Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Oregon Economy.
Things are looking up for Oregon.
Oregon should benefit from continued solid job growth through at least 2006, state economists told legislators Tuesday.

Employment increased by 2.2 percent in the second quarter this year compared to the same period of 2003, chief economist Tom Potiowsky said in his quarterly economic and state revenue forecast. He said that was the strongest rise in four years.

Budget crises? What budget crises?
Economists predict the budget period will end next June 30 with $137 million left over. That's up by $80 million from estimates made when the 2003 Legislature wrapped up the budget a year ago.

School zone speed limit in Portland, Oregon, effective 24 hours a day!
OK, when I first heard about this I was quite incensed. This seems like a rediculous waste of policemen's time and effort. I understand that the "when children present" thing is a little subjective and confusing, but there are certain times when you know there are not going to be children. Like say midnight. I have to slow down to 20 at midnight?
As it turns out the article in the Oregonian said that only roads where the speed limit is 25 or 30 miles an hour will this rule apply. Otherwise the rule will only be imposed during certain times.
I have to admit, also, that the first place I heard this was talk radio. Not exactly with it on all the facts now were we.
My first impression about the rediculousness of the 24 hour thing still stands though.
Dave Kopel and the 59 deceits of Fahrenheit 9/11. This is a loooooong document. I printed it out and it was 53 pages out of my printer. My wife is considering buying a ticket to some other movie but actually seeing this one (in order not to give Moore any of our money) and leave a copy of the document in the theatre. Interesting idea.
I can't find the article now, but there was a great quote from Vaclav Havel of the Czech republic who saw the film and then declared that he didn't buy it. After all, he lived under the shadow of the Soviets. He knows propaganda when he sees it.

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

East Asia Roundup by Winds of Change is up, talking about events in China, Korea, Japan and other countries.

The Uygurs.
One thing in the east Asia roundup that caught my eye was the holding of some Uygurs at Guantanamo Bay. Uygurs are people of Turkish decent, practicing Muslims, who reside in the eastern reaches of China. They have no friends in central Asia, as China suppresses them brutally and the surrounding countries are afraid of losing Chinese economic trade if they intervene.
(Note: by Turkish decent I am refering to the same band of Turks that originated in Northern China/Manchuria that eventually made their way over to what is now modern Turkey. They have resided there for probably over 1500 years)
The real Quagmire.

Sixty years after Paris was seized by the "Allies," and the beginning of the American occupation, France remains a failed nation, mired in political corruption and beset by vast pockets of Muslim extremism, into which the gendarmerie fear to tread. The economy continues to struggle under economic policies driven by failed ideologies, and many of its best and brightest continue to flow out of the country, with only ex-dictators and their families, and hysterical movie stars willing to move there.

Sadly, history has born out the predictions of those who warned against invading in the spring of 1944. Many had pointed out what a poor prospect the region was for any kind of democracy, with its long history of belligerence and arrogance, and failed republics.

Ha! (hat tip: Instapundit.)

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Voting methods
Speaking of high tech voting programs, such as the one used in the Venezuelan recall election, lets take a look at the United states and how we vote. Voting methods got lots of thought after the last presidential election when lots of people found they had voted wrongly because of what they perceived was a flawed system. Then there was the hanging chad thing. My opinion is that we should all go back to the big ugly lever system voting machine with curtain and all. No more voting from home. Come on down and participate like a good American.
Here is some data from Election Data Services showing stats on total usage of methods over the country as a whole. I was excited to see that there are still places that use the old mechanical lever systems. Election Data Services has maps of election methods and the results of the last several elections, but they are printed, and they charge for them.
ESRI (GIS software company) has both a voting method map and the result of the 2000 elections map by county. The interface to view them is a little cumbersome. Note how few states have only one method.

I also found one on USA Today but it's way out of date. 2001 I believe.
I generally don't like "prediction" maps, but this one is a good example of a thematic map where the polygons size reflects some value. Princeton University put this up. The states size is proportional to the number of electoral votes.

In other news, Boulder Colorado decided to replace its punch card voting system with an 8.5 x 11 sheet of paper with the candidates listed, and told to fill in the boxes with a ball point pen.
I also found this groovy picture of Bush on Corporatism.tripod.com while I was looking for maps:

People are so creative.

