Friday, December 14, 2007

Gullible Warping

This seems extraordinary.  10 years ago a bunch of bureaucrats, led by Al Gore, met in the Japanese city of Kyoto and dreamed up a “solution” to the apparent problem of global warming by drafting up a bunch of rules around limiting emissions. 

These limits were inherently unfair to already developed countries and would have had the effect of grinding the world’s economy, if not to a halt, at least would have damaged it irreparably.  Accordingly, the United States decided not to ratify it with a unanimous vote in the Senate, where all such ratifications occur. 

Now, this is not to say that the agreement wasn’t signed by a representative of the United States.  Al Gore did get behind this thing, but he couldn’t even get the support of his President, who quickly realized that the people weren’t going to like it one bit.   That, of course, doesn’t stop the NY Times from making statements like this (note: this isn’t a commentary column, it’s a “news article”):

      There appears to be broad consensus that this should be ready by 2009, in time to replace the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, the current agreement that limits emissions by all wealthy countries except the United States, which signed the Kyoto agreement but has refused to adopt it.

 Interesting statement, considering what I just said above, isn’t it?  Makes it sound like we’re supposed to be following this agreement, and the bias of the reporter is exposed.  However, they do note later, although without the importance that I would put on it, that Russia, India and China also have not agreed to Kyoto and don’t look like they’re going to ante up to the new agreement drafted in the remote island nation of Bali.  Considering that China is just now taking over as the world’s top emissions leader you would think that environmental advocates would start going after them and not the U.S., which, despite not agreeing to the UN’s blackmail, has far tougher federal incentives and regulations regarding pollution than most of the countries attending the event, and certainly more than the three mentioned above.

No mention is made of the agreement among southeastern Asian and Pacific region nations, brokered by the US a couple of years ago, that contained ideas and agreements that actually have a realistic shot at reducing global warming related emissions.  That story was lost almost as fast as it was issued.  Try to find it on Google.  You’ll be digging.

      Separately, the governments at the conference were close to agreement Friday on a system that would compensate developing countries for protecting their rainforests, a plan that environmentalists described as an innovative effort to mitigate global warming.

      The precise ways that countries with large rainforests, like Indonesia and Brazil, would be compensated have not been fully worked out.

Here again we see how bureaucrats think.  Instead of helping these countries get to a place where they’re economy is not based on ruining their own environment, we get economic blackmail.  Or environmental welfare, if you like.  We’ll just take money from those “rich” countries (capitalists) to help out the less fortunate so they won’t feel the need to cut down their forests (rob mini-marts).

This thinking is just futile, and the U.S. Senate is no more likely to ratify than the last time.  The presence of Gore in Bali isn’t helping the cause.

The ridicule these people are getting by flying (some in private jets) to a remote island to discuss reducing emissions isn’t helping their cause either.  Glenn Reynolds, one of the most read bloggers in the world, continually repeats the mantra that he’ll start taking global warming seriously when the people who are telling us it is start acting like it is.

And along with news of re-forming ice sheets in the Antarctic and evidence of solar effects on the atmosphere muddying up the global warming arguments, there’s a new possible cause of melting ice in Greenland.  And it’s not humankind.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Geography links

Pretty keen blog devoted to the geography of elections, particularly this election.  Some neat maps and links to other sites regarding maps and tools that others have done regarding the political and cultural landscape.   Worth a look-see.

Also, if you’re inclined, check this one out too.  Common Census is a site that invites citizens to enter information about themselves regarding their regional perspective and then maps the results.  Some of the maps are just for fun, like the professional sporting team loyalty maps, but others show the extent of influence of major urban areas.  Some neat stuff there.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Happy Halloween

A short history of the Vampire, as a figure of legend and religious mysticism, from one of my favorite geographers.

      The modern vampire is a product of myths evolved through both space and time. There is no one single origin for bloodsucking beasts but one can see a progression from ancient Mesopotamia, to Judaism, to Eastern Christianity, to Protestantism, to the secular today. Each stage offered its own perspective on vampires for its own reasons.

One note: Catholicgauze notes that there’s a passage in Isaiah that speaks of Lilith (as the early Jewish mystical origin of the vampire), but is translated as “night creature.”  This isn’t a mistranslation necessarily, as the Mesopotamian figure of what would be known as Lilith was associated with owls in some cases, and storm and night demons in others.  And so the Jewish there might be a reference to something other than the Lilith character associated with the Jewish legend that there was an evil 1st wife of Adam.

This is further supported by the fact that the context of the Isaiah passage is that of multiple creatures finding a nice place of refuge in Edom once God has taken care of the sinful people there.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Self-deluded idealism

Read this interesting post on Political Correctness in the Roman Empire.  Then come back.

OK, welcome back.  The Roman historian Tacitus might have been waxing idealistic, and might have just been disgruntled with the breakdown of Roman society, when he reported that Germanic tribes where hippie communes, but the author’s comparisons with the French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau are what caught my eye.

      Rousseau went further, however. Instead of being content to think that eighteenth-century French society and its institutions were corrupt and corrupting, and to imagine another people that was morally superior because their natural goodness had remained intact, Rousseau generalized: man in his natural state was naturally good, and all corruptness sprang from society and its institutions. His Noble Savage was not just a particular group of Germanic tribesmen but simply man in his naturally good state before the degradation brought by the institutions of society--any society.

The interesting thing is that these guys act like they’ve never seen the societies they’ve envisioned (and in fact they hadn’t).  Whereas they would have noted in all cultures the strict structures needed if you are to avoid a western-style legal system.  In and of themselves the moral codes of primitive societies probably acted like a legal system.

Holding the believe that it’s the institutions that bring us down and not our own imperfection, that by our nature we’re good and decent people, will always lead you down the wrong path to enlightenment regarding human behavior.  Think about it; if people were generally good, how could their institutions be inherently bad (being created by, you know, people)?

Every time some institution, or program or agency, gets created in this country or elsewhere, the motives for doing so are typically benign and good.  We’re doing it to make better worlds.  All of them better worlds…

Sorry, where was I?  Oh yes.
However, those well meant institutions inevitably get populated by people, who far from being inherently good, tend to abuse the system they’ve been presented with.  Why do you think we get so worked up over things like “loopholes?”  It’s because if everyone in this country took every law and statute they were presented with and followed them under the “Spirit” of the law instead of it’s actual legal text (to the letter!) don’t you think we’d be a bit better off?  If people were inherently that decent, would we need laws in the first place?

Far from that happy place is where we’re at.  There’s a reason that nations with rule-of-law social structures in place are the safest and most liberal in the world (although being far from perfect themselves), and that’s because people are decidedly NOT good by nature.  Romans 3:23 (“ALL have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”)

Interesting that in our rampage away from God even relatively smart people will grasp upon delusions they create even for themselves.  This post above was noting that the tendency to create idealized societies as examples of how evil or corrupt the west is (or the U.S. is) is alive and well in the 21st century, as we appear to learn nothing over the millennia.  And alive in our own hearts, as I’m sure you and I could find similar self-delusions about a great many things in our own lives, much less the international stage.

Actually, as a final note, I think that it requires a strong cultural moral system in addition to a legal code.  It’s disturbing to think that the increasingly flexible moral system in our country is giving way to a much more flexible legal system.  One definitely supports the other.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Events in Burma and the Coalition of Peace.

Haven’t been blogging on world events much, or at all, but I think that, just in case someone is reading this from a cave somewhere, you should be aware that there is a small country called Myanmar, which was formerly known as Burma, that is going through some birthing pains right now.

