Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Thai Government Expels 4000 Hmong Refugees

It has never been easy for the Hmong people and it has only gotten harder for them since the Vietnam War.  4000 refugees were taken from Huay Nam Khao camp and forcibly repatriated to Laos where they face violence and persecution due to their having fought against the communists who now rule there.  This has struck home nearby, for many Hmong live in the La Crosse, WI area. 

While that article only lists one account of abuse, over on Facebook the group USA Stop the Torture of Hmong Refugees in Thailand claims there was more:

PRESS RELEASE - December 29, 2009

Thais to force more UNHCR-recognized refugees back to Laos

The Thai military has announced its plans to deport the remaining 400 Hmong refugees back to Laos. The majority of them are UNHCR-recognized refugees living in the Lop Buri and Bangkok areas. These forced deportations are planned to take place today and tomorrow under the noses of the UNHCR and foreign diplomatic community. The Thai government continues to blatantly defy well-respected norms of international refugee law by continuing to do this. Just yesterday, the Thai military forced back a group of 158 UNHCR-recognized refugees from Nong Khai jail. The group is reportedly being held at Lom Sat immigration jail in Vientiane.

On Monday, just before the group was forced back to Laos, they were encouraged to return by the U.S., Australian, Canadian and Nederland governments who had told the group they had arranged to have them resettled in third countries shortly after returning to Laos. The group was still unwilling to return to Laos so the Thai military raided the Nong Khai immigration jail with a force of 500 soldiers dragging the refugees onto deportation vehicles. The refugees were outnumbered 4 soldiers to each refugee so were powerless to resist.

Meanwhile, reports of abuse are circulating among some of the recent returnees to Laos, including ill-treatment of a former UNHCR-recognized refugee, Chue Long Her, along with others who were forced back to Laos yesterday by Thai authorities. They were part of a group of 4000 refugees forced back from Huay Nam Khao camp, Petchabun province. A group of 34 leaders in the camp were arrested by the Thai military and reportedly stun guns were used to subdue them as the leaders resisted deportation attempts. They are all on a Lao government political blacklist which was handed down to the Thais earlier this year - another breach in well-respected norms of international refugee law.

Currently, these leaders are being held in Borikhamsai province with no access to third party monitoring.

Joe Davy
Hmong Advocate

Sadly, I think the Western governments involved would like the problem to simply go away.  There is little will and no desire to get more involved.  Now it is a wait and see game to find out if the refugees really will be relocated to other countries.

Update on the Auschwitz Sign Theft

It looks like police are investigating my first theory about the theft of the sign (which has been recovered, thankfully).  The current suspicions are that a wealthy Swedish collector hired the petty criminals involved in the heist.  Poland has asked for help from the Swedish government in the investigation.

I swear too many people have more money than sense or morals.  Of course it could turn out that the collector is a neo-Nazi since Sweden has more than a few of them.

Iran Burns 30 Years after the Revolution

A lot of things have happened in Iran during the Shia holiday of Ashura.  We very well could see another revolution or an incredibly bloody crack down by the Islamic government. I’ve been busy with FFT (Forced Family Time) this Christmas weekend and haven’t kept up on posting about what was happening. Now it is almost too much to report.

For the last week there have been extensive demonstrations against the current government, mainly by university students which is reminiscent of how the 1979 revolution that overthrew the Shah began. While there have been many protests since the fraudulent elections, things turned more violent. Attempts to rescue two men being hanged ended up with people being killed and reports the rescued men were shot dead.  There have been many arrests including relatives of powerful politicians and academics.

Let’s start with Michael Totten’s post at Commentary Magazine calling it Iran’s modern equivalent of the Battle of Karbala. In it he explains how the killing of demonstrators during Ashura has created an extremely powerful symbol:

Ashura is a Shia religious holiday, and it is not joyous. It is a day of lamentation that marks the date when the forces of the Umayyad caliph Yazid killed Hussein, son of Ali and grandson of the Prophet Mohammad, during the Battle of Karbala in the year 680. It’s one of the most infamous episodes in the struggle for power that permanently ruptured the house of Islam into its warring Sunni and Shia halves. The Shia – the partisans of Ali and his lineage – have been at war with the Sunnis – those who took the side of Yazid – for thirteen centuries.

Totten goes as far as saying that Iranian religious conservative are turning against the government.  That may explain the report that Ayatollah Khamenei is planning to flee to Russia.  If this is true, things are falling apart quickly.

But will the people of Iran prevail against their government?  Even if they do, will that change relations with the outside world?

My concern is that the Khamenei and Ahmadinejad will use total force to retain power, much like China did in Tiananmen Square twenty years ago.  Beyond that, the Iranian government is saber rattling quite a bit and have let Egypt know they will hit US bases in the Middle East if Israel bombs their nuclear facilities.

