Congressman Ted Lieu of California has a college degree in Computer Science from Stanford University. Stanford is famous for having students whose parents went to jail for trying to buy their way into the school. There is no allegation that is why Lieu was accepted. It is assumed that unlike many college students Lieu actually went to class and learned something about computers, including Artificial Intelligence.
Lieu recently used his knowledge to have an Artificial Intelligence computer program draft a Congressional Resolution to regulate Artificial Intelligence. Surprise, the Resolution, “… [G]enerally expressed support for Congress to focus on AI.”
As wars rage in Ukraine and the Middle East and millions of people are in need of food, water and shelter across the globe, including California, Congress has seen fit to concentrate on the projected evils of TikTok and now AI. One has to wonder about the psyches of government officials who find danger and disaster behind such artificial issues while real humans are suffering from so many real man-made and natural disasters.
Putting government in control of AI is much more frightening to me than allowing private entrepreneurs to apply their imagination and genius to enhance technology. Such government regulation reminds me of those Luddites who during the Industrial Revolution sabotaged new textile machines out of fear the machines would replace the workers. What they found out was there were more good jobs created by the new technology than were replaced by it.
I imagine there were many such retrogressive thinkers a few thousand years ago when some cave man tinkerer showed his neighbors how he had fashioned a round thing to help him roll his possessions to a new cave. Probably to many of his fellow cavemen and cave women he was seen as a destroyer of local culture. But when the armies using wheeled chariots began to conquer those who still dragged things along, the round thing caught on.
Then about the 1930’s when plastics were becoming ubiquitous, people still stubbornly clung to lead pipes and bowls until the danger of lead and mercury were recognized. Now I am appalled by plastic trash littering our highways and our waterways. However, I do not hesitate to use plastic utensils and water pipes and reap the benefits from countless products fashioned from plastics. The fact that many people are too lazy to properly dispose of plastic refuse is not the fault of plastic. If we did not have the usefulness of plastic, trashy people would just toss out other products. Yes, plastic needs to be properly recycled and deposited but that is a behavioral problem, not a plastic one.
Humanity never advances by failing to go forward. We need to use AI, not fear it. I would rather Congress concentrate on real issues such as college athletes making millions from deals for Name, Image and Likeness while ticket prices are rising faster than stock market returns, or perhaps, such lingering issues as why we spend trillions on warfare as we attack poverty with heart-felt speeches.
Maybe AI will out smart us; it will not be that hard to do. But if AI is put in charge of problems we humans have not solved in 200,000 years, what is the worst that can happen? I say we might want to revisit that old observation from when computers first began to integrate our society. You remember, Gentle Reader, a team of scientists had just completed the world’s most advanced computer and they could not wait to ask it the age-old burning question, “Is there a god?” The computer with AI answered, “There is now.” I suggest we should not grovel before technology as if it were our god that might save us from ourselves, nor should we cower from it as though it might doom us to Hades. Humans can harness technology to help us do what we cannot do with just the talents nature gives. A nice place to start would be inventing nuclear batteries that need neither recharging nor replacing. Or how about a way to give used plastic an economic benefit such that people would not just dump it out their vehicle windows?
In other words, we should not look to AI to save us from ourselves nor fear it will punish us for trying. AI should be neither worshiped nor feared and it certainly should not be the victim of Congressional postering.
Gentle Reader, I ask you, does this photograph look like any place you would ever expect to find a battery? I do not know about you, but after many experiences changing out dead batteries in cars, pickups, lawn equipment, flashlights, etc., I never expected any semi-comatose foreign manufacturer (what other kind do we have now?) to hide the battery to my dune buggy inside the cab under a passenger seat. It probably took several committee meetings of diabolical Russian or Chinese speaking, Cal-Tech educated, overpaid engineers for them to gleefully agree upon such an inane placement.
I realize it has been 60 years since I worked at a Phillips 66 service station on Main Street in Pawhuska, Oklahoma, but I would have thought if a teenager could open a hood and locate a battery said location might have, at least, not now become hidden from common sense. By the way, it was a service station where one could get their tires aired up, their tank filled with 27¢ per gallon gas by an attendant, their oil checked and their battery replaced all for less than the cost of 10 gallons of liquid gold. Alright, it is true you could not get a rotisserie chicken or a garish faux silk screen shirt emblazoned with some supposedly witty saying your mother would get out the soap for.
Now I ask you, are not batteries supposed to be right under the hood or, with the parochial pride of the Europeans in mind, right under the trunk lid? Would any self-respecting automobile mechanic deign to pull up seats in the passenger compartment in search of a battery? I should say, not!