What I mean by that is that while they are ruled by a pretty oppressive military oligarchy (or junta as the press records it), they are protesting against that government.  Thousands of civilians have massed in the streets every day for the last week or so, in protest of higher gas prices set by the government, but truly its pent up frustration of living under the thumb of the military for 20 years now.

In 1990, Burma had a fairly democratic movement, electing a president (a female no less), Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been more or less under house arrest for 18 years.

The interesting thing about the latest protests is that they’ve been led by Buddhist monks, and the monks are taking the brunt of the casualties up to now.

This regime is supported by China, who is hardly on the side of the worldwide call for the regime to stand down and stop brutally suppressing the protests.  Although they’ve made some weak noise lately for Myanmar to soften their actions. 

The neat thing about the article that I linked to above is it’s focus on how the news is getting out of the country.  With a forced moratorium on journalists during this crisis by the government, the only outlet for news is by citizen journalists using their cell phones to take video and text messaging eye-witnessed events.  Refugee Burmese media outlets in places like Thailand and Sweden have been getting information from citizens on the street and relaying that information worldwide.

So what I don’t understand is how dictators like those in Burma, and those listed below, think that the rest of the world has no idea just how cruel and vicious they really are.  There’s like this mental disconnect between what they’re telling us and what our press is telling us is really going on.  And we know this because of technology.   Take satellite imaging for instance:

      The American Association for the Advancement of Science said the high-resolution photographs taken by commercial satellites document a growing military presence at 25 sites across eastern Myanmar, matching eyewitness reports.  We found evidence of 18 villages that essentially disappeared," AAAS researcher Lars Bromley said in an interview.

As Instapundit says (who I got this last link from), “You can crack down, but you can’t hide.”

In related news (and I mean related only in the sense of vicious dictators), Iran and Zimbabwe announced that they are starting  a Coalition of Peace.  Hmmm.  Considering who these characters are snuggling up to in the past couple of years, I imagine that the members of this “coalition” will be countries like Iran, Syria, Sudan, Zimbabwe, North Korea, China, Cuba, Venezuela and Bolivia.  Notice a trend? Gateway Pundit says: “The first act by the Coalition of Peace will be to wipe Israel off the map.”

I’ve been thinking about all these countries forming ties and acting like close buddies.  What’s the common denominator here, I mean besides oppressive oligarchy type governments?  Is it Soviet style communism?  You could say that for all the countries except for the African ones, really.  I’m not sure how much Sudan is socialist as much as it is theocratic/Arabic.  They are surly cozy with the Chinese money flooding in for their oil surplus.

Seriously, what does folk like Hugo Chavez see in a long term relationship with Iran and Syria?  Does Ahmadinejad tell Hugo in private that his rhetoric about world domination for Islam is just to whip the Muslims into an Anti-American frenzy, and that they really aren’t serious?

Perhaps there’s some sick need for fascist dictators to unite against the universal threat of Democracy.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Sim God

If you’ve ever played a “Sim” game, you know how fun it is to try and manage and control the holistic worlds that are created within. Keep an entire city running. There’s even one of the entire earth, sort of. And as computer power continues to increase, the limits of how detailed those tiny universes are continues to expand.

My son has a Sim Zoo, which is the only one I’ve seen in full play mode in a long time. The fun in playing is that you don’t really know how to make everything work to your advantage, and you don’t know how it’ll all work out. In the mind of a 11 year old, though, sometimes the fun is in causing chaos. Like letting the lions out of their cages and seeing what they’ll do (turns out they run around and your sim-visitors scatter and give off tiny electronic screams).

About a month ago, in the NY Times, John Tierney, explored the recent philosophical musings of an Englishman named Nick Bostrom (linked by Instapundit). Bostrom theorizes that perhaps we are the product of some hyper-advanced computer simulation created by some race so far advanced that they can produce computers powerful enough to simulate the reality we live in.

Dr. Bostrom assumes that technological advances could produce a computer with more processing power than all the brains in the world, and that advanced humans, or “posthumans,” could run “ancestor simulations” of their evolutionary history by creating virtual worlds inhabited by virtual people with fully developed virtual nervous systems.

It would seem to not matter that we would all be just bits and bites, because for us everything we touched would feel like the real thing. Its interesting to think about, but fairly nihilist in that since we’re all just bits and bytes there’s no real soul and no afterlife (although he points out that if we’re interesting enough perhaps the great simulation creator will use us again in his next simulation).

Whatever, I must say. I can’t really get the enthusiasm with which the author and Bostrom carry themselves.

In fact, if you accept a pretty reasonable assumption of Dr. Bostrom’s, it is almost a mathematical certainty that we are living in someone else’s computer simulation.

Really. A you can mathematically predict whether or not there’s another more advanced race of people with computers powerful enough, and the spare time on their hands, and the inclination to baby-sit such a complex simulation as this one? Really.

That was the author of the article, and the assumption is that computing power will in fact get there. His only qualm is that the advanced race might not want to create the simulation. Here’s Bostrom:

Dr. Bostrom doesn’t pretend to know which of these hypotheses is more likely, but he thinks none of them can be ruled out. “My gut feeling, and it’s nothing more than that,” he says, “is that there’s a 20 percent chance we’re living in a computer simulation.”

It’s neat how we can pretend to be scientific by throwing out hypothetical numbers. In truth, this is the more fanciful side of philosophy, and, if you want my opinion, which I just know you do, one of the less useful ones.

Because you really have to accept that there’s just as good a chance (better in fact) that there’s a God and that he created this world, and that he’s so beyond our understanding and power that he has the ability to control every aspect of his big and quite real existence.

I’d say that given there’s a 20 percent chance this might all be some computer sim game, there’s a 75 percent chance that it’s actually real and God created it (I give the other 5 percent to those who don’t believe in God). Go ahead. Dispute my figures.

Having said all that, the article is interesting, and there’s even links to Bostrom’s work and some other musings on the subject. Bostrom’s article (at Simulation-Argument.com no less) is all full of equations that mean nothing really, if you look at the ridiculous things they represent.

However, if you don’t believe in God, and/or are a computer geek, this article might change your life. Have a go.

In the mean time, I’d like to take this in another direction. This article got me thinking. At one point in the article, Tierney takes the mental thread that perhaps we’re a simulation inside a simulation, ad infinitum. But at some point there would have to be an original creator of all these simulations. A Prime Designer, if you will. I think most religious and mono-theistic persons in this world can identify with that.

However, far from the limitations of a computer simulation, the universe is something far more amazing than that. It comes from something I see when I’m reading my Bible.

1. In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.

2. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.

3. And God said, "Let there be light," and there was light. 4. God saw that the light was good, and He separated the light from the darkness. 5. God called the light "day," and the darkness he called "night." And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day. Gen 1:1-5


You’ll notice, if you read the entire chapter this was extracted from, that God said let there be light/expanse/dark/water/etc. It’s almost like God just starts talking and the universe starts falling into place. Here’s another place in scripture that reads like that. Psalm 33:6


By the word of the LORD were the heavens made,
their starry host by the breath of his mouth.


So again, the universe was created by the words spoken by a being we can’t even begin to get our heads around. So I’m thinking about this in the context of the article I’ve just read and I get this thought. According to the Bible, and thereby according to God, we are a part of a story that God is telling. Now, the story is long and complex, and when God tells it, it becomes real. God is telling our story, and He wants us to know that He is the author, and He can relate to the participants in the story.
The thing about God is, thought, that he’s omnipotent. He knows how the story will end, and not just like an author who pretty much knows how the story will end, but has to work out the details. God knew the beginning, the details, and how it would end before he started. Unlike simulations, God isn’t wondering how it’s all going to turn out. He’s not telling the story for the excitement of controlling the action, but because it gives him glory.

