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November 18: The Importance of Words Should Mean Something

Nov 18 Words should mean something Day.

There should be a “Words should mean something Day!”  Our survival depends on this fundamental communication principle.  Words and phrases like terrorism,  health care,  rule of law,  justice, and national security are used repeatedly every day in every newspaper, legislative body, and serious discussion about freedom or security.  Yet, each can have a different meaning for very intelligent people committed to solving urgent and existential threats. Should people addressing these threats be allowed to use them without common definitions?  They have been.  This might explain why we have a world taking another step toward a future of mass casualties today.

Kilogram.  Homo Sapiens.  Penicillin.  De-fibulator. Capital offense.  Probable cause.  Carbon Dioxide. Flight Data Recorder.   These are all words or phrases that have a very specific meaning to people making, repairing, or resolving important things.  Each word means something precise so anyone resolving a specific problem will understand it perfectly.

The first set of words and phrases have general meanings without common agreement.  Using words without exactness might move us emotionally but are they really helpful in solving problems?

Imagine flying in an airplane or going under surgery where those responsible for your life don’t have precise terminology that is essential to your survival.

Doctors, engineers, lawyers, soldiers, and scientists tend to use words extremely useful in solving the problems in front of them.   They tend to be accurate and/or precise.  Accurate meaning, they most often hit the goal. Precise meaning, they do it repeatedly and rarely fail.  Vague words/phrases sound good to simple minds but they lack accuracy and precision.  Politicians, clergy, and average citizens tend to use such words.  Given the failure rate of government and religion in ending war, genocide, pandemics, and environmental destruction perhaps its time we adjust our problem solving systems and structures.

Engineering principles have given us unprecedented comforts and power. Yet we have primarily used those principles for making money and life easier for some, and designing weapons system for killing anyone and everyone.  What could we build using these principles to achieve ‘liberty and justice for all’?

This week the final National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) inspection report was released regarding last year’s Southwestern airline passenger airliner fatality.  It has been almost 10 years since the last US commercial airline fatality and the first Southwestern Airlines fatality in its 50-year history.    Federal safety officials said it was metal fatigue of a single fan blade in one jet engine that caused it.  It was the second such failure in two years (no one was injured in the first incident).    It’s estimated that there are over 350,000 similar fan blades in all the jets using this popular type of US/French made jet engine.  Examiners found eight with similar fatigue issues and replaced them.

 If one considers the thousands of things that could go wrong with a single passenger airliner and crew (average of 3 million mechanical parts) combined with over 100,000 commercial flights on about 28,000 aircraft daily then one discovers that you are far safer flying than driving.

What is the possibility of Congress engineering health care, counter-terrorism, or national security laws with such reliability and success rates?  Politicians are free to define words and terms however they like and appropriate our tax dollars to address problems that are loosely defined but ‘we the people’ are not free of their lethal consequences.

Imagine if there were a National Legislative Safety Board like the NTSB that spared no expense in identifying the specific cause of government policy failures that resulted in the deaths of innocent Americans?

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Oddly, US policy makers can’t even agree on the cause of rising global temperatures after they have been reported by thousands of peer reviewed studies.   It would be like commercial airline jet engine manufacturers ignoring NTSB investigations.

And now a new report calculates that our ‘war on terror’ has cost the US nearly six trillion dollars and the deaths of over 7,000 Americans post 9-11.  Plus, nearly half a million other people were killed in US post 9-11 wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.  Yet there are more so-called ‘terrorists’ alive today than there were before we engaged in this endless global war 17 years ago.  And, there is still no US or globally agreed upon definition of terrorism.  The New York Times reported last week that domestic white supremacists and other members of right-wing movements were responsible for 71% of extremist-related deaths in the US between 2008 and 2017. Islamic extremists were responsible for 26%.  No one has explained how to wage or even win a war against a terrorism (a tactic).

A new counter terrorism study by conservative think tank AEI warns that America’s strategy is becoming irrelevant. “The Salafi-jihadi movement’s ability to evolve” …”adapt to US counter-terrorism policies, and learn from failures has generated key adaptations that challenge the current US approach to fighting al Qaeda, the Islamic State, and other like-minded groups.”

Using the military and our war machine to defeat a global tactic is the equivalent of using hospitals and general antibiotics to defeat all infectious diseases.  Resistant bacterial diseases will only get worse, and the viral diseases aren’t even affected.  The concept of prevention of war or terrorism appears to be un-American.

The AEI perspective on the flaws in our nation’s counter-terrorism effort is accurate but its suggestion that we can actually ‘win’ any “war” against terrorism is even more flawed.  The global evolution of weapons and multiple technologies that can be used for unprecedented and increasingly affordable mass murder will continue to outpace our governments capacity to respond.  Given our nation’s increasing dependence on increasingly complex and vulnerable systems and structures, this war will not end well for us.  And, attempting to outpace Russian, Chinese, Iranian and N. Korean weapon advances without significant allied support will break us economically.  Nearly every national security expert agrees that our growing deficit is a prime national security threat as well as our increasing government dysfunction as a result of increasing animosity within it.

Before 9-11 Osama Bin Laden’s two primary goals were to break us economically and divide us politically.  We didn’t need help with either, but our continued war on terrorism combined with our failing efforts to effectively address other global security risks (Global Catastrophic Risks 2018  doesn’t generate much optimism by anyone studying current trends and risks.

This report requires us to redefine what we mean by ‘national security’.  The deeper one digs into the root causes of global catastrophic risks, the easier it is to find the root causes of most risks.  It’s the lack of human security.  This is not a new idea.  But anyone grasping the current variety, volume and velocity of threats are starting to see the wisdom of this perspective.

The evolution of war and weaponry alone should alter every approach to solving global problems.  But add the other threats (climate change, pandemics, and growing economic inequality/instability) and solutions become more “self-evident”.   Prioritizing human rights, justice for all, and accountable institutions at every level need to be the end goal.   Maximizing global human freedom and security is simply unachievable with each national government putting its own security (national security) first.

Global cooperation, not competition, is the key to human survival.  It has been for centuries but has never really been given a chance.  Without ending the evolution of war and weaponry we tempt the end of civilization itself.  The only means of stopping terrorism is destroying the roots of its inspiration.  Ignorance and injustice.


Nation’s must make a simple yet difficult choice.  Continue using the law of force (war/terrorism) to solve problems, or the rule of law.

Politicians repeatedly champion the “rule of law” as a solution but rarely offer an understandable and workable definition.   Former Supreme Court Justice Kennedy did.   Speaking to the public about the differences between US and foreign government legal systems when he was asked “What makes the rule of law effective?”  He said ‘for the rule of law to be most effective it requires three essential elements.’  1) The laws must be made and enforced by a democratic process. 2) They need to be applied to everyone equally (justice).  3) They need to protect basic inalienable rights.  Rights that people have just because they are human.  Not because of their sex, nationality, religion or economic status.

Engineering the foundation of government from these three elements is analogous to making the foundation of a building.   Concrete is mixed and cured to form a rock-hard substance that can endure enormous stresses.  It is made up of three basic components:  Water, aggregate (rock, sand, or gravel) and Portland cement.   Leave any one of these three basic elements out of the mix or use the wrong proportions of each and the foundation will crumble.

Without government foundations engineered with the proper elements, we cannot expect them to keep us safe and free.

The primary goal of engineers is to protect public health and safety.  They use the laws of nature to ensure their creations last.  We the people need to do the same.  But we need to include the Laws of Nature’s God (liberty and justice for all) as well.

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