Saturday, December 29, 2007

Why Obama Needs to Change Course NOW

Or, Why I Won't Vote for Obama in the Primary, but if he wins the Primary anyways, will still support him in the general election.

There has been an ongoing feud between Barack Obama, the candidate for the Democratic nomination for president, and Paul Krugman, the NY Times columnist and eminent economist who was almost the only progressive voice in the mainstream media immediately after 9/11. It basically boils down to Krugman saying that Obama is not progressive enough on the important issues, and Obama not responding in any meaningful way at all, but rather his campaign ignoring the issues and attacking Krugman personally (or otherwise just evading the issue) instead.

It's all best explained here:

Obama stump speech strategy of conciliation considered harmful at

Here's a great teaser quote:

Shorter Candidates

Obama: The system sucks, but I’m so awesome that it’ll melt away before me.

Edwards: The system sucks, and we’re gonna have to fight like hell to destroy it.

Clinton: The system sucks, and I know how to work within it more than anyone.

So, please go over there to read the full article, and let me know what you think in the comments.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Bakfiets: The station wagon of bicycles

Bakfiets (plural: "bakfietsen") came out of the Netherlands -- thus the funny name, which means "wagon bike" (and can be shortened to simply "BAK"). But bakfietsen are now available in the United States, through Clever Cycles, a distributor and retailer in Portland, OR. There are also plans to manufacture a lower-cost, American-made version of the bakfiets in NE Portland. And, apparently there has been a version called the "Long Haul", made in Eugene, Oregon (already American-made!) for some time now.

A bicycle that can haul a kid, a keg of beer *and* a bag of groceries -- at the same time? I'm in love. Here are some features of the original Dutch version:

* Super-strong wheels.
* Hub generator lighting, front and rear. Light sensor turns on automatically; rear light stays on at stops.
* Drum brakes: low-maintenance and unaffected by weather.
* Stainless steel mudguards with flaps (just like on a semi truck, baby -- but you'll have to make your own design). ;-)
* Tie-rod linkage steering geometry: to handle large loads with remarkable lightness.
* Can be stored outdoors, in the rain and sun, for decades, due to an anti-rust primer under a tough powder-coat.
* Front cargo area ("bak") made of marine plywood: puts the load low and centered for easiest handling.
* 180-lb load rating. That's a lot of weight!!! More than a keg of beer, a small child and a bag of groceries.
* To keep the cargo dry in all elements: Weather canopy option makes this a true year-round urban (family?) vehicle.
* 4-point (kick-)stand for easy loading and unloading. Passengers climb in and out without tipping!
* Step-through, one-size-fits-most frame supports upright posture for a commanding view and supreme comfort; easy to put a foot down at stops.
* 8-speed Shimano Nexus gearhub. Shift to any gear while stationary or moving. Sealed mechanism is essentially maintenance-free.
* 305% gear range, comparable to 11-34 derailleur gearing.
* Wheel lock with auxiliary chain option for secure parking (no need for a separate U-lock, though you'd have plenty of room to carry one if you wanted to!)
* Full chaincase (guard) to keep your clothing and your kids’ fingers safe and clean; reduces chain maintenance to near zero.
* Coat/skirt guard and rubber block pedals: wear whatever you want without worry
* Overbuilt rear rack with bungees. 70-lb. load rating (that's separate from the 180 pounds you can carry in the front)

Now that's a bak that I'd love to ride!!!

Thursday, November 15, 2007

New cars -- lots of poor options. New bikes -- lots of great options!!

So, in the past year in the USA, more bikes were sold than cars. Maybe it's because most new cars these days pretty much suck (poor gas mileage, wars required overseas to provide fuel, expensive for any level of durable quality, high maintenance costs beginning 5-7 years after purchase, etc.), whereas there are a LOT of really good options for new bicycles! For what you would spend for about two to three months worth of payments and insurance for a new car, you can get yourself set up with a *really* nice commuter bicycle.

In the past year especially, there has been a veritable explosion of excellent upright-style bicycles (think Amster-bikes, old Schwinns & Raleighs, etc.) released, packed with the latest in new bicycle technology. Shimano has a new automatic "transmission" for the bicycle, called the "Coasting," which does the shifting for you in the rear hub. Excellent! There are also other, manual-shifting bicycles where the gears are still internal to the rear hub. Why is this so cool? Because it makes it easy to tuck the chain away for good behind a chain guard, which saves your clothes from grease or rips due to contact with the chain.

These have also been lots of advances in lighting technology, including new automatic lights that are powered by dynamos (the motion of the bicycle wheels produces their electricity), that remain on even when you come to a stop, and that turn on automatically when it gets dark!

In short, there has never been a better time to get a new bicycle for cruising around town, commuting, or otherwise just enjoying the pleasures of human-powered two-wheeled transportation. I'm serious. You've got to check these bikes out to believe it. I'm not getting paid to say this -- it's true. And these bikes are selling for between $400 and $800, for the most part, plus taxes and whatever extras/accessories you want/need to throw in -- which is an incredibly good deal!!!

So, without further ado, I present to you my recommendations, so that you can go and test ride a bunch of them, and pick your favorite:

Raleigh Coasting (automatic shifting):

The Original Dutch City Bike, Jorg & Olif: (only $545!) ***!!! (automatic shifting)

Trek Lime (automatic shifting):

Schwinn Cruisers:

Giant Suede Coasting DX (automatic shifting):

Breezer Uptown (great all-around package):

Available at REI:

Electra Townie:

Novara Fusion:

My recommendation definitely goes to the Jorg & Olif — I didn't realize their prices were so affordable!! However, the Breezer also looks wonderful, and I would love to test ride all of the bikes listed here. Schwinn probably has the weakest lineup, surprisingly, but they're still worth mentioning because they're less expensive on average.

Other bicycling pages:


Shimano Coasting home page (this is the automatic shifter lifestyle page):

So, if you don't yet have a nice bicycle that you feel comfortable hopping on and riding around town every day, I think it's time you consider changing that. Do your research, check out these links, go test ride some of these great bikes, and purchase one. You'll love it for life. Guaranteed. Just make sure that you test ride a bunch before you make your decision... it's fun, and then you'll know more about the one that you ultimately do decide to buy, and you'll feel good about your decision!

Happy bicycling!


Thursday, November 01, 2007

Raise Fuel Economy Standards NOW: Click & Clack Weigh In

The House and the Senate are currently considering their competing proposals to raise fuel economy in the U.S. to around 35 mpg by 2020 (or, something like that, depending on which version you're reading).

Click and Clack, the Tappett Brothers, aka Tom and Ray Magliozzi, have just sent a letter to the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, claiming that Detroit can actually achieve a fleet-wide average of 35 mpg within just FIVE years! This has made the Select Committee quite happy, or so it seems from this press release:

Tom & Ray are quite witty in their letter, but they pull no punches. They mention enough relevant, existing technology to leave no doubt in the reader's mind that, indeed, Detroit not only can achieve a 35-mpg standard within 5 years, but it is in its own best interest to do so, and furthermore, Detroit has a long history of being on the wrong side of pretty much every battle involving Congress and the safety/efficiency of its vehicles.

Go ahead and read the original letter, at this link (pdf):

I completely support Tom & Ray, and would love to add my signature to their own. Congress should require 35mpg by 2012, and 1mpg increases annually between then and, say, 2035. Not only would this be well within the range of engineering possibility for that time frame, it would revolutionize the domestic auto industry, and perhaps even help it turn around and recover from the tens of thousands of worker lay-offs that it has been "forced" to undertake recently.

Read the letter, and let me know what you think!


Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Legal Justification for House Music and other remixes/re-makes

Electronic music largely consists of original content. However, some electronic music, especially House Music, consists of remixes of older material -- like taking a Led Zeppelin sample and working some nifty bass, drum and effects around it at 122 beats per minute to make a slamming dance number that activates the "hey, I know this song!" centers of the brains of dancefloor denizens.