Rogue of the Month
I don't have a regular running thing where I pick someone every month who just completely drops the ball, but this month I thought I would single out someone who made life more difficult for millions of people, who sat back and allowed the freedoms of those people drop to the ground like so much lint in his pocket.
Am I talking about Michael Moore? George Bush? Kofi Annan? No.
I'm talking about Jimmy Carter. Mr. Carter was supposed to monitor the election in Venezuela this month, where the votes were being cast to recall Hugo Chavez and take the government back for the people. Instead, contrary to what political observers down there said was a 58% to 41% margin at the exit polls to regect the current government, Chavez won by the same margin.
Enter this article by Thor Halvorssen, who was there.
Later that morning the most important observer, former President Jimmy Carter, declared that he was shown the computer tally by government supporters and that everything seemed in order. Mr. Carter then left Venezuela, and the opposition groups that had put their faith in him to facilitate a peaceful resolution to the crisis. Mr. Carter, who was vociferous and insistent about patience, transparency and hand-tallies during the Florida recount, left Venezuela to attend Mrs. Carter's birthday party.
I'm sure the people of Venezuela are gratefull to all Mr. Carter's help in the matter. It's becoming pretty obvious now that Chavez pulled every trick in the book to alter the vote, from denying some people, importing non-citizens, to using computer voting software from a company that the government owned 28% of.
Shame on you Jimmy.

Thursday, August 19, 2004

Country of the week.

When I started thinking about getting one of these out, after several weeks of no CotW columns, I was thinking about countries more on the forefront of peoples minds, like Greece or Venezuela. But instead I’m going to choose another one. This one is related to Greece, in that their histories have been inter-twined for thousands of years.

Turkey is a country resting in the fuzzy borderline of two continents. It is often called Asia-minor, in reference to it’s location east of the major western civilizations and that it’s mostly surrounded by water except on the Asia side. It is also a part of Europe economically and socially, and even politically as of late. One could argue that Turkey is the crossroads of civilization, not the middle east.

Turkey’s history starts about 9,000 years ago, when an early civilization, only discovered recently, inhabited the south central part of the country. It’s not certain how long it lasted, but was most likely ended by invading tribes from Europe. Later, around 2000 BC the Hittites were the dominant culture of Asia Minor, known before the Turks got there as Anatolia. After the Hittites, Anatolia entered another age where there were numerous competing tribes throughout the region.

I’m going to simplify this now, for brevity. From the end of the Hittite era, the cultures of Anatolia didn’t worry too much about unity, preferring the city-state, which was most notable on the western coast where Greeks and Greek culture began to settle and build cities. About 500 BC the Persians rose from the east and defeated the Lydians, one of the largest civilizations of Anatolia, and then went into Greece. The Greeks didn’t like this much and began to push back, in notable battles like Marathon and the Peloponnesian war. The Greeks didn’t care much for unity either, and were continually defeated until Alexander the Great united the city-states and drove the Persians back to the east. Alexander’s rule didn’t last long, and the entirety of the Greek empire lasted about 20 years. Greek culture in Anatolia lasted much longer.

On interesting event after that, but before the Romans, was that Celts came in, defeated a few tribes, and settled in northern-mid Anatolia. To this day red hair and other Celtic features can be seen in many Turkish people.

The Roman era was good for the people of Anatolia. The Romans extracted taxes, but generally left the region alone. However, their rule had an astounding affect on the Greeks, who developed a passion for finding meaning in things, art became wilder and imported gods became plentiful. It was this environment that led to the rapid expansion of Christianity throughout the region after Paul’s journeys.

When the Roman empire split up, the western part dissolved into semi-anarchy, but the eastern part continued to flourish, and was centered in Constantinople. The Byzantine empire was a Greek speaking, Christian culture. The empire lasted until the turn of the millennium, but only just. By then it had been beaten back to just Constantinople by invading cultures, the Persians, the Slavs, and the more recent Arab Muslims. The weight of bureaucratic government, with its crippling taxes and heavy church-centered authority didn’t help either. (Constantinople actually didn’t get taken until the 15th century).

The Turks entered the region about 900 AD, originating in a region near Manchuria it is said. As they moved across Asia they converted to Islam. One of these tribes became the Ottomans, started by the sultan Osman, subjugated Constantinople, and took over the whole region. The Ottoman Empire lasted from the end of Constantinople until WWI, over 400 years. The glory years were definitely early on, with Mehmet the second and later Suleyman the Magnificent who in the mid 16th century captured Egypt, North Africa and Hungary. From then on the empire was in decline. It took 300 years of Russian military pressure and European economic pressure, but the weight of the empire, the bureaucracy and immorality of the ruling class and their inability to keep up with Europe technologically led to their downfall. They lasted that long because the Europeans kept them alive in order to control the straits of Bosporus and impede the Russians from invading.

