Saturday, January 29, 2011

Revolts in the Arab World

While I can't say I am at all familiar with the situations in North Africa and the Middle East, I have been following the news quite closely since the fall of the Tunisian government two weeks ago.  This week, with Egypt in revolt and at this pointing looking certain to toss Mubarak out unless the army radically changes course, the news has grown even more interesting.  With the additional recent collapse of the government in Lebanon, protests rising in Yemen, Albania, Jordan and unrest in Libya and Algeria, I imagine that this might be as decisive as the collapse of communism in 1989-1991.  Though at this point the narrative is still waiting to emerge.

The high food prices and economic troubles that spiked these actions aren't likely to be going away this year, and the social atmosphere created by seeing successful actions against corrupt regimes will continue pushing for more actions.  Will these protests spread primarily against American backed dictatorships, or will they spread to nations such as Syria and Iran?  That would give me some optimism.

What new governments will form in these countries is the next main questions.  I am all for removing corrupt dictatorships, but if they are merely replaced with Islamist hard-liners or direct rule by various armies, that is not an improvement.  Sadly, I do not know enough of these societies to begin to guess what might happen.  I am an optimist, but will have to wait and see.  News out of Tunisia does seem optimistic on that front so far, and in Egypt the action does not appear to be under the sway of the Muslim Brotherhood.  Yet, again, I do not know enough to venture a guess.

Another item that in most cases seems disconnected from these protests are the various separatist movements in the area.  South Sudan is seceding and Somaliland is effectively separate from Somalia but has yet to receive recognition.  The protests in Yemen are at least partly in support of the secessionist movements of South Yemen.  The maps are already going to be somewhat redrawn, but if there is a tremendous area-wide upset, I imagine the cartographers will have a lot of work to do.  I am often a fan of redrawing maps, and the Middle East is a mess in that regard.

Further into the future, I am trying to imagine how much more this will spread.  I was reading news reports today of China blocking searches of 'Egypt' and there are certainly a lot of corrupt dictatorships in the world.  If this movement spreads further out of the Arab lands, as it has with Albania, it... well, this is just more idle speculation on my part.

Either way, exciting times to be alive.  May it all not go to hell.  If this all turns out like Iran did in '79, I will have to become more pessimistic.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Thoughts on the last year and decade, and where we'll go from here

Before I get used to writing the date out as 2011 and my memory gets too fuzzy, I wanted to take a look back at what the rest of the world was doing in 2010.  A fair share of unfortunate events such as the BP oil spill and the Haitian earthquake, but in general I was fairly happy with the year.

Some good things came out of the 111th Congress, and though certainly not as perfect or clean as I'd have hoped, it was good to see some of the things I had hoped for in 2008 actually happen.  Health care, financial reform, direct student loans, DADT repeal, food safety, child nutrition and the new START treaty were among the top things that went in the right direction, if hobbled as much as most things that come out of Congress.  On top of that we've got the EPA now about to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, which I'm quite happy about as cap and trade or a carbon tax seem to be dead issues at the moment.

On the more disappointing side, health care and financial reform did not go nearly as far as I'd like, the extension of the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy is sickening, and I'm sad Obama hasn't closed Guantanamo, prosecuted torturers in the American government, repealed the Patriot act, done more to improve transparency and protect whistle-blowers such as WikiLeaks.  Fortunately, at least WikiLeaks will be hard or impossible to stop.  I look forward to seeing what happens in North Africa after the Jasmine Revolution, or with the Bank of America leaks and this new Swiss banking information, those all give me some hope.

I could also say I'm disappointed about the lack of instant run-off voting, more non-partisan redistricting, restrictions of corporate power, and insufficiently progressive taxation, but I've made most of those points before.  At least California is doing non-partisan redistricting now with the most recent ballot initiatives, even if the state still desperately needs a new constitution and/or to be broken into several smaller states.  And hey, California is doing its own cap and trade, I'll be thankful for that.

