Saturday, October 27, 2007

More craziness.......

Certified nut Travis Pastrana went skydiving WITHOUT A PARACHUTE. It was part of a choreographed stunt, and it worked. Check out the link above to see more.

Also: somebody DROVE from NYC to LA in less than 32 hours.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

If you read only 1 article this week... (Legrain on immigration)

Courtesy of the Freakonomics blog is an insightful and broad appeal for open immigration by Philipe Legrain (link above).

It's hard to believe that a nation made great by open immigration now has such restrictive immigration policies - and the potential for even more restrictive policies. As Legrain outlines, though, these policies are in spite of overwhelming economic evidence in support of more open immigration here in the USA, and driven by irrational fear and xenophobia.

Thanks, Philippe, for outlining the benefits of more open immigration, and counterpoints to the typical arguments against easier immigration. (Amazingly, he does this without really relying on the practical argument about today's USA immigrants ("how you gonna send 20M people home?", nor does he really promote the macroeconomic need of the USA for immigrant labor.)

One conclusion that hit me after reading the Legrain article: instead of trying to justify more immigration, the conversation should be turned on it's hear, with the xenophobes compelled to justify why the current restrictive immigration policies make sense. I have a feeling that the xenophobic answer is limited to "Because!" and nothing more.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Un-BEAR-ably good hike....

I went on a 10-mile hike up on Skyline Drive (Shenandoah National Park) this past Sunday and encountered 5 different bears over 4 hours of hiking.

The hike - a circuit thru Riprap Hollow and Wildcat Ridge (see link above for more info) was stimulating (if that's what you can call hiking 3 miles straight up!) and stunningly beautiful, as these pictures can attest.

The highlight of the hike was rounding a corner to find 3 young bears foraging and playing. I hid out of sight about 30 feet away for about 10 minutes watching them, then snapped a few pictures after one bear chased another up a tree directly over my spot.

More bear pictures can be found here.

(there was low light in the forest at the end of the day, so some of the pics have been enhanced to bring out the bear(s).


Unbelievable image from a Navy Blue Angels low-level flying demonstration. Watch for the cone of water vapor generated by near-speed of sound flight.

hat-tip to Gizmodo for pointing this out.

Friday, October 12, 2007

What this year's Nobel Peace Prize tells us..... that we're lacking great men and women leaders, and we're lacking significant progress politically, and as a species.

I don't mean to demean Al Gore or diminish his accomplishment (after all, I've been predicting it for months), but I'm concluding not just from this year's award, but the from the Peace Prize awards of most of the last decade, that we're either lacking greatness or progress as I listed above. (Or, perhaps the Nobel committee needs to re-read their charter, if I'm wrong about the lack of greatness and progress.)

The Nobel Peace Prize is given "to the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between the nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses". Yet, for most of the last decade (or more), the Nobel PP committee has selected winners that while noble, are hardly the responsible for dramatic improvements in world peace.

First, to illustrate, here's a few excellent Nobel PP recipients who were/are responsible for world peace: Hume and Trimble (1998, Northern Ireland), Mandela and de Klerk (1993, South Africa), Aung San Suu Kyi (1991, Myanmar), Tutu (1984, South Africa).

But recently, the Nobel PP has gone to issue-oriented winners who's impact is debatable, or, at best, prospective. To illustrate this, consider the last 7 winners:

2001: United Nations. Big bunch of windbags who don't actually generate or facilitate peace.
2002: Jimmy Carter. I could see a shared award for his efforts in producing the Camp David Accords, but the award was given for his decades of work to "advance democracy and human rights, and to promote economic and social development." Blah.
2003: Iranian dissident Shirin Ebadi. Iran is nearly devoid of human rights, but I guess it could be worse without her.
2004: Kenyan enviromental activist Wangari Maathai, advocate of sustainable development.
2005: IAEA and chief Mohamed ElBaradei: ineffective speed bump on the road of nuclear proliferation. Toothless bureaucrats as shown in Iran and N. Korea. Would we be any worse off without them?
2006: Grameen Bank founder Muhammad Yunis. Great man, great idea, but a Nobel for a banker?
2007: Gore and a bunch of statistitians: spotlighting an issue (and not really directly responsible for creating change), but like Bjorn Lomborg says, should this issue even be a priority?

