Friday, December 30, 2005

That Backup Generator I Had Installed...

We went up there this morning with my daughter and son-in-law--and the garage door opener didn't work. Then we went in the front door--and there was no power. Then we went to the meter--and it was completely blank. Idaho Power, it seems, has lost power to hundreds of homes in the Horseshoe Bend area because of weather--and five hours later, the power was still out. My wife no longer thinks that I was being paranoid specifying a backup generator for the house.

So why didn't the backup generator start up automatically? That's what it is supposed to do, within 30 seconds of losing grid power. The electrician was supposed to get back up to the house after the heating guy hooked up the LP gas line to the backup generator to verify that it actually works. Apparently that didn't happen. So now I have a house with no heat, no electricity--and without the pressurization pump running, no water.

I am not a particularly happy person at the moment. At least I am not trying to live in the house.

Last house project entry.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Why I Am Hassling With Lead Filters

The results just came back from the water test performed after the lead filters went in a week and a half ago. The previous two water tests had shown 15 parts per billion of lead, and 37 ppb of lead. This test says that there is less than 2 ppb of lead--meaning, it is below the level that they can measure.

Last house project entry.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Big Bertha & A Mighty Wind

I've mentioned Big Bertha before--my 17.5" reflector. (There's a picture at that link of it.) I've had it sitting in the back yard the last several months, since it is only portable if you can pick up 250 pounds by yourself. It has been adequately protected from the weather by an enormous tarp. After several attempts at getting it to lie flat, and not have the winds pull the tarp off of it, my wife suggested that I aim Big Bertha skyward, and then drape the tarp over Big Bertha rather in the manner of a condom--which, until now, has worked quite well.

Anyway, this evening we had very heavy rain--and a remarkably heavy wind to go with it. It didn't topple Big Bertha. It appears to have lifted it right off the eight or nine inch long pivot pin that allows it rotate in azimuth. Nothing was damaged (except, perhaps, the grass where it landed), but this solved the question of whether to bring it into the garage or not.

I've been planning for some weeks to move Big Bertha up to the new house. Partly, the new house (once the skies clear) will have much darker skies than we have here in Boise. Partly, Big Bertha creates a pretty substantial dead patch on the lawn. Moving it now gives the grass a chance to regrow before summer, when we will put this house on the market. The third reason for moving Big Bertha into the garage is that I am planning to put casters under its base so that I can roll it in and out of the garage at the new house.

There's nothing quite like carrying a massive telescope into the house during a rain and wind storm. Everyone should do it once.
House Project: Finished Closing Today

The house is about 99.9% complete. What's left are largely minor touchup issues (wind whistling around the front door) and the problem of lead filtering. This has taken up just about all my time, preventing me from completing editing of my next book, Armed America, and preventing me from blogging about the important issues of the day. Even though I am off work this week (my company shuts down between Christmas and New Year's Day), every spare moment has been spent dealing with house issues, or machining a new ScopeRoller product.

There was some last minute confusion about the final price of the house, because we had paid some costs to Idaho Power directly, and the builder was still showing almost $2400 as having been paid by them. The final cost came to about $267,000.

First, the filters. I mentioned that the lead filters seemed to have been clogged because we didn't have adequate prefiltering to remove fine particles. Here you can see the filters in their new state, and after just a couple of weeks of use--in a house that has not been occupied.

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I mentioned that the water, while safe to drink (at least, for a short period of time), and actually tasty, is a disgusting color without the lead filters.

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That's not all minerals. Most of the visible stuff is probably dirt that got kicked into the water tank during installation of the floats that tell the well pump whether to run or not. It looks terrible, however, especially compared to the slow, but very clean water from the lead filters.

The electrician purports to be done, but I see a few signs that he didn't finish a few phone and television cable jacks.

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Anyway, there's a water issue to be resolved in the next few days, and some grading and exterior trim painting to do when the weather improves. Otherwise, the house is complete, and livable.

We took a friend up to take a look at today when we went up to measure for drapes, and to drain the water tank (in the hopes that some of the ugliness is dirt in the tank that will just drain out).

Here's the road leading to our subdivision.

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Going up our driveway.

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The laundry room.

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The kitchen.

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A view like this almost makes doing dishes tolerable.

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The family room.

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The dining room.

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My son's room (assuming that he isn't away at college), with the "worst view in the house."

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And his bathroom.

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The living room.

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The guest bedroom.

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Guest bathroom.

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My office.

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Okay, there's still some debris to be cleaned up when the weather improves.

The master bedroom.

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And the view out the back door.

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Last house project entry.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

House Project: Fun With Filters

I went up this morning to try and figure out why the lead filter seems to have cut water pressure to nearly useless. At the suggestion of the vendor, I opened up the filter housing, and verified that yes, the plastic sheeting was not left on the filters. Then I removed all the filters from the housing. This was an unpleasant task, sitting in the garage, while a freezing rain with a mighty wind behind blew in on me. My hands are numb from the cold, and the filters have water from the water tank, which is well above freezing, but still plenty cold. It could have been worse--the heating guy was hooking up the backup generator to the LP gas line, in the rain, standing in cold, sucking mud.

