Thursday, January 31, 2008

Not The Worst Day of My Life...

But certainly the worst in several years, that's for sure.

I telecommute four days a week. Thursdays I have a meeting with my boss and the rest of his group. I tried to drive out in my wife's AWD Equinox. I got down the driveway okay, but on Sunburst Road, I ran out of traction--and slid back into a snowbank. I was thoroughly stuck. Some of this might be the tires, mostly, I think, it is because AWD is not a substitute for four wheel drive. When there is almost no traction on any tire, AWD seems to make very poor decisions about where to put the power.

So my wife insists that we get the Equinox out of our subdivision, and look for a replacement with full-time 4WD. After a lot of unpleasant discoveries (even the Subarus aren't truly full-time 4WD), we ended up trading in the Equinox on a 2007 Chevy Trailblazer with 11,000 miles. This was expensive, at least partly because we still owe more on the Equinox than it is worth--it has 60,000 miles on it.

Before we signed the papers, we drove the Trailblazer up to our house. It was certainly far superior to the Equinox--climbed the driveway without a single concern. I did high center on the snowdrifts in the front yard, but managed to rock it off, and head back to the dealer.

So three hours later, we are back to the house--and there is another foot or more of snow everywhere. We could not climb the driveway. Even the snowthrower couldn't negotiate the driveway--just too deep. And it is getting worse.

So I have wasted the entire day, gotten no work done (so I'll be working Saturday). I've spent a pile of money, I'm cold, sore, and mentally exhausted.

Al Gore, could you bring your hot air about global warming to Idaho? Oh yes, I see that Boise State had a conference on the subject yesterday and today--and all evening classes were canceled because of the ferocity of the snowstorm we're having.

UPDATE: I understand that BSU did have to cancel the second part of their global warming conference because of the snowstorm.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

When The Weather Is This Bad

Only dogsleds and teams of huskies make sense. Now the wife's Equinox is stranded on the private road--at least, not blocking it too badly.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Rock Coming By

For those of you with a clear sky, this article tells how to find the 800 foot asteroid that will be passing by only 1.4x the distance of the Moon tonight.

I've given up. Last night was wondrously clear (but too cold to be outside). Today, we're waiting for polar bears to migrate outside our windows. It has been snowing all day--not spectacularly hard, and you Michiganers and North Dakotans would probably say that this isn't really snow, since we don't need to exit through a second story window (as if we had one). But I can guarantee we won't be watching the big rock passing by.

By the way, if an 800 foot asteroid doesn't sound big to you, remember that the kinetic energy of an object is calculated from 1/2 x mass x velocity squared. I've read that the meteor that gouged out the Canyon Diablo crater in Arizona was about 100 feet across--and the hole is more than 4000 feet in diameter.

By the way, if you are ever in northern Arizona, make sure that you stop and visit. This is one of the few really important geologic features in the United States that is privately owned, and they do a good job of it.

Bond Yields

For those prepared to take some risk, there are some astonishing deals available. Countrywide Home Mortgages, which was just acquired by Bank of America, has a number of S&P BBB+ rated bonds with maturities in the months to a 1 1/2 year range with annualized yields to maturity above 9%--in some cases, above 10%. (I just bought bonds due in July 2009 with an annualized YTM of more than 11%.)

I wouldn't encourage you to put a lot of your portfolio into such bonds. It seems unlikely that Countrywide--or rather Bank of America, who now owns them--will default on these bonds--especially since falling interest rates may solve some of Countrywide's problem with subprime mortgages--but it does provide a way to sweeten the return on your portfolio with, I think, less risk than many stocks right now.

College Has Changed Since I Was A Freshman

Back in 1974, at USC. Dorms were still sex-segregated, and while the opposite sex could visit, they had to be out by 2:00 AM. Yes, it was perhaps a bit hypocritical to pretend that this was preventing the students from having sex, but I'm not sure that this upcoming program at William & Mary is better. From the January 28, 2008 Daily Press:
WILLIAMSBURG - College of William and Mary President Gene Nichol gave students the go-ahead this morning to hold the controversial Sex Workers' Art Show on campus next month.

In a statement, Nichol said he tried to work with students to hold the event at a venue off the Williamsburg campus.

Students were unable to find an off-campus venue, however, and Nichol said the First Amendment and "defining traditions of openness that sustain universities" required he permit the show be held at the college.

