Monday, January 31, 2005

World Environment stuff

As always, Rogue Pundit has some great geographical musings.
The water courses of the Amazon and the Orinoco in South America, and the Colorado River in North America show that water does not always hold it's course.

Friday, January 28, 2005

Darfur update

Yes, the massacre in Darfur is still going on. Don't take your eye off the ball.

It is claimed African Union observers are being prevented from investigating bombing in Sudan's Darfur region that is believed to have been carried out by government planes.

African Union officials say government troops told observers it was too dangerous to enter the area where yesterday's bombing took place.

Of course it's too dangerous. You mean like some bomb falling from the sky or something? Now why would we have to be afraid of something like that?

About 100 people are believed to have been killed in the air raids near the border between north and south Darfur.

The attacks mark a serious escalation in conflict in the region which has been operating under a shaky ceasefire since last April.

African Union troops are also investigating whether rebel groups are responsible for burning villages earlier this week.

United Nations monitors say around 10,000 people have fled from the area.

I kind of wish the UN would do something other than count people fleeing from the area, like sitting at the fish ramp on Bonneville Dam counting salmon. DO SOMETHING!
This is getting rediculous. The AU continues to investigate burning villages. But it's obvious at this point that there is a terrible attrocity going on and the local government, at the very least, is doing nothing to stop it. The government is probably involved, considering the cultural divide, and everything I've read up until now.
So keep investigating, boys. I'm sure you'll find something eventually.
What a world we live in.

Hamas does well in Elections

The terrist group Hamas has a political wing, it seems, and that wing did really well in local elections in Gaza.
While the US can't be happy about this, the state dept is saying they don't care because the real action is at the higher level of the Palestinian Authority, currently headed by Abbas. Really there is nothing the US can say about this, as this was a pretty clean election and the will of the people spoke in this way.
The reasons might be that local Palestinians don't feel that the PLO has handled local issues well, and were sloppy in their administration.
I can't help but wonder if Hamas, being in the political process now, will realize that it can win by popular will through the political process instead of a militant process. If that's the case then Democracy wins again.
It's funny that we had to wait for someone to die in order to be hopeful about a region and it's seemingly never ending bloody conflict.
Which brings to mind a large island off the coast of Florida.

Iraqi voting

Instapundit has several posts on the Iraqi elections, and continues to add more.
Just keep scrolling and checking back with his site.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Iraq on the election

If you read Michael Totten you will note that he is filing daily reports on the Spirit of America's Friends of Democracy site during the week before the Iraqi elections. They describe it this way:
We have more than a dozen local Iraqi correspondents, at least one in each province, filing daily reports. These reports include news, interviews, quotes, photos, whatever they can get in a day. They aren’t professional journalists. They are more or less ordinary Iraqis.
The site is called Friends of Democracy: Ground level election news from the people of Iraq. To the best of my knowledge there is nothing else like it anywhere out there, at least not in English. (We also have a site in Arabic here.)
I'll be reading this for the rest of the week.

Election problems

Instapundit has been following all the cases of election fraud that have been alleged in the past couple of weeks. Here is one in Wisconsin.
Here is one in East St. Louis.
For the election issues in the Washington Governor's race, go to Sound Politics.

The push for election reform must begin now in order for it to be up and running for the next elections in 2006 (and 2008). Arizona has started the challenge by passing a law (and getting it federally confirmed) that in order to be registered to vote you must show proof of citizenship.
Unsurprisingly, the Democrats there oppose the bill.
The legal defense fund, in objections filed with the Department of Justice, said the proof of citizenship requirement will do away with registration drives, where volunteer party workers sign people up to vote.
They cited figures saying that these drives are one of the main methods of getting minorities registered.

They also argued that minorities are less likely to have various forms of identification required to register and vote than others.
Waaaaaaaa! We can't get lots of extra Democratic-leaning voters on the ballot. I think this change is welcome, and it doesn't descriminate. ALL CITIZENS have to show their IDs at the voter booth, not just minorities. Minorities who are citizens should be able to identify themselves with the proper identification. If they can't what's the chance that they aren't citizens.
Besides, as an Oregonian (who opposed the vote by mail initiative), I am dis-heartened that we have to resort to voting by mail and having registration drives in order to get people to actually vote. Voting is a privilage, and part of what makes this country great. Get off your butts!

Racism in the Senate

Power and Control points out the stunning decision to choose Sen Robert Byrd as the spokesman against Condi Rice for the Sec. of State.
Check that again. An ex. KKK member opposes a black woman from a high political office.
This was probably not the wisest choice of speakers by the Dems.
P&C also pulls out a few facts that make it look like Sen Byrd may not have completely left the beliefs of the organization he was once a part of.

