New drone

So, for Christmas this year I got a drone.  A nice DJI Phantom 3.  Its pretty awesome. It is much easier to fly, even with controls set to manual, than any of the little toy drones.  The larger they are the more stable, and more dangerous.

I did need to register with the FAA to comply with the law.  I also need to notify local airports when I fly.  That becomes kind of a pain depending on where I’m flying.  At this point most of my flights have been well below treetops, but I definitely see the issue at higher altitudes.

The primary focus of my flying to date has been getting used to flying it, understanding the modes of operation and how the camera works.  Framing the shots and how to fly to get a smooth shot is interesting.  Its really different from hand holding a camera and much smoother generally.

Getting fun shots of the kids on vacation and interesting landscapes will be pretty awesome this summer.  By the time that rolls around I’m hoping to be pretty good at flying and more comfortable that I’m not going to lose the drone.

One thing that I would like to see from the FAA is to mandate electronic notification.  If I fly at home I need to notify 6 or 7 operators because of the local airport and heliports associated with news stations and hospitals.  Because I’m doing a notification and not asking for permission that should be a reasonable request.  Or eliminate the need for notification by defining a flight envelope that is exempt.  If I’m flying within 20 feet of treetops or below the level of the highest building I should not be interacting with any aircraft.

Overall I’m pretty happy with it.  I can’t wait until I can use all of the capabilities.

The problem with politics today

Maybe it has always been the case that we have a diverse set of opinions about how this country should be run.  It is not the case that politics has always been as polarized as it is.  Each party seems to be motivated by tearing down what the other party has accomplished instead of working together to come up with a better solution.

Let’s use the current healthcare debate as an example.  The Affordable Care Act was put in place during Obama’s first term and mostly because he had a supportive congress.  The legislation is not perfect.  No one will disagree with that.  There are definitely things that could be improved and are less than ideal.  But the legislation does make it so that millions of people can get insurance that couldn’t before.  This is a cost savings for everyone across the board.  Any study you look at will show that the ER is the most expensive option for health care and does not address preventative care; unfortunately this was the last resort for many people because they couldn’t get insurance.

Now, it seems like the GOP is wanting to get rid of it, without having a replacement ready, just because the other party put it in place.  There is going to be a systematic dismantling of many things just because it wasn’t their idea.

These political maneuvers impact people, real people.  The repealing of this legislation is going to result in many people being without insurance, harm the insurance companies and everyone covered by them, and for what?  Political clout?

You have people complaining that there shouldn’t be an individual mandate.  Ok, philosophically I understand this.  You shouldn’t be forced to buy something you don’t want.  The reality though is insurance companies cannot succeed if the only people that sign up for insurance are sick.  That’s precisely why they excluded people with pre-existing conditions.  If healthy people don’t pay into the system to reduce everyone’s risks then the only thing that gives is rates need to go up for all of the members.  This results in more people choosing to go without insurance and you see where this goes.

The only conclusion that I can draw is people in America have become more selfish than ever.  No one is interested in the greater good, but what is good for me now.  Trump’s entire campaign had this refrain going on.  We don’t want (non-white) immigrants coming here because they take jobs.  We don’t want Obama-care because I don’t want/need insurance.  We don’t want free trade because “they” are taking things away from us.

We have become a country where we don’t care about the well being of our fellow citizens and humans because we view they are taking something away from “us”.  The problem with this thinking is it further stratifies differences between groups and creates resentment and further unwillingness to help “the other”.  If someone helps you, you are more willing to help them or help someone else in need.  If someone ignores you when you need help, you are less likely to help someone else.  I’m not saying that you should help people because it benefits you, but because it benefits everyone.

The other conclusion that I draw from all of this is we are no longer looking at the long view, only what is right in front of us.  This is true with the health care debate, the vote for Trump, global conflict, economic policy and global warming.  If the impact isn’t visible right now, or its going to result in me having inconvenience now for benefit later (especially if the impact is seen a generation from now), we aren’t interested.  This is related to selfishness but it is more insidious because even if we are looking out for our interests, we are looking out for them now instead of the future.

We have too many problems that will require us all to work together to look out only for ourselves in the near term.  We need to focus on what is good for the species long term.  Our short sightedness is only going to impact our children, grandchildren, etc.  Who wants to explain that we fucked up the planet and our country because we were only worried about what was right in front of us?

