Thursday, August 31, 2006

Hurricane Katrina - Part 2: Why did it ever happen?

It's been a year since Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, but the problem has been brewing for much longer than that. Most of New Orleans is built under sea level, about 80% of the city was underwater a year ago. The city is dependent upon levies to hold water back, and pumps to clear the water out. Of course the failed, and water faithfully obeyed gravity and marched on in. First of all, I question why you would put a city under sea level by water in the first place. You're just asking for a disaster to happen. I guess we know we why we got such a bargain on the Louisiana Purchase from the French. And people had run computer simulations and predicted this very disaster before last year. And yet, nothing was done to prevent it in the long term, and I fear nothing will be done to prevent it from happening again.

The levies were supposedly built to withstand a Category 3 storm. Hurricane Katrina was said to be a Category 5 storm, but by the time it hit it was a Category 4 storm, although there is evidence it was even weaker. Now perhaps Category 5 hurricanes are rare, but given enough time one was bound to hit New Orleans, and indeed did. Even if a Category 5 storm hits New Orleans every 50 years, (there is no guarantee another one won't happen again sooner than that) the cost of the disaster is too high not to build levies to protect against a Category 5 hurricane. The costs of a sufficient levy system far outweigh the cost of rebuilding after weaker and cheaper levies fail. And although it would have been preferably to have a strong levy system built before Katrina, it is still warranted as another strong hurricane will almost certainly hit again.

Now the problem of the levies is not the fault of any one person. The problem existed before Bush entered office, even before Clinton entered office, and would not have been different if Gore or Kerry had won. The Army Core of Engineers was responsible for the levies, but they have to have money from the politicians. The Congressional representatives of New Orleans shouldn't have rest until they obtained money to build levies that could withstand a Category 5 hurricane, even if they had to abandon all other pork barreling. They should fight like that now. We should not rebuild New Orleans if we are not willing to commit to building such levies this time around. Why have all the money spent be washed away by another hurricane?

I'm personally not sure that New Orleans should be rebuilt anyways. Again, it is under sea level. The government has before designated flood zones and stopped people from living in those vulnerable areas. Perhaps the government should do the same again. Let's just give everyone there a check for the value of their house before the storm and move everyone out instead of spending it on rebuilding in a vulnerable area. I went down there last spring and the destruction left is still unbelievable, so its not too late to stop rebuilding. The costs of rebuilding plus a new, sufficient levy system probably cost more than just buying out everyone. Then we sell all the land to the Disney Corporation and they can turn the French Quarter into another Magic Kingdom.

Of course, New Orleans is going to be rebuilt, whether or not it makes any sense to actually do so. The government on all levels does not have the foresight and will to seriously consider not rebuilding in vulnerable areas. Besides, we're Americans and we can do whatever we want. We won't let nature and geography stand in our way. And since we will rebuild, a good level system should be built, but again it won't happen, because we won't spend the billions of dollars necessary to prevent it. I hope I'm wrong, but I predict all this happening again down the road, maybe in a few years, maybe in a few decades. And when it does, we'll just rebuild again without looking ahead.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Hurricane Katrina - Part 1: The Initial Response

A year ago Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf coast. This was a catastrophic natural disaster that left the place in pieces. But more catastrophic, the response by government on all levels after the initial storm. The scenes from New Orleans did not look like they were from America during that crisis, they looked like they were from a third world country. People stranded without food, water, or dignity. People left to rot in the Superdome and Convention Center. And not to mention all the looting and other violence that took place. Some of the suffering was perhaps unavoidable, but a vast part of it was the fault of a slow, batched, response one year ago. So what went wrong? What should have been done to avoid this?

First of all, the mandatory evacuation that left thousands of people behind. The evacuation was ordered 19 hours before land fall, way too late. There was enough warning that this storm would be catastrophic. New Orleans is off course particularly vulnerable, a good portion of the city being under sea level, and so they always should have played it safe and ordered an evacuation earlier than other locations would. The governor of Louisiana and Mayor Ray Nagin share responsibility for the failure to order and evacuation sooner.

Then there is of course the fact that people were left behind. Now perhaps there were people who chose to ignore the evacuation, but many people were just too poor to leave. So there should have been a way to get people out who couldn't afford to drive or fly. But instead of evacuating everyone, the Superdome was set up as a shelter of last resort. This shelter of last resort was not prepared, there was not enough food and water, and perhaps most lacking, information which is free for those inside. There were some 500 school buses that could have been used to evacuate that were left to be flooded by the storm. 500 buses times let's say 40 people per bus would have been 20,000 people that could have been evacuated. I believe the crowd at the Superdome grew to around 25,000 people, so a large amount of them could have been evacuated before the storm. Mayor Ray Nagin definitely is responsible for this massive failure.

Then there is of course the slow response after the storm was over. I'll cut them a little slack for Monday, when it appeared we had dodged a bullet in New Orleans, but starting Tuesday when the water came in it still took 3 days to get food and water in and 4 days to start getting people out. Where were the air drops of water, food (in the form of MREs - Meals Ready to Eat), and medicine. Why didn't they drop in boxes of camping water filters, there certainly was plenty of water in New Orleans that could have been purified. Those people stranded at the Superdome and Convention Center had none of the essentials, and were living in absolutely squalid conditions that should not have been tolerated by our leaders. Our government ought to be absolutely ashamed of their slow response. I thought they ought to have cancelled schools and sent buses down there to get those people out of there if that is what it would take to get buses fast. You might not have been able to get everyone to a place with a cot immediately, but any place with running water, electricity, and food would have been infinitesimally better then the conditions down there. And how was it the media was able to get around the New Orleans, but not our military?

Another major problem was the director of FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Michael Brown. I remember watching an interview between NBC's Brian Williams and Michael Brown. On day four Brown said that the Federal government just found out about the people at the convention center. If he had just turned on the CNN or MSNBC during those days he would have known. Our government should know this information before a regular citizen does, and certainly not after. (Of course President Bush is famous for having to have a DVD made to show him all this, so the same would apply to him as well.) Brown and the rest of the Federal government just seemed unaware of the magnitude of this disaster. (e.g. There was an e-mail where Brown was complaining about finding a restaurant to eat in Baton Rouge to a FEMA person in New Orleans, who replied that must be hard unlike having too eat MREs for the past several days.) Brown had worked for the International Arabian Horse Association before FEMA. President Bush bears responsibility for Brown's failings as a leader for having appointed Brown who's resume didn't fit the job in the first place. The also Senate bears responsibility for confirming someone who wasn't qualified for the job. They should have said no. That's just a fact of leadership, you delegate authority, but you still are responsible to some degree. Politicians out there, if you're going to appoint people as political favors instead of based on merit, appoint them as ambassadors to out of the way countries that we don't even know exist until we invade them.

Since 9/11 we were suppose to be prepared for disasters, and Hurricane Katrina showed us we are not. It also exposed many other problems that need to be addressed. Later I will address the long term response and long term lead up to this disaster, as well as what we need to do to be ready for future disasters. (Note that I focused on New Orleans, but of course the whole Gulf coast was devastated, in some spots even worse.)

