The Grich

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Richard Saul Wurman's 19.20.21

Richard Saul Wurman, founder of the TED conference, gave the keynote speech at the ESRI International Users conference in San Diego this year.

His address focused on his 19.20.21 campaign, which highlights the increasing urbanization of our planet, with 19 cities of 20 million or more people in the 20th century. He is working on a series of television programs called Cities: Understanding the Way We Live, to highlight the move toward greater urbanization around the globe.
As part of the 19.20.21 project, which includes Wurman, Jon Kamen and Jack Dangermond as partners, the group is using comparative analysis to understand the urban patterns. Interesting patterns emerge when analyzing the metrics of a city where divisions of geography such as hills or neighborhoods provide distinct patterns of citizens that also affect transportation, and other elements that all affect the quality of life.
Part of the vision of 19.20.21 is the idea of an urban observatory where the information will be organized centrally so that we can all realize that we’re not a planet of countries, but a planet of cities. The creation of a common metric and a means to view each city and compare them in a standard template will help people understand issues of sustainability.
I found this last part fascinating. Recall if you will that most of the history of many can be described geographically in terms of city-states. It's a modern phenomenon that we have fixed boundaries for countries and nations. Even empires, like the Romans, Greeks, Persians, and even later European dynasties, existed as collections of cities with the intervening rural lands protected by armies. But boundaries were not definite.

So what will the world look like in the future with our population continuing to amass in highly populated central cities? Will we revert to a more city-centric political model?
I highly doubt it, considering the information technology that exists to keep track of said boundaries, and the growing international morality that you shouldn't mess with those said boundaries.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Using geography to find Osama bin Laden

Geographers at UCLA have been busy using GIS analysis to narrow down where bin Laden might be hiding.
Here's the analytic synopsis:
Essentially, the study generates hiding-place location probabilities. It starts with "distance decay theory," which holds that the odds are greater that the person will be found close to where he or she was last seen.

Then the researchers add the "island biographic theory," which maintains that locales with more resources — palm trees for tropical birds and electricity for wealthy fugitives — are likelier to draw creatures of interest.

"Island biographic theory suggests bin Laden would end up in the biggest and least isolated city of the region," Gillespie says, one among about 26 towns within a 20-mile distance of Tora Bora.
That's according to the AP article. Of course this isn't definitive. One of the things that makes distance decay theory, used in wildlife habitat studies, not as easy when trying to find people is that this is a single person, and people tend to be able to hide in non-ideal environments. But it's an interesting exercise.
Hat tip to DirectionsMag for the link.


All I know is, when is the movie about this guy going to come out.
In 1967, Paddy Roy Bates was just another run-of-the-mill Army major-cum-fisherman-cum-pirate radio operator, minding his own business and blithely disregarding British broadcasting law. But the British - sticklers for things like laws (especially British ones) - were none too keen on Bates' activites, and they convicted him on a charge of radio piracy. Now, it's common knowledge that getting tried and convicted in a court of law leaves a man with two clear options: 1) go to jail; or 2) abscond to an abandoned WWII-era naval defense platform in international waters, claim you've founded a new nation and declare yourself royal prince. It takes a certain sort of person to determine that, of these two options, the latter is clearly superior. And Bates was that sort of person.
The great part about that teaser paragraph is that the article, and the story, only gets better from there.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Living the Map

Check this cool website out.  This guy’s site is called “Living the Map.”  He’s on task to take a job in each of the 50 states of our great nation.  And he’s learning very interesting things about the various people’s who live around the country.  He’s going to get a broader prospective on what living in the USA is like than anyone out there (perhaps the current run of candidates should phone this guy up and ask a few vital questions).

Election maps 2008

Usually I look in vain for good maps of the election cycle, but with the proliferation of on-line mapping these days, you knew we’d run into some.  There’s a litany of KML regarding the election this year, but what I wanted was some nice maps showing distributions that you don’t normally see.

What a welcome post Aaron over at GIS Dev Café has produced, looking for the same thing I am.

His post today is about a site called Patchwork Nation (CS Monitor) that has a real nice map of different demographic groups around the country.  As simplified as it is, I’m intrigued by the categories and their distribution.  Take a look, and then take a look at the maps on  Voting Machine Technology, Advertisement Spending, and Campaign Finance.

The ad spending maps were very interesting.  Looks like both party’s candidates are spending the bulk of their money in the industrial lake states.  My first reaction was that we out here in the wee west have been left out and forgotten, but then remembering what heavy spending on TV ads and mailings looks like, perhaps we’re better off.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Big Brother Tech

Lately I’ve been seeing many articles and blog posts talking about more and more technology being used to track and pinpoint you and aspects of your life.  I work in an industry that when the technology is being applied to businesses and government, the thought pattern is that the more detail you can get, the better you can understand, research and track the people you serve, the better and more efficient your business or government entity can be.