Anyway, I was only able to get 12 of the 14 filters out of the filter housing. These are held in place by big plastic nuts that are are supposed to be "hand tightened only." Perhaps they were, but I do not want a firm handshake from whoever "hand tightened" these nuts. Still, this was enough to demonstrate that the pressure problem was strictly a matter of the filters--not something else failing.

I spent some time discussing the problem with the guy at Filtration Technology who sold us the housing and lead filters. I notice that when I removed the filters, they were gray--not white, like new filters. I also noticed that the water coming out of the faucets is now tinted lightly yellowish-brown.

It turns out that the lead filters are one micron--and apparently, absolute one micron. Nothing larger than one micron gets through--as distinguished from most water filters, which have a nominal filtering size which actually means that most particles of the specified size are stopped. Filtration Technology says that the prefilter was probably not specified tight enough, and what has happened is that fine particulate matter in the several micron size has clogged the lead filters. Their proposed solution is to replace the current prefilter (which I think might be 25 micron or so) with a nominal two micron filter, feeding into a housing with a nominal one micron filter. The two and one micron filters are much cheaper to replace, and will give a much longer life to the lead filters. They are also suggesting that we should have pressure gauges on the input and output of the lead filter housing, so that we can see when it starts to clog.

I have received a few emails asking why I am bothering with lead filters on a new house. The answer is that water tests have shown variously 15 and 37 parts per billion of lead in our water--probably because we are on the edge of a rather impressive granite batholith. Granite often has gold and silver, and where you find silver, you often find lead. Certainly, some parts of northern Idaho have silver and lead in proximity, and so I am assuming that the granite upslope from us is the source of the lead in our ground water.

Last house project entry.

Monday, December 26, 2005

House Project: Fun in the Mud

No pictures, but my wife and I ran up to the house this afternoon to dig a couple of drainage ditches to empty the small lake next to the garage. This was an ugly, filthy, muddy task, with the clay sucking my boots down until I was afraid that they were going to pull right off my feet. The builder finally came from Christmas vacation, and agrees that he needs to at least grade the area a bit better to get the water to not pool. The next step if this doesn't solve it will be putting in the drainage pipes to move the water away from the house.

There's still a river flowing through the garage (okay, only a river by Los Angeles standards), but when we were washing off our muddy boots at the end of the day, we noticed that water was getting past the drain in the driveway, and ending up in the garage. The builder is going to work on extending that drain into the garage floor.

The builder is also going to get the water filter issue resolved on Tuesday. Either the vendor makes it work, or takes it back, and we go to undersink lead filters instead.

Last house project entry.

Friday, December 23, 2005

House Project: Cleanup, Water, Water, Everywhere--But Not Enough Pressure

The electrician was supposed to finish up some last minute details today, and it appears that he did. The heating guy was supposed to get the gas dryer hooked up, and the backup generator hooked up to its gas supply. The generator looks hooked up, but the gas dryer was not done, so I don't know if he was up there or not.

A couple of days ago, we took up the mailbox. The builder is going to have to put it on a temporary pole until the ground is warm enough to sink a permanent post. (Yes, the ground has been frozen solid until yesterday.)

My wife has an artistic side, so she "improved" the boring black mailbox:

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The other side is a bit blurry, not because she was experimenting with impressionism, but because I think I was a bit close.

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The tile guy was up on Wednesday repairing a number of cracked tiles. He thinks the underlying floor joists might have sagged; the builder thinks that the tile was placed on a boundary in the tile underlayment. I think I agree with the builder.

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We drove up Thursday afternoon, late, after a couple of days of light but consistent rain. Like the movie a few years, we opened the garage and discovered, a river runs through it.

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Now, sometime on Thursday, the gutter guy got the gutters over the two ends of the garage installed, so we may be seeing the effects of rain coming off the roof before the gutters went in. The next serious rainstorm will tell for sure.

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We went up today to do some cleanup around the exterior of the house. The builder is going to do that, but when he left for Christmas vacation, there was a thick layer of snow around the house, and there was ice holding many pieces of scrap in place on the driveway aprons. At least the warm weather has melted most of the ice, leaving a debris field:

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Out back, there is a bit of a lake. We need to put in a drain or at least a drainage ditch to let this empty over the side of the hill. (You can see the backup generator.)

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I asked a couple of days ago where to get a big bow for the house. Thanks for all the suggestions! I called the very nice salescritter at Chevrolet of Boise (Karen Martin) who sold us the Equinox last summer, and she told me where they get their bows made. I sneaked up around noon and attached the silver and red bow to the front door, so when my wife and I arrived in late afternoon, she was completely surprised.

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At least I didn't have to wrap the house in shiny paper.

Even after picking up scrap for a couple of hours, there's still some grading work to do.

