Friday, October 24, 2008

Living the Map

Check this cool website out.  This guy’s site is called “Living the Map.”  He’s on task to take a job in each of the 50 states of our great nation.  And he’s learning very interesting things about the various people’s who live around the country.  He’s going to get a broader prospective on what living in the USA is like than anyone out there (perhaps the current run of candidates should phone this guy up and ask a few vital questions).

Election maps 2008

Usually I look in vain for good maps of the election cycle, but with the proliferation of on-line mapping these days, you knew we’d run into some.  There’s a litany of KML regarding the election this year, but what I wanted was some nice maps showing distributions that you don’t normally see.

What a welcome post Aaron over at GIS Dev Café has produced, looking for the same thing I am.

His post today is about a site called Patchwork Nation (CS Monitor) that has a real nice map of different demographic groups around the country.  As simplified as it is, I’m intrigued by the categories and their distribution.  Take a look, and then take a look at the maps on  Voting Machine Technology, Advertisement Spending, and Campaign Finance.

The ad spending maps were very interesting.  Looks like both party’s candidates are spending the bulk of their money in the industrial lake states.  My first reaction was that we out here in the wee west have been left out and forgotten, but then remembering what heavy spending on TV ads and mailings looks like, perhaps we’re better off.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Big Brother Tech

Lately I’ve been seeing many articles and blog posts talking about more and more technology being used to track and pinpoint you and aspects of your life.  I work in an industry that when the technology is being applied to businesses and government, the thought pattern is that the more detail you can get, the better you can understand, research and track the people you serve, the better and more efficient your business or government entity can be.

However, like all things technological, we have to be careful with what we invent.  Often times the human tendency is to get all excited about what we CAN do, and we ignore the question of whether we SHOULD do it.

Take for instance this story in the Wall Street Journal (hat tip to Slash Geo) on using web technology to better pinpoint your IP address.  Now, for the time being they can only narrow your location down to the city you are connecting from, but I notice that there’s interest in narrowing that field.

Or perhaps think about how location technology is used in transportation.  Failing to get popular support for a national ID program, Australia is mulling the creation of a nationwide automatic number plate recognition system.  “In addition to being able to recognize plates, the system would also collect images of drivers and passengers with high enough resolution for identification purposes.”  How scary does that sound?

Think about it.  At the moment you have honorable government workers and police investigators dreaming of the ease of locating people when they need to, like criminals.  At the back end you have a system where the powers that be can find YOU any time your driving around and track your movements.  Am I being paranoid?

Aerial photography is now being used to help tax assessors review your property and make adjustments to the value of your home and land.  On it’s surface this isn’t a big deal.  Housing prices are in great flux right now, with the mortgage crisis we’ve been dealing with (and will continue to deal with).  However, the more our private property (as well as ourselves) can be scrutinized and tallied by those who wish to extract whatever taxes they can, the harder it’s going to be to function. 

Take Atlantic City, New Jersey.  They recently implemented a system where the tax assessor’s department reviews photos that can spot a new porch on someone’s house that they didn’t take out a permit on, and subsequently fine the home owner.  I understand the permit process, and why home construction is coded.  However I’ve made small improvements on my home, for which I’ve been told I should have had a permit for.  The permit and code process was supposed to be designed for safer houses, not to help fund the government.

And yet that’s what I’m seeing here.

      At stake is an untold amount of tax revenue. Cape May County appears to be ground zero on the issue as it was one of the first in the nation to buy into the system, purchasing its first pictures in 2003.

      While Van Drew ponders writing a law to limit the uses of Pictometry, Cape May County Tax Administrator George R. Brown III is already using it to adjust assessments on farms. He doesn't consider it a Big Brother tactic. He calls it "a great assessment tool," one of many to make sure people pay their fair share of taxes.

So is the permit process about managing safety and construction codes, or is it about money?
In one of the first real disputes to this system, a farmer noted that when informed by the county that they found she wasn’t farming enough of her land, and therefore would have to pay more taxes (farmers have to farm enough of a percentage of their land to get the tax break), and “Brown disputed the number of acres of pumpkins growing when the pictures were taken in March.

‘We don't grow pumpkins in March,’ Rea said.”

This, of course, reminded me of the current use of red-light cameras starting to proliferate around the country.  Despite the growing evidence that they actually are increasing accidents at intersections (although they differ in kind), and that they are subject to wide abuse (adjusting the yellow timing to catch more offenders) they still continue to grow in number.  The only conclusion we are left with is that municipalities that implement red-light camera systems do so for the money they generate, not because of actual safety.

All these technologies are neat, and can lead to much benefit to our society.  However, their implementation and general acceptance by the powers that be concerns me.  Where’s the oversight?  Where are the checks and balances?  This isn’t a Bush thing.  No one person or group of people sets out to create Orwell’s Big Brother.  I didn’t get the impression when reading that book that the society he created was the work of one person.  The closest thing to that was the Soviet Union and it’s satellites.  That wasn’t the work of one person either (although there were a few strong personalities involved).  It’s the little steps forward, that ordinary people don’t detect, that you have to watch out for and think carefully about before just implementing them outright.

Paul Newman, enabling GIS for disadvantaged communities

I had heard that Paul Newman had died this last weekend, and was reflecting on his vast career as an actor.  Many of you know how active he was as a philanthropist and an entrepreneur (Newman’s Own brand of whatever).  However this one surprised me because his generosity enabled those in my industry to help others around the world.

      Like drew Stephens, Director, The GIS Institute, Service at Sea I was also saddened this past week-end to hear about the passing of Paul Newman. What I wasn't aware of was how Newman reached so many people through his generosity, including the GIS Community. In a touching letter, Stephens described how in 2006, Newman's funding for The GIS Institute provided the seed capital to run our first proof-of-concept trip "Service for Africa", a six week project that delivered GIS training for over 100 people from 20 different conservation organizations in five African countries.

I didn’t always agree with what Paul Newman was about, but he stands as an example of what people in advantageous positions should be doing with their wealth.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Google road network change

Beware the road network on Google Maps!  So says Jonathan Crowe, who lives in Canada and has noticed that since Google has switched it’s contract for road network data from Navteq to Tele-Atlas, the road network has gotten a little more inaccurate.

      But there’s a problem: Chad complains that the change has added a heavy dose of wrong to Google Maps. Based on my experience, I agree with him; since the changeover, I’ve noticed a number of changes that actually introduced error in a place where the mapping data was previously correct. (Presumably this was well known among users of the mobile and API products, but now it’s on the main site.)

He provides snapshots of some of the errors he’s already found.  Perhaps you can find some too.  So beware when using Google for the time being.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Badger Creek Wilderness

No, that other Badger Creek. Yes there are many creeks and rivers in the United States with that name. In researching our hike this summer I had to remember to insert "Oregon" or Mt Hood National Forest" in my query or I would get some po-dunk creek in the south or something. Actually most of the time I was taken to the beautiful Badger Creek basin in the San Juan mountains of Colorado. Must go there sometime.
But anyway.

Before we got to the trailhead, which was on the east side of the Cascades in the dry high desert, we found this cool pioneer cemetery. Drive down highway 397 from the Dalles toward Dufer and you might see it on a bare hill. It's still being used, as we saw some new additions. But it was the old additions that were really cool. Check the photo at left.