However, like all things technological, we have to be careful with what we invent.  Often times the human tendency is to get all excited about what we CAN do, and we ignore the question of whether we SHOULD do it.

Take for instance this story in the Wall Street Journal (hat tip to Slash Geo) on using web technology to better pinpoint your IP address.  Now, for the time being they can only narrow your location down to the city you are connecting from, but I notice that there’s interest in narrowing that field.

Or perhaps think about how location technology is used in transportation.  Failing to get popular support for a national ID program, Australia is mulling the creation of a nationwide automatic number plate recognition system.  “In addition to being able to recognize plates, the system would also collect images of drivers and passengers with high enough resolution for identification purposes.”  How scary does that sound?

Think about it.  At the moment you have honorable government workers and police investigators dreaming of the ease of locating people when they need to, like criminals.  At the back end you have a system where the powers that be can find YOU any time your driving around and track your movements.  Am I being paranoid?

Aerial photography is now being used to help tax assessors review your property and make adjustments to the value of your home and land.  On it’s surface this isn’t a big deal.  Housing prices are in great flux right now, with the mortgage crisis we’ve been dealing with (and will continue to deal with).  However, the more our private property (as well as ourselves) can be scrutinized and tallied by those who wish to extract whatever taxes they can, the harder it’s going to be to function. 

Take Atlantic City, New Jersey.  They recently implemented a system where the tax assessor’s department reviews photos that can spot a new porch on someone’s house that they didn’t take out a permit on, and subsequently fine the home owner.  I understand the permit process, and why home construction is coded.  However I’ve made small improvements on my home, for which I’ve been told I should have had a permit for.  The permit and code process was supposed to be designed for safer houses, not to help fund the government.

And yet that’s what I’m seeing here.

      At stake is an untold amount of tax revenue. Cape May County appears to be ground zero on the issue as it was one of the first in the nation to buy into the system, purchasing its first pictures in 2003.

      While Van Drew ponders writing a law to limit the uses of Pictometry, Cape May County Tax Administrator George R. Brown III is already using it to adjust assessments on farms. He doesn't consider it a Big Brother tactic. He calls it "a great assessment tool," one of many to make sure people pay their fair share of taxes.

So is the permit process about managing safety and construction codes, or is it about money?
In one of the first real disputes to this system, a farmer noted that when informed by the county that they found she wasn’t farming enough of her land, and therefore would have to pay more taxes (farmers have to farm enough of a percentage of their land to get the tax break), and “Brown disputed the number of acres of pumpkins growing when the pictures were taken in March.

‘We don't grow pumpkins in March,’ Rea said.”

This, of course, reminded me of the current use of red-light cameras starting to proliferate around the country.  Despite the growing evidence that they actually are increasing accidents at intersections (although they differ in kind), and that they are subject to wide abuse (adjusting the yellow timing to catch more offenders) they still continue to grow in number.  The only conclusion we are left with is that municipalities that implement red-light camera systems do so for the money they generate, not because of actual safety.

All these technologies are neat, and can lead to much benefit to our society.  However, their implementation and general acceptance by the powers that be concerns me.  Where’s the oversight?  Where are the checks and balances?  This isn’t a Bush thing.  No one person or group of people sets out to create Orwell’s Big Brother.  I didn’t get the impression when reading that book that the society he created was the work of one person.  The closest thing to that was the Soviet Union and it’s satellites.  That wasn’t the work of one person either (although there were a few strong personalities involved).  It’s the little steps forward, that ordinary people don’t detect, that you have to watch out for and think carefully about before just implementing them outright.

Paul Newman, enabling GIS for disadvantaged communities

I had heard that Paul Newman had died this last weekend, and was reflecting on his vast career as an actor.  Many of you know how active he was as a philanthropist and an entrepreneur (Newman’s Own brand of whatever).  However this one surprised me because his generosity enabled those in my industry to help others around the world.

      Like drew Stephens, Director, The GIS Institute, Service at Sea I was also saddened this past week-end to hear about the passing of Paul Newman. What I wasn't aware of was how Newman reached so many people through his generosity, including the GIS Community. In a touching letter, Stephens described how in 2006, Newman's funding for The GIS Institute provided the seed capital to run our first proof-of-concept trip "Service for Africa", a six week project that delivered GIS training for over 100 people from 20 different conservation organizations in five African countries.