Many such releases, however, are called White Labels, because their producers don't print any release information on the record's physical paper label, for fear of prosecution by the RIAA (the legal arm of the recording industry). These records are simply printed up, distributed to record stores on the down-low, and sold to DJs who are allowed to listen to the records in the store to see if they fit the vibe that they're looking to purchase and play. While white labels are cool, and are a staple of the underground music scene, they also implicitly represent a reaction to stifling legal practices that may themselves be on shaky legal ground.

I'd like to propose that the entire legal justification for suing music producers who sample copyrighted material should be in question.

According to the United States Supreme Court's decision in Fogerty v. Fantasy, quoted by Judge West:

We reiterated this theme in Feist Publications, Inc. v. Rural Telephone Service Co., 499 U.S. 340, 349-350 (1991), where we said:

"The primary objective of copyright is not to reward the labor of authors, but `[t]o promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts.' To this end, copyright assures authors the right to their original expression, but encourages others to build freely upon the ideas and information conveyed by a work." .......
Because copyright law ultimately serves the purpose of enriching the general public through access to creative works, it is peculiarly important that the boundaries of copyright law be demarcated as clearly as possible. To that end, defendants who seek to advance a variety of meritorious copyright defenses should be encouraged to litigate them to the same extent that plaintiffs are encouraged to litigate meritorious claims of infringement. In the case before us, the successful defense of "The Old Man Down the Road" increased public exposure to a musical work that could, as a result, lead to further creative pieces. Thus a successful defense of a copyright infringement action may further the policies of the Copyright Act every bit as much as a successful prosecution of an infringement claim by the holder of a copyright.

This decision would appear to indicate that, by "promoting the Progress of Science and Useful Arts," house music remixes of other types of music should be perfectly legal, and indeed encouraged, for they expose new audiences to older art forms, as well as build on the progress made in those earlier art forms in new and different ways, expressing a part of the original concept in new and different ways that may elicit new and difference responses by the public to a musical work, and in turn lead to further creative pieces.

Food for thought, and hopefully inspiration to house (and other electronic) music producers everywhere who seek to re-interpret music originally written and recorded by others in new and different ways!

Monday, August 13, 2007

Nuclear Attack on Portland, Martial Law & Dictatorship: Is it too late?

Conspiracy theories are usually spread after something bad happens, to explain why it happened when the official explanation seems to be lacking.

But right now, the Internet is swirling with reports of a different nature:

That the U.S. government may be planning an "exercise" involving a nuclear attack on Portland, OR -- and that, more critically, this may become a "false flag" attack, where the very thing being studied as a part of the exercise, actually happens because it is the last thing that people expect to actually happen.

Naturally, those Portland residents who have heard about this plan are keeping a close eye out for any additional information they can find. What is known is that the operation is planned for August 20-24th. Though the military insists that the exercise will only involve computer simulations, this story is unlikely.

According to Captain Eric H. May, Special Military Correspondent, on July 20, 2007, Paul Craig Roberts, former Assistant Secretary of the Treasury, said: "Whether authentic or orchestrated, an attack will activate Bush's new executive orders [NSPD-51], which create a dictatorial police state in event of national emergency."

So, why not dispense with Portland, which the Bushes have always hated (Bush Senior called it "Little Beirut" after meeting rather virulent protesters there during the first Gulf War), and receive an opportunity to declare martial law and turn a stolen presidency into a dictatorship? It's a two-fer!!

I'll keep this post short, so let me just conclude with this:

This plan will only succeed if we go along with it.

So don't go down easy. Call in to every radio and T.V. show that allows callers; write to your local newspaper; post a blog; repeat. Don't rally in the streets, protests can be used as an excuse to declare martial law. Use phone trees if you need to, but get the word out.

Communication and information dissemination is the only way to prevent this, and the information obviously needs to spread further and wider than just within the Portland region -- so make sure it gets to your friends and relatives in New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Paris and London, too.

And if this month comes and goes and Portland is still on the map (and in one piece), we will have succeeded, for now. God, I do hope this all is just a computer exercise and all of the rest of this is just conspiracy theory... but given the recent track record of the Amerikkkan government, I just can't be so sure anymore.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

IMPEACHMENT: Let's use the I-word. The time is now.

It's time to impeach Bush & Cheney.

It's past time, in fact.

Don't mistake the cure for the disease: Impeachment is NOT a "Constitutional Crisis." It is, in fact, the Constitutionally-prescribed CURE for the Constitutional Crisis of a President who Behaves Like A Monarch. We are today defining the future of the Presidency; that is why, even at this late moment, it is important to set a precedent by punishing the high crimes and misdemeanors of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney.

The consensus of the People of the United States is that it is now time to impeach the President. According to a recent poll, more than four in ten Americans -- 45% -- favor impeachment hearings for President Bush, and more than half -- 54% -- favor impeachment for Vice President Cheney.

The Founding Fathers made six separate references to "Impeachment" in the Constitution. SIX. This was not just some thing they threw into the document at the last moment. It is integral to the functioning of our democracy. They wanted us to know this word, and to be familiar with the process.

Remember, when the Founding Fathers were writing the Constitution, they had just finished fighting a war with a king named George. They wanted the People of the United States to be able to remove from the Executive Office anybody who displayed monarchical behavior -- that is, assuming an attitude of "I am king, and what I do is above the law, because the law only applies to all of the rest of you."

Does the behavior of King George sound familiar to you?

A recent Bill Moyers Special on PBS (which you can watch online here: discussed this very topic with Bruce Fein, the conservative constitutional scholar who wrote the articles of impeachment against President Clinton. Also on the program is Jonathon Nichols, Capitol correspondent for The Nation. Bruce Fein was in agreement with impeaching Clinton because he believed that Clinton committed perjury, and he thought that no President should be above any law of the country. Bruce now believes that both Bush and Cheney should undergo the impeachment process as well, not only because it is clear that they have committed impeachable offenses:

According to Fein, Cheney has:
* Asserted Presidential power to create military commissions, which combine the functions of judge, jury, and prosecutor in the trial of war crimes.
* Claimed authority to detain American citizens as enemy combatants indefinitely at Guantanamo Bay on the President's say-so alone.
* Initiated kidnappings, secret detentions, and torture in Eastern European prisons of suspected international terrorists.
* Championed a Presidential power to torture in contravention of federal statutes and treaties.
* Engineered the National Security Agency's warrantless domestic surveillance program targeting American citizens on American soil in contravention of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978.
* Orchestrated the invocation of executive privilege to conceal from Congress secret spying programs to gather foreign intelligence, and their legal justifications.
* Summoned the privilege to refuse to disclose his consulting of business executives in conjunction with his Energy Task Force.
* Retaliated against Ambassador Joseph Wilson and his wife Valerie Plame, through chief of staff Scooter Libby, for questioning the administration's evidence of weapons of mass destruction as justification for invading Iraq.

According to the Wikipedia entry on the Movement to Impeach George W Bush, he has:

* Ordered the wiretapping of certain international calls to and from the U.S. without a warrant. Furthermore, the Bush administration's justification of the program, using its interpretation of presidential power, overthrows the Constitutional system of checks and balances and ignores other provisions of the Constitution mandating that the President "shall take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed" and vesting Congress with the sole authority "To make Rules for the Government and Regulation of the land and naval Forces" and "To make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers, and all other Powers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the United States, or in any Department or Officer thereof."
* Planned and executed a first-strike invasion of Iraq, in violation of the War Powers Clause of the US Constitution
* Knowingly distorted intelligence reports (or ignored contrary information) in constructing a case for the war in Iraq.
* Violated the Supreme Law of the Land, as ratified by the U.S. Congress, by invading a country without provocation. By Article VI of the U.S. Constitution, Senate-ratified treaties such as the U.N. Charter are "the supreme Law of the Land." This was not a war in self-defense, but a war of aggression contrary to the U.N. Charter (a crime against peace) and therefore a war crime. Also, Kofi Annan (former head of the U.N.) called the war in Iraq a violation of the UN Charter and therefore "illegal." A war of aggression refers to any war not initiated out of self-defense or sanctioned by the UN. Such a violation of international law would constitute an impeachable offense.
* Extradited detainees to other countries where they were tortured. The CIA has "rendered" suspected terrorists, such as Maher Arar, to other countries. Critics accuse them of doing this in order to avoid U.S. laws prescribing due process and prohibiting torture, calling this "torture by proxy" and "torture flights". The U.N. Convention against Torture (again, ratified by the United States and therefore the supreme law of the land) states:

No State Party shall expel, return ("refouler") or extradite a person to another State where there are substantial grounds for believing that he would be in danger of being subjected to torture.

