Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Random Democracy movement

Secretary Rice is continuing to promote Democracy throughout the former Soviet Block.  The breadth of Democracy promotion should be enough to convince people that the Bush doctrine is not one of appeasement to dictators for stability, nor is it selfish promotion for the benefit of oil companies.  But it’ll take more than this to convince some people.

And El Salvadorian soldiers are promoting Democracy by simply being there.

And while we are at Publius, note that he has been spending an awful lot of time on Venezuela.  Note that despite the crackdown on protests there, the American left seems to like Senior Hugo for some reason.  First Jimmy Carter, and now Jesse Jackson.

Iraqi Federalism

Here’s an interesting perspective on why the Sunnis (and other Iraqis – it’s not just the Sunnis) oppose the federalism parts of the draft constitution.

      For one, the Iraqi government isn’t allowed to deploy the army to the region without express permission from the regional parliament. The ability to develop more efficient administration of resources and development isn’t the problem, it’s the local militias affiliated with political parties in parliament that want to keep power by suppressing freedom and intimidating people. This happens to a large degree in the south, in places like Basra, where the religious Shiite and Iran-affiliated Badr militia has been known to harass people for doing things “unIslamic.” It is a bad precedent to set, and one that can lead to an all out struggle for the country’s unity should the south ironically decide to secede due to its personal consolidation of power.

      The other problem is the distribution of resources, which is another reason why many people of different ethnic and sectarian backgrounds oppose the current federalism. It isn’t about being Sunni or Shiite, it’s about being stuck in the middle of the country with few resources for development. Currently, the federal government takes a percentage of all exploited resources, but all undeveloped resources will remain the sole propriety of the regions. This is coupled with the previous concerns that the federal government won’t be able to stop the resource-rich north and south from seceding, leaving them high and dry.

Basically, with this wording in the US constitution, the South would have been able to secede and the US government under Lincoln would have been constrained by the constitution so that militarily attempting to hold the country together would have been impossible.

So it’s not unreasonable to see things from the Sunni point of view here.
Although, resource distribution in the US is closer to the above reading of the Iraqi situation.  For instance Alaska has no sales tax and virtually no income tax because of their oil revenue.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Constitutional Impatience

Here’s an interesting viewpoint from an American who is spending lots of time over in the Middle East (Jordan and Iraq).

      It’s not so good for Iraq. Iraqis are already impatient. The Sheat that have been held down for years are impatient to gain what they feel is their "rightful" majority rule, the Sunni who have tended to be the more privileged, educated class during the past 30 years, are impatient, as, believe it or not, a large segment of them has become supportive of a secular government, as they have been educated, and seen the prosperity that comes with Westernization. The Kurds are so impatient, marginalized and persecuted for years, they finally took their security upon themselves, and they have, for the most part, already been through what the rest of Iraq is just beginning over ten years ago.

      I have been avowing for days in debates, with friends and on the blogosphere that impatience is the largest threat to Iraq today.

She goes on to point out that, according to polls, Americans are getting impatient about the situation in Iraq, due to the increased terrorism there after the elections earlier this year.

      That calm lasted for a while. But then, in an all out effort, the terrorists scaled up. Starting in May we saw another escalation. I happen to equate this with the fact that elections DID mean that Iraq might indeed become a democratically elected government, or even worse was the fear of neighboring states that it could become a secular republic governmentally. Which would cause great issues for the possibility of Syria and Iran to hang on to their dictatorships long term. Which in turn led to, guess what? Another spike in terrorism in Iraq.

      And in the past weeks, after the death of 21 Marines in two days, I saw the American public start to tip over the edge with their impatience. This galvanizes the enemy. Most of us agree that we can’t and shouldn’t pull out of Iraq now, for different reasons, but the most commonly agreed on one is that it would tell the terrorists that “they win.” Please, folks, show the resolve and unity we had after 9/11. When the going gets tough, we keep going. It’s how we are where we are today, it’s why we still enjoy the most prosperous and safe place to live in the world. It’s part of what makes us American.

      If you feel impatient, I have a suggestion. Do something to help. And remember, our country wasn’t made in 3 years either. Nothing worth having in life comes too easily.

      Remember the example above, and how quickly things can change in a mere 3 months there. Be patient. For after the bad days, the good return. (Iraqi saying)

I’ve noticed that most of the MSM analysis on the draft Constitution there has been centered around how dreadful it would be if the thing got canned and they had to start over and hold new elections for parliament and president and the like.

I’m not so sure, and I think that is just us Americans being impatient.  Does not having a constitution stop the government from providing services?  Does it stop the training and deployment of Iraqi troops and police?  Will it cause faith in the democratic process to dive bomb?

I hope not, and I think that going back to the drawing board might be a positive thing.  Number one, it gives people more time to think about what the constitution should look like and work out the kinks.

Number two, more and more Sunnis have realized that participating in the process is important to them, and another election for parliamentary representation would include far more Sunnis, and they would be better represented in the process.

Rome wasn’t built in a day.  Neither was America.  It took us 17 years between the Revolutionary war until the constitution was ratified and George Washington took his oath of office. 

Be patient folks.

Lotteries for Fun

In Oregon we have two major lotteries:  the state run Megabucks and the multi-state Powerball.  Each of these lotteries have big billboards across the city, showing you how much the prize money is currently. 

A curious statement caught my eye when I was driving by one of these monolith adds the other day.  It reads, "Lotteries are for entertainment purposes only, and should not be used as an investment."

What kind of ridiculous lawyer-inspired garbly-gook is this?  In our legally paranoid society we invent these statements to cover out butts that are obvious statements of denial.  Who's butt needs to be covered here?  I realize that some people find gambling in casinos, like cards or roulette, entertaining, but is there anyone out there who is under the deluded impression that people play the lottery just for fun?  Does anyone think that any less than 99% of ticket buyers do so for investment in a possible windfall?

Your Soccer Education

Every year one of the biggest soccer tournaments in the world is played, but gets little attention here in the states.  The Champion's League matches the best of Europe’s teams together for a tournament that takes place concurrently with each country's league schedules. 

That makes life pretty grueling for the players, but more fun for the fans. 
The World Cup matches up the best players from around the world to see what country produces the best of them.  In the Champion's league it's all about the team.  There are certainly a lot of the worlds best players competing, but a team stacked with the worlds best won't necessarily be the winner.  If that were true, Real Madrid would win every year.

But that's what makes it fun.
The games will begin on Sept 13th, and some are generally played on ESPN2 or ESPN Deportivo during the day on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.  Groups of teams have been chosen, and they will play in groups until Winter Break in December.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Lake Chelan and points in between

Once in a while I like getting out into the northwest and experiencing nature, or at least getting outside and seeing a different part of the region. Instead of the usual camping places we decided to go to Lake Chelan in north-central Washington. I post this not to bore you all with my family vacations, but to give you a taste of the region, and perhaps inspire you to check it out yourselves.

Unfortunately I don’t have many pictures, and they are still on the film camera. You might think that I need to get into the 21st century and get a digital, as it would improve a post like this for the reader to see what I’m talking about. Perhaps, but things like modern camera equipment are pretty low on my purchasing priority list this year. Such is life in middle America.