I didn’t always agree with what Paul Newman was about, but he stands as an example of what people in advantageous positions should be doing with their wealth.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Google road network change

Beware the road network on Google Maps!  So says Jonathan Crowe, who lives in Canada and has noticed that since Google has switched it’s contract for road network data from Navteq to Tele-Atlas, the road network has gotten a little more inaccurate.

      But there’s a problem: Chad complains that the change has added a heavy dose of wrong to Google Maps. Based on my experience, I agree with him; since the changeover, I’ve noticed a number of changes that actually introduced error in a place where the mapping data was previously correct. (Presumably this was well known among users of the mobile and API products, but now it’s on the main site.)

He provides snapshots of some of the errors he’s already found.  Perhaps you can find some too.  So beware when using Google for the time being.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Badger Creek Wilderness

No, that other Badger Creek. Yes there are many creeks and rivers in the United States with that name. In researching our hike this summer I had to remember to insert "Oregon" or Mt Hood National Forest" in my query or I would get some po-dunk creek in the south or something. Actually most of the time I was taken to the beautiful Badger Creek basin in the San Juan mountains of Colorado. Must go there sometime.
But anyway.

Before we got to the trailhead, which was on the east side of the Cascades in the dry high desert, we found this cool pioneer cemetery. Drive down highway 397 from the Dalles toward Dufer and you might see it on a bare hill. It's still being used, as we saw some new additions. But it was the old additions that were really cool. Check the photo at left.

The Badger Creek basin is in a designated wilderness on the east side of the Mt. Hood National Forest. Which means it's on the far side from Portland. Which means less people. Well, I thought that anyway. We were alone for most of the first day. I took this trip a bit differently than most, I suspect, because my plan was to start from the east side, walk up the creek to the lake which is it's source, Badger Lake. We saw no one on the trail all day. I was all set to enjoy some pristine lake tucked nicely inside a wilderness. All alone. Well, except for all the local yokels who know that there's a road easement into the lake. Yes, there were lots of people. People staying up for all hours cackling at some joke that was lost on us. Because we were trying to sleep.

Badger Creek at the trail head

So here's the lake at the right. Very nice. I'm sure there's some nice fishing. I enjoyed its refreshing coolness before we left on the 2nd day. It was brisk, but the footing was sandy instead of that muck you get in many alpine lakes. Turns out this lake isn't quite natural. Earthen dam keeps most of it in.

The object of the 2nd day was to climb to Lookout Peak (lots of imagination was wasted on naming features in this area). By far the highest peak east of Mt. Hood in this area, on a good day you'll get fantastic views of Mt. Hood, the high desert, and if the air is clear you'll get Mt. Jefferson and the Sisters to the south, Mt Adams and Mt. Rainier to the north.

To the left is the view of Mt. Hood from the top of Lookout Peak. It looks much bigger in person.

Just in front of Mt. Hood you can see a ridge running left to right. It looks a bit brown, and indeed was the site of a big fire more than a year ago. Perhaps two, I don't recall. I do recall that we didn't know that when we set out to hike that ridge and the valley behind it last September. It's hard to find your way sometimes when you're stepping through 6 inches of ash.

Let's forget about last year now, shall we.

To the right is a view back down to our campsite, Badger Lake. Again from Lookout.
There were so many wonderful views, and these fantastic spires on the ridgeline that we got to walk along and then underneath. Needless to say I didn't get any really good shots of them.

I'll just leave you with a shot I took of Badger creek and a tributary joining it near where we camped on the 2nd and final night in this lesser known area on the far side of Mt. Hood. Well worth the effort, though.

Coda: You can drive pretty close to Lookout Mountain's peak and then hike in a short 2 or 3 mile road to the top. Consult your Forest Service map or Green Trails map (Mt. Hood and Flag Point maps should do ya).
Check out some of the other wildernesses I've posted on. Indian Heaven in Washington. Columbia (Hatfield) Wilderness, Bull of the Woods Wilderness, Mt Hood Wilderness.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Hurricane coverage

The Map Room has some links to sites that are following the hurricanes using mapping technology.  On the tail end of Gustav is the tropical storm Hanna, which could be a hurricane by as early as tomorrow.

Of interest is whether or not the RNC convention will be adversely affected by this.  Sorry, I know that people are having to deal with the effects of the hurricane down in Texas, Louisiana and Florida, but comparatively these aren’t as strong as some in the last few years.  Gustav has missed any major population centers and Hanna probably will too (Jacksonville is a likely target though).  The damage is relatively low and yet all the major networks and news stations have been non-stop in the coverage of this, completely avoiding the RNC.  Are they purposefully avoiding political coverage this week?

