Thursday, June 30, 2005

Pact with India

Here's something you won't see in the news. While we are all hearing about that helicopter that was shot down in Afghanistan, or watching Wimbledon, the United States signed a military treaty with India, promising exchange of military technology and know-how.
The implications of this are far reaching, and extend into how we deal with the growing threat of China, as well as the war on terror.
I can't write about this too much, but the link to Joe Katzman at Winds is pretty long and full of links, so you all can spend the day there.

Zimbabwe gun control

Dave Kopel calls Zimbabwe the one of the most evil government in all of African history. They are revoking licenses for all automatic rifles and some pistols.
Zimbabwe's dictatorship has a long practice of using gun controls, many of which were inherited from British colonial rule, to ensure that victims of its barbaric abuses of human rights are unable to resist.
Unfortunately, this has nothing to do with the war on terror, so I doubt the US is going to act in any grand way to abate the slaughter of many innocent people, which is sure to happen now that they definitely can't defend themselves.
President Bush on Zimbabwe:

THE TIMES: Mr President, one country there’s a little concern about, as you know, in Britain, particularly, is Zimbabwe.


THE TIMES: Which is headed by a brutal tyrant.


I think I’ve called him that. He’s ruined a wonderful country, a country that used to not only feed Africa — in other words, an exporter of food — and now an importer of food, because of (his) decisions.

THE TIMES: Should it be the responsibility of other African countries to do more to isolate that country, and should you make what they do a condition of rich countries giving them aid? And they don’t seem to take this seriously.

PRESIDENT BUSH: I think we ought to use the fact that we’re working in partnership with countries as an opportunity to convince Mugabe to make different decisions. On the other hand, I don’t think we ought to allow his tyranny to cause others to suffer on the continent of Africa. But I do think we ought to continue to speak clearly about the decisions he has made. And I do.

Which is all it appears we are going to do for now. Speak clearly about the decisions he has made.

Amnesty for Immigrants

Via Instapundit, Mickey Kaus finds:
"Yes, I am coming for the Bush amnesty program." That's what one illegal immigrant reportedly told a U.S. border patrol questioner in a survey the Bush administration understandably failed to complete. About 45 percent of those questioned "said that 'amnesty rumors' influenced their decision to cross the border illegally," according to WaPo's report.
OK, this with a report I heard on the radio yesterday that they caught Iraqi's trying to come into the country illegally, brings me to one of my problems with Bush's domestic policies.
It's OK to be concerned about the illegal immigration problem. As I wrote about some yesterday in my post on Jim Wallis, as a Christian I expect Bush to be concerned for those poor folks coming over the border. But if you are the President of the United States, you also need to be concerned that creating a situation where, if Bush carries through what he talked about during his campaign, all the people who successfully snuck across the border get to stay and have legal status, which is a tremendous security risk. What kind of message does that send to terrorists around the world hoping to get us where it really hurts: at home.
I imagine with a promise like that, terrorists are doing everything they can to get here before Bush proclaims amnesty for all immigrants.
Really, the porous border is countering any gains we make in homeland security.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Child Abuse legislation in Oregon

We have an abnormal amount of legislation running through Salem right now regarding Child Abuse.

There's Senate bill 203, which deals with the statute of limitations in reporting child abuse. It states that the statute applies only to when the offense is reported to the Department of Human Services, instead of some other government entity (if you told your teacher, it counted). It clears up a loophole that was exposed in a court case last year.

Senate bill 755 requires schools to release disciplinary records of employees convicted of certain crimes, including sexual offenses. Also requires school workers to report possible child abuse by other employees. Seems ridiculous that this law is required, but it is. The number of teacher sex abuse cases in Oregon is staggering, and this stuff still happens.

Senate bill 947 would require schools to withhold names of children or witnesses if releasing them would compromise their safety. Think about it. This one and the last one meant that the Schools COULDN'T release the records of sex offenders, but they had to release the names of children in fishy situations?

Senate bill 749 requires schools to train employees to spot child abuse.

House bill 2485 makes it a child abuse offense to expose a child to cooking of meth (it's an amendment. The bill does a whole host of things).

Senate Bill 895 and House bill 2335 both deal with how the Dept of Health and Human Services investigates child abuse. You can tell this bill was instigated by organizations that are sympathetic to parents. They both deal with requiring social workers to inform parents of their rights and what any possible allegations are when an investigation is initiated.
The bills are getting opposition from the District Attorneys Association, and considering its influence, the requirement to inform the parents of the allegations upon first contact appears to be dead.
An effort is underway to modify the bills so that at least the social workers to be trained about the rights of families in these situations.

My information on Bill 895 and 2335 comes from OCEAN.

Jim Wallis, Christian Democrat

Jim Wallis is the founder of the online magazine Sojourners, which is a liberal Christian organization. He is a registered Democrat and a very vocal Christian activist.
I became interested in what he was about when a friend of mine sent me this interview with Mother Jones, and the PDF of the first chapter of Wallis' new book, "God's Politics: Why the Right gets it wrong, and the Left doesn't get it at all." I was told that a youth member of our church was told to read this book and how it's shaping his political views. Therefore, I'm interested.

After reading the interview, the chapter of his book, and another interview in Christianity Today, I would have to say that I generally agree with his basic philosophies regarding exercising our faith in the public arena and wanting our values to influence our government and culture.
I agree that Christianity is not owned by the Right wing of the Republican party, and that the Right has abused this claim during election time.
I agree that abortion and gay marriage are not the only moral issues of our time that Christianity speaks to.
I admire his mission to make Christian values a part of the Democratic party again, as a voice in the party, instead of the way it is marginalized currently.

We separate on many things as well though. I have a view of government that is basically libertarian, in that I think the federal government should stay out of many of societies arenas. This includes Wallis' pet issue, poverty.
It is part of the Christian life to be concerned about the poor and to help them, show them God's love. I disagree with those who equate Christian social aid with government programs. We should be giving from our heart, not forced to give via tax dollars.
Having said that, not all government programs are all bad, and there are other things that government can do to help the poor. But these include things that conservatives often push, like tax reform and a business environment that allows the economic growth to create jobs.
And remember, some people are poor because the choose to be.

I am skeptical about Wallis' views on what the Bible says about poverty as well. Jesus talked about poor people in the sense that they were blessed, and loving them was a way to share the love of Jesus Christ. I don't recall the Bible commanding us to create social programs to train them in marketable skills.

His writing is thoughtful and sometimes insightful in these areas. He has some justifiable concerns about how religion is crafted by politicians and made into a partisan issue.
But his statements in the interview left a bad taste in my mouth. He is not very thoughtful when questioned directly, and tends to spout out leftist talking points regarding the Bush administration. Really, I would expect a man of faith to be interested in truth. So I was a little disappointed in some of his views on the current administration. I'm not a Bush apologist, but I don't often toss blind allegations around either.

And it sounds like the left might not accept what he has to say anyway.

Monday, June 27, 2005

Satellite intelligence

Another post here regarding an article I read in the magazine Imaging Notes. This magazine's target audience is the remote sensing professional, or the GIS professional, but some of the articles are quite interesting in their own right.
There was one in the latest issue (which still isn't on the website, so no link) that talked about how the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), and environmental group in DC, did a project to create a database of imagery of North Korea.
They used cheap SPOT imagery (15 meter pixel size) to locate suspect areas, and then got IKONOS and QuickBird (sub meter resolution) of the areas. They created an inventory of Uranium processing sites, military bases and airfields, underground hangers and underground caves hiding planes and submarines, and political prison camps.
The intelligence community might know more than what the NRDC makes public, but the information that can be obtained privately, like the NRDC has, isn't much worse that what the government gets. The extra information that the government intelligence has, it gets through experience and on the ground spy work, not better satellite information.
If you think otherwise, then you've been watching too many movies.

In the 1998 movie Enemy of the State, Will Smith plays a Washington lawyer pursued by rogue agents of the National Security Agency (NSA). Shouting realistic-sounding phrases ("requesting keyhole satellite visual tasking!"), a bunch of unshaven, twenty-something techno-nerds use a satellite high above the nation'’s capital to follow Smith's character through the streets of Washington. On full-color video screens, government agents see him running and jumping along rooftops.

