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So O’Reilly attacks the airline for agreeing to sponsor the event and Jet Blue rescinded their sponsorship.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.