As Egypt suffers through its latest time of turmoil, the United States faces a challenging dilemma. On one horn, there is the choice to stay mainly on the side of the current government. Given that Mubarak has been a consistent ally and opposed to radical Islamic groups, this option has significant appeal. If the current regime holds the day, then staying clearly on that side would cement the alliance even more. On the downside, backing a restrictive regime against a popular uprising is somewhat inconsistent with the values America professes and is not without the obvious risks.
On the other horn, there is the choice to push against the current regime in favor of the opposition. On the positive side, this could allow the United States to be on good terms with whoever replaces Mubarak’s regime (assuming it falls). On the minus side, this would be harmful to our relationship with Mubarak (assuming he wins) and could also backfire on the United States. To be specific, not supporting Mubarak could contribute to his fall and the winners that emerge might not have any real gratitude.
Between the horns is what seems to be the safer course-say vague things about our ally Mubarak and vague pleasantries about the “will of the people” and “democracy.” On the plus side, this commits us to none of the sides and thus avoids much of the impact of backing the wrong horse. On the minus side, such non-commitment means that the winners will not owe us and we will also have less impact out the outcome
What, then, should we do?
While I have been integrating technology into my classes since graduate school (my first creation was a Supercard program that incorporated notes and tutorials into a self contained package) it was only the past fall that I was actually assigned to a smart classroom. Half of my classes are still in a dumb classroom. In fact, it is very dumb: it is a converted band room in the old high school associated with the campus (the high school students are now in a new, much nicer complex).
Using a smart classroom is easy enough-they typically just involve a PC serving as a “hub” for various media devices (VCR, DVD player, etc.) and that is also connected to a projector. Most people just use PowerPoint or show web sites via a browser. Of course, some people just like having the rooms and do not even use the “smart” features.
One obvious problem with the smart classrooms is the fact that the PCs have to be accessible to all the professors who use the room. So, for example, anyone can plug in a malware infested USB key or pickup various nasties from web sites. Interestingly enough, the PCs I have seen are lacking in security software, other than the Windows 7 firewall. Not surprisingly, I have noticed that they have problems with malware. Since I do not want to get malware on my well maintained PCs, I have worked out some strategies for dealing with the fact that the classroom PCs seem to be roughly the equivalent of a public urinal.
One obvious approach is to try to upgrade the security. However, most classroom PCs are password protected to keep people from installing software (well, in theory anyway). One easy way around this is to use Ophcrack-a free program that can be used to garner the passwords on a Windows machine. With enough time, it would be possible to get the password for the administrator account, log in and then install security software such as the free Avast software and the excellent free Comodo firewall. Useful free software is also available at Ninite. Of course, the IT folks might frown on such behavior-although they should probably have taken steps to secure the PCs from the get go. If you don’t have the time to crack the password, one option is to use portable software to clean the PC. While this will not be an optimal solution, it can be better than nothing. PortableApps.com has some basic security programs that can be run without actually being installed. As such, you can run them from a CD, removable drive or by copying or by downloading them to the PC.
A second obvious approach is to keep the files you need on your own website. That way you can simply load a webpage or download the files to the PC without worrying about infections. Obviously, you do not want to use a password protected online file storage (like Skydrive) from the PC-it might have a keylogger installed. However, sites that allow public access would be fine (keep in mind that folks will be able to get to your files).
There are also some online anti-virus programs, such as Panda ActiveScan, that can be run from a web browser. While an installed security suite or set of programs would be better, an online scan is better than nothing.
Of course, the PCs internet access might be down (or non-existent) or perhaps downloading is not an option. If so, another approach would be needed.
A third approach is to burn a CD with your files on it. Be sure that the disk is “closed” so that nothing more can be written to it. On the downside, you’ll have to buy a CD (although this is cheap) and create new ones when you change your files. However, this is a rather secure option.
A fourth approach is to get a USB drive that has a hardware write protect switch. All of my older drives have this but none of my newer drives do (although there are apparently some software write protect options). If you are buying one for this purpose, be sure to confirm that it has such a switch. This allows you to change or update files as needed, yet be reasonably safe from the perils of the smart classroom PC.
As a another option, if your smart classroom has a document camera, you can print your class material and use that camera. The only infections you have to worry about then are those you might pick up from touching the mouse.
