Sunday, December 22, 2013

Rudolph's Dad was a Total Shit

I was born in 1964, two weeks before Christmas. That was the year the classic motion animated version of Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer showed up, in color, on network television.   There’s been a lot of debate this holiday season with regard to tolerance, respect, the right to free speech, and what the Bible really teaches us about who get’s to judge others.  Not the least of this debate has been the humble “Who am I to judge” comments made by Pope Francis juxtaposed with the arrogant self-righteous comments made by Phil Robertson the Patriarch on Duck Dynasty.   My family decided to watch Rudolph last night...get back to basics... instead of our other holiday favorites, The Grinch, Christmas Vacation, Elf, or a Christmas Story. It took a bit of teamwork to search the Verizon catalog, then to bring up our Google TV box to search NetFlix, before simply searching on YouTube and finding a link to the full version of the Christmas classic.  Not at our fingertips yet, but since my family only had a B&W TV in 1964, watching the classic on YouTube, on demand, on a 55” plasma flat screen, is still pretty amazing.  BTW, you can find the version here on YouTube if you want to watch the whole thing on your computer and save the 10 minute or so delay it took us to search for it in the various cloud locations.


Bottom-line up front.  Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer had a shit dad who had an even douchier boss. Donner was Rudolph’s proud dad. But just after Rudolph was born and his wife points out that Rudolph has a shiny nose, Donner declares, “Shiny, I’d even say it glows”.  Then Rudolph's mom say’s, I guess we'll simply  have to overlook it. Donner immediately replies,  “How can you overlook that?  His beak blinks like a blinking beacon.”  

Santa then enters their home with a deep “Ho-Ho-Ho” and meets Rudolph for the first time.  He sees his shiny nose and declares in a manner fit for a Will Ferrell character, “Great bouncing icebergs” and Donner, extremely nervous and a bit embarrassed at the moment says, “I’m sure it will stop as soon as he grows up...” Then Santa says, “Well let’s hope so if he want’s to make the sleigh-team someday.”

He does this just before singing the classic, “I’m the King of Ding-A-Ling”.  Yes Santa, you are the grand King of the Dingalings for your rush to  judgement on Rudolph and his difference.  And it only goes downhill from there.  Comet, who represents responsible adults everywhere, cannot stomach the red nose, and even though Rudolph demonstrates a superior ability to fly early on, because of his difference from the others, Comet bans Rudolph from all further the Reindeer Games and set’s a “stellar example” for his class by getting all of his student’s to agree and to continue mocking Rudolph.  Of course the King of the Dingalings, the great White Santa, steps forward and declares,  and I quote. “Donner, you should be ashamed of yourself, what a pity, he had a nice takeoff too”.  I’m going to stick to Rudolph for the purposes of this blog. But remember, there is a lot more going on in this holiday classic.  You’ve got the Abominable Snowman running around, the elf who want’s to be a dentist, and of course the whole island of misfit toy thing.  A lot of very subtle statements about difference, and judgement, and getting along.

As we all know, in the end, Rudolph, with his nose so bright, saves Christmas.  When asked by Santa, “Won't you guide my sleigh tonight?”, Rudolph, despite being ostracized and his lifetime of heckling steps up, and tells Santa, “It will be an honor”.  Not to be outdone, by his own embarrassment of a son, Donner tries to take credit for Rudolph’s nose when he realizes that Rudolph will be the hero.  He says,  “I knew that nose would be useful someday, I knew it all along”.  Rudolf should have instead, told them all to “get bent”. Looking back, that would have been a much better ending to this holiday classic.  These days Rudolph probably would have picked up a AR-15 and gone on a holiday shooting spree had he been bullied as ruthlessly as he was in this story. Rudolph did not.  Instead Rudolph proudly stepped up and displayed a character worthy of his inheritance, a place in history.

If I seem bitter this holiday season, I am not.  I am forever thankful for the blessings in my life which I owe to my one source, whose birthday we are in the midst of celebrating.  I am also so blessed by my wife and daughter who constantly bring down my ego and remind me that it is truly the meek who will inherit the earth. But what exactly does it mean...to be meek.  Meek certainly means humble, and I’ve certainly been humbled this year... But meek doesn’t entirely mean humble. In the ancient Greek, there is a word for humble, and that’s not the word that was translated into meek.  Also, the modern definitions of meek are too passive, to weak, to easy to be understood as a pushover to truly believe that the meek shall be the ones to inherit the earth.  During the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus was clearly referring to something else, something other than, well, modern meekness.  Another possibility is gentle. Meek individuals will almost certainly be of a gentle nature.  As abominable as the Snowman was his gentle side ultimately emerged.  But digging even further, some Biblical scholars who abhor admitting that Jesus could allow for the weak, gentle, or humble to inherit the earth push a definition of meek that is all but, not meek.  A bridled horse fit’s this classic definition.   A horse is strong, but the strength of that horse has been broken, tamed, and channeled into service.  I’ll buy it that the meek have strength...but I don’t buy that Jesus meant that the meek are His broken servants.    Rather, the meek have strength in their character. They must be strong in the face of ridicule.  Followers may have the strength to pull, but do they also have the strength to lead particularly in the face of ridicule?

