Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Soccer and Vacation

Just in case you aren't into what goes on in the world of soccer, the Champions League just had their final in Europe today. The best teams in each league participate in this tournament, and the winner is considered the best in Europe for the year. Considering all the best players in the world play in Europe, you might infer that this is the top championship for non-national team soccer in the world.
The game is always played live at night in Europe, which means that I have to take a long lunch in order to watch it. If the game happens to wander into overtime, I have to miss that. Can't keep away from work forever.
This years final featured Liverpool, from England, and AC Milan from Italy. The game was played in Istanbul.
I feared this game was going to be either a defensive showdown, as both teams are known for their suffocating defense, or a blowout. I thought blowout because there are many more well paid, better known names on Milan, and they spend a lot of time at the top of their league and in the Champions league knockout rounds. Liverpool has done well in this tournament this year, but is 6th in the English league.
Milan was also party to a 0-0 tie in the final two years ago. The game was settled by penalty kicks, and was very disappointing if you were wanting to see lots of creative soccer.

This years game was also decided on kicks. But instead of a scoreless defense-fest, it was a scorching 3-3 tie after 120 minutes. After falling behind 3-0 at half, Liverpool created the greatest comeback in finals history, scoring three goals in six minutes! It was fantastic. After the first half, it looked like Milan had come to work Liverpool over, but something happened in the locker room. Don't know what. Milan might have mentally relaxed too much. Liverpool might have spiked the coffee. When Liverpool came out, they took over the game, and had much more control of the ball in the second half. Milan just disappeared.
Penalty kicks are a disappointing way to decide a championship, but it was truly inspiring to see a group of comeback kids take it all.

That's it for a while. I'm on my way to Colorado, and will not be on-line while I'm gone. Always nice to get away from the ordinary connectedness of life and just spend time with the family and the road.
I'll be back on the blog next Friday.
See you then.

Media Slander response unit

A couple of guys over at WindsOfChange, Joe Katzman and Bill Roggio, were fresh off their stint with a site called, a blog solely devoted to responding to the Eason affair over at CNN. Now comes another scandal involving the same exact allegation, this time with Newspaper Guild president Linda Foley.
So they put their heads together and came up with something more long term. The project is Here is their statement of purpose.

"The goal of Media Slander is to hold journalists and bloggers to high ethical standards regarding coverage of the War on Terror and other military-related issues. We plan to achieve this by highlighting bias, rumor and falsehoods that have been creeping into military coverage under the guise of objective news.

We by no means advocate censorship or the deliberate suppression of well-researched and relevant stories about the war and the military.

As much as journalists feel that they are the guardians of the First Amendment, its true protectors are standing watch in Iraq, Afghanistan and places no one will ever hear about. Journalists owe it to the true gatekeepers of our liberties to be fair, balanced, relevant and accurate in covering them.


The entire staff of"

Your reading assignment while I'm on vacation.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Central Asia Continued

I'll take it from where I left off last post.

1468 AD: Uzbek khanate, having come south and filled the vacuum left by the declining Timurid empire, splits into two factions, the Uzbeks, more sedentary, in the south, and the Kazaks, more nomadic, in the north grasslands.

15th and 16th centuries: The Kazaks establish the last great nomadic empire, commanding as many horseback warriors as Jenghis Khan.

1635-1738: A tribe from western Mongolia, the Oyrats, conquers the Kazakh steppe and rules until, surprise surprise, a struggle for succession leaves them open to invasion and the Chinese wipe them out. The steppe dissolves into chaos and uncertainty, until the Kazaks eventually accept Russian protection from the Uzbeks and Chinese.

1747-1800: After the fall of the Iranian regime under Nadir Shaw, the Uzbeks dissolve into three Khanates.

1848-1885: Russia, inspired by Britain and other European powers, begins it's eastward expansion and conquest. It reaches the Afghan border in 1885.

1863-c.1900: The Great Game. Britain had India and Pakistan. Russia had Central Asia. Thus began the first Cold War between East and West, as both scrambled for control of what lay between them. Spies, diplomacy, puppet states, demilitarized zones. All that was missing was the bomb.

1917: Russia overthrew the Tsar, and Central Asia hoped, for a while, that it could remake itself, progress with social reforms and westernization. They had Turkey, which reformed itself into a modern Democracy, as their model and inspiration.
The Soviets made sure that didn't happen. They smashed the newly formed Kokand government, a self proclaimed pan-Turkic polity, and slaughtered 5000 people after the city was captured.

1928-1932: The first Soviet 5 year plan puts an end to the Kazak nomad lifestyle. People killed their cattle rather than give them up to collectivization. Famine began, and Stalin made it worse by deliberately holding back food. His aim was to subjugate the people to his will and depopulate the steppe for Russian expansion.

1924-1936: Stalin orders the creation of national boundaries where none had existed before. In order to prevent pan-nationalism among the Turkic peoples, the boundaries overlapped tribes so that each country contained pockets of other peoples. Stalin enforces individual languages and histories for each nation, and Islam is suppressed.

1939-1944: WWII brought an opportunity for some to desert the army and flee the USSR. Many Ukrainians and Baltic peoples were evacuated into Central Asia, changing the cultural makeup of northern Kazakhstan.

1945-1984: Agricultural practices of the Soviets depleted the resources of the region. Over production of cotton caused the Aral sea to all but evaporate into oblivion.
Despite this and the massive industrialization in some parts of Central Asia, there were some positive benefits to being a part of the USSR. Modern medical advancements were common, and education was at an all time high. It is said that there was 100% literacy during this time.

1984-1990: Perestroika. Openness actually became chaos. Ethnic violence spread like wildfire. Hindsight reveals that Moscow didn't try to stop it, and actually encouraged it in order to give the appearance of the need for strong central control, and a relevance for Moscow to remain at the helm in the region.
Amazingly (not) the violence ended when the Soviet Union did.

1991: Russia creates the Commonwealth of Independent States. As each former Soviet republic gains membership, they feel increasing pressure from Russia as the mother country attempts to reassert its interests in Central Asia.

For a look at what's going on now, just aim the browser over at Google News and type in Uzbekistan or Kyrgyzstan or Kazakhstan or something like that. These countries were not prepared to roam out on their own when the Soviet Union fell. They are experiencing the growing pains of independence, and will probably continue to do so.
What's most interesting to me is when they will start to get the same bug for westernization and reform that was occurring when the Bolsheviks took over and shut them down.

I hope you liked this little look into the history of this remote and little understood part of the world. I know I enjoyed bringing it to the pages of this Blog.

Central Asia Timeline

The book I've been referencing for information about Central Asia is due tomorrow, so instead of all that other stuff I wanted to talk about, I'd like to put up a simple timeline of events in the area of Central Asia. In case you think I'm talking about recent events, I leave that to other sites devoted to the goings on over there.
This is about ancient history. Total picture. What events transformed the region, created the cultural mix that is seen there today.
So, without further ado.

Prehistory: Earliest known human remains are in the area of Samarkand (present day Uzbekistan), circa 100,000 years ago. After the ice age peoples passed through from and to India, Persia and Siberia.

c.330 BC: Alexander the Great conquers the area between the Amu-Darya and Syr-Darya, Helenizing the region. Trade with the west begins.

c.250 BC: The Xiongnu, forbearers of the Huns, begin to apply pressure to cultures in western China (and China itself) and push them west into Central Asia. Chinese explorer, Zang Qian, reaches the area and sets the stage for the Silk Road.

c.100 BC - 100AD: The Kushan empire, descendents of those pushed out of China, converts to Buddhism and thrives on Silk Road trade.

c.0 AD - 1000 AD: Pendulum shifts in power between nomadic hordes and sedentary civilizations. Both benefit from the trade between east and west.

c.200AD: Chinese and Roman empires fade, depressing the Silk Road trade, signaling the end of the Kushan empire.

c.300-400AD: Huns arrive from Mongolia and control vast tracts of central Asia. Attila is rampaging across Europe at this time.

c.550 AD: The Turks arrive from southern Siberia and form an alliance with the Sassanids (Persia) and drive out the Huns. The alliance is a peaceful one and the two cultures mix together.

c.642-714AD: Islamic armies charge into the region and battle the Turks until capturing much of southern central Asia. Turkish Uyghurs entered from the north, allied with the Chinese, and checked the Muslim armies at the Tien Shan mountains (basically the border of China today). The Uyghur descendents still inhabit most of western China today.

c. 800s: Arabic empire recedes and the peaceable Samanids rise, allied with the Persians and the caliph of Baghdad. The city of Bukhara (in present day Uzbekistan) becomes the "Pillar of Islam" as a world center of Muslim culture.

c. 900-1000 AD: The Samanids fall, and various Turkish tribes invade and conquer one after another. The pattern was one of dynasties near inability to survive inevitable disputes of succession. The last of these was the Khorezmshahs, who ended up ruling much of the Muslim world at the time.