Obviously, this post’s title is almost eternally accurate. However, the focus today will be on the more recent unrest, namely that in Egypt.
Many people in Egypt appear to have had quite enough of the government and are actively engaged in protesting the regime. In response, the government has attempted to suppress the protests, cut off communication, and silence the media. This is, of course, to be expected from this sort of government.
While Obama praised the folks in Tunisia, the administration is taking a different approach to Egypt. This is hardly surprising-though the government has been fairly repressive and is hardly a bastion of freedom, it has been fairly consistent in being on what we see as the right side of American interests in the region.
The situation in Egypt does present the usual interesting dilemma for Americans. On one hand, we profess a set of values that include freedom, self-government, democracy, and justice. These values and our own historical revolution would seem to give us good reasons to support those who are pushing for freedom against a repressive state. On the other hand, we seem to always be in a war against an opposing ideology and this leads us to support almost any government that promises that it will be on our side against the communists/terrorists or whoever the enemy is at the moment in question. That these governments are often repressive, undemocratic and lacking in freedom never seems to be a major point of concern-at least for those in power.
While it is tempting to see this policy as being pragmatic and realistic (“yeah, we talk democracy, but that is for us…we need these states to repress their people so that they don’t go over to the commies/terrorists/whoever”), it is well worth considering the price that must be paid for this.
The largest price is, of course, paid by the people who live under the repressive regimes. They get to live without freedom (or at least far less freedom) so that the United States can have a “reliable” ally in the region or so that American interests can be advanced.
We also pay a price. The first part of the price is that we become hypocrites: we speak of freedom while tolerating and supporting tyrannies and repressive states. This, of course, seems to be quite contrary to our professed commitment to democracy, freedom, liberty and all that. Given how we throw these words about, we should be the ones supporting revolutions against repressive states, rather than trying so often to keep them propped up against their own people.
Second, we pay a rather ironic price: our efforts to prop up repressive states as allies against the enemy of the day sometimes ends up leading to that state falling to that enemy (Vietnam) or another enemy (Iran). People tend to remember who backed the government that jailed their relatives and murdered their friends.
Of course, it can be argued that the people in the Middle East are not yet ready for democracy and must be kept under the watchful eye of authoritarian states. It could also be argued that the threat posed by radical Islam means that we have to support states that will keep repressing the radicals. Of course, this strategy might (as noted above) turn out to have a result that is opposite of the one we desire.
The following text was sent to me by a freedom loving patriot. He apparently managed to hack into Obama’s Blackberry and acquire a rough draft of the speech. He said that he was hampered a bit by the voices in his head-apparently his tinfoil hat was slipping because he was sweating out of fear that he would be brought before a Death Panel. Here is the draft he found:
I am here to speak before you of the state of the Peoples’ Republic of America, long may the Proletariat Revolution Live! (Pause for the adoration of the media and Democrat sheep).
As I had hoped, the job killing health care is killing jobs at the rate of 10 million per day. At this point, it is actually almost done with America and will soon have to travel to other countries to kill jobs. After that, other worlds, other galaxies and finally other realities. Hell, it might even travel back in time and kill past jobs, too. This killing machine will not rest until all the jobs are dead. Don’t worry Bill, it won’t kill the blow jobs. (Pause for laughter).
Speaking of killing, the Death Panels are in full operation. Even as I speak, black helicopters are circling the houses of key conservative pundits and Tea Party activists. In fact, the Secret Gestapo just texted me that Glenn Beck has been darted, bagged, tagged and will soon be brought before a Death Panel. I wonder what the verdict will be? (Pause for laughter).
On a more serious note, I am pleased to report that the Government now owns nearly 90% of all businesses in America. Productivity has dropped and inferior products are being made-if they are available at all. The rich will be rounded up and brought before Death Panels and their money will be used to teach pimps how to run their businesses. Any leftover money will be used to fund research into a machine to make everyone gay. (Pause for even more adoration)
Taxes have been increased two billion percent and we have borrowed five hundred gazillion dollars for China. In return I have promised the Chinese your children and your children’s children. And their children, too. (Pause for applause-consider joke about Tiger Moms)
I am also pleased to announce that Sharia law will replace the Constitution, although atheism will also be mandated while Islam will be the official religion. On a related note, I am pleased to announce that I will bringing in religious teachers from my home country of Kenya.