Iran is becoming very unstable and anything could happen as a result.  While I wish for the best for those who want more freedom and fair elections I also fear for their lives and those in countries around Iran. As it is, all we can do is wait and watch to see if this truly is a revolution or just a rebellion doomed to fail.

One thing is for sure and that it appears to be the beginning of a civil war.

Rekindling the American Dream

A plan to get America out of the financial crisis.

I normally don’t post material written by others, but when I read this message put out by Hugh Miller I felt it should get more attention.  While I haven’t gotten permission to reprint, the fact he paid money to get into the papers in the first place makes me think he won’t mind.  If he does, I’ll take it down!


by Hugh Miller, Nov. 30, 2009

Our country is in very serious financial trouble, mortal financial danger, and unless and until we turn it around, quickly,the American Dream will die. But upon reflection it’s even worse than that, for while the death of the American Dream would be tragic enough, the end of America being a safe, stable and good place to live would be cataclysmic.

It’s that serious, and as an impassioned American citizen, very worried about his country, there is an obligation to speak out, as forcefully as possible. Here’s how I see it.

The national debt we are accumulating is both debilitating and unsustainable, and by most standards we are already bankrupt. What this means, in practical terms, is shortly we will not be able to control our own destiny -- others will control it for us. It also means our children, and their children, will not have the same opportunities we had, and in fact will be lucky to find a real job. Further, it means our standard of living declines, rapidly, bringing about extreme and likely violent social unrest. Let me try and explain.

The numbers are staggering and confusing, so I’ll try and state it in terms we can better understand.

Imagine you, Mr. or Mrs. Public, have take-home pay of $27,000 per year. During the year, however, you spend $47,000, $20,000 more than you take home. How can this happen? You charge things you can’t afford and your creditors look the other way. Anyway, you now have a debt of $20,000 you’ll have to pay back over time. You have a real problem, solvable, but unless you get at it, soon, you’ll end up in serious trouble.

Now let’s imagine you suddenly realize you have a second debt of $120,000. That’s on top of the $20,000, so the total you now owe is $140,000. That’s a very big number, more than five times your take-home pay. With a really dedicated approach, and cooperative creditors, your debt is still manageable, but only with extreme discipline and understanding bankers.

Believe it or not it gets worse. Now let’s imagine you’ve just discovered you have a third debt and will owe another $480,000 in just a few years. That’s on top of the $20,000 and the $120,000 for a total of $620,000. That’s more than 22 times your take-home pay, so even if you paid all your take-home pay for 22 straight years you’d still be in debt.

You are beyond out of control; you’re a fiscal catastrophe.

Fortunately most of us don’t live this way, as we live within our means. Unfortunately, however, our favorite uncle does not. No, our Uncle Sam has spent too much in the past, is spending too much now, and will spend too much in the future.

Mr. or Mrs. Public in this example is actually the U.S. government, not with take-home pay and spending in the thousands, which we can all understand, but with take-home pay and spending in the trillions, which most of us cannot understand.

Instead of taking home $27,000, the U.S. government takes home $2.7 trillion dollars. Instead of accumulating debt of $20,000 over the next year, the U.S. government will accumulate debt of $2 trillion dollars over the same period.
Instead of having a second actual debt of $120,000, the U.S. government today has an actual debt of $12 trillion dollars. And instead of discovering you have a third debt of $480,000, the U.S. government has unfunded liabilities, due shortly, of $48 trillion dollars and growing. This would include future payments for Social Security, Medicare pensions, and other obligations.

How can any person live like Mr. or Mrs. Public? The answer is they can’t. How can any government live the same way? The answer is they can’t either. Most Mr. or Mrs. Publics know better and would never put themselves in such a terrible position. Sadly, and certainly shortsightedly, and arguably stupidly, the U.S. government has put our country, and all Americans, in extreme financial peril. Worse, they don’t seem to care.

If we are to solve our problems, we must first understand them, and so we need to step back and realize just how much we have already borrowed from our future and future generations. We are a nation of about 300 million people, and we now have a total debt and unfunded liabilities of about $62 trillion. That’s $200,000 apiece! That’s truly a startling figure, but that’s reality, and that’s the burden we’ve already placed on ourselves. Irresponsible doesn’t begin to describe this travesty.

What should we do? Here is what I would do.

1) First we must immediately come to grips with and try to comprehend the dire financial position we’re in, today. And we must explain that ugly truth to our people, also today.

2) Second, we must stop things from getting any worse. We simply must start living within our means, within our take-home pay, whether it’s $27,000 or $2.7 trillion dollars. In that regard I’d be in favor of an amendment requiring our government balance its budget, every year, except in times of a declared war. Until that happens, I’d balance the budget anyway.

3) We don’t take in too little, we spend too much -- much too much. Since 1999 to the present the U.S. government has taken in, on average, 4% more per year. Unfortunately, during that same time frame, they have spent, on average, 9.2% more each year.

Simply put we must cut spending, drastically, tough and unpopular as that may be. The alternative is worse, much worse. Taxing businesses or other job creators is not the answer and will make the deficit worse while increasing unemployment.