And if one has to search for the Holy Grail of batteries where only a lost coin or a stale cookie would be expected, could the designers of the automotive Enigma Machine have at least put a label on the cleverly camouflaged cover with a small clue as to what it was hiding? Say the word “Battery”, maybe?
I read the “Operator’s Guide” cover to cover after lifting the hood and finding nary a battery. The “Guide” is 196 pages from stem to stern and I make my living reading lots of words, including as Edgar Allen Poe might say, many a volume of forgotten lore. I am used to reading dross trying to pass for depth. However, the drivel of this manual does not pass as information much less enlightenment. The photograph contains the “Guide’s” entire instruction on battery replacement (Pages 124 and 125). I defy you to detect how the process is to proceed.
But once the battery is located and the cover is removed, the fun has just begun. I bet those Cal-Tech foreign born geniuses are still chortling over their anticipation as to how a normal sized human would surrender in frustration trying to put a screw and a nut into the space of a gnat’s nest.
Well, I am nothing if not stubborn so I refused to file a lawsuit until every knuckle I had was skinned and Peg was suggesting I just give the dune buggy to somebody we do not like. I could not think of anybody I was that mad at. Anyway, after only 3 days I got the red attached to the positive pole then the black to the negative. Of course, I had to reconstruct how the cover must be replaced. And even though I had tested the buggy’s starting before putting the gaggle of parts back together, when I got it all rearranged and was filled with self-satisfaction in my refusal to let the foreigners win, it refused to start.
It’s all good now as I have decided to follow the example of several grangerized folk artists I have noticed who have made their old vehicles into yard ornaments. When you drive by JPeg Osage Ranch, Gentle Reader, you may find a dune buggy surrounded with cacti and sandstone sporting a R.I.P. sign.
Congress and President Biden have decided to save America from the disclosure of state secrets by the Kardashian wannabees of our society. Peg and I do not do TikTok but occasionally some marginally functioning teenager will create a TikTok post that is so lacking in taste and talent that the main stream media airs it as a parody. Those are the only TikToks I have seen; that’s plenty.
Physically unattractive people gyrating to two-beat music while wearing too small bikinis is not my choice of leisure listening and viewing. Fortunately, the shameless exhibitionists who are totally lacking in true self-images almost never say anything. So, at least, we only are assaulted by their physical repugnance.
Why we are paying our leaders to spend countless hours on the foibles of misguided or unguided youths while Congress is profligately spending 100 billion dollars per year arming every country from Ukraine to Israel is a mystery to me. Perhaps they should concentrate on such issues as war and the environment or even why our banks are failing and why inflation is wreaking havoc on our 401(k)s. Regardless, the CEO of TikTok, Shou Zi Chew, is going before Congress’ House Energy and Commerce Committee this month to explain the First Amendment to people who should already know it.
When our Constitution was adopted the very First Amendment provided:
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibit the free exercise thereof, or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”
The great English legal philosopher, John Locke (1632-1704), helped lead the Enlightenment. The American legal philosopher, James Madison (1751-1836), owed so much to Locke in Madison’s drafting of our Constitution, particularly the Bill of Rights. Both Locke and Madison strongly believed Freedom of Speech was essential to preserving all other freedoms.
It is ironic that our leaders of today cite fear of Russia and China as they call for restrictions on free speech. We have long rightfully complained that China and Russia severely restrict their citizens’ right to freely express themselves. Now we want to make federal law based on that same fear of American citizens that the Chinese and Russians enforce as to such patriots as Alexei Navalny. At least, Navalny actually has something to say that Putin should fear, that is the truth. TikTokers pretty much simply wish to share their irrelevant and boorish behaviors.
My guess is our leaders are as clueless about the workings of TikTok as I am and that they are simply knee-jerking to baseless fears of the very people who put them in office. What about such public policy as the 1966 Freedom of Information Act that was enacted to guarantee the people could monitor their government? Then there is the 2014 Digital Accountability and Transparency Act that allows taxpayers to track government spending. Have our current leaders decided too much information in the hands of Americans is dangerous, at least if that information can be accessed by foreign governments, as they can easily do with a simple request for data?
Of course, Congress and the President say they fear China and Russia and other countries will mine the internet data and use it against us. But every credit card transaction, every online post such as filing a tax return, every cell phone use is already “mineable.” Any hostile foreign country can already legally obtain more information than they would ever need via our own legal system. I ask you, Gentle Reader, is there anything on TikTok that could be used to start a lawnmower much less build a nuclear weapon?
