Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Serenity Review

I just saw one of the best sci-fi movies I’ve seen in years. 
As a blogger, I was invited to screen the movie Serenity, based on the original Sci-Fi channel series Firefly.  I wasn’t sure what to expect when I got there, like if this was going to be press and bloggers only or what, but it was just a preview showing with lots of people who won or got tickets somehow, so the audience was mostly random fans of the series I would imagine.  Many people in the crowd were obviously excited to be there.

I can’t remember enjoying a motion picture like this in a while.  This had all the originality of Star Wars and other Science Fiction greats, with terrific writing, snappy dialog, just the right amount of romance (that is, not too much at all, but just enough to give them depth and make cute remarks) and tons of great action sequences.

In my last post I mentioned that I was going into this cold, not having seen any of the series.  My impression from the people at the theatre was that it worked well for those who had seen the series, but it also worked very well for those who hadn’t.  In fact I thought it was just as good that I hadn’t seen the series, in that there were neat surprises at the beginning.  The movie didn’t leave you guessing for long, and even though this was my first introduction to the characters, the dialog invites you right in and you feel like you know them within the first half an hour.  Which is good, because the plot, and the action, never stops moving after that. 

I was sitting here trying to think of something to criticize, but if I have to think about it too much, then there probably wasn’t much to criticize.  Even the acting by pretty much all of the cast was top notch.

My favorite line from the movie, and one of the genius writing moves, was captured in the relationship of Captain Reynolds and Inara.  They make it obvious that he had a relationship with her, even though she’s not in the movie yet.  He gets a call from her asking him for help.  After the call, he thinks it’s a trap, but Kaylee asks, “What if she just wants to see you?”  Reynolds: “Did you see us fight?”  “No.”  “Trap.”

You’ll have to see it to see what I mean.  They captured the entire relationship in that two minutes.  Brilliant.
And that goes for all the one-liners in the movie.  Brilliant.

On another note, let me say that when they rate this movie PG-13, they mean it.  OK?  Don’t bring your 5 year old, like the idiot sitting next to me.  While the movie as a whole was brilliant, there are some truly terrifying scenes, and I am not even sure I’m ready for my 9 year old to see stuff like this yet.  I have a 4 year old girl, and it horrified me to think of her having to watch this, like the girl three seats away from me.

There weren’t that many scenes like that, but it reminded me of the recent Lord of the Rings, in that I wouldn’t have let my younger child watch it because of the orcs and other evil things.  But, of course, there were some idiots there with their 5 or 6 year old kids, forcing them to watch because they couldn’t get a sitter or something.

Anyway, go see this movie.  I can’t wait to see the series, which is out on DVD, and catch up on all that I missed so far.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Serenity - the Movie

I have been invited to screen the new movie, Serenity, as a blogger, on Monday. It's like being treated as a member of the press. Me! Wow! Anyway, I'm not assured of a seat, aparently, but I'm still going to try. I totally love Science Fiction, so I'm really interested to see this movie.
Here's the official synopsis.
Joss Whedon, the Oscar® - and Emmy - nominated writer/director responsible for the worldwide television phenomena of BUFFY THE VAMPIRE, ANGEL and FIREFLY, now applies his trademark compassion and wit to a small band of galactic outcasts 500 years in the future in his feature film directorial debut, Serenity. The film centers around Captain Malcolm Reynolds, a hardened veteran (on the losing side) of a galactic civil war, who now ekes out a living pulling off small crimes and transport-for-hire aboard his ship, Serenity. He leads a small, eclectic crew who are the closest thing he has left to family –squabbling, insubordinate and undyingly loyal.
I'm hopeful I'll get in, so stay tuned for a review of the film later this week. I have been hemming and hawing about renting the video of the series, Firefly, for which the movie is just a completion of the story. However I was also thinking about approaching this from the standpoint of someone watching it cold. You know, evaluate it to see if it stands on it's own.
Some people, who have already apparently screened it, have great things to say.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Piano prodigy

I've read Willamette Week on and off for many years. They can be liberal and reactionary, and what else would you expect from a local weekly. However I've found they can also be thorough and exhaustive, getting to the bottom of local stories and sometimes providing insight that people on the right or left can't get to without reaching the same level of depth in understanding.
And as a reward for that they received a Pulitzer this year.
Sometimes I rant about their obvious tilt. But today I celebrate an example of just how good this paper can be.

