Greater Krueger National Park

Greater Krueger National Park
An image from a recent trip to South Africa. Clcik on the image for more on this trip.

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Friday, December 31, 2010

Books versus the iPad

We own an iPad and are beginning to use it to read e-books and e-magazines.  We grew up loving traditional paper books and magazines and are having something of a hard time adjusting to the new forms of these traditional elements in our lives.  Our home has hundreds of books in it and we have already given a like number away.  I have absolutely no idea how many magazines have passed through our lives, but the number has to be astronomical.  We really like our local bookstore and the people who own it and feel disloyal when we buy an e-book online. 

On the other side of the equation there is convenience, cost effectiveness, and the wow factor.  The ability to meld sound and video in a book or magazine is a giant step forward in the publishing world.  Reading on what is basically a computer facilitates note taking, finding passages and words, looking up the definition of strange terms, checking sources, and a whole host of other things.  The convenience of finding and obtaining a title to read is astounding when you have the iTunes and Amazon bookstores a click away.  And then there is the very real, if mundane, consideration of cost - e-books are less expensive.  On a trip carrying one slim iPad instead of an armful of heavy books is also relevant.

Some folks are still fighting the issue and understandably the publishing world is in turmoil, but as I see it the game has changed in a very fundamental way.  Going forward, e-books and video will play an increasingly large part in our day-to-day lives and traditional books and movies will retreat further into the realm of specialty items.  Streaming Netflix and uTube have already replaced the neighborhood movie palace and it is only a matter of time before somebody starts trying to find a business model that will support an online public library of e-books that can be borrowed.  The implications for education are mind boggling.

I feel sorry for the folks who are in the business of selling paper books and I bemoan the passing of an important icon, but I fear that I have passed the point of no return.  Recognizing it's lack of intellectual panache, I am now a dedicated iPad aficionado.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Missile Defense is Expensive

Allegedly, every single living Secretary of State has indicated that the new Start Treaty with Russia is a good document that will improve relations with Russia, will further reduce and verify the nuclear stockpile in both countries, and will not inhibit our country from defending itself.  The sitting Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff has echoed that opinion.  President Obama appears to be convinced of it as well.  I certainly hope that they are correct and the few Republican Senators that are voicing doubts are wrong, but I worry a bit.  Senator Graham has indicated that there may be differing Russian and American interpretations of the preamble to the treaty and that this somehow impacts our ability to develop a missile shield for ourselves and for Europe.  I respect the good senator, but I hope that he is wrong.

There is a lot of controversy surrounding the cost and viability of missile defense in general, the feasibility of building a missile shield for this country, and what the diplomats pompously call the "European Phased Adaptive Approach" (which I understand is the colloquial name for the European missile defense system).  I, of course, know nothing about missile technology, but it appears to me that developing an effective defense against missiles for ourselves and our friends is unfortunately a necessity in today's world.  North Korea already has both nuclear weapons and missiles that are good enough to deliver those weapons throughout much of East Asia.  Iran has missiles that can reach friends of ours in Europe and the Middle East and is well on their way to developing the capability to build nuclear weapons.  Venezuela is planning to install missiles capable of reaching the United States with warheads that can disrupt our electric grid.  All of this is over and above China and Russia's capabilities.

This is a dangerous world.  We may have escaped the horrors implicit in the Cold War, but we continue to face hostility that can hurt us in ways that are unacceptable.  Effective missile defense is a complicated subject, expensive as all get out, and an elusive objective as the capabilities of our potential enemies change and improve.  I advocate reducing the cost of government, eliminating waste, and improving efficiency.  The development of an effective missile shield should not be exempt from this process, but in the end all of the resources necessary to accomplishing our objectives in this regard must be made available to the program.  Unfortunately, this has to be an urgent priority going forward.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Our Education System is Good Enough

Just about everybody that I meet tells me that the education system in America is less than it should be.  Teachers bemoan the lack of resources, politicians bluster about excessive costs, and citizens worry that their children are not getting what they need to compete in the marketplace for good jobs.  In an educational system as large and complex as ours, they are probably all correct.  In a perfect world, teachers would have everything that they need, costs would be lower, and all of the nation's youth would graduate to take on good jobs and become useful members of society.  Alas, our world is not perfect and that is not happening.