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Now for the disappointing news. By the time we were done, I was aching, wet, and cold. So I thought, "I'll go fill the jetted tub and turn on the jets." I turned on the hot water. It wasn't much warmer than the cold water--and there's wasn't much of it.

So I checked the water heater. It was at the "WARM" setting, so I turned it up to one notch below "HOT." The water did get a lot hotter--but there wasn't much of it. The water pressure was so low that I checked to make sure that the pressurization pump was running. It claimed to be running, and the gauge said it was putting out about 65 psi.

Hmmmm. When my wife turned on a faucet while I was trying to fill the jetted tub, she got no water at all.

As near as I can tell, when the plumber installed the whole house lead filter, he verified that he got water out of the faucets--but didn't verify that he was getting much pressure. I found the installation manual for the filters, and they indicated at 10 gallons per minute (my nominal maximum flow), I should lose at most 0.5 psi of pressure because of the filters. My guess is that I am losing more like 50-60 psi of pressure.

So, what is it? The builder is away. I don't know the plumber's name. I am going back tomorrow to check if:

1. The filter housing is installed correctly. Perhaps there is a preferred direction, and it is backward.

2. Remove the filters from the housing, and see if the water pressure increases.

3. See if there is something really obvious, like a plastic cap over some part of the filter assembly that is constricting flow.

This is the first moment in the process where I have been really, really upset about how something has been done.

UPDATE: I went up this morning. The filter housing is installed correctly. There is plenty of pressure going into the filter housing. There's nothing obvious restricting flow. I think the problem is that the filters that remove lead are such a barrier to water flow that they are effectively unusable for their intended purpose. Even if this filter housing were upstream of the pressurization pump, they would so slow the flow of water into the pressurization pump as to make it impossible to get enough water. I am going to insist that the vendor take this back, and refund our money. I guess we'll put lead filters on each faucet. What a nuisance.

Last house project entry.
The Michelins Are Far Quieter Than The Goodyears

I had read a lot of comments by Corvette owners who had switched from the factory Goodyear GS F1 Eagle EMT tires to the Michelin Pilot A/S that the Michelins were noticeably quieter. Yes, without question. I didn't need to pull out my decibel meter to tell this--it was very, very obvious. The difference is most pronounced on concrete (where the Goodyears are noisiest) but even on asphalt, the Michelins are much quieter. My wife has agreed that the Corvette is now quiet enough to take on long road trips.

The Michelins don't feel quite as precise as the Goodyears, but remember that as tread depth drops, tire handling tends to become sharper. This is why in some types of street-based racing series, they commonly race on tires with half of the tread depth shaved away. I may just be seeing the results of comparing Goodyears with about 4/32" of tread left to Michelins with lots of rubber on them still.

Unfortunately, I can't tell if the extra tread on the Michelins is going to solve my snow problem or not. Probably because I ordered up the Michelins because of the snow traction problem, we have had unseasonably warm weather the last couple of days (in the 50s here in Boise!), and all the snow has melted from my new driveway. Still, the noise reduction alone might have been worth the substantial expense.

I will sell the used Goodyears on eBay. They still have substantial tread left on them, and for anyone who is driving on either dry or wet pavement, they are completely controllable and safe. I'll probably start the bidding for them at $75 for the pair (plus shipping, which may be entertaining); if need be, when the Michelins wear out, I can have them put back on in spring and probably get another 10,000 miles out of them.

I've gotten some email suggesting that buying Michelin (a French company) isn't a particularly good thing, in light of the geopolitical situation. It is certainly true that the French government sold us out about Iraq (and for terribly corrupt reasons). I wouldn't assume that every French corporation or individual goes along with that policy. I would also mention that France has turned out to be a very vigorous and effective ally against other forms of Islamofascist terrorism. Their motivation is certainly based on self-interest, but in war, getting too picky about why your allies are helping you is often not wise.
Painful Surprise on the House Project

I had originally taken out a construction loan with First Horizon. This was a "one-time closing" arrangement, where a lot of the closing costs associated with the final loan were rolled into the construction loan costs. As time went on, and interest rates rose, my credit union became far more competitive on the permanent loan, so I decided to make them my permanent lender.

We just did the closing on the permanent loan Wednesday--and it turns out that there is more than $8000 in fees associated with the construction loan, above and beyond the interest and payments made to the builder.

I don't know at this point that First Horizon did anything wrong. I need to go back over the paperwork, and make sure of this. But it was a painful surprise. I was expecting a loan origination fee of 1% of the loan amount--okay, that's about $2150. But where did all these other fees come from? Each time that they issued a draw to the builder, they charged an inspection fee for someone to come up and verify that the work being paid for had been done. There's title insurance. Still, there's more than $6000 after the loan origination fee. This is going to require some careful examination of the fees charged.

The experience with First Horizon hasn't been exactly wonderful up to this point, anyway. My builder has lots of experience dealing with construction loan companies, and he was startled at how slowly they processed draw requests--far longer than made any sense.

Lesson learned: next time, I'll sell bonds, and pay cash for the construction.