Under international law, rendition as practiced by the U.S. government is illegal.
* Leaked the name of a CIA operative to the media as political payback for an attempt to show that lies were told about the availability of uranium to Saddam Hussein in the run-up to the Iraq invasion. The litigation surrounding Lewis 'Scooter' Libby has yielded court papers showing that Libby was authorized and instructed to disseminate formerly classified information by his superiors.
* Declassified documents for political purposes, that is, to justify the invasion of Iraq.
* Politicized the offices of the United States Attorney, specifically to encourage actions that would promote Republicans candidates and stifle any action that would help Democratic candidates.
* Sought to combine the powers of all three branches of government in the single person of the President, which is the diametric opposite of the text and the Founding Fathers' intended meaning of the U.S. Constitution.
* Commuted the sentence of Scooter Libby, in defiance of the rule of law within the United States. Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald said that: "It is fundamental to the rule of law that all citizens stand before the bar of justice as equals... That principle guided the judge during both the trial and the sentencing.' This unprcedented decision and obstruction of justice, to cover up prior or ongoing criminal activities, is an impeachable offense. Though the President is within his prerogative to commute a sentence, according to a Judiciary Committee report (drafted in response to Watergate) when commutation is used in matters in which he himself may be involved, impeachment is warranted:

"In the [Constitutional] convention George Mason argued that the President might use his pardoning power to 'pardon crimes which were advised by himself' or, before indictment or conviction, 'to stop inquiry and prevent detection.' James Madison responded:

"[I]f the President be connected, in any suspicious manner, with any person, and there be grounds [to] believe he will shelter him, the House of Representatives can impeach him; they can remove him if found guilty. . . ."

"Madison went on to [say] contrary to his position in the Philadelphia convention, that the President could be suspended when suspected, and his powers would devolve on the Vice President, who could likewise be suspended until impeached and convicted, if he were also suspected."

If Bush and Cheney are allowed to remain in office, they will have created a toolbox of powers for the Office of the President of the United States that will be passed on to their successor, whether that turns out to be Mitt Romney, Hillary Clinton, Rudy Giuliani or Barac Obama. The only way to curtail the powers that have been added to the Presidential toolbox is to punish this White House, and the Constitutionally-prescribed method of doing so is to Impeach. That is why the Constitution makes mention of it so often; that is the recommended solution.

If our Founding Fathers were alive today, they would be carrying torches in the streets of the capitol, SCREAMING for impeachment. They would say, "We wrote this power into the Constitution so that it could be used to curtail a tyrant. WHY ARE YOU NOT USING IT?"

Because if this Congress is not allowed to vote to impeach; if the Judiciary Committee does not take up articles of impeachment; then the next President will feel free to wiretap Americans without a warrant, to read the mail of Americans without a warrant, to kidnap and hold without cause indefinitely without a warrant or charges, to use torture and secret prisons on those held without charges with no fear of reprisals or consequences. The next President will feel free to lie to Congress, to lie to the American People, and to generally act like a monarch who serves a four year term.

And then what? Will we all need to return to Britain to experience true democracy?

I don't think that's what any American wants.

That's why even conservatives like Bruce Fein, red-blooded Americans who would not agree with a "liberal" on many other issues, are coming to agree on this one:

Bush and Cheney must be IMPEACHED.

Say it loud.


Say it often.


Call your elected representatives.


Write your elected representatives.


Hell, go down to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C. carrying torches, and scream it at the top of your lungs:


Because we have allowed this Congress to be quiet and complacent for too long. Far too long.

It's time to use the I-word, and use it often.

Friday, July 13, 2007

10 Commandments for Road Users

In a previous post, I mentioned that the Vatican had issued 10 Commandments for Motorists, and that I thought they were a step in the right direction.

As a commenter and a buddy of mine pointed out, however, the Vatican could perhaps have been a bit more specific with some of their Commandments, and otherwise kind of missed the mark.

In the spirit of collaboration, then, I present a more definitive set of Commandments for Road Users:

1. Thou shall not kill, maim or damage anything with thine car.

2. Thou shall protect the more vulnerable party on the road: Motorists must always yield to bicyclists who must always yield to pedestrians. Vulnerable parties should, however, refrain thyselves from darting needlessly and with no warning in front of less-vulnerable traffic in a way that invites danger and irritation. As a user of the public space, thou shalt have respect for and patience with thine neighbor.

3. Thou shall not drive while under the influence of a substance, mental or physical condition that might impede thine ability to drive safely and prudently. Same goes for thine drunken friends and relatives.

4. Thou shall always use turn-signals, even for lane-changes, and hazard lights when slowed or stopped.

5. Thou shall either hang up or pull over, for thou sucketh at driving while talking. Typing on small keyboards while driving lies beyond the skill set of even the gods themselves, much less mere mortals such as thyself.

6. Thou shall not install a sound system that rattles the windows, doors and frame of thine vehicle, or otherwise pimp thine ride obnoxiously.

7. Thou shall not leave the scene of an accident without first being charitable and attending to your neighbour in need. Further, thou shalt support the families of accident victims. Thou shall also make steps to bring guilty motorists and their victims together, at the appropriate time, so that they can undergo the liberating experience of forgiveness.

8. Thou shall not tailgate the vehicle in front of you. Though shall always make efforts to leave at least a 2-second following distance in good weather, and a 4-second distance when conditions are wet, frozen or otherwise a hindrance to the traction of thine vehicle.

9. Thou shall keep a calm mind when behind the wheel: live and let live, and do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Courtesy, uprightness and prudence will help thou to deal with unforeseen events; extending body parts or mouthing obscenities at other drivers will do nothing to gain karma points for thine soul. Also, lead not thine fellow drivers into road rage by straddling lanes, blocking the passing lane, merging poorly, running red lights, stopping for no apparent reason, weaving, etc.

10. When possible, thou shall choose to take transit, walk or ride a bicycle rather than drive, for these courses of action will bring peace to thine mind, assist thine neighbor in breathing less toxic air and find greater favor with thine creator.

Perhaps the Pope, seeing as he generally has the Popemobile or another chauffeured ride to roll in, was just a bit out of touch with the everyday realities of life on the modern road. Whatever the cause, I believe that these Commandments shall be more useful for thine road-using ways.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Our country is sick.

Forgive me if the title of this post seems offensive to you, and allow me to explain in a little more detail.

You see, I've just viewed Michael Moore's new movie, Sicko (click to download a lo-res version of the avi for free here, no tricks, no gimmicks).

And his movie makes me sick.

Sick of our country.

Because our country is sick.

Some of you may be saying "well, tell me something I don't know."

But at this point in time, after having this movie drive home its point so eloquently, so undisputedly, so clearly... I really only have two options:

1) Overthrow our government
2) More to Europe, or Canada, or Cuba, or some other country with free health care for all.

Nothing else really seems like a good option right now.

Because, health care affects all of us.

And as Mike points out so well in his movie, the American health care system is broken. It has been broken by money-grubbing corporate thieves, carrying out a plan hatched by Richard M Nixon and his cronies back in the early 1970s.

In short, the American health care system, like so much else in our country, was devised by men who represent pure evil.

By men who want nothing more than more money for themselves, and the worst possible for everybody else.

Think I'm spouting hyperbole? Think I'm making this up?

Watch the movie. Go ahead. Then, tell me how I'm wrong.


I want to be wrong. I do.

I'm afraid I'm not.

