Wednesday, January 24, 2007

New Year, Same Words

Let's take a look at the President's speech last night, shall we?

"Extending hope and opportunity depends on a stable supply of energy that keeps America's economy running and America's environment clean. For too long our nation has been dependent on foreign oil. And this dependence leaves us more vulnerable to hostile regimes, and to terrorists -- who could cause huge disruptions of oil shipments, and raise the price of oil, and do great harm to our economy.

President George W. Bush delivers his State of the Union Address Tuesday, Jan. 23, 2007, at the U.S. Capitol. "For all of us in this room, there is no higher responsibility than to protect the people of this country from danger," said President George W. Bush. "Five years have come and gone since we saw the scenes and felt the sorrow that the terrorists can cause. We've had time to take stock of our situation. We've added many critical protections to guard the homeland. We know with certainty that the horrors of that September morning were just a glimpse of what the terrorists intend for us -- unless we stop them."  White House photo by Eric Draper
It's in our vital interest to diversify America's energy supply -- the way forward is through technology. We must continue changing the way America generates electric power, by even greater use of clean coal technology, solar and wind energy, and clean, safe nuclear power. (Applause.) We need to press on with battery research for plug-in and hybrid vehicles, and expand the use of clean diesel vehicles and biodiesel fuel. (Applause.) We must continue investing in new methods of producing ethanol -- (applause) -- using everything from wood chips to grasses, to agricultural wastes.

We made a lot of progress, thanks to good policies here in Washington and the strong response of the market. And now even more dramatic advances are within reach. Tonight, I ask Congress to join me in pursuing a great goal. Let us build on the work we've done and reduce gasoline usage in the United States by 20 percent in the next 10 years. (Applause.) When we do that we will have cut our total imports by the equivalent of three-quarters of all the oil we now import from the Middle East.

To reach this goal, we must increase the supply of alternative fuels, by setting a mandatory fuels standard to require 35 billion gallons of renewable and alternative fuels in 2017 -- and that is nearly five times the current target. (Applause.) At the same time, we need to reform and modernize fuel economy standards for cars the way we did for light trucks -- and conserve up to 8.5 billion more gallons of gasoline by 2017."Laudable statements. Certainly noble causes, for the pursuit of a cleaner environment and an independent energy source."

But wait! What did our forward thinking
President say last year?

"Keeping America competitive requires affordable energy. And here we have a serious problem: America is addicted to oil, which is often imported from unstable parts of the world. The best way to break this addiction is through technology. Since 2001, we have spent nearly $10 billion to develop cleaner, cheaper, and more reliable alternative energy sources -- and we are on the threshold of incredible advances.

So tonight, I announce the Advanced Energy Initiative -- a 22-percent increase in clean-energy research -- at the Department of Energy, to push for breakthroughs in two vital areas. To change how we power our homes and offices, we will invest more in zero-emission coal-fired plants, revolutionary solar and wind technologies, and clean, safe nuclear energy. (Applause.)

We must also change how we power our automobiles. We will increase our research in better batteries for hybrid and electric cars, and in pollution-free cars that run on hydrogen. We'll also fund additional research in cutting-edge methods of producing ethanol, not just from corn, but from wood chips and stalks, or switch grass. Our goal is to make this new kind of ethanol practical and competitive within six years. (Applause.)

Breakthroughs on this and other new technologies will help us reach another great goal: to replace more than 75 percent of our oil imports from the Middle East by 2025. (Applause.) By applying the talent and technology of America, this country can dramatically improve our environment, move beyond a petroleum-based economy, and make our dependence on Middle Eastern oil a thing of the past. (Applause.)"

It is good to pay lip service to these goals, and to mention them certainly brings about awareness, which can help jump start the whole process. But merely stating them year after year is not enough; the President needs to back up his words with powerful legislation, bringin oil and car companies to heel as he moves forward in strengthening fuel economy standards, dramatically increasing funding into new research, as well as bringing more incentives to the table for commercial and residential units to move with new alternative fuel options, such as solar, wind, water, or other methods. He would do well to look to California, for their Million Solar initiative, and the new restrictions placed on automobiles' emissions. Only by actions can the words he speak come true, so he doesn't need to repeat himself ad naseum.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Surging Stupidity

I do not usually post twice in one day, not even twice in one week, but this caught my attention and I had to dig into it. I have not been terribly vocal on this site about the war in Iraq; those of you who know me know of my opinions of it, and that is fine.

However, today we get a new chapter in the troop "surge" planned by POTUS Bush and his new Secretary of Defense pal Gates. General George Casey claims that "I think it's probably going to be the summer, late summer, before you get to the point where people in Baghdad feel safe in their neighborhoods." Overall, there is the belief that the "surge" troops could be home by summertime.

