Friday, September 29, 2006

Global warming alarmism addressed

Senator James Inhofe, who is the chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, made a speech on Monday expressing his frustration and disappointment with the press and their tendency to accept the global warming meme from environmental groups without question, even to the point of ignoring hard science that refutes most alarmist claims.

Inhofe notes that the press has talked about climate change for various periods of the last century.

      Since 1895, the media has alternated between global cooling and warming scares during four separate and sometimes overlapping time periods. From 1895 until the 1930’s the media peddled a coming ice age.

      From the late 1920’s until the 1960’s they warned of global warming. From the 1950’s until the 1970’s they warned us again of a coming ice age. This makes modern global warming the fourth estate’s fourth attempt to promote opposing climate change fears during the last 100 years.

      Recently, advocates of alarmism have grown increasingly desperate to try to convince the public that global warming is the greatest moral issue of our generation. Just last week, the vice president of London’s Royal Society sent a chilling letter to the media encouraging them to stifle the voices of scientists skeptical of climate alarmism.

      During the past year, the American people have been served up an unprecedented parade of environmental alarmism by the media and entertainment industry, which link every possible weather event to global warming. The year 2006 saw many major organs of the media dismiss any pretense of balance and objectivity on climate change coverage and instead crossed squarely into global warming advocacy.

In case you’re wondering, he does back that last statement up, many times over.   I’ve said in the past that my impression of the press these days is that it operates as less of a voice for the people, or even a source of fact and truth acting in the public good, but instead is motivated by the bottom line.  It’s a business, and creating alarm and sensationalizing stories and fact brings in the dough.

He even sticks it to Al Gore’s latest motion propaganda.

      I am almost at a loss as to how to begin to address the series of errors, misleading science and unfounded speculation that appear in the former Vice President’s film Here is what Richard Lindzen, a meteorologist from MIT has written about “An Inconvenient Truth.” “A general characteristic of Mr. Gore's approach is to assiduously ignore the fact that the earth and its climate are dynamic; they are always changing even without any external forcing. To treat all change as something to fear is bad enough; to do so in order to exploit that fear is much worse.”

He then lists a few things that Gore gets wrong.  Too long to mention here.
But the alarmism wouldn’t be all that powerful if the news media didn’t treat the issue like a closed case and refuse to entertain any semblance of objective skepticism.

      Time Magazine did not make the slightest attempt to balance its reporting with any views with scientists skeptical of this alleged climate apocalypse.

      I don’t have journalism training, but I dare say calling a bunch of environmental groups with an obvious fund-raising agenda and asking them to make wild speculations on how bad global warming might become, is nothing more than advocacy for their left-wing causes. It is a violation of basic journalistic standards.

Time Magazine isn’t the only news outlet to catch heat in the speech.  Far from it.  Inhofe speaks of a documentary on the Discovery Channel (hosted by Tom Brokaw) that didn’t present the view of any scientists with even moderately skeptical views.

      You don’t have to take my word for the program’s overwhelming bias; a Bloomberg News TV review noted “You'll find more dissent at a North Korean political rally than in this program” because of its lack of scientific objectivity.

I think that, though the bulk of the speech is devoted to refuting many of the environmentalist’s holy grails, he doesn’t ever refute the data that the earth is warming.  I’m sure that anyone from the left picking this up will probably take that out of context (if anyone notices this speech at all).  The main point here is that scientists really have no idea how much of the current warming trend is caused by human activity, if any.  The earth naturally warms and cools and we can’t separate human caused warming from the background noise of natural climate change.

So it isn’t to say that we shouldn’t work to clean up the air a bit.  The United States has covered light years of ground in reducing air pollutants over the past 30 years.  What continues to get ignored in the media is that China and India are only a handful of years away from overtaking the United States as the major polluters in the world.  In fact, it’s amazing how little amount of pollution the U.S. puts out relative to the gargantuan amount of productivity we put out.  We need to get this same clean air technology to the countries that need it, and Bush is attempting that without the Kyoto-like bully behavior.

However, Inhofe notes that polls are starting to show that Americans are moving toward the belief that the warming trend is at least partly caused by natural fluctuations rather than solely human activity, so the latest spate of alarmism is actually creating skeptical Americans.  The American people know when their intelligence is being insulted.

Al Gore’s response, of course, is to make a speech at the U.N. warning the delegates that smoking is a significant contributor to global warming.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Map making pioneer

Britain is celebrating the 100th birthday of a map maker this week.  Phyllis Pearsall was an ordinary woman in 1935 London when she stepped out into the night trying to use Britain’s Ordnance Survey map to find her way to a party in the Belgravia district.  She got lost.

She turned that into a determination to create an up to date and accurate atlas of streets in the London area.  She walked the streets of London by day, and with her colleague James Duncan, a draughtsman, she created what is know as the A-Z Atlas.

      Creating the first A-Z was a tough job. Before satellite imaging or extensive aerial photography, Pearsall worked 18-hour days and walked 3,000 miles to map the 23,000 streets of 1930s London.

Phyllis was an artist by trade, and continued painting until she died, but mostly for herself.  She was involved in the company she created her entire life, and in 1966 turned it into a trust so that the company would never be bought up, ensuring that her beloved employees would have long term security.

Phyllis Gross Pearsall died in 1996 just before her 90th birthday.
The Geographers’ A-Z Mapping Company still exists, had many more atlases than just London, road maps of England, and has expanded into the PC and mobile device markets.  Computers were involved in the map drawing process in the early 90s, until today all map production is handled digitally.

In addition to the London atlas, they have other road atlases by county and country and flat/fold-out maps of other localities.  

I noted and agreed with a comment someone left on a blog (posting about Phyllis) who lamented that most cities should, but don’t, have street maps in atlas form.  Fold-out maps are awkward to handle when traveling about the city, whether in a car, walking (in the wind and rain) or biking.  Wouldn’t it be nice to have a pamphlet sized road map of your city instead?

Well, to a certain extent you can.  Thomas Brothers (now a division of Rand McNally) has been producing an atlas called the Thomas Guide for a while now.  Here you can get an atlas of Portland streets for $25.  Amazon says that it is 11 x 9 inches in size, which isn’t pamphlet size, but standard paper size, which is good enough to stick in your backpack. 

