Shake's Place
Notes From A Political Madman
by Jeff Klagenberg
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Risks and Rewards

I don’t envy venture capital firms, after the dot-com boom & bust finding the right risks to bet investment dollars on has to be frustrating.  I appreciate this even more as I lead a startup and talk to potential investors.  Investors have an incredibly hard decision to make on how much and what type of risk is worth taking.  But these discussions have also make me wonder where the next generation of innovation will really happen.

I am happy to say there is a healthy approach to taking risk.  Basically there is more respect being given to investment dollars out there.  This is important because it means venture firms are spending more effort on quantifying and understanding risk, which will help delay the next bust (and hopefully lessen its impact).  Everyone is better off when investment dollars are well spent.

Yet, it is disappointing to see what type of risk scares venture funds.  There is a consistent message that “development risk” is to be completely avoided.  I realize “divining” how a company will overcome development hurdles is more art than science, and therefore almost impossible to quantify.  However any truly breakthrough product is bound to have notable development risk.  Firms that take and succeed at this challenge will lead the next revolutionary markets.  The reward for backing this type of risk is very high, but requires doing something hard.  But hey most big payoffs come from doing the hard thing, since anyone can (and will) take the easier route. 

A Madman has spoken...

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Quality Teachers / Quality Education

One of the biggest challenges I have participated in is hiring people, usually engineers. When you are looking for specific skill sets it can be difficult to find enough candidates and even harder to find not only qualified but the best candidates. At no company I worked for did we ever say “well we’re having trouble finding and keeping the best engineers, so we better find a way to fire who we have easier”.

But that is what proposed reform in California that failed would have done. The reform was started with a valid premise that we need to ensure the best teachers are educating our children. However the reform also assumed it was possible to eliminate bad teachers and replace them from a pool of good teachers. However, currently we have a shortage, of qualified teachers. So there is no “magic” pool of high quality teachers.

We need to attract qualified and quality teachers. Today schools attract people that are very motivated to be teachers. Despite lower salaries there are people out there that really enjoy teaching. But to put this in perspective it would easy enough to find people that really enjoy playing football, and would play for say $20,000 per year. But the odds of that team winning, well, not so good… Currently we have trouble getting enough qualified teachers, and yet we want only the best teachers in the classroom.

For those that say the best teachers are the ones that want to teach anyhow. Yes motivation to teach is important, but the best teachers have skills and interests that take them far in other areas as well. And yes we do have some excellent teachers out there, but we need more. If we want the best teachers for our children we have to step up and offer pay and a work environment that attracts the best.

A Madman has spoken...

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Choosing Wisely for the Court?

When asked about potential successors Justice O’Connor said she would prefer a woman, but she also mentioned a favorite quote: "a wise old man and a wise old woman will reach the same decision" (by former Minnesota Supreme Court Justice Jeanne Coyne).   This makes sense, we really are looking for wisdom. But wisdom is gained through experience, so maybe we want a diversity of life experience on the court. Then again how narrow could the experience of nine individuals be?

To see I collected a few demographic statistics that might affect the experiences one has growing up in America and applied them to the court.  If the court looked like the US it would have:

  • 5 women and 4 men justices
  • 6 White, 1 Hispanic, 1 Black and 1 Asian justices
  • 7 Christian and 2 non religious justices
  • 8 native born and 1 naturalized citizen justices
  • 1 justice that grew up in poverty
  • 5 justices that voted for Bush and 4 that voted for Kerry (actually 4 that did not vote, 2 for Bush, 2 for Kerry and 1 really split but leaning toward Bush…)
  • 4 registered Democrats, 3 registered Republicans and 2 registered non-partisan justices (okay actually 3 Democrats, 2 Republicans, 2 non-partisan & 2 not registered to vote)
  • And finally… 3 justices that have used illicit drugs

I don’t know what these nine people should look like in reality, but they really don’t look like us.  Maybe it would be wisest to pick very qualified candidates that make the court a little more like us.

A Madman has spoken...

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Working Smarter

Friends can manage to say stupid things, even the brightest of friends. One recent reminder of this happened to me when a few of us were talking about the French government giving up on the 35 hour work week. And a couple of them thought this was great news, and that it helped prove the French “wrong”. I even laughed a bit in agreement at the time but as I thought about it I realized this is a stupid way to look at it.