UPDATE: It turns out that about $1400 of this was interest for December, bringing down the unexpected amount to about $5500--I'll try to decode the babble of the closing paperwork and figure out where all that money went.

Last house project entry.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

A Clearer Version of Something That I Have Previously Said

I'm not terribly impressed with most of what I run into over at, but this column by economist Gene Callahan expresses quite effectively one of my major arguments in favor of Intelligent Design at least getting a brief discussion in the classroom:
I will declare up front that I don’t regard Intelligent Design as a likely candidate to supplant Neo-Darwinism as the accepted model for understanding the origin of species, and not merely due to the hostility it generates in the scientific establishment, but even more because of its own weaknesses.


Despite the fact I suspect that ID is an intrinsically flawed approach, I still endorse the efforts to have it presented in schools as an alternative to the standard theory. If ID is included in a biology course, the enrollees should certainly be informed that Neo-Darwinism is currently the orthodox view, embraced by the vast majority of working biologists. But it is precisely such firmly entrenched orthodoxies that most cry out for challenges. Even if the dominant theory succeeds in repelling all rivals, they still can serve to rescue the mainstream from the danger of self-satisfied complacency. Furthermore, many of yesterday’s orthodoxies are now regarded as quaint curiosities, because some lonely dissenters refused to accept the prevailing wisdom. To me, teaching students that all scientific ideas should be open to criticism and that broad acceptance of a theory is no guarantee of its truth seems even more valuable than conveying the details of any particular theory.
Exactly! Discussing Behe's argument concerning irreducible complexity can be a useful method for showing students that science involves questioning, not simply absorbing the current received wisdom.

I have had defenders of the current biological orthodoxy tell me that there isn't really any way to teach science in the lower grades except in the received wisdom model. Now, I will agree that there is a point where this is true. There's no point in trying to have 4th graders prove associative law, or getting into fine philosophical points about what constitutes a "law" of math. "Teacher! We've only tried A + (B + C) = (A + B) + C with the first 1000 possible values for A, B, and C! Maybe this doesn't work with prime numbers above one billion!"

On the other hand, by the time you get to high school science classes, some serious questions about the nature of truth, scientific proof, and how thorough of a test do we need to call something "proved" should not be beyond the abilities of many of the students. My concern is that it may be beyond the abilities of many of the teachers.

Think back to some of the teachers that you had in primary and secondary school. Did you ever find yourself asking them a question for which they didn't know the answer? Most of the time, when this happened, my teachers were not only prepared to admit it, but often appreciated that a student was thinking carefully enough to ask that question. A few of my teachers clearly did not like this; their response reminded me a bit of the fervor with which some Priests of the Holy Darwinian Church of the Evolution respond to heresy. I think the problem had a bit to do with discomfort at being reminded that they didn't have all the answers.
Planned Parenthood Protecting Rapists

I've mentioned in the past that Planned Parenthood has a history of telling 13 year olds who get pregnant that they don't have to worry about their adult boyfriend getting in trouble; everything is confidential. I've also mentioned that last year California changed its law requiring reporting of child sexual abuse, apparently so that Planned Parenthood wouldn't be required to report it--and traditionally, they haven't bothered to do so. (Planned Parenthood's motto: "You rape 'em, we scrape 'em.")

Now we have additional evidence that Planned Parenthood covers up not only statutory rape, and perhaps unforced molestation of children, but also forcible rape as well. Planned Parenthood of the Golden Gate had a series of "real stories" from their clients up on their website--and one of them was erased shortly after people started to link to it:
It Keeps Us Safe

I was raped at 11, by my 17 year old boyfriend. I chose not to tell my parents because I didn't think their involvement would help, that was the right choice for me. Planned Parethood helped me deal with the aftermath of the rape allowing me to deal and cope as best as I could in my own way. I was 14 when I decided to start having sex, the day I made that choice I made an appointment to get birth control pills. I'm 17 now, I've been with my current boyfriend for about two years. During that time i've been HIV and STD tested four times. Right now I'm sitting in the waiting room while my boyfriend gets the results for his HIV test. We love each other so we're responsible and Planned Parenthood helps us to do that.
As Dawn Eden points out:
"It Keeps Us Safe"? Safe from what? Safe from parents finding out their little girls were raped? It certainly doesn't keep children safe from rapists.

To recap: An 11-year-old girl walked into Planned Parenthood, saying she had been raped. Not just statutory rape, either; forcible rape.

Planned Parenthood assured the girl that it would not contact her parents, and it was true to its word. Likewise, it must not have contacted the authorities either, otherwise the parents would certainly have been notified.

Thanks to Planned Parenthood, the rapist remained at large, still free to attack other little girls.
The stories that Planned Parenthood chose to leave up, however, are also pretty disturbing:
Planned Parenthood Through the Years

My mother brought me to PP when I was 14. I had been invited to attend senior prom and she thought it might be good to “be prepared.” I have been a fan of PP for over 15 years now. PP provides some of the best, well rounded, thoughtful services available to women.
That's California for you! Mom figures that her 14 year old is going to be having sex because she was invited to senior prom. I suppose it is better for the 14 year old to be using contraception rather than get pregnant--but the mother is aiding and abetting statutory rape.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Suppressing Diversity

It was a controversial idea of human origins--one that offended many people because of its implications for their religious beliefs. The idea had some worrisome baggage far beyond the area of biology. It scared the people in charge of the society, enough so that they felt a need to prohibit it from being taught in public schools.

