Thursday, June 27, 2013

By the Way, Regardless of the Blizzard of Ads Dominating the Internet the Past Few Days...

No one here "stands" with President Obama as he tries to throw American miners and power plant employees out of their jobs.

His face all over the net is reminiscent of Communist portraits of Stalin, Mao, etc. that covered ten story buildings.

Witness For the Prosecution and Congresswoman Capito's Outrage

George Zimmerman may or may not be found guilty. But the prosecution in his trial in retrospect took a huge chance when they billed Rachel Jeantel as a star witness.

She proved a problematic witness on many counts.  Her voice and style of speech flustered the court reporter, jury, and television audiences.  At one point she could not read a letter that she had supposedly written.

The Daily Mail posted a long story detailing the problems undermining the credibility of Jeantel.

Defense lawyers grilled her on her own inconsistent testimony as well as racial slurs used by the victim Trayon Martin to describe Zimmerman.

In other news, now former New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez was arrested on charges of murder this morning.


Congresswoman Shelley Moore Capito released a statement yesterday expressing the outrage that she shares with other members of the congressional delegation, as well as many West Virginians.  Obama's proposal to circumvent Congress to impose unconstitutional environmental regulations was called by Capito a "tyrannical . . . job killing plan."

Representative David McKinley and Senator Joe Manchin have released similarly strong statements.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Teachers and Classrooms Scrape For Funds While Educationcrats Reap Hefty Salaries

The average U. S. Department of Education bureaucrat makes twice as much as the higher paid starting teachers.

According to statistics the average Education Department employee makes around $85,000 per year.  Program specialists can make over six figures while a contracting officer can earn over $163,000.

Meanwhile teacher salaries lag in many states.  National Education Association statistics show that as of October 2012, West Virginia starting teachers make just over $32,000 per year.  The District of Columbia offers over $51,000 per year, but this pay rate is much higher than many states that rank near them on the list.

Individually, Department of Education hires may be well educated and qualified.  As an institution, however, the Department has failed.  A Cato Institute study shows that student achievement has remained flat or slightly dipped since the Department of Education was founded.

In 2008, Heritage Foundation released a study that found substantial increases in education spending had not been reflected in student achievement.

With all of the spending increases, how is it that classrooms remain underfunded, sports teams get cut, and teacher salaries lag behind inflation?

The problem is federal mandates.  Statutes such as No Child Left Behind have brought burdens to public schools, but have not noticeably boosted achievement.  Increasing federal meddling in schools means that a lot of bureaucrats get cushy salaries while teachers must work harder to meet ever increasing federal demands.

And the federal government has done nothing to make schools better.  Many argue that public schooling is a dysfunctional and dying system.

The answer lies in eliminating the Department of Education and returning primary control of schools to locally elected boards.  Obviously some boards do well and others fail.  But at least they can be held accountable by voters.  Bureaucrats continually fail, but keep their jobs and make hefty paychecks. 

Strutting Our Stuff: West Virginia Needs to Show Off More Often

Our West Virginia congressional delegation and their staffs showed Washington DC that they know how to throw a party.  Last night, the Hart Senate Office Building hosted "Taste of West Virginia Day" to honor 150 years of state existence.

The celebration was kicked off by brief talks from the state's delegation.  Unfortunately, the House of Representatives had scheduled an important vote at the same time, so Representatives Capito, McKinley, and Rahall could not address the assembled crowd as they normally would. 

The pride expressed by each speaker was obvious and genuine.  Politics and agreement on issues aside, there is no doubt that our delegation loves and takes full pride in their state, native or adopted.

Food and spirits attracted a wide variety of people who quickly packed the room.  High ranking military officers in full dress uniform mingled with congressional staffers from all states, representatives of West Virginia businesses, and some local elected officials from nearby counties.

Highlights of West Virginia cuisine included excellent cupcakes from Keyser's own Candlewyck Inn, perfectly prepared angus roast beef from Burlington's Flying W, excellent beer from two Canaan Valley area breweries, and delicious candies from the Greenbrier among many other vendors. 

West Virginians have every reason to take pride in our history and accomplishments as a state.  And we should take our show on the road more often!

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Vladimir Putin's Winning Streak

At this point, 2:34 PM Monday June 24, Russia Today's website is almost entirely devoted to the Edward Snowden debacle.

Fox News's site leads with Snowden, but also lists a variety of other stories.  CNN didn't have Snowden covered in any prominent spot.

But Russia Today revels in the twists and turns of Snowden's ability to elude American surveillance.

Putin has been on a winning streak of sorts lately.  His ally, Syria, now receives arms and other support that may push the regime to bloody victory.  The Russian leader put his thumb directly in the eye of Obama by facilitating Snowden's escape.  He managed to split from his wife without much public fuss.  Putin even somehow managed to score a Super Bowl ring without ever suiting up.  The only mark against him is the viral picture of Steven Seagall giving him bunny ears in a photo.