Stanley Waters grew up without knowing a father. His mother was addicted to crack for years before and after she had him. He floated from school to school, depending on who he was living with. He still has home issues, as his mom's present husband is no picnic. His grades suffer from a lack of knowing why he should even try. However, there is one area of life that Stanley excels above all his peers.
He loves to play the piano.
More than that, he taught himself to play complicated classical pieces with no previous training.
Stanley doesn't exactly read music. Instead, he listens to a piece over and over until he can make out every note and the slightest shifts in tempo and timing. One of Chopin's best-known pieces, Fantasie-Impromptu, involves battling times in the left and right hands-the left plays semiquavers and the right plays triplets-and Stanley spent hours tapping away the deceptively tricky rhythm on his lap before venturing to his keyboard.
His sense of pitch is almost perfect, as a piano teacher found. She could play a note while his back was turned, and he would turn around and hit the same key. Every time.

He remembers lying in bed, his whole body frozen in awe, floored that such complicated music had ever been written. He is shy as he tells this story, struggling to find the words to describe what it felt like. He remembers that there were tears as he listened, his eyes wide, his mind focused on every note. It was almost, he says, as if Chopin had reached through two centuries, shaking him out of some deep stupor, cutting right to his core.
"I like the way that music from so long ago is still around, and people are still listening to it-that it's that powerful," Stanley says. "And I like the fact that it seems really complicated but it's kind of simple at the same time. I feel calm when I do it. I'm so relaxed. I don't have a TV or anything, so I go to my room, turn it up, listening to tunes, and play for hours."
This is a great story about a kid with a future, who has the chance to overcome a childhood that many people would write off. I don't just recommend this article. I beg you to read it. In a nation of media that focuses on the negative, this story stands out.

Pork be gone

I've been reading all week how bloggers have set up sites to inventory all the port that the federal budget has due to all the Senatorial and Representative pet projects. Porkbusters is pretty well known, but there is also this Pork-report blog from the Heritage Foundation.
Instapundit has been reporting regularly about this here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.
Glenn Reynolds encourages us to write our Senators and Representatives, and if we get a response to Email him.
So here's my contribution. I sent this letter to both my senators this afternoon.

Dear Senators Wyden and Smith,

This letter is to both of the Senators for the State of Oregon. As a resident of Oregon, I want to make sure that my representatives in the Senate are doing their utmost to make sure that our tax-payers money is well spent. In addition, I know that it's in the interest of all our representatives and Senators to help with the reconstruction of New Orleans. To do so, without raising taxes as President Bush has proposed, means that you need to find the money out of the existing budget.

I not only think this a worthwhile endeavor, I also think it is something that should have been done a long time ago. I believe in the Federal Government's power to help the citizens of this country, but I also believe that its priorities are limited, and that those limitations are crossed continually by Congress. Once I believed, naively, that the Republicans would tamper down this tendency, but they have since proved me wrong.

Please take note of the website Porkbusters, which lists things that some people believe that the federal government either should not be funding, or things that could be put off for another day for the sake of those in our country that need it.

Also, I happened to notice that even your own websites (here and here) list the unnecessary spending proudly, as if you are impressed with yourselves in how much federal money you have the power to orient toward your home state. Specifically, I am speaking of many items in the transportation bill that you list on your sites. I was under the impression that federal money was supposed to pay for federal road improvements, but not for local bike paths and bridges not attached to federal roadways. It sickens me to think that I might someday be riding my bike on a path that was paid for at the expense of the people of New Orleans.

Senator Delay said recently that he could find no more funds to cut from the budget. I think you both can do better than that.

Please respond. What projects or spending have you targeted as excessive or unnecessary, and what are you prepared to do to find the funds to help the reconstruction of the Gulf Coast?


Richard L'Esperance

Portland, OR

Note: due to the EMail form at each Senator's site, the hyperlink formatting didn't go through, so the links I have in the letter I sent will be of no use to whoever is reading their Email. But since two of the three are their own websites, they shouldn't have a problem finding the information.

Traffic Cameras

I have posted on traffic cameras before as policy, and if I remember right I thought it was bad policy, caused more problems than it solved, and wasted tax payer money. Basically it's a revenue booster, but does it improve traffic safety?
A Virginia study says no, which I think came out a year or two ago. However, there is also this study, done recently in Florida, that simply providing better pavement markings before intersections reduces accidents by 74 percent.
I'm quite bitter about this as we recently got a ticket for speeding that was automatically issued by a camera and radar system in town here. I'm not fighting this, we were speeding. We paid the ticket. However we were going just about 5 miles over the limit, but the radar systems are absolute, apparently. It doesn't matter if everyone else on that road was also going 7 or 8 miles over. A cop in a squad car wouldn't even bat an eye at that, knowing that all traffic moving together is safer than one car moving faster (or slower) than the rest of the flow. To me that makes automated systems, not taking into account traffic conditions at the time, more dangerous than not having it there.

