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I am an engineer. My degrees are in electrical engineering and my work has been in the digital systems area, mainly digital logic, but also computer organization, software and theory. I am a Professor, Emeritus, Computer Science and Electrical Engineering at Columbia University (retired 6/08 after four decades at Columbia). Before joining the Columbia faculty, I worked at Bell Labs for about five years, and while at Columbia I worked in industry (e.g., at IBM, and RCA Laboratories) often during summers and sabbaticals, as well as doing some consulting work.
I have always been interested in the social implications of technology and have done a lot of work in this area, giving talks, writing articles and doing some organizing. Topics I have been actively involved in include engineering ethics, resisting government imposed secrecy in technology, environmental issues. I wrote, "Controlling Technology: Ethics and the Responsible Engineer", 2nd Ed., 1994, Wiley. (Also authored two books on digital logic).
The Downside of Technology
Well thought out technology makes our lives more pleasant, and often safer. But, to an increasing extent, technology is being carelessly or even perniciously used, often degrading our environment. The ultimate example of that being deadly weapons. The idea that it is OK to market any product unless there is strong evidence that it would have pernicious effects is a cause of many problems.
Thursday, September 15, 2016(4 comments)
Greater Good Versus Lesser Evil
Many voters, in order to help defeat a terrible candidate of one major party, vote for a candidate of the other party, who they also dislike, but feel is not quite as bad. This approach has led to a downward spiral. We need to take a longer range view in order to turn things around.
Wednesday, April 27, 2016(14 comments)
When is a vote wasted?
A vote is a tool for influencing government policy. While it may seem simple to use it in any election, many people try to use it in a complex way. But I believe a straightforward approach is best. One justification for this belief is based on a powerful moral principle due to the philosopher Immanual Kant; A modernized wording is, "Adhere to a rule if you believe its widespread observation would be generally beneficial".
Wednesday, February 17, 2016(9 comments)
What If There Is a 9/11 Encore?
The consequences of the 9/11 attack included a series of wars costing hundreds of thousands of lives, trillions of dollars, and the implementation of an array of troublesome, costly regulations and procedures. What would be the likely response to another such attack?
Sunday, January 10, 2016(5 comments)
Putting a Limit On Wealth
Those with tons of money can use if for many purposes. When spent on lavish living, the damage, generally in the form of waste, and perhaps pollution, may not too serious. But, when the super-rich use their great wealth to acquire and exercise special political power, that should not be tolerated.
Saturday, December 5, 2015(4 comments)
Nice Party versus Tough Party: is this fight real?
While they may hotly debate such matters as gun control, or the death penalty, and while many politicians wax eloquent over the need to ensure world peace, and to improve the lot of working people, neither major party will do anything to antagonize the moneyed interests who control them.
Thursday, October 22, 2015(7 comments)
A Political Platform Worth Fighting For
I vote only for candidates that I believe would, if elected, generally support my views. In this essay, I specify those views on a variety of topics. Obviously, one can't expect perfection, but I would not vote for any candidate that I disagreed with on more than a few major issues.
Tuesday, July 21, 2015(4 comments)
Who is Today's Version of "Fighting Bob" La Follett?
A century ago, the rich dominated government. But they were staunchly opposed by a few militant defenders of civil liberties and egalitarianism, who also opposed militarism. Occasionally victorious, they laid the foundation for the New Deal. Who has taken their places today?
Friday, March 27, 2015(22 comments)
Why Good People Vote For Bad People
Americans across the political spectrum agree that our political system is in very bad shape. Almost two thirds of the eligible voters abstained in November 2014. Many who did vote in that election say that they were trying to prevent the election of a candidate even worse than the one they voted for. Unless they are personally very wealthy, candidates for high office are viable only if backed by people with tons of money.
Monday, December 15, 2014(6 comments)
Selling out America: Transnational Trade
While transnational trade can be a good thing for all, it can also hurt many people. A consequence of globalization is to make workers a commodity, subject to laws of supply and demand that are driving down wages and salaries, and degrading working conditions. Americans are being hurt to a growing extent.
