China Is World’s #2 In Billionaires

October 17, 2009 at 12:58 am (General, Politics, The Economy, The Environment) (, , , , , , , , , )

Word is out this week that China now has the second biggest concentration of dollar billionaires, with the United States having the most.  The story (from Reuters) reports that:

“China’s rich are getting richer, with the average wealth on the list $571 million, up almost one-third from last year…”

And how has that happened?  Could it be because America has exported millions of our manufacturing jobs to China?  Huh.  Do ya think?

Not to mention every other “developed” country in the western world.  What’s wrong with this picture?

Well, one thing that’s wrong is that once upon a time America used to have assembly and manufacturing jobs that were good entry-level jobs, with an opportunity for advancement.

That’s how I got my start in high-tech electronics back in the mid-1970s.  I started as an assembler, and eventually – through perseverance and learning on-the-job – I worked my way into engineering support and design positions.

Now, the only entry-level assembly jobs left in America are at McDonald’s, assembling burgers. Where’s the promotion path from there? Manager?  Ugh.  Sign me up – not.

What’s happening in China right now seems to be a recapitulation of what America experienced in the 20th century – urbanization, dramatic growth, massive amounts of construction, a growing middle class, a rise in consumerism as a lifestyle, and all the pollution that goes with it.  China also seems to be going through all the stages of development more quickly than America did.

And what have been the benefits? Loads of cheap Chinese crap for us to by at WalMart, and this:

China’s new wealthy need to spend all that money on something, don’t they?  Might as well be lucky pears in the shape of babies.  Lord knows, we Americans also have a taste for the tasteless.  Check out this USB accessory for your computer:

It can be embarrassing being a geek.  Sometimes.

But the real issue here – in my mind – is the cost. There is a real cost that hasn’t been reckoned, or factored into the headlong rush to “development”.  Right now, America is seeing the downside of growth – when growth is not sustainable, the result is a cycle of booms and busts. Growing and shrinking. This is a normal process in organic systems.  We’re seeing that as autumn begins here in the northern hemisphere, and plants go dormant.

However, when it happens to economies and cities, you get decay and blight, and city managers suggesting that US cities may have to be bulldozed in order to survive.

Tough times.  Scary times.  I don’t pretend to have all the answers, but we need to be asking questions, and trying to find some answers.

Or, like Arthur Dent of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, start lying in front of the bulldozers.

Oh, I almost forgot.  The most disturbing quote from the Reuters article:

“With the greatest wealth destruction in the west of the last 70 years, we’ve seen China buck the trend and the wealth seems to be still growing,” [Rupert] Hoogewerf told Reuters…

No, it’s not our imagination.

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Capitalism – American Dream, or Nightmare?

October 1, 2009 at 12:05 am (Damn funny, Entertainment, Media, Politics, The Economy, The Environment) (, , , , , , , , )

Tomorrow, Michael Moore’s self-described magnum opus, Capitalism: A Love Story, hits theaters all over America. And I’m really looking forward to seeing it.  Perhaps it’ll help make sense out of the last year.  Check out the trailer:

Looks pretty good to me!  Moore’s new film promises entertainment, education, and aggravation in equal parts, rather like Fahrenheit 9/11 did.  And here’s my recommendation for a second film that would make a good companion on a double bill – The Corporation:

I encourage everyone to sit down and watch The Corporation.  You can rent it on DVD, buy it, or even watch it online.  The important thing is – watch it. Some of the things you may think you know about corporations aren’t necessarily so.

As someone who has worked in small to medium-sized corporations throughout my working life, this film came as a real eye-opener.  The premise behind The Corporation is this – if a corporation really were a real person, and underwent psychoanalysis, what kind of person would it turn out to be?

The answer isn’t very pretty.  Corporations are, by and large, the kind of person that gets locked up for sociopathic behavior on an epic scale. That simple diagnosis may go some ways towards explaining the events of the last year.

Enjoy your popcorn, and see you at the movies.

