Saturday, January 28, 2006

ScopeRoller Keeps Expanding!

I have completed the first set of caster assemblies for the Losmandy HGM Titan mount:

These are pretty substantial units, because the HGM Titan mount weighs well above 150 pounds, and can support 100 pound telescopes. The shelf that the tripod legs rest on is 1/2" Delrin--and that is pretty darn strong material.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

I'm Just A Bit Incredulous

It sounds like something out of James and the Giant Peach--or something that a Creationist might come up with the explain the presence of snails in remote places:
LONDON (Reuters) - Land snails, not the quickest of creatures, managed to travel from Europe to remote islands in the South Atlantic by hitching rides on birds.

Scientists had assumed that snails living on the Tristan da Cunha islands midway between South Africa and Brazil were a different species from those in Europe but researchers in the Netherlands and Britain have shown they belong to the same family.

"Land snails, which we normally think of as being rather slow moving, can actually disperse enormous distances by hitching rides on birds," said Richard Preece, of the University of Cambridge, in England in an interview on Wednesday.

A genetic analysis of snails from the isolated islands, which were thought to be unique to them, revealed they belong to the genus Balea just like their European cousins.

"We have shown that they are indeed exactly the same genus as Balea," said Preece, who reported the finding in the journal Nature.
The article first says "species" then later says "same genus," which makes me wonder if the writer of this article understands the difference. How, exactly, do snails not only get on a bird--but stay on it for more than one thousand miles? Seat belts?

UPDATE: A reader says that it isn't the snails hitching a ride; it is snail eggs on the legs of the birds. I would expect that this would only work occasionally--maybe 1% of 1% of the time? But repeat a low probability event every year for millenia, and it will happen.
House Project: Almost Done

The phone was supposed to be hooked up by Frontier Telephone on Monday. Nope!

The phone jack in the family room, which had unaccountably been missed by the electrician, is in.

The jetted tub works great! Now I just need some clean filtered water.

The drain along the rear garage door is in; the ditch is excavated along the front garage door, but the drain isn't in yet.

Last night was clear--but when I rolled Big Bertha out, I soon remembered while I had been leaving it in the back yard. It takes a long time for the mirror to cool down to the outside temperature--especially when the garage is perhaps 45 degrees, and the air outside is 22 degrees.

Perhaps, once I get moved up there, Big Bertha will stay outside under a tarp.

Last house project entry.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

House Project: Backup Generator, Telephones, Water, Security

I haven't made any mention of the house project since January 4. That's because we have been waiting on a lot of stuff.

Backup Generator

The backup generator wouldn't run. This turned out to be:

1. Too much LP gas pressure. The LP gas company installed a regulator on that line.

2. It had the natural gas jets in it--although that was probably not a direct problem.

It now starts up when grid power cuts out. Excellent!


It took a while because of snow, but Frontier Telephone at least ran a temporary phone line to the house. (When the ground thaws, they'll put it underground.) Over the weekend, I bought a new 2.4 GHz cordless phone, and installed it. No dial tone. At first I thought the battery just hadn't charged enough, but no, it turns out that the problem was more serious.

The network interface box that the phone company puts on the side of the house did not have the house phone wiring connected. I called them up, and found out that apparently two entirely different service calls were required--one to run the cable and screw the network interface box to the house, and someone else to plug the wires into the connectors. I hope that this is a union jurisdiction matter; the alternative is that someone is hopelessly stupid.

Water Filtration

The 5 micron and 1 micron filters have arrived. The housing in which they will sit have not. Until this arrives, I am reluctant to drink the water.

Water Tank

The Grundfos pressurization pump kept shutting down, and the Alarm LED came on. It turned out the float in the 1400 gallon water tank that tells the well pump whether to run or not had fallen to the bottom. Consequently, there was no water in the tank. The Grundfos correctly identified a "no water" problem, and protected itself.

I suspect that the remarkably brown water may have been because we were draining the bottom of the tank. It may well be that once we start using the water on a regular basis, all the stuff at the bottom will get washed out and caught in the filters.

Drainage Issues

My wife and I got ourselves thoroughly cold and muddy digging some draining channels in a rainstorm a few weekends ago. Everything is now draining nicely.

The "river runs through it" problem of the garage mystified the concrete guy, because the slope of the front driveway was more than building code required. It appears that the problem was that we had a remarkably heavy and horizontal rainstorm, and water was accumulating at the front of the door faster than it drain away down the driveway. The solution is to add another drain across the concrete right in front of the door. I'm told that this is already done. I've haven't been up there recently to check.


The builder erected two stone cairns on either side of the driveway, and there is now a steel cable that runs between them. This was a cheaper and less visually obtrusive solution than a gate.

My theory is that the vast majority of burglars are teenagers looking for an easy score of fenceable goods. With this cable locked across the driveway at the bottom of the hill, 90% of all burglars are going to say, "I either have to walk up the hill, hope that there's something work stealing, hope that there's no one home who is going to chase me off with a gun, and then have to carry the stuff down the hill--which will attract attention. I'll go look for an easier target."

Those that have a 4WD could go up the side of the hill instead, but this attracts attention in a way that driving up the driveway does not. I think it also likely that most of the amateur burglars out there are driving a Chevrolet Vega, a Yugo, or a two wheel drive Japanese pickup. None of these are going to make it around the gate.

Last house project entry.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Lawyer Humor

Or at least, humor about lawyers:
You know you need a new lawyer WHEN..........

