Sunday, December 18, 2016

In the Age of Outrage

We seem to be living in a bi-polar world.  One day the Democrats love Syria's Assad, the next they don’t.  One day the Republicans are concerned with Russia, the next not so much.  One day the left condemn the Republican candidate for his refusal to promise to support the outcome of the election, the next day they are outraged he wins and set out to overturn the outcome of the election.

For the average citizen, watching from the sidelines with little ability to directly influence the outcomes, these media driven flip-flops look a lot like a championship ping-pong game.

Of course, most of the memes I see on social media show the outrage of the left, for that is the big topic of the day, but given even the slightest pause there will be outrage from the right.  For example, should even one elector change their vote you can expect to see incredible controversy develop.  From the right, it will be the undoing of our democracy, from the left it will be disbelief that not more electors saw the danger to the Republic of electing someone not bought and paid for by the traditional sources.

I would like to believe with the coming of the new year it will be over, but it won’t.  I fully expect the party that spent the first six years of its control of the Presidency blaming the past administration will continue to challenge the legitimacy of the government in ways I cannot yet appreciate.

We often talk about a pendulum swinging one way and then another.  As our outrage grows eventually the pendulum will pass horizontal and fall off the hinge.

Just a Thought

I wonder if what scares most Democratic politicians about Mr. Trump is they realize if an ordinary, run of the mill, American billionaire can run the country without hiring middlemen then all the Democratic billionaires will realize they can run it too, and won’t need to buy politicians to do it for them.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

My $64 Question

How much of who we are is based on our genetics?  Way back in the 20th Century I had a professor, who today would be considered a racist, at the time he was not that exceptional in his opinions.  He pointed out that it was genetics that led the East African’s to be exceptional long distant runners, or that it was genetics that led to some people being seven feet tall and wonderfully coordinated.  Of course, this theory was carried on to say it was genetics that leads some races to be smarter than others.  I remember sitting in class next to a Ugandan when he said this.  I don’t think Michael really accepted the premise and although we’ve not kept in touch, I suspect he went on to prove the Professor wrong, for he was, in fact, a wonderfully intelligent student and gifted soccer player.
Clearly, genetic makeup plays a role in how our bodies form, our skeletons, organs, muscles and tissue develop and grow.  It helps define the expectations for our nerves, or senses, and our central processing unit.  It is a blue print, it establishes the basic design, it may account for unique abilities, deformities or susceptibilities, or even likelihoods for certain social outcomes, but it cannot account for all the various design modifications that occur in life.
For example, two friends grow up in the tenements of NYC, one goes on to become a surgeon, the other a drug dealer.  Why?
When my son played football in Middle and High School, he had a peer with the potential to play at Division I, and perhaps go on to a professional career.  He never reached his athletic potential due to the life choices he made.  Why did he make poor choices?
Finally, what is it about the human spirit that will drive someone to an immediate short term gain in performance at the cost of his life?  Lyle Alzado comes to mind as I write this.  Would he have developed his brain cancer if he had not taken anabolic steroids?  Lyle thought he would not when he said, “I started taking anabolic steroids in 1969 and never stopped. It was addicting, mentally addicting. Now I'm sick, and I'm scared. Ninety percent of the athletes I know are on the stuff. We're not born to be 300 lb (140 kg) or jump 30 ft (9.1 m). But all the time I was taking steroids, I knew they were making me play better. I became very violent on the field and off it. I did things only crazy people do. Once a guy sideswiped my car and I beat the hell out of him. Now look at me. My hair's gone, I wobble when I walk and have to hold on to someone for support, and I have trouble remembering things. My last wish? That no one else ever dies this way.”  Lyle Alzado died May 14, 1982 at age 43.
These questions form the basis for my next and final question, but first some background on my opinions. 
First, governments are impersonal.  True they are made up of human beings, some quite personal and carrying, others perhaps not, but they govern by the creation of rules and regulations.  Fit the square peg in the square hole, fit the round peg in the round hole.  For the most part they gain influence by providing money, so people have begun to consider them as they would any rich relative, but they are not.  We can go to the government seeking money for whatever we believe to be our need, but what happens when our individual, or minority collective desires out-pace the funds the government has available to pay?  At some point someone is disappointed and ultimately there will come a reckoning as more and more of the available funds are used to pay the interest payments for those funds we borrow to keep everyone happy.
Next, those who believe in bigger government would have you believe government creates wealth.  It does not.  It takes a share of the wealth created by enterprise and spends it on a variety of programs.  If the money is spent wisely, it protects the nation, builds a sustainable infrastructure, and advances human knowledge so more wealth is created.  Some will question the lack in this short list of social welfare, and attribute it to a lack of concern on my part.  I can assure you that is not the case.  The purpose of our government is, in the words of the founders, [to]establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”  I believe the social welfare programs, including those created in the Roosevelt era like Social Security, those created in the Johnson era like Medicare, and all the rest our Representatives and President have created fall within the ever-expanding category of infrastructure.  As noted in the link for welfare, today’s use of the term does not match the use at the time our Constitution was written.  Also, not envisioned at the time of our founding was the role of government in the sciences.  At that time, science was the purview of the individuals or their benefactors and most governments focused on the problems of today, not tomorrow.  Along the way we have come to realize as a nation the need for the government to further the advancement of mankind’s understanding of the world and universe we are a part of.
Third, governments are amoral.  They reflect the consensus of citizens, government officials (e.g. police and fire, administrators, employees), judges, and politicians.  It cannot establish a moral code for the individual, it can only enforce, through the threat or actual use of force, the whims of the state as manifest by its rules and regulations.  If one part of government chooses to ignore those rules and regulations, or apply them unevenly, it will set up a condition where the equilibrium of the state is upset and conflict in government, or between government and the individual is created.  We have seen this manifest for as long as I can remember.  First in the treatment of the minorities, escalating to a point today where the force of the government is used against political opposition.
Finally, educators may influence individual morality but they are, for the most part, inconsistent since each individual brings their personal views into play, and during early development this inconsistency is as likely as not to simply confuse the child.  Where the government creates an expectation for educators to shape the moral code of a generation we see such inconsistency playing out in confusion and loss of individual identity.
Here is my question: At the end of the day what shapes the lives of those who succeed despite adversity, or conversely, what is missing from those who settle for their lot in life and a sense there is no hope?

