Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Settling disputes


Where to turn when no other way works...

So today at "work", I was on a jury. Procedures were followed. Some people said things. It was interesting.

I suppose I should be glad that we have a judicial system in place whereby disputes between parties can be settled in a legal way, in a way that each side recognizes as legitimate. What has stood out to me is the orderliness I've observed, and the painstaking way in which facts are established. Particularly striking is the way in which facts cannot be established. It can seem like hair-splitting to get at the truth of a matter, but I understand that from physics. One must be precise and orderly--hair-splitting--before one can go about atom-splitting.

It would of course be wonderful if disputes could be settled before court, as the Lord tells us to "settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court."

One could also point out that the civil justice system in its current state might be being abused. But abuse of a good system may say more about the abusers than the system. No system on Earth can be perfect. Corrupt men will taint everything they touch. Such is our lot on Earth.

Justice, at least in this public sense of settling civil disputes, is to be blind. And I appreciate that. We have, at least in principle, rules and procedures whereby one can make one's case before an impartial entity... the jury. While surely falling short of God, the perfectly impartial Judge, a jury of disinterested parties is at least a step in the right direction. It may not be a perfect system, but what are the alternatives? The law of the jungle? Bribery and paying off officials to rule in your favor? Throughout the ages, what system has worked better? I'm no scholar on this subject, so I don't know.

But I do know that I have personally met many immigrants who come from countries where a civil justice system is a laughable idea, where justice has her eyes wide open, one greedy hand on your wallet, and another holding a gun to your head. Those are the ones who are grateful. Grateful to now live in a country where disputes can be settled without bribery, without bloodshed, and under the rule of law, laws which all--rich or poor, wise or fool--must abide by.

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Thieves Strike Again


For the second time in a week...

The Guild of Thieves is at it again, this time striking my last working personal transportation device, my bike. To get to downtown LA for jury duty, I've been biking to the Metro station at Allen Avenue where they have bike racks. But when I returned from court today, I came back to find my bike frame still U-locked to the rack, but not much else -- the wheels, seat, and helmet were stolen. It was robbed in a high traffic area where people are getting on and off trains, plenty of people and cars going by. And there were plenty of other bikes. I don't know what made mine stand out.

Fortunately, the station is only about a 15 minute walk from my apartment. On the way, I stopped by Jessica's to tell her the bad news. She was very good to me, and later brought me pie (!)... and let me use her truck to run errands. She's been very supportive through all this conniving thievery.

I suppose I'll use this opportunity to give the bike an "overhaul," getting new wheels and a seat and a tune-up while I'm at it. My last bike tune-up was two years ago from Budget Bicycles in Eagle Rock, where I've gone for things off and on for the past ten years. I may also report this to the police, not in the hopes of recovering the stolen items, but just to add to the statistics of what's wrong with human nature in Pasadena.

Friday, September 24, 2004

Life's Curveballs


Stolen car and jury duty for a month.

As I wrote tersely in the TagBoard, my car's been stolen. If you remember my car and see it, a bluish gray 95 Honda Accord with a spoiler (Lic# 4ZQG191), even if you're out-of-state, let me know. I last saw it in my carport spot at my apartment on Sunday evening, 9/19, before going with Jessica to her brother's house. On Monday, I didn't have occasion to even look in the carport as I biked to the Metro station and took the Metro to downtown L.A. for jury duty. When I came back in the evening, I just hung out and read, and still didn't use the car or look in the carport.

On Tuesday morning, I took my bike to Caltech for a meeting and as usual, just sped past the carport area, not even looking in. But on my way back home for lunch around 1 pm, I saw that the car was missing. I thought maybe I had accidentally left it at Jessica's place and biked over there to take a look... but it wasn't there. So I called the Pasadena Police who sent someone within 15 minutes to take a report. I then called my insurance company (fortunately, I had the car fully covered for theft). If the car's not recovered, I get what the insurance company calls the Actual Cash Value of the car, minus my $500 deductible.

From this knowledge, I know the car was taken between Sunday night and 1 pm Tuesday, probably Sunday or Monday night. There was no broken glass in the carport (the police officer told me they just pick the lock by filing down any old Honda key). There was however a half-smoked Camel cigarette near where the driver side would have been. Not much of a profile to go on...

Many have prayed about the car's safe return, and my mom even prayed that the car be returned with a full tank of gas. (I left the car with about an eighth of a tank.) But a car is just a car, and I am grateful that no one was assaulted or carjacked or any harm done. However, I don't like thinking of punk car-stealers prowling my neighborhood. Stealing my car is no way to achieve social justice.