I would like for our leaders to revisit Joseph Goebbels who was evil but prescient when he said, “If you repeat a lie often enough, people will believe it, and you will even come to believe it yourself.” In other words, our government is making its own reality and using that as the basis to restrict our rights under the First Amendment.
Another author that should be considered is Franz Kafka whose hero, Joseph K in The Trial, pointed out that the enacted laws made it impossible for anyone to rely on what the law truly is. This is much like George Orwell’s “Newspeak” in 1984 where the only true purpose of governmental language was to control the populace.
In other words, instead of taking Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping as our free speech guides, perhaps we should look to our Constitution and our history and rationally analyze TikTok and its mainly pathetic users. I point out that just last year (2022) the European Union, which we look upon favorably, passed the Data Act (Digital Accountability and Transparency Act) that was designed to standardize international contracting and commerce by standardizing digital and internet language. Should we not also want to clarify by expanding instead of restricting internet usage even if the usage may be frivolous?
I call upon Congress and the President to not put the means as Kafka might say, “to exercise discretionary moral judgment” by the lone U.S. Secretary of Commerce to determine “freedom of speech” when it comes to foreign technologies and companies. That is how the proposed anti-TikTok law is structured. Instead, let’s have faith in ourselves and also recognize the banality and futility of trying to draft laws that defy human nature and common sense and by the way, are most likely unconstitutional and unenforceable.
When our son, Jim, was stationed with the U.S. Army in Germany he visited the old Soviet Union just before the collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989. He told us the very few other Americans he saw in what became modern Russia were easy to spot; they were the only ones smiling. I noticed that same phenomenon among the public when I worked for a couple of weeks in the Republic of Ukraine in 2000. Then when Peg and I spent a week working in Russia in 2003 we noted everyone but the two of us wore dark clothes and dark expressions.
Our recent eight-month experience working with the judiciary in the Republic of Georgia, once part of the old Soviet Union and bordering Russia, reinforced these impressions of uncertainty given out by the Georgian people who are ostensibly in a now free and democratic country; however, they appeared to us to be hedging their bets due to fear of their Russian neighbor.
Peg and I could not have been treated any more courteously than we were by our new Georgian friends who were generous and great fun to live and work among. We had a marvelous experience and learned a great deal. One thing we already knew, but had not fully appreciated until sharing with the Georgians whose small country is across the Black Sea from Ukraine, was how fortunate we are as Americans to not only be free but to feel free.
The people of Georgia were open and friendly with us whether at court, our other meeting places or on the streets. We were fully accepted, often objects of curiosity and were constantly asked, “How are things done in America?” You see, Gentle American Reader, Russia occupies 20% of the “Republic” of Georgia and is a constantly looming presence, at least mentally, in most Georgian psyches. Freedom there is established by law but is quite uneasy. The friendliness and good will of the countless Georgian citizens we worked and socialized with was unforced and generous. However, our Georgian acquaintances usually found an opportunity to express their good will and appreciation toward America and their almost universal desire to come here. It was reassuring and gratifying to experience how other people respected our home country.
I guess it is sort of like Mark Twain’s epiphany, “When I was a teenager, I could not believe how ignorant my father was, but by the time I turned 21 I was amazed at how much the old man had learned.” In much the same manner, Peg and I were brought to fully appreciate living in a truly free country. It is one thing to be physically in a country called a democracy, and it is an entirely different feeling to live in America where, as Lee Greenwood sings, “I am proud to be an American where at least I know I’m free.”
The dreams and aspirations of our new Georgian friends also affected our understanding of people risking their lives and sacrificing everything to get to America, you know, as many of our ancestors did. Even native-born Americans such as Peg and I owe huge debts to the brilliance and courage of many immigrants and their progeny who helped make these United States, as Katherine Lee Bates and Samuel A. Ward wrote in America the Beautiful, “Oh beautiful for pilgrim feet whose stern impassioned stress, a thoroughfare for freedom beat across the wilderness.”
Or as Frances Williams and Marjorie Elliot in their song Hymn to America, Let There Be Music called for, an America where, “May kindness and forbearance make this land a joyous place, where each man feels a brotherhood, unmarred by creed or race.” We recognize our country’s imperfections and sins of the past and present. But, America’s beacon of freedom expiates many of our failings. And, once one leaves America she or he understands why regardless of our shortcomings, as Neil Diamond sings, “From all across the world they’re coming to America.” Why? Because, “They only want to be free.”
