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Ryan Beck
An engineer and a geek
An engineer and a geek


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How come you can get salmonella from chicken but you can't get chickenmonella from salmon?

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A reminder that at the height of the civil rights movement Martin Luther King Jr. was seen as a controversial figure, and in several polls the public was split on viewing him negatively and positively. Today more than 90% of people view him positively. Which makes for an important question we should all ask ourselves. What causes, groups, or people are out there fighting for a cause that we feel annoyed by or view negatively? Will future generations have more positive feelings towards these groups and the things they achieved?

I wish the DARPA Robotics Challenge was every two or four years like the Olympics. It would be so cool to see the progress they make.

The tax bill started with some solid ideas, such as reducing the corporate tax rate, simplifying the code, and a tax break for the middle class. But the execution has been terrible for a bunch of reasons:

1. Adding to the debt is fine in some cases, but tax cuts when the country is doing well is not one of them.
2. Cutting the individual mandate turns this into a way to gut the ACA, which is the worst change to happen. The exchanges weren't in a death spiral before but it's hard to see how they wouldn't be if you do that, and it will raise premiums for millions of people.
3. A bunch of the provisions in the bill go away after ten years to make their accounting work so the bill can be passed. The result is that the middle class and the poor would be taxed worse when they expire than they would be under current law.
4. Repealing the estate tax is a horrible idea. The way inheritances work is the recipient pays capital gains when they sell an asset based on the value of the asset when the original owner died. Normally when you sell an asset you pay capital gains based on the original value. But with the basis based on the original owner's death (called stepped up basis) the recipient can avoid paying taxes on the value the asset gained during the original owner's life. The estate tax taxed inheritances for people inheriting over a certain amount, and was a way to avoid giving wealthy people this huge tax break in avoiding capital gains. But the new tax bill proposes removing the estate tax. But it does nothing about the huge tax break that the stepped up basis provides. This is a huge tax break for wealthy people. Why exactly do they need a huge tax break on money that gets handed down to them?

There are probably some other questionable things going on with this bill too. But it's gone from something that could maybe have gotten bipartisan support to something that seems intent on helping people who don't need it and hurting those that do need the help. Honestly I think the Senate bill won't pass right now, with the ACA attack and trying to cram it through without proper time for scoring I don't see how the senators that opposed the ACA repeal could support this. But we'll see.

A few of the good things from the Republican tax proposal:

1.) Eliminating the state and local tax (SALT) deduction. Unfortunately a lot of Democrats seem to be criticizing this (because it hurts people in high tax states) but it sounds like a good move economically speaking. If you pay for better benefits at the state level, why should that reduce how much you pay for the federal benefits you receive?
2.) Raising the child tax credit and raising the standard deductions. Sounds like economists think these are a good idea, and raising the standard deduction can reduce complexity and loopholes for people who can now avoid itemizing.
3.) Reducing the corporate tax rate. This is something a lot of Democrats seem to be opposed to, and that's too bad. I've changed my mind on this because most economists think corporate taxes should be lower and that taxes should be focused on income. Basically, high corporate taxes hurt growth. The current plan to just reduce the corporate rate is not as good as the previous plan involving changing to a destination based tax system with a border tax, but reducing the corporate tax some is probably a good idea. There is a problem with reducing it though, if the top tax rate is 35% and the corporate tax rate becomes 20% then it will cause many people in the top tax bracket to classify their income as business income, giving them the 20% rate. Sounds like some solutions to that are being considered.

The main issues with the plan are that it drops taxes on the wealthy more than it does for the middle class, and it will increase the deficit. It would be a much better plan if it was more limited to the above things and if the loss in revenue were offset by other taxes, preferably in the upper tax brackets. I'm not as concerned about deficits as most people, but in general it's not a good idea to greatly increase them unless the economy is really struggling. With the economy recovering over the last few years there really doesn't seem to be a good reason to add to the deficit.

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The requirement that all new buildings had to be LEED certified was always one of the things that made me most proud to go to ISU. It's cool that they care about their environmental footprint and it doubles as a great way to teach students in related fields about the benefits of LEED and green buildings.