The empire finally expired during WWI, when they joined up with Germany to take on the world. The empire didn’t survive, but a military leader named Mustafa Kemal, who after the war somehow put an army together and drove the French and Russians out. Somehow he was able to negotiate a new treaty and the modern nation of Turkey was born. Kemal was given the name Ataturk by the people, and he started incredible reform and westernization. Turkey had a constitution, used the Roman alphabet, institutions were secularized, used the Christian calendar, adopted the Swiss Legal code, women had rights.

One interesting low point here was the part of the new treaty that “Exchanged populations” with Greece, where millions of Greeks were forced from Anatolia and thousands of Turks from Greece. We set the stage for ethnic cleansings of the 20th century here I think.

The next several decades were of a democratic nation trying to grasp democracy. Each elected leader established what was a dictatorship in order to make reforms, all the while promising full democracy. The Democratic Party of the 60s attempted to create a one-party dictatorship, which was foiled with a coup by the army.

Until the late 80s, there were three coups and three constitutions. The last of which, under Turgut Ozal set the nation on a relatively smooth course ever since. Since then a radical Islamic party has tried to pry the nation away from it’s secular style government, but has not succeeded yet. The pressure is on to join the European Union, but the Earthquake in 1999 set the government back aways. Their inept handling of that event has caused much of the population to not trust that they can take care of the Turkish people.

Other national issues are the Kurds, who compose 20% of the population, mostly in the east. They have made their voices heard mostly through terrorism, and the Turkish government has been pretty heavy handed right back.

Turkey joined the UN in 1945 and NATO in 1952 (if you are a big MASH fan you may remember episodes where Turkish soldiers were brought to the unit for medical treatment).

The country is about as big as Texas, with about 69 million people.

The government is parliamentary republic, with a president who is elected by the National Assembly for 7 years, and a Prime Minister. The National Assembly has 550 members who are directly elected by the population. They have a court system as well.

The economy consists of modern industry, commerce, services and agriculture. Their largest exports are traditionally textiles and clothes. The currently is the Turkish Lira, which is about 1.5 million to the dollar. Inflation is out of control.

Their main international issues are Euro inclusion, Kurdish problems and the Cyprus conflict, which pits them protecting Turkish Cypriots against the southern Greek Cypriots. Relations with Greece are smoothing, especially since Greece helped them out a lot in the earthquake, but an election last year solidified the division of the island.

Their economic situation seems to be improving and the current prime minister, Erdogan, has instituted reforms, like it’s no longer a crime to admit you are a Kurd, that kind of thing.

<>Other news:
A Turk won gold lifting 380 pounds at the Olympics. They have 3 golds and one bronze medal. All of them are for weight lifting.
Turkey is being asked for observers to make sure the Afghan elections are fair.
Even bears are discerning in their beer choices.
They set a trap using as bait some doughnuts, honey and two cans of Rainier Beer. It worked, and the bear was captured for relocation.

Oil and Gas prices. OK there is going to be a lot of talk about high gas prices and how much the oil companies are gouging the consumers and what effect this will have on Bush's re-election chances in the next couple of months. Some people are confused as to why when oil prices are still high then why are gas prices falling at the moment. That's not too hard to explain when you look at the inventory of petrolium sitting around and oil companies trying to build a reserve of cash, by using a higher than usual profit margin, in case there is some sort of middle east, or Russian, or Venezuelan catastrophy.
Willamette week's (Portland local paper) headline story this week is about how all the evil oil companies are trying to stamp out competition and make deals with each other to get the greatest profit margin. The reason that oil prices are dropping is that consumers will alter their behavior eventually due to the higher prices and hurt the oil companies in the long run, so market to control themselves to a certain extent. WW's acusation is that gas prices could be even lower if certain dubious, but legal, methods of the oil companies were discouraged.
The problem with all that is that gas prices, as they relate to the spending power of consumers in 2004 dollars, are as cheep as they've every been. People just drive more and the gas bill takes up more of their paycheck. As late as 1999 the price of gas was 1.27 per gallon as opposed to 1919 when (in 2004 dollars) the price was 2.75 a gallon and in 1959 when it was 1.96 per gallon.
So who's taking the hit here? WW seems to insist that it's the local gas station operator, muscled by the major oil companies. You decide.
Really when I see a relatively liberal (but generally thoughtfull) paper complain about gas prices I would think they would be cheering for higher prices, as there is a threshold where consumers will begin to demand cars and other technology, which in some cases is already there, that consumes less oil. The technology is there for cars, but Americans tend to turn a blind eye to that in favor of more power and bigger vehicles.
Greg Easterbrook, of the New Republic, has been on this for a while now. His biggest grip, besides SUVs, is politicians and movie stars who spend lots of time talking about how bad SUVs are for the environment only to get into their private jets and scurry about the country sucking more petrolium than 1000 Hummers. I can't find the links at the moment though. I'll update this if I do.