  • During your initial consultation, he tries to sell you some Amway products.
  • He tells you his last good case was a "Budweiser"
  • When the prosecutors see who your lawyer is, they high-five each other.
  • He picks the jury by playing "Eeeenie, meeeenie, miiiiiiny, moe".
  • During the trial, you catch him playing his Gameboy.
  • The Court Bailiff starts shaving your head during your first court appearance.
  • Every couple of minutes, he yells, "I call Jack Daniels to the stand!" and downs a shot.
  • He frequently gives juror number 4 the finger.
  • He places a large "NO REFUNDS" sign on the defense table.
  • He begins his closing argument with, "As Ally McBeal once said..."
  • Just before he says "Your Honor", he makes little quotation marks in the air with his fingers.
  • The sign in front of his office reads "Practicing law since 2:30pm"
  • Whenever his objection is overruled, he tells the judge, "Whatever."
  • He giggles every time he hears the word "briefs".
  • Humor

    I was going through old email, and I found this:
    A not necessarily well-prepared student sat in his life science classroom, staring at a question on the final exam paper. The question directed: "Give four advantages of breast milk."

    What to write? He sighed, and began to scribble whatever came into his head, hoping for the best:

    1. No need to boil.
    2. Never goes sour.
    3. Available whenever necessary.

    So far so good - maybe. But the exam demanded a fourth answer. Again, what to write? Once more, he sighed. He frowned. He scowled, then sighed again. Suddenly, he brightened. He grabbed his pen, and triumphantly, he scribbled his definitive answer:

    4. Available in attractive containers of varying sizes.

    He received an A
    ScopeRoller Product Line Expands Again!

    I am now making a caster assembly for the Celestron NexStar telescopes. Unlike the ones for the Losmandy tripods, which slide inside the legs, these are sleeves that bolt onto the outside of the legs.
    The Observatory

    I ran up to the new house this evening, partly to see if some of the annoying little problems are getting fixed (yes, they are), and partly because the sky was clear, and I wanted to drag Big Bertha out of the garage.

    There are some problems with the new house as far as astronomy goes. The most serious problem is related to "twinkling." You may be aware that one of the ways to distinguish stars from planets is that, except under the most severe atmospheric turbulence, stars twinkle--and planets don't. This makes it very easy, most of the time, to pick out Saturn from stars of similar color and magnitude. But this doesn't work at the new house! There was so little atmospheric turbulence that I could not identify Saturn with the naked eye! This also means that the viewing conditions are going to be spectacular!

    Dark: really dark. There was a little bit of cloud cover over Boise reflecting some light, but the Milky Way was just oppressively bright. I am going to have to relearn the constellations, because there are so many stars now visible that they wash out the magnitude 2 and brighter stars upon which I rely for finding my way around the sky.

    The other discovery was that while I can roll Big Bertha out just fine--I don't have a stepstool up there to use to get to the eyepiece. For objects that are high in the sky (and just about all of them are right now), this is a problem, because Big Bertha's eyepiece is at about seven feet or more above ground level.

    Oh yeah, it was cold up there--about 22 degrees when I left. At star parties, I'm used to being cold, but I am going to have to dress a bit more warmly.

    The most uncomfortable aspect of observing up there is that we are in a pretty wild place. I'm still a bit nervous about having to explain the night sky to a mountain lion or a feral dog. There's no fence around the house itself--and I'm tempted to put something up for that purpose.

    It is also so quiet that you have no idea how far away the few noise are that you hear. At one point, I heard someone whistling--but I couldn't see anyone out there at all. This might have been someone summoning a dog a quarter of a mile away, for all I know. I may need some time to get used to this.
    Robert Ferrigno's Prayers For The Assassin

    There are some books that you pick up, and you can't stop reading them--no matter how late it is. Take a look at the time stamp on this blog entry--and notice that I mentioned just a few hours ago that I was starting to read it. Quite literally, I could not sleep. I tried to stop a bit more than half-way through and go to sleep. I even took antihistamines. But it didn't work.

    I will not tell you enough to spoil the plot--just what you find out on the back cover. The novel is set in the Islamic States of America in the year 2040, 25 years after nuclear weapon attacks on New York City, Washington, DC, and Mecca, have been blamed on the Israeli government. This is a detective novel involving a sociopathic killer, and a history professor who starts to turn up evidence that the attacks were done by... someone else. (If this premise seems ridiculous, notice how much of the left has now decided that the 9/11 attacks were done by the Mossad, or arranged by George Bush. Intellectuals are capable of believing all sorts of absurd things without batting an eye.)

    Now, if you have read Philip K. Dick's The Man in the High Tower, set in an America where the Germans and the Japanese win World War II--and partition the United States between them--you are familiar with this type of novel. There's at least one science fiction short story that I have read, the title of which escapes me, in which a nuclear scientist at Los Alamos during World War II with qualms about the weapon that he is developing ingests peyote, and ends up a future where the Nazis win World War II. A defining characteristic of these "What if?" alternative histories is that there is some defining moment that changes history.

    Sometimes it is a very minor event that causes the disruption. When I was young, my father liked to recite a little piece of doggerel that captures this idea of how even the smallest details can cascade into momentous results:

    For the want of a nail, a shoe was lost.
    For the want of a shoe, the horse was lost.
    For the want of a horse, the rider was lost.
    For the want of a rider, the battle was lost.
    For the want of a battle, the kingdom was lost.
    And all for the want of a nail!
    If I had to pick a single complaint in an otherwise gripping, crisply written, often powerful but subtle novel, it is Ferrigno's two premises that:

    1. In the event of an unprecedented national disaster, American religious beliefs are so tremendously malleable that large numbers of Americans would either genuinely become Muslims, or go through the motions of it.

    2. That Hollywood celebrities, while tremendously of interest to many Americans, would be so effective in promoting such mass conversions to Islam. I go along with the almost unstated premise that much of Hollywood is so completely empty spiritually that they could be persuaded or manipulated into a new religion--but it wouldn't be Islam, which has rules, but more likely, it would be a "designer religion" such as Madonna's celebrity-modified Kaballah, or Oliver Stone's terribly convenient Buddhism.