The people who build and operate America'’s satellites would love it if satellites could do that. But they can'’t. Such satellites exist only in the movies, where the laws of physics don't apply, and satellite technology owes more to Star Trek than to Silicon Valley and Lockheed Martin. Satellites have appeared in numerous American movies, but they'’re always portrayed as possessing capabilities far beyond anything that current satellites can do. Only rarely has Hollywood gotten close to portraying satellites as they actually operate or how the intelligence community really uses them.

If you want more info, read the article, but generally, the best government satellites can probably pick out a basketball, but reading the license plates on a car or identifying people is, at this stage, not possible.
Photogrametrists are highly skilled folk, who with training and experience can identify cars, types of buildings, and all kinds of things from slightly blurry overhead pictures. It can even then be quite challenging.

Timber Image vs. Reality

One of the things I commonly tell people is that the main reason that people really abhor clearcutting in our nations forests is because it's ugly, not because it's environmentally unsound. You can argue that all you want, but most of the current restrictions on clearcutting prevent mass soil erosion and habitat degradation.
We can all agree that clearcuts, however, don't look as pretty as unbroken tracts of forested land. However, many times people just don't understand what they are even looking at. Take this clearing for instance.
Appearances can be deceiving as well. When one crosses the Sexton Summit and drops into the Rogue Valley from the north, the mountains on the left (east) look rather bald as if they'd been logged. Not so.
Turns out that one of the mountains was burned in a fire, and is currently re-planted, and the other, named Red Mountain, has too much iron (thus the red soil) and magnesium and not enough other minerals to support trees.
The serpentine soils of Red Mountain fool many people into thinking it was logged. The sparsely vegetated mountain doesn't make the prettiest view several miles off my back porch, but it's natural...except for the interstate on its flank. The Kalmiopsis Wilderness has lots of serpentine soils.

Bono praises Bush

Via Powerline:

This is U2's Bono on Meet the Press yesterday:

Well, I think [President Bush has] done an incredible job, his administration, on AIDS. And 250,000 Africans are on antiviral drugs. They literally owe their lives to America. In one year that's being done. … Yes, there's a lot of pressure on President Bush. If he, though, in his second term, is as bold in his commitments to Africa as he was in the first term, he indeed deserves a place in history in turning the fate of that continent around.

Supreme Court finishes season

Like a bad TV Drama, the court finishes up the season until October, or USSC sweeps month. Today they issued the last decisions of the 2004 term, with the 10 commandments cases taking front and center.
It was a split decision, as they voted against the Kentucky displays, but upheld the Texas displays. Seeing as how the Kentucky displays were included with a display of 11 documents forming the foundation of the legal system, I don't know what Breyer/Ginsburg/ are using as a litmus for what is OK and what is not.
The decision allows the court some leeway to determine the appropriateness of displays on a case-by-case basis.
Interesting interpretation, but might explain it.
Eugene Volokh thinks that the decisions the court makes are more divisive than the issue itself.
Scotusblog has all the decisions, and comments, for today's rulings.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Micro Satellites

Just a little break from all the politics and happenings in the world. All the other blogs have those covered. I would like to take a walk into my professional world and talk about micro satellites.
Micro Satellites are small commercial satellites, made for smaller, third world countries that can't afford their own satellite program or one of those big mambo satellites that takes detailed, multi spectral images of the world every 12 hours.
There was an article in a magazine called Imaging Notes, but they don't have this month's articles up yet. I don't know when they do; probably when the next issue comes out, right?
From the beginning, Surrey Space Technologies, Limited (SSTL) has struck out on a very different course from those (larger satellite) companies, successfully marketing its concept of an inexpensive Disaster Monitoring Constellation (DMC) to Algeria, Nigeria, and Turkey. Together with the U.K. owned Topsat smallsat, these four satellites can image the entire world every day in three spectral bands at 32 meter resolution.
But that's not all.
Part of SSTL's success is its provision of considerable technological know-how to these countries. Technicians from the customer countries work alongside SSTL engineers, learning how to build and operate smallsats, to operate the control software and systems and to use the data for applications in their counties.
Very interesting. SSTL, as well as the other company currently competing with them, SunSpace in South Africa.
SunSpace is an interesting story, as the satellite and space profession and academic world was doing well before apartheid ended. The connections to the old government have, politically, made continuing efforts difficult.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Hobbes, Locke and Bush

Great article about the differences in the philosophies of John Locke, Thomas Hobbes and President George Bush.
The basic premise is that Hobbes, thinking and writing about the time of the Westphalian peace agreement, when most countries were ruled by monarchs and were basically done with war for a while, and instead of trying to change the regimes of nations around them, their desire was to leave everyone else alone, even if changing them was for their own good. The point is to recognize the government of a nation, no matter what the composition of that government is.
Locke's writings indicate that a government is illegitimate if the rule does not come directly from the will of the people.
Our tendency has been to quietly accept the rule of whatever power is in charge, in the Hobbes tradition. But Bush seems to not accept that and is pushing for change in countries where democracy does not exist or hold sway.
Read the whole thing.

The Political Power of Public Broadcasting

The threat of major federal funding cuts to public broadcasting is now over, thanks to a 284-140 vote in the House restoring the funding. The big losers, instead, will be thinks like education (NCLB), rural health care, and low income schools.
It seems that Bush demanded a limit to spending this year, which requires freezing spending on many programs, but cutting it for some (the above mentioned). As much as the left screams when programs like this get cut, I wonder how much good they do for the dollar, and why the federal government has to be the one to tackle the problems.
It's like here in Oregon, when some legislators try to limit the budget to reasonable levels, those who support higher levels of spending fight back by threatening to cut vital programs, like chopping days off the school calendar, or taking out inner city hospices for mental patients, instead of actually trying to cut fat from the budget.

PBS got to keep it's 100 million, 4% of it's annual budget. I'm a big fan of PBS, mostly because I have kids, but I often enjoy the programming as well. As my wife and I decided years ago that we would never get cable, the only place to get nature shows and cultural programming (like ballet, yes I watched Swan Lake the other day, you got a problem with that?) is channel 10.
However, when you get Emails from friends passing on a get-out-the-message and petition to save the funding, I almost have to root for the cut. I'm glad they retained their funding, but would like to see them get funding from other sources, so this kind of political wrangling doesn't need to happen.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Oregon School Budget again

The state budget for the school system is again on the rocks, as legislators can't agree on what the budget should be. This is the kind of thing that forces them into extended sessions and costs us lots of money while they are trying to decide where lots of other money should go.
I'm not going to go into the merits of the main parts of the bill itself, as there is some trouble between Democrats and Republicans as to how much the schools should get. The idea from Republicans is that there should be a ceiling imposed so that the budget doesn't get too out of control, and the Democrats insists that the ceiling is too low. Yadda, yadda, whatever. Same old disagreement.
This point hit me right away.
In a rare defeat for her leadership, Minnis, R-Wood-Village, pulled her plan back from a floor vote when fellow Republicans balked at a provision tucked into the bill that would let Portland schools extend a tax that is set to expire June 30.
If I were a Representative, I would have stomped on that bill too. What right do state legislators have to determine if Portland can extend a school tax set to expire this year? The local elected officials might want that to happen, but it's really up to the voters.
A) It's infuriating when elected government officials try to create law to regulate lower levels of government when they are not supposed to (like the feds do all the time).
B) It's doubly maddening when elected officials try to legislate what should only be enacted by popular vote.

The Bourne Identity

I just finished reading Robert Ludlum's original tale of intrigue, written in the early 80s. I saw the movie a couple of years ago, I think, and I really liked it. However, if you have not read the book, whether you've seen the movie or not, I cannot recommend it enough.
Ludlum is a master storyteller of suspense. He keeps the action and tension up through the whole of 500 pages. I could not put it down (at least not willingly). And it is nothing like the movie, really. The only similarities are that the main character is a highly trained killing machine, and he has lost his memory. The rest was changed in the movie, presumably to make the story easier to tell within two hours.
Thumbs way, way up.