This is taken from Emails that I sent friends of mine, and edited for the site, I didn’t just drill this out this morning.

The family borrowed a minivan, in temporary exchange for the blue Nissan, for our trip over the mountains and through the woods to Lake Chelan. We definitely needed the room. Especially since my wife wanted to take half of our existing wood collection so we wouldn't have to buy any for fires. I covered the back with a tarp, put the wood in and the coolers on top of the wood. It was still pretty packed.

The return trip was much easier.
Now, this van we borrowed has no air conditioning, so we traded cool driving for space. Wasn't the best time of year to do that. Ugh.

I also confirmed for my wife that we probably won't voluntarily be moving to a larger city than Portland in my lifetime. The traffic always raises my blood pressure to bottom of the ocean levels. How can there be stop and go traffic in Tacoma on a Saturday?

For that matter you may not be seeing me on the west side of the hills in Beaverton or something either.
Tacoma could actually take a lesson from Seattle, if you can believe that. The traffic in Seattle was a breeze in comparison. We came back from the trip on Tuesday at about 4:00, so I expected lots of stop and go. I got almost none in Seattle (all right, yes we got to use the HOV lanes, but that’s why they are there right?), but once again, in Tacoma we felt the steady heat of the asphalt at 2 MPH.

Highway 2, north of Seattle, is a really pretty drive through the Cascades, though. I love how rugged the mountains get up that north. It takes you up beyond some remote commuter suburbs, like Monroe and Sultan, and then up the Skykomish River valley. The peaks in this part of the Cascades are rocky and spiraling, so there’s plenty to see.

It was here that we saw a black bear (cinnamon in color actually, but black in species) scurry across the road. My wife thought he was going to get hit, but he made it all right, despite his bad decision making ability.

Lake Chelan is a short hop up Hwy 97 from Wenatchee along the Columbia River.

We were in a campground about 25 miles from Chelan on the south side. It's almost the last thing you can drive to. After that it's all wilderness. The other side of the lake is wilderness at that point as well. It's not secluded, though, as there are still lots of vacation homes along the road all the way up until that point (and a few beyond) and the campground is a popular boat slip.

Lake Chelan is one of the clearest lakes that I have had the pleasure of swimming in. The only reason you can't see the bottom is that it's hundreds of feet deep, and I was told reaches 1500 feet at one point. I swam out a bit with my goggles on, and I could see the slope of the bottom drop away to unreachable depths in a matter of 20 or 30 yards. It was impressive to behold, but you could really only get a sense of it because it was so clear.

I was also told by a local that they drain the lake about 25 feet in the winter time, but that it hardly makes a difference in the size of the lake or it's navigability.

Had fun watching Sucker fish (1.5 or 2 feet long) troll the bottoms in about 12 feet of water. The kids could see large schools of infant trout swimming around where they were swimming too. They thought that was the coolest thing.

The Wenatchee valley and many areas around Chelan are covered with orchards. We saw countless Apple orchards on the drive to and from Chelan from Leavenworth. There are two TreeTop (Apple juice/sauce) factories on the road too.

Lake Chelan has about 8-10 small wineries around it. We only got to one of them, a relatively new on called Tsillan. We discovered that they just built the place and planted vines about 2 years ago. Being that it's the largest and shmanciest looking tasting room and store in the area, it appears that someone came in there with a ton of money and plopped down a vineyard and winery with pristine grounds where they hold concerts (Chick Corea was coming soon). Nice if you've got the money. Most of the other vineyards are local, homegrown, and very modest. We only had time for one on Monday, though. (They get their grapes from the Yakima area, which is a HUGE grape growing region. The wine at Tsillan was good, but very dry, like California wines.)

We spent most of our time at the state park where we camped. It was definitely strange to sleep in a tent at the same location for three straight nights. Haven't done that before, but it was nice not having to set up the tent one day and take it down the next day. Although the tent got pretty dirty after a couple of days.

We took one trip into the city of Chelan, at the eastern tip of the lake. The dam that raises the level of the lake is there. It's not that big, so I would assume that the lake was there before and the dam just raised it up a bit for irrigation sake.

Chelan is cute, and quite the resort town. Lots of hotels with private beaches on the lake, boat rental places and city parks with public beaches, mini golf and bumper boats and the like. They have a major water park with big water slides and pools, but we didn't go this time, as our friends brought their dogs, and they didn't want to leave them in the car (or at the camp ground) so we couldn't stay anywhere too long. We did walk around their small downtown shopping area, which was fun for the ladies.

Driving home on Tuesday was sad, but a relief. We were eager to get away from the hot weather, and indeed once we got to Seattle things cooled off dramatically.

We stopped along the Columbia near Wenatchee and got fresh peaches and a bag of apple chips, and also stopped in Leavenworth. Leavenworth is the touristy German town, with all the buildings looking like they were imported from a Bavarian hamlet. It must be a building code thing there. Even the McDonalds has a Bavarian motif.

There was a restaurant on the main drag called Gustavs, and since the Mager empire (restaurants) consists mostly of Gustavs in the Portland area we wondered if this was part of the chain, so we stopped for lunch. It was not, as it's been there over 20 years. But it was a nice sandwich place. We even had a beer to celebrate the German-ness of it all.

Leavenworth is just over 1000 feet in elevation, but from there you can look south and see a couple of ridgelines with a steep climbing valley going up into what is known as the "Enchantments." You can't see but the front of the range, but it's a mountainous plateau with lots of lakes at about 7000 feet, so the climb in is brutal I've heard. The reward is fantastic, I'm sure.

Coming back over the pass, we stopped at this place between Sultan and Monroe called the Reptile Zoo. It's $4 a person, and we didn't have much time so I don't know if we got our money's worth, but our son had a great time. They have large monitor lizards (something related to a Komodo Dragon was there - about 4 feet long), and all kinds of snakes. They had rattle snakes, king snakes, one 24 foot reticulated python, a couple of green anacondas. My favorite snake was the Egyptian Cobra they had. The lady running the zoo got the cobra to react and show its hood, like you always see in nature stuff (or Rikki Tikki Tavi or something) when it's about to attack. It was way cool.

They had a few varieties of large turtles/tortoises, including a snapping turtle. I mean large. One of the tortoises I think my daughter could have ridden on. In addition to all that (wait: there's more!) they had young crocodiles and alligators, including a 5 year old albino alligator, which are very rare. I don't know what they do with them when they grow up, they wouldn't fit in the zoo at any rate.
They even had a spider exhibit, but we didn't spend too much time there, as the girls didn't even want to walk past the cages.

It was a better exhibit of reptiles than I've ever seen at a regular zoo. I would recommend hitting it if you are up that way.

They guy who runs it, Scott Petersen, performs for schools and appears on Disney’s show “Bill Nye the Science Guy.”

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Saudi Arabia, Part 3: Islam and Empire

Mecca, prior to the birth of Muhammad, was already an important destination for pilgrims in Arabia. Legends abound as to the holiness of the place, but some of those legends include the Biblical Adam building a shrine there, as well as Abraham going there to sacrifice Ishmael (as opposed to Isaac) to God. The Kaaba, the large stone shrine that attracts all Muslims today, was a place of worship for believers of many different gods and saints prior to the birth of Islam. It housed around 300 idols representing the deity of each clan in Arabia.