Jesus said, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth”.  The meek must be humble, gentle, strong, and able to lead.  Jesus, of course, is the King-of-Kings and in my mind, the King-of-Meek.  Could he be anything but? Pope Francis has revealed to us this year, that he too, understands who it is that will inherit the earth and embodies the very essence of the meek. Phil Robertson and his followers are not meek.  They may be strong, but only as followers.  They are not humble, they are not gentle, and they cannot lead. That leaves us with Rudolph...and his true nature.  Humble, gentle, strong, and able to lead.  Up until the storm, eight reindeer were enough to pull Santa’s sleigh.  Strength was sufficient.  But what about in a storm, in the fog, in the dark of night?  Strength is not enough. Eight reindeer are not enough. Rudolph, who was humiliated, who was ridiculed, who was ostracized by his people, turned the other cheek for the greater good of Christmas.  “It will be an honor, Santa”, is what he said.  Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.  How they shouted out with glee. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.  You’ll go down in history”.  Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer inherited the world and his place in history.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Radical Fundamentalism and the Evolution of the Rattlesnake

Fundamentalism might have a role in a democracy but can it ever emerge as a majority without destroying the basic elements of the same democracy within which it thrives? The answer, of course, is no.  The very essence of a democracy is diversity. The very essence of fundamentalism is the annihilation of any diversion from its fundamentalist path.

Fundamentalism carries with it the necessity of truth.  It’s a return to the first principles of those truths.  It is assumed by fundamentalists that the truth always lies within these first principles.   The Qu'ran, the Bible, the U.S. Constitution.  All can be used as foundational constructs...but many other foundational constructs can and do exist, many within the very same constructs from which they sprung. The stronger the  foundational construct the stronger the institutions that rise up around them.  The strength of the institution, then, reinforces the truth contained within its foundation.  Mess with the foundation and you mess with the entire institution.  That’s the bottom-line of fundamentalism and it’s underlying truths are so true as to be, well, true.  Those who are extreme fundamentalist are so fervent in their belief that they are correct, based on this self evidence, emerge as self-righteous fanatics for their cause.  Unfortunately, that is what we call a self licking ice cream cone.  The evidence that you are correct in your cause is evidenced by the fact that you exist to fight for your cause.

The radical fundamentalism of the self-righteous has no role in a democracy because by definition these radicals don’t see themselves as having a role in a democratic process.  Once you have found the truth, there can be no negotiation.  After all, you can’t compromise on the truth. Without compromise you have no democracy.

Returning to foundational principles with it’s presupposed definition of singular truth is alien to reason.  Belief in a single truth from among the infinite number of truths that surround us hems in diversity.  Evolution occurs.  It’s not a scientific theory to be debated any more then warm is warm and cold is cold.  It’s a fact of life. Everything evolves.  Plants, animals, systems, cycles, and processes.  Nothing is immune from either change or the passage of time. So too is the evolution of democracy as a system of government.  

In 1833 the number of insect species on earth was estimated to be 400,000. That prediction was made by the entomologist John Obadiah and he is quoted as having said, “If we say, 400,000, we shall, perhaps, not be very wide of the truth.”  Today we have cataloged over a million species of insects and as for the potential number of all species on the planet that number could simply grow higher than 8 million with 15,000 new species being cataloged each year.  Of course that number could also be seen as, not “very wide of the truth” as well but we have to keep in mind, even today, there is still plenty of disagreement in how it was derived.  This type of biodiversity is the cornerstone of our great blue planet.  We also have a huge diversity in the way the 7 billion people on earth choose to live and govern or be governed.  This is something to be embraced, not feared.

Evolution works...it works extremely well.  The very fact that we are screwing around with genetics is already happening within the broader context of global change. We have evolved as humans  to the point where we can screw around directly with our own genes.   There are two possible outcomes.  Those who screw around with genetics will doom us to extinction.  Or, conversely, our doom is imminent and those who screw around with our genetics might just be the ones who can actually defer some of us from extinction.  The trick of evolution is the changes occur simultaneously and it’s hard to know in advance which change is useful.  The change that wins doesn’t necessarily know it has won.  The change that has lost doesn’t really know it’s lost because it’s not around to argue it’s point.

When I first started driving, over 30 years ago, all squirrels in Northern Virginia ran out in front of your car. When they felt the threat of a 3,000 lbs metallic animal bearing down on them, they instinctively reversed direction and ran straight back to their tree.  Sadly this reversal to run back to safety took them straight under the back tires of the car. Squish.  Unfortunately, it will be hard to do research, other than anecdotal, on the gene that causes squirrels to reverse directions and die because we haven’t been collecting statistics on the subject.  What is clear, is that when squirrels in Northern Virginia now dart out into the road most of them run as straight as an arrow and never reverse direction.  It appears that cars have eliminated that “turn-back” gene from the squirrel gene pool.  Only squirrels with a weak impulse to reverse direction have survived to reproduce.  Or, squirrels with a strong impulse to run straight were the only ones who have survived.  Or it could be a combination of both. Any way you look at it, that’s how evolution works, and there are less dead squirrels on the roads..

