Old Patriot's Pen

Personal pontifications of an old geezer born 200 years too late.

NOTE The views I express on this site are mine and mine alone. Nothing I say should be construed as being "official" or the views of any group, whether I've been a member of that group or not. The advertisings on this page are from Google, and do not constitute an endorsement on my part.

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Location: Colorado Springs, Colorado, United States

I've been everywhere That was the title of a hit country-and-western song from the late 1950's, originally sung by Hank Snow, and made famous by Johnny Cash. I resemble that! My 26-year career in the Air Force took me to more than sixty nations on five continents - sometimes only for a few minutes, other times for as long as four years at a time. In all that travel, I also managed to find the perfect partner, help rear three children, earn more than 200 hours of college credit, write more than 3000 reports, papers, documents, pamphlets, and even a handful of novels, take about 10,000 photographs, and met a huge crowd of interesting people. I use this weblog and my personal website here to document my life, and discuss my views on subjects I find interesting.

Monday, February 28, 2005

The Politicially Destructive Power of Envy

The French Government pulled its support for NATO in 1962, and forced the United States to close all its military bases in that nation. Yet France still wanted to be a "part" of NATO, and train with it. President Charles DeGaulle wanted to "express France's independence", while still remaining under the protective umbrella of NATO's US forces. US/French relations have been poor ever since.

Today, it's not just the French. We also have a poor relationship with Luxembourg, Germany, Greece, Turkey, and Belgium, and a tenuous relationship with Spain and Portugal, two other long-term members of NATO.

Part of the problem is that the NATO Alliance has expanded, and part of the problem is that the reason for the NATO Alliance has ended. The Alliance itself is an anachronism. It was originally constructed to provide a united defense against an attack by the old Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact nations. Today, most of the former Warsaw Pact nations have joined NATO, and Russia stands more or less alone, neither a friend nor an enemy.

Most of the diplomatic problems between the United States and the majority of NATO member states arise because there is no longer a common enemy to force us to work together. At the same time, the center of "Old Europe" wants to become a counter-balance to American power - politically, militarily, and economically. The major problem with this idea is that Europe is no longer competetive in any of these arenas. A few Europeans are beginning to understand that they've made poor choices, and those choices are cripling them in the economic and political marketplaces of the world. Unfortunately, it's not yet enough to cause the heart of "Old Europe" - Germany, France, Luxembourg, and Belgium - to make the changes necessary to be competetive. Instead, these nations try to criple the effectiveness of the United States, to bring it down to a level below their faltering economies.

It isn't working, and it won't work.

The majority of the people in the United States have seen the economic disaster area that is Old Europe, and don't want any part of it. Our Left still tries to sell the unsellable, and tries to incrementally move us to the same fate, which is one reason they're being marginalized from political power in this nation. They keep pointing to Europe, and to a lesser extent, to Canada, and say "We need to be like them", yet most Americans look at the failures of social systems that destroy initiative, result in rampant bureaucracy, rationing, and poor service, and say, "Why?".

Militarily, the Europeans have three or four states that have a modest military force equipped with modern weapons. The French brag about their "Force de Frappe", their 16 missiles armed with nuclear warheads that cannot reach their current enemies. The brag about their aircraft carrier, the "Charles DeGaulle", which seldom leaves port. Their colonial leadership left few nations with a workable government when those nations became independent.

Germany has an industrial capacity to build just about anything, but their workers are protected by union contracts, the economy is cripled by laws that restrict capital investment and expansion, and they live under a government impotent to make changes. They have an unsupportable number of unemployed, a grinding social spending burden, high taxes and weak productivity.

ALL of Europe has a problem with unassimilated emigrants, mostly from Arab nations, that are causing even more problems for the government, the economy, and the military. At the same time, their current social system practically guarantees a birthrate below replacement, and a constantly downward spiraling local ethnic population.

Western religion - the many faces of Christianity - is all but dead in "Old Europe", and not terribly healthy anywhere on the continent. On the flip side, there is a rising tide of militant Islam among the unassimilated Muslim population.

The new "European" Constitution will do nothing to relieve the problems, but will just provide a paper bandage over the hemoraging that is taking place on a daily basis, as Europe refuses to confront its problems and take corrective action. The Europe of the 21st Century is rapidly becoming a not-very-nice place to live in, and refuses to change.

Some people outside the United States are getting the message, and encouraging freedom of the individual, protection of individual rights, lower taxes, security of private property, personal responsibility, and greater individual opportunity. Those nations will prosper. They will provide the exampe that Old Europe especially needs to follow to pull itself out of its current malaise. Two good examples are Australia and Japan, both nations that accept the military and economic superiority of the United States, but who also know they have a place in the exchange of goods and services, and who understand the world's a dangerous place, and keep a strong military.

We, the United States, cannot force Europe to change, nor should we try. It is up to their people to force the changes necessary to return to rational actions and rational government. We need to be on guard against those that would force us to become another Europe, filled with the same failed systems, high taxes, low standards, and poor productivity. We need to maintain a strong military against growing military threats from China, and yes, even from many of our former European allies. Time marches on. Things change. It's time to rethink alliances, rebuild relationships based upon current conditions and reason, and to accept that some people, including some former friends, now envy us so much they're no longer our friends.

Sunday, February 27, 2005

Why should we trust you?

There are people all throughout society that expect, even demand, that we trust them. Ministers expect us to give them unrestrained trust. Politicians demand that we trust them with our money - and with more and more of it as time passes. Police officers, lawyers, and judges demand that we trust them to protect us and to uphold the laws of the land. Scientists tell us we're destroying the world, and that the only solution is to return to how we lived a hundred years ago. Doctors tell us that we're overweight, out of shape, and that we need all kinds of medicine just to make it through the day. Teachers tell us our children are dumb, and they can only learn a fraction of what we did thirty years ago - and they need medication because they're "so hyper". Network executives and newspaper publishers demand that we trust them to provide us with "unbiased" news. Everywhere we turn, there's someone else telling us, asking us, even demanding that we trust them.

Why should we?

I learned during my military career that it was necessary to respect the rank and authority of anyone in uniform. I found that some people in uniform also deserved respect for themselves, and that they received that respect because they earned it. The same is true for any other profession: we may respect the position, but the only time the person qualifies for respect is upon earning it. Today, it's becoming more and more obvious that there are a lot of people in this world we shouldn't trust, even though they demand it of us.

There are 'rotten apples' in any profession, but there seem to be far more of them today than fourty years ago. There also seems to be less and less interest in removing those rotten apples from positions of authority. There also seem to be more and more people in our society that demand authority, including authority over how and where we live, what we do, how we rear our children, and a host of other actions that used to be the sole responsibility of the adults in our society.

There are two main driving forces at work in trying to shape society in the United States: one is the destruction of any source of authority of the individual, and the second is the usurpation of personal authority by the government. Both are based on a falacy.

The first falacy is that the average parent is incapable of providing their children with what they need to meet all the demands of modern society. The biggest farce that's ever been visited upon children is the stupidity promoted by Dr. Benjamin Spock and others that told us "never, never, ever hurt a child". Psychologists tell us we "fail" our children, that we shouldn't touch our child to discipline them, and that most of what we do us "abuse". As a result, our children don't understand discipline at all, having never experienced it. Children NEED discipline. That's how they learn what's appropriate and what's not appropriate. Only by punishing them in a way that hurts (but not necessarily physical), can they ever learn that inappropriate behavior is to be avoided. Young children as small as three can get this message, but it has to be repeated until the child is grown enough to apply some self-discipline. Unfortunately, if a parent today swatted their child to discipline them, the ever-present hoard of social workers would swoop down like a pack of avenging angels to grab the children and spirit them away. In the meantime, our schools spiral out of control, crime is being committed by younger and younger children, and the psychologists throw up their hands, screaming "We don't know what's wrong".

What's wrong is that a bunch of "professionals decided they knew better than anyone else how parents should rear children, and forced their ideas upon the rest of us. They also refuse to accept responsibility when their grandios ideas don't work, and they refuse to acknowledge their methods are a failure for 70% or more of today's children.

The same thing is true of most "churches". They've stopped preaching the word of God, and center on teaching the commandments of men. God gets short-shifted, worship is more a community hug-along, and there's no steel in the spirit of today's worshipers. Churches have a hard time preaching about 'sin', so they stress 'forgiveness'. They encourage works, but not sacrifice. They preach togetherness, but not commitment. And most of all, they stay as far away as possible from that awful term, "accountability". Instead of standing up to them, most churches have sold out to the secularists, and preach the same psychobabble about "feelings", without ever worrying about the damage they're doing to lives in this world or the hereafter.

One of the sad things that we all have to admit is that when we ask who's to blame, we have to point the finger back at ourselves. We haven't taken the time to actually check to make sure whatever some snake-oil salesman is trying to sell is a legitimate product, or if there's true, undenyable evidence of what they're saying. We're "too busy". We have "too much on our plate". Yet it's our future, our happiness, our children, our souls, our money, we're talking about. What can be more important than that?

The entire "obesity" epidemic is based upon changing standards by the Surgeon General's office. The "acceptable weight" chart changed - not our eating habits, not our behavior, not our bodies, nor any other thing. By the stroke of a pen, a quarter of Americans were rendered "fat". Where's the evidence behind it? Oh, it's just a bunch of accountant's actuary tables that show that we'd live longer if we weighed less, based upon clumping us all together. People are individuals, not robots. They have physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, genetic, and historic differences that makes each one of us unique. Treating us as if we were made on an assembly line is the height of stupidity - and it's preached at the highest levels of our government.

