Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Bike to work week

This week is in Canada the "Bike to work" week, which (as it name suggests) is intended to encourage people to get to their jobs in bicycles rather than cars.

I am sure that the impact of the program varies from city to city. But it is noticeable that, at least here in Victoria, some people have taken the initiative seriously.

Victoria is during spring and summer time a city where it is not rare to see people riding bikes from one place to another. But I would dare to affirm that the proportion of people using bikes against people driving cars has increased slightly these days.

The idea of the "Bike to work" project is to involve people into cleaner and more sustainable means of transportation than conventional cars. And I think that it's a good idea, at the end of the day, getting to work by bike shouldn't be that bad... as long as people have the chance to shower after that...!

However, there are other places in the world where this type of project has been successful. For instance, I remember to have read somewhere that in Bogota, Colombia, there's a certain day of the year where it is forbidden to use cars. It looks that people have accepted quite well the measure, and they happily agree (by force, maybe) to take those bikes out to the streets.
Another place where this sort of program has been recently undertaken is Mexico City, where some important avenues in the city are destined on weekends to the circulation of bikes. Moreover, once per month, all the ministers in Mexico City get to their own jobs on bicycles. That's interesting.

Is it that these ideas will someday regain territory for the bikes in our society? Let's wait and see.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Miss Universe, contest of scandal?

Once upon a time, a contest focused on recognizing the most beautiful and smart woman on the planet was created. Since the 1950, such contest has been called "Miss Universe".
It is notorious that the standards of the contest have changed since the beginning. Back to its origins, the contestants participated and showed their natural beauty: No surgery, no silicone, no pills, no implants... just natural beauty.

Years have passed, and mentality has changed. In the most recent years, the contest has become a good source of scandals, criticism, and a lot of stress to the contestants. Moreover, it looks that some practices are becoming acceptable for the event: surgeries, pills, so forth...

I personally don't find any reason for which beauty in those conditions should be rewarded. I don't even find a reason for which people should follow a contest full of scandals, some of which are judged/solved by its owner, an individual sadly known for, among other things, his multiple marriages with young women and his way of humiliating novices on TV: Donald Trump.

Can the panorama of the contest get any more deceiving? Well, yes, it can. Not everybody is satisfied with some recent incidents on the contest, like the scandals in which some American Misses have been involved regarding alcohol and sex lately. But the most strange (and pathetic) is the way that Rachel Smith, the miss to represent the USA on the next contest in Mexico City, on May 28, was booed by the crowd for no apparent reason, unless it was some political slip. And if it was, believe me, the girl has nothing to do with it. That kind of behaviour is not good.

Strangely, it looks that Miss USA didn't give any relevance to the incident (which speaks very good about her temper), but it was Miss Sweden who felt that the contest did not fulfill her expectations. Isabel Lesapier Winqvist, Miss Sweden, says (in a vision apparently shared with most Swedish) that the contest is degrading and full of scandals. She withdrew from the contest.

Regardless of these incidents, Mr. Trump says that the contest is watched by more and more people every year. Who'll know? Can we expect the Miss Universe contest to reach new lows in the future, say, to the levels of The Apprentice?

Photo: Getty Images

Monday, May 21, 2007

The "Amero"

The Amero... the name, certainly, doesn't mean much to us. And it's not clear yet whether it would become true in the future. But the project is there, at least in David Dodge's mind, the Bank of Canada Governor.
The Amero is a proposed name that some have given to the prospect of single currency for North America (Canada, USA, Mexico), and the name is obviously inspired in the European Euro.
Mr. Dodge thinks that a single currency in North America is feasible, and even necessary to the eyes of some Canadians, since the Canadian Dollar has been becoming a very stable and high valued currency lately, which affects the competitiveness of Canadian products in foreign markets and discourages tourists to travel to Canada.
If the "Amero" becomes true someday, it is very possible that the currency is given a different and more familiar name to us: US Dollar. But first, it is necessary to bring authorities from the three countries to negotiate the terms in which that could be done. Would Canadians, Americans and Mexicans agree to have a common currency? Would that benefit the NAFTA countries altogether? Or would that be seen by some as giving up some of the sovereignty of the countries, which would raise some nationalistic feelings later on?
We don't know. It's not even clear if this will happen some day. For instance, Mr. Dodge will be retiring by the end of this year, and it's not known yet who will succeed him... and whether that person will have the "Amero" idea as a priority on their agenda.

With some information from The Globe and Mail.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

The track to Korean unification?

Are both Koreas nearing their reunification? More than 50 years have passed since Korea was divided in two different countries, and for years it looked that the differences between them were irreconcilable. But the way of the Koreas looked a bit more optimistic towards reunification back in the year 2000, when the Inter-Korea summit took place. Too bad that the reconciliation process got stuck after Kim Il Sung decided to apply full throttle to his nuclear weapons program.

