Monday, February 29, 2016

On the Way to a Career

Forty-two years ago, on this day in 1974, I was on Interstate 80 in the middle of America.  The thing I remember most about that drive was how the Interstate was not yet complete and every so often it would just stop and I’d have to get off on to a real road and travel through towns and see real people.  Of course back then, thanks to the energy crisis, the government had determined you should never-ever go faster than 55 mph so being on the I-80 itself wasn’t all that much of a time saver.

If my memory serves, I left home on February 26 to make a March 2nd check-in at Mather AFB, Sacramento, California.  The first day I made it to Toledo, Ohio where I stopped at a Holiday Inn and had Trout Almandine for the first time in my life.  Back then motels had real restaurants, with real food, so you didn’t have to check in and go looking for it someplace else.

Day two saw me reaching Des Moines, Iowa.  The thing I remember most about that and the next day was they must all be adherents of the Flat Earth theory because that was all you saw once you got past Davenport.  Mile after mile of flat snow covered ground.  (Just a point here, if I had understood the military a little better I would have planned to get to Omaha so I could have stayed in the visiting officer’s quarters for a lot less, but heck the government was going to reimburse my travel.)

Day three took me across the heart of America, and as I noted, it was flat with occasional sections of kind-of not flat, followed by mostly flat.  I think the interstate ended somewhere in Nebraska but since there weren’t a lot of towns and the government had already mandated I drive at an economical 55 mph I was still able to make Cheyenne, Wyoming.  Again, rather than stay at the Air Force Base, that I didn’t know existed there, I hit the Holiday Inn and had a humongous steak, surrounded by all sorts of cowboy stuff and a cover band in the corner singing something from “Bread.”

Day four, on to the Great Salt Lake and the salt flats.  My routine for the trip was to start at about 6 am, drive until I needed gas, then drive until 6 pm.  This afforded a rather leisurely day for a 23-year old on his own.  After Cheyenne, I left the flat great plains and headed into the Rockies.  That was some gorgeous country, with mountains rising to the sky.  It was something to see the peaks glowing in the morning light as the valley’s still lay in darkness.  I think the drive along the Wahsatch River was one of the most stunning of the journey, and perhaps in all my travels.  I stopped for gas in a little two pump station in the middle of the great salt flats.  In what can only be listed as a “small world” event there was another car with NY plates there.  The driver was on her way back to Poughkeepsie.  With the uncertainty of what was available for lodging in eastern Nevada I decided to call it a day when I hit Wendover on the Utah-Nevada state line.  This is where all the people who come to Bonneville to break the land speed records stay, or at least leave all their pictures and parts of their cars.  The little motel I found had all sorts of cool stuff to celebrate their accomplishments, or memorialize their failures.

Day five, the last day took me across the high desert of northern Nevada and over the Serra Nevada mountains.  The thing I remember most about that day was the cold and the need to stop and buy tire chains for the trip from Reno to California.  I was fortunate that I didn’t need them, but looking at the 10 feet of snow on either side of the road I would of really hated to needed them and not had them.  Crossing to the west side of the mountains there lay the wide Sacramento valley before me. What a beautiful sight in the afternoon, the sun shining down and the warmth picking up noticeably as I descended from the pass.    I would reverse the trip about 10 months later, this time with my wings and a future before me.

Simple trivia:  Google maps tells me this trip was about 2,842 miles and should take about 42 hours (39 without traffic).  I reckon I did it around 55 hours and since my little Subaru got 30 mpg I would have used about 95 gallons of gas.  At $.50 a gallon that works out to about $47.5o in fuel costs.  So here we are 42 years later, my car still gets about 30 mpg but my costs would not be $47.50.  I love progress.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

If I Could Ask the Questions.

If I were allowed to question the candidates here are the questions I’d ask, starting with the Democrats.

Senator Sanders, you advocate for free healthcare for all Americans.  You are currently on the Senate Oversight Committee for Veteran’s Affairs.  We have seen the scandals within the VA healthcare program from the lack of oversight, accountability, and discipline.  Why, when you can’t administer a rather limited model of universal healthcare, do you think a national system would be more affordable, more efficient, and less corrupt than the VA?

