Thursday, December 30, 2004


Rich Lowry addresses an issue of semantics that had intrigued me since the crime below was first reported:

In a spectacular murder case in Missouri, Lisa Montgomery strangled to death Bobbie Jo Stinnett, who was eight months pregnant. Ms. Montgomery cut open Mrs. Stinnett's womb and kidnapped her child. This is a horrific crime that, like the Scott Peterson case, opens an uncomfortable window into our culture's tortured reasoning on anything related to unborn life.

...a "fetus" — something for which American law and culture has very little respect — was somehow instantly transformed into a "baby" and "infant" — for which we have the highest respect. By what strange alchemy does that happen?

An AP story effected this magic transition all in one sentence: "Authorities said Montgomery, 36, confessed to strangling Bobbie Jo Stinnett of Skidmore, Mo., on Thursday, cutting out the fetus and taking the baby back to Kansas." At one point, when Ms. Montgomery was still at large, an Amber Alert went out about the Stinnett girl, putting news organizations in the strange position of reporting such an alert for what many of them were still calling a fetus.

The full article is well worth reading, but several questions remain. How did the "fetus" become a "baby"? Was it/she in fact fetusnapped? Is fetusnapping even illegal? Was it merely robbery?

Saturday, December 25, 2004

Merry Christmas!!!

Happy Christmas and a Merry New Year to all!!!

And yes Texas, that's snow! (Could I borrow some please?)

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Is Somalia Even a Country?

Maybe folks just need to name everything or they're afraid of having maps like the ones in history textbooks with ungoverned areas in gray, but please, take a break from calling Somalia a country. Somalia hasn't had a national government since 1991.

As the BBC puts it:
Somalia is the only country in the world where there is no government.
And when discussing the Somali parliament:

Somalia has been without a functioning national government for 13 years....

The new Somali parliament and government are based in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, because Mogadishu is still considered too dangerous.

In fact, there's a frequently ignored functioning government in the part of Somalia that was once a British colony:
In May of 1991, northern clans declared an independent Republic of Somaliland that now includes the administrative regions of Awdal, Woqooyi Galbeed, Togdheer, Sanaag, and Sool. Although not recognized by any government, this entity has maintained a stable existence, aided by the overwhelming dominance of a ruling clan and economic infrastructure left behind by British, Russian, and American military assistance programs.
All of which raises the question: is it only ok to form a country with the approval of foreigners?

Observant Observations Challenge: great fame will be granted to the person that finds me the map referred to by Newt Gingrich here:
There are ungoverned areas of the world which are so numerous and so difficult to penetrate that there will almost certainly be effective sanctuaries for terrorist organizations. It does no good to speak of “no sanctuaries” when there are areas in which local governments have no control. An unclassified map from the Central Intelligence Agency that outlines the rural areas around the world in which there is little or no government shows just how formidable a challenge this is going to be.
And on a side note, not having a government has helped the people in one way:

Three phone companies are engaged in fierce competition for both mobile and landline customers, while new internet cafes are being set up across the city and the entire country.

It takes just three days for a landline to be installed - compared with waiting-lists of many years in neighbouring Kenya, where there is a stable, democratic government.

And once installed, local calls are free for a monthly fee of just $10.

International calls cost 50 US cents a minute, while surfing the web is charged at 50 US cents an hour - "the cheapest rate in Africa" according to the manager of one internet cafe.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Dino Rossi Third Count Update

If you're looking for updates on America's own little "Ukranian" election, check out Sound Politics, where you'll find detailed news and statistical analysis - especially in regards to the "magical mystery ballots" that continue to be "discovered" in only one of Washington's 39 counties.

Finally, a quote from former Washington Governor Dan Evans:
with the advances in our procedures and training, the system we just used (combination hand/machine count) is more accurate than a pure hand count would be. But, if we are forced to endure a third count, then the state law, based as it is on outdated concepts, requires the next count to be a hand count. With a pure hand count, we lose the main thing computers do better than humans — count.
... Simply put, a hand count will produce more errors.
Update, Dec. 16th: Elections Dept changes its own rules to benefit Gregoire. That's in addition to counting hundreds of ballots that were magically "discovered" after being unsecured for a month and a half.

Update, Dec. 17th: 37 out of 39 counties have manged to recount again with a net change of a single vote for Rossi. We wait to see if King and Spokane counties can match that accuracy.

Update, Dec. 21: After labeling Rossi's 261 vote lead a "tie" and his 42 vote lead a "tie" Democrats have claimed victory after King County unofficially reported an 8 vote lead manufactured for Gregoire.

Update, Dec. 24: Democrats, having convinced the Washington State Supreme Court to change election law after 38 out of 39 counties had completed their second recount, begin to demand that the count be ended immediately and the changed law not be applied to the other 38 counties (31 of which voted for Rossi).

Additional Observant Observation: this all would have been over on election night if we used a form of the Electoral College.

Update, Dec. 30: After 38 counties refuse to apply revised election laws, Rossi suggests runoff. Revote ordered in North Carolina.

Update, Jan. 9: Rossi contests election, voting and counting errors exceed margin of victory from all three counts combined.

Monday, December 13, 2004

The Ents of Europe?

An article by Victor Davis Hanson brings together one of the great questions of our times with The Lord of the Rings - a good way to get my attention. I recommend reading the whole article, but here's a quick overview:

One of the many wondrous peoples that poured forth from the rich imagination of the late J. R. R. Tolkien were the Ents. These tree-like creatures, agonizingly slow and covered with mossy bark, nursed themselves on tales of past glory while their numbers dwindled in their isolation. Unable to reproduce themselves or to fathom the evil outside their peaceful forest — and careful to keep to themselves and avoid reacting to provocation of the tree-cutters and forest burners — they assumed they would be given a pass from the upheavals of Middle Earth.....

Tolkien always denied an allegorical motif or any allusions to the contemporary dangers of appeasement or the leveling effects of modernism.... But the notion of decline, past glory, and 11th-hour reawakening are nevertheless everywhere in the English philologist's Lord of the Rings. Was he on to something?

More specifically, does the Ents analogy work for present-day Europe? Before you laugh at the silly comparison, remember that the Western military tradition is European. Today the continent is unarmed and weak, but deep within its collective mind and spirit still reside the ability to field technologically sophisticated and highly disciplined forces — if it were ever to really feel threatened. One murder began to arouse the Dutch; what would 3,000 dead and a toppled Eiffel Tower do to the French? Or how would the Italians take to a plane stuck into the dome of St. Peter? We are nursed now on the spectacle of Iranian mullahs, with their bought weapons and foreign-produced oil wealth, humiliating a convoy of European delegates begging and cajoling them not to make bombs — or at least to point what bombs they make at Israel and not at Berlin or Paris. But it was not always the case, and may not always be.

As an American, I can recognize the value in a weakened Europe if its primary objective is going to be to undermine the U.S. in the world:

Of course, we are amused by the spectacle. Privately, most Americans grasp that with a Germany and France reeling from unassimilated Muslim populations, a rising Islamic-inspired and globally embarrassing anti-Semitism, and economic stagnation, it is foolhardy to create 70 million Turkish Europeans by fiat. Welcoming in Turkey will make the EU so diverse, large, and unwieldy as to make it — to paraphrase Voltaire — neither European nor a Union. Surely Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia will wish to get in on the largess. Were they not, after all, also part of the historical Roman mare nostrum, and did they not also enjoy long ties with France and Italy?

Alternatively, as someone who has enjoyed wandering about the old imperial cities of Europe, one must hope:

But gut-check time is coming for Europe, with its own rising unassimilated immigrant populations, rogue mosques entirely bent on destroying the West, declining birth rate and rising entitlements, the Turkish question, and a foreign policy whose appeasement of Arab regimes won it only a brief lull and plenty of humiliation. The radical Muslim world of the madrassas hates the United States because it is liberal and powerful; but it utterly despises Europe because it is even more liberal and far weaker, earning the continent not fear, but contempt.

The real question is whether there is any Demosthenes left in Europe, who will soberly but firmly demand assimilation and integration of all immigrants, an end to mosque radicalism, even-handedness in the Middle East, no more subsidies to terrorists like Hamas, a toughness rather than opportunist profiteering with the likes of Assad and the Iranian theocracy — and make it clear that states that aid and abet terrorists in Europe do so to their great peril.

So will the old Ents awaken, or will they slumber on, muttering nonsense to themselves, lost in past grandeur and utterly clueless about the dangers on their borders?

Now, for another reason I see something in the analogy, a statue I found in Salzburg:

Half the World to Speak English

From our friends in England:

English learning is set to rocket with half the world's population speaking the language by 2015, new research revealed today.

Chinese, Arabic and Spanish are all popular and likely to be key languages in the future....

German is also apparently being used more as a foreign language, particularly in parts of Asia.

French as an international language could be a major casualty of this wave of "linguistic globalisation"

This recalls a British article I read a few years ago titled "Waste your life, learn to speak a foreign language":
Ordering everyone to learn another language is as pointless as ordering everyone to dig holes and fill them up. The reward for our ancestors persuading the rest of the world to speak English is that there is no need for us to learn what the
rest of the world speaks. All the time we spend learning another language, we should spend instead learning something useful - like economics, business studies, politics, law or computer science. If everyone in the country were forced to study economics as remorselessly as they are forced to learn French, then Britain would be in a far better state...

Now I do believe there is value in learning a foreign language. My high school German helped me make it through Austrian and German grocery stores fairly unscathed. On our return from Prague, I was the only student in the train car to understand that we had to get off the train barely outside of Innsbruck and take a bus for the remainder of the trip. There are even many benefits to non-travelers, but that is another topic. The question today is one of priorities - both for Britain and the U.S.: for an English-speaker, the importance of being multi-lingual is entirely different than it is for speakers of less common languages.

Sunday, December 12, 2004

After Gun Control: Knife Control

From the BBC:

Public fears over young people carrying knives in school and on the street could prompt new government restrictions, the Home Office says.

Home Secretary David Blunkett and Education Secretary Charles Clarke are considering moves to combat the proliferation of knives.

They include raising the age at which teenagers can buy a knife to 18 and introducing searches in schools.

The age limit would bring knives into line with fireworks and alcohol.

The Home Office said there were 272 homicides involving a sharp instrument in 2002/3 out of a total of 1,007 - up 4% on 2001/2....

They didn't specify what was involved in the other 73% of homicides, raising the question: will knife-control be followed by blunt-object-control?

Monday, December 06, 2004

Does Financial Aid Cause Tuition Increases?

I thought of this yesterday and took a look around the web. There seems to be some solid support for the idea, as well as some other relevant observations.

My hypothesis was that the ready availability of large sums of money, primarily loans, could have the same effect as a credit card on consumers' willingness to pay.

The best summary comes from the Heritage Foundation:

Since the [Higher Education Act of 1965]'s inception, Congress has added numerous programs, expanded eligibility to middle- and upper-income students, and increased institutional aid. The rising usage of federal higher education programs by middle-class and wealthy students is costly to taxpayers, contributes to student indebtedness, and fosters greater dependency on the federal government by individuals and institutions. Even more alarming, some researchers have found a link between government loan usage and the rising cost of education.

The HEA was enacted to help low-income students gain access to higher education, but it now subsidizes institutions and higher-income students. Taxpayers - three out of four of whom do not have a bachelor's degree - should not have to subsidize wealthy and middle-class students and college graduates....

Forbes writer Ira Carnahan puts it this way,

Over the past three decades the Federal Government has poured three-quarters of a trillion dollars into financial aid for college students.... So why is college getting less - not more - affordable? One answer seems to be that all those federal dollars have given colleges more room to jack up tuition.... The more cash the government pumps into parents' pockets, the more the schools siphon from them.
The same concerns are addressed in several other articles including Why College Costs Are Rising (John Hood, 1988 - old, but with good detailed analysis)and Does Financial Aid Cause Tuition Increases? (Christopher Shea, Nov. 2003).

There seems to be a significant problem in studying these issues, primarily because of the multitude of pricing factors (is there a Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle in economics?). As a recent college graduate and current law student, I can identify numerous instances of radical inefficiency and unnecessary bureaucracy that perhaps would have been reconsidered if the school had to be financially responsible.

Uncertainty of causation is be a good reason to end or reduce the role of the federal government in education: if these programs were run at the state level rather than the federal, at least we'd have some variations to study.

Saturday, December 04, 2004

European Weapons: Just Another Cash Crop

From the BBC:

China has warned the EU that it risks damaging bilateral ties unless it lifts a 15-year embargo on selling arms to Beijing.

Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Zhang Yesui said the ban, imposed after the 1989 crackdown on protesters in Tiananmen Square, was "outdated"....

Germany and France have called for the arms ban to be lifted, while the US and some EU countries are in favour of it remaining in place....

The US is concerned that arms sold to China by the EU could be used against Taiwan and risk sucking the US into a regional conflict.

France and Germany, meanwhile, believe China could prove a fertile market for heir arms and related industries.

There's a lot to say here, but I'll keep it simple:

France is lucky it didn't take this approach with Nazi Germany.

Semi-Related Update, Dec. 5: If you find plastic explosives in your luggage, it may be a free gift from the government of France.

I-297: Populist Imperialism?

From the Seattle P-I:

YAKIMA -- A federal judge yesterday granted a court order that prevents a state initiative -- dealing with cleanup at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation from taking effect....

Washington's voters last month overwhelmingly approved Initiative 297, which would bar the U.S. Department of Energy from sending more radioactive waste to south-central Washington's Hanford site until all existing waste there is cleaned up....

Justice Department lawyers ultimately hope to invalidate the initiative on grounds that it violates federal laws governing interstate commerce and nuclear waste. Hanford, a federal site, is immune from state regulation, the government argues....

Now, for the observant observations: this initiative can be summed up in three words: unconstitutional populist imperialism.

While I-297 passed statewide by almost a 40 point margin, it managed to fail in only two counties - Benton and Franklin. What's so special about Benton County? That's where Hanford IS. Franklin County? It's right next door.

So besides the fact that the initiative is unconstitutional, maybe someone should have thought to ask the people they claim to be helping first.