Thursday, November 28, 2013

My Victim Impact Statement

Apparently I'm not supposed to publish details about the court case involving the murderer who took my brother's life. But I doubt anyone is looking at my blog, except for a few Russian people apparently.. nostrovia!  This is my pre-tragic levity.  Below is my 'victim impact statement' to be read before the judge in January. I figured if I have the balls to read it in court I should be able to publish it without fear. Maybe I'll remove it later.

Victim Impact Statement
Ben Switzer

                Josh and I were always together.  We shared bunk beds, fought over a single computer, and even shared clothing, up until the night he was killed.  We explored the forest and built shelters for others to find. We climbed trees, ran through the fields and biked until our legs burned through. Every memory I have from childhood has the peripheral sense of Josh embedded there. The sea breeze on a ferry, all of us lined up against the cool railing, and Josh on my left, always beside me.   I knew he looked up to me, and I tried to be a good brother.. but I still wonder that I failed him.   I will never know to what extent.

He provided for me an anchor, a safe harbor from despair.  Knowing that every night before bed I’d pass by his door, and no matter how bad it got for me, my family would be there, Josh would be there.

It’s hard to overstate the impact Josh’s death has had on my life.  I have often contemplated suicide since he was killed.  When I think about how he was brutalized so carelessly and then discarded like a piece of trash, it sickens me.   It fills my nights with disgusting nightmares, and there’s no solace from this grief.  The suffering will never end.  
A few months before Josh was brutally killed, I confessed to him I was struggling and had thoughts of taking my own life.  At this point a tick-borne disease had systematically taken almost everything I loved.  Josh simply put his hand on my shoulder and said “don’t give up man.”   He always had the simplest advice, but it was always honest and true.   Because Josh was honest and true, he was a good man.   A better man than I’ll ever be.

Josh was a team leader in a game called Counter Strike, and his role was the “Strat Caller,” which is like a tactician and a field commander. He was good at interpreting his opponent’s strategy.  We could often hear him late at night shouting orders. It was infuriating, but we knew it was important to him, so we didn’t complain.

After he was killed, we disassembled his room with shaking hands. His computer monitor held a sticky note on its frame..The note read:

“Focus on the crosshairs,
Don’t change what works,
Don’t give up.”

We try to measure the severity of a crime by intent, deed, and “mitigating impact.” So we can inflict a proportionate punishment.  But in reality, Josh’s death will be a mere inconvenience to Mr. Norton. My life is ruined.  But it doesn’t matter, my dreams are just trash.  Discarded. 

It isn’t possible to quantify the future of what could have been. Josh wanted a family. He spoke eagerly of his future, and I looked to the days where his children would call me “uncle Ben,” and I could teach them a proper jump-shot. I saw visions as they rode horses alongside their aunt Brianna; and all their laughter, and joy - their dreams and maybe one day own their families - trash.

What is the worth of a dream? Josh and I were business partners, and we were building something that was better than ourselves. It was meant to be profitable, ethical, fundamentally democratizing, and we hoped to make medicine more affordable for everyone. We worked thousands of hours to understand the machinery of this complete dream.  Years of preparing and studying, planning and researching; tens of thousands of dollars in tuition.. Trash.  Easily discarded.

 When I try to think about the “impact” of Josh’s death, the task becomes so astoundingly tragic, so astronomical in scope, I break down every time.   Walt Whitman once said “I do not give lectures, or a little charity. When I give, I give myself.”   Josh was a gift the world was denied; in a grotesque, morally bankrupt act of violence.  The impact will forever linger, churning away and growing, a void where something beautiful should have been. 

I have decided to say this or something like it (lawyers might edit it  :S).  All I've said above is true.  I have recovered from the disease and am enjoying happiness most of the time now.  So I've come a long way, I guess that's why I can write the above without restraint. 

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Audacious Idea 1: Oath of Transparency and FMRI for Policymakers

Audacious idea #1:

              Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging and a New Political Oath.

Current oath:

" I  _____, do solemnly and sincerely promise and swear (or declare) that I will truly and faithfully, and to the best of my skill and knowledge,execute the powers and trust reposed in me as Prime Minister, so help me God"

OK, lets first talk about what's wrong with the first oath.

