Thursday, May 24, 2012

Is the US making the same mistake as the Soviet Union?

"I rest my case. America systematically subordinates its economic interests to achieve geopolitical objectives. What it should do is give back the military bases and go for the exports, and for greatly increased domestic production."

"The US is suffering declining economic competiveness: we have a big trade deficit, we are heavily in debt to China and to the rest of the world. Our major source of international power is not economic, it's military. We are actually a lot like the former Soviet Union: the USSR didn't collapse because it lacked military strength, it collapsed because it lacked economic strength. The same things are now happening to the US"

"As it considers steep cuts to domestic programs in an effort to slash the deficit, the House is set to consider a defense spending bill on Wednesday that increases the Pentagon's budget by $17 billion."

I was looking for a recent article where the Republicans in the House wanted to increase defense spending even more than the Pentagon wanted!  Consider what a huge percentage of our budget goes to the military already, more than all other militaries combined.  What are we doing?

Ronald Reagan lovers argue that Reagan destroyed the Soviet Union by making them overspend on their military. Is that what we are doing now?  Why are our overseas military alliances worth more than shoring up our own economy?  I see no rational reason for this whatsoever.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Making higher education unaffordable

Over 200 demonstrations against tuition hikes in Montreal.  Devastating cuts in state funding to schools in California.  This is not the way to help the economy or a country's citizens.  One of the biggest economic booms in the U.S. came after World War II when returning soldiers took advantage of free college education.  That uptick in education jolted our society into high gear and produced the notion that each generation in the U.S. should be better off than the previous.  Alas, it was only a short dream.

While congress is trying to give the Pentagon more money than they are asking for, it behooves us to consider why we are gutting our educational system at the same time.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Pimply-faced kids now run the world

"It’s the pimply-faced kid in the basement who controls the whole game, and Bradley Manning proved that.  The fact he had the 250,000 cables that were released effectively cut the power of the U.S. State Department in half. The Afghan war diaries and the Iran war diaries effectively cut the political clout of the U.S. Department of Defence in half. All because of one guy who had enough balls to slip a CD in an envelope and mail it to somebody."

He's got a point there.  Pimply-faced kids have always had keys to important things, though.  The difference now is that with the click of a button that kid can spread information around the world with the keys he has.

Friday, May 11, 2012

So... free speech is too expensive?

"Los Angeles officials say the costs of police overtime and cleaning up local parks due to the Occupy protests have nearly doubled to $5 million, as cities across the country continue to tally the protests’ price tag."

A couple of things. First, when did the cost of free speech become a problem?  I'm under a Permanent Injunction in Florida because, for one reason, a judge there thought it was getting too expensive for the county to allow us to protest.

Second, why do cities constantly overspend on Occupy?  When I visited Denver there were up to 20 cops constantly surrounding the Occupy encampment there. NOTHING was going on.  It was just a huge over-reaction by the city to some protester-campers.   In the perhaps 12 hours I was there the city could have easily just had one cop there for most of that time (some of it was a march through city streets, so I can see the need there).

So the cities overspend, then whine that the protests are costing them too much.  Ridiculous.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

solar hydrogen production; this could be big

"To make these devices more widely available, Nocera replaced the platinum catalyst that produces hydrogen gas with a less-expensive nickel-molybdenum-zinc compound. On the other side of the leaf, a cobalt film generates oxygen gas. Nocera notes that all of these materials are abundant on Earth, unlike the rare and expensive platinum, noble metal oxides and semiconducting materials others have used."

Hydrogen and oxygen are what propel the space shuttle into orbit.  It's a great clean fuel.  If this really is possible cheaply enough it's a game changer for sure.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

companies stand up for our rights?

"That’s exactly what Twitter did when it filed a surprisingly feisty motion (.pdf) this week in New York City Criminal Court to quash a court order demanding that it hand over information to law enforcement about one of its account holders — an activist who participated in the Occupy Wall Street protests — as well as tweets that he allegedly posted to the account over a three-month period. The company stepped in with the motion after the account holder lost his own bid to quash the order.
In its motion to quash, Twitter pointed out to the judge that the order would essentially force the company to break the law by handing over data without a warrant. Twitter also took issue with the judge’s ruling that the account holder had no right to fight the order on his own behalf.
The company further dinged prosecutors by pointing out that they could have saved everyone the trouble of dealing with this in court if they had simply printed or downloaded the publicly available tweets themselves.
'To the extent the desired content is publicly available, the District Attorney could presumably have an investigator print or download it without further burdening Twitter or the Court,' Twitter wrote in its motion."

This is nice to see.  Twitter stands against the over-reach of our justice system.  They didn't have to do that. But perhaps they also see the danger when our justice system goes haywire, that it could eventually go after them as a company as well.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

U.S. police getting more dangerous?