1219 AD: Jenghiz (Gengis) Khan rides from his mountain stronghold in the Altai mountains (Southern Siberia and Northwest Mongolia) and sacks most of Central Asia, burning Bukhara to the ground. By the end, his empire stretched from China and Mongolia to Persia and even the Ukraine in Eurasia. The empire was divided up among Jenghiz's sons and grandsons (Kubla getting China/Mongolia).
The hordes were primarily nomads, but by the mid 14th century many of them finally settled down into more sedentary civilizations. The only remaining nomadic cultures remained on the Kazakh steppe and in modern Turkmenistan.

1395 AD: Timur leads a renegade nomadic tribe on a conquest of central Asia, as far south as India. This was enabled by the fracture of the Mongolian empire into Muslim and non-Muslim empires, shrinking the amount of trouble Timur had to deal with.
Timur's fracturing of the Mongol empire in the Russian Steppes led to petty Russian princes taking power over their domains. The Russian Empire would form from their alliances.
The court of Timur develops Chaghatai, which becomes the lingua franca of Central Asia for centuries.

More later.

Don't write what you don't know

In the internet age, it's going to be increasingly harder to write off the cuff about something you aren't familiar enough with to write intelligently about. The Dead Tree media, like the Washington Post, still finds the time to include articles and editorials by people who only have a marginal or superficial understanding of the subjects they write about, thereby mis-educating the readers of said paper.
But in the age of blogs and Google, there's no excuse for not being able to find the information you need and get a peer review by people who know what they are talking about, or are closer to the subject.
Take this article about democracy in Lebanon, and the subsequent taking apart of that article by a blogger in Lebanon. Great post for those who want to know a great deal more about the history of the political process in Lebanon.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Stem Cell research

A lot is being said about stem cell research, I mean the politics therein, these days. It doesn't get polarized the same way as other issues like the war or social security, or gay marriage. But this issue also plays games with the morals that social conservatives and Christians hold to.
I think that there are some misconceptions about this issue coming from both sides.
From the liberal side of things, I think the misconception is that conservatives oppose stem cell research as if all tissue related cloning, especially that done with embryos, is of the devil and inherently evil.
I think that's a poor absolutist position, and does not reflect the diversity within the conservative movement or the Republican party. There is a fear, of course, that cloning and research using human embryos will be abused. The main fear there is that conservative believe that aborted fetuses have been used for this research, and that ties it into the same hotbed of emotional lava bed that the abortion debate usually stirs up. Note that President Bush has not made any move to outlaw stem cell research, but is only cutting funding for it. He seems pleased as punch to allow anyone to privately fund that type of research if they so please, but isn't comfortable with publicly promoting it yet.
So in the effort to battle for federal funding, the left paints conservatives as genetic ludites, and their opposition to funding as some unreasonable, religious witch hunt.
As for the conservatives, I think that their opposition to this great genetic hope for medicine could be tempered with a dose of more information. Cloning and using embryos in research and practice sounds a bit frightening and does indeed have the potential for abuse. I think you are going to find that there are indeed ethical questions that need to be answered before we charge ahead into this brave new world. Do you draw the line at creating simple tissues? Whole organs? Entire cloned bodies for spare parts? What tissues do you use to catalyze the process? Unfertilized ovum? Fertilized ovum? Aborted fetuses? Adult donors?
I think it would be prudent to make as public as possible breakthrough research that is already being done on non-fertilized eggs donated to private and international centers. This comes from a Christian friend of mine:
This is the first I’ve heard of active cell lines being made from unfertilized eggs. Since I didn’t know this was possible, until reading this article, it’s a whole new line of thought for me. I stand with you as completely opposed to any use of a viable fetus, however this does seem potentially different. If an egg can be unfertilized and still implanted with genetic information that would turn it into a new pancreas for a diabetic, it does seem to hold potential for medical advancement without crossing into a morally unacceptable zone. My concerns stem to a certain degree from what line the research will take. How do they get from this first step to, say, growing a liver in a jar? Are they going to have to create real embryos and kill them in order to further their research? What are the possible abuses, and is there a way, if any, to keep someone whose whole body is in degenerative decay from growing a whole person from whom to harvest parts – in the name of efficiency?
See, information needs to be made readily available. We certainly can hold off on federal dollars for research until all these questions can be answered. Private and international research moves forward anyway. Some people think that unless the federal government funds it, it isn't going to happen. Nonsense. It may just happen slower.
In fact, I'm getting tired of those who are just bad-mouthing Bush on this issue and not paying any attention to the ethics side of the issue. And yes, that includes normally sane, moderate voices like Glenn Reynolds. (Note: I'm updating this, as I should probably note that Glenn didn't agree with Chris Nolan that Bush was being un-American. Sorry for the inference, Glenn).
But Glenn linked to this post by Chris Nolan, and I just had to sigh and shake my head.
President George W. Bush proved himself to be demonstrably un-American. It's a long-standing American tradition to take ideas – say the to use of electronic impulses to send the human voice to a distant location (telephone, radio) or the creation of numeric protocols that allow easy transportation of digital data across a network of phone lines (the Internet) – and commercialize them.
OK, stop. This is a partial quote from the first part of the post. But my question here is, why does not wanting the government to fund research in something qualify as anti-commercialization of that industry? Did the feds fund A. Graham Bell? Is Bush trying to stunt American industry in the medical field by outlawing production of tissues by means of stem cells? No.
Now, I have a great deal of respect for people who argue that destroying the day- or hours-old embryos is, in essence, the destruction of human life. But I also believe they are wrong. Life begins gradually; it's a subtle process that none of us should take for granted, one to which we should give careful thought. That's why we have ethics. But listening to the flat, "it's murder" argument is a bit like listening to folks who used to argue that astronaut deaths that occurred during the space program were God's way of telling us not to leave the earth.
OK, big difference between the taking of life at it's foundation and astronauts committing their own lives for the benefit of science and discovery. And does Nolan think that we shouldn't have a discussion on ethics BEFORE we strike out into this unknown area of science?
But Nolan then softens a bit, and says that indeed there are moral question and limits that need to be placed. There are lines that shouldn't be crossed. He notes that the American Academy for the advancement of Science has crafted guidelines, but then says that there is nothing in place to enforce those guidelines.
To a certain extent I agree with that. There should be some sort of enforcement of guidelines, if everyone agrees to the guidelines. But...
...the government can't cut funding it doesn't grant in the first place. It has little reach into places where it's already decided not to go; which means it has only limited knowledge of what's going on. In choosing a supposedly ethical position – that stem cell manipulation and research is morally wrong and should be banned – the U.S. government has chosen to abandon any sort of regulatory role in might play in seeing that such research is conducted with the ethical objections and concerns of critics in mind. President Bush's blanket-veto threat gives stem cell research no place in the law and any law that might be passed – say a total ban on cloning of human embryos – will only encourage work that's taking place in other countries to proceed at a faster pace.
Really? The government can't regulate what it doesn't fund? That's not the US federal government I've come to know and love. Note once again the mantra that Bush is trying to outlaw all stem cell research, which is not what's happening. The bill is only authorizing federal funding for research. Why is this seen as the battle for the legal practice of researching stem cell regeneration?
Why is the cloning of human embryos seen as the only way that stem cells can be regenerated?
His final paragraph brings up some common scare tactics in modern political battles. Jobs will be lost! Research and science is leaving the US!
Frankly, I'd like some rational debate about ethics before my tax dollars are used in this manner. Does that make me un-American?
It might make Bush appear anti-science at the moment. But certainly not anti-American.

