There Goes The Knowledge Base

What’s happening to the legendary American know-how in the USA today? It’s not exactly “brain drain”, but it’s not the parallel phenomenon of “brain gain”, either. We’re losing our know-how, but the language to describe what’s happening is still alien to our vocabulary.

Wikipedia  defines “brain drain” thusly: “Brain drain or human capital flight is a large emigration of individuals with technical skills or knowledge, normally due to conflict, lack of opportunity, political instability, or health risks. Brain drain is usually regarded as an economic cost, since emigrants usually take with them the fraction of value of their training sponsored by the government.”

In American we saw “brain drain” [as a talent inflow] from several skillset migrations over the past 60 years. Over that same time frame, we saw that the quality of education in America has never been lower than it is today. Continue reading

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Reflections on the 44th Inaugural

In the yard of my childhood years, we had an old-fashioned child’s swing. It was not a department store swing set, but a single plank wooden seat, suspended from a massive 4×4 framework by weathered old steel chains. All of this was enclosed in an overgrown arbor of trees and shrubbery. As I grew older, far from outgrowing the swing, I repaired myself to it more often, and spent happy restorative hours just daydreaming. I wondered about the future and what it might hold for me. I wondered also about the future and what it might hold for all of us.

In those years I devoured books on space exploration and science fiction. These depicted an Earth where everybody could explore wherever they wanted. They depicted an Earth where everybody could join in this together. In my world of the mid-1950’s, the idea that everybody could live in harmony – black, brown, red, white, yellow, people of every race and religion – was truly the futuristic domain of science fiction.
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White House Defends Waterboarding

(02-06) 13:37 PST WASHINGTON (AP) —

The White House on Wednesday defended the use of the interrogation technique known as waterboarding, saying it is legal — not torture as critics argue — and has saved American lives. President Bush could authorize waterboarding for future terrorism suspects if certain criteria are met, a spokesman said.

We think the White House is probably sincere in its position. And why not? Bush has nothing personally to fear from it. He’s obviously comfortable with the feeling of drowning, he doesn’t know anything, and the globe will be getting used to more water sports anyway.

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US unveils new citizenship test

As we’ve all read recently, The US is rolling out a new citizenship test for immigrants who want to take the big step to US citizenship. According to the BBC and other reports, the government’s aim with these test changes is to shift away from an emphasis on historical fact to an emphasis of the “correct” interpretation of those facts.

Mr Gonzalez says those who want to become US citizens should not be allowed to do so by simply rattling off historical facts they have memorised but should show a passion for the country of which they are becoming an integral part.

Exactly how a sitting government impartially grade a “passion for the country” is a current queston of some concern. Immigrant groups don’t like it. Here are are some sample test questions (also found on the BBC website):


  • Why does the United States have three branches of government?
  • Name two rights that are only for US citizens
  • Name two cabinet-level positions
  • Name one important idea found in the Declaration of Independence
  • What does the Constitution do?
  • These questions might send a lot of us scurrying to our reference books.
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    DNA Database

    Brave New World

    Think of this, you future doomsayers and science fiction writers: with a DNA database and chemical sniffers, within 100 years nobody on the face of this planet will be able to run and hide.

    [SF Chronicle special Saturday June 12] On the November ballot California voters will be asked to approve an initiative to escalate collection of DNA samples for the DNA database. California already requires collection of DNA samples on convicted felons. The initiative would change the requirement to include collection of DNA samples from anyone arrested for a felony.

    Law enforcement official would like to see the database expanded from its present size of 220,000 to over a million. The idea, of course, is that as long has you have a suspect under lock and key, why not find out what else the detainee might be suspected of?

    We can be sure that this might result in more convictions for offenses unrelated to the charge leading to the original arrest. If this sounds like a fishing expedition to you, rest assured law enforcement officials on the federal level will be watching this to see how it goes over.

    On the other hand, proponents argue this might result in more Cold Case crimes being solved, and how can we argue against that? As with increased anti-terrorism security restrictions, we tend to feel that no harm can come to us if we have nothing to hide. Slowly but surely, national security and low conviction rates trump the right to privacy.

    And I have nothing to hide, either. What’s the beef?

    Once upon a time, the accused was innocent until proven guilty. Domestically and internationally, a whole new generic citizen is being invented. Neither fish nor fowl, neither free person nor convicted criminal, this new category of person is both suspect and detainee, whose rights increasingly seem to be subordinate to the needs of the interrogators.