And while you're telling me what to do, help me choose between overthrow of the government and leaving the country, because there's got to be a better solution than a coin toss.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Tell the Nation: The Simpsons are from Oregon

So, there's a contest as to which Springfield should play host to the movie premiere for the Simpsons movie:

As we all know, the host should of course be Springfield, Oregon. As reported in this Tribune article, Matt Groening is, after all, an Oregonian who has been temporarily been living in L.A. for the past two decades -- and more importantly, much of the inspiration for The Simpsons comes from his childhood growing up in Portland.

But, we need to vote to make sure that happens. This is a part of a larger effort to tell the nation that the Simpsons are from Oregon, as documented here.

Make sure your vote counts, and help get the word out!!


The Mayor of Springfield, OR, Mayor Leiken, is completely behind this effort, going so far as to paint a statue of a horse at an entrance to the town in "Simpsons Yellow," wearing a Mayor Quimby-style sash for all public appearances (and sporting a Secret Service-looking bodyguard), appearing in the video on the website above, and otherwise doing as much as possible to support making Springfield, OR the Simpsons' Springfield.

Which, to any Oregonian who has ever actually visited Springfield, should be rather amusing...

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

The Vatican issues Ten Commandments for Motorists

As reported in The Guardian UK and news outlets across the planet, on Tuesday, June 19th the Vatican issued a set of Ten Commandments for Motorists:

1. You shall not kill.
2. The road shall be for you a means of communion between people and not of mortal harm.
3. Courtesy, uprightness and prudence will help you deal with unforeseen events.
4. Be charitable and help your neighbour in need, especially victims of accidents.
5. Cars shall not be for you an expression of power and domination, and an occasion of sin.
6. Charitably convince the young and not so young not to drive when they are not in a fitting condition to do so.
7. Support the families of accident victims.
8. Bring guilty motorists and their victims together, at the appropriate time, so that they can undergo the liberating experience of forgiveness.
9. On the road, protect the more vulnerable party.
10. Feel responsible toward others.

I think this is great. Regardless of how you feel about the Vatican, about Catholicism, about organized religion in general, or about driving, it's hard not to see this as a Good Thing and certainly a step in the right direction. After acknowledging that yes, there does seem to be a problem with uncivil behavior on the part of motorists, these Commandments seem to be a reasonable list of actions and attitudes that, if adopted by all users of the road, would lead to much more civil behavior by users of transportation in the public realm.

My only concern is that enough people view these Commandments, and take them to heart, regardless of their religious affiliation. Does this need to turn into a petition, signed by the religious leadership of all the world's various denominations? Are there other ways that folks could take these ideas and run with them?

Saturday, June 16, 2007

New Vision for American Development: My guest post on

I've recently written a guest post for the SinceSlicedBread movement's website, which is located here. It starts with this opener:

The basic premise of the New Vision for American Development is that this country needs to move away from the auto-centric patterns of development that have been destroying our communities since the end World War Two. That's not to say that cars are bad per se, but that we have an imbalance of auto-centric infrastructure and we must now seek a return to equilibrium by turning our focus to other modes and patterns of development.

Read the rest here. And please let me know what you think in the comments below!


Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Higher Vehicle Fuel Efficiency Standards: Contact Congress NOW to support them!

This week, Congress and the U.S. Senate are debating bills that would raise fuel efficiency standards to about 35mpg by 2020 (30mpg for small trucks and SUVs), then increase them by either 4% or 4mpg a year until 2030 (the details seem confused and may vary between the bills in the House and the Senate).

The important thing right now is that Americans express their demand for vehicles that get higher fuel efficiency. If you're a soccer mom who needs a station wagon to haul five kids around after practice, but needs to get at least 35 mpg in the city (and at least 45mpg on the highway) so as not to break the bank at the gas pump, you need to let your representative know so THIS WEEK!!

If you're interested in having it potentially run on 100% Biodiesel, as well as potentially being a plug-in hybrid (these things are not even close to being mutually exclusive, and would in fact complement one another quite nicely), mention this too!

This is where Congress can be made to work for you, to apply the necessary pressure to the automakers to accomplish these goals. Call the Congressional Switchboard at (202)224-3121 and your call will be forwarded to any member of Congress. I can't stress enough how much you need to do so this week, as automakers are in D.C. using the fear factor, telling Congress that they can't significantly improve mileage rates for their vehicles. As you may recall, this is the same industry that claimed that air bags, seat belts, anti-lock brakes and other safety devices would be too expensive to make standard in all cars. Fuel economy standards in Europe, however, are already above 40mpg, and many American automakers also make models for the European market. So it would seem that there is no real obstacle to meeting the proposed fuel efficiency standards for the United States. If anything, our goals are too low!

Furthermore, it can't hurt to remind the automakers themselves of your needs, even though they have an institutional bias against highly-fuel-efficient vehicles that is deeply rooted in politics, history, ego and pride. The more they hear from potential customers who just won't buy a gas-guzzler from them, and will continue to refuse to purchase a new vehicle from them until it gets better gas mileage, the more likely they will be to change their minds on this issue -- all other factors aside.

Contact information for some of the major automakers is here:

Ford: (800)392-FORD or Ford Motor Company, Customer Relationship Center, Box 6248, Dearborn, Mich. 48126.

GM/Saturn: (800) 553-6000 or Customer Assistance Center, 100 Saturn Parkway, Mail Drop 371-999-S24, Spring Hill, Tenn. 37174.

Nissan: (800) NISSAN-1 (800-647-7261) or Nissan Consumer Affairs, Box 685003, Franklin, Tenn. 37068-5003.

Mitsubishi: (888) MITSU2006 (800-648-7820) or Mitsubishi Motors North America, Inc., PO Box 6014, Cypress, Calif. 90630-0014.

Toyota: (800) 331-4331 or Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc. 19001 South Western Ave. Dept. WC11, Torrance, Calif. 90501.

Phone calls would be a great way to start, but printed letters would be even better. My sense is that electronic inquiries (emails, etc.) are too easily ignored in such large bureaucracies as auto companies.

Please post your thoughts here, especially if you are inspired to make some calls and/or write some letters!


Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Response from Speaker Pelosi on The Question of Impeachment

In a previous post in February of 2007, I posted an open letter to Speaker Nancy Pelosi of the U.S. House of Representatives, calling for the impeachment of the top members of the Bush Administration for their crimes against the citizens of the United States.

And now, in June of 2007, Speaker Pelosi has delivered a response to the letter, posted in entirety below:

June 5, 2007

Dear Garlynn:

Thank you for contacting me to express your support for impeachment proceedings against President George W. Bush. I appreciate hearing from you.

Like you, I agree that the Bush Administration has failed to provide the tools our troops need to get the job done in Iraq and a plan to get them home safely. The war in Iraq has resulted in the loss of more than 3,300 American lives, wounded more than 16,000 of our men and women in uniform, ended or shattered countless Iraqi lives, and cost American taxpayers more than $200 billion. Searches for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, the President's justification for the war, failed to find anything. A top White House official has been criminally indicted and convicted for perjury and obstruction of justice in connection with the investigation into the disclosure of the identity of a CIA operative in connection with the Administration's attempts to discredit critics of the war.

Congress has a responsibility to hold the Bush Administration accountable for miscalculating the risks, misunderstanding the challenges, and misrepresenting the facts and intelligence that brought us into the war. As we begin the 110th Congress it is my intention to have Congress conduct a thorough investigation of these matters. Please be assured that reinstituting checks and balances through rigorous congressional oversight will remain among my highest priorities as we begin in a new direction for our nation.

Thank you for taking the time to contact me on this issue. For more information on this and other issues, I invite you to visit my website at I hope you will continue to communicate with me on matters of concern to you.


Nancy Pelosi
Member of Congress

I can only speculate as to why it took so long to receive a response on this issue. Perhaps this is a signal that, at long last, the Democrats will soon begin to play hardball with the President and his party?

We can only hope.

