Fear the Big Mac

It’s very easy to dismiss that a Big Mac value meal might be several times more “deadly” than some unknown number of firearms being “on the loose” in your community.

Yet, the mortality statistics are clear as day.

Your likely non-natural killer is yourself. Whether from obesity-induced cardiovascular disease, diabetes, stroke. (To say nothing of cancer, accidents, or suicide.)

Yet, you probably don’t feel an even comparable bit of fear when you eat that double cheeseburger. And the next time you do it. Or the next time you do it. And so on, and so forth.

We like fear. Fear justifies decisions. It’s what kept our ancestors alive after we climbed out of the primordial goo–and probably long before. But fear is perception. And your perception of relative risks may be objectively wrong.

That doesn’t mean that a Big Mac is safe or that firearms are safer. It may be that a Big Mac is very dangerous–and firearms are only less dangerous. Depends how you want to look at it. (And yes, I’m using “Big Mac” and “double cheeseburger” as a proxy for poor diet generally.)

I am saying, the next time you eat a cheeseburger, pause, and think, “Why don’t I feel that eating this cheeseburger is as harmful as my neighbor having a gun?”

Fear is powerful. It moves us to action. Who wants me to act? And why? Powerful fear narratives move people to take expensive actions. Even if they distort the actual risks of less-“glamorous”, less-imminent risks.

Measurement, Language, and Numbers


Some studies suggest that one of the reasons that some Asian countries’ students show “early aptitude “for mathematics is because of their languages: their spoken language about numbers strongly corresponds to ideas about place-value. Place-value being a HUGELY important (and under-appreciated) idea in the development of mathematics.

For example, most languages, counting to 10 is easy.

In English, things change after you get to 10.
Eleven? –What’s that?
Twelve? Huh?
Thirteen? Well, there’s part of a ‘3’ in there. And maybe a ‘ten’?
Fourteen? Okay, I see a four in there.
Twenty. Eh? Ugh, there’s no pattern here!

“What’s thirteen plus twenty-four?”
Your second grader may pause: brains have to decipher this extra layer of encoding before they get to the real “meaning”.

Whereas, for example, in Chinese, you would get to 10. And then eleven (translated to English) would be:

ten one. Followed by…
ten two
ten three.

two tens.
two tens one.

What’s ten three plus two tens?
“Oh, three tens and three.”
Or, thirty three.
If you do the whole English thing.

In English, we use a similar scheme–only for higher numbers (Example: 1 million one hundred fifteen thousand). But that doesn’t help tiny brains, working with smaller numbers (which use the silly naming scheme) figure things out.

Likewise. The whole Metric v. American/imperial/whatever seems analogous. Not just with numbers–but with how the physical world actually works!

For example: you can ask most American adults how much 1 cup of water weighs. Most adults will have no idea.

You can ask many European school kids, how much does 250 ml of water weigh? “250 grams.”

When you use an arbitrary system, tiny brains trying to figure out how number, mass, volume, etc. work, will miss the simple connections between those big ideas. And connections are what makes brains grow.

How Plea Bargaining Works: An Analogy

How Plea Bargaining Works:
Armed men march you into a commercial kitchen. They put you in front of a large sink. If you try to leave, they’ll kill you.
On your left is a kitchen sink and a silver coin.
On your right is a chef’s knife and some gauze.
The coin is flipped, it lands in the sink, and rolls into the garbage disposal.
Now, you can get out of this mess by reaching into the sink and removing the coin.
If the coin landed heads, you’re free to walk away.
If the coin landed tails, some of your fingers will be cut off. It could be 1 or it could be all 10. Maybe your entire hand. Or toes. And maybe a few toes. No one knows. That will be determined later.
You don’t feel good about this.
You’re assured that this is a civilized process: you have the right to see whether the coin landed heads or tails before it’s decided how many fingers you might lose.
The sink’s garbage disposal is switched on.
You hear the coin clinking around down below.
“–Wait, so I have to stick my hand in a garbage disposal to see if might lose fewer than 5 fingers?”
“Well, of course. How else do we know whether the coin landed heads or tails?”
“That’s insane.”
There’s an awkward pause. The men shrug: it’s not their concern, you see.
“Well, you don’t have to stick your hand in the garbage disposal. It’s your right to do so. But it’s messy and unpleasant and no one really wants to see that.”
You breathe a sigh of relief.
“So look to your right. If you just agree to cut off your little finger above the first knuckle–Yakuza-style–you can bandage the wound with the gauze we’ve generously provided, and walk away.”
You say you don’t like either of those choices.
“But you have to choose,” you’re told.
“If you don’t make a choice, we’ll have to put your hand in the garbage disposal to find out whether the coin landed heads or tails.”
The garbage disposal is still whirring and chewing on the coin.
You complain that the coin is clearly moving around down there: there’s no way to know how it landed.
“Well, the side that landed up should have fewer scratches. So we’ll ask some other people to count them up on both sides. If one has a lot more scratches than the other, that should be close enough.”
“That… that doesn’t make sense.”
“Look, we just can’t expect perfect accuracy when deciding whether to cut your fingers off. But this is how we’ve always done it. So, do you want to put your hand in there or should we do it for you?”
And that’s why 95% of people reach for the knife.

