Monthly Archives: April 2011

Way to go, Mo

U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Huntsville, is a smart guy. I’ve interviewed him many times. I usually disagree with him, but my theory has always been that an intelligent elected official is better than a dumb one, regardless of his political views. I’m beginning to have second thoughts on the theory.

Brooks withdrew a statement he made Friday on the House floor about other members of Congress being socialists. Later, he said he thought Democrats who objected were being “thin-skinned.”

Brooks was opposing an alternative 2012 federal budget from the Congressional Progressive Caucus when he made the statement.

“Folks, we are here today forcing this issue because America is at risk. We are at risk of insolvency and bankruptcy because the socialist members of this body choose to spend money that we do not have,” Brooks said.

The Democrats probably were being “thin-skinned.” But Brooks is educated enough to know what socialism is, and what it is not.

Socialism is the public ownership of the means of production and allocation of resources. Apply the term narrowly, and the United States always has had some degree of socialism. The state controls the military, most aerospace, postal operations, libraries and sewer. If “socialist” is an epithet, then Brooks’ grandfather could have hurled it at his country a century ago.

Intelligent citizens, however, understand that unlimited capitalism does not work very well. People starve, and externalities like the environment fall through the cracks. Brooks — a former Mormon and former Sierra Club member — gets this.

So when Brooks calls his colleagues socialists, he is playing political games that are beneath him. Indeed, a major dispute he has with President Obama — the privatization of some NASA operations — has Brooks arguing for the “socialist” position.

As long as Brooks is playing the political game — placating tea party voters and defense-contractor donors — his constituents will not enjoy the benefit of his intelligence. His retracted cry that his colleagues are socialists suggests he has a long way to go. Let’s hope that he finds the will to apply his intellect to solving the nation’s many problems, rather than to winning the next election.

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Filed under Free Market, Mo Brooks, NASA, Socialism

A victory for the DARC side

The Decatur-Austin Robotics Coalition competed in a national championship Saturday, and they made Decatur proud.

The 40-member team, a collection of remarkable geeks from Austin and Decatur high schools, placed second in the overall BEST (Boosting Engineering, Science and Technology) competition. They won the only award for programming, the Founder’s Award for Creative Design, first place in marketing and second place for robot robustness and computer-assisted drawing.

The most enjoyable part of the build-up to the nationals was the team’s off-the-wall decision to totally re-design its robot, despite the fact it had won them victories at the local and regional level. One of the tasks in the robotics competition was to move golf balls from a bin on the robot to a collection point several feet away on the playing field. The way everybody handled the task, including DARC through the regionals, was to capture the balls in a bin, move the bin with the robot to a collection point, at which time a (human) spotter would sort the balls.

The DARC team figured out that gravity could save it a time-consuming step. The robot they built for the nationals had an internal spiral slide. Instead of dropping into a robot-carried bin, the balls fell onto the slide. They gathered speed, then shot over the playing field to a ramp the robot had placed at the collection point.

Whether the contraption — which wowed the judges — gave them extra points for the competition itself is anyone’s guess. Certainly it was a factor in snagging the creativity award.

I was seriously impressed that DARC members pushed for, and its mentors acquiesced, to a late-season design change. It was an impetuous move that went against conventional wisdom.

Decatur needs leaders who can think outside the box, whether the topic is robots or taxes or immigration or poverty. Let’s hope that some of these young, twisted thinkers find their way back to Decatur after college. We don’t just need intellect, we need off-the-wall brilliance. We need the DARC side.

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Filed under Technology