Burning what the Flag stands for

The House of Reps just passed an amendment to the Constitution outlawing desecration of the flag by burning it in protest. It has yet to get through the Senate.
As conservative as I am, and as high in regard as I hold the flag of the United States and what it stands for, the true meaning of the flag is what it symbolizes. It symbolizes a country where the rights of the individual tend to outweigh the rights of the government to regulate them.
Do I respect people who think that burning the flag is a constructive method of protest? No. But outlawing it, seems to me, is against what the first amendment was about.
As much as I rant about the Democrats and how reactionary and irrational they can be, the Republicans can be just as reactionary. Michael Totten agrees.

Instapundit notes that Volokh posted last year on why an amendment on flag burning is a terrible idea.

Court vs. Private Property Rights

Once again, the court is taking a stance against the average citizen. Like my post yesterday about what line will they cross before we take action against our own legislators, I'll now include those crusties sitting on the highest court in the land. What's going on over there in the far away land of DC.
You might think I mean far away, as in across the country, but I'm thinking they are farther away than that. They have separated their thinking from the rest of the country, so they might as well be on Mars.
Once I saw the byline, that the justices thought that the needs of the city to revitalize an area, even if the area is going to be owned and run by a private company, outweighed the rights of the average homeowner, I said to myself, 'I bet I could name the justices who were for and against that decision.'
And I was right: Stevens, Kennedy, Ginsburg, Souter and Breyer.

As a result, cities now have wide power to bulldoze residences for projects such as shopping malls and hotel complexes in order to generate tax revenue.

Writing for the court, Justice John Paul Stevens said local officials, not federal judges, know best in deciding whether a development project will benefit the community. States are within their rights to pass additional laws restricting condemnations if residents are overly burdened, he said.

Stevens is beginning to make me sick to my stomach. Where's the limit on government power? Why is tax revenue more important than individual rights?
Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, who has been a key swing vote on many cases before the court, issued a stinging dissent. She argued that cities should not have unlimited authority to uproot families, even if they are provided compensation, simply to accommodate wealthy developers.
You think that the more liberal justices would be more in line with the common man, and against the tyranny of the wealthy developer. Not so.
Orin Kerr says 'No word on whether they simultaneously announced the seizure to be in "interstate commerce." But I would check the footnotes just in case.'
If you have the time, the opinions are here.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

More on Gay Marriage

Joe Katzman continues with an attempt at reaching common ground between proponents and opponents of gay marriage. He covers this by listing things that most people will agree should be part of any marriage in our society. A marriage must be...
1. Exclusive
2. Interests of Children over adults
3. Loving/Kind
4. Stable
5. Responsible
6. Unselfish
Now, one could argue that many of these are covered under the "responsible" banner. One of his commenters makes that an issue.
Joe continues to add some other, more specific, items that he thinks apply, like real legal penalties for adultery at the time of divorce, changing legislation to erode the "no-fault" divorce, tougher on deadbeat dads and changes to the adoption laws.

However, as much as we taught the "exclusive" value, once you vary from the man-woman union as a definition for marriage, you open yourself up to the other possibilities. You can scream "exclusive" all you want.
Also, there is the issue of whether we should be letting gay unions raise children. I will quote from one commenter whom I mostly agree with.
It's at this point that I think that homosexuality begins breaking down. Up until this point, we
could argue that a lifelong monogamous relationship between two men (or women) is consensual, responsible, and exclusive - hence moral. But, here we first start getting shaky. If the relationship is monogamous and lifelong between two people of the same sex, clearly the adults have placed their own interests over that of any possible children - first for the simple fact that there are no possible children. That in itself is not enough to condemn, because we wouldn't want to condemn a sterile couple obviously, but it does indicate that the relationship is a wee bit out of the norms we are assuming. But going further, assuming that for some reason the couple adopts, the same sex couple has two problems. First, that the couple will contain no partner who could provide to a child of the opposite sex a direct role-model, nor could the couple provide to a child of the same sex a close relationship with someone of the opposite sex. Both cases seem to me to be unhealthy, and so unless the homosexual couple forswears the raising of a child I feel they are placing their own sexuality on a higher level than the needs of a child. But, presume for a second that they do forswear the raising of a child. Superficially, this may seem healthy, but the unhealthiness of it becomes clear when we realize that no society could approve of all of its members adopting such a lifestyle. It would be cultural and genetic suicide, and in places like France we are seeing the consequences of lifestyles that place ones own comfort and leisure ahead of the needs of children.
I suppose that it is still not enough to sway the most liberal masses.
I found the last couple of sentences interesting. If no society could approve of all of its members adopting such a lifestyle, then how can we let allow any to adopt that lifestyle. I think that the commenter is firmly in the 'homosexuality is a choice not a genetic orientation' camp, which I am also. One of the more snarky comments in the post yesterday told all of us that we'd be sorry when science proves us wrong, that it's biologically ingrained in certain people. Perhaps, but at this point it's not, and I'll wager that it won't be. At the very least, brain functionality does operate differently, but that's psychological, not genetic, and if it's a psychological or emotional condition of the individual, then the sentences above apply anyway.

When do we throw the B***ards out?

I'm getting real tired of this. Why is it that the ego of our Congressmen is so wide and so vast that they can't even stay focused on what we are paying them to accomplish.
Yes, remember? We pay their salaries. Where does the line exist when a Senator just spends too much time with unproductive vitriol and has to answer to a mature public wanting reason and accountability to what they've actually done, and not what they say they've done (or what their opponents say they've done).
"More than anything else, these statements are a reflection of this polarized and poisonous political time in which we live," said Robert Schmuhl, a professor of politics and communications at the University of Notre Dame. "It seems as though every outrageous statement is matched by a similarly outrageous reaction, which only amplifies the rhetoric and creates more of a problem for people trying to understand politics today."
And in case you think that the above "time in which we live" is just because of Bush, you have long term memory loss.
I think that the statements by Sen. Durbin last week were horrible. But at the same time, throwing the same back at the Democrats, or saying things like, "like moths to a flame, Democrats can't help themselves when it comes to denigrating and demonizing Christians" (Rep John Hostettler R-Ind) isn't real productive either.
Also, I'm not sure if hammering Durbin for his lame apology is a worthwhile enterprise either. Sure, it was lame. But you expected something else from a Senator?

Update: I noticed that Sen. McCain accepted his apology.
However, Joe Katzman doesn't see Durbin's speech as an apology, and notes that people are not taking this seriously enough, as soldiers in the field consider rhetoric like this to be life-threatening.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Christianity and Gay Marriage

Joe Katzman has a post where he makes the every-so-true, but not often enough heard comment that "It's possible not to approve of somebody's choices and to hold fast to that moral stand - but still treat them with love, respect, and understanding as a human being."
I couldn't agree more, and if you just look at the first few responses in the comments section of that post you will see some good examples of people who really get that concept.
In fact some are so good that I don't feel too much need to comment on this myself.

Ever gay out there can expect my friendship, my sympathy, my compassion, and if I can offer it my aid. I can do no less. My sins are as great as they, and yet I was - and am - forgiven. I understand what its like to be broken inside. I understand what it is like to fail. I understand what its like to be lonely and rejected. My Savior understands these things too.

There may be some path out there which starts with getting approval and acceptance and doesn't involve change. It might seem like an easy path to walk on. It's easy to think that what we really want is just for someone to say "That's OK." everytime something happens. I don't know where that path goes and I fear to find out. There is only one Way, one Truth, and one Life.

You can have my unconditional love, as best as I am able in broken failing self. You can have my Father's unconditional love, which never fails. What you can't have is unconditional approval, and until people realize that unconditional approval isn't love, then everybodies hearts are going to stay broken.

Move on, though, as the discussion quickly degrades after a few comments.
Sure, there are probably Christians out there who harbor a certain amount of hate for gays, and there are definitely gays who feel like Christians hate them because of the rhetoric. But the above is much closer to the truth about how Christians should be approaching this issue.
My pastor, while practically breaking down in tears one day, admonished our congregation with the words, "Perhaps the reason that the homosexual community thinks we don't love them is that by all appearances, we don't." (Paraphrase).
I wrote a little bit about the issue of Gay Marriage a while back. This discussion doesn't change a thing. The issue of whether we should just let society OK what we consider sinful is not cut and dry, despite the fact that we can love gay people. Society and government represents who we are as a people, and as a people, Christians disapprove.