Hat tip to Instapundit.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Appoint This

President Bush just made another appointment to head a large bureaucracy under the Dept of Homeland Security.  Her name is Julie Myers, and she’s getting lots of flack… from the right.

      This nomination is a monumental political and policy blunder in the wake of the Michael Brown/FEMA fiasco. And I can tell you that contrary to the Miss Mary Sunshine White House spokeswoman's comments, rank-and-file DHS employees and immigration enforcement officials are absolutely livid about Myers' nomination.

That was Michelle Malkin.  John at Powerline agrees.
I can’t figure it out either.  People made great gruff about Brown after the Katrina incident, but not much before.  What you don’t hear much in the press is that everyone was fine and dandy with the Federal response to all the hurricanes of the last few years with him in charge, and the existing system under Homeland Security in place.  You didn’t notice because the states and localities understood their rolls in emergency management and were organized.  Louisiana was not, and Michael Brown takes the fall.

Now, he might not have been qualified.  But Bush might have felt he could do the job asked of him, for some reason.  And for the most part he did.  However, when the feces hit the fan, he was overwhelmed and crumbled (much like the Governor of LA).  And so I think that perhaps Myers will be competent enough to do her job for the most part.  What happens when the feces hits the fan? 

This was a horrible political move by Bush too.  I don’t get that as well.  He normally is a pretty politically savvy guy, so why appoint a severely under-qualified person right after people highlighted how under-qualified Brown was.  People have a short attention span, but not that short.

Chicago in Basra

Publius pundit brings up an interesting point about Islamic militias in Iraq and how the constitutional issue of federalism puts regional security and human rights issues in jeopardy.

First from the Guardian.

      Basra has not been beset by the levels of violence seen in Baghdad and the Sunni triangle but the relative calm that has held since the fall of Saddam Hussein is now under threat, say residents and diplomats.
      They draw a picture of a once proud but now impoverished port city steadily falling under the sway of competing Shia Islamist groups and their militias. The groups are said to have infiltrated all levels of the police and local authorities, and are answerable to no one but their religious leaders and party bosses.

And now from Robert Mayer.

      This actually goes back to one of my main arguments against the state of federalism being proposed in the draft constitution, in which the country would be divided into a Shiite south, Kurdish north, and whatever else in the middle. The too-weak central state proposed would practically endorse the militia rule that is enveloping the south, and the more powerful they get, the more Iraq will become chaotic.

The central government still doesn’t have the power to deal with this.  Getting electricity and water to the people would help, but it’s slow going.  It’s not time for the US to leave yet.

Geographers work in Katrina hit area

Here are some maps that were made on September 2 by a corps of volunteer GIS people provided by the Urban and Regional Information Systems Association, which is one of the largest associations serving GIS personnel across the country.

Most show what had been done up to that point and what roads were open and where food and water was getting to.
It’s in PowerPoint, but it’s an OK file to download.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Protesting Iran in New York

Due to hurricane Katrina coverage and blog talk, and also due to the interesting debate between George Galloway and Chris Hitchens (which I have taped, but haven’t watched yet), the following didn’t get much exposure:

Apparently the US delegation to the UN, and some other delegations from democratic countries at the UN, walked out during the address by Ahmadinejad.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Saudi Arabia, last facts

I wanted to get a picture of the present for this country. What's going on now?

Saudi Arabia covers about 2 million square km of dry mountains, plateaus and deserts and holds 26 million people. The capital is still Riyadh. The land is still a monarchy. Ibn Saud died in 1953, and was succeeded by his son, Saud. Saud ruled till 1958, when his mismanagement of the country caused his brother, Faisal, to force him to relinquish the crown and turn Saudi Arabia over to him. In 1975, Faisal was assassinated, and his brother Khalid took over the crown. In 1982, he died and his brother Fahd became king. Fahd was the king until last month, August first Abdallah bin ibd al-Aziz Al Saud became the king. Yet another son of Ibn Saud.
The closest thing they have to a legislature is what's called a "Consultive Council." Who are all appointed by the king. Not much accountability there.
Just this year, Saudi Arabia had it's first elections to pick some members of the Council by the general public. Rumors abound as to how fixed the elections were in certain districts.

