Thursday, February 23, 2006

Establishment clause = federal govt

Interesting legal question:  Do federal courts have jurisdiction over state legislatures and state governments?  Specifically, if a state legislature wants to have a prayer to start sessions, and that prayer is specifically Christian in nature, does a federal court have the authority to say that they can’t do it because of church and state?  A federal district court decision ruled that the Indiana Legislature couldn’t do it.

If the state government wants to put the 10 commandments on it’s lawn, isn’t that a state issue, not a federal one?
Isn’t the clause of the constitution preventing the government from promoting a religion specifically referring to the national government, not the states?  Shouldn’t the states own constitutions handle that sort of thing?  What writings from the founding fathers would refute this argument or support it?

Paying your tithe from your Medicaid

Did congress really just pass a Medicaid bill that causes every act of giving, including church tithes and gifts to the poor, to be deducted from their benefits?  The program already does this to an extent, in the case of someone trying to push assets off to family members or some other safe location so that their assets and income look smaller so that they can qualify for benefits.

      But then comes the new rub—as of Jan. 31 of this year. The law just passed by Congress doesn't try merely to discourage such intra-family dealings. Now it extends the "look-back" period from three years to five years. And now it requires that all charitable giving—including every bit of her tithe to her local church, and starting at the beginning of the five-year period—also be deducted from future benefits.

There’s an appeal process, but it’s daunting.  Score another cynical move for politicians trying to look like their busy fixing something.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Land Use Law controversy over

The controversy surrounding a measure in Oregon that protected property owners from state regulation that would devalue their land is now settled.  The Oregon Supreme Court finally gave it the thumbs up, and so ends the litigation (at least regarding the law itself).  The decision was unanimous also, which will make it hard to argue that there are lingering legal problems with it.

The Oregonian article notes that this will spur a major change in the state’s approach to planning.  Up until now it’s been focused on reserving land, either for agriculture or environment, and concentrating growth in cities.  That’s certain to change, but planning activists, like those at 1000 Friends of Oregon, say things like, “this state will mar a landscape protected by three decades of careful planning.”

I don’t think you are going to get there, but the landscape is going to change significantly from the direction it was currently taking.  I think the property owners are correct here, that with practically unrestricted government control over what they could do with their land, they were trampling some basic American principles, and I think that no one should have been surprised that there was enough support to get the current trend of government control reversed.   They won’t be able to reverse this new trend without some very hard battles and some very heavy losses.  Either we are going to get a compete revolt here and the government won’t be able to protect and manage anything, or we go back to being OK with limiting one of the founding freedoms that was at the root of what Jefferson, Madison and the rest were trying to accomplish with the Great Experiment.  The challenge for Oregon land use planners is to move forward and try to achieve reasonable goals in the new land use environment.

Lingering Damage of Propaganda

A lengthy discussion on the propaganda machine at work in the west.  Eric Raymond argues that the propaganda machines set up by the Soviet’s during the last century did their job (although their source didn’t stand the test of time), and are continuing to work.  Only this time the people taking advantage of them to influence culture and political thought are Islamists.

      Americans have never really understood ideological warfare. Our gut-level assumption is that everybody in the world really wants the same comfortable material success we have. We use “extremist” as a negative epithetic. Even the few fanatics and revolutionary idealists we have, whatever their political flavor, expect everybody else to behave like a bourgeois.

      We don’t expect ideas to matter — or, when they do, we expect them to matter only because people have been flipped into a vulnerable mode by repression or poverty. Thus all our divagation about the “root causes” of Islamic terrorism, as if the terrorists’ very clear and very ideological account of their own theory and motivations is somehow not to be believed.

      By contrast, ideological and memetic warfare has been a favored tactic for all of America’s three great adversaries of the last hundred years — Nazis, Communists, and Islamists.

      But it was the Soviet Union, in its day, that was the master of this game. They made dezinformatsiya (disinformation) a central weapon of their war against “the main adversary”, the U.S. They conducted memetic subversion against the U.S. on many levels at a scale that is only now becoming clear as historians burrow through their archives and ex-KGB officers sell their memoirs.

      Accordingly, the Soviet espionage apparat actually ran two different kinds of network: one of spies, and one of agents of influence. The agents of influence had the minor function of recruiting spies (as, for example, when Kim Philby was brought in by one of his tutors at Cambridge), but their major function was to spread dezinformatsiya, to launch memetic weapons that would damage and weaken the West.

      This worked exactly as expected; their memes seeped into Western popular culture and are repeated endlessly in (for example) the products of Hollywood.