Now, I’m just traveling on a train of thought here. You might think that I’m not correct or in line with other parts of the Bible. You might think that my train of thought is just as loony as Bostrom’s. Perhaps. Understand that even though having God creating a story makes it seem like each person’s life is pre-written out and they really have no choice in how their lives end up, there are parts of the Bible that say things very similar, and there is considerable debate in the Christian community regarding pre-destination vs. free will and how we’re supposed to get our heads around what God is trying to tell us in these verses.

Also, please realize that I’m not saying that God is creating a piece of fiction, which would be no more real than the simulations discussed above. Like I said a couple of paragraphs above, the power of God is that his stories become reality when spoken. It forces me to comprehend a God that is far bigger and unfathomable than I previously considered. But it also causes me to wonder at the beauty of the mind of God. That instead of the universe being something as crude as bits and bytes, or even that the uncountable molecules that make it up, that at it’s whole it’s all in the mind of God. And each one of us has the ability to shadow that power by the stories we tell and the ideas we dream up. We are in the image of God.

Post to remind us

I wasn't going to post anything today, specifically to remember 9/11. There are plenty of people doing that, and I did my own remembering, and talked with some people about it. However, I just saw this article that Dave Barry (yes, the humor columnist) did on that very day. It's thoughtful, and this bit caught me.
The truth is that most Americans, until Tuesday, were only dimly aware of their existence, and posed no threat to them. But that doesn't matter to them; all that matters is that we're Americans. And so they used our own planes to kill us.

And then their supporters celebrated in the streets.
I'm not naive about my country. My country is definitely not always right;
my country has at times been terribly wrong. But I know this about
Americans: We don't set out to kill innocent people. We don't cheer when
innocent people die.
And it becomes more and more obvious to the people of Iraq that we aren't like the killers who Al Qaida or Saddam (when he was alive) paint us out to be. The longer our troops are over there, the more Americans like the one's Dave knows succeed in proving to the Iraqis that we're there to help, not occupy.
I'm proud to live in this country and call it home.


Wednesday, September 05, 2007

The vara

Fun fact for the day.  I came across a very bizarre unit of measurement today while considering land surveys in Texas.  It seems that while surveyors in most parts of the country rely on feet or chains (go figure), in Texas, and indeed in some other southern states, you might run into the vara.

Example of what it would look like on a survey:  “thence N 23 ½ W 232 vrs.”

It turns out the vara is an old Spanish and Portuguese base of measurement imported over to the Americas.  When the Spanish system came in contact with the English system during the days of independent Texas, the modern vara was adjusted to make more sense to people who were more used to measuring things in feet.

Although, why they didn’t use the English chain, which was much more integrated with feet and miles, is beyond me.

Here’s a history of the Spanish vara:

      The vara, a Spanish unit of distance, was used in the Spanish and Mexican surveys and land grantsqv in Texas. One vara equals approximately thirty-three and one-third inches; 5,645.4 square varas equal one acre; 1,906.1 varas equal one mile; and 1,000,000 square varas, which is one labor,qv equal approximately 177.1 acres. The word vara entered the Spanish language from vulgate Latin and originally meant a long, thin, clean branch of any tree or plant. It later came to be used for any straight stick and then for a lance. Next it came to mean a badge of office carried by mayors and judges and such officials and probably achieved a more uniform dimension. As a judge's lance, the vara assumed a position of official importance in the eyes of the people, began to be used as a measuring stick, and eventually became a unit of measurement.

The vara is also thought to be the typical length of stride of a Spanish soldier.
In Texas, one vara is equal to 33 1/3 inches, or just less than a yard.  1 million square vara equal one square Labor.  The Spanish vara was set at 835.9mm in 1801 (that’s about 32.9 inches).  The Colorado and California vara are 33 inches and the Florida vara is 33.372.

In truth, it seems that everywhere in the Spanish world the vara could have been anywhere from 32 to 35 inches in length, causing all kinds of problems.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Indian Heaven Wilderness

Admittedly, my posts about hiking in Oregon and Washington have fallen short this year. We did get out a bit this last couple of weeks, so I’ll tell you about a wilderness that’s worth taking a leisurely stroll in.

The Indian Heaven Wilderness, in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest in Washington, is probably one of the lesser known natural preserves in the Cascades. It’s situated in between Mt. Saint Helens and Mt. Adams, but a bit to the south. The easiest way to get there is to take highway 141 north from White Salmon (across the bridge from Hood River, Oregon) to the town of Trout Lake and visit the ranger station there, right on the highway. Get yourself one of their wilderness maps, which are very detailed and far more updated than the USGS quads.

The wilderness is a paradise of huckleberry bushes, which have been picked by native Americans for thousands of years. Tribes from as far away as Montana and Wyoming, as well as across Washington and Oregon, would gather there for Summer festivities in the early 20th century. They would dry game, fish, race horses, play games, and of course pick berries.

The area is now inundated with locals and not-so-locals picking berries from July (if you can stand the mosquitoes, some call this Mosquito Heaven) through most of August. Some sell them in Trout Lake or other localities. If you stop at the small diner attached to the gas station at the cross roads as you enter town you can get Huckleberry shakes, pies, cobblers and just about everything else you can force the little tart berries into.

The roads are pretty good coming in from Trout Lake. The mainlines are really well maintained, even the gravel ones. I would have no trouble at all getting our Nissan on FR 60 or FR 24. I think that FR65 coming from Carson to the south is paved all along the Wilderness’ western flanks, but I haven’t driven that way, so check first.

We took a side road, FR6035, to the Crater Lake trail, and I recommend that anyone using this road have higher clearance. It’s not really bad, but there area couple of spots where the drainage has done some damage.

We took the Crater trail up 2.5 miles to Junction Lake, which is right on the PCT, and set up camp. It was a gentle climb, and our 6 year old and 11 year old did it without much fuss at all. My impression is that, except for a trail or two, the entire wilderness is quite gentle in terrain. The trees are big and the forest is shady and sometimes downright cool and dark. There are lots of lakes. Junction was nice, but we took a walk down the PCT to Blue lake, which was much more spectacular.

While on the PCT we met some lovely people named Charlie Brown and Cardinal Bird who were hiking the entire PCT from Mexico to Canada. They looked pretty clean for having hiked over 2000 miles, but they were awfully nice, and provided encouragement for us, as we hope to take on that trail someday.

The thing, again, to note about this area is that the undergrowth is almost entirely huckleberry, except for the occasional rhododendron and baby conifer. If you are there in season you’ll never go hungry.

There are a few peaks with views of the surrounding forest, with the major volcanoes all around. However, we didn’t see that much, and you probably won’t either. But the peace and solitude of this wilderness is enough. It’s pretty without all the spectacular views you get elsewhere.

And, as we were constantly reminded, this is sasquatch country. Watch out! (no, really, I expected to see at least bears with all the berries around, but there were enough people I think that they were way off trail enjoying the goodies).

Picture 1: Crater trail almost to the PCT junction. Picture 2: Juction Lake. Picture 3: Charlie Brown and Cardinal Bird. Picture 4: Blue Lake. Picture 5: Huckleberries!!