Gentle Reader, haven’t you often wished you could travel back in time to when our country was founded? Wouldn’t it be something special to meet and talk with such dreamers, heroes and revolutionaries as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, James Madison, Alexander Hamilton and others? Perhaps we could have even joined in that difficult and dangerous struggle for freedom that now we can only read about, but thanks to them and others, we enjoy every day. Of course, who knows if we would have dared join in that revolt against Great Britain, the most powerful nation on earth in the 1700’s. And if we had lived then and had shown the courage of our Forefathers, we as they might have been blind to the hypocrisy and irony of fighting for our own freedom as we denied Native Americans, Blacks and women theirs. Heroes do not have to be perfect to strive for, “[A] more perfect union.”
Many of our Georgian friends are publicly standing up to a large portion of their government that has chosen to abide by Russia’s infiltration into Georgia. It takes courage to risk freedom to seek freedom. A large portion of the Georgian government is sympathetic to Russia while the majority of the citizens yearn for a true freedom that does not require a subtle fealty to what remains of the old Soviet Union.
Peg and I were impressed by the bravery of our Georgian friends and, especially, the boldness of the women. It reminded us of what it might have been like to know Martha Washington, Martha Jefferson, Abigail Adams, Dolly Madison and Eliza Hamilton. You know, our Founding Mothers, without whom we in America might well be the Georgians of today, “Yearning to be breathe free.” I will not name our courageous Georgian friends, both women and men, as the penalties for seeking a true democracy may well be severe. But I do admire their willingness to risk all for what our Founders risked for us. When Peg and I finally returned to Osage County, Oklahoma, U.S.A. we found ourselves gratefully humming that song by Woody Guthrie about America’s birthright, This Land Is Your Land. Apparently even depression era America felt good as long as it was free; freedom renders hardships bearable.
Our time working abroad showed Peg and me we had to leave America to truly appreciate what it might feel like to lose it. We are products of the 1960’s and have long recognized and often pointed out the U.S.A. is not perfect. But no place is and it sure beats all the alternatives we have seen. As for our Georgian friends, many of them are concerned that Russia will not respect Georgia’s 8,000 years of history and tradition and will seek to control the remaining 80% of that beautiful but small and vulnerable country.
That the concerns of numerous of our Georgian friends are well justified has been recently validated by the ruling political power’s attempt to push through two Russian influenced statutes that sought to prohibit and punish “foreign influence.” Due to strong public protests that some of our Georgian colleagues joined, the ruling party withdrew the bills, for now. However, under these proposed draconian laws, as Americans sent to Georgia to help Georgia’s judges seek more independence, Peg and I might well have come under scrutiny for our actions since our mission was fully funded by the United States Agency for International Development, the American Bar Association and the East-West Management Institute, all of which could be classified by Russia or the Georgian Parliament as “foreign influencers.” Judicial Independence is not a goal of Georgia’s controlling political party. Peg and I are glad to be home but are concerned about our Georgian friends as there is still much important and difficult work to be done and we hope America continues to “influence” our friends’ courageous efforts to do it.
Thousands of free people gathered in front of the country of Georgia’s parliament in the capitol city of Tbilisi this past week to protest two new general laws the ruling political power, The Dream Party, wanted to impose on Georgia’s citizens. Although it has been denied by Russia, both bills were inspired by Russia’s draconian statutes that suppress dissent and oppress would-be dissenters in Russia. The Russian Duma and President Putin have managed to enact a series of laws that would make Joseph Goebbels envious and George Orwell prophetic.
Georgia’s reactionary, pro-Russian, anti-Western ruling party thought to run roughshod over freedom of speech, freedom of the press and freedom of the Georgian citizens to peacefully assemble and ask their government to address their grievances. In the case of these two new laws, the attempt by The Dream Party was to prevent foreign support for Georgian democracy and to punish by fines of up to 25,000 Georgian lari ($9,600 U.S. dollars) or even up to 5 years imprisonment, anyone who accepted foreign support of over 20% of their budget for pro-Western/anti-Russian activities and thoughts. These two statutes would have designated such support as coming from “foreign agents”, say America for example. In fact, since Peg and I were paid and dispatched to Georgia by the American Bar Association, the United States Agency for International Development and the East-West Management Institute, those two Alice in Wonderland epistemological abominations might well have resulted in our appearance in the very courts we were sent to help.