Friday, May 11, 2007

In Support of Underage Drinking

I recently received an email from the Oregon House Representative representing southern Southeast Portland, Representative Carolyn Tomei, indicating her support for a bill increasing penalties for Underage Drinking, HB 2766. HB 2766 increases the fines for minors who attempt to purchase, successfully purchase, or otherwise acquire alcoholic beverages. The fine for a first conviction is $350, and for a subsequent convictions, $1000. Rep. Tomei wrote that "This measure cannot stop underage drinking, but we need to make sure that the sanctions imposed are sufficiently severe. "

I'm saddened by her support for increased youth prohibition.

Let me tell you, I have no shame in admitting that I began consuming beer and wine at the age of 15 with parental consent, in moderate quantities. I then left high school early to enroll in a college early admission program at the age of 16. I graduated from college with my bachelor's degree at the age of 20. Don't think for a second that I didn't celebrate with a keg of beer!

My family, which is partly from the old German stock, has always had a different approach towards alcohol -- that is, learn how to drink responsibly around family, that way you don't go embarrassing yourself in public. It follows that young people should learn to drink responsibly, starting with beer and wine first, while they're young, so they don't go embarrassing themselves when they get older and have more responsibilities!

In Europe, according to this Washington Post article,the drinking age for beer and wine varies from... NONE, in Poland and Portugal, to 14 in Switzerland, to 16 in the rest of Europe. At the age of 18, in most European countries, hard liquor becomes legal. The 21st birthday has no real legal meaning in most of Europe.

The problem in America is that it's too easy to DRIVE at an early age without adequate training, and that because we have a culture that is, basically, uneducated towards alcohol, there is no legit way for somebody to learn to drink responsibly prior to achieving the legal drinking age. It's just this assumption that for 21 years, you don't touch the stuff, then all of a sudden at 21, you know how to consume it responsibly, and have somehow gained this knowledge... by osmosis?

That's unhealthy.

To just increase the fines for underage drinking solves nothing, except maybe a budget shortfall at the OLCC (Oregon Liquor Control Commission, which levies the fines mentioned in the bill above).

Rather, we should be taking steps to encourage a more European approach to alcohol. I recognize that Ronald Reagan made the drinking age a federal policy, but perhaps Oregon could experiment with... going it's own way on this matter. Starting with beer/wine at 16, hard liquor at 18, and stiffer policies against DRIVING WITHOUT ADEQUATE TRAINING. If all young folks FIRST learn how to drink responsibly, and when to NOT drink, and THEN receive the right to drive, don't you think that might be a better situation than FIRST getting the right to drive, THEN at some point receiving legal permission to drink, without adequate preparation?

Monday, April 30, 2007

Portland's Bike Plan and Mayor Potter

So, my confidence in Mayor Potter has pretty much zeroed out.


He has decided to end funding for the current update to Portland's Bicycle Plan (called the Platinum Bicycle Master Plan because of its aim to make Portland into a Platinum-rated city for bicycling).

You see, the last time Portland issued a Bike Plan was in 1996.

It's now 2006, and a new effort is underway to update the plan.

$50,000 was allocated towards this effort in the current budget, and $100,000 was requested in next year's budget.

Potter decided to nix this request.

The BTA responded with the largest outpouring of community activism since Potter assumed office -- over 300 calls & emails on the issue:

Potter has decided to stay the course, and cut funding for the bike plan -- despite community opposition to this decision.

At this point, the next steps are to email the other four Commissioners, and ask them to support an amendment to the budget to add back in the $100,000 in funding for the Bike Plan.

Here’s who:

Commissioner Erik Sten:

Commissioner Sam Adams:

Commissioner Dan Saltzman:

Commissioner Randy Leonard:

And, of course, if you're registered in Multnomah County (specifically, in Portland), vote against the charter amendment on the May 15th, 2007 ballot. Potter has shown that he can't be trusted. His strong-mayor initiative is thus a very bad idea -- he doesn't need and shouldn't have any more power than he already does.

Friday, April 27, 2007

MoveOn and... moving on. recently conducted a poll asking their members how well they're doing. It was pretty open-ended, and it left open the opportunity for an open-ended question like "anything else you'd like to tell us?" at the end of the survey.

These are the burning comments that I really felt needed to be shared, with MoveOn and with the American People, right now:

IMHO, the Iraq War is a giant smokescreen designed to distract the American people from the problems at home by focusing their attention abroad -- ala 1984. In that respect, it has been fabulously successful.

Even the opposition party is limited in their ability to focus on other agendas, and winds up spending a lot of their air spouting off about issues related to Iraq/the war on terror.

To the extent that MoveOn can work to broaden the agenda (which would seem to fit in quite nicely with the name, no?), I think that is the *most* important thing right now.

More important than bringing the troops home, or subpoenas, or impeaching the president, is to just change the agenda to re-focus on more important issues.

Like a nationwide high speed rail system.

Like nationwide land use reform to focus new development as infill in central cities and in new transit oriented development.

Like higher fuel economy standards for vehicles.

Like nationwide health care reform.

Like nationwide energy efficiency initiatives.

Like nationwide voting reform (i.e. paper trails and perhaps a move towards expanded vote-by-mail).

Like nationwide drug policy reform -- when are we going to *end* the War on Drugs?

Like reforming our national food delivery system so that our citizens are not force-fed chemicals, hormones and slaughtered animals who have never seen an open field? Ever read Fast Food Nation?

Why aren't these issues high on the national agenda?

It's simple: Because the Bush Administration has been *wildly* successful. Their real mission has been to build a giant smokescreen, to distract the American public while they plunder the national treasury and conduct *business as usual* for the rich Republican slimeballs that run the place.

Bravo, MoveOn for falling into their traps.

First rule of holes:

When in a hole, stop digging.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

What would it take to make Portland (Oregon) the Amsterdam of America?

That is, with relation to bicycles?

This is a question recently asked by the Portland Office of Transportation, as a part of their update to the citywide Bicycle Master Plan.

What would it take for Portland to become the Amsterdam of America?

(Aside from the obvious: removing all of those pesky hills...?)

1) User fees for cars:
- Introduction of European-style gas taxes that raise the cost per gallon of gasoline to above $5.
- Congestion pricing in congested areas, following Ken Livingstone's London example, that allows bicycles free entrance but charges cars.

2) Creation of expanded bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure. In areas of high congestion, remove the least-efficient use: automobiles. Use the additional space to provide facilities dedicated to bicycles, so they can zip by pedestrians and streetcars on their own paths.
- In Downtown Portland, for instance, this might mean taking a lane of 3-lane one-way streets and making it into a Class 1 bicycle facility. This bikeway would fit between the existing sidewalk and the parking lane.
- In neighborhood commercial districts, when over-crowding causes congestion, automobile traffic needs to be the first thing to go, and bicycle facilities should be the first thing installed to take its place.
- In the neighborhoods, this would mean the creation of bicycle routes where bikes can travel as far as possible, unhindered by vehicles. All stop signs on bicycle boulevards should be replaced by traffic circles. Stop lights should act like the one at 39th & SE Clinton, permitting bikes but stopping cars.
- Bicycle "freeways" like the Springwater Corridor should be built in as many places as possible: Sullivan's Gulch, the North Portland Waterfront, along the SE Portland RR ROW that extends from the river to Crystal Springs Gardens/Golf Course, etc.

3) Bicycle rental facilities should be widely dispersed throughout the city that provide bikes for little or no charge for those who need to use them for a quick trip.

4) Bicycle parking should be provided in mass quantities at popular destinations. There are already complaints about a shortage of bicycle parking opportunities in downtown Portland. This needs to be resolved ASAP, and bicycle parking lots need to be fitted into the infrastructure where demand requires them. Outside of the Amsterdam rail station, for instance, is a sea of hundreds of bikes, all locked up right next to one another. I've also seen stacked bicycle parking. Whatever it takes to fit the bikes into the real estate available.

5) Commuter rail systems need to bring people into the central city from neighboring cities, and provide plenty of room for secure bicycle parking at their stations, as well as plenty of room on board for bicycle hooks. Part of bicycle mobility is the ability to extend the range of your bicycle by hopping on a fast, efficient train to get to places slightly further afoot.