Why its important to call your representative

Even if you don’t agree with your elected representatives, it is still important to let them know what you think.  Case in point…

On Monday January 2, 2017 the house GOP representatives got together in a private meeting to propose an amendment to HR 5 which outlined the rules for the coming Congress.  This amendment changed the rules for the ethics oversight group significantly.  It took away the independence of the group and put it under the control of the people it was to oversee.  It also notably took away the ability for anonymous tips.  There were a number of other changes, but these were the ones that bugged me the most.

News of this broke late Monday/early Tuesday.  I, along with a large portion of the electorate, called our representatives to express our disapproval of this move.  I asked everyone I know to call and express concern.  I was impressed with the number of people that were supportive and asked for more information or wanted to research it before calling.  Exactly the response that should be given.

Midday on Tuesday, after the switchboards were swamped with public outcry, public denouncements by politicians and a general sweeping disagreement the move was reversed.

It shows that CALLING your representative helps.  They pay much more attention to phone calls or in person visits than they do to letters or email.  Please become familiar with your representative, know how to contact them, and contact them whenever you have a strong feeling about an issue; positive or negative.

This was the first thing the new Congress did.  I think that this is telling and indicates to me that I personally will be speaking to my representative’s office a lot during the next 2 years.  It is important that we all watch what they are doing and let them know often that we are watching.

This is OUR Government to support what WE want.  Exercise your rights and your duty to keep our representatives in check.

2016 looking back and looking forward

This past year has been a mixed bag.

  1. I really hate the way politics played out this year.  Not a surprise to anyone that has read my blog
  2. I have gotten much more involved in the kids school and parent organizations.
  3. Work has been going well.  I think I’ve finally hit my stride in the new job and am making a difference
  4. My exercise program and diet have gone completely to hell
  5. My stress level and other related issues are being managed much better

Overall, from a personal standpoint things are good.  From a global standpoint I think things have gotten bad and won’t be getting better without significant effort from everyone.

Looking forward to 2017:

  1. I plan on getting my exercise program back together
  2. Will work with the family to get things around the house organized
  3. Spend even more quality time with my family
  4. Put together a plan to run for office.  I need to investigate viability of a run for local office first
  5. Continue to improve things at work
  6. Become increasingly more involved with the kids school, their progress and the parent organizations
  7. Learn to fly my drone for fun and stress relief

My overall goal is to make 2017 the best it can possibly be.  I am going to do my part to make sure things don’t go completely to hell with the new administration in order to keep the world a safe place for my kids.

Foreign Governments, Treason and Elections

I’ve avoided wading into this one until I’d had time to really think about it.  As of this morning, we know that Russia was involved in hacking the DNC and RNC servers and only released information about the DNC.  There is evidence that Putin personally was involved.  There is some information indicating that the Trump campaign knew this was happening and said nothing.

The White House released this information initially last Friday and continued to release new information over the course of this week.  They are being criticized for releasing the information after the election to cast doubt on Trump’s legitimacy.  If it had been released before the election there would probably have been an accusation of using Intelligence information for political purposes.  Its a no win from Trump’s perspective, but why?  He was claiming things were rigged all along, but its looking like it was rigged in his favor.

IF Trump knew about this before hand or worked with the Russians to maximize value, I would argue that is (a) treason and (b) indication that he is unfit for the office.

This information combined with the pro-russia picks for his cabinet paint a pretty bad picture for Trump.  His repeated disparagement of the intelligence community, who he should count on as POTUS, doesn’t help the perception of his lack of ties to Russia.

During the election he said that everyone was against him and that only he could fix things.  He sang the praises of Putin, but claimed to not know him.  He surrounded himself with people with ties to Putin or his Government.  Now this information about meddling in the election.  At what point do we say that with all this smoke there must be a fire somewhere?

It is no surprise to anyone that I am not a fan of Trump and I am legitimately scared of the damage he could do to the country.  Our elected officials and electors need to take this new information seriously.  We cannot let a foreign government influence our election and put in place someone that will materially help them.

WTF?

Its no surprise that countries interfere in internal politics.  We do it, Russia does it, everyone does it.  Most of the times its behind the scenes and no one pays attention outside of the people doing it.  This is the case and has been the case as long as there have been different countries, settlements, kingdoms.