1 "to the best of my skill and knowledge" is implied in the electoral process - you aren't elected because of your fashion sense.

2 Powers and Trust are too vague, and don't really embody any specific principle.  Not to mention if a Prime Minster's powers are suddenly expanded, the oath really doesn't constrain them from executing that power unjustly.

My rough oath:

"I _____, swear to uphold this duty sincerely, entrusted to me by the Canadian people.  I swear to advance their interests and well-being - while upholding the laws of Canada. I will conduct myself domestically and internationally in a manner representative of Canadian values: altruism, cooperation, freedom, justice, peace, prosperity, sovereignty and wisdom.

I also henceforth and until the end of my term, revoke my rights to privacy as it relates to the execution of this office; and agree to be subject to the reasonable scrutiny of the Canadian people."

I have crafted this oath as being more a legal contract than a ceremonial oath for a reason. The emboldened (heh) words represent important provisions of office.

I further propose that functional magnetic resonance imaging be used as an advanced polygraph to keep government transparent. As neuroimaging techniques improve, the degree of accuracy can be further assured, while also combating the possibility of tampering or corruption.

 Note: similar to polygraph, the illumination for areas of the brain associated with categories of stimuli such as belief judgments of truth versus judgments of falsehood,  have greater signal in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex. This is an area important for self-representation, emotional associations, reward, and goal-driven behavior [1]. 

What this means is we can see if they believe something or not.  That does not necessarily mean it's true either.  FMRI offers the potential to act as an indisputable lie detector test.  However, there are also studies that have proposed MRI can affect memory. [2]

Would it be acceptable, as a matter of practice, that all possible conflicts of interest a candidate may entertain, can be examined thoroughly before they take office?

I would be willing to subject myself to rigorous truth-detection (personally) if I were running.

Now that the internet is a massive surveillance black hole, I often hear the argument "if you have nothing to hide, why do you care?"

I think this question should apply to those in office.  If you do have something to hide, well, don't run for office, because you clearly have something sketchy going on.  Maybe it isn't celebrities who should fear having their lives scrutinized, and it certainly shouldn't be Canadian citizens.

In order to retain a balanced and effective use of this technology and ideological framework; it helps to delineate the scope of investigation, so that someone's personal life isn't part of the questioning.

Topics that should be excluded:

- Sexuality
- Gender
- Sexual orientation
- Religious belief
- Intellectual property secrets (room for abuse here, needs mediation)
- Domestic political associations
- past shenanigans, other red herrings
- truly dangerous secrets

Topics that should be included

- well researched, potential conflicts of interest! (Bush has an oil family, Cheney via Haliburton)
- international political associations
- corporate associations
- statements of fact
- criminal activity
- ideological belief
- Any indication of cronyism 

Some might argue that's a discriminatory practice against business owners, and I would agree that yes, it is.  Because money is the only way someone stands to gain something through political manipulation.  If we put up roadblocks, the lobbying will cease completely, and these corporations will fall in line, while not impacting their obligations to their stockholders, or their ability to employ citizens and run a legitimate business.

A politician's associations with a restaurant owner are less likely to be important than if they have connections to an oil baron.  There are acceptable and unacceptable degrees of conflict, those degrees must be managed as the landscape of Canada's needs changes. Management of that scope requires transparency.  Transparency requires legitimacy.  Legitimacy is earned by trust.  Trust is earned by Truth.  So we should, before all else, seek the truth as a foundational element of a modern society.  A fact long lost on our generational forebears, these.. incompetent overlords. 

The public should be able to vote on what questions are asked, insofar as they do not fall under the sphere of being inappropriate, given the rough guidelines above, and as stated in the oath, under "reasonable scrutiny." It shouldn't cost money to ask these questions.

It is absurd that the ostensibly 'most' powerful Canadians, the decision makers, aren't subject to an elevated level of scrutiny.   If you want to lead, you should have to make sacrifices, like sacrificing the right to conduct illegal activities; or sacrificing the freedom to advance secret agendas. 

This has been part 1 of Audacious Ideas, thank you for reading.