Friday, August 29, 2008

Invade Canada!

Many people are aware that the border between the U.S. and Canada is the longest unprotected border between two nations in the world.  In politics and foreign policy, trade and the like, Canada and the U.S. are viewed as friends and partners (for the most part, there are squabbles as in any friendship).

Yet, how many of you know about all the small wars waged between the U.S. and Canada over the past 2 centuries.  I wasn’t aware of all of them, and Catholicgauze takes a short page to list them out.  Seems there were battles during the American Revolution and the War of 1812, where some Americans thought that taking Canada away from the British was a moral imperative. 

However, in that time, most of the fighting men were militia, and wouldn’t fight outside their home state.

There were some other less known “wars,” such as the Lower Canada Rebellion, Patriot war, Aroostook war (Canada took part of Maine), and the San Juan Island War, which had to be settled by arbitration with Kaiser Wilhelm.

But the one that caught my funny bone was the Fenian Raids:

      The United States was upset at the British tact support for the Confederate States of America during the Civil War. There was one way the Americans could strike back without risk of major backlash: terrorism. The Fenian Brotherhood was an Irish republican/terrorist organization based in the United States. A Brotherhood song ending with "And we'll go and capture Canada, for we've nothing else to do" sums up the mood of Irish who just wanted to kill some British.

How did that strike me as funny, you ask?

Gus: Canadians are always dreaming up a lotta ways to ruin our lives. The metric system, for the love of God! Celsius! Neil Young!

Edwin S. Simon, NBS News Anchor: The Canadians. They walk among us. William Shatner. Michael J. Fox. Monty Hall. Mike Meyers. Alex Trebek. All of them Canadians. All of them here.

Edwin S. Simon, NBS News Anchor: It is the height of six American football fields, or five Canadian football fields. As if Canadian football really counts.

Edwin S. Simon, NBS News Anchor: Think of your children pledging allegiance to the maple leaf. Mayonnaise on everything. Winter 11 months of the year. Anne Murray - all day, every day.

Smiley: When have you ever heard anyone say, "Honey, lets stay in and order Canadian food"?

U.S. President: I want to say to Prime Minister MacDonald: Surrender her pronto, or we'll level Toronto.

U.S. President: You sold control of American missiles to a foreign country?
R.J. Hacker, President of Hacker Dynamics: If you can call Canada foreign.
Smiley: Or a country.

Boomer: There's a time to think, and a time to act. And this, gentlemen, is no time to think.

RCMP Officer at Headquarters: I don't know what you're talking aboot, eh?
Kabral: Aboot! It's ABOUT! And what's with this 'eh' business?
Roy Boy: [pointing a gun] We have ways of making you pronounce the letter O, pal.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Solzhenitsyn is dead

Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Russian dissident and author.  1918-2008.  Stalin couldn't kill him.  The Russian Gulags didn't end him.  Cancer had no hold on him.  But time finally caught up with him.

I remember reading the Gulag Archipelago in my early 20s.  It was a daunting book (and that was just volume 1) but I couldn’t put it down at times.  The sheer disregard for humanity and justice during the Stalin years is just breathtaking.  Comparisons to things like Guantanamo as the American "gulag" fall about as short as trying to compare Bush to Hitler or Stalin.  You may not like his policies, but you're belittling what Hitler was and what he tried to do.   It's like comparing the kid who stole a pack of bubble gum to the guy who broke down the door, shot the store keeper and emptied the cash register.  If you need some perspective, read the book.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Repose on political economics

I’ve been busy at work and home over the past week, but I thought it was time I responded to a commenter last week on this post about Obama and the politics of change (or not so much change).

The comment is in response to this part of my post:

      But should you announce to the world that you’re an economist while endorsing and campaigning for a guy who’s proposing to increase the size of government by hundreds of billions of dollars?  And with all the tax cuts he's proposing, is anything he says on the issue even realistic?  What are they teaching economists these days?

Here’s his response to that:

      So economics is a solved field then? There's only one valid viewpoint and strict adherence to it is the only means by which to proceed in the field.

      Look, the Chicago school (and rational choice theory in general) is as dominant today as it was at any other period - but that doesn't mean it's the sole "logical" stricture within the discipline.

      Furthermore, that's variance within chosen theory. In terms of application you essentially assume that anyone who does not embrace libertarian viewpoints is "wrong" or doesn't know what s/he's talking about; and that's just flat out wrong.
      It's a bogus assumption and either you know it and enjoy basking in the comfort of solipsism as justification or you simply have no understanding of the issue you are actually addressing.