Some months ago, the North Koreans decided that they won't pursue their nuclear program anymore, in exchange of getting some international supplies that they lack in their country (mostly oil). That was a good move, as it not only frees the world from an imminent nuclear threat, but it also makes clear that the North Koreans have some will to unite with their Southern neighbours.

The panorama is even more interesting today, that for the first time after more than 50 years, a train crossed the border between both Koreas. This is very significant, as formerly, although the tracks connecting both countries existed, there were no train services that crossed the most heavily militarized border in the world. Today's trip was only a test, but has a greater meaning than that.

For people like me, who were skeptical about the viability of the reunification, this is a good lesson. When I was in South Korea, not a long time ago, right in the Demilitarized Zone of the border (DMZ) that separates both nations, I was standing right at the Dorasan Station, which is the last station in South Korean territory, before passing to North Korea. I was told by locals that "some day, in the near future, trains will run across the border, and they will connect this station [Dorasan] with the stations in Gaesong and Pyeongyang". I though that there was no way for that to happen, not even when the tracks in such station have clear signs that mention that the tracks have Pyeongyang as their destination.

But now it's true, and it looks that such awaited reunification is closer than it ever was. Will there be any other hurdles in the way to the official end of the Korean war? We hope not. A step closer to peace, indeed.

Photo by EFE

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Man on Mars

The ambition to conquer the universe seems to be unsatisfiable for many individuals and countries.
The NASA has been working lately on a couple of prototype rockets, named Ares I and Ares V, that will be able to take the first human being to Mars. The rocket, for now, is only a revised idea, but they're expecting to be performing its first test flight around the year 2013. If everything works as they are planning, we could have the first individual traveling to Mars around 2030.
The whole project for the conquer of Mars, named Project Constellation, goes much further than only the assembly of both rockets. It is thought that around the year 2020, it will be necessary to build a module in the Moon, which could be used as a stop between the Earth and Mars.
It is important to mention that the construction of the module in the Moon is a project envisioned a long time ago, and initially, the plan was to build such model at the beginning of the 21st century, which didn't happen. Will they be successful in their plan this time?
To know if they will be successful or not is only a matter of time. However, the plan to reach Mars in the future sounds great to me... as long as we don't plan to colonize Mars as an alternative to destroy further nature on Earth.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Naked art...?

I heard that the American photographer Spencer Tunick headed off to Mexico City recently to take some pictures of naked crowds in popular spots of such city. Picturing naked masses is not unusual of Tunick's style, but what makes this event different from the others is basically the amount of individuals who volunteered to participate in the photo: the authorities calculate around 20,000.

It is a very impressive amount of people. 20,000 individuals who have no better thing to do on a Sunday morning than getting naked for Tunick's lens. Worst of all: It looks that the incident has become a major source of pride to Mexicans, or at least, to those who participated.

Is it really something to feel proud of? Despite the fact that a Guinness record was awarded to the crowd for this activity (probably tagged as the 'largest amount of people naked on a public area'), whether it's something to feel proud of depends on everyone's point of view of life, moral and social values. It is certainly a very arguable topic, and the discussion about it would be endless. Thus, I will not go any further on my criticism than telling that, in my own personal point of view, an "artwork" of this nature is extremely grotesque, vulgar and aberrant.

I'm sure that the people that participated in Tunicks photo session have a very different opinion than mine, which is very acceptable of course. However, as far as I know, Tunick's pictures are all about naked crowds, and the shoots don't vary very much from one to another except for the location: Amsterdam, Barcelona, Buffalo, Dusseldorf, Caracas, Mexico City... Is that really an expression of art, the fulfillment of twisted desires in someone's mind, or just a natural phenomenon adequate for our times, to show that freedom of speech and expression are for real?

That's just an idea to think about...

Friday, May 04, 2007

Scotland, towards independence?

Since its creation back in 1934, the Scottish National Party (SNP) didn't win any elections to get a majority status in the Scottish Parliament. Maybe this was because of its core idea, by which they want Scotland to be independent from the United Kingdom. Such independence would allow Scotland to enjoy its own sovereignty, as it was about 300 years ago.
But recently, the luck of this Party changed. On the last Scottish elections in May, they were able to win the majority of seats in the Parliament, and now they're aiming to appoint a First Minister that would help them in their separatist endeavours. It looks that Mr. Alex Salmond, the leader of the Party, would be a good subject for that goal.
Will the members of the SNP be successful in gaining independence for Scotland? They will make their effort indeed. If they manage to get Salmond as the First Minister, he will call to a referendum in which the Scottish voters will decide whether they still want to be part of the United Kingdom. Of course, there are other Parties in the Parliament that would be opposed to such kind of initiative, so the discussion on this topic promises to be very controversial in Scotland.
This is just beginning, so it will be very interesting to see how do things develop in the short and mid term.