Saturday, January 22, 2005

Inauguration Report

Quick Observant Observations from the 55th Presidential Inauguration, starring President George W. Bush, Vice-President Richard W. Cheney, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court William W. Rehnquist, First Lady Laura W. Bush and many more:

  • There was a disappointingly low number of hippies. Some of the Texans standing next to us noticed this as well.

  • Hippies were using professionally printed signs, what happened to paint and cardboard?

  • No word yet on who exactly was inaugurated by the counter-inauguration.

  • The much-complained-about security was much lighter than at an airport.

  • To help with the crowds, the Metro was running 6-car instead of 4-car trains. It didn't help much though, since tourists don't realize there's more than 2 cars they can get on.

  • During the inauguration, the spirited boos for John Kerry were much more noticeable than any protesters. Did the media even show that?

  • The evening ended with April & Nick's Pizza Ball, much more affordable and less crowded than the alternatives.
Amy Ridenour of the National Center for Public Policy Research has a good point about the costs of the inauguration:

Though I am oversimplifying in the service of brevity, there is more truth than fiction in the notion that money spent on inaugural festivities represents a transfer of wealth from big corporations and individuals of decent income to men and women who work for caterers, restaurants, hotels, the D.C. convention center, security firms, limousine services and printers, or who are taxi drivers or police officers on overtime.
The Washington Times reports that the Inauguration actually cost less than Clinton's:
a review of the cost for past inaugurations shows Mr. Bush's will cost less than President Clinton's second inauguration in 1997, which cost about $42 million. When the cost is adjusted for inflation, Mr. Clinton's second-term celebration exceeds Mr. Bush's by about 25 percent.
Critics also enjoyed comparisons to FDR's fourth inauguration, forgetting that it was followed a few months later by his death. Presidents Eisenhower, Johnson, and Nixon all had wartime inaugurations.

Update, Jan. 30: For anyone wondering how an event can cost $40 million, I found an incredible comparison yesterday: 2002's world poverty summit.

The "World Summit on Sustainable Development" in Johannesburg, South Africa cost roughly between 75 million and one billion dollars. Using the smallest number, which appears to be the South African government's share of the costs, simple math creates some interesting figures:
  • The poverty summit attracted around 37,000 people.

  • The Inauguration attracted more than 100,000 people.

  • The poverty summit cost at least $75 million.

  • The Inauguration cost at least $40 million.

  • So, the poverty summit spent almost twice as much money on one third as many people - or six times as much per person.

  • To make the Inauguration comparable to the lowest bound estimated costs of a poverty summit, it either would have cost more than $200 million or only 19,733 people could have attended.

  • On the upper bound, Inauguration costs would have ran around $3 billion or attendance would have been limited to 1,480 people.

Update, Feb. 14: A handful of my own Inauguration photos are now available here.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Inaugural Preparations Report

The International Herald Tribune and the New York Times report:
Even as plans to celebrate President George W. Bush's inauguration were taking final shape, the capital on Tuesday appeared more like a city under siege.

Hour by hour, the city of grand buildings and marble statues seemed to disappear behind curtains of steel security fences and concrete barriers.

Piece by piece, the massive security plan that officials promised would be the tightest ever in post-9/11 America began taking final shape despite the absence of any specific threat and seemingly without regard to the temporary inconveniences to local residents and visitors.
Having walked through DC today, I have one question: from what angle were these reporters looking that 3-foot crowd control fences block out the city? The reporters should try to get through a crowd of summer tourists.
Officials tightened the broad perimeter surrounding the Capitol, the parade route and the presidential reviewing stand near the White House as construction teams added more security fencing that put more of the city's public spaces off limits.
Yeah, we couldn't go sit on the chairs that they set up for the seated attendees. Bummer. Should they just wait and put those up Thursday morning?

The biggest inconvenience of the day was a delay on the blue and orange Metro lines caused by a sick passenger. Is that the President's fault too?

Update, Feb. 14: A few of my photos from DC are now available here.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Evolution, or, Don't Call a Theory a Theory

Reported as a "victory for science":
ATLANTA (AP) - A federal judge on Thursday ordered the removal of stickers placed in high school biology textbooks that call [the theory of] evolution "a theory, not a fact," saying they were an unconstitutional endorsement of religion.
No, they're redundant.
The stickers read, "This textbook contains material on evolution. Evolution is a theory, not a fact, regarding the origin of living things. This material should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully and critically considered."

Gubernatorial Election Circus Continues

Rossi contests election:
Citing numerous problems with the election – including counties’ inability to match every vote with a voter, hundreds of improperly cast provisional ballots, and some instances of felons and dead people voting, and of double votes – Rossi said the people of Washington need a new election to restore their faith in the process.
Timothy Goddard writes a good summary of the election challenge. I must disagree on one point though. He asserts that the dead voting "doesn't matter" because the number of identified dead voters is currently less than the "margin of victory." The problem is that they still contribute to the total number of illegal votes and should not be ignored simply because they may not invalidate the election on their own.

Dead voters continue to be identified.

Recall petition filed against Secretary of State Sam Reed.

And on another note, Chris/Christopher/Christine Gregoire was sworn in yesterday as "Christine" - no word yet on how long this name will last.

Costume Correctness

The British media freaks out over a colonial-themed costume party:

Prince Harry has apologised for wearing a swastika armband to a friend's fancy dress party.

Clarence House issued a statement in response to a photograph published on the front page of the Sun newspaper under the headline, "Harry the Nazi"....

Prince Harry, 20, appears to be wearing a German desert uniform and a swastika armband. He is also holding a drink and cigarette.

