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Friday, April 29, 2005

New Data Show Global Warming

Washington Post: Climate scientists armed with new data from deep in the ocean and far into space have found that Earth is absorbing much more heat than it is giving off, a conclusion they say validates projections of global warming. Lead scientist James Hansen, a prominent NASA climatologist, described the findings on the planet's out-of-balance energy exchange as a 'smoking gun' that should dispel doubts about forecasts of climate change. A European climate expert called it a valuable contribution to climate research. Hansen's team, reporting Thursday in the journal Science, said they also determined that global temperatures will rise 1 degree Fahrenheit this century even if greenhouse gases are capped tomorrow. If carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping emissions instead continue to grow, as expected, things could spin "out of our control," especially as ocean levels rise from melting Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets, the researchers said. International experts predict a 10-degree leap in Fahrenheit readings in such a worst-case scenario.Evidence that global warming is both real, and human caused is certainly piling up. It is still unclear what we should do about it however. With current technology, capping emissions would lead to a global recession and probably as much death as all but perhaps the worst case scenarios (which I still think are quite unlikely.) I firmly believe that an feasible non-emitting energy source will be discovered by a robust and growing economy, not a shrinking one. Other keys to controling global climate and mitigating any damages are also predicated on a strong global economy. I fully support though putting resources into researching the problem and finding ways to combat this threat.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Shooter in standoff found dead

Spokesman Review:

Police have confirmed that the shooter involved in a standoff with police in Spokane Valley is dead, possibly of a self-inflicted gunshot. SWAT teams had moved into the house after the Jeremy Douglas Stiffarm, 29, had been spotted by a remote camera lying motionless on the floor wearing a gas mask, police said. Authorities had pumped three large volleys of tear gas into a home at 1320 N. Stout Road in hopes of flushing out Stiffarm, who had traded gunfire with police at least three times this morning.
Well, that's about what I expected. Made for an interesting day. Our regularly scheduled blogging will return tomorrow.

Exciting Morning

There is a shoot-out going on about half a block away from my work this morning. It is unclear what exactly is going on, but we have heard numerous shots fired and there are cops all over the place. I'll update with the details when I find out more. Update: KREM.com:

Spokane County Sheriff’s Office has confirmed that a 29-year-old armed male has fired gun shots at deputies at East Sinto Avenue and North Mullan Road in Spokane Valley, Wash. Police were advising the public to avoid the area completely . At least two people are holed up in a house and police were evacuating residents and closing down streets in the neighborhood, say police. Authorities have exchanged gunfire with the suspect and at least eight major city agencies were at the scene, which police described as 'chaotic.' Police Police believe the suspect has a high-powered rifled and may be wounded in the arm.
A few more exchanges of gunfire happened a few minutes ago. Update: 1:00 PM The standoff is still going on. We have a pretty good view from here and have been able to observe several sorties by the police to launch tear gas into the house. There has been quite a bit of wind though and it looks like most of the tear gas is just blowing back out of the house. If it is affecting the guy inside, it hasn't made him come out yet. Earlier he lit off a bunch of fireworks, I am not sure why but it was amusing to watch. It looks like now they are planning on sending in a robot to check things out. Update: 2:00 PM It's over. I'm not sure if the Police killed the guy or if he was captured (killed is my bet) but the cops are just milling around now without body armor.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Social Security Politics

William Voegeli writes about the Social Security debate:

We know at least two things about the Democratic Party. First, it is preoccupied with economic inequality. Implying that the middle class had somehow vanished, Sen. John Edwards campaigned for a year with a showcase speech about two Americas, 'one for people who are set for life, [who] know their kids and their grandkids are going to be just fine; and then one for most Americans, people who live paycheck to paycheck.' Second, it is unyielding in its defense of Social Security--a defense that rejects the idea of reducing by a penny the pension checks the government sends to Warren Buffett. (Twenty years ago Paul Kirk, then chairman of the Democratic National Committee, suggested publicly that the party ought to consider means-testing Social Security benefits. He was forced--before the end of the day--to issue a statement of regret for even mentioning the subject.) To make sense of this apparent contradiction is to make some sense of the ongoing debate over Social Security and the meaning of modern liberalism. One can begin by imagining a government program to prevent poverty among the aged, one that would be both simpler than Social Security and more aligned with liberals' desire to tax the rich and help the poor. It would derive its revenue from the progressive income tax rather than Social Security's regressive payroll tax. It would pay its benefits according to individual need. And for the majority of people who--John Edwards notwithstanding--are neither rich nor poor, it would devise incentives and requirements that would encourage them to provide secure retirements for themselves from pensions and savings. What's wrong with such an approach? Wilbur Cohen, who devoted half a century in government to designing and defending America's social insurance programs, gave his answer in a 1972 debate with Milton Friedman on Social Security: 'I am convinced that, in the United States, a program that deals only with the poor will end up being a poor program. . . . Ever since the Elizabethan Poor Law of 1601, programs only for the poor have been lousy, no good, poor programs. And a program that is only for the poor--one that has nothing in it for the middle income and the upper income--is, in the long run, a program the American public won't support.' In other words, people who don't need Social Security and Medicare are enrolled as beneficiaries for the sake of people who do. Cohen doubted that people could be persuaded to support programs to help the poor, but he was confident that they could be induced to support them. There is cynical calculation in Cohen's position, and also some idealism. Chris Suellentrop, a political writer for the webzine Slate, captures the former when he says, 'Liberals are willing to keep paying rich people Social Security in the hopes that the payments will keep those rich people from figuring out that Social Security is a redistributive transfer program.' The scope and complexity of Social Security--not one American in a thousand grasps the arcane formula that relates retirement benefits to lifetime earnings--reflect something more than the old line about a camel being a horse designed by a committee. There is method in the madness of social insurance, and the madder its programs the more methodical its politics.
Read the whole thing, you won't be sorry. I would be especially interested to see any responses on this by those who favor Social Security as it is. IF you think Voegeli is wrong about this stuff, I would like to know why and what your reasoning is.

North Korean Quarantine?

The New York Times:

The Bush administration, facing a series of recent provocations from North Korea, is debating a plan to seek a United Nations resolution empowering all nations to intercept shipments in or out of the country that may contain nuclear materials or components, say senior administration officials and diplomats who have been briefed on the proposal. The resolution envisioned by a growing number of senior administration officials would amount to a quarantine of North Korea, though, so far at least, President Bush's aides are not using that word. It would enable the United States and other nations to intercept shipments in international waters off the Korean Peninsula and to force down aircraft for inspection. But, said several American and Asian officials, the main purpose would be to give China political cover to police its border with North Korea, the country's lifeline for food and oil. That border is now largely open for shipments of arms, drugs and counterfeit currencies, North Korea's main source of hard currency.
It is always difficult to know what is really going on in the realm of international diplomacy. Most officially leaked statements tend to be bluffs, positioning and spin. This could be a ploy to let North Korea know we are serious, and they need to start to negotiate with good faith. It could be a tradeoff to China to get them to apply more pressure. China has always been the key to any peaceful resolution of the North Korean problem and most of our diplomatic efforts have been focused on getting them involved. Lastly, of course, it could be that the Bush administration feels that they seriously need to start inderdicting more of North Korea's shipping. (via Smash)

5 things

I have been tagged. So, here are five things that people with whom I generally associate think are really cool, but that leave me cold. 1) Open Office:Pretty much everyone I know has become an Open Office fan with the result that I can't read any documents they make unless they convert them to PDF first. I am perfectly happy with Microsoft Office. 2) Bitching about the Star Wars prequels: Yes, I admit that Jar Jar sucks. Other than that though, I like episodes I and II (super ninja Yoda was a bit much) and am very much looking forward to Revenge of the Sith. Darth Vader rocks and I still think that the happy, super good, yippee Anakin from Phantom Menace adds a whole lot of pathos to his story. 3) Anime: Not all, but a signifigant portion of my friends are way into Anime. There are some Anime that kick ass, but for me it is just a medium. I don't like a story more or less because it is Anime. If it is a good story told well, I'll like it. If it is stupid, overly cute, sappy drivel the fact that it is Anime does not win it any extra bonus points as far as I'm concerned. 4) World of Warcraft: I have several friends who are addicted to this. From observing, it appears that the game consists mostly of running slowly from one place to another. Apparently this is enjoyable. 5) Tech Gadgets: Most of my friends love having the latest and greatest and most gadgetty thing out there. If they can, they get them, if they can't they happily lust after them. For me these things are just tools, and mostly do things that I don't need. Whether it's the coolest new cell phone with a built in camera, to the latest handheld game device this sort of thing pretty much bores me. As my reward for completing this terribly annoying questionaire, I get to inflict it on others. Almost makes it worth it. So, I chose Stacy, Tsykoduk and Cube. Update: Tsykoduck's Answers Cube has a spot for answers, but no actual answers yet. Stacy's answers.

