A while back, I posted my thoughts about political ads on TV, specifically that we would be better off as a country if we didn't have them.

Recently, the White House launched a new tool called We The People. Any citizen (or at least anyone willing to provide a name, email address, and zip code) can register and create and sign petitions. If a petition gets 150 signatures, it becomes visible on the site (before that, it's available by direct link only). If it gets at least 5000 signatures, it will be officially reviewed and considered by the White House staff. If it doesn't hit that target within a month, it gets closed.

It's a good way to get people engaged, and for the White House to get feedback and ideas.

I think you can see where this is going. I created a petition to ban political ads on TV. Doing so would take a lot of the money back out of politics, would get a lot of divisive misinformation off our airwaves, and would help level the playing field which currently gives a huge megaphone to corporations and special interests. It would make speech more free, not less.

Please consider it. If you like it, sign it and pass the word.
hatman: HatMan, my alter ego and face on the 'net (Default)
( Apr. 3rd, 2010 03:31 am)
If you're interested in American politics and things like ACORN and Global Warming, please watch this video.

In completely other news, I had the Weirdest Dream Ever.

Cut for rambly weirdness )
hatman: HatMan, my alter ego and face on the 'net (Default)
( Mar. 4th, 2010 07:47 pm)
In no particular order...

1. Was in the shower earlier this week* when I noticed something odd. Some soap bubbles had gathered on the back wall of the shower (as soap bubbles are wont to do). The odd thing was that they were in a familiar shape. Hebrew letters. Four of them, relatively well formed and in a line. Turns out they even spelled a word. Kinda cool, kinda freaky. Less so, however, when that word happens to mean "the board." (Which can refer to a wooden board, chalkboard, calendar, or several other things along that line.) There was possibly another word underneath it, but it was too faded by the time I noticed it. Wonder what it means.

*Yes, I've showered since then, but that's not important right now.

2. Have you heard of The Coffee Party? It's kind of a reaction to The Tea Party movement (which encompasses a number of organizations, not all of which get along with each other). But kind of not. Actually, it's still figuring out what it is, really. Mostly, it's supposed to be a place where everyone can come together and have a civil political conversation without all the anger and polarization that have taken root in our culture these days. But it's also a reaction to the far-right Tea Party, and, as such, seems to be attracting far more liberals than conservatives so far.

Thing is that both the Democrats and Republicans have been purging their ranks of moderates, choosing to focus more on core values. There is something to be said for dropping people who are ostensibly included in the party but not helping to move the agenda along (or actually actively hurting it). But there's also something to be said for having a big tent and more constituents.

And if both sides are getting rid of moderates as everyone becomes more polarized... those who actually are centrists will be squeezed out entirely. Furthermore, the government becomes even more broken as Congress loses the people who are willing to work across party lines to actually get things done. (As you can see from the current Republican caucus, which seems to be devoted entirely to obstructionism, name calling, outright lying, rank hypocrisy, and generally doing whatever it takes to destroy anything the Democrats want even if it would actually be good for the country.)

So I hope the Coffee Party movement actually solidifies into something that can bring us back together.

And I'm wondering if all of this will mean that we'll actually have a viable third party picking up the centrists squeezed out from both sides.

3. [personal profile] zorkian pointed out this journal, which points out that LJ silently introduced a bit of code that was rewriting affiliate links. So if you posted a link to Amazon that would get you a small commission for the sale, LJ would quietly edit it so that someone else (presumably tied to LJ) got the money instead. The code has since been taken back down (with LJ making vague claims that it wasn't working as intended or something), but this isn't the first time they've tried to just quietly get away with something (and then, when caught, pretend that no, no, they didn't mean that at all).

In a related story, I still have a good number of DW invite codes. You can automatically crosspost to LJ. And soon you'll have the option to read entries from your LJ flist on your DW reading page. All sorts of other neat things, too. Oh, and [community profile] scans_daily is on DW now, too. Just sayin'.

4. Start with a simple steam engine. The sort of thing that's been around since the early 18th century. A heat source sets a pot of water to boiling. The pressure of the steam drives it through a pipe to a turbine. It spins the turbine, which basically converts the heat energy into mechanical energy. The steam condenses back into water, which is returned to the boiler to start the cycle again.