We should be happy if it worked, not if it fails. For some reason I like the thought that as we advance people will have to “work” less, at least to make a living. The idea that people could spend more time with their families, learning, creating or just having fun sounds better to me. Are we really happier thinking that as workers become more and more productive that we can’t manage to create a society that turns that prosperity into a better standard of living? More “free” time?

I just imagine the same conversation if the US was giving up on the 40 hour work week for a 48 hour week... A much better response to the French giving up would be to say “well they didn’t make it work, but we damn well can!”

A Madman has spoken...

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Standing Up for Our Flag

After listening to the news today I am pissed.  You see I have family in the military, currently active and veterans, so I get very upset hearing about flag burning.  I know people get upset at our government, but do they realize how much it hurts people that have fought to defend that flag?  How low do you have to be?  How callus not to see the pain it causes?  And why are they so stupid they cannot find a better way to communicate their ideas and frustration with the government?  I simply have no sympathy or respect for any American that chooses to burn our flag!  But there is a group of people even more disgusting to me, Americans who want our government to amend our Constitution to make it illegal to burn a flag.

  Burning our flag is already wrong and I will berate any idiot that goes out and burns a flag.  The reaction of Americans is the right punishment for this act.  It is a very sad day when we need our government to punish these nitwits.  We damn well better be able to stand up for ourselves, and our country!!  The day individual Americans cannot speak for themselves against those that insult our country, no matter how horribly, is the day we no longer deserve to be called “American”.

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Our Government Ourselves

I am proud that our country was built on the ideals of self-rule and freedom. Phrases such as:

We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union…”, “We hold these truths to be self-evident…”, and “…with liberty and justice for all

remind me of our heritage.  All of these words touch me to my core.  But recently when I was at the Lincoln Memorial reading Gettysburg address, I realized Lincoln’s ending sentence best captures the essence of democracy for me. 

“… government of the people by the people and for the people, shall not perish from this earth.” 

These words spoken as a memorial for so many that had given their lives to keep our country whole, truly capture the idealism of American democracy.

These words are an eloquent reminder that not only must a democratic government be responsive to the people, but also that the people are the government.  It is my responsibility, your responsibility, every American’s responsibility, right and privilege to participate in governing our nation.  Though this idealism makes me proud, it also makes me incredibly sad to see how far we have let go of it.

Today we shirk this responsibility, separating ourselves from governing. So much so, that when a president said “In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem” the statement was very popular.  But, if we changed that sentence using Lincoln’s ideal, the sentence would read “In this present crisis, we are not the solution to our problem, we are the problem.”  My guess, this would have been received less enthusiastically, though it may be awful close to the truth.  It has become far too easy for people to simply deride “government”, very common in fact.  It is to the point where we believe “government” is simply terrible at everything.  But we are supposed to live in a society where the governed are the government!  Are we truly terrible at everything?

We are the government.  It is our responsibility to inform ourselves, to inform our representatives, to go beyond rhetoric, spin and propaganda.  We must decide what is worth investing in, and what is not.  We must decide what programs to fund or not fund.  And once we have decided what is worth investing in, we must pay for it.  Or we must make certain the investment is worth having our children, and their children pay for it.  We cannot simply sit and complain about government. We must vote, and we must write our representatives about issues.  I know it takes time and effort to learn issues, and impossible to learn them all, but each of us must make this effort.  However, that is simply the responsibility of participating in a democracy.  If we do not, we will end up in a “media-ocity” where whoever is best at manipulating the media will decide for us.

A Madman has spoken...

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Looking Forward to Social Security

Social Security reform is a subject wrought with apprehension.  But it is very important as a country we take this subject on.

Today the system is “backward paying”, in that payments being collected today are used to pay benefits to current retirees.  Built like an insurance program this system has no real “rate of return”.  Though effective this type of system must be adjusted to deal with demographic changes.  Insulating Social Security from these changes is why moving to a “forward paying” system (monies paid in are invested and paid out to the participants) is a very desirable change.

However, it is a myth that the system as built is inherently broken…  If you look at the program you can see that it has consistently operated with large “surpluses”.  If that money had been set aside (and invested) the program could have been funded for a very long time.  More importantly this “surplus” could have been used to change it into a “forward paying” model. 

