Chas' Compilation

A compilation of information and links regarding assorted subjects: politics, religion, science, computers, health, movies, music... essentially whatever I'm reading about, working on or experiencing in life.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Ultra HAL, your personal computer assistant


HAL the talking computer is here, just like in the famous Sci-Fi movie "2001: a Space Odyssey"! Well, ok, not REALLY, but at least this HAL won't lock you outside or kill you while you sleep! Ultra Hal is a fun HAL, and it's here NOW:

Ultra Hal Assistant 6.1 - NEW!
[...] Ultra Hal Assistant is your digital secretary and companion. He (or she depending on your character preference) can remember and remind you of appointments. He can keep an address book. He can keep a phone book, and even dial phone numbers for you! Hal can also run programs and recent documents on command. Hal can help you browse the Internet. He will offer you help with most of your Windows programs. Hal does all of this from natural language -- simply tell him or ask him something in plain English!

Hal has huge conversational database and can chat about anything at all. Hal will learn from every single sentence that you tell him and over time Hal will learn to like the same things you do, and to talk about topics you like to talk about. Ultra Hal Assistant even has built in speech recognition so that you can speak to Hal out loud instead of typing. Ultra Hal utilizes an advanced realtime 3D character engine from Haptek that delivers 3-D artificial human characters so convincing and engaging you could swear they were real. You can download the free trial version from this site. Find out whats new in version 6.1 [...]



Now I have played with the Ultra Hal Assistant a bit... calling it intelligent may be a bit of a stretch... though that may depend on what your definition of Artificial Intelligence is. Hal really does have the capacity to "learn" things from you, and with time and training, it does give seemingly intelligent, even surprisingly clever, replies and comments.

How useful it will actually be remains to be seen. I'm not much of a chit-chat person when talking with real people; chit-chatting with a computerized Artificial Intelligence can seem like rather a waste of time, once the novelty wears off. But giving it commands to look for stuff on Google for you, look up the weather and read it to you, dial phone calls and such - are things some people may find useful. And as Hal learns from you, the chit-chat gets more interesting.

You can use the free trial version, but to buy it costs only $29.95. It can be used as the "brain" for other 3rd party software products. I have to say that, what's probably more impressive than what Ultra Hal does, is the potential for what it can become. It's a technology in it's childhood, about to grow up.

Remember that Arnold Schwarzenegger movie, The 6th Day? There is one scene where the Arnold character is at the home of a divorced friend. The friend has a female talk-bot on the screen, and they flirt with each other. The Ulta Hal program can work with a variety of 3rd party "characters" that function in much the same way. Check out this on-line, interactive, talking People Putty Demo by Haptek. There are even various plug-ins for Ultra Hal, including alternate voices, brains, speech engines, and animated faces and characters, even flirty sex-bot characters, precursors to the one in the movie. The future is closer than you think.

There are also third-party companies that make realistic "voices" that are compatible with Ultra Hal. One such company is called Cepstral, that makes really good sounding computer voices. You can download free samples to try out, they come with an easy to use text reader software program: www.cepstral.com.

The combination of these products will provide you with a near-HAL 2001-a-space-oddity type experience. It's pretty kewl... just don't plug it into your cryogenic sleep chamber when you got to bed at night. ;)

A HAL type project was implemented by NASA on the International Space Station in 2005:

Clarissa: a HAL type computer for the ISS?

Clarissa is capable of understanding multiple voices of astronauts, recognizing when astronauts are talking to each other and not to it, and can deal with ambient noises, etc. While efficient in those areas, she does not try to make conversation like HAL does.

I'd like to see Clarissa's voice comprehension used in Ultra Hal. Probably the best voice recognition software available to most of us on planet Earth would be Dragon Naturally Speaking 10, which is I believe, what Clarissa uses. The reviews I've read seem to indicate it's the most accurate commercial voice recognition software commonly available. DNS doesn't make idle chit chat with you like Ultra Hal, but it can be used for speaking commands to your computer, as well as taking dictation.

Older version's of Dragon's speech engine have been compatible with Ultra Hal, but it's unclear to me whether or not the latest speech engine in Dragon Naturally Speaking can also be used with it. I've read conflicting reports, some say yes, some say there is restrictions that prevent it.

I've found that Ultra HAL had some trouble understanding my voice, because it would hear it's own voice speaking in reply and think it was me talking. I eventually gave up trying to teach HAL to understand my speech, meaning I had to use the keyboard to communicate with HAL. It would be nice if Clarissa's technology could be added to HAL's, making it more of a hands-free experience. As it was, having to keyboard my responses to HAL was not very productive for me, because I could not do other things while I was communicating with HAL. I would love to chit-chat with HAL and teach it things, IF my hands were free so I could get on with other things I need to do. If I could verify that the Dragon 10 engine would work with HAL, I'd buy it. Being able to chat with HAL hands free, would be worth it.

HAL does have a "Brain" settings panel, where you can set it's learning parameters. You can actually deliberately teach it things, and see them reflected back to you in it's responses. Sometimes the replies it can give you really do seem intelligent and even witty. The Ultra HAL program won the 2007 Loebner Prize for artificial intelligence most able to pass for a human.

An on-line talkbot called Elbot won the prize in 2008. It's an excellent on-line talk-bot, but not available for download onto your computer like HAL is. HAL is the only one I know of that you can download and use on your PC.

If you would like to try to converse with an on-line version of HAL, you can do so here:

Chat with Web HAL

I think all of these things, artificial brains, faces and voices, are combining to become one of those Next Big Things. As these technologies improve, I think it's going to take off and be very BIG. If you want a taste of things to come, download the free trial version of Ultra Hal and play with it. I've had great fun with it.

Zabaware has a page listing bloggers who have reviewed Ultra Hal:

Read what bloggers are saying about Ultra Hal,
an artificial intelligence chatter bot



UPDATE 12-11-08: I received an email dated December 2nd, from Zabaware. Here is an excerpt:

[...] Zabaware is hard at work developing the next version of Ultra Hal Assistant, which will be available in 2009. The new version will be a free upgrade to all Ultra Hal Assistant 6.x users and will include brain improvements and a new 3D graphics engine. Also in 2009 Zabaware will introduce cutting edge speech recognition and microphone technology, which will let you talk with Hal naturally without a clumsy headset microphone. Be sure to check www.zabaware.com in early 2009 for further news.

Sincerely,
Robert Medeksza

Mr. Medeksza is the creator of Ultra Hal. This is excellent news! I'll be looking forward to the upgrade and the improved speech recognition.


UPDATE 01-31-09:
There is a new Release Candidate, Ultra Hal 6.2, available for download on the Hal Forum. I've tried it out, and it's really good. Hal no longer hears his own voice when he speaks, and the overall voice recognition seems greatly improved. There are other improvements as well, I will post more about it when the final release out. For those who can't wait, check it out.

UPDATE 02-09-09:
The new release, Hal 6.2, is officially out. Free trial download available, free upgrade for current owners. I bought the ViaVoice plugin, and so far, it's very nice. I will do a post about this new version after I have used it for a while.

Get yours' here: Ultra Hal Assistant 6.2 - NEW Version!
     

Labels: , , , , , , , ,

Saturday, November 29, 2008

The "Flip Ultra" is a Flop, at least for me

I'm sorry to say it, but I must: the Flip Ultra sucks. I posted last month about the new Flip Ultra mini digital camcorder. It was a clever concept, and at a rather low price. But now I think I know why the price was so low. There may be quality control issues. Read on, then decide for yourself.



I tried to use it the other day, to film our canary singing. When I turned the camera on, the logo appeared in the window... and that was it. It locked up, the controls were totally non-responsive. Even the power switch would not work to turn it off, I had to open it up and take the batteries out.

