Our Money is Ugly

And it really shouldn't be.

Foreign currencies are universally more appealing than ours. Mexico's are lovely, the Euro avoids counterfeiting without speckling gold numbers all over, and Bhutan's is amazing.

Part of the problem is we insist on sticking with our dated green-and-black-on-parchment look, which would be fine if we didn't keep slapping garish colorful bits on. At some point you have to break down and lose the drab.

And if we were to lose the greenback for a whole rainbow of -backs, why not switch up who gets a place on our bills? All the presidents already get a dollar coin now anyways, and someone like Albert Einstein has done far more for the country and the world than, say, James Buchanan.

Instead of making each denomination a particular person, why not have categories and rotate people for new bills every few years?

$1 - Revolutionaries, Civil Rights Leaders and Activists - Thomas Paine, Martin Luther King Jr., Caesar Chavez, Eleanor Roosevelt, Harvey Milk.

$2 - Scientists, Inventors and Explorers - Albert Einstein, George Washington Carver, Nikola Tesla, Lewis and Clark.

$5 - Artists, Writers and Performers - Mark Twain/Samuel Clemens, Orson Welles, Woody Guthrie, John Ford, Georgia O'Keeffe, Marlon Brando, Ernest Hemingway, Walt Whitman, Louis Armstrong.

$10 - Soldiers and Generals - Evans Carlson, George Patton, Winfield Scott, William Tecumseh Sherman, Sitting Bull, Geronimo.

$20 - Lawmakers, lawyers and judges - Thurgood Marshall, Robert F. Kennedy, Daniel Webster, Henry Clay.

$50 - Philosophers and Scholars - Alexander Hamilton, W.E.B. Du Bois, Ralph Waldo Emerson, John Dewey.

$100 - Foreign Friends of Liberty - Winston Churchill, Tadeusz Kościuszko, Simón Bolívar, Touissant L'Ouverture, Nelson Mandela, Dag Hammerskjöld, Mohandas Gandhi.

Tiananmen Square, 1989

Twenty years after.

Google Wave

This is going to be awesome.

It's (going to be) a sort of real-time BSS/email/wiki/messenger (and that description undersells it by a lot) with extensive modification capabilities.

My first thought was this would be great for over the net roleplaying.

Trains and Cities

Part of the Socialist-Fascist Nightmare Stimulus Package that, if some are believed, funds Stalinesque death camps was also funding for high speed railways. I imagine part of the incentive for this was Joe Biden (seen right on his commute back in the 1980s) being Vice President. Despite his myriad other policy flaws, he's the biggest friend trains have in government right now, and that's a good thing.

Trains are great. They offer the advantages of the automobile highway and few disadvantages. The auto highway is inefficient for commuting with the frequency of one-driver cars, those cars pollute quite a lot, and they become even more inefficient and polluting when there's an hour long traffic jam keeping a good thousand cars sitting in place.

High speed railways are much more efficient, don't get stuck in traffic jams, and are very, very fast. Trains in Europe and Japan average out to around 150 mph. This makes the commute a lot faster than a major artery at rush hour, even if you have to walk a little ways (which might be seen as an advantage soon enough).

So when I heard the stimulus had trains in it, I was very excited.

No high speed train from Portland down to San Francisco like I want, but I can live with that. Railways do cost more to build and maintain than freeways, so I didn't expect something analogous to the Interstate Highway System.

But still - why not? A high speed railway up and down the west seems like a natural goal. I can say from living in that weird deadzone between Eugene and San Francisco that the economies here would greatly benefit from a high speed line, particularly tourism-fueled Ashland.

Ever since the Interstate cars and airplanes have been the main way of getting people around. They're far from optimal - airplanes are hugely inefficient and polluting and the car and interstate have destroyed the city.

That's the thesis of the chapter of Alex Marshall's How Cities Work that I'm reading right now, and it rings very true. Cities are defined by transportation because they are economic engines. Commerce breeds jobs which allows people to make a living and build a good city. That's why the Dakotas now have less people than they did in the 1900s while New York just keeps growing.

Through history cities were constantly pushing outwards out of necessity, desperately trying to reconcile economics with physical reality and keep people from building on top of each other. They were limited by the natural geography and the form of transportation - boats, feet and horses for several thousand years. As canals and railways took hold, cities reshaped themselves to accommodate and take advantage of them, but the same pressure towards centralization remained while the new technology allowed people to expand out further.

Cars and their highways are not centralizing systems. Attempts to reorganize cities to accommodate them as was done with railways and canals is fatal. They reversed the polarity and caused the growth to explode out.

Highway off-ramps now serve a similar purpose to railway stations, but their units of distance are measured in miles rather than city blocks. A large number of cars needs a lot of parking lot space. The urban form we know is a result of centralizing forms of transit, exurb-clusters like Las Vegas and Atlanta are the offspring of cars.

Much of our culture is traced to the historic perception of America as the limitless frontier. We still have a lot of empty land - the aforementioned Dakotas, Montana, Alaska, Wyoming, and so on. But that's irrelevant to a city - without constraints on space cities won't form. This is why urban growth boundaries are important.

This perception, I think, is why trains haven't been more popular. It's the same attitude that causes people to flip their shit when higher mileage standards are proposed. Europe and Japan have an excellent high speed rail system and people see that as a necessary sacrifice (not an added benefit of) having less space. Cars in the UK get up to 62 mpg. Here an unfortunate many people here believe a 40 mpg CAFE standard infringes on their "right to drive gas hogs" (that anyone would think that's a desirable right and say it thinking it doesn't sound stupid shows our car culture at its worst). FOX News was recently in hysterics over the false dilemma that lighter cars (I should note that I think Smartcars look stupid - really, we can't just make fuel efficient motorcycles?) are horrible deathtraps. They apparently view the streets as automotive battlegrounds where Hummers smash through VW Bugs during their blood-soaked commute. Ford F-150s with oversize wheels crushing Honda Civics. Mormon Assault Vehicles ramming bicyclists out of their way as they heave the family to a community picnic.

I think I lost the point of this post when I was drifting off into suburban Car Wars. I guess I'll just end it by restating that high speed rail between SF and Portland would be awesome.

And I hate Greyhound buses.

Fantastic Maps

Planetocopia - Alternate planets.

The Steamopera
- Lexicon of an alternate steampunk history.

Map Realm - Roadmaps of fictional lands.

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