Monday, June 20, 2005

A couple of elections

We've had a couple of important elections this week.
In Lebanon, the Opposition party (opposed to Syria) won a major victory in the 4th of 4 elections re-establishing the parliament, and now have a majority there.
In Iran, the official line from Tehran is that the elections went well, and there was a 60% turnout. But Dan Darling disputes that.

Earthquake tracker!

While at Antler's site earlier I noted he found the USGS Earthquake Map site. This map is updated constantly, and you can see where all the recorded quakes have been in the last hour, day and week. California has dozens in the 1-3 range. Below the threshold of detection for you and me, but still there.
Kinda makes you want to run off and move to California, doesn't it? Not.
Note that Mt. St. Helens had activity this week. Did anyone in the area notice that there was a plume over the mountain on Saturday?

Supersize my minimum wage

Via Instapundit, Steve Antler has a look at Morgan Spurlock's new film about the trials of trying to live on minimum wage in an unfamiliar city. Spurlock's aim was to push the need for higher minimum wages, but there are too many holes in his film, which Antler discusses.
First and foremost all those minimum wage jobs are scarcer than the producers apparently thought. All the easily-found jobs pay more than minimum wage. Spurlock signs on with a temp agency at $7/hr; his companion Jamieson dickers her wage down to minimum so as to not cheat the show's premise.
Spurlock, it seems, had to try pretty hard to find a job at minimum wage and without some sort of health program.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Democrats and the Military

Bill Roggio has a great post over at WindsOfChange that addresses what the Democrats need to do in order to win over the military and convince Americans that they are serious about foreign policy and terrorism, and protecting this country.
It's a complete 180 folks.

Zimbabwe = Darfur

Things are getting pretty bad in Zimbabwe, so much so that Roger Bate thinks they are just as bad as the genocide occurring in Darfur. Things are also striking a rough parallel to what happened in Rwanda. Although it seems like there is more driving of people out and making them homeless than outright killing. But there's some of that too.
Are we concerned about it? Is the government, the defender of the free world, doing anything about this either?
As President Bush met five African leaders this week, one topic should have been at the forefront of the discussion -- Zimbabwe. Three of the leaders, from Mozambique, Botswana and Namibia, are from countries that directly border the despotic regime of Robert Mugabe, but none of them has had the courage to voice consistent dissent at the regime that has overseen widespread death and destruction. While understanding the requirement for quiet diplomacy, surely the time has come for stronger words and action -- with a third of the population dead or fleeing the country.
He makes a call for a UN resolution, just like for Darfur. I'm sure that'll be a GREAT relief to the peoples of Zimbabwe. Not.

Cambodian School Violence

Cambodia is desperately trying to remake itself into a tourist attraction, after decades of violence. The city of Siam Reap, with it's ancient temples, is part of that tourist draw. So it's unfortunate that they had a bit of violence against kids, as a few gunmen took over a school there and held kids hostage, with the intent of killing the children of someone they had a grudge against.
Hundreds of people crowded around the school Thursday, watching the events unfold. Police grabbed the hostage-takers as they tried to escape, and onlookers and family members kicked and beat them on the ground.
Sometimes you wish American police would allow that to happen before taking the slimeballs downtown (I see NUTHINGK!)
Perhaps Cambodians are trying to create an American atmosphere, with all the school violence we've had over here, perhaps they think we'd be more comfortable if they did things just like we do over here. They just want to be like us, right? First lesson guys: it's a student that needs to flip out and kill his peers, not revengeful adult gunmen.

Nate Jaqua

A lot of you may not care about this, but as a big soccer fan I am thrilled about this particular player. Jaqua is a native Oregonian, growing up in Eugene and playing for the University of Portland Pilots. And he is now having a breakout year for the Chicago Fire. He is also getting looks from European scouts.
Soccer is very popular up here in the northwest, but we seem to get ignored by the major soccer powers that be in the USA. The closest major league team is San Jose. This despite the fact that Portland was, twice, the location for Women's World Cup games.
When European teams come to America to show off during the summer they rarely, if ever, come over to the west. They typically show up in New York or Chicago, or Boston, and then go home.
ESPN and Fox are increasing soccer coverage at a painfully slow rate (and yet I can catch golf or infomercials on Saturday afternoons without fail).
What I'd like to say is that it would be cool if Oregonians made a big deal out of people like Jaqua, but I could probably ask 100 people on the street who he is and maybe one would know. Yet everyone knows who Joey Harrington is.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

The Church and Land Use Regs

Oregon legislators are trying to pass a bill that would exempt churches, or other places of worship, from most of the land use laws that inhibit others from developing land as they see fit. I assume we are talking about Republican legislators here.

Republican Rep. Mac Sumner of Molalla introduced the bill to give greater flexibility to churches that want to build new churches for expanding congregations. Sumner is an elder at the Molalla Christian Church, which wants to build a new church on 10 acres of land zoned for exclusive farm use near Molalla.

Critics said the bill goes much too far and would allow religious groups to put various facilities on any property they own, without any regard for land-use planning rules.

Roguepundit has some words on this, but I'd like to chime in too. I agree with Rogue-man that the bill is a bit too broad, and even Sumner said that the bill needed work before bringing it before the Senate. This bill has been in and out of committees for a while, why does it still need narrowing? It's pretty general right now. You can read it here.
Considering the makeup of the Senate, I'm sure this bill will not pass as worded.
I understand the frustration that churches have when they want to expand, but are having problems with that because of existing land use regulations. My church is in the city, and would love to convert one of it's rental properties into more parking, but since that takes tax dollars away from the city (as the house is considered a private residence and taxable) we encounter lots of resistance.
But it seems like overkill to propose a bill that exempts churches from all land use planning entirely. I don't think that all land use regulations should be bypassed in the name of religious freedom.
We need to strike a happy medium when it comes to where we site a number of types of religious facilities. Some churches are like auditoriums or convention centers when it comes to factors like size, traffic considerations, noise production, etc. The poor siting of such facilities can have a number of adverse consequences.
I agree. It's not going to serve the religious community well if we add yet another point of contention with the public. I think that Churches can and will find ways to expand and grow without embittering the public, more specifically the left side of the political spectrum, any more than they already do. If you think you need to accomplish expansion by battling the political system instead of trusting that God will create the opportunities for growth without the battle, then perhaps we need to check our faith meter.
The federal law passed in 2000 doesn't seem to be helping churches overcome the states strict land use laws either.

Under the U.S. Religious Land use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000, local jurisdictions cannot impose land-use restrictions that place a "substantial burden" on churches.
The Oregon Supreme Court said West Linn's denial of the church's request did not amount to a substantial burden, even though it created "several adverse consequences for the church's effort to build a meeting house." The court said any hardship likely would be "relatively short-lived."

Obviously there are some land use issues that Churches shouldn't have to fight, on a case by case basis I'm sure that some churches could be allowed to expand. One example might be a suburban church who wants to expand onto land zoned as farm land, even thought the land in question is not arable.
An opposite example, though, would be a church wanting to expand in a solid urban neighborhood, but the local noise and disturbance ordinances say that they can't. I don't think that churches can deny that the larger they get, the more activity they generate, even during the week. Local ordinances put in place to control the amount of activity allowed in neighborhoods include church activities too. I'm not sure why churches should be excluded from this sort of zoning and law.

Monday, June 13, 2005

MS China

Michael Totten notes that Microsoft is kissing up to China's Communist party in an effort to improve its market share without any trouble from the authorities.
Attempts to input words in Chinese such as "democracy" prompted an error message from the site: "This item contains forbidden speech. Please delete the forbidden speech from this item." Other phrases banned included the Chinese for "demonstration", "democratic movement" and "Taiwan independence.

There’s only one reason Microsoft would do this sort of thing: money. They want their products sold in China without hassle from the regime. So the way to make them stop collaborating with oppressive regimes is to dent in their profits in this country. Just boycott MSN Spaces. And tell Microsoft why.