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United States Welcomes Barack Obama

January 20, 2009 at 12:17 am (Alternative Energy, Politics, The Economy, The Environment) (, , , , , , , )

…and bids a long overdue farewell to George W. Bush. Boy, it’s good to say goodbye to that smirking chimpanzee. I was hoping to have done that four years ago.

Anyhow, in the spirit of the Presidential Inauguration, now mere hours away, I’m going to post a little video, for your enjoyment.

(In the interest of disclosure, this video was created by XPLANE, a client of RichContent, for whom I work. But it’s still pretty cool, and that’s why I included it here.)

Now as you may know, I’m cautiously optimistic about the incoming Obama administration, even though he’s facing an uphill battle of epic proportions. A lot of campaign promises got made. Alternative energy, get us out of Iraq, create more jobs, revive the economy – the list is long, and the money is short.

Solar Photovoltaic PanelsChange is going to take some time to achieve, and patience is to be counseled. And I really do hope that America can add new jobs, such as installing solar panels, converting vehicles to electricity or natural gas, or upgrading structures to be more energy-efficient. These are all useful, cool things that could really help our economy.

But will these things get done? Too soon to tell, kids. Too soon to tell. Eight years ago this week, supporters of W were whooping it up like someone had invented a replacement for sliced bread. And we can see what we actually got. Something much less appetizing than a ham sandwich.

The hoopla over Barack Obama is “Reaganesque”, in the words of local radio producer, Kristen Bowie. She got that very, very right. And that’s what scares me, just a little. I remember the Reagan years, all too well.

Charisma is no substitute for real leadership. But it can lead troops into Poland, France, Austria…

And Obama has buckets – nay, boxcars – of charisma. Check this clip from The Daily Show, starting at about 3:45. Jon Stewart asks Obama to “hope up” some common phrases.

Tell me what you think.

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McCain picks running mate, asks “What was that bang, and why does my foot hurt?”

August 29, 2008 at 6:49 pm (Die Rat Bastard, General, Politics, The Economy, The Environment, Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , , , , , )

McCain = IdiotUnexpectedly good news from the political front today. Sen. John “Duffer” McCain chose freshman Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as his running mate.

What a wonderfully stupid move. He would have been better off choosing Michael Palin. At least then he could have sewn up the votes of all the Monty Python fans.

Ms. Palin, whose lack of political experience makes Barack Obama look like a rugged, callused, seasoned elder-statesman by comparison, has made an impression nonetheless with her wretched environmental record in Alaska, and apparent willingness and desire to drill for oil anywhere and everywhere, wolves and polar bears be damned (and shot, and drowned). Yeah, okay, she’s hot – for a Republican chick. I hear she’s a former Alaska beauty queen. Anyhow, she’s way hotter than Ann Coulter.

Do we really want or need Ms. Palin, who is apparently somewhere to the right politically of even George Bush, sitting in D.C. literally a heart-beat away from the presidency? Yikes. I’d say – big, huge, echoing “no”. Considering McCain’s age and health, this is not a world-class idea. Well, like even electing McCain in the first place is anything remotely like a good idea.

The reason that I believe this is good news, is that the choice of Ms. Palin as candidate for VP will sink the GOP in November like an elephant wearing a concrete overcoat, cast-iron top hat, and lead galoshes. We clearly do not need another 4 or 8 more years of failed Republican “leadership”, and this bonehead move by McCain will essentially hand the election to Obama.

Finally. The Republicans have well and thoroughly shot themselves in the foot, and now they’ll be standing around wondering where all the blood is coming from. I’ve said it before, and I’m saying it again – idiot.

This is the kind of news that makes me smile. Hell, I’ve been giggling all day.

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Attention, Alternative Energy Enthusiasts!

July 13, 2008 at 9:56 pm (Alternative Energy, Cars & Trucks, Cool Tech, General, Media, Politics, The Economy, The Environment) (, , , , )

Friends, neighbors, and fellow geeks – this is the most exciting news I’ve heard all year. The legendary oil man T. Boone Pickens has started an online effort to help get America off imported oil, and onto renewable domestic energy. You could have knocked me over with a feather. Quite a small one, in fact. Here’s a video that explains why the plan is needed:

So – go right now to his web site – it’s free to join. It’s a social / Web 2.0 sort of site, with all sorts of options for participation. I’ve only had time to explore a small part of the site, but I was so impressed and excited, I had to get to blogging about it.

