Monday, January 29, 2007

Electoral travesty

From the department of:  What could they possibly be thinking?  I was trolling some stuff related to elections when I found this:

    But Oregon's status could change under a pending bill in the Legislature that would award the state's seven electoral votes to the candidate who wins the popular vote nationally, regardless of who wins the state. Similar legislation, which is being filed in more than 45 other legislatures around the country, won approval from the members of the Colorado state Senate this past week.

So instead of some concocted thing where the electoral votes are changed to some mix of the total vote for each candidate, like some states have it now, our electoral votes would go to the candidate that the other 49 states chose, not us.  Talk about a move AWAY from representative government.  What dung for brains decided that this would be a neat idea, you ask?

    "I think this is very promising," said House Majority Leader Dave Hunt, D-Gladstone, a key backer of the popular vote legislation in Oregon. "Clearly, the national electoral college is antiquated. I believe that whoever wins the popular vote should win, whether that is a school board or the U.S. presidency."

Sure it's antiquated when it's your party that's on the losing end of the last two election cycles.  Frankly, I can sort of see the attraction of splitting the electoral votes along the lines of the state's popular vote, even though I still think that's wrong, but this…  this is pure drivel.

There's a reason that the electoral college was created, and I still think it's a good one.  To call the system antiquated betrays an ignorance of history and the origin of the ideas that founded this country's election system (still the best in the world, despite the election fraud that pops up every cycle).

You'll also notice that the Democrats trying to enact this are at odds national party members.

    "It will increase the likelihood that both presidential candidates would come to a medium-sized state like Oregon, because instead of just being in one column or the other, we would have 3.5 million people, and a lot of potential voters," Hunt said. "And anything that encourages the counting of every vote I think is a good thing."

But earlier…

    The idea has its fierce detractors, some of whom have argued that in a close national vote, chaotic recounts would be demanded in every state. Wayne Kinney, a Democratic National Committeeman who lives in Bend, said he fears that moving to such a system would mean relatively small states like Oregon would be overlooked.

    "Logic tells you, you go where the votes are," he said. "Look at how they campaign here in Oregon -- they do a lot more in Portland than in Burns."

So either candidates spend more time here or they don't.  Which is it?
I tend to agree with Kinney.  The electoral college was set up so that smaller states (smaller in population) would not get left behind in the election campaigning, and that candidates would spend more time in more out of the way places.  Changing that system guarantees marginalization for all states but California, NY, Texas and the like.

Hat tip to Jack Bog

Friday, January 26, 2007

Map reading skills are redundant

I’ve spoken before about the ridiculousness of people who drive into rivers and construction sites because their GPS enabled in-car navigators told them to.  Are we becoming a culture of technology-blind idiots, completely relying on computers to think for us in certain circumstances?

      About 20 per cent of respondents to a Nickelodeon survey of adults and children think that map reading is a redundant skill, the New York Daily News reports, putting map reading in the same category as spelling and using a dictionary (and presumably basic arithmetic thanks to calculators) - skills that lazy people think technology makes redundant. If you were wondering how otherwise sensible people can drive off cliffs, now you know.

Apparently so.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Where's that bus?

You've been there.  It's a cold morning, or raining or something.  You're waiting for that number 12 bus, and it seems like forever until it gets there.  You might be aware that there's a 15 minute interval between buses, but it seems like you've been there for 30, and the urge to strain your eyes looking up the street for any sign of a bus-like vehicle has you leaning into traffic.

With the technology available today, many city's busses are equipped with GPS tracking devices.  And so you ask yourself if this tracking information is available to the general public, and the answer would be, in some cases, yes it is.  Now wouldn't it be cool if you could just browse to the city's website with your PDA or mobile device of choice and get a fix on where your bus was?

Well, I'm not sure how sites like this come in over a mobile device, but I checked out the city of Yakima, WA's website lately and this bus tracking page caught my eye. 

Basically, you can choose the route you want and the buses on that route appear at their present location.  If you click on them (or on your bus stop) you get more information about when they are expected to arrive.  The site is dynamic and automatically updates the bus locations.  This is really cool.   Check it out.

Monday, January 22, 2007

The Battle of Thermopylae

Normally I don't get excited about movies concerning war and containing massive violence, gruesome creatures and, apparently, nudity. However, I might give an exception to the movie 300.
Many of you have probably already seen the trailers for this, and whether you have or haven't, you should know that this is a battle based on some pretty interesting history. I won't take all the time to relate the history here, but will give a little background.