Oh, and here's a free hint to Chinese MSN Spaces users: It's spelled "d3m0cr@cy."


MSM, Downing Street Memo, Review

I got an Email from a friend asking about the Downing Street Memo, which seems to get a lot of play in England from the left as some sort of horrible proof that Bush is just a big fascist who was going to invade Iraq no matter what. This prompted me to review some things about the media and leftists attitudes toward Bush. This is by no means a complete review, but I was just answering the Email.
Here's the Mail.
In an effort (probably hopeless) to educate me politically, my
brother-in-law has introduced me to the Downing Street Memo, which I'm
sure you politically savvy types know all about.

He and his Democrat cohorts are upset over the implication that the
Bush administration had already decided to go to war with Iraq at a
time when publicly they were claiming war would be a 'last resort' and
they were still pursuing diplomatic options. The memo also states they
were trying to find legal means to justify this decision, knowing that
no one would back them for merely the desire for a regime change (I
hope I'm getting this right).

I snooped around the 'Net a bit and so far, every version of the memo
I've read has been the same, which strengthens the possibility of its
legitimacy, and can't find any denials of its legitimacy. It's a big
deal in the UK, but doesn't seem to be getting much coverage here.
Why is that?... if it's really so damning to Bush you'd think the media
would be splashing it all over the place. I find it confusing that my
Republican friends think the media avoids news that strengthens their
positions and my Democratic friends express the same complaint in
It does strengthen it's legitimacy, but I don't think that Democrats, or leftists more specifically, will get much out of this, which is probably why the press isn't pushing it. The tendency for "memos" to be routed out by the internet community, ruining the reputation of some reporter is all too fresh in the minds of many American journalists.
The memo is pretty dry and neutral in it's subject matter and tone. I think the implications the writer came up with are his own. It's easy to see why the US had already made it's decision. Diplomacy, up until that point, with Iraq had failed time and time again. Remember, we had been playing this game with Saddam for 10 years, and I think that the Bush administration made up it's mind and then played the diplomacy game in order to keep Saddam guessing as to our intentions.
Leftists who think that we didn't give diplomacy a chance have long term memory loss.

We had no patience with the UN route because it became evident (and becomes more evident with hindsight) that the UN would not have acted no matter what. France and Russia, veto holding members of the UNSC, had under the table dealings with Saddam and would never pull the trigger themselves.
A last minute attempt was made to convince the UN that it had to act because all available intelligence said that Saddam still had WMD, which for the UN meant that he would have been defying UN resolutions left and right, and would have been enough reason for the UN to intervene.
But that certainly wasn't the only reason. I believe I have heard no less than 5, but as many as 11 or 12, depending on how you group them, reasons for invading and forcing a regime change in Iraq. One point that liberals purposefully forget is that Bush was trumpeting the freedom of Iraqis and for a democratic Iraq far before the invasion, as one of his reasons for going down there. It was well understood that Saddam was a brutal dictator and frequently tortured and killed many of his own people.
Sure there are countries just as bad as Iraq regarding treatment of internal peoples. Sure there are countries that have weapons we would rather they didn't. Sure there are countries not in good standing with the UN. Sure there are countries that house and finance terrorists. Iraq just had the good fortune of being all of those. It was also a great staging point for region wide regime change. Iraq is kind of central in the Arab world and is allowing pressure on many countries to change. The US being in both Iraq and Afghanistan is putting pressure on Iran to change. Iraq's liberation is putting pressure on Syria and Jordan and the other Arab countries to change or suffer similar fates. Invading Iraq was strategic.
I've just given 5 reasons for the invasion above.

The last issue, about the press, is an on-going one. Republicans and Democrats sometimes lose perspective about what is moderate and what is "just reporting the news." Most of the time, I think that the media tends to attack the party in power, and during the Clinton years the Democrats could argue that the media was slanted against the President.
But not as much as I think it is now. The hate shown to the sitting President by the left has seemed to reach a new high, and I think that the media is trying to play off that. Perhaps because it makes them more money, or perhaps because the think they can get away with it in the current climate.
It's becoming evident just how much the press invents facts and slants news coverage, more than it ever has been, because of the depth of the internet and the rise of independent pundits in the internet universe (blogs are the main thrust of that phenomenon). Like never before, the facts of certain events are just a Google search away, so one can look at several news accounts of a story, including personal accounts of people with Email, internet access and blog sites. And one can see where certain journalists are shorting the public on those facts or changing them.
Often it's not the journalists, but the editors. I have a few thoughts on this which make the press out to be much less dastardly than some would make them out to be, though.

One is that newspapers are basically businesses, and the bleeds/leads mantra still applies. Doom and gloom, and attacking politicians, is basically thought, eternally, to sell papers, while good news is ignored. I'm not sure I see an end to this, as shock value does indeed sell. But the issue has been pretty much all doom, and reality is quite different, and that fact is causing people to notice that there's only one perspective coming out of the media, so people make their own conclusions as to why that is.

Two is that reporters and journalists are not the investigative gumshoes they once were. As media outlets have become more business oriented and bottom line driven, reporters are often sent to where the action is, many times without the background to adequately report on what they are covering. The old-time "beat" reporter is replaced with an group of reporters that migrate to where the big stories are. This is done to save money, as you don't need as many journalists. But the cost is that the reporters don't have the background knowledge to understand what they are reporting. They have to substitute their own biases and assumptions to fill in the gaps and analyze the situations in order to be able to write a complete story.
As an aside to that, I do think that reporters are generally more liberal than conservative. I donÂ’t think that they purposefully slant the news coverage all the time, but because of point two that just happens anyway. Conservative journalists and publications probably have this unconscious bias too.

Three, another friend sent me a great article on just how news gets to us from Iraq. It's a fascinating chain of events, and underscores the fact that bad news generally gets reported because that's all the American reporters see, as they rarely roam from the security of their hotels in the green zone. They just pick up military event logs, which tend to be dominated by reports of fighting or roadside bombs.

So these things, plus a world of evidence, tend to make me think that the main stream media is tilting to the left. Currently.
I have seen that people on the left have really lost perspective on where the middle is. I think of Bush as being moderate on many topics. On some, like judges and abortion, gay marriage and the like, he is very conservative. On government programs, and democracy promotion world wide he is quite more liberal than conservative politicians previous to 9/11. Many of the programs he advocates and the foreign policy he is promoting were very similar to Clinton's same positions and ideas.
On the whole I would call him a moderate. But of course to the left he is a stark raving fascist Christian. Overall I see the Democrats and the left intolerant to opposing viewpoints, more so than the Republicans.
I hear the opposite from Democrats about Bush, because Bush has tended, over the course of his administration, to let go people who don't seem to agree with him and hold close those who do.
That's not uncommon for Presidents, it's just that they typically do that around election periods, so it's less noticeable. Bush kept several people from Clinton's administration, and then later realize it was a dumb thing to do and started cleaning house. It appeared that he was just being intolerant of people with opposing viewpoints.
In some ways that's also true, but from what I understand of Bush, it's not that he won't listen to opposing viewpoints, it's just that he's not wishy washy about his decisions. Some cabinet members and politicians aren't comfortable with that. They've spent their lives developing decisions around the results of polls. Bush is not like that.

OK, I've gone on long enough.

A reader sends this additional perspective on why the administration might have appeared to already have made a decision.
It seems to me that the thing the Dems are fussing about is that, while
still going thru the UN, and laying down ultimatums to Saddam, the
administration (US) had very little faith that these measures would convince
Saddam to change his ways. It is not a shock that, given the long and
fruitless history of the UN trying to get Saddam to follow world mandate,
both militarily and diplomatically, the Bush administration, thinking war
was likely, would plan accordingly.
Indeed. There was Iraq invasion planning going on during the Clinton administration. She also sends this link to an article that addresses the lack of a smoking gun quality to this memo story - with a look at the differences in American and British use of language to express meanings of things like the bit about "fixing" the intelligence.

Friday, June 10, 2005

Oregon Health Care

As I was wrapping up my workday, I got a message from my friendly state representative about a forum coming up (which I can't attend, they don't make concessions for us working stiffs) in Salem regarding some bills designed to help folks with health care costs.
Now, my representative is a Democrat, so I read his note with that in mind.