Not to toot my own horn, but he’s saying some of the same things I have been trying to communicate for years. That there is no way to drill our way out of this mess. That we need to move on to other energy sources, and lose the petroleum habit.

National Geographic cover - Peak Oil

Pickens has also acknowledged that the peak of world oil production (known as peak oil) occurred in 2005, and from here on, it’s going to be more expensive and more scarce. For more information on peak oil, and the petroleum crisis, check out a film called Crude Impact. Ask me, and I can loan you my copy. It’s an important documentary, and extremely serious. I want as many people as possible to see it.

It’s kind of nice to be vindicated, to be sure. But it’s truly exciting to know that there are some smart, well-regarded people willing to stand up and put their names & fortunes on the line for a future where America isn’t sending all its money out of the country, impoverishing ourselves for no good reason.

Now – let’s do this. The stakes are too high to just sit back and wait for the hammer to fall, because when it does, it’s going to fall hard.

View my page on PickensPlan

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The 8 Words That Can Save Your Marriage, Ladies

June 25, 2008 at 12:39 pm (General, Media, Politics, The Economy, The Environment) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Yes, this is blatantly ripped off from the Tom Leykis show. Why? Because it’s completely valid, and I have a few words of my own to add, thank you very much.

What are Tom’s eight words?

  • Stay thin
  • Long hair
  • Sex anytime
  • Shut up

And I would add 5 more words – “Don’t Spend All His Money“.

So what’s the deal, anyhow? Here’s the deal. Women in our modern, Western world seem to have developed (Tom’s phrase) a “sense of entitlement“. (And to a certain degree, men have as well, but that’s a subject for later. This is about the 51% of the population that has no Y chromosome.)

Women have been told that they can “have it all”. And in my opinion, they have taken that concept far too literally, to mean the bank account, the house, the cars, the 401k… Money (and fighting about money) is a huge issue in marriage and divorce. Why? In my experience (and that of several of my divorced male friends) it’s because women seem to feel they can spend stupid amounts of money on all kinds of rubbish.

Shut Up and Hang UpSuch as? Oh, how about $90 worth of hair scrunchies at one shot? Or $150 for a haircut? Perhaps huge long distance phone bills, yakking about gods-know-what with out-of-state friends and relatives? Don’t give me that look. These are all real world examples, from my personal experience.

And I’m not alone. Search Google for “my wife spends too much“. Today, I got over 800,000 hits on that phrase.

So, girls, if you want to save your marriage, lay off the charge card. (Do you really need those slutty-looking French manicure acrylic nails?) Realize that every time you swipe that hunk of plastic through the reader, it increases the pressure on your man to produce.

He’s got enough on his plate, babe, especially now that it costs more than $100 to refuel that damn SUV you talked him into buying, not to mention that it also costs an absurd amount to clothe and feed those kids you talked him into fathering. (Did you know he would have preferred to keep that sporty car he had when you met him? You told him you thought it was ‘sexy’. Oh, and odds are, he would have been just as happy without kids.) And since the rugrats are always underfoot, he’s not getting laid any more, and with you lopping your hair off and dressing like his mom, he’s even less interested in sex with you anyway.

Soccer Mom Thinks She\'s HotOh, and give him a little peace & quiet, would you? He really doesn’t need to hear all about your day with the other soccer moms, in mind-numbing detail, and he doesn’t give a rip about the conversation you had with your mom about your sister’s latest boyfriend. He’s got to concern himself with keeping his job, in the face of global competition and downsizing. If you don’t shut the hell up, and let him think, he’ll lose that job that’s paying your bills. Then where will you be? In divorce court, because you drove him to shag his secretary?

Get a grip, women. Stop talking for a moment, and look, and listen. Ask some important questions about yourself, about him, and about your relationship. About your place in the world. And ask yourself if your expectations are reasonable in today’s world of rising energy prices, melting ice caps, and a 50% plus divorce rate.