Around the time that the Jews were returning from their Babylonian/Persian exile in the Mesopotamian area, the Persians were creating an empire larger than the world had known up until that point. It stretched from Asia Minor (Turkey), Egypt down to Thebes and east to the Indus River. The warriors were effective and numerous, and their kings were proficient administrators.

The one nut they couldn't seem to crack was the Greeks. This was early in the time of Grecian democracy, where city states were ruled by councils appointed by the people themselves. They were also pretty good warriors and seamen. The Spartans were the best of the best, you might say, and it ended up being them who faced the onslaught of the Persian forces as they worked their way south on the Grecian peninsula (having already taken Macedonia).

In order to get to the southern parts of Greece (Athens and such) the Persian army needed to pass a range of low mountains at a pass near Thermopylae. The king of Sparta at the time, Leonidas, led his army on a last stand at the pass. He sent the majority of his army of Spartans and slaves back to regroup while he and 300 Spartan warriors did their best to keep the Persians from getting through. The movie, and several sources, seem to want you to believe that there were millions of Persians, which is the legend. However many historians place the army's size at a more reasonable 300,000 to 500,000 (which is still pretty big).

All 300 soldiers eventually died, but the casualties on the Persian side so alarmed King Xerxes that he pulled back many of his troops, and eventually the diminished army fell to the Greeks at the battle of Plataea.
Very soon after this, Philip of Macedonia united the city states of Greece with an eye on Asia Minor. His son, Alexander the Great, carried his vision forward.
The movie 300 attempts to tell the story from Leonidas' point of view. There was another movie made in 1962 called The 300 Spartans, which tells the same story.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Quick news flashes

Oh, I'm just sitting here on Saturday morning, hanging out (as this is the only day of the week I get to sleep in at all). Yes, the first thing I did was turn on the computer. What a geek.

Hugo Chavez reacted to criticism from Harry Reid, of all people. Which goes to show that even the Democrats understand that Hurricane Hugo is going to be a problem that they'll have to deal with now that they have some responsibility in running the government. 'I think this leftist stamp in Latin America is going to spread throughout the world because the only the left can provide the transformation we need,'' Chavez said.
In this day and age, it's amazing that anyone buys that socialism is the best thing for ANY country.

Michael Totten has been blogging some very long posts on Hezbollah in Lebanon. The latest that I've read is his photo-filled tour of Hezbollah's "capital", which was bombed pretty heavily. He was guided by a shiite cleric who is against Hezbollah. Very interesting.

Hillary Clinton announced that she's going to run for President. Oh. I'm so shocked and surprised. I never saw that coming.
While Clinton has the best shot yet for a woman to win the White House, she also faces opposition across the country. Her unfavorable ratings hover in the 40 percent range, well above Edwards or Obama. She also has to overcome her 2002 vote to support the unpopular war in Iraq and what she calls ``the scars'' from her failed health-care plan in the 1990s.
I think that so many people are going to bring these points up as if they're problems for her, that they will probably become problems. I don't see her vote for the war as a detriment, but if she gets past the primary it'll be a positive. And people don't have the memory to remember the failed health care plan, and it won't really matter as much as what her platform is now. However, you can bet it will be central in people's attempts to oppose her.
Anyway, it's still 2007. How effective do you think any of these people who are campaigning are going to be at their current jobs?

A journalist was killed in Turkey yesterday. What makes it significant was that he was Armenian and was known for criticizing the government and people for the way that they've treated minorities, such as Armenians. Turkey gets a label for being a not-so-free place to speak your mind, and entry into the EU seems much more unlikely.

Tomorrow is Conference Final Sunday in the NFL. So you know where I'll be after church.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Big Oil? Big Deal.

When comparing the revenue to profit percentages of companies, a solid number for big industry, and an attractive number for investors, is around 10%.  That is to say, 10% of the gross revenue ends up in the investor’s pockets every year.  That’s a pretty typical number, and if you go searching for a productive investment in the fund market (like, say, you’re placing monies in your 401k), a typical aggressive strategy is to look for funds that are earning more than 10% (more like 15% to 25%) per year.  There are many of these types of funds, and even though some years they don’t perform that well, they do over a several year period.

Which brings us to the oil industry.

      [I]n 2004 Exxon Mobil earned more money -- $25.33 billion -- than any other company on the Fortune 500 list of largest corporations. But by another measure of profitability, gross profit margin, it ranked No. 127.

