Saturday, December 22, 2007

So this is Christmas (in Orillia!)

Let me think, what did I tell the world last Christmas? Oh yeah, I moralized about climate change, that cycling petition (which I think helped inspire the Ontario government to cut the provincial sales tax on bikes last election), and polar bears. Hmmm... and actually, looking through my other December posts last year, I like the Napoleon one more than the Christmas one!

Anyway, no "be the change you want to see in the world" language from me this Christmas. I hope you're able to build some snowmen, do some skating, and get some winter riding in if you're able. (Jill, I don't visit your site enough, but you continue to be an inspiration).

Merry Christmas everybody!! : )

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Invite Enrique into your oikos

Guess what! There is good news coming out of the White House! The House of Representatives has passed a bill, which Bush has said he'll sign, to set tougher fuel economy standards on U.S. automobiles:
The bill, which passed on a bipartisan vote of 314 to 100, sets higher fuel economy standards for cars and light trucks for the first time in 22 years and requires the annual production of 36 billion gallons of renewable fuels by 2022, a fivefold increase from current ethanol production levels.

And there's more good news today!
The Japanese have long had a sneaky way of getting around international whaling agreements, by saying that they were allowed to kill X number of whales for scientific research. This year, the Australians got so pissed about this that they vowed to send ships and helicopters in pursuit of Japanese whalers, to video-tape every thing they caught.

Just this morning the Japanese have announced that they've changed their minds and won't kill any humpbacks, which have been under international protection since 1966. On the flip side, they're still planning to kill 1000 whales of other types.

Pretty cool of the Australians eh? I wish they'd come over and videotape the oilsands in Canada, and the automobile use in our big cities, and shame us into taking a tougher stand on climate change.

If you're a cycling advocate, and you want to hear someone who will bring tears to your eyes, listen to Kevin Sylvester's recent interview with Enrique Penalosa on CBC Radio.

Penalosa was the mayor of Bogota (Colombia) who believed in the priority of public transit and active transportation over automobile transit, and was able to achieve massive changes in Bogota's transportation methods. If you listen to the interview (you MUST listen to the interview), Penalosa ties democracy and human dignity into a city's choice of transportation methods, and it is totally inspiring.

And to my surprise, while looking up Enrique Penalosa, I found a story about how Bush is actually pro-bicycle!

And finally, want to test your vocabulary and donate rice?

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Happier Christmas thoughts coming soon!

I just finished a book about Robert Oppenheimer called The Ruin of J. Robert Oppenheimer: And the birth of the modern arms race. It was okay, but I'm not mentioning it here because I'm recommending it to anybody as a great read.

I am mentioning it though because it ties in with a long ago post about Easter Island and how smart we humans really are.

Now Oppenheimer, as we all know, is the scientist who, in World War II, gave the world the atom bomb. The U.S. was expecting that if they had to land troops on Japanese soil to finish the war, they'd lose thousands and thousands of men in an effort to bring the war to an end. The scientists working on the A Bomb knew this as well, and wanting to avoid the loss of these troops, finished work on the A bomb in time to destroy two Japanese Cities and force the Japanese to surrender.
Oppenheimer, a very philosophical man, worked on the A Bomb with great moral misgivings. While watching the first successful test of the A Bomb, he famously (mis)quoted Krishna in the Bhagwad Gita - "Now I have become death, the destroyer of worlds." (Apparently the real translation is I am time, the destroyer of all.)

So World War II ends, and suddenly the Americans are racing against the Russians to develop a Nuclear Bomb. Where the A Bomb was a weapon whose destructiveness was dozens of magnitudes higher than the worst regular bomb used in World War II, the Nuclear Bomb would be even worse still. While not quite sure that they could even develop a nuclear weapon, the scientists at Los Alamos in the late 1940s were torn about whether they should even TRY to make a nuclear weapon.

