Quite an Epic Day

Yesterday’s inauguration was about more than Obama’s presidency.  The country came together to close the door on years of political partisanship, and to remind ourselves once again that it is the American people that make the country great.  It is the joining together of individuals from all over the country and from diverse backgrounds and ways of life from which this country draws its strength. 

A token of that unity is the CNN image taken by the GeoEye satellite of between one and two million people on the national mall to observe this inauguration, despite hours of security checks and frigid cold weather.

CNN: Satellite image of crowds on the mall   

How you know when you’ve borrowed too much

Including the recent $700 billion bailout of the financial industry and $100 billion dollors for Fannie and Freddie, the US has now dug deep enough into the hole to necessitate an extra digit on Times Square’s National Debt Clock.  Rolling over to above 10,000,000,000 dollars, over the weekend, the first digit previously used for the $ sign had to be changed to a 1 to mark the 10 trillion dollar threshold. (WKYC)

Now, maybe it’s just me, but how far into debt can we go before people start wondering whether we’re worth the investment.  Just for the sake of context, in 2006 back when the debt was around $8.5 trillion, the US paid $406 Billion in interest on the debt.  Compare that to the roughly $95 billion we spent on education or the $60 billion we spent on transportation in the same year.  What will it take to turn this around?  How long can the country go before we realize the danger we’re in.

Courtesy of http://www.federalbudget.com/

Priorities

The vast majority of the American public is ignorant to the government process and the decisions made by its governing body.  These decisions affect nearly every aspect of public and even private life and yet it’s reality television, co-worker drama and scandal that people care about, whilst the important stuff goes on by.  For instance, the politics involved with the Bush administration struggling to hold on to some facade of strength and influence by vetoing everything slip under the radar.

The American Blog, seen by a relatively small percent of the American public, discusses the subtle politics involved with the Bush administration veto of defense policy legislation.  At the same time, a quick glance at cnn.com, touting “Breaking News” turns up no coverage whatsoever.  Now, I don’t expect people to pay attention to, or understand all of the subtleties involved in our government processes, but one would hope that people might consider the very real implications of the decisions being made.

The neoconservatives running the country can get away with a startling amount of manipulation when no one pays attention.  Government is accountable to its constituents, democrat and republican representatives alike.  Who’s to guarantee fair play, though, if the ref has his nose buried in the tabloids.

Bush Says Iran Still a Danger…Sound Familiar?

New York Times: Bush Says Iran Still a Danger Despite Weapons Report

This headline is way too familiar. Try changing one letter and you’re back 4 years ago debating the exact same issue. Intelligence agencies released the following long-awaited report on the nuclear capacities of Iran, finding that they stopped weapons development in 2003.

National Intelligence Estimate: Iran: Nuclear Intentions and Capabilities

A few highlights from the report:We judge with moderate confidence that the earliest possible date Iran would be technically capable of producing enough HEU for a weapon is late 2009, but that this is very unlikely.

  • We judge with high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program.
  • We assess with moderate confidence Tehran had not restarted its nuclear weapons program as of mid-2007, but we do not know whether it currently intends to develop nuclear weapons.
  • We assess with high confidence that Iran has the scientific, technical and industrial capacity eventually to produce nuclear weapons if it decides to do so.

but…

  • We judge with high confidence that Iran will not be technically capable of producing and reprocessing enough plutonium for a weapon before about 2015

Iran may eventually be a danger – and we’re not exactly taking action in the world to convince people we’re worth being friends with – but this is not an imminent threat to US security, and it worries me that Bush is slipping into the same rhetoric he displayed with respect to Iraq. This does not justify Bush saying things such as

Bush: But this — we got a leader in Iran who has announced that he wants to destroy Israel. So I’ve told people that if you’re interested in avoiding World War III, it seems like you ought to be interested in preventing them from have the knowledge necessary to make a nuclear weapon… (Full transcript)

Judgement on Al Gore’s Inconvenient Truth

An Inconvenient Truth

Check out these two articles in that order. It’s amazing what people can do to science.

Junk Science: Hey Al Gore, We Want a Refund!

vs.