The Grich's GIS Page

I have a new blog, which for many of my millions of readers (that was a joke) will not be interesting. It is devoted to Geographic information Systems (GIS), which is what I do for a living. I am going to post GIS related stuff over there. Mostly thoughts about software (primarily ESRI stuff, which is what I use), cool industry news, sites with interesting data (I just posted on the FAO site's GIS data for the Tsunami affected areas), and event blogging (when I'm at conferences and seminars).
For those of you in the GIS world, check it out.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Feinstein economics

Sen. Dianne Feinstein has proposed an alternative to Bush's Social Security privatization bill. Bush's idea is that taxpayers divert some of the money they currently would be paying to Social Security in the way of payroll taxes, and put it into their own private accounts. The private accounts would have to be 401k-like. No risking your social security on commodities and such.

Problem is, here is Feinstein's plan. She want's privatization, she says "The only thing I would consider -- and it needs to be thought out -- is private accounts in addition to Social Security."
That's interesting. So she wants the same payout in taxes, but wants people to put additional money into some sort of private account.
You mean like a 401k or something like that, Dianne? Like we already do now?
How do you reconcile these two things the article above states:
Economists say it's harder for low-income workers to save more in part because 12.4 percent of their wages goes to pay for Social Security, which taxes all wage income up to $90,000.
Feinstein's idea points to a middle ground between Bush's plan and leaving the system as it stands now -- so-called add-on accounts, where workers would contribute money for their own accounts in addition to their payroll taxes, rather than using part of their payroll taxes.
Think about that. If low-income people are having a tough time putting money away because they are taxed 12.4 percent, how in the name of all that's holy are they going to be able to have some sort of "add-on account" in addition to that 12.4 percent?

Social Security taxes now take just over 2 working stiffs to pay for one benificiary. What people commonly don't know or recall is that the working stiffs only pay about half of the actual funding for Social Security. The funding comes from other sources too, mostly from employers themselves. Even if employees were allowed to take ALL of their payroll taxes and divert them to private accounts, there would still be money in there to pay for current retirees. Sure, the system would go into the red faster, but by the time the bonds finished paying out, a lot of the people retiring would not need as much help, as they had the opportunity to fund their own accounts for a couple of decades.
The senator cited reports that show of the 4 million Californians who now receive Social Security, about one- fifth have no other source of income and about half would be in poverty without Social Security.
Ok, at some point we have to, as a society, realize that providing for the welfare of the people in our nation does not mean handing out money and allowing them to be lazy and ignore their own welfare. But with 12.4 percent of their income being extracted to provide for their retirement, they can't very well do it now, and 12.4 percent isn't much, but I'd be willing to bet that putting that money in an interest bearing account, starting at 20 years of age, would produce much better returns than waiting to see what Uncle Sam has planned for you.
People also forget what Social Security was designed to do, and in what type of environment it was created in. Social Security was created when most people did not live to the ripe age of 65. Therefore SS was more of a life insurance that only paid out if you happened to be lucky enough to make it that far. With a larger percentage of the population making it past that point, a restructuring of the program is indeed necessary and vital.

David Adesnik at Oxblog has a post on this, where his concerns mostly mirror my own. He has some good links to essays on the subject of SS, including links to essays by Jeffery Brown, Economist at Univ of Illinois, arguing for private accounts replacing some SS taxes and benefits, and Laura Tyson, former Clinton advisor, arguing Sen. Feinstein's platform.
I agree with him that Bush's idea has some strong short term funding problems, and unless Bush can remedy that (or point out where the money is supposed to come from) I don't see how the Democrats or any moderates are going to go along with it.
Still I don't think Feinstein's idea is an appropriate compromise to Bush's plan. Compromise is OK sometimes when you need to get things done, but it's not good to compromise on an idea that obviously didn't take a lot of thought.

Update: Adesnik as his own update, with some interesting bits about SS that I didn't know. That trust fund that will keep solvent SS through 2042 is made up of government bonds. So the federal government has to come up with 11 trillion dollars between 2018 and 2042 in order to keep SS solvent. That's almost 1/2 trillion dollars a year added to the federal budget.

Monday, January 24, 2005

Comparing Chile

I find Marc Cooper, who is anti-war left, a bit refreshing in that he doesn't pander to the left, but for what I've read so far keeps it real. I disagree with many of his posts, but he is not frothing at the mouth, and it sounds like he will actually argue his points with sanity, and will also hold the left accountable when they act like idiots.
GM Roper, who is a conservative, wrote a piece on Cooper that's worth reading, calling him the "Last honest Progressive in America." He puts it much better than I just did.

