Friday, August 10, 2012

Re: Traffic in Austin

In his post, Traffic in Austin, Robert Anderson argues that we need to invest our money into a better roadway infrastructure in Austin. He talks about the increase in business, the benefits for the economy, and the benefits for the environment.

He argues that businesses would benefit because people would be able to get to work faster, and thus spend more time working. I would add that they would be less stressed, and thus more productive with their time.

He argues of the benefits for the environment, saying that it would reduce time spent on the road, and thus reduce pollution. I agree.

I do, however, think that there's another alternative. Better public transportation. I just got back from spending three weeks in Spain, and the thing that impressed me most in Madrid was the public transportation system. I ride the bus and train here, and ride my bike as well. For example, I was at the Rio Grande Campus for the first half of the summer. I had to walk 4 blocks uphill from my class to the bus stop, wait half an hour, ride the bus farther north than my house, catch another bus 15 minutes after that one let me off, and then walk just over a mile to my house. (A mile wasn't far enough for me to bring my bike.) It took me about 2 hours after my class was over to get home. When I go to NRG in the fall, I ride 3 miles to the train station on my bike, wait for the train, and take it, and then catch the bus to campus.

In Spain, there was a bus stop 100 feet from our hotel, and a metro stop about 200 feet away. At the metro stop, you didn't worry if you walked in right as the train was leaving. There would be another one running the exact same route in less than 5 minutes. And they were fast, you could get almost anywhere in the city in half an hour, and that included walking time.

I think we need to implement a system like theirs, where trains and busses run more often, and run to more places. I saw very few cars, and lots of people walking, and riding the metro there. I believe that doing this would cut down on traffic issues, benefit the environment, and benefit the economy, and would be a healthier solution than simply improving our roads.

I'm also going to throw in a poem I wrote in high school about being stuck in traffic. Enjoy. Or else.

Two miles.
So long to go,
a mere two miles.
The fog, mixed like a drink with poison,
containing cigarette smoke,
gasoline fumes.
So oppressive.
Oh, to be late for work,
to blame: others.
The infinite line of cars,
creating a road with their roofs
stretching on, forever.
Not a break in sight.
The feeling of their radios,
beating, like a heart.
The slow, low growl, of the engines
drinking, slowly, great, hulking beasts.
Awaiting their chance to pounce,
for the smallest space.
Heat, increasing, dissipating the fog.
Almost, as if drinking the poison.
Still remaining, smells.
Cigarettes, and the heating asphalt.
Bubbling, like a anger,
the anger of impatience.
All in a day's trip to work.

Monday, August 6, 2012


 *Hack* *Wheeze*

This is what I sounded like last year, whenever I was outside at ACC. Why? Because of the quantity and quality of second hand smoke. In this case, quality means thickness, and at times, it was quite thick. It makes me feel sick, I really want to throw up when I'm around it for too long. And I don't even want to think about what it's doing to my lungs.

This year, I've felt much better and healthier while walking around campus. I also smell better. ACC decided to ban smoking on their campuses, and I support and thank them wholeheartedly. I can now breathe easier, and I don't worry so much about dying from smoke from smokers. (Living in a city with pollution though, can I ever rest easy?)

There are people who are objecting to the ban. For one, they're saying that people now have nowhere to smoke. This is not true. I see smokers out by the street, just off the edge of campus, every day when I come in. I'm fine with that. When they're way out there, they aren't hurting anyone but themselves.

Another objection is that it's not hurting anyone. That is just plain wrong. According to the American Cancer Society, 3,400 people die from lung cancer caused by second hand smoke alone, every year. That's not to mention the 46,000 deaths from heart disease. All from second hand smoke, in the United States alone, not to mention the rest of the world. I don't want to die because someone else wanted to feel good for a little while and wasn't polite enough to move somewhere away from other people.

Universities are supposed to be a place of learning and safety. I don't want to have to hurt myself every time I walk out side. I believe that anti smoking laws should be put into effect for all college and university campuses, as ACC has shown that it's perfectly viable and easy to do.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Skewl! (School)

I am glad that I'm not the only one who thinks that education should not be the first thing that we cut. In her post, The Difficulties of Public Education, Megan Ryan talks about her surprise upon learning that Texas is ranked very poorly on a national level for education. She goes on to briefly discuss ways that we can cut other spending to spend more on education, giving the example of a noise reducing wall that might not even work that could be better spent improving our education system.

