In Defense of Drones

English: Official work by the Central Intellig...

CIA Headquarters, Virginia


They’re the worst form of war, except for all the others.


Over the years, I’ve shared many worries about the rise of drones: the illusion of withdrawal, the militarization of the CIA, the corruption of law, the evasion of congressional restraint, the risk of mission creep, and the proliferation of signature strikes. But civilian casualties? That’s not an argument against drones. It’s the best thing about them.
– William Salatan


School Security

Today I can walk onto the campus of any college or university, and of most primary and secondary schools in the country as well, with little or no chance of being challenged or my progress impeded in any way that would be effective if I had slaughter on my mind. So can just about anyone else.

This state of affairs is as shameful as the refusal, in the 1970’s, of the Federal Aviation Administration to mandate reinforced cockpit doors on airliners.  That bit of foot-dragging to save the airlines money allowed the 9/11 tragedies to happen. When we invite people to walk into critical areas, we underwrite whatever happens next. We don’t do it in courthouses. We don’t do it in airports. Why in the name of heaven do we permit it at our schools?

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Like Schrödinger’s cat, Romney’s support for abortion seems to be both alive and dead at the same time.

If there is any logic to Romney’s wiggles it is opportunism, with swerves toward power and toward those whose lives are most similar to his own. That is not the same thing as being a moderate. Maybe he doesn’t mean it—but how would one find out?

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Ain’t no Lincoln. No Douglas, neither.

I’m going to try to keep this non-partisan, because I felt the same way back in the days before the Republican Party forgot what it believed.  (Oops!)

Anyway, Merriam-Webster defines “debate” thusly, and it’s the definition I recall from my school years:

a contention by words or arguments: as

a : the formal discussion of a motion before a deliberative body according to the rules of parliamentary procedure

b : a regulated discussion of a proposition between two matched sides.

The so-called presidential debates of the past few decades have been neither debates, as far as I’m concerned, nor presidential.  They have been disorganized efforts on the part of either side to put on a better show than their opponents.  Very little is debated.  In fact, based on the definitions above (accepted for a couple of centuries now), there is essentially no debate at all.  Each party throws out his or her contentions in as broad a fashion as possible, in order to avoid being pinned down about details.  There is no requirement to defend a position, as in a real debate with real substance, nor is there any true give-and-take.  Furthermore, there seems to be no requirement for accuracy.  One is permitted to fling pseudo-facts around with abandon, and some silly sense of strategy prevents them from being challenged.  Gods forbid that a candidate should look like he’s actually attacking his opponent!

Nor is there any attention to the rules of debate, which involve stating a position, listening carefully to the response, and responding thoughtfully to it — among others.

What I saw this week was a poorly-staged pair of lousy performances by a guy who is too far up in his own head to appeal to many watchers, and a would-be common man who was told by his handlers to sound passionate, and who tried to pull it off with a bluff.  I saw no statesmanship on the one side, and little apart from cool appraisal on the other.  There was no discussion.  There was nothing offered by Romney in terms of intellectual content, and little offered by Obama except that.  Neither impressed me very damn much, and I’d be disappointed with my candidate regardless of which side I was on.

Unfortunately, in the current vapid atmosphere that pervades TV-land, arm-waving seems to have prevailed; I think mostly because the other guy didn’t project anything that the reality-TV watchers could relate to.  At least they understand arm-waving.

I wish Sarah Palin was back on the campaign trail.  At least she was entertaining.


*But yes, I’ll probably watch the next one.  Hope springs eternal…


The shift reminds one of the old parable about a child who was looking for his lost dime next to the lamp post, not because it was there that the dime went missing—but because it was there that the light made searching easy.

Readin’ Ridin’ and Other Stuff

The red dot marks the spot, more or less.

I grew up on a farm about seven miles from the little town of Lake Placid, Florida which, at that time, probably had a population of about a thousand — tops. My brother, 13 years older, had 12 people in his graduating class, so that will give you a rough idea. The place hadn’t grown much by the time I came along.

The school bus used to pick me up about 7:00 AM. I was one of the lucky kids. The bus began its loop of about 40 miles at oh-dark-thirty, picking up some bleary-eyed kids from the outlying cattle ranches as early as 5:00, and depositing them home at about the same time. We had kids who rode their horses out to the “hard road,” unsaddled and put them in a paddock, then saddled up and rode home when they were dropped off from school. They still had ranch chores to do, then homework, then bed until whatever time they got up to do it all over again.