Monday, August 28, 2006

Mask of Innocence

This past Friday, and indeed the past few days, were not a good day for aviation security. There were seven different incidents that caused diversions, delays, evacuations, and searches which cost time and tens of thousands of dollars on Friday. Yesterday was terrible with a crash in Kentucky, but that was not security related. Today as I was writing this there was news on the TV that another flight was diverted because threatening letters were found. On a flight from Argentina a stick of dynamite was found in a college student's checked bag. He says he is in the mining industry and often travels with explosives. As a passenger, you should make sure you don't have prohibited items to speed things up. But this raises the question, how did a stick of dynamite make it onto the plane in the first place. We obviously have more work to do in screening checked baggage.

What I want to focus on though is on a flight from Chicago a ten year old boy told a flight attendant he had a bomb strapped to his leg. So, the plane was evacuated and searched. Now, if he was sitting next to me and said "I have a bomb strapped to my leg," I'd be like "can you say that louder." "I HAVE A BOMB STRAPPED TO MY LEG!" Pow, on the floor for the rest of the flight. The parents should have taken him to the back of the plane and discipline him. That boy is lucky he wasn't shot by a federal air marshal. Shoot first, ask questions later. Remember the tragic incident in Florida where a mentally handicapped man said he had a bomb and was shot by an air marshal. As sad as it was, I think they made the right decision there.

I knew no good could come from having kids on planes. At best, they scream, at worse, they cause a security threat which costs time and thousands of dollars. If you're not old enough to be held responsible for your words and actions, you're not old enough to fly. It's just to risky having kids on planes. A kid may look innocent, but he (or she) could be using his innocence to cover a devious terrorist plot. If a air marshal shot a kid who said he had a bomb, he'd be in very hot water. And yet, a terrorist could hide a bomb on a kid, knowing he probably would get less scrutiny than an adult. And there are child soldiers, so there could be child terrorists, who have sadly lost their innocence. In this country 18 is when you are considered an adult, but that is not necessarily the case all over the world. So to be truly safe, we either have to ban kids from planes or be willing to shot them if they say bomb on an airplane. But would we be willing to shot a kid for security? No, which is why we should add them to the list of prohibited items. Or we can choose an increased risk of terrorist attacks if that's what we want. But to paraphrase people after the liquids ban, if it keeps us safe then we should do it. This is also why we should keep on randomly searching everyone, men, women, and children, in addition to psychological profiling. At least one of the suspects arrested in England for plotting to blow up 9 different airplanes was a woman. The terrorists are adapting, so we have to be ready for anyone to try an attack. That's why there has been a paradigm shift in aviation security, everyone is a potential terrorist and should be treated as such. If we leave any holes in security then we are unsafe.

Are willing to do what it takes to keep us safe? Or are you a terrorist sympathizer and unwilling to sacrifice freedom, civility, and dignity for security? Don't you want an unburstable bubble of protection while in the closed airport security. When pick up your bags and drive away in a rental car you could be be killed in a car accident, but at least you'll have the peace of mind of not being able to die while flying, unless there is a plane accident, or if you keel over due to a heart attack. So let's get working on created a true false sense of security.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

A Campus Divided

(There were two posts today as they are time sensitive, a possible stem cell research breakthrough and Governor Fletcher's visit to the University of Louisville. I was going to post them Thursday but the news of Pluto being demoted trumped everything else. Come back next week for a look back on Hurricane Katrina and any new news.)

On Thursday of this week, Governor Fletcher of Kentucky visited the University of Louisville's campus. A million dollar project is in the works to reduce traffic on Eastern Parkway, which divides the engineering school, Speed School, from the rest of campus. This is because this road is dangerous for pedestrians crossing it and has resulted in injuries and fatalities.

What Governor Fletcher should have done is stage an accident during his speech. Then, he could say this project couldn't come a moment too soon. Fletcher is a doctor, so he could rush out into the street and save the student's life. This might help boast his approval rating which is rather low right now. If you're unfamiliar with Kentucky's politics, Fletcher is in hot water for a hiring scandal, a blanket pardon for his staff, and was potentially going to be indicted.

Part of the proposed project includes a barrier to prevent jay walking. Somehow building a wall between the Speed School and the Main Campus is suppose to unite them together. This sounds more like the Berlin Wall to me. Governor Fletcher, tear down this wall. Seriously, many students leave engineering for arts and science, business, etc. So, by building a wall they will prevent the emigration of engineering students, just like the Berlin Wall was built to prevent the emigration of East Germans. Next thing you know, the crosswalk is going to be a checkpoint, allowing only Arts and Science students over and back to go to Chemistry class. Us engineering students will be dependent upon vending machines and food thrown away by commuter students for sustenance. So you Speed School students out there, be ready for the day you come out of class and find a wall trapping you in.

Possible Embryonic Stem Cell Research Breakthrough

This week, some scientists announced a potential breakthrough in embryonic stem cell research, which could solve the ethical problem. They claim that they can remove a single stem cell from an embryo in an early state (with 8 cells as opposed to a hundred cells) without harming its development, and grow stem cell colonies from that single cell, as opposed to now where the embryo is destroyed in extracting stem cells. In in vitro fertilization treatment, preimplantation genetic diagnosis, the practice of taking a single cell from the embryo and testing it for genetic disorders is already in practice, and doesn't seem to effect the development of the embryo.

Stem cell research holds the promise of being able to cure diseases like diabetes and alzheimer. Many object because they believe it wrong to do scientific research at the cost of human lives. Others believe its okay to sacrifice lives to save lives. If this breakthrough is true, it would solve the ethical objection to stem cell research on the grounds that it results in the death of human lives. Of course, this wouldn't solve the ethical problems of in vitro fertilization treatment which results in a surplus of embryos which are either destroyed or frozen. See Part 1: Embryonic Stem Cell Research and Part 2: Embryonic Stem Cell Research for further in-depth discussion of stem cell research.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Breaking News - Solar System Loses a Planet

So you were brought up to believe there are nine planets? Well, you were apparently lied to. Not uncommon these days. Pluto, the once ninth planet has gone the way of the planet Alderaan, destroyed by the Death Star in Star Wars. But Pluto was not blown out of the heavens, nor struck by a comet, but demoted by the International Astronomical Union, IAU, meeting in Prague this month.

Earlier in their meeting, there was talk of defining a planet as basically an object which is round. So a basketball could be put in orbit and it would be a planet. Actually, there was a little more to it, a planet would be a body which is round due only to gravitation force and was in orbit around a star. Under this definition Pluto would have stayed a planet, but there would hundreds of planets added. No Ice Ball Left Behind. Now that would have been not exclusive enough. Not just any celestial object can be a planet. I say there should be a totally arbitrary definition making planets the size of Pluto or larger.

Here is the new definition.
RESOLUTION 5A The IAU therefore resolves that planets and other bodies in our Solar System be defined into three distinct categories in the following way:
(1) A planet is a celestial body that (a) is in orbit around the Sun, (b) has sufficient mass for its self-gravity to overcome rigid body forces so that it assumes a hydrostatic equilibrium (nearly round) shape, and (c) has cleared the neighborhood around its orbit.
(2) A dwarf planet is a celestial body that (a) is in orbit around the Sun, (b) has sufficient mass for its self-gravity to overcome rigid body forces so that it assumes a hydrostatic equilibrium (nearly round) shape, (c) has not cleared the neighborhood around its orbit, and (d) is not a satellite.
(3) All other objects orbiting the Sun shall be referred to collectively as "Small Solar System Bodies".