I have to make a comment about something Marc posted though. In one post he compares the tourturous regeme of Pinochet of Chile, where people were regularly tourtured for political reasons with the US's current scandal.
That's a bad analogy. It's true that some of the same methods of coersion (mild tourture; the harsh methods US agents are accused of have not been proven yet as far as I know) have been utilized by Americans on terrorists and other militants over the last couple of years. You might find equivilant if you believe that all coersive treatment should be banned. But there is a problem with comparing us to Chile. The problem is that we are not doing this to otherwise innocent people in order to terrorize the general public, or hold down resistance to your dictatorship. We are using coersive tactics to get information from terrorists that will aid us in the war and prevent the deaths of some of our soldiers (and Iraqi citizens).
I think that difference is significant.

For Iraqi political junkies

Chrenkoff has a list of all the major political parties participating in the Iraqi elections next week. Included are origins and major members and candidates.

UN comes out against genocide!

OK, really, they're just repeating the retoric the UN was speaking 50 years ago after we all found out about the Holocaust after WWII. I guess today is Holocaust Memorial Day, and the UN had a general assembly Special Session on the Holocaust of WWII. Some great things were said, but when you think of genocide prevention do you think of the UN?
Me neither.

The article doesn't make it clear if anything was actually decided at this special session, or if they just had a plethora of speaches about how genocide is bad and we should all hate it.
By the way, it's interesting to note that it was the US ambasador, John Danforth, that called for this session.

Friday, January 21, 2005

Rogue Pundit on the loose

I always enjoy RoguePundit for his insights into the workings of rural (and small city) Oregon, and Oregon as a whole. I've just caught up with some of his investigative musings, and they are very worth reading.
He examins one of the latest laws to hit our state, the speed limit changes in school zones.

The following is an editorial from today's Grants Pass Daily Courier (dead tree only).

During breaks in their session in Salem, legislators might do well to drive around neighboring communities and see what confusion Senate Bill 179 from the 2003 session has wrought.

The bill was intended to simplify the speed limits around schools, so drivers would know better what speed to drive.

Previously, the rule was 20 mph "when children are present.

Driving the right speed through school zones in Oregon today is anything but simple, thanks to the 35 pages of rules produced by the School Zone Task Force for the new law.

He talks about the Caspian Tern. That variety of Tern occurs in most parts of the world, but the largest colony is in the Columbia River. And boy do they loooove salmon. Which presents a conundrum for environmentalists.

He looks at how school systems (specifically incidences in Oregon and Washington) protect teachers to the detrement of students when sexual molestation accusations are made.
A common theme in enabling predatory teachers to molest again is excessive secrecy. One can understand the need for secrecy, both to protect the victims and the potential harm false allegations can do to teachers. But, closed settlements can easily conceal guilt.
Lastly I liked this post on the League of Women Votors' statement about the "Ins and Outs of State Finance." The LoWV sometimes suffers from a pro-tax agenda and fiddles with the numbers. to the LWV for putting a lot of good tax and government spending information in one place. It's too bad they had to dent their credibility with some obvious errors, bias, etc.

I suppose it's hard to get funding to write such pamphlets if you don't pander to your supporters.

Iran with Nukes

This post from Done With Mirrors is a sensible take on why we don't want Iran to possess nukes, and why that doesn't make sense to some in Europe and the rest of the world.
Israel has nukes, that's an open secret. Do Europeans really fret over that? Do they think Israel's going to lob one into Damascus someday, just for the hell of it? Do they not think, as I do, that Israel wants this ultimate deterrent because they live in a, what is it?, 19-mile wide strip of hillside beset by enemies on all sides who perpetually vow to drive Israel into the sea and kill or enslave all the Jews?

We're talking about the ultimate weapons here. Better off if they never existed, but they do. The genie doesn't go back in the bottle. Yet there seems to be a view at work in Europe that regards possession of nukes as a natural right, at least of every nation that claims to feel threatened by Uncle Sam.

Seriously, now, isn't that like arguing that all your neighbors have a right to own automatic sub-machine guns? Doesn't matter if they're decent folk or hallucinating drug addicts or hardened criminals or decent folk who have the bad habit of leaving their doors unlocked and getting robbed by psychopaths.

Even in the U.S., where gun ownership is a constitutional right (and the Europeans think we're dingbats for that), not everyone can own one. Hell, you can't even drive a car without taking a test and getting an official certification that you know how to drive a car. But they seem to seriously want to hand out nukes to everyone who's afraid of Israel.