Most of Georgia’s northern border is bounded by Russia. In 2008 Russia simply drove its army into Georgia without need for much military activity and took over 20% of Georgia’s sovereign territory that it still occupies. Russia exerts great influence over much of Georgia, but a majority of Georgians see themselves as being entitled to a free and democratic country that looks to Europe and the West for its future. Russia and Georgia’s governmental majority Dream Party demur from this position.
When Peg and I were sent to Georgia beginning in June 2022 and permanently leaving 25 February 2023, we were instructed to work with several of Georgia’s judges, court staffs, attorneys, law students and university pupils with the main goal of helping to enhance judicial independence and citizen access to the justice system. We were impressed with the desire of the Georgian people for freedom and democracy and especially the goodwill we experienced as representative Americans. We made many wonderful friends and greatly enjoyed the people.
In general, Georgians like and respect America and most of them are oriented toward the West and evince western values of justice and democracy. Peg and I were reminded of our halcyon days on our college campuses and our own protests against the Viet Nam War and for the Women’s Movement and the anti-discrimination movement to help Black people. I already had my honorable discharge when I returned to campus and Peg was not subject to the draft. However, we both engaged in First Amendment activities without regard to other possible repercussions, such as cutting class.
Much of my motivation came from growing up during days of Black/white segregation and losing one of my childhood friends to combat in Viet Nam. Peg was and is, of course, a member of that class of persons most affected by gender discrimination. Those are some of the reasons we respect what the people of Georgia are standing up for. They have much to lose personally but they do not want to lose their beautiful country. Therefore, they are making the hard sacrifices and standing up for their own rights and those of all their fellow citizens. And as President Theodore Roosevelt said, “The Glory Belongs to the Ones in the Arena.” We say to our Georgian patriots, if it were easy, it would not mean much. But, since there is much to dare, we say, as did World War II General “Vinegar” Joe Stillwell, in faux Latin, “Illegitimi non carborundum!” Be bold, it’s worth it!
Peg and I got back to “The Osage”, Osage County, Oklahoma, USA on 26 February 2023 after a trip of two days from the one-time Soviet Union Republic of Georgia that is bordered by Russia and Turkey and lies directly across the Black Sea from Ukraine, that, also, was a former member of the Soviet Union. Georgia has a population of about four million, almost every one of whom we met yearned to come to the USA and every one of whom was insatiably curious about, “What makes America, America.” The Georgian judges we worked with from June 2022 to April 2023 unfailingly asked me “How do American judges do …?”
I was sent to Georgia by the United States Agency for International Development, the American Bar Association and the East-West Management Institute because I have been on the faculty of the National Judicial College (NJC) since 1995 teaching other judges from the United States and several foreign countries. I have designed and taught courses on judging to judges, lawyers and court administrators from Palestine (1996), in Ukraine (1999-2000), in Russia (2003) and in Georgia (2022-2023) as well as judges from other countries when they attend courses at the NJC.
My unsurprising conclusion from ten years of practicing law and forty-three years of judging is lawyers and judges and the citizens who must look to us for justice are pretty much the same everywhere. Most people are good most of the time, most people are bad some of the time and everyone everywhere wants to know why the USA is a beacon to the world. That is what I have been asked to report on during a series of debriefings concerning our mission to Georgia.
In other words, even we Americans spend a great deal of time cogitating on what makes American judges different from foreign judges. I have certainly invested a lot of years in this quest and today during a Zoom meeting with experts from Georgia and America I plan to offer my analysis. For such a complex and important subject my thoughts synthesize to a rather pedestrian mantra:
With all the judiciaries from other countries it has been my pleasure and privilege to know and work with, my perception is they believe that unless there is a specific, written law that authorizes them to take a particular action, even if they know it is the right and just thing to do, they cannot ethically and legally do so and, therefore, they refuse to act.
Whereas judges from the United States believe that unless there is a specific, written law that prohibits the judge from taking a bold, just and fair action in a case, the judge will take the action even if there is no law that specifically allows it.
This mantra is deep within America’s judicial psyche. Some, when they disagree with a judge’s imaginative decision, might criticize it as “judicial activism”. Of course, when they agree with the decision, they call it “wisdom”. But if one wants to define the bright-line difference in what other countries yearn for and what America’s judges are admired for it is just this, Judicial Independence!
This general philosophy falls within what that great American dreamer Robert Kennedy called his mantra:
“Some people see things as they are and ask, Why? I see things as they should be and ask, Why not?”
So, after 8 months of responding to my Georgian friends’ incessant curiosity of what makes America and its legal system the hope of many other countries, I point out it is not for nothing the most recognized symbol of America is The Statue of LIBERTY (that is, the freedom to do the right thing)!