Hat tip to the Map Room for the story on Phyllis.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Dealing with fear of Christians

It’s instructive to see where some would like to categorize Christianity.  This is an important article in and of itself, discussing the result of fear on European society from Islamic anger.

      By canning its production of "Idomeneo," fearful of security threats because of a scene that might offend Muslims, Berlin's Deutsche Oper provoked front-page headlines across the continent and found itself fending off charges of cowardice.

Idomeneo has a controversial scene where the lead holds up the heads of Jesus, Buddha and Muhammad.  And this is important because we can’t live in a world where special interest groups attempt to get their way by force and threats of violence (and actual violence).  Once people start capitulating, the behavior is reinforcing, and more groups will attempt to control society through violence and death.

I am reading an interesting book (How Soccer Explains the World) which discusses the role of soccer hooligans in Serbia.  These gangs tend to get what they want because people know that they won’t hesitate to destroy property and beat people unconscious in the streets.  Due to the overt nationalism and hatred of many of the other cultures around them, these gangs have garnered a sort of legitimacy and whether due to fear or strategy, or both, the clubs give them offices and status.  Milosovic, the former infamous leader of Serbia, used the gangs as shock troops in the war to drive Muslims out of Bosnia and Croats out of certain areas in Croatia.  The heads of these gangs got rich looting and stealing and reaping the profits on the black market, and the government looked the other way (and in some cases helped).

All this to say that allowing groups to persuade by means of violence is wrong, and despite the gloom of the article in general, it’s a little encouraging to see European nations at least questioning themselves about their tendency to be politically correct and culturally over-sensitive in the face of Islamic brutality.

However, I had to roll my eyes at this paragraph at the end of the article.

      Last year London's Tate Britain museum removed a sculpture by John Latham which it feared would offend Muslims and a British tour of "Jerry Springer - The Opera" was temporarily canceled when conservative Christian groups complained.

They just had to lump Christians in there, didn’t they.  I’m surprised that the Madonna on the Cross thing didn’t make it into this article.  Taking that NBC television special as an example, I think that media executives don’t really give a hoot about offending people, as they do it quite often.  But they listen to money, and I think that people feel that Christian advocacy groups still wield a certain amount of influence on the general public.  When Christian groups complain, the threat isn’t violence, it’s viewership, and therefore money.

That’s a huge difference, don’t you think?  Influencing speech by violence is a terrible constitutional issue and anti-freedom in every way.  Influencing by economic sanction through the free will of consumers is pro-free speech (or rather it’s probably more neutral considering that it’s less about speech than economics and politics).

But they just had to throw that paragraph in to settle some personal agenda.  Are we trying to encourage fear of Christian groups by lumping them with groups that get violent when offended?    Shame on the Post.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Bull of the Woods Wilderness

This post is long in coming. My wife, Oops, and I backpacked in this lovely wilderness area last month, when it was still pretty warm, and there were still forest fires raging in the Mt. Jefferson area nearby. If you are wondering where the Bull of the Woods is, you aren’t alone. It’s probably one of the least known wild areas in the state, and yet it’s just a hop, skip and a drive down to Salem and over to Detroit Lake.

Actually there are a few ways to get in there. One is from the north. Travel southeast on Hwy 224 past Estacada, turn south on USFS 54, drive a few miles and then turn on 70 toward Bagby Hot Springs. You can park at the trailhead to the hot springs and walk south for 7 miles and you’ll be in the wilderness.

Or you can come in from the south like we did. From Detroit it’s just a short drive up USFS 46 before you turn off on 4697, which is a 7 mile long gravel road ending at Elk Lake. Elk Lake is a quite popular camping and fishing spot. It’s also the origin of many trails into this pristine wilderness area.

Bull of the Woods was designated in 1984, not that long ago. It is over 27,000 acres in size, and like it’s more recent neighbor, Opal Creek, it is filled with large trees and steep slopes. I found it quite funny that, after recalling all the fuss over the Opal Creek area as being one of the last vestiges of old growth in the state, there was an area more than twice the size right next door that loggers haven’t touched in a century (if they ever did).

We set off on a 25 mile loop of the area, designed to take in most of the sights. We started down trail 559 and traveled 7 miles along Elk Lake Creek. This is an easy going trail, with not that much elevation change. The beginning is soft tread and large trees. We were surrounded by mountain blueberry and red huckleberries for much of the hike.

The lower end of the creek had quite a few places where jumping in was tempting. It looked cool and clear and it was pretty hot that day, but we wanted to get closer to the ridge-top before it got dark, so up we went on trail 554 to the Welcome Lakes. It’s a 2000 foot climb in 3 miles to the top, which is a pretty good climb, but we made it. We didn’t like the camp situation at the lakes, and Oops wanted a sunset view so we kept going up to the ridge to see if there was anything up there. I got kind of nervous, as the ridge is pretty sharp and steep, not many flat spots for camping, but after a mile, just past the trail junction for 556, there was a great spot that had views of the Bull of the Woods peak and the sunset. In the morning we had the sunrise too.

During the night we heard lots of wildlife, such as bats flying over our tent, and elk tromping around and bugling in the middle of the night. By morning, though, we were on our own. We took the side trail up to Bull of the Woods peak, where there is a lookout tower, and got a 360 degree view of the Cascades. Wow! Due to the fires, we couldn’t see quite as far as one normally can, but we could see Mt. Jefferson and Mt. Hood as silhouettes in the smoke. All the surrounding mountains and ridges were very visible and the view was awesome.

An eight mile hike got us into the Mother Lode basin (which was pretty dry at this late date), up onto the side of Mother Lode peak (which had some pretty tall trees), and down to the Twin Lakes.

The Twin lakes have lots of sites next to them, and looked very refreshing after a couple of days on the trail. And so I took a dip. If there were any part of the area we would visit again, this would probably be it. Although I think that’s what everyone else thought too, as the trail from there back to Elk Lake was packed. You can take another side trail up to the Battle Ax peak from the ridge back to Elk Lake, but we were too bushed, so we just dropped back to the lake and drove home for some great burgers and beers at the Roadhouse.