Ahem, excuse me? Did you say that these ~20,000 troops would be sticking around for only 5 or 6 months? And then magically everything winds up alright and they get to return to their homes? This smells similarly of former declarations of quick-fix, easy-winnable military operations. We're still in Afghanistan, we're still in Iraq, and I don't see those surging numbers coming home anytime soon. I hope they do, but I feel the administration has tried to give an artificial boost of hope into a situation where it would have been prudent to be pragmatic and realistic.

Please Protect Me Myspace!!

There never seems to be a lack of articles proudly announcing that we are the most uncommonsensical people ever. It staggers me sometimes how people manage to function on a day to day basis without major help. Then again, I read the "Caution: the beverage you're about to enjoy is hot" warning on my hot chocolate, and I begin to understand.

Today's consternation arrives in the form of a lawsuit. The obscenely popular website is facing several lawsuits from parents of the site's users. They are alleging that the website is not adequately protecting their kids from online predators. Why do they make these stunning allegations? According to one report on, "The lawyers who filed the latest lawsuits said the plaintiffs include a 15-year-old girl from Texas who was lured to a meeting, drugged and assaulted in 2006 by an adult MySpace user, who is currently serving a 10-year sentence in Texas after pleading guilty to sexual assault."

Now hold on a damn minute. I agree that the Internet can be a vulnerable place, and it certainly has its share of perverts cruising sites looking for teens to chat with, look at, and think hideous thoughts about (though, it sounds like Congress is that sort of place too). And there should be some modicum of protection afforded younger members of the Internet, as they can be more vulnerable to that sort of online harassment. But teens who met and were drugged and raped by people they found at myspace? We're not talking about 7-year-olds who don't know any better. If you're 15, you're in high school by that point, and have almost certainly come in contact with various forms of harassment and entreaties. What the hell were they thinking? Who in their right minds agrees to meet someone privately first off after an Internet conversation? Meet at a coffee shop, meet at a bookstore, meet at a mall. Don't meet privately. Hello, is there no remains of common sense?

And where in God's name were the parents during all this? I don't agree that parents should hover over their children's every move online, but some idle questions wouldn't hurt. And certainly if they were going to meet someone, questions should be posed to figure out who, when, where, and why.

I cannot imagine that the fault for this lies with the Internet company. Hemanshu Nigam, MySpace's chief security officer, said in a statement that Internet safety is a shared responsibility, requiring users to "apply common sense offline safety lessons in their online experiences and engage in open family dialogue." This hits it right on the head. All the new technology in the world these days works as a double-edged sword. It gives you more networking opportunities, ways of communicating with people you thought long gone. But at the same time it also opens you up to a new front of scrutiny, some of which may be unwelcome. What is the solution? Not to force a free company to over amp on their security measures. Instead, it should be an emphasis on personal responsibility and parental guidance that dictates how people act and react to a cyber social life. This is absurd people: take some responsibility for your dumb actions, don't pass the buck onto other people.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

How Long can Hatred Last?

If a corporation starts to make a change in a positive direction, is it possible to still loath them? For years, I was one of the many who championed the anti-Wal-Mart cause. I decried their taking over of the traditional family run stores across small-town America. I seethed when I read some of their less than fair labor practices. I cheered when a town near me successfully blocked their insertion into the town lifestyle.

However, Wal-Mart has made some encouraging signs to rectify those stigmas. And one of the best ones I have seen so far is this: Wal-Mart is looking to jump into solar power in a big way. According to the article on ZDnet, if completed as planned Wal-Mart will be generating 100MW of power in the next five years. To put that into perspective, Google's much heralded facility installation is supplying 1.6MW - smaller than 1/60th of the proposed Wal-Mart plan. I am a big fan of solar power. I think that, with all the rooftop acrage in this country (and world), there is enough space to harness vast amounts of energy. It is just sitting there, waiting to be tapped. And for Wal-Mart, a former hated enemy, to take up the forefront of this cause, is good news, but a bit puzzling as well.

These people had been the object of so much vitriol from environmentalists, urban planners, labor groups, and consumer groups, that perhaps now they are trying to turn the tide. Are they doing it to lessen the negative publicity that always surrounds them? That's part of it, no doubt. But that cannot be all of it. In October of last year, Wal-Mart president and CEO Lee Scott spoke on Wal-Mart's short-term goals, including a commitment to invest $500 million a year in energy efficiency and technologies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Has Wal-Mart been the enemy? Yes. But is it more important that they are starting to change and do the right thing? Absolutely.