Melt down of modern news

My wife and I were talking about the state of logical debate in our fine country and society at large today, she because she had heard an interview with a man named Lee Harris, who is apparently liberal and gay, who wrote a book describing how the left has forsaken reason in their debate, if it can be called that. The book, and I assume the interview, was about the danger that radical Islam poses to western society and the myopia that occurs among liberals who assume that western values of civilization will prevail in the culture of the middle east and all we have to do is nurture that with a little dialog.

I fell into the discussion because of this article that I read a while back (via Instapundit). It was more how the current media, the press, does not aid in logical discussion of world affairs, politics and values, but actually hurts them because of the personalities behind the pages and business nature of modern media. Here is a bit of the article I was reading.
James Lewis spoke of the discussion about Carl Rove's departure because of something he said regarding the press.

When Karl Rove resigned from his White House job last week, to a chorus of yowling cat-calls from furious news writers around the country, some scribblers were particularly offended by a word Mr. Rove used for his good friends in the media: The word "mob."

Not the organized criminal type mob, but the screaming charging mass of crazed lunatics holding torches and pitchforks. Then he continues, using the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings as fuel for his argument.

The Big Media are a mob. That should be Politics 101. They are a tiny, unchecked power elite, locked into life-long careers in the remnant of a crumbling monopoly over America's national conversation. Like other unaccountable elites, they are monumentally fickle, self-indulgent, snobbish, vain, vulgar, entitled, incestuous, arrogant, ignorant, unprincipled, hysterical, and demagogic. They sound like a unified chorus for the same reasons that street mobs run as a group -- because by and large, they don't dare to stand alone. Media snobs are always looking over their shoulders to see if they are still singing from the same hymnal as The New York Times. The US media have been one-sidedly Leftist, while piously proclaiming their devotion to impartiality. Thus, they are also institutionally mendacious. Telling the truth is hardly their job. They're just not qualified.

This doesn’t go for all the newspapers you’ll read. The local ones still try to have a voice of their own sometimes. Here in Portland we have a pretty good local weekly called Willamette Week. They cover local issues with a penetration that you don’t often find in this sound bite society. Even they, however, once they step out of the bounds of purely local issues and try to make some statement on national or international issues, they recite the party line without deviation. Sad.

Basically, the importance of what gets put on the front page is what’s important to the journalists and editors. It’s only coincidence if that same subject is actually important to the rest of us as well. Again Lewis drives through several examples of that, notably that the media spends considerable time and pandering effort over presidential candidates and Hollywood celebrities but took virtually no time for probably the greatest human contribution to human welfare in the world in the last century: Norman Borlaug.

Mass killers make up the most famous names in history: Attila the Hun, Caligula, Hitler, Napoleon. But few of the famous can claim to have saved lives. Perhaps Louis Pasteur, and of course many unknown scientists and inventors in medicine, agriculture and engineering. But who is celebrated by the Media Mob? Paris Hilton. Dan Rather. Hillary Clinton. The next Democrat for president. None of them have real achievements to their credit. None of them come within miles of Norman Borlaug.

The Big Media just aren't interested in stories of profound human significance. Life-saving scientists are boring, and besides, don't we have too many people walking on the planet already? That's the vaunted "editorial judgment." It reflects the snobbish values of the vulgar Media Mob, and it's utterly subjective and selfish. Mobs don't think. They just hyperventilate at pseudo-scientific superstitions, like Global Warming.

He then goes into a description of where we started as a nation, with a collection of some of the most extraordinary intellectuals we have ever known, such as Jefferson and Hamilton and Franklin, and how the debate and news was carried in this country by free thinkers who’s ideas and values were shaped by their own studies and lives instead of the constant force fed side show we get now.

There was no centralized intellectual monopoly. Political arguments were often heated, with news sheets flaming each other like the best of the blogs. The newspapers produced geniuses like Mark Twain and H.L. Mencken, both self-taught news writers. Twain may be the foremost American novelist of the 19th century, and Mencken is one of the greatest essayists in the English language. That was before anybody had a degree in journalism.

Things have not improved. The decline of quality media in America can be traced to two things, (1) professionalization of the news business, and (2) a former technological monopoly in electronic and print media. With industrialized technology it became possible for a single ideology to exercise control. Colleges were accredited by bureaucracies, which enforced liberal uniformity where diversity used to flourish. Journalists became careerists, like teachers and other bureaucrats.

And then, he concludes:

But journalism doesn't thrive on a forced consensus. News conformity is always artificial, a matter of ideological indoctrination, not fact. Indeed, the average newswriter today is a shallow and gullible BA in English, with no knowledge of (or interest in) science, technology, history, economics, international affairs, or politics, nor any practical experience of real human nature. That is why we now have just one single national story line, repeated hundreds of times a day in all the major dailies. It is mental Coca Cola --without the nourishment sugar provides.

It's all very effective; with a more truthful media the Democrats wouldn't stand a chance in electoral politics. The entire American Left owes its existence and power to the Media Mob. And our national dialogue would be saner, better-informed, and more rational. We would have a much healthier world. Until then, a vigorous New Media provide our best hope.

Now, that last paragraph is a big OUCH. Not that I fully agree with this in light of the mental garbage that some Republicans put forth. It’s not like they’re much better, but they are on the right side of many issues from where I sit, if only by accident.

But his point about how we get our news and information has teeth, I think. I’ve talked about this before in the context of what happened to the news media since about Watergate, when the news went from capturing life to turning a buck. When every journalists turned from wanting to report to wanting to be the next big thing, at the heart of the next big break. Sensationalist reporting became rampant, and news media began a slow descent into madness by cutting corners and eliminating “beat” reporting. Now virtually the only true beat reporters are sports analysts.

Many journalists who got their BA or MA in writing and journalism are probably very upset about me and Mr. Lewis spreading this type of thinking around. But I see this type of journalism all the time. Stories are put forth without much real understanding or context. How many times have the NY Times or the AP gone on about some tragedy or military screw up in Iraq, only to have military people come back and explain that the news was completely backwards because they didn’t understand what they were reporting.

I could bring out other bits and pieces, but this one occurred in the news today as well. Tom Blumer noticed that the NY Times has to work pretty hard to twist economic data to make believe that the economy and job incomes are not doing well.

What will the future of news media be like? It does no good anymore for folks to disregard the blog world as non informational and patently inferior to traditional media news. People are going there anyway, knowing that they aren’t getting the full picture from the morning paper or the nightly news. I had a friend a couple of years back who used the pap statement when I used a blog post to back up something I was arguing: “I suppose you believe everything you read on the internet.”

Well, I suppose that we shouldn’t, but that goes equally for anything and everything. Know where it’s coming from. Use your own knowledge and experience. Get out from behind the TV and read a bit. Don’t think for a second that any journalist or writer (or blogger) is completely unbiased. Assume that politicians are corrupt, as power ultimately will do, and stop giving them more access to power. Assume that people are generally OK (if not good in a Godly sense) and that government’s and organizations don’t always speak for them accurately. Know that while Democracy and Capitalism have their flaws, there is no other governmental/economic system that has produced more freedom for people in the history of man.

Let’s get back to logical argument, can we now?

Friday, August 24, 2007

Portland's Pearl

For those with Portland pride, the Project for Public Spaces (PPS) in New York put the Pearl District in NW Portland in it’s top 60 great public spaces in the world!

Portland is probably going to hang this from their highest banner for some time to come, but they can’t let it get to their head, as all planning project aren’t nearly as successful as this one was.