An ‘error’ is not the same thing as an error

London Justice Burton heard a case regarding the problems with presenting Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth to classrooms across the UK. The justice acknowledged the value of the film as professionally produced and well-meaning but struck down 9 major errors in the presentation. These pertained to Hurricane Katrina’s path of destruction, melting snow on Mount Kilimanjaro and the loss of fish communities dependent on coral reefs, among other things.

In none of these cases does the justice find Al Gore’s assertions to be false. Rather, the claims he finds have to do with a lack of sufficient comprehensive evidence for global warming as a cause, and possible other factors potentially responsible for the discussed climate changes.

Frankly, Al Gore was awarded the Nobel Prize this past week not for incredible scientific discoveries on his part. He’s a smart guy but not by any means a leading expert in every one of these areas. The value of this film doesn’t depend on the simple mass of how many proofs it can come up with to advocate global warming. Global warming is almost universally recognized by the scientific community as a very real and important factor in how we interact with the environment around us. This film takes this absolute truth and portrays it in a way individuals can relate to. A film like this is important because it helps the public throw away the unsupported statements and censored reports coming out of the Bush administration.

Justice Burton didn’t call Gore’s statements untruths, simply not fully and completely proven so far, and even at that, the justice was only citing inconsistencies between the film and the current formally accepted body of scientific research. That’s a lot more than we can say for most of the arguments against global warming.

Justice Burton’s Judgement

“Victory for Costa Rica”

The Washington Post Article by the same title represents what we can safely consider to be the general United States perspective on the matter. The approval of the “Tratado de Libre Comercio” by 51.5% of the Costa Rican voting public represents the culmination of several years of debate over the issue and it’s many ramifications.  In one sense, this is in fact a victory for Costa Rica to the degree that it will probably encourage better economic growth as generally accompanies open trade and stimulated industry. Just so, however, with the capitalistic focus of commercialism, comes a blow to the small community, the traditional Costa Rican family, and the unique qualities that make up the rich culture.

As things stand prior to the TLC, Costa Rican quality of life is fairly good. Education, government, environmental consideration, social life, and family life are all fairly high above our general stereotypes of what it means to live in a Latin American country.  As reasonable as some of these changes are as the logical progression of a small country in the modern globally connected world, it’s somewhat sad to think about the effects it will have on the country as a whole. This sort of thing is happening all over, as the pursuit of money and physical wealth dominates political and social thought.

Of course the article reads “Victory for Costa Rica.” The culture of our country is so completely dominated by commercialism that we cannot logical consider it in any other way. The World Bank recommends this course of action. Of course it must be right. But the thing we’re missing here is a consideration of the effects on the culture of every society it touches.

I spent a month in Costa Rica last year and I was struck most by was the strange ability of the Ticos to be simply content and happy with their lot in life. There isn’t the same drive to succeed and accomplish and accumulate wealth that dictates every aspect of American life. Connections to family and friends far outweigh career accomplishments. Happiness and success are related but not the same.

This victory for Costa Rican commerce and economy takes a step in the direction of sacrificing that Costa Rican ease of living. There is so much more to life than succeeding. It saddens me when the American way of life finds ways to corrupt the peace of such thoroughly advanced and sophisticated communities.

Check out articles and editorials in the national newspaper, LA NACIÓN for more perspectives on the issue. 51.1% is not unanimous.

Mozilla WebRunner 0.7

Firefox has been our browser for quite some time now, touted all along as safer and more efficient. Everyone knows, though, that firefox has memory leaks and, when using many of the web applications out there (gmail, meebo, facebook, etc.), firefox can slow down to a crawl.

Mozilla’s WebRunner is a streamlined version of the mozilla browser, designed to handle one web app within a window, without all the menus, bookmarks, and complications of a full browser. Profiles of the form .webapp can be downloaded for different apps and placed on the desktop. The idea is that users open these apps much like one would a program on the computer itself.

There are a number of bundles out there for various web 2.0 applications. If one hasn’t been made yet, it’s pretty simple to do it yourself.