An interview with John Bradley, ex newsman for the Arab News, living in Saudi Arabia after 9/11, reveals that the tribal nature of Arabia is alive and well, and a fragile tension exists between them and the crown that basically bought them.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Saudi Arabia, Final episode?

OK, I've got to be done with this series I'm doing. This is the most time I've ever spent on one country or region, and there are library books overdue at the moment.
Previous parts of the series: One, two, three, four and five.

The union of Muhammad ibn Saud, emir of Diriya, and Abd al-Wahhab, founder of Wahhabism, started rather curiously. When al-Wahhab landed in Diriya, he needed an army to spread his new faith to the surrounding areas. Ibn Saud, as it happened, needed to have a religious justification for the tax he wanted to impose, which was counter to sharia. The pairing was made, although Wahhab later convinced ibn Saud that the spoils from conquering neighboring tribes would more than make up for the taxes he would collect and ibn Saud ended the taxation plan. The residents became fond of Wahhab for this act.
This was in 1744. One of Wahhab's tenets was the need for jihad. Not for personal struggle, but as a holy war to defeat infidels, either by conversion or death. This played well in the Najd, where tribal custom was all about raiding and plundering, but never set well with the western mountains and the holy cities.
Let's make a long story short. Over the next hundred and fifty years, the Saudi state would expand and contract. The expansions were often met with resistance, as local tribes changed their minds and wanted more independence. They got allies, but also had lots of enemies, notably the Shiites in the east, who hated Wahhabism with a passion. The Saudi kings were hereditary, but brothers and cousins often fought for control of the empire. Despite all this, there were times when there was stability like the tribes of the Najd had never known. Despite blood feuds, tribes often camped next to each other without bloodshed.
The expansion and state ended in 1818, when Muhammad Ali, the Viceroy of Egypt for the Ottoman Empire, invaded the holy land and in a matter of years fought the Saudis and Wahhabists back to Diriya. The first Saudi state ended.
Despite the last Imam, or ruler, of Diriya, Abdallah ibn Saud, being beheaded in Egypt after Diriya fell, the supporters of the regime would continue to work on uniting the tribes of central Arabia, and created a second Saudi state. Diriya was destroyed, so the capital was moved to Riyadh. The second state of expansion ended in 1891, but the son of the last ruler of this state, Abd al-Aziz, or Ibn Saud as he was known to the outside world, would found the next.

The next chapter of this land is very interesting, and the book goes into great detail, however I don't have time for all that. Ibn Saud would partner with the British, as the Sauds hated the Ottomans, who were allied with Germany. Saud used the war to gain the rest of the country. Even the Hijaz, the mountainous areas holding the holy cities, were supposed to become their own country ruled by the Sharifs, and including Syria and Jordan. The British promised the Sharif just that. However, they turned on Sharif, and gave the entire west coast to Ibn Saud.

Ibn Saud is a very interesting character, and I encourage all to get to know this period better. It includes the adventures of Lawrence of Arabia, and after the war involves the discovery of oil and the invasion (if you can call it that) of western commerce in the form of oil companies.

What ever happened to...?

Cindy Sheehan! I wondered why we haven't heard from the girl of the hour lately. Luckily, Powerline is on it!
Cindy Sheehan has staunchly aligned herself with the enemies of her country, even with those who murdered her own son ("freedom fighters," as she calls them, or "Minutemen" as her patron Michael Moore says). She has gone even beyond that perverse outrage: she has sought out and lent support to the very most extreme, twisted, hateful remnants of the Communist movement, and the last survivors of the Black Panthers. Cindy Sheehan is a hater: nothing more, nothing less.
One of those Black Panthers is a member of a communist type organization, and many of her continuing events have been supported and funded by organizations like ANSWER and the Worker's World Party. Nice company she keeps. She's been lately in New Orleans spreading the message.
No wonder the media dropped her.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Media doing a good job covering Katrina?

OK, I’m finally going to say something about the Hurricane Katrina blame game. I picked up the weekly copy of Willamette Week and a regular columnist, who goes by the name of The Nose, just couldn’t let it be either.

      Here's what surprised the Nose: the visible competence of the American media. The national press (not to mention such local all-stars as the New Orleans Times-Picayune) has done such a good job chronicling the hurricane buffoonery of George W. Bush's crew, it makes you wonder where these guys were in, say, March 2003, when we went hunting for mirage weapons of mass destruction.