Thirty years ago, we were all going to freeze to death due to the imminent Ice Age. Now we're all going to drown because of Global Warming. The actual science for either event isn't conclusive, yet the same people are pushing the panic button. DDT was "killing all the birds", and today 2 million in Africa die every year from malaria, because nations there can't use DDT to kill mosquitos. Is the science that DDT "kills birds" undeniable? No. But we can't change, we can't allow the use of DDT - it might harm someone. Forget the two million dead Africans, at least they're not killing birds and frogs. Smoking isn't illegal, yet millions are treated as if they have the plague because they were hooked on tobacco and find it difficult to quit. We screech at them that their smoke is killing others, yet all the evidence says it's not so. That doesn't keep our politicians and our doctors from using smoking as a whipping boy, and for treating those that do smoke as pariahs.

It's time to take the world back from the control freaks that fill the ranks of so many of today's "professions". It's time to retake the rights of the individual to live as they choose, as long as they cause no harm to others. It's time to force the control freaks to prove, beyond a shadow of a doubt, the truth of their words, and to hold them accountable not only for their words, but for their behavior. Let us speak truth to power, and let us retake the power of the individual in a free society. It's time to apply a little of that psychobabble back on the perpetrators - a little "tough love" as we slam the door in their face and return to the historical behavior handed down through generations - the behavior that worked. God has created for us a model of how we are to live. It works. When we fail to follow it, or when deliberately turn our backs on it, we're the ones that suffer. When we obey His word, we prosper. No amount of psychobabble can alter the circumstance - God's way works, Man's way fails, as it always has, and always will.

Saturday, February 26, 2005

The Search for Extraterrestral Life

I like Michael Crichton. I like his books, and I've enjoyed a couple of movies made from his books. He gave a speech in California not too long ago where he linked the search for extraterrestral life and the hype over "global warming". I have no substantive argument with the overall theme of that lecture. It's a good lecture, and it does an excellent job of showing why we need to approach outrageous arguments with a demand for "good" science. I have some qualms, however, about how portions of that lecture will affect non-scientific readers, and about lumping some good science in with "bad" science or "junk" science. I feel that some of the links he describes are tenuous, and that some of his conclusions need to be taken skeptically. Some of what he says may be a disservice to truly dedicated scientists and scientific endeavor. I'd like to talk about one of those subjects in this article. I hope to discuss others in a couple of follow-on articles.

Let me first say that I am not a "scientist". I am a generalist - someone who's studied many subjects, each in varying depths, and not always formally. My military specialty, imagery intelligence, drove much of that study. My interest and just general curiosity, plus an insatiable love of reading, has driven even greater interests in many areas. I'm not without skills, training, or resources, but I'm not a formal "scientist".

I'm also a Christian, and a strong believer in Judeao-Christian philosophy as well as religion. I've studied a dozen or so other faiths, and many different denominations of Christianity, from Catholic to Mormon. I hold my own beliefs, based on the only factual method possible - the lifelong experience of a personal relationship with a Supreme Being I accept is God.

One of those areas I have a strong curiosity about is the possibility of intelligent life on other planets. In this, I have a minor disagreement with Michael Crichton: scientific theory requires us to establish a hypothesis, and test it in the laboratory of reality. It will either be supported or crushed by such experimentation. Sometimes our theories require modification, based upon evidence acquired during testing, but the entire process is just that: question, hypothesis (possible answer), testing, proof/rejection of hypothesis, re-evaluate, modify, start over. There is now scientific evidence of planets around other stars. With that, one has to assume that it is POSSIBLE that life may exist outside the planet Earth. As we learn more and more about the possibility of life existing on Mars, Titan, perhaps even in the 'air-oceans' of Saturn and Jupiter, we also have to consider that life may exist outside our solar system. It would be UNSCIENTIFIC to deny these possibilities.

I also believe, as a Christian that, since God did create the entire universe and everything in it, and that He set up the "natural laws" that govern it, our planet Earth is not the only one He created life upon. There are about 100 BILLION stars in our galaxy alone (Info from There are millions of galaxies. It would be very strange indeed for God to go to all the trouble of creating all this real estate and then restricting life to one small planet. Since God has created life to fill every available niche on Earth, I think He did the same thing throughout the galaxy. One day we'll know for sure. I'd be very surprised to find that all the other planets in our area of this galaxy are devoid of life. I would also be very surprised to learn that, once we DO contact life on other planets in other solar systems, they didn't worship a God whose words are recorded in a book very similar to our Bible. That's a personal belief, based upon my personal religious experiences, and doesn't necessarily reflect what anyone else might believe.

The next part of the scientific process is to either prove/disprove the hypothesis through research and the collection of empirical evidence. At this point, we can only do indirect experimentation. Nothing will ever be proven until we either find specific, undeniable evidence of the existence of such life, or we examine the entire universe and prove there isn't any. Both of these are tall orders, and will take generations to finish. We cannot determine that the entire process is a waste of time because the failure of the search over the past 30 or 40 years hasn't been successful. To do that would be to ignore the variables involved, and the complexity of the problem.

Unfortunately, the science itself has been fairly lax in establishing and refining its models as time elapsed and more information was gathered. The so-called Drake equation hasn't been updated, modified, or changed to account for increased knowledge gained in the past 45 years. Being more than 45 years old, I can truthfully say I KNOW from experience that the world has gone through at least three 'scientific revolutions' during that time. Some of the changes have filtered into the search for Extraterresteral life, but not enough. Drake's formula needs to be completely rethought.

For instance, we now know that stellar formation is a continuous affair, and that solar systems evolve: they are "born", they "age" over time, and they "die" as the "fuel" of their central star(s) is consumed. This is a constant, measurable process. We know that some stars go through this natural evolutionary process at different rates, mostly based on two factors: size and composition. We know that the key to technology is energy consumption - the ability to do more than just survive requires more energy, the ability to build complex structures takes even more, and the requirement of transportation to allow complex structures calls for even greater energy consumption. Unfortunately for the search for extraterresteral intelligence, there's even more we don't know.

We don't know, for instance, how binary and larger stellar systems would affect planetary development. We DO know that some binary systems have planets - that's been proven by astronomical studies. We're not sure how planetary development occurs, although at least we now know our star isn't the only one with planets. The only solar system we've been able to study in any great detail has been our own, and it keeps surprising us. In fact, what we DON'T know about planetary evolution and development is far greater than what we do, or even can imagine. I'm sure the Milky Way galaxy alone will give us more than a few surprises in that respect. Many excellent minds have worked on the problem, not all of them scientists.

In order to truly study the possibility of extraterresteral life, we have to break the problem down into its constituent parts, and solve each part of the problem. That hasn't been done - at least, it hasn't been done and reported in any of the scientific arenas I check (which doesn't include Scientific American or National Geographic, both of which have abandoned the principles that they originally followed).

What are the problems? Here's my list:

1. What is the life-cycle of each type of star, and what outside influences can influence that cycle?
2. What is the likelihood of any star, either independently or in a stellar cluster of two or more bodies, having planets?
3. What is the likelihood of any planet being in the approximate range of its primary to allow a liquid-water cycle to exist? (this will give us a likelihood of the number of planets that MAY be able to support life similar to human beings).
4. Are moons/tides essential for life to develop? If so, how do these affect the development of life? Can life develop on planets without moons?
5. Is there any other form of life that can exist: I.E., using chlorine instead of oxygen, silicon-based, etc?
6. What kind of planet/sun/system would be necessary to allow such development?
7. What is the minimum life-span considered necessary for INTELLIGENT life to develop (within a range)?
8. What factors could affect the development toward a technical civilization, either inhibiting it or promoting it?
9. How would this affect the developing intelligence's ability to communicate?
10. What other factors can affect technical development, the development of electromagnetic communication, or other attributing factors?
11. What outside factors (nearby novas, excess gas and dust in nearby space, etc.,) can affect the development of life and intelligence, and how?

Drake's equation needs to be refined. I'm not a mathematician, but I'll make a small stab at it. Here's the original equation:

N=N*fp ne fl fi fc fL

Where N is the number of stars in the Milky Way galaxy; fp is the fraction with planets; ne is the number of planets per star capable of supporting life; fl is the fraction of planets where life evolves; fi is the fraction where intelligent life evolves; and fc is the fraction that communicates; and fL is the fraction of the planet's life during which the communicating civilizations live.

First of all, we can discard quite a few stars. They're either too young or too old, or have gone through a catastrophic process such as a nova explosion or other disaster. So we have to have a sub-equation of N'=N-(Nv+Nd+Nq), where N' equals the number of stars that have the potential for life, after subtracting from N those stars that are too young (Nv) or too old (Nd), have nova'ed, or have been affected by some other force that would significantly reduce (possibly even eliminate) their capacity to sustain life, whether planets existed or not (Nq). Then we have to decide just how many stars have planets. We cannot eliminate ANY star that has planets just because it doesn't have the same kind of environment our plant has, because we don't know if other forms of life can exist. So we need a variable called fNp, or the fraction of total stars that have planets. (At the moment, I can't think of a way for life to exist without planets, but it's theoretically possible. The "theory" part indicates there's a "possibility", but doesn't suggest a "probability" high enough to be worth worrying about at the moment.) I'd be much more inclined to expect life to develop in a more sheltered environment - I.E., a planet, and one with a relatively thick atmosphere sufficient to stop such dangerous life-threatening events such as gamma radiation, meteorites, etc, - which gives us our next variable, fNt, or the fraction of planets that have a significant enough atmosphere to both support life and protect it from catastrophic disasters that would terminate it. Now we have a general idea how many places in our galaxy have the potential for supporting life.