That’s about 9.9% profit.  By contrast, Apple (makers of Mac and IPOD) reported a 14.3% profit in the first fiscal quarter of 2007 (which is actually Oct-Dec).  Marlboro parent Altria Group made a 22% profit in 2004.  Get it?  Oil companies don’t make excessive profit, but the oil industry has a dark shroud cast over it because of the environmental movement over the past few decades.  Oil is also seen in the light of billionaires around the world, like many Arab kings and princes, who grow rich while their people in the third world countries where the oil is drilled, remain poor and/or oppressed.

But the owners of “big oil” in the united states happen to be shareholders, and while there are some shareholders who own significant amounts and make lots of money from those amounts, there are thousands upon thousands who own small chunks as a part of an investment portfolio, like my 401k retirement plan.  The CEO at any company, including Exxon, has as his/her job description to make as much profit as they can for me, the stock holder.

And if drilling oil and refining it here in the U.S. becomes prohibitive, then they will use more imported oil, which is slightly cheaper to produce.  Which would increase our dependence on foreign oil.

Now we as a country have been talking and thinking of ways to circumvent that unhappy possibility for a while now, but it’s slow in coming, and oil is still the most efficient and inexpensive fuel we have. 

One of the reasons that we have oil exploration and production here in the U.S. is because of tax breaks that the oil companies can use to reduce their operating costs domestically (taxes are considered part of operating costs when determining profit).  However, in a bid to accelerate the development of alternative fuels, the House of Reps passed a bill rolling back billions of dollars worth of oil industry tax breaks and enacting new fees, like a conservation fee for off-shore drilling.

The bill is all about the assumption that the oil industry make too much money, and we can rake some of that in for the government to play with as they choose.  In this case an altruistic motive of research to reduce our need for oil.  Never mind that congress is imposing a tax for monies to be used in creating products that will destroy the oil industry.  The phantom here is that, once again, we’re supposed to buy into this because the government is just taking money from a bloated corporation that makes too much money anyway.

So the industry is expected to produce another $15 billion for the Feds.  Where does the congressional leadership expect this money to come from?

      Just where do the think that $15 billion will come from? Reduced oil company profits? Not a chance: company managers are ethically bound to maximize profits for their shareholders. CEOs who deliberately decline to do so get fired, and should be. No CEO of any kind of company would fail to pass on to the consumer the cost of increased corporate taxes as much as possible. This supposed $15 billion windfall (why is it okay for the feds to get a windfall but not private businesses?) will come from the only place all taxes can possibly come from in a free-market economy: the pockets of consumers, you and me. "Corporate taxes" is a myth, a piece of bookkeeping legerdemain . All taxes in America, of whatever nature or name, all always really paid by consumers. Why? Because that's where the money is.

So in effect we’re just hitting the consumer again.  Corporate taxes are a chimera, designed to enrich government coffers and allow congressmen to pork away for the benefit of their benefactors while making them look like working-class heroes.

Lets lay it down on the table for sure.  I’m not exactly FOR industry subsidies in general, and it’s arguable that it was never a good thing to have them applied to the domestic oil industry.  But there are plenty of industries that get breaks from the government, and to single out the oil industry because it’s an easier political target is pretty crude.

(get it?  Crude?  Oh, never mind.)

More on looming Iran conflict

Follow up to yesterday’s post on Iran.  Today’s news says that Iran is boasting that it’s ready for any move the US is going to make, and the US is boosting troop levels, another carrier group and more aggressive moves on Iranian’s abroad in a move to show Iran that it is not more vulnerable after 4 years in Iraq.

      "Today, with the grace of God, we have gone through the arduous passes and we are ready for anything in this path," state-run television quoted Ahmadinejad as saying.

Whatever that means.  Interestingly, as much as Iranian leaders give lip service to Allah, the motivations behind their foreign policy are less than pure given their ideology.  Check out this picture of Ahmadinejad with Bolivian Marxist Evo Morales cuddling up during the swearing in of the new president of Ecuador.

As far as our response to Iran as of late, I wonder what Bush is planning to do.  One thing I think we can’t do is listen to those who think that appeasement or negotiation is the sole way to engage the Iranians. 

      In Paris, the head of the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency, Mohamed ElBaradei, said he was concerned the sanctions could escalate Iran's standoff with Western powers.

