Do We Really Care?

In September of 2001 the band P.O.D. released their song “Youth of the Nation” which begins with the lyrics:

Last day of the rest of my life
I wish I would’ve known
‘Cause I would’ve kissed my mama goodbye

I didn’t tell her that I loved her and how much I care
Or thank my pops for all the talks
And all the wisdom he shared

Unaware, I just did what I always do
Everyday, the same routine
Before I skate off to school

But who knew that this day wasn’t like the rest
Instead of taking a test
I took two to the chest

Call me blind, but I didn’t see it coming
Everybody was running
But I couldn’t hear nothing

Except gun blasts, it happened so fast
I didn’t really know this kid
He wasn’t part of the class

Maybe this kid was reaching out for love
Or maybe for a moment
He forgot who he was
Or maybe this kid just wanted to be hugged

Towards the end of the song is this stanza

Who’s to blame for the lives that tragedies claim
No matter what you say
It don’t take away the pain

When this song came out I was in high school.  I could still remember the reaction to Columbine which occurred when I was in middle school.  How could I have envisioned then that 16 years later we, as a nation, would have paid lip service over hundreds of bodies of adults and children about “never again” and then done precisely nothing to actually change the course of our society?

Honestly, I’m getting tired of trying to be nuanced about which gun owners are responsible and which aren’t, it’s about people not guns, it’s a mental-health issue, did the Founding Fathers intend for an armed population as a hedge against tyranny, blah, blah, blah, blah.  The endless blathering only seems to amount to yet another dead child, yet another dead mother, yet another dead father.

What we’re doing now, which is nothing, is not making the situation any better.

People who want to have continued access to firearms as part of their lifestyle need to stop hiding behind rhetoric and start proposing and implementing solutions.  I’m getting tired of holding a nuanced view on the matter while more people senselessly die.  I imagine there are more like me who, as time goes on, think that a “repeal and replace” of the 2nd Amendment might be the only way anything actually changes.

Research available options, pick a potential solution, plan and fund an implementation, study the outcome.  It really isn’t that hard.

Do we really care?

The answer seems to be, “No.”

The “Better than Nothing” Philosophy

Many times the thing stopping us from getting something done or making a change in our lives is simply that we are daunted by what we think we “should” do and instead do nothing.

Doing nothing ensures nothing is accomplished.  Doing something, anything, will get us closer to our goal than just being overwhelmed by what we think we should do and instead doing nothing.  Start by doing something–even if it’s not remotely close to what you think you “should” be doing.

This is my “better than nothing” philosophy.

My most blatant example comes from work.  After years of lamenting we had no monitoring solution in place to notify us if our applications were not working I used a Hackathon day to create “Better than Nothing Monitoring”.  It’s not great.  It’s probably not even good.  But, it’s better than nothing; which is what we had before.  Something is better than nothing.

Also from work, having a robust test suite helps catch bugs in our software before we deploy it to users.  For a long time we didn’t have any tests.  Now we have some, but not nearly enough.  When I’m working on an old piece of code, rather than lament not having the perfect test suite or the time to build it now, I’ll implement the simplest kind of test: “this thing runs without throwing an exception.”  We should have better testing than that, but, when we don’t, it’s better than nothing.

Feel like you should be saving more money?  You sit down, calculate out how much you “should” be saving per paycheck, but never seem to manage to do it and end up saving nothing?  Ignore the “should” and start saving something.  Maybe start with $5 that you put in a savings account every paycheck.  It’s not much.  It’s barely anything.  But it’s better than nothing.  If you’re paid bi-weekly, at the end of the year you’ll have $130.  That’s not much either, but it’s more than you would have saved fretting over what you “should” have done.

Feel like you should be exercising more?  Do you think, “I really should go for a run this week, or ride my bike, or play Wii Fit,” but you never quite seem to make it happen?  Stop worrying about it.  Start so small you barely notice: if you’re using the elevator at work, take the stairs one or two floors first; do a couple push-ups or sit-ups before going to bed.  Maybe you can only do two push-ups today.  That’s better than nothing.

Wish you read more books, but getting through even one chapter just takes too long?  Read a couple of paragraphs at a time instead.  You’ll get through more books reading 3 paragraphs a day than you will wishing you had enough time to read full chapters.  It’s better than nothing.

Many times I finish up a task at work and pull up our work log to decide what to do next.  I’ve long since completed all the low-hanging fruit and I scan through the list of tickets thinking, “Uggghh, that’s going to take forever, I’ll pick something else.”  And, big surprise, those work items are still in the queue months later.  Eventually you just have to start.  Pick the smallest piece of the puzzle that makes any sense and get just that piece done.  The overall task isn’t done, but it’s closer than it was.  It’s better than nothing.

Most of these examples are habit items: saving money, exercising, reading.  In these cases the actual accomplishment today is less important than the habit you’re creating.  You can increase your daily, better-than-nothing effort to get gradually closer to your “should” level of effort.  Doing 2 push-ups and 5 sit-ups every day takes about 45 seconds.  That’s clearly not anything near the 150-minutes per week of moderate physical activity recommended by the American Heart Association, but it’s better than nothing.  As you get stronger, 2 & 5 can fairly seamlessly become 5 & 10, then 10 & 20, then 20 & 40 and now you might be exercising for 7 minutes a day.  Still not what you “should” be doing, but worrying that you “should” be doing 20 minutes a day and doing nothing is worse than doing 7 minutes a day.

What is it you’re trying to accomplish?  Pick any activity, no matter how small, towards that goal which you can start doing today.  Go do it.