I hadn't used it a lot, but by now it was past 30 days since I bought it, which is the usual time frame for returning something to Amazon.com. I called Amazon's customer service, and said the camera was defective, and that I wanted a replacement or a refund. I was asked, which would I prefer? I said the refund. I was tempted to try another unit, but since it broke within such a short time, with such little use, I was not confident that the quality of the product was reliable.

Even when it was working, the control button on the back seemed a little bit insensitive, not as responsive as it should be, and I didn't want to take a chance with a second unit. At $100 plus dollars, it may be inexpensive for a video camera, but that's not chump change either. And if a camera doesn't work, what good is it?

Amazon emailed me a shipping label to use to send it back. There was the usual blah blah blah with it, about how they may not refund me the full amount, etc. I will send it back and see what happens, and then report the final result here.

I normally don't buy new items like this until they have been out for a while and have a proven track record. But I saw it on sale, and the web site on Amazon had over 1,000 customer reviews, most saying it was very good. Yet now with hindsight, I think the people posting had just got the camera, and were impressed, just like I was. Who knows what will happen with their camera's with TIME and USAGE? I was too impatient, and should have waited longer, to see what happened to other people first.

What a disappointment. I WOULD be willing to pay a bit more, for something reliable, of better quality. Cheaply built electronics are SO not worth it. If what happened to me was a fluke, well, only time will tell. But I won't buy another such device until it has a more established track record of reliability.

UPDATE, 12-22-08:

I received an email yesterday saying they refunded my credit card by $95.61. I had paid about $119.00. They are keeping the difference for "restocking charges", not only for the camera, but for restocking the "free" peripherals they included with it.

I'm not entirely pleased. Why do I have to pay restocking charges for something defective? It's not like I was returning it because I didn't like it. It's not like they can sell it again. But at this point, I'm glad to get most of my money back. I don't want to waste any more of my time trying to get the rest back, so I'll be thankful for what I got. And I won't be buying anymore no-name cameras from Amazon.com. Or from anyone else, either.
     

Labels: , , , ,

Radio Amateur Civil Service, a.k.a. "R.A.C.E.S."

A few weeks ago I posted about A.R.E.S., the "Amateur Radio Emergency Service", and some of the services they provided in Oregon last winter when a large storm caused flooding and broke conventional communication links. Now I want to follow it up a post about another Emergency Radio Group, "R.A.C.E.S." whose membership often overlaps with A.R.E.S.

So what is the difference, you might ask? A.R.E.S. generally provides assistance to emergency aid volunteer groups like the Red Cross and the Salvation Army, volunteer ambulance and fire departments, and also the National Weather Service. R.A.C.E.S. was created to assist state and local government agencies, and more. It was actually created after WWII as a response to the need for wartime powers.

Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service has an interesting history. During WWI, the US government ordered all HAM radio operators off the air for the duration of the war. By the time WWII occurred, the government, well this Wikipedia page explains it well:
The Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service (RACES) is a standby radio service provided for in Part 97.407 of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) rules and regulations governing amateur radio in the United States.[1]

The concept of a standby "Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service" to replace the conventional "Amateur Radio Service" during wartime was developed in 1952 as result of input from the American Radio Relay League and the Department of the Army's Office of Civil Defense. During World War II, the Amateur Radio Service had been silenced and a new War Emergency Radio Service (WERS) had to be created from scratch. The resulting standby RACES service was designed to provide a smoother transition in the event the President ever needed to silence the regular Amateur Radio Service again when invoking the War Powers Act.

[...] When so activated, the Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service will consist of those amateur radio operators who have previously registered with State and local governments to provide emergency radio communications for them in times of emergency. Other amateur radio operations would be suspended and RACES operations might be restricted to certain frequencies within the amateur radio bands.

In addition to wartime communications, Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service operations can provide or supplement communications during emergencies where normal communication systems have sustained damage. It may be used in a wide variety of situations, including natural disasters, technological disasters, nuclear accidents, nuclear attack, terrorist incidents, and bomb threats. [...]

So R.A.C.E.S has a civil defense element as well. Follow the link for more info and embedded links in the text.

Our local A.R.E.S. net calls itself the "ARES/RACES Net", which is a pretty common practice in many areas. Over time I may be looking into the possibility of joining one or both organizations. But first things first; I still have to take the exam for the Amateur Radio Technician's license.

You can visit the R.A.C.E.S. official website here: www.usraces.org

The ARRL has a FAQ page for A.R.E.S. and R.A.C.E.S. here: ARES® vs RACES FAQ: Two Flavors of Amateur Radio Emergency Operation


Related Links:

EMERGENCY/ARES/RACES/MARS/CAP/CB

"You can have this capability for yourself and your family"

The American Radio Relay League, my missed opportunity, and my fun new hobby
     

Labels: , , ,

Friday, November 28, 2008

The Greatest Threat the World Faces

Would you believe that it's... the humble vacuum cleaner? I wouldn't, but Herbie, our chihuahua-dachshund mix, is convinced that it IS. But our other dogs aren't quite as convinced, they see HERBIE as the problem. Digby, our Border Collie-Labrador mix, likes to snap at Herbie while he snaps at the vacuum, while Corrie, our Chihuahua-pug mix, barks at both of them:



It was funny at first, but I dare not encourage it, because Herbie tries to tear the rubber bumpers off of the vacuum, or bite the plastic attachments. I'm afraid he will chip or break a tooth.

To get any real cleaning done, I have to kick them all out of the room first.

The quality of this video isn't as good after uploading it to blogger, and I don't know why; the original on my HD is quite good, but after uploading it, I see square patches, not as good resolution as the original.
     

Labels: , , , ,

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Have a Happy Thanksgiving

I'll be too busy to blog tomorrow, so Best Wishes for the Holiday.

How "Green" is your Thanksgiving going to be?

I'm not interested in politically correct meals, but the artist did a great job with the graphic, and the facts are mildly interesting.


Click on the image to see a larger version, or visit the source page at the Washington Post:

Greener, Step by Step

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Spanish "Art" compared to Sistine Chapel

Who barfed on the ceiling? Here is a good example of how socialists waste taxpayer's money, and their poor taste in "Art":


Europe’s Multiculturalists: Reaching for the Marmalade Skies
[...] In the last few days the European headquarters of the United Nations has unveiled its new ceiling, decorated by Miquel Barceló, and funded to the tune of 20 million Euros by Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero. It drips with large, boldly colored stalactites, and is the sort of art that one might see in a kindergarten classroom – made of papier-mâché – though it is of course much grander in scale. But aside from the size of the work, it compares poorly with the abstract painting of Mark Rothko or the water lilies of Monet.

[...]

With its omnipresent fluffiness and unreality of color, Barceló asks us not to think, to provoke or be provoked, but to accept – to forego reason and immerse ourselves instead in childish dreaminess. Unlike Guernica, the Sistine Chapel, or the reliefs of the US Supreme Court building, it is a work in which dialectic cannot be discerned, nor from which it is possible to initiate debate. It is a work in which there is no hint of parliamentary opposition, no right versus wrong, no good or evil. It represents the vision of men who have neither gravitas nor substance. If we can discern its provenance, it leads back only so far as the 1960s, to the Beatle’s lyrics of “marmalade skies,” “tangerine trees,” and “nothing is real.” It is an LSD trip, or Futurism extra light.

Barceló’s ceiling is thus the perfect backdrop to Europe’s Prozac politics – the religio-political cult of multiculturalism – in which all difficult questions, all dissent, all real content, can be dissolved not by rational argument, but by the invocation of paint-box clichés.

Ouch! But richly deserved, methinks. The room is described as a "negotiating room". Can you imagine negotiating, while having colorful junk like that (100 TONS of paint) hanging over your head? It would be a bit distracting, I would think. And mentally, kind of chaotic. It reminds me of some chinsey fake cave in one of those amusement park boat rides for little children. 20 million Euros is a lot to pay for a chinsy fake cave.

