap the button all over the Internet but only one of them randomly matters. Now you have either an accidental death or an unsolved murder.

By analogy, the device I am describing is a lot like smoking. We know that smoking kills people but it is legal precisely because we can't predict which people will die from it. If we could, it would be illegal for sure.

Alcohol is legal for adults and yet we know with complete certainty that it will kill tens of thousands of people in the United States each year. Again, if we could predict with certainty which individuals would die from drinking, it would be illegal. Predictability matters.

Consider legal medications that have known side effects. In some cases we know with certainty that a drug will help the vast majority of people while accidentally killing a few. That drug is legal only because we can't identify in advance who will get killed. You can't imagine the FDA saying, "This drug is approved. It will save millions of lives but . . . and here's the awkward part . . . it will definitely kill these specific twenty people."

The uncertainty is what allows inherently dangerous things to be legal. If we can't predict the outcome of an action, we generally allow individuals the freedom to accept whatever risk levels they want. That's why football is legal. You can't imagine your high school football coach saying, "We are all going to have a great season. Except for Timmy, who will die from brain damage before half-time." If that prediction were possible, football would be illegal. Timmy only gets to play football because we can't predict his death.

Now suppose we collectively invent a legal suicide machine. I'm sure you will have your own engineering tweaks on my idea and I'm equally confident that at least one of our ideas would in fact be technically legal. Once that invention exists, the laws will have to scramble to catch up because the government will want to put some safeguards in place. Once the government knows it can't stop the activity, the best you can do is regulate it at the margins, as we do with alcohol and cigarettes.

You might be tempted to argue that football, booze, pharmaceuticals, and cigarettes are actually low risk compared to the suicide machine that kills you with near (but not technically absolute) certainty. The level of risk has to matter, right?

I'm not sure. I don't believe there is a legal standard for how much individual risk is too much. Each situation seems to be judged on individual merit. We want workplace injuries to approach zero but when it comes to waging war we accept perhaps a 5% death rate, and that assumes you are the winner.

But here is the clever part of my idea: The hypothetical random suicide machine is not yet SPECIFICALLY ILLEGAL. That means that like any new street drug it is totally legal until a law is passed saying it isn't. And how long would it take to pass that law?

Well, a functional government could pass such a law in a week. But we don't have one of those. Our government would be just as slow and incompetent in their efforts to make the new device illegal as they have been in making doctor-assisted suicide legal. I call this situation bureaucratic judo because you use the weight and inertia of your opponent against him. If the government can't make doctor-assisted suicide legal, how long would it take them to fight the random suicide device all the way to the Supreme Court?

I am going to stop just short of recommending that someone invent a technically-legal doctor-assisted suicide device because I suspect I might be swayed by your counterarguments in the comments. But in the absence of a functional government that satisfies the will of the people, one must consider all options.

Is it logically and technically possible to build a random suicide machine that is technically legal?

--------------------
Scott Adams
Co-founder of CalendarTree.com     
Author of this book 
Twitter Dilbert: @Dilbert_Daily
Twitter for Scott: @ScottAdamsSays

Note: Yes, I am sure there are seven-hundred science fiction books on this topic. I haven't read any of them.

Bonus thought: If government keeps getting worse (which seems likely) at the same time that technology keeps improving, someday technology will replace the need for traditional government. It might not be a wholesale replacement so much as a stream of specific cases, such as assisted-suicide, in which technology can do what governments cannot. Someday I can imagine technology allowing the populations of warring countries to make peace directly with each other while bypassing their own governments. That's a Facebook app waiting to happen.

 
 
 
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