      "I don't think sanctions will resolve the issue ... sanctions in my view could lead to escalation on both sides," he warned.

      ElBaradei, who heads the International Atomic Energy Agency, suggested that a military strike on Iranian nuclear facilities ultimately would not thwart its ambitions.

      "What we know is that Iran has the knowledge, but you cannot bomb knowledge," he said.

Once again I don’t think that any of this is going to change things.  And I think that Mr. El Baradei is correct in that sanctions are going to work about as well as they did with Saddam, that is not at all.  In fact it’s just going to be hard on the people of Iran.

A reader from yesterday responds, making the argument that our appeasement of Hitler, led to a more bloody and extended war than would have been fought if they had been engaged earlier.

      There is IOW no alternative to striking Iran and shutting down their nuclear program and terrorist support, and soon-- within the next 6 months. The Iranians aren't stupid, they're busily accumulating missiles, ground-to-air rockets, tanks, artillery and ships designed to block the Strait of Hormuz. The longer the USA and Israel dawdle, make stupid attempts at appeasement and wait to fight Iran, to go and get this done with, the more difficult and bloody the coming conflict will be for both sides. Better to do it sooner rather than later.

And this, from President Mahmoud himself, says it all.

      Ahmadinejad also denounced critics of his nuclear diplomacy at home, saying their calls for compromise echo "the words of the enemy" and will not affect his government's handling of the nuclear dossier with the West.

The words of the enemy.  That’s us, folks.  The UN is worried that Iran will go the way of North Korea if we impose sanctions and get tough with them, but I think they’re already there.  Diplomacy from their direction is just a cover.

More:  Via Winds of Change I saw this article describing the changing front in Iraq.  And I’m not the only one to notice the United States’ changing strategy toward the entire conflict: confronting Iran locally and militarily.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Iran is the problem

Any doubt as to the validity of the raid the US did on the Iranian “consulate” in Irbil should be tempered by what we’ve been finding in other areas.  It’s pretty obvious and plain that Iran is supporting Sunni and Shiite insurgencies all over the place. 

Intelligence has indicated that the Iranians taken in the raids, as well as the Baghdad raid last month, are members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, the Qods Force.

      Evidence the Iranians were helping the Sunni insurgency was also uncovered in the Baghdad raid. An intelligence official told the New York Sun that the Baghdad Qods Forces agents were "working with individuals affiliated with al-Qaeda in Iraq and Ansar al-Sunnah... We found plans for attacks, phone numbers affiliated with Sunni bad guys, a lot of things that filled in the blanks on what these guys are up to." Irbil is in the Kurdish North, where there are no Shia death squads. The only organization fighting the Iraqi government in this region is Ansar al-Islam, the al-Qaeda founded and funded terrorist group.

Bush has been pretty forward on the issue, calling Iran and Syria out as instigators of the instability in Iraq, and he’s right.  Hopefully this raid and subsequent actions over the coming weeks will serve to not only cripple Iranian meddling, but also let Iran know that we’re not messing around and will take them to account for their actions.

I wonder, at this stage of the game, if attacking Iran isn't inevitable.  If we get a Republican Hawk in the White House in 2008, I think it's a certainty.  But the main thing that's causing instability in Iraq is not that we have troops there, or even that we've been doing a poor job trying to manage the transition and prevent insurgents from killing people.  The real problem is the sectarian tension, and the Iranian effort to get that tension to boil over.  Iran MUST be stopped before things in the Middle East will ever become truly "manageable."

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

You know, some Shiites are against Hezbollah

Michael Totten has spent much time in Lebanon recording the events over the last couple of years.  He has also reported directly from Hezbollah controlled areas and interviewed many Shiites and followers of Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah.  But it’s the interview with Shiite cleric Sayyed Mohammad Ali El Husseini that you need to read.

Husseini on moderate Muslims vs. Radical Islamists:

      "Yes, I know. I published this," he said as he held up his book, "to explain the difference between the religion and those who are pretending to follow the religion. The proof of my words is that Mr. Bush said we must differentiate between the kinds of Muslims. I have faith in peace. That is why I am sitting with you. That I am Muslim and you are Christian doesn’t matter because I believe in peace."

Husseini on Islam and Democracy:

      (Totten): I read his book, and he didn’t actually address this directly. But it’s obvious after reading his work that he doesn’t think Islam and democracy are incompatible. He clearly favors democracy, and he assumes it self-evident that it’s the best form of government. Dictatorship, he explicitly says, is just another form of violence and terrorism.