The Badger Creek basin is in a designated wilderness on the east side of the Mt. Hood National Forest. Which means it's on the far side from Portland. Which means less people. Well, I thought that anyway. We were alone for most of the first day. I took this trip a bit differently than most, I suspect, because my plan was to start from the east side, walk up the creek to the lake which is it's source, Badger Lake. We saw no one on the trail all day. I was all set to enjoy some pristine lake tucked nicely inside a wilderness. All alone. Well, except for all the local yokels who know that there's a road easement into the lake. Yes, there were lots of people. People staying up for all hours cackling at some joke that was lost on us. Because we were trying to sleep.

Badger Creek at the trail head

So here's the lake at the right. Very nice. I'm sure there's some nice fishing. I enjoyed its refreshing coolness before we left on the 2nd day. It was brisk, but the footing was sandy instead of that muck you get in many alpine lakes. Turns out this lake isn't quite natural. Earthen dam keeps most of it in.

The object of the 2nd day was to climb to Lookout Peak (lots of imagination was wasted on naming features in this area). By far the highest peak east of Mt. Hood in this area, on a good day you'll get fantastic views of Mt. Hood, the high desert, and if the air is clear you'll get Mt. Jefferson and the Sisters to the south, Mt Adams and Mt. Rainier to the north.

To the left is the view of Mt. Hood from the top of Lookout Peak. It looks much bigger in person.

Just in front of Mt. Hood you can see a ridge running left to right. It looks a bit brown, and indeed was the site of a big fire more than a year ago. Perhaps two, I don't recall. I do recall that we didn't know that when we set out to hike that ridge and the valley behind it last September. It's hard to find your way sometimes when you're stepping through 6 inches of ash.

Let's forget about last year now, shall we.

To the right is a view back down to our campsite, Badger Lake. Again from Lookout.
There were so many wonderful views, and these fantastic spires on the ridgeline that we got to walk along and then underneath. Needless to say I didn't get any really good shots of them.

I'll just leave you with a shot I took of Badger creek and a tributary joining it near where we camped on the 2nd and final night in this lesser known area on the far side of Mt. Hood. Well worth the effort, though.

Coda: You can drive pretty close to Lookout Mountain's peak and then hike in a short 2 or 3 mile road to the top. Consult your Forest Service map or Green Trails map (Mt. Hood and Flag Point maps should do ya).
Check out some of the other wildernesses I've posted on. Indian Heaven in Washington. Columbia (Hatfield) Wilderness, Bull of the Woods Wilderness, Mt Hood Wilderness.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Hurricane coverage

The Map Room has some links to sites that are following the hurricanes using mapping technology.  On the tail end of Gustav is the tropical storm Hanna, which could be a hurricane by as early as tomorrow.

Of interest is whether or not the RNC convention will be adversely affected by this.  Sorry, I know that people are having to deal with the effects of the hurricane down in Texas, Louisiana and Florida, but comparatively these aren’t as strong as some in the last few years.  Gustav has missed any major population centers and Hanna probably will too (Jacksonville is a likely target though).  The damage is relatively low and yet all the major networks and news stations have been non-stop in the coverage of this, completely avoiding the RNC.  Are they purposefully avoiding political coverage this week?

Friday, August 29, 2008

Invade Canada!

Many people are aware that the border between the U.S. and Canada is the longest unprotected border between two nations in the world.  In politics and foreign policy, trade and the like, Canada and the U.S. are viewed as friends and partners (for the most part, there are squabbles as in any friendship).

Yet, how many of you know about all the small wars waged between the U.S. and Canada over the past 2 centuries.  I wasn’t aware of all of them, and Catholicgauze takes a short page to list them out.  Seems there were battles during the American Revolution and the War of 1812, where some Americans thought that taking Canada away from the British was a moral imperative. 

However, in that time, most of the fighting men were militia, and wouldn’t fight outside their home state.

There were some other less known “wars,” such as the Lower Canada Rebellion, Patriot war, Aroostook war (Canada took part of Maine), and the San Juan Island War, which had to be settled by arbitration with Kaiser Wilhelm.

But the one that caught my funny bone was the Fenian Raids:

      The United States was upset at the British tact support for the Confederate States of America during the Civil War. There was one way the Americans could strike back without risk of major backlash: terrorism. The Fenian Brotherhood was an Irish republican/terrorist organization based in the United States. A Brotherhood song ending with "And we'll go and capture Canada, for we've nothing else to do" sums up the mood of Irish who just wanted to kill some British.

How did that strike me as funny, you ask?

Gus: Canadians are always dreaming up a lotta ways to ruin our lives. The metric system, for the love of God! Celsius! Neil Young!

Edwin S. Simon, NBS News Anchor: The Canadians. They walk among us. William Shatner. Michael J. Fox. Monty Hall. Mike Meyers. Alex Trebek. All of them Canadians. All of them here.

Edwin S. Simon, NBS News Anchor: It is the height of six American football fields, or five Canadian football fields. As if Canadian football really counts.

Edwin S. Simon, NBS News Anchor: Think of your children pledging allegiance to the maple leaf. Mayonnaise on everything. Winter 11 months of the year. Anne Murray - all day, every day.

Smiley: When have you ever heard anyone say, "Honey, lets stay in and order Canadian food"?

U.S. President: I want to say to Prime Minister MacDonald: Surrender her pronto, or we'll level Toronto.

U.S. President: You sold control of American missiles to a foreign country?
R.J. Hacker, President of Hacker Dynamics: If you can call Canada foreign.
Smiley: Or a country.

Boomer: There's a time to think, and a time to act. And this, gentlemen, is no time to think.

RCMP Officer at Headquarters: I don't know what you're talking aboot, eh?
Kabral: Aboot! It's ABOUT! And what's with this 'eh' business?
Roy Boy: [pointing a gun] We have ways of making you pronounce the letter O, pal.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Solzhenitsyn is dead

Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Russian dissident and author.  1918-2008.  Stalin couldn't kill him.  The Russian Gulags didn't end him.  Cancer had no hold on him.  But time finally caught up with him.

I remember reading the Gulag Archipelago in my early 20s.  It was a daunting book (and that was just volume 1) but I couldn’t put it down at times.  The sheer disregard for humanity and justice during the Stalin years is just breathtaking.  Comparisons to things like Guantanamo as the American "gulag" fall about as short as trying to compare Bush to Hitler or Stalin.  You may not like his policies, but you're belittling what Hitler was and what he tried to do.   It's like comparing the kid who stole a pack of bubble gum to the guy who broke down the door, shot the store keeper and emptied the cash register.  If you need some perspective, read the book.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Repose on political economics

I’ve been busy at work and home over the past week, but I thought it was time I responded to a commenter last week on this post about Obama and the politics of change (or not so much change).

The comment is in response to this part of my post:

      But should you announce to the world that you’re an economist while endorsing and campaigning for a guy who’s proposing to increase the size of government by hundreds of billions of dollars?  And with all the tax cuts he's proposing, is anything he says on the issue even realistic?  What are they teaching economists these days?

Here’s his response to that:

      So economics is a solved field then? There's only one valid viewpoint and strict adherence to it is the only means by which to proceed in the field.

      Look, the Chicago school (and rational choice theory in general) is as dominant today as it was at any other period - but that doesn't mean it's the sole "logical" stricture within the discipline.

      Furthermore, that's variance within chosen theory. In terms of application you essentially assume that anyone who does not embrace libertarian viewpoints is "wrong" or doesn't know what s/he's talking about; and that's just flat out wrong.
      It's a bogus assumption and either you know it and enjoy basking in the comfort of solipsism as justification or you simply have no understanding of the issue you are actually addressing.

Ok.  He’s got me on a good point.  I’m not an expert in economics, but I do know a little about it.   I do realize that there are many different theories regarding economics, and that none of them operate in the real world.  Theories are theoretical systems mean to try and explain what’s happening in the real world.  Sometimes you come closer than others, but most of the time you can’t completely explain how the world works with just a theoretical explanation. 

The commenter guesses, because of my disdain for government intervention in the economy and dissing of Republicans on that point,  that I’m a libertarian, which is only sort of true.   Like most Democrats and Republicans (and Libertarians) my roundish peg doesn’t quite fit into that square hole.  Nor does my belief in the Chicago or neoclassical economic theory.  Like Keynesians who believe that there’s a balance between government and the market, I believe there’s a roll for government in the economy, and it’s an important one, but a very limited one (unlike Keynesians).

To me, it seems that most Democrat and Republican politicians subscribe to the Keynesian schools of economics in varying amounts.  Daily they call for government action regarding some economic arena, but mostly this is just political self-serving behavior.  Politicians believe that the public likes to see them doing something about people’s economic woes, even if that action is detrimental to the system as a whole. 

Economists, whatever you might say about them, are generally not short term thinkers.  Each action within an economic system has far reaching implications over the long term.  Politicians are by nature short-term thinkers, and therefore, regardless of whatever economic theory they claim to hold to, they will instead act in accordance to political gain, and will easily leave good economic theory in the dumpster like an abandoned infant.

Which is why I think it’s unfair of the commenter to complain about why I scoffed at the guy on the street.  It’s not that I feel an economist is foolish to vote for one candidate or another, it’s that I think it’s foolish for an economist to promote any Democrats, or Republicans, because his education and experience tells him that any one candidates economic goals are more reasonable.  At this point I don’t find either Obama’s or McCain’s platforms reasonable in their entirety, and am not all that confident that the reasonable portions of their platforms will ever be implemented.

I need to respond to another part of the comment:

      I read your blog because geography is cool, but if you are going to talk about a specific field as if you hold expert knowledge in it - actually do.

I hear you there, and I’ve been a bit more political in my posts than in the past.  It’s way past time for me to talk about some of the places I’ve visited recently and geographic issues I’ve been reading about. 

But dude, this isn’t a geography magazine.  This is my blog.  I do think geography is cool, but sometimes I don’t have anything geographic to say, but have some very political things to say, and I’m going to say them.  Free country and all.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Ossetia, Georgia and Russia

If you haven’t been watching the Olympics or the news you might not be aware that the spirit of international cooperation and brotherly love hasn’t caught on in some parts of the world.  Specifically the area of Southern Ossetia in the country of Georgia. 

Georgia has had trouble from that region for some time.  There are Ossetians who would like to kick off the yoke of those harsh democratic masters and prefer their friends over in Russia.  Not all the Ossetians fell that way.

Georgian President Saakashvili recently tried to engineer a cease fire, but Russia decided that they needed to intervene anyway and sent troops and tanks into a sovereign country.  We can just leave the talk about how Russia is just there as a peace keeping force, they’ve acted more like an occupying force.

      Russian forces seized several towns and a military base deep in western Georgia on Monday, opening a second front in the fighting. Georgia's president said his country had been effectively cut in half with the capture of the main east-west highway near Gori.

Catholicguaze has a good set of Google maps/earth data for us.  Check out where all this is happening.
Also, check out what Google did with the map related to the story.  I didn’t hear anything about Russian tanks outside of Atlanta.  (Update:  checked the Google story, and they haven’t improved it much.  Now it points to Vienna, Austria).

Imus map of Oregon

If you are into maps, as I am, and you live in Oregon (or Alaska by the way) you need to know this guy’s name.

      Imus' original Oregon map, which has sold 45,000 copies, won "best of show" in an American Congress on Surveying & Mapping contest. The revised version was nearly two years in the making.

That’s David Imus, not the radio talk show guy.  I have an Imus of the Bull of the Woods wilderness map he made, and it’s very pretty.  I probably wouldn’t take one of these on a backpacking trip, but might mount it on the wall.

His Alaska map also won some acclaim I’m told.  Like the blurb above, he just revised his Oregon map that won all those awards.  Suitable for mounting.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Gas and hot air

Are gasoline prices too high?  Certainly oil and gas have risen in price quite a bit over the past few years, and politicians waste no time pointing fingers for personal advantage.  However there isn’t much our government can do without making life worse for us, and even less the President can do.

Not that they won’t spend time talking about how they’ll all make life better for us.

      That smell on the nation's highways isn't just car exhaust. It's also the rank odor of political populism, as John McCain and Barack Obama both try to score points with dubious energy ideas.

The unfortunate end result of this is that people believe them, and so they’ll keep talking this way.  They might even act on it, and that wouldn’t be good.  So here’s my proposition, and I hope that this gets out, so pass it on.  Let’s do nothing. Really.  Don’t drive everywhere.  Don’t buy stupid items made from petroleum products that you don’t really need (and since oil is used in most plastics, that’s pretty much everything).  And most of all don’t push your congressmen to do anything about it. 

This isn’t a partisan message.  Republicans are certainly rabid puppies when it comes to public attention and they want to get elected as much as the next politician, and so fall into the trap of assuming that the government should do something whenever the people whine about their lifestyles taking a hit.

      A House Republican leader is lambasting President Bush on his decision not to call Congress back into session to deal with the energy crisis.
      In a legislative update sent to GOP members and staff on Tuesday, Republican House Policy Committee Chairman Thaddeus McCotter (Mich.) accused "Beijing George" Bush of throwing House Republicans "under the bone-dry bus" on his way to the Olympics in China.

In truth Bush did what he needed to do, or rather all he really has the power to do without creating more wasteful bureaucracy, and that’s remove administrative roadblocks to more domestic oil extraction and production.  The ball is in Congress’ court, and that seems to make them uncomfortable.

Perhaps we could stick it to the oil companies.  After all they’re just charging us more because they’re making huge profits, not because, you know, oil actually costs more right now.  Oh, wait, I guess Obama is already proposing that.

      Making Exxon surrender money that is now falling into its lap would not necessarily affect its longer-term plans or incentives. Indeed, some of Big Oil's "windfall" already will go to the government: The more profit the companies earn, the more corporate income tax they pay. But to add a five-year tax increase on top of that to pay for a one-year gift to voters would, indeed, increase the cost of doing business. That cost would be passed along in forgone investment in new production, lower dividends for pension funds and other shareholders, and higher prices at the pump -- thus socking it to the consumers whom the plan is supposed to help. If oil prices fall, there might be no windfall profits to tax. Then the Obama rebate would have to be paid for through spending cuts, taxes on something else or borrowing.

All and all, like the first article above talks about, is $4 per gallon gas really a bad thing?  It certainly is reversing the American trend of frivolous driving and gas guzzling car purchases, and driving innovation in oil alternatives. 

But legislators' knee-jerk tendencies to want to “fix” everything only makes government bigger and increasing the scope of government power over any sector of the economy will only hurt the economy in the long run. 

I note that one of the driving issues of the campaign is how dissatisfied people are with the way Bush is handling the economy (read the article I’m linking to, it has a good overview of the positions of both candidates).

      One thing is clear: Americans are worried about the economy and aren't pleased with Bush. A recent Wall Street Journal/NBC poll found 73 percent disapprove of the president's performance on the economy. That includes 41 percent of Republicans.

So are Republicans angry at Bush because he hasn’t set the government loose on the American economy so that everyone has a government allocated Ford pickup and Toyota Prius in the driveway and artificially set the price of gas down to $1.50 per gallon?  No, of course not.  Republicans are upset with Bush because he’s as spend-happy as any Republican of his generation (that’s what compassionate conservative mean back in 2000).  Despite all the good levers he pulled to pick the economy back up after 9-11, he made it worse by championing large government programs and withholding the veto pen at every turn.  I’m upset with Bush’s roll in the economy not because he’s not doing anything, but primarily because of what he DID do in increasing the government’s roll in people’s life.

So how is McCain, Obama, McCotter or anyone else calling for government action going to make our lives any better?

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Who is Obama anyway?

American election for President of this great country, episode number 44, seems to be underway, and I find myself actually thinking of, yes, voting for someone.

Anyone who has read this blog in the past will no doubt assume that I’m voting Republican based on my viewpoints.  And you’re probably right, although I maintain that nothing is written in stone, and I’ve been known to vote Democrat or 3rd party from time to time.

However, it’s not state secret that I’m leaning McCain.  Sometimes it’s not about issues (although he’s worlds closer to my views on most major issues than Obama is), but character and consistency of position over long periods of time. 

I’ve read articles about how he’s adopted poor children from south Asia, and I’ve noted that he doesn’t trumpet this fact.  If for no other reason, I’d like the guy.

However, while I don’t think the world is going to end if the country elected a Democrat, I find it difficult to determine just what Obama believes and what he’ll be about if elected.  Apparently I’m not the only one, as people on the left are having a tough time with it as well.

      To earn the Democratic nomination, as Fred Thompson points out, Obama ran as George McGovern without the experience, a left-of-center politician who would meet unconditionally with Iran, pull us precipitously out of Iraq, prohibit new drilling for oil, and grow big government in Washington by all but a trillion dollars. In his general election TV ad debut, however, Obama pirouetted like Baryshnikov. With a commercial Mike Huckabee could have run in a Republican primary, Obama now emphasizes his commitment to strong families and heartland values, "Accountability and self-reliance. Love of country. Working hard without making excuses." In this yet unwritten chapter of his next autobiography, Obama tells us he is the candidate of "welfare to work" who supports our troops and "cut taxes for working families." The shift in his political personae has been startling. Obama has moved right so far and so fast, he could end up McCain's Vice-Presidential pick.

      General-election Obama now billboards his doubts about affirmative action. He has embraced the Bush Doctrine of pre-emption saying, "I will do everything in my power to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon...everything." He tells his party "Democrats are not for a bigger government." Oil drilling is a consideration. His FISA vote and abandonment of public campaign finance introduce us to an Obama of recent invention. And as he abandons his old identity for the new, breeding disenchantment among his formerly passionate left-of-center supporters and, equally, doubts among the center he courts, he risks becoming nothing at all, a candidate who is everything and nothing in the same moment. In one of the most powerful marketing books of the past few years, Authenticity, an exploration of our demand for what's real in an increasingly contrived world, authors Gilmore and Pine quote philosophy professor Crispin Sartwell about Al Gore. "Every attempt to regain authenticity," Crispin says, "only casts a new, infinitely repeated image through the hall of mirrors that is his political life and our media experience of that life." Those reflections set the authenticity of John McCain in high-relief. McCain has revealed himself to his core.

      In the defining moment of his life, McCain was willing to give everything for one thing, and that one thing was his country. Contrast that with Obama, who has told America that he is "a proud citizen of the United States and a fellow citizen of the world." Obama is the talented salesman who seduced one state after another saying "Iowa, this is our moment," "Virginia, this is our moment," "Texas, this is our moment," and then tells Europe, "people of Berlin, people of the world, this is our moment." How many times can Barack Obama sell the same moment to everyone, before he becomes Mel Brooks in "The Producers"? Who is Barack Obama? His campaign, as it reupholsters him before our eyes, says we can never know -- perhaps because Barack Obama does not know himself.

      Dreams from My Father is a staggeringly beautiful book, lyrical, powerful and poetic. It is also the story of a man who has been many men, all named Barack Obama. In his own eyes, he is one race, but also another. He is an American, but also a Kenyan. He is from Hawaii and also the Kansas heartland. He is Harvard elite, then the Chicago streets. At times he decries the very clay from which he was made, only to remake himself again.

      At each place and stage, as Barack Obama chronicles the chapters of his life, he tells us how he has re-invented himself, becoming the role he inhabits, though not falsely or in-authentically, like Bill Clinton. He actually seems to transform himself, becoming what must be next. He has been called distant, aloof and somewhat unapproachable, perhaps because we cannot approach what he does not have, a solid core. His soul seems to be molten and made up of dreams, which is at once breathtakingly inspiring and forbiddingly indeterminate. When this young man with the flowing, passionate core, when this candidate without the solid-center changes positions and transforms himself as we watch, it leaves Americans much more in doubt about who he is and how he would lead us. It also reveals an Obama of unapproachable arrogance and inestimable self-regard: He appears confident voters will appreciate his superiority regardless of where he journeys or what he becomes to meet his political ambitions.

So who is this guy.  I tire of hearing about his Chicago days, and readers (all 2 of you) of this journal know that I usually just go through candidates platforms and try to pick out what they’re saying as opposed to where they’ve been.  Unfortunately, I’m not sure in Obama’s case I can even do that and expect that he’ll follow the course he sets for himself in the campaign. 

Side note.  I was in San Francisco this weekend, and the Obama machine is in full tilt there, no surprise.  We were walking on the Embarcadero and passed some people carrying signs and buttons and stuff and attempting to engage people.  One guy saw us approaching with the kids and said something vague about how it was change for the kids or something.  I must have looked at him funny, said something brush-offy like “sure, sure”, because he mentioned that he was an economist. 

I audibly snorted.  My wife made mention to me to just leave it alone, so I did.  But should you announce to the world that you’re an economist while endorsing and campaigning for a guy who’s proposing to increase the size of government by hundreds of billions of dollars?  And with all the tax cuts he's proposing, is anything he says on the issue even realistic?  What are they teaching economists these days?

Not that Republican’s are rosy when you’re talking about economic sense, and if you’re voting for Obama because you want the government to do everything for you, or if you’re scared the Republicans are going to lock homosexuals up or invade Canada, that’s great.  But don’t claim that it makes economic sense.

Although it was San Francisco, and it was Jerry Garcia’s birthday.  The air did smell kinda herbal.  Perhaps that explains it.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Brazilian, the language

How about this, folks.

      Portugal may have to recognise the inevitable by bowing to the economic and cultural predominance of Brazil, its former colony. The once proud imperial power is considering reforming its language to accommodate recent linguistic developments in the South American economic powerhouse, with which it shares a language.

There are some languages that are much more formalized and standardized than others.  The French for instance have a standardizing body for all the Francophone nations of the world. 

English, of course, doesn’t have that.  You even get differences within countries like the US, much less the vast differences between countries that cause things like the spelling of “recognize” above (article is from the UK).

      The proposal to be put before parliament on 15 May would standardise Portuguese around the world and change the spellings of hundreds of words in favour of the Brazilian versions. The measure is largely a response to commercial interests. But for the once proud imperial power, whose language is spoken by 230 million people worldwide, it is a blow to national pride comparable to Britons adopting American spellings and writing, say, "traveler" instead of "traveller".

There are several advantages for Portugal (or rather for Portuguese speaking people).  One is that communication and marketing will be easier, as industries like publishing will be able to market more broadly.  Internet searches will be easier, and Portugal hopes that the measure will “advance an old ambition of getting Portuguese adopted as an official language at the UN.”

Hat tip to Catholicgauze.

Reading the Post is torture

What can I say about coercive interrogation techniques that hasn’t already been said a million times.  I could tell you that I’m not sure about military detainee torture and it’s value in war-time.  I’m sure there are studies out there, and some will say that it’s necessary to save lives, others will say that the techniques aren’t necessary and don’t work anyway. 

But no one seems to really want to know whether they work or not.  One side will say it’s OK because they don’t play by the rules anyway and the other says that as decent human beings we shouldn’t stoop to the level of the extremists we’re in conflict with.  I’m of the opinion that we need to know the facts and have a national discussion on this that doesn’t include political partisan bickering.

However, the press never helps with this.  Exactly what are various agencies doing in the battle with extremists?  Well, you might get two different stories from these two sources. 

Washington Post:

      Interrogation practices -- including the use of dogs, sleep deprivation and simulated drowning or water-boarding -- repeatedly created friction between FBI agents and military leaders.


      Fine's audit doesn't assess the conduct of CIA or military interrogators and says FBI agents never witnessed the use of simulated drowning, or water-boarding.

So the Post seems to want you to believe that water-boarding is and has been going on, when actual official reports and statements by the administration admit that it hasn’t been used in many years.   The report from the FBI seems to confirm that, but if you read the Post

Also, I again note that both use the excuse of Abu Ghraib as the reason for the FBI’s new rules that require agents to report when they witness abuse.  Even though what happened there wasn’t sanctioned, nor was it for the purpose of interrogation.

And what is the FBI doing in all these countries anyway?  I thought the FBI was a domestic investigation force?

All and all, to get back to the point, physical coercion has been a part of military interrogation in times of war for as long as there’s been war.  The stuff they’re talking about here – snarling dogs and sleep deprivation – is pretty tame compared to what was done to Americans in the Vietnam war, or what Islamic extremists do to those they don’t like.  So shouldn’t this about having a national discussion, not about trying to nail the administration for something else?  What’s acceptable?  Is anything?

Violence in South Africa

There’s been a rash of Xenophobia in South Africa.

      The spate of violent attacks targeting foreigners in South Africa has caused an estimated 13,000 people to flee from their homes to police stations and other havens, local Red Cross officials said.

      At least 22 people have been killed in the week-long spree of violence, police have said. The attacks and looting has drawn condemnation from South African officials and other African leaders.

I take it that the leaders are condemning racism, but this doesn’t seem like ideological racism.  I wonder if this is more vast uncomfortableness with the mix of people who are not trying to assimilate.  I mean sure, there’s probably some racism going on, but when you get mass violence and protesting from ordinary citizens, you have to ask, “what started the big bang?”

Many of the foreigners are from other countries, most prominently Zimbabwe, because they are fleeing from massive violence or oppression.  They don’t want to be there, but kinda have to right now.  What kind of resentment do you think that’s causing?

I’m looking forward to more perspectives from people who understand that region more.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Perspective on economics

Here’s an interesting statement about economics.

      There is nothing complicated about finance. It is based on old people lending to young people. Young people invest in homes and businesses; aging people save to acquire assets on which to retire. The new generation supports the old one, and retirement systems simply apportion rights to income between the generations. Never before in human history, though, has a new generation simply failed to appear.

This is a response to some complaining by the German President about the present economic downturn (some would call it a crisis).   However the author wanted to point out that the larger elephant in the room isn’t how western capitalism functions and how corrupt it must be, but how unbalanced Europe has gotten demographically, how that stress on supporting the aging population  makes the economic downturn worse, and how that’s going to lead to an even worse crisis.

Early Gaelic discovery of America

Hi.  Me again. 
If you’ve read stuff I’ve put here before, you know that I have some affinity toward geography.  And as such, the study of explorers is particularly interesting, although I admit I haven’t sailed that westerly much in my academic or private life.

Sometime in the past I told of a possible alternate theory regarding the naming of America.  It was the British trader Richard Amerike, Dutch by birth, but English nevertheless.  It is now thought that he possibly traded across the North Atlantic and even had a trading post or two along the harsh northern coasts of what’s now Canada.

So I went out and bought a book on Amerike, so I’ll let you all know how that turns out.
But, you say, does that mean that we should look to the Brits as the discoverers of America?  Well, depends on what you mean.  There are many stories and legends of peoples finding lands that are now thought to be parts of the Americas, including this story of St. Brendan of Ireland in the 6th century returning from many sea voyages beyond the known world at the time.

      The Voyage is often ignored by historians of exploration because it is considered a folk-tale. However, the Voyage has far fewer fantastic details than a standard Irish legend and many of these are best read as confused accounts of real events: a crystal tower (an iceberg); the gates of hell (an Icelandic volcano); the ocean where you could see into the depths (a coral sea); the sluggish ocean (the Sargasso Sea).

      Giving the Voyage the benefit of the doubt, and using the information about the islands Brendan visits, it is possible to draw a series of itineraries that take the saint around the northern two thirds of the Atlantic: the first, St Kilda, the Faeroes, Madeira, the Azores, the Faeroes; the second, the Faeroes, Greenland; the third, the Caribbean, Madeira; the fourth, an iceberg, Iceland, Jan Mayen Island, Iceland, Rockall, the Faeroes; the fifth, the Faeroes and America. The distances given in the text - the Voyage’s author describes the journey in terms of days - approximately fit these itineraries.

Apparently, once Christianity was brought to Ireland, monks got inspired by tales of solitary worship of monks in other parts of the world, such as in deserts and mountains.  Well, since in Ireland it’s pretty hard to get away from people, the monks turned to the one wilderness that the emerald island has in abundance:  the Atlantic ocean.

Seems the monks were not very good navigators, but instead put themselves out to sea, raised a sail and let God take over.  There are stories of Irish monks landing on shores all over the Atlantic that was known at the time, but it stands to reason that some would end up visiting Iceland, Greenland and the like.

Truly there are many stories and histories of peoples who might have visited this continent well before Columbus.  The Vikings, Carthaginians, Egyptians, Arabs, Jewish Diaspora and even Pics are thought to have had the ability of getting boats over to the Western Hemisphere.   There’s even some archeological evidence in South America that some of these cultures might have made it prior to the Roman Empire (although they didn’t get back).

As for Columbus and the title of discoverer of the Americas, you can make the charge that Columbus' voyage opened the doors to general knowledge of the new world, and therefore is the "official" discoverer, even if he wasn't the first one from Europe or Asia to land on our shores.

Truly, there’s so much we don’t know about history.  With an ever changing knowledge of our past do we ever get to say with definitive authority that we truly know what happened at any time in the distant past?

Friday, April 25, 2008

PDOT bike commuter month

The Portland Dept of Transportation is having an entire month of events in May for bike commuters or potential bike commuters.  Suck it up and get on that pedal machine.  Portland is commonly known as one of, if not the, most bike-friendly cities in the nation.  I’ve been riding my bike to work for years (off and on) and can attest to that.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Photos of galaxies

As if yesterday’s photo gallery of cities at night weren’t enough, check out the largest gallery of Hubble telescope photos I’ve seen in a while.  Galaxies Gone Wild!

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Cities at night

For your viewing pleasure.  Cities at night from space.

McCain, the fighter pilot

Another perspective on John McCain.

      Some say John McCain's character was formed in a North Vietnamese prison. I say those people should take a gander at what John chose to do--voluntarily. Being a carrier pilot requires aptitude, intelligence, skill, knowledge, discernment, and courage of a kind rarely found anywhere but in a poem of Homer's or a half gallon of Dewar's.

John McCain might not square with all of your conservative (or liberal) viewpoints, but he knows something about honor, duty, valor, patriotism, self discipline, responsibility and respect for our national institutions.  I don't think the Democrats can attack his service record like they did with Bush in 96.  And note that now that neither Dem candidate has a military history it won't seem as important this time around.  Will they even try and downplay it?

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Riots in Egypt

There’s rioting in the streets.  In Egypt in a town called Mahalla, but it’s starting to reach out to other parts of the country.

      It all started two days ago, when a nationwide strike was called by a number of political parties and worker movements to protest their low income, the skyrocketing cost of living, and the open corruption and blatant nepotism of the Egyptian government. All eyes that day were on Mahalla, which was supposed to kick-start the strike by having its 30,000 textile factory workers go to the factory and stage a sit-in. The security forces in charge immediately rounded up the strike leaders, pressuring some of the weaker ones to accept a compromise. They also arrested and isolated every other strike organizer who wouldn’t budge. The government forced the workers to work at the point of a gun, and announced that the strike was canceled. This rang true until the workers got off work and found their union leaders detained and arrested. They then started confronting the security forces, which lead to clashes that lasted till midnight that day and led to two casualties and some 95 arrests.

      The following day, yesterday, around 2,000 demonstrators demonstrated peacefully in front of the police station, demanding the release of their detained co-workers, relatives, and friends. The Egyptian police responded by shooting rubber bullets and tear gas at the demonstrators, and attacking them physically. When word of this reached the demonstrators’ family members and friends, they responded by taking to the streets and attacking the security forces wherever they could find them. The people threw rocks at the security forces, destroyed their cars, and tore down the pictures of Mubarak all over the city. The security forces continued shooting and arresting people, all the while sending plain-clothed police thugs to destroy stores and ransack schools. This was done in order to make it look like as if the people were destroying everything in their path and had to be cracked down on and stopped. The death toll rose to 5 the second night (including a 12 year-old and a 15 year-old), while the arrest total rose to 195. Countless people were injured.

The government is trying to clamp down, and has a 24 hour curfew and no journalists allowed.  I’ll paint this one simple for you.  Long ruling tyrannical despot vs. people tired of living in squalid conditions.  Keep your eyes on this and don’t forget the people of Egypt.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Political Power

I’ve often thought about this as the source of real problems in our political/social system in this country.  There’s a general sense that we need to solve the problem of special interests using money to improperly influence the government, or at least the legislative process.   At the same time, there’s a feeling among those of certain economic classes that people who make a lot of money (I mean like hundreds of millions) for some reason don’t deserve that kind of money. 

Arnold Kling in TCG Daily:

      It is misleading to compare legislative budgets with the wealth of Warren Buffett or Bill Gates, because legislators are spending money on all of us. They are not spending money on themselves.

      However, America's wealthiest people do not spend their money on themselves, either. They could not possibly do so. As smart as Warren Buffett and Bill Gates are, they cannot figure out how to spend all of their money. They will end up giving most of it away.

      What the super-wealthy have that the merely wealthy do not have is more financial power. When it comes to deciding which causes are going to receive money, Bill Gates and Warren Buffett have more power than other people. Which is exactly the power that politicians have.

The problem, as the article points out, is that politicians have far more of this type of “power” than any wealthy person, to orders of magnitude.  The sums of money that politicians, especially federal politicians, have control over is too tempting for players on the national and local scene. 

      The monetary comparisons only scratch the surface of the inequality and excesses of political power in the United States. Bill Gates might be said to control as much money as a member of the County Council where I live. But he does not have the power to, say, tell the people of the County where they can and cannot smoke, or to tell local businesses what wages they must pay their workers, or to decide whether a local concert venue will be devoted to folk music or to rock.

      Wealthy people do not control the curriculum in our children's schools. Politicians do. Wealthy people do not set licensing requirements for everything from doctors to interior designers to hair stylists to manicurists. Politicians do.

      Inequality and excess political power is getting worse at a faster rate than inequality and excess in monetary income. As I pointed out in We Need 250 states, political power is far more concentrated and insulated from the voters than was the case 200 years ago.

      I feel awkward and defensive when the subject of economic inequality comes up. The fact is that I cannot say that I feel comfortable with the levels of inequality and excess that exist in our society.

      However, I am loathe to call inequality a problem that requires a government solution. I do not see how it solves the problem to take power away from wealthy people who have a lot of it in order to increase the power of politicians who have far more of it.

      What the American people really should feel awkward and defensive about is the level of inequality and excess of political power. Instead of asking ourselves what we can do about Warren Buffett or Bill Gates, we should be asking ourselves about what we can do about the Clintons and the Spitzers. Those who want more and more power should be our biggest concern.

And a concern it should be.  We’ve learned, by way of laws like McCain-Feingold, that you can’t take the money out of politics.  It will find a way in.  My belief is that the only way to rid our life of politically tainted money thrown around by special interests is to reduce the power that politicians wield.  That would, of course, mean that the size and scope of government must decrease, and that means that functions such as health care, education and the like, would have to disappear, and I fear that ain’t happening anytime soon.

Truthfully, though I might favor one candidate for President or Congress over another for his/her economic sanity, neither party has an abundance of members who understand that we all suffer when government grows in it’s scope and power. 

When’s the revolt?  Anyone?

Thursday, April 03, 2008

McCain, Hillary and the economy

Here’s an interesting piece on the stability of Switzerland.  I’ll quote the same section that Instapundit did.  

      They have one of the world’s most stable economies, a skilled workforce, internationally recognized export companies, a sound currency, and renowned banking and financial services. All this is combined with remarkable social harmony, given that Switzerland has four national languages and great religious diversity. 

While I appreciate it’s success, something I noted from the article was that while there might be much we can learn from the system they have in place, much of their success is due to foreign actors.  Wealth generated in places like the US and Germany feeds the economy there.  They haven’t really had to defend themselves (although they do have an army) without help from vaster allies like the US, and indeed during the world wars they declared themselves neutral to avoid large expenditures for military.

The article spends time on their harmonious political environment, but one has to wonder how that type of government would work in a country of 300 million rather than 7.5 million, smaller than New York City (not the metro area, just the city).

Hillary talks about tax incentives designed to create jobs inside the US.  Quote from TaxProf:
·       Increase the R&D credit by 50% (from 20% to 30%) and increase the Alternative Simplified Credit by 67% (from 12% to 20%).

1       Create a 40% Basic Research Credit.
2       Create a 10% Start Up Research Jobs Credit.
3       Create a new $5 billion Insourcing Markets Tax Credit.
4       Close loopholes that encourage companies to ship jobs overseas:
·       Eliminate deferral provision that allows U.S. companies to defer paying U.S. taxes on income earned by their foreign subsidiaries until that income is repatriated to the U.S.

        1       Close tax loopholes to ensure that companies cannot continue receiving tax benefits for locating abroad. She will disallow companies from engaging in transfer-pricing arrangements where companies avoid taxes by shifting income or assets to low-tax jurisdictions. She will eliminate incentives in the tax code (like the ability to “cross-credit”) that encourage U.S. companies to shift operations or at least profits to low-tax jurisdictions. And she will eliminate the unfair advantage that foreign insurers located in tax havens have against U.S. insurers competing for U.S. business.