A more recent example where the science is being collected, but is still considered an urban myth in some circles, is that of the plight of the Prairie Rattlesnake.  The Prairie Rattlesnake is losing it’s ability to rattle.  Basically the theory is that in the presence of man, only the rattlesnakes that are predisposed to either stay silent, or genetically have an atrophied rattle muscle, are the ones that are surviving to reproduce.  The ones that are noisy to warn of their presence had this evolved survival trait to avoid being tread-on or perhaps eaten. This trait was once an asset but has now become a liability.  In the presence of man, it’s hard to not have our own self-survival instinct kick-in and meet the sound of a rattle with sound of shovel hitting the ground or, better yet, a shotgun blast.  Heck, you don’t even have to hear a rattle to kill a snake.  Snakes have that whole Garden of Eden thing working against them.  Time and time again one can find a suburban homeowner  flushing the harmless black snake from their den, where they have ironically protected the homeowners property from mice and other vermin for years, only to find the deep mahogany stain of their blood on the black asphalt street.  The homeowner stands proud, garden hoe in hand, self-righteously believing that he has made the world, or at least his cul-de-sac piece of the world, a safer place to live.  Judge, jury, and executioner, all in one.  I, on the other hand, feel a weakening in the Force. 

The snake’s life, however needlessly taken, doesn’t compare to the life of Trayvon Marshall, also needlessly taken by the self-righteous, self-appointed, self-protector of property in Sanford Florida.  Strangely, the law-of-the-land, in that neck of the woods defends such behavior, known as stand-your-ground.  Stand-your-ground works on the prairie and in the old west, where there are no laws.  There are only those who are hunting and those who are hunted. It’s not quite to that point in Florida yet, but there is no doubt that’s one of our 50 States happens to moving in that direction...the direction of the wild west.  After centuries of maturing democratic thought, which gave us civil society and the cloister of the upscale modern suburban neighborhood to begin with, do we still need vigilantes keeping the peace?  Another weakening of the Force.

Recently, the Boy Scout’s of America troop leader’s Dave Hall and Glenn Taylor, believed they had come across a cache of “WMD” while hiking through Goblin Valley State Park in Utah.  The men discovered a stone, which, by most estimates, had been standing for 200 Million years. They believed that particular stone was getting ready to fall upon the next young troop or family  heading down that particular path. After 200 Million years they happened upon that moment in history where the threat was real and present.  The rattlesnake was about to strike.  They toppled the stone, on video, to proclaim their sovereignty, the protector of scouts, of lives, and of the world.  They made their 200 million year decision in about 15 minutes talking among themselves.  They made the world safer place by toppling that stone.  It’s probably wrong for me to wish that stone would  have rolled the other way.  Yet another weakening of the Force.

Self-righteous behavior leads to disaster.  Why? Because by reasoning to first principles, by becoming a fundamentalist, you can always justify your behavior. Safety first, after all.  Rather, what we should be doing, is thinking.  Democracy exists for those who can think, those who can reason.  It sprung from the imaginations of those who wished to only reason.  These were men who wanted to break free from the tyranny of oppression at the hands of a few fundamentalists who believed in their own sovereignty as Lords over other men, those proclaimed as Monarchs.  The government that emerged has been the greatest in history...thus far.  The louder we proclaim with our own self-righteousness about our system of government being the best, the more other systems of government take note...particularly those within their those culture who are themselves leaning toward the self-righteous...can we all be right?

What’s so strange about this behavior, on our end, is that the Bible, one of the most fundamental of all documents, the one that guided the development of western culture and the evolution of our democratic system, doesn’t teach self-righteousness.  It teaches exactly the opposite.  It teaches humility, awe, wonder and selfless behavior.  Why then are there so many self-righteous fundamentalists on the loose?  There are certainly a lot of freedom loving folks living in democracies these days.  But freedoms and democracy don’t teach self-righteousness behavior either.  Democracy teaches equality first and then compromise.  If we are all equal, that’s everything, our rights and our beliefs, all equal.  To exist together, we then must compromise, and then respect the bounds of the compromises once they have been created. We can’t all be right, in fact, most of us must be wrong from time to time.

Our system of government is set up to evolve.  To evolve in whatever direction the majority and norms of society might take it...good or bad, but mostly good.   Our entire system of government is based on the equality of men, not the self-righteousness of man.  Ironically, the democratic system of government is the one system that allows bastions of self-righteous fundamentalist to exist.  In any other government, if they were not the ruling class, they would be eliminated.  

However, these enclaves of extreme behavior, are in fact necessary in a democracy.  They create the diversity necessary within a democratic society to evolve.  This diversity as a country  makes us stronger.  It gives us a vast gene pool of genetic material from which to grow and change.  That progress shouldn’t be viewed as good or bad.  It should be viewed simply as the evolution necessary to survive.  Because that’s exactly what it has been doing since our Founding Fathers set it up.  Those men of reason who gave us our constitution.