So Pluto isn't good enough. Well, I'll cast my lot with Pluto. If Pluto is not considered a planet, then I'm not a planet either. Maybe Neptune should be demoted since it hasn't swept Pluto out of its orbit. What about Mars and Jupiter, they're around a asteroid belt that hasn't been swept away. So clearly Jupiter shouldn't be a planet, even though its the largest object next to the sun in this solar system. This is outrageous. While we're at it, let's demote Australia from continent to island. It's really been ambiguous anyways. What did Pluto ever do to us? I call upon the UN to pass a resolution threatening economic sanctions against the IAU if they do not stop there unprovoked war on Pluto. These hostilities cannot stand.

Now this is not the first time a planet has been demoted. Ceres discovered at the turn of the 1800s was demoted about 150 years ago to an asteroid. But I for one will not stand for being governed by arbitrary precedents. If we must admit Ceres as a planet to keep Pluto a planet, so be it.

What really is appalling is the political maneuvering by the Pluto haters. Some 2,500 astronomers attended this convention, but the vote wasn't until the last day, and so only 425 voted. Even more appalling, there are about ten thousand astronomers around the globe, so this was only 5% of all astronomers. Ever heard of a quorum? Imagine if we elected the president with 5% of the population, that wouldn't be acceptable. Those anti-plutonians should be ashamed of their selves.

What the IAU has done here with their tier classification system is create second class citizens of the celestial realm. Sure, they disguised it as "dwarf planets," but we know what they really mean, second class planets. Will these dwarf planets be given the same rights and privilege that the first class planets get under the Constitution. I doubt it. Why not have a Three-fifths Compromise and count these "dwarf planets" as three-fifth planets? Sound familiar, that's because that's it is. The founding fathers of the US counted slaves as three-fifths persons. Was that right, of course not. Neither is counting planets as anything less than full-fledged planets right. The IAU is a bunch of planetists, and they know it. The words of Yoda come to mind, "size matters not." (Actually size does matter and not every celestial object should become a planet, but that's beside the point.)

Why not let the celestial bodies themselves decide who is and isn't a planet through a constitutional , representative democracy? It's the American thing to do. We should go liberate them, set up an interim government which will be the transition to a sovereign celestial government, the UPSS, or United Planets of the Solar System. There could be the Planetary Congress, and the Secretary General of the UPSS would rotate between the nine different planets. A new planet could be added with the unanimous consent of all 9 planets, forming the Planetary Security Council.

Why don't we while we're at it just declare a planet to be only those who are in Gustav Holst's Orchestral Suite "the Planets?" Then, Pluto won't be a planet, and neither will Earth. Besides we all know that the Earth is better than all those other planets. Earth is really too good to be classified with any other celestial object. Let's declare the Earth the center of the universe. It's not like we don't act like we are anyways, deciding who makes the cut in the celestial dodge ball game.

A Comparison Between the Beginnings of Democracy in the US and Iraq

History is important to study so to better understand current events, where we are now and where we are heading. Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it. Therefore, I want to examine the beginnings of these United States of America and compare that with the situation in Iraq.

During the American Revolution, not every colonist supported the cause of independence. Only one third supported the Americans. Another one third didn't have a preference, and finally one third supported Britain. I don't know how they got these numbers, I guess a Gallop poll. Obviously in Iraq, not every Iraqi supports democracy, and many are opposed. But if unanimous consent was required, the United States of America never would have been established. To expect unanimous support would be absurd.

America didn't gain independence alone. The US had help from France; which many might cringe at remembering, but it is true. Without France's support, we would be speaking British now, and not English. For example, France supplied naval support, without which we never would have won. Take the final major battle, the Battle of Yorktown. The French cut off the British's support from sea. Presently, Iraq is getting support from the United States, an outside country. So it would be unfair to say that a country must gain freedom all by itself. However, the colonies weren't liberated, they provided the majority of contribution in their fight for independence.

Another important point is that the US didn't blossom overnight. We didn't get everything right in the beginning. We even had a failed constitution. Remember the Articles of Confederation, total flop. It created a national government that was way to weak, fraught with many problems. It took two tries to get a government that would work. So, even if the present constitution in Iraq should fail, that doesn't mean it's the end of democracy there. If that was the case, the US would have failed too. So we should cut Iraq some slack, give them a learning curve that we got.

Again, the US wasn't, and indeed still isn't, perfect overnight. In our beginning, everyone was not equal under the law. Only a very small percentage of the population could vote. Our government didn't trust its people, and so set up the electoral college. And we can't forget slavery. No, the US wasn't perfect when it was founded, it's taken several hundred years to even get close to real equality under the law, and we're still not there. So, let us not judge Iraq for not going far enough to ensure equality, as we ourselves took a long time and are still not perfect. At least Iraq doesn't allow slavery. Indeed, a larger percentage of Iraqis voted or were allowed to in their first elections then did Americans in their nation's first elections. Not that having a lot of people vote ensures that a democracy will succeed..

Additionally, the US had a Civil War, pretty bloody if I remember. And the reason we didn't have one sooner was because we just put off addressing issues such as slavery to avoid splitting the nation in the beginning, like it or not. I happen to think that was for the best, the lesser of two evils. So, if Iraq has a Civil War, we had a violent one ourselves. Now, during our civil war we didn't have foreign troops helping, so that difference should be pointed out.

I hope this helps illuminate the situation in Iraq. I tried to state just the facts and not opinions, to let you decide what to think. There are several similarities between the United States' beginnings and Iraq's beginnings, which warrant examination. It is important to remember the US took a while to develop our democratic society, and we should not expect democracy in Iraq to happen overnight without any difficulty.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Red Alert - New Terror Plot

The Department of Homeland Security and TSA have raised the nations aviation threat level to red, or severe. There is a high risk of a terrorist attack using snakes on a plane. No snakes may be in carry on or checked bags. This has caused mass chaos at airports as trash cans full of snakes have been accumulating. Many people have had to throw entire terraniums of snakes worth several hundred dollars away that they purchased in terminal pet shops. There is an exception, one small, non-poisonous snake may be carried on if you have it bite you first per person, and only if enclosed in a clear plastic bag. Seriously, Federal authorities are worried that the movie "Snakes on a Plane" could give terrorists ideas and are cracking down. (TSA Announcement)

"Snakes on a Plane" is a film that by no rational, reasonable standards worth holding could be called good. To do so would to take away all meaning from the word "good." Doing so is an act of verbicide so atrocious one deserves to be locked up in the Hague for Crimes Against Language, with snakes in your cell. Nevertheless, the movie was entertaining. It's funny, action packed, suspenseful, and more. It's definitely not going to win any Oscars, which was a guarantee from when they came up with the title "Snakes on a Plane." And there are some pretty crude to say the least parts in the film.