I agree with her, for the most part. I think there's more to the situation that she's not mentioning, but I'll talk about that in a minute. First, I totally agree that there are a lot of unnecessary spending projects that can and should be cut to free up more money for important issues such as education.

Education is our future. A well educated society is necessary if we want to maintain our place in the world. I can't emphasize enough how important I think education, quality education, is to us. I'm in college because I know the value of a good education, and am willing to work to get one.

I thus think that not only should we use more of our money for school, as Megan says, but that we should be using it more effectively. As she pointed out, there's not a lot of money to go around. But what should we be using it on? I think we should look at the leading schools in the world, and take a leaf from their books. I'm going to look at Finland, and what West Virginia has done to copy them.

One of the main things that strikes me about the education system in Finland is the respect given to teachers. Teaching is considered a prestigious position, with many people vying for the jobs, even though they don't pay much better than the ones here. Part of this comes from the training given to teachers, who go through intense training camps and are continually working to improve their methods. One aspect of this we can see, even here, is that the better educated a teacher is, the longer they'll stick around, and the better they're be at their job, on average.

Not only are they teachers much better trained, but they use something called a project based learning system. According to this article, "Project-based learning -- an integral part of Finland's education system -- uses one 'project' as a starting point for learning about multiple subjects and how they fit together." It's a fascinating system.

In conclusion, I think that some of these things should be brought to Texas. They work in Finland, and appear to be working in West Virginia, so I think we should give them a try. After all, they don't seem to require a lot more money, which we are short of, but could be implemented on the budget that we're on.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Get rid of DST!

Daylight savings time needs to go. It was originally introduced to save money on electricity. Currently, it does not do this, but instead causes serious problems. It causes problems with many jobs related to time, such as farming.

The original intent of Daylight Savings Time was to save energy. It was supposed to reduce usage of incandescent lighting, which was once a primary user of electricity. Now, our main consumers of electricity are heating and cooling systems, in part because of the widespread use of such systems, and in part because of newer, more energy efficient methods of lighting. This has rendered Daylight Savings Time not only ineffective, but also harmful. This is because, while having more daylight hours means using less lighting, it means being awake during the hotter parts of the day, and thus using more electricity for cooling. Studies have proven that more electricity is used during Daylight Savings Time than during other times of the year, and than in places where Daylight Savings Time is not in effect. This additional strain on our electricity needs to be dealt with, especially when so much of our electricity is made in a way that damages the environment. Reducing electricity usage would also help relieve some of the stress on our overloaded and antiquated electricity delivery system, perhaps helping to prevent some of the blackouts that have plagued us during the past years.

Daylight Savings Time also affects people who rely on the sun. These people, such as farmers, lose money during Daylight Savings Time. Wikipedia says, "For example, grain harvesting is best done after dew evaporates, so when field hands arrive and leave earlier in summer their labor is less valuable." Thus, our farming industry suffers because of Daylight Savings Time.

Daylight Savings Time also has bad effects on our economy. Our economy, which many believe is currently in, or is just recovering from, a recession, suffers even more during shifts to and from Daylight Savings Time. For example, Wikipedia says, "Clock shifts correlate with decreased economic efficiency. In 2000 the daylight-saving effect implied an estimated one-day loss of $31 billion on U.S. stock exchanges." As you can see above, Daylight Savings Time has not only outlived its usefulness, but also become a harm. It now uses more energy than it saves, harms our already poor economy, and adversely affects people who rely on sunlight for their jobs. Thus, I honestly think that we should get rid of Daylight Savings Time once and for all.

Daylight Savings Time is a state level issue; individual states can opt out of it. Texas should opt out of it. We're a state that relies heavily farming, with over 130 thousand acres used for farming alone. We also have many large companies that suffer from the stock losses.

