Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Bye, Bye, Big Three

Full disclosure: I hate cars. I don't know how to drive, and if I did, I would rarely do it. Well, specifically, I don't hate cars themselves, but the culture around them. There is a time and place for cars, but it is not as we use them today.

When Paulson first tried to pass of his 3 page plan (loosely: "hey! I know! Why don't you give me 700 billion dollars to do with what I want, without any oversight at all?") that should have raised big red flags. He has no business doing what he is doing. Bailing out corporate failures is a mess, and the package is a very expensive mistake.

It's not going to work to try to make the banks lend out this free money. Duh, they were failing at their jobs, so we gave them our money to throw after it? No really, here is some very good explanation of why it isn't working. Article 1, and its follow-up. Of course, it is more complicated than those two articles, and I recommend anyone interested in economics take to reading that blog more in-depth for excellent and usually very readable analysis.

But, this new thing? This automaker thing? Outrageous.

The other day I bookmarked something I wanted to write about (found via Boing Boing Gadgets). It's a Business Week article titled "The 65 mpg Ford the U.S. Can't Have" and the gist of it is, Ford has a clean-diesel car in Europe that gets 65mpg, but they won't bother with it here because Americans don't want diesel. Production and import would be expensive, and, they say, "We just don't think North and South America would buy that many diesel cars."

Fucking ridiculous. These American automakers will not bother with new tech, they won't bother with trying to sell better engineering to Americans. They just want to continue to suck out loud, and then they want us to give them money to continue some more. Why? So they can keep producing SUVs?!?!?

Ironically, the day before I read this, a coworker sat and chatted with me about the new car he is on the waitlist for. He canceled the car he had ordered when he heard about this great new one, a clean-running diesel that got something like 65mpg! From? oh, some European carmaker.

Thanks, Big Three.

Then, yesterday, also via Boing Boing Gadgets, I saw this article in Forbes about Honda. Really, it's a great article, and worth reading about a manufacturing company where engineering rules and problems are there to be solved, with weird angles if necessary:
"But there's nothing Honda hates more than waste, and there is nothing Honda likes more than an engineering problem. Indeed, how else to explain why Honda has studied the maddeningly evasive cockroach (for anticollision technology), decoded the rice genome (to increase crop yields and create more-productive crops for biofuels) and developed a robot that can get instructions by reading human brain waves (to learn how machines and humans can better coexist)."
Why can't our Big Three invent? Why do they refuse to do anything but throw money at marketing SUVs that are good for nearly nobody?

More importantly, why should we throw money after them? They should fail, so that new ideas can come in their place. Capitalism may or may not be the best system, but it will not work at all if bad companies are not allowed to fail. What reason do they have to change? What evidence do we have that they can change? If they are propped up by our precious few tax dollars, we will be dragged down with them as we waste our money on investing in the past rather than the future.

PS: you agree? Go here, and contact your congresscritters

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

October 3-5: Venice

This was mostly written whilst on the train to Florence, and I am just getting to it now...

In the canal by our hotel in Venice. The water is clearer than we expected, and there are FISHES!

On Day 2, our first full day after arriving, we got out in the morning to see the Basilica di San Marco. As we were in line, we saw the floods starting, first as a puddle in the front of the church, which grew as we were in line, so that the narthex (entry way) of the church was solidly flooded by the time we got in. They put out planks to walk on, as this is completely normal flooding. We paid the 6 Euro to go upstairs to the museum and loggia, where we saw the 4 Horses and stood out on the loggia just in time for the 12:00 bells, first from the Torre dell'Orologio, which is hit by a mechanical man with a hammer, and then across the piazza at the Campanile, a much louder bell. On the other side of the loggia, we looked down onto the top of two columns, one covered in dead pigeons, one with none at all. Is this where pigeons go to die? Some sort of pigeon executioner's square? Paul's theory was that people throw dead pigeons onto the one column, but I have my doubts.

It's a small world after all!

Where pigeons go to die?

View from the side of the loggia, out over the Piazzetta

The Basilica itself is amazing(ly overdone) but there are countless records of that elsewhere. We paid a few Euro to go to the Treasury to see a bunch of stolen and some legitimately gotten treasure, some very impressive Byzantine chalices, and, most importantly, reliquaries. I really can't get enough of this stuff: bones, teeth, the "True Cross," and best of all, a whole hand, apparently of Saint Martha.

On the way to the Basilica, on the Ponte Dell'Accademia

After the Basilica, we had some melty cheese sandwiches and headed to see the Ghetto. On the way, we had our first gelato of the day, and stopped to see St. Lucy in Saint Geramia's church. You can see her hands and feet, but the face is covered with a mask. There are several paintings and sculptures of St. Lucy in the church, which I always find funny because she is usually depicted holding a dish with her eyes in it, yet she always has eyes in her head. I suppose no one wanted to depict her with just sockets? Odd, since the religious art frequently relishes the grotesque.

We noticed the vending machines in front of the pharmacies offer all sorts of things you might need in an emergency.

