Sunday, February 28, 2010

Drone Syndrome – Part 2

The new arms race has already gathered momentum. Thirty to forty other countries around the world have begun to build, buy and deploy unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), 

They’re showing up at international weapons expos and air shows. Countries ranging from Iran to China to Israel are showing off their new UAVs. The fact that Lebanon's Hizbullah is already using unmanned spy planes armed with cameras to spy on Israel means they're already in the hands of at least one extremist group prone to terrorist attacks.

We’re in for a rude shock if we if we think we’re the only ones with the ability to use armed UAVs to attack another country. Remember ten years ago when we couldn’t even imagine terrorists using commercial aircraft as weapons against us? 

This new technology presents a real threat to the United States and its allies. The future holds a world in which foreign robotics will equal or even surpass our own—a world where terrorist organizations can purchase UAVs capable of delivering deadly explosives into the countries of their enemies.

Most of this technology is commercially available right now. It’s only a matter of time before UAVs fall into the wrong hands, giving even small regional terrorist groups the capability to wage war without casualties. All it will take is money. 

This is the beginning of the biggest change in military strategy and capability since the invention of the airplane. That technology was available to our enemies within ten years after the Wright Brothers flight at Kitty Hawk. With today’s communication and computer technology, sophisticated UAV technology will be available to our enemies in less than half that time.

They may not have the satellite or supercomputer capability to control their UAVs from the other side of the world, but they don’t need it. The technology that agri-business uses for unmanned crop dusting is commercially available. These same drones could be easily and inexpensively converted to carry explosive warheads or disperse chemical or biological weapons. 

Those of us old enough to remember the need for air defense strategies in the mid-twentieth Century, may live to see that need reborn. The proliferation of this relatively inexpensive yet extremely deadly technology harks the birth of still another arms race—anti-UAV weapons.

These UAVs can be very small and made from hard-to-detect materials. They can use low heat-producing propulsion systems. They can fly at very slow speeds at very low altitudes. This will make them very hard to detect by radar and for heat seeking missiles or jet aircraft to destroy.

Given our government’s proclivity to enter into unprovoked, imperialistic wars and the resources it will take to stay ahead in this new arms race, it looks like any hope of lower taxes and a peace dividend have evaporated. 

Probably for good.

Hummer R.I.P.

The original H1 military HumVee was a vehicle to be reckoned with. It was big, powerful and could go almost anywhere; but it was obsolete almost as soon as it was put into production. I liked it.

When it was first made available as a commercial vehicle, every testosterone-filled guy who ever had a Tonka truck as a kid wanted one. It was a no-compromise ride.

Its price and limited production, however, put it out of reach to all but a few movie stars, professional athletes and entrepreneurs. That’s when General Motors made one of the mistakes that would lead to its downfall. They started producing the H2 and then the H3--two silly Hummer wannabees for macho wannabees.

The energy crisis handwriting was written on the wall in big bold letters when GM brought out these two poseurs. They were based on existing truck models with none of the purposeful looks or capabilities of their progenitor. They were simply badly-timed, gussied-up harlots put out there to make money for their pimps at GM.

It’s not clear whether any other company will be foolish enough to buy this bloated brand. The military no longer wants the H1. It doesn’t look like there’s a market for the ugly baby sisters. Hopefully this icon of ridiculous American gluttony will die a quiet death.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

A question for my elementary school teachers

I’m sure you all meant well and thought you were helping when you told me:

“You’re so smart. You just need to pay attention.”
“If you stopped daydreaming, you could do anything.”
“You’ve got so much potential. You just need to try harder.”
“If you paid attention in class, you could do so well.”
“You could get all ‘A’s if you only applied yourself.”

Didn’t any of you ever stop to think how demoralizing and shaming it is to say those things over and over again to a young child?

So the biggest lesson I learned in elementary school was: “You’re smart, but you’re a defective, lazy kid who can’t be successful.”

Unlearning that has been extremely difficult for me.

Recent studies indicate that 5-8% of children today have attention difficulties, and those are only the ones who are being treated. Like me, 75% of those kids continue to have problems as adults. And the numbers are on the rise.

Other studies suggest that 45-50% of prison inmates have ADHD.

We don’t know what causes this or why it’s rising. It may be genetics, birth complications, juvenile head trauma, allergies or chemical sensitivities. It could be too much television, video games or Internet. While it’s important to learn why the numbers are so high, it’s just as important to stop undermining the self-esteem of those children who struggle with it.

If we add early intervention strategies for dealing with attention difficulties into our elementary schools, there will be fewer expensive special education plans. Fewer children left behind. And fewer high school students who end up dropping out of school.

When we learn to help rather than discourage these children, we'll produce more successful adults and fewer inmates.

That would generate a huge economic return-on-investment for a country with the largest inmate population in the world. With 7% of our citizens in prisons (two and a half million inmates) at an average of $47,085 per year, we spend $117,712,500,000 per year incarcerating them.