If you want to know what trail conditions are like, you should visit the TrailAdvocate site. It’s a local site run by people who like to hike in the area and want to keep the trails in good working order, as the Forest Service doesn’t quite have the budget it seems. They’re pretty nice, and I had a good correspondence with one of the guys and got good information (although he down-played the fallen timber along the trail, as there are lots of logs to crawl over and under).

We used Green Trails maps, which you can get at any REI or outdoor store. However, I would like to recommend David Imus’ maps. David is a master cartographer, and makes really nice recreation maps, complete with topography and mileage on the trails. The scale is a bit better than the Green Trails maps, but I think the Green Trails are nicer to have out there, because the trails are highlighted and easier to see on the paper.

However, I’m keeping the Imus map for a souvenir.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Middle East do-over

Check out this map, created by the Armed Forces Journal, of a completely re-drawn Middle East. The resulting map is how they thought it should be drawn to resolve many of the current ethnic problems caused by the artificial delineation of borders by Europeans earlier in the 20th century.

Now, you have to know that no one is ever going to be happy down there, re-districting or not. Even with this sensible map, there are going to be unhappy Saudis, Turks and Iranians. However, if you’ll put the map on a screen next to this blog, I have a couple of thoughts.

If any of the peoples of this region were to at least entertain ideas for redrawing the maps, there are some good ideas here. One is the Islamic Sacred State. Although many peoples have accepted Saudi control over this area, I’m sure that there are many more who would be more comfortable with this area managed by a completely neutral entity (Muslim, of course). Saudis would argue that they have the right, considering the ethnicity of Muhammad, but that’s debatable. They won and lost it so many times over the past 1000 years you can make the argument that it would be better off in neutral hands.

Another interesting idea is the Arab Shia State. Not quite Iranian, as that would freak most of the Arabs out, but distinctly Shia. That along with Sunni Iraq and Kurdistan would accomplish what the Kurds have wanted for years.

The problem with this is that it even further divides up the central part of the Middle East and there are going to be a lot of Pan-Arabist types who will be very angry with this further dividing of Arabia.

As much as I like the Kurdistan aspect of the map, you are going to be hard pressed to get Turkey to agree to losing that much land.

The other interesting area created is Free Baluchistan. I’m not as familiar with the ethnic regions of South Asia, but this takes most of it’s area from Pakistan. The only ones who would really want this are the people’s of Baluchistan, who are suffering under the current regime. Pakistan also seems to lose most of Jammu region in the north. Considering how long they’ve been fighting for this area (along with Kashmir) with the Indian state, I don’t think they’d like that much.

Frankly, I don’t see much hope in a Middle East that looks like this, but it’s fruit for thought.

UPDATE: Perhaps a neutral Holy Country around Mecca and Medina isn't so crazy an idea after all.

Scale models of cities

Oh!  Just cool!  Check out these pictures of scale models of cities around the world.  The Shanghai pictures are not to be believed. 

Maps of Iraq

Just ran into this site.  Neat collection of on-line maps of Iraq and a little explanation.  Maps can bring out understanding of a topic about places and peoples like no other graphic.

They have some tool that when you click on a map link, a web viewer comes up so you can zoom in and pan around each map.

Great maps of the history of the region too.

Whooper Swan tracking

There’s been a lot of talk in the past 2 years about Avian (bird) flu and the spread of the virus through birds in Asia.  You might have heard of it.  The speed at which the disease has spread has scientists in a quandary about how it’s getting around.  The options are either by migratory birds or human trade in fowl.

Last year, it was noted that large numbers of Whooper Swans died in Mongolia in 2005, and the swan being a migratory bird that covers thousands of miles between summer and winter, scientists are trying to track their movements.

      Whooper swans were captured by the international team in early August on the grassland steppe of far eastern Mongolia, near the borders of Russian and China. Each year, swans molt their feathers after the breeding season, and during that flightless period, the birds were captured by biologists in boats and on-foot. Small, 70-gram (2.3 ounces or the weight of a dozen quarters) solar-powered transmitters were affixed on 10 of the 8-kilogram (18-pound) large swans with backpack harnesses. The harnesses are made of Teflon ribbon that deteriorates and falls off of the birds within a few years.
      Takekawa noted that satellite tracking data will provide information that will not only help scientists better understand and document links between wild birds and the spread of avian influenza, but that will also help enhance conservation efforts through determining the non-breeding ranges of birds and the mechanisms involved in long-distance migration.
      The GPS transmitters are made by a wildlife specialty company; it is only in the last 5 years that they were reduced to a size suitable for migratory birds. Their accurate locations, often better than 30 feet, provide a wealth of information on migrating birds and use of their habitats that was not available before. The locations are recorded every 2 hours and stored in the transmitter memory before being sent to the research team by email through weather satellites every 2 days.

Continuous GPS tracking of birds in their migration.  One wonders how many different animals can be tracked this way.  Sea creatures come to mind, but I’m not sure how well GPS works underwater.  Probably not well.  Whales and Dolphins might be able to be tracked this way though.  The device would have to triangulate it’s satellites pretty quickly when the animal surfaces for a breath.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Madonna on the cross

OK, NBC has reluctantly agreed not to show a scene in a November special where Madonna, the singer, hangs on a cross with a fake crown of thorns, mocking the crucifixion.  Or perhaps that’s what she’s doing, I don’t know.  The article says that she considered it the highlight of her show (and I don’t doubt that).

NBC did this under pressure from the American Family Association and other members of the Christian community.  This is an interesting event, considering we are observing how touchy the Muslim community has been lately to any form of public criticism.  Our reaction has been to tell them to lighten up, I mean look at all the crap the Christian community has to put up with.  But many in the Christian faith can be just as touchy.

Ok, ok.  Yes, Christians tend not to riot and threaten to kill people (and in some cases actually do so) when offended.  There is a difference.  But in a free country, using political pressure, or social pressure, to stop certain public expression (I hesitate to call television “speech”) is a tricky ballgame, and there’s a fine line somewhere between trying to protect people from hatred, and tyranny.


Church related news

A couple of Church-related items in the news.
One is about a church that is getting targeted by the IRS.