Sacrifice will be required by all of us, and it must be done fairly, and that’s as it should be. But whatever policies emerge must not be done at the expense of growth, for that would be counterproductive. After World War II we also had a huge debt, but strong economic growth made it much easier to handle that debt. And the reverse is true, the lower the growth the harder it is to pay back debt.

4) Any new spending programs should be shelved until we have a real plan for fiscal solvency. It’s like redecorating your living room while a fire is blazing in your basement. Put the fire out first, completely, before you even begin to think about redecorating.

Our first order of business, by far, is to put out the fire in our basement. Unless and until we fully extinguish that fire we won’t have a house to live in anyway.

5) Both the second debts, $120,000 for Mr. and Mrs. Public and $12 trillion dollars for the U.S., and the third debts, $480,000 for Mr. and Mrs. Public and $48 trillion dollars for the U.S., must be dealt with, now. Aggressive repayment and other appropriate procedures, in a bipartisan way, must be implemented immediately. We either solve these problems, together, or we die, financially at least, together. We have no choice, it must be done.

6) Lastly, but certainly not least, we must start rekindling the American spirit, which once was so great, and inspired our ancestors to come here in the first place. That same spirit turned this country into a great world power, largely by way of American manufacturing, American education, and American entrepreneurialism.

Today that would seem far less likely, as that American spirit is missing. We live in a highly competitive global society, and, sadly, America not only has a fiscal nightmare it has also lost its competitive edge in manufacturing, in K-12 education, particularly math and science, and in entrepreneurialism.

While our first order of business is digging ourselves out of our self-inflicted financial hole, simultaneously we must also start solving our manufacturing, educational, and entrepreneurial problems. By doing that we make ourselves globally competitive and give ourselves a chance to win. By not doing so we lose.

Those six things are keys to solving our problems and laying the foundation for a successful future. It will be difficult and painful, but it can be done and it must be done.

I often think of my grandfather, who like many others came here with little more than the shirt on his back. But those brave souls also brought with them a dream, a dream of making a better life for themselves in their new country, America -- the American Dream. And they did. I’ve little doubt my grandfather never heard of, let alone understood, the term entrepreneur. But nevertheless he was one, and mainly by hard work and sheer determination established a business, made life better for his family and his community, and created opportunities for others along the way. He lived the American Dream.

Would he be able to do so today? He certainly was strong and determined and his wife even more so, but I’m not so sure, in fact I doubt it -- there simply are too many roadblocks. Would he even want to come here today? I’m not so sure of that either, and that, to me at least, is really sad.

Minus that entrepreneurial spirit our economy won’t grow, jobs won’t be created, and we’ll start to experience an increasingly rapid decline in our standard of living. If we are to recover, it’s entrepreneurs who will lead that recovery. Accordingly they must be encouraged, not discouraged.

This looming catastrophe hasn’t happened overnight, but clearly it has accelerated rapidly this past year. We’ve trusted our politicians to do the right things, and clearly they’ve betrayed that trust. You might give them the benefit of the doubt by saying they don’t understand the problems, but if that’s the case they should find another line of work.

Rather than playing the blame game, however, and God knows there’s plenty of blame to spread around going back many years, let’s take the positive approach and just start solving the problems.

Quite frankly we have a mess, actually messes, almost beyond description, and they become increasingly unsolvable the longer we wait. We must start attacking them today. But it’s going to take a unified, bipartisan approach, starting right now.

From a personal perspective I would greatly prefer not to be the one highlighting these extremely unpleasant issues. However as an American citizen, very worried about his country, and very worried about the future of his children, and someday their children, and all other people’s children, there is no choice -- it must be done. There is, in fact, an obligation.

We can rekindle the American Dream, and we must, but we must get going. Our grandfathers and fathers would want it that way. Our children and grandchildren will be forever thankful.

Hugh Miller
President and CEO
RTP Company

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

What Recovery?

I find it fascinating how government agencies such as the Commerce Department fudges numbers for media consumption. They put out projected numbers that are usually rosy and then revise them downward after the media has forgotten about them. Somehow we’ve gone from a 3rd quarter figure of 3.5% growth to 2.8%  to 2.2% in three months!

Captain Ed has a great dissection of the announcement and explains how even the 2.2% is inflated by the Cash for Clunkers and new home owners tax credit stunts. Without those the growth was 0.7% and I have to wonder if even that happened. I don’t think things can be hidden forever when people are losing jobs and pay raises. 

Then there are the disastrous home sales figures that came out today.  A rise of 6.2% in sales was expected for November. Instead, they fell 11.3%.  I think this is the quote of the article:

November’s performance was a “hangover from the tax-credit-induced binge in the July thru October period," Peter Boockvar, market strategist at Miller Tabak, wrote in a note.