But no, I'm not talking about the decision Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District (M.D. Penn. 2005), which just prohibited Dover schools from teaching an alternative perspective about evolution. I'm talking about the Scopes trial. The parallels are really quite startling--but where these cases diverge is also quite amazing.

1. In both cases, legislative bodies, presumably acting on behalf of the voters, decreed what would or would not be taught in public schools. In the Scopes case, the Tennessee legislature prohibited the teaching of a new theory of human origins that contradicted a well-established and widely believe theory. In the current case, the Dover Area School Board required the teaching of what I would call a critique of Darwinian evolution. (It doesn't quite rise to a theory because it is intrinsically incapable of experimental verification; evolution, with enough time, might be capable of it.)

2. In both cases, there is baggage associated with the theory that offends people. As Professor Lindgren pointed out last year, the biology text from which Scopes was teaching evolution carried a lot of the Social Darwinist racism that led to the Holocaust, and such offensive examples of early twentieth century liberalism as Buck v. Bell (1927), which upheld mandatory sterilization of the feeble-minded. From the text that Scopes was prohibited from using:
At the present time there exist upon the earth five races or varieties of man, each very different from the other in instincts, social customs, and, to an extent, in structure. These are the Ethiopian or negro type, originating in Africa; the Malay or brown race, from the islands of the Pacific; The American Indian; the Mongolian or yellow race, including the natives of China, Japan, and the Eskimos; and finally, the highest type of all, the caucasians, represented by the civilized white inhabitants of Europe and America.
What offends opponents of Intelligent Design is that it has largely Christian proponents, and some have not been afraid to say that it is part of an effort by Christians to influence the teaching of science. (Oh, the horror! Soon they'll want to vote, too!)

3. Where these situations differ is quite dramatic. The ACLU was on the side of allowing multiple viewpoints in the classroom in 1925; now they are in opposition, because they believe that the establishment clause of the First Amendment trumps freedom of speech. The difficulty, of course, is that the ACLU's view of the establishment clause as requiring neutrality between religion and irreligion is ahistorical. The same Congress that passed the First Amendment took actions that suggest it saw no such requirement, and the federal government allowed the use of government buildings for church services until after the Civil War, and used federal money to support churches in Ohio.

The judge in the current case makes one of those claims that shows a pretty fundamental ignorance of the term "activism":
Those who disagree with our holding will likely mark it as the product of an
activist judge. If so, they will have erred as this is manifestly not an activist Court. Rather, this case came to us as the result of the activism of an ill-informed faction on a school board....
The criticism of judicial activism is that a judge's job is not to make laws, but only to strike down those laws that are clearly contrary to the Constitution or contrary to laws passed by a higher authority (the state, for example). The job of a legislative body, at any level, is to write laws. Those laws may be good or bad, but to call a legislative body "activist" for writing laws is like criticizing a judge for presiding over a trial; that's their job.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

House Project: A Little Surprise On The Financing

I was led to believe that the $900 I was paying for a retroactive loan rate lock meant that I would be paying 4.625%. Noooo! It's actually 4.375%--knocking the payment down from about $1233 a month to $1198.29 a month.
House Project: Good News & Bad

The bad news yesterday was--no water! It turned out that the circuit breaker that was feeding power to the well pump was bad, and we haven't filled the water tank to the top in some months.

Good news is that the counter depth refrigerator is in place, as are the washer and dryer. The refrigerator needs a hose to connect the water supply to the ice maker, but that's a pretty trivial operation.

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Unfortunately, the washer and dryer were a little taller than specified--so the counter that the builder put in to just clear them wouldn't. The builder and the appliance delivery guys removed the top covers from both, and then they fit. I'm still not completely happy with this, and I think we are going to have him raise the counter an inch or two to clear the washer and dryer with the tops in place.

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The builder and I worked together on getting the Jenn-Air cooktop switched over from natural gas orifices to LP gas orifices. LP gas is denser, and has more energy in it, so you use smaller orifices for the cooktop. There's some interesting aspects to this cooktop.

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The left side (in this picture)

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is a grill, with a little drain hole and a container to capture falling fat. The left side is a conventional two burner setup. The grill side, however, pops out in a matter of seconds (assuming that it is cool) to put a two burner setup in its place. The cooktop came with the spare two burner setup. I'm not sure how often we will use it, but it is a nice capability to have.

The cooktop has a downdraft exhaust in between the burners that sucks all the smoke and smell down, and vents it to the outside of the house. You can turn it on manually, and it turns on automatically when you start the grill.

