Tuesday, May 25, 2010

YouTube Tuesday: Celebrity

I think we've all become a bit fed up with the celebrity worship.

I mean, like who you like. Idolize your Lady Gagas and Tiger Woodses and your Lindsay Lohans and your Bonos if you like. But some of us are just tired of the paparazzi and the cheering autograph seekers…

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Monday, May 24, 2010

Random Photo XXX: In flight

I stopped by the side of the road in one of the many suburban wetland ponds to get some pictures of a Great Blue Heron during one of the few sunny day's we've had this spring.

click photo to enlarge

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Wednesday, May 19, 2010

My Big Fat Greek Bailout

A week and a half ago, financial luminaries in Europe (and in the U.S. Federal Reserve Bank) decided to give bankrupt Greece a larger line of credit to bail them out of their financial crisis.

In simple terms, Greece, like many US families, went into debt by spending more than it produced. In fact, it's debts totaled 125% of its total national production.

That essentially means that if everyone in Greece put all of their annual income to paying off the national debt, they still wouldn't have enough to keep Tony Soprano's goombahs from breaking their kneecaps.

The total bailout for Greece is somewhere around $1 trillion, a jawdropping number for such a small country. But the bailout also came with a few provisos, the "austerity measures" that we've been hearing about and that the Greeks have been rioting about. "Austerity measure" is a nice term for "you've been eating more gyros than you can afford, and now it's time for some budget cuts."

I'm not going to go into an opinion on bailouts. I've done that before. Rather, I'll note that the Greek bailout is interesting because of how common and wide spread the circumstances are that have lead to it.

The Greek government, in order to get reelected, promised everything to the voting public. Government jobs, high salaries, pensions, health care, digital converter boxes... anything to garner votes from Androcles Q. Public. And the governed didn't really worry about how (or whether) all those bribes would be financed.

Anyone who was around two years ago during the "Hope and Change" campaign will recognize this. The "two" parties in the United States were falling all over each other to see who could promise more government bribes to voters.

The same has happened in other European countries. Spain, Portugal, Italy and Ireland are also in dire financial straits. In fact, the Greek bailout was seen as a way to forestall a financial domino effect that would leave those countries' economies in ruin as well. Even the U.K. is struggling, with some estimates placing it's debt at over 103 percent of its GDP.

Scott Mather, head of global portfolio management at Pimco (one of the largest bond buyers (i.e., "loaners of money") in the world) put it this way in a recent interview with NPR,
Most of the developed world is screwed. That makes this crisis particularly different from anything we've seen in our lifetimes.

The countries that aren't screwed are the emerging market countries. They have low levels of debt. The emerging market world is lending money to the rich world so the rich countries are continuing to spend more than they've made.
Mather noted that there is no easy way out of the debt mess. Bailouts like this only delay the day of reckoning. The only way to reduce debt is to either cut spending or default on your bonds.
This is going to happen in Greece and the rest of Europe. It will happen in the UK and in the US as well. People have to develop a better connection with what government spending means for them personally. We've had the better part of a couple of decades where people have lost that connection. [Government money] is viewed as manna from heaven and it's an entitlement, something that is deserved and shouldn't have an impact or repercussions on them.
When the country was discussing the "health care reform" bill a few months ago, one of the so-called arguments was that, as one of the richest nations in the world we can afford to give everybody great health care. After all, if Europe can do it, we can too.

Well, it turns out that Europe can't do it. We probably can't either, not without making serious sacrifices in quality of life. And let's face it, we're due for some drastic quality of life downgrades anyway. We've just had it too good for too long.

I don't know how much longer the strategy of bailout-bubble-burst will last here in the US. Hell, even now it's considered safer to lend money to Iraq than the State of California.

I do suspect that we will have the illusion of an economic recovery over the next two years or so. But you don't have to be Dave Ramsey to know that the party will eventually turn into a pretty serious debt hangover.

When that happens, it won't be just a Greek tragedy.

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Tuesday, May 18, 2010

YouTube Tuesday: No watching the clock

I have a theory that if something is weird enough and odd enough and in French, it doesn't have to make any sense…

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Monday, May 17, 2010

Random Photo XXIX: Chipper

This guy has been living in by backyard for at least two years. I'm not sure how damaging chipmunks are, but this one is pretty brave. Despite the constant presence of our Jack Russel Terrier, he has made himself at home under our air conditioner.

Of course, he doesn't look very relaxed about it.

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Friday, May 14, 2010

Crude awakening

Sure, some people are calling the oil spill in the Gulf a "crisis." And I guess to certain people with certain world views, it is a crisis.

But I prefer to look on the bright side of things. Where some people see crisis, I see opportunity. In this case, it's the opportunity to look at our national energy consumption and talk about ways to make it better.

And I'm not alone. Two of my favorite bloggers have noted the increased awareness of our energy situation.