That gives you a rotating axle, which can be used to power just about anything. You can attach it to a lathe, which can make pipes and screws and all sorts of parts and tools. You can use it to drive a hammer or a grinding stone. You can attach it to a paddle wheel and move a boat. You can put a gear on it and use it as a motor to drive a train or a car or whatever you want.

Or you could hook it up to an AC generator. Spin a wire between two magnets (or spin the magnets around the wire), and you can generate electric current. It really is that simple. You can build one at home if you want.

So we've got a pot of water that boils. The steam drives a turbine which spins a wire and that generates electric current.

How simple is that? And yet, it's how we get the vast bulk of the electricity that powers our modern world. The only difference is that we've scaled it up to the size of a large building. And we've swapped out the heat source. Some places, we still use coal, it's true. Others, it's oil. In many places, though, it's something else - a nuclear reactor.

So what's a nuclear reactor?

Start out with a rod of plutonium or uranium. Elements with large atoms. Large enough that they're unstable. The protons in the nucleus repel each other, and with so many of them packed in, it doesn't take much for some of them to start flying off. Which is why those elements are radioactive.

Now, shoot a stream of protons at the rod. There's a lot of empty space between the atoms that make up the rod, and the atoms are all moving around within the rod, but they're also reasonably large targets and there are a lot of them. Eventually, you'll hit an atom. A glancing blow will knock off a few stray protons. A direct hit can cause the whole thing to come apart in chunks. Either way, you've sent a number of particles flying off, and some of those will hit other atoms, which will send off more particles, and so on, in a chain reaction.

The thing is that each time that happens, a tiny bit of mass is lost. Every time an atom is blown apart, the sum of the pieces will be slightly smaller than the mass of the original atom. What happened to that little bit of mass? Well, according to the theory of special relativity, mass is just supercondensed energy. E = MC2. Energy equals mass times the speed of light squared. So the teeny fraction of an atom's mass lost in the fission reaction is converted into a much bigger quantity of energy.

That energy is used to... boil water. Unfortunately, the steam carries with it radioactive particles. So instead of just using the steam from the reactor directly, it's used to heat another tank of water, and the steam from that is used to drive the turbine that powers the generator.

Of course, the reactor doesn't use just one rod. There's a whole grid of them. And in between the rods are more rods, these made of carbon. The carbon rods can absorb some of the particles flying around, keeping the reaction under control (which is why they're called control rods). Basically, they act as the brakes.

So, first off... A nuclear power plant is a really simple steam engine driven by a fancy heat source. Which kind of blows my mind whenever I stop to think about it.

The other thing, though, is that it's incredibly inefficient.A modern high-efficiency coal power plant is lucky to have 50% efficiency - that is, half the energy released from burning the coal is ultimately converted into electricity. The rest is wasted. Lost to friction, to cycling the water, to waste heat. And that's considered really efficient. A nuclear plant is even less so. You blow apart a huge atom. A very small portion of that gets converted into energy. And even that has the brakes put on it because of the control rods. That energy is used for the relatively inefficient task of boiling water. Which is used to boil more water. Which is used to drive a turbine. There's a huge chunk of energy lost at each step. The only reason it works at all is that the multiplication factor of the speed of light squared is literally astronomical.

Not only that, but in the end you're left with the spent fuel rods - which are still highly radioactive. Still composed of large atoms just waiting to fall apart.

And yet, at the beginning of the 21st century, this is pretty much the height of power-generating technology. A steam engine driven by an almost criminally wasteful boiler. You'd think we'd have figured out a better way by now. There's got to be one.
hatman: HatMan, my alter ego and face on the 'net (Default)
( Dec. 16th, 2009 04:27 pm)
Something that's been in the back of my mind for the last year...

1. The Bush administration used techniques which fit the legal definition of torture. (And that's just with what's publicly known.)

2. Torture is a violation of federal law and the Geneva Conventions (arguably our single most important international treaty).

3. We are legally (and morally) required to prosecute torture.

4. Such prosecutions, if ordered by the current administration, would cost a fair chunk of political capital and would drive a further wedge between conservatives and progressives.