This presidency has never played the diplomatic game well, but now the world has become the Harlem Globetrotters to Obama's Generals. 

From the beginning, Obama wanted to organize the world community.  He failed to realize that diplomacy at its core is a relationship of power and interest.  Choices made for the office of Secretary of State reflect domestic political priorities rather than wise selections.  Former Senator Hillary Clinton turned out to be a non entity (although Obama rarely put his trust in her.)  John Kerry will not do much better.  Diplomats, military officers, and even academics seem to understand the abstract and the reality of power better than legislators. 

Obama also does not seem to understand the limits of power.  One never makes threats or demands that can be easily flaunted.  The US government warned Western Hemisphere nations to not allow a plane carrying Snowden into their airspace.  Fair enough.  But what will we do if one does?  More bluster?  Any tin pot who wants to make the US look bad without consequences can bring this guy to their country, at least in the short term.

The government should have said nothing and just kept quiet tabs, waiting for the pressure to get to him.  He would either turn himself in, or make a mistake.  Snowden has already brought his own judgment into question.  American officials making themselves look like fools will not bring him to account. 

Strangely enough, Obama has the ability to embarrass and even harm Putin if he chooses.  Should the United States ever remove its export restrictions on natural gas, the price will plummet even further.  Gas revenues are most of the foundation of Russia's recent prosperity.  The impact of American shale gas on the global marketplace has seriously weakened Russia's economic position.  Why not turn on the taps full blast and watch American energy might push Putin (and a few oil states in the Middle East) toward irrelevance? Why not build the pipeline that would bring even more US made energy to market?  This would put even more Americans to work in gas and its byproducts.

Putin may be on a winning streak, but it lies within Obama's power to prevail in the game, if he so chooses.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Singularity: It's Not Just For Black Holes Anymore

Around a hundred years ago, give or take a decade or two, Albert Einstein imagined the existence of one of physics' most bizarre concepts, the singularity.  This happens when a large star collapses on itself, creating a point occupying zero space, but containing infinite mass.  Around the singularity point is the black hole, a construct in space with gravity so intense that light itself cannot escape.  As in so many other things, Einstein had worked out in his own mind a revolutionary concept.

Now another unthinkable idea claims the name "singularity" the brainchild (or potential abomination) of Dmitry Itskov. According to :

The 32 year-old is the driving force behind the 2045 Initiative to create cyborg avatars into which people can upload the contents of their brains, i.e., memories, personality, dreams, etc. Itskov has organized the second annual 2045 Global Future Congress which will take place on June 15 and 16 in New York City. Participants in the conference include Harvard genetics maven George Church, X Prize visionary Peter Diamandis, MIT computer genius Marvin Minsky, and Singularity prophet Ray Kurzweil, among others.

Mankind so far has been able to manufacture almost anything he has ever conceived.  Star Wars and Star Trek technology in some cases looks downright archaic compared to microbots that technologists assure humanity lurk right around the corner, for better or worse.  But merging technology with the human mind, with all the ramifications involved.  How could philosophers, much less politicians, even begin to work out the ethics and legal issues?

No need.  The singularity is impossible.

It's impossible because nature places limits on man's ability to impose his designs on the world.  A spacecraft cannot breach the speed of light.  A human being cannot run forty yards in three seconds.  None of us will ever find perfection in ourselves or anything else on this earth.

And human beings cannot transfer a divine spark.  For decades biologists and other scientists have worked to recreate the first moment of life, zapping inert amino acids and other muck with simulated lightning.  Never have they manufactured life.

And neither will the computer crowd.

The divine essence, the soul, whatever one wants to call it, comes from God or nature.  Humanity has no power to create or to transfer it from a living organism into anything non-living.  We never will.  Even if, somehow, the knowledge can be downloaded, the life itself and the essence of what makes a person a person will be extinguished when the brain dies.

This is not to say that immortality is impossible.  Scientists may be able to keep a brain alive (and the first image that will come to many minds are the heads in a jar on Futurama) forever.  That is, if the individual can enjoy fulfillment existing as a brain attached to a computer, just sitting in a jar, or tooling around in a synthetic body. 

Literature generally represents earthly immortality as a curse.  One Twilight Zone episode portrayed a man granted the ability to live forever.  He tried to test it by murdering someone.  Expecting capital punishment, he received clemency in a sentence of life without the possibility of parole.  Others have described holders of immortality as being eventually consumed by evil or madness.

A Stephen King character summed it up well "Sometimes dead is better."

It would be wise to pay attention to literature.  Those successful in writing have insight into the human condition that many other lack.  Whatever form immortality takes, it will have consequences on individuals and society as a whole that cannot be fathomed.  The abomination of eternal earthly life will never allow the mind of the individual to travel on and learn the truly big answers waiting.

In any event, we do not in any way need to worry about mind downloading.  With all the amazing and ghastly things that the next century will bring, this will always remain beyond humanity's reach.