      A liberal California Episcopal church plans to fight an Internal Revenue Service investigation into whether the church violated its tax-exempt status with an anti-Bush sermon during the 2004 campaign, church leaders said Thursday.

Now, as much as I disagree with churches that bring politics into the church, I’m wondering what justification the IRS brings into this arena.  The IRS says that it’s not politically motivated, which I can believe.  There’s no way that Bush would warrant attacking a church for disagreeing with him, risking losing the goodwill of Christians everywhere. 

The other is a court case where the judge concluded that “religious speech is categorically different than secular speech and is subject to analysis under the Establishment and Free Exercise Clause without regard to the jurisprudence of free speech.”

Wow!  Your kidding me, right?  What a horrible precedent, that now anything you say that has religious connotations is now not covered under the first amendment!

Eugene Volokh, as usual, takes this apart.

      So the judge has no hostility towards religion, but "the excesses of the zealous" - apparently just the religiously zealous - are something that must be avoided even by discriminatorily excluding religious groups from the benefits available to comparable secular groups.

      The issue is not, contrary to what the judge argues here and earlier in the opinion, "whether one can distinguish between religious speech" (which I take it means "between religious speech and nonreligious speech," especially given the other quotes I give immediately below), nor is it about "the High Court's purported inability to distinguish between a sermon and a speech" or "[t]he purported inability of the High Court to adhere to the distinction embodied in the First Amendment" between religious speech and nonreligious speech, nor about the Court majority's supposed "doubt about the ability to distinguish between religious practice and secular speech." While the majority opinion does turn on whether courts can consistently distinguish (without undue side effects) between religious worship and other religious speech, of course the courts could distinction between religious speech (such as sermons) and secular speech.

      The question is whether courts ought to draw such a distinction, in a way that strips religious speech of the same Free Speech Clause protection that secular speech has, and thus discriminates against religious speech, in order to somehow "insulat[e] civil society from the excesses of the zealous." It seems to me that if one really wants to avoid "hostility towards religion," equal treatment of religious speech and nonreligious speech - regardless of what one fears from the "zealous" - is the proper approach.

Somehow, possibly because of events of late involving extremism in another religion, some people with the power to say otherwise think it’s possible in this country for Christianity to become the same.  Disregard the fact that Christianity hasn’t tried gaining power and converts through violent means in hundreds of years.  Perhaps this judge thinks that the safeguards already in the Constitution and law-books aren’t good enough for him.  Perhaps he thinks that only he is the voice of reason in a religion-infected society.

Or perhaps 200 years of Christian and Jewish organizations sharing public facilities equally with other secular groups without abusing or trying to take over isn’t enough evidence that allowing them to continue probably won’t stir up the “excesses of the zealous.”

Popular uprising in Thailand

How often do you get a situation where over 80% of the country supports your military coup?  Not often, but it just happened in Thailand.  The key in that country, it seems, is who’s got the support of the elderly beloved king.

      In Thailand's rice-growing heartland, an impoverished area six hours by car north of Bangkok, there is only measured disappointment and scant visible anger that Thaksin Shinawatra, the prime minister stripped of his job Tuesday in the coup, is gone. It is a surprising turn of events in an area long considered the bastion of Thaksin's support. The lack of outcry and resentment may give the military government more time as it navigates Thailand's delicate transition back to democracy.

      The king's backing for the coup appears to be a key reason why former Thaksin supporters now express their support of the military takeover.

If you read the link in my post yesterday, you might recall that the monarchy is more of a cherished institution there than it is in England.  The King fully supports democracy and is responsible for the first Constitution written in 1992.  Support for Thaksin was only substantial because poor uneducated farmers in rural areas considered him a representative of the king himself, who is known for his concern for farmers and rural interests.

High Speed Trains mean...

OK, I’m all for advances in transportation, and I understand that modern trains offer higher speed and less fuel.  However, it’s instructive to note that it’s still safer to fly on a commercial jet.

      LATHEN, Germany (AP)  A high-speed magnetic train traveling at nearly 125 mph crashed in northwestern Germany on Friday, killing 15 of the 29 people aboard in the first fatal wreck involving the high-tech system.

      Officials recovered 15 bodies from the wreckage of the experimental train that struck a maintenance vehicle while running on an elevated track, said prosecutor Alexander Retemeyer. Another 10 passengers were injured.

Yikes!  200km per hour crash!  I read that the high speed trains in Germany were capable of traveling at speeds up to 450km per hour (about 300 mph).  How’d you like to be in a crash at that speed?

Pakistan two-step

Diplomacy of the bizarre.  Was faintly amused by this article, but don’t think that I think the issue is solely amusing.  The first thing that strikes you, of course (because it’s in the title) is that everyone is shocked and surprised that Pakistan president Musharraf listed as one of his reasons for supporting the US in the war on the Taliban that we threatened him.

      President Bush President said Friday he was "taken aback" by a purported U.S. threat to bomb Pakistan back to the Stone Age if it did not cooperate in the fight against terrorism after the Sept. 11 attacks.

Now, before you leave the article with the impression that Bush is just showing a surprise face because he doesn’t want anyone to know that we threatened Pakistan, lets find out who actually did the threatening.

      In an interview to air Sunday, Musharraf said that after terrorists struck the United States on Sept. 11, 2001, then-Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage told Pakistan's intelligence director the United States would bomb his country if it didn't help.

Ahhh.  This is the same Armitage that just recalled that he was indeed the one that leaked Valery Plame’s name to the press years ago.  This guy is causing all sorts of political and diplomatic damage, and is continuing to be a golden beacon in the night for every future president after Bush that the first thing they need to do is clean house in the State Department.

The second thing that caught my funny bone was Bush’s statement.

      Said Bush: "I believe him."
      He said that Musharaff had looked him in the eye and vowed that "the tribal deal is intended to reject the Talibanization of the people and that there won't be a Taliban and there wont be al-Aqaida (in Pakistan)."

Say, when was the last time we remember Bush looking into a foreign leader’s eyes and then declaring that he trusted him?  Oh, yeah, it was Vladimir Putin.  Forgive me if I still don’t quite trust Musharraf from this point on.