6) Development density within the city needs to increase, so that more people are living closer to more destinations, making the bicycle just inherently a more sensible option for making more trips.

7) Automobile parking needs to be regulated to make it just a little less easy to park everywhere for free. Charging for parking in most commercial districts would be a good start. Taxing every surface parking space would be another good start -- say, $5 per space per month? This would make people and businesses seriously consider exactly how many car parking spaces they really need and are willing to pay for.

8) The police need to encourage bicycling, not stifle it. Enforcement of traffic laws against bicyclists who are not causing injury to others should be the absolute lowest enforcement priority for the police force. In general, unless a bicyclist has caused an accident, there is no need to write them a ticket. Period.

9) Oregon should adopt an Idaho-styled Bicycle Code that allows bicycles to treat stops signs as yield signs and stop lights as stop signs.

10) Bicycling needs to be respected, encouraged and embraced.
- Elected officials and city employees should ride bicycles whenever possible.
- Perhaps a mandate for a certain percentage of city employees to ride their bikes to work, ala Mexico City, might be one good measure to consider.
- In all cases, encouraging bicycles should be the rule rather than the exception.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

The VideoVets Project

Check out this project. It's just a series of interviews with troops who have served in Iraq, and their families.

You can rate each of the videos according to how much you like them.

The winning video will be produced by Oliver Stone.

Or, you can just watch them.

It's up to you.

But I found it pretty powerful. I don't often talk to troops or their families, so it's a perspective that was somewhat new to me.


Thursday, April 05, 2007

Video Ads on Subways -- and Art

According to a recent news article, ads are now springing up in subway tunnels between the stations. These "video ads" act like cartoon flip-books: A series of images is lit up by individual spotlights if a train passes by at 25mph or faster. The moving train allows the images to be displayed at 24+ frames per second, which is enough to give the illusion of a movie, more or less. Or, at least, it looks cool.

BART is now doing "video" ads in its subway tunnels between stations in San Francisco, and I recently had the opportunity to view the first batch. Pretty interesting stuff, and better than a blank tunnel wall.

According to the article referenced above, however, a new generation of ads will soon be installed that uses LED screens so that the ads can be changed more rapidly & easily -- and controlled remotely.

What I propose is a "Percent for Art" policy, to be implemented when the LED screens are installed. Basically, a certain percentage of the content being cycled on the LED screens would be non-commercial, and produced by local artists on commission to the transit agency. The article states that these ads bring in revenue upwards of $50k a month. Surely, that would allow enough padding for an artist to receive a small commission of, say, $2,000 to produce a quick piece of video art that could be displayed in between the ads on such a system.

I would propose that the art be randomly interspersed with the ads, varying between a rate of 1/3 art, 2/3 ads and 2/3 art, 1/3 ads, depending on, perhaps, time of day.

This would be a great way to expose transit passengers to art, while also building ad revenue to offset the costs of operations for transit agencies -- not to mention supporting the local art community.

BART has a lot of miles of tunnels where this could be installed, as does San Francisco's MUNI.

In addition, Tri-Met's Westside Light Rail tunnel in Portland, OR offers a couple of miles worth of unspoiled tunnel real estate where such an installation could be an instant hit. I'm particularly fond of this idea, because it is the only significant tunnel on Tri-Met's system, and would offer a premier showcase for both ads and art to Portland-area commuters. Plus, Tri-Met already has a Percent for Art program, so the concept of building this into a new advertising contract should not be new to them.

This is an exciting new 21st-century technology and medium for communications. Let's not waste it all entirely on just commercial content.

Let's make sure there's a percentage for art.


Tuesday, April 03, 2007

A Game Plan For Our Species (and thus, our planet)

Advance warning: This post deals is a bit more metaphysical than most, and ventures a bit into quantum theory. It's also a bit lengthy, but worth the read, IMHO. You've been warned.

+ + + + + +

So, I've been thinking a bit about life. I would say lately, except that this has been a favorite topic of mine to ponder since before I was ten years of age. But I digress. I've come to the conclusion that, if there is any cosmic purpose to any of our individual lives, or even for us collectively as a species, it is this:

Purpose of species: Procreate, reproduce, evolve and generally self-replicate

One could argue that, as it says somewhere in the Bible, the whole purpose of our species is really just to be a good shepherd to the flock of other non-human living things on this planet.

Well, shepherds tend to lead their flocks to different places from time to time, so that fact doesn't necessarily derail my train of thought much by itself. Let's continue with this thought experiment and see where it leads, shall we?

If we were all to follow this cosmic guidance and just pro-create to our hearts content, we might eventually find ourselves with a planet that is rather full of human beings. What's this? We're already in that situation? Oh dear. Well, that brings us to our first limit, then:

Limit: One planet, already overpopulated

So, if our planet is already just teeming with human life, which represents mouths to be fed, brains to be kept entertained, and arses to be driven around in big gleaming automobiles requiring some sort of fuel for propulsion... well, that's an awful lot of resources that this population is demanding to support their day-to-day life. At some point, this combination of population plus required resources is going to run up against the reality of a finite amount of available resources on this one planet. And, because we've all collectively made the startlingly good decision to keep the generally high quality of our lives high (we have, after all, made that decision, haven't we?), we probably don't want to go about ruining our quality of life by mucking up our own planet so badly that it's no longer pleasant to live here. That brings us to our second limit:

Limit: Must not destroy home planet

Stephen Hawking has said that we should colonize space, basically as an insurance policy for the survival of our species, given all the generally bad things (war, disease, nuclear power & weapons, FOX News, etc.) that happen on Earth. I wouldn't quite put it that way. Rather, I think it is our destiny to colonize space. It's part of "go forth and multiply." Once we've begun to near the limits for human habitation of this planet (and I believe that we are reaching that point, or will within a couple more centuries anyways, if we manage somehow to make it that far as a species), it just seems rather logical to make that next leap and go out into space. It's like when you go out to a really crowded dance club, you meet some really attractive member of the opposite sex (remember: procreation), and you both decide collectively to bounce out to someplace a little more quiet. There really isn't enough countryside for the entire species to just go off and get some quiet place in the countryside to live out the rest of our existence, and besides, the existing residents of the countryside (especially those of the non-human persuasion, such as the animals) might object.

That leaves us, collectively, with our first solution, involving the colonization of places that are not on Earth where we might be able to have a little bit of peace and quiet:

Solution: colonize outer space.

I'm talking long-term here. Not next week, obviously, and not just because I've already got other plans for next week. No, I mean, this is a really long-term goal, kind of like JFK saying that we needed to land a man on the moon... he said that in, what, 1961? It took us the rest of the decade to do it. This would probably take a bit longer.

However, we don't want the effort to colonize outer space to itself become the death knell for the rest of us back here on Planet Earth. If we were to use, say, the Space Shuttle -- or indeed, any solid- or chemical- based rocket program -- as the vehicle necessary to establish such a large presence in space, that would not be a very good thing for our environment. The carbon dioxide emissions (hello, greenhouse gasses!), other pollution, fuel consumption -- it all just sort of would start to add up, now wouldn't it? That brings us to our third limit:

Limit: To colonize other planets would seem to require many trips into space, each of which creates an awful lot of carbon dioxide & other greenhouse gases & pollutants, thus contributing to global warming and said destruction of home planet

So, we've got to figure out some way to get our species (collective arses) off the planet without creating a whole lot of pollution, greenhouse gasses, etc. There have been a number of proposals over the years as to how we might accomplish this, but recent momentum seems to have been in the direction of this: Put passengers and cargo into a capsule. Attach the capsule to a cable. One end of the cable is attached to the earth. The other is attached to an anchor object outside of the reach of Earth's gravity. The capsule pulls itself up the cable, and voila! Its' contents are in orbit. This brings us to our second solution:

Possible solution: A space elevator

Of course, you're probably thinking to yourself about now, "Well, that sounds like a pretty stupid idea. Wouldn't the damn thing just fall out of the sky after a while?"

Yes, that would seem to be the case, which brings us to another limit:

Limit: What does the space elevator anchor to in space?