Ok.  He’s got me on a good point.  I’m not an expert in economics, but I do know a little about it.   I do realize that there are many different theories regarding economics, and that none of them operate in the real world.  Theories are theoretical systems mean to try and explain what’s happening in the real world.  Sometimes you come closer than others, but most of the time you can’t completely explain how the world works with just a theoretical explanation. 

The commenter guesses, because of my disdain for government intervention in the economy and dissing of Republicans on that point,  that I’m a libertarian, which is only sort of true.   Like most Democrats and Republicans (and Libertarians) my roundish peg doesn’t quite fit into that square hole.  Nor does my belief in the Chicago or neoclassical economic theory.  Like Keynesians who believe that there’s a balance between government and the market, I believe there’s a roll for government in the economy, and it’s an important one, but a very limited one (unlike Keynesians).

To me, it seems that most Democrat and Republican politicians subscribe to the Keynesian schools of economics in varying amounts.  Daily they call for government action regarding some economic arena, but mostly this is just political self-serving behavior.  Politicians believe that the public likes to see them doing something about people’s economic woes, even if that action is detrimental to the system as a whole. 

Economists, whatever you might say about them, are generally not short term thinkers.  Each action within an economic system has far reaching implications over the long term.  Politicians are by nature short-term thinkers, and therefore, regardless of whatever economic theory they claim to hold to, they will instead act in accordance to political gain, and will easily leave good economic theory in the dumpster like an abandoned infant.

Which is why I think it’s unfair of the commenter to complain about why I scoffed at the guy on the street.  It’s not that I feel an economist is foolish to vote for one candidate or another, it’s that I think it’s foolish for an economist to promote any Democrats, or Republicans, because his education and experience tells him that any one candidates economic goals are more reasonable.  At this point I don’t find either Obama’s or McCain’s platforms reasonable in their entirety, and am not all that confident that the reasonable portions of their platforms will ever be implemented.

I need to respond to another part of the comment:

      I read your blog because geography is cool, but if you are going to talk about a specific field as if you hold expert knowledge in it - actually do.

I hear you there, and I’ve been a bit more political in my posts than in the past.  It’s way past time for me to talk about some of the places I’ve visited recently and geographic issues I’ve been reading about. 

But dude, this isn’t a geography magazine.  This is my blog.  I do think geography is cool, but sometimes I don’t have anything geographic to say, but have some very political things to say, and I’m going to say them.  Free country and all.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Ossetia, Georgia and Russia

If you haven’t been watching the Olympics or the news you might not be aware that the spirit of international cooperation and brotherly love hasn’t caught on in some parts of the world.  Specifically the area of Southern Ossetia in the country of Georgia. 

Georgia has had trouble from that region for some time.  There are Ossetians who would like to kick off the yoke of those harsh democratic masters and prefer their friends over in Russia.  Not all the Ossetians fell that way.

Georgian President Saakashvili recently tried to engineer a cease fire, but Russia decided that they needed to intervene anyway and sent troops and tanks into a sovereign country.  We can just leave the talk about how Russia is just there as a peace keeping force, they’ve acted more like an occupying force.

      Russian forces seized several towns and a military base deep in western Georgia on Monday, opening a second front in the fighting. Georgia's president said his country had been effectively cut in half with the capture of the main east-west highway near Gori.

Catholicguaze has a good set of Google maps/earth data for us.  Check out where all this is happening.
Also, check out what Google did with the map related to the story.  I didn’t hear anything about Russian tanks outside of Atlanta.  (Update:  checked the Google story, and they haven’t improved it much.  Now it points to Vienna, Austria).

Imus map of Oregon

If you are into maps, as I am, and you live in Oregon (or Alaska by the way) you need to know this guy’s name.

      Imus' original Oregon map, which has sold 45,000 copies, won "best of show" in an American Congress on Surveying & Mapping contest. The revised version was nearly two years in the making.

That’s David Imus, not the radio talk show guy.  I have an Imus of the Bull of the Woods wilderness map he made, and it’s very pretty.  I probably wouldn’t take one of these on a backpacking trip, but might mount it on the wall.

His Alaska map also won some acclaim I’m told.  Like the blurb above, he just revised his Oregon map that won all those awards.  Suitable for mounting.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Gas and hot air

Are gasoline prices too high?  Certainly oil and gas have risen in price quite a bit over the past few years, and politicians waste no time pointing fingers for personal advantage.  However there isn’t much our government can do without making life worse for us, and even less the President can do.

