John Bolton explains travel ban’s rationale

Bolton discusses Trump travel ban
I have yelled at John Bolton on numerous occasions before (well, at the TV anyway). I am not a big supporter. He’s a Republican, after all. So please understand this perspective from the get-go as I post this.

That being said, I was tracing certain political contributions this morning and wound up on this site: John Bolton PAC. I read the article. Here, in a few brief words, he has for the first time (to my thinking) made some bit of sense out of restricting travel to the U.S. from certain specific countries.

In the opening paragraph: “Either they [the countries included in the ban] don’t function as governments like Libya, Somalia, and Yemen, in which case they can’t possibly supply credible information about people claiming to come from their country, or they’re places like Syria and Iran where I wouldn’t trust what they say anyway.”

I agree with this. I also agree with his closing statement, that “[The ban] shows a structural defect in the transition because much of this was done in the White House without cabinet secretaries and key departments…”

If Trump would listen to intelligent people from outside his enclave, people who actually have experience in the areas he’s focusing on, he could begin to play a credible role in setting the direction for the country over the next four years. Further, if he would take his presumed role as everyone’s president seriously, and not just the president to his cronies, and actually tried to engage with people outside of his immediate sphere of influence, people who may not at all be on the same page as him, it would go a long way toward healing some of the divides that he himself has instead fomented.

His refusal to take these steps or to proceed in a disciplined manner is at the core of my personal resentment and resistance toward everything he has done so far. In international politics as well as domestic affairs, our culture has advanced so far beyond “throwing it against the wall to see if it sticks,” we simply can’t tolerate the President of the United States utilizing this caveman-like “method.” It’s at best an ineffective waste of time, and at worst a total disaster, bringing key systems, relationships, functioning processes and operations grinding to a halt while he figures out that what he thought would work wouldn’t work, didn’t work, and can’t work.

The sad truth about drone warfare

Predator droneI’d like to comment on one aspect of an article that appeared recently in The Independent. To do that, I’ll start with a telling quote regarding the use of drones: “They’re the worst form of warfare in the history of the world, except for all the others.

The article in question is a guest editorial in The Independent, by Malik Jalal, titled, “I’m on the Kill List. This is what it feels like to be hunted by drones.

I am not a militarist, as a general rule. And I’m not particularly fond of things flying overhead that can drop bombs or fire missiles at those on the ground. Hell, I don’t even like traffic copters hovering overhead.

Regarding drones, though… their opponents often adamantly decry drone warfare for the fact that for every viable target, 9 or 10 more people invariably end up being killed as well. But they’re not so adept at stating what the military alternative is. I’m not talking about what the political alternative might have been. We’re past that. I’m saying, if the decision is made that some kind of brute force method must be applied to a particular situation, what’s it gonna be?
Agreed, taking out 10 people for every viable target really sucks. But consider traditional warfare. How many people did the U.S. (and most of the Western World) want to “take out” in WWII? One: Adolf Hitler.

That’s not completely fair, because there were probably 10 top targets who needed to be eliminated in order to arrest Germany’s actions. Himmler, Eichmann, Goebbels, etc.

The overall losses of human life in WWII – the costliest ever – were around 75 million. Estimates vary. Military deaths alone were estimated at about 25 million. Non-military, civilian deaths due to direct military action and “crimes against humanity” were approximately 30 million.

Focusing on the latter number, not even taking into account the staggering number of people who lost their lives due to famine and disease during the war – just the 30 million innocents killed as a direct result of the war – means that the cost was 3 million “bystanders” for each one of those “top 10” targeted leaders of the Nazi regime.

The simple and unpleasant truth is, the ratio of collateral deaths and injuries per strike in drone warfare is several orders of magnitude less than in traditional warfare. Until there is a way to either make warfare disappear, or to make the available strategies even more precise than they already are, we’re going to continue to see drones used to launch campaigns against hostile targets.

Any unnecessary loss of life is tragic. But drones kill far fewer people than other methods currently known and used.

Save yourselves! No, really – save yourselves!

Slow sand filtration schematic

Slow sand filtration schematic

Don’t get me wrong – I very much care about health and living conditions in the more remote reaches of the globe. But I’m getting tired of seeing the PSA messages on TV where the teary-eyed children are shown collecting putrid water which, so the story goes, is all they have to drink. Enter well-intentioned white people who, through a charitable organization funded by similarly inclined people, are going to show up and save the day.

Really? There have been bio filtration methods available since the early 1800s* (and primitive forms of sand filtration even existed in ancient times!). You don’t have to be well-educated to look at nasty water and know that it’s nasty. Assuming that a community did not just spring randomly out of the soil, but was established in a particular spot, what reason would there be to establish it there? The presence of water would be a top one. If the water wasn’t very good, would the people of the community really not be able to figure out for themselves that it needed to be purified? Would no one among them be aware of any development anywhere else in the world that might offer a tenable solution to the problem?

There’s a big problem today with missionary zeal. In her book, “Dead Aid,” Dambisa Moyo writes, ‘Aid has been, and continues to be, an unmitigated political, economic, and humanitarian disaster for most parts of the developing world.’ In short, it is (as Karl Kraus said of Freudianism) ‘the disease of which it pretends to be the cure.’

