Archive for November, 2009

Japanese PM to receive President Obama

November 10, 2009


Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama will meet with president Obama this week in Tokyo to tackle issues such as Afghanistan, the environment, and the economic crisis.

Obama has said to the Japanese public broadcasting service, NHK, that he is willing to pay his respects to the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the only two sites that the United States has ever used the atomic bomb against.

Japanese Prime Minister Hatoyama was not reached for comment on the issue but it seems Obama is not publicizing this part of his trip.


Prime Minister Hatoyama was the first foreign leader to visit the Obama white house and now he has extended the same hospitality to our president.

During their meeting at the Whitehouse early 2009, Obama stressed that he wished to strengthen Japanese-American relations.

The leaders of the two largest economies will meet later this week and continue to form the bond they created in the first month of Obama’s administration.


Obama has stated that America’s relationship with Japan secures the United States’ place in east-Asia.

The meeting with Hatoyama won’t be without its struggles. Secretary of State Clinton has meet with Chinese and talks with North Korea are always on the table which is not something the Japanese government readily approves of.

Most likely, Obama’s visit will center around the environment as the Copenhagen conference is the next international conference that he will be attending.


Not since George Bush Sr, a former ambassador to China under Nixon, have we seen a president so interested in Asia and its place in the world.

With the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq seizing most of our foreign policy attention its easy to forget how important Asia has been in the past several decades in securing world peace.

Nixon and his triangular diplomacy diffused strong cold war tensions and the trade wars of 80s between America and Japan lead to a great exchange of products and culture.

I hope that Obama will periodically focus on the marvelous potential Asia has in shaping economic and political power world wide.


obamajapan.jpg image by hibiscusphoto


British Economy Becoming More Optomistic

November 10, 2009


A new London Times poll shows that Britons are more optimistic about their economy than any other time in the last 18 months.

The economy has been showing better signs in London as well with overall sales rising at their fastest increase since April and October sales having their highest street sales in seven years.

The pound reached a three month high during this new economic hill, I would not call it a peak.


Even with this sporadic growth and a relative increase in consumer confidence, the Labour Party has proposed for a national investment corporation that will invest public money in industry and enterprise.

This proposal is a similar if a more organized and logical approach to the bail-outs that we have had in the United States.

Instead of investing in failing companies, the British are opting to support what they call “high growth and innovative” companies.

The way to determine this appropriation of public funds is still a matter of debate.

Pollsters may have found out that currently the British feel better about their economy, but that same poll confirmed that two thirds of the country still believe their country will do badly in the next year.


England’s economic psyche maybe a little unstable but it is certainly moving in the right direction. The British Treasury is still pushing hard for billions in investment money arguing that the recovery can be a fragile process.

Does a simple upswing in morale move an economy towards a recovery or is it just cold hard numbers that solve these crises? Concordantly, is the United States bailing its economy in a smart way, by investing in failing companies rather than successful ones?

The greatest so-called capitalist power on the planet is treating its recovery process more like the witness protection program than a true investment deal.

If the American bailout uses American money maybe we should ask for a different investment, perhaps the Brits have some hot tips about the market.

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First Robot Olympics to be held in China

November 10, 2009


The first International Humanoid Robot Olympic Games will be held in the Chinese city of Harbin in June 2010.

The event will showcase robotics creators from around the world and will feature their creations in a competitive setting.

The games will only permit androids, or robots with human features and structure, to be entered into the games unlike the formerly popular Battlebots program on Comedy Central which featured robots with giants saws, hammers, and conveyor belts to name a few.


Organizers of these new type of games states that this competition aims to make robots more efficient and more capable at serving humans at home. (I guess the founders of the games hadn’t heard of the Roomba, no legs but a very efficient vacuum cleaner.

16 events will be held throughout the competition including track and field and football, highly demanding games for even a human body. The robots we will see at this competition will have to have impeccable design and endurance to survive.