    Where this novel really shines, however, is how it paints what America (after most Protestants, black and white, had moved to a newly separated nation roughly corresponding to the South) might be like, with fundamentalist, moderate, and "modern" Muslims all jockeying for power. To Ferrigno's credit, he captures the tremendously brutal and totalitarian society that would result. Remember that even "moderate" Islam makes conservative Christians look like the ACLU by comparison. (Which makes the ACLU's current efforts to prevent the NSA from preventing terrorist attacks all the more disturbing.)

    Best of all, Ferrigno paints with a fine camel's hair brush, not with a paint roller. You won't find the sort of clumsy speeches that, regrettably, marred Michael Crichton's State of Fear. I find it interesting that Ferrigno paints the centers of Islamic fundamentalism in the new America concentrated in the places most prone to leftist derangement today--places such as Seattle and San Francisco. While Ferrigno is never explicit about it, it is instructive that members of lunatic fringe groups seem to have no problem leaping quite astonishing political chasms--because it is the fanaticism that defines the kooks, more than individual belief systems.

    I remember some years ago reading about a political science professor who, as an experiment, arranged for some Communists he knew to attend a neo-Nazi event--and a number changed allegiance. The fervor mattered more than the details--the sense of, "I have the truth, and everyone else is just not as smart as me." As an example, the Rev. Fred Phelps--the guy with the "God Hates Fags" signs at gay funerals--used to be a highly regarded left-wing attorney, with awards from the NAACP for his work.

    As an example of Ferrigno's subtlety, there are perhaps three or four references in the book to air pollution, drilling in ANWR, and off the Southern California coast. There's no heavy points being made--these are just mentioned as part of the scenery, and they are exactly what we might expect such a society to do without debate or discussion, because of its totalitarian nature.

    One of the more interesting aspects of the novel is that nearly all the characters are Muslims--although the protagonist is, by his own admission, a "bad Muslim." He never goes to mosque, seldom prays, and observes the rules only to the extent that the Religious Police enforce those rules. There are a couple of Catholic characters as well--and Ferrigno presents a scenario that at first seemed bizarre to me, of the Islamic government tolerating (sort of) Catholics, but not Protestants.

    The more I thought about it, however, it struck me that much of the left in the U.S. regards Islam as less offensive than Protestant Christianity, hence the widespread efforts to inculcate an "understanding" of Islam in public schools after 9/11--with methods that would lead to a lawsuit from the ACLU, if the ACLU took seriously their ahistoric theory of "separation of church and state."

    Ferrigno does a nice job of conveying what a tremendously brutal society this would be--with the heads of homosexuals mounted on the fenceposts along the Bay Bridge, stonings of adulterous women, assassinations by various mullahs jockeying for power--you know, just another typical week in some Arab countries for most of the last few decades. It is rather jarring, also, to imagine a society where instead of Disneyland, kids come to Palestine Adventure theme park near San Francisco, and get pictures taken wearing suicide bomber vests. (Alas, Ferrigno really isn't off the deep end on this--you may recall that Muslim children wearing simulated suicide bomber vests was all the rage at demonstrations in Europe a couple of years ago.)

    Another example of Ferrigno's subtlety is how he merges liberal interest group goals--such as bans on private handgun ownership and personalized guns that can only be fired by the authorized government employee--and weaves them into the story. And he does it with a very deft touch.

    One area where Ferrigno may have been a bit too subtle is with respect to taxation and legal disabilities. Muslim societies have always put non-Muslims at distinct disadvantages as a way to not very subtly pressure Jews and Christians into conversion (when not engaging in flat-out extermination, as sometimes happened). The Ottoman Empire, for example, annually taxed Jews and Christians on their net worth--at times as much as 10%. Think about how long it would take for a 10% annual tax of your net worth (as opposed to your income) to drive even a wealthy person into poverty, and you can understand why Islam was so effective at "converting the masses" everywhere it went. Ferrigno makes one very passing reference to Islam's tax of non-Muslims, and the role that this played in causing the masses to convert.

    Now, this is definitely not a kid's book. One of the characters is a sociopathic assassin--and in perhaps Ferrigno's least subtle moment, his first name comes from that a rather prominent 19th century scientist. We can guess that while he went through the motions of being a Muslim to join the Fedayeen (assassin division), Mom and Dad probably gave him this name as a expression of their contempt for the values of Christian America. Being a sociopathic assassin, he enjoys killing people in ways that are horrific (except by the standards of al-Qaeda).

    Dialog is, in a few places, a little more raw than I would want to expose a teenager to, and even a fair number of adults will regret what is, unfortunately, realistic adult dialog--especially when two of the protagonists are people trained to kill without remorse.

    There is a bit of sex in Prayers for the Assassin, and again, perhaps a little more explicit than I would want to expose some teenagers to, and some adults who haven't lived in centers of depravity such as the San Francisco Bay Area may find it a bit more explicit than they would prefer. On the other hand, there are aspects to Ferrigno's depiction of the sexual degradation of women that are probably necessary, because this, unfortunately, is one of the problems in those Islamofascist societies that have gone off the deep end in their contempt for women.

    I was a little surprised at the level of sexual adventuresomeness of the hero and heroine of the book, especially because both of them have grown up in a society vastly more censored with respect to erotica than America was in say, 1966. Of course, even Muslim societies, for all their supposed restrictions, have widespread problems with illicit sexuality. Homosexuality is utterly prohibited by Islam--and yet everyone knows that there is a lot of it, and much of it in the category of rape. I mentioned a couple of years ago my skepticism at the claim that sexual abuse of children is widespread in Middle Eastern societies--and then discovered that a folk song in Afghanistan has the lyrics:
    “There’s a boy across the river with a bottom like a peach. But, alas, I cannot swim ...”
    A co-worker fluent in Turkish, at least conversant in Arabic, and widely traveled in that part of the world, confirmed that adult men pursuing little boys as sexual partners is widespread. Perhaps I should not assume that Ferrigno's hero and heroine are so unrealistic.

