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Journal Journal: Atlantic Mega-Tusnami to Hit North America

Scientists at the Benfield Hazard Research Center have determined that a Mega-tsunami will hit the coast of North America when the Cumbre Vieja Volcano and part of the Island of La Palma in the Canary Islands collapse into the sea. The wave hitting North America will be up to 50 meters (164 feet) high and surge up to 20km (12.4 miles) inland while Brazil will see 40 meter waves with up to 100 meter waves on the West Saharan shore (ILM Rendition). Insurance losses are estimated to be in the multi-trillions, yet the landslide has been completely unmonitored since 1997. The BBC has an FAQ on the Mega-tsunami.

[edit: rejected by Slashdot 2004-12-28 17:22:50]
User Journal

Journal Journal: Time for EU to unite against US threat

While the Ohio poll turns into a latter-day Florida and the Kerry camp rightly hangs in there until all the votes are counted, it is not looking good for the Democrats. It looks like we are in for another four years of marching towards terminal decline in America. Here is what I see in store:
  1. At least one more war against a state that the evangelical Christian ideologues of the far right take a dislike to - probably Iran despite the democracy there and despite the strong movement in favour of reform
  2. Total carnage in the Middle East as the misguided support for Israel's illegal occupation of Palestine continues
  3. At least one more small country's democratic government deposed in favour of a more neo-conservative-friendly puppet as happened in Haiti
  4. Another attempt to depose the democratically elected president of Venezuala, Hugo Chavez. Mr Chavez survived one coup-attempt already (and there is plenty of evidence of CIA involvement in that one) and will doubtless be prepared for a second one. The Bush administration has made no secret of the fact that they do not recognise his mandate. A White House spokesman is quoted as saying that "a majority of voters" did not confer "legitimacy" on the Venezualan government. But then they would know after having lost the popular vote in 2000. Chavez is a clever guy though, and it'll be interesting to see if he can thwart any schemes to unseat him.
  5. More of the Reverse Robin Hood Syndrome, i.e. robbing from the poor and giving to the rich. Stand by for more tax cuts for billionaires while schools close left right and centre for lack of funds. In my area, three schools are closing next year in San Jose, CA. They aren't the first, and won't be the last. Cities all over America are being starved of funds for basic maintenance of infrastructure and public works projects.
  6. More incompetent handling of the war on terror. Bush let Osama Bin Ladin slip through his fingers at Tora Bora by diverting troops to his misguided adventure in Iraq. He's still out there, still influential, and still agitating for more death and destruction on US soil.
  7. Skyrocketing debt. The last time I looked at the Federal budget deficit it was around $450 bn, an all time record. Bush, who in his first state of the union address complained about government spending too much, has become the biggest spending US president EVER. He has run up more debt than the previous six presidents combined.
  8. Lack of checks or balances. With Republicans dominating the Senate, the House of Representatives, the White House, and conservative judges holding sway in the Supreme Court, there is no stopping the right-wing ideologues from doing whatever they like.
  9. Marginalisation of international institutions, contempt for treaties, and the breakdown of international law as we know it.

America now looks to be out of control, self-centred, and heading for a collision course with the rest of the world in its quest for global domination. There has never been a time when a need to counterbalance this threat has been so great.

Europe has already shown its ability to force the hand of the US on matter such as international trade, when George Bush was forced to rescind his disgraceful and illegal tarrifs on steel imports under threat of retailiatory measures that would have been imposed by the EU and designed to hurt him in key electoral states. It was a rare moment of US humility, but the sort of thing that we need to see a lot more of.

Those who are looking for a way to inspire the people of Europe into getting enthused about the benefits of greater European unity now have the perfect opportunity. A threat is there, Europe can unite against it. For the sake of the rest of the world, we must.