If I have to, I can accept these ultimate weapons in the hands of the Soviet Union, the U.S., Britain, India, modern China, France: more or less stable, conservative, secular, self-interested states. The dreadful balance of power implied in "mutually assured destruction" was sufficient to restrain the Cold War powers when simple human sanity was not. Even without the threat of retaliation, they operate with sufficient restraint. In 1982, a nuclear power, Great Britain, went to war. Nobody worried that Thatcher would nuke Buenos Aires.

But we're talking about Iran. We're talking about a nations whose leadership class considers suicide attacks not just an acceptable tactic but a religious duty. A county whose quasi-independent military openly recruits its citizens to be car-bombers to kill foreign construction workers building sewage plants in Iraq, or blow up Israeli buses full of school children.
He also reminded us that the Iranian parliament stood up in unison last year and chanted "Death to America" repeatedly during one session. No I don't want them to have nukes. Yes, I hope reports that the US is secretly inspecting suspected nuclear sites whithin Iran as we speak are true.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Inside Ukraine

Here's a great inside look at some of the power struggles that proceeded the 2nd election and protests in the Ukraine in November. It was the choice between crackdown and backing off.
Daniel Drezner blogged about this in November and said

When a government facing a popular uprising, there is a moment when all of Burke's "pleasing illusions" about power fade away, and the rulers face a choice between using raw coercion or backing down. At this juncture, there is one of three possibilities:

1) The leadership backs down;
2) The leadership cracks down;
3) The leadership tries to crack down but the coercive apparatus splits.

Read the NYT article. Very interesting.

Peace Protestors

I couldn't ignore this one. Washington Post has set up an inauguration blog posting comments and pictures of the event and related events in Washington DC. There are several references to various protestors who got out of line and had to be subdued. There's one where people stood outside a Metro (subway) station and protested Forks for some reason:
One protester asked, "Were forks mentioned in the Constitution? No!" A sign read, "Jesus hates forks."
The young men identified themselves only as members of the anti-fork movement.
But the one that I really thought stood out was this one.
Hundreds of people gathered at both ends of Meridian Hill Park in Northwest Washington for a peace rally sponsored by the D.C Antiwar Network.

But there were interlopers: Thirteen members of ProtestWarror, supporting the Bush administration and its policies in Iraq. When the Bush supporters arrived, about 20 black-clad, self-described anarchists emerged from the crowd, shouting profanity and epithets and demanding that they leave the peace rally.

When the Bush supporters refused to leave, the anarchists tore the signs out of the Bush supporters' hands and stomped on them. When ProtestWarrior leader Gil Kobrin objected, several male anarchists knocked him to the ground, kicking him in the back and punching him. Other anarchists punched and shoved Kobrin's 12 colleagues.

After D.C. Antiwar Network members broke up the fight, the Bush supporters heeded their order to leave the park. Kobrin then called D.C. police, who are now guarding them at the entrance of the park as they hold up their pro-war signs. "We're going to hang tight," Kobrin said. "We're expressing our freedom of speech just as they are expressing theirs." --Robert MacMillan
Peace protestors?

Dirty Posting

In honor of the dirty bomb scare in Boston, here are some posts from Winds of Change looking at all the fuss and investigations. They also have a link to an article on what would happen if a dirty bomb hit London (short answer: not as much as you would think).
And also a nice discussion about how US cities that are most likely to be targets are probably to secure to be easy targets. This story should illustrate it.
"Take, for example, an incident involving a Washington lawyer of a certain age who went to his doctor a few months ago for a routine heart checkup. (No, no, despite his profession, a heart was indeed located.)
The exam included a stress test with injection of a radioactive isotope -- most likely technetium or thallium -- which helps illuminate the heart muscle during exercise. The doctor told him he passed.
The elated lawyer says he left work several hours later and was driving along
I Street NW between 16th and 17th when a police car with lights flashing zipped up behind him. An officer on a bicycle pulled alongside.
What could this be? Couldn't be speeding, a red light or a stop sign.

"Sir," the officer explained, "you were not pulled over because of a traffic violation. You were pulled over because you are radioactive."