Update: Foreign Policy magazine has an article that further shoots down Nolan's argument that Bush's policy will cause the rest of the world to leave the United States behind. Though it's not because we're trying real hard.
Now it appears that, even hobbled by federal funding restrictions, the United States is still leading the world in the stem cell research race. America’s Christian right garners a tremendous amount of attention at home for its opposition to stem cell research, yet major portions of Europe have adopted policies far more restrictive than those in the United States. And, despite some impressive breakthroughs in Asia, limited access to private funds and global research networks keeps that region from sprinting ahead of the field. The United States may be the leader in this biomedical research race, but for that it has the rest of the world to thank.
Stem Cell advocates often cite researchers bugging out for places like England, but don't inform us that England is one of the only countries that encourages that type of research. And even then only one notable US researcher left for England.
Yet, it has been reported that since Pedersen’s 2001 departure, no leading U.S. stem cell scientist has moved to Britain. This is partly because Britain’s public-sector model for promoting stem cell research has its own drawbacks, including uncertain public licensing, slow-moving funding cycles, and bureaucratic delays. When the Medical Research Council and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council attempted to jointly fund state-of-the-art facilities for a British stem cell bank, red tape held up the first deposits for six months. Equally important, there is nothing in Britain or continental Europe to rival the U.S. system for mobilizing resources through partnerships between private universities, companies, venture capitalists, and philanthropic foundations.
Which is why Bush's hold on federal funds isn't the death knoll for stem cell research, and the reason that the US will continue to be near the front of the pack anyway.
And although east Asia is probably in a better position to research stem cells unfettered, they have their problems too.
Stem cell researchers in Asia remain disadvantaged, however, by their limited connections to global research networks. The International Society for Stem Cell Research has 654 members in the United States and 56 in Britain, but only 34 in South Korea, 29 in Japan, 16 in Singapore, and 5 in China. Private investment has also lagged. Singapore’s Biopolis notwithstanding, the city-state currently has only one company researching embryonic stem cells, and none engaged in therapeutic cloning. In China, private investors remain nervous about weak protections for intellectual property, insufficient exit options for venture capital, second-rate managerial skills, and a muddled regulatory environment.
The author muses that considering how little regulations they have currently, the potential for backlash could cause restrictions just like in some European countries.
In the 2004 U.S. presidential campaign, Democratic challenger John Kerry warned repeatedly that the future of American stem cell research would be at risk if the restrictive policies of the Bush administration were not changed. This view underestimated the capacity of U.S. scientists to work around a simple federal funding ban.
So true. Although Paarlburg also notes that since the US is not funding this itself, but also not regulating in any way, the US has the potential of being the most liberal place to do this sort of research. State and private money will make up for the lack of federal funding.
The only real warning by the author is that Britain might get left behind in this arena, but their regulatory environment might be the best way to run it.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Portland Campaign Finance Experiment

This is interesting. It seems our friendly neighborhood city councilmen have gotten together and decided that big money steals elections and that we should use public money to even the odds a bit. Here's the catch - we as citizens don't get a say.
Well, not yet, anyway.
The Portland City Council voted 3-1 Wednesday to let voters decide in 2010 whether they want to keep offering public campaign financing to City Hall candidates, assuming they approve the funding plan next week.
Understand? We get to vote in 2010 whether we want to keep this campaign funding experiment after it's already been used for 5 years. Actually, as Jack Bog explains, the language of the resolution doesn't actually mandate the referral to the voters, just instructs a future council to write up a referral to the voters. Will it actually every happen? That's not up to the current posse.
The Oregonian took issue with the council in an editorial on Tuesday.
Surely, before launching something called "voter-owned elections," it would be polite to inquire whether voters want to buy what the council hopes to sell.
Over at Portland Communique, the One True b!X has a detailed post on exactly what happened in this meeting of the minds (?) over at the city center, and what they decided. I was pleased to see that Randy Leonard opposed the resolution, while the other three voted for it.
b!X noted that this might not be allowed under the state and local laws governing referrals. One point is that when referring something to voters, the law being referred might not be able to be implemented until it has gone before the voting public. The other is the issue of trying to dictate what a future council will do, i.e. refer the issue to voters in 2010.
I'm also wondering if anyone is noting that this will just give some city money to prospective candidates for city auditor, council and mayor. If those crooks want to raise millions on the side as well, they can do that. It's designed to give some money to candidates who are running against an incumbent who's got lots of dough.
But since in the last election Tom Potter soundly beat a much better financed Jim Francesconi, does anyone really think this is going to help our political system at all (and is there a problem)?

The ABMs against the Nuclear Option

I've been pretty quiet on the filibuster issue, writing once I think. However I do think that this is an important issue. I said during the election that I thought appointing judges, especially supreme court judges, was one of the President's most important jobs. Therefore I think it is very unfortunate that we have come to this point.
Anyway, I came across this article in an online mag called the Ornery American explaining what was going on, and giving quite a different perspective on whether or not Republicans should override the filibuster option.
Because, you know, when Orson Scott Card writes, I just have to read it.

Now, let's get this straight right now: The filibuster is the real "nuclear option." It's the Democrats with the filibuster who are shutting down the Constitutional power of the President by threatening to shut down Congress, period.

A vote to change the rules is more like an ABM -- the anti-ballistic missile that will shoot down the "nuclear weapon" of the filibuster.

Card writes from a moderate position, asking the Republicans if overriding the filibuster is something they really want to do. Saying they should consider this: "President Hillary Clinton and a Democratic majority in the Senate."
He also points out that Bush is a moderate (or as close to one as it gets in Washington these days) and any judge that passes muster with the Democrats is either going to be repugnant to Republicans or a someone without any merit in being there.
So Democrats might come out looking every bit as bad as they want Republicans to look by refusing to yield the floor to a vote.

The Donald

Trump says he plans to rebuild the twin towers in NYC just as they were. Attack of "the Donald."
This would trump (so to speak) the plans for a "freedom tower" that was being designed for the site where the towers fell. The freedom tower has had security and structural issues and is back in design phase. As with other projects that have had problems, Donald steps forward and takes charge. But this time he might be going overboard.
"In a nutshell, the Freedom Tower should not be allowed to be built," he said. "It's not appropriate for Lower Manhattan, it's not appropriate for Manhattan, it's not appropriate for the United States, it's not appropriate for freedom."
Nice. Apparently those who thought that a show of his own couldn't expand Donald's head any more than it already was. But they were wrong.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005


Goodness gracious. I've been really interested in the events happening in Uzbekistan over the past few weeks, with groans of Democratic uprising and government crackdowns beginning to appear regularly in the main stream news, and constantly in the blogosphere. I have left it to the rest of the community to comment on these events.
If you are particularly interested in these events and the area of Central Asia you can check out Registan or GatewayPundit have the most information on what's going on. BelgraviaDispatch is also on top of it. Dan Darling has a long analysis post on what's going on there. As always his take is thought provoking.
In fact, if I were to recommend just one site it would be Registan, which seems to be all Uzbekistan-all the time. At least it is while this revolt and crackdown is going on.

But I want to broaden the topic a bit more and concentrate on the area as a whole. I began reading up a bit on Central Asia and was thoroughly entranced by what I read. This region is rich with culture and history, going back before the Hellenistic culture and Alexander's dominating campaigns.
The region is usually characterized as containing the present day countries of Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan and Xinjiang (that portion of China). The peoples of this region share much of their ancestry with the Turkish peoples of Mongolia and present day Turkey. Many of the cultures of this region were nomadic until the last couple of centuries.
The area is about 7.5 million square kilometers, or about the size of Australia. It is dominated in size by Kazakhstan, which is about 2.7 million km, or about half of the region not including Xinjiang.
The climate is fairly dry, and the temperatures run from very cold in the winter to very hot in the summer, as it is in the middle of the largest continent on earth and has almost no moderating influence such as a sea or ocean. Once a region of endless grasslands, the area has dried out much since ancient times and there are significant arid regions. The Karakum desert is the 4th largest in the world. There are still significant grass lands extending to extremely high mountain ranges in the east. Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan are mostly mountainous, and have some of the tallest peaks in the world outside the Himalayas.
There are regions of agriculture as well. These generally follow the major river systems that drain into the Aral sea (which because of the over-irrigating of the Soviet period, has pretty much dried out the sea). Not much of the water flowing from central Asia makes it out to the oceans. The river systems are the Amu-Dar'ya and the Syr-Dar'ya, the Ural river in the west, the Ili river entering from China, and the Irtysh river system in northern Kazakhstan, which empties into the Arctic Ocean.
There are about 60 million people in Central Asia, not including about another 40 million in Xinjiang, so this is by no means an unpopulated wasteland. The peoples are a variety of Turkic ancestry, but there are significant Russian/European populations in northern Kazakhstan. In fact, if you look at the map I linked to there, the ethnic makeup crosses several boundary lines, giving you an idea of what the Soviets were up to. They carved up the region in order to prevent nationalistic ideas from cropping up among the different ethnic groups. It was thought that if some Uzbeks were in Kyrgyzstan and some were in Uzbekistan and some in Tajikistan then they wouldn't be able to rise up and separate from the Soviet Union, or even develop a sense of individual nationalism. That idea is causing grief now, as the mixed nature of countries causes some stress on internal politics of those countries. In truth, though, much of the ethnic conflict is between formerly sedentary cultures and nomadic cultures.