I couldn't believe though that I saw a child in the theater when I went to see it. I felt like getting up and going to the parent. "No. Get out. Seriously, get out. You want to screw your child up? Too bad. Take him to a Disney film. How about Pirates of the Caribbean, or Cars? I'm not kidding. I don't care if you're too cheap to pay for baby sitting. Get out." But I didn't.

This film has gotten me thinking about some other possibilities for films. "Rats on a Train," "Centipedes on a Scooter," "Cows on a Tractor," (A propaganda film for the Dairy Farmers of America showing them growing their own food, living in a farm house, and selling their milk to pay for their new plasma TV, etc. Rated G for all ages. Until the older cow goes to the 'retirement home.') "Bees on a Bus," "Spiders on a Submarine," "Rats on a Subway," (actually that's nonfiction) "Termites on a Mayflower," (a historical film in time for Thanksgiving 2007, coming to a theater near you), and my favorite "Ants on a Highway." Pretty much anything that fits (type of animal) on a (mode of transportation). Or more broadly (type of organism) (preposition) (mode of transportation) . "Venus Fly Traps in a Cab." Or even more broadly, (something) (preposition) (something). "Corn on a Cob."Or "Mayonnaise on my Wendy's Homestyle Chicken Fillet Sandwich." "I'm tired of this ___ mayonnaise on my _____ sandwich. I ordered it no mayonnaise." (I have some anger against the food service on my campus.) "Shampoo on a Plane." Or maybe "Babies on a Plane." (I'm also annoyed by screaming babies on a flight.) The key to making any of these films work is getting Samuel L. Jackson. He, and only he, can pretty much pull off any of these. Samuel L. Jackson is why the US is going nuts over "Snakes on a Plane."

But seriously, "Snakes on a Plane" is unique. Only certain transportation could work. A plane works because you can't just land the plane while over water. Spiders on a Submarine could work if it takes place during the Cold War and the Submarine can't surface. "The Hunt for Red October" meets "Snakes on a Plane," making a great movie horrible. Sean Connery for the Russian sub captain, Samuel L. Jackson for the American sub captain. A car wouldn't work very well since you could just pull over and get out.

Unless there are "Ants on a Highway." Here's the premise. The only thing that could trigger a massive explosion in the ant population, global warming, causes a massive explosion in the ant population. And the ants migrate from Central America to the southern United States, across our new border wall with soldiers standing by helplessly, actually rolling on the ground trying to get them off, but anyways. So, the only way to be safe is to constantly keep driving until out of the affected region so that your vehicle doesn't get swarmed. (Some people stand in puddles of water which end up evaporating on them.) Now just imagine, someone climbing out of their car at 60 miles per hour and siphoning gasoline out of another car to keep going. (Because ants can run at 59 miles per hour.) Or, someone gets a flat tire but can't stop. So they have everyone move to the opposite corner so the car will only drive on three wheels. Then, because of an ominous curve coming up on the road which they know using their On-Star in dash navigation system, someone climbs out and changes the tire while its driving on three wheels. That's probably not even possible in real life, but it would be exciting. A dad says, "Don't make me pull this car over." Then he pulls the car over and it is swarmed as they try driving away too late. All of this complicated by the horrible evacuating traffic which results in the ants swarming thousands of cars idling on major highways, and of course looting. But the looters get justice when the ants attack them. And the government is also trying to get gasoline to moving vehicles and evacuate people by air. In the end, only the Toyota Priuses make it far enough to escape the terror. This film is ripe for product plugs, On-Star, Toyota Prius, which would be necessary as the movie wouldn't make enough money from box office sales.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Major Hole In Aviation Security

I hate to destroy your sense of aviation security, but apparently cargo is shipped on commercial airlines. (Click on post title for related story.) And most of these packages are not checked. Only packages explicitly requested to be on a particular flight are always checked, and the rest are randomly checked. Now, why are we cracking down on one area of security, leaving other areas wide open?

Unlike with checked luggage, the person who would be sending an explosive wouldn't be on the plane and so would have nothing to lose as it wouldn't be that hard to send a package without giving your real identity. Think about it, they could express mail a package hoping it would end up on a passenger plane, and have a barometer that would trigger it to explode when the plane is in the air.

I say every package should be inspected. If that can't be done, then stop shipping cargo on passenger planes. Actually, we should get rid of all cargo and checked luggage from passenger planes (and carry on and personal items) and just put it all on cargo planes. What we do is fly two planes to each location, one for the passengers only and one for luggage and any cargo that is also being shipped. Or we could get rid of checked luggage all together and have everybody ship their luggage separately.

Granted, our airports and skies are congested enough as it is, but what choice do we have in our quest for security. We could build high speed rail to reduce short to medium haul flights, which when factoring in check in time takes almost as long if not longer than taking a train. Using rail would also be cheaper for the traveler than flying, so who can complain. (The airlines, and anyone who's a terrorist.) Additionally, you could use your cell phone on a train, and we all know how important being constantly connected 24/7/365 is to us these days. Actually, if people can use their cell phones that might make me want to fly instead, but I digress.

This would in addition to making us secure also reduce the weight of passenger planes and thus the amount of fuel needed and therefore the ticket cost. Actually, it would probably just end up balancing out the increasing weight of Americans, keeping the cost the same. We could use cargo hold for a lounge, bar, restaurant, etc, or more likely to cram more people onto planes. If it was the latter, we could consolidate flights freeing up runway space for the additional cargo planes needed. So we wouldn't have to cut the number of seats available, but would gain better security. Of course, your luggage is more likely to be loss, which really sucks when you are not allowed carry on either, nor your laptop or cell phone, but freedom isn't free. We have gone too long in this war on terror without having to make real sacrifices.

The Liberation of Death

I was thinking about it, and I came to the conclusion that death is liberating. And by death I mean the fact that every single person dies, that there is no chance short of divine intervention of you or I not dying. Thus, one doesn't need to fear death. Necrophobia, the fear of death, is really if you think about irrational. Why fear something that has to happen? Since you must die death can't hold you hostage. I should point out I am addressing biological death, and not spiritual death.

Imagine if there was no natural death, e.g. no dying of old age, or cancer, etc. The only way you could dye is from murder, a car or plane accident, falling from a cliff, etc. You would be completely paranoid. You would never want to go out, travel, or do anything if it was at all possible to avoid it. You might be able to live forever but you would never live fully, never experience life because that involves the risk of death.

And what are the chances that one could avoid any fatal accidents or incidents for all of eternity anyways. Very, very slim. Almost certainly everyone would end up dying anyways. All someone would have to do to control you is threaten to kill you if you don't obey them. All heroism would be gone, cowardice would set in. Right now, you can risk your life because you can't keep it anyways. But once holding onto life is a possibility however slim, one would never risk it or sacrifice it for another. Furthermore, if you can live forever, you could keep your possessions forever. Thus incredible greed would set in as people accumulate more and more which really wouldn't work economically as there is a limited amount of land and other resources.. Sin would greatly increase. You might become rich, live in a fortress of sort, and hire guards, (ignoring the fact that no one would want to be a guard since that involves death) but eternity is a long time to avoid anything happen. Just as the Praetorian guard turned on emperors it was charged to protect, your own guards would be bought and turn on you. If you become rich enough to create a false sense of security, you would make yourself a target. And when someone never expecting death was caught by surprised, the state of their soul would be utterly terrible to behold.