Of course just the presence of Powell’s Bookstore makes this the best urban Neighborhood in North America hands down.  Not to mention a brewery.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Silver Star Mountain


If you are looking to the northeast from most locations in Portland, Oregon, your view of one of the spectacular volcanoes of the Northwest, 12,276 foot Mt Adams, is blocked by some tall hills, or low mountains, just outside of Vancouver, Washington. The tallest peak in that hump is called Silver Star Mountain, so named because it has 5 ridges that radiate from the summit.
The neat thing about Silver Star is that it and it's ridges are mostly bald of trees, and the views are worth every pain and ache it takes to reach it. Which is not much pain and ache actually, if you aren't afraid of a few gravel roads, 2 or 3 miles of hiking and a couple thousand feet in elevation.
Let me tell you, though, that all that is more than worth it. Silver Star is the tallest peak for miles around, which means that your range of views is 360, and on a good day you can see every volcano from Mt. Rainier to Mt. Jefferson, as well as Portland and Vancouver laid out before you to the southwest and the Columbia River entering the magnificent gorge through the Cascades.
Before you think I'm overstating this with flowery words, you need to get up there and see for yourself. There are a couple of ways of getting there. State forest road 1200 runs from just north of Washougal, Washington, towards the valley's around Yacolt. You can approach it from either direction. There is also a US Forest road entry from the north on road 41. You can get decent directions either here or here. It takes about an hour to an hour and 15 minutes to get there from Portland.

Silver Star Mountain is too low to be as bald as it is, at only 4300 feet. Almost all other peaks in this region are forested well beyond that elevation. During 1902, the largest recorded forest fire in Washington's history, the Yacolt burn, which was a series of burns that repeatedly scorched over 250,000 acres of forestland. There have been many landslides in the intervening years due to the geology of the unprotected slopes, and the forest has had a difficult time reclaiming the mountain.

We came in from Washougal on the 1200 for our hike. The roads are windy, so you need to follow the directions pretty closely. It's a fairly beat up mainline, but have no fear of missing the trailhead. There's a good wide area to park, and a big sign with a map of the area. You can't miss it. The trail from here is just over 3 miles, and boy is it straight up. There are two sections where you're nose is pretty close to the ground, you might say, so be prepared for the uphill trudge. Amazingly, all the great views are when you're not going up, there are several flat spots to rest your legs with wide open ridges with great views. But the best views are at the top, of course.
You're walking on very old roads, which I imagine haven't been used in decades. We were trying to imagine what vehicles attempted to use those steep roads, but grateful that they've been reclaimed by feet.
The last time we were up there I was horrified to realize I had forgotten the camera, so the picture preceding this post, alas, was pilfered from another site. (Much appreciation to Gresham High School). There are some other good pictures on the other sites I linked to above, and this one too.
Happy hiking!

Friday, August 03, 2007

Degar of Vietnam

Just as the U.S. is trying to open relations with Vietnam, it’s good to remember that this isn’t an open and free, capitalistic and democratic society.  Far from it, and ever since we abandoned them after the Vietnam war, things haven’t been well for the average citizen of Southeast Asia. 

      In North Carolina I interviewed some of the Degar Montagnards who had participated in the 2001 demonstration and also others who witnessed the second mass demonstration by Degar Montagnards that occurred on Easter 2004. The 2004 demonstration however, was planned as a week long prayer vigil but this too was brutally crushed by Vietnam’s security forces. The 2004 Easter prayer vigil actually never commenced as security forces ambushed the Degar Montagnards on the first day, using knives, machetes, clubs and other weapons. Human Rights Watch reported 10 killed including a 80 year old blind woman who was dragged off a tractor and beaten to death. The US State Department reported killings in at least "double digit figures" and I personally spoke to survivors who escaped to the United States who saw hundreds, I repeat hundreds of Degar Montagnards lying unconscious or dead, bleeding on the ground. One witness old me explicitly he saw 35 to 40 dead bodies on one street alone in Buonmathuot.

Not that Christians in SE Asia are the average, but Christians are far from the only oppressed group.

The Degar are indigenous peoples of the central highlands of Vietnam.  The term Montagnard means “mountain people” in French, so saying “Degar Montagnards” is kind of redundant.  Starting in the early 20th century, missionaries worked hard to convert the Degar, and roughly three quarters of the present population are some denomination, protestant or Catholic.  The Degar are to the Vietnamese what the Aborigines are to Australians, although that’s not entirely true, as the Degar share ancestral lineage with the rest of the population, whereas most Australians are ethnically white-European).  But culturally it’s not a bad comparison.

The Vietnamese Communists never trusted the Degars, as their Christian beliefs made them much more likely to support the American troops in the war, and they were driven out after the Americans left.  Mostly they get driven out now in favor of government use of the fertile land for coffee plantations.  Sounds a bit like Darfur, if you ask me. 

(background on Degars mostly from Wikipedia).

Monday, July 23, 2007

Bolivian Musical Capitals

Geographic post of the day.
This is kind of a geopolitical bit of news, but it has some geographic implications that will get geographers worked up, and possibly force poor students to re-memorize the capitals of Latin American countries.

Bolivian Marxist President Evo Morales has decided that he needs to move the administrative capital from La Paz to Sucre.  Sucre was once the proper capital of the country, but once the economy shifted from the lowlands to the mining of the highlands of Bolivia, the administrative portion moved to La Paz, leaving the judicial branch in Sucre.

That’s not all he’s doing either.  The protests have begun, but does Bolivia have the guts to throw this guy out?

Dysfunctional Politic

On my continuing theme of disgust at the current political climate in America, which I blame all politicians and other people who refuse to see anything but partisan victory and power of conquest, I noted this great article by Roger Simon, via Instapundit, about the rhetorical battle between the popular left blog Daily Kos and Bill O’Reilly.

A little background for those not familiar with what happened here.  Kos was holding a convention that includes lots of Democratic politicians and figureheads speaking, which he’s been doing for the last couple of years.  This year the newcomer airline Jet Blue decided to sponsor the event, but that announcement garnered a sea of reaction from the right side of the blog world, as well as not a few conservative columnists and politicians.

And you’re saying:  so what?  Which is what I said, being that Jet Blue basically has their bottom line in mind here, this was a business decision for them, not a political one, and I imagine that Kos would find the money elsewhere.  There’s not shortage of wealthy pockets on the left.

So O’Reilly attacks the airline for agreeing to sponsor the event and Jet Blue rescinded their sponsorship.  Kos spent considerable pixel space lambasting O’Reilly and announcing a Jet Blue boycott.

Lost in this is perspective, as it usually is in politics.

      What interests me in this brouhaha is not the substance, but the amount of heat generated by both sides over a relatively small matter. We live in a society where large sections of the media - on and off line - are incapable of viewing the world outside their ideological blinders. For them, politics is blood sport. They are essentially like the flying monkeys in The Wizard of Oz, endlessly headed off in fits of rage against their enemies.

       Of course the unspoken motivation for this behavior - the elephant in this room of monkeys - is money. I don’t know if Markos Zuniga is capable of being a reasonable adult, but if he were, he would probably lose lots of readers and cash. The same is true of Bill O’Reilly. If he stopped shouting people down and got into a dialog with them, I suspect, sadly, fewer viewers would watch.

      This economic motive is augmented by ideological loathing of the type practiced broadly by the likes of Kos and O’Reilly and more subtly - but perhaps more lethally - by pseudo-objective outlets like The New York Times. Everyone is playing to his or her audience. But the loser is that audience. It is we the citizens.