Not that they won’t spend time talking about how they’ll all make life better for us.

      That smell on the nation's highways isn't just car exhaust. It's also the rank odor of political populism, as John McCain and Barack Obama both try to score points with dubious energy ideas.

The unfortunate end result of this is that people believe them, and so they’ll keep talking this way.  They might even act on it, and that wouldn’t be good.  So here’s my proposition, and I hope that this gets out, so pass it on.  Let’s do nothing. Really.  Don’t drive everywhere.  Don’t buy stupid items made from petroleum products that you don’t really need (and since oil is used in most plastics, that’s pretty much everything).  And most of all don’t push your congressmen to do anything about it. 

This isn’t a partisan message.  Republicans are certainly rabid puppies when it comes to public attention and they want to get elected as much as the next politician, and so fall into the trap of assuming that the government should do something whenever the people whine about their lifestyles taking a hit.

      A House Republican leader is lambasting President Bush on his decision not to call Congress back into session to deal with the energy crisis.
      In a legislative update sent to GOP members and staff on Tuesday, Republican House Policy Committee Chairman Thaddeus McCotter (Mich.) accused "Beijing George" Bush of throwing House Republicans "under the bone-dry bus" on his way to the Olympics in China.

In truth Bush did what he needed to do, or rather all he really has the power to do without creating more wasteful bureaucracy, and that’s remove administrative roadblocks to more domestic oil extraction and production.  The ball is in Congress’ court, and that seems to make them uncomfortable.

Perhaps we could stick it to the oil companies.  After all they’re just charging us more because they’re making huge profits, not because, you know, oil actually costs more right now.  Oh, wait, I guess Obama is already proposing that.

      Making Exxon surrender money that is now falling into its lap would not necessarily affect its longer-term plans or incentives. Indeed, some of Big Oil's "windfall" already will go to the government: The more profit the companies earn, the more corporate income tax they pay. But to add a five-year tax increase on top of that to pay for a one-year gift to voters would, indeed, increase the cost of doing business. That cost would be passed along in forgone investment in new production, lower dividends for pension funds and other shareholders, and higher prices at the pump -- thus socking it to the consumers whom the plan is supposed to help. If oil prices fall, there might be no windfall profits to tax. Then the Obama rebate would have to be paid for through spending cuts, taxes on something else or borrowing.

All and all, like the first article above talks about, is $4 per gallon gas really a bad thing?  It certainly is reversing the American trend of frivolous driving and gas guzzling car purchases, and driving innovation in oil alternatives. 

But legislators' knee-jerk tendencies to want to “fix” everything only makes government bigger and increasing the scope of government power over any sector of the economy will only hurt the economy in the long run. 

I note that one of the driving issues of the campaign is how dissatisfied people are with the way Bush is handling the economy (read the article I’m linking to, it has a good overview of the positions of both candidates).

      One thing is clear: Americans are worried about the economy and aren't pleased with Bush. A recent Wall Street Journal/NBC poll found 73 percent disapprove of the president's performance on the economy. That includes 41 percent of Republicans.

So are Republicans angry at Bush because he hasn’t set the government loose on the American economy so that everyone has a government allocated Ford pickup and Toyota Prius in the driveway and artificially set the price of gas down to $1.50 per gallon?  No, of course not.  Republicans are upset with Bush because he’s as spend-happy as any Republican of his generation (that’s what compassionate conservative mean back in 2000).  Despite all the good levers he pulled to pick the economy back up after 9-11, he made it worse by championing large government programs and withholding the veto pen at every turn.  I’m upset with Bush’s roll in the economy not because he’s not doing anything, but primarily because of what he DID do in increasing the government’s roll in people’s life.

So how is McCain, Obama, McCotter or anyone else calling for government action going to make our lives any better?

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Who is Obama anyway?

American election for President of this great country, episode number 44, seems to be underway, and I find myself actually thinking of, yes, voting for someone.

Anyone who has read this blog in the past will no doubt assume that I’m voting Republican based on my viewpoints.  And you’re probably right, although I maintain that nothing is written in stone, and I’ve been known to vote Democrat or 3rd party from time to time.

However, it’s not state secret that I’m leaning McCain.  Sometimes it’s not about issues (although he’s worlds closer to my views on most major issues than Obama is), but character and consistency of position over long periods of time. 

I’ve read articles about how he’s adopted poor children from south Asia, and I’ve noted that he doesn’t trumpet this fact.  If for no other reason, I’d like the guy.

However, while I don’t think the world is going to end if the country elected a Democrat, I find it difficult to determine just what Obama believes and what he’ll be about if elected.  Apparently I’m not the only one, as people on the left are having a tough time with it as well.