    People of my generation mostly seem to believe it is already too late to stop this Brave New World. I will be too old to run and hide, and have no reason to anyway. Think of this, you future doomsayers and science fiction writers: with a DNA database and chemical sniffers, within 100 years nobody on the face of this planet will be able to run and hide. And, just think: both the technology and the legal-moral precedent will be made right here in the good old USA, the freest nation on Earth.

    Alex Forbes ©June 15, 2004

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    Memorial Day 2004

    Don’t Blame the Media

    What this country stands for …

    1. May 29, 2004 – Visiting an old friend

    I visited an old friend over the weekend, and part of the catch-up activities was the old familiar “what do you think of [insert current event here]?”

    There were no shouting matches, but there were some spirited discussions on “WMD” (Weapons of Mass destruction, still not found in Iraq), what kind of a man Don Rumsfeld is, and how much of courtroom proceedings witnesses ought really to be allowed to hear.

    In fairness, my old friend thinks civil unions for gays and lesbians is a good idea. I was content to say I just want equal civil protections before the law, and I don’t give a rat what it’s called. But it is clearly important to him that it not be called “marriage” and we did not go there.
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    Walt Kelly and Homeland Security

    What would Walt Kelly have thought? Who would have thunk it?

    We’re going to be posting a few “Pogo” political cartoon panels that Walt Kelly copyrighted in 1952 and 1953. We certainly have no intention of ripping off Kelly’s estate, or whomsoever may legally be trying to eke out a living reprinting his books.

    click this image to view the scanned 1952 Pogo cartoon sequence. Our point is to assert that if Kelly were still alive, he would feel right at home in our brave new world of investigations, security screening, legalized snooping, and suspension of constitutional rights. Even his cartoon characters could be the same, and might not need facelifts to symbolize contemporary 21st century players. The bad guys even look the same!
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    Bush Calls on Middle East to open arms to democracy

    Hussein’s fall a ‘watershed’ for the world

    WASHINGTON – President Bush on Thursday challenged Iran, Syria and two crucial American allies in the Middle East – Egypt and Saudi Arabia – to begin embracing democratic traditions and to view the fall of Saddam Hussein as “a watershed event in the global democratic revolution”.

    Although not personally invited to participate, Libya’s tinpot dictator Moammar Khadafy announced plans to surrender his repressive 27 year stranglehold on this oil-rich North African nation. “But of course!”, he said, “It is amazing to me that we just didn’t think of this before.”

    Fundamentalist Islamic leaders worldwide praised Bush’s bold new steps toward peace. The feeling was that, deep in their hearts, they always knew they could count on justice and meaningful reform from their old friend America. Even Osama bin Laden praised Bush’s “courageous vision and inspirational world leadership.”

    The reaction was not as uniformly enthusiastic everywhere around the globe. In Tikrit, Iraq, the birthplace of Saddam, a Gallup poll released Thursday showed 99.7 percent of respondents felt Bush was doing a poor job, up from 99.4 percent a week ago.

    Alex Forbes
    © November 7, 2003

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    Patriot Euphemisms

    Civil libertarians are noting with unease how Washington is whitewashing the law’s impact with unimpeachably popular nick-names.

    Concealing the sinister aspects of a new bill with a heart-warming name is nothing new. Americans have already learned to equate “Agricultural Reform” with farm subsidy, “Equal Opportunity” with glass ceilings, and “Family Values” with systematic class discrimination.

    The PATRIOT Act already expands unnecessary surveillance and other police powers that threaten civil liberties, across a broad front of ordinary America.

    The PATRIOT Act does so many things it’s hard to keep track of. According to tonight’s San Francisco Chronicle, we can already: “engage in secret surveillance, phone and Internet monitoring, and searches of personal records with little or no judicial review.” We can use roving wiretaps, secret record searches, dentention and deportation of noncitizens, monitoring of religious institutions, and we can make sure that only US citizens get to screen our persons and baggage at airports.
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    Shock & Awe: Invasion and Protests

    No matter what else you thought about it, ground forces are now less than a day from Baghdad. Some question whether Hussein survived the bunker-busters. The Iraqi military gives the appearance of being in disarray. Surrendering Iraqi units surpass American preparations to receive and process Iraqis who just want to go back to civilian life.

    For the record, we would have preferred staying with the diplomatic process, or even a more proactive combination of psy-war (propaganda), political activism, and brazen capitalist enticements. For our money, one sniper should have taken Saddam out a decade ago, or perhaps American billions should have finished the job in Desert Sand when a majority of our allies still backed us.
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