    I highly recommend this book. I enjoyed reading it, and it serves as a valuable cautionary tale--and now that I am done reading it, I think I can finally get some sleep! As long as I don't think about the coming conflict with Iran about nuclear weapons....

    UPDATE: A couple of readers have suggested that the story about the Los Alamos worker who is given a chance to see the future where the U.S. doesn't develop nuclear weapons is C.M. Kornbluth's "Two Dooms" (1958). I believe that this is correct. I am only slightly surprised to find that there is an entire website devoted to these "alternative history" books and stories:
    Uchronia: The Alternate History List is an annotated bibliography of over 2700 novels, stories, essays and other printed material involving the "what ifs" of history. The genre has a variety of names, but it's best known as alternate history.

    In an alternate history, one or more past events are changed and the subsequent effects on history somehow described. This description may comprise the entire plotline of a novel, or it may just provide a brief background to a short story. Perhaps the most common themes in alternate history are "What if the Nazis won World War II?" and "What if the Confederacy won the American Civil War?"
    A number of readers have also pointed out that what I found implausible--widespread conversion to Islam--is perhaps less absurd than it first sounds. One reader observes:
    Paul Johnson made the argument in his "History of Christianity" that Egypt and the African littoral readily converted to Islam because it solved the major disagreement they had over Christianity: the Monophysite heresy. By analogy, if you are a "modern, enlightened" Christian (think Bishop Spong), who believes that Jesus wasn't *really* the Son of God (you know, the "Jesus-was-a-great-teacher-and-philosopher" school), you might find Islam (God is God, Mohammed is His prophet) easier to swallow than your own orthodoxy!
    Another reader pointed out that American Protestantism's strong democratic political structure would make it harder than control than Catholicism's more hierarchical form.

    Finally, I should mention that one of the great recent surprises in the study of American slavery history is the increasing evidence that many African imports were Muslim--and this may have actually accelerated their acceptance of Christianity, relative to those Africans who were animists. Muslims at least accept the idea of one God, and regard Judaism and Christianity as substantially closer to Islam than purely pagan religions. Perhaps the trauma of being sold away from home broke a slave's confidence in his religion, and peer pressure from Christian slaves made these transitions easier.

    Friday, January 20, 2006

    The Advantages of Being a VIP

    Before you laugh--I find leftist Idaho blogs (yes, they exist) that whine about how a "wingnut" like me gets over 1000 visitors a day. So while I am a pretty small fish compared to some bloggers out there, I am big enough that people send me stuff.

    For example: Robert Ferrigno's new novel Prayers for the Assassin. I am going to take a break for reading Tolkien's Fellowship of the Ring for a few nights and see how Ferrigno's book goes instead. Tolkien was writing fantasy; Ferrigno, in light of current events, I fear, could be writing future history.

    Thursday, January 12, 2006

    What Causes ACLU Derangement Syndrome?

    The positions that the ACLU takes.

    About twenty years ago, I had a certain admiration for the ACLU. I didn't agree with everything that they did, but for the most part, they were still primarily a civil liberties union--defending individuals from governmental abuse of power. I was disappointed that they pretended the Second Amendment wasn't an individual right, but much of what they did, even on behalf of sleazy clients (such as the Skokie neo-Nazi march) represented clear examples of civil liberties being denied.

    Now, there are people out there who make claims about the ACLU that turn out to be wrong. I've blogged in the past about claims that float around that don't seem credible--and that no one can provide evidence that shows the ACLU did these things.

    But the ACLU has clearly lost its way--perhaps because they ran out of traditional civil liberties problems to pursue?

    Like arguing that behavioral screening--looking for odd behavior, such as "heavy clothes on a hot day, loiterers without luggage, anyone observing security methods" is Constitutionally suspect. Let's see, they can't search based on race--that would be discriminatory. They can't search based on behavior--that might be racist.

    They fight with every atom of breath to prevent the state from executing those convicted of murder--after a lengthy review of evidence, leaving no stone unturned to look for clear proof of guilt, has been completed--but they are prepared to sue to allow starving someone to death on the word of one person--her husband, who had a financial interest in seeing her die--while other relatives disputed his claim.

    And complaining that students were boycotting classes to express disapproval.

    And arguing in court that a provision of the Nebraska Constitution defining marriage is a "bill of attainder" and therefore unconstitutional. Even Professor Volokh, who described me as suffering from ACLU Derangement Syndrome, agreed that the ACLU's argument was wrong:
    The court reasons that "Section 29 does not just withhold a benefit; it actually prohibits same-sex relationship couples from working to obtain governmental benefits" ("working" meaning "working effectively through the legislative process" -- obviously they can still work through proposing a constitutional amendment). But all constitutional constraints operate this way.
    And a radio ad that they ran, attempting to rally opposition to an anti-terrorism data mining program by suggesting that this information would be provided to pizza delivery companies.

    And the ACLU's concern about privacy? Whoops! It doesn't apply to their actions.

    And the ACLU gets caught lying by Professor Orin Kerr (another member of the Volokh Conspiracy). And yet another example, again from Professor Kerr, where the ACLU puts out a deceptive press release--and the mainstream media just go ahead and run with it, not bothering to check for factual accuracy. (Gee, Professor Kerr calls the ACLU's statements deceptive at least twice--he must also be suffering from ACLU Derangement Syndrome.)

    The ACLU believes in freedom of speech--unless you are a child who gives another child a pencil that says "Jesus loves little children." Here's the decision where a school district prohibited a child from handing out these pencils at a class party. And here's a case where the ACLU stepped in to protect a child from being disciplined for saying that he had two Mommies. Oh, and this kid wore a T-shirt to school calling Bush an international terrorist; the ACLU thinks that's protected free speech (which it is). Some forms of free speech are protected by the ACLU; others are not (and oddly enough, those are the Christians whose speech is not protected).