"My views and the views of others in the community about the worth or offensiveness of the program can provide no basis for censoring it," he said.

A Unitarian Universalist church in James City County had considered hosting the show, according to co-pastor Rev. Jennifer Ryu. County law, however, prohibited the church from hosting events that might feature public nudity, she said.


The Sex Workers' Art Show features performances and monologues by strippers, prostitutes and other sex workers, with its goal being to "dispel the myth that (the performers) are anything short of artists, innovators, and geniuses."
I'm sure that there are some "artists, innovators, and geniuses" among "strippers, prostitutes, and other sex workers"--just like I am sure that there are some "artists, innovators, and geniuses" picking up garbage for the sanitation company (you know, the garbage man in the Dilbert comic strip)--but somehow, I am just a bit skeptical.

I suspect that if most Americans realized the extent that universities waste resources on trash like this (and there are a lot of examples out there), you would see a lot less enthusiasm for spending public money on these institutions. There is clearly a need for a lot more supervision of the children--and I am not talking about the students!

You Have No Choice

Refuse to be a photographer at a same-sex "commitment ceremony"--and get hauled into court. And not in Canada, but in the United States:

ABOUT Willock v. Elane Photography

A same-sex couple asked Elaine Huguenin, co-owner with her husband of Elane Photography, to photograph a “commitment ceremony” that the two women wanted to hold. Huguenin declined because her Christian beliefs are in conflict with the message communicated by the ceremony.

CURRENT STATUS OF Willock v. Elane Photography AS OF Jan. 25, 2008

The same-sex couple filed a complaint with the New Mexico Human Rights Division, which is now trying Elane Photography under state antidiscrimination laws for sexual orientation discrimination. The division will conduct a hearing in the case Jan. 28-29.
Homosexuality. Freedom. Pick one.

UPDATE: Here is the probable cause for a hearing complaint letter, the complaint itself, and the charge of discrimination.

The Real Danger To Homosexuals

It isn't traditionalists in America who believe that the government should not recognize same-sex marriage, or add homosexuals to the list of protected groups. It is the emerging Islamist movement. Bruce Bawer has a column here about how homosexuals like himself used to feel reasonably safe in European cities--but not anymore:
One day last month, I gave a talk in Rome about how the supposedly liberal ideology of multiculturalism has made possible the spread in Europe of the highly illiberal ideology of fundamentalist Islam, with all its brutality and – among other things – violent homophobia. When I returned to my hotel, I phoned my partner back home in Oslo only to learn that moments earlier he had been confronted at a bus stop by two Muslim youths, one of whom had asked if he was gay, started to pull out a knife, then kicked him as he got on the bus, which had pulled up at just the right moment. If the bus hadn’t come when it did, the encounter could have been much worse.
Not very long ago, Oslo was an icy Shangri-la of Scandinavian self-discipline, governability, and respect for the law. But in recent years, there have been grim changes, including a rise in gay-bashings. The summer of 2006 saw an unprecedented wave of them. The culprits, very disproportionately, are young Muslim men.
It’s not just Oslo, of course. The problem afflicts most of Western Europe. And anecdotal evidence suggests that such crimes are dramatically underreported. My own partner chose not to report his assault. I urged him to, but he protested that it wouldn’t make any difference. He was probably right.
The reason for the rise in gay bashings in Europe is clear – and it’s the same reason for the rise in rape. As the number of Muslims in Europe grows, and as the proportion of those Muslims who were born and bred in Europe also grows, many Muslim men are more inclined to see Europe as a part of the umma (or Muslim world), to believe that they have the right and duty to enforce sharia law in the cities where they live, and to recognize that any aggression on their part will likely go unpunished. Such men need not be actively religious in order to feel that they have carte blanche to assault openly gay men and non-submissive women, whose freedom to live their lives as they wish is among the most conspicuous symbols of the West’s defiance of holy law.
Multiculturalists can’t face all this. So it is that even when there are brutal gay-bashings, few journalists write about them; of those who do, few mention that the perpetrators are Muslims; and those who do mention it take the line that these perpetrators are lashing out in desperate response to their own oppression.
It is well worth reading, because he points out that for all the whining about religious conservatives in Europe (what, all five of them?) from the left, the greatest hazard to homosexuals there isn't going to be disapproval, but the willingness of multicultural leftists in Europe to tolerate shari'a law being applied there:
Yet politicians, journalists, activists, and others who cling to the multicultural mindset can’t bring themselves to acknowledge the Islamic foundations of all this bullying. Instead, they offer the same kind of nonsense that was served up by a Human Rights Watch spokesman after the Chris Crain incident. “There’s still an extraordinary degree of racism in Dutch society,” that spokesman said. “Gays often become the victims of this when immigrants retaliate for the inequities they have to suffer.”
So powerful is the determination to turn away from the plain and simple truth that Amsterdam mayor Job Cohen recently commissioned a study by the University of Amsterdam. Its purpose? To try to figure out what motives underlie the increase in attacks on gay men and lesbians by Dutch-Moroccan men in Amsterdam. “Some researchers,” wrote a reporter for UPI, “believe they [Muslim gay-bashers] lashed out at local gays after feeling stigmatized by Dutch society.” In other words, as the straight-talking Norwegian immigration expert Inger-Lise Lien put it sardonically when I showed her the article, “it’s the assailant who’s the real victim.”
As for Cohen, he would appear to be operating out of pure cynicism. This is the same mayor, after all, who has called for the Netherlands to reach some “accommodation” with its male Muslim residents that would allow them to oppress their wives, sisters, and daughters – though he hasn’t been entirely clear as to just where he would draw the line. (Beatings? Rape? Forced marriage? Genital mutilation? Honor killing?) Given such an extraordinary record of pragmatism, it seems safe to assume that Cohen would also be more than willing, in the name of peace in our time, to turn away with respectful discretion when Muslim gangs beat the living daylights out of the occasional flikker.
In any event, another mayor, London’s Ken Livingstone, has already blazed that trail. In 2004, playing host to Sunni scholar Yusuf al-Qaradawi, who has supported the execution of gay people, Livingstone hailed him as a “progressive.” When gay activists called him on this ridiculous assertion, Livingstone retaliated by putting out a dissertation-length report whitewashing Qaradawi and smearing his critics as racists.
The fact is that as Muslims become a sizable fraction of the population of European cities, politicians like Livingstone and Cohen decide that it makes sense to play to that crowd. America isn't at that stage yet--but I am beginning to think that it may be time to find some way to discourage Muslims from moving to the United States, perhaps by revival of the national origins quotas used until 1965.