The U.S. Constitution is a living and evolving construct.  We can’t base our system of government firmly on it’s foundation, rather we need to base our lives on the flexibility of how it can change.  That’s the way we will evolve and survive.  That’s the way our system of government was set up...so it can change.  So we can change it.  It’s not the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, or even 4th amendments to our constitution that are it’s bedrock.  It’is all of the other  amendments as well.  Including the 13th, and perhaps even more important,  the 18th and 21st that serve as a stark reminder that we can always screw things up...and then, after a few years without a beer, go back and fix it. Democracy must be free to evolve and we can change it.  That’s what’s important about our system of government.  I for one prefer an evolving democracy...one that can change and one with which I can sit down to discuss these weighty matter with my friends...one within which I can also have a beer...and I thank God for the 21st amendment almost everyday...

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Thomas Sowell, George Will, and the Appalling of James Madison

The Face of Appalled
I find it fascinating that that so many intellectuals are also passionately wrong with regard to who is at fault in the stalemate of the US Government today. The libertarian Thomas Sowell…who perhaps, in his day, was on par with giants such as Ron Paul, can no longer reason clearly. In his recently published post, Who Shut the Government Down, Sowell gets it so wrong as to suggest his days of clear reason have passed him by. The same can be said for the well respected journalist, George Will, who recently was interviewed on NPR and simply demonstrated that he can no longer express himself in a way that makes sense, read or listen to the interview with George Will yourself on NPR. Both are fans of James Madison. Both should go back and reread what they know of the man before they back the anti-government anarchists of the Tea Party movement who currently are using his good name to destroy our Country.

With regard to Sowell’s piece, no one objects to the House of Representatives using the power of the purse. They should use their powers as the check and balance it was designed to be. The Tea Party conservatives, however, are abusing that power. Abuse of power is what everyone is afraid of…right? Everyone is afraid President Obama abuses his power…and he is called into check when it occurs. Our system of government demands the checks and balances but it also demands compromise. Compromise is one of the greatest of the Madisonian gifts to our Country. There has to be a threshold, upon which we can all agree that someone has won and someone has lost. The issue of ObamaCare has been decided again and again and again. But like spoiled brats who haven’t gotten their own way…those in opposition continue to scream and yell about the loss. If our children acted out like that would we give them what they want? Or would we send them to military school? (like that GdDmn Finkelstein Shit-Kid)

The fact that others (democrats included) have abused their power in the past certainly doesn’t make it right. Mr. Sowell, seems to agree with that fact…even suggesting that it might be bad. He must know that two wrongs don’t make it a right…isn’t that what we learn as children? Bad behavior isn’t precedence. Bad behavior should be an experience we learn from and try not to repeat. Yes it’s a matter of opinion…as to what constitutes bad behavior…just as children often fail to recognize they are behaving poorly, that’s their opinion. And I definitely agree, if the Republicans do bring forth an area of the government to fund, even if line by line, the Democrats should fund it. Line by line is better than a total barricade. So to the Democrats have been sucked into this dysfunctional behavior by refusing to go line by line but they didn’t start the fire. You can't blame every child for burning down the house if only one of them was playing with matches.

With regard to Mr. Will, whereas it might not seen like he is acting childish, his adherence to what James Madison has said, particularly in his discussion of the Federalist papers now being used by the Tea Party Republicans to justify their position, could easily stand a refresh. He’s either forgotten or is simply looking the other way. Look no further than Federalist #58. One must ask if Representative Mark Meadows even read the paper before using this quote to support his position.

“This power over the purse may, in fact, be regarded as the most complete and effectual weapon with which any constitution can arm the immediate representatives of the people, for obtaining a redress of every grievance, and for carrying into effect every just and salutary measure.”

This quote is followed quickly by another…establishing that holding the power of the purse comes with it certain adult responsibilities not lost on Madison.

“Those who represent the dignity of their country in the eyes of other nations will be particularly sensible to every prospect of public danger, or of dishonorable stagnation in public affairs.”

For Mr. Sowell and Mr. Will to blame this government shut down on anyone other than it’s architects, Mark Meadows and Tedd Cruz, and possibly Republican’s who don’t have the backbone to keep their childish impulses in check, is to simply be looking for excuses, another favorite tactic of 10 year olds.