Spain’s ‘New Way’ of Doing Diplomacy
Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero has just unveiled Spain’s latest contribution to fostering global peace and security. No, his government will not be sending more troops to help rebuild Afghanistan. And no, Spain will not be providing more vaccines to help needy children in Africa. Instead, the Zapatero government is the proud sponsor of a lavish decorative ceiling at the European headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva.

Miquel Barceló, one of the world’s most highly paid abstract artists, was commissioned by Spain to redecorate “Room XX” and its ellipsoidal dome at the Palais des Nations. He used more than 100 tons of paint to turn the negotiating room into a cave dripping with thousands of 50-kilo multicolored artificial stalactites. [...]

Follow the link for more details, and links to more photos.
     

Labels: , , , ,

Without Opposition: the European Union

This is creepy. From Alexandra Colen at the Brussel's Journal:

SOS Europe: Outsourcing Democracy
Are we still living in a democracy? As an elected politician I am probably expected to say that we are. But are we?

[...]

Like Germany, Belgium is a EU member. In our parliament, we, too, are called upon almost every week to vote the incorporation into Belgian legislation of so-called “directives” emanating from the EU Commission. This is a mere formality. Parliamentarians all over Europe press the green button because the EU treaties oblige the 27 EU members states to incorporate the EU directives unchanged into their national legislations.

Hence, there are no debates about the directives and no alterations or amendments are proposed to the texts.
Occasionally my party abstains from voting or we press the red button – a position we can take since we are not part of the Belgian establishment and are considered “extremists” anyway. But even we, I must admit, usually vote “yea”. The EU treaties demand it. The European Court punishes countries that do not oblige with hefty fines.

[...]

For my American readers I must point out that the EU directives do not pass through the European Parliament (EP). They come directly from the Commission, which is the EU’s executive. The EP, though elected, is not a proper legislative assembly; its only role is to have a say over the EU budget and the power to veto the appointment of European Commissioners. The real power lies with the Commission and the Council. The Commission consists of one member from each of the 27 EU member states, appointed by their respective governments. The Council consists of a representative of each government of the 27 member states. The Council tells the Commission what to do.

The English political philosopher John Laughland has called the EU “a cartel of governments, engaged in a permanent conspiracy against their own electorates and parliaments.” European integration favors the power of national governments over that of their respective parliaments. Laws in the EU are made by the governments and the approval of an elected legislative is not required since the treaties oblige the member states to incorporate the EU laws into their own national legislation.

“It is for this simple reason,” says Mr. Laughland, “that all establishment politicians, whether of Left or Right, are in favor of the EU. It increases their power and their room for maneuver. How much easier it is to pass laws in a quiet and secret meeting with your twenty-seven colleagues, than it is to do so in front of a fractious parliament where there is usually an in-built opposition.” [...]

And what kind of government to you get, where there is no built-in opposition and no public debate? Voting in Europe has been rendered meaningless, because the legislator's that the citizen's can vote for are powerless. If you read the whole article, it goes into the details, with examples from Germany and Belgium. The EU is passing and imposing laws, not the national parliaments of member states. No wonder the Europeans want a vote in the American elections. The votes in their own countries mean nothing anymore.
     

Labels: , , , ,

Sunday, November 23, 2008

In Japan: The Puppy with a Heart

From a recent email I received:



PUPPY LOVE
A PUPPY has been born in Japan with a large, clear, heart-shaped pattern in his coat.



The Chihuahua was born in May as one of a litter to a breeder. Shop owner Emiko Sakurada said it was the first time a puppy with the marks had been born out of a thousand she had bred.



She had no plans to sell the puppy, which has been named 'Heart-kun'.



The long-coated male Chihuahua puppy was born in Odate (northern Japan).

I checked the story out on Snopes.com, and it seems it's true.

There are also videos about the dog on Youtube:


     

Labels: , , , ,

Saturday, November 22, 2008

The American Radio Relay League, my missed opportunity, and my fun new hobby


As I've been reading up on Ham Radio (a.k.a. Amateur Radio), a hobby I've always wanted to pursue, I've found out a lot of interesting things. One of the more surprising things I discovered was, that the American Radio Relay League was founded in 1914 by Hiram Percy Maxim of Hartford, CT. Hiram was inspired to start the ARRL thus:
[...] In 1914, Hiram P. Maxim of Hartford, Connecticut, was a prominent businessman, engineer, and inventor (notably of the Maxim Silencer). He was also an active radio amateur, with one of the best-equipped stations in the Hartford area. One night in April he attempted to send a message to another ham in Springfield, Massachusetts. He had a one-kilowatt station (call 1WH), and Springfield was only 30 miles away, well within his normal range. He was unable to make contact, and remembering that he knew another ham in Windsor Locks, about halfway, he contacted the Windsor Locks ham, and asked him to relay the message, which was successfully done. This was not the first time a message had been relayed, but it set Maxim to thinking. At that time, a great deal, perhaps most of amateur radio activity consisted of sending and receiving messages, not only between amateurs, but involving the general public as well. But at that time the maximum reliable range of a station was a few hundred miles or less, and so Maxim realized that a formally organized relay system would be of tremendous use to amateurs.[7]

Maxim was a member of the Radio Club of Hartford, and he presented a plan for the organization of an "American Radio Relay League" (he had already decided on the name) to the club at its April 1914 meeting. The club agreed to sponsor the development of such an organization. [...]

The the ARRL outgrew the Hartford Radio Club and split off as a separate entity... there is quite a bit more history of it's evolution and struggles which I found interesting, including difficulties with the US government in WWI and WWII. So different from nowadays, where they seem to have reached harmonious accord.

The ARRL's current headquarters are in Newington CT, just south of Hartford. The ARRL today:
[...] The ARRL represents the interests of amateur radio operators before federal regulatory bodies, provides technical advice and assistance to amateur radio enthusiasts, and supports a number of educational programs throughout the country. The ARRL has approximately 152,000 members. In addition to members in the US, the organization claims over 7,000 members in other countries. The ARRL publishes many books and a monthly membership journal called QST.

The ARRL is the primary representative organization of amateur radio operators to the US government. It performs this function by lobbying the US Congress and the Federal Communications Commission. The ARRL is also the international secretariat of the International Amateur Radio Union, which performs a similar role internationally, advocating for amateur radio interests before the International Telecommunications Union and the World Administrative Radio Conferences. [...]

The irony is, I've long had an interest in Amateur Radio, and I grew up in Hartford county, near the ARRL headquaters, which is just a short drive from where I lived, and it's often open to visitors. I could have visited at any time, but I didn't even know about it. I love all that history, and it all started practically in my own back yard. But I missed it, I only find out about it decades later, when I'm living on the other side of the continent. Talk about missed opportunities! Darn.



W1AW, the Hiram Percy Maxim Memorial Station


There is plenty to explore though, at the ARRL website at: www.ARRL.org. It's a terrific resource that I keep going back to refer to again and again.

Presently, I'm studying to get my Technician's license. That test has 35 multiple choice questions. I believe you have to get 26 of the 35 correct in order to pass. Here are two on-line test sites I've been practicing with:

Ham Academy Practice Test
This site offers exam study notes, and a selection of questions. When you choose an answer, it will tell you right away whether it is right or wrong. It will keep score of your wrong answers, and tell you if you pass or fail at the end.

eHam.net Practice Exam
This site gives you 35 questions, and shows you the right and wrong answers and your score only after you have completed the 35 questions.

I've been practicing and passed the above two tests for the first time last night, but I'm going to practice more before taking the real exam. You can learn more about the exam process here:

What Amateur Radio licenses are available?