Instead the “Social Security Surplus” has been spent to support deficit spending by the federal government.  Making the “surplus” just another tax vehicle for federal funding.  Going to a “forward paying” mechanism would also prevent this deficit shell game.  This is probably the best way to insure the future solvency of Social Security. 

There are of course many ways to create a forward paying model. So keeping the goal of Social Security, providing a safety net for retirement even in the face of sudden market downfalls, is vital.

Now I wonder if anyone is brave enough to brooch the even more immediate problem of Medicare???

A Madman has spoken...

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Tsunami Wake Up Call

Mother Nature, Allah, God … it does not matter what you call the power around us, but we have been sent a reminder of the vastness of that power. And it should serve as a wake up call to our leaders and indeed ourselves.

You see, it has proven that our own ability to destroy pales in comparison, and that the human spirit can absorb and overcome such a tragedy. It serves as a reminder how weak and fragile we are as individuals in such a disaster, but how strong we are when we work together in such times. And it is a timely reminder…

You, the “leaders” out there, yes you know who you are. Fate has given you responsibility for the lives (and deaths) of many. These events hopefully show you that deceit, death and destruction used to promote your goals simply creates misery that begets more hatred and continues a cycle of senseless destruction. If you want to take the moral high ground then by all means do so. But realize you take that ground by treating your enemy, as you want to be treated, and how you want your family to be treated. You do so by asking of you and your family the same as you ask from those you lead. You do so by sticking to your ideals in the means you take, and not hold them up only as an end point.

And for the rest of us, this disaster is a wake up call as well. We have the responsibility to call our own leaders to task. We must speak out when we see them failing to promote a better world. We cannot let then shirk their responsibility, or allow them to hide atrocities within idealism. Nor can we let them scamper away from working together to make the world better by saying that such a goal is “too idealistic”, “naïve” or imply it is somehow “wimpy”. Making the world a better place is hard and difficult work. And it is work that is not done yet.

Waking up in a world with the death of 150,000 people is a tragedy. But the world will pull together to overcome. A much bigger tragedy is not learning enough to stop killing each other. Maybe it is too idealistic to say “we must find a way to get along,” but I will continue to have and pursue my ideals. I hope our “leaders” and you will too…

A Madman has spoken

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Failing the Test

President Bush supports testing in our schools for a good reason: it’s a very important tool in determining effectiveness.  However, when it comes to testing foreign policy for effectiveness, he wants to avoid and even mocks the idea.  Presidential candidate Kerry discussed his commitment in always defending our country.  He also suggested it was important to test foreign policy for effectiveness, which he called the “Global Test”.  This is not the best title since it has been an easy target of 10-second sound bites.  But no matter what the term, it is an important and necessary concept.

In the “Global Test”, you recognize a problem, come up with a solution, and then test that solution by explaining to Americans and our allies what you are doing and why.  From that you determine if you have the support you want and need to be successful.  If you don’t then you either change your plans to account for the lack of support, or change to build support.

One reason Bush has mocked this concept; it should have been applied before Iraq.  Looking at the US attacks on Afghanistan and Iraq, you see two very different results.  Our attack on the Taliban in Afghanistan had solid support from all our allies; we all knew why we were going in before we did.  This action passed the test; because of this, it has been a largely successful mission.

In Iraq, however, we explained why we were going in and still approximately 38% of Americans thought it was not time to invade Iraq.  Also, most of the UN Security Council did not buy the reason we sold them.  The reason stated to the UN was weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and Iraq as an imminent threat to the US.  They wanted more proof on WMD, and did not see Iraq as an imminent threat to the US.  And on both they have been proven to be correct.  So the Iraq invasion failed the test, and this mission has not been as successful as we need.

If the current administration had applied the test before going into Iraq they may still have chosen to go in, but they would have known to re-plan.  And if they had, they may have even tried telling the world the truth: that Iraq was fast becoming a failed state with a dangerous despot as a leader.  And that such situations need to be dealt with by the world.  Making that argument would have taken longer, but in the end would be far more effective, simply because it’s the truth!

A Madman has spoken
So testing for effectiveness before committing our troops is not only a good thing, anything less is irresponsible.  And had we thought about why we failed the test before going into Iraq, we could have been far more effective.  Of course Bush does not like the idea of a test, since his actions failed that test and failed to deliver.