One family controlled Mecca, regulating the care and taxation of all the pilgrims who came to the city. That family was the Quraysh, from which there were several distinct clans. One of the clans was the Hashim clan, which Muhammad was born into. So Muhammad was born, in 570, into a sort of privilege, but was orphaned at an early age, worked as a sheppard, and traveled with his uncle on caravans across the desert. He was exposed, at this point, to the monks living in the area and their beliefs in monotheism.

Muhammad became antipathetic toward the multi-theism that surrounded him, and was known to meditate for long periods in a cave outside the city. It was in this cave that Muhammad was to receive the fabled vision from God that told him of God's plan to make him the final prophet. Most Arabians were familiar with the story of Abraham, and most believed in a god called Allah. Muhammad didn't have trouble convincing them of all this, but he did have trouble convincing them not to turn their back on the supreme god. Islam itself means "submission" in Arabic.

With the strong influence of Christianity and Judaism, Muhammad believed that Abraham, Moses and Jesus were also prophets, believed in the teachings they did concerning Heaven, Hell, resurrection, judgment and the eternal life for the soul. He considered Christians and Jews as brothers, and Islam was taught with much tolerance from the beginning.
He first started preaching his new religion in 613, and was thought to be nuts for believing in a coming day of judgment, but was tolerated until he started preaching against the idol worship that pervaded Mecca at the time. His clan protected him to a point, but finally, as his following grew, the conditions grew hostile and he had to leave.

incidentally, one day while he was delivering a message he uttered phrases about various idols that seemed to indicate they were a-ok with Allah, that they were the "exalted Gharaniq whose meditation is accepted." This was first seen as pandering to the Quraysh for the acceptance of idol worship, but caused unrest among his followers. He later repudiated them in the Quran, saying that the verses came from Satan, not from God. These are known as the "Satanic Verses."

In 622, Muhammad was invited to immigrate to Medina, whose community of tribes had accepted his message very rapidly. Median is where the religion of Islam was refined, with rules and codes for living were set. A couple of notes here too. It was at this point that Muhammad began teaching that Jews and Christians had gone astray from the true religion of Abraham, which he represented. Also, he added new revelations that allowed the faithful to seek out and attack nonbelievers.

The Muslims began to attack caravans and tribes not allied with them for provisions. Soon Muhammad decided to take Mecca, but there were several battles in between the two cities, most of which went in the Muslim's favor. Treaties were signed, and then broken, and finally when Muhammad brought a large army of 10,000 to the doorstep of the city, the leaders (relatives of his) negotiated their allegiance to the Muslims. Mecca fell peacefully.

By the time of Muhammad's death in 632, most of the Arabian peninsula had united under one banner, one religion, for the first time in history. However, Muhammad left no successor to his position, and no clear rules for choosing a leader for the empire (religion). Many fell away from the faith at this point.
There were, however, four men who had the authority to take over, and they served successively as Khalifah (successors, later called Caliphs, or rulers of the Islamic Empire). The four were called the Rashidun, or rightly guided caliphs, for their devotion to Islam and their connection to the prophet Muhammad.

The first was Abu Bakr al-Siddiq, Muhammad's father in law. Abu Bakr appointed the next, Umar ibn al-Khattab, a trusted companion of Muhammad's. Under Umar, the empire grew rapidly. Part of this was due to the fact that communities captured under the Muslims were treated with uncommon tolerance. Non-Muslims were allowed to remain, keep their places of worship, and do as they please, provided they pay all the taxes imposed on them (from which Muslims were exempt). Also, the Byzantines and the Persians were weakened by decades of fighting between the two empires. By the time of his death, Umar had captured Egypt, the fertile crescent and most of Persia.
Just before his death, Umar selected 6 men to decide the successor. There were only two left of the Rashidun, Uthman ibn Affan, a respected member of the powerful Umayyad clan of Mecca, and Ali ibn Abu Talid, Muhammad's cousin and husband of his daughter Fatima. The 6 men chose Uthman.
Uthman extended the boundaries of the empire across Persia, Libya and northward to Armenia. He also created the first official written version of the Quran, which previously had been spoken by Muhammad and transcribed for copies sent across the empire. Uthman wanted to prevent incorrect versions to distort the message, so he appointed a committee to collect all the original versions and destroy the rest.

Uthman was unpopular, and accused of favoritism toward family and corruption. He was killed by a band of people led by the son of the first Caliph. Ali, cousin of Muhammad, was named Caliph in Medina. His supporters believed this long overdue, claiming he should have been first as the closest relation to Muhammad. They were called the party of Ali, or Shia't Ali (Shias for short). The majority of Muslims supported the selection process used to elect the first Caliph, and were referred to as the people of custom, ahl al-sunna, or simply Sunni.
His Caliphate was contested by a cousin of Uthman, and civil war broke out among the faithful for the next few years. Ali was killed, and Uthman's cousin, Muawiya, became the caliph uncontested, as Ali's sons chose not to press for the caliphate, thinking that it would eventually return to their family.
Muawiya began what was the first dynasty of Islam, for when he died the caliphate went to his son Yazid. After Ali's son Hassan died, his brother Husayn became the leader of the Alids. Husayn was killed in an attack while traveling from Medina to Iraq, and that is the point at which Shi'ism is considered to have become an independent sect of Islam. From that point on Shiites did not consider the Sunni caliphate legitimate, and Husayn's death is the most important annual Shiite religious observance in the world.

The Umayyad dynasty lasted until 743, and under it's last ruler, Hisham, reached it's vastest, stretching all they way to France. The Umayyads also moved the capital of the empire to Damascus. The empire had become increasingly secular in it's rule, and dispute over this led to the fall of the dynasty after Hisham died. Resistance to the secular ways of the Umayyads fueled a movement supporting a man named Abu al-Abbas, who claimed to be descendent from Muhammad's paternal uncle.
Abbas defeated the Umayyads and started a new dynasty, the Abbasids, which lasted until 1258. He subsequently moved the capital to Bagdad, further moving the empire away from it's Arabian roots. The Islamic Empire was at it's height under the Abbasids. Bagdad was the richest city in the world, the empire's ships were the largest and best on the seas. They had a highly advanced banking system. Universities were built, and science and academics flourished. But the empire proved too big, and the reliance on foreigners, like Persians and Turks, for administrative and military responsibilities, caused resentment. Revolts occurred and minor Caliphates broke out. Northern Africa broke into pieces. They Fatimids, and later the Turkish Mamluks, created an independent state in Egypt. The Seljuks, Turks from central Asia, took over Bagdad, and the Caliph was caliph in name only.

In the end, the empire was crushed by Ghenges Khan, and though he never captured Arabia, the power vacuum left by the defeat of the Abbasids left the peninsula open to other powers.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Jimanji on the Great Plains

Here are some environmentalists who have seriously lost it. 

      Prominent ecologists are floating an audacious plan that sounds like a Jumanji sequel — transplant African wildlife to the Great Plains of North America.