"Many of these arrests are carried out in such a way to guarantee physical injury. The tone was set on that first night of March 17, when my friend Eileen’s wrists were broken; others suffered broken fingers, concussions, and broken ribs. Again, this was on a night where OWS actions were confined to sitting in a park, playing music, raising one or two tents, and marching down the street. To give a sense of the level of violence protestors were subjected to, during the march north to Union Square, we saw the first major incident of window-breaking in New York. The window in question was broken not by protestors, but by police—using a protestor’s head. The victim in this case was a street medic named José (owing to the likelihood of physical assault and injuries from police, OWSers in New York as elsewhere have come to carry out even the most peaceful protests accompanied by medics trained in basic first aid.) He offered no resistance.
Here is a video of the incident. The window-breaking begins at 3:45."

My experiences with protests have not included such police activity.  We've had some cops making arbitrary decisions against us.  One time the police parked a paddy wagon right next to our protest.  I've always wondered which side they were planning to put in there.  But I've never seen such constant physical abuse by police as is happening now.  I don't understand it, unless it's just a new militarization of the police since 9/11.  Also, I think it could be a response to Black Bloc tactics, such as happened in the Battle in Seattle.  The police just assume protest = vandalism (thanks Black Bloc!).


Here's a few more bizarre police actions from today's news:

"In a surreal turn of events, I counted 36 police officer, 8 of them on motorcycles, all there to contain and supervise roughly 50 civilians offering their help to law enforcement. 'Why the resistance?' the civilians implored.'“We’re offering assistance!'"

"Four generations of a Georgia family were evicted at gunpoint by dozens of sheriffs and deputies at 3am last week in an Atlanta suburb. The eyebrow-raising eviction, a foreclosure action, might have been another anonymous descent into poverty were it not for Occupy Atlanta activists who tried to help the family stay in Christine Frazer’s home of 18 years."

I don't get it. I really don't get it.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

methane hydrates; miracle fuel?

Those crystals, known as methane hydrates, contain natural gas but so far releasing that fuel has been an expensive proposition.
The drilling has its environmental critics, but there’s also a climate bonus: The technique requires injecting carbon dioxide into the ground, thereby creating a new way to remove the warming gas from the atmosphere. 
'You're storing the CO2, and also liberating the natural gas,' Christopher Smith, the Energy Department's oil and natural gas deputy assistant secretary, told 'It's kind of a two-for-one.'"

I've never heard of this before. It sounds better than natural gas actually, which would be one step ahead at any rate.  Gotta keep an eye on this.

46% cut in education?

Our country is doomed if we cut education like this.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Mobiile banking takes off in poorer countries

"Poor countries are jumping ahead of rich ones by building a 21st century infrastructure (because they have little legacy infrastructure to begin with). For example, India has leapfrogged from no land-line telephones to the latest in wireless telephony. That revolution, in turn, is causing India to leapfrog brick-and-mortar banking to wireless banking for the masses. We see similar patterns in other poor countries as well. Mobile money transfer in Africa, M-Pesa, is a case in point. Counterintuitive as it may seem, poor countries may be ahead of rich countries in mobile banking."

This is pretty cool. Poorer countries didn't have established banks that would fight to stay in business, so there was no pushback on developing mobile banking.  Maybe we'll get such a system some day.

Hard Power vs. Soft Power

Soft Power, by Joseph S. Nye, Jr. is a good book on the necessity for a government to use both hard (military or police) and soft (diplomacy, working together, etc.) power.  His main goal is to show how important soft power is in intergovernmental affairs.  It's a good book.  Here's an interesting comparison on how different countries apportion hard and soft power in 2001-2;

Country              Public Diplomacy          Defense
U.S.                       $1.12 billion              $347.9 billion
France                    $1.05 billion              $33.6 billion
Great Britain           $1.00 billion              $38.4 billion
Germany                $218 million              $27.5 billion
Japan                     $210 million              $40.3 billion

As can be seen, every country attempts to use both.  Some rely more heavily on hard power than others.  It's an important thing to keep in mind when considering political moves.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

new approach to school discipline

Rule No. 1: Take nothing a raging kid says personally. Really. Act like a duck: let the words roll off your back like drops of water.
Rule No. 2: Don’t mirror the kid’s behavior. Take a deep breath. Wait for the storm to pass, and then ask something along the lines of: 'Are you okay? Did something happen to you that’s bothering you? Do you want to talk about it?'"

I drive a school bus. Last year I had a route with kids I never did figure out how to keep settled in their seats.  They'd scream, hit each other, crawl under the seats.  Of course, on a bus you don't have much time for discipline.  But the zero tolerance idea that every infraction demands a response is ridiculous.  Kids are kids, for one thing. They're supposed to be in school to learn about life.  Acting socially is part of that learning that should be taught.  Just responding with punishment is not teaching.

I have no solution to kids who act up, but at least in school this approach has time to work.  I hope it gets tried and tested many places.