Peak China

I’m traveling to Beijing this Thursday, so I need to write this blog entry…

First there was peak oil, the idea that has fascinated many since the 1970s that oil production was about to peak and then collapse, leaving our economy crippled.  Then there was “peak everything” as it has been called, the regular doomsaying that everything from clean water to the ingredients of computer chips are running out.

Continue reading

Defund Guantanamo

In Doctor Strangelove, the Russians develop a nuclear doomsday device that will destroy the world if they are attacked.  The perfect deterrent, except they keep the device top secret.  Woops!  Republicans have now developed the same thing in reverse: a threat that isn’t a threat, according to them.  Having threatened to do the unthinkable (cause default on US debt) if they don’t get their way, they now say default wouldn’t be that bad.

If that’s the way Republican thinking is evolving, we may be headed for default after all.  Or, at least, we’re headed for a situation where President Obama may have to make some tough decisions.  If, as Republicans say, the US can pay the obligations it really needs to and defer the rest, then it would be up to the executive branch (i.e. the President) to decide what to defer funding on.  The President says you can’t just pick and choose what parts of the government to fund.  But in case he has to, I have some suggestions that he may like:

1) Defund Guantanamo.  Military bases maintained in hostile territory are always expensive, so this will save quite a bit of money.  Just put all the people there on a ship and get them out overnight.  The Cubans will occupy it the next day, and there would be no way we could ever go back.  (And terminate the lease to be sure of that.)  Guantanamo shut down, money saved, international festering sore instantly healed.

Continue reading

So you drive on the left, but where do you park?

The British drive on the left, as Americans and Europeans know, making driving there daunting for right-side drivers. But driving on the opposite side is only the beginning of troubles for Americans visiting Britain.

One big challenge for Americans is the size of the roads.  We’re used to wide roads of consistent width and free from obstacles.  British roads are often narrow, with parked cars on both sides, leaving only enough room for one car to pass at a time.  Oncoming cars regularly cross the center line in order to go around parked cars and the driver must be prepared for this to happen without warning.

Continue reading

Immigration Reform Thoughts

I was rereading my earlier post on how immigration reform doesn’t require amnesty, and had a few more thoughts.

I had written that immigration of low-skilled workers could be based on employment, just like it is for highly skilled workers.  But in addition, we need to recognize that in the long term, immigration should depend on other factors as well, and should allow periods of unemployment because these are understandable.

Continue reading

Recall Elections

The recent recall election in Colorado unseated two Democratic lawmakers who had voted for moderate state gun control measures, chilling the climate for gun control there and arguably nationwide.  How do recall elections work, and how could increasing use of recalls affect politics?

The states have different laws regarding whether and how recalls are allowed.  Most states do not authorize recall elections, while nineteen states do.  In Colorado, along with California, a petition to recall an officeholder that gathers enough valid signatures triggers a recall election with a two-part ballot.  Part 1 asks if the officeholder should be removed from office, and Part 2 contains a choice of candidates to replace them.  All voters may mark Part 2 no matter how they vote in Part 1.  However, the incumbent officeholder may not appear on Part 2.

Continue reading

Why Immigration Reform Doesn’t Need Amnesty

The Immigration bill seems to be moving forward but the central mechanism of the bill, creating a path to citizenship for those who entered the country illegally, is flawed.  Not because I adhere to the “no amnesty” principle, but simply because this is not the simplest or best approach.

The truth is we need immigrants to do many jobs.  We can all agree on that.  And we should also be able to agree that it is bad for us as a society to have a population in legal limbo who can’t get driver licenses or do so many other things legally, so they live an illegal unregulated existence.

Continue reading

Alphabetical Order

We learn the alphabet at an early age and we all understand the concept that each letter corresponds roughly to a sound.  Thinking back on having learned it, we are quite thankful that our language is based on an alphabet instead of thousands of pictograph symbols like Chinese.  But have you ever thought about why our alphabet has an order?  I mean yes, it’s quite useful to be able to alphabetize words and names, but that seems quite a modern thing.  Printing, and printed lists of words and names, only came about in the past few hundred years.  But the Phoenician alphabet, upon which almost all modern alphabets are based, arose more than 3000 years ago.  It had an order which is mostly the same as our own alphabetical order.  Without phone books, dictionaries, and other long ordered lists, the utility of alphabetization and alphabetical order must not have been great, yet alphabetical order existed.  Why?

Continue reading

Aurora Watching 101

I’m heading home from a trip to northern Sweden to see the Northern Lights or Aurora Borealis.  I spent four nights trying to see the aurora (and about 5 minutes watching an amazing display!) and I came away with some ideas for effective aurora watching.  I’m writing them here in order to help others successfully see the aurora.

The aurora borealis is a beautiful display of colored lights in the sky caused by charged particles from the sun.  It’s rarely seen much below the arctic circle so a trip north is almost always required to see it.  The main challenges of aurora watching are timing your trip during solar activity, having clear skies, avoiding artificial and natural sources of light, battling the cold, staying awake and staying comfortable.

Continue reading

Fun with a yo-yo

Common dieting wisdom says that you should choose a sustainable diet that will make you gradually lose weight.  It’s meant to be healthier and keep the pounds off once they are lost.  But that isn’t my style.  I go for crash dieting, where you bring your calorie consumption down to a minimal 500 to 1000 calories per day, and add some exercise to lose even more.  I’ve lost up to three pounds (1 1/2 kilos) per week on a long-term basis by this method.

Continue reading

The debt monster

The national debt has gone from 36% of the economy to 72% between 2007 and 2012.  It has doubled in proportion to the economy in five years.  That was largely due to the Bush Wars and the Obama Stimulus, but also due to our recurring deficit of hundreds of billions of dollars.  Currently the interest on the debt is about $400 billion per year.  But what if interest rates go up?

Continue reading