It would also make us a much more productive and humane society.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The Finast Lady Treatment

I have a game I often play when I'm out and about. If I run into a person working in a bank, store or restaurant who looks unhappy, I make it a point to get their name from their name tag. Then I smile and use their name when I address them. Almost every one of them warms up and smiles back. When I see them again, I do the same thing.

It started about thirty-five years ago when the customer service person in the Finast grocery store where I shopped was a real sourpuss. I started using her name and smiling when I talked with her, and she began using my name and smiling back.

One time I walked up to the service desk holding a banana like a gun and demanded she give me all the money. She laughed out loud; and almost every time I saw her after that, she commented on it. My kids refer to my game as giving someone the Finast lady treatment.

It's fun making people smile. It makes them feel good and gets me better service.

Corporations are not people.

Even though most of the founding fathers were liberal capitalists, they believed that corporations were not people and did not have the same rights as people. After all, they had just fought a war against King George and his greedy lapdogs.

Many of the thirteen original colonies began as commercial ventures with proprietary charters granted to English bureaucrats and businessmen. They satisfied their labor requirements with indentured laborers brought from England and later with slaves. At the onset of the Revolution, four of the colonies—Rhode Island, Connecticut, Pennsylvania and Maryland were still privately chartered.

The founding fathers strongly believed in regulating trade. That’s precisely why the Constitution granted the Federal Government regulation of commerce. It's incorrect to conclude that this regulation of commerce only applied to tariffs between the thirteen original states or that the founders were supportive of corporations. They believed that corporate charters should be a regulated privilege not a right.

This belief was supported by the states as well. Almost all the states included language in their constitutions to regulate corporations. Most believed that the granting of a corporate charter was a privilege that carried no rights and could be revoked whenever corporate activities were not in the general interest of the state or the people.

In the early stages of the industrial revolution, corporations flourished. They gained more power and more influence. They began to fund campaigns and establish friends in high places in this country, just as they had in England. This began a one hundred and eighty year period of lawsuits and court decisions based on hair-splitting semantics that culminated in January with the current pro-corporate, activist Supreme Court’s decision to grant corporations the same rights as citizens.

Corporations are not people. They do not have the same rights, morals or ideals as individual people. They do not vote and should not participate in elections the same way people do.

This ruling will cause a flood of corporate cash into politics. If you think candidates have been bought and paid for in the past, wait until you see the upcoming election cycle.

The Supreme Court ruling that corporations can support candidates without limit means that even foreign corporations can buy as many Congressmen as they can afford by funneling money through Delaware-based subsidiaries. It puts our democracy at a very dangerous historical crossroad.

It’s critical for the American people to reestablish our control over corporations by passing an amendment to the Constitution restricting corporations. It’s what the founding fathers intended, and it’s what will keep our democracy alive.

No Child Thrown Away

I was a well-behaved child in school. Except for daydreaming, I was never a behavior problem.

I stayed in my seat, didn’t say much and slid through twelve years of public school. My biggest body of work in high school was a thick loose-leaf binder full of car drawings.

My grades were mediocre. No one excited me. No one inspired me. And no one reached out to me. It felt like I didn’t matter.

Nowadays I’d be diagnosed ADD. Not hyperactive—just difficulty staying on task.

I don’t say this to blame anyone or shirk my own responsibility. It’s just what happened.

I'm now the school board chair in my community. We have about 80 kids in pre-K through eighth grade. My good friend, Tom McGuire, is the District Administrator and the best educator I've ever met. I have learned a great deal from him.

Tom believes that every child is entitled to an education that accommodates different learning styles. He believes every child wants to learn. And fair is not that every child gets the same, but that every child gets what they need to succeed.

Human diversity is inevitable and desirable. No two children learn alike. No child sets out to fail. And no child wants to be thrown away.

Because of my own experience, I want our school to help every child succeed—including those well-behaved but uninspired kids who can’t stay on task. I want our school to offer a curriculum that offers a broad spectrum of learning opportunities—where no child feels like they don’t matter.

Every child has a gift. Far too many of the difficult students fall through the cracks; and they're often the outside-the-box thinkers that our country most needs.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Surreal Conflict

Here’s the surreal aspect of the conflict between religious and non-religious thinking.

The world’s most powerful organized religions—Christianity, Judaism and Islam—are based on mythical ideology that is put forward as fact.

Those who doubt these mythologies are dismissed as evil and dangerous heretics. They have historically been the target of incarceration, banishment, public execution and holy wars.

Non-believers who have science and logic on their side are continually challenged to refute these myths. They are expected to defend their non-belief in the myths of the believers.

This presents a conundrum. How do you prove that something doesn’t exist? The burden of proof would logically be on those who believe, not those who don’t.

The same enigma has led to wars between believers of disagreeing myths. Christians and Moslems have been at war for a thousand years because each side dismisses the others’ myths. Ten of thousands have died over differences in folklore.

It’s like fighting over whether the paintings of Salvador Dali are better than the paintings of Rene Magritte.

Galatea of the Spheres - Salvador Dali

La Therapeute - Rene Magritte