Obviously, a lot of Muslims come to America because they do not want to live under shari'a law--but there are a lot who come here to enjoy the economic benefits of living in a free society, while retaining attitudes that are contrary to the American values of relatively minimal government and tolerance for differing religious beliefs.

Ah, you say, discouraging Muslims from moving here isn't very tolerant. There comes a moment when you have to draw some lines--and tolerance for intolerant philosophies is societal suicide. In Europe, Islam is going to take over because non-Muslims Europeans have stopped reproducing, while Muslims are having kids. In America, we are not quite to that level, but the combination of immigration and reproduction means that we have to worry, in a couple of generations, of Muslims being such a major voting bloc that our foreign policy is driven by Muslim interests, not American interests. The left end of the Democratic Party is already controlled by a mixture of multicultural delusion, the desire to make Muslims happy (especially terrorist front organizations like CAIR), and the Michael Moore/Noam Chomsky collection of America-haters. There are disturbing signs that the Republican Party could similarly be infected.

Another Dog Bites Man Story

This isn't even news, because it is so common. But I keep hoping that the drumbeat of me posting these stories will get the message across. From the January 29, 2008 San Francisco Chronicle:
It was a surprise to hear gunfire up among the upscale apartments and condominiums on Russian Hill, a shock to see a panhandler waving a knife, and an absolute stunner to hear that when police fired on the man they killed him. Everyone would agree that it was a terrible, scary, unfortunate tragedy.

But there was one part of it that didn't surprise those familiar with life on the street: the announcement by police that the man had mental health problems.

How many times is this going to happen? Someone living on the street, with severe mental issues, snaps and begins to behave erratically. The consequences are never good. In October, San Francisco police Sgt. Paget Mitchell was badly beaten by a disturbed homeless man, known as "the sign guy," who'd been putting up threatening posters in Justin Herman Plaza for months.

In the most recent case, the slain man (still unidentified) was well known to the Northern Station officers, and they were well aware of his drug and mental problems. But they were powerless to do anything. Like many homeless people with mental illness on San Francisco's streets, the panhandler was an explosion waiting to happen.