(Pause while the Republicans are rounded up and marched off to Death Panels).
In his State of the Union speech, Obama compared today’s situation with the Soviet launch of the Sputnik. According to the received view, this launch showed that we had fallen behind the Soviets in key areas of technology and we were thus inspired to win the space race. This comparison raises two main questions: have we actually experience another Sputnik moment? If so, can we rise to the challenge?
Obviously, one key difference is that there does not seem to be one focal event that defines our alleged new Sputnik moment. The Chinese, for example, did not unveil a fusion power plant. Nor did the Indians, for example, reveal that all those tech support calls have actually been handled by a sophisticated artificial intelligence. Instead we are facing a wide range of challenges none of which seem to have the dramatic singularity of the Sputnik event.
The fact that we have not been clearly and dramatically shown up is actually not very reassuring. The reason is that rather than having one foe and one clearly defined goal (beat the commies in space) we now face a plethora of challenges and competitors. Rather than a space race between us and another contender, we are now competing in a veritable Olympics against many opponents and in many events. This, of course, makes facing up to the challenge even harder.
As such, I would say that we have not exactly had a Sputnik moment. Rather, we seem to be having something of a Roman moment: gazing out and seeing “barbarians” approaching the gates and gazing in to see a multitude of problems. This comparison, of course, nicely leads to the question of whether we can rise to the challenge or not.
In the case of Sputnik, we clearly won that round. We beat the Soviets to the moon and then helped bring the Soviet Union down. Of course, we are now relying on the Russians to get stuff into space. So much for that win.
As far as our current challenges, it certainly seems possible that we can meet them and make the 21st century an American century as well. While our economy has weakened, it still dominates the world. While our education system has decayed, our universities are still among the best in the world. While our innovation is not as dominant as it once was, we are still world leaders in many fields. As such, we are still contenders. No doubt the Romans thought the same shortly before the Empire fell.
While there are many things to worry about when facing such challenges, one factor well worth considering is the matter of cooperation. While it is unreasonable and undesirable for people to simply go along for the sake of cooperation, our “leaders” need to refocus their efforts on the general good rather than focusing so much on the good of their specific parties and interest groups. For example, for the Republicans to consider beating Obama in 2012 to be their main priority does not seem to be very helpful. Unless, of course, Obama is actually the greatest threat to America (which some folks seem to believe).
Just as in sports, if we are going to win, then we need to play as a team. This does not mean that we must match in unquestioning lockstep nor does it mean that we cannot dispute with each other or even try to get a new coach. It does, however, mean that we need to focus more on working together against our competitors rather than against each other.
A short while ago I saw a filler piece on CNN about finances and marriage. One of the main points was that financial matters can spell doom for a marriage. This, of course, matches what I have consistently heard over the years: sex and money are supposed to be the major points of problems in marriages.
In the case of money, two main concerns are debt and honesty. Obviously enough, debt can be the source of marriage tension. Worry about debt can cause a person stress and people who are stressed are generally not at their best. This can then lead to other problems or serve to acerbate them. For example, a person who is stressed out over debt might over-react to relative small incidents, such as her/his spouse getting home a little late or forgetting to pick up the milk. The debt can also cause various problems by eating up resources. To be specific, a couple that is in debt would be less likely to take vacations, get each other gifts, or do other activities that cost money. This can stress the relationship by making it less enjoyable. For example, a one spouse might come to resent having to do without going out to dinner or on vacation so as to pay off the credit card debt the other brought into the marriage.
As such, it is hardly a shock that it is a good idea to minimize the debt one has when entering into that most holy of economic contracts, marriage.
Interestingly, debt need not be a marriage killer and, in some cases, it can result in a stronger relationship. If, for example, a couple works together to reduce their debt, then this can give then a strong sense of being a cooperative team. Also, there are “good” (or at least generally unavoidable) debts that can help cement a relationship. For example, if a couple buys a house or car together and work as a team on the debt, this can help build feelings of trust and confidence.
Of course, if the people in the relationship do not work together or one partner did not want the debt, then these debts can turn into points of contention and resentment, thus serving as dividers rather than a source of unity.
