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Monday, May 12, 2014

There Oughtta Be a Law...


We do NOT need more laws...especially not dumb ones, unclear ones, ineffective ones, senseless ones, or ones that erode our liberty and lead us down the slippery slope to a police state.

And the new Utah "distracted driving" law that takes effect tomorrow is all of the above, and worse.

You can read about it in this horribly-written Deseret News article.

[Side note: what is the deal with the Deseret News? Their journalism standards have taken a precipitous nosedive lately. Not only do they constantly push an annoying agenda that matches the likes of CNN, MSNBC, and the NYT, but it seems that most of their articles are now being written by barely-literate college interns. Case in point: the linked article contains contradictory information, a lousy interview, zero opposing viewpoint, and several misspellings (such as "your" instead of "you're" twice). Maybe there's some connection between the new editorial slant and the infantile grammar - after all, we know what kinds of citizens academia is cranking out these days...]

Anyway...as I was saying.

Here are a few reasons the new law is atrocious:

1) If you're going to enact a totalitarian, liberty-eradicating, nanny-state law - at least do it right. This law allows a host of activities that are equally as "dangerous" as the ones it ostensibly prohibits. If you want to really clamp down on freedom with an iron fist of tyranny, why not just outlaw any and all use of mobile devices in vehicles? [Note: I am in no way suggesting that is the right thing to do, only that it makes more sense than this law if you really do want to *try* to control people.]

2) All of the activities (allowed and disallowed) by this law look exactly the same to any observer (especially those who will be enforcing the law). Thus, you can be certain that, as a result of this stupid law, you will be pulled over for doing absolutely nothing wrong or illegal.

3) How does that play out? Let's say you're using your phone and you get pulled over. The officer will ask you what you were doing on your phone.

     A) You were using GPS - which is still legal - and you tell him that. The officer either has to believe you and send you on your way (no doubt with a huge apology for wasting your time - NOT!), or he calls you a liar and confiscates your cell phone as evidence under probable cause jurisprudence. Now you have 4th and 5th Amendment issues.

     B) You were in fact texting (shock, horror!) but you decide to lie and say you were using GPS. The officer either has to believe you and send you on your way, or call you a liar and confiscate your cell phone as evidence under probable cause jurisprudence. Now you have 4th and 5th Amendment issues.

Hmm. Can you spot the difference? Didn't think so. Now, simply having a cell phone with you, and using it in any manner, will have the de facto result of ticketing and/or confiscation (or the unlikely opposite of no enforcement at all). Or some random combination of the two that has nothing to do with consistency, law, order, safety or liberty.

4) This law is legislative overkill if ever there was such a thing. It addresses a virtually non-existent problem that has been hyped to the extreme by people with an agenda who care nothing for facts.

Let's take a look at the facts, shall we?

Here's a look at the causes of crashes in Utah:

     Property damage only, or "PDO" crashes:
     Caused by texting = 0.0006% (23 total)
     Caused by cell phone (other) = 1.2%

     Injury crashes:
     Caused by texting = 0.0008% (14 total)
     Caused by cell phone (other) = 1.7%

     Fatal crashes:
     Caused by texting = 0.01% (2 total)
     Caused by cell phone (other) = 1.5%

     All data for 2012, from the Utah Department of Public Safety.

That's correct: other causes unrelated to the use of mobile devices account for 98.6% of all of the 50,600 crashes in 2012. Take note: 99.9992% of accidents are NOT caused by texting. The "problem" this law addresses is not a problem. It's barely a statistical blip on the radar. Facts matter.

Put it another way: of all distraction-related crashes, cell phone use accounts for only 5.0% of those "distracted driving" crashes, with texting specifically only accounting for 0.36% - that is less than one percent - of ALL the distracted-driving crashes. This means that other passengers, the radio, eating, applying makeup, etc. - all massively outnumber texting or other cell phone use as a cause of distracted driving crashes. For example, the radio causes 8.3 times more distracted driving accidents than does texting. Where's the outrage? Why no bans on radio use in the car?

I've not been involved in a reportable traffic accident in over 28 years of driving. Do I use my cell phone on the road? Of course I do. Responsible drivers, those who know their abilities and limits, and who are doing nothing wrong, should not be penalized by this ridiculous law. This law will not do anything to increase road safety, because cell phones and texting are not the problem.

However, what this law will accomplish is getting everyone used to the idea that there's "nothing wrong" with regularly pulling over and harassing law-abiding citizens, on the pretense of "public safety."

It's another brainless baby-step toward tyranny and I do not like it. Playing on fears of a non-existent epidemic in order to impose Draconian restrictions on the citizenry is not the job of our lawmakers. Shame on you, Utah legislature.

UPDATE: In fairness to those who represent me...in the House, Rep. Curt Oda did vote against this law, and in the Senate, Sen. Jerry Stevenson did not vote (absent). So, I have no one to whom I can complain. But to the rest of the legislature: I am disgusted.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

ST vs SW

With lots of news percolating regarding the new Star Wars movie (slated to open 12/18/2015), I thought I might delve briefly into the whole Star Trek - Star Wars phenomeon.

In my experience, there has been a long and storied history of antagonism between Trekkies and Warsies (or whatever they're called). 