Speaking of social justice, while being carless, I've had to spend time in a long and tedious jury selection process and was finally chosen to be on a jury for a case estimated to take 20 days or more. So I had to cancel a speaking engagement at an upcoming conference, and postpone a trip to the University of Michigan to visit some colleagues, speak at a seminar, and stay with John. I was neutral about whether or not I wanted to be on the jury, leaving it in the Hands behind History. Since I've been chosen, I'll try to pay attention and let justice be served. But you can't ask me what the trial's about until it's over... :)

Monday, September 20, 2004

Social Zeno effect


A definition in honor of Flake Awareness Week.

When you make plans with a person, say, a week ahead of time, he or she may, over the course of days, slowly forget the plans, and de facto drop them, i.e., flake on you.

The Social Zeno effect is when you periodically call or otherwise contact the person, reassuring them that, yes the plans are genuine. This may minimize the other person's tendency to forget and therefore minimize the obnoxious Social Flaking Effect.

(Related linguistically, perhaps even physically {!}, to the Quantum Zeno effect in which constant monitoring of a quantum subsystem drastically slows down its dynamics. The Quantum Zeno effect is also known by terms such as "a watched pot never boils", and was named after Zeno, the fourth century Greek philosopher famed for his paradoxes and conundrums.)

Saturday, September 18, 2004

Joining a Family


A big family.

This week, Jeremy and Monica became an uncle and aunt.

And it got me to thinking about the family I'll be joining. The day Jessica and I get married, I'll instantly become an uncle to eight (or more?) nieces and nephews. I'll gain five brothers-in-law, a sister-in-law, and a mother and father-in-law, not to mention becoming a co-owner of a dog--Chispita Ross. Jessica won't be gaining as many people, gaining only a sister-in-law without kids and a mother and father-in-law. One big happy family.

By the way, here's a photo from earlier this week. That's Jeremy, Peter, and I at a bowling alley for Peter & Diane's going away party. I guess they're in Portland by now.

Friday, September 10, 2004

Genesis crashed


The desert gets hit by a flying saucer!

It's too bad about Genesis crashing. I worked on the first part of the mission, in case the chaotic trajectory got the wrong boost from the initial rocket motors. But that part went flawlessly. In fact, the trajectory team performed really well. It's too bad that a failed parachute could jeopardize the whole mission. Why didn't NASA just cover Utah with Nerf?

At first, Anil, a guy I know at JPL, told me right after the crash that "the parachutes were to be set off by firing of
So they are afraid that there might be an unexploded bomb in it now and
they are being careful about touching the capsule. It is sitting
half buried into the ground."

I saw the movie of the flying saucer-like capsule plummeting toward Earth at almost 200 mph before it smashed in the middle of nowhere, Utah. How weird... like a drop-off from a space delivery company. Or maybe like the newspaper tossed by the delivery person.

The spacecraft "bus" is still out there. It's going to do an extended science mission, I'm told. Since it dropped all that weight by delivering the sample capsule, it actually has more trajectory maneuverability than when the mission started (more ability to change speed and direction).

Anyway, I hope they are able to get some useful science about the formation of the solar system from the 'mangled capsule'. NASA chief Sean O'Keefe agrees, saying, ""The spacecraft was designed in a way to give us the best chance at salvaging the valuable science payload should we suffer a landing like the one we witnessed."

"Exploration of the heavens is not an easy task," he added.

No, it certainly isn't.

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

"Why should we talk to people who are child killers?"


President Putin defends Russia's policy toward Chechnya as the people of Beslan bury their dead.

Russian President Vladimir Putin Monday night refused to order a public inquiry into how the Beslan school was captured by gunmen and resulted in such a high death toll.

He told the UK-based Guardian that people who call for talks with Chechen leaders have no conscience.

"Why don't you meet Osama bin Laden, invite him to Brussels or to the White House and engage in talks, ask him what he wants and give it to him so he leaves you in peace? Why don't you do that?" he said with searing sarcasm. "You find it possible to set some limitations in your dealings with these bastards, so why should we talk to people who are child killers?"

"No one has a moral right to tell us to talk to child killers," he added.

Putin likened the demands of some U.S. officials that Russia negotiate with the Chechen separatists to the United States talking to al Qaeda.

These are not "freedom fighters," Putin said. "Would you talk with Osama bin Laden?" he asked.

"Osama Bin Laden attacked the United States saying he was doing it because of polices in the Middle East," Putin said. "Do you call him a freedom fighter?"

Monday, September 06, 2004

Important Events in Human History


Important Events in Human History

See the latest version here