The Morse Code Requirement has been dropped from the tests. That makes it much easier than it used to be. But I think I would like to learn to use it anyway, eventually. There are computer programs that can help you learn it. You can often transmit much farther with Radio Morse code (CW) and with very little power, than you can with voice broadcasts. It could be fun to learn and use.

I think this going to be a great hobby, and I'm looking forward to it.


Related Links:

Morse code - Amateur Radio

Oregon Emergency Amateur Radio in Action

The convergence of Ham Radio with the Internet
     

Labels: , , , , , , , ,

Is Obama trying to become the New FDR?

It kind of sounds like it:

Obama's Radio Address for Saturday, Nov. 22nd

The part about fixing the nations roads and bridges is excellent. It's something that needs to be done, it's a traditional function of government, and it should enjoy bi-partisan support. It's good use of our taxpayer's dollars, will create jobs and perhaps help jump-start the economy. A wise move.

As for the rest, I'd like to hear more details. We'll see how it unfolds.
     

Labels: , , , , , ,

Friday, November 21, 2008

Congressional Motor's New Car of the Future


From IowaHawk: Lemon.
It's in the way you dress. The way you boogie down. The way you sign your unemployment check. You're a man who likes to do things your own way. And on those special odd-numbered Saturdays when driving is permitted, you want it in your car. It's that special feeling of a zero-emissions wind at your back and a road ahead meandering with possibilities. The kind of feeling you get behind the wheel of the Pelosi GTxi SS/Rt Sport Edition from Congressional Motors.

All new for 2012, the Pelosi GTxi SS/Rt Sport Edition is the mandatory American car so advanced it took $100 billion and an entire Congress to design it. We started with same reliable 7-way hybrid ethanol-biodeisel-electric-clean coal-wind-solar-pedal power plant behind the base model Pelosi, but packed it with extra oomph and the sassy styling pizazz that tells the world that 1974 Detroit is back again -- with a vengeance.

We've subsidized the features you want and taxed away the rest. [...]

Do follow the link and read the whole thing, it's deliciously rude!


Related Links:

SO THE AUTO BAILOUT IS DEAD ... FOR NOW

Let the Automakers Fail - and be Reborn
     

Labels: , , , , ,

Obama: encouraging or discouraging words?

Could a big part of the dragging stock market be the Obama factor? I mean, when you consider all the anti-capitalist rhetoric from the campaign, and when you consider that what scares investors away is uncertainty about the market's future, I think a great deal is depending on what Obama says and does next. It's not hard to connect the dots, as Neal Boortz does here:

AND YOU THINK OBAMA IS NOT A FACTOR HERE?
The stock market was down another 400 points or so yesterday. People are wondering where in the world this will end. Retirement funds are being devastated. People are losing jobs. The picture certainly isn't rosy right now, and nobody can really explain why. The media, on the other hand, is certain that there is one recent event that is having no effect whatsoever on this economic slide; and that would be the election of Barack Obama.

OK ... why don't you try to put on an investor hat for a moment here. Let's say you're considering getting back in the stock market. You know that some stocks out there are at historic lows, and they're bound to bounce back ... right? So why don't you just take some money out of your savings or out from under your mattress and plow it back into the market?

Let's see if we can find any reasons why you might hesitate.

We have a president-elect who ...

... has promised to raise capital gains taxes, perhaps even double them. So this guy is just waiting for you to jump into the stock market and make some money so he can seize a huge portion of it. Why jump now? Obama has been asked if he plans to go forward with his capital gains tax increase, but he's not saying. Just hold off on your investments for a while until he tips his hand. If he goes the tax increase route you might want to consider trying to move your money offshore to grow until he's out of the picture.

... has promised to sign the so-called "Card Check" bill. Now again, you're smarter than the average voter, and you realize that this unionization-through-intimidation idea is going to have an adverse affect on American business. As soon as the bill is signed union thugs (organizers) will start their petition drives at thousands of businesses across the nation. Large businesses and small businesses. America's largest employer, Wal-Mart, will be one of the first targets. You don't know how far this will spread, but you do know that every business that is unionized will be a poor investment for you. So you wait .. you wait to see what is going to happen with card check.

... has promised to raise income taxes on the largest jobs producing segment of our economy, small businesses. During the campaign you heard him say that he would not raise taxes on 95% of small businesses, but you know that most of the jobs rest with the remaining 5%, and that's where most of the new jobs would be created. The ignorant voters bought his 95% line, but you're not that stupid. You saw through his rhetoric. So, again, why jump into the market now? Wait until we see what Obama is going to do with these tax increases on America's jobs-producing machine.

... has promised more business regulation. Obama is no fan of free enterprise. He loves government. Obama believes America is great because of government. You really think you need to wait before you make your investment moves until you see just what regulatory punishment Obama has in mind for the free market.

So .. think about it. We've only scratched the surface here. We could also talk about expanding the family leave act and many other little federal anti-business goodies. Invest now? Why? Doesn't it make more sense to wait until you get a true measure of our new anti-capitalist president?

(bold emphasis mine) Some people say that Obama will be more of a centrist than a leftist when he assumes command. But there is a lot of uncertainty right now about just what he will do. We only have his campaign statements to go by, which were pretty anti-business. People aren't likely to re-invest in the stock market until they have some clues that will help them to forecast where the market is likely to go. Stability, and certainty of what the rules will be, are required for that. Obama has it within his power to create that stability and certainty, or not. I say it's time for some encouraging word from him... if he has any.
     

Labels: , , , , ,

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Economic Recovery & the Lessons of History

Jonah Goldberg on The Corner posted the following remark from one of his readers, along with an interesting chart. The chart shows how bold experimentation by the government after the crash of 1929 actually destabilized the stock market, and maintained the financial collapse for years afterward, which became known as the "Great Depression". Are we about to repeat this again?

Bold Experimentation
[...] Free market economics involves the application of immutable laws, and it's those laws that allow us to forecast the effect of current events on various companies and the stocks and bonds they've issued. But investors will only play the game if they believe the rules aren't going to change in the middle. When government begins 'experimenting', it makes it harder for investors to generate a long term forecast. This drives long term investors away from the market, or converts them into short term traders. The result is a massive increase in volatility as investors shorten their investment outlook because they can't predict what's going to happen far enough into the future.

Volatility is an indication of instability. It's not a sign of a healthy economy but of an economy which has lost its way. High volatility isn't what you expect from the worlds largest market, but from the emerging economy of a third world country. As you can see from the attached chart, when Roosevelt began his 'bold persistent experimentation' it drove away long term investors and that caused volatility to dramatically increase. It will almost certainly have the same effect when Obama does it. [...]

(bold emphasis mine) The big question is, what will Obama, and our Democrat controlled government, do? Learn from the mistakes of the past, or repeat them? When I hear some Democrats talking about the economic crisis as an "opportunity" that they must not "squander", I'm not hopeful that they are thinking about stabilizing market volatility. We shall see.


Related Links:

Looking Back Even Further

An Economic 9/11? A Depression? Trends...
     

Labels: , , , , , ,

Hawaii or Alaska? Why not Hawaii AND Alaska?

I read an essay recently about someone's chance encounter with Obama in Hawaii, before he anounced he was running for POTUS. I got the gist of it just fine, but the conclusion, to me, was a bit off.

My Chance Encounter with Obama in Hawaii
It was three days before the New Year in late 2006, and I was eating a burger with the traveler and writer Paul Theroux on Oahu's North Shore. Beside us in the rickety little shack was a quintessentially Hawaiian group of Chinese Americans, African Americans, semi–Southeast Asians and kids who could have been any or all of the above, waiting for the dad in the group to bring over their avocado burgers from the counter. It took Paul and me a few seconds to realize that the dad in question — who looked like a skinny teenager — was, in fact, the freshman Senator from Illinois, who was expected to enter the presidential race in the next week or two.