Historically, this is the region of the great Silk Road that transported goods from the Roman west and the middle east all the way to China and back. People didn't start making the entire journey until much later, but any trade between those far off civilizations occurred by traveling through central Asia.
Alexander the Great conquered the region around the Amu-Darya and Syr Darya and Hellenized the populations there, which started the split between the sedentary cultures of Uzbek and Tajik regions and the rest of nomadic central Asia.
Ghengis Khan centered his empire here, and his descendents influenced the cultural landscape significantly. Before and after that, Muslims conquered at various times and spread their culture here. It was once thought that Bukhara, in Uzbekistan, was the center of Muslim culture under the Samanids before the 1st millennium AD.
After the Russians and Soviets took over, the region was a major point of contention and conflict between the Russians and the British, who controlled India and Pakistan. Both imperialistic nations came together at the edges of their empires on the slopes of the Pamir and Hindu Cush ranges.
So you can see that this region deserves much more time and study than I am giving it right now. I'll be back with some more detail on the history of the region and perhaps some insights into current politics in the area.

For now you can keep watch on the Uzbekistan situation, or you can follow events for the whole region with news services such as EurasiaNet, the Times of Central Asia, or the Central Asia News Net.

Purple Oregon

I've occasionally taken a trip over to Blue Oregon, a site dedicated to more liberal Oregonians opinions. Some of the topics are interesting, and there are lots of open discussion posts, one or two of which I've participated in.
Now comes a post where they point out that there are some right wing, Northwest blogs that all you right wing nuts can flock to and quit wasting their time with horrible right wing slander.
Uh huh. Is that what they call it. It's true that there is some vitriol coming from the right in the comments of open posts, but not much. There's much more from the reaction of left wing readers of the site.
Really what they are encouraging is right leaning readers to vacate, when what is left will just be an echo chamber for leftist ideas, and no response coming from the right, tempering their ideas. I'm not saying that the right will always be the logical, correct opinion, but left leaning arguments fall short often enough that there should be honest debate.
But Blue Oregon seems not to care.
Well... you know what they say about not letting the door hit you in the rear as you leave. If the neo-cons were spending their time here discussing points of disagreement on issues, they wouldn't be getting asked to leave. They're being asked to leave because the majority of the posts from neo-cons here consists of piles of personal insults with little actual factual content.
Well, that's not what I've seen. So the attitude is unfortunate. I certainly don't want Blue Oregon becoming another DailyKos, or DemocraticUnderground.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Gay Marriage in Oregon

OK, I promised myself that I would write a little bit on a post by another Oregonian, Chris Edwards of Oregon Sunrise, regarding gay marriage in our state, and some of the philosophical underpinnings therein.
First of all, I would like to say that I enjoyed reading the post he made. I probably don't agree with everything he said on the subject, but he spent a lot of time thinking about the issue, and saw the issue from a number of different angles. Which is something that enough people are not doing.
Oregonians have spoken clearly at the ballot box, with the passage of Measure 36 which defined marriage as the being between a man and a woman. This, in a state which prides itself on being independently different and tends to the left side of the political spectrum.
Yes, this in a state that voted overwhelmingly for John Kerry too. This obviously is an issue that has nuances.
Marriage has essentially always been an institution of the church (in the Judeo—Christian traditions), which has been so common and so accepted by the overwhelming majority of people, that governments have conveyed legal recognition onto those unions. Marriage is clearly an institution of both the state and the church, but without the religious underpinnings which created the definition and “rules” of marriage, state sanctioned marriage could look like many different things (multiple spouses, gay, no age limitations, etc.) Marriage is a religious institution first and a state institution second. If you don’t think so, then ask if religion sanctions marriage because governments created it? Clearly not. In the beginning, the state sanctioned marriage as a recognition of a religious institution.
Fantastic observation. I am clearly on his wavelength here, and even later when he begins to wonder what role the state should be playing when recognizing marriages as legal states of being.
If the Catholic Church were to be the ultimate authority on marriage in the world then it would certainly be intellectually honest to conclude that marriage can only happen between a man and a woman…..end of story.

There are 4 billion+ non-Catholics around the world. Here in America protestant denominations reign in the majority with no single denomination having a plurality. The protestant view on marriage tends to be much more forgiving that the Catholic one. While I can’t summarize each denomination’s view of marriage, it would be safe to say that in the protestant church, life-long marriage is the ideal but divorce and remarriage are certainly permitted, even among the clergy.

I certainly agree that the catholic church tends to hold the most consistent position regarding marriage and divorce among large church denominations. I have experienced family trying to dissolve a previous marriage in order to get married again within the church and it is rigorous at best.
However, I think a better way of describing protestant views on divorce as "tolerant" instead of forgiving. Certainly, people are forgiven for getting divorced. We are all sinful people living in a sinful world. But it's still a fact among even protestant churches that marriage is held to a much higher standard, and divorced people coming into our church wanting to get remarried to someone else are scrutinized heavily.
There is only one completely consistent position regarding marriage and divorce for the Christian. That's what appears in the Bible.
If marriage is viewed as a church institution, then the Catholic Church has the lock on intellectual integrity and validity. Once the religious institution of marriage is cracked by divorce, there is nothing to stop the slide down the intellectually slippery slope to multiple-partner and same-sex marriages. Nothing, that is, other than knee-jerk emotion. The best way to preserve the integrity of the anti-gay marriage argument is to view marriage as an institution of the state and then present a compelling reason why we as a society should prevent the marriage license from being issued. To protect the children? It is arguable whether there is even anything to protect them from. Our media certainly does them more harm than Sally’s two mommies. To “preserve” marriage? Divorce obliterated it long ago. In an institution with a less than 50% likelihood of succeeding, what is it that we are so feverishly protecting?

A lot of interesting and compelling statements here. Once again, I don't think that Chris fully understands the church as a whole, and what God's word is all about in this area. Often I find that people's view of what the church thinks in part or whole is shaped by what the media reports on, which is usually aberrant events.
Divorce, unfortunately, is not an aberrant event in the church. It happens all to often. But I think it's important to understand that just because divorce happens frequently in Christian circles, doesn't mean that most churches are Ok with it. Or even most Christians.
That might bring me to a tangent point that I'll write about sometime. There are this and this many people in the United States who attend church (of whatever form) and who confess a belief in God or Jesus Christ. When one looks closer, you will note that many of these are what is know as "fair weather Christian" or "Sunday Christians" who just attend on Sundays or Holidays. They tend to treat church as a part of their cultural background instead of a vital part of a relationship with a creator.
Question: What's the ratio of Sunday Christians who get divorced, verses committed Christians who do?
That's just a side note, really. My own pet peeve about people using the high divorce rates within the church to indicate that we are hypocritical about our position on marriage.
Marriage isn’t about rights. I don’t know one heterosexual couple who married for the rights it would bestow upon them. Sure there are the rare immigration related examples, but you get the drift. People marry to declare their dedication to the relationship and to get that commitment from the other. In the end it is all about seeking security in our lives. Sure, marriage will be more than just security. There will be love, fun and other great things. Those can be experienced by unmarried couples as well. The commitment of marriage is driven by an instinct for emotional security. Certainty in an uncertain world.
I don't know anyone who has made a statement like this during the gay marriage debate. Chris is asking here: why should gays care?
If you believe that marriage is a state institution, you will be disappointed to learn that the marriage license doesn’t add any security to one’s life with a committed partner. (don’t mistake legitimacy with security). If you see marriage as an institution of the church and your church recognizes gay marriages, then what do you need a state license for?
While hetero marriage is ultimately about relationship, it seems that on an emotional level, for gays it is often about validation. Many gays espouse that they are comfortable with themselves and their relationship whether it is state sanctioned or not. Others want to shout and scream and fight as if their very existence were threatened.