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Politcal Discord

A few days ago I had a great evening talking with Brian and Dave.  Somewhere between the first beer and the third it became clear that we disagreed on a number of opinions, sometimes fervently so.  Even with this difference of opinion we actually talked about our ideas and listened to each other, something lost in politics today.  I doubt we truly affected each other’s point of view.  But I am confident if we were trying to build a successful policy on the issues we discussed, health care and education; it would be far better for the discussion.

It’s just the way ideas work and are improved.  You figure out a goal, use real data, create an idea to solve it and then you find people that disagree.  By using differing points of view you can actually improve the original idea.  This means embracing disagreement, not fighting it. 

But our political system has become a strange competition between two organizations vying for popularity.  Worse yet, the competition usually comes down to making the other “side” look bad.  How utterly stupid this is!  First it has somehow made it appear that all the issues that face us have only two sides.  How can one look at issues like defeating terrorism, raising the quality of life and decreasing crime and only come up with two potential approaches?  It is just a strange insanity that is sold to us.  Then these two sides face off and try to look good by not “giving in” to the “other side’s” approach, delaying any real attempt to solve problems.

Finally most discouraging to me is the shameful way that each “side” treats people that don’t agree with them.  The “liberal” side people portray those with “conservative” opinions as a bad people, a simpletons, or just plain corrupt.  And on the “conservative” side people portray those with “liberal” opinions as elitists, “un-American”, or just plain wimpy.  These are all just ways of avoiding having to think about a different point of view.  It may be somewhat entertaining for a while, but it won’t solve a single problem. 

Our political system can be better, if we stand behind politicians who work to include contrary views.  You can spot them, they’re the ones that vote in ways that cause their party consternation, the ones labeled “independent thinkers” or “mavericks”.  These are the leaders we need to support.  We need to be skeptical of those that always “vote the party line” and dismiss contradictory viewpoints.  We should avoid voting for those that don’t impress us with their ability to understand opposing views and use them to improve their own ideas.  And most importantly we should reward those in other “parties” that do impress us.  Because we all face the same problems, regardless of party affiliation.  We need to strive to elect leaders that understand solutions quite often cross party boundaries too!  Well, guess I’ll have to see Brian and Dave again soon, the next beer is on me.

A Madman has spoken

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Practical Campaign Finance Reform

We are now in the heart campaign fund raising season.  The score so far, Bush in the lead with $203 Million and Kerry with $110 Million…  This is true even though campaign finance reform has attempted to reduce the role that fund raising has in elections.  But, as a society we need to come to the sobering reality that it will not and cannot.  It is a pretty basic fact that communicating to the entire US takes a lot of money, so any candidate has to raise large sums of money to be competitive.  There is a travesty in this process, for all the money raised there is also a lack of real communication from the candidates.

Think about all the ads you see or hear.  Do the candidates tell you what they would really do in office?  Talk about difficult issues in depth?  Not really.  They tend to explain how the other candidate is untrustworthy, a big spender, or some other vague attack.  And worse yet, do they engage any other ideas from “3rd parties”, or do they avoid them?  It is very sad when we are asked to hire a person for what is probably the most powerful job in the world, and we don’t even get an in depth interview…

 Perhaps we should focus campaign finance reform in a different direction.  Rather than trying to limit the amount of funds that come into campaigns, we should ensure they are put to the best use.  To do this I propose a campaign contribution tax for any federal candidate that raises over $5 Million.   We set it at 40%.  This would mean that 40% of every campaign dollar raised would go into a general fund, which would be split equally amongst candidates meeting specific requirements, such as:

  • Polling at 5% or better with eligible voters on July 4th (a fitting date)
  • Agrees to 3 public debates
  • Agrees to 2 public one-on-one interviews
    • One by an interviewer selected by the candidate
    • The second by an interviewer selected by the opponents
  • Publishes answer to questions on issues, that are posted on a public website
  • Contributes 5 questions to the above mentioned list
  • Provide a complete accounting of the source of all their funds on the same public website

This would motivate candidates to provide real information, and provide a platform for all of us to hear more ideas vetted in a public forum.  Fund raising would still play a big role in selecting our candidates; we just have to be vigilant in making sure these funds lead to better information to counteract any potential undue influence.  And is certainly not too much to ask for someone we put the trust of our nation in. 