I am really concerned with a real life Manchurian Candidate kind of thing going on.  Look at all of the ties to Russia in Trump’s cabinet picks.  This isn’t even trying to hide it.

I am encouraged that the GOP leadership and the electors are at least saying the right things.  The question is whether something comes of it.  The integrity of our government really requires transparency here.

The myth of foreign terrorists

There is a popular narrative in America that terrorism is the domain of non-citizens mass killing Americans.  While there have been some incidents that have been covered endlessly in the media, there are other incidents that are conveniently left out of this narrative.  Lets look at a sampling of the list since the 80s:

  1. 2016 – OSU attack, 1 killed, 13 injured (foreign, terrorism related)
  2. 2016 – NY & NJ bombings, 0 killed, 35 injured (domestic, terrorism related)
  3. 2016 – Pulse nightclub, 50 killed, 53 injured.  (domestic, terrorism related)
  4. 2015 – San Bernadino, 14 killed, 24 injured (domestic, unclear)
  5. 2015 – Charleston Church, 9 killed, 3 injured (domestic)
  6. 2015 – Planned Parenthood Colorado, 3 killed, 9 injured (domestic)
  7. 2014 – Las Vegas Shootings, 5 killed (domestic)
  8. 2013 – Washington Navy Yard, 13 killed, 8 injured (domestic)
  9. 2013 – Boston Marathon, 6 killed, 230 injured (foreign, terrorism related)
  10. 2012 – Sikh Temple of Wisconsin, 7 killed, 4 injured (domestic)
  11. 2012 – Aurora Theatre, 12 killed, 70 injured (domestic)
  12. 2012 – Sandy Hook Elementary, 28 killed, 2 injured (domestic)
  13. 2010 – Pentagon Shooting, 1 killed, 2 injured (domestic)
  14. 2010 – Austin suicide attack , 2 killed, 13 injured (domestic)
  15. 2009 – Binghamton shooting, 14 killed, 4 injured (domestic)
  16. 2009 – Ft Hood shooting, 13 killed 32 injured (domestic, terrorism related)
  17. 2009 – Little Rock recruiting office, 1 killed, i injured (domestic, terrorism related)
  18. 2009 – assassination of George Tiller, 1 killed (domestic)
  19. 2008 – Times Square bombing, no injuries (unknown)
  20. 2007 – Virginia Tech, 33 killed, 17 injured (domestic)
  21. 2006 – Seattle Jewish Federation Shooting, 1 killed 6 injured (domestic, possible terrorism)
  22. 2006 – Capitol Hill massacre, 7 killed, 2 injured (domestic)
  23. 2006 – UNC SUV attack, 0 killed 9 injured (domestic, terrorism related)
  24. 2005 – Glendale Train Crash, 11 killed, 177 injured (domestic)
  25. 2002 – LAX shooting, 3 killed 4 injured (foreign, terrorism)
  26. 2002 – DC Sniper, 10 killed, 3 injured (domestic, terrorism related)
  27. 2001 – anthrax attacks, 5 killed, 17 injured (domestic)
  28. 2001 – 9/11, ~3000 killed (foreign terrosim)
  29. 2000 – New York terror attack, no injuries (domestic)
  30. 1999 – Acworth, GA, 15 killed, 13 injured (domestic)
  31. 1999 – Columbine, 8 killed, 24 injured (domestic)
  32. 1995 – Oklahoma City Bombing, 168 killed, 680 injured (domestic)
  33. 1991 – Luby’s massacre, 24 killed, 27 injured (domestic)
  34. 1990 – GMAC shooting, 12 killed, 6 injured (domestic)
  35. 1987 – Happy Land fire, 87 killed, 6 injured (foreign/domestic)
  36. 1987 – Pacific Southwest Airlines Crash, 43 killed (domestic)
  37. 1986 – Edmond post office, 15 killed, 6 injured (domestic)
  38. 1984 – McDonald’s massacre, 22 killed, 19 injuries (domestic)

The overwhelming majority of the major shooting, bombings, etc were perpetrated by Americans.  These are for various reasons including mental illness, grievances against the government, workplace violence and politically motivated attacks that have nothing to do with Islamic terrorism.  Of the 38 documented here, 11, less than a third, are terrorism related and of those many are inspired by terrorist groups, not carried out by them.  Only 4, including 9/11, were perpetrated by foreign nationals.  Outside of 9/11 the incident with the most loss of life was the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995, which was committed by a US citizen against the government for the Waco incident.