Well, the space elevator would need to anchor to something far enough up in space that it is sufficiently free of the earth's gravity to say up there for a while. It's got to be something with a lot of mass -- like a space station, perhaps -- to hold up the cables. However, after a while, even if the object were quite massive, and located some distance from Earth, it would seem that the fact of the cables themselves might eventually act to start tugging it back towards Earth. This brings us to another limit:

Limit: The cable would probably tug this object back into orbit eventually, and thus back onto the planet. Big collision, large impact, not good news for the space program or previously-stated goal of colonizing other planets.

Of course, there's a pretty obvious solution here: Why not just fire some thrusters every once in a while to provide a course correction to the space station so that it remains in orbit, and doesn't slowly plunge back in the general direction of Earth's gravity well?

Potential solution: Fire thrusters to provide course corrections often enough to keep the anchor object (space station) up in space and not plummeting towards the ground.

Thrusters, however, would seem to require a fuel supply. Fuel, as you may have noticed in the news lately, seems to be running a bit short on the good ole' planet these days. So, even assuming we could just toss a few drums of fuel onto the space elevator and pop them up to the space station frequently enough to keep it in orbit and out of the atmosphere, this wouldn't seem to represent the most sustainable possible solution, now would it? This would seem to represent another limit:

Limit: Fuel must be used to power the thrusters, fuel might be in short supply in orbit, it sure seems to be in short supply down here.

But what if the fuel didn't need to be brought up from earth? After all, this space station could probably erect a rather vast solar panel array, given the vastness of space, the general lack of gravity, etc. And, according to Einstein, it is possible to convert power into mass (E=mc^2), and indeed, this has already been done by scientists with particle accelerators. So, the space station could collect solar power, and using a particle accelerator, convert this energy into the thrust necessary to keep the space station in orbit. Sounds like a solution to me:

Possible solution: Use solar power. Convert power into mass (E=mc^2) using a particle accelerator, and use this as the thrust to keep the space station in orbit.

Great, so now we're in orbit. Now what?

Space travel. We could build giant colony-ships in orbit, using materials both brought up from Earth on the space elevator, and mined on the Moon (I hear it's rich in Titanium. That's a good thing, because titanium not only makes great bicycles, it also makes great airplanes and spacecraft). These colony-ships would create their own gravity (likely by rotating), grow their own food, recycle their own water -- and be large enough to combat the problems of a closed environment that were encountered in the Biosphere 2 project in Arizona. In a sense, they would have to be be colonies unto themselves, capable of sustaining not only their initial human population, but also any increases in that population (and its supporting animal companions) due to aforementioned reproduction.

These colony-ships would also have to travel through space a very long distance to reach other planets outside of our solar system, and to do so, they would have to get moving very fast. How fast? Between 0.99 and 0.999% of the speed of light (speed of light = c) would be ideal, or even faster. You see, no object can travel faster than the speed of light. But, objects can, in theory, be made to travel very close to the speed of light. If we wanted to visit the nearest star system, Alpha Centauri, which is four light years (a light year is the distance that light can travel during one year) from Earth, it would take us a bit more than four years travelling at 0.99c (could be closer to five, what with acceleration, deceleration and all). However, that's the time that us folks back on Earth would perceive it as taking. For the folks on the ship, it would seem to be a lot quicker of a journey. At 0.99c, there would be a "time dilation factor" of seven, so the astronauts would only experience seven months if they could make the whole journey at speed. At 0.999c, the time dilation factor would be twenty, and if the trip were made entirely at speed, it would only take about a month.

Of course, the trips would take longer, because who knows how long it might take to accelerate up to the speed of light, then decelerate back down from it?

Also, just because Alpha Centauri is the closest star, doesn't mean that we really have any reason to go there. We might need to hike quite a longer distance through space to reach a suitable star system where we might be able to construct a colony. Some have argued that we should try colonizing the Moon and Mars first, to get a taste for the necessary technology. I've got no objection to that, but why stop there?

After all, this is the species that gave Jimi Hendrix and the Beatles to the universe. I think we're worth saving and replicating elsewhere, don't you?

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Smarter Suburbs

According to a recent Daily Journal of Commerce article, in Oregon some Legislative leaders are talking about a Congestion Relief package to tie the state over from now through 2009, when they expect to be able to offer a more comprehensive transportation solutions package. It's good to see that some folks are thinking big-picture, but "congestion relief" doesn't sound like the sort of terminology that describes Smart Growth, TOD, bicycle lanes and better transit.

There's an interesting article in the February 2007 issue of _Urban Land_, called "Looking Back to Plan the Future." OK, it's actually not that interesting of an article, except for the come-on quote at the beginning:

"Casting aside the failed experiment of suburbia in the United States, planners are looking back to age-old principles for guidance in planning a future with modern challenges."

It was written by a planner from.... Dallas, Texas.

And it got me to thinking: A lot of what needs to be happening in the next, say, 20 years is a re-building of our suburban areas. We do need smarter suburbs. We need to make it easier for people to walk or ride their bikes for local trips in their neighborhood, as well as to get to the local transit stop. Even if we can't get street connectivity in most places in the suburbs for *cars*, we should be thinking more about retrofitting suburbs to provide through-connectivity for pedestrians and bicyclists. Even if this means using a little bit of eminent domain here or there, it would be worthwhile if the end product were a really good suburban grid of bicycle/pedestrian paths that connected every street in every neighborhood with every neighborhood center and important destination, just like you would get in, say, Portland's eastside with its regular street grid. Except that the grid would mainly apply to bike/ped, and cars would be stuck with the 1950s-style suburban street system that already exists.

The difference would be that there would, in theory, be fewer cars and more bicycles & pedestrians on the suburban bike/ped network.

The image at the top of this post depicts a path built between two houses allowing students to walk or bicycle to a local school from their cul-de-sac.

Update, 2:30pm March 28th:

Over at Portland Transport, another commenter asked:

"some people like living on isolated, car friendly, suburban, dead-end streets.

"Actually, I am going to guess most people like that kind of living. Why change it?"

This is a very good question, and I'm glad that you asked. Even though the quote calls suburbia in general a "failure," I think there are a lot of people who rather like it.

My great-aunt, for example. Lives on a cul-de-sac out in Hillsboro.

But you know what? At the end of the cul-de-sac is the entrance to a bike/ped path. This path connects with other paths. They lead all throughout her subdivision, and connect her with other, important destinations like... the community swimming pool, and other cul-de-sacs. Oh, and her niece, who lives on another cul-de-sac that would be about 8 blocks away driving, but is only about 300 feet on the path.

What I'm talking about is to expand this type of path system, which is often found within many suburban developments, such that the paths connect up with one another to form an actual, use-able ped/bike path "grid" that not only connects within each neighborhood, but connects to other important destinations such as the neighborhood commercial center and transit stop.

Would this decrease how much people liked living on their quiet, dead-end streets?


Would it make them any less quiet or dead-endy?

No, unless you happen to be riding a bicycle (pretty quiet, all things considered) or walking (also a rather quiet activity).

But, could you then ride your bike or walk from your quiet, dead-end street to the local transit stop, video store (ooh, how 20th century), grocery store or pub?


Without needing to drive your car.

Your nice car can then sit in its nice garage and save its nice $3.50/gallon gas for a more important trip.

Does this represent a fundamental change to "that kind of living"? I don't think so. Just a minor enhancement, maybe the addition of something that should have been there all along, that's all.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Congestion Pricing in Portland, OR

Recently, there was a post on PortlandTransport on why Congestion Pricing isn't more widely implemented. This was based on a blog post written by Michael Manville (of UCLA) on the same topic. What follows are the thoughts that I had after reading Professor Manville's article, basically related to how Congestion Pricing might work in the Portland region.

I think that the issue of Congestion Pricing has thus far been implemented in two very different ways, which should perhaps be considered differently:

1) Cordon-style district congestion pricing, ala London and Stockholm
2) Peak period variable tolling of specific lanes on a freeway -- so-called High Occupancy Toll (HOT) Lanes.