Oh, puh-lease! You mean that the national media finally got around to attacking Bush effectively enough for you? They finally were able to work up a good story against Bush that doesn’t involve the occupation of Iraq or Homeland Security? Does that mean that they are doing a good job?

You think they let Bush off on the WMD issue?
The Nose acts like he sits around waiting for the national media to find reasons to attack the President, just for being, say, George Bush. Expand your reading materials, boys.

There was an article in the Pittsburg Post-Gazette last week, where a Florida national guardsman was interviewed and he said:

      "The federal government pretty much met its standard time lines, but the volume of support provided during the 72-96 hour was unprecedented. The federal response here was faster than Hugo, faster than Andrew, faster than Iniki, faster than Francine and Jeanne."

The federal response time for hurricane Andrew was 5 days, as opposed to the 3 that it took to get significant federal presence in the Katrina affected region. This is the federal government folks. If you expect that the feds can move untold amounts of supplies and equipment and personnel into an area ravaged by a hurricane, in less than 3 days, you don’t know a thing about emergency management. The first two to three days of ANY emergency is usually covered by local fire and police departments, and then the state guard troops.

The first 100 miles from the coast in the south are covered with pine trees. After the hurricane, the pine trees were covering the roads. You think it was easy driving emergency vehicles into the coastal areas?

It’s like people are looking for any excuse to bad mouth Bush.

However, the person most responsible for the state that Louisiana is in right now isn’t Bush, and it probably isn’t even their Governor or the hapless Mayor of New Orleans. The Governor, despite showing the backbone of a slug, can’t really be expected to know the ins and outs of the states emergency plan or the procedures for getting federal help and aid.

But the head of Louisiana’s Department of Homeland Security, Major General Bennett C. Landreneau, would be that guy. You think that the media would eventually be able to figure all this out. But I don’t expect them too, as they aren’t really wanting to get to the bottom of this, they just want a good story, and the good and popular thing to do in the media right now is find a way to make Bush responsible for the bad stuff. And the Nose doesn’t seem to be waiting around for them to, either. He seems to be satisfied that they’ve dug enough.

Update: In the comments: link to an interview with Michael Brown, and what he experienced when he got to Louisiana. Revealing.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Lack of Oversight

Jack Bog noticed that one of Bush’s programs to help victims of 9/11 fell on it’s face.

      The government's $5 billion effort to help small businesses recover from the Sept. 11 attacks was so loosely managed that it gave low-interest loans to companies that didn't need terrorism relief - or even know they were getting it, The Associated Press has found.

You mean a federal program mismanaged money and had little oversight to keep it from going astray?  Say it ain’t so!
Believe me, I’m not excusing this.  It’s just that I’ve seen too much of this, and it isn’t just a Bush-era problem.  Bush needs to respond to this somehow, or at least apologize.

Thrilla in the Indian Ocean

The Maldives are a large accumulation of islands in the Indian Ocean, south and west of the country of India.  It’s mostly a tourist destination for Europeans, but was hit hard by the Tsunami last year.

But that’s only one of its problems.

The islands of the Maldives are thought to have been settled by seafaring peoples as early as 2000 years ago, and maritime trade routes used by Egyptians, Arabs and Indians used it as a stopping point.

During the 4th century, Buddhists originating from Ceylon (Sri Lanka) migrated and converted the population to Buddhism.

Due to the trade routes, the influence of Islam made its introduction around the turn of the millennia, and Maldives was an independent sultanate from about 1153 to 1968, although it was a British protectorate from 1887 until after WWII.

After British control, the country briefly converted back to a sultanate for three years, after which it was abolished and replaced with a republic.

The country is said to be the flattest on earth, with a maximum altitude of only 2.3 meters (Wikipedia).

PubliusPundit notes that there has been a major uprising in the form of protests that have been, in some cases, forcefully put down.  Opposition leaders have been imprisoned. 

The President has been in power since 1978, and has no intention of abdicating his “throne.”  He is referred to by the people as “the mullah.”

He has promised reform, but the majority of it has been entirely cosmetic.