OK, anyone who knows how many non-native species there are running around America currently, and how much damage they have caused to the native environment, and how much risk you take introducing ANY non-native species of plant of animal into a habitat it has never existed in before, knows how stupid this sounds.

These people must have escaped from the loony bin, and ended up where?

      The idea of "rewilding'' the Great Plains grew from a retreat at Ladder Ranch near Truth or Consequences, N.M. The 155,550-acre property is owned by media mogul and conservationist Ted Turner.

Uh huh.  That explains some things.
Anyway, I got this from RoguePundit, who handles the topic with just as much distain, and yet has the audacity to present actual facts and show the idea for what it is.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Saudi Arabia, part 2

The history of the people of the Arabian Peninsula prior to the coming of Islam is one of the ebb and flow of small civilizations coupled with the nomadic cultures in the interior.
The earliest known peoples inhabited the peninsula from 10 to 20,000 years ago. Cave drawings indicate hunting and gathering, and a wide variety of animals, which indicates that the peninsula has dried out considerably in that time. The proximity to the Nile valley and by sea to the Indus region facilitated trade amongst those cultures.

The Dilmun, occupying what is now Bahrain, and the Magan, ranging in the area of present day Oman, profited from trade with the peoples of the Indus and Mesopotamia. The Saba and Himyar, in present day Yemen, were on the trade route with eastern Africa and the Egyptians. Dilmun was known for it's pearls. Saba (Biblical Sheba) was known for it's aromatics, such as Frankincense and myrrh, which were harvested almost exclusively in the interior from the Saban civilization. The Sabans also constructed a dam holding back 37.5 square miles of water for irrigation. The Romans called this Arabia Felix, or Happy Arabia.
The Saban culture dominated the south west of the peninsula until about 500 AD, when the dam broke and the Roman Empire converted wholesale to Christianity, decimating the spice trade (as frankincense and myrrh were used in burial rituals). They sedintary culture mostly converted back to nomads.
The Nabataeans inhabited the northwest of Arabia, just south of the Hebrews. They remained fiercely independent during the Roman times, sometimes fighting the Roman legions off, sometimes negotiating tribute, but either way they remained outside of direct Roman control for most of their existance.

These civilizations were sedentary, as opposed to the nomads that inhabited the interior.
The nomadic tribes that lived in the interior of the peninsula were first called Arabs by Hebrew and Assyrian writings in about the 5th century BC. It is not known where the word comes from, although it might have been what they refered to themselves as. The Arabs were breeders of livestock, and considered agriculture beneath them.
The social unit was the clan, which was a group of related families. In the absense of a more universal government, the clan provided the rules of conduct and protection for its members. Without this, an individual had no one to appeal to for justice for any act committed against him.
After the fall of the more sedentary cultures in the 5th and 6th centuries, the Bedouin culture began to flourish, its code of conduct and blood feuds and raiding were developed. In the centuries after the Roman Empire split, the Bedouins would form tribal confederations, giving chieftains more power. They raided Damascus and Palestine, and then sacked Jerusalem. They eventually played off of the Byzantines and the Persians, as they were constantly at war. Some of the confederations sided with the Byzantines, some with the Persians.

Oregon Court ruling on regulation vs. takings

This seems in direct contradiction to the land-owner compensation measure passed last year.

      Environmental groups and governments won a key victory Thursday when the Oregon Supreme Court ruled a timber company should not be compensated for state restrictions that limited logging to protect a bald eagle nest.

      The high court said regulation of private property for public purposes is not the same as taking the property, which would warrant compensation.

My highlight.
This is a HUGE win for environmentalists.  The judges then went on to say that the ruling would not impact the application and meaning of the passed measure 37, but I really think that’s just delusional.

Is it just me, or wasn’t the whole battle over property rights and takings last year about regulations and how they are a form of taking.

Democracy Roundup

I recently added Publius Pundit to my list of things to read (at the expense of other things I’m afraid) as they focus on world events, and it now rivals Winds of Change as my favorite site to get information on stuff going on outside the US.

There is a lot going on in the democratic front around the world, but here are some of the more interesting developments.

Egypt is having the first contested elections in over 24 years, and even though current president Mubarak will probably win, the population there has never been so free and open to talk about something other than how much they don’t like Israel and the US.  The elections are on September 7th.

Afghanistan is also having parliamentary elections in September, and the press there is giving every candidate an equal amount of free radio or TV time to get their message out.

Thousands of people protested in Kathmandu, Nepal, for democracy, demanding an end to the monarchy and the king’s martial rule he imposed last year.

Syrian Kurds are protesting and rioting against the Assad regime for the government’s not allowing them to show support for banned separatist group.

The inaugural meeting of the Democratic Pacific Union (DPU) was held this week.  It consists of over 20 countries around the Pacific rim whose leaders are elected by the public.

Taiwan’s President Chen made comments to the effect that China would be invited to join just as soon as it’s leaders were elected by the people.  Until then it could apply to be an observer.

There’s a democratic revolution going on in the Maldives currently.  They are pretty small islands in the Indian ocean south of India, so there’s no really huge worldwide impact from this revolt, but it’s another country on the growing list of nations full of people who want the freedom that American has enjoyed for a couple of centuries now.

It’s also a major tropical vacation paradise, so if you were planning on going there anytime soon, you might want to pay attention.

The Congo is having presidential elections after a decade of fighting of various factions vying for power.  Over 4 million people have been killed in the last 7 years.  An election committee has been tasked with creating a structured and transparent election process, which will take place in May of 2006.

In Iraq, up to 80 percent of people who did not vote in the last election have registered their names for the upcoming referendum on the draft constitution.  Which means that the Sunnis are mostly coming around, and the “insurgency” is looking more and more like a small radical fringe.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Saudi Arabia, country profile part 1

As the latest edition of my fancy for exploring the history and geography of different countries or regions of the world, I decided to study up on Saudi Arabia. I’m not sure why I chose this one. Sometimes it’s current events, sometimes just a country I’ve always wanted to know more about. This time I’ll just say it occurred to me after the King passed away and so much of the terror war is related to it, that I should know more about the country where Islam got it’s roots.

The Arabian peninsula is about one quarter the size of the continental US, and includes what today is the countries of Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Oman, Bahrain, Qatar and the United Arab Emerates. It is surrounded by the Red Sea, the Gulf of Arabia, the Indian Ocean and the Persian Gulf, and to the north the countries of Jordan, Iraq and Kuwait.

The natural history of the peninsula is one of changing climates and sea conditions. At several points in ancient history, the peninsula was under the sea, causing the sedimentation and collection of plant and animal life, leading to the vast oil reserves the country exports today. It was also at one time connected to Africa, but the same rift valley that cuts into Africa splits the Red Sea, and Arabia is slowly turning away from the African continent.

There are several distinct physical regions on the peninsula. From the Red Sea the land rises dramatically to the Al Hijaz and Asir mountain ranges. The ranges in some places rise above 10,000 feet. To the east, the landform gradually loses elevation on a plateau called the Najd, and then falls to the Persian Gulf coastal lowlands which are flat, sandy and end in irregular marshes and salt flats where it meets the gulf.To the north and south of the Najd are two of the great deserts of the world. The Great Nufud which stretches to Syria and Jordan and into Iraq is to the north, and the Rub al-Khali lies to the south. The Rub al-Khali is more that 212,000 square miles and is one of the largest sand deserts in the world.