A Madman has spoken

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Election Promises

Given we are quickly moving into an election year, I have no doubt we will hear one of two messages coming from the lips of candidates everywhere.  We will either hear about cutting taxes, and how the government should not be wasting our money.  Or, we will hear about new programs that will make our country better.  Or, possibly even both at the same time.  It’s a “no brainer “ if you’re running for office.  People love hearing that they will have more money, or that they will receive more freebies.  What could be simpler?

 Of course a future office holder is going to reduce taxes he must spend less too.  Though it is often stated this can be done by “eliminating waste”, which is a good thing, that only will account for up to about a 5% reduction in overall budget.  And, that’s on a good day.  Usually “waste” needs to mean programs that candidates do not see as needed.  But of course saying you will reduce services is not quite as popular.

 So let’s hypothetically say services will be increased; that will please everyone.  Coming up with programs that everyone can agree on are a good idea.  This isn’t hard as there are many very worthy causes.  Of course the money has to come from somewhere, but where?  But saying one’s going to raise taxes… hmmm, most would think it would be best to leave that part out.

A Madman has spoken

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Living up to Our Responsibility

Living up to ones responsibility is often a difficult task, even more difficult when the responsibility is shared.  That’s because each person can point to another and say they should take care of it.  Let’s look at some responsibilities each and every American shares.  First let’s look at what we owe Iraqis.  I know just the phrasing of that last sentence has put some hackles up, but we invaded Iraq as a preemptive move for our own protection.  You may or may not agree with the assessment, but as a country that is what we did.  As citizens we are responsible for this action, whether we supported it, protested against it, or didn’t even know about it.  The reason is simple: it was done for you.

So, what exactly was done on our behalf?  We dropped bombs, blew up structures, and injured and killed people.  Infrastructure was damaged, both physical and organizational, which resulted in looting.  So like it or not it we now have an obligation to fix this.  This is not an action movie where at the end we can ignore the consequences of the damage incurred.  We simply cannot shirk this responsibility.  The damages are ones that we have to pay, just like any other debt.  We need to make sure that it is worth it, and do this right.  There may be options less expensive in the short run.  But not building a prosperous Iraq will cost our children and grand children far more.  This is not to say there could not have been a more effective way of dealing with Iraq, just that given what we have done the rebuilding is our responsibility.

I want to take a moment to point out that our own troops were killed and injured. We owe them our gratitude.  And, we must be responsible to them and their families as well.

Another responsibility we all share is the national debt.  The debt was borrowed on our behalf, as well as our parents’ and grandparents’.  But it is now our debt.  Each year we pay interest on this debt. Currently about 20% of our tax dollars goes to pay this interest.  This means that the money we borrowed in the past effectively raised our current taxes by 20%.  Any money we borrow today goes to raise our future taxes, and of course the taxes of our children.  This debt is ours as much as the tax dollars are ours. 

Responsibility is not easy, and often deferring it seems appealing.  However shirking responsibility is only a temporary fix. In the end it just makes those future problems more difficult.

A Madman has spoken

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The Road to Iraq

We have gone through a strange path to liberate Iraq, and here I sit feeling as torn as ever. I think the liberation of Iraq may very well go down as one of the best things the US has done, and the Bush administration should be commended for accomplishing this. To make this true requires that we focus our energies on making Iraq prosperous, peaceful and run by Iraqi’s. But the road to getting there has been paved with US arrogance that I still have trouble comprehending.
We have vilified the French and castigated the UN for the lack of action in Iraq. All the time we did this claiming this was about disarming Iraq. Looking back at what happened in the UN, of 15 countries in the Security Council we were able to convince 2 that we should take immediate action against Iraq, of the permanent members we convinced 1. Russia, Germany and France were vocal about their opposition to the US stance. Out of this we somehow decide to attack the French as being the problem. I thought our goal was to lead, that implies convincing others to follow, not blaming those that don’t. Growing up when someone started insulting people for not agreeing with them I remember them being called spoiled brats not leaders…

To make matters worse we were arguing that we needed to take immediate action to disarm Iraq, since they might use their weapons of mass destruction on other countries or give them to terrorists. The counter argument to this was that Iraq was unlikely to use these weapons as long as their government was in power. And therefore we should have let the weapons inspectors finish their work and make a decision at that point (which would have been in the spring / summer). It was also pointed out that Iraq was most likely to use weapons of mass destruction if they were attacked. So after the dust has settled, we see Iraq did not use any chemical or biological weapons. Since they did not use the weapons in this extreme situation it is powerful evidence in support of the Security Council position.