The Global Savings Glut

This is a very enlightening Newsweek article:

We are all taught that saving is good—indeed, Americans are often chided for spending too much and saving too little. But what if the problem of today's global economy is that people elsewhere, in Europe, Asia and Latin America, are saving too much and spending too little? Former Princeton University economist Ben Bernanke argues that this is precisely the case. He calls it 'the global savings glut.' The power of a good idea is that it dispels common confusions. Bernanke's global savings glut is just such a notion. It helps explain (a) the huge U.S. trade deficits; (b) the weakness of the current economic recovery (now three and a half years old), and (c) the difficulty of doing anything about (a) and (b).
If you are at all interested in global economics, this is a must read.

Campaign Finance Reform

Ryan Sager has a good article in the New York Post on some campaign finance reform efforts in Illinios:

ANYONE still clinging to the notion that cam paign-finance reformers are interested in 'clean government' solely for its own sake should take a look at Illinois — specifically a race for a state Supreme Court seat last year that turned into the most expensive judicial contest in U.S. history. The race was a money magnet — with more than $9 million spent by the time the dust cleared. Why? Because tort lawyers from all over the country go to Illinois' Madison County to file lawsuits against deep-pocketed corporations. If Democrat Gordon Maag won the Supreme Court race, the trial-lawyer gravy train would probably keep on rollin'. If Republican Lloyd Karmeier won (he did), he was expected to start hitting the breaks (he has). Money rolled in from pro- and anti-tort-reform forces around the country. And so one group appointed itself traffic cop: the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform, the state's resident good-government watchdog. The 'nonpartisan' group spearheaded a Tone and Conduct Committee — organized under the aegis of the state Bar Association — aimed at keeping advertising by outside interests to a minimum. The media bought this charade hook, line and sinker, referring to the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform as 'nonpartisan' and the Tone and Conduct Committee as 'independent.' In fact, the group has extensive ties to the trial-lawyer lobby. That fact was only brought to light this year, in a report from the business-funded, pro-tort-reform Illinois Civil Justice League. How does the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform answer that evidence? 'Our work speaks for itself,' says Cindi Canary, the group's executive director. (She also says ICPR reaches out to Republicans, Democrats, business and labor.) But out of three senior staffers listed on the group's Web site, two have extensive ties to trial lawyers. The assistant director, David Morrison, used to work for the Coalition for Consumer Rights, a typical 'consumer' group opposed to tort reform. The project manager of ICPR's Judicial Campaign, Mary Schaafsma, has been affiliated for almost two decades with a group, Illinois Citizen Action, that is funded by trial lawyers and also aggressively opposes tort reform.
I am strongly opposed to campaign finance limitations even when the groups promoting such things are above board and don't have an agenda they are trying to drive through. Campaign Finance Reform boils down to deciding who can speak and which issues can be heard. It is nothing less than an assault on free speech and an attempt to control the debate by silening one's opponants.

Monday, April 25, 2005

The Democracy Trap

Sebastian Mallaby writes in The Washington Post about challenges to establishing democracies, especially in oil rich nations:

It's easy to want democracy for the Middle East. But what sort of democracy? Should American foreign policy focus on promoting elections, or on checks and balances? Is the crucial question how power is achieved? Or is it how power is exercised? Paul Collier and Anke Hoeffler, two economists at Oxford University, address these questions in a new paper on oil-rich democracies. Their answer, rooted in statistical analysis of oil states' performance since 1970 under various types of political systems, is that the tendency to focus on elections is correct in most societies but misguided in oil states. In a country such as Iraq, the United States and its allies should care at least as much about the quality of Iraq's judiciary and media as about the quality of its voting. Collier and Hoeffler are actually nicer about elections than most development economists are. Until the 1990s the research consensus held that voting was bad for economic growth, a finding that fitted with the idea that dictators are better at imposing necessary austerity. In the past decade or so, researchers have generally found that elections are more or less growth-neutral. But by taking countries with natural resources out of the sample, Collier and Hoeffler show that ordinary, resource-poor nations grow faster if they have elections. In oil states, however, the opposite holds true--at least if elections are held in the absence of checks and balances. In countries where natural-resource profits come to a fifth of GDP, the switch from autocracy to electoral competition lowers the annual growth rate by a hefty 2.1 percentage points. Unless there are checks and balances, elections cause oil-rich countries to invest less than they should -- and to invest badly. As a result they fail to create the public infrastructure that makes growth possible.
I have long argued that oil was a curse, not a blessing for the people of the Middle East. For example, if you look at Saudi Arabia and South Korea they had roughly similar size economies. Now South Korea dramatically eclipses Saudi Arabia in GDP. One idea, that I wish had been seriously pursued, and implemented, is the idea of privatising most of the oil profits from Iraq and sharing with all Iraqi citizens, similar in nature to the Alaska Oil Fund. This would take corrupting cash out of the Government's hands and most likely greatly facilitate entrepreneurial activity. I am not sure that this is a decision that should be imposed by the U.S. on Iraq, in the end it is their country and they should decide what to do with the oil money, but if we had strongly put that option on the table I think it would have been able to gain a lot of traction. It is still possible of course for the Iraqi Government to do that, but it is rare for Politicians to voluntarily give up Government revenue. Obviously we should pay a lot of attention to the Iraqi Judiciary and other checks and balances that are necessary for a true democracy. Democracy is a lot more than just voting.

Can We Make Boys and Girls Alike?

Stanley Kurtz has written an interesting article on gender differences and why the radical feminist quest to androgynize society is doomed. It can however do great harm. I find that this quest is not only impossible, but undesirable as well. Gender differences are a good thing. That doesn't mean we shouldn't aspire to be fair, and let any individual who wants to engage in an activity or a career do so if they are capable, but we shouldn't try to force them, or necessarily make sure that the sexes, or even different cultural groups, are proportionately represented in all walks of life. Different people like different things for lots of reasons, and that is a good thing from my point of view. The article as a whole is fascinating though, with some interesting facts I didn't know about the Jewish Kibbutz movements experiments in radical gender realignment.

Hillary Campaign Finances

Dick Morris is continuing his vendetta against Hillary in the New York Post. Interesting stuff though:

So if Rosen had owned up to the full cost of the fundraiser, the campaign would have had to cough up $800,000 of hard money at exactly the time that it needed the funds the most. Did Hillary know? Paul and Tonken say she did, and it seems obvious that she must have: Hillary followed every dime in her campaign, personally calling donors for most of it. How could she possibly not have known of a decision that saved her $800,000? But the person who knows if she knew is David Rosen. If found guilty, he faces a potential sentence of 15 years. If the feds threaten him with jail — and it's hard to see how they wouldn't —Rosen faces a choice: Tell the truth or go to prison.
I personally hate all campaign finance rules, except that all donations should be disclosed. I think that regulating how much a person can give a campaign is an unconscionable limitation of free speech. Nonetheless, we do expect our politicians to at least pretend to follow the rules. It will be interesting to see what happens with this. If Hillary knew, and I would bet she probably did, and Rosen decides to burn her it could end her Presidential hopes.

The Flat Tax is Progressive

The Skeptical Optimist has a good post up on why a flat tax is 'progressive.' It has a pretty graph too so go read it already.


Running for the Right has a very interesting post up on the need for Faith that makes us sacrifice, as well as his personal conversion story. Meanwhile, at The Roost" there is a good post up about alternate beliefs to Christianity and how far the public and the religious spheres should accomodate one another.

Green capitalism

Faynights links to this article and this synopsis from the economist about using economic forces to promote environmenalism. If, as I believe and certainly most environmentalists also claim, environmental health has intrinsic value, than correctly valuating it, and correctly assigning costs, will create a powerful incentive to protect the environment, as well as develop the best solutions for environmentally friendly industry. One of the problems in getting there though is environmentalists themselves. It a large degree, environmentalism has become a modern religion with it's dogma and deeply held, even when irrational, beliefs. Of course a major tenet of this sort of environmentalism is that corporations (and some times even humanity itself) are evil and possess no redeming values. This has led them to become totally adversarial with corporations, which have of course reciprocated the relationship:

“Mandate, regulate, litigate.” That has been the green mantra. And it explains the world's top-down, command-and-control approach to environmental policymaking. Slowly, this is changing. Yesterday's failed hopes, today's heavy costs and tomorrow's demanding ambitions have been driving public policy quietly towards market-based approaches. If governments invest seriously in green data acquisition and co-ordination, they will no longer be flying blind. And by advocating data-based, analytically rigorous policies rather than pious appeals to “save the planet”, the green movement could overcome the scepticism of the ordinary voter. It might even move from the fringes of politics to the middle ground where most voters reside.
This is a pretty serious issue; until more environmentalists change their focus from trying to destroy corporations to actually trying to preserve the environment we won't make as progress as we could. I also believe, although I haven't ran the numbers, that in many things, especially energy efficiency, a lot of the costs are for items is already factored in, propotionally if not absolutely. For example, hybrid cars, which even with the increased cost of oil don't make economic sense to buy. Purchasers will never realize in fuel savings the additional cost of the vehicle versus a comparable non-hybrid vehicle. Since the foundation of our economy is energy, I expect that the 'environmental savings' of a hybrid vehicle also does not equal out over it's lifetime. Hybrid cars cost more for a reason. They have extra parts and require additional steps in assembly. All of this translates pretty directly into having a higher energy cost to build and that correlates rather closely with needing more fossil fuel inputs and hence more pollution. I also expect that an environmentalism focused on efficiency and savings in an economically viable way would have tremendous effects. There are a few factory complexes in Europe where the 'waste' of one factory is the needed raw material for the next, and so on. This translates into a very economically and environmentally friendly production system. If the adversarial relationship between environmentalists and corporations could be altered, tremendous potential could be unleashed.