The Maldives are so small that big media has been all but ignoring this.  However, Robert Mayer notes that there are several blogs giving local perspective to the situation.  Minivan News, Dhivehi Observer, Maldives Freeblog and Maldives Blog are all posting regularly.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Saudi Arabia, Part 5

After the Mongols finished off the Islamic empire in the 13th century, the region of Arabia, the Mamluks, who were former Turkish slaves, set up their caliphate in Cairo, controlling the lands of Egypt, Syria and Palestine. The Mamluks actually repelled further attempts at expanding the Mongol empire from Bagdad, and they took control of the vital parts of Arabia, namely the Holy Cities of Mecca and Medina.

Interestingly enough, the Muslims did defeat the Mongols in a way, in that the Mongols had converted to Islam. However the Islamic empire ceased to exist and the area wouldn’t recover for centuries.

After the defeat of the Franks (crusades), maritime trade flourished in the Mamluk empire. The port of Jeddah in the Red Sea particularly. Contact with peoples from around the world became more and more frequent, especially ships from China.

The animosity because of the Crusades, and the European issues with the Ottoman Empire caused Europeans to try to find a way to India that didn’t involve going through the Red Sea. This was the big push to find the route around the southern tip of Africa.

The Portuguese, with expeditions of Dias and Vasco de Gama, found that route, and trade with India and conquest of the east Indies began. The Portuguese and Egyptians fought a lot, and Portuguese military ships scuttled many Indian trading ships. The Egyptians engaged the Portuguese many times, and the Portuguese responded by sacking Arabian trading ports.

The Ottoman Empire began about when the Mongols captured Baghdad, but gradually expanded out over Anatolia (modern Turkey) and ended the Mamluk empire in 1517. By extension, the Ottomans gained control over the holy lands. Not content to rule by hands off taxation and representatives, they pushed into Arabia and took direct control of ports in the Red Sea. The Ottomans continued the tradition of the Sharifs controlling of Mecca, but they often appointed the Sharif, as opposed to hereditary succession.

Later, the Ottomans began to take control of eastern regions of Arabia, capturing Hasa and appointing regional governors there. In 1669, local clans clashed with imperial forces and drove them out.

The tribes of central and eastern Arabia have always been independent minded and resistant to foreign control, and the Ottomans never held significant sway in that region.

The central region, or the Najd, remained in disarray throughout this period, kept in chaos by blood feuds, raiding, tribal warfare, shifting alliances, droughts, famines, and plagues of locusts (you think I’m kidding). In the early 1500s, the tribes of three towns vied for dominance of the area: Diriya, Uyaina, and Hufuf.

In Diriya, a fractured line of family succession for the emir-ship of the city (Father murdered, son murdered by cousin, cousin murdered by son, son murdered by another cousin, etc…) led to the emir named Muhammad ibn Miqrin, who had a son named Saud, who came to power 1720 and began the house of Saud, which would carry on to the present day.

In response to the decay of the religion of Islam, in which saint-worship, belief in charms, offerings, superstitions, and the animist belief in the powers of trees, rocks, tombs and the like, all crept into the belief systems of many Arabians. A strong religious movement started in the Najd by the son of respected theologians, Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab. His teachings caught on, and he was accepted by the Emir of Uyaina. His teachings were conservative, but they were also fairly harsh, in the realm of penalties for disobeying the strict edicts of the sect. Word got around, and he was eventually driven from Uyaina to Diriya, where he was accepted by Muhammad ibn Saud and offered protection.

The sect of Islam became known as Wahhabism, which is the radical sect that bred Ossama bin Laden.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Water bill blues

Here in Portland, Oregon, the water supply comes from a watershed, and two dams within that watershed, called Bull Run.  It is in the Mount Hood National Forest, and is one of the cleanest and best tasting water supplies in the country.  However, recently the future of a growing Portland area population and the logistics of getting that water around the west hills to Portland’s western suburbs has caused some localities to build a purification plant for water from the Willamette River.

The Willamette certainly has enough water, but has a bad reputation for how polluted it can get.   The plant, however, built by the city of Wilsonville, south of Portland, has created water well above water quality standards since it’s inception.

The city of Tigard is considering dumping the City of Portland's Bull Run water for Willamette River water, which is already being used in some localities in Washington County and the city of Wilsonville.

Portland City Councilman Randy Leonard said:

      “If enough customers switched, we would have no choice but to raise rates,” said city Commissioner Randy Leonard, who is in charge of the bureau.

What?  Why? Leonard later admits that losing the customers of some suburbs might be a good thing as growing demand in Portland and eastern suburbs grows, the article never says anything about why Leonard made these statements or why he thinks that losing customers will raise rates.