Regardless of the political posturing and the political rhetoric that abounds…and what ultimately may occur…the government shut-down is no good. Exceeding our debt limit is no good. Being a dysfunctional government is no good. Those are not lies of any kind…the proportionality of holding the Government hostage over ObamaCare is completely out of balance. That is why this Republican strategy is abusive. That is the total sum of the issue. James Madison would be appalled.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Ferris Bueller and the Anti-Government Republican Shut-Down

About 10 years ago I held a "press conference" and stepped away from the Republican party declaring myself an Independent. Fast forward to today... I now would like to add my caveat that perhaps that was a mistake. I'm pretty main stream so if I became an Independent 10 years ago, I'm certain I was not alone. So when others, like me, left the party, we quite possibly drained it of any remaining rational thought. And as more rational thinkers left the party they created a vacuum. That empty space sucked in something quite different...that something different literally makes me sick to my stomach. I'm not a big government guy, but I am a pro-government guy. Instead of having the old pro-government Republicans, like John McCain, working to stem the tide of big government, we now have new anti-government Republicans trying to stop all government in it’s tracks. That’s a whole lot different. 

I get it, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, or PPACA, is the pinnacle of big government. Another colossal entitlements program. Unfortunately the PPACA made it through the gauntlet of our legislative system. It’s now a law. It’s now authoritative in nature. To change it means we must change it the way it was created...through legislation directly targeting that change. The rule of law requires that we follow rules in order to keep order. To change it any other way is to not follow the rules. It means creating new rules  to suit your own political whims. It ‘s not creative, or inventive, or special. It’s lawless, it’s stupid, it’s completely illogical, and sadly it’s incredibly dangerous. The best way to define lawlessness would be to picture the chaos resulting from a competitive game played without rules. At best, the game breaks down and ceases to be a game. At worst, things break and people get hurt.

Currently the game has just broken down. The government was turned off. We are currently at that point on the field where the referee has made an arbitrary call. The players are all looking around, scratching their heads, staring at the ref, throwing their arms up and shrugging their shoulders, gesturing the universal  “What’s the call, Ref?”. Of course there will be no response. Because there is no rule to cover what has just happened on the field. A Congressman from North Carolina just pulled a rule out of his ass. And a Senator from Texas just babbled on for 24 hours.  For now, it has just created confusion. Soon, however, the Ref will walk off the field leaving no rules in his wake. And with no governance and no authority we are left with what? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller? We are left with the absence of government otherwise known as anarchy. And what's in store for  us is not the celebration of anarchy that the Tea Party so desperately wants for us--the celebration during the parade scene in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, set to the song, “Danke Schoen”, or thank you very much.  Rather, It’s the inability to turn back the odometer, to reset what has occurred, to fix what has been broken. In reality it’s the destruction our beautiful car, a vintage Ferrari, the governance of our Republic all to the soundtrack of "Twist and Shout" or "Green, Eggs, and Ham", take your pick. That’s where the revolutionaries will take us...the Tea Party revolutionaries...Mark Meadows, Ted Cruz, and the delusional Rand Paul to name a few. That’s not where we need to go...at least not for another 10 or 12 centuries.  Shame on me and shame on those of us who left the Republican Party and left strong Americans like John McCain to fight against big government with the radical clowns of anti-government who took our place. I really am sick to my stomach and now I really do have to stay home from school...

Thursday, June 13, 2013

American Hero, Idiot, or Traitor

Edward Snowden claims he is still an American.  I would like to set the record straight. Depending on which side of the equation you fall--his name is now synonymous with friend or foe.  Is he a defender of liberty or is he a grave threat to national security?  The trouble here is that he is only one American.  In truth, as freedom loving Americans, we all should lean toward liberty and hold every precious liberty we have close to our heart. It is the weight of those inherent leanings, the ones we internalized as children by saying the Pledge of Allegiance and singing the National Anthem while working out what it means to live in the land of the free, that causes the outside edges of our two party political system to bend back around and actually touch one another. The Libertarian's among us and the card carrying members of the American Civil Liberties Union see eye to eye on protecting our liberties.  We all should lean in the same direction...it’s the central essence of our American nature.  Snowden got that part right.  The part he forgot about is the the other central tenant to our freedom.  That being the allegiance and secrecy necessary to defend our Country against all adversaries. To be a  full- American you have be both in favor of our liberty and be willing to defend our country as well...not just the liberties.  Secrecy is a central tenant of national security and has been from the very start.  A deep understanding of why seems to be where Snowden went awry and has subsequently betrayed us all.

What Snowden failed to realize is that he is not the only American who believes in liberty.  We all do.  But our liberty is not free.  Our freedom has a cost.  Much blood has been shed in the defense of our freedom...but that's not all.  Some liberties we must balance and adjust with laws that reduce our personal freedoms and don't make everyone.  We all bristle under new laws and if we bristle too much we push back.  Some things must be kept secret.  There are approximately 314 million us who live in the land of the free.  We may work for the Libertarian party, the ACLU, or more likely we work at a company like Booz Allen, or a Google, a Facebook, or any other company that might use telephones or the internet, or perhaps we work for the Department of Defense, or even at the National Security Agency.   We are all Americans and sadly, when someone commits a treasonous act against us, just as sure as the Rosenberg’s delivered the plans for the atomic bomb into the hands of the Soviet Union, our national security is weakened.  How much damage Snowden has done to our security is not yet clear.  That will depend on what other secrets he has yet to divulge and whether or not the vast majority of Americans can understand that he is giving us a snow job.  It has to be that way.  The controversy he is so called kicked off is a non-controversy.  Why? Because our Government isn’t breaking any laws.  Keeping secrets does not connote breaking laws.  It also does not mean our privacy is being violated.  Snowden is fanning the flames of his own misguided views of what constitutes privacy.  His motivations for doing so are far from clear.  However the sooner we straighten this out the better.  