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I've seen a lot of outrage going around about guns, and a lot of people making claims and talking about changes that sound so great that it's a wonder we aren't implementing them. Except that if anyone bothered to think them through or look into them you would find that they're not smart or extremely misleading. No, random twitter user, your quick quip that people are screen-shotting and posting on facebook did not demolish pro-gun arguments. Below the quote line is a well written discussion and rebuttal to many of these things, source of the post is at the bottom.

From my perspective the gun debate is pretty moot. I dislike guns, and although at times I might wonder about what the country would be like without any, I recognize that it's not realistic. Many people feel differently than I do, and many have valid reasons to feel that way. We have a second amendment which is just as valid as the first amendment. Only an overwhelming majority can change that, and there is nothing close to an overwhelming majority. There can be discussion about gun control, but currently a venn diagram of measures deemed reasonable by 2A proponents and gun control proponents looks a lot like a drawing of the earth and pluto. And much of that is because gun control proponents are not being realistic. Like all issues, the best strategy in working for change is to engage with the smartest arguments that your opponent makes and to be understanding.
A short list of phrases I'm tired of hearing from gun control advocates:

1. "33,000 Americans die each year from firearms." Yeah, but 20,000 of them are suicides. We could wave a magic wand to get rid of murder completely and we'd only cut the overall firearms death rate by a third. If you're bringing up the 33,000 number to talk about how important mental health is, go for it, but if you're bringing up that number to advocate passing a new law to reduce the murder rate, well... why are you quoting a number that has twice as many suicides as murders? It seems pretty dishonest, and it tends to make me angry.

2. "We need to get guns off the streets. Australia did it!" Australia really didn't. They were able to get about half their guns off the streets. In America, getting half the guns off our streets would still leave us at about a 1980 level of firearms ownership -- and with more guns than in all of Europe.

3. "All I want is common-sense regulation!" Unfortunately, the legal test for whether something is permissible under the Second Amendment isn't whether it's common sense, but whether it passes the tests set forth in Miller v United States, District of Columbia v Heller, McDonald v City of Chicago, and Caetano v Massachusetts. If you can justify your proposal by those precedents you might be surprised how well I respond. But appealing to "common sense" tends to make me angry, because the strong implication is that you have it and I don't.

4. "All I want is for guns to be regulated like cars!" Cars are only regulated when they're driven on public roads. If guns were regulated like cars, laws would only apply to them when I'm shooting on public land. Frankly, I like this idea so much it scares me. Let's do it!

5. "There's no legitimate purpose for an AR-15!" There are many. To list one, cattlemen in the Mountain West love the AR-15 as a ranch rifle: it's lightweight, reliable, has good range, is superbly accurate, and fires a bullet with enough punch to reliably drop predators. When you say things like "there's no legitimate purpose for an AR-15!", I hear that as the worst kind of provincialism: since you don't see a purpose for it in your life, clearly no one has a purpose for it in theirs.

6. "We're the only country in the world that has a gun culture!" The Czech Republic, Switzerland, Canada, and Israel are four modern democracies with vibrant, and very different, gun cultures. We are outliers in how many firearms we have, but not in the fact that many of our citizens like to shoot. This, too, sounds provincial: you clearly haven't looked at gun culture outside the US.

7. "The GOP keeps obstructing reform!" Team Blue has completely turned its back on gun owners. Unsurprisingly, gun owners overwhelmingly vote for Team Red. Team Red controls the White House, both houses of Congress, and more than 30 state legislatures. Were you expecting a different outcome?

8. "The Second Amendment was only ever supposed to protect state militias." Not even Ruth Bader Ginsburg agrees with you. Not one single Supreme Court justice agrees with you. Read the first two sentences of the Heller dissent. The Second Amendment exists to protect an individual's right to keep and bear arms. Saying this reveals you to be such a left-wing extremist that not even the Notorious RBG herself will back you up.

9. Anything involving the phrase "assault weapon". There is no agreed-upon definition for an assault weapon, and the goalposts keep changing. Most states have highly arbitrary lists of features which, when combined, make something an assault weapon -- but the moment you remove a bayonet lug, suddenly it's a legitimate sporting weapon again. If you know your state's definition of assault weapon and you're willing to share it, feel free to use the term: but otherwise, this phrase tends to announce Did Not Do The Homework.