      Indeed, the index of Soviet success is that most of us no longer think of these memes as Communist propaganda. It takes a significant amount of digging and rethinking and remembering, even for a lifelong anti-Communist like myself, to realize that there was a time (within the lifetime of my parents) when all of these ideas would have seemed alien, absurd, and repulsive to most people — at best, the beliefs of a nutty left-wing fringe, and at worst instruments of deliberate subversion intended to destroy the American way of life.

      The most paranoid and xenophobic conservatives of the Cold War were, painful though this is to admit, the closest to the truth in estimating the magnitude and subtlety of Soviet subversion. Liberal anticommunists (like myself in the 1970s) thought we were being judicious and fair-minded when we dismissed half of the Right’s complaint as crude blather. We were wrong; the Rosenbergs and Alger Hiss really were guilty, the Hollywood Ten really were Stalinist tools, and all of Joseph McCarthy’s rants about “Communists in the State Department” were essentially true. The Venona transcripts and other new material leave no room for reasonable doubt on this score.

      It is no accident that Osama bin Laden so often sounds like he’s reading from back issues of Z magazine, and no accident that both constantly echo the hoariest old cliches of Soviet propaganda in the 1930s and ’40s.

      Another consequence of Stalin’s meme war is that today’s left-wing antiwar demonstrators wear kaffiyehs without any sense of how grotesque it is for ostensible Marxists to cuddle up to religious absolutists who want to restore the power relations of the 7th century CE. In Stalin’s hands, even Marxism itself was hollowed out to serve as a memetic weapon — it became increasingly nihilist, hatred-focused and destructive. The postmodern left is now defined not by what it’s for but by by what it’s against: classical-liberal individualism, free markets, dead white males, America, and the idea of objective reality itself.

      In the banlieus and elsewhere, Islamist pressure makes it certain that sooner or later the West is going to vomit Stalin’s memes out of its body politic. The worst way would be through a reflex development of Western absolutism — Christian chauvinism, nativism and militarism melding into something like Francoite fascism. The self-panicking leftists who think they see that in today’s Republicans are comically wrong (as witnessed by the fact that they aren’t being systematically jailed and executed), but it is quite a plausible future for the demographically-collapsing nations of Europe.

I’ve pretty much pulled the important bits out, but it’s worth reading in toto.  Hat tip to Instapundit.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Gumbel on the winter games

Gateway notes that Bryant Gumbel said this about the Winter Olympics:

      Finally, tonight, the Winter Games. Count me among those who don’t care about them and won’t watch them... Try not to be incredulous when someone attempts to link these games to those of the ancient Greeks who never heard of skating or skiing. So try not to laugh when someone says these are the world’s greatest athletes, despite a paucity of blacks that makes the winter games look like a GOP convention.

He said that last week right before Shani Davis won the men’s 1000 meter speed skate event.  Now I don’t know why Bryant said that.  I can point to probably a few dozen sports in the Summer Olympics as well that have no association with ancient Greece.   Perhaps he was having a bad day.  Perhaps he just doesn’t like the winter Olympics and needed an excuse to say so.

But his statement reveals a belief of his that black athletes are naturally more athletic than other shades of people, and given the opportunity they would be far better than all those pasty skiers and skaters adorning Turin right now.  But different ethnicities of peoples do well at whatever sports tend to dominate the culture.  I would be willing to say, without any real science to back me up, that I could buy that Americans of African descent are build differently enough that they do excel at certain things, like running. 

However, most of the sports in the winter Olympics haven’t much to do with running.  The skill sets involved seem to cross ethnic and biological boundaries, and therefore physically these sports don’t give an advantage to one race of people or another.  Economics might have some small part.  After all skiing is pretty expensive.  It’s a pretty poor excuse for not showing up, but it might have something to do with why people from the urban reserve don’t make it up to the mountain much.

But I think that the real issue is that the sports are just not popular with black American just yet.  The entire pool of athletic people have not been tapped in that sense, but if Gumbel expects that blacks would somehow take over many of the winter games, he might be surprised.  Also, the number of blacks participating in the Olympics is not necessarily indicative of the percentage that have tried out for a spot.  Anyone have that number?

Random movie talk talk

Back from the weekend.  Been enjoying some time with my wife, it being her birthday.  Some going out with the kids, some staying in and watching the Olympics (actually a lot of that).  We watched a movie called Alex and Emma, staring Kate Hudson and Luke Wilson.   I was horribly disappointed, in that while the idea of the story was cute, the writing dialog and acting took a bit away from the film. 