Boaty McBoatface, Mt. Dew, and Heroin

I want to talk about 3 things:

Boaty McBoatface, Mt. Dew, and Heroin.
Yes, they’re related.

Recently, there’s been a big to-do about the UK Navy (or some office connected with it) running an online poll about the naming of a new research ship.

An online poll, its infinitely democratic wisdom, determined that this ship–this billion-dollar vessel which will sail to the ends of the oceans bearing the British flag–should be known as… “Boaty McBoatface”.

A name only the Internet could love. The UK Science minister (or whatever his title is) has, of course, announced that this experiment in British democracy cannot stand. Which, well, hasn’t surprised anyone.

But it makes me think: what did you expect? From an Internet poll, I mean. Here’s an example to illustrate how wrong things can go:

Just a few years ago, Mt. Dew ran an Internet contest to name its latest caffeinated soft drink. “Dub the Dew.” Maybe you remember it.” Pepsico–the maker of Mt. Dew–described the new flavor as “Classic Mt. Dew with green apple attitude.” Internet, do your thing–name that flavor.

Now, if you’ve been around the Internet at all–seriously, at all–you know there are dark and sticky places on it. With virtual anonymity, it can bring out the worst in people. In large numbers.

So, you might imagine Pepsico’s abject horror when the collective wisdom of the Internet chose “Hitler Did Nothing Wrong” as the name most befitting a citrus-y, green-apple soda. By a very wide margin.

–Seriously, that’s not a joke.
That is what the Internet decided. (Though, some argue the poll was hacked.)
What does Hitler and Holocaust Denial have to do with Mt. Dew?
Nothing. –Except that it would make Pepsico’s marketing department squirm at ignoring The Worst Name Ever.

The practical lesson here, to me, seems pretty simple: Don’t give people a [mostly anonymous] choice to decide issues which don’t actually affect them.

When people bear no consequences for their decisions, there is no cost to choosing arbitrarily. There’s really no meaning, no point or purpose. But people strive to create meaning from nothing. And those choices can become almost sadist. Because if it doesn’t affect THEM, at least the choice can still affect others. And if the choice doesn’t affect me directly, maybe how my choice affects me will still affect me.

Thus, the power to affect others imbues the choice with meaning. And for whatever reason, we as human beings so delight in the misfortune of others. Perhaps, if only that it’s a lot easier to break something than to glue its pieces back together.

In this way I suppose, Boaty McBoatface should never have surprised anyone. Now, to their credit, and in true British style, Boaty McBoatface voters kept it light and playful. –But still right awful enough to upset some UK minister.

But rather than honor the democratic choice which was decided upon–that decision will be quietly swept aside and ignored. But, didn’t those voters expect that anyway? Surely, there was no way the UK would ever allow such an absurd outcome. In a way, each vote for Boaty McBoatface itself, was a little rebellion at having been given a choice which doesn’t matter.

What do boats and soft drinks have to do with heroin?

We all–well, most of us, hopefully–know not to use heroin. Because if you do, you might experience some very bad things. And many think that if you use heroin, then you deserve all the natural consequences which follow. And there are many: social, financial, physical. No one thinks those outcomes are fun or desirable. Even addicts don’t.

But then we pile-on the man-made penalties to the already-destructive natural consequences. Partly because we hope the consequences will deter people from use (in practice: they don’t seem to). And partly because we don’t really care about the consequences that we pile on: “They deserve the consequences–whatever they may be.”

“I don’t use heroin. The consequences don’t affect me.”
“My son would never use heroin. I don’t have to worry about that.”

And so we see that rational: the consequences of my decision do not affect me.

Beyond this, it’s not like voters think the politicians will listen. Or that bureaucrats will care. And–as we might expect from Boaty or Hitler McDew–this combination of meaningless choice and apathy just seems to turn neighborly folk into a vindictive sort, taking small pleasures that someone else can be affected. Hurt more, even. And a lot of drug policy seems to stem from this place.

So long as drug control policy means that our individual choices don’t make a damn difference–i.e. there’s nothing we can do to fix the problem–maybe we should expect people to persist in thinking that harmful policy is the best choice. Again, is there a more foolish way to solve a problem than by giving people a choice in how to do it, when those people have no real stake in the outcome?

Is Distributism the Future?

The American Conservative: Distributism Is the Future

An interesting idea from 20th century English writers about property and politics. –And how distributed technologies like Uber and Airbnb are changing the game, enabling workers to use their scarce capital, to enable better, economic outcomes. –That is the romantic notion behind capitalism, isn’t it? And yet we see so much opposition to these distributed technologies and platforms which take market power away from entrenched participants.

This wasn’t the kind of article I expected from The American Conservative. I was pleasantly surprised. Interestingly, the article discusses several aspects of capitalism that many people, today, have forgotten. For example, the idea that commoner’s rights were restricted by the legislature to starve lower-income individuals off their lands, and “nudge” them into city factories. And while that topic is heavily debated–with good points on all sides–in the grand scheme, it’s not implausible. Whether the outcome was an intentional goal or a secondary effect, the outcome remains.