Hiatus over

I’m back from vacation, and I’ve been reading up on Saudi Arabia, just wanting to learn more about the area and it’s history and geography.  I’ll make a couple of posts later.  Hope everyone hasn’t asphyxiated from the lack of Grich ramblings.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Divine Evolution?

Fred Turner has a very interesting article in TCS about the debate between Intelligent Design and Evolution.  He opinions that believing in a designer, and accepting the conclusion that evolution guides the biological processes that represent the diversity of species that inhabit the earth presently, are not mutually exclusive.

      "Old-earth" Intelligent Design proponents accept that the universe may have started 13 billion years ago with a Big Bang, that the Earth is at least 4 billion years old, and that "microevolution", the diversification of species into strains and breeds, can occur through selection.

Nice start.  I’ve often felt that while I cannot relinquish my creator’s role as it’s stated in the Bible, I stand before evidence that the biological world he created is constantly changing, and have to ask myself how much is it really changing, and could evolution be a part of God’s plan?  Is evolution the method he took in bringing his creation about and maintaining it?

Another interesting question might be:  Is evolution actually a part of the fall?  For another time.

Interestingly, at no point in the article does Turner mention that many theologists point to the lack of serious proof that evolution is occurring.  The theory of evolution is accepted as fact because it seems to best fit what scientists find, not because it’s been proven beyond doubt.

Sometimes that’s enough, and for the record, belief in evolution is not a make-or-break theological point.  You aren’t going to hell by believing that people evolved from apes. 

But you have problems if you claim to follow Christ and don’t believe that God created the world and controls the destiny of the entire universe.

      The awkward issue here is what some cosmologists call the "goldilocks" problem. The initial parameters of the universe -- the speed of light, Planck's constant, the number of families of quarks, the electron volt constant, Avogadro's number, the gravitational constant, the rate of curvature of the universe, the strength of the weak and strong nuclear forces, etc, etc -- had to be "just right" for the universe to have produced life and minds. If, like the porridge or the beds of the three bears, the universe is too hot or too cold, too big or too small, we would not be here to observe it.

Turner argues here that, while complex biological beings can, in theory, be produced given time by selection, the constants of the universe don’t have an explainable origin.  The rules that guide the universe allowed the evolution of humans from flagellum, but where did the rules come from?

      This is the problem for anti-design thinkers: though evolution, once it is set in motion, mightn't require further design, design certainly looks like the least implausible explanation for the beginning of the process itself.

      But the theological problem for the Intelligent Design advocate is just as awkward. What would we say about a creator who started a universe with the evident intention of producing life and intelligence, but who needed to step in every few billion years, or every few seconds, to fix the process, rewrite the program, give the actors new lines, touch up the brushstrokes of the painting, seize the conductor's baton and introduce a new melody? Wouldn't we say that such a creator was an incompetent artist, that if he knew what he was doing he wouldn't be botching it up all the time and having to come in to shore up the building or fire a midcourse correction burn?

I don’t think this is awkward at all, if you know some deep theology regarding the Christian religion.  There is a tension in Christianity between free will, each individual choosing whether to follow God or not, and God’s inescapable control over everything.  Some might call this pre-destination, that God has predestined the salvation of every person from the day of creation, but you can’t escape that this concept exists in the Bible.

You see, in addition to everything else in the universe, God is supposed to have created time.  Which means that God himself is outside of time.  Being such, God cannot be restricted by time, and in fact would have to exist in all time concurrently.  His plan for creation would be all encompassing, all events would be known ahead of time, and all “tinkering” would occur at the plan’s creation.

Does that have your head spinning yet?

      It is interesting, however, to note that many of the greatest framers of our Constitution were deists. The universe they envisaged, of "nature and of nature's God", as it says in our Declaration of Independence, is distinguished by its overriding quality of freedom. It's a hands-off universe, in which things do what they want, what is in their nature to want, rather than one that is micromanaged by a an external deity who forces things to happen the way he wants, concealing his manipulations as he goes, like a devious boss in an office. The good, they thought, would emerge by itself if we got the legal and economic rules right, and would not need to be enforced by the decrees of a king. Evolution, with its emergent species, looks a lot like a free market, with its emergent true prices. Paradoxically the theory of evolution is far more consistent with the open-market, free-enterprise, limited-government ideals of the American Right (which sometimes opposes evolution) than with the anti-market, politically correct, big-government ideals of the American Left (which has in desperation taken up evolution's cause despite the fact that evolution is fatal to the leftist's desire to micromanage).

I have often wondered about this.  You would think that evolution proponents would be free market thinkers too, but that’s not usually the case.

      And what if the "nature and nature's god" position -- that God does not need to step in from some external place outside the universe to ensure his will is done -- does not imply a remote and uncaring god at all? What if God is always intimately here, at hand, in the very workings of nature itself, in the sun and moon, the ox and the ass, the human body, as Saint Francis believed? God would certainly be remote and detached if he were outside nature, and did not mess with the process of evolutionary history once begun. But if God is within nature, and the free creative evolutionary process is his very intention working itself marvelously out -- as Emerson thought -- then he would be very close indeed, maybe even uncomfortably so.

Uncomfortable indeed.  This is an interesting way of looking at things, but not entirely inconsistent with what I said above, and what the Bible says about God being in all things, working through all things, and the universe and all that is in it cannot survive without Him.

I like his treatment of “strange attractors” as possible signs that God does intervene in the course of history in such subtle ways that we cannot perceive that he is doing it.

      We now know that nonlinear dynamical systems -- essentially, systems whose elements all cause and control each other's actions, and in which a single line of cause and effect is impossible to untangle -- have "strange attractors". Strange attractors are graphically demonstrable forms that govern the evolution of the dynamical system, but do it in a way that is not predictable. Some attractors, like the Lorenz attractor, govern lots of very different dynamical systems, from dripping faucets to the rotation of star clusters. Living organisms are highly complex dynamical systems, combining in their operation many hierarchical levels of different attractors, with a grand super-attractor that is unique to each species.

Will this calm the proponents of the extreme left and right of this issue who refuse to hold fast to their explanation of the universe?  Probably not.  But the article does give food for thought for those of us who read our Bible regularly and then look to the stars and wonder.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005


The United States is preparing sanctions against Venezuela based on its lack of cooperation in helping to stop drug transportation.  Things are not looking good for Hugo, with CAFTA and the US in the north, and his favorite candidate in Bolivia losing support.

May the trend continue.


The other thing that caught my eye this week was the military coup in Mauritania.  If you are missing this, then head on over to Google and type in Mauritania, then follow along. 

Earlier last week, the military, led by Colonel Ely Ould Mohamed Vall, entered and occupied the government in the capital of Nouakchott without any fighting.  Vall claims that their aim is to transition to democracy in 2 years time.  The President-for-life, Maaouya Ould Taya, was out of the country attending the funeral of the King of Saudi Arabia.