      With this polarized media atmosphere, it is small wonder that the President and the Congress have the pathetic poll numbers they do. Our leaders present themselves to us through that media and, in a very real sense, are part of it. They are one and the same. The Congress is a media personality. Much of what they do is media defined. It is one big show, much like sports. And we citizens have been reduced to fans, chanting "Our team is red hot, your team’s worth diddley-squat," just as we did in junior high. But the games and the issues are real.

      Meanwhile, we are left with a polity that is virtually dysfunctional, lost in their own electoral ambitions and outmoded ideological preachments and not talking to each other. We have a Left with no response to a misogynistic/homophobic religious fascist enemy that abhors separation of church and state and a Right willing to use their religious values to shut down the US Congress over the fate of one woman when they could not possibly have any true medical knowledge of her situation.

      Talk about irony. And we’re supposed to be the modern society? Bring back Ancient Greece. Or at least Chairman Deng, who famously said when throwing off the yoke of Marxism-Leninism-Mao Tse Tung thought, "I don’t care whether a cat is black or white. I only care if it catches mice."

      Our own ideological yokes are nowhere near as rigid as China’s, but we could still use a little of Chairman Deng’s advice. In fact, we don’t have to look very deep in our own history to find our own version of it. It’s called pragmatism.

And meanwhile we drown in unimportant minutia as the world experiences the real birth pains of trial and error (Sudan is a true crisis, Venezuela is on the verge of collapse, Roberto Mugabe is destroying his people and his country, Russia’s Putin is trying to recreate the Soviet Empire, China is on it’s way to overtaking us as an economic power.  Iraq anyone?  Pay attention!)

Wyden's Flat Tax

I’m always ready to be surprised by a Democrat legislating in the nation’s capital.  It’s even more neato when that Senator is from my own home state of Oregon, who’s blue-state credentials usually allow Democratic legislators to tow party line without having to answer to their constituents.

For the past 5 or 6 years, I’ve heard nothing regarding Bush’s tax cuts in 2001 but “It’s the sole reason for the recovery” from Republicans and “It’s a gift to the rich and caused the big deficit” from the Democrats.  But this is something new:

      Wyden's proposal to replace the 1.4-million-word tax code with a simpler system is the most ambitious bill of his 26-year congressional career. It would fundamentally change the U.S. economy and shake up nearly every special interest in Washington. But Wyden acknowledged that, without Bush's support, his bill doesn't stand a chance until at least the next presidential administration.

      The Wyden plan would reduce the six-bracket income tax system to three. And all income -- including wages, capital gains and dividends -- would be taxed at the same rates. The plan would eliminate many tax loopholes, allowing for a one-page 1040 form.

Now, it remains to be seen exactly what the fine print of the bill is about.  Some conservatives have some pretty strict ideas about what tax reform should look like, but I’m wondering why more libertarian and conservative types aren’t at least publicly excited to see a Democrat actually bring this out for discussion.

This isn’t a pure flat tax, there would be three taxpayer rates instead of the current 6, and there would still be standard deductions for families.  And given that Bush’s tax cuts will end in a couple of years, it’s time for congress to start hashing out what the tax code is going to look like after that.

What Wyden is doing is not only messing with the tax structure, but also politics as usual in Washington.  As George Will states:

      Conservatives like tax cuts as means for restraining—or so they think—government spending ("starving the beast"). Liberals like tax benefits as ways to spend without seeming to. Therefore tax simplification serves a third objective, one that Wyden is perhaps too polite to stress—reform of Washington's political culture.

Which is a long time in coming.  I’ve said before that all the hubub about corruption, spending, earmarks and the like would be rendered less important and damaging to the country as a whole if the federal government was less able to secure funds from the people.  Will a flat tax do that?  I don’t know.  I would imagine that Wyden’s plan is to simplify the tax code without reducing federal tax receipts, but the imposition of a simpler tax code, and perhaps some congressional rules about how this new tax code can be amended (to make it harder) would make raising taxes more politically dangerous.

And then there’s the other affects to our culture as a whole.  How much do the deductions that are there to promote small business and charity, home buying and medical care, going to change the economy?

      As Michael J. Graetz of the Yale Law School has written, the political class "uses the income tax the way my mother employed chicken soup: as a magic elixir to solve all the nation's economic and social difficulties." Americans, gripped by cognitive dissonance, want tax simplification—and all the current complexities that benefit them.

Certainly I think that we would be better served by a simpler tax system that actually taxed us less as a whole.  I don’t pretend to be able to give so much that it affects my taxes all that much, so that kind of thing won’t affect my giving, but it might to that class of society that gives the most.  No, not the poor or the middle class, the wealthy.  It’s where most of the charity in this country comes from, and how much will they continue to give without tax incentive (I know that sounds cold, are people really that crass, but think about it).  And some of those other deductions do come into play in my budget, like the mortgage deduction.

George Will calls Wyden “Sisyphus,”  the mythological character who was destined to roll a boulder up a hill for all eternity, as Wyden is “determined to roll the boulder of tax reform up Capitol Hill yet again.”  Let’s hope that he doesn’t have to keep rolling quite that long.

Update:  I’ve read a bit more, and past attempts by Wyden have included other deductions, such as home mortgages, so this is looking less like a “flat tax” and more like severe tax code reform.  Which is OK too.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Homer vs. giant

Homer Simpson joins the Cerne Abbas giant on the landscape of the English countryside, angering pagans who find some ritual significance in the figure carved into the side of a hill.  Pagans think it’s of ancient origin, like Stonehenge, but most historians now concede that it was probably done in the 17th century.

Catholicguaze passes it on noting that Homer was put there recently in advertisement of the new movie.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Obama and Kindergarteners

There’s a story filtering around the conservative side of things that Barack Obama wants “sex education” for kindergarteners.  I saw this here, and from the article, it sounds like this is far less of a big deal than the right makes it out to be.

Obama clarified:

      'Nobody's suggesting that kindergartners are going to be getting information about sex in the way that we think about it,' Obama said. 'If they ask a teacher 'where do babies come from,' that providing information that the fact is that it's not a stork is probably not an unhealthy thing. Although again, that's going to be determined on a case by case basis by local communities and local school boards.'

Also he mentioned things like teaching about “inappropriate touching” and the like.  And so if that’s the type of thing he’s talking about it’s less serious that what you would normally think of when you hear the phrase “sex education.” 

However, I don’t see the point here.  It’s an unfortunate circumstance that in this day and age kids aren’t getting appropriate answers to their questions and so the school feels like it needs to step in.  However I still don’t think this is the schools job.  It’s the parents job.  I also think that it’s stupid to think that teachers don’t already have the latitude to answer a kindergartener’s questions about where babies come from by telling them that they come from their “mother’s belly.”  Teachers should restrict touching in class as well, and discipline the kids when they need to, but a formal education on the subject?

Weather Control

This is kind of scary:  Weather control for political purposes.

      Thirty-two thousand people are employed by the People's Republic of China in their weather control program. The operation costs up to ninety-million dollars and members are equipped with everything ranging from rocket launchers to modified anti-aircraft guns.

      The small army influences the weather for more reasons than just to alleviate drought. Everything from firefighting to having the perfect conditions for the Olympics are now being influenced by Chinese efforts.

      An interesting question for the future is concerns the "right" of countries to make it rain. The moisture that is being prematurely forced into rain could have become rain for South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, etc. A whole slew of problems from water access to denying rain for political purposes to others are just some potential things which may lie in the future.

Not to mention how changing the weather locally affects weather and climate in a more global sense.   And there’s the health issue of constantly releasing silver iodide into the air.