Once we get to this point, we'd need a variable to establish how many planets where life COULD evolve, it actually did - Drake's fl, my fNl. From there, we need to determine what percentage of planets where life evolved, it developed into intelligent life. Right now, this has to be a factor of "1", since the only planet we know of where life has developed, has also developed enough intelligence to worry about the question. We cannot refine that variable further until we have some scientifically acceptable evidence. Right now, we don't even know if life exists outside of our own planet. We have some intriguing studies that indicate it COULD have, but we cannot truly say that life has developed anywhere else but Earth. Because of that, we can't even say that the variable should be "1/9" (Earth/total number of planets in our solar system) - we DON'T KNOW. We need to do the scientific evidence-collecting to give us at least a chance to develop an approximation. Anyone trying to do that at the moment is just guessing, which isn't very scientific. Still, we need a variable to express what percentage (fraction) of planets where life developed also developed intelligence (fNe), and what percentage of intelligent life developed sufficient technology to spread a signal beyond their own planet (fNx). Once all these factors are calculated, we have a number, Ni, of potential intelligent species with the technology to communicate with us. The final formula should look something like this:


We now have a formula that will tell us the potential for life to develop, and for that life to grow beyond the pond scum stage to an intelligence with the technical capabilities to communicate over vast distances between stars. Unfortunately, even with this formula, we have no way of assigning real values to each of the many variables. We also run into a number of other significant problems in our consideration:

A. Is the intelligence similar to ours, or very different?
B. Do these intelligent species function or think the same way we do?
C. Do they develop sufficient technology that they can express their intelligence in ways similar enough to ours for us to understand it?

Suppose a species develops communication technology not based upon radio waves: would they detect and understand the function of ours? If they developed some other way to communicate, would we be able to detect that communication? Would we even look at it as a signal? There are too many variables here to express in a simple equation, yet none can be ignored.

To top it all off, we have to have some way of determining if a particular intelligent civilization is in a similar technological stage to actually recognize a signal, and respond to it. This is a situation that, in our society, is in constant flux. Radio is just a little over 100 years old. Television is less than 70. Microwave radiation (radar, etc) is about the same age. More and more data is being carried by fiber-optic cables, rather than radio signals. Advances in technology are changing the world we live in daily. How can we even begin to consider the technological development of a different intelligent species?

When all these questions are evaluated, we see there is no simple way to determine if intelligent extraterrestral life exists, or if it does, that we can detect it. We've only been using radio waves for communication for just over 100 years. No extraterresteral civilization farther away than say, 150 light-years, could detect those signals - they haven't arrived yet. They'll have to be in the portion of their development where they have the technology to acquire the signals, and not so developed they would ignore them. They'd have to have the curiosity to actually be interested in looking for signals, and have the ability to detect them. When - if - they do detect the radio "noise" the planet Earth has poured out over the last 100+ years, they will be extremely weak (inverse square law), and have to be filtered out from other stellar background "noise". THEN they'll have to recognize the signal as being intelligent communication, instead of just an unusual, natural source. Then they'll have to devise some way to interpret the signals. For early radio and other wireless signals, that will be a major achievement for ANY species.

Of course, the same problems apply to us, and our search for signals from outside our planet and solar system. That doesn't mean the search is "unscientific", only that it's difficult, and the time needed to actually do the "test/evaluate" part of the hypothesis COULD take not years, but centuries.

The time it may take to actually do a sophisticated search for extraterrestral life throughout our galaxy could be tens of thousands of years, depending on whether we maintain the technical capability of doing so, and if we maintain the interest, and if we're restricted to slower-than-light movement. Our galaxy is approximately 100,000 light-years across, and we are about 25,000 light-years from the center. The farthest portions of our galaxy are therefore 75,000 light-years away. Our radio waves won't get there for another 75,000 years, nor can theirs get here before then. The entire galactic center and the majority of the "arms" are in the way, making it difficult for any intelligible signal to actually make it all that distance.

This is where the scientific process broke down with the search for extraterresteral life: unreasonable expectations, failure to constantly refine and re-express the basic scientific fundamentals of the search, and a failure to communicate the extent of the difficulties involved.

Most people today have unreasonable expectations about many things, including scientific knowledge. Part of the problem is that scientific breakthroughs have been occurring at breakneck speed in many, many fields. Unreasonable expectations arose from failure to clearly define the problem, and the means of examining that problem, to both the people and their leaders. I'm sure it's difficult to get funding for something that may not show ANY results for generations. Failure to show positive results is deemed a failure of the project, which is also false. There are many reasons why we may not have found a signal from beyond our planet, including all those questions I listed that need to be answered. There are too many variables, there are too many areas where we don't have the tools to truly conduct the research to answer the questions, and we haven't committed enough time or energy to answer the questions. Maybe we need to spend more time, more resources, and more effort in the search, or maybe we need to slow down, redefine what we're trying to do, and go about it differently - more slowly, in a different manner, using different parameters, or something we haven't even thought of yet. It's just one more of several million questions we can ask ourselves, and try to find the answer. Writing it off as a lost cause because we can't "imagine" getting results would be self-defeating.

I think the scientific community needs to do some serious rethinking about the search for extraterresteral life, and should provide some more information to the general public. If someone has already updated Drake's Equation, maybe that updated formula needs to receive greater publicity. Maybe a good, open debate on the subject should be encouraged (I know there's a space on the website to discuss it, but that's not general circulation. Some astrophysicist capable of writing to the general public needs to start a blog!).

Any question we can think of is worth pursuing an answer for. Some questions are easier to answer than others. Mankind has used fire for at least 25,000 years, yet we're still learning about how it can affect us and our world. The search for evidence of another intelligent species is based on the question "is anyone else out there?". We don't have the capability today to answer that question. We don't have the capability today to even define the parameters needed to make a reasonable assumption, other than "it's possible". It may take us another ten years, possibly even ten centuries, to develop even rudimentary capabilities to answer those questions. We rushed into a project to "find" supporting evidence, without fully defining the problem, and some scientists involved in the project allowed unreasonable expectations to be raised, and gain enough ground that people were disappointed when those expectations weren't realized. It may not be the most serious scientific question facing us, but it shouldn't be brushed off as "poor science". We can afford to allocate at least some resources for continuing to investigate the question, to search for data to help us evaluate our equations, and see if they truly are worth following. And who knows, it may one day provide us with some surprising answers.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

I'm Just Another Blogging Nobody

Frank J, over at IMAO, asks, "Who the Hell Do You Think You Bloggers Are?"

Posted by Frank J. at 12:11 PM | TrackBack (0)

The mainstream media is pretty convinced we bloggers are an unruly, vicious sort. Why, as spacemonkey pointed out, even Ted Rall is questioning whether we're informed enough to have opinions of our own. And, when a piss-poor cartoonist is questioning your qualification to have opinions on political matters, you know you're in trouble.

I think it's time for all us bloggers to prove whether we really are qualified to have opinions. That's why I made...


Ok, here are the answers for Old Patriot:

  1. Who the hell do you think you are? Well, I don't THINK I'm "anybody". I KNOW who I am. I know my name, my history, and my integrity. I know all about "me", you see, and know the truth and the fiction. I know that:

    • I'm a 58-year-old man named Michael Allen Weatherford, that I come from a long line of Americans that dates back to the early 1700's in the United States, and back even further in Scotland. I know that among my ancestors are a number of pure-blood Native Americans, and I'm proud of that fact. I know my mother's maiden name, and the history of her family, as well as the names and histories of my wife's parents.
    • I know I'm a husband and the father of three children.
    • I know I'm a high school graduate, and that I've attended almost a dozen colleges during my lifetime, and acquired more credits than any of those colleges requires for graduation. I just never spent enough time with any one of them to get a diploma.
    • I know that I'm a retired Air Force Master Sergeant with 26 years' service to this nation and its people. I also know that I'm currently a disabled veteran, and that my disabilities are serious enough they prevent me from holding a full-time job outside my home.
    • I know that I've contributed to the US victory in the Cold War, and that I've also helped provide peace and security in places ranging from Panama and Vietnam to Germany and the United States.
    • I know that I'm the author of five science-fiction novels, self-published on the Internet. Whether they're any good is a matter for others to decide. I like them, which is all that matters to me.
    • I know that, during my military career, I've done many things that materially contributed to the defense of the United States Constitution, and to the people it represents. I've got the medals, awards, and commendations to back that up.
    • I know that during my life I've made a significant contribution to the health, well-being, and happiness of many people, because they've told me so (without having to be asked).

    So, what about you, Ted? Dave? Dan? Howard? Eason? Any takers?

  2. So, other than blogging, what's your job? Do you work at some fast food joint, dumbass? Other than volunteering now and then, as I did in support of humanitarian efforts aiding victims of the Dec 26th, 2004, tsunami, no. It's kind of hard to work at a job in this nation that doesn't have at least some noise associated with it. It's reached the point now where even my personal computer in my home office gives me a headache. That doesn't even begin to take into consideration the chronic pain, chronic fatigue, and other problems I have. But then, I HAVE held jobs, some of them quite significant jobs, in both the military and in civilian employment. My old boss at LSI Logic, Inc., would love to have me come back to work for him... So would several of my former Military bosses, both those still in the Air Force and a couple that work for the CIA.