Given the difficulties faced by gay couples in getting the states to grant them marital rights, why not settle for civil unions? The label “married” or “civilly unioned” will certainly not affect the quality of the gay relationship. Remember, hetero marriages fail more frequently than not. For non-religious folks, marriage is essentially a civil union.

The alternative is to get government out of the marriage game alltogether. An argument can be made that most or all of the rights that come automatically with marriage can be had by other means, if that is what you are looking for. My wife and I know a lesbian couple who have legally arranged for all of this. They have inheritance, insurance, hospital visitation and the right to make decisions for the other if incapacitated. There are some things they don't, like filing jointly on taxes, but if both members of the household are working, filing jointly doesn't make all that much sense.
Indeed, the benefit of being married and filing jointly FINALLY appeared under the current Bush administration. Before that there wasn't much point.
If you're significant other decides not to work (other than raising kids) then you should be able to file them as dependents. In other words, the question is: should the government be in this game at all? Christians want to keep the term "Marriage" in all it's original religious meaning.
I've said this before, but you will find that this is often about perception. Like Chris said in his post, gays mostly don't really care about the government benefits of getting married, it's about the validation of their lifestyle. Christians don't want to be seen as giving in to a lifestyle that they feel God opposes (most churches would say that). There are some Christians who want the government to reflect a Christian ethic, to exhort it's citizens to some moral standards also.
But in some ways that is a perception of what they want the government to do. And a discussion on what the role of the government here should be paramount.
Anyway, great, well thought out post from Chris. I'll be looking for more of those in the future.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Newsweek = National Enquirer

I'm not going to say much about this. What else is there to say that Instapundit hasn't said or linked to. He has been on fire with this one, posting no less than six times, each one with a half a dozen links to other sites.
The blogosphere is taking Newsweek apart. It's a thing of beauty.

Powerline is there too. And here. And here.
Hugh hewitt chimes in.

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Intelligent design in Kansas

World Magazine reports that in Kansas, eight scientists and educators presented their case to change the Kansas Science Standards for the Board of Education there. What they want is when origins science is presented in the class room that objectivity be used when presenting the arguments for both evolution and intelligent design to the students.
Here's the text for the arguments they made. This is the opening statement:

“The very power of [methodological naturalism] depends on the fact that [teachers] are dealing with a [student]: a [student] who thinks he is ‘doing’ his [‘Science’] and has no notion that ethics, theology and politics are all at stake. It is not a theory they put into [the student’s] mind, but an assumption, which ten years hence, its origin forgotten and its presence unconscious, will condition [the student] to take one side in a controversy which [the student] has never recognized as a controversy at all.”

What do you think of it?

Friday, May 13, 2005

Cats and Dogs living together

OK, what's up with this?
Mr. (Newt) Gingrich, the former House speaker, has been working alongside the former first lady on a number of issues, and even appeared with her at a press conference on Wednesday to promote - of all things - health-care legislation. But more puzzling than that, Mr. Gingrich has been talking up Mrs. Clinton's presidential prospects in 2008, to the chagrin of conservative loyalists who once regarded him as a heroic figure. Last month, he even suggested she might capture the presidency, saying "any Republican who thinks she's going to be easy to beat has a total amnesia about the history of the Clintons."
Newt and Hillary? Somewhere, Bill Murray is ranting incoherently to the mayor of fictional NYC. "Mass Hysteria!"
Cicero over at Winds of Change has an idea about this. He thinks that they are both deserting their parties and trying for the middle ground.
Really, that's not an absurd assumption. I'll buy it from Hillary anyway, as she is far more shrewd a politician than John Kerry or most of the other Democrats on Capital Hill. I think she understands that she can win a national election by appealing to the middle (as her husband did, incidentally). Hooking up with Gingrich gives her a certain amount of credibility with more moderate voters, or at least that's what she is hoping for.
Now this is all really just speculation. Keep watching.

Truth at CBS

Once again, CBS is at it. Powerline notes an interview done with the infamous Ken Starr, lawyer of renown (OK, I'm over-doing it).
Anyway, the gist of the excerpts used in the CBS report made it seem like he was totally against the Republican effort to thwart the filibuster that Democrats have extended against some of the current judicial candidates.
This was the quote that CBS used: "This is a radical, radical departure from our history and from our traditions, and it amounts to an assault on the judicial branch of government."
As Powerline relates, Bob Scheiffer thinks that Starr was referring to the Republican effort, but here is a letter that Starr wrote about the report.
I sat on Saturday with Gloria Borger for 20 minutes approximately, had a wide ranging, on-camera discussion. In the piece that I have now seen, and which I gather has been lavishly quoted, CBS employed two snippets. The 'radical departure from our history' snippet was specifically addressed to the practice of invoking judicial philosophy as a grounds for voting against a qualified nominee of integrity and experience. I said in sharp language that that practice was wrong. I contrasted the current practice and that employed viciously against your father with what occurred during Ruth Ginsburg's nomination process as numerous Republicans voted, rightly, to confirm a former ACLU staff worker. They disagreed with her positions as a lawyer but they voted -- again rightly -- to confirm her.
Does that sound like he thinks the Republican effort is a radical departure? Or perhaps someone else's?

Update: Tom Maguire has a roundup, mostly with comments on what Mickey Kaus' post on this. Kaus thinks the CBS reporter "wrenched" the Starr sentence into the context that Starr intended. But Maguire is having none of that. And he has the transcript of the broadcast.
What it sounds like to me is that Starr doesn't have a position, or say anything regarding how he feels about the "nuclear" option. He was commenting entirely on how destructive the fillibusters are to the judicial appointment process.

Measure 37 report

Oregon's Measure 37 in the last election allows landowners to file for an exemption from land use restrictions if they bought their land before the restriction went into effect. The alternative is that the government can apply the restriction, but must pay the landowner for the loss in value.
It appears that the state is now awarding some people those exemptions, as the two most high profile cases during the election last year have just been given the right to develop on their land.
State officials announced approval Thursday for a pair of high-profile claims: one to split Multnomah County widow Dorothy English's forestland, and one to allow a subdivision on Maralynn Abrams' 342 acres of Yamhill County farmland. Both cases were clear winners under Measure 37, which promises development rights or government payments to landowners hurt by planning rules, said Lane Shetterly, Department of Land Conservation and Development director. Unlike some claimants in the state's first batch of responses last week, English and Abrams showed they bought their land before restrictions limited property value.
Which is interesting. I'll be curious after a while how many claims get denied because they can't prove that they bought their land before the restrictions went into play. One would think that the land owner would know the answer to this question before filing the claim.
One of the claims was filed by Maralynn Abrams of Yamhill county. Here's an interesting statement that the paper got from someone in the neighborhood:

The Abramses seem to fit Measure 37 criteria, said Marilyn Reeves of the planning advocacy group Friends of Yamhill County. Reeves said she hopes residents' concerns will be taken into account when the Abramses submit development plans.

"We'd love to find out what this all means after they receive their claim," Reeves said. "What will be the opportunity for public comment?"

The Abramses say they will work with the county and comply with all modern subdivision codes.

Public comment? Do the Abrams land development plans really have to be subject to public comment if they are complying with local subdivision codes and the state gave them the OK to develop to 1950s standards? This sounds like this particular local just isn't happy that someone gets to duck the existing regulations.

Update: Washington State politics

Here's an interesting post from a local guy. The blog is called RidenBaugh Press (I can't link to the specific post). His beat seems to cover the entire northwest. I like the groovy way he puts a small icon of the state he is referring to in each post at the top of each post. If you don't care a lick about Idaho you can ignore the posts with a little icon of Idaho at the top.
Anyway, he has this to say about the congressional session that just finished up there.
No one in Washington politics would have believed, four months ago, that the Washington Legislature would come to this point just four months later. What has happened in the months since has been remarkable...

Cut to Sunday, when the session came to an end.

First, it ended - remarkable in itself. This was the constitutional closing date for the session, but frequently in recent years that mark has meant little: Key business has gone untended, and the governor has had to call them back. Sometimes twice. Sometimes more. But this time, they got done - got it all done, the budget, the revenue, all the essential stuff - on time.

But even more interesting is why. It seems that there are many Republicans helping the slim majority of Democrats pass important project and budget bills. Why, you ask?