Thursday, December 15, 2016

10 Things I Don't Expect to Change in 2017

1.     De-legitimizing the President.  For the past eight years’ supporters of the President have decried as fiction any criticism that questioned the legitimacy of the man for the role.  For the next four years those same defenders will do everything they complained about to the new President.  The irony of this transference will be lost on most people.

2.    The current trajectory of civil conversation

3.    The size of the Federal Government

4.    The use of government departments as overt political tools

5.     An honest public-assessment of the DNC goals, objectives, and its approach to helping the lives of the poor improve to escape the oppression of poverty and achieve a sense of worth

6.    Violence in the major cities

7.     Global climate change...

8.    Government spending greater than government income

9.    Terror as a political tool in the Middle East, Africa, Europe, North and South America, Asia, the sub-continent, and Australia.  I think Antarctica may be safe.

10.  The number of human beings who've landed on the moon

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Justice is Just a Word

We are bombarded by concerns about justice, social and otherwise, but what is justice?  Apparently, it is a lot like beauty.  One man’s justice is another man’s injustice.  For a moment consider what it takes to claim to be a just and fair nation operating under the rule of law.  Then consider how far we can stray as one segment or another of society and the legal system move from a common ideal to their preferred approach.

“I’ve got a pen, and I’ve got a phone.” A declaration by President Obama he did not intend to allow the Congress to slow down his administration as he did those things he thought would strengthen his position, the position of his party, the position of his supporters, and perhaps the United States.  At the time, I remember thinking, “Boy, that is a bad idea, because he is setting a standard for his successor.”  As we enter this new era where President-elect Trump will enter the oval office we can expect a huge outcry from the left as he carries on and perhaps expands the tradition of rule by executive order.

The past eight years have seen the administration use the full scope of its executive branch to attack its political opponents.  Remember the time the IRS set out to restrict tax exempt status for conservative organizations?  How about the time the DOJ has injected itself into state investigations to make sure the President’s agenda was pushed, or the time they sold assault weapons to the cartels?  Most recently we hear a report of a “rogue” employee for Homeland Security attempting to hack into the state of Georgia’s election system.  Sorry, but that rogue employee ruse was used by the IRS so there is little credibility remaining with this administration.  All these things, once created, will remain.  We’ve already seen the President-elect’s staff ask for the names of bureaucrats and scientists who have been at the leading edge of pushing the climate change data President Obama labeled as his top agenda item.

