Sunday, July 27, 2008

Choosing a Candidate

How should you choose a candidate, say for president? Many just pick the candidate of their party. Others will look what a candidate says and what policies she/he proposes and see how that fits with their own views. But are politicians really known for the truthfulness of their campaign promises? And how many politicians, once in office, have varied from their campaign statements?

Others may take the candidate’s experience and history into consideration. This is also helpful. But, I think you also need to look at overall candidate, how he/she is perceived, and what makes the candidate tick.

Here’s my analogy: choosing a candidate is like shopping for a dress. You can think of what you want: color, style, size, etc. But until you try it on, you don’t know if you’re comfortable wearing it. You many find a dress that meets your checklist, but it may not feel like you. Then again, you may find a dress that isn’t quite what you were thinking of, but when you try it on, it’s you.

So, I think you have to “try a candidate on” so to speak. Imagine the person in office and what our country and the world would be like with that person in office.

Barack Obama’s recent trip to the Mid-East and Europe gives us a unique opportunity to “try on” an Obama presidency. The trip provided a preview of what it may be like if Obama were elected.

Looking from the viewpoint of preserving freedom in our country, there is much to like. If you consider the image of the US abroad can impact the growth of anti-US terrorism, change could lead to a restoration of freedoms lost under the Bush administration. Without having to weaken our resolve, the mere image of an articulate, intelligent African-American as US President may bring about more “change” than any experienced corps of diplomatic and defense specialists. Such change could shift the policies of allies and enemies alike, refocusing our efforts against Al Qaeda with renewed support of many nations.

Now, one trip is not the only consideration for the next presidential candidate. Also, Obama has several Senate votes that didn’t support freedom (e.g., supporting extending warrant-less interception of international phone calls and e-mails). Still, seeing the reaction to Obama in many nations gives us a great opportunity to “try on” the candidate and see how the world might be with him in the White House. Whether you support Obama or not, you owe it to yourself to think about his trip and whether an Obama presidency would “fit you.”

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Does Homeland Security Understand the Laws of Physics?

As I stated in my post “What is a libertarian socialist anyway???” I have come to realize that most of the frenzy over security in the post-9/11 world really stems from a poor understanding of the laws of physics. At times, I wonder if anyone in Homeland Security actually passed college physics.

I’m an engineer, so in college I had to take a lot of physics courses. One after another after another. But you can’t build a bridge or building if you don’t understand physics, particularly the law of gravity. Gravity separates the engineers from those with a poor understanding of physics – if you don’t do the calculations correctly, your bridge or building will fall down!

Some of the early proclamations from Homeland Security seemed to come from folks who failed physics. [To be fair, I’m sure there are a lot of folks there that do understand physics, but they’re not the ones coming out with some of these statements.]

There’s the recommendation of having 3 days of water on hand at all times. Now this may apply to those with a well and electric pump. But I live in a city whose water systems works by gravity. Most big cities have water systems that work by gravity. This is an old technology. The Romans understood it and built great aqueducts. The Incas in South American did the same.

There’s nothing that the terrorists can do to disrupt the law of gravity. Even if blow up something, gravity still works. The water still flows. So why do I need all this bottled water?

[More to follow]

Are the Bush Republicans Really Maoists at Heart?

Wow, you say, the Republicans hate communism, so how can they be adherents of Mao Zedong (former chairman of China’s Communist Party)? Simple: it’s the political process!

Let’s consider two examples of how the Bush Administration followed Mao’s principals.

Maoist Principal – The Party Line Comes First and All Serve the Party Line
Fundamental to Mao’s politics was the process: first one must develop the correct party line. From the party line, all else flows. And, all the party faithful must serve the party line. Thus, the arts, literature, political discourse, government programs, and even science must serve the party line.

Let’s consider science. How many times has the administration looked to have science serve the party line?

Take global climate change, for example. The concept is bad news for the oil business. So we hear Republicans in the administration and their spokesmen on talk radio tow the line “There’s no evidence of climate change” or “maybe it is getting warmer, but that’s just a natural phenomenon and it’s not due to the use of fossil fuels.” They also used their allies in industry to disinformation campaign to mislead the public, and reduce political pressure to reduce carbon emissions.