  3. Do you have like any experience in journalism, idiot? You mean like the squadron newspaper that I edited and managed for two years, or the articles I wrote for the RAF Alconbury Photogram? Perhaps you'd consider the approximately 3000 reports and other documents I wrote for the Air Force, or the 200 or so I wrote for the LSI Logic Software Test Engineering Test Lab's training program. Maybe you'd rather consider the half-dozen articles I wrote for stamp magazines, or the 30 or so articles I've written for various online publications. Then there's always the five science fiction novels I wrote that are online here. I could also mention a few dozen "letters to the editor" I've had published here and there around the country, and a dozen or so other minor publications that were distributed to a limited audience. Is that enough? Oh, and that doesn't include my blog, or the entries I've had published on the blogs of others.

  4. Do you even read newspapers? Just the Colorado Springs Gazette in dead-tree, but I read about a dozen online versions, from the Guardian to the London Times and The Sun from England, the English-language online edition of Aftenposten from Norway, the International Herald Tribune, Japan Times, The Straits Times (Singapore), and the Royal Gazette, Bermuda. I'd read several more if they didn't require registration. Links to these and others are available on the left side of my weblog.

  5. Do you watch any other news than FOX News propaganda, you ignorant fool? I don't even watch FOX - this noise thing, you know...

  6. I bet you're some moron talk radio listener too, huh? No. See above.

  7. So, do you get a fax from the GOP each day for what to say, you @#$% Republican parrot? As a registered Independent, I don't get faxes from anyone. Do YOU get a daily fax from the Democratic Party, you donkey, you?

  8. Why do you and your blogger friends want to silence and fire everyone who disagrees with you, fascist? Well, first I'm not a fascist. I'm not into name-calling all that much at all, and find those that do engage in such vitrol do so because they usually don't have any valid argument to express. Secondly, I don't do ANYTHING because someone else does it. I do what I do because that's what I believe in, think, accept, support, appreciate, etc. I link to people because I either agree with them, or I want to tell them I DON'T agree, and why. And by the way, I have many acquaintances, but darned few FRIENDS. Friendship is something I take seriously, and only extend it to those I feel deserve it.

  9. Are you completely ignorant of other countries, or do you actually own a passport? During my military service, I lived in four different overseas countries for at least a year: Germany (3 times), Panama, Vietnam, and England. During that same 26-year period, I visited more than 65 countries and territories in Europe, Asia, Latin America, Africa and Australiasia. I've held both a tourist passport and an official (Government) passport. My job (imagery intelligence) was to keep track of what went on in more than 80 nations around the world, frequently on a daily basis. Of course, as a history major in college with a minor in geography, I have a bit of academic knowledge of many, many nations. This makes my stamp collection covering all the nations of the world even more interesting for me - I've seen many of the places depicted on those stamps, and been to many of the countries I collect.

  10. Have you even been to another country, you dumb hick? See above, smog-breather.

  11. If you're so keen on the war, why haven't you signed up, chickenhawk? When 9/11 happened, and again when the United States went to war in Afghanistan and Iraq, I requested the Air Force recall me and put me to work. I guess between my age (58) and my disability (70%+), they decided they didn't need me. What's YOUR excuse?

  12. Do you have any idea of the horrors of war? Have you ever reached into a pile of goo that was your best friend's face? I and the troops I was working with were hauled out of our trailers where we were working and handed a rifle so we could defend Khe Sahn in early March, 1971. Were you there? I started my military career as a Cadet at the Air Force Academy, class of 1968. There are a number of names of people I knew and worked with on that black marble monument in Washington, DC. A good friend of mine, Denny Johnson, went to West Point because I turned down the appointment. He was killed in Vietnam in 1969. I had acquaintances killed in aircraft crashes in New Mexico, Panama, England, South Carolina, and Germany, on TRAINING FLIGHTS.

    As an imagery analyst, I kept track of not only the Vietnam War, but also the Cold War, the Afghanistan/Soviet war, the Iran/Iraq war, the many different Arab/Israeli wars, the Falklands war, and dozens of other "wars" and "guerilla actions" around the world. What about you, loudmouth? What are YOUR experiences?

  13. Have you ever reached into any pile of goo? I grew up in a rural environment. I've slopped hogs, milked cows, fed chickens, raised pigs and rabbits, kept exotic pets (my mother still hasn't forgiven me for finding the green ribbon snake in my dresser drawer), mucked out barns, dug (and buried) outhouses, and tossed dried cow-pats to shoot with slingshots. I've walked behind a pair of matched mules plowing a field until I dropped from exhaustion, loaded alfalfa hay from early morning until the field was cleared, and done all sorts of other things even most people my age have never done. What's YOUR excuse?

  14. Once again, who the hell do you think you are? Just a good-old-boy who loves this nation, and who has dedicated his life to honoring and protecting it, and the Constitution that created it. Unless you can beat that record, shut your yap.

If anybody needs proof of any of this, I'll do my best to provide it.

Still in Denial

The people against Social Security reform are still in denial about the problems Social Security faces. The system is in bad shape, and needs some major assistance. There's ample evidence of the discussion all over the Internet, and in hundreds of Legacy publications. A Google search for "Social Security reform" brings up 684,000 hits. There is significant evidence that Social Security will be in major trouble in less than fifteen years, and totally bankrupt in 50 years. That sounds like a long time, but that means my 15-year-old granddaughter will probably never receive a penny of Social Security, regardless of how much she might pay into the system, unless things change.

Today, Social Security taxes are 12.4% - 6.2% from the individual, and an additional 6.2% from that individual's employer. If you're self-employed, or own your own business, you pay the full 12.4% yourself.

Here's the problem: the people drawing Social Security today are being paid from social security taxes collected today. There is no such thing as a "personal" account, except that the government calculates your "benefits" based upon how much you've paid into the system over your working life. That money isn't set aside, invested, or managed: it's spent as fast as it comes in. What isn't paid out in Social Security benefits is transferred to the General Fund, and spent. It's a Ponzi scheme, and another source of taxes Congress can use to satisfy its hunger for spending other people's money.

Social Security needs to be converted from a "pay as you go" system to a truly fully-funded investment-based retirement system. That's going to be expensive, but necessary. The sooner it's done, the less expensive it will be. The following is a suggestion on how that transfer could take place with the least amount of problems for everyone and at the least cost.

The current Social Security system collects 12.4% of income up to $90,000. None of the money is invested. I propose a system where, effective January 1, 2006, four things take place:

  1. Each person paying into Social Security will have 2% of their payroll taxes diverted to a fund that will be invested in US Government Treasury notes. This will be increased to 3% in 2009, and to 4% in 2013. Interest accrued by the notes will be split among all interested parties according to the amount they have in the fund. Maximum income levels on which Social Security will be calculated will increase to $94,000 in 2006, $97,000 in 2010, and to $100,000 in 2014.

  2. Beginning in 2008, 1% of the individual's Social Security taxes will be diverted into a fund in that individual's name used to purchase shares of no-load mutual funds in the individual's name, but held by the Government until retirement. All dividends earned by the individual's shares will be deposited to that individual's fund, and used to purchase more shares. The percentage of each individual's 12.4% Social Security taxes will be increased from 1% to 2% in 2012, and to 3% in 2014.

  3. Beginning in 2010, 1% of the individual's Social Security taxes will be diverted into a fund in the individual's name used to purchase shares of common stock from a list of firms provided by an independent agency. The individual will be allowed to select five stocks from the list to invest in. This amount will be increased to 2% in 2013, and to 3% in 2015. The individual will be allowed to increase the number of companies that he can buy stocks from up to 10 different companies in 2013, and to 25 in 2015.

  4. The individual may deposit additional money into his personal retirement account equal to the total amount paid in under Social Security, into each of the three accounts, beginning in 2008, and increasing with scheduled increases in Social Security diversions. The government will be allowed to charge a 1% surcharge on all transactions from funds deposited directly by the individual accountholder, and 0.25% for money diverted from Social Security withholding. The government will be required to live within this budgeted amount. No fees can be charged against the existing funds within an account, only on newly-deposited funds.

The remaining 2.4% paid into Social Security will be used to pay the offset covering current Social Security recipients and those receiving Supplemental Security Insurance (SSI) and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). The Government will impose a 1% sales tax that cannot be increased or extended on all items except food and gasoline to cover the payment of Social Security to those eligible to receive it while this conversion is taking place. Any moneys collected but not needed to meet current Social Security outlays will be deposited into a collective account in Treasury notes, mutual funds, and stocks until such time as they are needed. Once there are no longer any payments to recipients who are not fully funded under the new system, or whenever such funds in these trusts have reached the point where the fund is capable of meeting those expected payments, the sales tax will be discontinued.

In the long run, every person in the United States who works will have a government-managed retirement fund, 40% of which will be in US Treasury Bonds, 30% of which will be in Mutual Funds, and 30% of which will be in stocks of the individual's choice. The individual will also have the right to increase the cash value of each of these three retirment scenarios by individual contributions. No one who is currently drawing Social Security, or who is eligible to draw Social Security under the current system, will be denied any promised payments.