    The ACLU used to argue privacy as a basis for striking down sodomy laws. I don't particularly buy the broad definition of "privacy," but that's at least plausible. But then, when the prosecution involves sex in a bookstore (hardly a place with an expectation of privacy), they argue that Lawrence strikes down the law:
    The indictments issued July 21 followed a three-month investigation of public sodomy and solicitation to commit sodomy at an adult bookstore in Harrisonburg.


    Kent Willis, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia, told the Roanoke Times, "Our interpretation is that any charges under the sodomy law are invalid at this point." Other misdemeanor charges were available to the police, he said, including lewd and lascivious cohabitation, obscene exhibitions and indecent exposure.

    Dyana Mason, executive director of Equality Virginia, a homosexual rights organization, suggested that the indictments reflect the underlying discriminatory nature of the statute. "My concern [is] that this law can still be used to harass and intimidate gay men," she told the paper.
    Oh yeah, it is definitely harassment and intimidation to expect them to go home to have anonymous sex.

    The ACLU seems to think that there are no limits to freedom of speech--including displaying your penis on television while telling jokes. Ditto for live sex shows in Oregon.

    The ACLU, for all its concern about "establishment of religion" violations, simply never took any action on something that is more clearly a violation than handing out pencils with Jesus's name on them--but because it benefitted non-Christians--well, that's okay.

    And here's an example of something that is both a cultural and a religious event in a public school--rather like a creche in front of city hall is both cultural and religious--but you won't find the ACLU pursuing it. It isn't Christian, so it must be okay.

    Here's another case that the ACLU should have pursued--special tax treatment for members of one church--the Church of Scientology. But they aren't Christians, and they are important in Hollywood, so I guess both the "establishment of religion" and "equal protection" clauses just disappear.

    Convicted child molesters, for example. The ACLU has fought Megan's Law all over America, arguing that it violates the privacy of registered sex offenders. Cathy Seipp--who Professor Volokh hasn't accused of suffering from ACLU Derangement Syndrome--points out that the ACLU and its homosexual legislative allies in California have created a Catch-22 for landords:
    Not only are California landlords banned from using the state's Megan's Law database to decline renting their properties to sex offenders, they're not even allowed to warn other tenants that these paroled criminals are now their neighbors. If they do the first, they can be fined $25,000 for housing discrimination. But if they don't do the second, they can be sued for failing to protect tenants against a known danger.
    Freedom of conscience? Sorry, but homosexuality is more important. The ACLU filed suit--and won--against a printing company because they declined to print same-sex wedding announcements. And Professor Volokh is how I found out about this outrageous interference in the right of conscience.

    The ACLU promotes lying--unless, of course, they are representing vampires. The plaintiff alleges injury caused by the sight of a cross:
    Buono is deeply offended by the cross display on public land in an area that is not open to others to put up whatever symbols they choose. A practicing Roman Catholic, Buono does not find a cross itself objectionable, but stated that the presence of the cross is objectionable to him as a religious symbol because it rests on federal land.
    While not an ACLU case, it reminds me of the claim of "physical pain" caused by seeing the Ten Commandments in a public park--and the morons that sit on the bench accepted this obvious perjury, and ruled in her favor.

    I could go on for many more pages. The ACLU's own actions cause "ACLU Derangement Syndrome." Arguing that minors have a "due process liberty interest" in sex with adults--when an adult (with previous convictions for this) was being prosecuted for pursuing sex with a 14 year old who said to stop. Defending NAMBLA in a civil suit by the parents of a little boy who NAMBLA members raped and murdered. These are the reminders of what an evil and hypocritical organization the ACLU--a group with a proud past--has become. Those who defend the ACLU must either be blind to ACLU's dishonesty and evil, or have decided that they can live with it, as long as they the age of consent laws abolished, freedom of association abolished (at least for the Boy Scouts), and detestable groups like NAMBLA free to give detailed instructions on the raping of children.

    UPDATE: I've replaced a link to Orin Kerr castigating a Slate columnist with another case of the ACLU engaging in deceptive press releases. Just so that those with reading disabilities understand me: there are a number of cases above where the ACLU, if they were still in the civil liberties business, would have at least filed a brief--such as the pencil case. If you want to argue that they don't have the resources to be involved in every case, well, I can believe that. But they have the resources not just to file a brief in the Curley suit against NAMBLA--they are actively defending NAMBLA. The pencil case involved two different protections of the First Amendment: freedom of speech and freedom of religious exercise. The NAMBLA case involves what is, at best, an extreme edge of legal free speech--and yet ACLU finds the resources for this.
    New Products

    ScopeRoller has rolled out the Quick Release Toe Saver for the Astro-Physics telescope mounts.

    I am pleased that there are enough different products now on the ScopeRoller page that I had to do a little reorganizing.

    I will be adding at least one more new product in the next few days.

    Tuesday, January 10, 2006

    Big Brother Tactics

    I'm glad to see that this guy was prepared to eschew the tactics of intimidation:
    Daniel Morgan has posted several items at his blog attempting to figure out the real life identity of "Mike Gene", a pseudonymous ID advocate who blogs at Telic Thoughts. Mike Gene has been a staple in the evolution/ID debate for many years. He's not really a Discovery Institute-type of ID advocate, he's more of an "ID evolutionist" than an "ID creationist", or at least that is my reading of him which is admittedly not too thorough (unlike many of my Panda's Thumb colleagues, I never took part in the discussion boards at ARN where Mike Gene has been a major figure for a long time debating these issues). Many people over the years have tried to discern his real identity and none have succeeded.

