May 30, 2010

America's Unrealistic Expectations of Government

BP Says 'Top Kill' Failed to Stop Gulf Leak -

America's frustration increases as we watch the live video feed of petroleum gushing into the Gulf of Mexico. Meanwhile, journalists and talking heads play politics around TeamObama's leadership as we are deluged with the notion, born of frustration, that the government should be able to fix this and (and every other conceivable ill).

This excerpt from today's NY Times is but one example of the pervasive and corrosive belief that the government is the answer to all our problems.

"...The latest failure will undoubtedly put more pressure — both politically and from the public — on the Obama administration to take some sort of action, perhaps taking control of the repair effort completely from BP..."

This ill-conceived notion surfaces because people have been led to believe that government can solve all our problems. I believe this belief springs from a cultural 'victim mentality' often fostered by the entrenched political and bureaucratic class inside the Beltway and echoed by the media.

Unfortunately, in recent years the Federal government has become so large and pervasive from excessive spending that we have come to expect it to solve all our woes. This impossible dream if not shattered with an occasional dose of reality could lead to virtual bankruptcy because "Washington must borrow 43 cents of every dollar it spends" (Kathleen Parker in today's Burlington Free Press).

This unrealistic 'fix-it' expectation is on display in the BP Gulf catastrophe. Rational actions should not be spawned from frustration. We simply cannot continue to believe that government has unlimited capacity. BP and the oil industry must fix this. The Federal government has no expertise or capacity to stop this gusher. BP and its engineering partners, as well other companies with undersea deep drilling experience are the ones to stop the flow of oil.

'Federalizing the effort' would be a huge mistake. Moreover, Obama should not be held responsible for something the government cannot fix.

But Peggy Noonan on May 29 in WSJ has this to say:

"Mr. Obama himself, when running for president, made much of Bush administration distraction and detachment during Katrina. Now the Republican Party will, understandably, go to town on Mr. Obama's having gone before this week only once to the gulf, and the fund-raiser in San Francisco that seemed to take precedence, and the EPA chief who decided to cancel a New York fund-raiser only after the press reported that she planned to attend.

But Republicans should beware, and even mute their mischief. We're in the middle of an actual disaster. When they win back the presidency, they'll probably get the big California earthquake. And they'll probably blow it. Because, ironically enough, of a hard core of truth within their own philosophy: When you ask a government far away in Washington to handle everything, it will handle nothing well."

May 29, 2010

Are We Missing an Essential Chemical?

The thrust of this story is that modern man in many societies may be depriving their bodies of an essential chemical that affects brain functions. Research suggests that many ills we are suffering may be linked to insufficient amounts of DHA in our diets.

"DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) is a component of brains, particularly the synaptic junctions between nerve cells, and its displacement from modern diets by the omega-6 acids in cooking oils such as soya, maize and rape is a cause of worry. Many researchers think this shift—and the change in brain chemistry that it causes—explains the growth in recent times of depression, manic-depression, memory loss, schizophrenia and attention-deficit disorder. It may also be responsible for rising levels of obesity and thus the heart disease which often accompanies being overweight."

May 23, 2010

Op-Ed Columnist - Bumper to Bumper With the World -

Op-Ed Columnist - Bumper to Bumper With the World -

Thomas Friedman is nervous... if I read correctly between the lines... very nervous. He quotes Mohamed El-Erian, the long time head of Pimco, a big bond investment firm who in a report states:
"The world is on a journey to an unstable destination, through unfamiliar territory, on an uneven road and, critically, having already used its spare tire."

Friedman further quotes Walter Shapiro at Politics Daily:

"The hopeful message buried in all these election returns is that voters are tired of being toyed with. The problems afflicting America are too grave to tolerate the cynical, cling-to-power-at-all-costs cynicism of Arlen Specter and other Capitol Hill Machiavellis. The choices voters make in their desperate quest for authenticity are not always wise or well grounded in reality. But politicians and pundits — obsessively calculating partisan advantage like Scrooge counted shillings — will ignore at their own peril the stirrings of idealism among voters in both parties."

Americans are fed up with most of today's national incumbent politicians. They have not spent our taxes wisely and have created massive debts. We tend to blame presidents for this , but the greater problem is the Congress who are responsible for budgets and spending.
This explains the rise of the Tea Party movement and the results of elections and primaries in the past few months. Americans clearly show their unhappiness with incumbents because they have not led us well and have demonstrated far too much self-serving and partisan behavior.