On the surface, this is a very un-American statement.  I don't mean anti-American, or that he's a communist or something.  I mean that it is inconsistent with the American values of competition and free-market adjustment of prices. 

The Portland Water Bureau is a MONOPOLY, right?  If you live in Portland, you have no choice but to get your water from the city (unless you dig a well or something).  In a free market society, if the Government is running some sort of service without competition, presumably for the public good, it is obliged to run it in as efficient manner as possible in the absence of competition (not that it ever happens that way).

When you lose customers in the business world, do you automatically raise prices? 
My guess is that bureau officials have told Mr. Randy that their costs would increase because they don't want to have to fire people when the customer base shrinks.  Union mentality?  Bureaucratic mentality (don’t want to lose our budget)?

Keep eye on ball

Glenn Reynolds and Joseph Britt remind us to not forget about Darfur.  In many ways it’s worse than a hurricane.
Also, lets not forget about the Ukraine, where there is a big governmental shakedown going on following the amazing democratic revolution there last year.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Gay Marriage in Cali?

Here’s something people are going to miss if they are all paying attention to the Hurricane recovery in the south.

      California lawmakers have become the first in the United States to legalize same-sex marriage, with the State Assembly narrowly approving a bill that defines marriage as between "two persons" instead of between a man and a woman.

Now, I’m not going to be heavy about this, as I’ve said in the past that the legislature is where this is supposed to be decided, instead of the courts.  It’s coming though, as does every trend started amongst palm trees and super freeways.

But will Arno veto the bill?  We don’t know, and they’re not telling.

      The measure now goes to Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican, who has supported domestic partnership legislation but has not taken a public position on the marriage bill.

OK, here’s the really ironic part.

      A spokeswoman for Schwarzenegger, Margita Thompson, said after the vote that he believed that the issue of same-sex marriage should be settled by the courts, not legislators.

Whaaaaa?  My opinion of Conan the Governor, and his knowledge of our system of government here in the old US of A, just lost serious altitude.  

In all of this, we can once again point to the people and illustrate just how out of touch elected officials are with the majority of their constituents.

      Californians voted overwhelmingly in 2000 for a ballot measure, Proposition 22, that defined marriage as between a man and a woman, but the legality of that law is now being fought over in the courts.

What the Governator, and many who support gay marriage, fail to understand is that the courts really can’t do anything, and if they do they’ll get tons of backlash for creating law where there is none.  This indeed IS a job for the legislature, not the courts.

Reuters claims that Arnold will veto, citing his need to keep support from Republican voters.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Of Wolves and Sheep (and the Sheepdogs who protect them)

Been thinking that all this War on Terror stuff is malarkey and we can just change our foreign policy and reason with Osama?

Under the impression that there is some race issue going on with the lackluster rescue of New Orleans denizens?
Fond of watching Hollywood stars claim that they care much more about the poor of New Orleans (or Sudan, Iraq, whatever) than you do?

Then read THIS.  (apologies for the cursing.  This guys was apparently on fire and couldn’t stop himself)

Timber as hero in Katrina-ravaged south

Most timber companies in the south survived the hurricane without too much damage, and without too much interruption in production.

Louisiana-Pacific is also donating $500,000 to the Red Cross and 1.5 million SqFt of structural panels for the rebuilding effort.

They are also adjusting their production to produce more structural panels instead of siding at one of it’s mills, as the panels will be more in need.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Arabia, Part 4, the Crusades