The entire idea of the film is that a struggling writer, Alex (Wilson) needs to write a romance novel before the month is over or some Hispanic goons he owes money will kill him.  The only way that he can write with that kind of speed is by orating his ideas to a court stenographer, Emma (Hudson), and so he hires her by pretending to be a struggling law firm.  Not withstanding the fact that it’s a stretch to believe that a publisher would hand out the $100k he needs in order to pay off the goons the second he turns in the finished book, but we are presented with having to root for the hero of the tale to get the girl when the hero is a depressing liar with a gambling problem. 

The trick with the film is that we experience the plot of the story he is trying to write along with the main story of his growing relationship with the Emma.  The book is meant to mirror the reality of what he is experiencing.   The writing for the novel parts, as dictated by Wilson’s character, are terrible, but I’m assuming that was on purpose and part of the comedy of the film.  There were some bright moments, like the constant morphing of Hudson’s character in the novel (first she’s Swedish, then German, etc…).

However, there were too many moments when I thought the dialog in the main part of the movie (not the novel part) was just as bad.  And like I said you have to struggle to really like Wilson’s character.  And it doesn’t make me want to pick up a romance novel anytime in the foreseeable future either.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Intelligent Design of the Left

I've been forever noticing that while the left lampoons the right's devotion to the ID cause where creation and evolution is concerned in the biological world, they hold to Intelligent Design in the socio/economic world.

Indeed, it is the economics of the left, so affectionately espoused by Galbraith and his compatriots, that is secular Intelligent Design par excellence.
Consider quotes like this from the New York Times'’ Paul Krugman: "What's interesting about [the Bush Administration] is that there's no sign that anybody's actually thinking about, '‘well, how do we run this economy?'"’
The very idea of "“running"” an economy is predicated upon the notion that economies can be run and fine-tuned, much like a machine. But what Krugman and folks like Galbraith fail to understand is that the economy isn't a machine at all, but an ecosystem. And ecosystems aren't designed, they evolve.

Indeed. The more you try to tinker with the system for the benefit of those less fortunate, the more you are going to end up with what those poor unfortunate Russians faced for 70 years. The more you try to control the economic environment, the less room it has to innovate and adjust to conditions. There should always be boundaries set up around the economy (like anti-trust situations), but it should be left alone for the most part. President Bush really did just about all a President should do during the recession to lift the economy back to its feet. If anything more, he should have championed less government spending to keep the Federal government from sucking up so many taxpayer's (consumer's) dollars.
This doesn't mean that I'm all over a Darwinian view of the biological world, it has it's own scientific problems. But this person Gilbraith, along with Krugman, seem to misunderstand what American capitalism is all about and why it's been so successful.
And in the end it's directly contrary to what they believe about the rest of the world.
Hat tip to Joe Katzman.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Ralph Reed and Abramoff

One of the lesser known political figures who is in big trouble as a result of the Abramoff scandal is Ralph Reed of the Christian Coalition. World magazine details the extent of corruption that Reed allowed in order to attract the funding that Abramoff could bring. It also mentions that some hurt feelings arose when one of World's reporters asked the Vice President of Focus on the Family some very tough questions.

When Mountains Fall

I’ve heard more than one high profile Christian (or articles regarding groups of Christians) that talk about all the disasters we are viewing around the world as the sign of the end.  We have had lots of action on the geologic front lately, from earthquakes, the tsunami last year and a swarm of hurricanes, including Katrina this year.

Now there was this disaster in the Philippines where a 3000 foot mountain basically just disintegrated on a town at the base, killing most of the people.  Sounds disastrous, and the pictures look horrifying.  How could you not think the Christ was on his way.

Or are these still the birth pangs of the end, as Jesus repeatedly reminded us?  One thing about our modern society is that we get information so readily and so quick from all parts of the world that every little event is not out of reach of our senses.  So are we really seeing more devastation throughout the world, or has life always been this way for people all around the globe and we just get to see it all now?

I’m sure WWII looked to many people like the world was ending.  But these are just birth pains.  Christ could come tomorrow.  Or he may not come until we’ve all passed away and our grandchildren will face that day.  Or not even then.  So we continue to prepare for our lives as if we life for old age, with the understanding that we are to continue working on our faith as if Christ will come any time. 

Never the less, the sight of an entire mountain sliding down on you must have been horrible.  Hundreds or thousands of displaces peoples, families broken, kids without parents, thousands dead.  Our prayers go out to the people of this small town.