And what if there was no death, natural or otherwise? Forget for a moment how that would work (it obviously wouldn't as things are now) as far as if you were crushed into dust or something. Right now death sort of limits how much pain one has to endure. After a certain point, whatever inflicts pain would kill you. But if you couldn't die, then you could be burned indefinitely, have every 206 bones of your body broken, and you would still be alive, stuck in a absolutely horrible situation forever. Also if you couldn't die, a major restraint on sin, the consequence of death, would be removed, and sin would abound so much more.

I would say in a fallen world death is necessary. First of all, many sins lead directly to death, and so death necessarily and naturally follows. Physically, biologically, as things are now, with sin death would have come since our bodies are fatal. The first person to die in the Bible was Abel who was murdered, thus his death was directly a consequence of sin, not his own sin, but still of sin. Secondly, the fact that we all will all die is one of several things that helps restrain our sinfulness. As the pall of death will fall on us all, we are free to give our lives up instead of coward in a self imposed cell. We don't have to be self seeking. It is guaranteed that treasures cannot be kept for long, so its rational not to try to store them up. Thus death reduces sin even as it is a consequence of sin. Therefore death, in a fallen world has to exist. So it is true that the wages of sin are death. But in a sense guaranteed death is a gift to the fallen, for it liberates us from living in perpetual fear of death and restrains sin.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Death a New Form of Entertainment?

I'm currently listening to a story on NPR's Talk of the Nation about cadaver exhibits. ( I wasn't planning on blogging about this, indeed I was unaware of such things, but now I feel compelled to.

Apparently there are exhibits, some in the United States, where cadavers, dead bodies, are put on display. For example, Body Worlds. ('re preserved and put in various poses, from what I can gather. For example, they may be riding a horse, etc. I believe I heard the word whimsical be used to describe this exhibit of dead human beings. They said the mood at these ranged from sober to circus like. There are even fetuses and children on display.

Displaying people who were once alive is just wrong. One of the callers was asked if they thought of them as human beings. They of course said no, they thought of them as works of art. You should not be making works of art out of dead people, that's just wrong. How disrespectful. A few years ago, the only place you would see this is in the basement of a psychopath murderer. This should be in Silence of the Lambs and not a museum.

To heap onto what I would say is wrong anyways are concerns over informed consent of those who bodies are on display. Some of the bodies may come from prison inmates and hospital patients from Kyrgystan and executed prisoners from China. Furthermore, how can children who God forbid (and I mean God forbid) shouldn't even be going to such exhibits or fetuses give informed consent to have there dead bodies on display?

Apparently, the original exhibit displayed bodies more like one would find in an anatomical lab. But, visitors didn't really like that, they thought they looked like ghosts. Hence the need to put them in whimsical poses, make them more abstract, and remove the humanity from them. I would say they are dead men and women and one shouldn't feel cheerful looking at them.

Why not, while we're at it, we have exhibits of people dying? We could have reality TV shows where people kill each other. The reality TV shows we have now are getting kind of old. Instead voting someone of the island, kill them of the island. Why not just bring back the gladiator games from ancient Rome? Watching people die is so much better in person. We could have ESPNDeath. Of course, Rome also collapsed, which could hapopen to us if we let our culture degenerate like they did.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Faith Nights?

While I was watching the news last week there was a story about "faith nights" at baseball games. (Click on post title for story.) Apparently these are on the rise. They are even found at the Major League level. Now, its perfectly fine for Christian individuals, families, friends, small groups, even whole churches to go to baseball games. It's a good opportunity for fellowship. But I'm not sure about the baseball park having faith nights.

Someone interviewed said "Events like this are the perfect opportunity to show people, 'Hey, we don't all stand on the corner and wave a Bible and say if you don't come to Jesus, you're going to hell." We don't do that because its not effective, but anyways. Now there is a tendency towards Christian sub-culture among Christians. Christian music, T-shirts, etc. Not that there is anything wrong with listening to Christian music, but following Christ is not superficial. Following Christ isn't about listening to certain music, wearing certain t-shirts, or going to faith nights at baseball games. Christians don't need to send the message we're just like you. They don't need to send the message that Christianity is just some subculture with music, etc. Nor should they stand on street corners telling people they're going to hell. They should send the message that their lives are different, in a good way, but indeed different.

As far as evangelism goes, I'm not really sure how faith nights are going to help. If you're not Christian, and maybe even if you are, there's nothing to draw you there. Actually, I take that back. Some people might be attracted by shorter lines for beer. But besides that, nothing. If they're not Christian, why would they be attracted by Christian music or even Christian mascots. (In case you're wondering, the story showed Veggie Tale characters.) So if nonbelievers don't come, you can't very well witness to them. So I don't see the need for faith nights.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Give me convenience or give me death

I can understand banning taking liquids past security checkpoints at airports, as explosives could be hidden in them. We are at war after all. Who really needs shampoo while flying? But, I don't understand why overpriced beverages and other liquids bought after the security checkpoint can't be brought on the plane. If explosives can be obtained from stores past checkpoints, then the security we have had since 9/11 is a sham.

What happen to my constitutional right to carry on Starbucks? But seriously, I wear contacts, and on long flights I need the contact solution, water doesn't cut it. Couldn't I carry that on if I taste it or put it in my eyes? I guess I'm going to have to start flying wearing glasses, until those are banned as well. I ahve to admit I'm abit confused. Is the reason for not allowing beverages, etc., bought past checkpoints that explosives can be made using common liquids bought from terminal stores? In which case wouldn't we need to close terminal shops and restaurants as well. Airlines should start offering complementary toothpaste and contact solution on flights, at least on long flights.

See my last post for how we can obtain the highest amount of aviation security possible. Nobody will want to fly, but we'll be secure, and that's what matters after all. Short of my plan, terrorist attacks will always be reasonably possible on airplanes.

We can never be totally secure. Life is full of risks. You could dye any day, any time. That's why I'd rather keep some freedom and convenience at a perhaps slightly higher risk of being killed than trade it for a false sense of security.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Terror Plot Triggers Increased Aviation Security.

If you haven't heard by now, (You really need to pay more attention to the news.) there was a foiled terror plot on British flights to the United States. 24 suspects were arrested in England. The plot involved smuggling in explosives in liquids and gels, such as beverages, toothpaste, etc., onto flights and using some electronic device to detonate them.

Consequently, all liquids and gels have been banned on flights in the United States by the TSA, in Britain, and other countries around the globe. That includes beverages including water, deodorant, toothpaste, hair spray, hair gel, suntan lotion, cosmetics, lip balm, contact solution; as well as all blood, water, and other bodily fluids still in your body. All shoes have to be x-rayed now. Furthermore, in Britain flights to the US had all carry-on baggage banned. The only thing allowed was travel documents in a clear plastic bag and medications. Baby formula is allowed, but it has to be tasted in front of inspectors. In Britain, laptops, mobile phones, and mp3 players were banned on flights. The banned items can be put in checked baggage. I don't know about you, but I don't trust the airlines handling my laptop and other electronic devices. If your baggage is lost, you would be out all that data. And what would someone do without there cell phone, they'd be helpless. "Alright, I need to call home. The number is. I don't know." No one knows any phone numbers anymore.