At first glance this was shocking to all the civilized nations of the world, and was widely denounced.  The US went so far as to demand that the military re-instate President Taya.  Really, this isn’t so shocking for Africa.  When dictators are allowed to languish in power for too long the military generally takes over.  And once it takes over it rarely gives up the power back to the people or anyone.  So western nations were understandably concerned.

They seem to have changed their tune now, though.  While no-one is happy about it, the important thing to do is put pressure on the military there to transition to a democracy as soon a possible.

Mauritania is a country dominated by nomads and is mostly covered by the Sahara.  It’s three times the size of Mexico, with only 3 million people.  Pretty out of the way.  About the only thing of import here is the opportunity the US has to continue to promote its dedication to democracy and freedom.

For now I think we should offer cautious support.

Oregon Militia State

Blogging has been light, as I have been busy.  And there hasn’t been much to get my attention. 
One thing that did get my attention was this article on the terrorist arrested in London who was connected with a terrorist training camp in Bly, Oregon.

      Haroon Rashid Aswat, 30, arrived in late 1999 after an American described a 158-acre ranch outside Bly as ideal because it was in a "pro-militia and fire-arms state," according to a federal complaint unsealed Monday.

Oregon is a pro-militia and fire-arms state?  Anyone else here in the beaver state get that impression?

Note:  I'll be out Next week as well, so blogging will continue to be light.

Bomb bomb bomb, bomb bomb Iran...

(Sung to the tune of Barbara-Ann)
I see that the Iranians are not going to give up their nuclear ambitions.  This was kind of obvious from the beginning, but it was an interesting exercise to watch the EU try to negotiate with the regime anyway.

David Adesnik notes that the Wa Post claims that by us sitting back and allowing the EU to try to negotiate with the Iranians first we gain a level of credibility when more force is necessary to remove the regime from power.

But the lingering question is what will the EU do next?  Will it have the balls to impose sanctions or use force when force finally becomes necessary?  If they don’t, and the Americans have to, will the left scream “unilateral” again and denounce the US for not giving peace a chance again?

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Spotted owl and Barred owl smackdown

Before I begin this, let me say that I am no biologist, and the information I have regarding owls is through reading and from impressions I get from foresters and my company’s wildlife biologist.  Secondly, I am not even attempting to do this because I want to copy RoguePundit’s fantastic style, with his random nature posts.  Working for a timber company, the issues around Spotted Owls interest me.  So here we go.

Now, Spotted Owls, or Strix Occidentalis, inhabits must of the western coastal forests, and also parts of the southern Rockies, down into Mexico.  Many people will split those species into different families, like Western Spotted Owl and Northern Spotted Owl, but they are basically the same bird.

When you hear the words “Spotted Owl” the term “old growth” usually enters the picture as well.  Scientists have thought for a while now that the owls prefer older stands, or a mixed canopy with older and mature conifers mixed with younger trees.  Great battles in the 80s and 90s between environmentalists and timber interests gave us the environment that folks working in the forests have to deal with today.

Restrictions vary from state to state, but typically you have to leave an area within a circle of anywhere from three quarters of a mile radius to one and a half miles radius around a nesting owl site.  Some of that timber can be harvested, but you have to leave a large percentage, and you can’t harvest trees at all within a core zone around the identified nest.

Spotted Owls eat a variety of rodents and other small mammals, and even snakes, beetles, and other large insects.  They will mate for life, but don’t always breed every year.  They average about 2 or 3 eggs when breeding, but are wimps about protecting the next from predators.  Being small for owls, they are predated by other large birds, including the Great Horned Owl and red-tailed hawks.  To avoid being eaten they require denser forest conditions.

Which brings up an interesting point, which I’ll get more into later.  When environmental thinking people think of old growth (whatever that means) they think of the sections of federal forests with large trees and lots of space under the canopy.  But Spotted owls don’t need, and tend to be unsafe in, conditions of that sort.  Spotted owls have been seen nesting and foraging in a variety of conditions, including riparian areas with lots of hardwood trees.  Our biologist found one nesting in a large red alder.

Enter the Barred Owl (Strix varia).  Looking at pictures of both owls, you might not get the differences right away.  The Barred owl looks strikingly like the Spotted owl, and indeed they come from the same stock.  The big difference, physically, is that the Barred is bigger. 

The Barred and the Spotted owl were believed to be separated during the ice age, cut off by the ice sheets in Canada.  As they will not travel over the mid-western plains, where there is no tree cover, the two populations got separated for millennia. 

The Barred owls have been slowly migrating back to the west via the Taiga forests of Canada.  Lately they have made their way down into Washington and Oregon.  I had heard that biologists didn’t think they would cause the Spotted Owls much trouble down as far as California, but apparently that’s not the case.

      There is nothing that says old-growth louder than the northern spotted owl. There are no forests more closely identified with old growth than those in Redwood National and State Parks. It stands to reason that you should be able to see or hear a spotted owl, then, in those parks. It's more likely that this year, you would be sorely disappointed. 

      "If people are coming here wanting to see a spotted owl, we would have to say, not really anywhere,'" said parks wildlife biologist Kristin Schmidt.  "From my perspective, it's awful. I feel like our park has been infested with something."

      The hoot that you may hear now is from an invader, a barred owl. It's like a spotted owl on steroids. The eastern bird's rapid colonization of the West Coast's best old-growth territory has been recognized -- but not so openly discussed -- for years.  The barred owl's southward surge and expansion does not bode well for the spotted owl.

This article does a pretty good job of talking about the differences between the two owls.  The Barred owls are bigger, they breed a little more regularly, or rather, if the brood is lost they can try it again in the same season.  They are more likely to protect the nest, so the infant mortality is far less.  Great Horned owls are their only natural enemy.

Barred owls are aggressive, and will fight Spotted owls for nest spots, and they are close enough, species-wise, that the Barred owl can successfully breed with the Spotted owls, driving the males away.

Barred owls also tend not to be as picky where their habitat and food is concerned, giving them more advantage in changing environments.

We’ve been stewing for a while on the knowledge that the Spotted owl’s days in Washington state were numbered.  And yet the state continues to mandate, and in some cases make tougher, the regulations designed to try and help spotted owls.  They don’t seem to get that they are disappearing for natural reasons and not because of us.  Take this article, which doesn’t even acknowledge the Barred owl as an issue, but seems to be fixated on the inadequacy of the current owl circle regulations to protect the owls.  Denial.

Back to the article I linked to above.

      It would be a great irony -- but a reasonable possibility -- that the spotted owl's last secure foothold may not be the grand old-growth forests that were the subject of the great environmental battles in the 1980s and 1990s, but the younger stands of Northern California created by intensive logging.

It seems that the Spotted owls do better in timber country, as they are smaller and can fly in the thicker stands of trees with low canopy.  Also, the wood rat density in commercial timberland is 16 times what it is in old growth.  Wood rat being the primary food for owls in those areas.  So the Spotted owl might still hang on if the Barred owls keep to the older, more spacious forests.

This part of the article cracked me up, though.