I think both ugly figures show the perils of government based stimulus efforts.  All the Feds can do is create a short term artificial bounce and that obscures the systemic problems at the core.  It looks good politically and might even get a country through a small recession, but it does nothing to solve the underlying weaknesses.  In this case, it may have done more harm by generating false expectations -- if not more credit bubbles.

Adding to the problem is the way the media portrays sales as increasing by only talking about month to month sales.  Comparing sales by year to year in the same period, things are not good.  Even the anemic 1.3% growth for November sales is from October.  This Gallup survey says holiday spending is actually down 22% from 2008, which was considered a very bad year. If the consumer is all we have to pull us out of the recession, we are in very bad trouble.

It seems we have a great many proverbial Nero’s fiddling while the American economy burns.  Bluntly, it probably already too late to do anything.  We are in for another major fall in 2010.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Relying on Drones Is a Bad Idea


Drones are starting to replace combat jets, but is it a wise decision?

One of the debates in military circles is whether or not manned aircraft have a long term future in combat.  The main idea is that remote controlled drones can be sent to fight without jeopardizing any American lives in the process.  They will be cheaper to manufacture and we won’t ever face an enemy with a significant air force again are parts of that theory.

I have problems with the argument, both on overall cheapness and the idea that all wars will be like Iraq and Afghanistan from now on.  The latter is foolishness because history says the next war will be unlike the previous one you fought, at least as far as the United States goes.  As far as being cheap, the drones have to be as they have an astronomical loss rate.  While that data is over two years old, I highly doubt Predator losses have improved significantly.

Then there is the whole concept of remote control being vulnerable to disruption.  We haven’t seen control of a drone being taken over by hostile forces, but they have successfully hacked the video feed of Predators.  The day will come when there will be a true hack rather than leeching video like a satellite TV pirate and what then?


That photo above is of a Predator pilot and instructor in the control station for the MQ-1.  He sits in a room watching monitors and pilots the drone via satellite. I believe having a human in the aircraft allows for many more contingencies to be dealt with.  You can’t hack a human and they can react much more quickly if they are in a real cockpit rather than a virtual one thousands of miles away. That flexibility simply cannot be replicated.

Then there is the “what if” of satellite jamming and destruction.  China has shown they can shoot down satellites as have we. Getting a replacement up is far more expensive and difficult than getting an airplane in the air.  I fear we are witnessing an over reliance on high technology that could be catastrophic against a powerful opponent such as China or Russia.

A more practical “what if” of facing an opponent with a real air force.  Drones are easy prey for manned jet fighters as the following video shows:


The answer to that is to use a stealthy drone as shown by the recently revealed RQ-170 Sentinel.  I find it strange that they are testing it in Afghanistan where there are no radars or fighters to evade.  Perhaps they are hopping over the border into Iran.

Still, there is a lack of flexibility inherent in such a design.  We’ll never see CAS (Close Air Support) effectively carried out by a drone.  Their slowness makes them effective only in environments we completely dominate in the air and their ability to respond to a changing threat is minimal.

Then there is the inevitability of them being hacked some day.  Everything networked gets hacked at some point, it is the nature of our time. The rest of the world has gotten very tech savvy and really are only limited by their budgets.  Just a couple of days ago, Twitter was hacked by Iranians.  While that isn’t a military organization, they do have active security experts protecting the network after some embarrassing lapses.

Lest you think I despise all drones, I don’t.  They have their uses but are too limited to be replacing fighters, bombers, and attack aircraft.  Reconnaissance is their forte and there they excel, but at quite a cost in airframes. 

One day this debate may be looked back at in much the same way the fiasco of going to missile only jet fighters is.  Generals, technicians, and politicians got overly enamored with technology and it failed to live up to exaggerated expectations. Going all remote control will suffer the same judgment in history, but we need to fight for programs like the F-35 Lightning II.


Manned aircraft will never be obsolete as long as the fog of war exists – and that will never go away.  Yes we will lose pilots because the nature of war means casualties.  That is unavoidable and a painful truth.  We can’t afford to lose our ability to fight a wide range of wars from fear of casualties.

The secret to our military’s success is only partly due to technology.  Most of it is due to flexibility and the supreme competency of our troops.  Often they have to make orders given them by isolated generals and politicians work in the field.  To continue doing that, they need to be fast moving and flexible.

Drones are neither fast moving or flexible, so relying on them primarily for an air force will be disastrous for the troops on the ground. Ask someone on the ground whether they’d like a Predator or a Strike Eagle backing them up.  I bet they’ll choose the fighter every time.

Auschwitz Sign Stolen

Poland’s police on the borders are on the lookout for the infamous sign from the main gate at the death camp.  Why would anyone steal the iconic and ironic sign?  My guess it has been stolen for a rich collector or by a neo-Nazi group, but humans being as weird as we are, anything could be behind the motive.  I just hope they retrieve it intact. With the rise of anti-Jewish sentiment in Europe it makes me concerned, considering next month the liberation of the camp is to be commemorated.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Another Debt Crisis or Two

Ran across a few interesting economic pieces last week, but didn’t feel well enough to write about them. Fortunately, or more accurately unfortunately, they still apply. I’ve been warning that bad commercial real estate loans would be the next shoe to drop.  We’ve seen that happen in Dubai, which I’ll write about further on.