Chinese officials estimate that more than a hundred universities will compete in the games from over twenty countries around the world. As an American, I whole heartily expect that MIT will be making an appearance in Harbin.

No specific date has been made for the International Humanoid Robot Olympic Games yet, but the artificial intelligence community is electric with its excitement.

Progress Report: Who Killed the Electric Car?

November 8, 2009


The 2006 documentary Who Killed the Electric Car? chronicled the strange and tragic demise of the General Motors’ EV 1 Vehicle, the first commercial plug-in electric car.

Film maker Chris Paine chronicled how GM, big oil, California politicians, and the white house all led to the demise of what should have been the future of transportation.

It was a brilliant documentary that showed how a good idea can get killed by corporate and political interests. California was the test market of the EV1, due to a strict emissions law that was overturned in 2003, and I still spot the electric vehicle charging stations when I visit home.

The ghostly remains of this environmental savior still haunt residents of California and Paine’s documentary showed this quite well. He featured extensive interviews with former EV1 drivers that showed how well affordable electric cars would work for the American public.

It has been three years since this memorial service for the electric car, what has happened since then?


As General Motors EV1 was on life support and its plug was getting pulled for the last time, computer engineer at founder of Network Computing Devices Martin Eberhard started the Tesla motor company.

The young entrepreneur gathered a pantheon of tech giants including Paypal co-founder Elon Musk, Google co-founders Sergey Brin & Larry Page, and former eBay President Jeff Skoll to invest heavily in the company.

Tesla Motors revolutionized the idea of who and what a motor company should be made up of. The plug-in electrics that Tesla would produce were not designed by the bigwigs in Detroit or Japan but the techies in California.

The switch from computers to an electric car was a natural one as laptops and other electronic devices had given Silicon Valley enormous experience with creating efficient battery power.

What came about was a marvel of engineering and a bold statement to the automotive community. The first car Tesla produced was not some small funny looking enviro car, it was… THE TESLA ROADSTER.

This beast could go 0-60 in 3.9 seconds and have a 244 mile range on just one charge. Porches have failed trying to outrun this car and they don’t look this good either. The roadster runs silently and has a sleek sexy design that anyone could envy.

The speed achieved in the Tesla Roadster comes from the electric engine which runs more efficiently than the typical internal combustion engine. The torque is leaps and bounds better because a battery distributes the power far better. EV1 owners stated the same sort of jolt that one gets from driving an electric car. As Tom Hanks said on the Letterman show, “That sucker goes. You can get a ticket.”

The Tesla however is built with 2009 technology and has a far more efficient battery system than the old GM models. It has a top speed of 125 mph and everyone who has driven one has been blown away by its performance.

Founder Martin Eberhard stated in this video that you don’t have to sacrifice speed and design for fuel efficiency. He believes that this type of electric car will get people to buy electrics.

If you have the money that is, the roadster is a 100k dollar car but Tesla will be unleashing the Tesla Model S in 2011 which will be around 57,000 competing with companies such as BMW and Mercedes. Tesla will further down the line create a car to compete with more affordable cars like the Toyota Carola.


A Better Place is another company that has emerged since the tragic death of the electric car. The company describes itself as “the global provider of vehicle services, accelerating the transition to sustainable transportation.”

Founder and CEO Shai Agassi started A Better Place to promote electric car technology but a new form of infrastructure that provides new solutions to creating efficient and environmentally friendly electric cars.

Agassi started the company after attending a World Economic summit in 2005, where global leaders were asked how can the world be a better place by 2020? His response was ultimately this company.

By implementing battery switch stations, charging stations, and EV network software that manages energy, navigation, and even customer service. Isreal, Denmark, and Australia are the first markets to sign on to Agassi’s system with Hawaii tenatively planned as well.

In the coming years we will see if A Better Place will give us a better electric car, and a better environment. PBS’s program NOW documented how A Better Place is setting up its system in Denmark.