We got to the Ghetto just in time to miss the last tour of the Museo Ebraico. I had done the tour last time and Paul said he just wanted to see the Ghetto. The buildings of the Ghetto Nuovo are close together, and stacked high with low-ceilinged apartments. You get a pretty good sense of the crowding just by seeing the dwellings. The Holocaust memorial in the Campo again nearly made me cry. Just as last time I was here, uniformed police were hanging around the Campo. Coincidence? Or because people have attempted some anti-Semitic crimes here? Either way, the history of his place is heavy. And? People still live here. As we left, we passed by several Jewish shops and bakeries, and on the way out, some guy said something unintelligible to us, and when we looked confused, asked "You speak Hebrew?" Uh, no. Not even a little.

We wandered around the Rialto markets and over the famed bride of tourists and knick-knacks. Heading back into St. Mark's Sestiere, we wandered and happened upon the Scala del Bovolo, a happy surprise sine I had been wondering where "that staircase" was but had no idea what I was looking for. As famous and sunning as it is, it is just stuck in a small backyard area, overgrown and hidden in an alley where no one can be impressed by it. I had assumed it would be posing on the Grand Canal, or an important piazza.

Scala del Bovolo

We also stopped briefly at St. Moise, generally thought to be Venice's ugliest church I'd been impressed by the dubious facade before, but this time we got to duck in and be astounded by the bombastic altarpiece. OMG. I wanted to get a better look at it, but some guy rang a little bell and a priest came in, so we scurried off.

Venice is beautiful everywhere you look.

Dinner was followed by gelato #2, and then we decided to go drink beers in the Campo San Margherita with all the adorable college students. We wondered if we were supposed to care when the Polizia pulled up in their bat and disembarked to walk the crowd. No one moved, so neither did we. The college students ranged from mall-punks to pegged-jean-unfortunate-hair metalheads to your run of the mill jeans-and-sweatshirts types. Venice is marred by more graffitti than you would expect, and we were consistently charmed by the earnest scrawlings against biotech and a "global Italy." On the square, we also had gelato #3, then retired for the evening.

day 3 we got out of the apartment even later, as I was starting to feel like I was coming down with something. The goal was to go the the Palazzo Ducale, and... success! We made it. The Palazzo tour gives you a close-up look at many architectural details, a lot of painting (some important, and others just over-the-top tacky) and a good background on Venetian history and the structure of society and government. you also get to tour the prisons and the armory. The weapons exhibit is large, with my highlights being the velvet-covered shields, weapons, and helmets, the funny artwork on some old rifles, and most importantly, listening to two children ask their respective parents "what is this?" in reference to a particularly gruesome chastity belt, and listening to the parents explain to their 5-8 year-olds in detail, in German and some other language. Where I didn't understand, I could tell by the looks on the little girls' faces that the explanation had been sufficiently accurate and detailed. I guess I'm a prudish America but I might have said "I don't know" and moved on. At least until they were a little older? It was hilarious and we were tempted to linger little longer for a third and fourth family.

The Palazzo Ducale from it's interior courtyard

Bling! The Scala del'Oro in the Palazzo Ducale

We spent several hours at the Palazzo Ducale and then puttered around for a bit before deciding to get warmer clothes and then take a few water buses to see Venice from the Canal and maybe visit Giudecca. Unfortunately we came to the realization that we were having banking problems, so after watching perhaps the most spectacular sunset ever, we spent about an hour trying to figure out how to get through to Paul's bank by phone. UGH. We seem to have figured out (no help from the bank though) the problem and may actually be ale to pay for our meals and lodging. I think. Given all of that and a lot of confusion with the bus information, we canceled on our idea to visit Giudecca in favor of having dinner (there's a small window of opportunity for meals at certain hours, and if you miss it, you are SOL) After dinner we saw a few more vistas, and called it a day. No gelato!

The most spectacular sunset ever

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Damn I wish I had found these before

Vote Because He Doesn't Want You To

Ugh, disgusting.

Early voting is so wrong!
Poor, old people are voting!
Except it's ok when *I* do it.

I'm guessing this guy never waited 5 hours in the rain to vote.
I hear his argument, and it is lame. So lame, I can't even figure out if he's serious or joking.
Poor old people voting early is bad because something might happen in the last week to change our mind???? There is NOTHING that could have happened in the last week to change my mind about the presidential election. Many of us just wanted it to be over (on both sides, I'm sure) and voting early means you can move on. I am sure there are those who are still weighing, and they were well served by coming in to vote on election day. But for those of us who are disgusted by the shell of McCain and the filthy campaign he's run, there was no chance of an October Surprise, unless it was that we woke up and it was all a bad dream.

And if that is his argument, why is absentee voting ok? I have an absentee ballot, so it is ok for me to vote early? WTF?

This is an unfortunate man, trying to make an excuse for what he really wants to say, which is, people shouldn't be allowed to vote. We should make it as difficult and painful as possible for (other) people to vote.

Blech. Disgusting.

I voted!

So did Paul. Yay!!
Voting makes me very happy, and I hope the results will as well.

Go vote!