      To earn the Democratic nomination, as Fred Thompson points out, Obama ran as George McGovern without the experience, a left-of-center politician who would meet unconditionally with Iran, pull us precipitously out of Iraq, prohibit new drilling for oil, and grow big government in Washington by all but a trillion dollars. In his general election TV ad debut, however, Obama pirouetted like Baryshnikov. With a commercial Mike Huckabee could have run in a Republican primary, Obama now emphasizes his commitment to strong families and heartland values, "Accountability and self-reliance. Love of country. Working hard without making excuses." In this yet unwritten chapter of his next autobiography, Obama tells us he is the candidate of "welfare to work" who supports our troops and "cut taxes for working families." The shift in his political personae has been startling. Obama has moved right so far and so fast, he could end up McCain's Vice-Presidential pick.

      General-election Obama now billboards his doubts about affirmative action. He has embraced the Bush Doctrine of pre-emption saying, "I will do everything in my power to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon...everything." He tells his party "Democrats are not for a bigger government." Oil drilling is a consideration. His FISA vote and abandonment of public campaign finance introduce us to an Obama of recent invention. And as he abandons his old identity for the new, breeding disenchantment among his formerly passionate left-of-center supporters and, equally, doubts among the center he courts, he risks becoming nothing at all, a candidate who is everything and nothing in the same moment. In one of the most powerful marketing books of the past few years, Authenticity, an exploration of our demand for what's real in an increasingly contrived world, authors Gilmore and Pine quote philosophy professor Crispin Sartwell about Al Gore. "Every attempt to regain authenticity," Crispin says, "only casts a new, infinitely repeated image through the hall of mirrors that is his political life and our media experience of that life." Those reflections set the authenticity of John McCain in high-relief. McCain has revealed himself to his core.

      In the defining moment of his life, McCain was willing to give everything for one thing, and that one thing was his country. Contrast that with Obama, who has told America that he is "a proud citizen of the United States and a fellow citizen of the world." Obama is the talented salesman who seduced one state after another saying "Iowa, this is our moment," "Virginia, this is our moment," "Texas, this is our moment," and then tells Europe, "people of Berlin, people of the world, this is our moment." How many times can Barack Obama sell the same moment to everyone, before he becomes Mel Brooks in "The Producers"? Who is Barack Obama? His campaign, as it reupholsters him before our eyes, says we can never know -- perhaps because Barack Obama does not know himself.

      Dreams from My Father is a staggeringly beautiful book, lyrical, powerful and poetic. It is also the story of a man who has been many men, all named Barack Obama. In his own eyes, he is one race, but also another. He is an American, but also a Kenyan. He is from Hawaii and also the Kansas heartland. He is Harvard elite, then the Chicago streets. At times he decries the very clay from which he was made, only to remake himself again.

      At each place and stage, as Barack Obama chronicles the chapters of his life, he tells us how he has re-invented himself, becoming the role he inhabits, though not falsely or in-authentically, like Bill Clinton. He actually seems to transform himself, becoming what must be next. He has been called distant, aloof and somewhat unapproachable, perhaps because we cannot approach what he does not have, a solid core. His soul seems to be molten and made up of dreams, which is at once breathtakingly inspiring and forbiddingly indeterminate. When this young man with the flowing, passionate core, when this candidate without the solid-center changes positions and transforms himself as we watch, it leaves Americans much more in doubt about who he is and how he would lead us. It also reveals an Obama of unapproachable arrogance and inestimable self-regard: He appears confident voters will appreciate his superiority regardless of where he journeys or what he becomes to meet his political ambitions.

So who is this guy.  I tire of hearing about his Chicago days, and readers (all 2 of you) of this journal know that I usually just go through candidates platforms and try to pick out what they’re saying as opposed to where they’ve been.  Unfortunately, I’m not sure in Obama’s case I can even do that and expect that he’ll follow the course he sets for himself in the campaign. 

Side note.  I was in San Francisco this weekend, and the Obama machine is in full tilt there, no surprise.  We were walking on the Embarcadero and passed some people carrying signs and buttons and stuff and attempting to engage people.  One guy saw us approaching with the kids and said something vague about how it was change for the kids or something.  I must have looked at him funny, said something brush-offy like “sure, sure”, because he mentioned that he was an economist. 

I audibly snorted.  My wife made mention to me to just leave it alone, so I did.  But should you announce to the world that you’re an economist while endorsing and campaigning for a guy who’s proposing to increase the size of government by hundreds of billions of dollars?  And with all the tax cuts he's proposing, is anything he says on the issue even realistic?  What are they teaching economists these days?