User Journal

Journal Journal: Service record of Repubs & Dems

  • Richard Gephardt: Air National Guard, 1965-71.
  • David Bonior: Staff Sgt., Air Force 1968-72.
  • Tom Daschle: 1st Lt., Air Force SAC 1969-72.
  • Al Gore: enlisted Aug. 1969; sent to Vietnam Jan. 1971 as an army journalist in 20th Engineer Brigade.
  • Bob Kerrey: Lt. j.g. Navy 1966-69; Medal of Honor, Vietnam.
  • Daniel Inouye: Army 1943-'47; Medal of Honor, WWII.
  • John Kerry: Lt., Navy 1966-70; Silver Star, Bronze Star with Combat V Purple Hearts.
  • John Edwards: did not serve.
  • Charles Rangel: Staff Sgt., Army 1948-52; Bronze Star, Korea.
  • Max Cleland: Captain, Army 1965-68; Silver Star & Bronze Star, Vietnam.
  • Ted Kennedy: Army, 1951-1953.
  • Tom Harkin: Lt., Navy, 1962-67; Naval Reserve, 1968-74.
  • Jack Reed: Army Ranger, 1971-1979; Captain, Army Reserve 1979-91.
  • Fritz Hollings: Army officer in WWII, receiving the Bronze Star and seven campaign ribbons.
  • Leonard Boswell: Lt. Col., Army 1956-76; Vietnam, DFCs, Bronze Stars, and Soldier's Medal.
  • Pete Peterson: Air Force Captain, POW. Purple Heart, Silver Star and Legion of Merit.
  • Mike Thompson: Staff sergeant, 173rd Airborne, Purple Heart.
  • Bill McBride: Candidate for Fla. Governor. Marine in Vietnam; Bronze Star with Combat V.
  • Gray Davis: Army Captain in Vietnam, Bronze Star.
  • Pete Stark: Air Force 1955-57
  • Chuck Robb: Vietnam
  • Howell Heflin: Silver Star
  • George McGovern: Silver Star & DFC during WWII.
  • Bill Clinton: Did not serve. Student deferments. Entered draft but received 311.
  • Jimmy Carter: Seven years in the Navy.
  • Walter Mondale: Army 1951-1953
  • John Glenn: WWII and Korea; six DFCs and Air Medal with 18 Clusters.
  • Tom Lantos: Served in Hungarian underground in WWII. Saved by Raoul Wallenberg.
  • Wesley Clark: U.S. Army, 1966-2000, West Point, Vietnam, Purple Heart, Silver Star.'Retired 4-star general.
  • John Dingell: WWII vet
  • John Conyers: Army 1950-57, Korea


  • Dennis Hastert: did not serve.
  • Tom Delay: did not serve.
  • Roy Blunt: House Majority Whip did not serve.
  • Bill Frist: did not serve.
  • Rudy Giuliani: did not serve.
  • George Pataki: did not serve.
  • Mitch McConnell: did not serve.
  • Rick Santorum: did not serve.
  • Trent Lott: did not serve.
  • Dick Cheney: did not serve. Several deferments, the last by marriage.
  • John Ashcroft: did not serve. Seven deferments to teach business.
  • Jeb Bush: did not serve.
  • Karl Rove: did not serve.
  • Saxby Chambliss: did not serve. "Bad knee." The man who attacked Max Cleland's patriotism.
  • Paul Wolfowitz: did not serve.
  • Vin Weber: did not serve.
  • Richard Perle: did not serve.
  • Douglas Feith: did not serve.
  • Eliot Abrams: did not serve.
  • Richard Shelby: did not serve.
  • Jon Kyl: did not serve.
  • Tim Hutchison: did not serve.
  • Christopher Cox: did not serve.
  • Newt Gingrich: did not serve.
  • Don Rumsfeld: served in peacetime Navy (1954-57) as aviator and flight instructor.
  • George W. Bush: six-year Nat'l Guard commitment (incomplete).
  • Ronald Reagan: due to poor eyesight, served in a non-combat role making movies.
  • Gerald Ford: Navy, WWII
  • Phil Gramm: did not serve.
  • John McCain: Silver Star, Bronze Star, Legion of Merit, Purple Heart and Distinguished Flying Cross.
  • Bob Dole: an honorable veteran.
  • Chuck Hagel: two Purple Hearts and a Bronze Star, Vietnam.
  • Jeff Sessions: Army Reserves, 1973-1986
  • JC Watts: did not serve.
  • Lindsey Graham: National Guard lawyer.
  • G.H.W. Bush: Pilot in WWII. Shot down by the Japanese.
  • Tom Ridge: Bronze Star for Valor in Vietnam.


  • Antonin Scalia: did not serve.
  • Clarence Thomas: did not serve
  • Sean Hannity: did not serve.
  • Rush Limbaugh: did not serve (4-F with a 'pilonidal cyst.')
  • Bill O'Reilly: did not serve.
  • Michael Savage: did not serve.
  • George Will: did not serve.
  • Chris Matthews: did not serve.
  • Paul Gigot: did not serve.
  • Bill Bennett: did not serve.
  • Pat Buchanan: did not serve.
  • Bill Kristol: did not serve.
  • Kenneth Starr: did not serve.
  • Michael Medved: did not serve.
User Journal

Journal Journal: Bush the Flip-Flopper 2

The next time someone criticizes John Kerry for being a flip-flopper remind them:

Bush was against campaign finance reform; now he's for it.