I am frustrated that we did not have the will to present the real reason to attack Iraq. The citizens of Iraq deserve to be liberated. Ironically once we invaded Iraq all the sudden this is what we were talking about. However presenting this argument at the UN would have required more work on our part and a concerted effort to build consensus. You see it comes down to the realization that the world’s safety depends on shutting down rogue governments. Doing this would force the UN to define when a government has stepped over a threshold and should be considered illegitimate. Not doing so will allow unrest and terrorism to foment from many parts of the globe. Effectively we cannot ignore those situations that breed this kind of violence. However, putting this agenda forward takes a certain amount of humility in our foreign policy. Realizing that our security depends on working with other countries, including once that we consider “3rd world” in humbling. Knowing that the decisions and implementation of the changes we need made is daunting. But failing to make these realizations will be expensive and dangerous.

Now is the time to lead, the time for idealism and most importantly the time for humility.

A Madman has spoken…

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What is under Attack?

As we continue to strategize on the war against terrorism we need the best understanding of what our enemies are striking at. For this reason we must reflect on their choice of targets on 9/11, both in terms of physical and symbolic importance. What they attacked were not symbols of our freedom but of our preeminence in the world.

As I see it we know of 3 targets that were attacked, the Pentagon, the World Trade Center and the Airlines. The Pentagon represents our military might so striking it had at least two objectives: One to show the world they were willing to attack out strength. The second a statement of “If we can strike here we can strike anywhere.”

The World Trade Center clearly had the psychological impact of killing so many people. It would also have economic repercussions. Add to this its place as a symbol of economic might and it becomes clear target for those wishing to challenge our financial dominance. Of course the buildings themselves were an accomplishment of our technological progress. In the end this was an attack of them showing what havoc can be wrought by their distorted ideals of commitment in spite of US power.

Airlines were both a weapon and a target. A way of showing we can be used against ourselves. Attacking travel is also an insidious way to make many American’s feel vulnerable. This target also provided an additional economic attack.

So what do we learn from these targets? They are not striking at out freedom. Their attacks will strike fear and may make it tempting for us to attack or own freedoms, but their goal is to hurt our economic and military power. So as we decide how best to protect ourselves, we all should do what it takes to keep our economy healthy. We cannot let fear dissuade us from living or from using the power we do enjoy well.

A Madman has spoken…

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Today's Media

There has always been much discussion about the Media. Typically rants about bias to the left or right, over coverage of scandals and longing for better news coverage. Well here I sit as part of the media (albeit a very small one) and it has given me some insight into today’s media.

As always we must keep in mind that media outlets are all businesses. As such they attempt to take account of the desires of their market. And looking at the popularity of shows I believe that most hit the mark. An unfortunate side affect (in my ‘opinion’) is that outlets tend to mix and even emphasize opinion over information. You see opinion is far more interesting since it is where conflict exist. Of course the more acrimonious the conflict the better! And information tends to be boring, just sets of facts. But we desperately need facts to make intelligent decisions about those interesting conflicting opinions…

Of course as I point this out, note that Shake’s Place by design contains largely opinion. Though it does include differing opinions, hopefully in constructive dialogue. As much as possible I have included factual information. Be warned that even though I will include all information that I know is important, it will be the information that led me to a given opinion in the first place. Just a note to realize that even when an opinion based article conscientiously includes facts it is wise to seek out information that would support a contrary viewpoint.

So what is the solution? First we can all pay attention and understand when we are hearing opinion. Then go out and find the information we need to really test those opinions, testing both ones we agree and disagree with. If enough people are looking for information new outlets will come into existence to fill this need. In the end it doesn’t matter how much “garbage” is out there if it easy to find the good stuff.

A Madman has spoken...

And a reader speak back:

Larry Gilbert

Good show.

Perhaps there is a corollary. Perhaps we are news junkies. Perhaps there just is not enough breaking news to fill all the hours of news broadcasting. Perhaps we become impatient with lack of new information, and lack of progress on our favorite issue. Perhaps the media has made us news junkies. Perhaps they have made us impatient. "Why aren't they acting on my favorite bill in Congress? Why have we not found bin Laden? Why is this person and that person so slow in acting, and therefore incompetent? Why isn't everything perfect?"