Condi is getting tough with Venezuela.  She made a great public statement calling on leaders from other western countries to stop turning a blind eye to the destruction that Hugo is wreaking on democracy in Venezuela.

Hat tip to Publius.


Meet the new boss.  Same as the old boss.
Note that the UN came in and changed the method in which the votes were to be tallied in order to get the outcome they wanted.  I realize that they did it to avert a riot and possible violent rebellion, but color me nervous on how casually everyone agreed to do it.   Preval would have won a runoff election with ease, but the citizens there are to freaked out to realize it.  Someone was stirring them up to believe that an outright win was proof of corruption, probably Preval himself.

The end result might not be the worst thing imaginable.  Preval is one of three truly democratically elected presidents, and is still the only one to end his term (he was president from 1996 to2001) as a result of the natural expiration of his term.

Update:  Publius noted that the UN found hundreds of ballot boxes smashed in a garbage dump, filled with ballots marked for Preval.  So I guess the accusations of corruption are pretty well founded.  He continues:

      My biggest problem is the trust put in the hands of the central election commission to tabulate the results without skewing them. These commissions are well-known to be biased and outright criminal — from Ukraine to Georgia to Venezuela. Yet, when Preval decided to challenge the vote counting process, it was ruled that the challenge would not go before the Supreme Court — obviously a much more honest venue — but instead before the very electoral commission that is being accused of fraud!

Let’s hope this works and that the people accept the result as the will of the electorate and settle down.

The Gitmo Opposition

More pressure to close the prison at Guantanamo.

      Leading politicians from the two main political British parties, and a judge in Britain's high court, said allegations of torture at the camp meant the US should close it as soon as possible.

So no actual facts are necessary in order to demand that the US follow certain policy.  What kind of a precedent would that set up?

      The Members of the European Parliament (MEP) also "demanded that prisoners held in the camp be treated in conformity with international law."

          "Guantánamo is a scandal. The founding fathers of the United States must be turning in their graves at the constitutional outrage whereby America practises illegal detention, ill-treatment and even torture," said UK liberal MEP Baroness Sarah Ludford.

      The Voice of America reports that UN Secretary General Kofi Annan said he didn't agree with everything in the UN special investigators report – he said it wasn't an official UN report – he did agree with its findings that the detainees held there should be tried immediately or released. The US should close the prison "as soon as possible," he said.

OK, think about what is being said here.  A UK liberal is saying that America “practices illegal detention,” whereas allegations of mistreatment of prisoners is just that: allegation, not fact.  But this UN report is not even an official UN report?  What is it then?  Who drew it up and were are they getting their information. 

Not that long ago, Democratic Senators, no patsy for the current administration, took a trip to the prison and declared that nothing fishy was going on there.  So why is it that folks with an axe to grind, and no facts about actual mistreatment, get to pressure the U.S. into conformance with certain leftist policies?

This BBC article is an bit of information on the process that some of the detainees are allowed to challenge their detention.  One thing to get from the article is the tension between those who insist that these are military detentions during a war, and those who insist that each prisoner has the right to challenge the legality of their detention before a judicial body.  Basically those who think we are at war and those who don’t.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

More Abu Ghraib photos

I have a couple of questions.  The story of the day seems to be that more photos were “released” about what happened at the prison Abu Ghraib.  They are horrible, to be sure, but they have also spurred calls for another investigation.  So my questions are:

    1. Where did Dateline get these new photos?  Are they more photos that were included in the original investigation but not released at the time because the government thought they were a bit brutal for public consumption?  If that’s the case then wouldn’t the original investigation cover what the chattering class is clamoring for?
    2. In the original investigation, where deaths or other evidences of what’s in the current hash of photos evidences?  What are the offenses that the people serving prison terms all about?

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Saddam Hunger Strike

Saddam declared he wouldn’t eat to protest their trial where he is being charged with violating human rights of Shiites and Kurds.

Ok, does anyone else see the irony here?  The UN oil for food program was supposed to keep the people of Iraq fed while sanctions were in place.   Obviously with hindsight we know that most of the money went to Saddam and the Government of Iraq (and various corrupt officials around the world).  So basically Saddam was forcing a hunger strike on the Shiites.

How long do you think this selfish cult of personality will really starve himself on principle?
I love this statement by the goon himself:
        “I urge Iraqis that everyone should fight and defend his country.”
That’s what they are doing now, bozo.  It’s just not your country any more.

The excuses being used by the former regime officials who are supposed to be testifying against Saddam are pathetic.  “I only signed that order to kill thousands of Shiites because I didn’t have my glasses on and didn’t see what I was signing.”  (fake but accurate quote).