I am not knowledgeable enough to offer any useful solutions to the education conundrum, but I don't think that our most important problem is actually in the classroom.  With all of its problems I think that our educational system is good enough - not perfect surely, but good enough.  For me, the more important challenge facing us is the student's level of motivation to learn.  My own personal experience with education has helped shape this opinion.  I was a lackluster high school student and a failed college student in my first two years of study.  The Korean War intervened, and on my return to the States, I decided that I needed some credentials to prove that I was educated.  I returned to college, worked very hard, made excellent grades, and obtained my bachelors and masters degrees.  My IQ had not improved in Korea, but my motivation had changed - I wanted that credential that proclaimed that I was educated.

Note that I am not saying that I wanted knowledge.  I wanted a piece of paper and I obtained it.  In the process, I actually learned some rather arcane facts that I found extremely interesting, but of virtually no relevance in my subsequent career.  On reflection, the most important single thing that I got from college was intensive exercise in critical thinking.  I read voraciously and used the information from my reading to defend intellectual positions in the classroom.  The facts have long ago been forgotten, intellectual positions held were transitory, but the process of thinking critically was transformative even though I did not realize it at the time.  I also learned that if I read more books than the other guy I could usually win the argument.  Note here again, I am not saying that reading more books made me more intelligent, only that it usually gave me the ammunition necessary to win the debate.

I have also come to realize that education in the most important sense of the term does not stop with graduation from any institution of learning.  Life itself is an education, and so is the technical training necessary to accomplish virtually any task in a modern society.  How we approach these aspects of education is also dependent on our motivation to learn and stretch and grow as individuals.  I continually take inspiration from the many immigrants that have made important contributions to the success of America and I am struck by the fact that many of them had no formal education to speak of at all.

Education is available, in fact, it is plentiful in this country.  Some of it is trash, but that is relatively easy to sort out.  The hard question is whether or not we really want to educate ourselves.  Note that I am not just talking about our youth.  The question is just as valid for adults.  Even with the current state of this economy, opportunity is everywhere if we are imaginative enough to discover it and diligent enough to exploit it.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Self-Reliance and Poverty

Many of the problems facing America are the product, at least in part, of the erosion of self-reliance.  Those that favor welfare policies claim that the poor are discriminated against in this country.  Unfortunately, many poor people agree with them and act as though it were true. I will agree that poverty is the result of a lot of complex inter-related problems, but I do not believe that economic discrimination is one of them.  Unfortunately, what I believe is irrelevant.  What poor people believe is critically relevant and it saps their ability to deal effectively with the challenges that face them.

I am not saying that discrimination is not a problem facing the poor.  Many poor people are members of one or another racial minority.  Racial discrimination remains a nasty problem facing anyone who wants to get ahead, but there are plenty of examples of individuals that have successfully dealt with that family of issues.  One thing that characterizes all of them is that they are self-reliant.  I suggest that all human beings have the urge to be self-reliant.  I believe that it is hard wired into us, but, unfortunately, can be overcome by our environment.  President Obama's 2008 campaign slogan "Yes, we can" taped into this primal urge.  Tragically, the policies that he has adopted since gaining office have worked to diminish self-reliance - not foster it.

By it's very nature, Government is the wrong tool to use to foster self-reliance and those that look to Washington D.C. to solve the problem of poverty are deluded.  Virtually all (maybe all) government poverty programs encourage the dole and thus discourage personal responsibility.  The exceptions (if there are any) are in the field of vocational training and re-training, small business loans, and general education.  Unfortunately, most of the individuals leading most of these programs are themselves not paragons of self-reliance.

If I am right, we are dealing with a very elusive quality - this self-reliance thing - and few of us really know how to stimulate it effectively in masses of human beings.  Some of us have been successful in working one on one with another individual or small group of individuals, but every time we try to extend the lessons learned to a larger group we begin to have serious problems.  This is understandable because self-reliance requires self-confidence and truly self-confident people are rarely content to remain in the pack.  An important exception appears to be the United States military, particularly when tempered by active hostilities.  Many men and women of all skin colors come back from war with a strong feeling of self-reliance.  Tom Brokaw's "Greatest Generation" was a very self-reliant group of people who made much of themselves and America following World War II. 

Sports is another place where we see self-reliance fostered successfully and many people "find themselves" on the playing field.  What makes war and sports different from the liberal arts classroom in stimulating self-reliance?  I suggest that the concept of winning is an important element in the equation.  The drill sergeant and the football coach both teach the recruit how to win.  Assuming that I am correct, this is another problem facing us in today's culture.  The concept of winning is very much under attack in modern America and our children are actively being taught that it may be nice, but it is not important to win.  Laudable as this might be in theory, it is not helpful in creating an individual who can look out for himself or herself in the real world.