Day By Day by Chris Muir

Friday, April 22, 2005

Pulse of Freedom

Pulse of Freedom is the blog of some pro-democracy Lebanese. Great stuff:

What does democracy mean to us? Democracy: the right to vote, respect for the Constitution and laws put to protect the welfare of all citizens, tolerance for one another, and active citizenship. Notice the word active because citizens living in a democratic country do not stand idly waiting as onlookers. Perhaps some ‘regimes’ in the past thought that we would simply sit by and watch as our country sunk under alien pressure and interference. The past two months have not only proved them wrong, but have served as a witness to the power people, Lebanese citizens, can assert to achieve their demands. It is the people themselves who spoke out, whose voices soared high with the Lebanese flags, and who will not be silenced until every one of their democratic rights is respected.
(via Smash, who has more on this. Also another hot Lebanese lady is pictured!)

Plant Appreciation Week

As no doubt most of you are aware, next week is Plant Appreciation Week sponsored by the Society for the Advancement of Plants (SAP.)

SAP home page
This hallowed event, drenched in tradition and glory is worthy of all of our support. The official history of SAP and Plant Appreciation week goes back hundred of years but frankly most of that is pure fiction. The first documented appearance of SAP was toward the end of last century at a high school in Spokane, Washington. Official SAP historians have now fully documented that the entire organization was originally an invention by a few high school students who were perhaps too bright for their own good. It is believed that Plant Appreciation Week was created as part of the 20th Anniversary of Earth Day and SAP was a response to the gaping hole left in environmental activism by groups such as PETA who lobby for the rights of animals but, sadly, ignore the plight of plants that are much more severely abused and preyed upon. This is the first known sign publicizing the first Plant Appreciation week. Certainly later efforts would highlight specific issues to a greater degree and provide a more visually pleasing appearance, but for true historians, this first effort is a classic. Other signs quickly followed. So now we are at the 16th anniversary of the first Plant Appreciation Week, held annually in the last week of May. I urge everyone to take time next week to thank the plants in your life and renew your commitment to a fully carnivorous lifestyle. SAP thanks you for the support.

Thanks to my friend Mike for keeping, scanning, and hosting these images (as well as helping to make them oh so long ago.) Mike is also the man responsible for the really cool picture of me in my profile. You can see other images he has created (you need to do more of that again Mike!) here

Political prisoner: Esmaeil Mohammadi

Iran Focus-News:

Iran’s Supreme Court upheld an execution sentence for a 38-year-old political prisoner from the western Iranian town of Boukan. Esmaeil Mohammadi was informed of the decision through a letter from the authorities, which indicated that his execution would be carried out within the next few days. Mohammadi, a father of five, has been imprisoned for the past two years in the city of Urumiya (northwest Iran), accused of being a supporter of the Kurdish Komala organisation. Mohammadi was reported tortured while in prison. Last year, he was handed down an execution sentence by an Islamic court in Urumiya. The Iranian regime has stepped up the execution of political prisoners, many of which are carried out in secret, primarily to create an atmosphere of fear among Iran’s rebellious young generation.
I wonder who is actually more afraid, the rebellious young generation, or the old thugs desparate to cling to power. They have to know that their time is coming to an end, the only question is how many innocents will have to die before they are removed from power.

Being fat is safer than we thought


Being overweight is nowhere near as big a killer as the government thought, ranking No. 7 instead of No. 2 among the nation's leading preventable causes of death, according to a startling new calculation from the CDC. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated today that packing on too many pounds accounts for 25,814 deaths a year in the United States. As recently as January, the CDC came up with an estimate 14 times higher: 365,000 deaths. The new analysis found that obesity — being extremely overweight — is indisputably lethal. But like several recent smaller studies, it found that people who are modestly overweight actually have a lower risk of death than those of normal weight.
I remember hearing, and having, a lot of skepticism about the 365,000 number. These number seem a lot more reasonable. (via Les Jones)

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Abortion and Senate Filibusters

David Brooks writes in The New York Times about how the Roe v. Wade descision has changed politics, particularly on confirmation battles.:

Religious conservatives became alienated from their own government, feeling that their democratic rights had been usurped by robed elitists. Liberals lost touch with working-class Americans because they never had to have a conversation about values with those voters; they could just rely on the courts to impose their views. The parties polarized as they each became dominated by absolutist activists. Unable to lobby for their pro-life or pro-choice views in normal ways, abortion activists focused their attention on judicial nominations. Dozens of groups on the right and left have been created to destroy nominees who might oppose their side of the fight. But abortion is never the explicit subject of these confirmation battles. Instead, the groups try to find some other pretext to destroy their foes. Each nomination battle is more vicious than the last as the methodologies of personal destruction are perfected. You get a tit-for-tat escalation as each side points to the other's outrages to justify its own methods.
The whole thing is very interesting, read it all. I am not so sure about his claim that "Justice Harry Blackmun did more inadvertent damage to our democracy than any other 20th-century American," but I certainly see where he is coming from. In an ideal world, it wouldn't make any difference whether a Judge was liberal or conservative. Judges would interpret the laws written by the legislature and the Constitution and rule on the facts of the case. These things should be logically determinable and not subject to emotion and personal beliefs. Obviously we are all human, even Judges, and that ideal will never be perfectly realized. However, I think if the scope of the courts is properly defined, and allegiance to what the Constitution actually says, rather than what we wish it said, was practiced more fully we could get a lot closer to this ideal. I doubt we will be able to return to those days, and perhaps things were just as fractious before Roe v. Wade and time has merely dimmed our memories of the controversies of the past.

Arabs for Israel

Hear Oh Israel has an interesting post up about this site: Arabs for Israel. Check out his post and the site itself. Good stuff.

Missouri Man Spits on Jane Fonda


A man spit tobacco juice into the face of actress Jane Fonda after waiting in line to have her sign her new book, police said. The man ran off but was quickly caught by police Tuesday night and charged with disorderly conduct.
Disgusting behavior and there is no excuse for it. I have criticized those of the far left who have thrown pies/etc. at conservative. It is equally wrong when this sort of thing is done to someone on the left. This is unacceptable behavior. (via Gib)

Civil Unions in Connecticut

GayPatriot has some very interesting analysis of Connecticut's recognition of same-sex civil unions:

But, until yesterday, no elected state legislature, without having been forced by the courts, passed a bill recognizing same-sex civil unions. When the state's democratically elected Republican governor (albeit elected Lieutenant Governor, but who assumed her current position in accordance with the state Constitution when her predecessor resigned) signed the legislation, the bill became law. Now, the whole nation is watching. Alas, that so many gay organizations have focused on getting gay marriage through the courts, even as an overwhelmingly majority of Americans oppose calling same-sex unions marriage. They thus don't fully recognize the significance of an elected legislature recognizing gay couples. As of this writing, there is nothing on the web-site or HRC or NGLTF to acknowledge what happened yesterday in Connecticut.
I believe that gay marriage or civil unions or whatever is going to be standard in the U.S. within a decade or two. Most young people, perhaps as a result of greater exposure, favor this idea and is resonates strongly on a basic 'fairness' level. I think even those with moral/religious disapproval of homosexuality will come to see that this is not a matter for the state to try and enforce. There are many things that are legal but not moral and I am certainly glad that not everything that is considered immoral is illegal. Most people, even Red State evangelicals, will come around to this point of view I think. However, they need to come to this point of view, not be forced into recognition of something they are not ready for. The people of Connecticut are there now, and I expect that some other states will follow. The courts have their place, and the argument that marriage to who you wish is a basic right is not entirely without merit. In my estimation though, this decision should be left to State Legislatures. This would diffuse a lot of the fear many people have of values that they do not share being imposed on them by outside forces. Desfusing that fear would probably do more for the promotion of gay freedoms than a Supreme Court decision mandating gay marriage. (via Instapundit) Update: More on this at Of the Mind