Bush was against a Homeland Security Department; now he's for it.

Bush was against a 9/11 commission; now he's for it.

Bush was against an Iraq WMD investigation; now he's for it.

Bush was against nation building; now he's for it.

Bush was against deficits; now he's for them.

Bush was for free trade; then he was for tariffs on steel, and now he's against them again.

Bush was against the U.S. taking a role in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; now he pushes for a "road map" and a Palestinian State.

Bush was for states' rights to decide on gay marriage; now he is for changing the Constitution to outlaw gay marriage.

Bush said he would provide money for first responders (fire, police, emergency); then he doesn't.

Bush said that "help is on the way" to the military; then he cuts their benefits and health care.

Bush claimed to be in favor of environmental protection; then he secretly approved oil drilling on Padre Island in Texas and other places and took many more anti-environmental actions.

Bush said he is the "education president;" then he refused to fully fund key education programs and rarely does his homework, such as read position papers so he will be more knowledgeable on issues.

Bush said that him being governor of Texas for six years was enough political experience to be president of the U.S.; then he criticized Sen. John Edwards for not having enough experience after Edwards had served six years in the U.S. Senate.

During the 2000 campaign, Bush said there were too many lawsuits being filed; then during the Florida recount, he was the first to file a lawsuit to stop the legal counting of votes after Gore took advantage of Florida law to ask for a recount.

On Nov. 7, 2000, the Bush campaign supported Florida county officials drawing up new copies of some 10,000 spoiled absentee votes in 26 Republican-leaning counties that the machines did not read and marking them for the candidates when they showed "clear intent;" they opposed doing the same thing after Nov. 7 when Gore asked for such recounts. Bush dominated absentee balloting in Florida by a two-to-one margin.

Bush said during the 2000 campaign that he did not have a "litmus test" for judges he appointed to be against abortion; then he mostly appointed judges who were against abortion.

In the early 1990s, Bush led a campaign to raise taxes in Arlington, Texas, to build a new baseball stadium for the team he partly owned; he later criticized politicians for supporting tax increases - after he got rich by selling the team with the new stadium to a wealthy campaign contributor.

Bush opposed the U.S. negotiating with North Korea; now he supports it.

Bush went to the racist and segregationist Bob Jones University in South Carolina; then he said he shouldn't have.

Bush said he would demand a U.N. Security Council vote on whether to sanction military action against Iraq; later Bush announced he would not call for a vote.

Bush first said the "mission accomplished" Iraqi banner was put up by the sailors; he later admitted it was done by his advance team.

Bush was for fingerprinting and photographing Mexicans who enter the U.S.; after meeting with Mexican President Fox, he decided against it.

Bush was opposed to Rice testifying in front of the 9/11 commission citing "separation of powers;" then he was for it.

Bush was against Ba'ath party members holding office or government jobs in Iraq; now he's for it.

Bush said we must not appease terrorists; then he lifted trade sanctions on admitted terrorist Mohammar Quaddafi and Pakistan, which pardoned its official who sold nuclear secrets to Iran, Libya, and North Korea.

Bush said he would wait until after the Nov. election to ask for more money for the war effort; then he decided he needed it before the election, after all.

Bush said, "Leaving Iraq prematurely would only embolden the terrorists and increase the danger to America." His administration now says that U.S. troops will pull out of Iraq when the new provisional authority asks. Then he said they'll stay "as long as needed" again. Now he's saying that the Iraqis can ask the troops to leave, and they will. Or is he?

The Bush administration officials said that the Geneva Conventions don't apply to "enemy combatants." Now they claims they do.

Bush officials said before the Iraq invasion that Iraq posed an "imminent threat" to U.S. security and that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and even nuclear weapons; after the invasion, they denied saying the word "imminent" and saying that Iraq had WMDs and nuclear weapons, even though they were caught on tape making such statements.