The funny thing is there are those on the right who are comfortable with this. The same people who were uncomfortable when the Obama administration began the process are now on-board.  Just as interesting is the outrage of the left, who were completely on-board with the previous administration.  In both cases, we are moving further and further from where the rule of law holds our society together.

Let’s talk about laws for a moment.  I imagine most pre-millennials will remember the Schoolhouse Rock, series that explained in simple terms how an idea progressed into a law.  But that is only 1/3 of the equation.  For a law to be effective it must be administered fairly and judged impartially.  I am afraid we are seeing a breakdown in both the exercise of enforcement, and the impartiality of the judicial system that is charged with the administration of the law.  There are a number of possible examples, but for this purpose I will look at gun control, since it provides the most heated approach on both sides of the center.

One the one hand there are those who would want absolutely no control over the ownership and use of any kind of fire arm, on the opposite extreme there are those who would like to see all guns removed from American civil society.  I think even this extreme still sees the need for guns in the military and perhaps the police, but for everyone else gun ownership should be illegal.  Both extremes are very small percentages, but at the end of the day they seem to be the loudest heard.  Holding aside the debate regarding our right to own guns, let’s only look at would a new law make the possibility of gun violence less?

Those who favor more gun control will obviously say yes, those who oppose, no.  The problem is a law is only words on a paper.  It falls to the humans who are involved in enforcement, the politicians who control and fund them, and the judges and juries who make a determination on application for a law to have any effect.  We never hear about the complexity of making a law work all we ever hear about is “we need a new law,” or “no, we don’t need a new law.”

Over the past eight years we have seen the DOJ selectively break or enforce the laws on gun control, and then stonewall the Congress as they investigated their actions.  Individual acts aside, there has got to be an overall negative affect on the general population over the impartiality of the DOJ on this issue.  Then at the state and local levels we have seen the enforcement of the existing laws expand or contract depending on the politicians and their political affiliations.  If enforcement of the law is not uniform it can’t be effective, when this is the case no law on earth is worth the paper it is written on.

Finally, there is a judicial system that provides a non-uniform application of the law to the defendants brought before the bench.  We’ve seen much in the news about the bias of southern courts where a white defendant will receive a lesser sentence then a black, but the same holds true for northern courts as well, it is just not as well published.  Another variable is personal judicial bias.  It a judge puts their desire for social justice above the fair application of the law they are creating an uneven playing field, to the same degree as a judge who puts race ahead of the facts.

Without a fair and evenly applied enforcement arm, and trusted judicial system, justice is just a word.  As we have seen, it appears to be less important to more people each day.


Saturday, December 10, 2016

On a Cold and Wintery Night (Relatively Speaking)

Emily Litella (AKA Gilda Radner) must be looking down on us with a sly smile and the bewildered look of hers when the real issue was finally explained by Jane Curtain.  We see this week’s focus of the media is “fake news.”  I say this week because the media has been shown to be ADD when it comes to long term coverage of any issue.  For example, how long did they cover “Deepwater Horizon” after the fire was put out and the oil stopped globing up our beaches?  How much coverage have we seen of the Standing Rock fight against the Dakota Access Pipeline, or the coverage of the Stein/Clinton recount efforts? 
But now, Brian Williams is going to lead the fight to insure only real honest news is approved and reported.  I have got to hand it to NBC and its affiliates, if you are pushing a meme go all in with your best faker.  Someone who knows exactly what to look for in the fake news department.
I am instilled with such confidence!  The next four years offer much in the way of stupid news broadcasting from those brilliant journalists of ABCNNBCBS, and in the print WP/NYT as they sort out which fake news to declare as real and which to condemn as really, really, fake.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

A Rhetorical Question

Can an atheist have a "soul crushing" experience?

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

How Much is That Airplane in The Window Mister?