Secretary Clinton, we have seen your performance as First Lady where you led your husband’s failed attempt to overhaul the healthcare system in the 90s, you’ve grown your foundation through significant funding from foreign sources, we have seen your performance as a Senator from NY where you supported both the Iraq War you now condemn, and the bailout of the Wall Street Bankers under the TARP act, you pushed a false narrative on the Libyan attack in Benghazi, and finally you are currently under investigation for bypassing the government server system and using a system built by your personal organization.  What in all these roles reflects your ability to build consensus, understand the needs of the American people putting them first in decisions, and support your position that you exercise sound judgment?

Mr. Trump, other than bluster, bullying, denigration, and threats to sue your opponents, what experience or skills have you demonstrated showing you would abide by the US Constitution and work within its framework of checks and balances.  How would you achieve broad bipartisan support for your agenda, consensus with our allies, and a strong economy that benefits not only the billionaires like yourself, but the working poor and middle class?

Senator Cruz, as a devote evangelical and confrontational Senator, what assurances can you offer to show you too understand the roles of the three branches and put forward an agenda that does not exclude a significant portion of our nation, approaches legislation in a bipartisan manner, and maintains the role of the state as envisioned by our founders as a sectarian state rather than a theocracy?

Senator Rubio, we see in your campaign a lot of condemnation for the policies of the current President, and how they have hurt America.  Over the past six years the Congress has been more or less gridlocked in partisan bickering and confrontations with the Executive Branch. Is there anything other than your assurance, that indicates you would be any different than the last first term Senator this nation elected?

Governor Kasich, you have experience as a Congressman, a Wall Street Banker, and as Governor.  Ohio seems to be doing well today, but this nation is a lot bigger than Ohio.  What would you do to build bipartisan support within Congress, and move to reestablish Glass-Steagall like protections that separated the roles of investment and banking to ensure Wall Street and the banks don’t engage in the corrupt practices that contributed to the 2008 financial crash?

Doctor Carson, you’ve participated now in two campaigns, you have a strong evangelical background, are an articulate voice for your issues, and reflect a quiet dignity.  How would you approach the role of President where you need to inspire the entire nation, work with those who oppose your point of view, build trust from our allies, and respect from our opponents? Can you give an example of where you've actually done this?

Friday, February 26, 2016

Only Pawn in Game of Life

“Mongo only pawn… in game of life” ~ Blazing Saddles (1974).  There are many days when this quote comes back to me with a stark personal relevance. I wonder if Mel Brooks and Alex Karras appreciated how long that single line would live on?   So many of us recognize we are often not in control of our fate; in fact we are the lowest valued player in the game. 
This whole Presidential debate thing would be vastly improved if instead of putting all the candidates on the stage in a line we had them all sitting around a big arena controlling battle bots.  For each question they would send out their robot with their sound bite, it would fight for domination and if it won the sound bite would be heard.  This would keep us in line with the rise of cage fighting that seems to be gaining popularity.
Speaking of cage fighting, whatever happened to the “Rock’em-Sock’em Robots” game?  Has it been updated for the younger generation so that if one head pops up they both do and there is no loser?
You know, this whole cell phone encryption issue should really be blamed on Al Gore, not Apple.  Didn’t he invent the internet in the first place?  I have to admit to being torn over this whole deal.  One the one hand, since terrorists kill people using their cell phones shouldn’t we require all terrorist’s to register their phones with the government so they can be tracked and confiscated when public outrage demands? On the other, I believe the 1st and 4th Amendments are still part of our Constitution, and I am not a big fan of the Government spying on its citizens as so many seem to be.
My favorite headline today was “Hillary Surprised by Trump being so ‘Mean-Spirited’: He Used to Seem So Nice…  I guess that’s the difference between chatting up a billionaire for a donation and the billionaire actually telling you what he thinks.
We need more news channels.  I think every individual with a camera and an opinion should have their own channel where they can tell other people what to think.
Mean tweets should be outlawed!  Since I don’t use twitter I have no idea what this means, but anything mean can’t be good.
You know, I’ve not seen a lot of baby kissing this campaign season!  I can certainly understand the Democrats not wanting to kiss babies based on their party’s platform, but shouldn’t the Republicans be out kissing every baby they can get their hands on?
I wonder how a conversation between John D. Rockefeller and Bernie Sanders would go?   