Change of pace

Happy Birthday to me.  Normally on days like this you’ll hear bloggers saying things like, “blogging will be light today” or, “I’ll be back on Monday.”  Considering how often I’ve been posting these days, though, I think it’ll be appropriate for me to say that blogging will be HEAVY today.  Stay tuned.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Thailand and Thaksin

Looking for a really good, but relatively short history of the Thaksin Shinawatra government in Thailand, from election into office until the coup last week?  Here ya go.

GPS cell-phone technology update

More on GPS navigation with map data on your cell phone.  This company’s vision is that signing up for navigation services will be as easy as signing up for your cell phone service, or Blockbuster online.

      In on-board navigation systems, the map data is stored on the device. In an off-board navigation system it is stored on a remote server. The difference is very subtle, but the impact is huge. When all the data resides on a remote server there is really no limit to the amount of storage you can have. Our navigation systems work seamlessly [around the world] because we can aggregate all that data into one local server. Second, there's just one place to update the data. Today, when you get a new BMW, right out of the factory, their map data is already about 18 months old. When you buy an off-board navigation system, that data gets updated automatically, with no charge.

It’s like having MapQuest on your phone screen and a little indicator to tell you where you are.  It’s becoming more of a reality.

      Telmap has a unique feature that we call route corridor (we also have a trademark on it: it is called MOND, short for Mobile Optimized Navigation Data). Most of the off-board navigation systems download only the information from point A to point B. Since the system doesn't know anything about the world around that route, if you stop to get some gas or make a wrong turn, it will start recalculating the route. You may not be in network coverage. The recalculation is going to fail and you are going to get a sort of snowball effect and a bad user experience.


Curious court verdicts

Two court decisions of note.  One I was pointed to by Instapundit, covered by Eugene Volokh, notes that some judges are starting to categorize religious speech as something different than other speech covered by the first amendment.

      So the judge has no hostility towards religion, but "the excesses of the zealous" — apparently just the religiously zealous — are something that must be avoided even by discriminatorily excluding religious groups from the benefits available to comparable secular groups.

      The issue is not, contrary to what the judge argues here and earlier in the opinion, "whether one can distinguish between religious speech" (which I take it means "between religious speech and nonreligious speech," especially given the other quotes I give immediately below), nor is it about "the High Court's purported inability to distinguish between a sermon and a speech" or "[t]he purported inability of the High Court to adhere to the distinction embodied in the First Amendment" between religious speech and nonreligious speech, nor about the Court majority's supposed "doubt about the ability to distinguish between religious practice and secular speech." While the majority opinion does turn on whether courts can consistently distinguish (without undue side effects) between religious worship and other religious speech, of course the courts could distinction between religious speech (such as sermons) and secular speech.

      The question is whether courts ought to draw such a distinction, in a way that strips religious speech of the same Free Speech Clause protection that secular speech has, and thus discriminates against religious speech, in order to somehow "insulat[e] civil society from the excesses of the zealous." It seems to me that if one really wants to avoid "hostility towards religion," equal treatment of religious speech and nonreligious speech — regardless of what one fears from the "zealous" — is the proper approach.

Lets say that I’m not surprised that the courts are taking this approach, as judicial decision seems to follow popular liberal opinion these days, whether that opinion logically follows the Constitution or the foundations of free thinking and equal treatment under the law.

The other decision I haven’t seen an opinion on yet, only what I read in the paper this morning.  A judge in California (again, why am I not surprised) ordered a rollback of Bush’s rollback, so to speak, of the roadless rules that Clinton quickly put into place just before the end of his term.

Forget for a minute that putting the rules in place was a last minute decision by a departing administrator, in the same breath as many other ill-though out rules and controversial pardons.  There is an argument that they spent years studying and thinking about those rules before hastily implementing them, but why wait until the last minute?

Anyway, it was the President’s choice to do so.  After all, it wasn’t a congressional order, it was an administrative rule change.  So why does a judge think that what Bush did, which was to put all the roadless changes on hold or remove them entirely, was something that the judicial branch has a say in.  I thought that their only responsibility is to make sure that existing laws are interpreted correctly and followed, and that the constitution is applied correctly.  Isn’t reversing an administrative change out of the judicial branch’s reach here?

Anyway, I love how the Washington Post words some of their opening statements.

      Ruling against the Bush administration's efforts to open national forests for logging and mining, a federal judge in California on Wednesday set aside a U.S. Forest Service rule that allows governors to decide which land in national forests is suited for development.

Development?  Is that the right word here?  Anyway they use it several times, even though there is not sense that forest managers for the Feds have any mind to put in condos and golf courses.  Perhaps what they mean is put in roads and harvest some of the timber.  But the word “development” to me, and I’m sure to many readers, sounds more like housing developments and Wal-Marts.  Poor choice of words.  Or perhaps purposefully chosen.

The Judges decision was supposedly based on a federal environmental law.

      "Eliminating a major program triggers the obligation to perform environmental analysis," Laporte wrote, noting that the administration did none.

I’m curious how much analysis was done during the Clinton administration before people just thought it was a good idea to lock up all that land.  Was an analysis of the fire damage that might occur when all that land is off limits to management.

      New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson (D), who is hoping to protect his state's 1.6 million acres of roadless areas, welcomed the court decision. "This is a monumental victory for everyone who enjoys our wild forests," he said.

Bush did change the rule to say that individual state governors could continue to work with the Forest Service to preserve those roadless areas.  I would imagine that some would and some wouldn’t.  For instance Oregon governor Ted Kulongoski wants to protect those areas, while Idaho governor James Risch wants to manage those areas (by the way, Idaho has some of the largest existing wilderness areas in the lower 48 states already, even without the new roadless areas).

Let me just say that I enjoy hiking and getting into the back country as much as anyone.  I hope to see and enjoy all of Oregon’s Wilderness areas in the next few years, and know how much area that entails.  It doesn’t look as big on the map, sometimes, as it really is on the ground. 

But the real question here is how far does the court’s power extend into the workings of the administrative branch of government?