I'm sure this plan is practical, but only someone with a lot more information and some serious training in economics can say for sure. From my calculations, I can't see how this is any worse than any other plan anyone else has come up with so far, and IT WILL WORK for all of us. With individual accounts, people can borrow against their accounts in troubled times, and the accounts can be passed down to children and grand-children. The system can be a truly fully-vested plan, instead of a tax liability. The majority of the money invested will be earning additional money, instead of being transferred from one pocket of the government to another. Businesses will be capitalized, wealth will be created, and savings will be greatly expanded. Even more important, switching Social Security from a pay-as-you-go system to a personal retirement account will force the government to reduce the paperwork involved, cut expenses, and reduce the burden on the worker and his employer. The average citizen will truly become the owner of his retirement, accountable only to himself for creating it and maintaining it.

The "Vision" Thing

With President Bush in Europe, the world press is having a field day at his - and our - expense. The two biggest issues are Kyoto and the President's view that only representative government can assure peace.

Kyoto has been exposed as nothing but a whipping-boy to be used against American industrial success. The draconian restrictions the United States would be saddled with will do virtually nothing to change the world's climate, but would saddle American industries with enormously increased expenses, which would inflate the price of American goods to the point no one could afford to buy them, either in this nation or abroad. Each day more and more evidence comes to light that "global warming" is not anthropogenic (caused by man), but the result of fluctuations in solar output, and that such fluctuations have occurred hundreds if not thousands of times in the past. The Government of the United States wisely decided the evidence was incomplete and refused to commit economic suicide. The European world and its supporters are up in arms over our "intransigence". Their ploy to cripple the US economy didn't work, and they're angry at us for not being dumb enough to fall for their hype.

Europe, especially "Old" Europe, is also angry at us for insisting that the only way to ensure peace and stability in the world is to encourage the development of representative government in the nations of the world. This directly contradicts their standing that "things are better off with strong rulers in faraway countries". The Europeans believe they can continue to "deal" with the world's dictators, tyrants, and hereditary rulers. Part of this is historical prejudice - most of the nations of Europe were once governed by royal families, and many of them have had dictatorial governments of their own at one time or another. Another, major consideration against President Bush's ideas are just that they're HIS ideas, and not the idea of Europe. The majority of the elite in Europe hate our president simply because he's been successful - his ideas work better than theirs. Like spoiled children, they're angry that someone else has had a success they had no hand in.

The truth is, there are several things that MUST be in place in order for a society as a whole to succeed. One of those is the recognition of individual rights, and that those rights are "unalienable" - not something that the Government can grant or take away at its whim. European socialists hate such an idea - in their opinion, only GOVERNMENT is wise enough to exercise rights, and they in turn can 'grant' selected, limited rights to the governed. As the socialists in England, France, Germany, Italy, Greece, and the rest of Europe gain more and more power, they place more and more restrictions on the rights of the individual European. The European Constitution is an excellent proof of this.

Another MAJOR necessity for a successful society is recognition of the right to private property. Whether that property is a home, land, personal possessions, a business, or intellectual material, unless an individual can acquire and keep private property, they cannot prosper, and have no incentive to have children to pass that property down to. Any laws that restrict the acquisition of private property, and of bequeathing that property to heirs, will be counter-productive to freedom and wealth creation.

The final necessity is the establishment of freedom of religion. True worship cannot prosper unless it is devoid of state sponsorship, and has to stand on its own. The State cannot truly exist for the will of the people if it's tied to religious requirements. No religious denomination can avoid corruption unless it's faced with the challenge of standing on its own. Religion must exist to connect Man with God, not Man with the State, or Man with himself. That requires the freedom not only to worship as one chooses, but also NOT to worship. When Religion is state-sponsored, it merely becomes another bureaucracy of the State, and another means of opressing and controlling the population at large. Only those governments which allow the free exercise of religious preferences can provide equal service to all its citizens.

When individual and property rights are respected, when freedom to worship (or not) as one pleases exist, and where the rights of the people are protected by government, the people feel a sense of "ownership" of government itself, and commit themselves to supporting that government. Without the support of the people, and the oversight that the people exert upon governments, such entities tend to become corrupt, abusive, and disdainful of the rights of the individual. Economic growth can only occur when the people are assured that they will be able to keep the benefits they accrue through hard work. Contented citizens wish to protect their contented lifestyle, and are far less likely to go to war where they may lose the happiness and freedom they enjoy. Those who are deprived of the freedom to be contented, who are opressed and mistreated, will be willing to fight, especially if they think things will be better if they do. European governments have waged at least two major wars in the last 100 years (three, if you include the Cold War), while the contented, happy Americans have only waged war to preserve freedom and to oppose tyranny.

It appears to me that President Bush has discovered a major Truth, and Europe is the one that "just doesn't get it".

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Steven Baker is Still in Denial

Steven Baker's "explanation" of his editorial and the angry response he received from it from the Blogosphere only shows how deeply the denial runs:

Bloggers object to BW commentary

Lots of traffic this morning with critiques on my BusinessWeek commentary on blogs.

A blogger who goes by the name of John Beck, for example, says that I was too easy on CNN's departed news exec, Eason Jordan. His point was that the Jordan's initial statements on the coalition military, as reported, were far more inflammatory, and that it was only later that he backed off and said that the military wasn't targeting journalists, but instead killing them by mistake.

My larger question is this: In the interest of dialogue and communication, is it OK to venture unfounded opinions about sensitive subjects--including the military--and then amend them as the facts come in? Or do public figures have to do all their homework before opening their mouth, even in supposedly closed sessions? Seems to me that freedom of expression means, occasionally, the freedom to put your foot in your mouth.

The only problem with Mr. Baker's non-explanation is that he totally refuses to accept the possibility that this wasn't an isolated "foot in mouth" incident, but an apparent pattern of deception long engaged in by Eason Jordan. Mr. Baker continues to ignore the November 2004 incident in Portugal. Mr Baker's assertion that this was an "unfounded opinion" is ingenuous. Mr. Jordan reported not once, but twice, that US Military forces were deliberately capturing, torturing, and killing journalists in Iraq. Once is a goof. Twice is a pattern.

Secondly, Mr. Jordan didn't "amend his opinion" after receiving additional information. What he did was to try to weasel out of the consequences of what he said. That, more than what he said, is probably why CNN fired him. When you stand before two members of the US Congress and deliberately state an obvious falsehood, you're being more than foolish, and it's more than just "foot in mouth" disease, but something much deeper. It's pandering to those that hate the United States, and wish to destroy it. That's the "polite" term. In truth, it's considered aiding and abetting the enemies of the United States in a time of war, which translates to treason.

Saturday, February 19, 2005

Happy Anniversary, dear!

Today's my wife's and my 39th wedding anniversary. We were married February 19th, 1966, at the Air Force Academy Chapel. We were married by Chaplain (Colonel) William Shoemaker, whom I had gotten to know when I was a cadet, 18 month earlier. The chapel seats 990 people easily - we had 250 guests, and it looked empty! Only one of my classmates, Cadet Gregory Varhall, was there to witness this - for me - historical event.

Jean was a Denver girl. We met at the USO in Denver in late 1965, when the building was on Tremont Street, a block or so south of 16th Street. The YWCA building it was in was torn down during the 1980's. I was a lowely E-2, going to Air Intelligence training at Lowry, back when it was used for that purpose.

Jean was a "military brat", so she knew what she was getting into - sort of. She certainly knew more than I did! She at least knew about moving, and we did a LOT of that! We left Denver in March, 1966, for Enid, Oklahoma, and the 3575th Pilot Training Wing. We didn't stay there long, just long enough to buy a mobile home, start our family, and for me to get orders for Panama. Our daughter Mitzi was born in Aurora, Colorado, on November 6, 1967, while I was in Panama, 3000 miles away. Luckily the assignment was for only 18 months, and I returned to the US in December, 1968. During those 18 months, I attended three different schools, earned 78 semester-hours, visited too many countries to count, and grew up from a boy to a man. I also met some really SUPER people that I found myself sharing assignments with again and again during my Air Force career.

We lived in Alamogordo, New Mexico, from January, 1969, to August, 1970, while I was assigned to the 49th Tac Fighter Wing. Alamogordo was "interesting" in many new and different ways. We visited White Sands several times (it gets boring after about the fourth visit), the Petroglyphs State Park (which never got boring) more often, the Mescalero Indian Reservation, which is gorgeous, Sunspot, one of the most unusual solar observatories in the United States, Carlsbad Caverns, the Valley of Fires National Monument, Gran Quivera National Monument, a place I dearly love called Dog Creek Canyon, and dozens of other places. We took Jean's sister to Juarez, Mexico, with us on a shopping trip. She bought a sombrero, of course...

I went to Vietnam, and Jean moved to Colorado Springs for the year I was gone. We met in April, 1971, in Hawaii for R&R. My cousin, Bill Lefevre, set everything up for us, and we had an absolutely grand time.

My follow-on assignment from Vietnam was to Germany, and to one of the most unusual units in the Air Force. It's since been disbanded and its mission discontinued, but I'm still not permitted to discuss what we did, or how. It was INTERESTING, all caps, underlined, exclamation marks for about three pages. I met some really super people there, too, and met them again and again as our lives crossed back and forth like a woven tapestry.