"The most important thing is for us to find Osama Bin Laden. It is our number one priority and we will not rest until we find him." - George W. Bush, Sept. 13, 2001

"I don't know where he is. I have no idea, and I really don't care. It's not that important. It's not our priority." - George W. Bush, March 13, 2002

Are you getting tired of this? Well, some in the American military are getting tired of this, too: "The (Bush) administration has an overly simplistic view of how and when to use our military. By not bringing in our friends and allies, they have created a mess in Iraq and are crippling our forces around the world." -Retired Admiral William Crowe, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs under Ronald Reagan


User Journal

Journal Journal: A vote for Nader is a vote for Bush 35

We don't have the luxury of Single Transferable Voting in the US, so there is no room for third parties. And even if we did, it would be irrelevant to the Presidential election because there is only one position up for grabs. So let's not kid ourselves, there may have been some similarities between the Democrats and Republicans in years gone by but we simply cannot allow the country to fall under another four years of fascist rule by this brain-dead puppet. There is no room for a third party in this election, especially when the top priority has to be making sure that all liberals, progressives, and reasonably sane people cast their votes to the candidate most likely to beat Bush. Don't throw away your vote to Nader. After all the thievery in Florida last time and the indications that this election will be every bit as close, only a handful of liberals voting for Nader could be enough to give us another four years of Bush. PLEASE don't do it!!!
User Journal

Journal Journal: Anti-US / Anti-other posts 6

Scenario 1. A post appears that pokes fun at the French, or the Germans, or the Brits, or any other nationality. Hell, it might even make light of some terrorist atrocity commited in any of those countries. How does it get modded? 'Funny.'

Scenario 2. A post appears that pokes fun at the USA or maybe just the US government (which, it should be noted, is a very different thing from the USA itself). How does it get modded? 'Flamebait.'

I see these double standards all the time on /.

Well I am going on a mission to metamod these bozos as 'unfair' until the /. crew learns that if you can't take it, you shouldn't give it. Who's with me?

User Journal

Journal Journal: Easy come, easy go

If you haven't figured out by now I'm pretty fickle with my friends and foes list. Here's my very strange comment options (at the moment):

Threshold: 1
Highlight Threshold: 1
Reason Modifier:
Insightful: -1
Interesting: -1
Funny: -2
Informative: -1
Offtopic: -5
Flamebait: -6
Troll: -6
Redundant: -2
Friend: +2
Fan: 0
Foe: 3
Freak: 0
Friends of Friends: +1
Foes of Friends: -1
Anonymous Modifier: -1
Karma Bonus: 0
Subscriber Bonus: -2
New User Modifier: percentage: 2% modifier: -1
Long Comment Bonus: modifier: -1

User Journal

Journal Journal: Hurling - The fastest field game in the world

A player must be able to sprint like a 100 metres champion, catch a high-flying ball (as hard as a baseball) in his weak hand with no mitt to help him, twist and turn like a basketball player, avoid being shoulder-charged into the ground, and be able to swing his stick while running to hit the ball in mid-air with a forehanded or backhanded swing, and in both cases with pinpiont accuracy. He must be able to hit the ball on the ground like a field hockey player, scoop the ball up off the ground with his stick to get it into his hand, and if he wants to take more than three steps with the ball in his posession, he must balance it on the end of his stick. The solid wood sticks swing at head-height, padding is non-existent, helmets are optional.

Am I describing some strange version of a game of accelerated, suicidal, ariel field hockey? No. This is Hurling, Ireland's national game and the fastest game on grass, period.

It is a two thousand year-old sport that has been played in Ireland in one form or another since pre-christian times. It originated as a way of training warriors for battle, and this heritage is reflected in the almost militaristic pageantry of the All-Ireland championships and the severe intensity at which the sport is played. The speed is breathtaking, and the violence is a little too much for some, but the skills involved in controling the ball make it an absolute spectacle to watch.

For a visual description go Here.

For a more detailed history go Here.

User Journal

Journal Journal: Why sprawl in the US is bad for the world 5

The sleepy suburbs of the US are causing mayhem, death, and destruction around the world. Period.

Let's start with the causes of sprawl before we deal with the effects. As I said elsewhere in my journal (skip this and the next paragraph if you have already read it), in the post war period, it made a lot of sense to seperate industry from residential areas since production in those days was a dirty business in most cases. So industry was zoned off in its own corner of town and lo-and-behold, quality of life improved for the residents. Sensation.

Where it started to go horribly wrong was when the planners decided to zone everything from everything, and the spectre of single-use-zoning, aka the BANANA (Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anything) rules came into existence. Offices go here, factories go there, shops go somewhere else, and all the houses go in a residential area. Makes for neat and tidy diagrams on paper, but in practice it pushes common everyday uses out of walking distance of each other. We all have to sleep, work, shop and play at different times of the day. Put these things beyond walking distance of each other, and you effectively force everyone to drive just to get through the day.