Remember those wedding vows, sugar? Seems to me the general idea was to make each other happy, helping each other realize their fondest dreams, and not so much about taking out the trash, or filling the kitchen with stainless steel appliances. Maybe it’s time to refocus…

Maybe ask yourself how you can make your situation better by rethinking the situation, instead of stubbornly sticking to your position. Maybe even get dad and the kids involved in the discussion. You may get a huge, wonderful surprise out of having that kind of conversation.

I remember that my family had some very useful discussions when I was a kid. We made some family decisions, after group discussions, that led to real improvements in our lives together. We found ways to cut expenses during the first Arab Oil Embargo, we explored our values, agreed certain things were crap, and we wouldn’t be involved with them, we began recycling… we pulled together.

It\'s Up To YouOr go ahead.

Stick to your guns.

Be a b*tch, and pull it all apart.

Your choice.

Enjoy.

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Ow. Hot.

July 12, 2007 at 11:50 pm (General, Politics, The Environment)

Ai, carumba! The last few days here in Vancouver have been hot. Way hot. Unseasonably hot. Stick-to-the-vinyl-upholstery, fry-eggs-on-the-sidewalk, screamin’ hot. Hot as Salma Hayek’s sweater puppies. Yeah, I know it’s nothing compared to Baghdad or even Phoenix, but hotter than I like, that’s what I’m saying here. And I know I should shut my pie hole and quit my whining. It’s hot in most places in the northern hemisphere this week. They say there’s this thing called “summer” going on right now. But when global warming really begins to kick in, this week will be fondly remembered as mild. And that leads me to write about this latest item from the BBC news site.

Al Gore - disco inferno - poor flamin' buggerIt turns out that global warming deniers have had another prop kicked out from under their smarmy, unscientific arguments. A recent study shows the sun’s output has actually been declining since the 1980s, but average temperatures on our green planet have risen nonetheless. The data continues to mount that our wanton flatulent discharge of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere is the primary cause of rising global temperatures.

Forgive me for this, but – nyah. Big middle finger to the Rush Limbaughs and George W. Bushes who refuse to acknowledge that we are about to carelessly drown the world’s coastal cities, and drastically alter the climate in vast areas of the planet. Get a grip, stupid white men. Your grandchildren will need to live someplace, you know.

It’s a mixed blessing – I have a lot of ambivalence about being lucky enough to be a middle-aged white guy living in America, in a home well away from the coast. Some days I feel really embarrassed about that. This is one of those days, even though I try to do what I can to reduce my carbon footprint. I drive as little as possible, and since the mid-1980s I have driven smaller cars – ones that are relatively easy on gas. That’s partly because I am a cheap SOB, and I like to conserve my fundage as much as is practical. I have installed compact fluorescent light bulbs in most areas of my home. I don’t water the lawn, and therefore don’t have to mow it as often as some of my neighbors. I set my thermostat in the low 60’s (Fahrenheit) during the winter, and in summer I use fans. I don’t have an air conditioner. I installed a timer on my water heater. I try as much as possible to reduce my waste, reuse and refurbish household items, and recycle as much as is locally practical.

St. David.  Really.  There is one.  Who knew?Yeah, I’m a regular frickin’ saint, I hear you saying. Well, that’s not my point. My point is this – it may not be too late to reduce or avoid the eventual reckoning with global warming. It’s worth the effort to try. I’m putting my money where my mouth is. All you truck and SUV drivers – here’s the line in the sand – my throw down. Bring it, gas hogs, if you dare. If you can be troubled to care.

UPDATE: July 15, 2007

I stumbled across this video, which happened to be related to my subject, on YouTube. It’s wonderful example of how those who choose to deny global warming use ad hominem attacks and misinformation to wave aside scientific argument with emotional rhetoric.

UPDATE: October 10, 2007

A British High Court judge has found there were “nine factual errors” in the film An Inconvenient Truth.  For any global warming deniers who would like to seize on this as evidence that the whole concept of global warming is scientifically wrong – sorry.  You won’t be able to go that far any time soon.  From the article on the BBC:

BBC environment analyst Roger Harrabin said the ruling would be “embarrassing for Mr Gore” but would not affect the government, which said it is happy that the judge did not dismiss the film’s mainstream argument. (emphasis added)

But, he added, this controversy could encourage the public to think there was scientific doubt about the facts of climate change.