Volcker Committee resignations

I haven't blogged on this previously, as I have not had time to research the details. I pretty much assumed that they were protesting a cover-up, which is par for the course. Roger L. Simon has some good comments though:

The level of prevarication surrounding the recent resignation of investigators Robert Parton and Miranda Duncan from the Independent Inquiry Committee into the United Nations Oil-for-Food Programme is so great that even a blogger in farwaway Los Angeles can see that committee members responding to the resignations are lying through their teeth.
The U.N. must be accountable to the people of the world. Sadly, they seem to be completely unwilling to move in that direction.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Drum roll please

I have made the previously announced blogroll changes. I took off a couple of sites that were seem to have been abandoned. It is a sad day when a blog goes unloved. If I took you off, and you are planning to resume blogging, let me know and I can put you back on. Several new sites have been added to the blog friends section. Which due to it's length has been placed in an abecedarian order. Emily's Craziness is a Spokane blog, and it is one of the prettiest blogs out there. She has some very interesting posts as well as being the quiz queen. Faynights is run by Chris and Laura Brown, who also have the Volodymyr Campaign blog which has a link in the daily reads section. Volodymyr Campaign promotes free speech and democracy throughout the former Soviet Union. A very worthy goal. Les Jones - Kiss Me, I'm Peevish is an interesting site with tastes similar to my own. He is also the source of the timely addition to my vocabulary linked to above. My Little Circle is the blog of Jaymarie who has a large number of religious posts. Always an interesting perspective. Reclaim Your Brain is an objectivist blog by Sarah Beth. I am having an enjoyable logical debate with her in the comment to this post. Running for the Right is, surprisingly, a conservative blog run by Brian. If you like this blog, you will probably like his as well. And if you like hating this blog, you will probably enjoy hating his too. Check out the older links in the blog friends section as well, if you don't already. I think it is a pleasantly eclectic selection and I am sure there will be something there for everyone. In addition, there are have been a few additions, and one deletion, from my daily reads section. I dumped Pandagon in favor of Ezra Klein, one of the original Pandagon members. Ezra has some of the best liberal blogging out there. I certainly don't always agree with him, but he puts up some fine posts. The Anchoress is a fascinating lady, and the goto blogger for anything Catholic. Her posts are often funny and always informative. It is always worthwhile to get a variety of opinions on the moral issues of the day, and the Anchoress is one to check frequently. Finally, I have moved my E-mail link to the top of the page, just under my profile, removed the recent posts section and... Got Haloscan trackback (if I did it right.) I have continued with Blogger, rather than Haloscan comments as I prefer that format. Thanks again to everyone who stops by and reads this blog. I appreciate you all! Update: Somehow, in my listing of the new blogs in the blogroll, I skipped The Cassandra Page, also a right of center blog and a good read.

Gadget Geeking

I don't geek out for gadgets very often, my geekness is pretty much from a Fantasy/Sci-Fi/RPG realm but this is awesome: (via Smack My Booty)

Texas bill would ban Gay Foster Parents

Fort Worth Star Telegram:

Eva Thibaudeau and her partner, Christina Rodriguez, have been foster parents to nearly 80 children since they were licensed eight years ago. They've adopted four of them. But they would have to stop taking in kids under legislation passed by the House on Wednesday that could make Texas the only state to bar gays from becoming foster parents. 'I'm just so hurt and surprised, especially now (when) we are facing an ongoing crisis of not having enough resources to take care of foster children,' said Thibaudeau, a social worker who lives in Houston. She and Rodriguez brought their four children to the Capitol on Wednesday to speak out against the provision. The measure proposed by Rep. Robert Talton, R-Pasadena, calls for applicants to be a foster parent or a foster parent whose performance is being evaluated to list whether they are homosexual or bisexual. If they are, they would lose eligibility; children would be removed from the homes of current foster parents who answer affirmatively. Talton wouldn't comment Wednesday, but during debate on the bill the day before he said, 'I don't think it is right for young children to be exposed to this type of behavior when they are young and innocent.' The provision is an amendment that Talton added to a bill overhauling the state's Child Protective Services. The House gave the CPS bill final approval Wednesday on a 135-6 vote.
I am willing to conced that it is probably best for kids to have a father and a mother. However, best isn't the issue here. The issue is worst. There are never enough Foster parents for all the kids who need then, and of those availible many are sub-optimal to say the least. Decent gay foster parents are better than no foster parents at all and a heck of a lot better than abusive straight foster parents. This bill has absolutely nothing to do with the welfare of children, it is only about finding ways to further stigmatize gays. Usually I find claims of homophobia to be be overblown and in general I disapprove of many of the tactics of gay activists. In this case though, it seems clear that the homophobia and religious pandering are the main items on the agenda. Disgusting. Kids in the foster care system have enough challenges and a tough enough situation to deal with. They don't need to be the marker in a game of show-how-religious-you-are.


Belmont Club has an interesting post up about the latest forays of the Pentagon into the world of espionage. There is lots of interesting stuff, but this bit here is especially interesting:

FALCON, FORUM and SMINDS -- which are automatic translation systems enabling people of different languages to speak to each other simultaneously or interpet documents in foreign languages while in the field.
Sounds pretty cool. Of course those of us who are long time Star Trek fans know that the Universal Translator is key to any mission!


James Carville and Paul Begala write in USATODAY:

Sure, we'd like it if Democrats were seen as the party of faith, family and the flag. And we'd like it if Democrats would fight corporate interests more and take their special interest money less. But the biggest problem the Democrats face is not that they're seen as standing for too many liberal issues or standing for too many conservative positions. It's that Democrats aren't seen as standing for anything. The fundamental question for the party out of power is always: What would you change? Democrats' answer should be, 'Everything.' On every front, on every issue, Democrats should be the party of reform, change and a new direction.
They go on to offer some specifics, which I don't necessarily agree with, but the fundamental issue, that Democrats have become the reactionary party is very true. I think the primary issue is that the Democratic party has become a coalition of small groups of diverse nature that don't really have any common philosophy or political viewpoint accept for general agreement on opposition to the Republican philosophy.


Tsykodul has a good post up On biodiesel. I have been very skeptical of biodiesel as an alternative to oil, but he makes some very good points. I particular, the concept of using aglae as the base crop, rather than soy is interesting. Soy has not seemed efficient enough, either as an energy collecter or in terms of the amount of land use required. Algae could overcome those limitations. I have long speculated that genetic enegineering will be the key to renewable energy with specially designed biological 'solar cells' and storage systems. My thoughts have been more toward a engineered hydrogen producing organism, but biodiesel, especially using customized fast growing algae designed for easy conversion to fuel may be even more viable.

Lileks on the Pope

The Bleat:

The selection of Ratzinger was initially heartening, simply because he made the right people apoplectic. I’m still astonished that some can see a conservative elevated to the papacy and think: a man of tradition? As Pope? How could this be? As if there this was some golden moment that would usher in the age of married priests who shuttle between blessing third-trimester abortions and giving last rites to someone who’s about to have the chemical pillow put over his face. At the risk of sounding sacreligious: it’s the Catholic Church, for Christ’s sake! You’re not going to get someone who wants to strip off all the Baroque ornamentation of St. Peter’s and replace them with IKEA wine racks, okay?
Read the rest.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

AP's dual lede service

Ryan at Dead Parrot Society has a very useful explanation of why the AP has a dual lede service, in response to this speculation by Patterico. Ryan works for my home town paper which I don't subscribe to, being an online guy, but this post is a great demonstration of the value of the blogosphere in getting expert information on a variety of subjects.

New Terrorist Threat

Greg, of Generic Confusion, is calling for immediate action!

New Pope


Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger of Germany has been selected by the Roman Catholic church as the new pope. Cardinal Jorge Arturo Medina Estevez of Chile made the announcement to a cheering crowd in St. Peter's Square. Ratzinger, who took the name Benedict XVI, appeared on the balcony of the Vatican Basilica to greet the people and deliver his first papal blessing.
My impression is that Ratzinger, now Benedict XVI will pretty much stay in line with John Paul II's views of things. This is probably a wise decision for the Church. John Paul II left some impossibly big shoes to fill. A solid, stable leader who won't surprise anyone is probably best. Next time they can try for a more dynamic leader if they wish, who won't have the shadow of John Paul II so heavily upon him.

Mike Gecan: Taking Faith Seriously

This Boston Review article is a must read. It deals with the failure of the Democratic Party to understand evangelicals and people of faith, as well as some very good insights into the nature of people of faith and how the culture of institutions, the predominant center of American culture until the 60s has been replaced by a culture of individualists. Read the whole thing.

