Thursday, January 10, 2008

What Bush Could (and Should) Have Done

This week, George W. Bush made his first visit as US President to the West Bank.

I'm not sure why he waited till his final year in office to do it, but it got me thinking about what else he could - and should - do in his final year.

He said "I'm a uniter, not a divider." Yet his policies often seem to do anything but unite. Loved by some, they are loathed and derided by others.

But here's something that would most likely be accepted widely, is unlikely to offend, is something of national importance, and seriously, GWB is the most appropriate president to do this. Which is why I can't figure out why he and his advisers have not done it sooner:

A national fitness campaign.

While every administration proudly distributes pictures of the Commander in Chief involved in one sporting activity or other, Bush really is the ultimate fitness fanatic. He once said: "Even when I travel, there's always a treadmill in my room. I have a treadmill on Air Force One. On long trips -- for example, when I went to Europe recently -- I ran for 90 minutes on the flight over there. When I came back from China, I ran on the flight.", in an article entitled George Bush - The Fittest President, reports:

"In January, 1993, he finished the Houston Marathon in 3:44:52 (that's about an 8:30 pace); he's the only president ever to complete that distance.

"...Runner's World...reported his normal routine is to run five or six times a week. "When I run," he said, "I run hard. On Sundays if I'm at Camp David, I'll go for a hard, morning run -- these days about 20:30 to 20:45 for three miles on a tough course." In June, 2002, he ran a three-mile road race in an official time of 20:29 at age 55-years-old.

Good heavenly days.

"Bush also mountain bikes at the Crawford, Texas, ranch, pushing hard for four-hour rides. According to AP reporter Scott Lindlaw, who rode with Bush on a mountain bike, "He (Bush) watches his heart rate very, very closely. He was reporting to me regularly what his heart rate was. ... He likes to exercise in the zone."

Wouldn't a fitness campaign be one thing Bush could do - easily - with loads of credibility?

True, there was his Healthier US Initiative of 2003, "designed to help Americans, especially children, live longer, better, and healthier lives" and encourages taking "steps to improve personal health and fitness." It even inspired a book.

Do you remember it?

I don't, and there's a good chance you don't either.

It's possible the media gave the initiative short shrift because it's not an exciting story, involving guns, oil or money....or one that people would probably ignore. But doesn't the White House have the power to say, look, this is a really important thing - everybody should sit up, pay attention and get moving - Americans just need to be healthier, and we are going to do whatever it takes to help them get there?

Given that we've been told for years now that that Americans don't exercise enough; given that health professionals say this inactivity is the source of many medical conditions, which in turn are straining the country's health care resources - I really wonder why the President didn't seize the opportunity to make this a national priority and, quite possibly, improve his dismal approval ratings.

The case could be made that the healthier we are, the better our economic shape... or that a fit nation is in the interests of national security.

With the analysis of the recent caucus and primary results indicating an exhaustion with partisan politics, fitness is an issue that has the potential to unite people of vastly differing political stripes.

It's not too late for the administration to step on it.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Australia Needed Rain, Not Floods

Australian farmers have been suffering through years of the worst drought on record. Called "Big Dry," the drought was so severe that in April 2007, then-prime minister John Howard warned about turning off all but drinking water to the continent's food bowl, the Murray-Darling basin in the southeastern part of the country...unless heavy rains broke the epic drought.

And the torrential downpours came this week.

Parts of New South Wales north of Sydney have been cut off by heavy rain and declared natural disaster zones. Queensland has also been hit hard. Hundreds of people remained trapped by floods today even though waters had begun to recede. The damages could could run to tens of millions of dollars.

Obviously, the rain is a mixed blessing for the parched country. Some irrigators who had been facing zero water supplies have seen their water rations restored to 100 percent. But others are still staring at bone dry paddocks, while some farmers already on government drought assistance are now applying for flood aid after rivers burst banks.

Al Gore talked about increased drought and flood in An Inconvenient Truth. And for his warnings on global warming, he was mocked by many, including John Howard.

The conservative former Australian prime minister's skepticism on climate change cost him his job.

The conservative Howard was decisively beaten at the polls by Kevin Rudd, in an race with heavy emphasis on climate matters. One of Rudd's first actions after the election?

Rudd signed documents to ratify the Kyoto Protocol. The action reversed a decade of Australian environmental policy, left the United States standing alone among industrialized nations in its refusal to ratify the treaty, and brought prolonged applause at a United Nations climate change conference in Bali, Indonesia. (New York Times.)

Read about recent floods around the globe (scroll past the videos at the top of the page). These include Mozambique, threatened with what could be its worst flood ever; and reports from Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Malaysia and Great Britain - just in the last 30 days.

(From The Great Red Comet - Earth Science Chronicles).

Thursday, January 3, 2008

The truth behind $100-a-barrel oil



That's the reason the price of oil broke the $100 mark yesterday, January 2nd.

At first sign of the news, many reports attributed the record price to "violence in Nigeria, Algeria and Pakistan, the weak US dollar and the threat of cold weather." (BBC)

But now it turns out the century mark was broken by a single trader, who bought a thousand barrels, the smallest amount permitted. He sold it immediately for $99.40, at a $600 loss.

Said Stephen Schork, a former floor trader on the New York Mercantile Exchange and the editor of an oil market newsletter: "He paid $600 for the right to tell his grandchildren that he was the first in the world to buy $100 oil."

What happens, though, is that when psychological price barriers are broken, some start panicking, filling their fuel tanks and what not....and of course, some traders will be willing to pay higher prices on the market. All adding price pressure.

Right on cue, Bloomberg reports today that crude oil is trading near that record mark.

And OPEC says it's unable to counter the rally, Libyan and Qatari officials said today. Further, the U.S. doesn't plan to tap strategic reserves, a spokeswoman for President Bush said yesterday.

Though I have no doubt that record would have been broken sooner or later, it's still interesting to note that this particular price jump stemmed from one man's vanity. His identity is not known at this time.

Here's the BBC's full report. And here's an opinion piece in today's Washington Post, by David Fleischaker: In Praise of $100 Oil.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Let's Hear it for the Granny Underwear!

The What Not To Wear crowd sneers at oversized panties, but they have their utility.

From the BBC comes today this little nugget from the UK:

Giant knickers put out house fire

Jenny Marsey's size 18-20 cotton pants were a lifesaver when they were grabbed to cover a frying pan fire at her home in Meryl Gardens, Hartlepool, Teesside.

Her son and nephew were trying to fry some bread when the blaze broke out.

But the quick-thinking pair used the Marks & Spencer underwear from a pile of washing, doused them in water, and threw them over the fire.

Mrs Marsey, 53, said: "My £4.99 parachute knickers have come in handy for something. We've had a good laugh that they were a bit like a fire blanket."

The incident happened on Sunday, while Mrs Marsey was out for the day.

Her son John and his cousin Darren, 23, were cooking, when they went to answer a knock at the door, only to return to a blazing kitchen.

Mrs Marsey said: "When they found the pan on fire they did what most people do and panicked.

"But they found a pair of my knickers in a washing basket and basically used them as a fire blanket to put out the fire."

Mrs Marsey, who is also mother to Sarah, 23, Joanne, 24, and Donna, 27, added: "I think if they had been my daughter Sarah's skimpy knickers they wouldn't have done any good.

"I'm taking it all in my stride and it's quite a funny start to the New Year."

The BBC article also contains a video! See it here.