For my own part, having seen the Star Wars movies, I always appreciated SW as a good fantasy tale with endearing characters and a nicely-constructed universe with sweeping themes of the great Manichean dichotomy. That said, I never really "got into it" to the level of frequent rewatches of the films, or reading the books or comics, playing the games or collecting the paraphernalia. I was satisfied, for years, to simply "like" Star Wars. I knew the original trilogy by heart, but that was about it.

I did, however, consider myself a true Trekkie/Trekker (let us just use "Trekkie" and forego the definition debate inherent in those two labels). I watched TOS in syndication in the 70s, and I liked it then, even as a young kid. I saw the ST movies in the 80s and liked them. When TNG started, I was skeptical and did not jump on the bandwagon; in fact, I didn't even watch it until about the fifth season, when I started watching it in syndication. I quickly grew to love it, and devoured all the episodes I could get my eyes on. I remember watching the final episode ("All Good Things...") as it aired - it was a real "event." I also watched DS9 largely as it aired, and VOY and ENT, too. I was pretty devastated when ENT ended and there was no new Trek on the air for the first time in close to 20 years. I have rewatched all the movies and every series multiple times. Also, in 2001, I started reading the novels, and read 54 Star Trek books over the following five years, and loved them. I even wrote stories in that universe (my first ever novel was a Star Trek book - that was before I knew how publishing works and that you can't sell fanfic in the Trek universe unless you like being sued). For the last three ST films, my wife and I have hosted a party and been there opening night. I have lots of ST related t-shirts and memorabilia, even some games. I went to the Star Trek Experience in Vegas on my honeymoon, and have dressed in ST attire for Halloween. I have an unfathomably vast amount of trivial ST knowledge taking up valuable storage capacity in my brain. For that which won't fit in my head, I have Memory Alpha in my browser bookmarks. So, yeah, I am a Trekkie. I appreciate the great, thought-provoking storytelling. I love the characters and the relationships among them. The writing and acting is often superb - top-notch fiction. Great standalone stories and engaging longer plot arcs. Amazing character development. Lots to contemplate and ponder. Good humor, and deep emotional impact. Love it.


When my (now 8.5 year old) son got into Star Wars a couple of years ago, I found it to be a better fit family-wise. The themes of good-and-evil are pretty straightforward, with little of the secular humanist nuance found in ST. I think that kids more naturally understand and enjoy the basic fairy-tale approach to storytelling found in the SW universe, where the bad guy wears black and sounds all breathy and sinister. Now, I don't mean to oversimplify the fiction found in SW, because it also encompasses some great nuance and more complicated thematic elements - especially if you watch the Clone Wars series with its intricate political maneuverings, or consider the basic character concept of Han Solo, a criminal-turned-hero. But what a great story of redemption (albeit deathbed repentance) we see with Anakin's story arc. Yes, he spent a couple of decades being a mass murderer, but the point is, people can change! In SW, we learn the importance of faith (believing in things we can't see or scientifically explain/quantify), such as the Force (ignoring, for the moment, Lucas' awful midi-chlorian retcon). In ST, faith is always given short shrift and explained away by the "enlightened" secular humanists (with the quasi-exception of the Bajorans' faith in the Prophets - a.k.a. "wormhole aliens"). SW is built on "the hero's quest" story foundation, which is an important structure for kids to understand because so much of great Western literature is based on that structure, which is, of course, based on the concept of Christ.

I've heard my boy quoting certain "Jedi" moral lessons he's learned while watching the Clone Wars...I have a hard time imagining him gleaning such wisdom from the world of Star Trek. 

Some have criticized Star Wars as not being very believable, with story issues and muppet-like aliens, but all fiction has plot holes and such, and SW is no different. Meanwhile, how many times has ST used ridiculous story tropes (holodeck-goes-haywire, anyone?) or deus ex machina denouements in order to wrap up a story in the required 44 minutes? And yes, I just mixed Latin with French. I do that sometimes.

Both universes are deep and rich (especially if you include the now-non-canonical EU)...but somehow, for me, ST just feels kind of cold compared to SW. Of course, comparing a sci-fi show to a fantasy show is problematic on its face, and is likely the root of most of the tension between the two fandoms. There really is no need for such a rivalry between them, when you get right down to it, because it's apples and oranges: why not just enjoy each for what it is? They serve different purposes. Star Trek offers up insights into scientific mysteries in a somewhat sterile universe where we can contemplate the meaning of personhood, sentience, individuality, and other deep philosophical questions confronting dozens of species that are mostly differentiated by various forehead ridges. Star Wars allows us to observe a grittier, messier universe filled with odd creatures who are almost all aware of the mystical Force and must choose sides between the darkness and the light. Both franchises provide an examination of war, politics, relationships, loyalty, courage, humor, and family. Plenty to enjoy for everyone, in different ways.

And now that my son has got me more interested in SW, I own some Star Wars t-shirts, and have been to the official con (Celebration 6). So you could say my conversion to the Dark Side is complete! (Though I still love Trek!)

I'm so complicated.

Either way, I am looking forward to new movies in both universes! Which is YOUR favorite, and why?

</end geekiness, for now>