It seems that most of the talking heads ask these kinds of questions. Not really opinion, but making us angry that everything is not perfect. Mostly they don't have opinions. They are just causing controversy. Every journalist has only one motivation--to get a byline.

Only a few journalists actually offer well thought out solutions of their own. They have my respect. They are not on the nightly news. Except maybe O'Rielly.

Yes, we should research. By all means, check facts. Learn both sides of every issue before committing.



I definitely agree that contentiousness is a major tool of the media (and political parties). Coming out of a science background I know the path to understanding is to constantly seek information that disproves what you currently believe. Unfortunately for those in the public eye this is anathema, since it would be used to show you to be wrong (gasp!!).

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Winning This War

Here we are in a war on terrorism and we need to take a serious look at our tactics if we intend to win it. As in any conflict it is essential to determine what resources your enemy relies on. In conflicts with another country this typically means destroying their military, blocking their supply lines and taking territory. But, when fighting terrorists, they may not have territory to take, their “military” are individuals in the populace so destroying them will be difficult, and denying them funds may slow them down, however the tactics they can use aren’t necessarily expensive. . So how do we adjust our tactics to win this war? Well the terrorists do have an important resource, the zealots that are willing to give their lives to hurt the US. This supply of zealots requires a group of people that are desperate and hate the US. In the end this combination of hatred and desperation is a resource we need to control.

Now hatred has always existed and it is not realistic to end it but we can certainly mitigate how much is directed at the US and to help lower the amount of desperation. Basically we need to be a good neighbor to the people of the world. Given our standing as the worlds only superpower and the incarnation of wealth in the world, it is easy for people that feel repressed, hungry or hopeless to blame the US. This is an unfortunate reality, and a dangerous one. The first step to deal with is to aggressively try to eliminate hunger in the world. This is something well within our grasp if we put the same amount of energy that we put into eradicating small pox, or a similar amount of money as our war in Afghanistan. As we do so we need to make certain the infrastructure (i.e. the free market) for food production is also built. This is more challenging but a necessary second step (this will likely include wean our farming industry off of subsidies).

As we fight hunger we will need to look at some of the more difficult challenges, promoting personal freedom, sustainable development and education. But as the people of the world see the US as striving for them it will be a lot harder for them to hate us. And as they have more to lose even of they do hate us, they aren’t going to strike in such a self-destructive fashion. Now I know there will be people out there that will say this is impractical and expensive, but we knew this war would be costly and difficult. We cannot afford to wimp out and fail to use the most effective tactics. Here we are one year into this war, we must adjust our tactics to recognize the uniqueness of this enemy, that is if we want to have a victory in our lifetime.

A Madman has spoken...

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To Clone or not to Clone

Well here I sit concerned about human cloning… You see there is a movement to illegalize human cloning. It is no wonder that we have angst and fear about cloning, given all that has fictionally been shown to us. However I have not heard anything that justifies banning human cloning. Basically there are two aspects of cloning, I will address, first for the purpose of creating human embryos and second for reproduction (note there are actually several categories but these two shall do for this article). Now cloning is of course not the only way that these can happen; we have artificial insemination, in vitro fertilization (IVF) and surrogate mothers, not to mention the natural way. Each technology of course met with resistance and healthy questions about how it should be used, in the end none were ever illegalized. In the end most concerns about cloning go away as long as you recognize that a clone is simply another human. And a human with all the rights and protection given a non cloned human.

In the first case we have human cloning with the intent to create human embryos. Questions have been raised about cloned embryos being used as organ factories, research, or being genetically manipulated. A clone embryo is still a human embryo; we simply need to answer if these activities should be allowed on embryos at all. Any of these things could happen to a non-cloned embryo, so illegalizing cloning will not address these question anyhow.

On to cloning for reproduction… Going back to the clone is just a person principle, this does not really differ much from in vitro fertilization (IVF) with one major exception. Currently cloning does not have nearly the success of IVF. I believe the FDA should regulate cloning as a treatment for infertility and should not allow it to get to human trials until it is expected to have the success rate of IVF. In the end I do not expect many people to want to create clones of themselves. I know I have heard the argument that allowing human cloning opens the door to “designer babies”. Well if it is possible to manipulate the DNA of a clone it will be possible to do the same with IVF, and assuming other advancements. We do need to decide whether genetic manipulation should be allowed and that is something for a very carefully thought out discussion. But, it is a separate question from cloning.