Islam non-violent

I've heard this before. It's hard to tell for an infidel like myself, what exactly the Koran says about violence and how Muslums are to treat others who do not hold the same faith. Al-Qaida and hardliners preach death to the infidel.
However there are many high ranking religeous figures that preach non-violence, and that violence is a misguided interpretation. Sheikh Abdulrahman al-Sudeis, the state appointed preacher at the Grand Mosque in Mecca, is one of them.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

More Washington Election

Powerline has been singing the praises of Stefan Sharkansky for a while now. This blogger makes his name with the governor's race in Washington, by highlighting voting problems in King County (Seattle) and calling for a new election because of them.
Note that the link is to an article he wrote for the Seattle Times.
I don't really agree with the Shark man. I do think that King county, and probably Washington needs to review it's election procedures and find a better way to count votes, but I don't think a re-election would be healthy for the public.
Think about this, Sharkansky found about 2,000 (at the outside) over votes in the city of Seattle. However, Gregoire (D) won by only about 129 votes. The previous tally had Rossi (R) winning by something finer, like 30 votes. That means that there is a good spread of Republican and Democratic votes in that pile of overvotes.
When you are talking about 30, or 100, or 200 votes in a state with over 2 million voters, you are talking statistical tie. Every time you count the votes (remember, these votes are going to be counted by human beings) you are probably going to get a different tally. Either of these candidates has 50% of the vote and either is qualified to be there.
Now, if there was some sort of conspiracy to get those 2000 votes counted, then yes, have it out. But I'll bet that there are always about 2000 votes or more that needed to be thrown out in any election. The only reason we noticed is because it was so close.

Friday, January 14, 2005

Justice Debate

I would like to make a little post regarding all the banter about the Scalia/Breyer debate that was had earlier today. Here's a link to the debate (hat tip to Powerline and Howard Bashman).
I read some of it and what Powerline had to say, and I'm appalled that a justice like Breyer is making pivotal decisions for the USA right now. What's all this malarky about conforming to the "enlightened opinion" as it exists in the world community?
Hindrocket makes it sould like Scalia wiped the floor with Breyer on this topic, and of Breyer, Michael Hertzberg wrote:
Breyer offered no coherent framework for making decisions on constitutionality, so his only justification was that it was generally educational to read what other smart people had to say.� He reminded me of a labor arbitrator I once appeared before, who, asked to interpret a collective bargaining agreement, pleaded, "Can't I just decide what's fair?"� Pathetic, really.
For those of you who are curious, here is a list of all current justices on the court and who appointed them. This should further prove that just because a Republican nominates a justice doesn't mean they are going to be heavy conservative, or even all think alike, as many decisions end up being 5-4.
Rehnquist (Nixon)
Stevens (Ford)
Scalia (Reagan)
O'Connor (Reagan)
Kennedy (Reagan)
Thomas (Bush Sr.)
Souter (Bush Sr.)
Ginsburg (Clinton)
Breyer (Clinton)

Bush admits mistake!

That's my AP variety freak out headline. So Bush makes a concession (Bush admitted that some phrases he used in press conferences had unintended consequences) and everyone acts like they are shocked and surprised that he finally has. This isn't so crazy really. I've always found that Bush is straight forward and honest about things. He just doesn't want to admit mistake when the facts still might suggest he might still be right. Bush's version of what is correct and what the media think is correct have often been two different things. And the media is definitely not always correct.
But leave it to the AP to spin the story like this:
During a round-table interview with reporters from 14 newspapers, the president, who not long ago declined to identify any mistakes he'd made during his first term, expressed misgivings for two of his most famous expressions: "Bring 'em on," in reference to Iraqis attacking U.S. troops, and his vow to get Osama bin Laden "dead or alive."
That reference that Bush "Declined to identify any mistakes" comes from the debate with Kerry where Bush was asked what three mistakes he had made during his time in office. Now, while this was unfair by itself because Kerry was not asked the same question and then just attacked Bush about the same question, saying that Bush declined to identify any mistakes he'd made during his first term is shallow. He said that the big decisions, going to Iraq and Afghanistan, were not mistakes, but left room for history to judge him, not the Democrats:

And in a war, there's a lot of -- there's a lot of tactical decisions that historians will look back and say: He shouldn't have done that. He shouldn't have made that decision. And I'll take responsibility for them. I'm human.
But on the big questions, about whether or not we should have gone into Afghanistan, the big question about whether we should have removed somebody in Iraq, I'll stand by those decisions, because I think they're right.

Here's the text of the 2nd debate.
Like I said, it was an extremely unfair question during an election. Candidates aren't going to outright say that things they did were mistakes during a campaign. Why give the opposition a gift? So the press' treatment of Bush on the "admit your mistakes" issue is dispicable.
I don't even think Bush really needed to appologize for those phrases he used that he is regretting now. But he does, and the statements were taken wrong by the press from the beginning. It just goes to show you what a razor's edge the President has to walk, verbally, all the time.