In late 1949, the head committee, which included Oppenheimer, of the Atomic Energy Commission wrote a report on H Bomb (Nuclear, or "Super" Bomb) development, with the following passages:

We have been asked by the Commission whether or not they should immediately initiate an "all out" effort to develop a weapon whose energy release is 100 to 1000 times greater and whose destructive power in terms of area of damage is 20 to 100 times greater than those of the present atomic bomb. We recommend strongly against such action.
We base our recommendation on our belief that the extreme dangers to mankind inherent in the proposal wholly outweigh any military advantage... Let it be clearly realized that this is a super weapon: it is in a wholly different category from an atomic bomb. The reason for developing such super bombs would be to have the capacity to devastate a vast area with a single bomb. Its use would involve a decision to slaughter a vast number of civilians. We are alarmed as to the possible global effects of the radioactivity generated by the explosion of a few super bombs of conceivable magnitude. If super bombs will work at all, there is no inherent limit in the destructive power that may be attained with them. Therefore, a super bomb might become a weapon of genocide.

We believe a super bomb should never be produced.

The fact that no limit exists to the destructiveness of this weapon makes its very existence and the knowledge of its construction a danger to humanity as a whole. It is necessarily an evil thing considered in any light.

So, I just find this fascinating. Just the way people on Easter Island knew that tearing down the island's trees was jeopardizing their future, and just the way we know today that most of the things we do jeopardize the planet, scientists in the 1940's knew that building nuclear bombs could destroy the world. Yet they were forced to do it anyway.

You kind of wonder "how did we actually avoid nuclear war?" And then you remember the Cuban Missle Crisis and realize that we barely did.

And if all this interests you, you should probably try to see Why We Fight sometime.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

I wanna debate this particle cube thing...

You know, a year ago I would have had lots to say about this we were wrong, Iran doesn't really have a Nuke program story. I'm so exhausted by the Bush White House though that I really don't care anymore. I wonder if that was their plan - "hey, let's do so many things wrong, and sink so low, that they can't even criticize us anymore! And then right before we leave office, let's do something REALLY bad!"

Oh well, at least the Bush presidency gave us stuff like this.

I also find I don't have that much to say about the new Environmental Commissioner of Ontario's report. Basically he's saying that the growth in the Greater Toronto Area is unsustainable (the GTA apparently adds the population of a medium sized city every single year).

Well, we all know that. But we're still spreading cement over every spec of green space in places like Scarborough

Wake me up when the Canadian government has increased gasoline taxes and Mayor David Miller in Toronto has imposed fees for driving your car into Toronto's downtown core.

Oh well - for those of us "in the know", let's keep riding our bikes and using Bullfrog and wrap ourselves warmly in the blankets of existentialism.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Courage of the early morning basement cyclist

As soon as Annalise and I started telling people that we were moving to Orillia, we began hearing horror stories about how much snow Orillia gets in the winter. As I'm originally from Bancroft, Ontario, which is probably a little farther north than Orillia, I thought "How bad can it be?" Well, it's only December 2nd and we've already had enough snow fall that I could barely open my front door in the morning.
All of Ontario has gotten a lot of snow the last few days, and I was listening to the guy on CBC talk about doing 30km/hour on the 401 this morning, and still ending up sliding into a 360 degree turn, but up here all the snow is fun. It reminds me of being a kid and going over to the baseball diamond, climbing up to the top of the bleachers, and jumping off into snowbanks. Bancroft hasn't had snow like that in years.

I'm not biking at all these days - walking to work only takes me 20 minutes, so that's what I do. I'm riding my Jamis on my trainer most mornings, thinking I should look into building/buying a bike generator, so that all this energy I'm expending would go into something useful, like charging a cell phone or a laptop battery. If you google "bicycle generator" you will find tons of help pages for building one of these things, but it's all a bit over my head.

P.S. I don't have one of those sweat guards that you can buy for your bike, so i just drape an old dress shirt over the handlebars and the headset to soak up my perspiration.

P.P.S. - If you haven't seen HBO's The Girl in the Cafe, get your hands on it - it's one of the best movies I've seen in a while.