Rolling Stone reported on how the White House censored global-warming documents in 2005. The Bush administration installed an industry lobbyist to head the Council on Environmental Quality, a division of the White House that coordinates federal environmental efforts) and used the CEQ to ensure that only “science” that adheres to the party line on climate change would see the light of day.

[Sidebar: Why do you think opposition to evolution has such traction in the Republican Party? Does it come from the deeply held religious belief of party leaders? Nah. It’s a wedge issue. Rove and associates realized that if many of the party faithful reject the theory of evolution, they can use this to create a groundswell to challenge other scientific theories that don’t conform to the party line (i.e., climate change, pollution impacts of expanded drilling for oil, endangered species, etc.). If the party faithful are willing to challenge the scientist on evolution, then they can be convinced to challenge scientists on anything contrary to the Republican Party line.]

Just like Mao, the Bush Administration and faithful Republicans used science to serve their party line.

Maoist Principal – Loyalty to the Party Line Comes First before Technical Expertise
Mao also said that loyalty to the party line trumped technical expertise. Wow – can you say FEMA and Michael Brown? Can you hear Bush saying "Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job” while the levees in New Orleans crumbled?

Now I’m an engineer, so if I was staffing FEMA and they had to move in after disasters and rebuild, I’d think of someone who knows about 1) construction 2) engineering and 3) emergency preparedness. But Brown was a lawyer with no experience in any of the above. So, contrast these results:

---FEMA: delayed response, city floods, thousands homeless, and those FEMA trailers with high formaldehyde levels
---Railroads: As reported in Railway Age, before the storm, they retreated inland beyond the storm’s reach. They hired all the contractors they could. After the storm subsided, they were in there rebuilding and most lines were back in use in a week or two.

The railroads understood emergency preparedness and how to rebuild after disaster. They learned their lessons over the last 150 years, from wars (Civil, WWI & II, etc.) and from disasters (floods, hurricanes, etc.).

Bush’s crony Brown didn’t have a clue.

[Interesting sidebar: In the Great Leap Forward, Mao attempted to implement untested and unscientific agricultural techniques. This included canals, dams, and other infrastructure projects. However, on ideological grounds, Mao rejected the use of trained engineers to implement these projects. Rather they were implemented by the party faithful. Mao had his own Michael Browns. Needless to say, the projects failed.]

As an engineer, this pisses me off! You need expertise to understand the laws of physics to build a dam, canal or levee. You can’t BS the law of gravity. Gravity wins every time. There are times when technical expertise must outweigh party loyalty.

Just like Mao, Bush prized loyalty over technical expertise.

These are but a few examples of how the Bush Administration and faithful Republicans adhere to political principals of Mao Zedong.

So I say the Bush Administration and its Republican Followers are Maoists at heart. Mao failed. And we can count the days until the failed Bush Administration is finally history!

Monday, July 14, 2008

7 Words You Shouldn't Say on the Phone or E-mail

The late comedian George Carlin has a hilarious routine about the 7 words you can't say on TV. Well, thanks to the Bush administration and a weak Congress, you better watch out when making international calls! See below for a list of 7 words you shouldn't say on an international call or e-mail.

The Administration now has broad powers to listen to any international call or e-mail. You might think they would focus on known or suspected terrorists or other bad guys. But the law is broad and the Feds could take the approach of sifting through the entire haystack looking for one needle.

So, on international calls and e-mails, the "Santa Rule" applies: "you better watch out." Don't say anything that sounds like you're a friend of any known or suspected terrorist group or others who may be up to no good.

Here's 7 words to start the list of what not to say:
1. bomb
2. Al-Qaeda
3. Taliban
4. jihad
5. Allāhu Akbar (God is great)
6. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (president of Iran)
7. Death to America

Please add others to the list.

And remember, thanks to the Bush administration, free speach is limited! Practice it only when you're sure the Feds. aren't listening.