Consider this, from the Seattle Times, from Deputy House Republican Leader Mike Armstrong, R-Wenatchee, who opposed the transportation package and has been a strong backer of Republican Dino Rossi in his ongoing court battle for the governorship:

"Armstrong gave Gregoire a lot of credit for breaking the logjam and bringing about the transportation plan's passage. The governor, he said, made it clear that Democrats needed and wanted the Republicans' help. 'She lighted a fire and reignited this issue when it was waning,' Armstrong said. 'That's what leaders do.'"

So it turns out that Gregoire is not the boogie-man that Republicans paint her out to be. I recall that even a Democrat friend of mine up there wasn't really sure she would be any better than Rossi, i.e. an insider/business as usual politician.
I wonder if the narrow election victory and the controversy afterward has caused Gregoire to resist partisan tendencies and try to really work with the opposition to get business done. If so that would be a great victory for Washington.
I can't believe I'm saying this about a Democrat.

Anyway, I was saying at the time it was going on that whoever lost officially should just shut up and focus all their effort on the election process and try to fix the process for the NEXT election, not the previous one. I think we can all live with a Democratic governor who is willing to respond and get things done without playing too many games.

Luke, I am your blogger!

Got this link from Instapundit, who ever has his tendrils out searching the depths of the blogosphere. Here comes probably one of the most interesting and original blogs out there. Authored by none other than Darth Vader himself.
It's an interesting look into the mind behind the mask. The authorship has more the feel of Anakin from the current series of movies, instead of the utterly dark and one sided character we were introduced to in 1977.
But either way, it's thoroughly enjoyable. I found myself almost falling out of my chair laughing at points.
In the about column:
Darth Vader is an immaculately conceived knight-bastard imbued with magical powers who rules the known galaxy at the right hand of the merciless and brilliant Emperor Palpatine I. Though he maintains palaces on both Coruscant and Vjun, Vader spends most of his time traveling aboard Executor, the flagship of his deadly pan-galactic armada. He enjoys fixing things, listening to music, and crushing people's tracheas with his mind.
If you are into Star Wars it is a MUST READ!

Thursday, May 12, 2005

"Clean" campaign money

The Portland City council is about to vote on whether they will use property tax money to fund local campaigns, and then forbid local politicians from collecting donations for campaigns.
Jack Bog has a few words for the City Council and their masterful use of our property taxes.

Desecrating the Koran

Apparently, someone started a rumor that American agents at Guantanamo put copies of the Koran in bathroom stalls and ripped pages out and stuffed them down the toilet to agitate prisoners there. This report comes from Newsweek, but I have been to the Newsweek site and can't find it anywhere. Their site is getting hammered, I would guess because of this topic.
Anyway, news of this reached Afghanistan and Pakistan, where there have been huge violent protests against the US. Chants like "Death to America" and "Death to Bush" have been heard, attacking police and torching buildings. Some of the protesters have been shot by police (not US soldiers).
Now, all of the articles I have read say nothing about where Newsweek got this report of desecrating Korans, and here is the government's response:

But the top US military officer said a review of interrogation logs has so far found no evidence to corroborate the explosive allegations.

"... they cannot confirm yet that there was ever the case of the toilet incident except in one case, a log entry that they still have to confirm, where a detainee was reported by a guard to be ripping pages out of a Koran and putting them in a toilet to stop it up as a protest," said General Richard Myers, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

So the US is investigating and denouncing any mistreatment of the Koran. Obviously if there was desecration, it's not US policy to agitate prisoners that way, and if any individuals have been found doing it, I'm sure they will be dealt with. If, in fact, there has been said abuse, I think that the US should apologize, but not before that. At the very least, the Bush administration should let Muslims know that it denounces this activity. And it has.
What about the journalist? Isn't it in everyone's best interest to expose this guy and find out where he got this information? Really, the only purpose served by spreading this rumor and not confirming it is to incite US hatred throughout the Muslim world. Was that the journalist's purpose?

The other thing that I noticed was that the only protests the media is reporting are in Afghanistan and somewhat in Pakistan. Are those the only Muslims who care about such things? Or is it that most Muslims understand that it is not the US policy to desecrate texts held sacred by large populations. One wonders if the protest are occurring there because there is a large anti-US base of former Taliban and Al-Qaida in those areas, and they are using this to drum up anti-US sentiment. Certainly, the people of Iraq and Lebanon are not all that fired up about what has been alleged.

Strategy page has this:
Anti-American protests have spread to the capital, sparked by an unsubstantiated accusations by a U.S. newsmagazine. Newsweek magazine published a hearsay item about American interrogators at Guantanamo desecrating the Koran to intimidate suspected terrorists. The Taliban has been trying to spread similar stories, but have no credibility. American media has more clout, even if the story in question is basically a rumor. The pro-Taliban groups will push this story as much as they can, but the Taliban support is basically restricted to some Pushtun tribes in southern and eastern Afghanistan.
Hmmmm. Does that mean that American reporters are getting their information from .... the Taliban?

Darfur Redux

My wife and I recently watched the movie Hotel Rwanda on DVD. I was moved to the point of writing all my senators and representatives and verbally spanking them for inaction on human rights issues. You might get that urge too if you have seen that film. It's a stirring story by itself, let alone that it's a true story. That humans can engender that kind of hatred and brutality is unthinkable for us here in America. That human beings can deliberately kill ALL the people, women, children and elderly, of a certain ethnic grouping of people is an abomination.
And yet it happens a lot, and we sit here on our fat asses and don't do much about it.

Well, folks, it is happening again. The peoples of the Darfur region of Sudan have been subject to murder, rape and savage destruction on a grand scale. You might say: well it's not the government or the military of Sudan that's doing this. Neither was the case in Rwanda, and the government of Sudan is certainly not doing much, if anything, to stop it.
As I've blogged before, the UN is totally incapable of being responsible for this sort of thing. They are stuck in their routine of resolutions and investigative committees, and have declared that since, in their opinion, this is not a true genocide, they don't have to intervene. Or do much of anything. Not even a resolution on sanctions.
You aren't going to see anything from them either as long as countries like Libya and Sudan rank high on human rights committees.

So this is really up to us if we want to do something about it. Now, you might say that we can't invade, as we already catch flack for the occupation of Iraq, and our military is pretty thin because of that.
Well, there was a resolution in congress that intended to fund the African Union, set up sanctions against Sudan (primarily American, not international sanctions), and impose a no-fly zone over the Darfur area. It was in the form of amendments to the wartime supplement bill that is floating through, and I believe has already passed, both chambers.
The Senate voted UNANIMOUSLY for it. Once it got to the house, though, a curious thing happened.
Last month, both the House and Senate unanimously passed amendments to the war-time supplemental bill that called on the Bush administration to ratchet up its diplomatic efforts to help end the crisis in Darfur. Yet today, on Holocaust Remembrance Day, the House is expected to pass the supplemental bill, and surprise, surprise, those Darfur provisions won't be included. What happened? After pressure from the White House (including a letter from administration officials to House Appropriations Chairman Jerry Lewis), the Darfur Accountability provisions were stripped from the bill. Thankfully, it's not all bad news. The conference report does include $50 million to strengthen and expand the African Union mission in Darfur, along with increases in disaster aid for Sudan and other crises. (For more, see this excellent new Darfur overview by Bradford Plumer in Mother Jones magazine, or the Human Rights Watch presentation, "Darfur Drawn: The Conflict Through Children's Eyes.")
This comes on the tail of reports that Bush is negotiating with Sudan for help with terrorism, as Sudan has promised to give information to the CIA. Now there are a few reasons why Bush might be tentative about getting tough on Sudan regarding this (and note that the provision for some money for the African Union's mission to Darfur).
Nicolas Kristof:
So why is Bush so reluctant to do a bit more and save perhaps several hundred thousand more lives? I sense that there are three reasons.

First, Bush doesn't see any neat solution, and he's mindful that his father went into Somalia for humanitarian reasons and ended up with a mess.

Second, Bush is very proud-- justly-- that he helped secure peace in a separate war between northern and southern Sudan. That peace is very fragile, and he is concerned that pressuring Sudan on Darfur might disrupt that peace while doing little more than emboldening the Darfur rebels (some of them cutthroats who aren't negotiating seriously).

Third, Sudan's leaders have increased their cooperation with the CIA...