With the economy in the last year in America; we've continued to rack up debt, and seen the gap between the rich and poor continue to grow.  We're going to have to deal with that at some point.  With the new Republican House though, we won't close to raising any taxes, and I'm not sure what services will get cut.  Personally, I'd love to cut agricultural subsidies, corn-ethanol subsidies, fossil-fuel subsidies, the military budget, the drug war, etc, etc.  Maybe in the next year we'll get a little of that, but on the whole, about as likely as us raising taxes on the rich.

In the rest of the world, developing countries such as China and India are growing and pulling more out of poverty.  We've also seen a lot of rising oil and food prices in the world over the last year, and it looks like those will be here to stay for awhile.  Definitely part of the reason North Africa is seeing some of the turbulence it has been the last week.  I'll be quite curious as to how China's economy deals with the next year.  In addition to their inflation with the rising food and oil prices, we've got people like Jim Chanos warning China is going to have a massive property market crash.  Sadly, I'm not enough of an economist to give a fair valuation to this, and I fear my own views might just be nationalistic competitiveness, but I am getting the feeling China is heading towards something of a crash.

With tech and science in the last year, Moore's Law has marched on and computers, the net, and cellphones have gotten a lot better.  Some of the news with Google's self-driving cars, IBM's Watson, and various translating services has certainly impressed me with the progress that software might make in the future.  We're also seeing increasing research that can be done by analyzing the large amounts of social data out there and turning the social sciences into something for measurable and direct, such Google's book analysis.  Outside of software, this last year had graphene, arsenic utilizing life, the first completely artificial organism and... well, I'm finding it hard to find good summary.  I'll edit this tomorrow.

Well, I'm crashing, I'll revise in the morning, and just push to the web now.  Then, with any posts I write for the next while, I'll stick to more specific topics.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Starting Out 2011

Once again a new year.  At this point I've seen four decades, which is starting to make me feel a bit old.  The 90's are now a far away, humorously stereotyped decade that soon college freshman won't be able to remember.  And yet, somehow, I'm still waiting for that singularity, cure for diabetes or self-driving cars.  Maybe getting close on some of them, though, and that'll be pretty interesting.  Either way, I'm looking forward to this year.  Unlike this time last year, I'm happily employed and with health insurance, so that's a big plus.  Also, I'm recently moved to San Francisco and am enjoying that tremendously.  On the other hand, still missing my ex a bit, but can't win them all.

As I haven't blogged in a fair while, I initially set out to write this post with all my thoughts on the last year and the new; including my goals, reviews and commentary of 2010 and predictions and predictions for 2011.  That ended up being a bit long, and as I've got to get work, I'm going to break this post into three parts and just start with my goals for now.  I'm trying to formulate them a bit so as to provide some discipline, and for that reason have begun using  We'll see if that keeps me in line, but going to write them down here to talk about them a bit.

Firstly, with regards to work, need to keep learning more programming.  I'm involved in some projects right that are introducing me to ORMs and better database management, and then others that should teach me a good bit of JavaScript, JQuery, etc, which will help improve my web app development.  I would also like to learn some Android development by years end.

Outside of work, I'd love to actually code some stuff on my own again, haven't done that in years.  I've been meaning to code my own social graph software, should start there.  Then there's the traditional wanting to exercise more, eat less meat and more vegetables, and get back into martial arts.  Handicraft wise, I'm meaning to get a bar built in this house with the help of Truebe, and finishing my furniture that I've only done 20% of in three and a half years.  Need some discipline.  Oh, and I need to pick up new music, I've fallen completely behind on that since leaving college.  With reading, I'd like to re-study some math, and possibly go through some of my college textbooks in various subjects.

Perhaps most importantly, I want to be making more money by year end, and begin to pay my parents back the debt I accrued over my months of unemployment.  Just got a raise at the start of this month with BetterOffLine getting a round of financing, but there is a lot of room for improvement.  This Great Recession isn't exactly fun, but we'll see what the company can do with financing.  Or elsewhere, if need be.

Then of course there are the goals involving beautiful women, but that pretty much goes without saying.

So, that's the summary.  We'll see if I can churn out my other thoughts on the turning year shortly, and I'll return to writing about society, politics, science and technology.