    My message to Daniel Morgan is this: please stop. Actions have consequences, both positive and negative, and deciding on a course of action usually means weighing those consequences against one another. In this case, what could possibly be achieved that is positive for our side? You might succeed in figuring out who he is, and because he is apparently a junior faculty member at a university and does not have tenure, it may well cause some trouble for him. But that will not defeat his arguments, nor will it do anything to stop the political maneuvering of ID proponents or to resolve the disputes over this issue.

    On the other hand, you can do a lot of damage here. You can do a lot of damage because you may well succeed in creating a martyr. The ID crowd has a lot of what I consider to be fake martyrs, Richard Sternberg most recently. They have a real tendency to whine about the "Darwinian priesthood" seeking to "destroy" anyone who advocates intelligent design and most of the time they have to exaggerate and distort in order to make those complaints sound more credible than they are. But you may succeed in creating a real martyr, one with a genuine and non-exaggerated case to make for being victimized by people seeking to enforce an orthodoxy of opinion at universities, where academic freedom should be nurtured and protected.
    Of course, Sternberg really was a martyr to the cause of academic freedom, but I am pleased to see Ed Brayton disapprove of this tactic.

    What I find interesting, however, is some of the other admissions from Ed Brayton:
    I say this to you as someone who, many years ago, participated in the outing of a prominent creationist, John Woodmorappe (that is his pseudonym, not his real name). It's something I regret now, though I think the circumstances made it more justified than your actions here (Woodmorappe was, while writing under his fake name, citing articles written under his real name that appeared to contradict his creationist views). Quite frankly, it was mostly a matter of ego for me then, and the desire to stick it to someone I viewed as the enemy.
    Enemy? There are people with whom I disagree, but enemies I limit to totalitarians, racists, supporters of gun bans, child molesters, and people that make, distribute, or sell child pornography, and those who defend any of these as being good things. (If you are upset that your group isn't included on my enemies' list, too bad.)

    Look, this whole evolution, Intelligent Design, "Creation Science" dispute is a question about the most effective and honest way to teach science. I am disturbed that Ed Brayton regards people that disagree with him as an "enemy."

    A little later on that page, Ed Brayton responds to comments by observing:
    I know for a fact that there are folks on "my side" (and by that I only mean those who advocate for evolution and against ID/creationism) who would make an effort to prevent a junior academic from getting tenure if they were known to be an ID advocate, regardless of any other factor. Do I think they represent the "Darwinian orthodoxy"? Absolutely not. But they do exist and I have no doubt they would agitate by writing letters to MG's bosses if they had proof of who he was, in an attempt to smear him to them.
    This is the sort of Stalinist/medieval Church stuff that demonstrates the religious fanaticism of some of the folks on Brayton's side (but without Brayton's decency).
    I'm Sure This Is Just A Coincidence

    Augusten Burroughs, a gay novelist, has a memoir out titled Dry. A reader notes that:
    It is pretty vulgar (his parents prostituted him out at age 12), so its not for the young or faint of heart!)
    Just a coincidence that a little boy gets pimped out at 12, and grows up gay. Just like this coincidence, and this coincidence, and this amazing set of statistical coincidences.

    It should be obvious by now that the high correlation between childhood sexual abuse and adult homosexuality is at least worthy of serious study--and yet the PC crowd has grabbed onto the idea that homosexuality is completely healthy, in spite of the well-documented evidence of disproportionate rates of substance abuse, child molestation, and sexual problems in the gay community.

    How long does the elephant have to be in the bathtub before the society stops saying, "What elephant?"

    Monday, January 9, 2006

    Suppressing Religious Beliefs

    An interesting lawsuit in Italy, attempting to prohibit teaching that Jesus Christ was a real person:
    An Italian court is considering whether the Roman Catholic Church is breaking the law by teaching that Jesus Christ walked the earth 2,000 years ago.

    The case pits against each other two men in their 70s, who are from the same central Italian town and went to the same seminary school in their teenage years.

    The defendant, Enrico Righi, went on to become a priest writing for the parish newspaper. The plaintiff, Luigi Cascioli, became a vocal atheist who, after years of legal wrangling, is slated to get his day in court later this month."I started this lawsuit because I wanted to deal the final blow against the church, the bearer of obscurantism and regression," Mr. Cascioli said.

    Mr. Cascioli says Father Righi, and by extension the Roman church, broke two Italian laws. The first is "Abuso di Credulita Popolare" ("Abuse of Popular Belief"), meant to protect citizens against being swindled or conned. The second crime, he says, is "Sostituzione di Persona," or impersonation.

    "The church constructed Christ upon the personality of John of Gamala," Mr. Cascioli said, referring to the first-century Jew who fought the Roman army.

    A court in Viterbo will hear from Father Righi, who has yet to be indicted, at a Jan. 27 preliminary hearing meant to determine whether the case has enough merit to go forward.

    "In my book, 'The Fable of Christ,' I present 'proof' Jesus did not exist as a historic figure. [Father Righi] must now refute this by showing proof of Christ's existence," Mr. Cascioli said.
    Now, I would like to think that the freedom of religion and freedom of the press provisions of the First Amendment would prevent such a suit from going forward in the U.S.--but you never know what cleverness the ACLU will pull out of its bag of magic tricks next.

    In Britain, a prominent scientist is arguing that religion is a form of child abuse:
    CONTROVERSIAL scientist Richard Dawkins will assert tomorrow evening that religion is a “virus” that amounts to child abuse.

    The new two-part series, to be shown on Channel 4, will compare Moses to Hitler and claim that God is racist. It will also argue that religion is a “backward belief system” responsible for terrorism.
    Ah, that's it! The ACLU will argue that children have a right to not be mentally abused by exposure to religion. This was, after all, the policy of the Soviet Union, which prohibited teaching religion to those under 18, and the ACLU's founder was a defender of Soviet practices on civil liberties.

