Sunday, June 29, 2014

The Wonderful Chaos of International Travel

Traveling overseas can be chaotic and frustrating. Flying has become much more complicated and annoying. While much of this is due to post-9/11 security measures (and paranoia), it is also the result of increasing automatization. Just as we finally get used to printing our boarding passes at home, we must learn a new trick: how to check our bags without human assistance. Soon there will be NO humans left at airport counters. Soon it will be impossible to talk to anyone at an airline office. Everything will have to be done online.

Once you get overseas, you experience the byzantine rules for shopping and sightseeing. In Rome, Paris, Amsterdam and most other European tourist Meccas, you can buy a pass that will let you visit many attractions for a fixed price. For example, the “Roma Pass” costs about 35 euros and it is valid for three days for an unlimited number of sights and museums, plus free transportation. Read more...

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

The Italian Traffic Ticket

A few months after my wife and I returned from Italy a couple of years ago, we got an annoying letter from the Rome police department: a traffic citation telling us that we owed 306 Euros just for the ticket notification, plus the fine itself in an amount yet to be determined. Shit! The total bill could end up costing us over $700.

Worse yet: We had not driven a car in Rome! It was a bum rap. They had the wrong guy!

I couldn’t ignore the letter. The arms of European law have gotten a lot longer in recent years. Long gone are the days when you could rent a car anywhere in Europe and commit all sorts of traffic violations with impunity. In the digital age, nothing escapes the authorities anymore. Whether in the Netherlands or in Italy, in France or in Spain, if there is an outstanding fine you forgot to pay on your last trip, they know about it. The next time you land in Amsterdam, Rome, Paris or Madrid and you go through passport control, they WILL arrest you.

It happened to my brother-in-law when he flew to Holland a few years ago. No sooner had he landed than he was handcuffed by two huge Teutonic policemen, because he had forgotten to pay a speeding ticket incurred on his previous visit to that country. He offered to pay on the spot by credit card, but cash was required. The two giant albinos accompanied him to the nearest ATM. After he paid the stiff fine (grown large due to accumulated interest and administrative costs), they uncuffed him and wished him a hearty welcome to the Netherlands. Read more...

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

You Reap what You Sow

It’s easy to blame “Washington”, “Congress”, "Corrupt Corporations'. But with our actions and our vote, we have gotten what we wished for. Pogo said it long ago: 'we have met the enemy, and he is US.'

Complain, complain, complain
That is the name of the game.

We want things quick, easy and cheap
But as you sow, so shall you reap

Now we complain, complain, complain
About our world going down the drain

We want to have a finger in the pie
Of everything made under the sky

From additives to seatbelt safety
Expecting mistrust and dishonesty

Friday, June 20, 2014

The 'Debate' over Iraq: Insanity vs. Reason

As predicted, Iraq is collapsing. The country was never viable. Its borders were established artificially by the colonial powers during the first half of the 20th century, in documents like the Sykes-Picot Agreement between Britain and France in 1916 and the British Balfour Declaration in 1917. Artificial multi-ethnic countries can be held together by dictators (Saddam Hussein in Iraq, Tito in Yugoslavia, etc.), but otherwise they often break apart.

Vice President Biden was right all along: partitioning could be the best solution. Let the Kurds go. Biden, by the way, has long been wise and knowledgeable, both in domestic and foreign policy. The fact that he is often derided as a buffoon by the media is ridiculous and contrary to fact.

The real buffoons are the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld-Wolfowitz neo-con gang that got us into the Iraq war. This should not be open to discussion. Yet there IS a discussion and that is preposterous. There is “DEBATE” about (1)whether or not the US should go back into Iraq, and (2) who was right - the neo-cons or those opposed to the Iraq war, like President Obama!

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Thomas Piketty: Capital in the 21st century

Piketty has caused an international panic. The camps are predictable: he has been criticized vehemently by the Right, including the London Financial Times and the Wall Street Journal, and he is being defended by progressives, for example by Paul Krugman. Clearly, Piketty is a threat to the plutocracy. But as you will see, I agree with Krugman that Piketty is fundamentally correct.

Thomas Piketty is the author of the voluminous 'Capital in the 21st Century', a book on economics and the growing inequality between the rich and the poor. This unassuming professor, who looks more like a schoolboy than a formidable economist, has taken the world by storm. His book contains an incredible collection of historical data that shows that the extreme concentration of wealth that was so typical of the 19th century, the Belle Epoque (1871-1914) is coming back in full force to haunt us in the 21st century. Read more...

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Beyond Einstein: Could Scotty Beam you up Instantaneously?

I am a hack when it comes to physical science. Nevertheless, I have long been fascinated by astronomy and quantum mechanics. I remember being mesmerized by popularizations of science such as Carl Sagan’s Cosmos, as were “billions and billions” (joke) of other people.

I’ll also confess that I still watch reruns of the first generation Star Trek (Does that make me a Trekkie?).

For example, on August 25, 2009, I published a post on this blog titled  What does "E=mc square" mean? And  on October 21, 2009, I wrote  Will We ever Travel to the Stars?

In that article, I pointed out that even if we were to double the speed of our currently most advanced spacecrafts to, say, 100,000 miles per hour, it would take an astronaut 29,000 years to reach the nearest star (Alpha Centauri), which is 25 trillion miles away. This is as much time as has lapsed since Cro-Magnon man. I concluded that, while we may not be completely earth-bound, we are certainly the prisoners of the solar system - FOREVER. Read more...

Monday, June 16, 2014

Is Scarcity a Fallacy? Part Two

By Tom and Madeleine Kando

In our previous post, we introduced the environmental debate raging between what Matt Ridley calls the Ecologists and the Economists in his April 25 Wall Street Journal article 'The Scarcity Fallacy'. We wrote that this is the familiar debate between what is better called environmental Optimists and Pessimists, or Malthusians and Anti-Malthusian, or Environmentalists and Anti-environmentalists. We presented the “optimistic” position, listing and discussing nine of their arguments.

Today, we present the alternative position - that of the (neo-)Malthusians, or the ”pessimists.” This is basically the environmental position, and it is also our own position, by and large. The best-known modern-day neo-Malthusian is Stanford’s Paul Ehrlich. Here are some of the major arguments:

We concluded the first half of this article by pointing out the difficulty of predicting the future by studying the past. However, the pessimists remind us that probabilistically the past is the best predictor of the future. Someone who has often been a klutz is more likely to be a klutz again than someone who has not been one. And there are things that are 99.9999% sure to happen. For example, it IS a certainty that we will run out of fossil fuels.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Is Scarcity a Fallacy? Part One

By Tom and Madeleine Kando

On April 25, Matt Ridley wrote an article in the Wall Street Journal titled "The Scarcity Fallacy." 
Ridley once again revives the debate which has been raging between (neo-) Malthusians and ant-Malthusians at least since the 1960s.

Ridley’s article is very good, yet it cries for critical analysis: He calls the two camps  the Ecologists and the Economists.

Ridley uses to term “Ecologist” as a synonym for  “environmentalist,” i.o.w. anyone who is worried about continued population growth, energy use, and the resultant harm to the planetary environment. He employs the label “Economists” in  reference to those who do NOT share that worry, and who  feel that our technological ingenuity will help us avert ecological  catastrophe.
These labels are somewhat misleading, because economists are by no means all anti- environmentalists. Only two economic schools  see continued  growth and  technology as the solutions to poverty and to other problems: Free-Market Capitalism, and Marxism. But many other economists disagree. Better dichotomies would be Optimists vs. Pessimists, or  Malthusians vs. Anti-Malthusians, or Environmentalists vs. Anti-environmentalists.