We couldn't help breaking in on his private moment to say hello, and Barack Obama, intruded upon in a place he'd probably come to get away from people like us, could not have been more friendly and engaged; we felt we could have talked burgers — and places and books — with him all day. But you expect that of a politician, whose livelihood depends on winning hearts. The more remarkable thing, we both felt, was that this sparkling stranger was so much like the kind of people we meet in Paris, in Hong Kong, in the Middle East: difficult to place and connected to everywhere. Like the air of his home island (not really Eastern or Western, but a vibrant mingling of the two), he spoke for the dawning global melting pot of today. [...]

The article then goes on about how last century was the "American" century, but the 21st century is the "Global" century, and America, just like it's enemies, is refusing to climb aboard the fast moving train of what the rest of the world is doing. The rest of the world, which relates to images more than ideas, is unhappy with America. Obama is the answer to this "problem".

The Author compares Alaska to Hawaii. Hawaii is the melting pot, the future. Alaska is the America of his childhood; beautiful, but too self-reliant and fortune-seeking.
[...] Barack Obama the man is sure to disappoint some of the expectations his fans have; any man would, especially in the age of the 24/7 news cycle. But the past and the future that he speaks for are precisely the ones that belong so uniquely to the new century and the 95% of humans who are our neighbors at the global burger table. It's more than possible to make your fortune in Alaska — but I'd much rather find the future in Hawaii.

Now you can read the whole thing, there are a few good phrases in there ("...a world where people communicate more with images than ideas and assumptions travel faster than truths"). Yes, I get it. But I did find it had a tone that was somewhat irritating. The implication would seem to be that we should be less self-reliant and more conformist to what the rest of the world wants.

The global burger table thing is fine. Obviously that is happening. Obama as an image, the multicultural melting pot thing, fine. But the conclusion, that we have to choose the "future" - Hawaii, not the fortune seeking past, as represented by Alaska, doesn't cut if for me.

We are clearly moving into the future; we can only go forward. And as we go forward, change will come. Globalization is coming, and it's more a question of how and when, than if. But as we move forward, and as American changes, as it inevitably will, it is my hope we build on the firm foundation of what is the best from our past and present.

I don't think American exceptionalism is something to be ashamed of, just because some folks around the globe think we need to become more like them. My voting Republican in this last election wasn't about "fortune seeking", or living in the past. It was about insuring a future that will value and bring forward the best America has to offer, not only for ourselves, but for the global burger crowd too, which we are also a part of.

Those kids around the global burger table may find themselves in need of Alaskan oil one day. Self-reliance is not a bad thing, but even Alaskans know the value of neighbors they can rely on. None of us live in a vacuum. And Alaskans, I'm told, often spend their winters in beautiful Hawaii. Hawaii and Alaska both have much to offer.

The "either-or" analogy does not ring true for me, it's too restrictive. We need the best of both worlds, or should I say, the best of all worlds. Globalization will require some conformity, some compromise, by everyone. Yet as America does it's part and conforms with it, we need to be sure we don't throw out the baby with the bathwater. Having a seat at the global burger table and helping pay the bill doesn't mean we need to forget who we are or where we came from, or where we would like to go from here.
     

Labels: , , , , ,

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Supporting Obama, as enlightened self-interest

I didn't vote for President-elect Obama. I'm a registered Republican, and my worldview is significantly different from the Democrats. But I accept reality, which is the Democrats won, and are the dominant force in control of our government now. I can only hope he proves to be more of a centrist than a hard leftist. Whatever happens, he is going to be our President, that's a fact. Now we deal with it.

I will expect that Obama will do many things I disagree with, as will the Democrats generally. Such is politics in a democratic republic.

ANYONE who becomes POTUS will have a lot of crap thrown their way. Obama will be no different. Al Qaeda is already shoveling their crap onto our next President, before he even is inaugurated. Ironically their criticisms sound very much like those of the hard Left among us, who are also criticizing Obama for not being extreme enough.

I don't pretend to know exactly what is going to happen over the next four years, but I do know a few things. I will choose my battles carefully. I won't be mindlessly criticizing Obama over every little thing he does. I will praise him if and when he does things I approve of. And like Stephen Baldwin, I will be saying my Prayers for President Obama AND his Administration; those important people he surrounds himself with to advise and assist him.

I may disagree with them on many things, and I may criticize them over the next four years. But they are leading our country, in perilous times, in a dangerous world. How could I not pray, that they love our country as much as I do, and that they will be guided to make wise decisions? I don't envy the tasks they have before them. As a partisan I have to criticize. But as an American, I must wish them a certain degree of success, for all our sakes. For ALL of us.

Labels: , , , , ,

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Let the Automakers Fail - and be Reborn

It's ok to let them fail, because they won't disappear. They will go through bankrupcy, re-structure, and return to business without the unions that are currently choking them to death. George will explains:

In Detroit, Failure's a Done Deal
WASHINGTON -- "Nothing," said a General Motors spokesman last week, "has changed relative to the GM board's support for the GM management team during this historically difficult economic period for the U.S. auto industry." Nothing? Not even the evaporation of almost all shareholder value?

GM's statement comes as the mendicant company is threatening to collapse and make a mess unless Washington, which has already voted $25 billion for GM, Ford and Chrysler, provides up to $50 billion more -- the last subsidy until the next one. The statement uses the 11 words after "team" to suggest that the company's parlous condition has been caused by events since mid-September. That is as ludicrous as the mantra that GM is "too big to fail." It has failed; the question is what to do about that.

The answer? Do nothing that will delay bankrupt companies from filing for bankruptcy protection, so that improvident labor contracts can be unraveled, allowing the companies to try to devise plausible business models. Instead, advocates of a "rescue" propose extending to Detroit the government's business model for the nation -- redistributing wealth from the successful to the failed, an implausible formula for prosperity. [...]

We must not throw good money after bad by rewarding failure. Read the rest, to see how the unions of the big three automakers are strangling them. The other automakers in the US do not have their problems, they don't need a bail-out, because they don't have these choking unions.

The Democrats were heavily supported by the Unions in our recent elections. While it would be hard for the Dems to say "no" to an automakers bail-out, they had better be very careful. If they start throwing massive amounts of taxpayers money into a never ending black hole, in financial times like these, it could come back to bite them in the next election. It will be interesting to see how they are going to handle this.
     

Labels: , , , ,

Amazon.com now sells OLPC's XO laptop


Amazon/OLPC 'Give One, Get One' store opens
[...] For $399, customers buy one OLPC XO Laptop to donate to a developing nation, and get one for themselves or to give as a gift. The G1G1 program last year initially was slated to last only one week, but was extended due to the extremely high demand placed on the company's ordering infrastructure.

The project ended up placing more than 185,000 laptops in developing countries, and according to reports, doing $2 million worth of transactions a day. OLPC says that more than $35 million was raised to fund the delivery of the XO to 31 countries.

With Amazon's assistance, this year's Give One, Get One campaign is an "ongoing" program with otherwise similar details. The $399 donation Places one XO in a developing nation, and one in the buyer's hands. [...]

The OLPC Project was having major problems with the ordering and shipping in their give one get one program. Having a business partner like Amazon.com to handle it makes a lot of sense.

The ordering page at Amazon.com is here:

Amazon.com's OLPC G1G1 page
Give One. Get One.

Why give a laptop to a child in the emerging world? If you replace the word "laptop" with "education" the answer becomes clear. You don't wait to educate until all other challenges are resolved. You educate at the same time because it's such an important part of all the other solutions.

The XO laptop was designed especially for children. So no matter who they are or where they live, this computer has the perfect features and software to get them excited about learning. Just imagine how the world would change if every child had the tools to unleash their full potential.

For more about the project explore the links above or visit laptop.org.