    I was amused by this article in, of all places, the left-wing Guardian responding to Dawkins:
    His voice is one of the loudest in an increasingly shrill chorus of atheist humanists; something has got them badly rattled. They even turned their bitter invective on Narnia. By all means, let's have a serious debate about religious belief, one of the most complex and fascinating phenomena on the planet, but the suspicion is that it's not what this chorus wants. Behind unsubstantiated assertions, sweeping generalisations and random anecdotal evidence, there's the unmistakable whiff of panic; they fear religion is on the march again.

    There's an aggrieved frustration that they've been short-changed by history; we were supposed to be all atheist rationalists by now. Secularisation was supposed to be an inextricable part of progress. Even more grating, what secularisation there has been is accompanied by the growth of weird irrationalities from crystals to ley lines. As GK Chesterton pointed out, the problem when people don't believe in God is not that they believe nothing, it is that they believe anything.

    There's an underlying anxiety that atheist humanism has failed. Over the 20th century, atheist political regimes racked up an appalling (and unmatched) record for violence. Atheist humanism hasn't generated a compelling popular narrative and ethic of what it is to be human and our place in the cosmos; where religion has retreated, the gap has been filled with consumerism, football, Strictly Come Dancing and a mindless absorption in passing desires. Not knowing how to answer the big questions of life, we shelve them - we certainly don't develop the awe towards and reverence for the natural world that Dawkins would want. So the atheist humanists have been betrayed by the irrational, credulous nature of human beings; a misanthropy is increasingly evident in Dawkins's anti-religious polemic and among his many admirers.
    UPDATE: Professor Volokh refers to this post as "ACLU Derangement Syndrome." But even a self-identified civil libertarian who describes himself as "am more likely to defend the ACLU then criticize it" argues in the comments over there that, "even I see that in a few instances ACLU takes its position to an extreme to threaten other freedoms."

    UPDATE 2: The comments section has degenerated into a discussion of how I am out of the mainstream of American thought because I think the Supreme Court decided wrongly that virtual child pornography is protected by the First Amendment. Every time I wonder if I have misjudged liberalism, I get these examples of lawyers and law professors defending child pornography, and I realize that the only real hope for this country is adding loyalty oaths and religious tests to the bar exams. (Okay, not really, that would just make them liars as well as liberals.)

    Friday, January 6, 2006

    Is This Theory Really Untestable?

    I was reading an article that made the claim that this theory which gets lots of press has to "be taken on faith" and "no experiment can tell it it's right or wrong." No, no, not Intelligent Design--string theory.

    The article is in the January 2006 Astronomy, and it is Bob Berman's column. I don't know enough about string theory to know if he knows what he is talking about with these criticisms--but if he is, it would suggest that non-testability isn't a problem just for Intelligent Design:
    Problem one: String theory won't work in our reality of three dimensions plus the fourth dimension of time. To make it work, its creators had to invent six or seven additional dimensions, which contradicts our own senses and the rest of science. None of these extra dimensions can be possibly be tested. They have to be taken on faith.

    Problem two: String theory is untestable -- no experiment can tell if it's right or wrong.

    Problem three: According to [Columbia University professor Peter] Woit, string theory's only prediction (about the strength of the cosmological constant) proved to be incorrect by 55 orders of magnitude. Oops. That's like predicting mice are larger than stars.
    I suspect that there are some cosmologists and physicists reading this blog who can answer the question: is Bob Berman right? Is string theory untestable--does it have to be "taken on faith"?

    Thursday, January 5, 2006

    Why Liberal Is A Dirty Word To Me

    I've given examples before. Here's another--and before you say that I am falsely accusing this judge of being a liberal, read his reason for giving a 60 day sentence for repeatedly raping a child:
    There was outrage Wednesday when a Vermont judge handed out a 60-day jail sentence to a man who raped a little girl many,many times over a four-year span starting when she was seven.

    The judge said he no longer believes in punishment and is more concerned about rehabilitation.

    Prosecutors argued that confessed child-rapist Mark Hulett, 34, of Williston deserved at least eight years behind bars for repeatedly raping a littler girl countless times starting when she was seven.

    But Judge Edward Cashman disagreed explaining that he no longer believes that punishment works.

    "The one message I want to get through is that anger doesn't solve anything. It just corrodes your soul," said Judge Edward Cashman speaking to a packed Burlington courtroom.


    Judge Cashman also also revealed that he once handed down stiff sentences when he first got on the bench 25 years ago, but he no longer believes in punishment.

    "I discovered it accomplishes nothing of value;it doesn't make anything better;it costs us a lot of money; we create a lot of expectation, and we feed on anger,"Cashman explained to the people in the court.
    "It doesn't make anything better?" Except that it guarantees that, while in prison, this guy won't rape any other children.

    "it costs us a lot of money": It sure does. What does he think it is going to cost to provide counseling for this child to deal with being raped? I've talked to more victims of child molestation than I can count, and the one thing that I know is that when advocates call child molestation "soul murder," they are often not far off. The damage done is huge; many victims end up destroying themselves and everyone around them, dealing with the shame.

    As recently as 2004, Judge Cashman was singing a different tune:
    The Attorney General’s Office announced today that Keefe L. Beattie of Johnson was sentenced to the State’s recommendation of twenty years to life to serve for the brutal murder of Margaret May. Ms. May was murdered in February of 2001 at her home in Johnson, Vermont where she had been providing respite care for Keefe Beattie. In sentencing Beattie, Judge Edward Cashman stated that the crime was both cruel and arbitrary and that the sentence imposed was necessary to ensure public safety.
    What? No concern about costs? About not making anything better? Or does Judge Cashman just not have a problem with raping children?
    The Mind Boggles

    I thought that this sort of anti-Semitism was completely gone--but since the speaker is a bit of a hero to the left, I guess that I am not surprised:

    Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez announced in a Christmas speech that “the descendants of those who crucified Christ” have appropriated the riches of the world.