Monday, April 18, 2005

Help Iranian Freedom

Roger L. Simon reports that SMCCDI - the Iranian student website, has gone offline. He has a link on how you can help them.

I may be French, but I'm also antisocial!

You May Be a Bit Antisocial ...
Antisocial? That may be a bit of an understatement. You think rules are meant to be broken - and with gusto! Having no fear, you don't even think about consequences. But people love you anyway... you've got a boatload of charm.

There must be some mistake...

Your Inner European is French!
Smart and sophisticated. You have the best of everything - at least, *you* think so.
I'll never live this one down. (via The Anchoress)

Politeness to the infidels!

My Unitarian Jihad Name is: Brother Orbital Laser of Patient Truth. What's yours? There will be coffee and cookies in the Gandhi Room after the revolution.

Giving Reasons

This Cider Press Hill post about a discussion between a woman and her son on sex and some of the activities at his school. Fascinating. This bit of advice strikes me as especially sound:

And, I’ve pointed out that when one has sex, one is leaving a part of himself behind with that person. Promiscuous sex ends up being a soul draining enterprise.
I think it is important when dealing with this subject to explain why something should be avoided and not just give the blanket reason that it is wrong or it isn't okay until a certain age has been reached. Even if your only reason for giving the advice is religious faith, I certainly don't think it hurts to try and figure out why God would have prohibited such a thing, and if a good answer can be reasoned out, it should be explained. Sometimes it is appropriate to operate solely on faith, but understanding reasons either children of their parents reasons or believers of God's reason is always a good exercise. I think the most foolish thing one can do is tell a kid that an activity isn't appropriate until you are an adult. That automatically transforms the activity into a rite of passage and participation in the activity to proof of adulthood. Since it is natural that kids want to be considered adults, this reason will make the activity itself desirable. I can't think of any activity that is appropriate for adults and not appropriate for children simply because of age. There are of course things that more dangerous for children than adults because of biological development, drinking alcohol, cigarette use, caffiene, and of course various drugs all fall into this category. Age is related to development of course, but the reason should be the development, not the age. Other activities may be inappropriate for at least some children. For example, many parents disaprove of children seeing violent movies while they are fine watching those movies themselves because the children have difficulty distinguishing movies from reality. I don't deny that this is a valid concern, but age alone shouldn't be the reason. Adults who cannot distinguish movies from reality shouldn't watch such things either. Obviously, once legal adulthood has been reached there is no one who can tell them no, but I think parents are better served by explaining the level of maturity required and establishing a means of the child demonstrating the needed maturity than simply linking this to a specific age. (via The Anchoress)

Me apologize to you?

Gaijinbiker has found a pop culture parrallel to China's recent behavior toward Japan, read his post, you won't be sorry.


Tsykoduk has an interesting post, and a link to an interesting article, on the importance, or rather the lack of importance, of a high self esteem in aiding academic progress or helping children to behave better. Self-Esteem is a wonderful thing. It can't be given though, it must be earned. We esteem ourselves highly when we accomplish things that are important to ourselves and others. Self-Esteem without accomplishment is more properly called egotism. That isn't something we should be teaching our kids. I think that helping to foster self esteem is very important. The best way I know of to develop self esteem is by helping someone else out. When we help someone else, they will almost always esteem us very highly for that, it is an esteem that is earned. There are a few other things we can do to help kids (or anyone) develop greater self-esteem instead of egotism. Accomplishment is important, but it the truly worthy accomplishment is beating ourselves, not someone else. Winning the race is a fine thing, and certainly worthy of praise, but getting a personal best is far more signifigant in my opinion. Obviosly there are numerous ways we can adversely effect a person's self esteem, books have been written on the subject, and for the most part I agree that they should be avoided.

More good news from India and Pakistan


The leaders of India and Pakistan agreed to accelerate measures intended to promote trade and normal relations Sunday, adding momentum to peace efforts but yielding no tangible progress on the volatile issue of Kashmir. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan's president, met in the Indian capital for two hours Sunday after watching the opening of a cricket match between the Indian and Pakistani national teams that Pakistan later won. Both sides expressed satisfaction with the outcome of the summit.
The fact that these two nations are talking at all is extremely important. Kashmir will be a tough issue to settle, but I expect that they will eventually be able to work out something equitable. There has been a lot of talk that the next century won't be an American century, but a Chinese century. I don't think so. I think it will be another American Century, but if it isn't, my next bet is it will be an Indian Century. Yes, India has a lot of problems, but they also have an energy an dynamism that China lacks. Authoritarianism makes it easier to bootstrap a nation into the world economy, but the very strengths that get you there make it tough to fully adapt when needed. In addition, China has some demographic problems that are going to be very tough to solve. It is getting old very fast, and the male-to-female imbalance is going to be very tough on social structures. Actually, I sort of think this century may be the century when such ideas as an 'American Century' or an 'Indian Century' stop meaning anything. Globalization is tearing down those walls at a pretty impressive pace and certainly looks like it will continue to do so for a while. I think that it is likely that by the end of this century country you are in won't matter very much at all, it will be an interesting fact, like who your ancestors were, but other than that, it won't make a lot of difference. The world will become one big melting pot, which I guess will make it an American Century after all.

Friday, April 15, 2005

Planned Blogroll addition

I am planning to update my blogroll next week, adding some people and weeding off a few that seem to have gone defunct. If you are a reader who has a blog that I am not linking to currently, let me know and I will include your blog in my blogroll. You can either email me, or just put your blog in the comments. Also, if there are any other blogs that any you think are good reads let me know and I will consider them as well.

Left on the wrong side of history

Michael Costello writes in The Australian:

Kennedy's words inspired the world. It particularly inspired those of us on the progressive side of politics. But those words turned sour because they presaged the US drive deeper into Vietnam. And for most members of the Left, Vietnam is the seminal personal and political rite of passage. Vietnam destroyed a Democrat president. It brought down a Republican president. It discredited the moral and political leadership of the US. Now when the trumpet sounds, the Left's instinctive reaction is to cry 'No, not another Vietnam'. And so it has been over Iraq. The Left sees it as a Vietnam-style quagmire, a parcel of lies, leading once again to defeat. But the military, geostrategic and political terms of engagement in Iraq are different to those of Vietnam. The most profound difference rests on the issue of democracy. For 15 years the Americans ran the South Vietnamese political system; the elections held were dubious and led to regimes without legitimacy. In sharp contrast, Iraq's elections were for real. They are considered legitimate by the world because they are legitimate to Iraqis themselves, who voted in droves. A two-month delay in putting together a new government, far from being a negative, is a positive because those months were devoted to what democracy does best -- political accommodation, power sharing, consensus building.
Someday, although probably not soon, the Left will get over it's mass obsession with Vietnam and be able to contribute to foreign policy discussion in a meaningful way again. I very much look forward to that day.

How dare he trick us like that!

Instapundit has a long post up about the current liberal claims that democracy in Iraq is a recently 'made up' reason for the war. Included are numerous links to pre-war speaches and other items where Bush or other's explicitly stated that Democracy in Iraq was the goal and an important strategic reason for the war and that it "could transform the entire region." I have seen this claim from many war opponants lately as well. It is tough to decide if they are knowingly lying or if they paid so little attention to the pre-war debate that they really have no clue what went on then. I like this theory from Glenn's post though:

So back then the claims were bogus -- and now they're new! As reader Matthew Tanner writes: "Y'know, you gotta laugh (or in your case, go 'heh') at these guys. Next: Bush hid his nefarious agenda in plain view! That bastard!" Wasn't it Cavour who said that the way to lie to diplomats is to tell the truth, since they will never believe that? I guess it's not just for diplomats.
For me, Democracy in Iraq was always the strategic reason to engage there. The events of this year so far give great hope that the theory of Democracy transforming the region is correct.