Internationally, we are doing much the same thing.  Our foreign policy reflects the tenor of our approach to domestic issues.  We are actively pursuing the fight against radical Islamic terrorists, but are obviously doing it reluctantly and we are telling both our friends and our enemies exactly that.  Those that think this way hope that we can eventually work things out on the international front so that we can find a way to live with our enemies rather than defeating them.  I would like to believe that they are correct, but I do not.  It is exactly the kind of thinking that led to World War II.  On the domestic front, it is the kind of thinking that is bringing the problems of Southern Europe to Main Street America.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Bipartisan Solutions are Critical

Every once in a while I hear claims that there are conservatives who do not want the economy to improve because it will ensure the reelection of President Obama.  I doubt that there are such people, but if there are, those folks are idiots.  I do believe that Obama's electoral prospects improve as he moves to the center, and I definitely do not want him reelected, but the economic recovery of this country is far more important than the particular individual that sits in the oval office.  Besides, I can not believe that America will forget what we have seen these past two years.

Mr. Obama is very liberal at best and perhaps even a crypto-Socialist.  We can not see into his mind and do not know his ultimate objectives, but his actions during the first two years of his presidency are enough for me to know that he must be voted out of office as soon as possible - no matter what he does tactically to improve his chances for reelection in 2012.  The pundits are currently making a big thing about his "move to the center" in the tax compromise, but I do not see it as being anything other than something that was forced on him by the mid-term election.  Besides he managed to extract quite a bit of additional spending in return for what he had to do with regard to taxes.

Going forward, conservative members of Congress must remain focused on national issues and let the presidential election be decided by the people.  This electorate is sophisticated enough to see through political posturing.  The mid-term election clearly revealed the mood of the people.  If conservatives maintain their focus and offer decent candidates we will regain the presidency and may very well gain control of the Senate in two years.  If that does not happen it will be our fault.

The biggest fear that I have is that we will overplay our hand and commit the same blunders that are currently plaguing the liberals.  The election of 2008 gave the Democrats control of both houses and the presidency and the liberal block led by Pelosi and Reid decided to govern without compromise.  The Democratic Party paid the price in 2010.  Unfortunately, most of the Democratic congressional defeats were in moderate electoral districts.  This means that the more moderate Democratic members of Congress are fewer in number and diminish the opportunities for intelligent compromise.

I continue to believe that the nation wants intelligent bipartisan solutions to our problems that a clear majority of our citizens can embrace - not pure conservative or liberal alternatives.  Please note that "bipartisan" does not mean bowing to irrational policies as espoused by Pelosi and company.  We have a good prospect for conservatives adopting an intelligent bipartisan approach in the House of Representatives with Speaker John Boehner.  I hope that he will take the time to sit down with Heath Shuler and see how much similarity of view there is between the Blue Dog Democrats and the Republicans.  I suggest that there is a great deal of common ground and offer the vote count in the very recent defeat of the Omnibus Spending Bill as an example.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Bipartisan Tax Policy

The Senate did the right thing when it forced Harry Reid to pull his Omnibus Spending Bill yesterday because he did not have enough votes to pass it.  I am not entirely sure exactly who was willing to vote for it and who opposed it, but I strongly suspect that Blue Dog Democrats saved the nation's bacon on this one.  Amazingly, there are rumored to have been a few Republican Senators that intended to vote for the bill.  While I deplore their lack of fiscal responsibility, I heartily applaud the Blue Dog support for holding the fiscal line here.  This is an extraordinarily important example of the kind of bipartisan effort that we need going forward.

It looks like we got bipartisan action again with the passage of the tax legislation last night by the House of Representatives, even though this time there was hefty price tag associated with it.  139 Democrats and 136 Republicans voted for the bill, the most important provisions of which held tax rates steady for two years and provided an extension of unemployment benefits for thirteen months.  Many Democrats rebelled at providing continued tax relief to wealthy Americans and many Republicans rebelled at not offsetting the cost of unemployment benefits by making cuts in existing programs.  One of the assumptions underlying this legislation is that the economy will recover in 2011, thus thirteen months of unemployment benefits will be enough to see the jobless through the rest of the recession.  Another assumption is that the argument over tax policy will be postponed until the 2012 presidential election.