He lists off a number of bills running before the Senate and House, so lets go through each of them.
(Note: at this point, I'm working on his descriptions of the bills. If there are any nuances or details that he left out, or that one could get by reading the actual bills, I don't have time to go there today).
Senate Bill 329, which would expand a popular state program that provides discounts on prescription drugs for low-income and uninsured Oregonians. The bill opens up the Oregon Prescription Drug Program to enrollees in health benefits plans, to people of any age with gross incomes up to 300 percent of the federal poverty level, and to businesses and organizations that provide health insurance to their employees. The bill would enable more Oregonians to take advantage of state buying power to obtain better prices for prescription drugs. It sets a maximum enrollment in the program of 250,000 individuals. The Senate approved the bill last month, but it has failed to advance out of committee in the House.
OK, at first it sounds a lot like Bush's prescription drug plan. Which I opposed. I did notice that the general gist is that all people covered by the bill will get to purchase drugs through the state program, using the states buying power. I'm not sure what that means in reality. If it means that enrollees buy drugs at the same rate as the state, that sounds OK. But if it means that the state is increasing funding for drugs for the less advantaged, then I'm not OK.
Senate Bill 501, which requires health insurers to report certain information to the state in a format that allows policy makers and the public to compare insurers more easily. The information includes the number of members, trends in premiums, administrative costs, net income, and surpluses and reserves. The Senate passed the bill in May, but the House has taken no final action.

Senate Bill 1040, which would require hospitals to report specific costs to the state, allowing comparisons of costs at different hospitals. Among its goals is making hospital costs more understandable to consumers and insurance companies. The Senate passed the bill in May, but the House Budget Committee has not acted on it.
I lumped these two together for a reason. So what you are telling me is we need a law in order for health companies and hospitals to report certain information to the state because lawmakers don't understand how things in the health care industry work? Why do policy makers need to compare insurers more easily? It seems to me that insurance companies would be working in their best interests anyway by making that information easier to understand so that average consumers could make those comparisons.
I understand that legislators would like to help out the average joe understand why costs are so high, but passing laws and spending tax peoples money spending time doing something that private consumer organizations should be doing is not something I want to see passing the House.
House Bill 2817, which would require drug makers to disclose the nature, value and purposes of the gifts they give to physicians, hospitals and other health professionals. With healthcare costs skyrocketing, patients need this kind of information in order to be wise consumers, the billÂ’s supporters say. The House Health and Human Services Committee heard strong testimony in support of the bill, but the Committee closed down before it could act on it.
I'm actually less hostile toward this one. My mother, who has worked in the nursing industry for 30 years, has given me the impression that this is still a big problem, and one reason why doctors still prescribe more expensive medication than they need to.
House Bill 3496, which would require full funding of the state program to reduce tobacco use. The $7 million that the Budget Committees are proposing to allocate for the program is 53 percent less than the voters mandated.
This sounds like capital politics. I'm not going to comment on it.
Anyway. Curious to see if any of these are going to make it through this year. Stay tuned.

Bolivian Chaos

OK, so now we have a situation of near-civil war in Bolivia. If you haven't been watching (and I must admit it's only been on the peripheral scanner here) here's the general lowdown.
Bolivia is one of those third-world countries that just can't seem to get it down. On a list of the most unstable countries in the world you could list it right up there with Italy. They have had 200 revolutions in their 180 year history, more than one per year.
Couple that with geographically and ethnically distinct parts of the country and you can see that things can get hairy down there.

Over at Winds of Change a while back, they had a guest writer who gives a pretty reasonable background for the current tension.
He's also got a great map that illustrates the geographic separation that occurs in the country. The entire west half of the country is up in the Andes mountains, with the capital, La Paz, being in that half. The other half is the more flat, Amazon and Paraguay basins. Native American indians dominate the upper mountainous regions, while peoples of more European descent are the majority in the lowlands.
What exacerbates this is that the lowlands are where the natural resources are. Natural gas is plentiful in the basin, and is exported to Brazil and Argentina, of which it supplies over half of their gas needs.
For some time now, a lot of Bolivians have been conducting a "Gas War," blocking roads, demonstrating in cities like El Alto and Cochabamba to prevent the export of Bolivian natural gas by foreign companies. The fellow coordinating the protests is Evo Morales, a Marxist protégé of Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez, the leader of the MAS (Movement Towards Socialism) Party, and also the leader of coca leaf growers (the stuff that's made into cocaine). The protests brought down the presidency of Gonzalo Sanchez do Lozada in October 2003 and continue to escalate: 820 in the last 17 months. The current government of Sanchez's successor Carlos Mesa in teetering.
Needless to say, "Today, there are no more pro-America, pro-freedom, and anti-Marxist folks in all South America than those in Santa Cruz."

So now we hear the news that President Mesa has been forced to step down, after 20 months in power (hey, that's pretty good by their standard). By their constitution, the president of the Senate and then their House-equivalent, are next in line. Some political wrangling somehow convinced both of those players to abdicate their right to succeed. So now the congress has appointed the Supreme Court President, Eduardo Rodriguez, as the interim leader of the country. When that happens, the temp guy must schedule a new election for the presidency within a short amount of time.
What is causing the quick line of succession? Fear of the protesters?

Anyway, now that Rodriguez has officially taken over, the protesters seem to have stopped the violence, and have begun to lift the roadblocks.
The Harvard-trained jurist has a daunting challenge: to defuse a country on edge whose majority Indians, coca-leaf farmers and leftist labor and student groups are clamoring for a greater share of power, for nationalizing the oil industry and for backing away from U.S.-style free-market programs they blame for widespread poverty.
Good luck. I'm skeptical that changing things to a more socialist economy will improve things much in the long run, but temporarily it will probably improve some poor urbanite lifestyles. I would be interested in finding a more detailed explanation of what drives Bolivia's economy, and whether or not it's just market issues, government intervention problems, or if their economy is just not diverse enough.
Morales is expected to be a leading candidate. A presidency of Morales, an Aymara Indian who calls himself a follower of Venezuela's anti-American President Hugo Chavez, would bring to seven the number of leftist leaders in Latin America.
Just what we need down there. Another Chavez.

Ethiopian violence

Outcries that the elections in Ethiopia that re-elected the party in power were corrupt has created youth riots in the streets of Addis Ababa. The government troops have responded by firing into the crowd and killing dozens.

Gateway pundit reports that the Bush administration, and Senator Chris Smith of NJ (head of human rights committee) have both denounced the violence and called on all parties to peacefully resolve the matter.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Pharmacy independence

Glenn Reynolds posted about some chatter over at The Corner about abortion and the morning after pill. Here's what Glenn said.
Kathryn Jean Lopez decries a poll showing that 80% of Americans think that pharmacists ought to have to fill prescriptions for contraceptives even if they're personally opposed to birth control. Of course, this only matters because pharmacists enjoy a government-created monopoly on the dispensing of prescription drugs. Just take that away, and the problem disappears, too. In the meantime, like others who enjoy government monopolies, they are forced to make some concessions to public convenience. That doesn't strike me as an overwhelming imposition, but if the pharmacy profession feels otherwise, I'll be the first to support a move to eliminate its privileged position.
I have a couple of questions? Would you consider pharmacists an industry or a profession? Do Pharmacies, from the corner store to Safeway or hospital pharmacies, all get together and decide what they can and can't offer and set the prices of those drugs?
I always thought that a Pharmacist was a profession, with certain certification or licensing that requires that they follow certain ethical standards. But don't those pharmacists work for multiple private entities that operate independently? You can get some drugs cheaper if you go down to Fred Meyer than if you get it at the hospital, so why can't that apply to choosing what drugs you do offer?
I don't get Glenn's "government-created monopoly" statement.

Amnesty and Gitmo

I won't say too much here about this, Powerline and Instapundit have been covering it well. However, I have to relate something that Powerline noted about Democrats response to this. Apparently Nancy Pelosi called for the closing of Guantanamo in order that we might have a "clean slate in the Muslim world."
The Deacon strips that down and reveals what a load of horse manure that is.