We need to have a real discussion about what motivates people to kill others in massive attacks.  The problem is not terrorism, but it is a convenient political tool when you want to keep the population focused on external boogie men.

Let me be clear, there are people out there that want to harm America.  For the most part they are unable to do so because we are far away.  But restricting immigration does not address the cause of most incidents.  US citizens are far more likely to kill other citizens in high profile attacks.

Let’s stop saying that all mass shootings, bombings, etc are the result of foreign terrorists.  Let’s be honest in our reporting and show the real data to people.  Claiming that it all comes from without is (a) disingenuous and (b) takes our eyes off of real problems.  It whips people up into a frenzy and will result in us giving up freedoms unnecessarily and keep us from helping refugees that really need our help.

Business != Government

There is a popular refrain that because Trump is a successful business man he should be able to fix a lot of the problems with Government.  I see the appeal in this thought but its just plain wrong.

From talking to various people the thought process goes like this:

1. he has created a successful business

2. he has learned how to control costs

3. he has learned how to hold employees accountable for performance

4. government costs too much and isn’t accountable

5. he should be able to fix things.

Reasonable logic on the face of it. Lets go through point by point.

For the sake of argument I’ll take it as a given that he’s successful.  I’m not sure how anyone can bankrupt a casino, but he’s accumulated a lot of wealth; not as much as he’s claimed but a lot.

Anyone in business needs to balance the books or go out of business via bankruptcy or selling to another company.  He’s done both of these.  That is not an option with The US Government.  It would have serious consequences to the world.  Without this lever, will he be able to do the necessary things?  He will probably be able to find some waste in government but will he be able to get the other people in the checks & balances system to agree?  There are vested interests all around that want some of that spending in place because it creates jobs and lines pockets.  His skills in business are not well suited to dealing with that problem.

As for holding people accountable, I hope he can do some of that.  The problem is, in a company he is all three branches of government rolled into one.  He doesn’t have that control as POTUS.  He cannot unilaterally make decisions.  The Constitution specifically denies him that power to avoid an authoritarian, king-like figure.  He has spent his entire career calling all the shots, making the decisions and making people do his bidding.  In Government we call that a King or a Dictator.

We can all agree that there is a lot of waste in government and there are numerous examples of contractors getting deals that allow endless cost overruns and late deliveries.  Part of that is expected when pushing the fringes of what is possible, e.g. new military equipment or space hardware.  I hope that his business savvy examines some of this, but ultimately Congress dictates where money is spent and allocates the funds.  His job is to execute the plans that are approved.

The last point is a big one.  He probably won’t be able to fix things.  I think he knows that.  He’s appointing people with no experience or explicit conflicts of interest to posts.  His appointments are putting the foxes in charge of the hen house.  Human nature is to do things that are in your own self interest and it is difficult to get people with power to act against their own self interests.  He has said that he wants “people that have made a ton of money” to help fix things.  The problem there is that those people have spent their lives working for their own best interests, does anyone else thing that will change because the got a new job?  That’s naive at best.

To summarize, I posit that the skills to run a business are not the ones necessary for an executive office.  The roles between chief executive of the USA is not the same as CEO or president of a company; there are too many differences in what you can and cannot do.  If a business person really wants to make a difference, go into Congress. There is much more power to influence the budget and actually craft the laws to force change.  Focus on removing pork and riders from legislation.  Work on the process of crafting laws.  Dictate the things that the executive must do with the funding you provide them.  That is a much better fit than POTUS.

He won the electoral votes.  He is most likely going to be the president.  I’m hoping that Congress, as dysfunctional as it is, does the right thing and keeps him in check.  I’m hoping that SCOTUS keeps him in check.  I’m hoping that the ACLU, NAACP, etc keep him in check.  I’m hoping that we, the American people, who he will swear to serve, will keep a close eye on him and call shenanigans when it goes off the rails.

There is frustration with our Government because its not really governing and is a den of corruption.  This is natural.  When you are given power and offered things that will make things better for you and your family, how many would say, “no, that’s not right for the country”?  I’m guessing many fewer than will say they will.  The temptation is always there and it takes a strong will to stay on the straight and narrow path.