I didn't plan on writing about this, as there is not much on the Crusades in the book about Saudi Arabia that I'm reading. However, a loyal reader noted that I hadn't mentioned it yet, and it did occur during the time of the Islamic Empire. Since with another post I hope to cover the Ottomans and the Arabian "Dark Ages" I'll cover the Crusades in short.
In fact, I'll just quote the entire aside from the book here.
The Fatimid dynasty had historically exercised religious tolerance; most subjects in Egypt were Coptic Christians, Jews and Sunni Muslims. But some rulers treated Christians and Jews more harshly. One, Caliph al-Hakim (r. 996-1021), ordered the destruction of Jerusalem's Church of the Holly Sepulcher, inflaming Christians. (Al-Hakim, considered to have been mad, is also alleged to have been behind an effort to destroy the sacred Black Stone in the Kaaba, perpetrated by a fanatic who was killed in the midst of his attack.) Likewise, Christian pilgrims visiting the Holy Land often encountered adversity in the Muslim lands they traveled through. These events helped create an antagonistic atmosphere between Christendom and Islam. In 1094 the Byzantine emperor Alexius Comnenus, who was losing Asian territories to the Seljuks, asked Pope Urban II's help in fighting the Islamic forces. A half century earlier the Seljuk Turks had overrun the western territory of the Abbasid dynasty, before Tugrul Bey established his sultanate in Baghdad in 1055, under which the Abbasid caliph served. The Holy Land itself,at the time of the Crusades, was a disunited region ruled by competing chiefs. The Seljuk Turks controlled the north. In 1095, the year after the Holy Roman Emperor asked for his assistance, Pope Urban II called upon the faithful of Christendom to march on the Holy Land and "wrest it from the wicked race" occupying it. The First Crusade, so named for the cross under which the men marched, left Constantinople in 1096. Some 30,000 to 35,000 soldiers formed the fighting core of the rag-tag amalgamation of perhaps 150,000 crusaders from across Europe that set off for the Holy Lands in the Levant. A series of Crusades followed, lasting until 1291.
Except for pilgrimage traffic, the Crusades didn't affect Arabia too much. The Crusaders only once threatened the holy cities of Medina and Mecca, but were soundly defeated by the Arabs.
The 200 years of fighting was a series of victories and losses for both sides. One decade the Crusaders would capture Jerusalem and much of Palestine, the next decade the Muslims would take it back. In 1291 the Muslims finally drove the Franks off the coast in Antioch, Tyre and Tripoli.
It hardly mattered, though, as the Islamic Empire had been brought down by the Mongols by this point.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Support Hurricane Katrina Victims

I have just donated to a charity called Feed the Children.  I gave a mere pittance it would seem, but my wife and I also give regularly to that charity.

Feed the Children is a Christian program that helps children in poor countries, and also in the United States when catastrophes like Katrina happen (no offense to all those ladies named Katrina out there).

You can donate to them, or you can go to the Truth Laid Bear, who has enlisted almost 1000 bloggers to drum up support for a large variety of charities and support organizations.  Feed the Children and World Vision are among them.

I should also link to Glenn Reynolds roundup post where he lists more places to send your money than I even have time to read.

GIS aid for Katrina

Here is a way for Geographic Information professionals (of which I am one) to help out with the disaster in the south in the wake of hurricane Katrina.  Now, before you wonder what the heck a small niche of computer professionals can do, GIS is used extensively in emergency situations, like forest fires and other natural disasters, to help aid workers analyze what happened and how to best reach people in need.  They take advantage of satellite and air photography to make quick maps of the areas affected for use by emergency agencies and aid crews.

For example, GIS professionals could get satellite shots that provide the location of standing water, and use existing parcel data analyze who's houses and what buildings are under water and get a list of those people.  Maps of standing water crossed with information on what was not covered as of last week, coupled with data on where the largest concentrations of people are will help emergency operations prioritize.  The list of things to do with this technology in support of catastrophe is endless.

  There is an organization called GISCorps, which is under the umbrella of the Urban and Regional Information Systems Association (URISA).

Here’s their tag:

      GISCorps coordinates short term, volunteer GIS services to underprivileged communities worldwide. Our volunteers' services help improve the quality of life. They support humanitarian relief, environmental analysis, economic development, community planning and sustainable development, GIS implementation and management, local capacity enhancement, aboriginal issues, health and education.

      In October 2003, URISA's Board of Directors unanimously endorsed the GISCorps as an initiative under URISA's auspices. GISCorps is run by a Core Committee of 6 individuals who meet monthly. As of July 12th 2005, GISCorps has over 270 experienced volunteers. They reside in 35 different countries over the five continents. The US volunteers come from 36 different states. They are looking to provide GIS services such as: performing needs assessment and strategic planning, conducting technical workshops, database modeling, disaster management, and remote sensing, etc.

      The GISCorps has been working around the clock to evaluate and make available its volunteers to several agencies working on the Indian Ocean Tragedy. Click for
      details on our current efforts.

The volunteers usually work from their home or office.  They perform analysis and produce maps for projects in areas  of the world that would otherwise not have the funding to perform such analysis.  Their first project was to plan for sustainable development in the Sacred Valley in Peru.

Other projects have included support for the Andaman islands of India, which were hit hard by the Tsunami, and projects in Afghanistan.

The Corps are drumming up support for 20 volunteers to work in the Mississippi Emergency Operations Center in Jackson, MS.