Not that Republican’s are rosy when you’re talking about economic sense, and if you’re voting for Obama because you want the government to do everything for you, or if you’re scared the Republicans are going to lock homosexuals up or invade Canada, that’s great.  But don’t claim that it makes economic sense.

Although it was San Francisco, and it was Jerry Garcia’s birthday.  The air did smell kinda herbal.  Perhaps that explains it.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Brazilian, the language

How about this, folks.

      Portugal may have to recognise the inevitable by bowing to the economic and cultural predominance of Brazil, its former colony. The once proud imperial power is considering reforming its language to accommodate recent linguistic developments in the South American economic powerhouse, with which it shares a language.

There are some languages that are much more formalized and standardized than others.  The French for instance have a standardizing body for all the Francophone nations of the world. 

English, of course, doesn’t have that.  You even get differences within countries like the US, much less the vast differences between countries that cause things like the spelling of “recognize” above (article is from the UK).

      The proposal to be put before parliament on 15 May would standardise Portuguese around the world and change the spellings of hundreds of words in favour of the Brazilian versions. The measure is largely a response to commercial interests. But for the once proud imperial power, whose language is spoken by 230 million people worldwide, it is a blow to national pride comparable to Britons adopting American spellings and writing, say, "traveler" instead of "traveller".

There are several advantages for Portugal (or rather for Portuguese speaking people).  One is that communication and marketing will be easier, as industries like publishing will be able to market more broadly.  Internet searches will be easier, and Portugal hopes that the measure will “advance an old ambition of getting Portuguese adopted as an official language at the UN.”

Hat tip to Catholicgauze.

Reading the Post is torture

What can I say about coercive interrogation techniques that hasn’t already been said a million times.  I could tell you that I’m not sure about military detainee torture and it’s value in war-time.  I’m sure there are studies out there, and some will say that it’s necessary to save lives, others will say that the techniques aren’t necessary and don’t work anyway. 

But no one seems to really want to know whether they work or not.  One side will say it’s OK because they don’t play by the rules anyway and the other says that as decent human beings we shouldn’t stoop to the level of the extremists we’re in conflict with.  I’m of the opinion that we need to know the facts and have a national discussion on this that doesn’t include political partisan bickering.

However, the press never helps with this.  Exactly what are various agencies doing in the battle with extremists?  Well, you might get two different stories from these two sources. 

Washington Post:

      Interrogation practices -- including the use of dogs, sleep deprivation and simulated drowning or water-boarding -- repeatedly created friction between FBI agents and military leaders.


      Fine's audit doesn't assess the conduct of CIA or military interrogators and says FBI agents never witnessed the use of simulated drowning, or water-boarding.

So the Post seems to want you to believe that water-boarding is and has been going on, when actual official reports and statements by the administration admit that it hasn’t been used in many years.   The report from the FBI seems to confirm that, but if you read the Post

Also, I again note that both use the excuse of Abu Ghraib as the reason for the FBI’s new rules that require agents to report when they witness abuse.  Even though what happened there wasn’t sanctioned, nor was it for the purpose of interrogation.

And what is the FBI doing in all these countries anyway?  I thought the FBI was a domestic investigation force?

All and all, to get back to the point, physical coercion has been a part of military interrogation in times of war for as long as there’s been war.  The stuff they’re talking about here – snarling dogs and sleep deprivation – is pretty tame compared to what was done to Americans in the Vietnam war, or what Islamic extremists do to those they don’t like.  So shouldn’t this about having a national discussion, not about trying to nail the administration for something else?  What’s acceptable?  Is anything?

Violence in South Africa

There’s been a rash of Xenophobia in South Africa.

      The spate of violent attacks targeting foreigners in South Africa has caused an estimated 13,000 people to flee from their homes to police stations and other havens, local Red Cross officials said.

      At least 22 people have been killed in the week-long spree of violence, police have said. The attacks and looting has drawn condemnation from South African officials and other African leaders.

I take it that the leaders are condemning racism, but this doesn’t seem like ideological racism.  I wonder if this is more vast uncomfortableness with the mix of people who are not trying to assimilate.  I mean sure, there’s probably some racism going on, but when you get mass violence and protesting from ordinary citizens, you have to ask, “what started the big bang?”

Many of the foreigners are from other countries, most prominently Zimbabwe, because they are fleeing from massive violence or oppression.  They don’t want to be there, but kinda have to right now.  What kind of resentment do you think that’s causing?

I’m looking forward to more perspectives from people who understand that region more.