A video of the NXR is displayed at a news conference in Syracuse, New York on Friday.   (Photo: Adam Fenster, Reuters)

Indian electric car company Reva announced late October 2009 that it will build a plant in New York for the manufacture of three seater hatchback electric cars known as the NXR.

It will be sold in the U.S. and Japan in 2010 with broader distribution rolling out in 2012. This announcement has shown that the future of the automotive industry is in electrics.

An Indian company coming to the US with anything but an electric car would seem insane, not only has the electric movement lead to a more environmentally conscious market it is leveling out the playing field for manufacturers.

Who could think fifteen years ago that a Silicon Valley or Indian car company could be successful? The reason these companies will continue towards success is that they are moving towards a sustainable future.

GM and the other bailout companies of Detroit are still stuck wishing for their pre-Toyota days of dominance let alone looking towards alternative fuels seriously.


With all these developments and probably more than this blog post can report, Chris Paine has announced a 2010/2011 film called Revenge of the Electric Car.

The film will document the rise of what looked like a fallen hero in the quest for an environmentally friendly world.

As Pain has written on his film blog, “electric cars are back from the dead and this time… they’re not turning back.”

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My personal tagline for the movie

A Change Of Climate

November 7, 2009


The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee has passed a Democratic climate bill through the U.S. Senate on Thursday Nov.5

The bill was written by California senator Barbara Boxer and takes a Cap and Trade approach along with new emissions standards to cut down on greenhouse gases.

The legislation requires that American industry will reduce its carbon dioxide emissions and other greenhouse cases by 2020, from levels measured in 2005.


Senate Democrats have started a self proclaimed aggressive new stage in passing legislation that will push President Obama’s agenda.

This emboldened approach to passing a comprehensive global warming bill is due to several factors. First, the two gubernatorial wins for Republicans in the special election this past Tuesday has shook up the Democratic Super Majority into taking stronger action.

Second, Obama will be attending talks on the climate crisis in Copenhagen next month and Senate Democrats want to give him legislation that he can talk about at the conference.

Lastly, Democrats faced a crushing defeat with a 2008 Senate climate change bill and this will be an attempt at a comeback from that setback.

The bottom line is that the Democrats are trying to effectively wield the majority that they have been given and climate change is one of the few avenues that they and the President want to head down.


Many analysts say that the Boxer bill will not pass a full Senate hearing and the newly senior senator from Massachusetts, John Kerry has been enlisted to rally moderates such as Arlen Spector and Joe Lieberman into supporting this bill.

Kerry was the co-author of the bill and he wishes to get Republicans to join him and Boxer in passing this new legislation that aims to reduce greenhouse gases, a goal that echoes the campaign promises of both his and the President’s campaigns.

Can Kerry motivate a very stubborn right into coming over to the left of the aisle? Obama, one of the most well received president elects in recent history has not been able to deliver that campaign promise so can Kerry, a man who lost the presidency in 2004 far better?

All he has to do is weal and deal the members of Congress which as an experienced Senator I have no doubt he can do, the problem is will the centrist and right wing senators wish to be seen co-sponsoring a Kerry Boxer climate bill?


If the Democrats are going to want to play hard ball they have good opponents to play against, well maybe I shouldn’t say good, but at least a challenging set of naysayers and head shakers.

The Republican strategy has been to stress jobs and economics within the climate change debate going as far as having Karl Rove publish an article on the matter when Al Gore graced the cover of Newsweek recently.

Common contentions such as that of Senator James Inhofe, the senior Republican on the Environment and Public Works Committee, state that the strict regulation on industry will shrink the U.S. economy.

Some business leaders have responded to this common Republican talking point such as the former CEO of Paypal and current CEO of Tesla Motors, the sexy electric car company, and most vocally adventurer-billionaire Richard Branson. Here Branson and other CEOs talk about deforestation:

The video shows that even titans of industry regard things like the environment more important that corporate gains. We need to have clean air to even exchange money, let alone make it.

