Of Liberty and Pocketbooks

President Bush’s stop in Australia has caused a lot of controversy, mainly due to his “one-liner,” as Phil puts it: “I love free speech.” While I believe the right of free speech includes the right to shut up, I think it’s in the best interest of politicians to be forthcoming to the media, unless they have something to hide.

Mr. Bush has been in Hawai’i since 8:00 this morning. His first stops were the U.S.S. Arizona Memorial, followed by the Battleship Missouri Memorial. Both were fitting places for America’s commander-in-chief to visit.

However, his itinerary, in my view, soured after that. The President will be attending a Republican fundraiser scheduled to begin at any moment now. The fundraiser, costing between $1,000 and $2,000 per seat, is his second during the 12-hour stopover. The first was held at the exclusive Kahala Mandarin Oriental, for $10,000 a ticket. The Star-Bulletin estimates that the fundraisers may bring in over $1 million for the Hawai’i Republican Party – generally considered secondary to the Democrats.

Raising millions of dollars for campaigns is a constant source of irritation for me. I believe that elected leaders, like Biblical ones, should be servants of the people, rather than masters. I would love for U.S. elections to be decoupled from fundraising. The Presidential election check-off is a great idea – one I think should be changed from a voluntary program to a mandatory one. Starting all candidates on an equal footing gives them the ability to present their platforms on equal footing, letting the voter truly pick a candidate based on their merits.

P.S. For the Democrats who argue that Republicans are products of the rich, here’s a little fuel for the fire: Bill Clinton’s trip to Hawai’i included stops at golf courses, McDonald’s, and the most local stop a tourist can make – Zippy’s.

The Hacker’s Diet

No, it’s not a joke. It’s an e-book that actually makes a lot of sense.

John Walker (no, not that John Walker) is the founder of a highly successful company called Autodesk, which is best known for its flagship computer-aided design product, AutoCAD. He’s rich, but he was also overweight during most of his life.

After packing on the pounds while building an international company from scratch, Walker had a startling realization:

The absurdity of my situation finally struck home in 1987. “Look,” I said to myself, “you founded one of the five biggest software companies in the world, Autodesk. You wrote large pieces of AutoCAD, the world standard for computer aided design. You’ve made in excess of fifty million dollars without dropping dead, going crazy, or winding up in jail. You’ve succeeded at some pretty difficult things, and you can’t control your flippin’ weight?”

(He makes it sound so easy rolling eyes.)

The book is written in a way that will make the most sense to the logical, detail-oriented types. His central thesis is that weight control is just another kind of engineering problem – analyze the data and develop a systematic approach, and the problem can be easily solved.

You can read the complete book online here. I intend to look into it as I have free moments.

Making (New) Money

Three $20 bills of different designs
The Bureau of Engraving and Printing tries to redesign currency every 7-10 years to foil counterfeiters. From top: pre-1996 currency; redesign from 1996-2004; current design. (Waileia illustration)

Today, the newest style of U.S. currency makes its debut in cash registers, ATMs, and wallets near you. The new $20 bill is arguably the most dramatic change of design in the history of American money.

The new money maintains the familiar portrait of Andrew Jackson, but that’s where the similarities end. The most recognizable change is the departure from the characteristic “greenback” look that has characterized U.S. currency for most of its 142-year history. Instead, the new bills support a rainbow of greens, peaches, and blues, making the new money look a lot like offerings from other countries.

In addition to the color, the new bills omit the characteristic oval backdrop, instead blending the portrait into the border. An eagle and the words “USA TWENTY” are printed on the background. Small, yellow “20” numerals appear on the back.

With all the changes, a lot is staying the same. Many of the elements, including the signatures, “Federal Reserve Note,” and other features remain, as do the embedded plastic security strip, watermark, and color-changing ink. The back of the bill also looks very similar to the previous series.

Today, officials from around the country (though apparently not in Hawai’i) took place in formal ceremonies to put the first of the new bills into circulation. The lucky first businesses included Burger King, Ace Hardware, and, of course, Starbucks.

Since it will likely be some time before the new currency reaches you, the Bureau of Engraving and Printing has been kind enough to “upload” an interactive bill. You can take a look here* [Flash required] (though, alas, you can’t spend it).

* LINK TENDING 1/11 – Removed dead link.