Pelosi also fails to recognize that any brownie points we might conceivably gain by closing Gitmo would be lost the first time a Muslim (aided by the MSM and liberal Democrats like Pelosi) claimed that abuse was occurring at some other facility or locale. As I have said before, if Gitmo didn't exist, our enemies and critics would have to invent it, as they basically have.

On the morning of 9/11, this was a 50-50 nation politically. Since then, the Republicans have gained a clear upper hand. That's not because Americans are happy about what's happening in Iraq or overjoyed about our economy. It's because Americans realize that the Democratic party is not completely serious when it comes to fighting terrorism. Pelosi's comment shows that one of the party's leaders isn't serious at all.

In the mean time, Amnesty has lost all it's marbles.

Scientific Intelligent Design

I must take issue with James Pinkerton writing in Tech Central Station about what he calls the "Real Intelligent Designers." The article isn't all that wrong, that ID is a justifiable explanation for the creation of the universe is arguable either way. However, Pinkerton uses some pretty bad writing and flat out stupid statements on the way to his conclusion.
Pinkerton separates Intelligent Design (ID) believers into two areas, Religious ID (RID) and Scientific ID (SID). He gives RID a little respect, but for the most part, his view of this arguable position is pretty evident. A little sample.
No serious scientist believes the literal Biblical creation account, but many earnest and well-credentialed scientists do believe in Intelligent Design (ID), as a perspective on evolution. And ID, of course, is religiously inspired.
Well, that's a pretty universal statement that "no serious scientist believes..." and I'm sure it's not true, as you can always find serious scientists who believe the Bible literally. But you really need to qualify literally, as some Christian's believe that the literal translation of Genesis has definite dates and the age of the earth can be found by following the ages of people back to Adam (which comes out to something like 6000 years ago). Other Christians believe that the beginning chapters of the Bible are more prose and are there to illustrate God creating the world, but not a literal 6 days.
One of the best known ID-ers is Michael Behe, a professor of biochemistry at Lehigh University and author of Darwin's Black Box. Behe argues that it just isn't possible that random evolution could have produced the flagellum -- the propeller/tail -- on a bacteria. Such an organ, he concludes, is "irreducibly complex," which is to say, only a Master of Complexity could have created it.

But it's a fallacy to argue that just because one person -- or even all the people of an era -- can't figure out how something works, therefore such mysterious workings are beyond any human comprehension, ever.

Which is an OK logical refute, but I think Pinkerton misses the point. We might figure out how the flagellum works, but we might not understand how a simple cellular creature could develop one on its own by evolution. We'll see. Let's say for now that Darwinism still hasn't been proven by observations in fossil records.
Oh, and the example he uses to back up his fallacy argument is pretty ridiculous. Really, James, couldn't you have thought of something besides you not being able to figure out how Siegfried and Roy performed slights of hand in Vegas? Dumb.

But the ID-ers can't wait. They say that they must "study" evolution now, because, in the words of the IDN, "it is a science that unavoidably impacts religion." So to defend their particular religious worldview, they must undercut the work of Charles Darwin. Similarly, the Seattle-based Discovery Institute (DI) presents itself as a serious-minded explorer of possible options. The DI's Center for Science and Culture, for example, presents itself as just another group of think-tankers committed to open inquiry, although clearly stating that it "supports research by scientists and other scholars challenging various aspects of neo-Darwinian theory" even as it "supports research by scientists and other scholars developing the scientific theory known as intelligent design."

So by just supporting research by scientists challenging Darwinian theory, Pinkerton summarily dismisses the Institute? That's what I read in his statement that the institute "presents itself" as a think tank committed to open inquiry. Inferring that they aren't?
But the true mission of the DI was fully revealed in a 1999 posting of an internal DI document called "The Wedge Project" -- a document corroborated recently by The New Yorker -- which described not only the DI's anti-Darwinian goal but also its plan for achieving that goal. The paper begins by decrying the "devastating" effect of Darwinism, Marxism, and Freudianism, upon the "bedrock principles on which Western civilization was built."
OK, so they aren't exactly neutral, but as a conservative organization, they are trying the battle the general dogma which states that Darwinism is a fact, not an unproven theory. They are correct that the accepting of this theory as fact has influenced much of society.
"There's plenty of room for God in a Darwinian universe. Darwin operates on different plane altogether from theology."
To be fair here, he is quoting Nick Schulz. But as a Christian, I would take issue with considering Darwin on a different plane altogether from God. God does not fit into anyone's universe. We all fit into his.
Which brings up another issue that non-Christians tend to wash over by saying that Bible thumpers are all anti-science. To which nothing could be further from the truth. Most Christians whom I have ever met would say, as would I, that all scientific exploration is good, and helps to reveal the complexities of God's creation. In fact, the more that scientific discovery reveals about how truly complex God's creation is, the more fantastic it seems.

And that's the problem with ID: it's simplistic. To argue that complex biological phenomena are "irreducibly complex" is to abandon the scientific quest. As Richard Dawkins, who boasts the bold professional title of Charles Simonyi Professor of the Public Understanding of Science at OxfordUniversity, explains in The Blind Watchmaker: Why the Evidence of Evolution Reveals a Universe without Design,

To explain the origin of the DNA/protein machine by invoking a supernatural Designer is to explain precisely nothing, for it leaves unexplained the origin of the Designer. You have to say something like "God was always there," and if you allow yourself that kind of lazy way out, you might as well just say "DNA was always there," or "Life was always there," and be done with it.

So the better mission for the ID-ers, should they choose to undertake it, would be to identify the Intelligent Designer. That's a question that's been wrangled over by theologians for eons, with no firm conclusion yet. But of course, such inquiry has nothing to do with science.

As Schulz suggests, religion is simply on a different plane than science. The whole point is that you take it on faith: you either believe or you don't. In fact, the Catholics put Mysterium Fidei, the mystery of faith, at the center of their belief system. Which is fine, but once again, it's not science.
OK, got lots of problems with this.
1. Why is arguing that things are incredibly complex and abandonment of the scientific quest. Like I said above, modern thinking Christians welcome scientific discovery.
2. Nice, so we are quoting from people who would completely divorce science from God. Religiously, you can't separate nature or science from God, if in any form you believe that God or some Intelligence created the universe, then they must go hand in hand.
3. Another diatribe about religion being on a different plane than science, with the extension that the difference between the two is that one is taken on faith and the other is not. I refer you again to the fact that many scientists disagree that Darwinism is actually fact. Therefore if you believe in Darwinism it's a sort of faith.
4. Our mission is to Identify the Intelligent Designer? What kind of idiotic statement is that? Does he think that we'll find God walking around the streets of Brooklyn one day? Christians have already identified Him. He is our God. One could argue that all religions have found him in one way or another, but to say that we are still supposed to be looking for some divine Waldo is asinine.

OK, I'd like to be done, but Pinkerton brings a totally new subject in, which is SID.
Indeed, early examples of SID have been visible for a long time. Plant and animal breeding, using mostly proto-scientific empiricism and intuition, reaches back probably 10,000 years. Consider, as one example of early SID in action, our best friend, the dog. Gazing down at a Chihuahua next to a Cocker Spaniel, it's hard to believe that those different breeds are the same species, Canis lupus familiaris. And all dogs, however cute, are descended from the fierce wolf, Canis lupus. Yes, these interconnections are hard to believe at first, but biologists can prove them.
OK, some terminology clarification would be helpful here. Is what humans have been doing for centuries really creation? I don't mean to be too picky here, but is breeding animals really creating something new, or is it taking a process of creation (moderated by our friendly intelligent being) and manipulating it to reach certain desired outcomes.
In fact all of the examples that Pinkerton uses, prosthetics, robotics, virtual reality, cloning, are just tools, or the result of tools. Really its just a glorified version of the stick that apes use to get ants out of an anthole for their dinner. We have just rearranged elements of a God Created world to achieve some sort of physical end.
Human creation, which is creating something from existing material, is quite a bit different from creation of something from nothing. Or creation of life from non-living matter.

It'll be interesting to see if we can every create living cells from inanimate matter, as some scientists are attempting to do. But until then, Darwinists are going to get lots of flak from those who don't buy it as absolute fact.
It's a shame that Pinkerton can add nothing constructive to this debate.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

How your news gets to you.