Husseini on why Hezbollah is so popular among Lebanese Shiites:

      What did Hezbollah do to become popular up until now? They had four hospitals in the dahiyeh. They had 30 madrassas, or schools. They had 30 foundations for supporting work for the people. Also they bring engineers, doctors, and they have plenty of money. They have a TV channel, radio, newspapers, soldiers. They are a country inside a country, a government inside a government. They have all the money. They have the force to do this. They pushed so hard to help the people that all the poor Shia and some of the rich support them.

Totten notes that the Lebanese government has tried to offer services to the poor in southern Lebanon, but that the Hezbollah prevents them from doing it, knowing that as soon as the official government provides for them, support for Hezbollah will plummet.

Hussseini on Iraq:

      "The problem is not with American policy," he said, "but with the countries around Iraq. America did a good job for the Iraqi people. The problem is not only with Syria and Iran, but a clash between the old dictatorship and the Arab democracy. The countries around Iraq have radical dictatorships and they are against democracy. If democracy succeeds in Iraq it will be a good view for the other countries. That is why they are fighting."

He also speaks of Israel and how Shiites feel about Lebanon in general.  Read the whole thing.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

From Dictatorship to Democracy

Can Iraq be turned into a functioning democracy?

We still don't know the answer to that question. However Arnold Kling provides some guidelines for what needs to be in place in order for a nation as it existed in Iraq's case to an open democracy where everyone has equal rights and opportunity.
He takes off from where a few gentlemen (North, Wallis and Weingast) have gone before and identifies three different states of nations (like three different states of matter), Primitive, Natural or limited-access, and open access.

NWW claim that there are three types of societies. Primitive orders are small bands of hunter-gatherers, and they are of little concern here. Limited-access orders are societies that provide meaningful political and economic rights only to narrow elites. Open-access orders are capitalist democracies that give political and economic rights to most citizens. NWW argue that limited-access orders are the "natural state:" they are stable, they resist economic progress, and they only rarely make the transition to open-access orders.

Obviously, Saddam's Iraq was a limited-access society, where there were a limited set of elites who received certain privileges in order to maintain the balance of power enough to keep the regime in power. It's not hard to come to the conclusion that a certain level of corruption is absolutely necessary to maintain a limited-access society.
However, there are certain prerequisites that are necessary before a limited-access society can graduate to a more open access society.
1. Rule of law for elites. Elites must be held accountable to the law of the land in the same way as regular people.
2. Perpetual life for institutions. Agencies and organizations must be able to outlive the people who head them. If they don't, then people won't contract with them or invest in them.
3. Political control of the military. No other group inside the country may have the ability for mass violence. This agency must also outlive the current regime. This is definitely a problem in Iraq, as it is in many countries, like also Lebanon and Palestine.
Kling is pretty pessimistic about the chances for Iraq to overcome their deficiencies in these areas. However, the prerequisites necessary for a country before it can progress toward an open access state is a good thing to think about when we look at how countries in the world are doing and whether they are progressing or digressing.

Interestingly, although Kling implies that Open-Access societies are capitalistic democracies that offer political and economic rights to most or all citizens, I wonder if that implies that democracies are the only political system that can occur in an open society.
Think about this. Of all the government types in the history of the world, democracies have been the most inefficient, however the most benign. But there's no guarantee that any democracy won't dissolve into something worse, or even back to limited access, as we see happen over and over again in Latin America and elsewhere.
But, the ideal for a society would be an enlightened dictator, which has happened so few times in the history of the world that you might as well label it impossible when designing a government for the people. An enlightened dictator would truly want what's best for the people and would do things in a much more efficient way, i.e. they wouldn’t have to decide things by committee or congressional vote. Christians have the perfect answer for this, in that upon the day that Christ comes, he becomes the king forever. An immortal benevolent, enlightened dictator for sure.
This is something to think about, and leads into another point, about the stupidity of the masses.
There seems to be this tension between what the people want, and what certain educated elites think is best for them. I tend to waffle between the two opinions depending on the issue, but it stands to argue that letting the "crowd" determine outcomes directly usually ends up in some kind of mess. Which is why we have a republican representative type of government. So it's unfortunate that politicians spend so much time trying to morph their decision making into a conglomerate of public opinion instead of just trying to be statesmen, doing what they think is right, because that's what they were elected to do.