Xavier Onassis, reining Imperator of Independence made some great points in his post about a smart energy grid, or as he called it an "agnostic energy grid":
What we need is a … power grid that will accept input from any source at a standard, pro-rated, kilowatt-based compensation, feed that electricity into the grid where it is distributed as needed at a standard, pro-rated, kilowatt-based pricing system.

There are so many ways to generate electricity that with a distributed generation strategy and a unified grid, we can have all the power we need without depending on fossil fuels.
He then lists many different ways to produce electricity, including small nuclear reactors like those that have been used for years to power America's warships at sea.

That post dovetails nicely into R.Sherman's two-part series on the importance of nuclear energy to our energy future. It's a great series (as you would expect from one of Missouri's finest minds) that scientifically points out that the so-called "green" energy solutions won't be enough by themselves to provide all of our energy consumption needs.

All these points made me realize that as a culture we have a pretty limited view of how we generate electricity. It's either from nuclear plants, coal plants, hydroelectric or wind or some other grand scheme.

But let's not forget that there are many ways to capture energy that is wasted every day. It seems like there are many opportunities to generate-- or rather capture -- small amounts of energy over a very large area. Kind of a "long tail" approach to the energy problem.

For example, an Israeli company has developed a new highway surface that generates electricity as cars drive over it.

A United Kingdom company has developed a way to convert the kinetic energy of pedestrians walking down a busy street into electricity.

There have also been proposals to embedded piezoelectrics in shoes, clothing, even body parts to convert kinetic energy into electricity.

None of these plans individually generate very much electricity. But if created in mass and spread out over a national -- maybe even global -- smart energy grid, a dent could be made in our electrical consumption.

So my mind started to wander and look for ways to capture and convert more kinetic energy into electricity. They've got cars and sidewalks and shoes covered. People have even hooked bicycles up to generators.

And then I saw an opportunity literally right in front of me. We need to have tiny little piezoelectric generators embedded into every computer keyboard and mouse in the country.

Just think of the potential. Any time anyone presses a key on the keyboard -- and it's done billions of times a day -- a tiny electric charge would be created. Every time you move your mouse, every time you hit the enter key, every time you backspace to correct a misspelling you would be generating a tiny bit of power.

All of these tiny bits of power would cascade into the smart energy grid like delicate snowflakes on a mountain top. But by the time they accumulate, they would become an avalanche of clean electric power that anyone could have access to.

And finally, at long last, the millions of bloggers writing inane, uninformed posts about subjects of which they have little understanding would be serving a useful purpose.

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Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Separated at Birth II

Remember a couple of years ago when I did the Separated at Birth with Sarah Palin and Liz Lemon and then Saturday Night Live picked up on my joke and used it in their little skit show for the next 8 weeks?

Well, SNL, here's your new opening bit:

President Obama's nominee for the Supreme Court Elena Kagan...

...and former SNL cast member Jon Lovitz...

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YouTube Tuesday: Ain't It the Truth

By now you've probably heard that the country has lost one of the brightest cultural luminaries of the last century the other day.

Lena Horne was a tremendous singer and artist and she used her well-deserved celebrity to champion civil rights equality even at the risk of her own career. She had a sense of class and distinction that is sadly lacking in most of today's pseudo celebrities.

Horne wasn't a pop culture giant while I was growing up. Still, a person of my generation had a good chance of seeing her perform on the television box, and more importantly hearing her and being exposed to her music. It makes me sad that she is gone (though she had a long and successful life) and that artists like her are a dying breed -- giving way to the Lady Gagas of the world.

Life is short, short brother
Ain't it the truth
And there is no other
Ain't it the truth
You've got to rock that rainbow
While you've still got your youth
Ain't it the solid truth

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Monday, May 10, 2010

Day at the museum

Our family celebrated Mother's Day on Sunday with a trip to one of the best cultural attractions in the metro area.

The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art was hoppin'. A lot of people had the same idea. It was a bit gloomy outside on a cool and breezy day, but not too bad to go out and enjoy a nice walk though the Nelsen's sculpture park.

But the art and attractions in the museum were shining. We arrived around 2 p.m. and it was already busy with crowds of people showing up to view the amazing modern art in the new Bloch Building. One of my favorite pieces was Mark Rothko's Untitled No. 11, 1963, a piece (as most Rothkos are) that must be seen in person to fully appreciate.

One of the proudest moments for me was when we were browsing through the European art galleries when my 7-year-old daughter, an aspiring artist herself, recognized and named the Claude Monet painting.

Undoubtedly, most patrons came to museum on Sunday for the opening of the newly renovated Egyptian Galleries.
Kansas City welcomes Meretites! Exciting new Egyptian galleries will feature an elaborate and complete funerary assemblage from the tomb of a 2,300-year-old noblewoman, Meretites, which translated means Beloved by her Father.