Now, the single-use-zoning golden calf isn't the only thing that causes sprawl. There is in American society an inherent undercurrent of anti-urbanism. It's nothing new, it dates back as far as Jefferson. "I view large cities," he wrote, "as pestilential to the morals, the health, and the liberties of man." This was a commonly held view at the time, and the trend in American cities was for the wealthy to move to big mansions on the outskirts, whereas in Europe the well-off people preferred to stay downtown right at the heart of things and it was the poor who were pushed to the outskirts. Anti-urbanism in the US has never gone away - as recently as last year I saw some people with a stall at Sunnyvale farmer's market complaining about some tall buildings that had been built towards the end of the dot-com boom in the centre of Sunnyvale. They didn't like the fact that they were so tall, that they prevented sunlight from getting in (which they didn't), that they were too close together (how close is too close?), all manner of subjective and half-baked complaints. There were no complaints about a low-rise sprawling development only a block away where about five identical, boring, two-story office buildings had been built in the traditional suburban manner, i.e. surrounded by acres of parking spaces and some landscaped footpaths where nobody walks and where the whole thing goes dead after five o'clock. Anecdotes aside, the majority of Americans still prefer to live in the suburbs - the image of the busy bustling city street is perceived in a negative light. It draws to mind images of the Bronx and slums of older cities, while the existence of successful, vibrant, and exciting downtown areas (like parts of San Francisco or Times Square in NYC) do not feature prominently in their thinking.

The main problem I have with life in the suburbs is that they are soulless. There are neither urban nor rural, they combine the worst of both worlds. I thought that the whole point of a city was that everything is close to hand, and as a trade-off you sacrifice a bit of space. Well in the suburbs you have less space than you would in the countryside (albeit a little more space than in an urban apartment), but your location in the middle of a sea of houses puts you so far away from amenities like shops, resturaunts and the like that you might as well be living away out in the sticks. If you have to get in your car and drive a mile just to buy a postage stamp, what benefit is there to living in a suburb?

So how does this affect the rest of the world? Simple. The dominance of suburbs forces increasing numbers of people to drive more than they would if they lived in a traditional, high-density urban environment where daily needs are close at hand and mass-transit offers an advantage over the private car. This in no small part contributes to America's ultra-high energy consumption.

Figures from about the USA:

Total Energy Consumption (2002E): 98.3 quadrillion Btu (2003E): 98.1 quadrillion Btu (25% of world total energy consumption)
Energy-Related Carbon Dioxide Emissions (2002E): 5,796 million metric tons of carbon (about 24% of world total carbon emissions)
Per Capita Energy Consumption (2003E): 338 million Btu

So the country with about 4% of the world's population consumes 25% of its energy. A bit of an imbalance.

Our dependence on oil is interwoven into our society as comprehensively as slavery was in the old south. The USA's dependence on oil is so desperate that it must be maintained at all costs. This leads to desperate measures to ensure that the oil flows. It leads to alleged CIA involvement in coup attempts like the one in Venezuala a few years aback. It leads to war with Iraq. It leads to our leaders cosying up to the Bin Laden family and repressive undemocratic regimes like the House of Saud. It leads to a military presence in the Middle East that draws resentment from a certain other member of the Bin Laden family with whom I'm sure we're all familiar. It leads to a foreign policy that creates enemies, and breeds mistrust and resentment around the world.

This is the price we are paying for our suburban utopia. We're not paying for it in our gas taxes (which only cover a third of the cost of motoring). We're not paying for it through our other taxes that are spent on urban renewal and road-building. We're paying for it in the lives of American servicemen. We're paying for it in the lives of whoever is going to die in the next terrorist atrocity. We as a people have got to wake up to the fact that our everyday choices have an effect on others not just at home, but abroad as well. We are not an independant untouchable island. We are part of a global system where our fates are intertwined no matter how much we want to believe that we can do what we like without affecting anyone else.

I am not suggesting that everyone should be forced to live downtown or that our suburbs should be bulldozed and replaced by traditional urban streets. I am suggesting that where demand for high-density living exists, it should be met. I am suggesting that mixed-use zoning should be allowed back into our lives and let the market decide. So far the evidence suggests that there is a place for mixed-use developments. Santana Row in San Jose is one example of how the ability to walk to the shops is one that people are willing to pay a premium for. Enough of this communistic parcelling off of land into neat, boring, dead blocks of mediocrity. It's time to let people live in vibrant streets if they want, and let them show to the rest of us that the urban street is not evil.

User Journal

Journal Journal: Why roundabouts are better intersections 28

My last journal entry got a good response, so here's one in a similar vein.