We need to get our New World sensibilities turned around so that, if anything, we’re helping others to figure it out for themselves. We can’t always just be about raising enough money to solve other people’s problems. We keep trying to maintain the illusion that we’ve got it all sorted out and we’re so ahead of the game that we don’t even have problems of our own. We go out and “solve” these remote problems, instilling a bit of the “American Way” out there. Once they derive the benefit, others soon believe they want to be like us, and eventually there’s a McDonald’s in the middle of Vanuatu.

If that’s what we really want the world to be, if that’s really the best idea we can come up with, then yeah, we’re on the right track. On the other hand, if we maintain that diversity is a good and necessary thing on a global-macro scale, then we have to stop rushing to fill the void whenever and wherever one materializes. There are more organic processes that can solve problems, over time, that offer more lasting improvement at less expense to the individuality of the community, and these I think are what we should be striving to promote and maintain.

If a community truly can’t solve its problems on its own, even over a certain period of time, sure, let’s send some help. Sometime however that help may be nothing more than a simple diagram, or a manual, on how to produce a slow sand filtration system, say, rather than raising millions of dollars to go there and create an advanced and energy-consuming system that would dramatically change the focus of the people’s lives.

We don’t always need mega-solutions. We have to get out of that mindset. “Small is Beautiful” is not just a slogan, or a book title. It’s a key to having a future worth having.

[* See Biosandfilter.org for the reference]

China’s Jaiozhou Bay Bridge shows bad politics not just a U.S. feature

The Jiaozhou Bay Bridge – longest water-crossing bridge in the world – was built at a cost of between US$1.5BN and US$8.8BN, depending on who you listen to. Either way, that’s a lot of money.

The bridge was built to shorten the travel time from Qingdao and Huangdao by roughly 19 miles, theoretically shortening travel time by 10-20 minutes.

That’s in theory. In actuality, however, there’s a toll of 50RMB (about US$8.00) each way, making the cost prohibitive for most. Making matters worse, there are only three toll booths on the Huangdao side, adding as much as an hour wait time to the trip.

In terms of its stated purpose, then, the bridge is completely useless to commuters and tourists.

You can’t make this stuff up. Tax dollars at work. It’s nice to know that it’s not just the U.S. that has wrong-headed self-serving politicians in office. I guess.

Most advanced cyber threat ever seen, created by…

This article is divided into two sections. First, the informational section, laying out the subject in terms of what it is, what it’s used for, what its potential impact is. The second part is our editorial comment on the subject.

Informational section

Flame, also known as Flamer and sKyWIper, is a recently discovered modular computer malware that attacks computers running the Microsoft Windows operating system.

Flame can spread to other systems over the LAN or via USB sticks, and can record audio, screenshots, keyboard activity and network traffic. The program also records Skype conversations and can turn infected computers into Bluetooth beacons which attempt to download contact information from nearby Bluetooth-enabled devices. Continue reading

Who’ll save Syria from the Syrians?

Many articles are circulating in the press about the Syrian conflict, and China and Russia’s refusal to allow the UN to intervene. I’ve read some of them, and then I decided to look up some statistics on our own Civil War (1861-65). Here are the casualty results of some of the most costly battles fought, all of which were in the Spring of 1864:

The Wilderness, May 5-7: 17,666
Spotsylvania, May 10 and 12: 10,920
Drewry’s Bluff, May 12-16: 4,160
Cold Harbor, June 1-3: 12,000
Petersburg, June 15-30: 16,569

Big Note: These are the “Federal” side only. Statistics for the Confederate side are lost. It’s likely that there were more Confederates lost, as their all-war average was 150 wounded per thousand engaged, as opposed to 112 for the Federal soldiers. (Statistics were pulled from a “random” website, http://www.civilwarhome.com/casualties.htm. Other sources exist which roughly parallel these figures.)

The real point of this is not the statistics. It is this: war sucks. A lot of people die or are wounded in battle. Civil wars are particularly devastating because it is often family member against family member. And outsiders, well-intentioned citizens of other countries, cannot really jump in and make any sense out of it without having lived intimately with the situation. We can all have our theories about what should be done, about who’s right and who’s wrong.

While I personally feel that Russia and China did the wrong thing in blocking the UN’s intervention, should we really have sent our soldiers – our own precious young men and women – over there to fight their battles? Wrong though their government may be – and I do think that their government is extremely wrong – is that necessarily our role?

That’s a question without an easy answer.

What are your thoughts?

Imagining representative government…

Imagining representative government…

Think about it. How many times have you heard that some particular government action – while right-thinking and in the best interest of the largest number of people – would nevertheless be “political suicide” for anyone sponsoring or promoting it.

Imagine if we had a true REPRESENTATIVE government, with people like you and me, taking a brief time out from our careers, to represent our brothers and sisters in the House and Senate and in local and state governments. Imagine if there were no career politicians, thereby eliminating the very possibility of political suicide.

Imagine if we truly had the type of government that our “founding fathers” envisioned. Imagine what could be accomplished! Continue reading