      And while they are an invasive species like pampas grass or English ivy, removing them might not be as palatable. Conservationists at a recent two-day workshop of owl experts from around the West warned of a public relations uproar. And many scientists and land managers said they couldn't bring themselves to shoot a barred owl.  But is this science or sentiment?

      What might be learned from shooting barred owls, and watching how their smaller cousins respond, could be valuable to land managers and scientists. "Controlled experiments are the purest form of inference," said University of Minnesota researcher Rocky Gutierrez at the Humboldt State University conference.

      Removal projects could reveal how barred owls recolonize areas, and whether spotted owls will move back into areas they've been ousted from. They may shed light on how extensive removal programs need to be, and where -- in what forests or topography -- they are effective.

      The California Academy of Sciences has been asked by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to take 20 barred owls from the Klamath National Forest.

      It's a routine academic collection focused on one area to watch the reaction of the two species. But Lowell Diller, senior biologist for Green Diamond -- a company whose Habitat Conservation Plan centers on spotted owls -- said removal should be a last resort in a conservation strategy, even if it might be successful in the short term. Habitat selection may be more effective and easier to sell, he said.

So now we’re going to shoot one species because it’s taking out an endangered species?  I didn’t know that piece of legislation was intended to prevent other animals, other than humans, from killing endangered species.

Now, if you are killing, or removing, the birds purely for the sake of scientific study, to see how they move in and drive off other owls, then fine.  That sounds like fun, and probably beneficial to science.

But they better not be doing that for the purpose of relieving the Spotted owl’s troubles.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Timberline Trail coda

This is kind of belated, but getting film scanned and then uploaded to the blog isn't as easy as I would like, and it's hard to find the time.
I wanted to share a few of the pics from the hike we took. The Timberline trail was created by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s, along with the Timberline Lodge, which was built as a part of the federal works programs of the Roosevelt era. It is just over 40 miles long. It's lowest point is 3200 feet (at the Sandy River) and it's highest is 7200 feet (at Lamberson Spur).
In addition to spending most of it's length in the MT. Hood Wilderness, it spends several miles crossing Timberline ski area and Mt Hood Meadows ski area. The meadows at the latter ski area were famous, and the developers had to promise that no roads would be built and no heavy machinery would be used to put up the first ski lift towers. There are still only one or two dirt roads going up the slopes today.

Newsweek Redeemed?

I’ve always thought Newsweek a rag not quite worthy of even bathroom reading.  The tabloid always seemed to me to be too superficial in it’s reporting, and indeed recently came under fire for it’s shoddy and partisan reporting regarding Gitmo.

So it’s with some surprise and interest that the rag mag is getting some positive reviews for its coverage of recent events by some bloggers.

      NBC news in general and Newsweek has really outdone itself among all of the major US press outlets as far as its recent coverage (which I define as mid-spring, summer of this year) on the al-Qaeda infrastructure in Europe, the London bombings, and related subjects.

      While the publication itself seems to have "moved on" as far as what it's deciding to publicize, a series of web exclusive articles by the reporters who seem to be serving as their European, terrorism, and investigative correspondents is doing what I have to say is an extremely impressive job at covering the story.

I’ve also heard that they are even providing links to other articles, blogs talking about the same subjects and track-backs on their own stories on the Newsweek website.

Which puts them ahead of pretty much every news outlet in the country.
I might just change my mind about the Rag.

Random Politics

There’s too much for me to just concentrate on one subject.  It’s all so much fun.

Ohio Congressional Battle
A mid term battle for a spot in the US House, 2nd district seat in Ohio, favors a Republican, Jean Schmidt, over the Democrat Paul Hackett.  Now Hackett apparently is a combat veteran, serving during the first Gulf War.  He ran a campaign that weighed heavily on criticizing Bush’s rational and handling of the war in Iraq.

Schmidt only beat Hackett by a few percentage points in a district that gave bush 64% last year.  So obviously the Democrats are hailing this as a major victory for them, getting so close.  Saying things like “the Iraq combat veteran was uniquely qualified to talk about the war,” and “the war is not what it was six months ago, or 12 months ago in terms of being an automatic advantage for Republicans.”

So obviously they are looking at this as  a possible bell weather for the nation, and hoping that it signals a recovery for Democratic candidates.  But I’m unconvinced.  By their own logic, they ran a veteran and labeled him qualified to criticize the President and Republicans for not conducting the war well.  Enough people in Ohio might have bought that and voted differently, however wrong that assumption was.  Being a military veteran will give you insight into military operations, but certainly doesn’t make you overly qualified to make judgments on policy.

And there’s a difference between a special election for a House spot and an election to determine the President of the United States.  I wonder what the Republican/Democrat split was for that district in the last congressional election, in 2002.

Also, while I’ll admit that the President’s poll numbers are down lately, it certainly doesn’t mean that “no district is safe.”  This was a poll between two non-incumbents.  If the Schmidt had been in that slot in the first place, would Hackett have done nearly as well?

The article says this

      The outcome shows that Republicans need other major campaign planks besides just standing behind President Bush and criticizing Democrats for criticizing him.

But I don’t really see that happening everywhere.  And as we have talked about before, the Republicans have had a much more robust platform than the Democrats for the past 4 or 5 years now.  I think this might be a case of seeing the race as you want to see the race.

 And then there’s the big wooden plank

      John Kerry asserted that Hackett's showing "sends a warning signal to the Washington Republican establishment and the Ohio Republican Party that voters... are troubled by the corrupt culture and do-nothing Congress."

Oh, and Democrats can promise that they won’t be corrupt and do-nothing?  When pigs fly!
By the by, it’s hardly a “vindication of Bush administration policies” either, as Schmidt claimed after the victory.  Really.  Run your own race already.

Bolton Nomination
Another non-issue. 

      Democrats are banging the "shady"/"secretive"/"abuse of power" drum.  Senate Foreign Relations ranking member and potential presidential candidate Joe Biden (D) e-mailed supporters: "It is important to remember that the reason John Bolton didn't get a vote in the Senate is because the administration refused to provide information to which no one disputes the Senate is entitled."

Oh, is that really the reason?  From the NYT:

      Now that he is finally going to the United Nations as ambassador, John R. Bolton is supposed to "provide clear American leadership for reform" there, President Bush said Monday. But American officials say much of their reform agenda at the United Nations has been accomplished during the months while Mr. Bolton's nomination languished.

      Most of the reforms sought by the United States are well on their way to completion," said a senior administration official, speaking anonymously to avoid undercutting the rationale for the Bolton appointment. Another said that because so much had been achieved, there was little concern that Mr. Bolton's combative personality would jeopardize the agenda.

So, really, it never mattered who Bush sent to the UN.  Who’s going to suffer more for this, Bush or the Democrats?
There’s nothing wrong with Bush making a recess appointment here.  If he didn’t there wouldn’t be anyone representing the US for a while, because I doubt that Bush would pick anyone else at this stage, preferring to let Democrats shout into the wind and look ridiculous doing it. As it is Bolton will only be there for a bit more than a year, and Bush will have to nominate someone else next year. 