Branson and countries like France and Japan have shown that green technologies and infrastructures pay for themselves within a few years, with heavy investments in those technologies with profitable results. Even if you except that business only wants money than, going green should be an immediate goal of all industry.


It is easy to want to forget about the environmental movement with the extreme hype and marketing that it received in 2007. The poor Live Aid and Live 8 clone, Live Earth was as awkward as it was long and each cable channel devoting blocks of its programming and advertising to “going green” felt opportunistic at the least and propaganda at the worst.

We need to take the climate change debate in a new direction where technology and innovation of industry is celebrated. The startup company Tesla has proven that one can be successful in creating alternative energy solutions while GE has improved its entire corporate image by building green technology.

The irony is that the energy and environmental crisis might be solved with the flick of a switch but only if we try, because then the earth may go into the dark.


An Inconvenent Truth… 2 ?

November 3, 2009


The spiritual sequel to the greatest global warming documentary ever (sorry Leo the 11th Hour just didn’t do it for me) has arrived!

Its incarnation is a new book, not a film as many people expected. The documentary fanboys were gravely disappointed by the news. I guess this release rules out the former vice president and Oscar winner from becoming a Hollywood player anytime in the future.

I still have high hopes for Dick though –


[Probably won’t be a huge smash but like many producers he’s at least plugging away]


All kidding aside, Al Gore’s latest book Our Choice: A Plan to Solve the Climate Crisis takes a self reflective look at Gore’s past brand of advocacy.

Gore argues that facts alone will not motivate people to solve the climate crisis and that a spiritual argument must be made. The idea has been touched upon by the former vice president many times as he has frequently said that climate change is a “moral issue.”

This is the first time, however, the climate change advocate has acknowledged that spouting pure science will not win this devisive debate. Its a far different type of Gore than the man who several years earlier stated that science ended the debate on climate change.

Al wants to win on moral grounds now not just on the factual. He has admitted to Newsweek that “laying out the facts won’t work.”


Its a strange admission from a man who won an Oscar doing just that with his slide shows around the country. Has he hit a roadblock in just laying out the facts and figures? He might need to say something different after touring the country extensively so, going on the moral road is not such a wild idea.

Could he be reacting to a common criticism that he has recieved his entire public life? Gore can be very wooden in his public persona and perhaps going with a spiritual tone would soften his image as well as his message.

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Gore has trained thousands of volunteers in taking that message and framing on moral and religious grounds, having advocates fromthe Christian, Muslim, Jewish, and Hindu faiths argue for going green.

It is possible that Gore has stumbled upon the greatest of Inconvenient Truths: humanity won’t address a problem unless religion has an issue of contention with it.

Is Al Gore turning his movement into one that ask you to “Go Green” to one that asks you to become “Green Again?”


Al Gore isn’t trying to fight the ignorance of his adversaries with more ignorance, however. His new book has even more research from top researchers as well as more than a dozen solution summits on climate change over the past two years.

He also covers new topics such as deforestation and population control. These and other new issues serve as referrendum to some of the problems that he may not have adressed in his previous film/book/slideshow.

The new problems are also what Gore and his fellow advocates argue are demonstrative of the growing problem of climate change – that if we do not stop it now, more issues will arise.


Gore also appeared on Katie Couric this week and gave a summary of where he sees the climate change movement heading.

The interview features some good cross examination by Couric and she raises another concept in the new “green-again” Gore strategy. She points out to Gore that Karl Rove and other GOP strategists argue that going green will lose American homes money.

Gore maybe trying to avoid the economic debate by turning it into a spiritual and philosophical one. Wars are thought of in the same way. Many times the tremendous cost to taxpayers, governments, and families are ignored because wars are thought of in moral terms.


Gore’s new book doesn’t raise as many questions as his new methodology. What I would like to see more than just the grassroots and spiritual brands of advocacy is a stronger Internet presence for the green movement. What is greener than a virtual campaign?