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

New Zealand School system de-constructed. Here we have a nation realizing that pumping more money wasn't improving education, and discovered that almost 70% of the money was funding administration. In one fell blow they dissolved all the boards of education in the country and every school came under a board of trustees, directly elected by the parents, and all the per-student funding was given to each school without strings attached!
They also installed a voucher system. They thought that the public school enrollment would plummit, but it didn't. Instead teachers realized that if students left that the funding would fall and they would be out of a job, so the teaching got better and the students are performing better.
The percentage of students enrolled in public school was at 85%, fell to 84% and then rose to 87% three years later.
It's time for an education revolution people!

Update: There's been noise about a NY Times article siting stats that charter schools didn't do as well as public schools. Later it was found out that since charter schools serve more inner city kids and minorities, and the public schools stats used were for all demographics, the real stats showed that charters do about the same as public schools.
The real story here is that religious schools outpace both charters and public schools time and time again. Look at the Nations Report Card from the National Center for Education Statistics.
Winds of Change has their roundup of news from Central Asia. Check it out. In case you haven't viewed it before they talk about countries like Uzbekistan, Afghanistan all the way over to Georgia and Arminia. It's a very interesting place in light of it's location relative to the war on Terror.
I'm back!
I have been out of town, in San Diego, attending the ESRI user conference, which is a week long tour of geographic geekdom. ESRI makes ArcInfo, one of the most used GIS systems in the world. They are like the Microsoft of the GIS world, have quite a market share, and quite a spendy little program. I blogged about it while I was there.

Thursday, August 05, 2004

Fantasy Ideology. This is a must read. I would quote some of it here, but I didn't know what to quote. I ended up wanting to quote most of the article. Lee Harris makes a compelling argument that the enemy we face does not have political or strategic goals, but lives in a fantasy where his ideals are everything and we all are just props in his fantasy. He ascribes this movement as not something we can overcome by politics, appeasement, or diplomacy. He goes even further and calls radical Islamism a disease that needs to be eradicated.
He thought that Bush's description of them not as the enemy, but as "evildoers" was on the mark.
There is one decisive advantage to the “evildoer” metaphor, and it is this: Combat with evildoers is not Clausewitzian war. You do not make treaties with evildoers or try to adjust your conduct to make them like you. You do not try to see the world from the evildoers’ point of view. You do not try to appease them, or persuade them, or reason with them. You try, on the contrary, to outwit them, to vanquish them, to kill them. You behave with them in the same manner that you would deal with a fatal epidemic — you try to wipe it out.
Here's the conclusion paragraph, but read the whole thing.
Let there be no doubt about it. The fantasy ideologies of the twentieth century were plagues, killing millions and millions of innocent men, women, and children. The only difference was that the victims and targets of such fantasy ideologies so frequently refused to see them for what they were, interpreting them as something quite different — as normal politics, as reasonable aspirations, as merely variations on the well-known theme of realpolitik, behaving — tragically enough — no differently from Montezuma when he attempted to decipher the inexplicable enigma posed by the appearance of the Spanish conquistadors. Nor did the fact that his response was entirely human make his fate any less terrible
Oh, THAT liberal media. This is a great site, answering the question, "What media bias? It seems that certain congress-persons have sent a letter to Fox and are threatening legislative action because they feel that Fox News is to biased toward the right.
I can't believe I'm seeing this kind of behavior from grown adults. Are they going to go after ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN and most of the print media next? How about the National Enquirer?
Instapundit calls this "Crushing of Dissent."

Wednesday, August 04, 2004

Gay Marriage. Missouri has voted, overwhelmingly, to define marriage as between a man and a woman. The vote passed with something like 74 percent for the measure.
Flip flops. This chart by Rep. Pete Hoekstra (MI) details what some Democrats were saying before the invasion of Iraq and after. Really, shame shame Kerry and company. I can't believe that they think people don't remember what they said two years ago.
With the Internet being as prolific as it is, it isn't too hard to collect what any politician has said at any time in history. I hope politicians learn that they now need to be consistant, or they will be found out.

Monday, August 02, 2004

Environmental Money Game. Environmental groups, like the Audobon society and the National Conservancy, as well as many others, are overwhelmingly against Bush in the coming election.
This stands in stark contrast to the increased funding these organizations are receiving from the Federal Government under the Bush administration.
After you ask yourselves why they would rally against their apparent cash cow, ask yourself why the federal government gives so much money to these organizations at all (the Nature Conservancy gets over $38 million in 2004, the NFWF got $37 Million).