I have to wonder, would they have the same reaction if he had dressed up as Satan? Or is outrage limited to one very specific group of his minions' minions? Or if outrage is reserved for historical enemies, how about Stalin, Napoleon, a Viking, or a member of the French Foreign Legion? In the U.S., the outrage would probably be over the cigarette.

The apology has been accepted by some parties who recognize it more as an error of judgement than a deliberate attack against all Jews:

And Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain, of the Reform Synagogues of Great Britain, said the apology should be accepted.

Writer Moyra Bremner told BBC News 24 it was extraordinary no-one had stopped the prince wearing the costume and said it was "a terrible error of judgement".

But she added: "I don't think for an instant he meant any insult to Holocaust survivors or indeed the many people who were killed in the concentration camps and the many people in the [British] services who were killed."

But, knowing some history, I must add a historical detail for those who think Prince Harry was endorsing the Holocaust (if he even thought it through this far):
The Sun said Harry wore the desert uniform of Gen. Erwin Rommel's German Afrika Korps to a party in Wiltshire, west of London, on Saturday.
The Afrika Korps, quite appropriately, fought in Africa (not Auschwitz) until it was destroyed by the Allies. General Rommel, who earned the admiration of Winston Churchill during World War II, was later "allowed" to commit suicide after he was tied to a plot to overthrow Hitler:
By the beginning of 1943, Rommel's faith in Germany's ability to win the war was crumbling, as was his estimation of Hitler. Touring Germany, Rommel was appalled at the devastation of the Allied bombing raids and the erosion of the peoples' morale. He also learned for the first time of the death camps, slave labor, the extermination of the Jews and the other atrocities of the Nazi regime. Rommel became convinced that victory for Germany was a lost cause and that prolonging the war would lead only to his homeland's devastation. He came in contact with members of a growing conspiracy dedicated to ousting Hitler and establishing a separate peace with the western allies.
Also interesting is an article addressing the historical relationship between British Royalty and the Nazis (and Germany in general):

Linked by blood but twice divided by war, the royal family's relationship with Germany, its people and its troubled history has long been a sensitive one. The photograph of Prince Harry wearing a swastika has echoes of one particularly disturbing incident involving the family, one which seared itself into the British collective memory - that of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor meeting Adolf Hitler in 1937....

The modern royal family was founded in 1840 when Queen Victoria married Albert of Saxe-Coburg, a Germany duchy, creating The House of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. Such was the ill-feeling towards all things German during the First World War that in 1917 Victoria's grandson King George V - an honorary Field Marshal in the German army - thought it prudent to renounce the German name and titles and adopt that of Windsor....

Throughout the Twenties and Thirties, the royals were steadfastly opposed to conflict with their ancestral fatherland. Indeed George V's wife Queen Mary always maintained that Britain had "backed the wrong horse" in 1914.

Friday, January 07, 2005

Somaliland: Somalia Part II

What is Somaliland? Don't be embarrassed if you don't know. Very few people know, and that is the beginning of the problem.
Richard Rahn, in The Washington Times, provides some great detail on a topic Observantly Observed just two weeks ago. Following a brief history of the region, he raises some important questions:

To this day, Somalia remains a failed state whose government is only recognized by a handful of countries (all African). Anarchy is an apt description of the state of affairs in Somalia.

Meanwhile, Somaliland worked its way toward creating a real government and at least a recognizable (if not perfect) democracy. In 2001, Somaliland held a referendum that approved a constitution and reaffirmed its independence. Ninety-seven percent of the voters approved the constitution, and two-thirds of eligible voters participated....

Here we have a black African, moderate Islamic country with a positive attitude toward the West, that protects women's rights, is willing to help in the war on terrorism, and is slowly building democratic and free market institutions, which is what we say we want. Yet, again it is important to repeat that no country has recognized Somaliland. How ironic....

The problem is geopolitical reality. The U.S. and Britain are reluctant to recognize Somaliland before some of its African neighbors, because it is a breakaway state. Most African rulers are very reluctant to begin changing the borders of African countries because they fear where it might lead, even though they realize most of the borders were created arbitrarily by European colonialists....

Before the colonial period, there was no Somali state, and Somaliland was under British rule for 80 years. They argue their situation is not really all that different from the Baltic States or the now independent countries that made up the former Yugoslavia. Without diplomatic recognition, Somaliland cannot join international trade organizations and has difficulty attracting foreign investment.

Rahn concludes that speedy recognition is necessary to prevent radical Islam from taking advantage of the situation as well as to reward Somaliland for its progress.

The comparison to Yugoslavia is particularly appropriate. When I briefly researched the topic for an international law paper (before turning instead to pirates), I was lead to the conclusion that the essential difference is that Somaliland is not in Europe. That's a bit simple, of course, since the "West" did not recognize every Balkan secession (Krajina, for example) - but geography remains the clearest distinction.

This leaves us with the question of reflexively accepting colonial boundaries. How valid can concerns about "stability" be when applied to countries that have spent much of their independent existence living under dictators or engaged in civil wars? After decades of internal strife, a little instability might even be a good thing.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

Kofi Annan: Fundraiser

From the BBC:
The UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan has urged international donors to convert pledges of aid for the tsunami victims into $1bn cash for immediate use.
Perhaps he should ask his friends from the "oil-for-food" program:

Previous estimates — one from the General Accountability Office and the other by the top U.S. arms inspector Charles Duelfer — concluded that Saddam's government brought in $10 billion illicitly from 1990 to 2003, when sanctions were in place.

But congressional investigators found that vastly more oil — totaling $13.7 billion — was smuggled out of Iraq than previously thought. Investigators also raised the GAO's estimate of $4.4 billion in oil-for-food kickbacks by $200 million, and said the regime made $2.1 billion more through a scheme where foreign companies imported flawed goods at inflated prices.