It’s better than nothing.

Further Thoughts on My Experiences with the Court

I was summoned to jury duty last week and was selected in to the pool for a criminal case.  We met to hear the charge and receive instructions from the judge.  Then we filled out questionnaires and were asked to return this week–unless called and told otherwise.  The charge in the case was rape.  A somber topic.  The outcome of the case is going to affect the lives of many people for years to come.  And I took the responsibility of (at that point only potentially) sitting in judgment very seriously.  Yesterday, when my name was read to sit as juror number 2 “it got real” (as they say).

After sitting through a few hours of voir dire, the defense attorney asked that I be excused from the jury.  They do not give a reason for a juror’s excusal.  The few in-person questions directed at me were rather benign.  The defense attorney asked something like, “Is it possible that a police officer may color his remarks to reflect a certain view?” which I agreed with.  The prosecutor asked something like, “How would you feel if you learned there was some piece of information like a police report that would not be available to you?” which I said would probably be frustrating to wonder what was in the report, but I would do my best to work with the facts presented.

Based on the verbal questioning, I would have expected the defense attorney to prioritize other jurors for excusal before me.  For example, the woman who stated she would essentially trust anything a police officer said without question; or the man who admitted he had a hard time seeing the defendant as not having done something if he was here in court; or the woman who said she would, as a default position, believe the testimony of the victim because she felt that a woman wouldn’t lie about being raped.

I would have to assume it was the answers I gave in my questionnaire that led to my excusal (I’m just not sure why that didn’t happen during the week they reviewed our answers and informed some people they did not need to return).

On the questionnaire they asked if we knew anyone who had been a victim of sexual assault.  I responded that I had a friend in college who was raped by another student while on a date with him.

They also asked if we knew anyone that worked with victims’ groups or crisis centers.  I responded that Jess was a volunteer, rape-crisis counselor when we met.

I expected those two responses to put me pretty high on the list of people the defense would not want around; though I do feel I could have acted fairly and conscientiously.  I do not feel angry or have a desire for vengeance that I would misplace on to the defendant.

Once my name was called to take seat number two in the jury box I fully expected to answer further questions about those responses.  Since I didn’t, I can only assume that the defense attorney intended to excuse me as soon as he knew I would be called.

The story of my friend who was assaulted is not mine to tell in full, but I want to share some parts and I believe I have sufficiently obfuscated any identifying information to protect her anonymity.

Her attacker was another BYU student, a returned missionary, a supposedly-righteous priesthood holder (for those LDS readers who believe that should mean something).  He threatened her life if she went to the police and she fully believed him capable of following through with the threat.  She came to me for help some days or weeks later, I don’t know the exact timeline.  Not that there was anything I could do but try to console her.

She was too scared to go to the police. Not just scared of her attacker (who made repeated threats, in person, over the course of several weeks).  She was scared that she would not be able to remain anonymous.  Scared that if she reported it she had no evidence, would not be believed, and nothing would happen.  Scared no man would want to be with her knowing she had been raped (YW lessons about chewed gum and licked cupcakes are life-destroying, Elizabeth Smart can provide more insight on that).  Scared about her status in school.

(Sadly, that last concern was well founded given that BYU was recently mired in controversy over mishandling sexual assault reports and subsequently taking disciplinary action against women reporting them.)

Were I continuing on as a juror on the trial, I honestly don’t know how I would have tried to handle the competing demands of being a compassionate human being, wanting to let a victim know that she will be believed if she speaks up, not be accused of being yet-another-man who oppresses and dismisses women–to balance that with the requirement to hear her testimony as one part of the trial, to presume the defendant innocent, to weigh the facts of the case as a whole.  How can you, potentially, say, “I believe you, but the prosecutor didn’t convince me past reasonable doubt?” or, “I don’t believe you, but other women should still speak up.”  Actions speak louder than words and I can understand why anyone would feel that returning a verdict of not-guilty in such a case is equivalent to saying, “we don’t believe women who claim to have been raped.”  But at the same time I’m very wary of accepting an accusation per se as sufficient evidence to convict someone.  Unfounded accusations can destroy lives too.

It sucks.  The whole thing sucks.

For my own mental well-being I think it’s good I was excused from the jury.  I was burned out when I got home just from grappling with these thoughts throughout voir dire.  I would have been exhausted and beyond stressed out by the time the trial concluded.

I don’t have a point I’m trying to make.  I’m just trying to apply some order and closure on to these thoughts that have been keeping me up at night.

Solar Eclipse 2017

We had fun watching the eclipse today.  Livermore had ~75% occlusion at peak.  It was also Heather’s first day of school (separate post coming).  They took the kids outside to watch pinhole cameras and then let them use eclipse glasses one-at-a-time so they could ensure they were being worn properly.

Heather helped me make eclipse cookies yesterday.

My sugar cookie skills could use some work…

Corinne got a kick out of the eclipse proclaiming, “Moon! I see the moon!” (by which she, of course, meant sun).

We used the colander to get pinhole-camera-style shadows.

And I had my camera set up with filters taking pictures.  I just kind of guessed at settings.  Some came out better than others.  Here’s the picture from the peak eclipse:

And here’s one I got as it was ending where you can see a line of spots.  I don’t know if they’re technically sunspots, but they weren’t just dust on my lens–they stayed with the sun throughout the event.

My weather station noticed the eclipse too:

The variations in the readings are due to varying cloud cover that, thankfully, almost completely cleared out during the eclipse.

The temperature even dropped a hair: