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.