Trump and his appointments have demonstrated, that while good at business, that they will look out for their own interests.  It will be critical that the other branches uphold the Constitution and make sure that none of them is profiting from their service in the US government.

Holidays and thoughts on childhood

This is the wrong time of year for this conversation, but thinking about holidays, controversy and differences in beliefs got me thinking about an incident…

When I was a kid I loved Halloween.  Scratch that. I love Halloween even today.  “Free” candy, dressing up, wandering about after dark, plus as an adult, costume parties with people wearing outfits that are impractical or too small to keep warm.

As a kid, it was great to dress up to go to school on halloween.  We basically got a big portion of our day not doing class work.  We all dressed up and had a parade.  All of the elementary school kids participated.

When I was in 2nd or 3rd grade there was a kid in my class that was a Jehovah’s Witness.  I didn’t know what that meant.  I didn’t know about the people that go door to door trying to tell you about their religion.  He was just another kid.  The other odd thing, from a kids perspective, was that he didn’t celebrate Halloween.  That was unfathomable to me; why did his parents punish him like that.  Kids don’t understand a lot of things.

Anyway, he was the only kid without a costume that day.  We all felt bad for him.  The teachers took it upon themselves to dress him up like a crossing guard.  It wasn’t a great costume but he got to participate in the parade.  As a kid I thought this was a great thing.

Now, as an adult, I know the teachers meant well.  This is an odd situation because you have someone with religious beliefs that don’t allow him to participate but from a social standpoint it may be better not to single him out.

The problem I have with this is the same problem I have with prayer in school.  If we advocate prayer in school, kids that do not pray may feel obligated to participate, thereby infringing on their right to practice their beliefs, or lack of.  By dressing this kid up, we negated his beliefs and those of his parents.

I think that this is the cause of eliminating Christmas pageants, Halloween parades, etc. It may feel like punishing everyone else, but as American’s we need to respect the fact that this country was founded on religious freedom.  The pilgrims came here because they didn’t want to be forced to practice another religion and were discriminated against or persecuted.  The kid at halloween is just an example, no where near the level of 17th century persecution of our forbearers, but disrespect for others beliefs none the less.

I think this goes along with yesterday’s post.  We all need to be more tolerant of other’s beliefs.  Just because you are in the majority doesn’t mean you get to force your beliefs on another.  As the majority it is your duty to protect those in the minority. That’s the American way.

Manufactured controversy – Christmas Edition

Its the holidays again and time for the annual “war on Christmas” crap.

There is no war on Christmas.  This is a canard intended to whip people into a frenzy when there is no need.

1. No one is telling you that you cannot say “Merry Christmas”.  It’s just not happening.  Because someone wishes you “Happy Holidays” doesn’t mean that this is an affront or stifling your practice of your religion.  It is them trying to respect everyone’s beliefs and not assuming that because you happen to be alive at Christmas in America that you are automatically Christian.

2. If a business says that the appropriate greeting to a customer is “Happy Holidays” or put a neutral message on their cups this is them doing business and wanting to be inclusive to the most broad group of customers.  If you are an employee of that business, it is your duty to your employer to speak to their customers how they direct.  The First Amendment does not hold in a private business.

That one I find particularly amusing because the same people that don’t want to serve certain customers because of “closely held religious beliefs” are now saying that other businesses cannot express their beliefs without offense.  A little hypocritical, don’t you think.

3. Schools have Holiday parties now because there is a diverse population and not everyone celebrates Christmas.  Why exclude small children who’s families do not hold the same beliefs?

The manufacturing of controversy absolutely exacerbates the divide within this country.  We have a diverse population, like it or not.  Christians will soon be a minority in this country.  I’m sure that is uncomfortable for many that are used to the privilege of being the majority belief system.  We all need to recognize that everyone’s beliefs matter and respect these differences.  Don’t take offense where none is intended.

If I wish you “Happy Holidays” I still am expressing that I am thinking of you or complying with social convention.  If I know you celebrate Christmas I may say “Merry Christmas” instead, but if I use the generic greeting I am not trying to offend you.  Taking offense at a polite greeting has more to do with you and less to do with the person delivering the greeting.  You might want to think about why you are offended.  Not everyone is out to get you.