But another debt problem is brewing and it will dwarf the real estate bubble.  That debt problem is the debt of sovereign nations, with the United States poised to be in major trouble.  Earlier in the year, the federal government had problems with some of its bond auctions not selling.  Now a new complication has entered the picture.

Ralph Benko’s op-ed at The Washington Examiner lays out the details of our debt servicing problem.  I was surprised to find out that we are only giving 1-2% interest on treasury bonds.  What country would want to buy those from us when inflation could easily turn them into losses rather than investments?  Something has got to give.

Quote of the piece:

The federal government currently pays, according the article, $202 billion a year in interest. White House estimates that interest payments will rise to $700 billion a year in 2019.

That doesn't count the projected catastrophic increases in entitlement costs in Medicare as the baby boomers retire. And you thought the American people were already shellshocked!

I don’t know, I think there is a point where the barrage of bad news ceases to register emotionally.  How low can we go is the question I ponder reading the news anymore.

Meanwhile, Greece is in a financial meltdown that is spooking investors in Europe.  Credit agencies have been making noises about what’s going on, even lowering ratings for Greece.  Quote of the article:

Analysts and credit-rating agencies are warning that countries with already high debt levels have rung up historically large deficits during the financial crisis, with tax collection plummeting even as public spending has soared.

The same principles that apply to individual debt apply to nations as well, duh!  Yet the idea of more spending by governments has taken such a firm hold on policy that increasing deficits are the norm rather than the exception.  But when it is someone else's economy they have no trouble in telling them to make cuts.

Instead, most officials in Europe are pushing the Greeks to clean up their own mess by making tough cuts.

"Considering the gravity of the situation, I am confident that the Greek government will in the near future take the courageous and necessary measures required," European Central Bank President Jean-Claude Trichet told the Belgian economic dailies L'Echo and De Tijd this week.

I can’t decide if it perverse hypocrisy or an indication the other European countries don’t have any capital they can infuse into the Greek system.

The Dubai financial crisis has been a problem that rippled out all the way to Scotland.  Now their neighbor, Abu Dhabi has come to a short term rescue to the tune of $10 billion.  It looks like a temporary solution that doesn’t address the long term defaults that may happen. After all, it a $80 billion debt that still need to be addressed. 

Buying time is a scary part of solutions offered by debt ridden governments and is becoming all too common. I think the truth is that nobody knows how to deal with what is happening world wide and domestically. 2010 is going to be interesting.

Navy Starting to Growl

One of the more esoteric missions in military aviation is that of electronic warfare.  While most people are familiar with the ideas of fighters, bombers, reconnaissance and attack planes, they will draw a blank when you mention “jammer planes.” The latest US design is the EA-18G Growler and it finally has been declared operational.  Deployment will begin next year.


A modification of the F/A-18F two seat Super Hornet, the Growler is replacing the much older EA-6B Prowler design.  The Prowler is a four seat derivative of the A-6 Intruder attack jet that served so well from the Vietnam War to Desert Storm.  The main advantages of the new design are the youth of the airframes, ease of maintenance, and ability to defend itself from aerial threats. 

So the Navy has their new jamming bird, but where does this leave the Air Force?  One of the more boneheaded decisions made was to get rid of the EF-111A Raven’s that did a bang up job in Desert Storm.  They had many years left in them and were a perfect match in performance to the F-15E Strike Eagles and F-16’s they escorted.  Since 1998, the Air Force has been dependant on the Navy Prowlers to do the same job and now they will have nothing.


Meanwhile, the Prowler isn’t done yet.  The Marines are keeping theirs and I haven’t run into a retirement date for them yet. 

While I’m not a fan of the Super Hornet (or Super Bug), I do like the Growler as a platform.  My chief complaint about the F/A-18E is its limitations as an interceptor/fleet defender compared to what an upgraded F-14 Tomcat could have been. Thankfully, AEGIS cruisers have only gotten more capable in taking out incoming attacks. Then there is the range problem. 

But what is done is done and cannot be undone. Hopefully the F-35 won’t be cancelled and I believe it will give air superiority back to the carrier wings in any future engagement.

So it may be surprising to read that I’d like the USAF to consider buying the EA-18G instead of thinking drones will do the job.  This looks to be a very capable platform for electronic warfare and there will be a need for it before all is said and done.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Best PSA Ever

Thanks to the wonders of YouTube I’ve found a public service announcement I used to see as a kid.  The local TV stations would dump PSA’s onto the early hours of the morning but there were two that stuck out:  the crying Indian and the one that always made me laugh – Tennessee Trash.  It didn’t hurt that I hated litterbugs, but this is a classic.