There is also the obvious concern that if the relationship fails, then the debt situation can be a serious problem. To use an example from my own life, when my (now ex) wife and I bought a house, it actually brought us closer together as we worked on it. However, it soon turned out that I would be the one making the mortgage payments. This, of course, caused me some stress. When we got divorced (and money was one factor), I had to buy her share of the house that I had paid for and then re-finance it (so I now call it the “thrice bought house”). I am, in fact, still paying off these debts.
Thus, while some shared debts can unify a couple, big debts are not a decision to enter into lightly. Also, I suspect that entering into such big debts will be more likely to intensify what it already there (or even create new problems) rather than simply creating greater unity.
My take on debt is that it is best avoided. If it cannot avoided, then it must be well-managed with shared effort and a cooperate strategy.
Honesty is, not surprisingly, a rather important factor in marriage. Not surprisingly, partners sometimes lie to each other about financial matters. In some cases, the lies are small and mostly harmless. For example, a husband might tell his wife that the new laptop he got cost a bit less than it actually did. In other cases, the lies are big and harmful. For example, a husband might have told his wife-to-be that he only had a small amount of credit card debt when, in reality, he was being crushed under $40,000 spread over several cards.
While the debt or other financial problems (like a horrific credit rating) will create problems, lies (once exposed) will also damage the foundation of trust that relationships require to remain solid. The partner who was lied to will almost certainly trust the liar less and might be inclined to check up on other possible lies, thus leading to even greater stress in the relationship.
Obviously, honesty is (as always) the best policy. Of course, people are not always inclined to be honest and hence it does make sense to inquire into a potential spouses finances. While this might seem nosy or improper, it is important to recognize that marriage is fundamentally an economic relationship. In most cases, your spouse will own half of whatever you acquire in the marriage (with some exceptions) and you will almost certainly be affected by whatever financial baggage or problems they bring into the marriage. As such, it makes sense to approach marriage like the financial merger that it, in fact, is.
This concern about honesty needs to, obviously enough, extend into the marriage itself. I learned this the hard way. For example, after some extensive spending, my (ex) wife agreed to stop using my credit cards and returned them to me. Shortly thereafter charges appeared on my card and I thought someone had gotten my numbers. However, I eventually found out my (ex) wife had been able to buy things in person by giving my credit card number even without having the card. Out of anger, I ended up getting the account numbers changed and this, of course, led to even more conflict between us.
But, one might ask, what about love and all that? Should people look at marriage like they look at corporate mergers or investments?
Love is, of course, great and important. However, the legal aspects of marriage have nothing to do with love but rather are almost entirely about finances and property. As such, it does make sense to look at a marriage in the same way you would consider a corporate merger or an investment. After all, if you had a successful and profitably business, you would not want to merge with a business that was horribly managed and floundering in debt (unless you needed a big tax write off, of course).
Naturally, it can make sense to marry someone even if they come with considerable debt. The person might, as they say, be well worth it (that is, the person is so great that the financial stress is worth it). Also, if you are sure the person will be able to handle the debt responsibly and be able to carry his/her fair share in the marriage, then it can be well worth it. After all, most people have debt these days, especially when they are graduating from college.
So, my main advice is to try to minimize debt, shop smart for a spouse, and be honest.
This being the era of New Civility, some Republicans have agreed to intermingle with the Democrats during the State of the Union Address. While there is some support for this move, there is also some significant opposition.
It is, of course, tempting to dismiss this as mere empty political theater. After all, for a Democrat to sit beside a Republican does nothing of real substance. However, I think that this gesture is worthwhile.
First, symbolism and gestures are an important part of civility. It is, one might argue, the little niceties that go far in establishing at least the tone of civility. As such, this sort of gesture is well worth doing, of only as symbolic step towards more civility and unity.
Second, progress towards cooperation and civility begin with small things. As the hackneyed saying goes, a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. If the Democrats and Republicans can stand sitting next to each other for the duration of the speech, perhaps they will be slightly more willing to take more significant steps (such as working together for the general good).
Of course, there is some opposition to this proposal.
As noted above, it is tempting to dismiss this as a mere empty gesture and hence not worth doing. However, as noted above, the gestures seem important. For example, shaking someone’s hand is a small thing, but to refuse to do so is a mark of incivility and sets a negative tone.