I certainly hope that the first assumption is correct, but believe that the second may be fallacious.  Moving into the new year, there will be increased attention on the tax code as we attempt to get the economy going again.  There is absolutely no question, but that the tax code is overly complicated and full of inconsistencies.  It is badly in need of revision and simplification.  Somebody recently suggested that we pass a law that all members of Congress be required by law to personally fill out their own tax return without the assistance of a tax expert.  That legislation would probably be difficult to get through Congress, but a tax code that would be simple enough for any individual to fill out without the help of a tax expert is an excellent objective.  As we debate this issue, we will inevitably be drawn into the argument as to how much to tax which segments of society.  It is a legitimate debate that requires strong bipartisan involvement to resolve intelligently.

PS:  I applaud the bipartisan approach to the tax legislation even though I am one of the conservatives that heartily dislike the adverse impact of extending  unemployment benefits without offset.  There is no question in my mind - that aspect of this legislation is a serious mistake.  At the same time, I understand that the only way that we are going to get this country back on the right track is to approach our problems in a bipartisan manner.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Incredible Omnibus Spending Bill

Speaker Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Reid failed to submit the various pieces of legislation necessary to create a budget and fund the government during the regular session of Congress as required by law and are now trying to do it during the Lame Duck session of Congress.  Given the mood of the country and the magnitude of the funds that they are requesting it is clear that they were afraid to do it before the mid-term elections and are now trying to ram it through Congress in the same way that they did Obama Care.  As voters we should not forget these tactics no matter the outcome of the vote in this instance.  At a time when our economy is in an awful state these people are attempting to pass a $1.1 trillion dollar omnibus bill on top of the huge pork laden tax legislation that is currently before Congress without even giving anyone time to read it.  In both instances Pelosi and Reid are using the same despicable tactics that they have used successfully in passing earlier spending bills.  Equally despicable is President Obama's facilitation of this strategy.

Buried in the 2,000 page omnibus spending bill are over 6,000 earmarks totaling more than $8 billion dollars - most put there by Democrats but some put there by Republicans.  When challenged in the light of the recent Republican pledge to stop using earmarks, it is pointed out that these were inserted before the pledge was made.  At this point in time, I find this kind of rationalization to be unacceptable, but that detracts from the principal issue at stake here.  How can we continue to pass legislation that no one single person has ever read?  The foot and a half thick omnibus bill was cobbled together by members of committees each pursuing their own individual objectives with no one looking at the entire package to see if it made sense for the nation.  That is just plain wrong.  Very wrong.  It raises the question as to who these people think that they are and why they think that they can force their will on a public that has rejected them at the polls.

Hopefully Congress will do the sensible thing and defeat the omnibus bill, pass a continuing resolution to fund the government until next year when the new Congress can hopefully restore a modicum of sanity to our legislative process.  Unfortunately, it is not clear whether this will happen or not.  The vote count is very close.  I expect the liberal Democrats to continue to blindly support their leadership, but, incredibly,  there are rumors circulating that a few Republicans may vote for the omnibus bill.  If that happens I may have to re-access a third party candidate in 2012.  Actually, I probably won't really go that far, but at the very least I will join those that support a Tea Party purge of the establishment Republican organization.  Anybody that supports this legislation and is willing to pass it without reading it is not worthy of being in our government.  And any Republican leader that does not make that crystal clear to his caucus is not worthy of continuing as a party leader.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Cancun and Kyoto

The experts can argue all they want about whether or not the climate is changing, but it looks to me like the polar ice cap is retreating, the glaciers are melting at a faster rate than they did when my father went with Admiral Bird to the arctic circle, and the winter snow pack in the mountains that feeds the rivers where I live is not as deep as it used to be.  I do not conclude from these observations that this is necessarily the result of anything that we humans are doing or not doing, but I don't see how we are helping much.  I am all for conservation of resources, developing alternative power sources, taking the bus more, and using less aerosol in our cosmetic products.  My problem is that I don't want to handicap our economy while other countries are using dirty production processes to compete with us in the global marketplace.  It won't do us a whole lot of good to clean up our act, shrink our economy, and go broke in the process - particularly if China, India, Russia and the rest of the developing countries expand their economies by continuing to burn bad coal.