I was luckier, in that I had only about a 30-minute ride to school, with a few stops along the way. Like all kids I had trouble getting out of bed and on my way, and as often as not had to run for the bus, stopped at the end of our 75-yard clay road and tooting its horn. I hated riding the bus, because I hated just about every kid on it, but that’s a story for another time.

At school we lived for recess. A few of us kids (who would have been called “geeks” today) would gather in a beaten up old clump of Brazilian pepper that grew alongside the school building. Back then the peppers were fairly new, and were considered landscaping plants rather than the scourge they are today.

Those were pre-Apollo days, and we would play at being space pilots and so forth, as outlined by the “space operas” we listened to on Saturday morning radio: Tom Corbett – Space Cadet, Space Patrol, Flash Gordon and, for those few kids who actually had a TV, Captain Video. These sources of information were supplemented by comic books of the same names, plus some others. We didn’t learn a lot of science from them, but we got some powerful ideas and ambitions — some of us — that some even more or less realized later in life.

We had to use our imaginations. We didn’t have too much in the way of props. Playground equipment was limited to massive swings, see-saws and a sort of kid-powered merry-go–round. The games that centered on those appliances mostly involved fun, until a bigger kid decided to find out if he could push you so high on the swing or so fast on the merry-go-round that you would fall off, or “buck” you off the seesaw by slamming his end on the ground with his superior weight. Thus, the shrubbery. This broken branch would be the throttle, that one the steering lever, another would fire the ray gun, missles or whatever.

Because we exercised our imaginations in those ways, falling into the world of books was a natural next step. All of us geeks were readers. The school library was off limits to little kids, and we had to make do. I used to read the family’s Encyclopedia Americana for amusement, when I ran out of comic books or other fiction that I could understand.

My father, a self- taught horticulturist who was instrumental in developing the Caladium industry that still drives the local economy today, was heavy on books but light on fiction. What he had ran to the likes of Ernest Thompson Seton (boys’ outdoor stories), an autographed copy of Song of the South (Br’er Rabbit and his gang), and lots of books about plants and animals. I read ‘em all, along with the occasional paperback novel if I could swipe one from my Uncle Al, who lived next door. The reading was varied, but sometimes a bit dry. The most wonderful day of my life was entering the sixth grade and finding that I had access to a library at last.

I pity non-readers. People who don’t read for pleasure, I mean. They never know the delight of building pictures of infinite variety in their own heads, unneedful of TV, magazines and their distractions. Give a reader a book — about almost anything — and once into its hypnotic grasp they will almost literally be transported to another world, an amalgam of the author’s and their own imaginations.

I fear that we are losing that, even we readers, in these days of the internet and easy gratification of imagination. I know that much of the time when I am surfing the Web I get caught up in the frenzy of one more click, of wondering what’s around the next corner, so to speak, instead of enjoying what is in front of me. The search for variety, for something new, for something to relieve momentary boredom or disinterest, tends to draw us away from the details that we might absorb and find useful later. I believe that is dangerous. So much of our thought is unconsciously derived from the things that we see and read that shallowness is leading us to the sound bite/sight bite kind of culture that creates folks with less understanding than they know, and opinions that are not backed up by knowledge, but instead by opinion.

A dangerous condition indeed, in these days of mass manipulation of the media and of peoples belief systems. Combined with the failure of our schools to educate today’s students in even the rudiments of government, it create circumstances where our freedom has become a sitting duck for those who would have it otherwise.


If we are to keep up the pretense that we really give a rat’s ass about the poor people in Syria who are  being murdered by their own government, then we have to stop such ridiculous things as “strongly condemning” the shoot-down of a Turkish jet, and considering sanctions for the murders of innocent civilians.  Among other things, indiscriminate shelling of civilian populations is a clear-cut violation of the Geneva conventions.  Are we concerned about humanitarian rights, or are we just concerned with political posturing?

On the other hand, the last time we got deeply involved in this sort of thing, we managed to trash a modern, industrialized country and kill hundreds of thousands of civilians as “collateral damage.”  

Maybe the only thing worse than political posturing is the idea that NATO might actually do something.

Gorbachev on the Rio+20 Conference

“I feel bitter when I look at the cavernous gulf between rich and poor, the irresponsibility that caused the global financial crisis, the weak and divided responses to climate change, and the failure to achieve the Millennium Development Goals. The opportunity to build a safer, fairer and more united world has been largely squandered.”
~  Mikhail Gorbachev

Read the entire statement