Tuesday, September 23, 2014(5 comments)
The Need For Solidarity
An individual parachuted into some uninhabited wilderness area is not likely to prosper. Humans can come close to realizing their individual potentials only when they are in a civilized community. Individuals need to support one another in reasonable ways. A basic problem today is that most people seem to be unable, or unwilling, to join with others to defend against usurpation of power by a small, wealthy minority.
Tuesday, September 16, 2014(2 comments)
Children Crossing Borders
There have been several sources of immigrants in US history, as people have come here for one or more of several different reasons. The recent, and apparently ongoing, surge of children illegally crossing our southern border is unprecedented. Altho the consequences may not be all that different from those associated with conventional immigration of adults, sometimes with their children, many people are responding very differen
Saturday, September 13, 2014(5 comments)
How Pharmaceutical Products Differ From Tennis Balls
When it comes to tennis balls, sellers do best by producing a good product and selling it at a fair price. Unfortunately, in a far more important area, pharmaceutical companies can, and do, maximize their profits by operating in ways that harm their customers in many ways.
Tuesday, June 3, 2014(1 comments)
Is Progress in Technology Always Beneficial?
We are accustomed to hearing about wonderful new products resulting from technological break-thrus. But "new" does not always mean "good". In many cases, possible serious drawbacks of seemingly beneficial new technology cannot be assessed without very extensive research, and perhaps long-term use.
Tuesday, March 25, 2014(1 comments)
Justice for All
Since winning in a courtroom is heavily dependent on the ability of one's lawyer, those unable to hire the best lawyers (most of us) are at a great disadvantage in both criminal and civil cases. Can we alter our system to make a trial not a duel, but an effort to unearth the truth?
Friday, February 21, 2014(32 comments)
The Price of Free Enterprise
It is claimed that, in a free market system, operation of the invisible hand automatically benefits producers, consumers and the general public. This is true in some cases, but false in a great many important areas, including health care, food production, and energy production and use.
Wednesday, January 15, 2014(10 comments)
Can American Democracy be Revived?
We are now witnessing, among other things, large and growing economic inequality, flagrant Bill of Rights violations, domination of elections by money. How much worse will things have to get before enough of us are sufficiently aroused to see thru the scams and change our political habits?
Tuesday, December 17, 2013(6 comments)
SOS--Save Our Schools
Public schools are under attack. Just as many prisons are now tax-funded private enterprises, under the charter school concept, an increasing number of schools are being operated by private companies. Taxes that would otherwise fund public schools have been diverted to pay the bills.
Wednesday, October 30, 2013(29 comments)
Our Descent Toward Third World Status
Third world countries are generally dominated by a tiny, wealthy upper crust, bolstered by a thin layer of people hanging on to middle class status, ruling over a mass of people at or below the poverty level. A unique combination of factors are moving the US into that world. Remedies are possible, but the prospects are dim.
Monday, September 16, 2013(15 comments)
The Demise of Unions and Why We Need to Revive Them
A key reason why many Americans are going thru hard times is the near demise of unions. Individuals have no leverage to negotiate with employers, especially given the surplus of workers in virtually every field. Since the end of the New Deal, government has not supported unions.
Friday, August 23, 2013(2 comments)
Privacy, and open government: both under assault
Edward Snowden's heroic action has made it clear that the ability of government to obtain information about individuals has been greatly expanded, and that it is becoming increasingly difficult for individuals to obtain information about their government. Individual privacy is being eroded, while government secrecy is growing.
Thursday, January 3, 2013(1 comments)
Hi-Tech Election Fraud
E-voting machines seem really neat. But, after you push the last button on a touchscreen machine, or feed your ballot into an optical scanner, who knows if your votes are going to be counted correctly? This depends on the integrity of people, such as polling place technicians, and those who manufactured the machine. The long history of voting fraud should make clear that a trusting attitude is not appropriate in this realm.
Saturday, August 11, 2012(4 comments)
Should You Vote for the Best Candidate?
Many people are agonizing over the upcoming presidential election. Their problem is not deciding who is the best candidate, but rather deciding on whether to vote for a candidate they don't like in order to help defeat a worse contender. There is no sound basis for this agony. Voting for a bad candidate is a bad idea.