The Journey of Man

Via Catholicgauze, here’s a neat time lapse application that shows a depiction of mankind’s dispersal across the globe from about 150k years ago, from a central origin point in Africa.  As with most things archeological, you need to take this as a theory, not fact, but it’s interesting never the less.  It includes the time periods that the migrations are thought to have occurred.

Now this doesn’t take into account other theories, like some south Pacific peoples possibly traveling across the ocean to South America, or some European and African peoples doing the same.  It also doesn’t capture smaller migrations back and forth on a regional level.

One thing to note, if you hold faith in the Bible as accurate history, is the location of the “origin” and the time periods they’re talking about.  I’ve always said that I wouldn’t totally rule out a more literal depiction of the timeline proposed by some that Adam walked the earth only 6000 years ago.  However, I’m also into the thought that there’s a disconnect between generations in the book of Genesis, and that it’s possible that God created man at a much earlier time, say hundreds of thousands of years ago.  This wouldn’t contradict what archeologists think about human migration necessarily.

Anyway, enjoy the animated journey of man as estimated by the Bradshaw Foundation.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Peace

If you are anything more than an occasional browser of this blog, or someone who has come here more than a couple of times, you have probably noticed the bleak amount of posting I’ve been doing lately.  Fear not.  I am still here.  Part of it was that I have been on vacation.  It’s summer, after all.  Part of it is a lack of things to say about the current situations in the world.  What is there to say when you begin to doubt the sincerity of almost all the politicians you see and doubt the intention of any world leader to do anything constructive toward the world’s ills.

I don’t mean to sound manic depressive about it all, it’s just a little overwhelming all the content out there on the old and new media, and I’ve been focusing on more personal things.  I’m still paying attention, and you should to.  Just because I’m losing faith in Republicans (and had little in Democrats to begin with) and political leaders in general doesn’t mean I’m still not interested in politics.  Or foreign events.  Or local events. 

It’s a good thing that my hope is in an eternal king who has perfect wisdom and compassion.  Otherwise I would be pretty depressed.

In other news…
When Gregg Easterbrook isn’t writing about football or the environment, he’s trying to get us to notice stuff that most other people ignore.  In this case he wants us to take some notice that a man who is only one of the two living Americans to own a Nobel Peace Prize just received the Congressional Gold Medal, our highest civilian award.   His name is Norman Borlaug, and he’s the most important person you’ve never heard of.  Please read the article.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Where America got it's name

Catholicgauze asks the question and ponders some of the possibilities. You've all heard of Amerigo Vespucci, the Italian explorer, however it's thought that the German mapmaker, Martin Waldseemuller, who's map is thought to be the first to name it such, would not have known Vespucci by the given name Amerigo, but by his actual name Albericus.

Other possibilities abound, such as Columbus referring to a mountain range in Nicaragua called Amerique. However, I think this would be unlikely.
One of the more likely ideas these days comes from an Englishman named Rodney Broome. In a book called "Amerike The Briton Who Gave America Its Name", Broome tells the history of a man named Richard Amerike, a wealthy aristocrat and merchant who funded many expeditions for the purpose of finding new fishing grounds. It's thought that many of these new fishing grounds were in the area of Newfoundland.
There had long been a suspicion that fishing ships in search of cod were regularly crossing the Atlantic from Bristol to Newfoundland before Columbus' first voyage. Bristol merchants bought salt cod from Iceland until 1475, when the King of Denmark stopped the trade. In 1479 four Bristol merchants received a royal charter to find another source of fish. Records discovered in 1955 suggest that from 1480, twelve years before Columbus, English fishermen may have established a facility for processing fish on the Newfoundland coast. In 1960 trading records were discovered that indicated that Richard Amerike was involved in this business. A letter from around 1481 suggests that Amerike shipped salt (for salting fish) to these men at a place they had named Brassyle. The letter also states that they had many names for headlands and harbours. Rodney Broome and others suggest that one of these names may have been "America".
It's also known that Amerike funded many of John Cabot's voyages and the thinking here is that John Cabot actually discovered America and not Columbus. It's theorized that Columbus was actually using charts supplied by the English merchants.
Cabot is known to have produced maps of the coast from Maine to Newfoundland, though none have survived. He named an island off Newfoundland St. John's. Copies of these maps were sent to Spain by John Day, where Christopher Columbus and Amerigo Vespucci would have seen them. The theory suggests that Cabot may have written the name America (or similar) on his maps, but no extant maps are available to prove this assertion.
Vespucci sailed to South America and the Caribbean with Alonso de Ojeda (Hojeda) in 1499 and Gonçalo Coelho in 1501 and became convinced that these were new lands, not Asia as Columbus believed. Martin Waldseemüller, a German map-maker, published a world map in 1507 using Vespucci's previously published letters. The theory suggests that Waldseemüller assumed that the "America" that Vespucci used was derived from his first name. Waldseemüller provided an explanation of this assumption as an attachment to the map. Vespucci himself never stated that this was the case. There were immediate protests from Columbus' supporters to get the continent renamed for Columbus, but attempts were unsuccessful, since 1,000 copies of the map were already in circulation. On later maps Waldseemüller substituted the words "Terra Incognita," but it was too late; the name America was now firmly associated with the entire northern and southern continent across the Atlantic from Europe.
Kinda makes Columbus day a little more lackluster, no? It's interesting to see the politics of discovery at work. Columbus is the more celebrated, but because he didn't figure out that this was a new continent he was exploring, he never made an effort to rename what he had found until it was too late. Finders keepers, I guess.

What's your state GDP compare to?

A great blog called Strange Maps had this neat map someone made to show the relative GDP of each state by renaming them to a country in the world with a similar GDP.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

U.S. Congress vs. UN Human Rights Council

Well, I’ve certainly been one to criticize the UN Human Rights commission in the past, and their current manifestation of that group, the Human Rights Council.  It’s a shame really that something with the potential to do so much good ends up being as useless, and worse than useless: actually harmful.

Well, it seems that the US House is getting that idea through their skulls as well.  They are voting to move UN funding away from the UN Development Program (UNDP) and the Human Rights Council.

Now, this is just re-distributing the cash within the UN, of which benefit I remain skeptical.  However, it’s encouraging that many of our leaders in Washington are moving toward getting a spine where the UN is involved.  And although it was brought up by a Republican, it seem to have broad bi-partisan support.  So kudos to the Democrats here, it’s not often I have praise to offer to them.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Geography - we hardly knew ya

I had thought to blog on this when I read it, but Catholicguaze got to it first.  In the GIS world, I get a newsletter (it’s pretty lengthy, more like a newspaper or a journal) from ESRI concerning their product ArcGIS, which is what I use at work.  Most of the time the articles are self aggrandizing, talking about new features of their product (that we heard about at the last couple of conferences) and what neat things people are doing with their products, but without many specifics as to how they did it.

So I usually just browse the journal.  This issue, however, had an interesting and lengthy article by Jerome Dobson called Bring Back Geography!  It details the decline of the discipline (not including the technical advances of GIS) since the end of World War 2, and how geography gets the short end of the stick at most institutions of learning.

Basically:  it’s not all about memorizing your states and capitals.

      Geography is more than you think. Geography is to space what history is to time. It is a spatial way of thinking, a science with distinctive methods and tools, a body of knowledge about places, and a set of information technologies that have been around for centuries. Geography is about understanding people and places and how real-world places function in a viscerally organic sense. It's about understanding spatial distributions and interpreting what they mean. It's about using technology to study, in the words of the late professor J. Rowland Illick, "why people do what they do where they do it." Geography is a dimensional science and humanity based on spatial logic in which locations, flows, and spatial associations are considered to be primary evidence of earth processes, both physical and cultural. Its hallmarks are spatial analysis, place-based research (e.g., regional studies, area studies, urban studies), and scientific integration.