Enviro-friendly Tsunami

James Glassman of Tech Central Station puts environmentalist doom sayers, who claim that the tsunami was caused by human's corruption of the Earth, in their place. There is little effect humans can have on something as massive as a 9.0 earthquake.
The truth is that terrible, terrible things happen that can't be blamed on George Bush or any other human. The only way to mitigate them is through wealth and technological progress. As Glenn Reynolds wrote recently on "The best protection against catastrophes is a society that is rich enough, and diverse enough, to be well-prepared for all sorts of contingencies. Which means that economic growth, and the freedom that produces it, may be the best guarantor of safety for us all."

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Government Unions

Roguepundit looks at the tendency of government unions to thrive when private industry unions are flailing, and how that might explain the budget crises we experience here in Oregon. Oregon state employees make much better than the average oregon income.

Latin Update

From Winds of Change we get a briefing on current events in Latin America. Just in case, with Iraq and Tsunami news, you forgot that region even existed.
Things of important note:
1. Left leaning leaders are getting elected all over the place down there. Bush could be critisized for letting this region go a bit while being consumed with Iraq and the war on terror.
2. One interesting fact is that the front runner in Chile's elections this year is former defense minister Michelle Bachelet. So the most conservative country in latin America might just elect a woman president for the first time.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Eminem values

Oxblog has an interesting take on family values expressed by rappers, such as Eminem, and modern rock stars. Conservatives often profess distain for these performers because of explicit lyrics. Oxblog, along with Mary Eberstadt in Policy Review, offer another perspective.
Eberstadt never apologizes for the violence, misogyny, drug abuse and casual sex glorified by the lyrics of Eminem and others. But she points out that the rappers and heavy metal bands who revel in such behavior constantly insist that there is one reason and one reason alone why they are so maladjusted: because they didn't grow up in stable, two-parent homes.
OK, I'll buy that there is something to learn from all of this. However, I still don't want my kids listening to it until they can open up the lyrics and understand where these guys are coming from. I also don't want to have to repress the cussing and attitudes that come with teenage idol worship. Teens from two parent households don't understand that the reason these rappers talk and act the way they do is because of how they grew up, not because they are just being rebelious. The teens might pick up on the later part, but not the former.
The reference to the grunge movement of the 90s is also very instructive. Although I think that many kids, like myself (although I wasn't a kid) picked up on the music just because we liked the riffs, not because we identified with the singers (although it seems many did).
I don't know, I'm just ranting. I can't blame the rappers themselves. I can't even blame the record companies (ok, maybe I can a little), for this type of expression has a cause, and an audience. The real culpret is our loss of family values in this country.
My friend told me a story about his time in Germany recently. It seems there is a growing industry there: paternity testing. Studies show that 1 in 5 children in Germany don't have the biological father that they think they do.
Some German legislators have introduced bills to limit or eradicate these facilities saying that they are ruining German families (by resulting in divorces I would presume), but my friend rightly pointed out that it's not the paternity tests that are ruining German families.
It's not the rap music that's screwing up the lives of America's youth.

Abbas wins!

Mahmoud Abbas won the Palestinian elections in a landslide. Israel and Sharon express intent to work with the new Abbas administration toward peace.
Turning point?

Friday, January 07, 2005

Take the Torture Test

Mudville Gazette has an Abu Ghraib torture test. See how many actual facts you know about what really happened.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

Penalty for killing a pregnant mother

The Oregon Senate Democrats have come up with an alternative to the growing push by conservatives to treat crimes involving the murder of a pregnant woman as two crimes: one for the mother and one for the unborn child.
Their response is to make the penalty for attacking or killing a pregnant woman more serious instead. Try death penalty for killing mom. Most likely inspired by and a reaction to the Peterson case.

In the Senate, Majority Leader Kate Brown, D-Portland, has scheduled a news conference at 1:30 p.m. today to unveil her bill, which enhances penalties for all violence against pregnant women, from assault to murder.
"I think what we would like to do is keep the focus on domestic violence," Brown said.

Or off the abortion issue.
But this isn't just about domestic violence.

Still, Gayle A. Atteberry, executive director of Oregon Right to Life, says her organization, an important Republican ally, opposes the Democratic bill. She said it does not address the real issue.
"If you've killed two people, you've killed two people," Atteberry said. "We're talking about a baby that the mother is wanting."
If the two sides stick to their positions, the House could pass one bill and the Senate another. A spokeswoman for Gov. Ted Kulongoski, a Democrat, said he prefers Brown's approach, but it is not clear that either bill can get through both chambers.