Interesctions in the US, especially in California, are of the four-way type. You either have a four-way stop, or a four-way traffic-light junction. These are both inefficient and they are death-traps. Why?

Let's start with the inefficiency. At larger suburban intersections the cycles on the lights are very long. If you stop just as a light turns red and you're waiting for the left arrow, you can be sitting there for a good few minutes. Traffic is going to back up behind you. This can create problems further back at the previous junction, so to avoid it, what do we do? We build extra lanes, not to accomodate all that moving traffic, but to store stationery vehicles stuck at the lights. This contributes to the horrors of sprawl as well as being a monumental waste of resources.

From the motorist's point of view, it turns his journey into one big stop-and-go session. No wonder automatic gearboxes are so popular in America, the amount of stop-n-go driving is unreal! And regardless of whether your transmission is automatic or manual, stop-n-go driving is not good for your engine, fuel consumption, or the environment.

Now let's take the safety issue. How does a 4-way stop-light encourage you to drive? That's right, it gives you an incentive to speed through it at the most dangerous time, i.e. when the light has just turned amber. I read that a third of all crashes happen at intersections. This is not one bit surprising.

Then you have the four-way-stop. These are fine, but what happens when you come to a stop sign where the cross-traffic does not stop, but there's no sign saying so? Someone approaches the stop sign, stops, sees a car coming from the side, assumes that he has right of way, moves off, *BANG!*

So. What are the alternatives? One word. Roundabouts.

Anyone who has been to Europe will have seen them because they're everywhere. For the uninitiated, these are 'yield-at-entry' traffic circles. As you approach the roundabout, you slow down as it flairs off to the right (in a country where you drive on the right) and you approach a yield sign. If nothing is coming around the roundabout towards you, you drive on. If something is coming around the circle, you yield to him. In fact, you don't have to stop, it's better if you slow down and just fit yourself into any gap that comes around. Once on the circle, you drive anti-clockwise without stopping because everyone else approaching the roundabout now has to yield to you and you keep on going until you're off the roundabout and on your merry way.

It works on the principle that it's unlikely that a large number of vehicles are going to be going to be going in the same direction, so you never have to wait very long for a gap to open up. If a car is coming around but shoots off the roundabout into the exit before yours, that buys enough time for you to drive on.

Advantages? Well for one thing the traffic overall flows a lot better. You seldom have to stop, so there's no need for big wide roads to store stationery vehicles. They are also safer than 4-ways believe it or not. Studies show a reduction in the number of accidents where 4-ways are replaced by roundabouts. Reason? Well instead of giving the motorist an incentive to speed through to make the light, one is forced to slow down because of the curvature of the thing. Also, there are fewer points where a collision can occur. On a 4-way there are over 30 potential collision points, twice as many as on a roundabout.

Disadvantages? Bigger roundabouts can be difficult for cyclists to navigate. Also, because traffic flows more or less continuously, they are not suitable for urban centres where large numbers of pedestrians need to be able to cross the street. Lack of familiarity when they are first introduced would be a problem, but one that is easily overcome with public education campaigns.

User Journal

Journal Journal: Why widening roads is not the answer 17

There's a section in the San Jose Mercury News called 'Roadshow' where readers can write in for answers to their questions about anything relating to the roads in Silicon Valley. A common question is "My commute along highway [blah] has gotten very slow lately. When is this road going to get widened?" More often than not, there is a plan to widen said road. Public policy in California seems to focus on adding extra lanes almost as if it's a requisite solution to congestion. But it's neither requisite nor is it a solution. Here's why.

In the 1980s they built a huge orbital motorway around London called the M25. At the time it was hailed by the British tabloid press as a 'traffic jam-buster' and 'the end of congestion in London at last.' Within a few years it became known as 'the world's longest car park (parking lot)' and a 'complete disaster' as well as an infinite number of other negative descriptions. It was this monstrosity that propelled the concept of 'induced traffic' into the collective consciousness of the average Brit.

With Induced Traffic, adding extra roadspace leads not to a reduction in congestion, but an increase in traffic which in turn leads to an increase in congestion right back up to the same levels as it was at before the new roads or extra lanes were built. No sooner do you build a road than it fills with vehicles.

Reasons? There are many. People who live close to their place of work (usually in a city) frequently have to pay more for their property. To take advantage of cheaper property, they move out of town. Growth further away from town leads to an increase in traffic, leading to extra demand for roadspace. So the road is given extra lanes supposedly to ease congestion from the outlying location. The commute temporarily gets a bit quicker. People living in town want to take advantage of cheap property further out as well as the quicker commute from there. So they move out in huge numbers, and hence the traffic to and from the remote location increases at peak time. A vicious circle.