5. It's therefore not entirely surprising that prosecutions haven't happened and don't seem to be forthcoming. (AG Holder announced that he would prosecute cases where people went above and beyond the express authorization, but ruled out going after the top-level officials who made the illegal authorizations in the first place. And I haven't heard anything about actual charges resulting from the investigations he did say he planned to open.)

6. The threat floated by someone at the UN of bringing up charges in an international court has similarly failed to result in any solid action. Because it's hard to bring a challenge like that against people as powerful as top-level US executives.

7. Allowing such flagrant violations of some of our most important laws and treaty obligations sets a very dangerous precedent for future administrations.

(The part where torture got people who were giving up good information to stop talking, where the techniques used were adapted from ones designed to elicit false confessions, where using them made it all but impossible to prosecute the most dangerous suspects because the evidence was tainted and the defendants' rights violated, where the fact that we were torturing became the terrorist's chief recruiting tool, etc etc... is all beside the point. For the moment.)

What I'm wondering, then, is this:

Is there any legal option by which we, the people, can sue the Bush administration?

They committed crimes in our name. Crimes which made us less safe. Crimes which must not go unpunished.

I remember murder cases where the defendant, having been acquitted in criminal court, faced a civil suit brought about by the victim's family. "Deprivation of the victim's civil rights (by virtue of having been deprived of life)." Is there a similar option for us? Or would the charges have to come from the ones who were tortured?

Over in the UK, it seems the people might be bringing Tony Blair up on war crimes charges.

So what can we do?
hatman: HatMan, my alter ego and face on the 'net (Default)
( Nov. 7th, 2008 01:03 am)
[livejournal.com profile] kb91 pointed out something very cool in a comment to the last entry:

That's brilliant. And it seems to be working. Wow. Must find a way to support that.

In other news, campaign insiders have now admitted that Palin thought Africa was a country, didn't know who signed NAFTA (hint: they're the countries in North America), threw tantrums, refused interview prep, etc etc...* Wow. Now they tell us. Sounds like they're afraid she'll take over the party.

*Watch here. (Warning: Fox News) It's hilarious.

Unbelievable that Ted Stevens, convicted of failing to report over a quarter mil in "gifts" from an oil company, is not only in a virtual dead heat with his opponent, but actually is maintaining a slight lead. What is up with Alaska?


A few people on my flist have mentioned feminism in recent months, in less than positive terms. My oldest sister is a strong believer in feminism, and told me in no uncertain terms that I better be, too. (Luckily, I am.)

Feminism doesn't have to be man-hating, bra-burning, stuck-up, raving... whatever.

As I was taught it, and as I think it is and should be, feminism is simply this: support for gender equality. Support for women's rights. For equal pay and equal treatment. Against objectification. Against sexism.

It's a pretty broad umbrella, and as is always the case with such things, it's the loudest voices that are most heard. But that doesn't mean that they're truly representative.

It can be taken too far, but... anyone can be a feminist. I'm proud to say I am.
hatman: HatMan, my alter ego and face on the 'net (Default)
( Oct. 21st, 2008 06:54 am)
What's all this nonsense about the "real America"? About small towns and small town people being somehow more real, more patriotic, more "pro-America"?

We're all Americans. Diversity is one of our country's greatest strengths. The mix of people with differing ideas and backgrounds.

And patriotism? It's about more than waving a flag and shouting "We're #1! The greatest country in the world!" It's about loving your country, about wanting it to be the best it can be. Part of that is recognizing the flaws and shortcomings. About finding what needs to be improved, so that we can make our country stronger and better.

And "pro-America"? Tell me, how many US citizens are anti-America? How many people want to trash and tear apart their home? How many people who run for office do so out of a need to tear down what they're helping to govern?

How about working with minorities? (Link 1, Link 2) How about protecting the rights of people with a different lifestyle, or at least not actively working to quash them? (Link 3) How about working for all Americans, wherever they come from, whatever they believe (or don't believe), wherever they live? While we're at it, how about protecting our world rather than selling it to short-term corporate interests? (Link 4) How about being truly patriotic and looking out for all of America... red, white, and blue?