Aug 302007

The Wall Street Journal has a great travel article called On the Silk Road Again. They purchase a Chinese-made compact car, the Chery A1 (which will be exported to the US via Chrysler), for $7000 and drive the Chinese National Highway along old silk roads in the north west corner of China. It touches on the history and changes to the region, as well as changing Chinese attitudes towards road trips in their own country.

We waited until evening to drive into the heart of the desert itself to avoid the blistering summertime temperatures, which can heat road surfaces to 165 degrees and cause tires to burst. About 200 miles into the desert, a pink glow appeared over the dunes. As we crested a rise, we saw a small strip with restaurants, brothels, a karaoke parlor, a video gambling hall and a gas station that had sprung up by the turn off to the oil fields. Truckers and oil-field workers wearing red coveralls and black boots drank with prostitutes at tables in front of their red-lit storefronts.

…many Chinese are attracted by the spirituality and traditional way of life of the Muslim Uighurs. “Here, you can see how Islam shapes every aspect of people’s lives,” says Yu Mo, a 33-year-old sculptor and professor. “Young people in eastern China, like my students, they don’t believe in anything — except globalization.” Mr. Yu fears that even here, in one of China’s least-developed provinces, the old ways won’t last long. “I want to catch it before it’s gone,” says Mr. Yu, who drove more than 2,500 miles on a solo voyage in a Nissan pickup from his home south of Shanghai.

Check out the related photo gallery and video as well.

via Worldhum

Aug 282007

When I first moved near down town, I had no access to recycling. This was a pain in the ass, as I would always end up dragging it to someone else’s bin, or to a center somewhere. But most people in the building would just trash it all, because they had no blue box options in the building. It was disheartening to see entire dumpsters filled with glass, plastic, and paper.

But it sounds like that will change in the future. Voice of San Diego has a story about Jerry Sanders getting on board with mandatory recycling:

The mayor, who had previously rejected calls for expanding the city’s lagging recycling policy, has reversed course and proposed a law that would require city residents to recycle their cans, newspapers and glass bottles.

His proposal would also make recycling available to thousands of apartment, condo and office dwellers who lack it. Blue bins would be phased in, with the largest apartments (more than 100 units) and office buildings (more than 20,000 square feet) required to provide recycling by January 2008.

Any special event requiring a city permit would be required to provide recycling bins.

Aug 242007

The LA times has a story on the latest attempt to root out corruption in the Baja police force:

They’re installing cameras to catch extortion attempts, publicizing that people can pay tickets with credit cards and transferring corrupt cops. They’ve deployed a squad of female traffic officers to offer courteous help to tourists. They’ve even declared the stretch of road a “no-ticket” highway.

Many police officers turn to extortion, he said, because their supervisors threaten to transfer them to dangerous neighborhoods if they don’t fork over a daily share of cash from bribes. Officers usually don’t demand cash from the drivers they stop, he said. Instead, they start asking a lot of questions and reviewing registration records. Most people are quick to offer a bribe to avoid long dealings with officers who seem to have nothing but time on their hands.

“For Americans, $20 is nothing,” said the former officer. “The American has money. The American doesn’t know the law. The American doesn’t want his vacation delayed.” The best way to avoid paying a bribe, he said, is to insist on being taken to the police station. “If the American wanted to go to the station, I would follow for a while, and then put on my lights and pretend I had an emergency. I didn’t want to get in trouble with my supervisors,” the former patrol officer said.

….After Julio Caesar Garcia, a 33-year-old police supervisor, gave driving directions to a saleswoman for the Trump development, he was given an award by Torres’ real estate association. “She was impressed that I didn’t ask for a bribe, but I was just doing my job,” said Garcia, who was a bit bewildered by the praise. “I never got an award for being shot at.”

The latest anti-corruption measures, say border experts, reflect Baja California’s growing commitment to professional law enforcement. Police salaries in Tijuana were recently doubled — to about $1,500 monthly — making the force the highest paid in Mexico, say officials who hope the increases also will make their officers the least likely to seek bribes. Serious problems remain, including a lack of professional training, minimum educational requirements and an entrenched culture of corruption that in some departments starts at the top.