Bay Area gridlock was supposed to result from the refusal to re-build the elevated freeways that had collapsed in San Francisco after the Loma Prieta earthquake. It didn't happen. The motorists who were supposed to clog up the city's streets ended up making other arrangements. They took alternative rooutes, rode their bikes, took the bus, took the tram, took the BART, took the cable car.

So it's obvious that roadspace has no correlation with good traffic flow. If it did, Los Angeles, where a full third of the city's surface area is dedicated to roads, highways and parking lots, would be the least congested city in the world. It isn't.


Well for one thing, roads are free at the point of use. In other words, this limited resource is rationed out by queueing as opposed to price, something that should have disappeared with the Soviet era. The congestion charge in London has been a huge success. Before it was brought in, traffic in London proceeded at the same average speed that it had done 100 years previously when it was propelled by horses. Charge people for the privilege of getting into central London and they start making sure that the journey is absolutely necessar or else they use more efficient mass transit.

However, mass transit only works efficiently when urban density is above a certain level. In low-density Silicon Valley, getting around by public transport will take you two to three times as long as driving. This sort of low-density sprawl is fairly typical of California. Why? Well it's kind of a long story, but to cut it short, after WWII it was decided that industry (which was pretty dirty in those days) should be moved from residential areas. The policy worked and was a gret success. But then the planners got a bit carried away with it. They decided to seperate everything from everything. Houses go here. Shops got here. Offices go over here. Industry goes back there. Single Use Zoning, aka the BANANA (Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anything) rules took hold and we were left with a situation in which the suburbs replaced the traditional urban environment. Now, when a suburbanite runs out of milk, he has to strap himself into a three-tonne vehicle and create a cloud of pollution to take himself to the nearest 'convenience' (sic) store. Whereas someone in an older city like San Francisco usually just steps out of his apartment and walks to the little grocery store across the street.

All these different uses, shopping, living, working, playing, are something that we all do at different times of the day. Put them out of walking distance of each other, and you give the people a huge amount of driving to do just to meet basic daily needs. Widening roads to accomodate them just spreads everything out further, another vicious circle.

So let's get back to basics and build our cities in the tried and tested way they have been built since time began, i.e. put everything close at hand. That's kinda the whole point of cities anyway.

Let's have a fairer tax on fuel so that the full cost of motoring is included in the price of petrol. US motorists only pay a third of the cost of road-building through their gas taxes, the rest comes from federal income tax. Cut income tax, increase petrol tax. Furthermore, use that tax to invest more in efficient mass-transit and less in inefficient roads.

Currently Amtrak is expected to pay for both rolling-stock AND railway infrastructure. It is not a level playing-field with the federally-subsidised interstate freeways. Let's level it. Let's have proper subsidies for railway infrastructure and open up the railway operations to privatisation and competition. With the tracks and signalling paid for by Uncle Sam, the privatised railway operators might actually be able to make a profit whilst improving services.

As well as roads, the airline industry is also unfairly subsidised. Time to tighten the purse-strings and let the market go to work for the benefit of the consumer. Time to provide a bit more choice as to how people want to live and get around.

User Journal

Journal Journal: Yet another person complaining about the mod system

Back when I didn't have a job, I could spend a lot of time on Slashdot, looking through all of the sections and reading a good deal of the comments and even writing a few. I even meta-modded every day. I never got mod points.

Now that I'm employed, I have about 4 hours between when I get home and I go to sleep. I only have time to browse the front page and maybe look at the highly-rated comments on one or two of the more interesting topics. Meta-modding? Forget about it.

I have gotten mod points three times in as many weeks.

One of the factors Slashcode uses to hand out mod points is how often you visit. Those who visit the site as often as the average member of the slashdot population are more likely to moderate, with those who visit a lot and those who visit rarely being less likely.

The side effect of this is that people who actually have enough time to moderate can't, and those who don't have enough time have to anyway. Is it any wonder that we get misleading and incorrect comments modded up? The mods simply don't have the time to check, they're just modding stuff up that looks informative so they can get rid of their points! What I usually do is look through the comments history of my friends (I usually mark someone a friend if they say something I like) and fans and mod up anything interesting they've said lately.