Nobody Knows (2009)

The Untold Story of Black Mormons

I ran across mention of this documentary on the Net and and tracked down the website dedicated to it.   After seeing the trailer, I knew I had to own the DVD.

The documentary by Margaret B. Young and Darius A. Gray is utterly fascinating and often deeply moving as it follows the history of African American’s in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  Much has been made of the Church’s past prohibition against men of color holding the priesthood and this film does not flinch from the hard questions around this.  Being a lover of the truth, the absolute candor of Nobody Knows impressed me no end.

Highlights include accounts of Elijah Able and Jane Manning James.  Able was a member of the LDS Church from the early days and a priesthood holder.  Ordained an Elder and a Seventy, he even served as a missionary when that wasn’t that common. Jane Manning is better known in Church history as she was taken in by Joseph Smith in Nauvoo, Illinois.  Her faith and trials showed what an amazing person she was in holding on to her faith.

Also standing out are all the interviews with members and nonmembers alike.  For me, Darius Gray and Paul Gill’s conversation at the end is simply wonderful and the best. That’s not to short change the others, they are all interesting and inspirational.

Topics covered are the beliefs of the Latter-day Saints, the restriction on the priesthood, the “seed of Cain” theory, the “fence sitters” theory, efforts to seek revelation to remove the restriction, Genesis Group, lifting of the restriction in 1978, and what it is like to be black in a predominantly white church.

Rather than go into detail about the documentary, I encourage you to buy or borrow the DVD.  I think it is one of the most amazing things I’ve ever watched and highly recommend it.  The extensive extras are all worth watching.  If you don’t feel your heart touched after watching it, you need to see a cardiac specialist to see if you have a heart.

 Nobody Knows should be seen by everyone in the Church, but especially those who still hold on to prejudice. Sadly, there are still racists in this modern age but if they watch this I think they will be forced to face the truth – that we are all children of a Heavenly Father Who loves us.


I want to thank everyone who made this beautiful documentary for they have done us all a great service.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Big Business & Big Government

One of the refrains I’ve seen of late is how capitalism failed and that’s why we are in an economic crisis. Something I’ve tried to explain to people in the past is that real capitalism is rarely seen in America these days.  What we have is huge corporations that dearly wish to be monopolies.  Monopolies don’t want competition, they want total control and are big believers in centralization.

So I’ve found it interesting how Republicans have been labeled the party of big business when so many big businesses mainly contribute to Democrats.  When big government and big business conspire, you get what we have these days.  What I am is a believer in competition of the free market which is different than being pro-business.  Jonah Goldberg has an excellent piece on this that everyone should read.

At Blogmocracy, Rodan has a post based on Goldberg’s op-ed that connects the union of progressives and big business with the policies of fascism.  In it, he uses a term I’ve used for years, Neo-feudal to describe the attitude of those wishing control through making everyone beholden to them. I have to point out that the ever increasing number of “czars” in the Obama administration accentuates the impression of feudalism to me.  Having people with cabinet level power who directly report to the President is all too much like vassals reporting to their lord, in my view.

I will say that the video in the post is annoying, it has some good content on socialism and George Orwell, then completely goes off the rails with the cartoony stuff at the end.

I think a fundamental human mistake is to vest power in one organization and then have all the decisions be made at the top.  This is the essence of centralization and history shows that it leads to inflexibility, inefficiency, and corruption every time.  This applies to businesses, organizations, political parties, and governments equally.

But here we are, repeating the same mistakes and being shocked when it goes wrong. While I think people are starting to wake up and see what is happening, I wonder if it is too late.  The consolidation of power by the federal government and large corporations has been going on for some time now.  The ACTA shenanigans are a good example of how it works, with the US government doing the bidding of the entertainment industry.

The solution is smaller government and small business.  A focus on these things will lead to better economic and political health in the country.  But will the American people do what is needed to bring reform about?  That’s the multi-trillion dollar question.

Weirdest Death Ever

Imagine being killed by exploding chewing gum.  Sounds like something from an Austin Powers movie, doesn’t it? Pretty funny, right?

In Ukraine, a chemistry major was killed when his chewing gum exploded.  Supposedly he used to dip gum in citric acid and may have confused another chemical with it.

This is too strange to believe. Or not to believe.  Frankly, I don’t know what to make of it and wonder if we’ll ever get a full explanation of what happened.   I just feel sorry for his poor parents.

Let It Snow, Let It Snow

After all, it isn’t like we can stop it.

Life in Minnesota involves the occasional blizzard or two and we’re in the middle of one right now.  Most places in the area have gotten between 10 and 16 inches already and it is still coming down as I post this.

The Post Bulletin is predicting it will end up in the top ten blizzards in Rochester history. 18 inches is looking likely for Winona, Rochester, and North of La Crosse.  I have the feeling I’ll be canceling the Missionary Coordination Meeting at church scheduled for tonight.