  • Open a new text document in notepad.
  • Modify the following code to fit the settings you want.  ‘id’ must be some unique id allowing WebRunner to keep track of multiple profiles.
  • [Parameters]
    id=www.thanscorner.com
    uri=http://www.meebo.com
    status=yes
    location=no
    sidebar=no
    navigation=no

  • Save the file as ‘webapp.ini’
  • Right-click on the file, select ‘Send To’ -> ‘Compressed (zipped) folder’.  This will create a file called ‘webapp.zip’
  • Rename ‘webapp.zip’ to ‘.webapp’
  • This file is now a shortcut to a streamlined version of that app.

Here is a bundle I made for the instant messaging app Meebo.

WebRunner is a project still under development.  With future additions such as support for work offline, spellcheck, extensions, and more customizable options on the way, this may be a nice solution for those apps otherwise sucking up memory all the time.

Protesting Monks in Burma

By 12:30 p.m., hundreds of monks, students, and other Rangoon residents approached the police, stood in the road and began to pray. Then the soldiers and police began pulling monks from the crowd, targeting the leaders, striking both monks and ordinary people with canes. Several smoke bombs exploded and the riot police charged. The monks and others fought back with sticks and rocks. Many others ran, perhaps four or five of them bleeding from minor head wounds. A car was set alight — by the soldiers, some protesters claimed — and then there was the unmistakable crack of live ammunition: the soldiers were shooting into the air.

TIME Exclusive

BBC Report

I am by no means an expert on the situation in Burma, but I am familiar with a sense of decency. Nonviolent protest and the idea of calm prayerful opposition don’t warrant a violent response. Praying monks do not deserve a club to the back or a rifle-butt to the head. The image of a Buddhist monk’s shaved head, red with blood simply does not compute. This is not justice.

These reports are important for the fact that the correspondents feeding the information are doing so secretly under penalty of prosecution themselves. No one can get in to tell the world about events within this region.

The details described in article sound pretty bad. Worse, though, is the fact that these few bits of information are the only thing out there. Any situation in which the governing body is driven to covering up and keeping secrets cannot be good. 1o,000 monks and civilians are silently speaking out. Will we hear? And will we listen?


BBC: Accounts From Inside Burma

Oh Man Apple…

ipod905

With the most recent set of apple announcements came a new line of iPods and an updated price on the iPhone. The iPod nano got a makeover, shaped now to handle movies with a wider screen and more square design. The iPod Classic got a slightly sleeker design and a price cut.

Most exciting, however, is the release of the new iPod Touch. Design is almost identical to the iPhone and for all practical purposes, it can be considered the same device, minus the phone capability.

I wondered for quite some time about the incredible publicity of the iPhone when it was only really practical for a small portion of the population, and only targeted to the elite few with cash to burn and serious connectivity needs. And yet, kids, seniors, and the average citizen from every walk of life heard about it and knew what it was and what it could do.

Now, it’s all clear. The iPhone is not something the average person should care about. But it’s brother, the iPod Touch, most definitely is.

So many have failed trying to make a smart phone or palm device for the masses, but with this bold move, it is obvious that apple thinks it can succeed where others have failed. The iPhone hype gave people the dream of a device so beautiful, and the iPod Touch gave them a way to grasp that dream and move into the same plane of sophistication as those elite enough to own the iPhone itself.

Wow, apple. I’m impressed.

Now, financial analysts are screaming about the ‘disastrous’ $200 price cut so soon after the iPhone’s initial release. Yes, its price was initially way too high, but that price point placed it upon a pedestal, barely attainable, that fueled hype and intrigue. Jobs is giving a $100 store credit to those early adopters who were “cheated” by this price drop.

Apple will sell plenty of the iPod Touch to make up for the small bit of negative spin in the air now. Give it a month and no one will remember these stories of apple’s faux pas, and apple will be slowly taking over the portable device market, corner by corner.

And We Thought the Age of the Pirates Had Drawn to a Close

I’ve always wondered if this sort of thing still happened in today’s modern world of high-level weapons and global surveillance. Well, it turns out some 200-300 pirate attacks are reported each year to the Piracy Reporting Center in Kuala Lumpur.

Long gone are the days of rope-swinging, eye-patched, parrot-adorned raiders, plundering the riches of the seven seas, but still survives the spirit of boarding thieves armed with grappling hooks and a slightly more advanced of rocket-powered grenades and automatic rifles.

Check out this truly wonderful and incredibly in-depth look at The Pirate Hunters and those they pursue. load testing website