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.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Integrity Magazine Sales reminder

This seems like a good time to remind people that there are predatory organizations out there that use teens who are out there on their own and have no family support structure to turn to. If some young person comes to your door trying to sell magazines, this might be a cry for help.

I got another response to this post I made in August of last year regarding this detestable practice reminding me that it still goes on. If you didn't read it then, read it now.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Place of the day

Long ago in this container of Grich I had a regular post called "Country of the Day." That turned into country of the week, and then country of the whenever-I-feel-like-spending-the-time. I'm sorry I let this go, as I enjoyed the process. But at times it took a fair bit of my spare time and I never got around to continuing the process. That's not to say that I won't do it again, it's just not a regular thing.
Well, for my own gratification, and yours to if you so choose, Ben Keene, the editor of the Oxford Atlas of the world (Oxford press), has a regular posting on the Oxford press blog called Ben's Place of the Week. It's usually a short bit about the place, and why he's singling it out, along with a link or two.
This week's place is Castrillo de Murcia, Spain. And the reason he's singling it out is because they, like Pamplona, have an annual tradition. However their's involves baby jumping. You'll just have to go see that post to find out what I'm talking about.

I got this information from one of my current favorite blogs: Catholicgauze. I just can't imagine where he finds all this stuff. Along with that he's been following a series at the Oxford blog about Stalin's gulags.
And then there's this other article from a geologist he reads. It's a great look into the top 5 disasters that could possibly kill millions of people in the United States, and the San Andreas ripping California apart is only number 5! The Pacific Northwest suffering tidal waves dozens of meters high along with sustained 5 minute long 8.0 earthquakes is only number 4, but that one concerns me the most, as I live up here. Fun read, but scary as all heck. And be prepared: it's long.

Marriage and Children

There have been a couple of great posts lately, starting with Instapundit noting an article in the Economist regarding the success factor of kids raised in an intact family. I won't go too far along that line, as I really don't have much to say beyond what the article says and it's long, so you're going to spend most of your time reading that anyway.

Subsequent to that, this post by Shrink-Wrapped discussing the topic as it relates to the movie Knocked Up, and Sent-West discussing the poor decision making ability of young people who have followed the post-sexual revolution dogma of non-judgementalism.
I’ve come to the belief, from observing my peers, that the societal unwillingness to make value judgments that has prevailed in the last 50 years has affected their ability to make good relationship choices. They are somewhat mired in the idea that it is unbearably uncouth to set a standard of behavior that they find acceptable in others, and more often than not end up with partners who’s behavior they are unhappy with, due to their inability or unwillingness to ask for better. From my peer group I hear a lot of statements such as “but that would be forcing my opinion on them” and “but they’re their own person.” It seems all well and good for casual relationships, but trying to raise a family or secure a marriage with two people who are determined to not attempt to influence each other spells apathy at best, and disaster at worst.

My friends are aghast when they learn that I quit smoking at my husband’s (then fiancĂ©e’s) demand. How could he be so controlling? How could I let myself be judged like that? I recognized that smoking was an unhealthy behavior, and though I did not want to quit, the balance of positive things that he brought to our relationship overwhelmed the discomfort of ending a damaging habit. In marriage we try to enhance each other’s positive behaviors, and eliminate or minimize those that cause distress to the relationship. This process necessarily includes value judgments as to what is positive and what is destructive, and the willingness to recognize that not all parts of a person’s character (whether theirs or your own) are desirable.

This would be more of a non-issue if my peers chose someone with opinions and beliefs closer to their own, but, for whatever reason, they do not. In many cases I believe this to be because they have never examined what their opinions and beliefs are in the first place, and so cannot begin to find someone who compliments them. It seems they are throwing darts blind, and tend to marry whichever one gets hit and sticks around long enough. Or worse, in my opinion, the one who gives them the greatest visceral feeling of romantic love.
I've seen this all too often as well, and it transcends this discussion to every level of social and political thought. If you don't evaluate what you believe, you'll fall for anything. Not evaluating that some behaviors and beliefs are absolutely wrong will lead to societal breakdown.

Sporting news

Some events just passed us by that I didn’t get to watch, but I’m not so caught up in the things of the world that I think it’s monumentally important that I did.  But it would have been fun either way.

The national spelling bee is over, and Evan O’Dorney is the winner.  The winning word was “serrefine” which describes small forceps. 

Notably, my spell checker didn’t like the word.

Also, I enjoy a good performance in any sport, basketball included, so I’m a little disappointed to have missed the show by LeBron James last night.  From the articles by all the talking heads over at ESPN I missed something special, and from the description of the game, I would have to say I agree.  If you are into basketball at all and wonder how a 22 year old can be compared with (not “has the potential” but actual comparisons) to the best games of Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson’s careers, check out the link.