So we need to look at the concerns that have been brought up when talking about human cloning; and see if there are new protections that need to be put in place for the various stages of human life. There is no need to illegalize cloning outright. Reasonable regulation and monitoring does need to occur before it is allowed for reproduction. However we do need to make certain that it is clear that a human clone is as human as someone from natural fertilization. I would hope this is obvious, but often seems lost in the arguments over this very emotional issue.

A Madman has spoken...

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Team Politics

So which team are you on? Demos? Republicans? Why do we have such a team orientation to our politics? And why does it always seem to come down to two “sides”? Given the sheer number of issues it is ludicrous to think that only two different viewpoints could adequately represent everyone. However, it seems we believe it is adequate. And when it comes to voting or working on the issues, it is one team vs. the other. In my experience it is best to have differing viewpoints to work together in order to come up with the “best” solution. Differing opinions help spot strengths and weaknesses of a given approach. However in our current political environment that is anathema. Since it would require acknowledging the other side has valid points.

So how do we get away from this? Well I suggest that the government should not be supporting the political party system. First it should no longer keep citizens that join one party from joining others. In fact the government should not care. There should be one method for getting candidates on the ballot, and the parties should adhere to that method. In other words the general election would just be a set of valid candidates hopefully with a well-communicated platform. If parties want to participate in the primary system, they should pay to defray any additional costs and provide a list of their members to be given ballots. So at that time a given voter may have multiple party ballots.

Without this we instill an idea that we are divided into two teams, and lose the fact that we are all affected by the same problems. Slinging “pithy” statements and expending energy to denigrate the “other team” may be fun entertainment but do little good. We often think using these tactics will help “our” team “win”. However, this tendency toward win-lose just makes us all lose out. Putting this thinking to an end will weaken the idea that candidates should work in the interest of the party and hopefully get them focused on solving real issues.

A Madman has spoken...

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Foreign Policy Focus

What do we export? This is a question we need to answer. For many years we have had foreign policies driven by our strategic needs in the Cold War. The success of policy was determined by measuring the influence of the Soviet Union. Effectively we were exporting US influence in the world. However, since the fall of the Berlin Wall our goals have been less focused, moving from critical event to critical event without a driving goal. Here is a list of a few of these events:

  • Stepping in between Iraq & Kuwait
  • Joining a UN effort in Somalia
  • Going into Haiti to reinstall a democratically elected government
  • Brokering a peace agreement in Bosnia
  • Attacking Yugoslavia to stop actions in Kosovo

I am certain everyone reading this has an opinion about the success or failure of each action. Determining the success of the combination of these actions would be difficult at best. We need a new measuring stick to determine how effective our foreign policy really is. I suggest two basic units of measure, the first is an average standard of living (outside the US) and the second is the number of countries that give all their citizens the rights of free speech, free assembly, freedom of religion and due process. This allows us to measure our ability to export freedom and prosperity.

The Bush administration has made a good first step in this direction. After taking a close look at our foreign aid programs, they want to increase the total amount of aid granted. And, direct that aid only to governments moving toward freedom and economic prosperity. The next challenge is seeing how we can change other aid (i.e. military) and other foreign policies to also meet the same goals.

If we can create foreign policy that increases the standard of living and personal freedom worldwide we will benefit dramatically. This would create a more stable world facilitating free trade and exchanging ideas. These are the key elements that made the amazing prosperity of the 90's possible. I for one would like to see us focus on making the future even brighter.

A Madman has spoken...

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Terrorism Trials

We are now bringing prisoners captured in the war on terrorism to Guantanamo Bay. We now must come to terms with how we dispense justice to these prisoners.

Since our country stands for freedom and justice, this will be the most telling of times. We must guard against our desire for speedy vengeance, and make certain we follow our highest ideals. It is really simple, you see, as the attacks of Sept 11 were an attack on our way of life, of our ideas of freedom, tolerance and justice. If we falter from these in pursuit of the terrorists, we have lost something.

When we do bring our attackers to trial, it should be in an open court with all their rights being observed. As brutal and unjust as their attacks were, we must show the world how a trial should be conducted. This will weaken those who say the US is the enemy. It would show other countries that holding secret tribunals is wrong. And most importantly it will show all of our children how justice is meant to be.

A Madman has spoken...

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