I say why make baby formula an exception? Sure, it will prevent babies from flying, but what's wrong with that? Have you ever enjoyed listening to a baby scream on a flight? Let's at least let a little good come from these tighter security measures and keep babies off planes. More importantly, why would a terrorist care about harming a baby, if they have no problem blowing up a plane full of civilians, men, woman, and children? The exception could prove catastrophic, so get rid of it.

I've come up with a series of draconian security measures in addition to those already in place that will create the most secure flights ever. First of all, let's follow the British's example and have no carry-on, period. No liquids, no gels, no electronics, no books (you could give someone a paper cut), nothing. Why take chances? So what is one to do on the plane? Try watching the in flight movie. Seriously, you'll have to. No headphones will be allowed, because you might be able to stab someone with the jack, so the movies will play out loud. You could sleep, you just won't have any pillows or blankets. Talk to your fellow passengers. Just be sure not to complain or joke about the new security measures, because only terrorists will have a problem with them. You can't say bomb on the airplane, neither can you say suntan lotion, shampoo, any other liquid's name, nor unhappy, "this sucks," or any other words of discontent. You're not a terrorist, are you? You could try reading the in-flight magazine. Actually, that won't be allowed either, just like a book you could give someone a paper cut. Same thing for the safety instructions, which no one actually reads anyways. You'll have to pay attention during the safety demonstration instead of waiting to find out what to do when the emergency actually happens. Actually, those flotation devices will be removed because they're too big a risk, so forget that part.

Furthermore, what you can wear will be restricted. When you get to the airport, open up you bags to be checked, take your shoes off, socks off, jacket off, hat off, etc. And put it all in the bag. You're allowed to wear a swimsuit, and that's it. More skin means less places to hide explosives or other weapons. Now before anyone gets excited, everyone is going to be dressed like that. Young, old, skinny, fat. By the way, you'll also be given a cavity search, just to be one the safe side. Restaurants will still be open past security checkpoints, but remember, "no shoes, no shirt, no service." I feel sorry for people with layovers.

Another option instead of having to wear a swimsuit on your flight is this. When you get to security, you'll enter a changing room, remove all your clothes and throw them away, and be given some underwear, shorts, and a short sleeve T-shirt. All that will of course be built in to the ticket price, so don't worry. After all, you won't be allowed to have your credit card on you. Actually, one credit card will be allowed so you can buy clothing past the checkpoint. And also in case your checked bags are lost, and you're totally screwed.

Now we won't have to worry about any attacks in the passenger cabin. But we still have all the checked baggage. So, we'll just ban checked baggage as well, very simple. Then you won't have to worry about the airlines losing the luggage. How will you travel with anything, you might ask. Well, you won't. When you get to your destination you can buy everything. We will build malls at airports for arriving passengers. Before you throw away your digital camera, mobile phone, laptop computer, and iPod, you'll be given an opportunity to back all your data up on the internet before entering security. This will ensure your safety and stimulate the economy. So that you can afford buying everything from overpriced airport stores, we'll have another tax cut. Now, because the higher your income the more you are likely to fly, the tax cut will of course inversely proportional to your income. So the poor, who can't afford to fly, won't receive anything. It's only fair. Additionally, the lost of checked bags and carry on will make up for the increasing weight of Americans causing increased fuel consumption. A new class will be created, steerage, down in the former baggage compartment of the airplane.

So the good thing is security lines will move fast since people won't have anything to carry on or check? So that means the time between one's flight and check-in time is reduced? You would think so, wouldn't you. And it would, except you'll have to get to the airport 6 hours early? Why's that? Every possible attack from the passenger cabin has not been eliminated yet. This next security measure may seem inconvenient, to say the least, but rest assured it is absolutely necessary to ensure almost but not quite total security. You'll check in and go through security. While going through security you'll be sequestered and given a laxative to make sure you don't try to sneak anything on by swallowing it. You'll also have to throw up, so be sure you eat something before you leave for the airport. (The plus side is you can eat fattening food without worrying about your waistline, since it will be thrown up anyways. )While we're at it, let's just ban the use of the lavatories on board aircraft since there is too much privacy. For that matter, to make sure you don't retrieve any items while in the terminal restrooms, we'll close those to. Don't worry about going to the restroom, you'll be given some Immodium after the security checkpoint.

So that is how we obtain total aviation security. It may seem a bit overboard and inconveniencing, but its the only way. It's only a matter of time before such measures are in place. So, Secretary Chertoff, if you read this blog and take up these measures, all I ask in payment is this, a private jet to avoid the hassle of increased security.

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Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Israeli-Hezbollah Conflict

First of all, Israel had the right to defend itself when it was attacked by Hezbollah. Lebanon failed to do its job as a sovereign state of policing its own territory. If the United States was attacked by a terrorist organization in Canada or the United States, we would go all out in taking the threat out. When two American soldiers were kidnapped in Iraq, we did go all out trying to find them.

However, I believe Israel has gone too far and in the long term is shooting itself in the foot. Yes, Israel needed to take out the attackers. But, demolishing Lebanon's civilian infrastructure, power plants, roads, bridges, etc., was too far. There is now no road in or out of Lebanon. This means international aid, food and medicine, can't get in. Furthermore, in Southern Lebanon any moving vehicle is now a target. Southern Lebanon is also cut off from the rest of Lebanon. A few meager supplies were being delivered by hand across a fallen log over the Litani river. ( Hezbollah, which provides social services, has stepped up and is providing aid for those in Southern Lebanon. Consequently, this is going to result in converting all of them into Hezbollah supporters. In the first few days of the war, you saw on the news Lebanese who sympathized with Israel. At first many were angry at Hezbollah for bringing this upon them. But as their country was torn apart, that has changed. Support for the current Lebanese government will undoubtedly decline as its failed to solve the problem, and popular support for Hezbollah will grow. How will the Lebanese government be able to do any good now?

What is a state with a legitimate responsibility to defend its citizens suppose to do when the attacking force has mixed in with civilians? When weapons are stored in residential areas, hospitals, etc? Do they not attack and let the tactic work, or do they say its too bad but attack anyways. To be fair, Israel has warned people to leave certain areas, and not to drive, etc. But there is no way for many people to leave now. Hezbollah on the other hand is not targeting military targets, but civilian targets. Their attacks are random, at least Israel's attacks are aimed at Hezbollah, although its complicated by the fact that Hezbollah mixed in with civilians. I don't have the answer for this question. If you do have an answer, feel free to post it.

I'm not sure how the fighting will be stopped. It appears any plans that both Israel and Lebanon agree to are far off. I've never had much faith in the UN. I hope they can do something to stop the violence, but I'm skeptical. The United States really can't expect to be seen as an honest broker after so much support for Israeli and saying they didn't want the fighting to cease. At least we got the foreigners out though. That's all that really matters, isn't it?