There’s also the temptation of all the new money in the area. The former Rosarito Beach police officer said many cops viewed the building boom as a bribe-taking bonanza on par with the filming of “Titanic” in Baja in the mid-1990s, when he and other police regularly stopped studio workers and visiting Hollywood executives. “They were easy targets because of the language difference and because they were always in hurry,” the former patrol officer said. “Those were great days.”

Real estate professionals don’t see it that way. Their goal is to re-create the Southern California oceanfront experience in Mexico at a fraction of the price, without the problem of corrupt officers’ outstretched hands.

I found the whole thing worth a read to know what to expect on your next trip south, and get an update on the building boom. I wonder how the Baja condo and walled community boom will do over the next two years, assuming housing continues to dip up north…

Aug 212007

Looking over my fifteen postings, this is fast becoming the economics and scuba blog. This post won’t change that average.

I completed my advanced PADI course this weekend. It focused on peak performance buoyancy, underwater navigation, night dives, deep dives, and wreck dives. I had three dives at the shores on Saturday, including one at night. In between practicing skills we got to see a decent amount of life around the edge of the canyon. Sheephead and miscellaneous fish, as well as a large bat ray chowing down on some critters buried in the wall.

The night dive was a great experience. We arrived in the golden hours and watched the sun go down as we got our equipment ready. Empty looking bumps in the day transformed into sea pens and anemones at night. There were a lot of halibut and lobster out, as well as a few scorpion fish and a small red octopus in the canyon.

On Sunday we did two deep/wreck dives. The first was the HMS Yukon, a 366 foot long Canadian destroyer that was sunk in 100 feet of water in 2000. The wreck has only been down seven years, but it is completely covered with life. Most of the ship is coated in metridium, an anemone that looks like a large cauliflower. Small to medium sized fish swim around and through the wreck’s railings and holes. I’m going to have to come back here.

The next dive was at the Ruby E. This cutter wreck is 165 feet long, and about 85 feet deep. Since it was sunk in 1989, the ship has dissolved in certain areas. But it also has abundant life in and around it, with strawberry anemones coating most of it. Yet another great dive.

At this point, I think I’m almost done with classes. I’ll probably end up taking nitrox/enritched air (to extend my bottom time), and deep dives (130 feet) so I can check out La Jolla Canyon.

Aug 162007

Ars Technica has a interesting writeup on a study of the life cycle of alternative energy sources, and their total environmental impact. The article is called The ‘greenness’ of alternative energy sources. It looked at the “flow of material and energy used in the construction, operation, and ultimate decommissioning of a renewable energy supply. In addition to these terms, it takes into account the impact of manufacturing the materials needed to extract energy, as well as waste generated by the process.” The quick summary: wind and geothermal do the best, with solar needing wide scale use before its efficiency gets to fossil fuel levels – but dramatically lower on the pollution side, of course.

Aug 142007

Harvard Magazine has a good article up online called Debtor Nation. The four pages give an overview of the current situation with the US economy and currency and its dependence on debt.

The global imbalances created by this dynamic of American borrowing and foreign lending appear stable for now, but if they slip suddenly, that could pose serious dangers for middle- and working-class Americans through soaring interest rates, a crash in the housing market, and sharply higher prices for anything no longer made domestically.

“We are at full employment, maybe more than full employment.” Furthermore, he notes, we have large liabilities ahead of us associated with an aging workforce, due not so much to Social Security as to the rising healthcare costs covered by Medicare. “There is absolutely no excuse to be running a government deficit of even 2 percent in the federal account, as we are doing now, when we are at full employment and the retirement of the baby-boom generation is right around the corner”

Aug 102007

I did a 45 minute dive at the La Jolla Cove kelp beds this morning with a buddy. Visibility was only 5-10 feet. But the surface temp was 74, and the coldest water we hit was 64 degrees. We saw a lot of kelp bass and a few large schools out, but no large fish like sheephead or giant black sea bass. We did see a horn shark… but it doesn’t count, since it was dead and becoming food. Near the end of the dive we found a huge California spiny lobster, much larger than I’d ever seen here. It was hard to tell exactly how large it was, since it was holed up. But I would guess that head to tail it was over two feet long. The smallest tips of its legs were the size of my thumb. They can live up to 150 years old, so this guy was probably older than me.