If you want to own one yourself, you have to buy one to donate as well. That makes it kind of pricy, but since it is the sales model they are using, it must be working for them. I suppose if sales drop eventually, they could just sell it by itself at a price that makes a profit, with the profit going to OLPC.
     

Labels: , , , , ,

Monday, November 17, 2008

New "bedrooms" and a 2nd bathroom for the ISS


I keep reading news reports about the "home makeover" for the International Space Station, talking about adding two new bedrooms and a 2nd bathroom, as if it were a house. The reality is quite different from any house you might experience here on earth.

For instance, would you call this a "bedroom"? Not by earthly standards:



It's basically a padded closet. On the right wall, you can see a thin sleeping bag stuck to the wall. That is the "bed" the astronaut uses. He/She zips themselves inside so they don't go floating around bouncing off the walls every time they move in their sleep!

As for the 2nd toilet, I think it looks kinda scary:


The Russian-made zero gravity toilet is no doubt very practical. I'm pretty sure there are sources on line that explain exactly how it works... for those who really want to know!

I got these photos from here:

Space.com: Shuttle Astronauts to Move In Aboard Space Station

Follow the link for more details and more photos of the other things they are installing, like the water recycling unit that will recycle urine into clean drinking water.

Just like home, right? But don't laugh - every home may have one, someday. Yikes.
     

Labels: , , , , , ,

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Space Shuttle Endeavour to dock with ISS today

In fact, it's happening right now:


This mission is about expanding the International Space Station's capacity to hold a larger full time crew. Here is a photo of the Endeavour crew, and a summary of their mission:

Image above: These seven astronauts take a break from training to pose for the STS-126 crew portrait. Astronaut Christopher J. Ferguson, commander, is at center; and astronaut Eric A. Boe, pilot, is third from the right. Remaining crew members, pictured from left to right, are astronauts Sandra H. Magnus, Stephen G. Bowen, Donald R. Pettit, Robert S. (Shane) Kimbrough and Heidemarie M. Stefanyshyn-Piper, all mission specialists. Image credit: NASA

Veteran space flier Navy Capt. Christopher J. Ferguson will command the STS-126 mission aboard Endeavour to deliver equipment to the International Space Station that will enable larger crews to reside aboard the complex. Air Force Lt. Col. Eric A. Boe will serve as the pilot. The mission specialists are Navy Capt. Stephen G. Bowen, Army Lt. Col. Robert S. Kimbrough, Navy Capt. Heidemarie M. Stefanyshyn-Piper and NASA astronauts Donald R. Pettit and Sandra H. Magnus.

Magnus will remain on the station, replacing Expedition 17/18 Flight Engineer Gregory E. Chamitoff, who returns to Earth with the STS-126 crew. Magnus will serve as a flight engineer and NASA science officer for Expedition 18. Magnus will return to Earth on shuttle mission STS-119.

Endeavour will carry a reusable logistics module that will hold supplies and equipment, including additional crew quarters, additional exercise equipment, equipment for the regenerative life support system and spare hardware.

STS-126 is the 27th shuttle mission to the International Space Station.

You can read more about the mission's specific tasks here:

Station Prepares for Expanding Crew
Expanding kitchen facilities, adding more bedrooms and an extra bathroom all sound like home improvements that many homeowners have tackled. But when the “house” is the International Space Station orbiting 220 miles above Earth, things are a little more complicated than visiting the local home improvement store for materials. Just in time for its 10th anniversary, the space station will get a delivery via space shuttle Endeavour that might win a prize for out-of-this-world home makeover.

When Endeavour and crew lift off on the STS-126 mission for the 27th shuttle flight to the station, it will be packed with supplies like food and clothing for the station crew members. However, Endeavour’s major payload consists of equipment for enlarging the space station’s capacity to accommodate a six-member crew. The high-tech home improvement materials are stowed inside the Multi-Purpose Logistics Module Leonardo, which will be tucked inside the shuttle’s cargo bay.

Some of the additions aboard will be: [...]

You can read the rest for the details, with photos too.

UPDATE: They have arrived!


Image above: The STS-126 crew is welcomed aboard the International Space Station by the Expedition 18 crew. Credit: NASA TV


Related Links:

Astronaut Donald Pettit
Our own Astronaut from Oregon. This is his official biography on the NASA website.

Astronaut Greg Chamitoff's Journal
A fascinating look at what the astronaut's life is like on the ISS.
     

Labels: , , , ,

Oregon Emergency Amateur Radio in Action


When I bought my police scanner a while back, I made sure it had the capability to scan Ham Frequencies too, so I could find out what kind of Ham radio community we have here on the south coast.

At first, it seemed like there was nothing going on; my random attempts to scan ham frequencies didn't turn up much. But then I read that ham communities often hang out at certain frequencies, usually around a designated "net" that meets up on specific dates.

I discovered on-line that there is an ARES net (Amateur Radio Emergency Service) that meets up on Tuesday evenings. They do a role call check in, make Ham Club announcements, invite visitors to introduce themselves, then turn the frequency over for general amateur use. Chit chat often follows, and I've found that if I scan frequencies in that band range, there is often conversations going on. It's a pretty active community locally, and they talk to people all over the state and in surrounding states like Washington, Nevada, and California too.

I found out about our local ARES net here:

Oregon ARES District 5
Dedicated to providing volunteer emergency communications to public and private community service agencies within and around Coos, Curry, Douglas, Jackson, and Josephine Counties, Oregon.

When all Normal Means of Communications Fail!

There are LOTS of links and resources to explore on the site. It was there that I found my local ARES net, and began to learn about ARES and what they do. And I found out how, on a local level, just how important they can be.

In early December of last year, a severe winter storm hit Northern Oregon, bringing high winds and flooding which knocked out conventional communications in several parts of the state. Amateur Radio operators, as part of ARES, provided valuable assistance in keeping communication lines open:


Amateur Radio to the Rescue in Oregon
[...] “I’m going to tell you who the heroes were from the very beginning of this…the ham radio operators. These people just came in and actually provided a tremendous communication link to us,” said Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski after a visit Tuesday to Vernonia and a fly-over there and other affected areas.

In Oregon’s northern coast, callers were again able to make and receive long-distance phone calls after floods and mudslides breached a major fiber-optic line in several places around Westport.

A network of at least 60 volunteer amateur radio operators working along the coast and inland helped from keep crucial systems such as 911 calls, American Red Cross and hospital services connected. The ARRL provided emergency communications, relaying information about patient care and lists of supplies needed in areas cut off by water.

“You are amateur in name only,” said Steve Sanders, a spokesman for District One of the Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES), which helped in several key counties hit by the storm.

The storm has now largly passed, but ARES is still providing communications to the coast, with more than 60 volunteers working at the coast and many more at points in between.

The District One Emergency Radio Network was activated at 8 AM Monday morning and is still in operation today; District One ARES serves Clackamas, Clatsop, Columbia, Multnomah, Tillamook and Washington counties - the northwest corner of the state.

According to ARRL Oregon Section Public Information Coordinator Steve Sanders, KE7JSS, “We are working closely with the American Red Cross as well as the major hospitals, Heartnet radio network and district-wide emergency managers, including Oregon Emergency Management in Salem.” [...]

Read the whole thing, it's quite impressive what they were able to do. ARES sounds like sounds like something useful I would like learn more about, and perhaps even join in and help. It's yet another thing to motivate me to get my Amateur license in the coming year.

You can find out more general information about ARES, what it is and what it does, from this description on the ARRL (American Radio Relay League) website:

The Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES)


Related Links:

http://www.ares.org/
This site has more info about ARES and other Emergency Amateur Radio groups as well.

Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service
Another emergency service group, whose memebers often overlap with ARES. But RACES has a different history and a more specific purpose. Follow the link to find out more.