This BBC NEWS story about press reaction to Chirac's latest attempt to convince the French people was an enjoyable read. I found this bit especially interesting:

The left-wing daily Liberation sees irony in the fact that the centre-right Mr Chirac used the 'spectre' of US-style economic ultra-liberalism to try to convince left-wing voters to support the constitution. The French president stressed that the constitution sets a goal of full employment, and he told his audience that he opposed an 'Anglo-Saxon, Atlanticist Europe'. The president 'strongly promoted a 'humanist and organised' economic model which the Constitution can guarantee, according to him,' the paper says.
United States Unemployment: 6% (2003) United Kingdom Unemployment: 5% (2003 est.) French Unemployment: 9.7% (2003 est.) Yes, it is obvious that anyone with a goal of full employment would certainly fear the 'spectre' of US-style economics.

oil-for-food indictments

The Globe and Mail:

Two high-ranking UN officials have been cited in a U.S. criminal complaint against a South Korean businessman who was at the centre of a 1970s congressional corruption scandal and is now accused of accepting millions of dollars from Iraq related to the UN oil-for-food program. The reported involvement of the two unidentified UN officials was likely to cast a new shadow on the world body, which has spent more than a year trying to get to the bottom of allegations of massive corruption in the $64-billion humanitarian program that was aimed at helping Iraqis cope with UN sanctions. The complaint calling for an arrest warrant against Tonsun Park was made public at the same time as an indictment charging a Texas oil company owner and two oil traders from Britain and Bulgaria with paying millions of dollars in secret kickbacks to Saddam Hussein's Iraqi regime to secure oil deals. The legal action was taken by U.S. attorneys in the Southern District of New York as congressional investigators and a panel led by former U.S. Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker continue their probes into the oil-for-food program and oil smuggling by Saddam Hussein. Mr. Volcker and the leaders of his inquiry say their final report — expected in midsummer — will likely lead to dozens of criminal prosecutions by legal authorities in various countries for bribery, sanctions busting, money laundering and fraud.
Hopefully these indictments, and those that will follow will be the start of clearing up a lot of corruption in the U.N beauracracy. As I have maintained for a long time, we are better off with a U.N. than without one, so long as that organization is at least reasonably moral. There are many challenges to overcome to get to a more moral, and therefor useful, U.N. and it's internal beauracracy corruption issues is just one of them, but without that being fixed, nothing else will matter. Of course the bigger challenge is that the nature of too many of the U.N. member states is not what we would wish for. For example, a human rights commission is a good thing, but not so much when it is chaired by Libya and has such stalwarts defenders of human rights as China and Cuba on it. One step at a time though.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

China's stock markets

FT.com :

The fragile banking sector is not the only problem that ought to give Chinese leaders sleepless nights. There are also the country's stock markets. The days are long gone when the rising markets of Shanghai and Shenzhen threatened to eclipse Hong Kong as the listing location of choice for the best Chinese companies. Although a handful of locally listed companies have prospered, the markets as a whole have fallen since 2000. Last year, the Shanghai composite index dropped 15 per cent, making it one of the world's worst performers in spite of Chinese economic growth of 10 per cent. Instead of complementing bank lending by giving companies another way to finance growth, the stock markets weigh on the banks; many brokers are near bankruptcy and thousands of irate retail investors are in debt.
I have been keeping an eye on the Chinese banking sector for a bit now, but I wasn't aware of these weaknesses in the Chinese stock markets. Altogether, this seems to add up to really serious economic trouble not too far down the road. The effects of a bursting of a Chinese Bubble economy will be pretty immense. Obviously China is a major player in world economics and that will effect everyone, but there are other serious factors as well. Revolution in China would become a possibility, and although I hold no love for the Chinese regime, such an event would have at least as much peril as promise. Even if China aviods revolution, other effects of a contracting economy could be worrisome as well. China's largess is all that keeps the North Korean government afloat. If that source were to dry up, the actions of Kim Jong Il could become quite extreme. The Chinese Government might also be required to cash in on currency it's foreign currency reserves (U.S. dollars) and this could distabilize the entire world financial system. On the other hand, China's voracious appitite for oil would probably slacken, lowering the cost of that resource.

Lebanon Update


Lebanon's pro-Syrian political coalition was in disarray Thursday with a key politician saying he could no longer work with President Emile Lahoud, another top Damascus ally. Tensions boiled over a day after Prime Minister Omar Karami stepped down after he failed to agree a cabinet with pro-Syrian allies, deepening the worst political crisis since the 1975-1990 civil war. The crisis could make May elections unlikely, though Lahoud holds consultations with lawmakers Friday on naming a prime minister-designate to keep alive hopes that a government could be formed quickly to supervise the poll. Caretaker Interior Minister Suleiman Franjieh warned that postponing the elections could lead to violence and called for the polls to be held on schedule. 'I'm for holding elections... It's not that important if we win or lose,' he told reporters. 'If we don't reach the stage of an election that would reflect the public's will, then we might arrive at a situation... that would lead to violence.'
Things are certainly still bubbling there and hopefully they will work out well. It does sound like the Interior Minister has the right attitude though.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

The Calm Before the Storm?

Tom Friedman (who is highly endorsed by Andrew Watkins) has some interesting, and disturbing, thought in The New York Times, the final paragraphs:

I fear that when and if the Jihadists conclude that they have been defeated in the heart of their world, they will be sorely tempted to throw a Hail Mary pass. That is, they may want to launch a spectacular, headline-grabbing act of terrorism in America that tries to mask, and compensate for, just how defeated they have become at home. In short, the more the Jihadists lose in Iraq, the more likely they are to use their rump forces to try something really crazy in America to make up for it. So let's stay the course in Iraq, but stay extra-vigilant at home.
Certainly something worth thinking about. There is endless speculation into the mindset and motivations of Al-Qaida types. Some of what they do seems to make sense, other things seem to be extremely bizarre. Partially this is probably due to the fact that they are, all in all, a fairly diverse group. Some of them have concrete political goals, others are merely motivated by a belief in a glorious afterlife. And both of those types are willing to use the rhetoric of the other to promote their views. Add on that some seem to simply by cynical men trying to profit from the gulibility of others. Nonetheless, I think Friedman does have a good intution that when they feel they have lost in Iraq, desperation and anger may well convince them to strive even harder for another stunning attack on America. (via Vodkapundit)

The Wal-Mart Effect

Tech Central Station:

Boone, North Carolina (named for the famous Dan'l) is a college town nestled in the rustic mountains of Appalachia. The population is divided roughly among groups of students, locals, and the academic elite. Such a microcosm of American diversity works in its own way. The locals realize how much money the university brings in. The students love the Smoky Mountain amenities and the bluegrass music. Academics find the local folkways charming and complementary to their status as, well, elites. But when Wal-Mart decided to come along in the 90s, locals, students, and academics also had a common purpose to bind them: to keep Wal-Mart out. As it often does, Wal-Mart won. And since then, Boone has experienced the Wal-Mart effect. First, some Mom-n-Pop shops in Boone may have gone out of business due to the intense competition. But something interesting has happened: many new businesses have sprung up and they're cooler, more interesting, and more highly specialized than most of the old ones were. Mom-n-Pop have decided to move into more boutique-style businesses -- and not even Wal-Mart can compete with that.
Read the whole thing, a very interesting way of looking at it. As is so often the case with any economic analysis, the negative effects tend to be obvious while positive effects are subtle and more difficult to see. Cheaper goods benefits a local economy in numerous ways, and to the extent that Wal-Mart supplies that, they are a huge benefit. There are other reasons to criticize Wal-Mart. I personnally find the stores too crowded and noisy to enjoy shopping there, the hassle isn't worth the extra saving to me. (via Running for the Right)

Random Gemini Weirdness: The WA Governor's Election

Random Gemini talks about the WA State Governor's Election (yes, it is still going on...) and has this comment:

The first of these is that it's too darned easy to get an absentee ballot. You should have to go down and physically pick up your ballot and show ID for it before you go on vacation. Am I the only person who feels that it's complete and utter garbage that you can have it mailed to your home? Most mailboxes don't have locks on them, they aren't secured and anyone could walk up to your mailbox when you're not there and swipe your mail out of it. Furthermore, if you're home on election day, you're not an absentee. The polls are open late enough (or early enough if you prefer getting up at the crack of dawn), there's no excuse for avoiding going down there to stand in line other than sheer laziness.
I like mail in absentee voting. It is convenient and simple. It is also of course wide open to fraud. I am sure that I could obtain multiple balots, in different names, and have them all mailed to my home and I would never get caught. That is too easy and too convenient.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Preying on the Weak

The Washington Post:

Anyone who was shocked by the most recent revelations of sexual misconduct by United Nations staff has never set foot in a U.N.-sponsored refugee camp. Sex crimes are only one especially disturbing symptom of a culture of abuse that exists in the United Nations precisely because the United Nations and its staff lack accountability. This lack of accountability is the central blemish on today's United Nations, and it lies behind most of the recent headlines. Whether taking advantage of a malnourished refugee or of a lucrative oil-for-food contract, the temptation is there, the act is easy and the risk of punishment is nil. ... The risk to these staff members is low in U.N. refugee camps, because peacekeepers engaged in criminal acts are immune from local prosecution. Therefore, local parties seeking justice must travel to the peacekeeper's home country. U.N. workers from countries with unresponsive legal systems, or those committing unspectacular crimes, can sleep easy. At the same time, local NGO employees who are contracted by the United Nations to work in the camps are covered by a de facto implied immunity. That is, if these individuals are identified as being connected with U.N. operations, they will probably never face charges for their actions by local authorities. In West Africa, most of the sexual misconduct accusations are leveled against local NGO staff members. If the United Nations is to enjoy such immunity, it is incumbent on the organization to police itself aggressively and thoroughly. Yet the recent stonewalling over a series of scandals from the United Nations -- from oil-for-food to a sexual harassment imbroglio involving a high U.N. official -- are typical of a bureaucracy dedicated to self-preservation. This code of behavior travels rapidly down the organizational chart. The message is: Cover your tracks and the United Nations will obstruct your prosecution.
This is the heart of the corruption trouble within the U.N. The U.N. officials and beauracracy are not accountable to anyone. If the U.N. wants to make a positive difference in the world, if they want to ability to supply a unique moral authority, then they have to find a way to become an organization with a decent moral character.