Friday, February 10, 2006

Neat Technology

There’s a niche inside the GPS/Geographic tech industry that works with something called Location Based Services (LBS).  Basically what they do is work with technology that knows where you are, or knows where things are in real time.  On-Star is a  good example of this, as your car might have a GPS receiver, so that when you get into trouble, people know where you are.

Cell phones are increasingly getting that way as well.  GIS Monitor looked at one company, SquareLoop, that deals with providing technology that filters out what can and can’t use the location information that gets collected in your cell phone.  They wonder that as central systems become increasingly aware of where you are because of devices you carry, how can you protect yourself against being tracked, or being beeped every time you get close to a shoe sale or traffic congestion?

It could be conceivable that in the future, you can have your phone alert you to certain things, like set up a service that alerts you when you get near something of interest to you (as opposed to something of interest to your phone provider).  It could also be conceivable that the government could automatically send messages to the phones of people within a given area if need be.  Think that if a chemical spill, or something else toxic, happened.  Your phone knows where you are, and the government sends a request to your provider that alerts all the phones that fall into a certain radius around the event.

Just interesting stuff.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Federal Gravy Train

Noticed that my town of Portland rounded up some big federal dollars for extensions of the MAX line, the urban mass transit light rail.  There are already lines running long routes east and west from downtown to the suburbs, as well as a line running north to the river and a spur line to the airport.

City planners and light rail enthusiasts have been wanting another line to the south/east part of the metro area, known as Clackamas, for some time now.  The line wouldn’t be that hard to build, as the right of way was cleared long ago as part of the I-205 right of way.  But, as with all things, since there are so much tax dollars at stake, the inevitable questions come up:  Is it worth spending all that money for so little benefit?  Wouldn’t the money be better spent on highway and street improvements?  Isn’t light rail, in this age of cars, just window dressing? 

It’s true that the initial ridership will look nothing like what the planners tout in the public square.  The number of peoples riding the Airport line and North line are nothing like what people expected they would be.  The Airport line isn’t that big of a deal, as much of the money came from investors who bought cheep land around the Airport, thinking they would cash in on selling the land around the new train stops on the way (which didn’t happen; those stops are like ghost towns).

So detractors would point to low ridership, low benefit.  However, even detractors notice that the current east and west lines are very well used.  I ride the train in most days, and it’s always standing room only for about 2 or 3 hours around rush hour.  The rest of the day the seating is always pretty limited.

But even a few years after MAX was first completed, the ridership was pretty low.  I remember the public complaints about public benefit and waste of government money when plans were being made to ask for government funds, and build, the north and Airport legs of the rail.  They pointed to the low number of riders on the original blue line. 

So it’s apparent that the popularity of the rail has accumulated over time.  Perhaps it will with the north and airport lines as well.  You could make an argument that we need the initial flood of tax dollars to build the rail, but once built it will eventually prove its worth.

But should that really justify the expenditure?  It’s still tax dollars being provided for what is basically a local, even a semi-private, venture (if you concede that transit should be paying for itself via usage).  Ridership will eventually come around.  The train will become popular around each leg.  But, is it the best use of public funds?  Is it the best way to remedy traffic congestion?

Onward Christian Environmentalist

So now there are some Christians who feel it’s there duty to promote the Global Warming mantra and push for legislation to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

      The group said Christians, and the U.S. government, have a responsibility to cut emissions of carbon dioxide, methane and other gases that trap heat in the atmosphere like a greenhouse. Many scientists believe these gases have intensified recent hurricanes, heat waves, disease outbreaks and droughts.

The CBS report acts surprised that a portion of the conservative base has views like this, but that just goes to show that there isn’t consensus on every issue in any large group of people.  You’ll always be able to find a Republican or conservative who favors environmental activism and you’ll certainly find anti-abortion Democrats (not that the party wants you to know that).

I think the group is wrong about this.  The data on global warming is certainly not conclusive that warming is actually occurring because of human activity, nor is it proven that human technology emissions cause hurricanes to get stronger.  However, I do think disagreement within the Christian community on issues outside the core Biblical doctrines are fine and dandy.