There’s an interesting history of geographic thought, as well as the recent history, detailing how geography became prominent in the administrations of Wilson and Roosevelt, and then subsequently purged from universities left and right from 1948 on.

      In truth, nobody knows why geography was targeted on such a broad scale. For decades, there have been no geography departments in the Ivy League, except Dartmouth's undergraduate department. Of the top 20 private universities in the United States, only two currently have geography departments, though 15 of the top 20 public universities do.

Geographic Information Systems (GIS) have helped bring some prominence to the field, but GIS risks being a tool utilized by other disciplines instead of being defined and nurtured by the discipline that birthed it.

In many cases, geography exists in the guise of other departments.  Sometimes they’re called “area studies.”  Other times it’s “earth systems science.”  But geography isn’t mentioned, and geographers seem not to be welcome.  And so you ask, how do they propose to study the things they purport without expertise in geography?  How indeed.

      A laughable event from the past illustrates, in reverse, the state of geographic knowledge today. In 1897, the House of Representatives of the State of Indiana unanimously approved bill no. 246, which inadvertently would have changed the value of pi. Fortunately, the bill died a quiet death and never came before the Senate. The immediate agent of its defeat was Clarence A. Waldo, a professor of mathematics at Purdue University, who happened to visit the legislature; he was shown a copy of the bill and ridiculed its claims. Even if the good professor had not appeared, surely other voices would have materialized from mathematically informed government officials and staffers, journalists, educators, and the public.

      Today, however, politicians and pundits can make whatever pronouncements they please about geography, no matter how absurd, and there aren't enough geographically informed people to counter their claims. Geographically smart people exist, of course, in government offices, schools, businesses, and homes across the land, but they are too few. There's no sizable constituency to carry the day. Not even journalists ask the questions that should be asked. Worst of all, geography has slipped so far beneath the public consciousness that no politician or journalist is likely to seek an informed geographic opinion, even on matters of war and peace.

I’m constantly seeing errors in maps in the news and in other places.  Mostly little things, but who knows how much world-wide ire we engender when the press gets locations wrong.  Catholicguaze notes that CNN labeled Syria as Afghanistan on a map recently.

      What protects other disciplines from onslaughts like those that beset geography? You may imagine that public opposition would be fierce, and legions of academic peers would rise up in arms, but that did not happen in our case. You may imagine that your own discipline would not go down without a fight, but geographers accepted their fate far more graciously than they should have. Earlier this year, when I published an op-ed piece questioning how and why the nationwide purge had occurred, all but one of the public replies came from geographers, and several blamed the discipline itself. Yet every reason they offered was characteristic of many other disciplines, none of which were punished as we were.

It’s an interesting study in itself, I’m sure, as to how a discipline falls from grace that quickly.  Geography probably isn’t the only academic discipline that’s fallen away, and it probably won’t be the last.

Gerrymander your district

Check out this great redistricting game online.  Normally I won’t talk up online games, but this is a map game.  Ah, the power of the cartographer!

 The object is to redraw the voting districts for imaginary places based on certain criteria and public reaction so that you can get an idea how redistricting can affect the election process.  The most obvious abuse of this is gerrymandering, or the process or redrawing a congressional district so that your candidate or party is guaranteed to win every time.

Have fun.
Hat tip to CatholicGuaze.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

The Universe: Feel Small

A small atlas of the Universe, which is boiled down to 9 pictures at scales ranging from 12.5 light years to 14 billion light years.  And you ask yourself, “They can see that far into space?”  It does seem like a long way.

The thing that caught my eye was the 14 billion-l.y. map, and the distribution of galaxies.  Think about this when you’re viewing it:  the conventional wisdom that the universe exploded from a single point and drifted outward seems in err when looking at a universe that’s as evenly distributed as astronomers make it seem in these pictures.

Which also presents a conundrum of it’s own.  This is only what we’ve been able to observe.  How much farther does the universe extend?  How many stars/galaxies are really out there?  Makes you feel pretty small, but also makes you feel interestingly cared about by a God who is big enough to call this a backyard project.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Popular Constitutional Law and Roe

OK, so I saw this interesting paper on Democratic Constitutionalism and Backlash, where two gentlemen writing for the Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review talk about popular constitutional engagement.   This article was very long, and full of big words, so I didn’t take the time to read the entire thing.  However I read the abstract and an excerpt posted on this site.

      After decades of assault on the jurisprudence of the Warren Court, many progressive legal scholars have lost faith in judicial enforcement of constitutional rights. Some have responded by embracing popular constitutionalism and advocating mobilization against the Rehnquist and Roberts Courts; others, chastened, urge a minimalist jurisprudence that will avoid giving any group offense. There is fear of provoking the kind backlash that many associate with Roe, which is often regarded as having caused the rise of the New Right. In this article, we offer a new account of the relationship between adjudication and popular constitutionalism, which we call “democratic constitutionalism.” Democratic constitutionalism affirms both the need for judicially enforced rights and the fundamental significance of popular constitutional engagement.

What that means is people protesting in the streets or putting pressure on their federal politicians via popular movements.  The writers seem to think that while our nation is built on the rule of law, that is to say that that we have judicially enforceable rights, but that “constitutional engagement ensures that these values retain democratic legitimacy.”  Which is probably the basis for “living Constitution” theorists.  So does the Constitution require engagement by the citizenry to retain it’s legitimacy, and taken to an extreme how will that change our country over time?  And by “legitimacy” do we mean approval or interpretation?

By the way, I’m going to just step over any discussion about whether the engagement that regularly goes on is representative of the population or just a loud minority.  Often it’s the latter.

All good questions.  However it was the issue the authors chose to use to illustrate and study the topic that caught my eye.  Roe v. Wade.   This particular statement jumped out at me and the rest of this post is about abortion politics (sections bolded by me).

      Roe symbolizes the fears of those who counsel courts to avoid controversy. Legal scholars and political commentators commonly assert that judicial overreaching produced Roe rage, arguing that legislatures might have liberalized access to abortion if only the Court had stayed its hand. We examine scholarship on Roe's reception, as well as primary sources of the era, which together undermine this conventional account. Backlash to Roe was not just about judicial overreaching. Political mobilization against the decision expressed opposition to abortion's liberalization that began in state legislatures years before Roe was decided. As importantly, backlash to Roe was not just about abortion. Mobilization against Roe evolved during the 1970s into the form we now associate with Roe rage - a broad-based social movement hostile to legal efforts to secure the equality of women and the separation of church and state. Roe rage opposes ideals of individualism and secularism that lie at the foundation of our modern constitutional order. Accommodating resistance to Roe thus presents normative questions analogous to those posed by accommodating resistance to Brown.

What???!!!???  So here in this serious, Harvard Law School publication we have a scholarly discussion that’s going to compare people who oppose Roe with people who opposed Brown.  I.E. Roe opponents are the same as racists? 

Being one who opposes the broad legalization of Abortion that currently exists, and also being a conservative on many things, I would have to say that these people don’t truly understand the motivations and rationales of the people they are discussing.  Think about this:  if we are going to have a reasonable discussion on this topic, ever, there needs to be some understanding of the positions and arguments of each side, and this, I feel, is indicative of how the left views the right on this issue.  Black and White.  Good vs. Evil.