Political prisoner: Hojjat Zamani

Iran Focus-News:

Iran’s Supreme Court has upheld the death sentence against a longtime political prisoner in Iran, making his execution imminent. Hojjat Zamani, 29 years old, has been imprisoned in the notorious Evin Prison in Tehran since the year 2000 for being a member of the main Iranian opposition group, the People’s Mojahedin Organisation of Iran (PMOI). Zamani reportedly endured severe torture in Evin Prison, later escaping and fleeing to Turkey. He was arrested however and turned over to agents of Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS). Zamani was sent back to Iran where Amnesty International reported he was once again subjected to torture. Reports had surfaced that in the past few months, Zamani was held in the “dangerous prisoners” section of Rajai-Shahr Prison in Karaj (west of Tehran). Last winter, he and a group of other political prisoners went on a hunger strike that lasted several weeks. Zamani along with two other Mojahedin political prisoners, Jaafar Aghdami and Valiollah Feiz-Mahdavi, wrote a letter to the United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan on January 24, calling on him to set up a special fact-finding mission to “investigate the plight of families of political prisoners, particularly those whose loved ones were tortured or executed in mullahs’ prisons in the 1980s”. A prison official only identified as Sheikhan reportedly threatened Zamani by saying that he would face imminent execution unless he recanted his letter and collaborated with the regime, after the smuggled letter was distributed to human rights activists outside Iran. Zamani’s two brothers, Fallah and Khazal, were executed by the Iranian regime an earlier date.
Hopefully Zamani will be spared execution. Regardless though, remember him when you here calls for us to moderate our view of Iran or make deals with that nation. The mullahs are thugs and ultimately their method of government is incompatible with Democracy.

Rumsfeld warns Iraqis against cronyism

Times Online:

Donald Rumsfeld, the US Defence Secretary, warned Iraqi politicians today not to purge the security forces and stack the ranks with their own men. Lack of confidence or corruption in government would be "unfortunate", Mr Rumsfeld said in Baghdad today on a short and unannounced visit to Iraq. There are fears that the Shia Muslim and Kurdish parties, which came to power in the January 30 election, could fire Sunni officials in revenge for the decades of oppression they suffered under Saddam Hussein’s regime. "It’s important that the new government be attentive to the competence of the people in the ministries and that they avoid unnecessary turbulence," Mr Rumsfeld said.
In many ways this will probably be a more difficult challenge than defeating the insurgency. In many democracies and quasi-democracies corruption is a huge problem. We certainly are not immune from this problem in America, although it is less of a problem here than most places.

Monday, April 11, 2005

Trade Balances

Paul A. Volcker writes about the trade imbalance in The Washington Post:

The U.S. expansion appears on track. Europe and Japan may lack exuberance, but their economies are at least on the plus side. China and India -- with close to 40 percent of the world's population -- have sustained growth at rates that not so long ago would have seemed, if not impossible, highly improbable. Yet, under the placid surface, there are disturbing trends: huge imbalances, disequilibria, risks -- call them what you will. Altogether the circumstances seem to me as dangerous and intractable as any I can remember, and I can remember quite a lot. What really concerns me is that there seems to be so little willingness or capacity to do much about it.
Whatever you may think about Volcker's recent work for the U.N., he remains a first rate economist and what he writes here is well worth reading. I certainly can't claim any great expertise at international economics and trade flows, but I think that there is a bit more to the story than this though. A good deal of our trade imbalance results from our trade with China. China one the other hand is aquiring dollars at a voracious rate, mostly as a means of keeping their currency at a fixed price to the dollar despite this trade imbalance. In essence, this means that we end up being able to buy more Chinese goods that we should be able to buy. Another way of looking at this is that, China is offering its goods to the United States at a 'sale' price. There are a couple reasons for them to do this. First off, there is the same reason any seller offers things at sale prices: getting a customer accostumed to a new product. That certainly plays a part in this. Cheap Chinese goods help them quickly penetrate markets which fuels their economic growth. It isn't quite as good as it appears, because they are artificially depressing their currency, but it is still very impressive growth. Secondly, despite China's dreams of military glory in the future, they, like the rest of the world have a vital interest in the U.S. being the 'global policeman.' Oil is the economic lifeblood of the world and that blood flows across the Oceans. The U.S., pretty much single handedly, is responsible for maintaining peace on the high seas. Should U.S. economic power fail, this world policeman role will fail as well to everyone detriment. Some of the first signs of Rome's failure was an underfunding of their military (naval power was especially cut) and the resulting piracy pretty much closed the sea lanes. That spelled doom for Rome, and the rest of the Roman world. I suspect a similar dynamic could follow a U.S. economic collapse. I also expect that the rest of the world is aware of this. I don't know if this is true or not, but a 6% (the amount of our trade deficit) tax on the rest of the world doesn't seem innappropriate for this (and other) military service. Is the U.S. trade deficit a new type of post-globalization world tax? I don't know, but it does seem possible.

Alternatives ways to Fix Social Security

Peter A. Diamond and Peter R. Orszag have released a plan to fix social security. It is a basic reduce benefits and increase taxes plan, although if that is they was we decide to go this plan is probably as good as any. I still prefer private accounts. One thing about their report that bothers me is their claim that private accounts would produce a negative cash flow problem for the Social Security program. This is true, from a certain point of view. If you remain with the idea of a pay as you go program where one group of people funds another group of peoples retirement in perpetuity, this is exactly what you have. If though, you have a fundamental view that people fund their own retirements (something I would prefer) their is no negative cash flow problem because the program doesn't get (or need) the cash in the first place. Obviously, it is cheaper at any given point in time to continue the pay as you go system than it is to transition to a system of saving the money before you spend it. That doesn't mean that it isn't smarter to make the change however. It is analogous I think to trying to go from financing your life from credit cards to only buying what you can afford. When you have a heavy credit card already, it is extremely tough to make the payments AND buy what you need to live on without going back for more credit. The easy solution for every given month is to pay your credit cards and then use the credit cards to pay for what you need. Everyone knows this is bad financial planning, but many people do it anyway, and once you start it is very hard to transition back. Nonetheless, I would advise anyone in that situation to do everything they can to tighten their belt, spend a little less, perhaps work a little extra, and begin weaning themselves from that debt lifestyle. The same principle seems to me to apply to 'fixing' social security. If Social Security only pays out what it has collected (plus interest) then it will never have a financial crisis again. (This doesn't of course address Social Security for disabled people, etc. but I view that as a very minor part of Social Security that can best be dealt with as seperate programs with an different revenue source.)

China and India drawing closer


Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh signed an accord aimed at ending their decades-old border dispute and agreed to explore the possibility of creating the world's biggest free trade zone.
I suppose from a real-politic perspective this would seem to be bad news, China is a strategic competitor of ours and their political system is fundamentally opposed to freedom and democracy. This settlement, and a subsequent free trade agreement will of course strengthen China and make them more powerful. I think it is a very good thing though. The very nature of such agreements is, in the end, antithetical to the Chinese method of governance. It will, probably slowly, force reform on China. This will strengthen a tendancy that has been going on for a long time. So, it will make a (potential) enemy stronger, but it will make that country much less of an enemy. A very good thing in my opinion.

More info on Mikhail Marynich

I want to highlight this comment by Laura Brown Mikhail Marynich post:

If you'd like to keep up to date on the Marinich story then an excellent resource is Charter 97 (http://www.charter97.org/eng/news/), which gives human-rights issues Belarus much more coverage than most of the Western media. Also - ahem! - my husband and I are involved in a campaign of letter-writing and demonstrations here in London -- our website at http://volodymyrcampaign.blogspot.com/ includes some fact sheets and sample letters to the Belarusian government.
Charter 97 looks like a great resource and the Browns appear to be doing some important blog reporting and activism. I urge you to check out both sites.