Germany itself was a great change from either Panama or Vietnam, and was also new to my wife, whose only other trip outside the US was to the Philippines with her dad in the early 1950's. The "Trip of a Lifetime" that I'm writing about, and which I'll get back to soon, took place halfway through this tour. We also took a couple of bus tours with American Express. Those are interesting in their own way, as much for the experience as for what you see.

We went to Omaha, Nebraska, in 1975, and spent a year there. Jean and I wanted more children, and learned the only way we could do that was by adopting. It was rough for an E-5 to adopt a child in 1975, so we served our year and left the Air Force, heading back to Denver. I wanted to stay in the Reserves, and it took me a year to find a unit I could join. In the meantime, I went looking for civilian employment, and found several jobs that I could do, but which didn't last long for various reasons. We also became therepeutic foster parents for emotionally disturbed children through the Youth Behavior Program in Evergreen, CO. We had a total of six children through the program. We adopted the first one, our son Joe, when he was finally released.

The year 1980 was a disaster for us in many ways, but ended up right when I returned to Active Duty with the Air Force. Part of the disaster was the loss of one of our former foster-children in an automobile accident. That really devastated Jean, and it took her almost a year to recover. At least we were now back in to what for us were familiar surroundings - our second tour of Germany, and our second time to the city of Wiesbaden. No "trip of a lifetime" this time, but we did enjoy going places we hadn't been before, and seeing things that to us were new and different, including a bus tour to England in 1982.

We went to Shaw AFB, Sumter, South Carolina, from Germany. By this time, we knew our son had learning disabilities, and knew he needed special care. The level and intensity of the care he needed wasn't available in South Carolina, so after eight months, the Air Force moved us back to Omaha. We stayed there 18 months, then moved to RAF Alconbury, England, in 1986. In the meantime, I'd made E-7 at Shaw, and developed some new additional skills in my specialty.

England was wonderful! First of all, the only house we could find that would meet our growing needs (we'd added another daughter in 1985) was in Raunds, some 18 miles from Alconbury. It was an old, two-story farmhouse in the middle of 40 acres of pasture on the very edge of town. Secondly, I worked with a great bunch of people, and enjoyed going to work. Thirdly, we were accepted among the villagers in our town, and we managed to do things the ordinary Americans weren't a part of. My wife joined and became a trusted member of the local lacemaking guild. Mitzi and I worked on an archeological dig in our town as volunteers for almost a year. It was an hour by train or bus to London, and several other worthwhile places to visit were much closer. Our longest trip was to Birmingham, to a book fair. Jean even learned to drive on English roads!

Unfortunately for us, the unit I was assigned to in England disbanded after 18 months. We had a choice of going back to the States or going to Germany. We went back to Wiesbaden for the third and last time in July, 1987.

Joe's problems kept getting worse and worse, and forced us to return to the United States in November, 1989. By then, my physical problems were also getting worse. I had major surgery in 1990 for a 2-level cervical fusion. My dad died in December, 1990, and after that, I just wanted to retire. We left the Air Force in March, 1991, with almost 26 years active and reserve time behind us.

We bought a house in Colorado Springs in March, 1990 - the house we still live in. This is the longest that either Jean or I have ever lived in one place in our entire lives, and we have frequent bouts of "longing" to move. In the meantime, our oldest daughter married an airman she met in England, and we have a grand-daughter. Our son is (hopefully) in a place where he can finally be settled, and our youngest daughter is planning to get married this summer. Jean just started her 10th new job since we've moved here. Hopefully this one will be the last, as she's had to quit the last three due to health problems.

I can truthfully say that we're looking forward to an "empty nest" and the time to be alone together as we were that first year! We've shared a lot, we've spent so many hours together, and hope to spend a few dozen more years making memories as wonderful as those from the last 39 years.

Jean and I
at the
497th Recon Tech Group
Dining Out, 1982.

UPDATE: Today's also the wedding anniversary of Captain Ed and the First Mate over at Captain's Quarters Blog. Many happy returns, and a lifetime togehter sharing memories!

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

The WORD is "Accountable"

Kathleen Parker, in her latest column on Town Hall, issues a cautionary tale. It's well and good that she does, but it's a one-sided cautionary tale that doesn't quite fit the circumstances she mentions.

With the recent toppling of CBS's Dan Rather and now CNN's top news executive, Eason Jordan, I think we can declare without fear of contradiction that rigor mortis is settling over the carcass of the Fourth Estate.
I make this pronouncement without pleasure, and in fact, suggest that we're really witnessing a double funeral. One is for traditional journalism as the omnipotent gatekeeper of information. As bloggers - authors of Web logs - have gleefully pointed out the past several days, everyone with access to the Internet is now a journalist.

The Fourth Estate has been operating as a Fifth Column for several decades now, and there are quite a number of its members that need to be taken down. Newspapers, radio and television journalism, and news magazines still have a major role to play in acquiring, writing, editing, and presenting news. The big change is that they no longer have the freedom to present that news with their customary slant, or to refrain from mentioning anything that might bring adverse attention to what they write. They can no longer expect to get away with warping or twisting the truth, or to get away with telling outright lies. They also can't get away with defaming any group without having their facts checked, and if those facts are wrong - or as in the case of Eason Jordan, don't exist, being called to task for it. It's called "accountability". It's a marvelous concept that the Fourth Estate has been able to evade for decades.

Given the "instanaeity" of the bloggers' electronic encampment, known as the "blogosphere" - enabling real-time posting of news and commentary - newspapers and even broadcast media have become the news cycle's Sunday drivers.

As a longtime observer of the blog phenomenon - awed by the volcanic energy and talent that erupts by the nanosecond and flows without pause - I'm a fan. But I'm also wary of such unbridled power. For all their attractive swashbuckling and bravura, bloggers also can become a cyber-mob that acts, as mobs do, without conscience or restraint.

Please give me three examples of Legacy Media acting with legitimate conscience or restraint within the last month. Don't try to feed me a bunch of crap about something done to keep the legacy media from looking bad, or something to promote a political agenda (like the Media's love affair with Howard Dean), but something resembling true conscientious behavior on a media story, or restraint in delivering the dirt on anyone even remotely connected with the Republican Party or George Bush, religion, or conservative thought or behavior. I won't hold my breath.

Thus, the other funeral is, I fear, for our freedom of speech. Not the kind we once worried would be quashed by government jackboots, but the sort that restricts the very thing bloggers represent - the freewheeling, unfettered expression of thoughts and ideas without fear of censure. Or without the life-altering, career-busting personal demolitions we've witnessed recently.

I hate to bust your bubble, Kathleen, but there's NEVER been a period when people have exercised "the freewheeling, unfettered expression of thoughts and ideas without fear of censure", especially in public. Words have consequences, as does behavior, and even FAILING to act. There has never been a time in our history when one group hasn't attacked the ill-chosen words and deeds of others. The "Blogosphere" didn't bring down Dan Rather - Dan Rather's behavior brought him down. The Blogosphere merely pointed out that he was perpetrating a fraud in the midst of an election. CBS sealed the consequences by refusing to admit that they had been overzealous, and fell for a fraud.

Eason Jordan wasn't forced to resign because the Blogosphere hounded him from office, but because he made a stupid statement - one he'd made before, also in a foreign setting - and was called to account for it. Again, it wasn't the statement that caused his problems, but his refusal to acknowledge he'd made a gross mistake, and retract his words. The cover-up caused his problems, not the words themselves. The owners of CNN decided a man that went around making up stuff and accusing the US military of criminal behavior in a time of war wasn't worth keeping on their staff, even if he was a "respected name in television news". Howell Raines ended his career at the New York Times because he didn't keep Jayson Blair from making up stories. The Blogosphere discovered the truth, these people were held accountable for what they said, and they ended up resigning in disgrace.

Ward Churchill is a different case. The first outrage was over what he said. That called attention to him. That wasn't bad - he said a lot of things I and most other intelligent Americans couldn't agree with, but that was ok - he had the right to say them. The rest of us have the right to debunk what he says, and to tell him his words are rude and offensive, but that's not censorship - that's just response. The real problems for Churchill started when the Blogosphere forced attention on him and his past, and discovered that his the majority of his "history" was fabricated: he wasn't a Native American, his books and papers were not truly "scholarly", he made up a large portion of the "facts" he quoted, and he plagarized the works of others. He's now being held accountable for his words and deeds, and will probably end up being disgraced and forced to leave the University of Colorado and possibly even the teaching profession because of it.

By contrast, Jordan said something stupid, even indefensible, but his comments were in much different circumstances - during an off-the-record panel discussion at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. A couple of weeks later, following intense criticism, he resigned his post.

What Jordan essentially said, for those who were in orbit the past two weeks - or who rely strictly on mainstream media for information - was that the U.S. military had targeted journalists in Iraq, where some 36 journalists have been killed since 2003.

When challenged on the spot by members of the audience and other panelists, including U.S. Rep. Barney Frank, Jordan backed off. Although a transcript of the discussion has not been made available, Jordan's subsequent explanation was that he was trying to make the point that some journalists had died not as "collateral damage," but because of U.S. military carelessness, recklessness or some derivative thereof.
Maybe there's more to the story; maybe his star was already in descent and this was the excuse CNN had been looking for. Nevertheless, it's worth noting that most of us say dim things, especially in relaxed settings that are understood to be off the record, that aren't meant for global parsing.