The wind is adding insult to injury.  Wind chills and blowing snow take much of the fun out of a blizzard.  Tonight temperatures will drop below zero in the AM meaning 20 to 30 below wind chills.  I hope that everyone stays safe and warm during nature’s siege.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Bloodhound to Run 1000 mph

Except this is no dog, this is a car.  The Brits who officially broke the sound barrier on wheels 12 years ago are back with a project to go 1,000 mph in South Africa.  The SSC Thrust hit 763 mph for an average using two jet fighter engines but that isn’t enough now that others want to break the record.  With a hybrid rocket motor this project is aimed at more than setting an amazing record.  They are hoping the involvement of schools and universities will have an effect like the Apollo moon shots did back in the 1960’s by bringing in more students into science degrees.

Quote of the article:

Put it this way, if you fired what used to be the most powerful handgun in the world, Dirty Harry's .44 Magnum, at the tail of the rocket/jet car as it passed and Green toggled the 20,500lb thrust hybrid rocket as the revolver went off, the bullet would never hit the car.

I wonder how big a speeding ticket he’d get for that?

But seriously, I’m skeptical they can do it because the low level speed record for an aircraft is only 994 mph.  An aircraft has a lot less friction to deal with -- not only involving air but with no energy being lost to contact with the ground. The other thing worrying is the dual engine concept with a jet engine and a hybrid rocket motor.  That won’t be the easiest thing to work out. It reminds me of Chuck Yeager’s flight in a similarly augmented NF-104A Starfighter that ended in a crash so vividly depicted in The Right Stuff.

Speaking of Starfighters, I’m looking forward to seeing if the North American Eagle team can break 800 mph with an adapted F-104 Starfighter fuselage on wheels. Being very fond of the F-104 in all its incarnations, I’m rooting for their success.  They’ve been ramping up test runs and have run into some problems lately but it doesn’t look project threatening.

Most people don’t know of it, but back in 1979 Stan Barret broke the sound barrier in the Budweiser Rocket Car built by Hal Needham’s team.  Sadly, the first supersonic car run couldn’t be recognized because it had three wheels and only did a one way trip.   Check out the story at YouTube:

Friday, December 04, 2009

Is Science Losing Its Stature?

With the East Anglia “climategate” scandal slowly starting to get a little media attention, I’ve found out I’m not the only one worrying it will tarnish all scientific research.  At the Wall Street Journal, Daniel Henniger has an opinion piece warning that the credibility of all science is at risk.  In it he brings up some valid points why this may happen and this quote gets to the heart of the dilemma:

Global warming enlisted the collective reputation of science. Because "science" said so, all the world was about to undertake a vast reordering of human behavior at almost unimaginable financial cost.

There is great danger in mixing politics and science, but I’ll only address the biggest and possibly least perceived danger. That being the loss of stature in the public eye. Over at Hot Air, Ed Morrissey breaks down the Rasmussen Reports poll that shows 59% believe data on global warming has been falsified.  What is amazing in these polarized times is that majorities across the strata believe this. If that isn’t a loss of credibility, I don’t know what is.

I’ve always thought AGW was based on faith rather than hard science as that massive nuclear furnace in the center of our solar system dictates more than we fully comprehend. Perhaps it is because I remember two previous panics that were widespread.  In the 1970’s it was the fear of another ice age that some of the AGW scientists actually pushed back then.  Later on the terror of the hole in the ozone layer dominated the media and led to a banning of CFC’s to reduce damage to it. In these I see the arrogance of man combined with the allure of hysteria making for bad science driven by the politics of anti-capitalism.

Shifting gears a bit, it doesn’t help that we are starting to hit some hard walls with scientific research producing practical results. While the search for knowledge is a good thing, in the end most of it needs to deliver something of use to humanity in general. This is particularly true in medical research.

The Telegraph has a sobering article about the diminishing returns of the huge amounts of money thrown into medical science.  While I think the title of the article is overly pessimistic or sensational, it is hard to argue that we aren’t getting our moneys worth.  Such high hopes were placed on the human genome project that it couldn’t possibly live up to expectations.

Unfortunately, it is not looking good there and if science is done objectively as is suggested in this article, it may open a Pandora’s Box of political and racial problems.  The promise of finding the causes of diseases and ways to treat them with gene cocktails has not had much success so far, possibly due to the small sample. Geoffrey Miller posits that the research will instead go in another direction once wider sampling is done:

The trouble is, the resequencing data will reveal much more about human evolutionary history and ethnic differences than they will about disease genes. Once enough DNA is analysed around the world, science will have a panoramic view of human genetic variation across races, ethnicities and regions. We will start reconstructing a detailed family tree that links all living humans, discovering many surprises about mis-attributed paternity and covert mating between classes, castes, regions and ethnicities.