Saturday, May 14, 2011(3 comments)
2012 Presidential Election: Silent Liberals
Are liberals going to sit out the upcoming presidential election? Are they going to continue to blindly back the Democratic party, which clearly despises them? How come that, altho Americans all over the political spectrum would like to see the formation of a third party, liberals don't even talk about this? What happened to their outrage about Bush's wars, torture, civil liberties violations and subservience to bankers?
Sunday, March 21, 2010(2 comments)
Brutal Prisons Are Hurting Us All
Being "tough on crime" may not seem so great when it translates into prisons full of people serving long terms under harsh conditions, for petty non-violent crimes. Apart from being very expensive, this converts many petty criminals into violent ones, This is really tough on their victims. Maybe we need "smart" more than "tough".
Sunday, March 14, 2010(26 comments)
Can Progressives Declare Independence?
Progressives played a major role in electing a Democratic congress and president. What has changed? The wars and gross Bill of Rights violations continue. "Free trade" policies that have exported American manufacturing jobs continue, and no effective action is being taken to ward off the growing threat of climate change. Must progressives remain subservient to the Democrats? Can they stand up for what they believe?
Tuesday, December 15, 2009(3 comments)
Fixing Our Broken Democracy
Our democratic system has been badly damaged by the need for big money in election campaigns, faulty and corruptible e-voting systems, plurality voting (which pressures many people into NOT voting for the candidate they prefer), the electoral college, and more. We can do better. There ARE ways to tackle these problems. Let's do it!
Monday, May 4, 2009
The Need for People-Friendly Research & Development
We live in an age of rapid progress in science and technology, with
new applications announced at an amazing rate, as well as detrimental side effects. Scientific and engineering resources are largely controlled by private corporations, deployed mainly to maximize profits rather than serve the general public. We should to expand both in-house government R&D facilities and public funding of university research.
Sunday, March 22, 2009(19 comments)
The War On Terror: An Exercise in Hypocrisy
We are, supposedly, engaged in a "War on Terror," even tho the average number of Americans killed annually by terrorists since 9/11 is less than 3, all outside our borders. Defining terror leads us to look at our own history. What would really secure us is to recognize the danger posed by nuclear stockpiles.
Friday, December 5, 2008(1 comments)
Escalation in Afghanistan: A Really Bad Idea
While most Americans are, understandably, focusing their attention on our economic crisis, both the outgoing and incoming administrations have agreed to plunge our country deeper into yet another military quagmire--the Afghan civil war. This can only cost more American and Afghan lives, and add to our financial woes, with little chance of any real benefits. The flow of American troops should be out of, not into Afghanistan.
Friday, November 14, 2008(19 comments)
Why Abortion is NOT Murder
Many abortion rights opponents sincerely believe that abortion constitutes the murder of innocent human beings. Defenders of abortion rights seldom dispute this claim directly, preferring to raise other points that they consider strong enough to outweigh it. This is a big mistake; there is no valid basis for the contention that abortion is murder. My justification for this position does not involve any biological arguments.
Saturday, November 1, 2008
Voting Early: Sounds Good, But Its Not the Answer
Many people, concerned (properly) about the integrity of e-voting systems are voting early or casting absentee ballots. Unfortunately, these are both highly vulnerable to being manipulated by either insiders (those running the election systems) or outsiders (intruders breaking into the systems). The problem is lack of proper monitoring of the processes by monitors from competing campaign organizations.
Saturday, October 18, 2008(2 comments)
Forward to the Past: Junk the Machines, Count Votes Manually
It does not seem possible currently to enact even minimal reform legislation, leave alone bills that get at the fundamental problems. Perhaps the best that concerned people can do is to educate as many others as possible, and to encourage the adoption of HCPB systems by local jurisdictions.
Tuesday, August 19, 2008(11 comments)
We Can Do Better than Instant Runoff Voting
Instant Runoff Voting looks good on the surface, but has serious faults. Approval Voting is a better solution to the "spoiler" problem. It is free of quirks and much simpler.