In yesterday’s news, the media was all aflutter about Mr. Trump’s tweet calling for the cancellation of a new Air Force One, (actually a small fleet of Boeing 747-8) one of which will have the call sign Air Force One when the President is on board.  The cost estimate he used was, I think, $4 billion dollars for the project.  Of course, Boeing shot back and said THEY were only on contract for $170 million, the implication being Mr. Trump was full of stuffing.
I’ve spent the last 20 years of my life dealing with the problems of translating operational requirements into capability, and I can assure you Mr. Trump is far closer to the actual cost than Boeing, and if I had to guess the $4 billion estimate is at least $1 billion too low when all the acquisition professionals get done with the project.
Let’s start with some historical context.  The current fleet of two VC-25 Boeing 747s were ordered during the Reagan era, and the first one flew as Air Force One in 1990.[i]  Interestingly, the fact sheet doesn’t give a cost for the aircraft as do most of the other fact sheets, but the E-4B lists the cost of a similar command and control (less plush, less VIPish) aircraft at $223 million in FY98 dollars (about $331 million today).
But what about Boeing’s claim they are only on contract for $170 million dollars? I can’t imagine they are correct or even truthful.  A run of the mill C-130 Hercules costs about $100 million when you factor in things like spare parts, support equipment and training.  The Boeing price sheet[ii] shows the list price of a stripped down 747-8 is $378.5 million, so either the US is getting one heck of a deal on this aircraft or the real costs are buried somewhere else.  Also, this is just the base cost – it does not include all the cool modifications a President, his staff, and the press people who fly along with him (or her) would need or want.
I can only imagine the field day the White House staff of the current administration had defining the best possible aircraft for the successor of President Obama.  I’m just guessing here, but I bet they thought it would be Ms. Clinton, so in their eyes, nothing was too good for the Commander in Chief, and cost was only a cursory concern.  You want rich leather unmarred by barb wire scars?  Absolutely, let me add that to the tab.  How about a Spa for those long flights home after a weekend in Europe?  No problem. 
Now I am not saying there will be a gyro stabilized dance floor like I saw being put in a Boeing 777 for some middle eastern customer, but there will certainly be sound deadening additions, communication additions, a medical suite, rich carpeting with fiber optic egress lighting, maybe an escape capsule like in the movie, and a hundred things I can’t even think of.
Then you add in the cost for all the new engineering data our government engineers will want, and Boeing's position that all that data is proprietary so we will have to pay them for the studies, the analysis, and the drawings so that Boeing contractors can maintain the aircraft with the assistance of Air Force personnel.
Next, there will be the cost for flight testing this new aircraft to make absolutely, positively sure it flies just like a commercial Boeing 747 and water doesn’t splash out of the spa.  I’m guessing here, but that would be at least a couple of hundred million dollars to upgrade the test facilities and complete the flight testing at Edwards AFB.
Finally, we have the upgrades to the maintenance complex at Andrews.  These are brand new aircraft; they deserve and demand the finest of maintenance facilities, so the hangers and offices of the current Air Force One fleet will need pretty extensive overhaul.
As I believe Everett Dirksen once said, “A billion here and a billion there, pretty soon you are talking about some real money.”

Saturday, December 3, 2016


When it comes to the night sky most see all the twinkling lights, and may be able to pick out a few features like the Moon, maybe Mars, perhaps Saturn, or Venus in the early morning or evening.  We also may know of Polaris, the North Star, and with some difficulty pick it out.  Still fewer of us will know the Constellations like Orion, Ursa Major and Minor, or Aries.  Fewer even still, will recall the formations like the Pleiades or Seven Sisters (think of the Subaru symbol). 

Before the age of radio navigation and GPS, these celestial bodies guided our exploration of the planet and beyond.  They took our explorers across the vast oceans, helping them find the Americas as they sailed from Europe and Africa, or find the tiny specks of rock scattered across the broad Pacific.  They were used by the Apollo teams to guide their path to the moon and home.  They have been there since the beginning of time and will see the end of time.

Today I am reminded of Arcturus, the brightest star in the northern sky, it is also the zenith star of the Hawaiian Islands.  The ancient Polynesian[i] called it Hōkūleʻa, the “Star of Joy.”  In this season, we remember the wise men and the shepherds led to Christ by a star.  A star that has ultimately led so many of us to a deep inner joy. 

May all who read this little note find peace in the knowledge the stars like Arcturus still guide our way.


Friday, December 2, 2016

I Can't

“I can’t” is perhaps the most damaging of expressions.  It sums up an attitude of defeat, it gives voice to inner demons that sit inside us, who pardon our best effort.  These words shackle our soul and vocalize our fears.  For too many they are words used far too often.
Throughout my life I’ve seen when someone begins with “I can’t” they have already said “I won’t succeed so why try?”  Overcoming that attitude is what separates those who give up, and those who press on despite the struggle. 
As parents, teachers, or mentors the greatest give we can give is to tell ourselves and our young charges “we can,” but at the end of the day only the individual can determine if they can or can’t. 
May this day be filled with “I can.”
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