Visitors will have the rare opportunity to view a spectacular inner coffin and outer coffin from middle Egypt, both decorated with hieroglyphics and images of gods and goddesses. The collection includes a gilded mask and protective body plates, plus intricately carved blue and green figurines called shabtis, which were intended as workers in the afterlife.
Their website says there was a fee to view the new gallery, but they didn't charge us anything. We gladly mad a donation since, again, this is an incredibly worthy local attraction.

I didn't get a picture of the mummy in the new display. Too dark, and I didn't want to use my flash.

But I did get a shot of this 2200-year-old Assyrian relief...It's a image of a winged genie fertilizing a date tree and is inscribed with cuneiform markings telling about the conquests of Assyrian monarch Ashurnasirpal II of Nimrud.

With the weather going into a cloudy/rainy pattern, I highly recommend you make a trip to the Nelson and reacquaint yourself with the great collections. Maybe even buy yourself a membership...

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Friday, May 07, 2010

Random Photo XXVIII: Yard bird

I spent some time on the patio the other day, tracking the comings and goings of another colorful feathered friend. It's hard to catch these guys in flight, especially with all of the trees and shrubs in our yard. But it's fun watching them do their various bird things.

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Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Bullitt list -- 05.05.10

Today's category:
Hope & Change update

I remarked once upon a time that the famous Hope and Change campaign that swept the current president into office on a tide of schmaltz and triteness wouldn't actually change anything. Well, I've been seeing some headlines lately that indicate that things actually have been changing...

..for the worse.
  • One of the things Comrade Obama promised to "change" was the general lack of transparency among government agencies. After all, we're supposed to have a government of the people, by the people, for the investment banks people. Hard to achieve that when the people aren't allowed to know what's going on with the government.

    Luckily, Obama put his best people on the task of increasing government transparency. That's why, after a year and a half, federal agencies are NOT more transparent.

    In fact, some agencies in the Obama Administration are using trumped up exceptions to Freedom of Information requests more than they did in the previous year.
    Major agencies cited the "deliberative process" exemption at least 70,779 times during the 2009 budget year, up from 47,395 times during President George W. Bush's final full budget year... Obama was president for nine months in the 2009 period.
    I guess we'll just have to rely on the Ministry of Truth to tell us what we need to know.

  • But hey, at least we still have a free press in our country, right? In fact, we have the most open journalistic culture in the world. Our reporters have more access to more government officials than any other country in the world, free or otherwise, right?

    Well, not so fast my friend. According to the annual report from Freedom House, press freedom around the world declined for an 8th consecutive year, and the United States press now ranks 24th in press freedoms (PDF). And that's before factoring in recent events wherein CEOs of major U.S. corporations who lost their latest techie toy pull strings to have law enforcement authorities harass poor, hard-working journalists.

  • And speaking of law enforcement authorities, the Obama Administration has has the dubious distinction of overseeing a new record for people under wiretap surveillance. Wired recently reported a 26 percent jump in police wiretapping.
    Courts authorized 2,376 criminal wiretap orders in 2009, with 96 percent targeting mobile phones in drug cases, according to the report. ... Not one request for a wiretap was turned down.

    Each wiretap caught the communications of an average of 113 people, meaning that 268,488 people had text messages or phone calls monitored through the surveillance in 2009, a new record. Only 19 percent of the intercepted communications were incriminating...
    This sort of thing shouldn't be surprising given Obama's history of supporting domestic spying. Still, you might want to be careful who you criticize when you're on the phone with your crazy, conspiracy theory uncle.

  • Not that you're worried about the government spying on you. Why would they care who you are? As long as you mind your own business, go to your job every day, pay your mortgage, do what the authorities tell you, pay your taxes.... oops. You forgot to mail your tax return, didn't you. Well, I guess there's a satellite-based missile with your name on it...

  • Okay, maybe saying there's a satellite-based missile with your name on it is a bit of an exaggeration. Because despite the spying, censorship and opaque bureaucratic machinations, if there's one thing our government never does it's assassinate its citizens.

    Well, almost never. It turns out the Obama administration has ordered a hit on a U.S. citizen, effectively approving a death penalty sentence without a judge or jury or due process of law.
    The Obama administration has taken the extraordinary step of authorizing the targeted killing of an American citizen, the radical Muslim cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, who is believed to have shifted from encouraging attacks on the United States to directly participating in them.
    Kind of surprising that there haven't been any protests or marches against the administration's abuse of a citizen's civil liberties. Maybe it's because al-Awlaki is a legal US citizen and not a illegal alien.

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Tuesday, May 04, 2010

YouTube Tuesday: Tears of a clone

I like this short film from the Independent Online Cinema team in London who imagine a dystopian not-too-distant future when clones, and clones of clones, struggle for a sense of identity and the last remaining green goo.

IOC shows that you can have pretty high production value for web-based video and still not break the bank.

Let me know what you think.

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