But first, let’s examine the benefits of secrecy for a moment.  Here are a few secrets that were better left secret at the time...

One if by land, two if by sea...that went badly for the British...Paul Revere did not subject that bit of knowledge up for public debate...should it be two lanterns, or maybe three? Let's take a poll.

And speaking of the British, it was the Brits who ran project Ultra which broke  the German Enigma Code during WWII...that went badly for the Germans.  Winston Churchill didn’t hold a debate in Parliament over whether or not they should let their the populous know about Ultra.

Of course the Manhattan Project...which turned out badly for the Japanese...did not try to gain popular opinion by raising the debate over nuclear ethics on the front page of the Washington Post.  Due diligence was given the ethical question of first use, however.  The decision to drop the first atomic bomb was perhaps the weightiest decision a President has ever had to make...not done in the court of popular opinion...but considered deeply.

Ten year’s after we went nuclear, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg delivered plans for our atomic weapons to the Soviet Union...that went badly for the us and continues to do so today...ultimately that went badly for the both Julius and Ethel Rosenberg.

The F-117 Stealth Fighter... that went badly for the Saddam Hussein.

The NSA program compromised by Ed Snowden...that was going badly for Al Qaeda...let’s hope it continues despite Snowden’s best efforts.

We have lost a large portion of our economy overseas.  Al’ Qaeda is one thing, but we still have a thriving information technology component.  One could argue our economic prosperity is perhaps more important to our National Security then combating terrorism.   We classify secrets to protect not just the military but also other areas of national interest that we would prefer to keep in house.  If we lose Google and Facebook to an overseas competitor as a result of these revelations and a subsequent loss of trust, right or wrong, we will suffer economic damage to our national security.  The more we lose trust in our government, the more our national security is damaged.  The more we let our adversaries know how we are battling against them, the more our national security is damaged. The two are inexorably linked to national security and secrecy will always be necessary. Snowden has damaged both.

Now the biggest problem with Snowden belief that he is trying open  up a national debate is to think that there isn't a debate going on.  He is dead wrong.  There is no need for a new national debate on intelligence and privacy.  The national debate on the what the Government can and cannot collect on it’s citizen’s has been going on for decades and continues every day of the year.  His entry into this debate, by his own hand, demonstrates both his extreme naivete and his extreme hubris.  Rand Paul recently had a similar bout with hubris and naivete when he started a similar debate as he filibustered in Congress over the potential use of unmanned aircraft against US citizens.  How a technology like an unmanned aircraft with a sensor is any different that a manned aircraft with a sensor is beyond me.  Our country worked out long ago it’s position on use of military hardware against the citizenry as we have our position on intelligence collection against our citizenry.  That fact that Snowden had access to networks and technology but not the governing regulations on how it was to be used primarily indicates that he didn’t care about the rules which he believed don’t apply to him.

Here’s a simple analogy that might help explain how misguided Snowden has been in his quest to compromise our national security. When you drive on our Nation’s roads you get to go the speed limit. If you break the speed limit the officer on the side of the road surveilling you with his radar gun is essentially secretly interrogating you to determine what you are up too...he is conducting a search to see if you are breaking the law. He does it in secret because if you knew he was checking your speed, you might slow down.  The same secrecy exists if he was hiding from view behind a billboard or driving in an unmarked car.  Is this secrecy fair?  Of course it’s fair.   These days that surveillance can be conducted automatically by cameras that essentially exist at every intersection. To drive on the road you also have to have your license plate displayed...not to mention county sticker and inspection sticker, etc.  You are telegraphing all of the information that your state Department of Motor Vehicles has on you, where you live, etc.  Your right to drive on our highways means you give up a certain amount of privacy to participate and you have to stay within the law.  If you pass a traffic camera speeding, a traffic ticket will be mailed to your house.  If you are driving a stolen car and your tag shows up on a traffic camera...expect to be stopped and searched and hopefully arrested.  You can’t drink and drive, you can’t text and drive, you can’t transport contraband.  You must wear a seat-belt, your kids have to be in child seats.  You don’t have an unalienable right to drive a car on our roads, it's a privilege.  Believe me, more than anything else, I bristle under the speed limits set in our country...however the laws exist for the greater good of society. Also, it’s a very public endeavor, not unlike going into a shopping mall.  Likewise, as we traverse the information superhighway...or place a call...you enter the public domain.  Your right to privacy is as guaranteed as is your right to open a window and scream obscenities...it’s not.  You’ve got very little right to privacy once you press send on your email or pick up your phone.  