The recent discovery that some over zealous scientists lied about their claims that the globe is warming because of human activities, provided ammunition to those who claim that the man-made global warming argument is all a bunch of nonsense.  The skeptics point out that if we did everything that we were being told to do to deal with climate change it would not make enough difference to change things one little bit.  Some think that it is just a normal part of the climatic cycle that has been going on since the big bang and there is nothing that mere mortals can do to alter it.  (I suppose that means that we are due for another ice age as well - cheery thought.)  Please note that all of this scientific stuff is not just for scientists.  We are engaged in serious international negotiations about this stuff and the proposed domestic cap and trade legislation would mandate changes to our economy that would be very expensive and very far reaching.  This kind of legislative activity makes me extremely nervous.  It might possibly be necessary, but I certainly want to know more about it before we make it law.  Until it is more thoroughly explained to the public I hope that it will be debated fully and not rammed through a partisan congress a la Obama Care.

While we are arguing about who or what is at fault for the shrinking polar ice cap, I suggest that we not let it deter us from trying to find alternative sources to power our economy.  Fossil fuels are a limited resource.  Eventually mankind is going to run out of dead dinosaurs and prehistoric forests.  The folks who lead the market in the new power source technologies are going to be king of the hill.  It doesn't have to be because we think that coal is bad or gasoline is political.  It doesn't even have to be because we think that it will save the planet.  We ought to just do it because it is smart economics 101.  There is a slogan that I like a lot:  "What if we invented a better world and we didn't have to?"  I can answer the question - we would help the entire world live a more productive life and our economy would benefit enormously.  If we don't get serious about this stuff we will wake up very soon, repeat very soon, to a China, or an India, or a Germany, or someone else that has taken the economic lead away from us.   Energy is the future.  We either lead or follow.  Like the sled dogs always say, the view is better if you are in front.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Income Redistribution

President Obama told Joe the Plumber that he wanted to "spread the wealth around."  Liberal Democrats are currently making the argument that the wealthiest people in America are too wealthy.  Staunch conservatives are defending the people's right to enjoy the fruits of their labor and resisting liberal attempts to adopt policies that would redistribute wealth.  I am somewhat conflicted in all of this.  I certainly agree that some people in this country are insanely wealthy while others are tragically poor.  Personally, I do not need vast riches to be happy and I am very concerned about those  Americans that are living below the poverty line.  So far so good - I am concerned about the income gap that exists in this country.  My problem is that I do not believe that government redistribution of wealth is a viable solution - let alone a good one.  In fact, I think that it leads to a  series of very serious problems in society.

Many pundits are comparing today's economic troubles to the Great Depression of the 1930s and are beginning to call this the Great Recession.  Catchy rhetoric.  The United States of America is obviously a much different country than it was during the Great Depression.  One critical difference is the nature, attitudes and expectations of the populace.  In the 1930s more of our people earned their livelihood through physical labor and were willing to get their hands dirty to support themselves.  Today, many of the folks who are out of work are white collar workers that are reluctant to accept menial labor positions to support themselves.  Millions of illegal laborers put lie to the claim that there are no jobs available in America.  A more accurate statement would be that there are no jobs available that we want.  No jobs available that will support the lifestyle that we are used to enjoying.

The short term political answer that has traditionally been given to this situation has been unemployment insurance.  I support short term unemployment insurance, but fear that we are carrying it too far.  I fear that we are creating a situation which encourages folks to not seek employment vigorously.  If unemployment insurance will pay more or almost as much for me to do nothing why take a job that pays less and requires me to actually get up in the morning?  I don't know how valid it is, but one study found that people find jobs during the last month of their eligibility for free money from the government.  As I say, I do not know the validity of this study, but I confess that I believe it's conclusion and it's implications.  I believe that we are no longer the nation that defeated Germany and are more comparable to the countries of southern Europe than we would like to believe.