Of course most of what I've been dissing is the popular, rampant misinterpretation of Wisdom of Crowds, not what Surowiecki actually meant. Read the book and you'll see just how significant and powerful the aggregation of individual knowledge really is, and how in the right circumstances with the right constraints, the wisdom found in that group CAN be smarter than the smartest individual in the group. But he never says the group itself becomes smarter when they work together to produce a result as a group.

What he’s talking about is the difference between a group of people offering insight and opinion into the decision making process of an individual or smaller group of people, such as a committee investigating a topic for a president, CEO or legislative body, verses a large body charged with actually coming up with an answer or designing a specific policy themselves. The claim is made that large accumulations of ideas, like on the internet, will actually lead to better ideas, thoughts and eventually better actions. But, as Kathy Sierra argues on her post, accumulating the knowledge and ideas of a group magnifies their faults as well as their strengths. Only when you have a moderating force, or a smaller decision making body, can the bad be weeded out from the good.

"Meanwhile, an individual best achieves optimal stupidity on those rare occasions when one is both given substantial powers and insulated from the results of his or her actions.
"If the above criteria have any merit, then there is an unfortunate convergence. The setup for the most stupid collective is also the setup for the most stupid individuals.

Which lends credence to the statement above that a smaller decision making body or person is much more effective and the only good that committees and large brain trusts, like the internet, are good for is as an influencing force, not a decision-making force. Now think about how dangerous it is for congress people and a president or governor to make decisions based on what the polls say.
The ideal of this is an enlightened despot, who gets inspiration from the input of the masses, but can weed out the good from the bad and implement without bureaucracy.

One last thought before I finish. I noted in the news yesterday that our favorite fascist dictator in the western hemisphere, Hurricane Hugo, has once again won reelection. I’m just shocked. Anyway, after he was sworn in he made several actions and statements that bear looking at, like “Socialism or DEATH!” and vowing to centralize more of the nations economy, including eliminating the independence of the central bank. But this is the paragraph that caught me.

President Hugo Chávez was sworn in to a new six-year term at a ceremony here Wednesday in which he described Jesus Christ as "the greatest socialist in history" and pledged to speed Venezuela's metamorphosis into a socialist country.

As if socialism as an economic force hasn’t been shown for the farce that it is at this point in history, he has to bring Jesus into it.

Now, I just got done calling a government based on Jesus’ kingship the ideal for human kind, and a rudimentary reading of the book of Acts in the Bible reveals a Christian community that was based on sharing all they had. The correct term for that would be “Communism” not socialism, first of all. But it’s a communism that’s based on individual responsibility and individual giving, not state-mandated equality of net worth, or state run businesses. The path Chavez is on will destroy the economy, and then there will be nothing for the people to share. Is that what Jesus was about?

No, Chavez is disingenuous in his ploy to solidify some sort of popular support for his actions with a people that are very religious, or at least very Catholic. Bringing up Jesus is just a way to fend off dissent and criticism.

And Chavez will never be accuse of being an enlightened despot.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Stem Cell redux

Some people seem to think that the stem cell issue is going to come up soon once again, considering the new makeup of congress. (Hat tip Instapundit)
However, I don't think it's going to be as tough a decision on Bush as Glen does. Sure, there's pressure to support research on stem cells considering all the suffering that the results could bring. But the one thing that most articles and media on the subject continues to not inform the public on is the difference between what conservatives and Bush have a problem with, which is embryonic cell research, and adult stem cell research. There's still no guarantee that stem cells from embryos will yield any benefits for those in need of some benefits. But as Popular Science predicts, there might be some movement in the Adult stem cell area this year, rendering the controversy moot.
Check out Popular Science's predictions for the year, covering vaccines for addicts, global warming's real threat, the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland, and much more!

Friday, January 05, 2007


Happy new year, everyone!
New Years Eve has been one of the most celebrated holidays for longer than I’ve been around, which isn’t that long really.  But upon reflection, it’s the only holiday celebrated solely for a calendar event.  There are other calendar events, such as Feb 29th, but none that actually get people out partying and blasting bottle rockets and staying up really late.

Any excuse to party I guess.  Otherwise, it’s just like any other day of the year and upon the beginning of another year I note that the feeling you get on your birthday repeats itself at this time of year as well.  We’re all one year further into the future, but I don’t feel any older than I did yesterday.