As I’ve noted before, Americans are heir to that process of wealth accumulation for the connected few and the creation of a multi-generational underclass–while still believing in opportunity for all. While the article suggests legislation can “undo” some of the effects, no suggestions are made. And it’s hard to envision how any such thing could be effected in the long run.

Data Security Through Insecurity

Wired: The Senate’s Draft Encruption Bill is “Ludicrous, Dangerous, Technically Illiterate”

“However, the underlying goal is simple: when there’s a court order to render technical assistance to law enforcement or provide decrypted information, that court order is carried out.”

See, the whole point of good, reliable encryption is that–even with a gun to your head–it’s not mathematically possible to (simply) provide someone else’s decrypted information. A court order cannot make 2 + 2 = 7, nor can a court order give someone knowledge about a prime factorization that they do not know.

Internet commerce relies on the idea that decrypting data should be a really hard problem if you’re not the sender or recipient of the information. If it were not a hard problem, then hackers could much more easily find ways to obtain your sensitive data and use it for nefarious purposes.

While some people suggest that Apple or other tech companies should keep copies of these “private” keys, that itself opens up a serious point of insecurity: by centrally warehousing the secret keys, that central warehouse becomes an enormous target for attack. By putting all our eggs in one basket, just a single security breach could be devastating for millions of people.

It may not be reasonable or feasible for lawmakers to understand the mathematics behind the data security that we rely on every day. But, heavy-handed, vague legislation won’t make us any safer either.

Spring Is Here

He stood, hair disheveled, before a towering glass window. Squinting out upon a city cobbled together from crumbling, New England brick and cold, lifeless concrete. A furious snow, swirling and dancing in the air. Arctic puddles pooling in the streets, launched by passing cars, crashing down on unfortunate souls shambling on the icy sidewalk. Out in the cold.


He sipped some warm coffee from a chipped ceramic coffee mug, setting it on the window’s sill. Tendrils of vapor rose, condensing–clinging to–the cold glass. Reaching out to the biting cold, all the soft warmth of the world trying to escape.

He cinched a worn cloth strip around his waist, tying a cotton bathrobe closed ’round his sweater. “Layers,” they always said. For that biting cold.

But you can’t hold it–warmth–forever. He picked up his mug and sipped:
“Spring,” he muttered with contempt.
“What the hell?”

New Hampshire Circuit Court Discovery Request 2.10

New Hampshire Circuit Court – District Division Rule 2.10 allows a defendant to obtain information, if any, which the prosecutor may have in his or her possession.

However, often times, you will not get the information unless you ask for it in writing, and file that request with the court. Even if you discuss it with a prosecutor, you should file a request with the court so your request has been documented “on the record”.

A typical form discovery motion follows below. Download as a Word document: Rule 2.10 Discovery Request

As New Hampshire’s courts change over to the new rules of criminal procedure, references to rule numbers and applicable language may change.










Under Circuit Court District Division Rule 2.10, Defendant [DEFENDANT NAME] requests the following discovery from the State:

      1. a copy of records of statements or confessions, signed or unsigned, by the defendant, to any law enforcement officer or his agent;

      2. a list of any tangible objects, papers, documents or books obtained from or belonging to the defendant;

      3. a statement as to whether or not the foregoing evidence, or any part thereof, will be offered at the trial; and

      4. Not less than 14 days prior to trial, a list of names of witnesses, including experts and reports, and a list of any lab reports, with copies thereof, the State anticipates introducing at trial.

Further, Defendant requests all other discoverable information which is material either to guilt or to punishment which the State is obligated to disclose under Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963) and State v. Laurie, 139 N.H. 325 (1995).

Respectfully submitted,

Date: [DATE] _________________________





I, [DEFENDANT], on [DATE], served a copy of Defendant’s Discovery Request on the individual(s) named below by U.S. first-class mail:




The Real Reason Introverts Hate Small Talk

HuffPo: The Real Reason Introverts Dread Small Talk

In reality, most introverts are drained by small talk because it feels fake and meaningless.

This, this, many times this.

The engineered solution? Understand that is what it is: short, meaningless conversation to fill space. It’s not supposed to be anything else! So, keep some abreast of some popular topics. Sports is a great one. I prefer to talk about travel. At least then, you get to learn something about who you’re talking to.

How Section 1983 Works

Violations of constitutional rights can be addressed in the federal courts through 42 U.S.C. 1983. The law provides:

Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State or Territory or the District of Columbia, subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for

In short, a person must (typically) show three different elements to prove a claim under Section 1983:

  • The defendant is a person
  • The defendant acted under color of law
  • The defendant’s actions deprived a U.S. Citizen of some right protected by the U.S. Constitution

There are several nuances to each of these three elements–and the answers are not always intuitive. Even where all elements can be satisfied, government officials still often have very strong defenses against plaintiffs’ claiming a violation of their constitutional rights.