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FYI: Don't Be Surprised When Gas Prices Rise Again

If you haven't been following the news lately, a BP pipeline in Alaska has been shut down. This pipeline supplies 8% of US oil production. It's expected to be shut down for weeks or even months. The west coast is going to be hit first by this. The Strategic Petroleum Reserve is likely to be tapped. So, you may want to fill up before prices go up further.

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Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Moderates Being Forced Out of Politics

Senator Joseph Lieberman, former 2000 Vice President candidate, lost the Democratic Primary in Connecticut to Lamont today. The primary was centered around his support for the Iraq war. He says he will petition to be on the ballot in November. There are allegations that someone hacked Lieberman's website, shutting it down.

This event shows how politics are becoming increasingly divided and moderates are being pushed out. People complain, on both sides of the aisle about politicians of the opposite party voting the party line. Here in Democrats say Anne Northup votes the party line. But the truth is people get upset when someone in their party doesn't toe the party line. They expect their representative to vote with the party, but they want people of the opposite party to be bipartisan. Moderates are doom to be hated by everyone it seems. We don't want our politicians to be bipartisan, in general we despise it.

This just shows the weaknesses of our two party system, and perhaps the fact that we have parties at all. Increasingly you are forced to take your personal political beliefs, discard, and choose what you see as the lesser of two evils. I'd venture, although I have no statistics to back it up, that many people's views don't line up for the most part to the Democrats or Republicans. (Maybe I'll conduct a phone poll. "How much do you agree with this statement?: I agree totally with my party's platform. I agree strongly. I agree slightly. I neither agree nor disagree. I disagree slightly. I disagree strongly.") George Washington when leaving office warned us to beware of political parties, and it would seem he was right. Although, its almost unavoidable though. People tend to associate with like-minded people, including in politics. The problem is there aren't enough exactly like-minded people to effect change. So, one is forced to compromise beliefs, values, ideas for the sake of a few of them. Perhaps the good thing is at least we have stability with a two-party system. In countries with many parties they have coalition governments which are unstable.

I wish Joe Lieberman the best of luck. I hope he wins his district. I wish there was a way to avoid the partisan nature of American politics, but I fear that is impossible.

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Saturday, August 05, 2006

To what are the movies coming?

I went to the movies last night to see Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, the new Will Ferrell movie. (Hilarious film. Also full of corporate advertising, but what is to be expected in a film about NASCAR? I have to wonder how much money they made of advertisements. There's even a blatat commercial in the middle of the film, but it fits into the plot and humor. I won't say who it is for, unless of course they pay me to plug their product. Advertisers are getting desperate in this post TiVo world. Just remember, if you skip the commercials, you're stealing TV.) The showing we were going to was sold out, (maybe we should have bought our tickets using your_ticket_website_could_be and the next one was in something called the Director's Hall. Of course, that costs more, so we went to the midnight showing instead.

Now what is the Director's Hall? Partially, I think it has better seats and reserved seating. They also have couches and comfortable chairs out in the lobby reserved for Director Hall ticket holders, but we sat there anyways. But more importantly, its an attempt to create a two-tier cinema system in the United States of America. Its what amounts to an initiation of class warfare. This "Director's Hall" is meant to make money by allowing people to feel superior to the people in the regular theaters by paying an extra $2. It's like first-class for the cinema.

If they are going to go about selling tickets for this by offering a sense of superiority and pride, they did it all wrong. Take a page from the airlines. Do you see planes with only first-class on them? Hell no! That would defeat the whole purpose. How would somebody feel better than all those people crammed into coach with screaming babies and low quality airplane food if there is no coach? They wouldn't. That's why first class, business, and coach are put together on the same plane. Why else would they make announcements to the whole plane that apply to first class if not to make those in first class feel superior, and likewise those in coach inferior. "Ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain speaking. We are making are final descent. Please put your seats in the upright and locked position. Those of you in the first-class cabin, please put away your personal entertainment center, foot rest, champagne glasses, and personal masseuses. Thank you for flying (your airline name could be here if the price $$$ is right.)."

Likewise, the movie theater (Which will remain nameless ($?), but you know who you are.) should have mixed the special seating with the regular seating. Then those who paid more really would then feel superior. "Glad I'm not stuck in one of THOSE seats." Maybe like stadiums, they could even have suites. After all, they already have stadium seating. What they could really do to make money and offer a sense of superiority is sell the right to pause the film so one could go to the bathroom and get a refill of overpriced popcorn and soda without missing the movie, or even take a phone call. Actually, that brings me to another way the cinemas and airplanes are alike, you're not allowed to talk on cell phones. Hopefully that will stay the same.

*(By the way, I'm not being payed to plug any products in this blog. Although, I'm not above that if they offered. Hint, hint. Seriously.)

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Friday, August 04, 2006

the word - civil war

There is much debate in Washington over whether there is a civil war in Iraq. I heard Secretary Rumsfeld talking about this. It was amusing, if not sad. Look at what he said and his arguments.

"I guess you can decide for yourself, and we can all go to the dictionary and decide what you want to call something. But, I... it seems to me it is not a classic civil war at this stage, it is a ... it's certainly not like our civil war, it's not like the civil war in a number of other countries. Is it a high level of sectarian violence? Yes, it is. And are people being killed? Yes. And is it unfortunate? Yes. And is the government doing basically the right things? I think so." (August 2, 2006)

Well Rumsfeld, I did go to the dictionary, and Webster's Dictionary told me civil war is "a war between opposing groups of citizens of the same country." I'm not really sure how going to the dictionary is deciding for yourself what to call something, as the dictionary is telling you what it means. Is there war between opposing groups of citizens of the same country? Yes, I think so. According to the dictionary, Iraq is in a civil war.

Wow, the fighting in Iraq isn't the American Civil War, that's new to me. Let's examine that claim. It was fought in the 1860s in America by different people who are dead now whereas the fighting in Iraq is well, in Iraq, and in 2006 being fought by totally different people who are alive now. And it's not like the English Civil War as the English aren't the ones fighting. So yes, you are right that it is not like our civil war or the civil war of other states. I never would have guessed that. But no two civil wars are alike it seems, as the American Civil War was not like the civil war in a number of other countries.

All this talk about whether or not Iraq is in a civil war, or state of civil war, or nearing such an occurrence or state thereof seems superfluous. Wouldn't it be better to talk about what to do in Iraq instead of how to describe what is happening in Iraq? But, it is Washington, what can you expect?

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Thursday, August 03, 2006

Heat Wave

It seems that the whole country is gripped in a record breaking, news making heat wave. You no its bad when its the lead story on the national news. (but not the local news, since they're always blowing weather out of proportion) Perhaps the one good thing is now weather is a serious topic of discussion, and no longer just small talk to prevent awkward pauses in about that weather?... It seems likely that these heat waves aren't going to get any better, but only worse and more frequent. So besides showing us that Al Gore was right, (You won, alright? Stop raising our temperature and we'll make you president.) it reveals problems with our energy infrastructure, as our antiquated power grid in many cities is overwhelmed leading to power outages. People are dying of this extreme heat. So all this got me thinking on ways to solve the problem.

