What’s going on with the environment?

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Interesting debate on the The State of Nature. Are things quickly getting worse? Or are things getting better? I know what I think, but it’s an interesting discussion.

Why I like the US

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My time in the US is slowly drawing to a close (in the range of months) so I’ve been reflecting a lot on my time here. Something I’ve been meaning to do for a while is talk about what I like about this country. Here I normally talk about things that I don’t like, as my own personal way of venting and with the hope it may open some peoples eyes to an issue they didn’t know about.

The reason I’ve talked so passionately about what’s wrong with the US is admittedly partially because it exerts so much influence that even internal policies affect me externally, but to a large extent it’s also because I think it’s worth fixing what’s wrong. If I didn’t think the country was worth it I’d say we should be helping it along to some eventual death-spiral.

Anyways, here are some of the things I like…

People
Even though I would completely disgree with most people on most issues (especially here in Texas) I’ve met very few people I would say weren’t “nice.” I’ve had bad interactions with very few people. Few enough that I couldn’t say that it was any more than where I grew up in Canada.

Now, I’m still baffled how most of those people can have some of the views they do, but that’s a much larger discussion.

Freedom
Obviously the US is a very “free” society in most ways. This has produced great advances in economics, civil liberties, art of all forms, etc, etc…

Diversity
The US is clearly very diverse and this has had a huge impact on its development.

Creativity
Probably as a result of the freedom I mention above, the US is very creative in almost all aspects. Whether it’s art, economics, technological innovation, media, etc, there’s always something innovative going on.

Along with the creativity comes adaptiveness. Look how quickly the country adapted it’s economy in WW2 to produce a huge army.

Political System
Yes it has lots of problems but in general it works. If someone does something that people don’t like, and it becomes known, they lose their job. End of story.

The division of representation both on population and geography is fair. I don’t like some of the outcomes myself, being one of those “city dwellers” but it is fair.

Helping other countries / people
The US has done lots of things to help other countries and people. They have pushed for human rights improvements, civil rights, ending apartheid, etc.

They’ve been the primary monetary backer for lots of good things like the UN and the International Space Station. They gave up a huge amount of money to rebuild Europe after WW2.

How geeks see major world events

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Found these on Metafilter today and they’re hilarious. Yes, I’m a geek, so sue me…

The war on terror – As viewed from the Bourne shell

If World War II was an RTS

Hybrids are getting better

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I’ve been suprised lately how many hybrids are popping up and how good they’re getting. Clearly taking the trophy are the Toyota Prius and the Honda Insight. The Prius gets a mind-boggling 60 MPG in the city. The Insight comes in a close second.

In the “can’t tell it’s a hybrid from looking at it” department I think the Honda Civic wins. It gets 45-47 MPG. And then in the “still gotta have my huge SUV” department the Toyota Highlander seems nice. It seats 7 and gets a suprising 33 MPG for a large SUV.

The only downside I’ve heard for hybrids is the eventual replacement of the batteries, which could get costly. But, with a decent hybrid you’d probably save enough on gas each year to still come out ahead. See how much you’d save on gas each year with this hybrid fuel cost comparison tool

More info on hybrids at Wikipedia

I still think we should be going all electric though. Considering neither end of the chain (energy production to usage) is efficient yet, it seems like it would be a lot easier to change thousands of power plants than 500 million cars. Hopefully sometime soon we’ll find some kind of clean and efficient energy production technology so if all cars are electric there’s no changes required at that end.

I really do think we’re close (ie: decades) to some kind of breakthrough here. The problem is that even if all power plants are producing limitless clean energy, oil is still an “efficient” mobile energy storage mechanism, and vehicles are most of the pollution problem. Battery technology would have to come a long way to compete with the range and recharge time of oil-driven vehicles.

I guess in this case though hydrogen would be a good possibility. The reason it’s not right now is because it’s a net-negative energy system. It takes more energy to produce the hydrogen (mostly from seperating the hydrogen and oxygen in water) to deliver to cars than it provides. But if we have an electricity producing system that’s abundant and renewable, energy waste isn’t as big of a deal and could be considered a cost of making the energy transportable. By comparison I’m sure it takes multiple times the energy provided by a AA battery than was used to produce it.

Irony: US thinks China spending too much on it’s military

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In a great piece of irony the Pentagon has expressed concern that China is increasing their military spending.

China arms budget has tripled, says Pentagon

Check out this great quote from the Pentagons report:
“China does not now face a direct threat from another nation. Yet it continues to invest heavily in its military, particularly in programmes designed to improve power projection.”

Now, substitute the word US for China and see what you get. Amazing isn’t it? The US doesn’t face any “direct threats” any more than China does. China is a heck of a lot closer to those US-deemed “rogue nations.”

Look at it another way. China has about 4x the population of the US. The US spends at least 4x on it’s military than it’s estimated that China does. The US spends approximately $1,500/citizen/year on their military while China spend about $75/citizen/year (actually, that’s the number that’s currently believed, by the numbers China officially claims it’s about half that).

Also, from the US side those numbers don’t include all kinds of “special” military spending like wars and possibly money for nuclear weapons.