Thursday, February 25, 2016

The Rise and Fall of the Universe

Really Big Bang…. Long Time…. Really Long Time…. A lot of Expansion…. and then? Some scientist say we will reverse the process and shrink back into nothing.  We won’t even be, to use the line from KANSAS, “dust in the wind.”
We can speculate on all the stuff that has gone on in the universe, and we can guess with even greater uncertainty what will go on with it.  We are expanding man’s knowledge of how things appear to work, accepting some theories, rejecting others, and revising still others, but at the end of the day the science really is our best guess, based on observation and limited confirmation.  We are building ever bigger and more capable computers to tell us what will be.  Will these, at some point, become our gods as prophesized in “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy?”  If that happens, what will atheists not believe in?
I saw an article the other day where one researcher (scientist) suggests we are the only “earth-like” planet in the universe.  We are a 1 in 700,000,000,000,000,000,000 happenstance.  Wow, talk about winning the lottery!  Of course this “finding” comes with the usual caveats, “more data is needed,” “additional government funded research is warranted,” “global warming is caused by greed,” and “void where prohibited by law.” But you’ve got to be impressed with how lucky we are to be on earth, if we were anywhere else we would be dead!

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

The Difference Between Courage and Cowardice

--> I’ve spend my adult life in the profession of arms.  I was not in the direct line of enemy fire as so many have been, but then I was not always behind a desk, pushing papers from the in-basket to the out-basket either.  When I was called on to put the needs of the nation before my personal safety I did not hesitate.  I say this not to imply I was courageous, or heroic, but rather to explain it was my job, I had trained for such a potential and was confident in my abilities and the abilities of those who I flew with.  We were the right people for the mission, with the best tools and skills available.  To a man. none of us considered not going.

This same attitude is true for almost all the men and woman who accept the responsibility of military service.  They may not understand this on their first days, but as they learn to perform their jobs, they grow to trust their friends, and if necessary they accept the risk incumbent in their mission.  Hopefully the officers, and senior non-commissioned officers, they follow will be equally well prepared, and up to the responsibilities they have for the care of the lives they lead.

As I watch our society evolve I am struck by how little the average young person understands the thin line between courage and cowardice.  For it is a thin line between standing firm and bending to the popular positions, withholding your opinion until you have the full story or jumping on board with a riotous mob, between condemning the dead when it serves only to satisfy a personal agenda and moving on to more important issues.

Should we accept the words of people who lack the courage to be honest when it counts, or who defend their morally bankrupt positions because it is the politically expedient thing to do? 

I was reminded just today that Facebook is a vehicle where those who think themselves safe behind some anonymous profile can spew forth hate and vile they would unlikely have the courage to do face to face, where the consequences would be immediate.  These people are not courageous at all, in fact they are just the opposite.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Simple Things

Childhood should be about simple things.  Simple things, like learning about themselves, understanding family, exploring the world around them, and ultimately finding their own path through life.  But are these really simple things?
Each child is unique, but the process of development is not.  The variables that go into a child growing to be an adult are as diverse and varied as the world around that child.  How the parents interact, how the extended family is formed, how the freedom to explore is encouraged, and what future is laid out before them. 
Science fiction writers often depict a Utopian world where we are all individually self-motivated, and inspired to achieve all we can, or we are shown a dark and foreboding world where life is a depressing struggle for survival at the very margins of existence.  The question before each generation is what future do we build for those who will follow?
The reality is not far different than what fiction presents.  If we cage the child’s imagination, or force it in a direction we prefer then we move that child to a dark land.  If we condemn them with our pessimism and our bigotry, we reduce their willingness to explore what can be.  At the same time, if we think we are doing them favors by laying out fantasies about the world; we shelter them to a point that when that shelter is removed they are blinded by the white light of reality.
There really is one simple thing.  Children succeed or fail based on the parent.  Regardless of however much the government directs or spends, if the parent does not inspire them to greatness they will fail.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Things That Confuse Me.