Eason Jordan's problem was that he repeatedly used a lie - that American military troops were deliberately targeting, killing, and torturing journalists in Iraq - to curry favor with members of the European and Middle Eastern community who maintain a high level of anti-American sentiment. He said it at Davos in front of some pretty important people, including Barney Frank and Chris Dodd. He said something similar in Portugal at another meeting of important foreign dignitaries. He was accosted by people who demanded facts. He tried to stonewall, and it didn't work. The majority of the QUALITY people in the Blogosphere demanded that Jordan produce evidence to back up his claim (a reasonable request, IMHO), or issue a full retraction. He refused to do either. THAT, not the actual utterances, were what led to his "resignation".

Saying something stupid off the top of your head isn't career-killing; stonewalling, refusing to admit that what you said, and using undue influence to bury or distort your words, is. I respect any person with the integrity to admit they were mistaken, and who issues a sincere retraction and apology. Most Americans do.

The fact that the mainstream media didn't initially report Jordan's remarks probably has more to do with this recognition than with any attempt to protect fellow journalists, as was charged after a blogger broke the story. "Off the record" means you're allowed to say what you think with impunity and live to see your next paycheck.

Wrong. Lying with impunity used to be something people got away with, which is why they could continue to get a paycheck. It's also impossible for me to accept that anyone with an ounce of intelligence would accuse anyone of criminal behavior - and deliberately targeting journalists is criminal behavior - and believe that they could get away with it IN FRONT OF A US SENATOR AND A CONGRESSMAN, especially ones from the party out of power at the moment. That strikes me as monumental conceit, and a healthy dose of idiocy to boot. Your characterization of Eason Jordan's behavior doesn't match the facts that Michelle Malkin has unearthed from three very reliable sources.

Jeff Jarvis, who blogs at, told media critic Howard Kurtz of the Washington Post that "off the record" is dead. Jarvis, who also said he was after the truth, not Jordan's head, may be right. But as we expand the boundaries of speech - inviting all comers to the virtual newsroom and reporting every utterance without contextual distinction - we may find that we no longer feel free to speak freely.

If the accountability that the Blogosphere brings to the world - not just journalism but every facet of life - means that some people "no longer feel free to speak freely", then perhaps that's the price to pay to keep people like Dan Rather, Eason Jordan, Howell Raines, Jayson Blair, Ward Campbell, and hundreds of others from telling outright lies and perpetrating fraud without fear of contradiction.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

What's Wrong with Whirlpool?

I've been without hot water since Thursday, the 10th of February, because the pilot light on my Whirlpool hot water heater won't stay lit. One person told me it was a bad pilot light thermocouple. Another person said it was a bad gas regulator valve. A third said it was a problem with the internal gas burner. The one thing I did learn was that this is not an isolated incident. There are other discussions of the same problem here, here, and here.

This is the second Whirlpool hot water heater I've had in the last three years. There was a problem with the first one I bought in November, 2002, leaking. It was replaced with one manufactured in June, 2003, and installed in November, 2003 - that's the one I have now. Tomorrow, I'll get a third one (not my choice, but better than nothing). How long will it last? I'll let everyone know.

I did discover that "Whirlpool" hot water heaters aren't manufactured by "Whirlpool", but by US/Craftmaster Water Heater Company, 1100 E. Fairfield Avenue, Johnson City, Tennessee. The one we purchased was a 40-gallon, fast-recovery model, model number FG1H4040T3NOV. We purchased it through Lowe's, who also installed it. My complaint isn't with Lowe's however - in fact, Lowe's has gone out of their way to help. Whirlpool, on the other hand, has done nothing.

I discovered the water heater was out Thursday morning, Feb 10th, at about 10:30, Mountain Standard Time. This wasn't the first time the pilot light had gone out - we've been having problems for about three months now. Before, the pilot light would relight, and we'd get hot water. This time it didn't, even though I tried, off and on for about four hours. I tried calling the toll-free number on the hot water heater about 2:30 Thursday afternoon. That brought up the first problem. Whirlpool has an automated customer-service menu, and it's a pain in the neck, to be polite. When I finally got through, about 3PM, the telephone rang and rang - over 40 times - without anyone answering. I found out this afternoon (Feb 15) that their customer service is only open 9:00 AM to 4:00PM, Eastern Standard Time, Monday through Friday. That means that if I didn't call before 2:00PM, they were already closed.

I did try calling again Friday morning, around 9:30AM. The line was busy. I tried again three or four times during the day, up until about 5PM, Mountain time. Either the line was busy, or there was the automated menu that connected to a telephone that rang and rang without being answered.

I prefer doing business over the Internet than over the telephone. I have a hyperaccusis problem, which means sound causes me pain. Listening to a telephone ring 40+ times is very painful! Just to be on the safe side, I also found the Whirlpool Customer Service website, and sent them an email with all the pertinent information (model number, serial number, where I purchased the hot water heater and when, the problem I was having, etc. - everything necessary to open a work order and get someone to answer the service request). I got an autoresponder message back at 3:20PM, Mountain time, the same day - February 10th, from "Appliance Parts Pros" - NOT Whirlpool. Apparently they "outsource" their customer service. The message said that someone would respond within "one business day". That should have been Friday. Today is Tuesday, and I still haven't gotten an answer from Whirlpool/Appliance Parts Pros.

I also contacted Lowe's Thursday afternoon, because that's where I bought the hot water heater, and I was hoping they could do something for me. They gave me a different toll-free number, and suggested I call it. At least that time I got a person, who tried to connect me to Customer Service. Of course, they were already gone for the day, and all I got was a recording (after about 20 rings) that "there was no answer - try placing your call again".

I'm a retired Air Force NCO, and I have full privileges at military bases. My wife and I went out to Peterson AFB Sunday afternoon and took showers in the base gym, so we were able to at least get clean. I'm also a disabled veteran with a serious pain problem. I sometimes have days where I just don't function. Monday was one of those days. I did try to get more information about the hot water heater problem I had, and tried to contact a couple of plumbers to repair - at my expense - this problem. I got nowhere. Most plumbers don't maintain spare parts, and from what they told me, Whirlpool isn't terribly swift about shipping them. I can't verify that information - I've never requested parts from them, but there were three or four different plumbers that said the same thing, so I assume they know what THEY'RE talking about. I also learned that the problem could be any one of three or four different things, and the people I talked to couldn't tell until after they checked the hot water heater out for themselves. I also got estimates from $45 to $185 for repairs. This is a bad month for us - my wife's unemployment ran out the end of last month, and she just started a new job yesterday. It'll be the end of the month before she gets a paycheck. My retirement and disability cover the scheduled bills, but we've had to depend on her paycheck for food, gas, and any extras. The only way to pay for the repairs was to go further in debt, which we really are reluctant to do.

I gave Whirlpool until this morning to contact me (two full business days). They didn't. I contacted someone at Whirlpool at the executive level (a Mr. Thomas C. Filstrup, head of Investor Relations - the only email address I could find I thought might possibly get some results), who said he would contact Customer Service on my behalf. Nothing came of it. A friend of mine suggested I contact Lowe's corporate offices, to see if they could put pressure on Whirlpool to respond. Instead, Lowe's took it upon themselves to do what Whirlpool wouldn't. They've offered to replace the hot water heater (unfortunately, with one of the same model, since they don't carry any other brand). I'll still have to pay for installation, but that's better than having to pay the full bill.

The difference between Lowe's customer service and Whirlpool's blatant "we couldn't care less" attitude is astounding. Lowe's has gone out of their way, possibly at their own expense, to help out. Whirlpool has ignored, ignored, ignored. Lowe's customer service replied to my email message within 20 minutes with a message from a human being, requesting additional information. Whirlpool sent an autoresponder message, and ignored the problem. The local Lowe's manager got an immediate message from Corporate offices with instructions to "do whatever is necessary to satisfy this customer", while Whirlpool's response has been an empty silence.

I will never willingly buy another Whirlpool product. If there was a way I could afford to replace this hot water heater with another brand, I'd do it. While I'll never buy Whirlpool, Lowe's customer service has proven that they're truly committed to SERVICE, and they will continue to get my business in the future.

The Blog community has forced Dan Rather to retire, helped defeat a charlatan for President, outed Eason Jordan, and brought Ward Churchill and others to light. I think it's time we held others equally accountable, beginning with the folks at Whirlpool who don't understand the concept of "customer service" and the necessity of honoring warranty commitments. If you have a blog, please link to this story. Consumers need to be forewarned that some companies make promises they obviously have no intention of keeping.

I'd like to hear from anyone else who's had a problem with Whirlpool products, especially their 40-gallon fast-recovery hot water heaters. Either enter a comment or email me with your information.

UPDATE: Feb 15, 2005: 7:02PM, MST. Lowe's is installing a brand-new hot water heater tomorrow. If it hadn't been for a freezing drizzle/snowstorm since about 10PM last night making the roads resemble ice rinks, I'd have had hot water this evening. I still haven't heard from Whirlpool Customer Service, or anyone connected with them.

UPDATE: Feb 17, 2005: 3.35PM, MST. I had a hot bath this morning about 11:30, the first time I've been able to bathe in my own home in a week. Many thanks to the good people at Lowe's for being so considerate, and so generous! Thanks, too, to Tom Morgan of A Reliable Home Improvements of Colorado Springs, for the installation and service.

I still haven't heard a WORD from anyone at Whirlpool, or anyone associated with them.

Monday, February 14, 2005

Warning! Truth!