(this trend is echoed by Time Magazine's "Person of the Year." Recent selections have included "You," (2006) and "The American Soldier," (2003).)

OK, so the Nobel PP committee has lost its' way. But the real problem is that there's a lack of great people and great accomplishments to earn the award.

The last decade has seen armed conflict in spots like Darfur, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Iraq, Israel & Palestine, Afghanistan, and challenges to humanity like the Christmas tsunami, numerous earthquakes, and asian bird flu, just to name a few. There's also outstanding conflict in places like the former Yugoslavia, where the conflict is not hot, but US & EU troops there are really just insulation to postpone inevitable re-ignition of the ethnic conflict.

There will always be some form of conflict - my point here is that over the last decade, there's been a distinct lack of great people resolving these issues, or even people that can be identified as boldly spotlighting these (a la Gore and the environment). Can you name someone prominently addressing Darfur, other than a few Hollywood stars?

I would LOVE to see a Nobel PP given to someone for bringing peace to Darfur, or Palestine, but it's not happening at the moment. Is the problem that the issues are intractable, or that the personal commitment and apptitude is absent?

Probably a bit of both. There's been conflict in the Middle East for thousands of years, but I'd say that the religious divisions in Northern Ireland were just as stark, and that area is finally experiencing peace, so why can't ________ (insert name of area of conflict.)

As for the leadership side, looking at the American political scene, I don't see an environment that rewards anyone who takes a dramatic or even a long term position. I think this is mirrored at the UN. Both nationally and internationally, we're promoting sound-bite driven 'leaders' looking to 'surf' issues - to ride a wave attention without really getting wet by the issues. (And certainly striving to avoid 'wiping-out' on an issue thru the adoption of a dramatic position.)

(My archetype here is Bill Clinton, though this isn't exclusive to the Democrats.)

Consequently, there's nothing but temporary pursuit of really impactful issues by most leaders, and even more rarely progress. Gee, Africa is destitute and saddled with debt - it sure could use a heroic effort by a great man or woman. Tony Blair made a go at changing this, and GW Bush increased the supply of AIDS drugs, but once the news cycle shifted, the prospect for progress fell.

Perhaps I'm just wrong in seeking great leadership from prominent national and international leaders, and instead should spend more time appreciating great, impactful ground level people like Abdul Sattar Edhi.

Just to conclude: serious congratulations to Al Gore for winning this year's. I don't agree with his politics (in general) and I'm still not yet wholly convinced of his argument, but I really respect the fact that he has embraced an important issue and is spending his political capital in advancing it, rather than just monetizing his fame and connections thru a lucrative law partnership or similar positions. (Uhhhh....except his Directorship at Apple. How did he dodge that bullet?)

With my new friends on the Great Wall of China

With my new friends on the Great Wall of China
Click to go to my online photography

World sun clock

Uncommon Man's Creed

"I do not choose to be a common man. It is my right to be uncommon -- if I can. I seek opportunity -- not security. I do not wish to be a kept citizen, humbled and dulled by having the state look after me. I wish to take the calculated risk; to dream and to build, to fail and to succeed. I refuse to barter incentive for a dole, I prefer the challenges of life to the guaranteed existence; the thrill of fulfillment to the stale calm of utopia. I will not trade freedom for beneficence, nor my dignity for a handout. I will never cower before any master, nor bend to any threat. It is my heritage to stand erect, proud, and unafraid, to think and act for myself, to enjoy the benefit of my creations, and to face the world boldly and say, "this I have done." All this is what it means to be an American." -- Anonymous