Lessons in the "USA" Category

Edward Snowden on German TV

Recently the National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblower Edward Snowden was interviewed by German TV channel ARD. In it he said the NSA is involved in industrial espionage. He added that the NSA takes intelligence regardless of its value to national security.

Snowden cited German engineering firm Siemens as one target. Snowden also revealed he no longer had possession of any documents or information on NSA activities. He has though turned everything over to select journalists.

Category: Technology / Edward Snowden / NSA

PRISM could be watching you!

Recently Britain’s Guardian newspaper made headline news when it published details about the US government’s controversial monitoring program called PRISM. What is that? It’s a mechanism the US government uses to spy on its population. It also helps them keep track of their citizens who live abroad.

According to The Huffington Post the US government uses the program to also spy on other countries. British Foreign Secretary William Hague has said GCHQ has not been using the system, yet the eavesdropping agency refuses to confirm or deny links to it.

Category: PRISM / Spying / Big Brother

One giant leap

One giant leap by one crazy 43-year-old Austrian recently made worldwide headline news. Felix Baumgartner became the first man to break the sound barrier, without mechanical help, after he jumped from 39,045 metres (128,100 feet, more than 39 km, or more than 24 miles) up in space. He has thus achieved one of the most remarkable feats man can accomplish. The Austrian daredevil made his daring leap high above Roswell, New Mexico, USA.

Category: Space / Skydiving / Austrian

Why do we wear blue jeans?

Why do we wear blue jeans? Probably because we choose to. They are durable, comfortable and easy to wear. They also last longer than conventional trousers.

Jeans mean different things to different people. Does this explain their wide appeal? The classic symbol of the American West is now a staple in wardrobes for men and women around the world. Today half the world appear to wear them. Okay, there are exceptions - like parts of China, South Asia and the Middle East. But who invented jeans and when?

In the 19th century a Nevada tailor called Jacob Davis was asked to make a pair of sturdy trousers for a local woodcutter. Davis struck upon the idea of reinforcing them with rivets. They proved to be extremely durable and were soon in high demand.

They were worn as workwear by labourers on the farms and mines of America’s Western states. The reason for their success has as much to do with their cultural meaning as well as their physical construction.

Category: USA / Clothes / Jeans

Why doesn’t the USA have high speed rail?

Why doesn’t the USA have high speed trains? Good question! China has them, so does Japan. They are all over Europe. All run between 300-431kph (186-268mph). Yet in America the fastest train does a mere 241kph (150mph) and that is over a very short distance.

The average speed in the USA of a high speed train is an incredible 127kph (79mph)! The USA seems to have got left behind. The definition to Americans of high speed trains is the Acela Express that runs from New York to Washington DC. Why is this so? It is probably because Americans prefer to fly between cities, as it’s cheaper. The other reason is the motor car. Another reason is the lack of investment.

Considering the size of America these days it is cheaper and quicker to fly than to take the train between cities. However, if the price was right and the speed of the railways was increased all that could change. The latter though involves some considerable investment.

Category: USA / Railways / High Speed Trains

No US jobs added in August results in stock falls

The US economy added no jobs in August, according to the US Department of Labor. The August number was worse than expected. The predicted figure was about 70,000 new jobs. The unemployment rate remained unchanged from July at 9.1%. The previous two months figures were also revised.

In July 85,000 jobs were created, down from the previous 117,000. In June the figure now reads 20,000 down from 46,000. Virginie Maisonneuve, head of global equities at Schroders: “Companies that are overall doing OK are hesitating to hire and invest further.”

US government bonds rallied after the figures were released. However, global stock markets had been lower all day Friday ahead of the numbers and they fell further after the publication. It is the first time since 1945 that there has been a zero payrolls figure. It follows 10 consecutive months of job additions.

Category: Business / US Economic News / Jobs & Markets

The British roundabout revolution in the USA

A British roundabout revolution is slowly sweeping across America. The US famous for its stop signs and traffic lights is now starting to embrace the British roundabout. The city of Carmel in Indiana is one such example. It has been described as ‘the Milton Keynes of the USA’.

Lying on the outskirts of Indianapolis, Carmel is seeing more and more roundabouts created. The question is why? The Mayor of Carmel Jim Brainard explains: “We are saving thousands of gallons of fuel per year per roundabout.”

The city is at the forefront of the roundabout revolution that is taking place across several American States. The circular traffic intersection was redesigned in 1960s Britain by Frank Blackmore. He tinkered with the designs and established the modern roundabout by introducing a “Give way” rule for cars entering.

The idea was subsequently exported around the world. It didn’t arrive in the USA till 1990 when one was installed in Nevada. Since then more than 3,000 have sprung up. California has now built 200 in the last three years.

Category: USA / Roundabouts / Transport

New York’s new generation of yellow taxis

New York’s famous yellow taxis are set to change. New York City has picked the Nissan minivan to be its next cab. The Japanese car company Nissan Motors has won the contract to provide the next generation of New York taxis. The deal was announced recently by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. It is estimated to be worth US$1bn (€692m).

The design will be based on Nissan’s NV200 minivan model. Nissan beat US carmaker Ford Motor and Turkish manufacturer Karsan Otomotiv for the 10 year contract, which will be phased in starting in 2013. Mayor Michael Bloomberg acknowledged the Nissan NV200’s boxy form evokes suburbia, but said the yellow paint would give it the iconic New York touch.

The vehicle features an overhead window to offer views of city skyscrapers, and charging stations for mobile phones and laptops. The car will also feature satellite navigation, so passengers leaving the main Manhattan corridors will not have to contend with drivers who do not know their way around.

Category: New York / Transport / Yellow Taxis

Queen Elizabeth II addresses United Nations

Last week Queen Elizabeth II visited the United Nations in New York where she addressed the UN General Assembly for the first time since 1957. She said: “The UN had moved from being a high-minded aspiration to being a real force for common good.” She added, “For over six decades the United Nations has helped to shape international response to global dangers. The challenge now is to continue the security, prosperity and dignity of our fellow human beings.”

Since her original visit 53 years ago the number of member states have increased from 77 to 192. The Queen praised the UN for its work in reducing conflict, offering humanitarian assistance and tackling the effects of poverty. Her majesty warned of “new challenges such as terrorism and global warming that had emerged and had tested this organisation as much as its member states.” On climate change The Queen said: “Careful attention must be taken of the risks facing smaller, more vulnerable nations, many of them from the Commonwealth.”

Category: United Nations / New York / The Queen

Devastating oil slick hits US coastline

A massive oil slick in the Gulf of Mexico has now hit several US state coastlines. The slick has been caused by a leaking oil pipeline. It follows a huge explosion aboard the BP (British Petroleum) operated Deepwater Horizon oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico.

The rig sank on April 22, two days after a huge explosion that killed 11 workers. US President Barack Obama has flown down to see for himself exactly how bad the spill is and to meet the boss of BP. The US President puts the blame firmly on the shoulders of BP who he says will be held personally responsible.

Choppy seas and strong winds have so far hampered the clean-up operation. BP has been severely criticised for under estimating the scale of the crisis. The sheer size of the oil spill threatens the very way of life for people all along the shorelines of Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi and Florida. The US state of Louisiana has been hit the hardest, which itself is still battling to recover after hurricane Katrina hit the area in 2005.