1. If about 90+% of children are vaccinated for the typical things, then why is the issue of unvaccinated children coming to school such a big deal?  Who are the unvaccinated children putting at risk other than themselves?
This comes up each time I see one of those shaming posters about not being able to bring peanuts to school, but unvaccinated kids are okay.
2. Why would a rational person choose to run for President?
What quality/reward is it that convinces an individual to stand for the personal attacks and vilification that come with the never-ending competition for the office?  As an aside, it appears perhaps my question is answered.  For in my opinion few, if any, of the current candidates appear rational.
3. Why does any project you start take 5-times as much labor as you originally imagined?
It really doesn’t matter if it is the building of an airplane like the Long-EZ, or the repairing a house. I doubt anyone goes into the task with the knowledge of how much time, effort, and expense it will take.
4. How do you know when you’re mature, or to put it another way, what are the warning signs you are reaching maturity?
I see a goodly number of young people who exhibit signs they are growing into mature people able to see both sides of an issue, but I see far more people who seem to have never reached that same level, or if they did they’ve abandoned it for more visceral response mechanisms.
5. What lesson should we take from Genesis 19?
Even if you dismiss the concept of God, the old testament must be recognized as a book of lessons, societal laws, and recommendations to maintain a civilization.  It is easy to say well that was then, and this is now, but as George Santayana observed, “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Supporting My Assumptions

At dinner the other night I made a statement along the lines that the noisy minority controlled the Presidential elections and while individuals may feel they have control through their one man – one vote policy it is only an illusion.  I was challenged to support my assumptions to confirm my position.  So here goes.

Definition: For purpose of this piece I define noisy minority as a group of political activists who receive extensive media coverage, either pro or con, and who are able to shape the dialogue of candidate selection.  For an example, the #Occupy (Somewhere), the #BLM,” #Evangelicals, or #Tea Party all fit within my definition of noisy minority, although I would not discount the “Super Pac’s,” for it is their money that funds the media messaging of the candidates.

Assumption 1: It is the vocal minorities, and the hard-core political activists who campaign and advocate for their candidates during the primary season, and from this the party will select who ultimately reaches the November ballot. This tends to draw the candidates away from centrist positions.

Assumption 2:  With sufficient support a noisy minority may put on the ballot a 3rd party candidate, who will almost certainly act as a spoiler for one of the two principles splitting what would be a majority vote.  (e.g. Ross Perot, 1992)

Assumption 3:  Voter turn out during the primary season is generally limited to a small percentage of registered party members.  The voters who do show up are likely to be those political activists pursuing a position outside the mainstream of popular opinion

Assumption 4:  Historical voter turn out for the general election is generally less than 50% of the registered voters total, and while we may debate why we have historically lower voter turn-out than other democratic societies, I believe it is one of the key factors in deciding the election.

So let’s see what the research turns up?

Supporting positions:

Assumption 1:
“A political party is not a fixed entity; rather, it is an ever-changing mix of individuals and groups who use the institution of a party to advance their own goals. Figure 1 models a political party in terms of three concentric circles consisting of leaders, activists, and supporters” 2

“Activists tend to be motivated by policy goals, and they often have views that are out of the political mainstream. Activists tend to be wealthier, more highly educated, and more likely to hold ideologically extreme views than are held by the electorate at large.(2) This group may prefer to lose an election with a candidate who zestfully champions their causes, like George McGovern or Barry Goldwater, than to win with a candidate who compromises on their principles.”2

From the abstract on “A Theory of Political Parties…”: “We propose a theory of political parties in which interest groups and activists are the key actors. Coalitions of groups develop common agendas and screen candidates for party nominations on loyalty to their agendas. This theoretical stance contrasts with currently dominant theories, which view parties as controlled by election-minded politicians. The difference is normatively important because parties dominated by interest groups and activists are less responsive to voter preferences, even to the point of taking advantage of lapses in voter attention to politics. Our view is consistent with evidence from the formation of national parties in the 1790s, party position change on civil rights and abortion, patterns of polarization in Congress, policy design and nominations for state legislatures, Congress and the presidency.”3

Bottom Line:  I believe there is sufficient material to support my view it is the activists and those who tend towards the margins to indicate my assumption is valid.