My first suggestion is we start living underground. Caves are about a nice frosty 65 degrees year round, so why not? Not only would we save energy from not using AC, but it would eliminate those skyrocketing gas bills in the winter. Now 65 is a little chilly, but thanks to Jimmy Carter wearing sweaters is patriotic, and also fashionable. So go do yourself a favor, take your tax refund and go to the mall, you'll be cooling off while stimulating the economy. Oh wait, you might want to move underground first, our you'll just end up with heat stroke. Now if wearing a sweater can be patriotic, couldn't it be patriotic to wear a t-shirt and shorts? But I digress. I'm from Kentucky, maybe my state could start building in Mammoth Cave. I know what your wondering, how are we going to build underground? Well, thankfully we had the Big Dig in Boston to learn how to successfully construct underground while keeping the cost down. Your other objection is, but there are no windows underground, that's not very pleasant. True, but we now have large flat panel screens which could serve the same purpose as those outdated windows. Plus, you could change your location with a click of the remote. Want to be on the beach, there you go. But seriously, I wonder why we couldn't use the cool ground to cool the air in our buildings.

My second suggestion, in all seriousness, we need to update our outdated power grid that is being overwhelmed in times of high demand. We need one that can handle more electricity, and direct the power automatically using computers instead of manually having to control it. It would automatically take steps to prevent outages. A new, modern power grid would also need to be able to handle buildings putting power back into the grid as those with solar panels, etc., generate electricity.

Thirdly, power usage is not constant, but varies over the day, slowing rising and falling. So the power grid gets overwhelmed when the power demand is peaking. What we need to develop is fuel cells for homes. During the night when electricity demand is the lowest, they could convert water to hydrogen and oxygen using electricity (this process is called electrolysis) and store it. I say we need fuel cells and not large batteries because batteries probably would require too much metal, but fuel cells run on hydrogen and oxygen which we can get from water. These fuel cells would serve several functions. First, during power outages they would provide backup power. For long lasting power outs like those in St. Louis which lasted days and people were dying from, more hydrogen could be brought in to replenish the supply in people's homes. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, they would help prevent outages in the first place. During peak hours buildings would use the fuel cells to generate electricity some of their electricity, reducing demand on the power grid. Thus reducing the chance of black outs would need to be done in conjunction with a modern power grid, which would orchestrate the fuel cells to reduce strain by telling each building how much power to draw from the fuel cells and how much from the grid. It should be pointed out the fuel cells would not help reduce our overall electricity demand, but would even out the demand for electricity fromt the power grid. Right now, if during the height of the day power plants were running at max, that means at night there would be a surplus of energy if they're all running full steam but no where to put the surplus power.

These fuel cells in the future could help in another way too. As we switch more to alternative energy like wind and solar, it is going to be necessary to store power. That's because the sun is not always shining and the wind isn't always blowing, and so the electricity supply will vary. The fuel cells would regulate the demand for energy from the power grid with the varying supply.

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Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Investigation reveals poor US border security

Recently (see link above for story), federal investigators tested border security by trying to get pass checkpoints using fake driver licenses and birth certificates. At all 9 checkpoints tested, from a variety of states, all of them made it pass. That's outrageous. It's been almost 5 years since 9/11, and people can make it in using fake IDs a bartender could pick out.

I hate to say I was right, (actually I don't) but in my post on Immigration, Guest Workers, and National Unity a couple of days ago I said we need a national database of everyone here legally, including US citizens, with biometric information, i.e. retina scans and fingerprints. This database would be used in part to check the identities of everyone entering the US. This latest study makes it clear that such an idea is worth implementing.

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The French Are Coming

French toast and fries have returned. That's right, no more freedom toast and freedom fries for all those liberty lovers out there. The House (of Representatives) cafeteria's menu now reads "French toast" and "fries." No big press conference for this change this time. The GOP tried to make the change quietly, but it was noticed. Ironically, as was pointed out at the time of the initial change, French fries are of Belgium origin, and indeed are not called French fries by the French.

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Communism ready to fall in Cuba?

Could we be nearing the end of a Communist Cuba? Could we finally import legally Cuban Cigars again, which hasn't happened since President Kennedy got 1,000 before signing the embargo. Fidel Castro is in the hospital right now, getting the best medical care a communist health care system can provide, no doubt. Wouldn't it be ironic if the only hospital that could save him were Americans? We don't know when Castro will die, but it has too happen eventually, he's not immortal.

But what will happen after he finally does go? Will communism fall. Right now Castro's brother has been put in charge without too much disturbance. The lights are still on in Havana. This does not lend itself as a good sign for the American government. It should be pointed out just because a dictator dies doesn't mean his whole regime will fall. Chairman Mao in China died and China is still communist.

Will and should the US take measures when Castro finally goes to stop a transition of power to Castro's successor? Are we going to launch another Bay of Pigs Invasion, for we will no longer have to keep our promise to Castro no to invade if he's dead. (Made during the resolution of the Cuban Missile Crisis.) The US hasn't had the best luck so far at nation building, do we take another stab at liberation or cut our losses. Don't get me wrong, I would like to see communism come to an end in Cuba and democracy prosper. I don't think that establishing democracy there would be as hard as doing it in Iraq or similar nations. Or rather, democracy could take root there, the people wouldn't be hostile to democracy itself, but I don't know if the US can force it on Cuba without resistance. But should we continue our attempts at American Imperialism or liberation? (Maybe we could turn Cuba back into a playground for the rich.) Just what we need in the eyes of the rest of the world is another invasion. And we would be reinforcing that view that nations without nuclear arms get invaded, those with them don't. Although we don't want to have another half a century with Cuba under communist control.

If Castro's brother does take over successfully, and we don't take the military option, do we persist with the embargo for who knows how many more years? One has to wonder how much of Cuba's problems are from communism and how much are from the US embargo. Or do we try what we are doing with China and open up in trade in hope that capitalizing will lead to democratizing? I personally don't think after Castro goes we should hold the same course. The whole point was that the embargo would lead to communism falling, and if it doesn't happen when Castro dies it probably means it's not going to work.

Relatively, Castro seems to be insignificant in light of the other Axis of Evil powers, Iran and North Korea. He doesn't have any weapons of mass destructions under construction. I'd take this benign communist leader over a Islamic extremist government or stark totalitarian communist regime.(Although I am no fan of Castro nor communism, Castro had tried to run for election legally but the US backed former President Batista who took over before the elections. He was left with seemingly no other choice but to take over more aggressively. However, once he did defeat Batista he could have returned Cuba to democracy, but he did not. So it is partially the US's fault for the situation there.) The people in Cuba have food, those in North Korea don't.

Don't you wish we could go back to the good old days of the Cold War, when we were under a constant threat of utter world annihilation less than an hour away but where it was tacitly understood that those weapons wouldn't be used because of that same threat? (known as Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD)) When we easily knew who our enemy was? (a stereotypical Russian versus a stereotypical Arab) You never know how good you had it until you lost it. Cuba was getting missiles, we quarantine them, cut a deal with the Soviets who pull them out and reign Castro in. If only we could do that now with North Korea and Iran and settle the whole matter in thirteen days. Hey, there's an idea. Let's quarantine Iran. We could say they have bird flu.

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