All that being said our country does everything reasonable to assist in maintaining your privacy...even in these public domains...but there is no constitutional right to expect privacy in public places.  Just ask the paparazzi whose careers depend on this legal  “Invasion of privacy”.  What the Government cannot do is target a citizen for collection without cause.  If you’re driving 100 mph away from a bank that has just been robbed...that’s enough cause to stop you and search your vehicle.  I’m going to stop the analogy at this point and you can draw your own inferences from here...what country you might be calling, how many times you call, etc. It’s exactly the same thing.  The analogy, while not perfect, is sound.  There are many ways to expand this analogy to get to the heart of this matter...it’s not willy nilly.  It’s always under the watchful eye of a judge...have you ever been to traffic court?  That’s not to say, such a human endeavor can’t be misapplied or abused.  However, if there was widespread abuse, sooner or later there would be reform, at least in a democratic society.  Where are the 1000’s of people who have been wronged by the abuse of this system Snowden speaks about? If there was abuse and the wrongful use of this information it would be easy to spot.  There is no hue and cry because the abuses of this system don’t exist...there has been no abuse of power.  The system is working and by all accounts it’s been effective in the war on terror.  The Government is doing nothing wrong...when I explained this to my teenage daughter she added...the camera’s at the intersection looking for the citizens running the red lights are fine...just as long as the camera isn’t pointed at our house.  Bingo...if she can understand it...the rest of the Country ought to be able to understand it.  This is just the traffic example, but we should also consider the use of surveillance cameras at stores, gas stations, and other public locations.  No body is really sitting watch at those cameras, they are simply collecting data.  If a crime is committed, the first thing law enforcement does, is subpoena  the recordings from those cameras.  Snowden apparently doesn't watch any TV shows either, he must be trapped in what must be the torture of his own mind.

It’s takes incredible arrogance, of mega proportions,  to believe he can be the sole protector of our Constitutional rights.  The same rules Snowden used to justify his actions, opening up the information for public debate, should have been applied ahead of time.  If he believes there should be a public debate on privacy then there should also be a public debate on secrecy and specifically the release of classified intelligence to our adversaries.  He should have consulted all 314 million of us before he broke his allegiance with us.  Having not taken the time to do so doesn’t make him a hero.  It either makes him a complete idiot, whereas he could still claim to be an American, or he is guilty of treason...fleeing to another country however, suggests he is an un-American scum-bag, and like the Rosenbergs, a traitor.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Attack of the Drone

First, let’s stop calling them drones. A drone is lazy male honey bee with one purpose, to mate with the queen bee. A drone can’t even make honey. The term drone has been misapplied in the world of unmanned aviation for one reason. In the early days a drone was an unmanned target that simply buzzed monotonously through the air with no real purpose other than to be shot down. In addition, the term “drone-on” is a direct reference to the monotonous buzzing of a drone bee, which will statistically never have any real use. With 200 drones in any given hive the chance of any single drone mating with the queen bee is low...the rest drone monotonously around the hive without purpose. Remotely Piloted Vehicles, or RPAs as the United States Air Force calls them, are the furthest thing from monotonous flying objects with no real purpose. RPAs continue to prove their military worth overseas on a daily basis and, as with a significant about of technology that the military develops, will find its way into commercial, domestic, and other government use. 

Apparently, it’s the potential for “other government use” that sparked fear in the hearts of libertarians and caused Rand Paul to step before Congress, and ironically drone-on in a 12 hour filibuster. His concern seems to be that the government could use this new technology to spy on US citizens and then, if found wanting, to assassinate them. His grandstand use of the filibuster was either an act of supreme genius to gain publicity for himself or the single most stupid act ever perpetrated by a member of Congress. If it was a publicity stunt the issue dies immediately. All that’s left then is to figure out how much money to bill him for wasting the Country’s time for his own personal notoriety. If he really believes that somehow this unmanned technology is better than wiretaps and arrest warrants for neutralizing dissidents he’s been asleep for about 50 years which, coincidentally, is about same amount of time he’s been alive. But first, let’s dispense with the idea that the US Government would ever target dissidents in our country for assassination. If they were, RPAs wouldn't be their tool of choice. The very idea that a member of Congress would think this way is disturbing. Trying to find bastards with treason in their hearts and the over-throw of US Government in their mind, however, is exactly the job of our Government and they should use every legally sanctioned tool at their disposal to up-root these scumbags and bring them to justice. 

