politics

The misery of war index

A friend overseas wondered to me recently why Americans don't seem to be more upset by the war in Iraq and Bush's various other exercises in adventurism. I have a theory on that, but it will require some research to back it up.

My guess: that the war has not yet touched anybody's wallet noticeably enough (or at least more than the general recession has) to get them upset about it. This has been, for most Americans, a sacrifice-free war; only those in the military or called up for active duty by the National Guard or the Reserve (and their families) have been directly affected thus far (and the Guardsmen and reservists' families have been the ones who've had to deal with the worst financial impact, as breadwinners have taken big pay cuts for mandatory active service).

This is the “Guns Plus Butter” plan of the Bush administration: minimize the financial impact of the war now, by borrowing to the hilt while interest rates are low and inflation is dead; finance the war while cutting taxes on those who complain the loudest; leave the financial rubble for some other administration to clean up.

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General Chaos

Lies, damn lies, and unemployment statistics

US jobs market continues steady pick-up. Business: US unemployment in November fell to its lowest level since March, official figures showed today. [Guardian Unlimited]

The Guardian story puts an upbeat spin on things; but other views of the data were less than rosy.

And the numbers here don't add up for some reason. Okay, unemployment numbers dipped a tenth of a percent on the creation of 57,000 jobs. Obviously, the numbers were aided by more people dropping out of the “workforce” as their benefits ended and they gave up looking for work.

That would place the entirety of the US “workforce” at 57 million people. That's, erm, only 20% of the US population. So, if only 54 million (94.1% of the “workforce”) are “employed”…

If we were to take only the US population between 18 and 65 (about 173 million), that would still be only 31% of adults in the US are employed.

Okay, even if only half of the adult-age people in the US were in the workforce, how does 62% of them having jobs equal only 5.9% unemployment?

Let's look at those numbers again: there are 173 million adults betweek 18 and 65 in the US. Only 54 million are on employers' payrolls, based on the survey numbers.

So, what's the real unemployment rate? And what's the underemployment rate–the rate of people taking jobs significantly below their wages prior to unemployment?

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Administrivia

winter rules

Today was the first biking day after Thanksgiving (and due to a conspiracy between meteorologists, butterflies in China, and family event schedulers, it was my first time out on a bike in more than a week). And the weather being what it is (it being the first week of December and all), Winter Rules for urban assault riding are now officially in effect.

Riding a bike in the city in fair weather is an adventure, to be sure. But winter riding is a completely different frozen ball of mud. You've got less daylight, more clothes, more questionable road and trail and sidewalk conditions, and a whole lotta chaos not normally thrown into the mix of the summer pedal.

For one thing, drivers in winter are somehow even more oblivious to you than in summer. A cyclist in summer is almost expected; a cyclist in December, January or February is such an oddity that it is immediately rejected and ignored by many more cognitively-challenged drivers' minds.

Falling is always bad (especially in urban assault riding), but winter adds new dimensions to falling. Yes, it's possible for pavement to be harder. And grassy ground is stiff or frozen. However, you have more layers on, and if your're lucky there's a pile of leaves to fall into–and maybe there isn't a broken bottle or a sleeping drunk underneath them.

Of course, the leaves may have made you fall in the first place. Or the patch of ice under them.

Forget sunglasses. It's time to go out and buy a pair of clear ski goggles with good peripheral vision. And that summer helmet might do until Christmas, but start thinking about how you're going to wedge earmuffs or a watchcap under it and you'll realize it's time to start investigating either a ski helmet or some other multi-sport helmet that lets you protect your ears from the wind while still hearing the blare of the horn from the moron who decided today was his day to shoot that red light.

We might whine about headwinds during the summer, but wind don't mean nothin' till you've turned it into a compound word like “windchill”. And remember, flesh freezes on contact with the air at -40 F.

Snow and bikes do not mix. I don't care how knobby your freakin' tires are on your Cannondale, buddy; you're in 1WD, and that front wheel ain't a ski. I once rode my bike to school after a 4-inch snowfall, and did fine until I hit ice under the snow–then centrifugal force took over and I was making involuntary snow angels.

It may be possible to ride once snow has been cleared. But remember–the snow piles created by the plow increase your probability of becoming a hood ornament at any given intersection. And generally speaking, people out shovelling out cars don't appreciated being divebombed by some lunatic on a mountain bike looking to catch air off their stoop.

The most important difference between winter and summer riding, though, may be attitude. On a summer ride, it's all about having a little fun and some aerobic exercise, using your physical conditioning and skill to catch some air, explore the limits, yadda yadda yadda. In winter, you're already at the freaking limits, meathead–it's FREAKING WINTER, and most SANE people are inside drinking hot chocolate, or off doing something safe like skiing, snowboarding, luge, or skeleton. But, NO, you have something to PROVE, and you're going to ride that damned bike all freaking winter. So winter riding is about getting through the ride in one piece, completing something resembling a circuit, or getting from point A to point B and strapping your poor abused bike to the back of a four-wheel-drive vehicle and getting your ass home. No picnics, wine and cheese, pal.

And when you get off your bike, blowing snot out of your sinus cavities and wiggling your toes to check for circulation, you'll have the satisfaction of knowing that all those other winter sports are for sissies.

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General Chaos

Bringing new meaning to “cycles per second”

Cory Doctorow links to this project to use bicycle-powered WiFi networking as a telecommunications bridge for Laotian villages. A demo is planned tomorrow, Tuesday, December 2, at 10 a.m
at the Jhai Foundation, 921 France Ave., San Francisco, CA.

I'd love to eyeball this somewhere on the east coast. I can think of a number of rural applications for the technology here in the US (and a number of other places) as well. Cross it with voice over IP, and you've got instant low-cost telecom infrastructure for nearly anywhere.

It's this type of application that Linux is really built for–an open-source, low-cost way to use technology to help people. This is why it's so important that the Linux kernel runs on a 486, on a small footprint–not just because it makes a nice set-top box or PDA operating system.

My colleague Dave Carr went to Africa a month ago to cover the UN's use of temporary telecom infrastructure for peacekeeping operations. The UN doesn't have as low a budget as the Jhai Foundation, but it certainly is cost-constrained. It could easily put a juiced-up version of this technology to good use, as could many governments and non-governmental organizations.

Of course, Microsoft is trying through lobbying (and other efforts) to keep too many governments from taking that route…

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