In the pop culture, the original Star Trek television series speculated that there will be a eugenics war between genetically enhanced and superior humans with the rest of humanity.  That is where we got the memorable villain, Khan.  If we do get the kind of research suggested, I don’t think that scenario is too far fetched.  The wealthy will want to tinker with their progeny and I can see state run programs in totalitarian states wanting to achieve dominance in a genetic arms race. Worse, I can see racial strife based on both rejection and embracing of the studies coming out of the research.

All of that could lead to an extreme neo-Luddite reaction, especially if science has already become viewed as just another political football. The last people to see that coming will be the scientists themselves due to their living in insulated academic bubbles.  Perhaps more transparency and less politics would help, but it needs to happen quickly before the public consigns science to the trash heap of politics.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Only Yesterday (1991) Review

A thoughtful and emotional film from the director of Grave of the Fireflies, Isao Takahata, it couldn’t be more different than that grim story. This story of a woman flashing back on her memories from fifth grade as she takes her summer vacation may sound boring, but it is filled with poignant moments with an incredibly emotional ending.  While aimed mainly at women, the movie managed to be a surprise hit with both genders in Japan and saved Studio Ghibli from financial ruin.

Only Yesterday title

This is one of the hardest to find films by Studio Ghibli in the United States, since it has never been released here on DVD and, according to Wikipedia, never will be.  I was fortunate to catch it on Turner Classic Movies during their Hiyao Miyazaki month and as far as I know that was the only broadcast over here.

Only Yesterday office

The movie starts out with a typically great Studio Ghibli score over the long opening credits which are shown over a fabric texture.  Right away, you get the feeling this will be a slow moving film. Finally the movie starts with a shot of skyscrapers in crowded Tokyo.  Quickly cutting to the interior of one of them, where we are treated to the images of hum drum office work. 

There we are introduced to Taeko, who is getting her ten day vacation approved.  The personnel director notices that she is planning on traveling and inquires if it is due to a breakup.  Slightly embarrassed, she replies no and that she likes going to the countryside.Only Yesterday Taeko fifth grade self

Without warning, the movie shifts to a flashback when Taeko was ten and in the fifth grade.  It is done without any kind of fadeout and sets the pattern for the rest of the movie. The animation style is different, with washed out watercolors for the backgrounds and muted tones for the characters.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Economic Worries in Europe

Plus a Black Friday Update

There are a couple of worrisome reports from the Telegraph today, one about Germany and the other about the UK.


Chancellor Angela Merkel has proposed another bank bailout in Germany as part of another large economic package.  This is not a popular idea with the public and I sense a hint of desperation involved.  Another credit contraction has been predicted with 90 billion Euros of bad loans being written off in 2010.

A survey by Munich's IFO institute revealed yesterday that lending conditions in Germany had tightened sharply in November. Some 53pc of large manufacturing companies found credit hard to obtain, suggesting that the problem has spread beyond small firms without access to the bond markets. "The financing situation of firms remains critical and poses a risk to economic recovery," said the group's president, Hans-Werner Sinn.

If the problem is spreading to the larger industries in Germany, that spells trouble for all of Europe because they are the manufacturing engine of the EU.  What worries me even more is the solution Mr. Sinn proposes:

He said it was an error for the government to buy toxic debt, urging Berlin to direct equity stakes in the banks through partial nationalisations.

Oh great, fascism in Germany, what could go wrong with that?  It makes bailing the banks out look good by comparison.

Interesting stuff, but the quote of the article involves something I think is happening in the US as well:

Volker Treier, chief economist for the German chamber of industry and commerce (DIHK), said worries were mounting among Mittelstand family firms. "The real test has yet to come: the drastic decline in sales has not yet shown up in balance sheets," he said.

I have to wonder what our balance sheets really look like. Creative accounting may be hiding a lot of bad news.

United Kingdom

Over in Britain, Morgan Stanley has warned that the UK may have a massive debt crisis next year. The US company’s prediction is that the economy there will collapse completely, taking the pound sterling down another 10%. Oddly enough, they think the dollar will go up, so I am taking their analysis with a shaker of salt.

Quote of the article:

While the report – “Tougher Times in 2010” – is not linked to the Dubai debacle, it is a reminder that countries merely bought time during the crisis by resorting to fiscal stimulus and shunting private losses onto public books. The rescues – though necessary – have not resolved the underlying debt problem. They have storied up a second set of difficulties by degrading sovereign debt across much of the world.

Boy that really gets to the point.  All these stimulus packages and bailouts have been stall tactics with long term negative consequences. When all is said and done, historians will look back and point to them as madness.  Well, except for utopians who think government solves everything, I don’t think that will ever go away.

Black Friday in the USA

Here in the States, Black Friday weekend sales were disappointing as while there were more shoppers, they each spent less. Unemployment and under-employment still loom large with no relief in sight. Personal debt is at suffocating levels too. Is it any wonder people are spending less?  Hoping the consumer will bail us out is ridiculous as long as there is high unemployment.

Wish I could find some good economic news for the future.