Best news of all: Frontier Telephone insists that their DSL qualification tests indicate that they can give me DSL out there in the boonies. The real test, of course, is what happens when they run the line up the hill, and we try to sync up with the DSL access multiplexer at the other end of the wire. This is really good news, because the data rate will almost certainly be better than my wireless and satellite options--making winter telecommuting practical.

All the inspections are supposedly complete, so we should have a certificate of occupancy shortly.

Another view of the end panel of the jetted tub so that you can get access to the motor, if need be. Getting all the trim pieces to look just right is a source of irritation to my wife, and probably beyond that to our builder.

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The builder had to move the window sill a bit to handle the kitchen sink faucet. Here it is just lying in place:

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Final result:

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Garbage disposal installed:

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The interior of the dishwasher--yes, that's stainless steel:

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The extra fluorescents in the garage are installed:

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I mentioned that it looked like the plumber had been beamed up in the middle of the project the other day. This is what I meant:

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The master bathroom vanity still was lacking mirrors Wednesday night, but I think this has been fixed:

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Last house project entry.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

House Project: Local Market Insanity

I've been pressing my builder to get this house complete--and I asked him why the electrician is taking so long to complete what should be a few hours of work. "He's doing about twelve other houses right now, including one that's about 10,000 square feet." I went up last night, and the plumber had started several tasks, and completed none of them--which means that there is no running water anymore. The cooktop is in place--but not completely assembled. My wife suggested that when it gets to be 5:00 PM, it must be like the quarry that Fred Flintstone worked in--you pull the tail on the bird, and everyone runs out of there.

My builder worked for UC Irvine in the mid-1970s, and he tells me that the local housing situation around here is beginning to remind of how things were in Southern California at the time. "Blue-collar workers I knew were paying $1000 to buy options on houses, which seemed just insane. Within a few months, they were selling those options for $10,000."

The housing market is certainly cooling on the coasts, but it still seems to be running in full bore insane mode here in the Boise area.

Last house project entry.

Monday, December 12, 2005

House Project: Appraisal

I'm a little disappointed. The appraisal came in at $300,000. Since the appraiser agreed with me that the land alone was worth at least twice the $55,000 we paid for it, this tells me that the $250,000 or more that we have put into improvements (septic, well, road) and building a house is now worth less than $200,000. I guess that I am going to have to assume that the appraiser is making a very conservative appraisal, because of the very thin market for houses in our area. (We are, after all, almost a half hour drive from one of the hottest housing markets in the U.S. right now.)

Anyway, that means that I can't really finance more than $240,000 without paying PMI, so I have started to transfer some money over from my brokerage account to cover the discrepancy between the construction costs and what I will be financing.

Last house project entry.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

It Reminds Me of the Great Soviet Encyclopedia...

It seemed that whenever they took someone out ("down the memory hole" as George Orwell would say), they had to put something else in that spot. Lavrentii Beria, Stalin's secret police chief, was replaced (not very well) with an entry on the Bering Sea.

The DSM is the "Bible" of mental illness treatment. Over the years, quite a number of emotional problems have been removed from it. Homosexuality (at least, if you were happy with it), was removed in the mid-1970s, after a prolonged debate within the profession about it.

A couple of years back, at the American Psychiatric Association conference in San Francisco, there was a debate about whether to remove some other sexual behaviors from the DSM:
On Monday, May 19th, 2003 in San Francisco, at a symposium hosted by the American Psychiatric Association, several long-recognized categories of mental illness were discussed for possible removal from the upcoming edition of the psychiatric manual of mental disorders.

Among the mental illnesses being debated in the symposium at the APA's annual convention were all the paraphilias--which include pedophilia, exhibitionism, fetishism, transvestism, voyeurism, and sadomasochism.

Also being debated was gender-identity disorder, a condition in which a person feels persistent discomfort with his or her biological sex. Gay activists have long claimed that gender-identity disorder should not be assumed to be abnormal, when, they say, it is usually an expression of healthy prehomosexuality.

Dr Robert Spitzer responded to the symposium as a discussant, urging that the paraphilias and gender-identity disorder be retained in the psychiatric manual.

Disagreeing, Psychiatrist Charles Moser of San Francisco's Institute for the Advanced Study of Human Sexuality and co-author Peggy Kleinplatz of the University of Ottawa presented a paper entitled, "DSM-IV-TR and the Paraphilias: An Argument for Removal." They argued that people whose sexual interests are atypical, culturally forbidden, or religiously proscribed should not, for those reasons, be labeled mentally ill.
I blogged about this a couple of years ago--and how the parallel to what happened with homosexuality suggests that we are going to see the courts legalize child molestation in the same way that they overturned laws against homosexuality. (If you think I'm exaggerating--read this article that reads like satire, but isn't.)