The first could potentially be implemented in Portland for an area encompassing the 1990s-era Fareless Square district (before this district was expanded across the river to include Lloyd Center). This district generally has the most surface street daytime traffic congestion in the city. The revenue could be used to help improve transit service for the district, by paying for some capital costs for new streetcars/LRVs, as well as the additional operational costs associated with these vehicles. More bicycle facilities could also be constructed leading into and within the district. Presumably, this would encourage many folks to stop driving and start taking transit or riding their bicycles to enter the district.

The second idea could be implemented on Portland's freeway system, and indeed, this does make some sense when taken in tandem with the idea of removing I-5 from the east bank of the Willamette. I-405, I-26 through the tunnels, I-84 through Sullivan's Gulch and I-5 through NoPo and the Terwilliger Curves could all have congestion pricing applied to them. This charge could help pay for the capital costs associated with the removal of I-5, and perhaps then with the capping of the freeways and the building of parks, bike lanes and neighborhood centers on top of them. Call it a citywide freeway mitigation program.

What the program needs, apparently, is a strong advocate to make it happen.

Commissioner Sam Adams... are you listening?


Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Mercedes announces new 42mpg 170hp Bluetec. But where is the Bluetec Hybrid?

According to the Wired autopia blog, Mercedes has just announced a Vision C 220 Bluetec. "Mercedes says its 125 kW / 170 hp engine manages to get a hundred km (not miles, so don't get too excited) out of 5.5 litres of diesel. "

To answer the question that every American reader will have about this announcement, here's the answer:

According to the figures above, the Vision C 220 Bluetec will get 18.2 kilometers per liter, which is about 42.8 miles per gallon, out of its 170hp 4-cylinder diesel engine.

That's great. So, why not make it a plug-in hybrid? The thing would f*cking smoke if it had a decent electric engine running in parallel with that diesel!! We're talking... probably around 80 mpg, perhaps, just by going to hybrid, maybe more like 120 if there's a lot of city driving using plugged-in battery power?

So, riddle me this, Dr. Z: Why hasn't MBZ created a hybrid vehicle, much less a plug-in hybrid vehicle?

When might we expect the first plug-in Bluetec hybrid?

Longtime readers of this blog will know that I have been advocating for a plug-in diesel hybrid for some time. Perhaps Mercedes will be able to use this Bluetec technology to ultimately build such a vehicle?

Or, maybe it will be Toyota that finally produces the first such vehicle? They have reportedly already produced a diesel-hybrid truck, but it cost $10,000 more than its non-hybrid counterpart.

But for good ole' MBZ, where a car costs $41,000 anyways, what's another $10k between friends? If a diesel-hybrid vehicle could be produced that came with a 10-year, 500,000-mile warranty to justify the extra expense, and a financing plan to boot, I bet people would buy it.

After all, according to the above article,
"A study by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Laboratory for Energy and the Environment found that even with aggressive research, fuel-cell cars won't beat diesel hybrids on total energy use or greenhouse gas emissions by 2020."
So, somebody will make a diesel-electric hybrid. Maybe a lot of somebodies. Volkswagen is also working on it:

Volkswagen will enter an experimental diesel hybrid car at the Michelin Challenge Bibendum in Shanghai next month, a contest for alternative powertrain vehicles.

"The technology is there and has been well known for years. The problem with hybrid is the battery technology," a VW spokesman said, noting no one yet has come up with a hybrid battery that lasts as long as the car it powers.
So, if battery technology really is the sticking point right now, then perhaps we will see progress soon. Toyota has already announced plans to switch to Lithion-Ion batteries for its third-generation hybrid vehicles, due out in 2008 or 2009, a move that they expect will bring the cost of hybrid vehicles down to the level of other vehicles, while extending battery life and increasing efficiency.

The potential of diesel-hybrid technology is huge. University of San Diego engineering professor Jim Burns has reportedly developed a $60,000 diesel-hybrid sports car that gets 80 mpg and does 0-60mph in 4.3 neck-jerking seconds. He says that if he gets 10,000 orders, he'll mass-produce the vehicle.

Finally, according to the WSJ, a French consortium, using batteries from Wisconsin, will be producing an electric van for the French postal fleet, and hope to have a plug-in diesel hybrid version of the van for sale to the public by 2010.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

For Bicycles: Stop Signs = Yield, and Traffic Lights = Stop Signs!!

Let's expand Idaho's bicycle code nationwide! Or at least to Oregon. And then California. And see what happens next.

The law intends to ease passage of bicyclists through controlled intersections (those with lights or stop signs) when cross traffic is not an issue.

Here's what it says:

49-720. STOPPING -- TURN AND STOP SIGNALS. (1) A person operating a
bicycle or human-powered vehicle approaching a stop sign shall slow down and,
if required for safety, stop before entering the intersection. After slowing
to a reasonable speed or stopping, the person shall yield the right-of-way to
any vehicle in the intersection or approaching on another highway so closely
as to constitute an immediate hazard during the time the person is moving
across or within the intersection or junction of highways, except that a
person after slowing to a reasonable speed and yielding the right-of-way if
required, may cautiously make a turn or proceed through the intersection
without stopping.
(2) A person operating a bicycle or human-powered vehicle approaching a
steady red traffic control light shall stop before entering the intersection
and shall yield to all other traffic. Once the person has yielded, he may
proceed through the steady red light with caution. Provided however, that a
person after slowing to a reasonable speed and yielding the right-of-way if
required, may cautiously make a right-hand turn. A left-hand turn onto a
one-way highway may be made on a red light after stopping and yielding to
other traffic.

Basically, it says that bicyclists can roll through stop signs, and proceed through red lights after coming to a full stop, if doing so is safe and doesn't cause a conflict with vehicles who already have established a legal ROW path through the intersection.

Why not? Just codifies into law what is already standard practice for many cyclists in major cities anyway. If connected with a simple public safety outreach campaign to publicize the new law, it could be revolutionary for bicyclists. I would also suggest that the following sign be gradually phased in at intersections, especially in conjunction with already-existing stop signs. It would ideally be posted below the stop sign, and would be smaller. It would mean two things:

1) Stop signs equal yield signs for bicycles.
2) Vehicles should yield to bicycles.

This should help to clarify the situation to everybody involved:

Update (Feb. 15th, 2007):

There's a lively discussion concerning this very topic on bikeportland, featuring both pro and con arguments related to changing the law so that bicyclists could treat stop signs as yields signs and traffic lights as stop signs (if, at the discretion of the bicyclist, this was a safe thing to do given conditions). It's interesting to point out that the con argument winds up supporting the law change, but wanting it to be accompanied by increased penalties for failing to yield and for outright blowing a light -- while the pro article just wants the law changed. You'll have to read the articles to see what I mean.

Also, a research paper from UC Berkeley makes a very compelling case, based on physics, for changing the way that bicycles relate to stop signs (either removing some stop signs along bike routes, or allowing bicycles to treat them as yield signs).

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Victory in Anbar Province? Vision for Iraq?

Check out this powerpoint presentation. And pass it on:

This post gives some detail and background on the soldier who created the presentation:

It's simple genius at its best. And it's too bad that he got killed by a roadside bomb, though that event may have provided the publicity that has made this thing available for us to view.



Monday, February 12, 2007

Open letter to Speaker Pelosi, encouraging immediate impeachment of President Bush

Dear Speaker Pelosi,

I believe that the impeachment process needs to regain the credibility that it lost under Republican rule, and that President Bush is the ideal poster child for this effort. His initiatives, policies, proposals and history are not only in every way at odds with what I consider to be accepted morality, but they do a dis-service to America and at worst expose him as a traitor to his own country. His criminality needs to be punished.

He and his administrative team, including the vice-president, must be removed from office in an orderly, timely and responsible manner that restores the confidence of this country in the constitutional rule of law and specifically the process of impeachment.

This message must be responsibly sent as soon as possible to restore the respect of the rest of the world for the rule of democracy in this country.

Yours truly,
Mr. Garlynn G. Woodsong, Esq.