All three concerns are legitimate. But when historians look back on his presidency, they are going to focus on Bush's fiddling as hundreds of thousands of people were killed, raped or mutilated in Darfur-- and if the situation worsens, the final toll could reach a million dead.
I don't think it justifies not getting tougher on the government, though. The peace agreement regarding the Christian south was kind of a tardy effort, as the government of Sudan had been terrorizing the south for years before anyone tried to settle things diplomatically, and even then, the peace agreement didn't come until after Bush started invading terrorist sponsoring countries. So why stop being tough now?
George, Somalia was a disaster because we wimped out. Rwanda was a disaster because we wimped out.
Bill Clinton and other Western leaders of the time will live and die with the shame of failing to recognize and respond to the Rwandan genocide of more than a decade ago. Does Bush-- for whatever "practical" reasons-- really want to end his administration with a similar moral failure on his record and his conscience?
Write your congressman. Give the verbal spanking.

Iraqi Insurgents?

Reports the Washington Post:
"There seems to be an increasing foreign element to the insurgency," said Army Gen. George Casey, the senior U.S. commander in Iraq.
That was an understatement.
Here's a more informative statement:
Officers here said they knew of no documented case in which a suicide attacker turned out to have been an Iraqi.
I'm not surprised.

Raises for Teachers

Roguepundit laments another case of teacher's unions bucking for raises and extra benefits, when the funds are just not there.

Let's see...the average Oregon teacher gets paid more than the national average, receives better healthcare benefits than do teachers in most states across the nation, and has the best state employee retirement benefits in the nation (something I've blogged about many times). And, they want more.

There aren't a whole lot of ways that local school districts can get extra money...even Multnomah County is suffering from tax exhaustion. And with the PERS contribution jumping this year, school budgets are being further squeezed. Thus when educators want higher pay, the options tend to be cutting school days, reducing teachers, eliminating programs and activities, etc. In other words, educators essentially want a better deal at the expense of the students and/or the newer educators. That's being destructively greedy.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Iraq Offensive

Belmont Club has a post on the offensive that the US just had near the Syrian border, and some analysis. They also link to Donald Sensing, who has a lot of stuff on the offensive.
The thing about the post that I liked was that they have a great map of the border area where the offensive took place. It is where the Euphrates crosses from Syria into Iraq, and, contrary to what people might think of this area, contains much arable land and is well populated all the way to the Syrian border. One can see why it's hard to control people crossing the border.

Update: More from Joe Katzman over at Winds. Lots more. More maps too.


I was listening to Larry Elder while driving home yesterday and had to listen to Larry chastise certain members of the media who thought that the choice of Steve Nash, of the Phoenix Suns, for MVP over Shaq was only because Nash is smaller, or because he's white.
Come... ON!
Where are people's brains when they think up things like this? If there is one place that race typically is not a factor it's deciding who's the better athlete, or player, in a major American sport.
Bomani Jones of ESPN, although he voted for Shaq, thinks the diatribe about Nash winning because he's white is full of it.

So, what if Steve Nash were black? That follicular disaster atop his head would have been braided or faded by now. He might have dated a member of Destiny's Child instead of a Spice Girl.
And he still would have won the MVP.

Jones goes on to say that point guards are commonly left out of MVP discussions, as well as white players. If white guys typically get favored in these ballots, why didn't Stockton get any in his much storied career? In fact there hasn't been a white MVP since Larry Bird got one in 1986.
Should Shaq have won the trophy instead? There obviously are many people who think so, as the voting was close. However you won't often see me trumpeting the Diesel as the best in the league. If I was 7'1" and 325 lbs and had a modicum of talent, my stock would rise too.
The problem is that Shaq was out for a few games, as was Nash, but without Nash, the Suns were 2-5. With him they were 60-15. The Suns are a bottom dwelling team without Nash, but the Heat, while they wouldn't have made it far in the playoffs, would have done all right. The Suns won 33 more games this season than they did last season because Nash is there.
The MVP is supposed to be a measure of how important a player is to his team, and one thing is for sure, Nash makes everyone better on that team, and they would not have the best record in the NBA, let alone in the playoffs, without him.

Monday, May 09, 2005

Do Muslims care for Darfur?

The Belgravia Dispatch has some interesting ideas (controversial at the least) about whether or not arabs and muslims in that part of the world really care about what is happening to the people of Darfur.

What about Nick Kristof, who has access to the same maps of Africa that the rest of us do? Does he wonder that the largest Arab country, directly north of Sudan with a large army and an air force hundreds of planes strong, has never made a move toward establishing, say, a no-fly zone over any part of Darfur? Demanded UN sanctions against Sudan, or imposed any of its own? To be honest, I doubt the idea has even crossed his mind.

You don't need to be a master geo-strategist or have a doctorate in comparative anthropology to figure out that a culture and religion indifferent or worse to murder on a large scale is going to be a problem for the civilized countries. Egyptian, Saudi, and other Arab Muslims who object to this characterization of them have it within their power to prove me wrong, or not, by what they finally do about Darfur.

Mother's Day

I didn't post yesterday, mostly because I was spending time on things that are ultimately more important than blogging and politics.
Unfortunately, I didn't get to spend much time with my wife, and mother of my children, because she had to work (on all days, this one). She works at a local family restaurant, and it's one of their big days, so we didn't have too much of a choice, and really, I'm not going to pass up the money that kind of workday will bring.
So, like many other holidays, spread out the fun. Saturday night she got a foot bath (plug-in foot bath tub that vibrates a little), and then a foot massage. We watched a SNL (for the first time in months) and talked a bit.

Side note: I had thought that SNL skits, over the years, were getting a bit raunchier, more sexual in content, and generally more stupid over the years. This week was no different, so I'm planning on going back to not watching again for a while. One skit was about people celebrating mothers day at a restaurant, which was banal, but made a point of reminding the audience that some waitpersons are mothers too, which my wife appreciated.
The other skit that caught my attention was the opening "commercial" skit, where they cut to commercial, but it's really a pre-taped skit. The "commercial" was for a product called "Mom" jeans, pants specially made for the Mom figure. Or whatever. I thought it was offensive to all women, in that the tag line was something like "for when they stop being women, and become moms." Nice. That's funny why?

Anyway, as a Christian, Sunday's are traditionally devoted to God, not to other people. So, of course, our entire morning is spent at church. We get up on Sunday's about the same time that we get up every day of the week, and don't leave church until after noon. The pastor had a great sermon for the moms in the congregation, but I was there to learn about God and to glorify him, so there's part of the day not honoring the moms in my life.
We then went out to a quick lunch and then home for a nap (after watching SNL, and then having to get up at 6:30, a nap was needed). Then she had to get up, get ready and go to work for the rest of the day and evening.
But here's the crucial part. I don't feel guilty for not giving her a whole day of pampering and attention. Why? Because as husbands, we should be honoring the mothers of our children every day of the year. Don't you think?
So we'll see how I can honor her today.
And then tomorrow.
And then the next day.
Happy Mother's year.

Sex education in Maryland I had heard that there was a new sex education program in Montgomery county Maryland that was pro-homosexual, and that they were not giving parents as much say in whether or not the program got implemented.
I had not idea. Here is Oxblog on the subject:
I'm adamantly pro-gay rights, but should public school teachers be taking an official position on what is or isn't a sin? Will we promote understanding by teaching children that those who oppose gay rights are just as bad as racists? But what's really crazy about all of this is the way the WaPo's front page article leaves the impression that irrational conservatives are objecting to the new curriculum for no good reason. To be fair, the article briefly mentions the opinion of a judge who dismissed most of the conservatives' arguments as unfounded but "...said he was disturbed by references to specific religious denominations in the teachers' guide and what he characterized as a one-sided portrayal of homosexuality." Hmm. That's a pretty vague way to describe a sex-ed curriculum with a clear-cut theological agenda.
Eugene Volokh, a law professor from UCLA, has words for the school district of Montgomery county.
A. The curriculum involves the public school unconstitutionally taking a stand on theological questions (as the court correctly held). B. The curriculum contains at least one factual error, and quite possibly others. C. More importantly, the curriculum is chock full of unsound reasoning, the very sort of thing we shouldn't be teaching kids.
Volokh has examples. He also notes that the case has already been in federal court, and here is the result.
Here's the part that everyone is posting on their site. Normally, I would just link to this, but it's so offensive, I just have to reprint it here.
Myth: Homosexuality is a sin.