Friday, February 03, 2006

End of the Spear

I lead a group of young adults in bible study on Wednesday nights, and recently we decided to all go see the movie End of the Spear. For those of you not in the know, the movie is based on the story of a group of missionaries that go to Ecuador searching for a lost tribe of peoples, only to be killed by them. Their wives decide to go and live, for a while, with the tribe, and try to do what the men failed to: convince them that they must not kill each other, and that there is a God who loves them and wants them to live in peace.
I had heard the story before in a documentary called Beyond the Gates of Splendor, which details what happened and interviews Steve Saint, the son of one of the men who died. Steve would eventually go back and live with the tribe, and befriend the man who killed his father. So I was excited to see it dramatized.
The first impression I got to hear about was this Chicago Tribune review of the movie, written by Allison Benedikt. She gave is one and a half stars. While she admits that this is a Christian movie being released in regular theatres, she pretty much reveals where she is coming from right away.
End of the Spear is a production of Every Tribe Entertainment, an independent studio whose mission is to create quality entertainment for a broad audience that inspires hope through truth. If this does not set off alarm bells in your head, consider the film's opening voiceover, which warns that peace will only come when we change our hearts (in other words, accept Christ as our Lord and Savior).

That End of the Spear is a no-holds-barred Christian movie is not necessarily a bad thing, just something to consider when you're surfing Fandango.

What is necessarily a bad thing is that End of the Spear is a childish and visually repetitive movie, ham-fisted, proselytizing and overtly simplified
Ham fisted? Proselytizing? Come on. Please. One thing is for sure is that this journalist shouldn't be reviewing Christian films whatsoever. This thing was far from proselytizing, in that it was a true story and besides the quote that Benedikt refers to above, there really isn't much in the way of trying to convince the audience that Jesus is the way, and all that. They never speak his name in the movie, and only refer to God by the Waodani name. Seeing as how this movie is obviously targeted at the evangelical community (and the producers have said as much) I don't know why she thinks that she needs to warn secular people off of it.
Benedikt then goes on to relate that the Waodani tribes were warring themselves into extinction, but then goes on to say that "the white folk know better" regarding their attempt to contact the tribe. Nice stereotype strawman she paints here to ridicule Christians (later she emphasizes that by posting a score card: indigenous tribe with spears -1, pacifists - 0). As if anyone trying to contact and influence the Waodani not to kill themselves out of existence is deserving of ridicule.
Perhaps Ms. Benedikt shouldn't be reviewing movies if she can't put away her personal feelings about religion or pacifism. Because I found this movie quite interesting and rewarding.
One of the most fun parts of the movie is how they treated the dialog of the Waodani. Following the standard set by Dances with Wolves (thank you Mr. Costner), the makers of End of the Spear had all Waodani dialog spoken in the native language along with subtitles. It humanized them in a way that merely letting them speak in some sort of broken English, for the sake of the audience, cannot. It completely humanizes them, showing them to have similar humors, fears, temperments. It gives each member individual distinctness. And it portrays the language barrier well.
One thing that was not carried over well in the movie was the reasons that Saint and the other Missionaries had to keep the discovery of the Waodani contact a secret. The movie leaves you wondering why they didn't take Dayumae back with them, or at least learn the language well enough to make the contact meaningful. Instead they don't understand a word the Waodani are saying, and the scene makes you wonder if they would have lived had they just been able to answer the tribesmen's questions. It makes them look kind of stupid, but I'm sure there were other reasons.

Another controversy has arisen around this movie. A rumor started circulating that one of the actors in the movie was gay, and that Steve Saint and the director knew that he was and hired him anyway. Dozens of churches and denominations began a movement to boycott the movie. It turns out that there was indeed a gay actor portraying a major part in the film, but that Saint and the rest of the creators didn't realize it. Most of the people spreading this news didn't bother to call and ask Saint or Director Mart Green, as they didn't realize it, and after finding out were horrified and personally devastated by the news.
If you want more information on that front, this article by Randy Alcorn is comprehensive about what happened and why you should still see the movie. I think this news takes away nothing from the story if you can ignore who the actors are in real life and let yourself be taken into the jungles of Ecuador for about 2 hours. Remember that this is a real life story, regardless of who played the parts.

Stay for the first part of the credits, as real life Steve Saint tells a few fun tales about his adventures bringing Mincayani back to the United States.
For Christians: Thumbs up.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Alternative energy

One of the issues that President Bush talked about in his State of the Union address was alternative fuels. One of the things that people are not making enough of is that a Republican President is making alternative energy sources one of the key parts of his agenda going into 2006. Could you have seen that when Bush was elected in 2000? Bush actually said the words, "addicted to oil," which is something coming from an "oil industry stooge." I wonder if there was anything to that label anyway.
But I often get nervous when I hear that a President or leader of congress starts talking about government programs or initiatives, whatever that means, to get all this innovation going. So, the innovation isn't going right now?
Joe Katzman thinks that the wind has been blowing in this direction for a while, and now it's finally come out on center stage. Winds of Change has had a running topic on alternative energy sources for a while now. Here's this week's edition, complete with updates on Bio-fuels.