Children’s Minister Kevin Brennan had earlier said: “It is important to be clear that the central arguments put forward in An Inconvenient Truth, that climate change is mainly caused by man-made emissions of greenhouse gases and will have serious adverse consequences, are supported by the vast weight of scientific opinion. (emphasis added)

“Nothing in the judge’s comments today detract from that.”

Please also note, Rush Limbaugh types, that the phrase “scientific opinion” also means “educated, informed opinion, backed by empirical data”.  This is radically different from “layman’s opinion”, or “political opinion”.  You got that?

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That’s not dust, it’s “Patina”.

June 23, 2007 at 10:52 am (General, The Environment)

My house is a mess. Lots of people’s homes are these days. (Just do a Google Image search on “messy house”. I told you. 678,000 images. Hah!) Most people are wrapped up in that frenzy of activity that our modern world seems to expect of them. Housework is on the list, but it can usually be ignored until you want to have the friends and family over for a barbecue.

Not my momYesterday, I was looking briefly at my mess – the dust bunnies, dirty dishes, unfolded laundry – and made the mistake of comparing my housekeeping to that of my late mother. I grew up in the ’60s & ’70s, and my mom was a stay-at-home mom, cooking, cleaning, all that “Leave it To Beaver” jazz we associate with the ’60s. But before despair set in, some self-defending synapse sparked somewhere in the cobwebby recesses of my brain, and belched out the square footage of my home. About 1500 square feet. My eyes flew wide, and my jaw fell. Could it be?

I called my dad to check. Sure enough, the spotless home I remember from my early childhood was about 700 square feet. Not only did mom have way more time to clean than I do, she had help (my sister and I) and – the most important revelation – she NEVER had to clean a house as big as mine! Wow. Talk about a liberating thought.

So I called my sister, too. She was delighted to share my epiphany, and added that mom seldom mowed the lawn, like we do. That was a task for me or dad. Our yards are bigger now, too. Hell, the mini-lawn we had in Portland could be mowed in 20 minutes with a pair of blunt scissors.

Sweep it!Now I feel quite a bit better about my housekeeping, having gained a new perspective on it. And though it’s not an original thought, when I’m on my deathbed, I am not going to be thinking, “I sure wish I had spent more time cleaning my house”.

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Well, I sure am shocked.

June 3, 2007 at 11:28 pm (Cars & Trucks, Die Rat Bastard, Politics, Rent Me, The Economy, The Environment)

Smokestacks in ChinaYou could knock me over with a feather off the butt of a Peking (Beijing?) duck. Turns out the Chinese intend to put economic development ahead of controlling their emissions of greenhouse gases. Can’t say as I’m a bit surprised. The G8 nations did exactly the same thing during the first 100 years of the Industrial Revolution. We didn’t begin to take note of the stinking air and dying lakes until the 1960’s. And now, just because we are aware of the damage that is being caused, we want the developing nations like China and India to make (apparent) sacrifices that we never did. To quote the BBC News article:

“In explaining the plan, the chairman of China’s National Development and Reform Commission, Ma Kai, said rich counties who have already industrialized would instead have to do more to tackle climate change.

“Mr Ma said they (emphasis added) were responsible for most of the greenhouse gases produced over the past century and had the money to tackle the problem.

“Mandatory emission caps ‘would hinder the development of developing countries and hamper their industrialization’, he added.”

Dammit, he’s got us red-handed. This is mostly our problem. (You hear that, Dubya?) The Chinese are going to feel like they are being punished for trying to create their own version of the American Dream. No matter that they are crapping in their own backyards to do it. They want the consumer society, no matter the cost to their air, water, land, and children.

Look into it, dear reader. The cost of oil, steel, concrete, and other raw materials has gone up since China (and the rest of Asia) entered the industrial economy. There’s only so much oil and steel to go around, and if more people are bidding for the same commodity, the price goes up. Econ 101.