Now back to shaking Rand Paul awake. The first spy satellites the US launched were in the early 1960’s. Spy satellites are unmanned vehicles with big cameras and big ears that can and do, unlike unmanned aircraft today, orbit over the United States every hour of everyday. And have been doing so for more than 50 years. If you were not drawing your window shades over the past 50 years why should you consider drawing your window shades any time soon? Big Brother launched with the advent of the space age and with it the laws that govern what intelligence can be collected with these systems on US Citizens both at home and abroad. Nothing has changed with regard to the technology to spy on US citizens. And most of us agree that this technology has been, and must continue to be, kept in check. What’s fascinating to me is that if you can do it with a “drone” you could already do it with a satellite, or better yet, a light aircraft or helicopter. It’s almost as if Rand Paul doesn’t know about such things…I wonder if he knows about computers and computer hacking…and how unsafe he is on the internet? All that being said the best way to spy on Rand Paul might just be through his computer, if he has one, and if he knows how to turn it on…

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Head for Higher Ground

I’m not an economist. I took the basics in college - Macro and Micro. More recently I’ve been reading up on complexity economics, where economic theory looks a lot more like evolutionary theory rather than the laws of supply and demand. In the last chapter of his book, “The Origin of Wealth”, Eric Beinhocker discusses the end the Democratic and Republican parties as the market forces that allow a two party system to remain viable in the complex economic landscape begin to evaporate. To me there is nothing natural about a two party system, it is entirely unnatural and it’s existence and persistence on the American landscape bodes a hidden corruption I would prefer not to contemplate. Why we, as American’s, have been so blinded to it’s pitfalls staggers the sensibilities of many an external observer.

It’s easy to understand how in a complex environment there can never be two sides to an argument...there are countless positions and depending on where you sit will determine your position in any given argument. The landscape continually changes. The unnatural alliances made within our two party system is a dead give-away that something stinks. The manifestations of these unnatural forces within our two party system are now coming home to roost. Our two-party system of government is forever grid-locked and our representatives will forever point fingers at one another rather than figure out how to evolve our government in order to grow and prosper. That’s harder to do. First, however decisions must be made.

Sadly, when compromise cannot be reached decisions are still made, but this is not government. It’s randomness, exactly why we chose to have a government in the first place, so we are not subject to the random forces of nature. Choosing not to decide is still a course of action, time doesn't stand still when a decision is not reached. March 1st has come and gone, time did not stand still. President Obama signed the order to cut $85 Billion out of the Federal budget, what we know to be Sequestration. The choice not to decide and instead lapse into Sequestration was stone cold f-nuts stupid. It also represents an exciting new way for the government to tax a subset of it’s citizens. Regardless how one may view a government furlough, the end result is an effective 10% increase in the tax imposed on the individual employee it affects over the year, but more like 20% over the next six months. For those of us who happen to be of the lucky 800,000 civilians employed by the Department of Defense, ladies and gentleman welcome to the 50% tax bracket! Of course for the next 6 months, welcome to the 60% tax bracket. Don’t these percentages seem huge? And yet we quibble about a small increase in the tax on the wealthy, or the closing of a tax loophole for those who make their living on capital gains vs working income. For 800,000 Americans there isn't even a choice. We've leapfrogged past any small incremental tax increase and joined, ironically, the Europeans. But I’m not writing this blog to argue about my misfortune of being one of these DoD civilian, it’s to describe the wrong headed nature of a government that refuses to make decisions.

I’ll be the first to argue that the DoD is prime for some cuts. So cut it. Gut it if you want to. Tell me I’m out of a job, then I’ll go get a new job. I’ve got responsibilities, bills to pay, a family to care for, and an economy to invest in. I want to go to Starbucks on the weekends. I want to go to BestBuy for a new iPhone. And I want to put money away for college. Tell me I’m in the new 60% tax bracket and my life changes dramatically. First, I pull completely out of the economy. Second, I stop saving. And third, I start looking for Republicans to vote out of office. 

We need a government that can make decisions, any decisions because we don't want to live in the wild.  This is how it works in the wild. Say we all live on an island... Survivor Island if you must. The water on the island is rising by some unseen force. There are three options. Two require a decision. The first option is to move to the snowy mountain on the left, it might be cold but at least you and your family will not drown. The second option is to move to the fiery volcanic mountain on the right. It may be hot, but again, the risk of death by drowning will be eliminated. A movement to either mountain requires a decision. The third choice is to remain standing still as the water wells up around  your ankles. Soon you will be forced to swim. Some will make it to shore and perhaps to either one of the mountains. If you survive you might find yourself lower down the mountain than those who made an independent decisions to move to higher ground before the water came. Now in nature, evolution works the same way. Some will move to either one of the mountains and survive. Some will stay in place and die. The ones who move to mountains early and adapt to the hot or cold environments might survive a little longer. But in nature it’s entirely a random process, some of each will go in all three directions--like seeds scattered on the wind. Exactly like seeds scattered on the wind. We have a government for making decisions. We know if we stay where the water rises we will die so we count on a government that will lead us to higher ground (or build a working levy to hold back the water). We don’t need a government that can’t make a decision. Otherwise we are seeds scattered on the wind and might just be better off fending for ourselves. Why have a Government at all?   Republicans would rather have less Government, that doesn't mean no government, but that is exactly what they have brought to us, the absolutely worst form of Government. For 800,000 DoD employees we have little or no decisions we can make, we must live with the water pouring in around our ankles. Some of us, certainly can quit and go elsewhere, most of us can’t quit. So we will endure and sacrifice while others will scramble for higher ground simply because compromise is not an option.

I’m not an economist, but in the new economy you don’t need to be. I’ll be heading for the higher ground soon.