Tax credits aren’t necessarily a bad thing.  Government and political types are constantly thinking of ways to modify the behavior of the American public and American business.  One way is create law that restricts and imposes that behavior.  However, this has the unfortunate side effect of political resistance from large portions of society. 

Another way is to modify tax code so that the behavior is not mandatory, but changing that behavior leads to benefits, i.e. your taxes are reduced if you comply.  I certainly have less of a problem with this, although it has it’s own drawbacks.

Notice in the last couple of items regarding closing loopholes though.  Clinton says that she’ll eliminate deferral provisions that allow companies to defer paying U.S. taxes on income earned by their foreign subsidiaries.  Think about that for a second.  If your foreign office creates income, even if the income never touches American soil you’d get taxed.  Right now that doesn’t happen, and companies usually use the money to invest further in the foreign operation (better salaries for employees, update equipment, R&D). 

Note here a common resistance to the notion that companies are not necessarily tied to nations any more.  One of the tenants of globalization is that companies are international entities, without national allegiance.  One of the reasons that companies outsource in the first place is because the corporate taxes in the US are among the highest in the world.  But instead of trying to solve that problem, people like Clinton instead attempt to force companies to pay the taxes regardless.  Which in the end will compound the problem, causing some companies to move their corporate offices overseas (which is already happening).

It’s no wonder that businesses, foreign and domestic, freak out about this sort of thing.  The American economy drives economic expansion all over the world, and having a candidate for the highest office in the largest economic market in the world act all protectionist isn’t exactly making people around the world all warm and fuzzy.  Note this article by Fareed Zakaria in Newsweek that insists that instead of improving our reputation around the world, as they are so often telling is they’ll do, Clinton and Obama might actually cause some further damage because of their tendency to be economically protectionist.

In reference to the original story above, Switzerland has one of the most robust economies in the world, but they do so because of their very open market and reliance on foreign investment.  We can’t go down the road in the other direction and think that we’re going to truly improve the lives of ordinary Americans in the long run.  Further protectionism is the road of economic stagnation and a people over-burdened by taxes.

So let’s look at McCain on the economic front.  What he’s saying at this point makes sense from a Republican stand point.   Tax cuts for the middle class.  Cut corporate taxes.  Ban internet/ cell phone taxes.  Reform Health care and Medicare (and SS).  Eliminate wasteful spending.  Reform the budgeting process.  More free trade.  This might all seem pat from the red side of the fence, but it’s miles different from what the Democrats propose, so to all my right leaning friends who think that McCain represents some leftward angle here, I implore you to compare what we would get otherwise.

He hits all the high points, and I don’t think you can argue that he’s been solid on the wasteful-spending issue for many years.  One thing that bugs me is that, while he would continue the Bush tax cuts, he was initially against them because he thought they benefited the rich primarily, and authored a bill with Tom Daschle to curtail the reduction in the capital gains and dividend taxes (never mind that some economists will tell you that this is double taxation anyway).  I’m not  sure where he’s at here.  He’s mostly about open capitalism, but has a streak of populist anti-wealth type thinking.  While he is generally for tax cuts, one wonders how much he’s really willing to cut in the budget enough to make up for it all. 

I’m encouraged in other areas, though.  He seems a bit antagonistic toward the current mood regarding the mortgage crisis.  Many on both sides of the aisle, including the President, seem inclined to bail out those caught in over their heads after signing sub-prime mortgages (including the weird tax rebate we all are supposed to get).  McCain says that people need to be responsible for their own mistakes, a sentiment that I concur on.  He’s likely to get hammered on this in the general election, but I agree with him there.  I read lately from noted columnists decrying the complicated world of mortgage financing and how the consumer is left helpless in the face of uncontrollably tempting 2% loan rates.  However I disagree, as I’ve seen all these rates (as a home owner you drown in offers like that), and knowing that anything below 6% is certainly variable interest they all end up in my garbage.   Needless to say that I would expect that I would be paying for my own mistake if I went down that road without taking the time to research a rate on probably the largest and most important bit of financing I’ll ever do. 

Sorry.  Rant over.

McCain is noted, on this issue, of proclaiming a certain amount of ignorance.  Is this worrisome or refreshing?  You could make an argument either way, and the Democratic candidates of course argue worrisome.  That doesn’t bother me, as their positions are worrisome and they think they know how the economy works.  It’s not quite refreshing either, though, and it really is going to depend on who McCain ultimately pins down for Secretary of the Treasury and who he appoints as advisors.  I’m not sure his recent advice people, like Phil Gramm, are helping ease my conscience on this point.

All and all he’s got some issues, and for the most part I have a difficult time supporting a Senator for an administrative office like this one.  However, in the area of finance, especially government finance, McCain is heads above the Democratic candidates at this point.  He’ll probably not be able to stop over spending entirely or free up markets as he says he does, but I’d rather have him in there being the Maverick on the economy. 

Here’s some more reading on where McCain is at on the issue if the economy.  Enjoy.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

The McCain factor

OK. A while back I promised that I would take a look at John McCain as a Presidential candidate. I've been paying some attention, and it's truly been entertaining to watch him work while the two Democratic candidates go at each other, but other things have been bothering me.

It's not his age, like some people are complaining about (and I mean serious pundits are freaking out about the guy's age). Seriously, he is up there in years, but he seems very vibrant for a man who would be the oldest President in US history. There's been nothing to indicate that mentally he's not on his game, and as long as he picks a really good VP running mate (just in case) I don't see a downside there. He will certainly use it to his advantage in the general election. With all the silly "My opponent isn't ready to face the big crisis" tennis match between Hillary and Barack, McCain makes them look like 2nd graders talking about their first home mortgage. Really, it's pathetic.

It's not his social issues. Some friends of mine, who's integrity I don't challenge, vote pretty healthily along a morality/family values line. Usually things like abortion are at the top of the list of items to gage a candidate by, and they don't like McCain at all. Which doesn't make sense if you go by what he's been saying while on the campaign trail. And it appears like, with a few minor exceptions (historically he's made noises that while he's against abortion in general, he's not necessarily against using fetal tissue experimentally. Unravel that pretzel), that he's been pretty much on the anti-abortion side of the debate.
This is not to say that I agree entirely with where he's at. It's hard, especially when someone's running for office, to really know where they stand on an issue. Reading a list of quotes on the subject over the years is to overdose on sound bite madness. Politician sound bites are designed to inform, but also to pander. Of all the candidates, do you think he panders more or less than the other two? I would guess less, but who's to know where he stands. As of 9 years ago he stated that he wouldn't overturn Roe, and now he's all over eradicating that decision from the books.
Which in both cases really isn't for him to decide. He would have the power to appoint judges to the SCOTUS who see eye to eye with him, but I'll get into that later.

Really that's mostly rhetoric. For the most part, and you all know what I think, candidates will be held to, and often act in accordance with, their campaign slogans and promises. So in this case I would guess that McCain would be a generally anti-abortion President. Can he do anything about abortion anyway? Hard to say. Bush hasn't really been able to make a scratch, so why would we think McCain would be different. Thankfully he hasn't made any talk about amending the Constitution or anything.
Nor on gay marriage. On many issues you'll find that McCain would extend policies that Bush has been carrying along, but I noted in that section of his website, he talks eloquently regarding the benefits of a society built around the family unit consisting of male-female relationships, but he doesn't really call for any action either way.
In the past he's even taken a state's rights view, and opposed the Bush maneuver for a Constitutional amendment. But even for a conservative that should be a feature, not a bug. He has voted in the past for prohibiting same sex marriage (recall that during the Clinton administration, the somewhat lame Defense of Marriage act was passed with Clinton's blessing), and has voted against adding gays to hate crime legislation.