I'm not really a "journalist". I don't produce much (if any) that's "original" information. I don't think most bloggers are. Oh, occasionally one is in the right place at the right time to cover a story no one else has written about yet, but that's not often. That's not the number one reason most people blog. What bloggers do includes many things, one of the most important being they spread the word on stories that wouldn't normally get as wide a distribution without the attention of bloggers. While not everyone is interested in MY local news (such as this case of a domestic dispute climaxing in a murder-suicide), some things that happen in my town are interesting to the entire world. Blogs spread the word outside the local area.

Blogs also express different ideas about the same subject. Take two examples: Ward Churchill and Eason Jordan. Both are of interest to me because Ward Churchill preaches his gospel of hate in the University of Colorado system that I help support with my taxes. Eason Jordan "slimed" the US military, something that I have a deep interest in, being a military retiree, living in a military garrison town. My local newspaper, the Colorado Springs Gazette, covered the story fairly well, but only the blogs I read provided ALL the details, from a dozen different angles.

Blogs let us all "spout off". It's nice to get published in the "Letters to the Editor" section of the newspaper, but blogs give us the same option on EVERY issue, not just one or two that fall within the newspaper's space and editorial restraints. Blogs also cover more subjects, in more detail, than any newspaper or pure "news" website could ever do. As someone said, blogs are a distributive network of millions of people, each expert in something. I'd rather think of it as a million different individual intelligence agencies, each collecting, analyzing, editing, collating, and reporting information on any and every topic imaginable. Such close scrutiny acts as a fact checking and a fact verification process, a distributed news outlet, and an alternative source of education in daily life.

It's fun being a blogger. It's also worthwhile when bloggers can find and correct misconceptions, fraud, mis-statements, and downright exaggerations (John Kerry's Presidential aspirations, for example). Blogs serve a multitude of useful purposes, but just as in the mainstream media, those purposes require careful monitoring and constant self-correction. The Blogosphere does a much better job of that than the Legacy Media ever did!

Just Curious

I'm a stamp collector. I collect stamps from every nation that's ever issued them, in whatever quantity and quality I can get them. I'm always interested in stamps from different places, but stamps issued during periods of political unrest, military action and occupation, and provisional issues of provisional governments really fascinate me. One thing I've found unusual about the situation in Afghanistan and Iraq over the past three or four years is the lack of any definitive information about the postal systems of these two nations during this time of political, social, cultural, and economic unrest.

Stamps from Afghanistan were never embargoed, even during the Russian occupation. The Scott Standard postage stamp catalogue lists and pictures about 40 stamps issued between 1996 and 2002. There are no listings for stamps from 1989 through 1995. A Google search of "Afghanistan" and "postage stamps" turns up 17, 600 links, yet few of those discuss the period from 1989 through 2003. There's a UPU bulletin (#345) that states the stamps issued between 1989 and 2003 are "illegal". There's an interesting site on Geocities that's supposedly the Afghan Post's webpage. It features eight stamps issued by the "Transitional Islamic Government of Afghanistan". Are these genuine? Did they see postal service in Afghanistan? Is this the total output of the "Transitional" Afghan government? What's happening now that elections have been held, and a new government formed? What happened during the period 1989 and 2003, before these stamps were issued? How long will it take to find out?

There's not much more information on Iraq. Scott lists an importation prohibition for all Iraqi stamps after August 2, 1990, but lists stamps through February, 2003. A new issue, authorized by the Iraqi Provisional Authority was issued in January, 2004. What happened in between? What kinds of stamps will the new government produce when it finally takes power? A Wikipedia article reports "overprints appeared on various stamps, but none were officially authorized." There are many questions that still go unanswered, including an indication of how many stamps were issued, how many were destroyed, and how many used for other various purposes. Did the locals use some of the stamps of Saddam Hussein as targets of their anger? Did the Kurds use different stamps than the rest of Iraq for local use? Are there unrecognized "local" issues being used? Who knows! Maybe AskPhil will provide some updates soon...

One problem that will have to be dealt with is the listing of stamps as being "illegal", when they're issued by a former government, an occupying force, or by genuine revolutionary forces that control and operate postal services within territory under their permanent control. At the same time, stamps issued by non-governmental agencies, either for propaganda purposes or profit, need to be identified and treated with the appropriate disdain, both by collectors and dealers.

It will probably take a decade or more to get everything straightened out and the catalogues updated to reflect what's happened in these two countries. In the meantime, it's possible for someone to find a few real treasures - unauthorized overprints, locally-authorized overprints, and unusual usages of stamps from either or both of these countries.

Good days, Bad days

I'm a disabled Vietnam veteran. I've never been wounded, and I didn't have a Purple Heart among the seventeen or eighteen awards and decorations I wore when I retired. My problems are the result of doing everything I could to accomplish the job I had to the best of my abilities, some unusual genetic inheritance, and just plain bad luck. I have three basic problems that make it difficult to do a lot of things: a bad back from chin down, damage to my hearing resulting in tinnitus (ringing in the ears) and hyperaccusis (pain from noise), and near-constant pain and headaches from the other two problems. Like a lot of such problems, some days are better (or worse) than others. Those conditions affect my thinking, and my posting, and my readers need to be aware of that. That's why there are sometimes several days between postings, then several postings all at once.

I Must Be the Richest Man in the World

Every day I get at least ten notifications that I've won this or that lottery (mostly in Europe), that people want to give me millions of dollars, and that I am "everyone's favorite friend". Of course, all these lottery "winnings" are about as false as John Kerry's Kourage, and every one of those people that "love" me so much really just want the keys to my checking account. If they knew how busted that account is, they'd find some other fool to bother, but that's another story.

Unfortunately for the spam artists, I've lived in Europe, and know how the lottery systems work there. I've won (and lost) a few marks in the German lottery, and I've read stories in local papers in England about lottery winners and losers. I know that "you can't win if you don't play", and I know the odds of winning are stacked against the majority of those that actually DO play.

It would be nice to win a million dollars, or even a few hundred. It gets tough to make it through the rest of the month after all the bills are paid on the 1st. I spent 26 years in the military, and that makes all the difference for us. My military retirement and my VA disability pay all my fixed bills, and leave me a couple of hundred dollars left to make it through the month. That's never enough, but somehow we make it each month. God always provides, sometimes in the most unusual ways. God never provides a LOT of money, but there's always enough, if you have faith and believe that He will provide - and don't spend what you don't have.

Friday, February 11, 2005

There is NO Right Not To Be Offended

I've been a history buff for more than 40 years. I read "The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich" while most of my classmates were still reading "Hardy Boys" and "Nancy Drew". I've not only read the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, but I've studied the Federalist Papers and Anti-Federalist Papers, the biographies of most of the "Founding Fathers", and a large number of their other papers. I've never found anything in all those words that mentioned a right NOT to be offended.

Others must have found such a right, however. Michael Knight, a student at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas writes: "I just couldn't believe he took something like that and generalized it," said Knight, a recent UNLV graduate who received his Bachelor of Arts in Economy with a minor in Management. "I was shocked." .. Knight added that he felt Hoppe should go through mediation and sensitivity training so that in the future, he could avoid offending anyone else.

I find many things offensive, both in ordinary life and on the Web. I don't demand that people get "sensitivity training and mediation". I'm an adult - I can understand that some people have ideas different than mine, and that their ideas can and frequently are offensive. I'm sure I offend others. My response is, "That's life - get over it or get out of it".

We are human beings. Each of us is unique, and has a relatively unique outlook on life. We see things, interpret things, and hold beliefs based upon our history and where and what we've been to the point where we are today. We're not robots, all constructed exactly the same way. The diversity of individual thought, the uniqueness of individual response to stimulus, is what makes us human. Any attempt to suppress that behavior is an attempt to force intellectual sterility upon humanity, and should be seen as the tyranny it is. That's why "political correctness" is the most tyrannical aspect of existence inside the academic arena today.

The Dawning of the Age of Accountability

The Blogosphere has scored another victory, this time with the resignation of Eason Jordan, "News Director" of CNN. If I were a member of the "Legacy Media", especially if I were a high-ranking member, I'd be doing some serious thinking - and some heavy perspiring!

What happened to Eason Jordan also happened to Dan Rather, but CBS wasn't willing to hold Dan accountable, and push him out the door. The same thing happened to John Kerry's 2004 presidential campaign when he ran afoul of the Swift-Boat Veterans for Truth, and the truth about his Vietnam service record. Right now, Ward Campbell, "ethnic studies" professor at the University of Colorado in Boulder, is facing the same type of grilling, and likely to suffer the same fate.

Christine Gregoire is sitting in the Governor's Mansion in Washington State right now, but that may not last. People are digging every day into the wacky maze of situational ethics in politics that seems to pervade certain parts of the state, and there's an excellent chance the election will be overturned. People are going to jail for voter fraud and other election chicanery in a dozen states. Another dozen investigations continue.

If you're in the public eye, or if you attract public attention, you can't afford to lie. There's a watchdog out there, and it demands to know the truth. It will hold anyone and everyone to account not only for their words, but their deeds. Unless you're a scrupulously honest person, you have a reason to sweat! There's nowhere to hide from the Blogosphere.

The new Citizen Journalists are watching - millions strong, knowledgeable in hundreds of specialties, capable of spotting discrepencies, fraud, and mis-statements. Accountability is rapidly becoming king. How many more heads will have to roll before the rest of the nation wakes up to the truth?