Brief side story: An Iranian friend of the family, a medical doctor, came to the US for a better life and because he had to be very careful of what he said in Iran, least he be arrested for critizing the government. So I ask you, why is the US becoming more like Iran than like the land of freedon we were meant to be?

Sunday, July 13, 2008

What is a libertarian socialist anyway???

What is a libertarian socialist anyway? A libertarian wants individual liberty and less government. A socialist advocates for more government to the point that it controls even the economy, with a concern for the welfare of all citizens. So it sound like a contradiction in terms?

But where's the fun in life without contradictions?

Now in the past many had equated libertarian socialism with anarchy or the rejection of government. I don’t reject government or want anarchy. But I do hope for a social order that combines much personal freedom with the social fabric of concern for others.

So, here’s how I reconstruct the term “libertarian socialist.” The libertarian part of me says we should have as much personal liberty as possible. The government should not be telling me how to live, what to wear, where I can or can't go, what language to speak, what color to paint my house, and it should stay out of the bedroom and out of my body. I don't think we should have this wholesale intrusion into personal liberty in the name of security.

But the first shortcoming of the pure libertarian philosophy is that the unchecked pinnacle of personal freedom is pure egotism – it’s all about me and my life and my choices and my money and my possessions. What about anyone else? I believe we have to integrate liberty with our concern for others.

The second shortcoming is the tenant that less government is always better than more. Government is not inherently good or bad, helpful or harmful. Rather, government should be a tool of society. Like any tool, it is good for some things and bad for others.

My socialist side is the need for society to care for each other and that the welfare of all is paramount. Unlike theoretical socialism, I don’t say that government need be the only tool of society to care for all. This is an individual responsibility – something to give back in thanks for living in a land of individual liberty. But we can accomplish the goals of care for others also through charities, religious organizations, as well as through government.

Also, the failure of pure state socialism in the Soviet Union and even China tells me you can’t franchise out the socialist ethic to government – the social concern for others should permeate all sectors of society including government, family, religious and non-profit organizations, and individuals.

This is the jumping off point for my other blogs. I will explore why, in a land of freedom, so many want to self-impose rules, regulations, norms, social pressure, etc. And I will discuss, how an engineer like me, realizes that most of the frenzy over security in the post-9/11 world really stems from a poor understanding of the laws of physics!

(Updated 7/13/08)

Friday, July 11, 2008

Why fear freedom?

As I see it, even before 9/11, so many people seem to fear freedom. Whether it's hiding behind the latest fashion or moving into a gated community where the height of your hedges (and the color of you house and where you can have a vegetable garden) are all regulated for you, people flee freedom for the comfort of conformity through a complex system of rules.

Think about all the little rules that rule our lives. Take Seinfeld for example -- think of all those little rules of life that Jerry, George, Elaine and Kramer encounter. "You must wear the ribbon," fellow Aides Walkers tell Kramer. Don't ask the soup nazi for bread. It goes on. But for the comfort of conformity, we love to adopt all these little rules that aren't imposed by government (as though there's not enough government laws and regulations!).

Conformity never has worked for me. At 6 foot tall, a girl can't hide behind the latest fashion to try to just fit in but not be noticed. I always stood out. So, now I embrace the freedom to be completely diffent from anyone else.

You don't need an awarkward past to enjoy freedom. Wear the cloths you enjoy wearing, even if it isn't always fashionable. Meet people outside your circle of friends and family and hear what they have to say. If you live in the city, visit the country. If you live in the suburbs, visit the city. One of the best things for me was visiting other countries and experiencing other cultures, other ways to dress, live and work. When you see other ways to live, over views of the world, other ways to dress, you now can "try on" other ways to live and think and see what best fits you.

We live in this country where you can do all this easily and freely, with no one asking you questions. You can't do that is Saudi Arabia or China or Iran or North Korea. But you can here in the US.

And don't listen to the voices of unnecessary conformity around you. Maybe you didn't know any better in high school, but once you're an adult, you gotta come out of that. You're not a kid anymore and you can decide for your self.

So, I say embrase freedom of expression, while we still have it!

Yours in liberty,