Facts: The Bible contains six passages which condemn homosexual behavior. The Bible also contains numerous passages condemning heterosexual behavior. Theologians and Biblical scholars continue to differ on many Biblical interpretations. They agree on one thing, however. Jesus said absolutely nothing at all about homosexuality. Among the many things deemed an abomination are adultery, incest, wearing clothing made from more than one kind of fiber, and eating shellfish, like shrimp and lobster.

Religion has often been misused to justify hatred and oppression. Less than a half a century ago, Baptist churches (among others) in this country defended racial segregation on the basis that it was condoned by the Bible. Early Christians were not hostile to homosexuals. Intolerance became the dominant attitude only after the Twelfth Century. Today, many people no longer tolerate generalizations about homosexuality as pathology or sin. Few would condemn heterosexuality as immoral — despite the high incidence of rape, incest, child abuse, adultery, family violence, promiscuity, and venereal disease among heterosexuals. Fortunately, many within organized religions are beginning to address the homophobia of the church. The Nation Council of Churches of Christ, the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, the Unitarian Universalist Association, the Society of Friends (Quakers), and the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches support full civil rights for gay men and lesbians, as they do for everyone else.

Any Christians out there will immediately suffer whiplash from their heads spinning around at this statement, FROM A GOVERNMENT INSTITUTION!!!
Has there EVER been a case of a public agency so blatantly defying the establishment clause than this? I don't think I've ever heard of one.

Not surprisingly, the Washington Post, in a front page article, made this seem like the conservatives and Christians of the county in question are ignorant, right wing nuts, and that they are just using this issue to further their cause.

Friday, May 06, 2005


As an addendum to my post on how Christians are increasingly acting like political victims, I would like to say that, at least, there might be something to be said for Christians FEELING like victims sometimes. All they have to do is hear reports about their brethren from across the ocean. Just look at the Hatewatch from WindsOfChange, which is a regular column there.
There are lots of posts, and most of them are regarding hatred toward Christians and Jews all over the world.
We get treated pretty well here, compared to the rest of the world.
The sad thing is that the Hatewatch report is getting pretty long.

Student abuse

Roguepundit proposes (actually he has been proposing this for a while) a one strike and you're out rule for teachers who sexually abuse their students.
This is another example of why we need to have a one-strike-and-you're-out policy for sexual molesters in any profession that works with children. People with a history of sexual molestation should be kept away from those they desire. That helps protect everyone from their unacceptable urges.
Today, society understands more than it did 15-20 years ago about the high recidivism rate of child molesters. Schools try not to hire people with dodgy pasts. But with the number of closed settlements in cases regarding molestation charges, how can authorities be sure they're not hiring someone whose ugly tendencies have been documented, but hidden?
Apparently, they guy that Roguepundit is talking about was caught having a sexual relationship with a student at Willamina High School, but was reinstated just 3 years later, and then did it again.
If you think that the schools in this state have a good policy toward protecting their students from this sort of thing, you would be sadly mistaken.

Palestinians vote

Ok, the elected leaders of Fatah and Hamas might still be secretly trying to oust the Israelis, destroy them, whatever. They might still harbor sympathy for terrorists inclined to blow themselves up in Israeli shopping centers.
But they publicly people can criticize Fatah, now that Arafat is gone, and Hamas is trying to take advantage of that, not by clamping down and blowing things up, but by performing humane acts and participating in the democratic process.

Hamas has set itself up patiently with years of welfare programs for impoverished Palestinians, especially in Gaza, and is poised to take advantage of voter disaffection with Fatah.

"We are very honest and work much more than the others," said Khaled Saada, a Hamas candidate for Bethlehem town council, citing schools, clinics and orphanages run by his group. "It is confirmed that we are much better at helping people."

The times they are a changin'.

Roadless areas

You might remember that toward the waning days of his administration, Bill Clinton decided to implement Dept of Agriculture rules a bit and declared millions of acres as "roadless" lands, protecting them from timber harvesting and other disruption. Now, while I like wilderness areas, the move seemed to be kind of slimy. Recall that at the same time, Clinton threw all sorts of regulations and administrative rule changes on the books, some without much thought. The Bush administration has since nullified some and kept some.
Clinton also pardoned a bunch of people who should not have been pardoned, but were contributors to his political success over the years. Very slimy, indeed.
So now the Bush administration has decided to put all the roadless lands up for negotiation. In other words, they would like to scrap them all, but they instead decided to have states go over the maps again and advise the feds on what lands really need to be roadless and which don't.
Now environmentalists say that we've done all this before, and that having public comment periods and committees to decide what areas still need this designation is redundant and a waste of money.
Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski sharply criticized the Bush action, saying it forces the state to repeat work already completed by federal agencies in an effort to protect land that already had warranted and won protection.
"He should take their roadless maps and hand them back and say, 'Here, protect what was protected,' " said Jay Ward of the Oregon Natural Resources Council. "How many public processes do we need in which they get to hear Oregonians say the same thing: 'Protect them, don't log them'? "
I think some Oregonians would disagree with you there, Mr. Ward.
But anyway, the article leaves this little gem until the waaaaay end of the article.
Administration officials and foresters said, though, that the state-based approach would yield more accurate and responsive decisions. Refined mapping since the Clinton decision found that 2.8 million acres of lands considered roadless at the time had roads in them.
I'd like to believe that the former process to designate these areas under the Clinton era was adequate and covered all the bases, but....... let's just say I'm skeptical.

Senator Gordon Smith

I have a great respect for Gordon Smith. He's a career politician (although that doesn't earn my respect) who has spent many years as a Senator in Oregon, then in Washington DC. He doesn't have my respect because he is a Republican in a Blue state, although that's impressive. He doesn't have it because he persevered through the death of his son and turned it into a moment of victory, although I do respect him for it.
He ultimately gets my respect because he fights battles on principle. I'm not sure of all the ins and outs of the Medicare/Medicaid debate, or what's going on with the budgets in that area, but Smith does, and when he disagrees with Republican leadership in the House and Senate, he is not afraid to say so and lead an opposition.

The issue was Medicaid, the federal-state health insurance plan for low-income people. President Bush and Republican leaders wanted to impose new spending limits as part of a budget plan. But Smith thought the limits arbitrary. And he had the votes to stop them.

"I am brought here as a matter of conviction, conscience, passion, that in good times and bad, the people you don't abandon or put at risk are those who are most needy in our society," Smith said.

At Smith's urging, the Senate stripped a $14 billion mandatory spending cut, replacing it with an independent commission to identify cost-saving reforms. The measure won 52-48 last week, with six moderate Republicans and all 45 Democrats joining Smith in revolt.

But Smith's appeal to his colleagues' conscience didn't square with Republican plans to rein in federal spending. Although victorious, Smith risked retribution from party leaders as they moved to reconcile the Senate budget plan with that of the House.

What followed was a six-week odyssey that transported Smith through the highest levels of Washington power politics. In the end, colleagues and insiders said, Smith parlayed his position on the Finance Committee -- and the trust of peers -- to position himself as an indispensable broker on federal health care spending.

I don't agree with him on all issues where he crosses party lines, such as his not supporting drilling in arctic Alaska. But his willingness to cross that line when he feels he needs to means that when he isn't just playing politics, that when he supports the President, or a Republican platform idea, he really believes in it. What more could you ask for in your representative to the Senate of the United States.
Smith didn't want to stop reform of the programs, nor does he not believe in a limited budget, but he does believe that the programs do some good for those who cannot support themselves, and so he was against the indiscriminate budget cut that Republican leaders were about to impose on the programs. Smith instead lead the fight for a resolution that directed the Senate to target the cuts, instead of just generally cutting the budget. Smith figured he could cut 6 billion out of the program without reducing the benefits of the lowest income people.
Joining him were Senators Norm Coleman, R-Minn., Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Arlen Specter, R-Pa.
He also put pressure on majority leader Frist:

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., had opposed Smith's amendment. But once it passed, Frist was responsible for clearing a budget with the House. Frist harbors presidential ambitions, and failure could doom his hopes in 2008.

The two quickly worked out their own deal. Frist would represent Smith's interests faithfully in dealing with House leaders and the administration. Smith would work only through Frist, resisting other avenues to compromise.

I'm more impressed with Smith, who by showing that he can put pressure on Frist without suffering much political sway, is proving that he is going to be a major influence and leader in congress for some time to come.
Oregon's stock just went up in the Senate.