A friend sent this link over to me. This journalist working in Iraq gives us a step by step look at how news gets from Iraq to our papers here in America. It's pretty revealing, and gives good insight as to why most of the news is negative.
The thing that really caught me, though, was how fast news about a negative event can reach reporters here. It might be minutes between a roadside bomb detonating and the report landing on an editor's desk. Welcome to the 21st century.

Court decision up in smoke.

I had to comment on Monday's decision by the Supreme Court that declared the Feds can still prosecute users and growers of pot, even if those people are complying with state laws.
"One need not have a degree in economics to understand why a nationwide exemption for the vast quantity of marijuana (or other drugs) locally cultivated for personal use (which presumably would include use by friends, neighbors, and family members) may have a substantial impact on the interstate market for this extraordinarily popular substance," Justice John Paul Stevens wrote.
is the rational used by Justice Stevens in the majority opinion. Of course, as Justice Thomas countered:
"If Congress can regulate this under the Commerce Clause, then it can regulate virtually anything, and the federal government is no longer one of limited and enumerated powers."
Get that? The Court here is giving Congress (and itself) the power to regulate anything it wants, which is so far from what the original intent of the Commerce Clause was about it's absolutely head-spinning.
The politics of this decision are gut wrenching and sick. Basically what you have here is a state's-rights issue, but throw in a little moral "drug" issue as well and you might see where Stevens got his majority.
The core of the majority is Stevens, Breyer, Ginsburg and Souter. Not surprised here, as they are the more liberal, and tend to vote on issues that increase the federal government's power. The Justices in the minority are no surprise either. Thomas (fast becoming my favorite, if just for his consistency), O'Connor and Rehnquist.
The big shock here was Kennedy and Scalia. They both were champions of federalism in the 90s. They cast the majority opinions for cases such as the regulation of guns around school grounds (Lopez, 1995), citing the autonomy of states when interstate commerce was not at issue. Well it's at issue here again, and what are they doing on the other side?
The Wall Street Journal rips the court for this decision.

Raich would appear to end the Lopez line of reasoning, since the two decisions don't seem reconcilable. If, as Justice Antonin Scalia wrote in his majority concurrence, non-economic activities can be regulated so long as they are part of a "comprehensive scheme of regulation," there would appear to be no federal power the Commerce Clause couldn't theoretically justify.

And let no one be deluded that the democratic preference of America's largest state isn't being trampled here. We didn't support the California medical marijuana ballot initiative at issue in Raich. But a clear majority of Californians did. Just because an issue is "important" doesn't mean it should be a matter for federal law. Almost all homicide is regulated at the state level, and contentious issues like abortion rights are best handled not by judicial fiat but by democratic compromises in the 50 states. Who knows what further intrusions into the rights of local polities the Raich decision may one day be used to justify?

On the flip side, the feds try to soften the blow with the announcement that the really aren't after the mom and pop marijuana growers, and don't have the resources to deal with all the pot growers and smokers in the land.
"We go after major trafficking organizations," DEA spokesman Bill Grant in Washington, D.C., said Monday. "Our mission hasn't changed."
The Oregonian also notes that local juries will usually handle the federal cases, and a jury made up of citizens who voted for medicinal marijuana are probably unlikely to convict someone who was complying with State law. Which is no real consolation (although it probably is for the people using it). The principle of the thing is already cast into the pit of darkness, and it will take a court with an entirely different makeup to resurrect the Constitution's original intent.

The Oregon House, in response to this (or perhaps they were doing it anyway) are passing a bill through that would allow employers to fire medicinal marijuana users.

A House judiciary subcommittee Monday held a hearing on House Bill 2693, which would allow Oregon employers with drug-free workplace policies to fire workers found with marijuana in their system.

If the bill makes it out of the Republican-controlled House, it could face significant opposition in the Democrat-controlled Senate.

"I still think it violates a disabled person's right to hold a job," said Sen. Bill Morrisette, D-Springfield. "I would hope that we would not even have a hearing on it on the Senate side."

I normally hate to agree with Democrats in the Oregon Senate, but in this case I'll make an exception. I think that the House Republicans are walking a fine line between their moral beliefs about pot, and the laws of the state and the will of the people.
I really don't have much of a problem with Medicinal Pot. There are many drugs that, while not legal and outright dangerous if used recreationally, are fine and dandy when prescribed by a physician (heroin by-products among them). Why is Pot so different? Why would House republicans do the equivalent of telling employers that they can fire someone who tests positive for Codeine? (Note: exceptions for working with heavy machinery and the like, as you can't operate that stuff on Codeine either).

And yes, I have a problem with the way the Federal government classes and deals with pot. The feds, to this day, still classify marijuana with drugs such as crack, cocaine and heroin. Conversely, alcoholic drinks are perfectly legal, and rarely get much attention when minors drink them.
My experience with pot (and it was considerable when I was younger) was thus:
I knew friends who used crack, and most of my friends in college drank heavily on weekends (and sometimes on weekdays too). Those friends of mine into harder drugs got into severe trouble. Some ended up pregnant, in the hospital, or in jail. Cocaine was, and is, extremely addictive physically, and those friends of mine who tried to give it up went through some pretty shitty hell. One or two couldn't give it up, but I don't know what happened to them. Lost contact somewhere down the road.
Of all the alcohol use I saw in high school and college, the common theme was violence. There were always fights. If kids weren't getting into fights, they were having sex randomly, driving and getting into accidents (or mercifully, getting caught before hand).
My experience with all the people I knew who smoked pot was that they were more likely than not to sit at home watching the nature channel. They didn't fight. They were unlikely to want to drive anywhere, and rarely did. Taking walks around the quad and watching the lights play with the leaves of the trees was groovy too.
I'm not saying that pot isn't bad at all. The other side of that drug is that those smoking it tended to be very unmotivated to do anything. School or Job performance does suffer some. I knew people who did have a problem with it, and lacked the self control to resist the temptation of other things when high. These tended to be the same people who had problems with all sorts of things. If it wasn't pot, it was alcohol, or sex, or cigarettes, or eating. Addiction is just as likely mental as physical.

All this is to say, I think that the federal government wastes a lot of time on this particular substance. I wouldn't be alone in thinking that the war on drugs, up to this point, has been a colossal waste of money. Sure, you can make pot a controlled substance. It needs to be. But putting it in the holy ranks of Crank and Heroin is a mistake.
If we could get all those Crank and Heroin users over to Marijuana use the violent crime rate would plummet. Who has time to rob the liquor store when your roommate just turned on the lava lamp?

And so I wonder if certain Justices of the Court have sacrificed their legal Constitutional beliefs because they wanted to stop dead someone's attempt to make partially available a substance they equate with Crank? I find that detestable, and certainly give Scalia black marks for this decision.

Glenn Reynolds has a nice roundup, it's short, but he links to other roundups. It includes some links to the boys over at Volokh. Is there anyone in the blogosphere who likes this decision?

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

NATO for Darfur?

This blogger has a nifty top ten things that would help the situation in Darfur, Sudan. I don't know anything about the author, but I can agree that any implementation of most of the points would be helpful. Not sure all of them are politically feasible, but I like the idea of directing NATO to be the acting organization in this situation. The UN is hobbled by corruption, they EU has it's own problems, and America can't over-extend. NATO is a military pack, by definition, and acts militarily, which is part of what's needed. Even though it is primarily driven by US interests, it's presence would be automatically multilateral.
1. Put the heat on NATO to buttress the African Union.
2. Put NATO troops on the ground
3. Enforce a no-fly zone.
4. Make it clear that preventing genocide trumps intelligence cooperation.
5. Impose sanctions and an arms embargo
6. Fully fund the aid effort (UN World Food Program has been asking for more)
7. Improve protection of civilians (Expand AU or NATO presence).
8. Name a special envoy, to show diplomatic seriousness.
9. Stop praising Khartoum, at least until significant progress is made.
10. Expedite the UN deployment in southern Sudan.

Some of those last few are just to emphasize the West's seriousness about conditions in that region.