I received a few emails from people arguing that pedophilia shouldn't be considered a mental illness--just a crime. While I disagree with that point of view, I will confess that we don't have much consistency in how we distinguish mental problems from purely criminal acts. Exhibitionism is both a mental disorder in DSM (for the moment) and a crime--and a crime that we treat more seriously than rape. In most states, exhibitionists become registered sex offenders on conviction, and must notify the police every time they move--for life. I don't want guys running around exposing themselves in public, but I can tell you that a rapist is a far greater hazard to public safety than an exhibitionist. A garden variety rapist needs to be kept an eye at least as much as an exhibitionist--probably more. It is rather like our society regards rape as a natural act, but one that still needs to be punished, but exhibitionism regards as an unnatural act. Very peculiar.

In any case, if the psychiatric profession wants to start removing from the definition of mental illness every weird little behavior that a majority doesn't like, then why are there psychiatrists proposing to add some new kinky behavior to the list? Once you see what the kinky behavior is, you won't be surprised:
The 48-year-old man turned down a job because he feared that a co-worker would be gay. He was upset that gay culture was becoming mainstream and blamed most of his personal, professional and emotional problems on the gay and lesbian movement.

These fixations preoccupied him every day. Articles in magazines about gays made him agitated. He confessed that his fears had left him socially isolated and unemployed for years: A recovering alcoholic, the man even avoided 12-step meetings out of fear he might encounter a gay person.

"He had a fixed delusion about the world," said Sondra E. Solomon, a psychologist at the University of Vermont who treated the man for two years. "He felt under attack, he felt threatened."

Mental health practitioners say they regularly confront extreme forms of racism, homophobia and other prejudice in the course of therapy, and that some patients are disabled by these beliefs. As doctors increasingly weigh the effects of race and culture on mental illness, some are asking whether pathological bias ought to be an official psychiatric diagnosis.

Advocates have circulated draft guidelines and have begun to conduct systematic studies. While the proposal is gaining traction, it is still in the early stages of being considered by the professionals who decide on new diagnoses.
I would actually agree that the guy who couldn't take a job because of his fear of having a gay co-worker has a serious emotional problem (or perhaps too much money in savings). But isn't this going just a little too far in the direction of a marvelous satire of Political Correctness?

If DSM left it at those prejudices or biases that interfered with a person's daily life, I suppose that I wouldn't disagree that this is a significant emotional problem. I just have my suspicions that a vote at an APA convention would expand the definition of a "serious bias problem" to include the 60% of the population that does not approve of homosexuality.

Here's a quote from the article that almost reads like someone wanted a real world example of "projection" (the tendency of a person with a serious problem to project it onto everyone else):
"I don't think racism is a mental illness, and that's because 100 percent of people are racist," said Paul J. Fink, a former president of the American Psychiatric Association. "If you have a diagnostic category that fits 100 percent of people, it's not a diagnostic category."
Speak for yourself Dr. Fink!

"Prejudice" as a word means so many different things that it is almost meaningless. I can identify the following different attitudes, ideas, or beliefs that would fall into the left's catch-all definition of prejudice:

1. A person who hates or fears all members of group X--no exceptions. I don't know that I have ever met someone like this about race or ethnicity--although I know that such people exist. I have met people who hate or fear all gay men--and in every case, these were men who were sexually abused as children. (These are guys who think of me as a flaming liberal about homosexuality.)

2. A person who believes that members of group X have certain characteristics in common--but recognizes that there are exceptional individual members of race X: hence, "you are a credit to your race." There was a time when people actually said that--now it is only used as a comic line in fiction to discredit a character.

3. A person who believes that members of group X are more likely to have certain qualities or defects than the general population. This belief exists in an unadulterated positive form, "Asians sure are good at math!" It also exists in a positive form with a dark implication, "Jews sure are clever!" (implying that perhaps the intelligence is being used for nefarious purposes). There is also the negative form. "Blacks are violent." "Men are violent."

What makes this category of prejudice especially complicated is that the stereotypes often have a grain of truth to them--members of group X may be disproportionately likely to engage in behavior Y. Most adults manage to figure out that these stereotypes, even if accurate, are only averages. My late father-in-law was (like a lot of men of his generation), pretty ferociously prejudiced. He would rant at times about blacks, Mexicans, and Jews--and often not using particularly pleasant terms. But he had worked with blacks and Mexicans quite well over the years, and his third wife was Jewish. He had been around long enough that even if he didn't like group X (as a whole), there were members of group X that were good and decent people, with whom he was quite willing to associate.

The biggest problem with this category of prejudice is that sometimes, the costs of finding out if A, a member of group X, fits the negative stereotype of his group, are quite high. These negative stereotypes, if they actually describe a real behavior quirk, are often believed by members of group X as well. A few years back, I've read that a black man had a heck of a time hailing a cab after dark in DC. Yet I'm told that taxi drivers in Washington, DC were almost entirely black. A black man hailing a cab in DC was not likely to be a robber--perhaps a fraction of 1% of all black men were criminals--but the risk if you picked up one of that tiny fraction was enormous. I've written before about my own experience of seeing a woman almost running to get away from me--simply because I was a man, and therefore I was a member of a group that was twice as likely as the average to be a rapist.