This is all to say that the US really shouldn’t be saying anything about the military spending of any other country. The US spends more than the next 20 largest spenders, combined. Here’s some info Wikipedia – Military of the United States. The US spends around as much on research and development of new weaponry as the next biggest spender spends on their entire military.

It’s also been pretty shocking for me living here in the US. The culture seems so military and war-oriented it’s suprising sometimes. A lot of the tourist attractions here in Texas are related to wars or battles, etc. Like the Alamo and the Texas Capital which is full of paintings of wars. When walking around these places you really get the feeling that nothing else matters.

What took the prize recently was some show I flipped through talking about soldiers returning from the Iraq war. One of them made the comment “our military is what made this country great.” What a sad statement. Either people like this think it’s a great thing to be going around the world killing “other people”, or they can’t think of anything better about their country. Sad either way. Thankfully I know there’s at least 50% of the population here that doesn’t think the same way, and can think of better things about their country.

Sex or violence? Or both?

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This didn’t strike me immediately when the firestorm started over the apparent hidden sex scene in video game Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. People everywhere are freaking out because some scene with sex in it can either be hacked in, or unlocked in the game.

The striking thing is I think all these people are idiots and are barking up the wrong tree. I think Hillary Clinton, one of the most vocal on the subject, is politicising this to appear “strong on values.” That’s bad in itself, but the larger issue is that these “values”, in a lot of the US, are bad. None of these people have apparently looked at this game. They don’t realize that the game is extremely violent. You can run around in a free-form way, hijack cars, kill cops, shoot people, run people over, etc and are rewarded for how many random people you kill. I have nothing against that for adults, but we’re talking about kids here. Anyone over 18 can view a sex scene legally, so we’re talking about “protecting the kids.” Why the heck are the parents letting kids play this game?

This is nothing new, but it’s very telling when a society is willing to let their kids see horrific violence but can’t see a nipple. What does this teach them? It teaches them to be sexually repressed but think it’s OK to buy guns and shoot people. TV does the same thing. Remember the superbowl nipple incident? The superbowl was probably then followed by one of these cop shows where people are getting raped or murdered.

Nice. And people wonder why the US has such problems with gun violence. If given the choice I’d rather a kid grow up thinking it’s OK to hold a Playboy magazine than an assault weapon.

How to debate a Neocon?

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An interesting debate with a Neo-conservative. It’s well thought-out and a good read.

A New Fascism? A Dead Imperialism? An Exchange between Stan Goff and Don Hammerquist

Personally, my biggest problems with Neo-cons are their:
- Feeling of superiority over other peoples on this planet (yes, most of them try to mask it for political-correctness, but this is obvious from their other points and actions).
- Willingness to kill other people to secure their own wealth and lifestyle.
- Desire to mold the rest of the world in their own image. Not everyone else in the world wants their 50% divorce rates, ultra-high violent crime rates and Paris Hilton.
- Need to control the rest of the world through threat of force and economics.

Newsflash: Brad Pitt has the flu

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Brad Pitt checked himself into a hospital Monday Night. He apparently complained of flu-like symptoms. He was in Ethiopia last week where Angelina Jolie picked up her new adopted child.

Ok, by this point, if you’re not thinking this article is stupid, why the hell not?!?!?! I’m fascinated why the major news outlets feel the need to put this fact onto their front pages. What possible impact does Brad Pitt having the flu have on my life? Or anyone elses?

Knowing little tidbits of someone’s life will not in reality “connect” the average person to a celebrity, but people really seem to think so. Is it because peoples lives are so boring they try to live vicariously through the celebrities? Do we hear (on the front page) when Bush has the flu, or a cold, or when any other political figure does? How about scientists? No. But Brad Pitt, yes. He is that important.

Old war crimes

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This keeps coming up in my mind lately, and more frequently since they keep showing all these war history programs on the History Channel (which I watch because normally I’d rather see something real than the rest of the crap on TV.)

I’ve known how bad the US/British firebombing of Japan was at the end of WW2, but I didn’t realize until yesterday just how bad it was.

See: Firebombing at Wikipedia

In one of the first big raids they dropped enough napalm to demolish 16 square miles of civilian areas in Tokyo. This is estimated to have killed 100,000 civilians in one night within the ensuing firestorm. Even the commander of the forces at the time later reflected “I suppose if I had lost the war, I would have been tried as a war criminal.” They then proceeded to do the same to another 31 square miles over the next several days.

This is insane. During a war you have to expect that military and industrial targets will be bombed, but leveling 16 square miles of a heavily populated city with napalm? And these were the “good guys”?

It proves that history really does get re-written by the victors. How many kids in the US are told this in history class?

The state of oil in the middle east

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Here’s an interview with a (conservative) energy analyst:

Peak Oil, Saudi Arabia: Part 1

Interesting that his opinion is that Iraq and Saudi Arabia have already passed their peak oil production.

But, in good news, Bush concedes ground on climate change. Again, as much as I dislike Bush, I really do think he “gets it” on energy issues but is constrained by his big-oil backers. Of course it’s still shameful to not stand up for what he (seemingly) believes in, but at least there’s a glimmer of hope every once in a while. If it were up to Cheney they’d be trying to prove that all those greenhouse gases are actually good for the environment.

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