It's certainly not his positions on the war or on the economy. I'll get to them later, but I've been OK with what I've seen. So what's bugging me? Well, you mean besides that he's a career Senator?
Immigration is one issue. Of all the complaints that the conservatives have been throwing at McCain over the last few months, this is the one that I think has some teeth. However, they're more like molars, not canines. McCain has a record of treading lightly on the "amnesty" issue, but he's been pretty solidly pro-security in others. Many of his speeches include rhetoric about needing to secure the borders first before dealing with the problem of illegals running around. And even then I don't hear anything that suggests that he's going to go after them after the border is secure (will it every really be, oh save us from the government that wouldn't do anything). No, really. I don't like many of his votes on this issue, and the kinds of things he votes to give undocumented workers that only citizens/tax payers are supposed to get. However, he also understands that part of the reason we have to deal with all this is because the economies and governments of neighboring countries aren't doing their job allowing their own people to prosper (quite the opposite in fact). So there's some plus there.

The other thing I worry about is the usual. Size of government. There are some things that McCain has been pretty good at lately. One is not getting caught up in any scandals (nothing paramount anyway) and the other is being a vocal and voting opponent of earmarks and wasteful spending. Now while no candidate is going to be all perfect on this point, McCain doesn't have an earmark to his name in the near past. And by near I'm referring to years.
He's in favor of a balanced budget amendment and in his speeches insists that he would stop the uncontrolled spending (even criticizes Republicans for being complicit in the over-spending, which is speaking truth).
However, he's been in the Senate too long, and while he's good on earmarks, I worry that he'll be just one more in the long line of Presidents presiding over an increase in government power. Whether by large government programs, or reform that is promised to make life easier and less expensive, but in actuality will place more controls on industry and local government. Check out his page on Health Care system reforms.
  • -Controlling health care costs will take fundamental change - nothing short of a complete reform of the culture of our health system and the way we pay for it will suffice. Reforms to federal policy and programs should focus on enhancing quality while controlling costs
  • - Facilitate the development of national standards for measuring and recording treatments and outcomes.
There are more, but color me raising my left eyebrow at all this. Now his plan isn't nearly as obtrusive, controlling and tax burdeny as the two Democrat's plans, but the march of federal government control over your life and mine just slows down with Republican leadership. It doesn't stop, and in Bush's case it surged forward pretty regularly.

So what is it about McCain that conservatives don't like? Please if you know, comment. Down below, you know. There's a link. Use it. Tell me what you don't like about this guy, because after sifting through the rubble of conscious though leveled by the bickering of conservative talk show hosts, I don't see why they really should have a problem with this guy. He's not Ron Paul or Huckabee, who had their own problems.
And he's certainly the polar opposite of what's being offered on the Democrat side.

And there are some other issues that they have with him, such as his campaign finance bill and irregular votes against Bush-sponsored tax cuts. I'm a little worried about that, but I'll have to get to it later.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Settle down on the playground

I know I’m supposed to get livid over things like this, but I find myself strangely philosophical about it.  I’ve heard of kids shows in Palestine approaching on the bizarre when it comes to indoctrinating kids to hate other people.  If you don’t think there’s something screwed up about that culture, then perhaps we just need to take a closer look at their children’s entertainment.

Gateway pundit points to this dialog regarding a guy in a bunny suit on a children’s show (Assud is the rabbit):

      Saraa: Did you see the West's attack against the Messenger [Muhammad]? What do you have to say about this?

      Amaani, (10 year old girl by phone): I say to the cowardly infidels...

      Assud: Criminals.

      Amaani: Criminals.

      Assud: Do you boycott Israeli and Danish products?

      Amaani: Yes

      Assud: You don't eat them at all?

      Amaan: I don't eat them at all.

      Assud: Great! Keep it up!

      Saraa: We will all boycott Danish products, and Israeli products first.

      * * * * *

      Saraa: What can we do for the Messenger?

      Inaas, (10 year old girl by phone): We can fight them because they cursed Allah's Messenger.

      Saraa: 'Tomorrow's Pioneers' army will redeem the Messenger, with their possessions and their blood, Assud, and will not let them repeat this attack.

      Assud: If they repeat it we will kill them, by Allah.

      Saraa: In His will.

      Assud: I will bite them and eat them!

Nice.  Those Danes might look tasty, but…
So we can argue all day about how its all Israel’s fault for the mental state these people are in, and that they wouldn’t be this foundational hatred if Israel had never existed, but you can also argue convincingly that there are some cultural issues at the heart of this, and Israel is just a scapegoat.  There are many groups of people who are suffering far worse at the hands of their own government, and they aren’t screaming death to anyone.

Regarding the tendency for many fundamental Muslims to rage against the machine every time they feel the least bit of disrespect toward them or their religion (think specifically of the cartoons published in many places, but notably Denmark) they cry bloody murder, literally.  Death to Denmark.  Death to Israel.  And while we’re at it, death to America.  Can’t leave them out.

This behavior is strikingly similar to pre-adolescent maturity striking out when pride has been injured.
Basically there are a few ways that a person can react when someone takes a shot at their pride.  One is to ignore it, which is what we try to teach our kids to do.  Sometimes you can’t ignore it, and you takes steps to either remove yourself from the scene or appeal to a higher authority.  In the kid’s case this would be a teacher or parent, right?  We would prefer that these responses be the ones our own children would use.  However…

Another possible approach is to defend yourself intellectually.  And by that, when I think of a 10 year old I’m thinking of ways you can jab back verbally, making it a war of words until you come up with the quip that will ensure legendary status in your lunchroom (“I know you are, but what am I”).  Either way, getting verbal jabs in gives you an outlet for your emotional stress.  Defending yourself verbally is they way many arguments SHOULD happen.

Now, here come the complaints from moms everywhere.  No, I don’t really advocate this in the extreme.   Abusive comments and cursing are also something I don’t encourage in my own children.  But if you can’t verbally defend yourself to the neighborhood bully it eventually might lead down this next path.

And that’s physical violence.  We often think about the adult who gets goaded into starting a bar fight because someone insulted his mullet as “infantile” and seriously lacking in self-respect.  If your only response to insult or demeaning comments is to attack the accuser physically, then perhaps you never really graduated from 3rd grade, emotionally anyway.

Now I must admit that whenever I see Muslim responses to criticism or insult, no matter how slight (or in some cases how misunderstood) I see the group acting like the 8 year old down the block who’s mother probably didn’t love him enough.  Unfortunately, like the mullet-sporting bar fighter above, you can’t go back home and regain that respect from your mother’s love.  At least not entirely.  And the Arab/Muslim community isn’t going to get over this by concessions from the west, nor is Israel rolling over and moving to Palm Springs going to repair the damage.  That must come from within.

There’s actually a better Christian answer for this,  but that’s for the individual, and I’m talking about a group and a culture.  Christian individuals, according to the faith, are supposed to expect insult and oppression.  We’re also supposed to take it, because if you can’t get someone to become a Christian by demonstrating it faithfully and defending it logically, then you’ve got nothing.  Muslims probably have a better response to critical statements about their religion than “Death to infidels,” but unless they use it they appear every bit the tike on the playground who lashes out at kids calling him fat.  Is it any wonder that we don’t take them seriously?