Friday, April 08, 2005

Quantum Uncertainty

Serendipitously, given my earlier post today, Brian Greene gives a good overview of the implications of Quantum Physics in The New York Times.:

An example: Imagine you shoot an electron from here and a few seconds later it's detected by your equipment over there. What path did the electron follow during the passage from you to the detector? The answer according to quantum mechanics? There is no answer. The very idea that an electron, or a photon, or any other particle, travels along a single, definite trajectory from here to there is a quaint version of reality that quantum mechanics declares outmoded. Instead, the proponents of quantum theory claimed, reality consists of a haze of all possibilities - all trajectories - mutually commingling and simultaneously unfolding. And why don't we see this? According to the quantum doctrine, when we make a measurement or perform an observation, we force the myriad possibilities to ante up, snap out of the haze and settle on a single outcome. But between observations - when we are not looking - reality consists entirely of jostling possibilities.
He also explains why Einstein was so uncomfortable with these implications and spent the remainder of his life trying to disprove (or move beyond) his own theory. Strangely enough, I find this uncertain universe to be comforting. Somehow I have the feeling that all this uncertainty, this randomness threaded through the warp and weft of the Universe, has left room for free will, something impossible in a deterministic Universe. Obviously I don't have a theory on the mechanism here, just a gut feeling.

Welcome to Cyberpunk


If you think video games are engrossing now, just wait: PlayStation maker Sony Corp. has been granted a patent for beaming sensory information directly into the brain. The technique could one day be used to create video games in which you can smell, taste, and touch, or to help people who are blind or deaf. The U.S. patent, granted to Sony researcher Thomas Dawson, describes a technique for aiming ultrasonic pulses at specific areas of the brain to induce 'sensory experiences' such as smells, sounds and images. 'The pulsed ultrasonic signal alters the neural timing in the cortex,' the patent states. 'No invasive surgery is needed to assist a person, such as a blind person, to view live and/or recorded images or hear sounds.'
I can see how this would be really cool, but if you think pop-ups and spy-ware are bad now, just wait. Also, this article highlights a pet peeve of mine:
A Sony Electronics spokeswoman told the magazine that no experiments had been conducted, and that the patent "was based on an inspiration that this may someday be the direction that technology will take us."
I think that you should get a patent when you demonstrate how to do something, not when you have an idea that maybe something like this will someday be possible. Otherwise, we should be giving William Gibson this patent.

Better, Stronger, Taller than before...

Twin Towers II Design
(via Vodkapundit)

Delay and Clinton

Steve at ThoughtsOnLine compares Tom Delay to Bill Clinton.:

The question is whether Republicans will turn a blind eye to his misdeeds, whether they will do for DeLay what the Democrats did for Clinton. Will they stand by him because they can't stand to see the Democrats 'win'? Or will they move him aside because it is the right thing to do? Right now, it doesn't look like the GOP will do the right thing. Like the Democrats did with Clinton, the GOP is rallying around DeLay.
He also has a link to a Slate summary of Delay's misdeeds. I haven't followed the Delay scandals closely. Sadly, I expect more politicians than not to be at least a little corrupt and I dislike seeing evidence of that. I am also conflicted in cases like this, because as with Clinton, enemies will seize on innocuous things and blow them out of proportion frequently. One the one hand is the presumption of innocence, on the other avioding even the appearance of evil. That being said, his congressional leadership position is not something he has by 'right' and can, and I think should, be taken away. It isn't an unreasonable expectation that serious allegations should result in at least a temporary removal from a position of power that can corrupt the ethics comittee (and there is certainly good evidence that he has done that, even if he has done nothing else.) That is unacceptable and should be loudly condemned by all. Trent Lott rightly went down for much less in my opinion. I will also say that I dislike Delay's take-no-prisoners style. Even when I agree with what he is trying to accomplish, I don't think that refusal to negotiate with the opposing party or coming down hard on disent within one's own party is the right answer. I want our representatives to vote their beliefs and in the best interests of their constituents, not on a purely partisan basis. (via Instapundit)

Corporate Blogging


Since General Motors began the GM FastLane Blog in early January, it's attracted considerable attention from business communicators. That attention has been sparked by who the bloggers are - senior corporate executives, starting with GM Vice Chairman Bob Lutz.
Fastlane link. The reason I find this interesting is that I recently finished reading Hugh Hewitt's book, Blog. He specifically mentions GM as a company that should have a blog, it seems like they took his advice. The book was an interesting read, although I think in some ways he overstates the importance of blogs. They will make a huge difference in many aspects of life, and I think GM is doing a smart thing here, but Blogging will be an alternative form of communication, not the only communication media and probably not the most important. Still, this part of the webpronews article is signifigant:
What's especially impressive is here is one of the most senior and influential corporate leaders in any industry who clearly sees that his investment of time and energy into regularly and consistently writing in a public blog and engaging in dialog with visitors has huge potential benefits in building relationships with a wide range of very interested (and often vocal and critical) people.

Fox and CNN

I was watching a bit of the Pope's funeral last night. And although I appreciate the historical significance of the event I found it extremely boring. So I was flipping back and forth between Fox and CNN. In some ways they were the same. The certainly had the same pictures on the screen and were telling us the same facts but there was a difference, and although it took me a bit to pin it down, I think it very significant. Fox commentators tended to use words like ‘we’ and ‘all of us’ a lot. CNN tended more towards words like ‘them’ and ‘people world-wide.’ I don’t want to get into charges of bias or faulty reporting by either outlet. That is often in the eye of the beholder and certainly it is something that if you look for it you will tend to find it. What is interesting to me about this is that for a long time journalists have held to the idea that they should be disinterested, outside, third parties. Fox has obviously abandoned this as a goal. Personally, I think that more than being conservative this is what truly separates Fox News from the other news channels. They not only admit to being connected to the story, they strive to enhance that connection. I am unsure if this is a good or a bad thing. Historically I would guess that journalists developed the idea of impartiality as a way to mimic the scientific process. The dispassionate, pure scientist who deals only with facts is a powerful mythic figure in our culture. The scientist has certainly replaced the priest as the fount in truth in our society, even for most religious people. Interestingly enough, science has shown in many cases that such disinterest is impossible. Quantum Physics has of course presented us with the quandary that it is impossible to observe something without affecting it. In less esoteric areas concern about scientists’ personal beliefs impacting their data is a concern as well. I think it is obvious that presenting your news organization as disinterested and external to events when you are intensely personally involved (or at least perceived as being so) is a major turn-off for a large number of viewers. This is unsurprising. If an audience perceived you as being dishonest about your own nature they are unlikely to trust your reporting of facts. This, more than anything else, explains CNN’s rating woes. So is it good or bad for a news organization to try and be a disinterested observer? Is it even possible to be a disinterested observer? Does the answer to the second question affect the answer to the first? I am currently pondering these things. I would welcome any comments.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Test Case for Social Security Privatization

Investor's Business Daily:

Galveston County Judge Ray Holbrook contacted Rick Gornto, president of Houston's First Financial Benefits Inc., which designed and administers the Galveston plan. Together, they came up with a private alternative called the Alternate Plan, which essentially mirrored Social Security's covered areas but provided better benefits. As Merrill Matthews points out in a study done for the Institute for Policy Innovation, employee and employee contributions are essentially loaned to a top-rated financial institution for a guaranteed interest rate. Employees bear virtually no risk. They get their money, plus interest, whether the stock market goes up or down. Upon their retirement, workers can take their money in a lump sum or purchase an annuity that will pay them a guaranteed income for life. It's their money, real money, in a real account with their name on it, and it's their choice. And when they die, all they have in their account becomes part of their estate. In 24 years, no one has lost a single dime. The plan was presented to the more than 2,000 employees of Galveston County, and in 1981 they voted 72% to 28% to leave Social Security and move to pre-funded personally owned accounts. In 1982, Matagorda and Brazoria counties followed suit. In 1983, Congress removed the provision letting municipalities opt out. County employees in Galveston contribute 6.13% of their salary to the plan, with participating counties adding another 7.8%. Part of their contribution is used to purchase disability insurance that pays 60% of a worker's salary — better than with Social Security — and a life insurance policy that pays four times a worker's salary from a minimum of $75,000 to a maximum of $215,000. To eliminate the risks of an often-volatile stock market, contributions are placed into conservative fixed-rate guaranteed annuities, rather than fluctuated stocks, bonds and mutual funds. According to Holbrook, the plan's annual rate of return the past 24 years has averaged 6.5%. Gornto estimates that the Galveston plan offers an employee who works 37 years at an average of $25,596 a year a monthly benefit of $1,250 vs. $669 from Social Security. An employee who works the same amount of time making $75,000 would get $3,663 a month vs. $1,301 on Social Security.
Sounds like a pretty good deal to me. Of course this doesn't deal with taking care of disabled people who cannot work and hence cannot build up an account, but I have always felt that combining that purpose with a retirement savings plan was foolish anyway. There is no logical reason why the two items should be combined into a single program. If we wish to care for those who cannot care for themselves (and I certainly think we should) it should be funded out of the general government fund, not the pension plan.