So. The genie is out of the bottle, and the toothpaste is out of the tube and running down our collective wrist. What’s there to do about it? For one, we can stop competing for scarce resources, and use something else. Something local, like wind, geothermal, natural gas, solar… does this make any sense? Maybe stop shipping all our scrap to China, and recycle it here – cleanly?

Windmill SunriseI suppose I also ought to explain my parenthetical “apparent” above, when speaking about sacrifices. There is some recent data to indicate that being “green” is actually good for business, and may be more profitable, short and long term, than being a polluter.

We in the west have got a lot of work to do. We need to put our own economies back in shape, and not trash the air & water all over again in the process. Plus, we need to finish cleaning up the mess we’ve made, and show some leadership to the developing world. We as Americans must demand that our leaders actually lead in this direction, or get the hell out of the way.

UPDATE: January 26th, 2008

Here is the first of four videos from the UK’s Channel 5, entitled “Big Ideas That Changed The World – Consumerism“. It’s a wonderful and sobering look at the changes human need & greed have wrought upon the world.

Part two:

Part three:

And finally, part four:

Click here to see all the videos posted by this YouTube user. There are some excellent BBC documentaries here.

UPDATE: April 9th, 2008

I couldn’t resist this. The Urban Dictionary has selected “consumerican” as their Urban Word of the Day today. (Be advised – much of the content on UrbanDictionary.com is NOT safe for work.) “Consumerican” is defined as:

An individual suffering from the particularly American brand of consumerism.

You’d have to be a real consumerican to always think you need the newest, most expensive computer every two years.

I couldn’t agree more. Yes, it takes some time, effort, and a bit of knowledge to deal with today’s tools and technology, but it’s worth the effort to keep perfectly serviceable appliances, computers, and other manufactured goods out of the landfills. We throw away so much that is still usable. And yes, that’s been said before, by people more intelligent and notable than I.

But that’s because it’s true.

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Drive Different. (ly)

March 10, 2007 at 2:19 pm (Cars & Trucks, Cool Tech, The Environment)

To balance out my last post, I suppose I ought to point out that not all vehicles are ugly, tired rehashings of existing parts and concepts. There really is some good, new thought happening in the wide world of the automobile, and I will touch on some of the new coolness here. Now. Ready, set, go.

Vanguard concept - Animated GIFFirst, the Union of Concerned Scientists has come up with a really slick new vehicle specification that could reduce emissions and improve mileage by using existing technologies. It’s called the Vanguard, and you can read more about it by clicking here. Now this is the kind of thinking that has been lacking in Detroit. Take all the parts that make cars more efficient and stick them all together on all cars, and make them all work better. Hello! Who missed this?

OScar Designs - Animated GIFNext upon the show car stand, a group of car enthusiasts, engineers, and entrepreneurs has begun a project called OScar – the Open Source Car. It’s kind of like Linux, but for cars. The intention: create one or more “free” designs for cars that can be built anywhere in the world, without any advanced factories or huge assembly lines. The Big Three aren’t going to like that idea very much, either. To my eyes, OScar looks like a very cool concept, from some people who are just plain fed up with accepting the crappy cars that we are being told to buy; people who want a more democratic alternative that better meets their real needs for transportation.

Hummer O2 ConceptThe third item for your consideration today: a Green Hummer – The Hummer O2 concept vehicle, to be precise. Pretty nifty idea, this one. Powered by hydrogen fuel cells, collecting solar energy, giving off extra oxygen wherever it goes, and made of environmentally-friendly materials, this “opposite world” version of the existing Hummer is a far cry from the current crop of hulking, over-chromed mobile monuments to suburban excess.

Okay, after all that serious stuff, let’s have a little fun. There’s more than one approach to a Green Hummer out there, and I don’t mean the color. Here are some guys who are having a lot of fun with the idea of being green, and going in style. Check out their web site for more pictures and videos.

I have a soft spot in my heart for people who decide to get creative with steel tubing, welders, and old bike parts. Perhaps I will one day also build my own car – sleek, swoopy, efficient, and all mine. Until then, I will dream about Driving Different. Ly.

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