Friedman says:
"I think many Americans understand this at some intuitive level. In this economic climate, people know they need to be smarter, more frugal and make tougher choices in their private lives. They know they can’t fake it or fool themselves anymore, so they have much less tolerance for politicians who want to do that in our public life."

I share his uncertainty and have great concerns about the direction our present national leaders are taking us. We deserve better.

May 20, 2010

What Hath Man Wrought?

Has Man created life? If so, what does this mean for mankind? Who is God? How will humans deal with this reality? Should we be surprised? How does this affect spirituality? "In the beginning, God..."

The WSJ story explains in more detail that Dr. Ventner and his team actually didn't create the bacterium cell from scratch, but replaced the complete genome of a bacterium with a genome they created resulting in a new species of the bacterium.

The Economist reports that scientists have 'created life.' If true, how should we deal with this revolution? The Economist story concludes...

"...Thoughtful observers of synthetic biology favour a different approach: openness. This avoids shutting out the good in a belated attempt to prevent the bad. Knowledge cannot be unlearned, so the best way to oppose the villains is to have lots of heroes on your side. Then, when a problem arises, an answer can be found quickly. If pathogens can be designed by laptop, vaccines can be, too. And, just as “open source” software lets white-hat computer nerds work against the black-hats, so open-source biology would encourage white-hat geneticists.

Regulation—and, especially, vigilance—will still be needed. Keeping an eye out for novel diseases is sensible even when such diseases are natural. Monitoring needs to be redoubled and co-ordinated. Then, whether natural or artificial, the full weight of synthetic biology can be brought to bear on the problem. Encourage the good to outwit the bad and, with luck, you keep Nemesis at bay."

May 16, 2010

Why Nobody Uses Their Phone as a Phone, Anymore - Business - The Atlantic

Why Nobody Uses Their Phone as a Phone, Anymore - Business - The Atlantic

We still communicate, but using so many different means than voice. It's no surprise that data usage has exceeded voice usage on cell networks. The coming 4G networks will accelerate this trend because they are up to 10 times faster than today's 3G networks. We live in wondrous times!

The BIG question is, how will 4G networks be priced? Today's texting is a very profitable market for wireless carriers.

May 15, 2010

The Second Debt Storm Hits Nations - MarketWatch

The second debt storm hits nations - MarketWatch

U.S. voters can no longer ignore the dismal future for the United States as it continues to spend beyond its means. This piece from Marketwatch describes the massive problems faced by countries who have huge deficits and debt yet continue to spend excessively. The Obama administration and this Congress have not shown the courage to tackle this problem.

At bottom this is a leadership failure created by politicians pandering and catering to voters that government is the solution to their problems, whatever those problems may be. These pandering politicians have created a dependency culture that is clearly not sustainable. We have only to look to the recent Eurozone financial turmoil to see how quickly this house of debt cards can fall.

The Economist opines:
"Hardest of all will be finding the political will to curb profligacy. This struggle will become woven into the conflict that now tugs at the political fabric of Europe. German voters have just shown that they will punish leaders who spend their money bailing out feckless foreigners (see article). Hence the German demand that countries swallow savage budget cuts before they get any money—a demand that, taken to extremes, could condemn Europe to deflation and stagnation. On the other side, the violence in Greece is a reminder that democratic governments can impose only so much hardship before people rise up. Even if you accept that deficits must fall and economies must modernise, nobody can be completely sure which will come first, economic growth or social rebellion."

Fiscal restraint and spending discipline is long overdue in many developed countries and the United States is no exception. Our politicians, regardless of party, must refuse to continue their bad spending habits. This is not a new problem, but leadership for fiscal restraint rather than promises to voters that taxpayers and economies cannot afford must be the message to voters.

The U.S. mid-term elections will be an important test of our leaders' political courage. The leaders I want in office will deliver a message of spending restraint, fiscal discipline and deficit reduction and demonstrate the courage to actively reign in profligacy.

We simply cannot afford the spendthrift ways of Congress in the recent past. Congress, not the President, has the power to control spending and they have failed in that most important mission. They must change their ways because our national security is at risk.