I generally side with the republicans on this issue, but I wonder if fighting what the Democrats are trying to do is worth while. Gees, this is a big step for Democrats actually proposing a bill that advocates the death penalty for any crime.
Anyway, say the Republican House can't get the bill through the Senate that equates the crime with two counts, one for mom and one for baby (which is the likely outcome). Why strike down the one that creates larger penalties for attacking pregnant women. Does it really set up that difficult a precident that the Republican issue could not be taken up again at a later date when political waters are more favorable?

Limiting Police Car Chases

Decided to blog about local events today.
Apparently there is some controversy regarding a technique that police use to prevent suspects from fleeing by car. The technique is called the "PIT maneuver" (Precision Immobilization Technique) and involves deliberately bumping the getaway car on a rear corner, causing the vehicle to spin out of control.
There are obviously limits to this method, and the police have restrictions as to when they can use it, like not after the chace gets high-speed.
But according to the attorney general of Oregon, the crash should go on the officer's personal driving record.
However, the DMV does not agree.
That wasn't exactly the answer cops around the state, or even DMV officials, expected. At this point, the DMV is choosing not to follow the state's legal advice. Instead, it plans to lobby alongside police officers to change the law this year.
The Multnomah County sheriff's office says that the maneuver is "the best way to end pursuits quickly and safely before they reach high speeds." Considering how dangerous chases are, I'm surprised that the state is making their job more difficult in this matter.
This maneuver is used in most states. Here's a better perspective from, explaining why training is necessary to execute the maneuver correctly and that restrictions must be followed. Doing this at high speeds to cars with higher centers of gravity can cause the car to roll and kill the passengers.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Evangelicals and Liberals

I for one have been thinking that, over this last election year, the lines between liberals and conservatives have grown pretty fuzzy. Democrats are saying things that have long been tenets of conservatives and Republicans are saying and doing things that I used to chide Democrats for. What's a poor boy to do?
Well now, via Powerline, here comes William Stuntz to tell us that he believes that intellectual liberals and evangelicals will soon come together in an odd political coalition. He explains that the things that will bring us together, in the end, are 1. Abortion (yes you heard that right), 2. Poverty at home, 3. Poverty abroad and 4. Spreading freedom and nation building.
Read it. I think it's totally interesting and worth pondering.

Update: Powerline responds, and doesn't necessarily agree.

Country of the week: Siberia

Series returns. After this post I will no longer call this series the country of the week, as I was never really posting every week. That had been my intent, but is hardly practical for my lifestyle.
During the past few months, with the election and then being severely busy during the holiday season I didn’t spend any extra time doing any reading up on countries or anything else.

I have recently picked up a book on Siberia. Specifically it is called “In Siberia” by Colin Thubron. Colin makes a living traveling the world and writing about his travels. Specifically he describes the places he goes, the people he meets, and conversations he has with those people. It’s a great book and is a deeper look into this remote region of the world, at least from one man’s point of view.
And yes, I'm aware the Siberia is not a country, but a region of present day Russia. The area is so geographically distinct from European Russia that I wanted to treat it as such just for this post.

One thing about the book that I felt was missing was the several year gap since it was written. Colin appears to have taken this journey just after the Soviet Union dissolved. So things could be dramatically different over there after 5-10 years.

First the geography.
Siberia is thought to originate from the word Sibir, ancient Mongolian for “the calm land.”

Siberia, if it were it’s own country, would still be the largest country in the world. It’s 9.6 million square km and 32 million people is comparable to Canada. It occupies 9 time zones, spanning almost 1/3 of the circumference of the earth at that latitude.

Siberia may be divided into either it’s four distinct zones of vegetation (tundra, taiga forests, mixed forest belt and steppe) or geomorphologic areas (west Siberian lowland, Central plateaus, southern mountains and northeast mountain systems). It’s main drainages, the Ob, Yenisei and the Lena, all drain from south to north and all empty into the Artic Ocean. Except for small aircraft the rivers are the primary north/south transportation system. The primary east/west system is the Trans-Siberian railway.

About 60% of the population of Siberia is contained in the Southwest lowlands. This area contains much of the industrial complexes of the region as well as agriculture. The largest city in Siberia is here, Novosibirsk, and is generally thought of as the capital of Siberia.

Then the history.
Siberia has been populated by nomadic peoples for thousands of years. Some say that it extends back more than 30,000 years. The native peoples west of the River Yenisei are thought to originate from eastern Europe and the peoples east of the Yenisei from Mongol and Turkic peoples.