None of this is to mention what happens on a much more personal level. Every year, car accidents go up, and more people commit suicide because of sleep deprivation due to Daylight Savings Time. Everything combined, it's past time we got rid of it.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Jobs or no Jobs (And yes, I know he died last year.)

In the article, Texas Today: Strong Business Environment And Innovation Spurs Job Creation, author Steve Stackhouse makes the claim that Texas' economy is growing well, with many new jobs being created.

I believe that his audience is two-fold. First, I believe that he's talking to Texans, as this is a very Texas oriented blog. I also believe that he may be trying to address some non-Texans, because he gives a lot of background information on Texas that many Texans, and certainly most Texans who read his blog, would already know.

His purpose, therefore, is also two-fold. For the first group, I think he's trying to cast Texas in a positive light, to make them feel proud and happy with their state, and how it is going. I also think he's trying to make Texas look better in the eyes of others. He may even be trying to get others to want to move to Texas, looking for jobs, although he never mentions the idea in the article.

I believe that the author is fairly credible. He certainly backs up all of his facts. However, I feel that his argument is very one sided; he avoids even mentioning several critical facts. As noted here, Texas doesn't have the best pay rates in the nation. So, despite the fact that we have more jobs than average, many of those jobs are much lower paying, on average. He also glosses over the fact that the tax breaks for the businesses lead to much lower funding for many programs, like education.

In summary, while I believe that he makes a good point, I also think it's a one sided point, that ignores many of the negative aspects of the issue.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

A Substantial "Critique"

In the article, For better health, pay Perry no mind, an editorial for the Austin American Statesman, the author asks legislators to go against Perry's recent letter that says that Texas will not increase Medicaid or set up health insurance, which was sent to the Obama administration.

Although the author specifically says, "We call on legislators...", I don't think that the legislators are his intended audience. Why not? Well, I think that the legislators only really listen to two things, votes and money. One man's opinion doesn't matter a lot to them, not on an issue like this where they're likely to simply vote along party lines. Rather, I think he's trying to reach the voters, who can then tell their elected officials, with the force of numbers, that this is what they want to have happen. Votes make things happen, and if he can get the voters to speak, he has a much better chance of causing something to happen than if he is one person talking. This is why I think his audience is the voters.

This author is very credible. He lists many, many facts, all of which would be easy to check. This means that he is very unlikely to lie about any of his facts, essentially guaranteeing that they are true. Not only does he have facts, he's in the Austin American Statesman, the largest newspaper in central Texas. They have good staff, and generally write good articles. Thus, the combination of numerous facts and writing for a reputable paper give this author significant credibility.

His argument is sound and well written. He keeps a level tone throughout his article, and presents things as if that's just the way they are. He also has emotional appeals, though they're not explicit. His mentions of the people who benefit from this care, and of saving money by doing this now are meant to make his readers feel that they personally will benefit and save money. His mention that Texas is #1 for the number of people without health insurance is an appeal to Texan pride. Because he has all of the elements that a good argument should - he's logical, has emotional appeals, and presents a very credible front - this is a very effective argument, and it has convinced me that I'd rather, "pay a dollar now to keep someone as healthy as possible," so that I don't, "pay for it later when they're sick."

Saturday, July 14, 2012

The First Post!

First post! Yippie! Okay, so I've picked the article, Newspaper seeks public records on 911 system outage from AT&T, from the Texas Watchdog. The article says that AT&T's 911 system, a publicly funded system, experienced approximately 4 hours of outage in Cameron County, leaving many people without their normal methods of contacting the emergency services. AT&T claimed that no problems were caused by the outage. However, according to the article, there were several missed emergency calls and one medical call due to the outage. AT&T claims that this was the result of a system error. The paper, the Brownsville Herald, is calling for the release of records from AT&T to show what actually happened, claiming that AT&T is a public company in this regard because the funding for the 911 system comes from taxpayer money.

I strongly agree that they should release their records, as this was a very dangerous occurrence. I think that the article is very important, as it underlines two things. First, in the digital age, we are relying on an increasingly small number of companies for an increasingly large number of things. If one of them fails, we are all in trouble. Second, these companies are not transparent, so we, many times, do not know what is going on with them. This is worrisome.