Prejudices like #1 should never be written into the law--and yet they often were. Prejudices like #2 and #3 should not be written into the law, either, simply because they (at best) reflect averages of group X--and our laws should apply only to individuals, not to group. At the same time, I am not happy when the government decides to punish people for holding prejudices like #3--especially when, as in the examples above, there may be substantial costs to pretending that these group averages have no meaning. (And yes, if that means that a daycare center decides to not hire members of group X because group X is disproportionately child molesters, so be it.)

I don't doubt that people suffering from prejudice #1 above are probably very seriously emotionally disturbed people, and if the APA decided to add a definition to the DSM that included people with such severe prejudices, it would seem entirely appropriate. But I must confess with the way in which the APA swings back and forth about what constitutes mental illness (and seemingly more following fashion than science), I could easily see this definition of "pathological bias" expand to cover membership in the National Rifle Association, or regularly attending a church that doesn't ordain homosexuals.
The House Project: More Finishing Touches

I know that a lot of my readers find this house project very interesting; I guess the rest of you are waiting for me to get this house complete, so that you can see my political and historical commentary instead. Believe me, I'm getting tired of this house project, too! It has consumed just about all my spare time for the last few weeks, and as we approach the end, it is gobbling even more time.

The sequence is all beginning to jumble together a bit, but I think Thursday evening we went up there and discovered that to solve the problem of water pooling on the driveway apron, and then ending up in the garage, we know have a drain in the front.

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Supposedly there is a similar drain on the rear driveway apron, but I haven't thought to check.

The motion detector exterior lights that met my wife's esthetic requirements are all in, and they definitely detect us driving up to the house. These lights are all on switches inside, so we can force complete darkness, complete light, or motion detector mode.

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On Friday, the counter guys finished putting the Silestone counters in place in the kitchen:

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The builder discovered, as they were getting ready to cut a hole in the counter for the faucets at the kitchen sink, that he was going to have to raise the window sill a fraction of an inch. Even worse, Silestone is three centimeters thick--so the standard faucet attachment hardware isn't quite long enough. The plumber is having to hunt around a little for adapters to handle this.

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The cooktop is now integrated into its counter as well, although the heating guy still has to get everything connected up and working.

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The entry hall light fixture.

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The builder received a box of heating registers (the things that go into the heating/air conditioning vents in the floors), but Rhonda wasn't happy with the color--it went well with the color of the tile grout, but not with the tile, the carpet, or any of the rest of the interior color scheme.

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We found some registers that looked good with both tile and carpet, and then had to run around to two different Lowe's to get enough to finish the house.

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Bathroom two at the far end.

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Bathrooms two and after the counters were installed, but the plumbing not yet done.

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Bathroom three with the counter in place, but still in need of some cleanup:

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Bathroom three now complete:

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Well, almost. We had to relocate the towel rack to avoid collisions with the shower door.

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Objects in mirror heavier than they appear! (Would funhouse mirrors that make you look fat be appropriate in the bathroom as a diet aid? Or would adding to a house funhouse mirrors that make you look just a little thinner be an effective way to sell houses?)

Bathroom two after the plumber got the faucets in--apparently the extra counter thickness was not a problem for this faucet. This bathroom is now done, except for the mirror.

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Master bathroom after the Silestone backsplash went in for the jetted tub:

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All the closet organizers from Treasure Valley Closets (who should be advertising here, hint, hint) are in place, such as this hall closet, and in one of the bedrooms.

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Ordinary closet shelves might have been a little cheaper, but these are easily reconfigured in a variety of forms.

Oh yeah, the master bedroom closet.

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The more I look at this, the more I think we could have gone a bit smaller on this closet, a little larger on the master bath, and a bit smaller on the master bedroom--and used the space to enlarge bedrooms three and four.

I needed a lot of bookshelves in the closet to replace the built-in bookshelves in our current family room. This set in the office (also by Treasure Valley Closets) should do the job--roughly 9 1/2 feet by 9 feet of adjustable shelving.

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I went up Saturday morning--and discovered that there is no choice. I must buy a four wheel drive to get up that hill.

That little red speck is my Corvette at the bottom of my driveway.

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I fell twice coming down the driveway--a few days of sunlight means the snow melts just a little, then refreezes at night.

We weren't happy with the knobs on the bifold closet doors in two of the bedrooms, so we bought some brushed nickel replacements--which, of course, came with screws that were too short. But you can see in this side-by-side what a difference it makes.

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Still waiting on:

1. The plumber needs to come back with the appropriate adapters for the three centimeter thick counters, install the lead filter in the garage, and get the water heater running.

2. The electrical guy needs to get the telephone jacks, coax, and Ethernet connectors installed.

3. The heating guy needs to hook up the stove.

4. We are expecting the counter depth refrigerator, washer, and dryer to arrive and be installed on Monday.

5. Final inspections on Tuesday.

6. Certificate of Occupancy on Wednesday.

7. Appraisal on Monday.

8. Lots of little cosmetic fixes in the house--including five cracked tiles. (The builder is still trying to figure out why they cracked.)

Last house project entry.