So what I'm saying is this: Points should be given to people who have enough time to really dig through the posts. Sure, give 'em to the obsessive reloaders. If they're just looking for fr157 p075!!!1 they won't be able to mod that article anyway.
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Journal Journal: Why slashdotters really hate Flash 14

Slashdotters hate Flash. Period. Try posting anything in favour of Flash anytime the subject comes up and you'll see what I mean. I even saw one guy go as far as to say that 'Flash can only be used for evil.' Gawd! Tell us how you really feel!

Here are the criticisms that they come up with:

  1. Flash is bad because it is used for annoying animations that get in the way of website usability
  2. Flash is bad because it is used to spring music on people without warning
  3. Flash is bad because it hogs the processor

Let's take criticism 1.

The web is full of websites that have annoying popup and popunder ads. I find popunders to be the most annoying thing in all creation. What happens is an ad pops up and blocks my view of what I'm reading. I go Ctrl+w or Apple+w to close the popup. Just before my command makes it, javascript kicks in and puts the popup under the window I'm reading from, and I lose the window I was reading only to be left with an ad for Netflix that I don't need to read because I already subscribe to them!

I'm sorry, but that is the most annoying thing on the web today, not Flash. So where is the chorus of anti-javascript hatred? Where are the claims that javascript 'can only be used for evil?' Nowhere.


Because javascript is something that slashdotters feel more comfortable with. It fits in with their way of doing things. It's a programmer's language. Programming-types use it, therefore it must be good, regardless of how much it is abused and badly-used. But Flash is a whole different matter. Flash was initially used by graphic-design type people. And of course those bozos don't know what they're doing, not like us geniuses, eh?

So what happens is we have two technologies, both of them used well and abused in roughly equal amounts. One is used by programmes, the other is (supposedly) used by artists. Well programmers are better than artists, therefore 'our' technology is okay but 'their' technology sucks. Stands to reason doesn't it? Never mind the fact that it's not the technology's fault that it gets abused, let's blame the technology anyway while saying nothing about the people on our own side of the fence who abuse javascript.

Moreover, Flash has moved on from the days of animations. In fact, go to any Macromedia user group and confess to creating animations and the response will be 'shame on you!' Flash is nowadays used for querying databases and displaying data without refreshing a whole page of HTML. For example, e-Trade used to have a little Flash app on their website that let you query prices of a particular stock. You type in the ticker symbol, press the button, and after a second or two the price would appear in the swf without having reloaded a single byte of HTML. A bit more efficient than redisplaying the whole page for the sake of updating one little string of characters. This is a whole different approach to web-based applications. The metaphor of the 'page' is inefficient for complex interactive sites like Travelocity or Netflix etc.

Oh, and Flash is also the most sophisticated web-based video-playback platform yet developed.

Criticism 2: "Flash is bad because it springs music on people without warning."

Well Flash isn't the only technology capable of doing that. I seem to remember java applets doing that to me in years gone by. Once again, I didn't hear any complaints from slashdotters about the evils of Java. The fallacy behind this criticism is the same as that behind criticism 1 above. It's not the technology's fault that it gets abused from time to time.

Criticism 3: "It hogs the processor."

Okay, I'll give you that. But for Joe Consumer surfing the net in his living-room, I don't think he's gonna be aware of any problem unless he's doing a bit of finite element analysis in the background.

Bottom line: Don't blame the technology. Flash has moved on from creating animations. In fact a lot of Flash stuff is now being done without making any use of the timeline. I've seen some people create apps in which they never show the stage. The developer tools are getting more powerful with each release, it has evolved into a fully-fledged software development environment. If you're a programming type and you had doubts about Flash before, I invite you to look again and get into it. You might actually like it if you opened your mind and gave it a chance!

User Journal

Journal Journal: Too much democracy?

Government of the people, by the people, for the people is a great idea. However it starts to fall down a bit if the people are as thick as two short planks. Take California's voters micromanaging the budget for example. Who are the voters to tell legislators how to handle the complex financial issues of the day? What's the point in electing people to the assembly on the one hand, if we just turn around and tie their hands and prevent them from doing their job on the other?

Voters yesterday voted down Proposition 56. This would have reduced the required majority to raise taxes from 67% to 55%. In effect, one of the worst effects of Prop 13 is still in force: an anti-tax minority effectively has the final say over whether or not taxes should be raised. What's so democratic about that?

User Journal

Journal Journal: Standing of people in your mind

I hate when you know someone for a while and give them a certain standing in your mind, and then all of a sudden they say something which sends your high view of them free-falling. such as when you find out someone is a racist :-(

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