"The debt mountain that brought down some of the world's biggest banks and dragged the international financial system to the brink of disaster has simply shifted to governments. Now it's threatening countries around the globe -- and, if left unchecked, could rip the very fabric of Europe's economic system and wreck economic recoveries in the U.S., China and Latin America."

Debt to GDP ratios in the world's advanced economies will top 100% in 2014, 35 percentage points higher than where they stood before the financial crisis, the IMF estimated last month.

Three percentage points of this increase came from government bailouts of financial institutions, while 3.5 percentage points was from fiscal stimulus. Another four percentage points has been driven by higher interest on government debt and 9 points came from revenue lost from the global recession, according to the IMF.

"Public finances in the majority of advanced industrial countries are in a worse state today than at any time since the industrial revolution, except for wartime episodes and their immediate aftermath," Willem Buiter, chief economist at Citigroup Inc. and former member of the Bank of England's Monetary Policy Committee, wrote in a recent note on sovereign risk.

"Unless there is a radical change of course by those in charge of fiscal policy in the U.S., Japan and the U.K., these countries' sovereigns too will, sooner (in the case of the U.K.) or later (in the case of Japan and the U.S.) be at risk of being tested by the markets," Buiter said."

May 8, 2010

GoogleApps to be Enhanced Significantly

Google intends to make life more robust for users of Google Apps this fall. Many popular Google services and features will be integrated into Google Apps to make life easier for those business, education and non-profit customers who use Apps. I'm looking forward to these changes!

In the original post I neglected to include this link which describes the changes and enhancements Google is planning

May 4, 2010

Op-Ed Columnist - The Limits of Policy -

Op-Ed Columnist - The Limits of Policy -

David Brooks has written truth based on research today in the NY Times. Most politicians should pay close attention to the findings and his conclusions. The notion that government policy backed by the government's penchant for erasing poverty by spending massive amounts of money with egalitarian motives is minimally effective. There are far more powerful factors at work in a person's life that determine his/her likelihood of doing well in the world. Read and contemplate David Brooks' column. Your time will be well spent.

Times Square Car Bomb Case Widens With Arrests in Two Countires -

Times Square Car Bomb Case Widens With Arrests in Two Countires -

Kudos to the counter-terrorism folks, the FBI, Homeland Security, NYPD and anyone else involved in apprehending this alleged terrorist just as he was about to leave the country. Good work, guys and gals!! Now let's see a speedy trial.

Horizon Oil Rig Explosion

Here are some pictures of the Horizon oil rig ...what it looked like when it was new and during the fires following the explosion earlier in April. What a mess! Don't know where these originated, but they have been floating around the web since the explosion.

May 1, 2010

Unified Caller ID on Google Voice and Skype - Computerworld Blogs

Unified Caller ID on Google Voice and Skype - Computerworld Blogs

Easy instructions for enabling Caller ID on Skype to be your Google Voice number. I became a bigger fan of Skype during my recent trip to Europe and the Middle East. Video calls worked OK, but their quality was dependent on the speed of the WiFi connection.

Cape Wind Project Approved by Interior Department

Large scale wind power may come to New England's coast after a decade-long clash of interests in Nantucket Sound. The fight is probably not finished even as Interior Secretary Ken Salazar approved the project on April 28, 2010. Nevertheless, more legal fights are sure to unfold for permitting and other regulatory details of the project. The wrangling over Cape Wind has surely been costly for those who propose to build it and also for those opposed. Perhaps the federal subsidies/tax credits are justified if only to pay for the costs of regulatory and political approval!

This is a big project consisting of 130 very large turbines whose combined output will equate to 75% of the electricity needs of the 225,000 living on Cape Cod and will be the first large-scale offshore wind project in the U.S. When it's built (I won't hold my breath as to when that may happen) we'll know the capital costs and the price of large scale windpower

I favor the project for one simple reason. When it's built, assuming the NIMBYs will not prevail to derail it, we'll have a project large enough to know the true costs of sea-based windpower in the U.S. The project proposes to provide 183 Megawatts of electricity. That's just shy of the proposed 225 megawatt deal for Vermont's purchase of hydro power from HydroQuebec slated to begin in 2012. A comparison of costs will be instructive from two different sources of renewable electricity.