If we continue on our present path and flirt with the ideas suggested by our liberal wing we will confirm what the world is beginning to conclude.  The United States of America is a declining power.  I for one do not want to go down that path any further than we have already.  I favor policies that reinforce and reward self-reliance, industriousness, hard work, motherhood, and apple pie.  I want to give everyone the right to succeed, but I don't want to give other people's money to those that refuse to find work.  I favor worker re-education, small business loans, and any other valid program that actually helps folks improve their lives, but not the simple, long term dole for being out of work.  I don't mind a progressive tax as long as it does not go too far and am all for cutting out tax exemptions as long as the basic rate is reduced accordingly.  I do not favor income redistribution and believe that is one more important reason to vote against Barack Obama in 2012.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Assange and the Nobel Peace Prize

An unnamed source in the Russian President's office has suggested that Julian Assange should be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.  (Fascinating when one considers what the Russians would do to one of their own who leaked classified documents.)  Allegedly, tens of thousands of Time Magazine readers have suggested that Time select Assange as Man of the Year.  Reportedly, thousands of people are knowingly downloading malwear to their personal computers so that they can participate in denial of service attacks against establishment critics of Wikileaks.  (Unbelievably reckless to give control of one's computer to unknown entities to do with it whatever they wish.)

There is a significant amount of support for Assange and Wikileaks and I suggest that the domestic element of this support is indicative of a great deal of suspicion of our government.  (The Russian leadership is miffed at being compared to the Mafia and are just engaging in diplomatic gamesmanship.  Their intelligence apparatus is delighted with the leaks.)  Unfortunately, this suspicion of government by American citizens is, to some degree warranted.  Governments around the world have done terrible things and our own government was formed in part in reaction to the actions of the British government.  Our founding fathers distrusted government and gave us a system full of checks and balances.  Many of them wrote treatises on the subject with Jefferson talking about revolt if government went awry. 

To the extent that the Wikileaks controversy is about suspicion of government and freedom of information, I am not overly concerned.  In fact, I think that suspicion is healthy and freedom of information is necessary for our system to survive.  In the last analysis governments are just a group of people.  People can be venal and people can be good.  It is the duty of "we the people" to watch those that lead us and hold them accountable.  Disgusting as it is, the Wikileaks imbroglio proves once again that not everything our government does is straightforward, intelligent, moral, and nonfattening.  The diplomatic side of the leaks is embarrassing and mildly harmful, but will not destroy our nation.  Nobody really learned anything new about anything although some things that were previously suspected were confirmed.

The military leaks are a different story and we should not forget that.  Here the actions of Assange and his cohorts have risked human lives for no real gain.  That is inexcusable in my mind and, as I read common law, makes Assange my country's enemy.  The American youngster that leaked the documents to Assange is probably wet behind the ears, but none the less is a traitor.  Those that claim the protection of freedom of information and disgust with war are ignoring an even more important value - that of human life.  I have no problem with leaking information that proves a point, but not if it unnecessarily risks the lives of people who were trying to help my country.  That is not only stupid - it is also immoral.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

"Operation Payback"

"We will fire at anything or anyone that tries to censor 
WikiLeaks, including multibillion-dollar companies 
such as PayPal," a statement circulating online, apparently 
from Operation Payback, said.  "Twitter, you're next for 
censoring #WikiLeaks discussion. The major 
shitstorm has begun," it added.

This kind of thing is why I do not like Denial of Service attacks.  They are akin to a shouting match between antagonists.  If you do not like what the other guy is saying just raise your voice and degrade your vocabulary until you drown out the conversation.  The fellow with the loudest bull horn and the coarsest message wins - while we all suffer.

I am all for legal action against those that undertake these attacks, but given the international nature of the internet community that is not going to resolve the issue any time soon.  Without agreeing with the perpetrators of the latest attacks against those that have censored Wikileaks, I am most critical of the first group of attackers.  After all they started this ugly contest.  It pains me to say this because I don't like Wikileaks and believe that Assange should go to jail for the rest of his life (see previous posts).

My basic argument is that it does no good to attack Wikileaks' web site.  The damage is done and shutting it down does virtually nothing to redress the problem that has been created by the leaked documents.

I would also point out to the supporters of Assange and his organization that this round of denial of service attacks on mainstream organizations does little to convince those of us in the middle of this debate that they are on the side of right and justice.  Their basic argument is for freedom of information.  Denial of Service attacks do not appear to be consistent with that position.

Monday, December 6, 2010

The Internet is not the Problem

The internet is an interesting place, or thing or concept, or something as yet undefined.  I wish that I knew more about it, but I don't really like it enough to spend the time to learn about all of its dots and dashes.  That is not a good situation and I am ashamed of my slothfulness.  This thing is obviously growing in importance and is already a major factor in our lives.  It is a source of information, an educational vehicle, a place to do business, a communication device, an entertainment center, a navigation tool, an attack on morality, and a weapon.  It reaches around the world and can be accessed in areas that used to be considered remote.  Sometimes it is praised and sometimes vilified.  A debate rages as to whether and how it should be controlled.