MILITARY AFFILIATE RADIO SYSTEM (M.A.R.S.)
Anyone interested in providing Amateur assistance to the US military should visit this site. I'll be looking into it.
     

Labels: , , , , , ,

Change is here, whether you like it or not


Across U.S., Big Rallies for Same-Sex Marriage
[...] “It’s not ‘Yes we can,’ ” said Tom Ammiano, a San Francisco city supervisor, referring to President-elect Barack Obama’s campaign mantra. “It’s ‘Yes we will.’ ”

Carrying handmade signs with slogans like “No More Mr. Nice Gay” and “Straights Against Hate,” big crowds filled civic centers and streets in many cities. In New York, some 4,000 people gathered at City Hall, where speakers repeatedly called same-sex marriage “the greatest civil rights battle of our generation.”

“We are not going to rest at night until every citizen in every state in this country can say, ‘This is the person I love,’ and take their hand in marriage,” said Representative Anthony D. Weiner of Brooklyn.

In Los Angeles, where wildfires had temporarily grabbed headlines from continuing protests over Proposition 8, Mayor Antonio R. Villaraigosa addressed a crowd of about 9,000 people in Spanish and English, and seemed to express confidence that the measure, which is being challenged in California courts, would be overturned.

“I’ve come here from the fires because I feel the wind at my back as well,” said the mayor, who arrived at a downtown rally from the fire zone on a helicopter. “It’s the wind of change that has swept the nation. It is the wind of optimism and hope.” [...]

I understand perfectly well people's concerns about not wanting to change the definition of what a marriage is. But no-fault divorce has already done that. For years I worked for attorneys that dealt with divorce cases, and saw it in action. No-fault divorce has turned marriage, in it's legal definition, into nothing more than a civil contract, to be broken at will.

This is why it's being called a "civil right". As a civil contract, how can it be legally denied to gay people? Arguments against gay marriage as a religious choice will probably still hold up, because no one has to join a religion that they don't like. But that argument does not hold up in the secular sphere, nor does it enjoy popular support there. To continue to try to force it on secular people is only going to create continuing resistance... and resentment.

If conservative Christian churches want to maintain the right to not perform gay marriages in their churches because of their religious beliefs, I believe that is their choice and their right. But secular people also have their right to make their own choices. If the religious right continues to try to control secular civil marriage contracts to reflect their own views, they may find themselves in a very uncomfortable, and losing, position.


Related Link:

The anti-gay marriage votes
     

Labels: , , , ,

Saturday, November 15, 2008

An Economic 9/11? A Depression? Trends...

Pat posted these excerpts of an article about trend predictions by Gerald Celente, Editor and Publisher, The Trends Journal:

The coming revolution?

I would like to believe he's a crank or a silly conspiracy theorist, but his trend analysis seems to be pretty accurate most of the time. I found a link to the complete source text:

Interview: Economic 9/11

It's pretty grim. I don't know if I believe all of it, but it's not hard to see the potential for much of it. While I don't believe in being pessimistic, I also believe in being prepared. Like so many things in life, it's a question of balance.
     

Labels: , , ,

Friday, November 14, 2008

The Republican Winners, and Their Message

Some Republicans won in this decidedly difficult election year for Republicans. Do they have any advice the GOP should heed, as it licks it's wounds and tries to plan a strategy for 2010?

3 Successful Republicans Caution Against a Move to the Right
[...] Senator Collins, Senator Alexander and Representative King were among Republicans who defied the odds in a terrible year for their colleagues. Their re-elections provide a possible road map for how the party can succeed in a challenging political environment. The answer, the three veteran politicians agreed, is not to become a more conservative, combative party focused on narrow partisan issues.

“What doesn’t work is drawing a harsh ideological line in the sand,”
said Ms. Collins, of Maine, who early in the year was a top Democratic target for defeat but ended up winning 61 percent of the vote while Senator Barack Obama received 58 percent in the presidential race in her state.

“We make a mistake if we are going to make our entire appeal rural and outside the Northeast and outside the Rust Belt,” said Mr. King, of New York, who easily won re-election in a region shedding Republicans at a precipitous rate.

“We can stand around and talk about our principles, but we have to put them into actions that most people agree with,” said Mr. Alexander, of Tennessee, a self-described conservative who was able to attract African-American voters.

Their comments go to the competing visions for the party’s future that will confront Republicans as they return to Capitol Hill next week to elect House and Senate leaders and begin the process of adjusting to a second consecutive round of resounding losses on Capitol Hill. [...]

(bold emphasis mine) Notice they didn't say "abandon conservatism". They simply speak of being more flexible, reaching out instead of being too narrow and intolerant, and not putting all our eggs in one basket.

Some would call that common sense.

The Democrats regained control of Congress by their clever stategy of supporting Blue Dog Democrats, conservative Democrats, to gain wins against Republicans. I'm wondering if the Republicans shouldn't learn something from that, and try supporting "Red Dog" Republicans, liberal Republicans, to win against democrats in blue states.

Instead, a vocal element in the Republican party has become strident, labeling anyone who doesn't fit their definition of conservative as RINOs, moderates who need to be driven out of the party.

Look where that's gotten us today. The entire Northeast, once a Republican stronghold, has been lost to the Democrats as many of New England's Republicans have abandoned the party they feel has abandoned them.

Even here in Oregon, the Uber Republicans who felt our Republican Senator Gordon Smith was too liberal to support, decided to throw their vote away on the Constitution party instead. Now we have that disgusting pig Jeff Merkely as our new senator. How is that supposed to be an improvement?

There has been too much focus on trying to kick people out of the Republican party. It's clearly a losing strategy. Isn't it time we focus on trying GROW our party and to attract people INTO it instead?


Related Links:

Can't we all just get along?

"Politics is the art of the possible"

PAWLENTY CALLS FOR A MORE DIVERSE GOP
     

Labels: , , , , , , ,

Our new Four Star General, Ann Dunwoody


Dunwoody becomes first female four-star general
[...] In an Associated Press interview after the ceremony, Gen. George Casey, the Army's chief of staff, said that if there is one thing that distinguishes Dunwoody it is her lifetime commitment to excelling in uniform.

"If you talk to leaders around the Army and say, `What do you think about Ann Dunwoody?' almost unanimously you get: `She's a soldier,'" Casey said, adding that he admires the fact that, "she's a soldier first."

Dunwoody hails from a family of military men dating back to the 1800s. Her father, 89-year-old Hal Dunwoody — a decorated veteran of World War II, the Korean War and Vietnam — was in the audience, along with the service chiefs of the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines, plus the Joint Chiefs chairman, Adm. Mike Mullen.

Dunwoody, whose husband, Craig Brotchie, served for 26 years in the Air Force, choked up at times during a speech in which she said she only recently realized how much her accomplishment means to others.

"This promotion has taken me back in time like no other event in my entire life," she said. "And I didn't appreciate the enormity of the events until tidal waves of cards, letters, and e-mails started coming my way.

"And I've heard from men and women, from every branch of service, from every region of our country, and every corner of the world. I've heard from moms and dads who see this promotion as a beacon of home for their own daughters and after affirmation that anything is possible through hard work and commitment.

"And I've heard from women veterans of all wars, many who just wanted to say congratulations; some who just wanted to say thanks; and still other who just wanted to say they were so happy this day had finally come." [...]

She is, in so many ways, an excellent choice.



     

Labels: , , , , ,

Does Obama = Tolerance? The Experiment


Tolerance fails T-shirt test
As the media keeps gushing on about how America has finally adopted tolerance as the great virtue, and that we're all united now, let's consider the Brave Catherine Vogt Experiment.

Catherine Vogt, 14, is an Illinois 8th grader, the daughter of a liberal mom and a conservative dad. She wanted to conduct an experiment in political tolerance and diversity of opinion at her school in the liberal suburb of Oak Park.