The Mongols invaded in the 13th century and the region became a Khanate, operated autonomously for centuries until the growing power of Russia started to move slowly across the land. By the mid 17th century Russia controlled territory all the way to the Pacific.

One thing to note here is that although these powers invaded and conquered, they didn’t actively subjugate the peoples all the time. Siberia is a harsh environment, and most of the activity of ruling powers operated in the southern parts near Mongolia, China and Kazakhstan.

Russia’s domination of the region is a history of conquest. Except for some disputes with China, Russia has ruled over this area for the last 400 years. They created ports on the Pacific: Vladivostok, Kamchatka, Sakhalin, and used those ports to continue on to Alaska, which was just an extension of Siberia until the US bought it in the 19th century.

During the 19th century, and then the 20th century the czars and the communists used Siberia as a place for exiling those that they didn’t want interfering in the politics of the day. Criminals and Political prisoners were sent here. Some to colonize and work the mines. Some, like the Jews, to get out of the mainstream of Russian life in the west. Eventually exile meant the Gulag, sending prisoners to places barely livable by human beings. Read Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago for a detailed explanation of what that was like under communism during Stalin’s time.

Siberia is still recovering from the fall of Communism. Things are hard there as people had to stop relying on Moscow for needs and realize grabbing the reigns of capitalism and re-creating the economy. Many people moved elsewhere or are living in poverty because of the adjustment.

But generally things are looking up. Here is a great series done by Robert Kaiser of the Washington Post after he took a month long journey through Siberia in 2001. He describes optimistic prospects, as well as outdated infrastructure and corruption that still inhabit all of Russia.

Here’s a great page on DNA and tracking the migration of the various native populations of Siberia over history (Smithsonian). The page itself doesn’t have concrete conclusions, but there is a great intro to some of the major ethnic groups and where they might have originated.

There’s been a lot of talk about a pipeline transporting oil from Taichet, in Siberia, to the Pacific ocean for export to the US and Japan. It’s unknown when the construction will take place, or how it will affect oil markets. It will be built by the state oil monopoly.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

The UN and aid

Mark Stein has an article in the Washington Times lambasting the UN for critisizing the US on generosity and "unilateral" aid to tsunami victims, while doing close to nothing themselves.
Yet, even though Mr. Egeland's office has a permanent bureaucracy dedicated solely to humanitarian relief work, a week after the disaster it didn't seem to have actually done anything other than fly in some experts to assess the situation. Reporters on the ground have noted the lack of activity in Colombo and Sumatra. But the U.S. government already had ships and troops and water and medicine on the way.

Monday, January 03, 2005

Palestine redux.

OK, just when I thought that Abbas was our guy. That he was a moderate leader, sure to be elected by the Palestinians this year and lead them to peaceful relations with Israel, he says this:
Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas said Saturday that he wants to shield Palestinian militants from Israel and indicated he has no plans to crack down on gunmen after upcoming presidential elections.
"When we see them, when we meet them, and when they welcome us, we owe them," Abbas said. "This debt always is to protect them from assassination, to protect them from killing, and all these things they are subject to by the Israelis."
Have I stepped into some alternate universe? He's even saying that he is against the Israeli pullout of the occupied territories. What next?
Hat tip to Michael Totten.

Iraqi responds

Powerline points out an interesting article by an Iraqi in Front Page Magazine online. Naseer Flayih Hasan has been mystified by the left and peaceniks in Iraq since the beginning of the war.
I asked her how long she’d been in Iraq and, through a translator, she answered, “Three months.”

“So you were here during the war?”

“Yes!” she said. “To see the crimes of the Americans!”

I was stunned. After a moment, I replied, “What about the crimes of the regime? It killed millions of Iraqis. Do you know that if the regime was still in power, the conversation we’re having now would result in our torture or death?”

Her face turned red and she angrily responded, “Soon will come the day that the Americans will do worse.” She then went on to accuse me of not knowing what the true facts were in Iraq—and that she could see the situation better than me!

Perhaps this is the answer:

It’s worth noting, as well, that the general attitude of peace activists I met was tension and anger. They were impossible to reason with. This was because, on one hand, the sometimes considerable risks they took to oppose the war made them unable to accept the fact that their cause was not as noble as they believed. Then, too, their dogmatic anti-American attitudes naturally drew them to guides, translators, drivers and Iraqi acquaintances who were themselves supporters of the regime. These Iraqis, in turn, affected the peace activists until they came to share almost the same judgments and opinions as the terrorists and defenders of Saddam.

Update: I hate the way that copying some text fiddles with my fonts. Sorry about that.