A more serious reason is that, as congressman Broun has asserted, this seating plan is a trap. Broun presents an interesting blend of talking point reasons:
First, he claims that the Democrats do not want civility-they want to silence the Republicans. In light of the recent Nazi comparison from the Democrats, this does have more appeal. However, I suspect that the Democrats and Republicans do want some civility-at least until the Giffords story goes to the back burner of the 24 hour news cycle. Also, as far as the Democrats silencing the Republicans, the chances of this are on par with the chances that Sarah Palin will stay out of the media spotlight.
Second, he claims that part of the purpose of the trap is hide the true number of Democrats in the House. If the Democrats and Republicans are mixed together, then people who are apparently unaware of the election results or who do not understand how numbers work will not realize that the Republicans now have a majority.
Third, he is worried that ”when Barack Obama spews out all his venom, then, if they’re scattered throughout all the Republicans, then it won’t be as noticeable as if we’re sitting apart.” However, he should be glad that the parties are mixed-that way Obama might not be able to spew on all the Republicans at once or might be less inclined to spew and hit his fellow Democrats. More seriously, he does have a reasonable point that the diffusion will dilute how the responses appear on TV: rather than a camera panning over a block of cheering Democrats or a pan of scowling Republicans, it will pan over a mix of scowls and smiles.
As I see it, the mixing seems like a good idea. The State of the Union should be a time when Americans can pull together as Americans. Of course, this requires that the President refrain from partisan shots and that he endeavors to speak of America as a whole.
Since we are now in an era of New Civility (if by “era” we mean “a few days, maybe a month at tops”) I thought it would be fitting to address a critical dilemma.
On the one horn, the New Civility requires that we not act as volcanoes of hate. On the other horn, there are always infinitely compelling reasons to compare other people to Hitler. Steering through these horns, it seems possible to be able to nail that bull right between the eyes. The modest proposal that I am making is that comparisons to Hitler must be resolved in a civil manner and what, I asked myself, could be more civil than a game?
So as not to strain the brains of anyone, I have elected to create a simple game that I call “Hitler: ja oder nein?” In English, this is “Hitler: yes or no?” To start a game of HJON you first make a comparison between Hitler and some person. Next, you assert whether the comparison fits (ja) or does not hold (nein). If you want, you can signal a strong commitment or confidence with “!”. If you are not quite sure or are just weakly committed, use a “?”. For example “ja!” or, as another example, “nein?” In the third step, other folks make their reply to your initial ja oder nein. Be sure to keep it civil, of course.
The game continues until the players decide that they are tired of talking about people being like Hitler.
I’ll start a game by putting an entry in the comment section. To play along, post a reply to the comment with your position.
To start a new game, post a new person with your ja oder nein and get it rolling.
Like most folks, I make appointments to my dentist, doctor, mechanic or whatever and show up on time. Then I wait. Then wait some more. In some cases, I understand why I have to wait. For example, if someone comes into the doctor’s office with a screwdriver stuck in his chest, then I don’t mind waiting a while for my yearly checkup. As another example, I understand that appointments later in the day might not be quite on time because of some appointments going a bit over. However, having to wait 30 or more minutes past my early morning appointment time really summons up my inner grumpy old man. I’m especially annoyed when I get up at 5:00 am so I can work out before a 9:30 appointment and then not get called in until after 10:00. Hell, I could have slept another 30 minutes or gotten in four more miles.
I am not quite sure why it is so difficult for an appointment to start on time, or at least close to the time. After all, these things are scheduled way in advance and it is not like people have no idea how long some normal procedure (like a dental checkup) is likely to take. Sure, emergencies might result in some schedule problems, but I have never actually seen one of those going down while I have been waiting. Maybe they just think we should wait because we are called “patients.” Or maybe the people who schedule appointments have eternal amnesia and can never remember how long things take or what is scheduled when.
I have, of course, been tempted to just show up 20 minutes “late” for an appointment. However, I am sure they are wise to this ploy-after all, they always have a sign in sheet and no doubt would make a point of calling out the name of anyone who had an appointment but had failed to show on time. Some places even have a penalty charge for missing an appointment or being late. Of course, I have yet to hear of a place that gives the patient a discount or even some candy when they are forced to wait and wait.
In the past, I have tried switching in the hopes of not having to wait. However, either my luck is bad or this is standard practice. So, I’ve gotten to be good at waiting. I learned long ago to always bring something to do and the advent of the Game Boy and then the iPod Touch made waiting less of an ordeal.
I suspect I really need to get really rich-that way I can make them wait for me.