There's been a slight uptick in chatter about energy issues in the US since the President announced his Advanced Energy Initiative in the State of the Union the other night. Of course, if you've been paying attention, as Dean Esmay has, you'll know that Bush has made calls for 'energy independence' an annual tradition, and has used the SotU to announce major initiatives in the past.

And, if you've been paying attention to this corner of the infosphere, or many of the increasing number of energy-related blogs to come online in the past year or so, you'll know that there are all sorts of private (and some public) 'advanced energy initiatives' already well, well underway today in the US and around the world.

Also, check out this article in American Enterprise Online by Robert Zubrin and why he thinks that Ethanol and Methanol will be the key to reducing dependence on forien oil. Zubrin goes on at length as to why reducing dependence is important, why bio-fuels can be the solution, why conservation and hybrids aren't, and how they compare with gasoline.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

The Annual Message

Assigned reading.  Because the Lord knows I don’t have time for it all.  Found this link to the texts of all the State of the Union speeches from every President of the United States back to Honest George.

One thing I noted was that not until H.W. Bush did the President make a SOTU speech in the year he took office.  I.E. Bush, Clinton and Bush Jr. all made speeches the moment they took office.  Before that the outgoing President made the SOTU just before vacating office.

Does that track with SOTU speeches sounding more like stump speeches at party conventions than a portrayal of how the country is doing and what’s happened over the last year.

I scanned one of FDR’s speeches, and the entire thing was about the war.  No promises about domestic programs.  No personal accolades.  Just where the nation was in the war vs. Germany and Japan.

OK, I’m kidding.  You all don’t have to read all the speeches.  Don’t leave without scanning a couple, though.

Liberia's new President Elect

Anyone notice that Africa has it’s first woman president?
A little background on how they got there, and how President Bush helped.

Temporary and not so temporary

The county of Multnomah, Oregon, which contains Portland and it’s eastern suburbs, is one of the rare localities in the United States that has it’s own income tax.   Ergo, we are some of the most heavily taxed citizens in the country.  That tax was set up during the crash the economy was having in the early part of this decade, but was promoted as, and promised to be, a three year temporary tax.  But as most anti-tax advocates will tell you, there’s no such thing as a temporary tax. 

So just to prove that point, the mayor of Portland has decided to promote another temporary income tax for city residents.  The purpose of this tax is going to be to fund schools, which is what the country tax, which expired at the end of last year, was supposed to cover.  Now that the country has come out of the recession, why do you suppose we still need that extra tax?

      The plan already has the support of many parents, including John Whistler, co-owner of Kitchen Kaboodle and parent of a seventh-grader at West Sylvan Middle School.
         “I’m doing it out of purely selfish business reasons,” said Whistler, who was scheduled to speak at the Thursday rally. “Imagine the city of Portland with a broken school system, a system for people who have no other choices. Parents would put kids in private schools, and lots will move out of the city or region. I think that would mean a tremendous loss of disposable income that goes into the consumer economy.”
         But even before the details of the plan were revealed, anti-tax activists promised to campaign against it.
         “As long as they’re not going to change the problems in education, we’re going to oppose another tax grab,” said Jason Williams, executive director of the Taxpayers’ Association of Oregon, a political action committee that supports lower taxes.
         Although the formal announcement was scheduled after press time, on Thursday morning Potter’s office said the proposal would be a .95 percent city personal income tax surcharge and a business income tax surcharge that would fill the shortfalls in Portland’s five school districts. In addition, the city would give the schools a one-time gift of $5 million from the city general fund, with $1 million going to each district.
         The tax would last four years, to give the Oregon Legislature two opportunities to provide more money for schools, said Nancy Hamilton, Potter’s chief of staff and longtime school funding activist.
         For Portland Public Schools, the funds would plug a $57 million hole caused by the expiration of the three-year Multnomah County income tax and budget cuts deferred from last year. Tax backers say that $57 million equates to 750 teachers or 75 school days. The gap is on top of $25 million in cuts made last year following the loss of federal school desegregation funds and expiration of a local option property tax levy.

Goodness, where do I begin.  First of all Whistler might be a self made man.  He might know what it’s like to be one of the little guys, who “have no other choices” in schooling their children.  But his excuse about the consumer economy is moronic.  What about the disposable income of Portland residents that is now going into that black hole that is the Portland Schools District?  That money is also not going into buying things at Kitchen Kaboodle, so how is taxing the general public creating disposable income for the benefit of Mr. Whistler?