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Get over it

This is ridiculous.  I don’t just mean the juvenile behavior of the Oklahoma University officials in complaining about a bad call that ended up costing them the game.  I mean the apparent reactions of fans toward the officials involved.  One of the officials has been threatened.

      The instant replay official whose failure to overturn a bad call led to a narrow Oregon victory over Oklahoma said Monday he feels like he is under siege after threatening phone calls, including a death threat.

      "I can't sleep, I can't eat, my blood pressure is skyrocketing," Riese said, looking haggard and worn as he sat on the front porch of his house. Riese said he has stopped answering the phone, and police are investigating the threatening calls while keeping an eye on his neighborhood.

      "They not only threatened me, they threatened my wife and kids," Riese said.

This is in response to the Oregon victory this weekend over an Oklahoma team that annually thinks it is the best in the nation.  It has been in the last two of three BCS title games, and this loss will probably keep it out of the next one.

      Oklahoma lost the game 34-33 after Oregon scored two touchdowns near the end of the game.
      An onside kick by Oregon after its first late touchdown was touched by a Ducks player before it traveled the required 10 yards, and the Pac-10 ruled that the ball should have been awarded to Oklahoma. The league also said that video revealed that an Oklahoma player actually recovered the ball.

      Officials on the field gave the ball to Oregon, and replay officials did not overturn that decision.
      During a subsequent play, pass interference was called on Oklahoma, setting up the winning score. The Sooners argued that the ball had been tipped at the line of scrimmage, thereby nullifying the pass interference call.

OK, here’s my message to Oklahoma fans and all those other peoples angry about this chain of events.  Get over it.  Really, this is patently stupid.  It’s a game people.  Anyone angry or despondent enough by the outcome of a college football game (heck, any football game) that they must resort to whining, complaining, tarnishing of other’s reputations, and finally threatening official’s families, DESERVES TO LOSE!  You’ve lost site of any truly important thing in life, and are stuck in a world where college life and athletics are your whole world (most people recover from that at age 20).

Listen.  Oregon is a PAC 10 B-team.  They’ve done good in the past, and are in a tough conference, but until they have a season like they did a few years ago with Joey Harrington at the helm, they are a middle-of-the-conference team.  Oklahoma is a perennial title contender.  If the Sooners can’t put away a division 1 B-team to the point where a missed call makes or breaks the game, then guess what.   They DESERVED TO LOSE!  

Missed calls happen all the time.  It’s what happens when you operate with human beings refereeing a gaggle of very large, colliding human beings.  In fact in every sport, controversy arises by errors made by perfectly reasonable and otherwise good referees.  In the Oklahoma-Oregon game there were probably a few bad calls, but the only one that’s going to get pointed out is the one that obviously turned the tide of the game.  Could Oklahoma have put this mistake behind them and done their best to rectify the situation.  You bet.  They had one more drive to put the game away, and on the last play of the game, their field goal was BLOCKED by Oregon!  They lost that game, plain and simple.  An athlete’s character is defined by how he or she deals with adversity and comes out on top.  Oklahoma football is not showing any amount of character this year.

Monday, September 18, 2006


I've been on a business trip and busy at home the past week.  Got to spend a few days in the paradise of Spokane, Washington last week.  I lived there for a time in the 80s, and it wasn't much to speak of.  However, I was a college student, and looking through the lens of a father, husband, professional and a hiker/skier it's a pretty nice place.  They've worked pretty hard to make the downtown a really desirable place to spend time too.

If you ever get the chance, stop in and visit the park on the river where the World's Fair was  held in the 70s.  Nearby is Spokane Falls, which has a gondola ride across the falls.  Take a walk on the 30+ mile bike trail created between Spokane and Couer d'Alene, ID. 

For dinner check out the Steam Plant grill, which inhabits the old steam power plant with it's hundred foot high brick smoke stacks.  The restaurant inhabits an area of the plant with catwalks and large machinery (no longer in service) and is two stories.  They make their own beer there as well.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Path to this 9/11 post

I caught most of the miniseries airing on ABC for the last couple of days.  I’ve heard lots about how some found it riveting, maddening, false, true, all sorts of things.  One thing is for certain, the movie will be talked about.

I have  a hard time listening to the detractors coming from Clinton’s camp.  It’s not that they don’t have some valid points about the fictionalization of the content.  However, I thought the movie was fairly even handed, and the real culprit seems not to be the Clinton Administration or the Bush Administration, but bureaucracy itself.  And both parties were guilty before 9/11 itself.  It’s just that the Bush camp got serious after the event and I feel that most Democratic leaders have not.  Even the NY Times thought the movie was politically neutral.

As for the movie itself, I found it rather riveting, but brutal at times.  I had to continually shuffle my kids out of the room when it was on, getting them on schoolwork tasks and then to bed slightly earlier than usual so that we could watch the show.  I wondered if some of the scenes of torture and general mayhem really needed to be there.

Stylistically, there were also some parts that just weirded me out.  And I’m  not just talking about the strange things that the movie showed the Islamists doing, I’m talking about the camera angles and vivid close-ups of people’s faces (and eyeballs and backs of necks). 

In other areas, much ado has been made about conspiracy theories, and those little pesky items (like the mantra that the twin towers were too sturdy to fall from just the planes and fires and there just HAD to be explosives too).  Read this, from James Meigs, editor in chief of Popular Mechanics, on how they researched the heck out of these “theories” and found them severely lacking in factual foundations.

And via Instapundit, here is Bush’s speech to mark the anniversary.

And, finally, here’s a comprehensive look-back from Winds of Change that’s worth your time.

Afghanistan: Don't take your eye off the ball

Michael Yon reminds us that we can’t take our eye off of Afghanistan.

      There is a widespread notion that Afghanistan is safer for our troops than Iraq, yet Coalition and NATO combat deaths in Afghanistan are per capita nearly identical to those in Iraq. In 2007, it looks as if per capita combat deaths will likely be significantly higher in Afghanistan than in Iraq. Why? There are many reasons, but one of the most important is that our European allies have been slow to recognize the reality that a monster really is under the bed. After years of neglect and dawdling, they are finally beginning to adjust, but they are still not keeping pace with the threat. They are still not providing their people with proper equipment, all while the Taliban is getting stronger from the billion-dollar narcotics backwash that floods enemy coffers. As in Iraq, troop numbers are also dangerously low in Afghanistan, and the handfuls of friendly forces there lack sufficient air power to stretch their security resources.