    Speaking at a rehabilitation center on December 24, the controversial left-wing president said “the descendants of those who crucified Christ... have taken ownership of the riches of the world, a minority has taken ownership of the gold of the world, the silver, the minerals, water, the good lands, petrol, well, the riches, and they have concentrated the riches in a small number of hands.”

    For Spanish speakers on this list, the full speech can be found at (The remarks about Jews are on page 18.)
    I don't speak Spanish, but others who apparently do have come up with a similar translation.

    I found myself wondering: is he talking about the United States? But it wasn't Americans who crucified Jesus. (Actually, it wasn't Jews who crucified Jesus; it was Romans--but little details like history don't usually bother anti-Semites.)

    Wednesday, January 4, 2006

    House Project: Debugging Continuing

    The electrician reports that the pressurization pump problems would not reproduce itself. I am wondering if removing the lead filters introduced a bubble somewhere, and it just took some time to work its way out.

    The electrician reports that the battery has the generator almost starting, so he is now contacting the manufacturer for guidance.

    The additional filter housings and filters to provide 5 micron and 1 micron prefiltration comes to a few hundred dollars, and should be here in a day or two for the plumber to install.

    The builder agrees that the best solution to the water problem in the garage is to cut a drain into the concrete in front of the front garage door, and in front of the rear garage door, so that rain coming in at an angle will drain away from the concrete.

    He is waiting for a couple of consecutive dry days so that he finish the grading--and then hope for another gully-washer so that we can see if this has solved the problem, or if we need to take more extensive measures.

    He is going to try and get the gateposts and the mailbox post sunk now that the ground has defrosted.

    Last house project entry.

    Sunday, January 1, 2006

    House Project: Debugging Various Systems

    Try not to read too much into my complaints about my new house yet. This is a complex system, with lots of parts. The house certainly works better than any Microsoft product so far. The real test of the builder will be how well he resolves the various problems.

    I spoke to the electrician today.

    1. The backup generator didn't start because it didn't have a battery. (This strikes me as a "Duh!" sort of point, but I must confess that I didn't think about this, either.) He is going to get that on January 2 (the 1st not being a good day to hit stores for automobile batteries).

    2. The jetted tub doesn't work because Rod is in the habit of tripping the GFI (Ground Fault Interrupter) in the bathroom when he is done, to make sure that someone doesn't ignorantly start the jets without filling the tub with water. I didn't even notice the GFI switch. I suppose that I should have thought about that.

    3. The telephone and cable wiring that has no connectors was because Rod's son was supposed to walk through the house and make sure that they didn't miss anything. Whoops! Rod will take care of that on the 2nd.

    4. The connectors lying on the floor are waiting for the appropriate wall plate. Rod will take care of that on the 2nd, also.

    My wife and I went up there on the morning of December 31, and the power is back on. At least there's no great danger of the house getting so cold as to freeze the pipes--it is very well insulated.

    We have not been happy about the interior painting, which is especially apparent in the dining room, which is pink. My son-in-law worked as a professional painter for the University of Idaho, and both he and my daughter immediately noticed how poorly the interior is painted.

    My son-in-law also figured out why. The interior was sprayed--not rolled--and he thinks that the paint was overdiluted to get it to spray smoothly. Unfortunately, when you spray onto gypsum board, the results are never quite as good as rolling full viscosity paint. Here's a wall in the family room. Because the paint isn't dramatically different from the color of the underlying gypsum board, it isn't spectacularly obvious, but you can see striping.

    Click to enlarge

    A little more obvious is the dining room, where the pink is sufficiently different from the gray of the gypsum board to make the horizontal striping obvious.

    Click to enlarge

    You also can't just take a brush or roller to a wall that was sprayed; you have to feather in the boundaries, or you get results like this, in the hall.

    Click to enlarge

    Additionally, when you roll a wall, you usually start by cutting in the corners with a brush, and then roll into the corners. The brush knocks out the spider webs. Spraying just gives you paint globs on the spider webs. (Sorry, the pictures of the paint-encased spider webs didn't come out.)

    Because even three spray coats of paint is so thin, we already have places where paint has been scraped from corners--and we have moved no furniture yet! I suspect that this was the electrician rubbing against the wall while installing switches.

    Click to enlarge

    And what is this hole in the paint? It is too high for anyone to have run into the wall, and chipped the paint. It almost looks like someone painted over a bug, but it overcame the fumes and flew away.

    Click to enlarge

    This could have happened to anyone (although anyone would have used an eraser). The mirrors guy had marked the dimensions--and forgot that his scratch pad wasn't going to be covered by the mirrors.

    Click to enlarge

    We are sufficiently disappointed with the painting that we are going to push the builder to roll one coat of paint at least on the walls. I believe that he found it impossible to hire painters (and he spent more than a month trying to find anyone to do this), so he ended up spraying it himself--and it looks like he might have been better off telling us that he needed to wait for painting subcontractors. I wouldn't have been happy, of course, but I am not happy with these results, either.

    Another annoyance: in addition to the wind whistle at the top hinge part of the front door, which includes a bit of a draft as well as noise, there is a similar problem at the kitchen exterior door, at the top opposite the hinges. It is a large enough gap between frame, weatherstripping, and door, that you can actually see some light through it.

    Click to enlarge

    The water coming into the garage can be solved, I think, by just pouring a small amount of concrete outside the garage, where I have a piece of broken concrete sitting, to force water into the drain.

    Click to enlarge

    Last house project entry.

    UPDATE: The builder says that he sprayed the dining room twice, and rolled it once. He thinks that what we are seeing is a weird lighting effect problem, not a paint problem--although he admits his wife also noticed that it looked like a bad paint job.