An almost 1% income tax, for middle class residents, will amount to something like 400-600 dollars or more for the year.  That’s not taken out of your income by your employer, like stat and federal taxes, so instead of tax season being a time where families with kids can possibly be looking for a return, they are now looking at having to pay.  Those of you who are breaking even on taxes are now in a $500 hole.  1% is a little lower than the just over 1% extracted by the county tax, but little consolation.

Secondly, the article's writer (if it’s the writer’s words I’m reading) is being disingenuous by saying that the expiration of the previous income tax leaves a $57 million hole in the budget.  That’s not a hole if the people planning the budget recognized that the money would not be income this year.  I wouldn’t be surprised if the powers that be in the school system planned on the residents of this region voting to continue the tax, but calling it a hole is wrong.  $57 million was a bonus over the last few years to help out with the sluggish economy during the recession.  It’s additional money out of our pockets, as if the working people of Portland weren’t having their own problems during a recession, we end up having to pay more and actually make cutbacks in our lifestyle.  And politicians and administrators complain about having to cut back in theirs?

One of the excuses that proponents are lauding is that the “temporary” tax was in place until the state legislature fixed problems (or reluctance to raise taxes) in the education system.

      Supporters, meanwhile, make their own arguments. “The reason we’re back to ask for community support is because the Legislature has again failed to do what they told us they would do,” said Otto Schell, a parent of a Buckman middle-schooler and vice president for legislation of the Oregon PTA.

Oh, please.  The reason that the legislature balked on this issue is that it didn’t HAVE to do anything.  No one is really putting any pressure on the state body to truly do anything productive about the fiscal problems in public education.

Frankly, instead of deal with the setback in income caused by the expiration of the “temporary” tax, the prevailing solution to budgeting is to find more money from taxpayers.  To do this they threaten to cut vital programs, or at least programs that everyone likes, instead of targeting waste in the bureaucracy.  Political blackmail.

Truth be told, I’m not against local support of schools.  What I am against is over taxation caused by unnecessary bureaucracy.  The state is bloated, and reform needs to happen.  One organization in town made the comment that the message from the state legislature was, “you’re not getting any help from here, save yourselves.”  But until that happens, I have to be against the local option, as the state still collects the same taxes as if they were footing the whole bill.  Show me the initiative, or slate of candidates that successfully knocks down the education budget of the state, and we’ll talk.

Since this article came out, there have been more.  The Tribune tried to get the results of a survey that the Portland Schools Foundation did in December, but PSF is refusing to release the survey as of yet.  The Trib wonders what is in that survey.  It’s interesting that the scope of the local income tax has been reduced, from the County to the City.  Mayor Potter had polls taken in all the surrounding counties to gauge whether or not it should become a regional tax.  One has to conclude that the tax polled poorly in the surrounding counties, and possibly in eastern Multnomah county, if they’ve pulled back and proposed a city-only tax.

Willamette week noted that promise broken.

Update:  Mayor Potter has already acknowledged sounds of opposition are louder and more ubiquitous than he expected.   So now he’s open to “other options.” 

      Potter said internal polls showed that "voters were grumpy" about the idea of a new tax. But he believed momentum would build once he took his plan public.

      Instead, he's hearing criticism that he and Nancy Hamilton, his chief of staff and a parent-activist who helped push the original I-tax, did not do enough to woo East Portlanders, businesses and voters weary of repeated City Hall appeals for more school money.

The other options in this article all involve raising tax monies in one arena or another.  Property taxes, income taxes, business taxes, even cell-phone taxes.

What gets me is that, reading this and the Trib article, they city officials, most of those interviewed, and the writers themselves, paint this impossible picture of impending doom if the money from the income tax is not replaced.  What would the world have looked like if the income tax had never been passed in the first place?  Would the School district have stayed within budget?  Would they have cut Football and Math?

Innovation: Wind Power

New wind power technology.

      TMA's vertical axis wind turbine introduces competitive advantage
      Design creates pull on the back side, contributing to 40%+ wind conversion efficiencies; doesn't kill birds; runs more quietly; and doesn't need to be installed as high, blending better with landscape. Generating costs estimated at 3.5 cents per kilowatt-hour, surpassing conventional energy sources.

It’s not much more than a  nice press release, but the story says that the researchers estimate it’s cost per kW hour is about half of 2.5 – 3.5 cents.  Or about half of what conventional energy production is at.