Drugs, namely heroin, are a major problem there, and Yon estimates that half the Afghan economy is poppy agriculture.  90 percent of the worlds heroin supply originates in Afghanistan.

      A reverse symbiosis is at work: Those who benefit most from the opium/heroin trades also benefit most from a destabilized Afghanistan, because a stable country with functioning government systems, reliable security forces, and a framework of laws is a bad climate for the drug trade. Conversely, farmers growing crops such as cotton and beans benefit from a stable government climate, which affords the opportunity to think beyond the next crop cycle. In order to make agriculture a more successful business venture, farmers need a stable government as a partner. But since the interests of poppy farmers and narco-kings are in aggressive opposition to any plan to stabilize Afghanistan, this partnership is not even in the talking stages.

      According to a GAO “Congressional Report on Afghanistan Reconstruction,” approximately half of Afghanistan’s economy is based on opium, meaning roughly half the economy thrives in a chaos that also funds world-class terrorists. Experts who study the calculus of the narcotics trade know that the problem is growing out of control in Afghanistan because every additional poppy lanced for its opium unleashes an oozing flow of black-market dollars. Those dollars are not taxed by the Kabul government, but by the virtual government of the Taliban. Perversely, poppy farmers grow poorer with each successively larger crop, because their bounty boosts supplies while driving prices lower, and they need to grow more each year just to stay even.

It’s just as much a battle to keep under control as Iraq is.  Perhaps more.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Palestinian agreement

So, the children are getting along.  Who would have thunk it. 

      After months of talks, Hamas and its rival Fatah have reached a deal to form a coalition government, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said Monday.

How long do you think this will last?  It’s predicated on the request by Tony Blair that they form a coalition government if they ever want to see the funding that the international community was giving them to run their institutions, so they were kind of forced into it.

However, Blair did mention some other conditions, like recognizing Israel and renouncing violence.  I think forming a coalition was probably the easiest of the three for them.

Friday, September 08, 2006

How to lie with maps

How to lie with maps.  Or, at least how to use maps shaded with suspect information to try and influence public opinion.  This map from the Detroit Free Press has Jane Galt in a tizzy.  It shows the change in median household income over the past 7 years.  But, as “Jane” explains, the numbers are comparing apples and oranges.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Optimistic Global Warming

Gregg Easterbrook takes a look at the latest thought in global warming.  He’s not one to freak out over environmental issues and is pretty level headed, so when he declares the global warming debate over and the certainty of human-caused warming I had to read up on it.

Basically he spends little time defending the statement that it’s an open and shut case by telling us that almost all scientists are in full agreement now (which I find debatable), but also that even the Bush administration has begun to give in as well.

      In 2005, the National Academy of Sciences joined the science academies of the United Kingdom, Japan, Germany, China and other nations in a joint statement saying, "There is now strong evidence that Data Center said research now supports "a substantial human impact on global temperature increases." And this month the Climate Change Science Program, the George W. Bush Administration's coordinating agency for global-warming research, declared it had found "clear evidence of human influences on the climate system."

OK, remains to be seen what the “influence” of man is on the climate, and how much of the warming is natural (recall that no one is denying that there’s been a climactic warming over the last 50 years, the debate is whether it’s human caused).  Easterbrook points out later that Earth’s climate has a history of fluctuation.

      We live in an “interglacial,” a warm period between ice ages; our interglacial is called the Holocene. Ice-core readings from the interglacial period that preceded ours, called the Eemian, suggest that it was common then for global temperatures to shift from warm to cool and back again, with climate havoc ensuing. Why these shifts occurred is unknown. But during our era, Earth’s climate has been magnificently stable—almost strangely so. For roughly the last 8,000 years, coinciding with the advent of the controlled agriculture on which civilization is based, global temperatures, ocean currents, rainfall patterns and the timing of the seasons have varied by only small amounts. Scientists don't know why the climate has been so stable during the last 8,000 years. We do know that stable climate is associated with civilization, while climate change is associated with mass extinctions. We would be fools to tempt that equation.

Gregg spends lots of text talking about possible global problems that could occur if the earth warmed by a few degrees in the next 50 years.  It’s interesting, and Gregg is nothing if not to the point on each issue without going over the edge, but it’s worth noting that each item is dependent on a number of factors that we are unaware of as of yet.

He also points out that there might be benefits to global warming, like increased arable land for farming and settling (like in Siberia).

After spending a bit of time putting the Kyoto treaty in it’s place, he starts to talk about possible solutions, and to his credit they are market driven solutions.  Take the “unsolvable” problem of smog in the 1970s (it was widely considered to be unsolvable then).

      Today, any make or model new car purchased in the United States emits about 1 percent of the amount of smog-forming compounds per mile as a car of 1970, and the cost of the anti-smog technology is less than $100 per vehicle. Air pollution in Los Angeles, as in most other American cities, has declined spectacularly fast, at unexpectedly low cost. Nationally, smog-forming emissions have declined by almost half since 1970, even though Americans now drive their vehicles more than twice as many miles annually.

Easterbrook points out that, given our history of overcoming environmental problems and coming out charging economically, it’s a cinch that the U.S. can reduce greenhouse type gasses without Kyoto-style restrictions or other restrictions on our productivity.  The real worries at this point should be developing countries like China and India, who are expected to surpass the output of pollutants that the U.S. emits very soon.

      The Kyoto Protocol might not have been right for the United States, but a mandatory program of greenhouse gas reduction is. For decades, the United States has led the world in technology development, economic vision and pollution control. Right now the catalytic converter and "reformulated" gasoline, anti-smog technology invented here, are beginning to spread broadly throughout developing nations. If America were to impose greenhouse gas reductions on a solely domestic basis—keep the United Nations out of this—it is likely that the United States would soon develop the technology that would light the way for the rest of the world on reducing global warming. The United States was the first country to overcome smog (ahead of the European Union by years), the first to overcome acid rain, and we should be first to overcome global warming. Once we have shown the world that greenhouse gas emissions can be reduced without economic harm, other nations will follow our lead voluntarily. The United States needs to start now with mandatory greenhouse gas reductions not out of guilt or shame, but because it is a fight we can win.