The Wikileaks scandal is currently attracting the most attention, but in the not too distant past, identify theft was the subject, and before that the dot com bubble, and before that children's access to porn and instructions for the construction of explosive devices.  There is a story currently circulating that someone may have used it to introduce a very sophisticated worm into Iranian computers that is disrupting that country's nuclear program.  Email is used to further Al Quida's agenda.  Etc, etc, etc.  There are also all of the claims regarding it's usefulness and there is no question but that the developed world has embraced it fully.  We use it to do our banking, to communicate, to educate, to buy and sell, to do just about everything.  Many of our younger citizens are so absorbed in it that they no longer function well in social situations where they have to relate to other human beings.

The internet has advantages and disadvantages, but it is not in and of itself either bad or good.  People who use it provide that element of the equation.  The fact that Assange used the internet to put people in danger does not make the internet the villain.  Assange is the bad actor.  We should introduce legislation that makes it illegal to do certain things on the internet, but we should not regulate the internet any more than absolutely necessary to protect it's operational effectiveness.  Even in the face of the Wikileaks example I remain a proponent of freedom of information.  I understand the denial of service attack on Wikileaks, but I do not condone it.  I argue for the arrest and trial of Assange and do not understand our reticence to implement it.  The internet was no more the perpetrator than the computer that was used to input the classified documents or the electric current that powered it or the desk that it sat on.

Having said that, I believe that the internet is a significant danger to society as we know it now.  As more and more people live their lives in the virtual world they simultaneously disengage from the real world.  This makes them less productive members of society.  It also tends to effect their view of society at large and, generally speaking, this moves them away from traditional values.  Too many of our most creative young people are devoting their attention to activities such as building "apps" for the iPhone community rather than figuring out how to do the more mundane things that build a strong nation.  We lead the world in internet based gaming, but China makes our iPads, Japan makes our cars, South America manufactures our clothing, and India staffs our computer tech centers.  We even import illegal Mexicans to wash our dishes, plow our fields, and clean our floors.  Here again it is not the internet that is the problem - that distinction belongs to us.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Harry & Nancy Still Control Congress

Harry Reed and Nancy Pelosi have an agenda for the lame duck session of Congress.  That agenda includes the new START Treaty, the DREAM Act, and the Defense Authorization Bill (containing a potential repeal of the military’s Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy).  It appears that they do not want to address any other subjects until they get through with these.  Even if Congress does not go home for Christmas and New Years, there is not enough time to fully debate any one of these bills.  More importantly, the Reed-Pelosi agenda does not appear to include funding the government or deciding tax policy for 2011 and beyond.  Mitch McConnell has announced that the Republican caucus has decided to block any legislation put before Congress until the government is funded and the tax issue is voted upon.

Even though I advocate that conservative leaders take a bipartisan approach to solving our nation's problems, I applaud  McConnell's position and assume that John Boehner will follow a complimentary strategy in the House. The Reed-Pelosi agenda is in and of itself a failure to approach our nation's problems in a responsible, let alone bipartisan manner.  All of the bills that they want to consider are important and deserve full debate so that decisions can be made that have the full support of the nation. In addition, the agenda of legislation proposed is not as urgent as the funding of the government nor the consideration of tax policy.  The government runs out of money at the end of this week and everyone's taxes go up at the end of the month.  The fact that the President has not provided any leadership in these matters indicates that he is in support of the Reed-Pelosi agenda.  Disgusting.

Harry Reed just won reelection, so Nevada will have him in the Senate for six more years.  Nancy Pelosi's constituency is San Francisco, one of the most liberal regions in the country.  She is assured reelection as long as she chooses to seek office.  Neither of these two leaders feel threatened by the public outrage over what the Obama administration is doing to our country.  The recent mid-term elections saw the defeat of many centrist Democrats by constituents that were opposed to their voting record and the reelection of many liberal Democrats by constituents who were delighted with their actions.  Presumably the centrist Democrats that are on their way out have little incentive to abandon their liberal bent and the liberal Democrats that are secure for another term can be expected to fully back their liberal leadership.  This is a bad situation.

Assuming gridlock on the issues, we can assume that all sides will start playing the blame game with the prize being the White House in 2012.  We are acting like children while playing with adult stuff.  UGH!