10. "We need to ban fully automatic weapons!" We largely have, ever since 1934. Only two lawfully-owned fully-automatic weapons have ever been used in crime since then. If you want to ban X and don't realize it's already banned, again, you come off as Did Not Do The Homework.

Why doesn't Black Lives Matter do anything about black on black crime? The same reason you aren't out there taking down meth labs.

Here are the reasons why you aren't out there taking down meth labs:
1.) They don't exactly advertise. If you're going to be a criminal the idea is to not get caught.
2.) Meth heads are dangerous. How would you like to go door to door, telling homeowners you're on the hunt for meth labs and want to put an end to it? Not very much. Because if you do stumble across a meth lab that person is probably not going to have a calm reaction to your request to desist.
3.) They're criminals, why exactly are they going to listen to you? They've already broken laws to do what it is that they're doing, clearly they don't really care about what others have to say.

People love to dismiss Black Lives Matter by saying that they should focus on black on black crime instead. But that misses the point. Black Lives Matter doesn't really get a say in black crime. Crime isn't a democratic endevour. Black Lives Matter has a voice in a democratic government, and they are using that voice. To expect them to first focus on black on black crime before they work on other injustices is like expecting a white person to fix the opioid epidemic before they're allowed to care about taxes.

Another way people love to dismiss Black Lives Matter is by saying "all lives matter". And then they act surprised when saying all lives matter is seen as a bad thing. How can caring about all lives be a bad thing? Well it is when you use that to dismiss efforts to improve lives. It's like if a group was advocating for better cancer treatment by saying "cancer patients matter". But then Bob down in the splinter ward gets offended. Why doesn't the tiny splinter in his palm matter? "All patients matter" he says! Bob gets his splinter removed and leaves the hospital, while hundreds continue to die from cancer. By saying "all patients matter" Bob ignores the fact that cancer patients have it a lot harder than he does, and by belittling their cause he makes it difficult for them to make progress and to improve conditions for cancer patients.

The other issue with saying "all lives matter" is that if you care enough to say that, what are you doing about it? Black Lives Matter is out there working to try to make things better for black people. If you want to say "all lives matter" then prove it. Go do something to improve people's lives. Bob said "all patients matter" in opposition to a group trying to improve the lives of cancer patients. But then he opposes them, gets fixed up, and goes home. He does nothing to improve the lives of all patients. His mantra of "all patients matter" accomplishes nothing except to make it harder for the lives of cancer patients to be improved. So he really doesn't think "all patients matter" or he would do something to improve the lives of all the patients.

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I'm of the opinion that most people who dislike or oppose Black Lives Matter have never actually listened to anything they're saying straight from the source. It's all filtered through media, social or otherwise, and I seriously doubt that videos or text directly from the source makes it through that filter. Not only that, but it's common for only the most extreme members of a group to get airtime, because people eat it up and it confirms their biases. Like every other group, Black Lives Matter is made up of individuals with opinions who vary wildly. Just like how a few Bernie Sanders voters think everything should be free and a few Trump voters think America should be a place for whites only, there are a few Black Lives Matter members with extreme views as well.

But this video is great for a couple of reasons. The first is that the Black Lives Matter speaker is passionate and does a great job of explaining what Black Lives Matter means and why they want the same thing other Americans want.

The second reason is that this was a Trump rally, and the rally speakers gave the Black Lives Matter protesters a chance to explain their goals to the crowd. Serious respect to the Trump rally speakers for doing that. Everyone has the freedom of speech, but that freedom does not give you the right to speak at someone else's event. The Black Lives Matter activists only intended to protest, but they were given a chance to speak anyway. That's what I wish more people on the left would do. Don't shut down your opponents, engage with them. Hear their position straight from the source instead of through a media filter. Learn from it and understand it. Find common ground if you can. And afterward if you still think it's vile, argue against it, show people why it's wrong.

I really don't like NowThis at all, they're a big offender on the media filter problem. But they also happen to have the best video summary of what happened, so unfortunately they get the link. Complete with their typical stupid cheesy music and text overlays to make everything seem more dramatic and meme-like.

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This children's book predicted the future. (From 2008).
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