That’s not entirely true either, because the next day we decided to take the kids sledding on Mt. Hood.  That’s what we do here in Portland if we want a white Christmas or otherwise frolic in the snow: we travel 50 miles east.   We spent just a couple of hours up there, but it was long enough to find that horrible breaking point between my desire for youthful vigor and my body’s gradual decline.  After two or three trips down the  hill on our plastic toboggan, my tailbone found out that it no longer appreciates “catching air” and I was reduced to a whining invalid for the rest of the afternoon, much to my wife’s annoyed ears.  However, I was still under the delusion that I was a kid long enough to have a couple of snowball fights with my son and wife and build a snowman with my daughter before heading home.

I also haven’t been spending as much time recording my viewpoints for this blog as of late, and for any of you that are still checking this site for the faint hope that I’ll actually post something, I thank you for your loyalty.  I do plan on continuing to blog, but right now I’m trying to think about what form that’s going to take.  Should I continue to Instapundit-like just regurgitate news with a bit of comment, or should I stick to local and personal stuff?  Should I become more topical and write fewer, but longer, pieces in columnist-like fashion?

I guess that remains to be seen.  Perhaps nothing will change, but you might as well know that the mental battle rages on.  And I’ll always be contributing to this site in one form or another. 

Apart from that, what will 2007 hold for all of us?  How should I know?  Here are some certainties:  Bush will get bashed by the left and the media for no other reason that they don’t like him (ok, there are some really good reasons to criticize the current President, but will those actually get brought up?).  Iraq will be a mess for some time, unless the US and other involved nations change things in a dramatic way, which won’t happen because large governments and bodies of people are highly resistant to change.  Some politicians in Washington (R or D) will have to deal with personal scandals and be recognized for their corruption, but will probably suffer no real penalty for it.  North Korea will still have the bomb.  China will still oppress it’s people and scream threatening remarks concerning Taiwan, but millions will still shop at Wal-Mart, financing the oppression of the Chinese.  Somewhere, sometime, some country’s government will decide to oppress and kill a portion of it’s own population, and the UN will do nothing about it. 

Google and Instapundit will still be my main sources of news and commentary, and the larger media and news corporations will continue to lose viewership/readership with each story they blow. 

Some famous person(s) will die, reminding those of us that are old enough to remember them and grow up with them that time moves on and life eventually returns to the dust of the earth. 

Disneyworld will still be there (it’s just cool knowing it exists).  The mountains will still be there (although eventually they too will return to the sea), and the ocean will still beat the shore compulsively, so my two favorite travel spots will be waiting for me.  My wife will still be there to cuddle up with and watch a movie and nag me about projects I’m supposed to be doing (which is a good thing), and otherwise keeping our household from falling apart altogether.  My kids will continue to grow and act more like big kids (and sometimes like 2 year olds), and amaze me in ways I can’t imagine right now.

But all these things can end or be turned on their head.  Are they all certainties?  No.  There is only one certain thing about 2007, which is that God is the creator and Lord of the entire universe, and he’ll be walking beside me, looking over my shoulder, chastising me when I slip and blessing me in spite of it all.  He is never changing, and eternally present.  So we’ve got that going for us.

Which is nice.

Fiji Coup

Another year, another coup.  In the tiny island nation of Fiji, the elected government of Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase was deposed by military leader Frank Bainimarama.  (Interesting note:  the spell checker lit up on Qarase’s name, but was OK with Bainimarama for some reason).

That makes four coups in 20 years for a nation that isn’t exactly fat with tourist dollars right now.

      Decline in construction and tourism has already started. Sanctions will affect the garment industry. Shinning up the country's palm trees or going out into the bush with cane knives to gather what they can will not sustain many people for long.

Good luck to them.  From the reports, the elected government was corrupt and racists, but solving a problem in a democracy shouldn’t include taking the government down by military takeover.  That usually leads to worse things.

However, last year in Thailand their military took down a corrupt elected government and it was pretty peaceful, with the military planning to recreate elections and turn the government back over to the people.  Turkey does the same thing every now and then when Islamic extremists get control of the government and attempt to turn Turkey into a caliphate.  So I guess it’s possible the Fiji people will come out of this OK, but we’ll have to wait and see. 

However, one would hope that these small democracies would figure out a better way to solve their problems, because while the three countries I mention have tended to benign, there’s no telling whether the next coup will be hostile and controlled by power hungry thugs.  It’s a bad habit to get into.