And it’s not abuse of power to do so.  It’s perfectly within his right to appoint someone at recess, as has been done before.  It’s just as rare for the Senate to filibuster an nominee as it is for the President to make a recess appointment, but if the Democrats can do it, why can’t the President?
I’ll make the same comparison to what the media was calling the nuclear option a couple of months ago.  Making a recess appointment is not the nuclear option, it’s the ballistic missile option.  Filibustering is the nuclear maneuver. 

Frankly, for reasons that I’ve stated before, I think the UN needs us to play tough and push reforms.  I doubt that the reforms that the US is pushing right now are enough anyway.

Roberts Nomination
The WSJ, Washington Post, Boston Globe and all the other major poop machines are getting on Roberts’ case because of all the documents from the Reagan administration.  I note that I haven’t heard anything about any of his decisions during the last 2 years he has been on the DC Federal court of appeals.  Does that mean that there’s nothing to criticize there?  Wouldn’t that be a better indication of how he makes his judgments than documents written over 20 years ago?  Don’t people change their mind, mature their views over time?  Couldn’t many of those views and statements been made in the favor of his employer at the time, as opposed to his raw personal views?

Orin Kerr, over at Volokh’s site, has looked at some of the documents and determined, “It’s hard to read too much into this one memo, but to me it’s consistent with the idea that Roberts is less a committed political conservative than a committed judicial conservative of the Harlan/Frankfurter school.”

Instapundit notes that ScotusWire is a clipping service devoted to “the first blogged Supreme Court nomination in history.”

Plame game
I’m not even going to get deep into the Plame/Wilson scandal right now.  It’s dissolved into a he said/ she said game from reporter to reporter.  They still haven’t figured out who first revealed the information that Plame was a CIA agent.

And really, I can’t for the life of me figure out why any of it matters.  Why does anyone care?  Plame wasn’t a covert agent of the CIA and hadn’t been for over 6 years.  So why does everyone care who outed her?

What people really should be caring about was what Wilson found in Nigeria and whether or not he lied about it when he got back because he doesn’t like Bush.

Tom Maguire has been dealing with this for some time.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Era of terror over for Irish

The IRA has long been considered a terrorists sponsoring organization.  It’s interesting that they’ve finally made a decision to dump their weapons and adjust to being a politics only movement.

The article points out that the change seems to have happened as a result of 9/11.  Seems that the US and UK, who always seemed to concede something to the IRA as a result of Gerry Adams and Sinn Fein throwing a fit and threatening violence every now and again, finally said enough is enough.  Terrorism is terrorism, and we aren’t tolerating it any more.

    In the past such veiled threats have produced concessions. This time they met brick walls in Dublin, London and Washington. The three governments insisted that nothing was on offer unless the IRA ceased to exist as a terrorist organization and disposed of all of its weapons.

In other words:  Bring it on.

So lets see.  For those of you who are keeping track, since the invasion of Iraq we have had elections in Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and Iran (although the results are in dispute), Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Palestine.

Syria was thrown out of Lebanon.
Students and others are revolting in Iran.  Imams are coming out against Militant Islamism in America, and in southeast Asia (notably Indonesia).

Political reforms for women have proceeded in Kuwait and Bahrain.
And now the IRA are hanging up their rifles.

Anyone out there still not believe there’s something to the Bush doctrine?

Hat tip to the Armed Liberal.

Monday, August 01, 2005

China and Zimbabwe

And speaking of keeping your eye on the ball, the Situation is not getting any better in Zimbabwe.  The genocide continues, as spelled out in this letter posted on Gateway Pundit today. 

Just to illustrate, if I could, how irrelevant and useless the UN has become, until such time as MAJOR reform has turned the institution into something beneficial to the world again, answer me this:

What’s the connection between the situation in Darfur, Sudan, and the one in Zimbabwe?
Answer:  The Chinese
The Chinese have extensive dealings in Sudan, with mineral and oil interests in the Darfur region!  Wonder who’s side they’re on in that catastrophe.

But they also have dealings with Zimbabwe, and have promised to veto any significant action by the Security Council against Zimbabwe.  An agreement was torn up, thank goodness, that would have increased the stakes in Chinese interest in the country’s natural resources to the tune of a billion dollars.

So why is there no rule in place to censure China from the Security Council for basically selling their influence for economic gain?

Sudan VP killed

The Vice President of Sudan was killed in an airplane accident.  This is not good.  John Garang DeMabior was from southern Sudan.  His Vice Presidency was a condition of the peace agreement between the Arab north and the Christian south and helped to end years of civil war. 

What does his death signify, and how are the peoples of the south going to take this?
Darfur is still happening folks.  In an era where the plethora of news events in the world and the fickleness of the press, it’s easy to get distracted, but don’t take your eyes off the ball!

Saving Timber from Development

Some surprisingly green actions by members of both parties in Oregon this week.  An organization called the Deschutes Basin Land Trust (DBLT)  is trying to buy 31,000 acres of forest land between Bend and the Three Sisters from Crown Pacific, or rather the bank that owns CP now.

DBLT is a private conservation group designed to buy and preserve lands in the Deschutes river basin.  The fact that CP went bankrupt last year is no big secret, as well as that the bank controlling the interests of the company is calling the shots.  They have sold off CP’s saw mills already, and speculation is that they are thinking about selling the lands when the market is right. 

CP owns more than just this particular parcel along the US97 corridor, and all of that land, situated where it is, near Sun River, Bend and LaPine, is prime for developers.

What’s interesting is that they are being helped along by the government.

      The Community Forest Authority bill, the brainchild of Rep. Chuck Burley, R-Bend, was passed by the state assembly in June and signed into law on Jul. 14 by Gov. Ted Kulongoski.

It’s a bill designed to help environment trusts to buy timberland, and a Republican thought of it.  Who woulda thunk it.

      House Bill 2729--which found support from timber companies, conservation groups and lawmakers on both sides of the political aisle--allows local governments to create forest authorities. Those authorities will be able to tap into lower-cost government bonds and buy working forests, with the debt later repaid with sustainable-yield harvests.

      By tapping into government financing, which has lower interest rates than traditional loans, the community forest backers can afford to bid against developers and land speculators, said Tom Tuchmann, a former federal forestry official who now helps buyers get financing for forestland.

Sen. Gordon Smith is also in on the action, introducing a bill in congress that would “allow the community forest authorities to get tax-exempt revenue bonds under the Internal Revenue Service code.”  Basically, that means the trust can offer bonds to pay for the sale, and the bonds would be free of federal taxes.

This isn’t the first time someone has tried to do this.  Environmentalists, who are also realists in the sense that they recognize that there are some things, namely development, that are more destructive to forests than clear-cutting, have been trying to make a big deal like this for years.  Tom Tuchmann has been involved in many of them, and was involved with a deal near Seattle, next to the Snoqualmie NF, that would have had a local trust purchasing almost 100k acres from Weyerhaeuser.  The deal fell through because the trust could not raise the money, and the laws allowing them to sell tax free bonds didn’t pass in time.  The tree farm was sold to another timber company, but it’s certain to get chipped away at by developers over the coming years.

Getting the laws passed does not guarantee that the trust will get the land, but it’s the best effort so far, and the more pieces are falling into place than I’ve seen in the past.  It’ll be interesting to see if this works, and if success launches more efforts like this one.