Assumption 2:
"The American system is commonly called a 'two-party system' because there have historically been only two major political parties with candidates competing for offices (especially in federal elections). The first two political parties had their origins in the debate over the ratification of the Constitution--the Federalists and Antifederalists. Today, the Republican and Democratic Parties dominate electoral politics. Almost every federal or state-level elected official in the United States is either a Republican or Democrat. In fact, in the United States Congress, there is only one member in the House of Representatives that is not a Republican or a Democrat--Rep. Bernie Sanders of Vermont is an Independent. Every other House member and Senator belongs to either the Democratic or Republican Party.

The American two-party system is the result of the way elections are structured in the United States. Representatives in the Congress and in state legislatures are elected to in single-member districts where the individual with the most votes wins. Because only one party's candidate can win in each district, there is a strong incentive for political competitors to organize themselves into two competing "teams" or parties. By doing so, party members and their candidates maximize their chances of winning elections. (In some countries where there are multi-member districts, parties that win smaller percentages of the vote can often win legislative representation. Consequently, in such systems, there is an incentive to form smaller "third" parties.) Other features of the American system of elections, such as campaign finance rules, the electoral college and rules giving party candidates ballot access further solidify the two-party system in the United States.

The same features of the American system that have encouraged a two-party system also serve to discourage the emergence of third parties. When third parties have emerged in American political history, their successes have been short-lived. In most cases, the issues or ideas championed by third parties have been "stolen" by the candidates of one of the two major parties. Sometimes the issue position taken by the third party is even incorporated into the platform of one of the existing parties. By doing so, the existing party generally wins the support of the voters that had been the support base of the third party. With no unique issues to stand on and depleted voter support, third parties generally fade away.

Notwithstanding their lack of staying power, a handful of third party presidential candidates have had a significant impact on electoral outcomes." 4

Bottom Line:  Assumption is valid.

Assumption 3:
“One of the founding principles of the United States is that the government derives its authority from the consent of the governed. To ensure that its agents represent the will of the people, the republic needs its citizens to demonstrate their will through the vital democratic process of voting.

This summer’s primary elections in California, however, have yet again exposed a discouraging reality in recent American politics: very few people vote. Statewide, fewer than 4.4 million people cast ballots in the June primary, setting a record low 25.2% turnout among registered voters (and a ghastly 15% of the voting-age population).”5

“The direct impact of low voter turnout has increasingly manifested itself over the past few years, particularly in those elections featuring today’s most partisan political figures.
In 2012, then-Congressman Chris Murphy of Connecticut became the Democratic nominee for the U.S. Senate with 67% of the primary vote. He defeated Susan Bysiewicz, a more moderate former Connecticut Secretary of State. However, because voter turnout was so anemic, he was actually able to win the primary election with the support of only 3% of the state’s voting-age population.
After handily winning the general election, Murphy went to Washington, D.C. and sprinted further to the left than anyone else in Congress. The National Journal eventually named him the most liberal Senator in Washington.”5

Table 5: Exit Poll Data from New Hampshire Primary and General Elections, 1996-2008 5

Registered Party
Primary Election (%)
General Election (%)
+ 9.57
– 11.66
+ 7.37
– 4.14
+ 11.20
– 12.06
+ 15.74
– 16.48

Bottom Line:  Assumption is supported by empirical data.

Assumption 4
See Ref 6.

"The conventional wisdom underpinning this divide [regarding the difference between the Democratic and Republican Party’s positions] is that high voter turnout benefits the political left (in the U.S., that means the Democratic Party). This presumption is most widely held among journalists and practicing politicians. But prominent scholars share this view as well."7

Bottom Line:  my estimate of 50% is low, voter turn out is generally in the 60% range but that is still significantly lower than other mature democracies.  The popular belief is that the greater the turn out the more likely the democrats will will based on the larger participation of those groups like the young, the poor and the less well educated who will support the democratic promises. 7

In Summary:  I believe my position is supported.
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