Gregg is uber-optimistic here, and I can appreciate that.  The whole scare going on about oil and gasoline, and how scarce it’s going to become in so much time ignores our history.  When one resource we use becomes scarce we tend to find some other resource to take it’s place.  Once upon a time people were freaking out because of the scarcity of whale oil, and once restrictions on whale hunting went into effect the world was supposed to come to a halt.  But petroleum was there waiting in the wings.  In the 20th century there was no shortage of innovation where energy generation was concerned. 

Note that Easterbrook once again gives the Bush administration kudos in it’s environmental programs.

      Methane reduction, meanwhile, is already being advanced by a 2003 multinational agreement initiated by the Bush administration. In fact, President Bush’s methane reduction agreement—bet you didn't even know it existed—may do more to slow global warming than perfect compliance with the Kyoto treaty.

      Finally, the fact that the Bush administration already has an unheralded greenhouse-gas reduction program is an indictment of the U.S. media, which refuse to report the existence of the program because it spoils the preferred narrative of “Bush as Kyoto villain.” Otherwise, the methane program is an optimistic sign. President Bush must believe artificial global warming is a real danger or he wouldn’t have a methane reduction program. The president must also believe that America can lead the world in fixing the greenhouse effect problem, or he wouldn’t have put the United States at the forefront of methane control. With two and a half years remaining in office, President Bush has ample time in which he could speak to history by starting the great project of global warming reform. Who better than a Republican oilman from Texas to propose the first binding controls on U.S. emissions of greenhouse gases? Any serious greenhouse gas program that President Bush proposes is likely to work faster than expected and be cheaper than expected.

Easterbrook has a healthy section of evidence of global warming at the end of the document.  However, I see lots of evidence of naturally occurring climactic change in the evidence and there’s no real feel for how much humans have affected the process. 

But he points out that not doing anything when there’s some evidence of human tampering is like putting a single bullet in a 6 shooter, spinning the chamber and trying to decide whether to legislate putting the gun to our heads or not.  Worth a read.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Mexican Presidential Election...still

Presidential candidate and resident leftist whacko Andres Obrador still tries to upset Mexican politics in his insistence that the election was a fraud and he really did win.

      Banana-republicly, they refused to listen to last week’s verdict of the electoral tribunal, which announced there was no systematic fraud in Mexico’s election. With no facts, they were emotionally clinging to a belief that there really was fraud.

Why do they do this?

      Part of it is that the left doesn’t see itself as just one philosophical tendency toward greater government intervention, which technically describes it. Instead, it sees itself as something else - as the embodiment of the people itself. It sees no separateness between itself and the people it claims to represent, even though they are different.

      Therefore, in the mind of such self-consumed leftists as Lopez Obrador, any rejection from the people would be not a message to fine-tune their leftist program into something more palatable to voters, but an assault on their very identity. Because remember, Lopez Obrador’s a virulent representative of the left that has delusions that it not only represents the people but IS the people.

      With that kind of certitude, it never occurs to such far-leftists that maybe voters don’t like their ideas. This is one of those things they cannot internalize. Anyone who criticizes them is dismissed as a hopeless oligarch and traitor to his class, or - depending how totalitarian - in need of some kind of destruction. This is a major political character flaw.

There’s some discussion on whether or not Obrador will bring down the left with his antics, which are sure to pull sentiment away from any cause he has, and damage the Mexican political institutions.  But dismissing the political process and not finally conceding, the way Gore and Kerry finally did, brings the country to the raggedy edge of leftist totalitarianism.

      Besides confusing itself with the masses, the left has a second curse: the Totalitarian Temptation.
      What do I mean by this? There’s a dangerous philosophical continuum from democratic left to communist tyranny, a hazard other political philosophies don’t have. Democratic leftists will insist that they are just nice socialists and patriots, and some are, but they often get cold feet when it comes time to separate themselves from totalitarians. That’s why U.S. Democrat congressmen and western leftist academics rarely condemn Fidel Castro, for instance, even though he has the most odious human rights record in the entire hemisphere. They have trouble doing it because there is an ideological affinity that blinds them to what should be a strong demarcation between democracy and tyranny. This, by the way, is one reason why Michelle Bachelet of Chile is so remarkable - she grew up in a real totalitarian-left family but managed to turn that background into her own democratic-left persona, with a very clear favor for democracy. She discarded only the tyranny aspect of her background, not the things she valued about being on the left, and became a bonafide democrat of incandescent credibility. But many cannot do that - perhaps because they consider themselves “the people,” as described above.

      Because the left can occupy either democratic government, or totalitarian rule, democracy under the left is vulnerable to sliding into tyranny, amid the moral confusion of imagining oneself as the people rather than the representatives of the people.

      Nowhere is that better embodied than in Mexico, halfway between the third world and the first, where AMLO nearly won the election as a democratic leftist, but now in his hour of discontent is rapidly turning into a destroyer of democracy, and starting to show a totalitarian face.

Recall that Hugo Chavez was elected in a fully democratic and non-tampered with election.  This kind of thing is less likely to happen here, but only because we’ve put up protections against that and our system has been solidified in place for some time now.

The left would argue that the above statements that the left is constantly in danger of dissolving into tyranny is untrue and that it’s the right that we should fear.  After all, Hitler and Mussolini were right wing fascists, right?

Well, sort of.  Both were on populists upswings and both were elected from a ground swelling of popular dissatisfaction.  Their policies were decidedly more right, so I guess we could say that the left would have a case here.  It is possible for a right wing dictator to tyrannize the populous after getting popularly elected.

However, it would be best said that the above comments are just incomplete, because he’s right about the left.  In fact, despite any admission that tyranny can come from either direction on the political spectrum, I happen to agree that the left is more vulnerable in this day and age.  As long as the conservatives in this country base their philosophy on liberty of the individual and the liberals base theirs on equality of status and economy, then the left has a shorter distance to travel on the road to tyranny.