She noticed that fellow students at Gwendolyn Brooks Middle School overwhelmingly supported Barack Obama for president. His campaign kept preaching "inclusion," and she decided to see how included she could be.

So just before the election, Catherine consulted with her history teacher, then bravely wore a unique T-shirt to school and recorded the comments of teachers and students in her journal. The T-shirt bore the simple yet quite subversive words drawn with a red marker:

"McCain Girl."

"I was just really curious how they'd react to something that different, because a lot of people at my school wore Obama shirts and they are big Obama supporters," Catherine told us. "I just really wanted to see what their reaction would be."

Immediately, Catherine learned she was stupid for wearing a shirt with Republican John McCain's name. Not merely stupid. Very stupid.

"People were upset. But they started saying things, calling me very stupid, telling me my shirt was stupid and I shouldn't be wearing it," Catherine said.

Then it got worse.

"One person told me to go die. It was a lot of dying. A lot of comments about how I should be killed," Catherine said, of the tolerance in Oak Park.

But students weren't the only ones surprised that she wore a shirt supporting McCain. [...]

Death threats? That's a bit over the top. But hey, it's eighth graders we're talking about, so I wouldn't take it too literally. But still, not exactly a lot of tolerance.

Of course, she wore the Obama t-shirt the next day, and the reactions to that... well, read the whole thing. In the end she wrote a report about it for her history class, and the irony of intolerance by the "tolerant" Obama supporters made for an interesting classroom discussion.

Even after the experiment, Catherine never did say who she preferred. Maybe she'll grow up to be a "swing" voter. ;-)
     

Labels: , , , , ,

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Is socialism inevitable for democracies?

Mark Steyn seems to think so:

Mark Steyn: 'Center-right' America lurches further left
[...] My Republican friends are now saying, oh, not to worry, look at the exit polls, this is still a "center-right" country. Americans didn't vote to go left, they voted to go cool. It was a "Dancing With The Stars" election: Obama's a star, and everyone wants to dance with him. It doesn't mean they're suddenly gung-ho for left-wingery.

Up to a point.

Unlike those excitable countries where the peasants overrun the presidential palace, settled democratic societies rarely vote to "go left." Yet oddly enough that's where they've all gone. In its assumptions about the size of the state and the role of government, almost every advanced nation is more left than it was, and getting lefter.

Even in America, federal spending (in inflation-adjusted 2007 dollars) has gone from $600 billion in 1965 to $3 trillion today. The Heritage Foundation put it in a convenient graph: It's pretty much a straight line across four decades, up, up, up. Doesn't make any difference who controls Congress, who's in the White House. The government just grows and grows, remorselessly. Every two years, the voters walk out of their town halls and school gyms and tell the exit pollsters that three-quarters of them are "moderates" or "conservatives" (i.e, the center and the right) and barely 20 percent are "liberals." And then, regardless of how the vote went, big government just resumes its inexorable growth. [...]

Government keeps getting bigger. What is to stop it, if the people who vote can't or won't put limits on it?


Related Link:

Milton Friedman: "We Are All Keynesians Now"
     

Labels: , ,

Mark Foley tries to find his way back

AP Interview: Foley breaks silence on sex scandal
[...] "I'm trying to find my way back," Foley said in an interview with The Associated Press, his first public comments on the scandal since resigning from Congress on Sept. 29, 2006.

Foley insists he did nothing illegal and never had sexual contact with teens, just inappropriate Internet conversations. Investigations by the FBI and Florida authorities ended without criminal charges.

[...]

"I believed I owed my constituents an apology," Foley said. "I embarrassed them and I embarrassed my family and I wanted to have a chance in a public setting to lend my voice to what happened, not through an attorney, not through a spokesperson, but from myself."

Today, he's a pariah in Congress and the Republican Party. The affable man who reveled in the spotlight finds himself branded a pedophile, at best, a creep. Three former staffers refused comment because of their disgust with his behavior. He makes his living investing in real estate and other business. [...]

When he says "find his way back", I don't think he means running for office; he was nearing retirement when the scandal broke anyway. Perhaps he means just back from underneath the bus that ran him over.
     

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Is the Fairness Doctrine even doable anymore?

I hope not. Here is an article that has a good look at the problems involved in trying to re-instate it:

Technology, New Media Pose Major Challenges to Fairness Doctrine, Two Democrats Say
(CNSNews.com) - The variety of media today and technological advances make it challenging, if not pointless, to try to re-impose the Fairness Doctrine on talk radio, Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) told CNSNews.com.

“It’s increasingly difficult to try and put quotas on political speech over any medium, so I think that would be the challenge anyone would face if they wanted to try and do that,” he said, when asked at the Democratic Senatorial Committee election night party on Nov. 4.

“I can’t speak for all my colleagues on that issue,” said Cardin. “I can only say that I think technology has possibly moved beyond the ability to regulate things, at least as it stands now.”

[...]

Today, many Democrats in Congress have said the Fairness Doctrine should be re-imposed to counter the influence of conservative talk radio, which dominates the marketplace with shows hosted by people such as Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham, Neal Boortz and Mark Levin.

Supporters of the Fairness Doctrine have not said the regulation should also apply to network news television, such as ABC, NBC or CBS, which use the public airwaves.

On Nov. 4, Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) defended the Fairness Doctrine, telling Fox News: “I think we should all try to be fair and balanced, don’t you?”

Van Hollen, however, told CNSNews.com that talk radio content does not need to be fair and balanced, adding that the Fairness Doctrine is a difficult issue for President-elect Barack Obama and the new Democratic Congress to deal with because of today’s “new media.”

“I think it’s increasingly difficult, because it’s kind of like a balloon,” said Van Hollen. “In other words, even if you wanted to go there – and I’m not saying we do – but if you wanted to go there, when you squeeze one end of the balloon, you know, simply the conversation can just go to others.

“I think even if you wanted to go back to the Fairness Doctrine, technology may have passed it by,” he said. [...]

It's ironic to hear some Democrats argue that conservative talk radio gives Republicans an unfair advantage. Note to Rabid Democrats: your party now controls the White House, the Congress and the Senate. Conservative Talk Radio sure hasn't delivered an advantage for the Republicans any time recently. Ditto Fox News. So what ARE you going on about?


Neal Boortz today highlights the absurdity of the Fairness Doctrine:

[...] Note, please, that whenever despots try to seize control of a government, and with it a country, they first seize control of the means of communication. How can you observe this in country after country with despot after despot engaged in coup after coup and not understand that this is exactly what our own politicians do when they try to increases their control over broadcasting? How will the Democrat's looming attempt to reign in talk radio be any different than Hugo Chavez' attempts to shut down opposition newspapers in Venezuela? And trust me ... the Republicans would have tried the same thing during the Bush Administration if talk radio had been overwhelming liberal. Richard Nixon used to brag about how he used the "Fairness Doctrine" to harass left-wing commentary on television. Democrats and liberals generally fail miserably at talk radio .. therefore it must be destroyed.

One more point about this "public's airwaves" dog squeeze. How does your newspaper get to you every day? Do you think it just magically appears at your doorstep? Hardly .. it is delivered over --- guess what? --- publicly owned highways and roads! Yeah! The "public's highways!" How about a Fairness Doctrine for newspaper editorial pages! Oh, wait .. there's that darn Constitution in the way again. Don't you just hate that?

Whether our information comes to us over "public airwaves", "public highways", the internet or anything else, the less government interferes with it the better. While some interference might be unavoidable (regulating obscenity, pornography, terrorism), the government certainly doesn't need to be encouraged to regulate it for partisan purposes. Surely there are enough real problems we are paying them to deal with? We don't need Thought Police regulating our political debate and discussion.
     

Labels: , , , ,