"There's lots of guys on the street like that," said Michael Carreiro, a homeless man who panhandles in front of the Walgreens at Polk Street and Broadway. "Some people just freak out when they see a cop. They don't know what they're doing."

Niels Tangherlini, a paramedic who started the San Francisco Outreach Team to work with homeless people, has seen this happen over and over. He recently talked about the tragedy and the toll of severely mentally ill people who refuse, or are unable, to take their medications.

"We could avert this tragedy if we could just get people to take their meds."

Getting mentally ill people to stay on their medications seems like an easy sell to most people. For all the arguments about homeless people in San Francisco, and the philosophical debates about housing and rent support, there is one clear truth - mentally ill people cannot be left alone on the street until they explode into violence or die of neglect.
The column goes on to quote Willie Brown (a liberal's liberal) as acknowledging what the core problem is here--and it isn't capitalism, or Ronald Reagan, but the profound error of deinstitutionalization.

The column points out that the excuses don't make any sense:
Why, over and over, are they put in such a dangerous, volatile situation? Why are any of us?

Why is it that the city is unwilling to fund Laura's Law, which forces severely mentally ill people to take their medications? The law has been passed in California, but it has to be funded by individual counties.

The reason, according to City Hall sources, is that it is too expensive.

More expensive than a man dead on the street?

Put a price on that.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Hillary Clinton, Immigration, & Due Process

I'm really impressed with Hillary Clinton's willingness to go from raving idiot in favor of illegal immigration to raving idiot in opposition in a matter of weeks. From the January 28, 2008 New York Sun:
"Anybody who committed a crime in this country or in the country they came from has to be deported immediately, with no legal process. They are immediately gone," Mrs. Clinton told a town hall meeting in Anderson, S.C., Thursday. On Wednesday, she told a crowd in North Bergen, N.J., that such criminals "absolutely" need to be deported. A day earlier, she told a rally in Salinas, Calif., that aliens with criminal records "should be deported, no questions asked."
I think that an illegal alien who has been convicted of a serious crime should be deported. But then again, I think an illegal alien should be deported, period. But "no legal process"? There are some serious abuses of the immigration law right now, and these need to be brought under control, but when a lawyer starts to say "no legal process" I get nervous.

Legal processes that need to be in play include:

1. Verifying that this person is, in fact, an illegal alien. There are U.S. citizens of Hispanic origin who have been deported to Mexico. This is unlawful, and morally wrong.

2. If the person is charged with a serious crime, they need to be tried and convicted before deportation. Why? So we can be sure that we got the right guy for the crime. If the crime is capital, deporting them is being too easy on them. If they are found innocent, they still need deportation for being an illegal alien. But it is important to know who committed the crime.

Idaho Legislature Wants To Do Something About Global Warming

I understand that the leftists in the Idaho legislature (and yes, we have them) want to "do something" about global warming. The Senate Resources and Environment Committee is apparently considering a bill today on the subject. Here's the note that I sent to several members of the committee:

I understand that your committee is considering a proposal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in Idaho. You might want to consider broadening the scope of your efforts. NASA reports that Mars, too, is experiencing global warming. See this article from National Geographic and from the Times of London concerning this. There are also less persuasive pieces of evidence concerning Neptune, such as this article from Geophysical Research Letters.

Hint: there's only one factor common to Earth, Mars, and Neptune, and it isn't humans. It's that big glowing ball up in the sky. There is a fair amount of evidence that solar changes are the biggest factor in all this. Trying to correct solar output changes by changing what humans do is spitting into the wind.

Interest Rates: Heading Down

I ran into an acquaintance who is a financial advisor with Merrill Lynch over the weekend. She told me that corporate is telling them to expect another 1/2% rate cute by the end of the year, and a federal funds rate in 2009 of 2%. (Last week the Fed cut the federal funds rates by 3/4% to 3.5%.) This morning's stock market turmoil suggests that indeed, there are more interest rates coming.

This would seem to be a good time to do some of the following, if you are sitting on a lot of cash:

1. Buy long-term Treasuries, even though interest rates aren't very good, with the expectation of selling them as interest rates fall, and making some money on the increase in the value of the bonds.

2. If you are really risk averse, or inflation wary, buy bonds with maturities of 3-5 years, so that you have decent returns over the next couple of years while interest rates fall.

3. If you are prepared to take some risks, buy real estate while it is still somewhat bargain priced. Falling interest rates will eventually drive up real estate prices. (This assumes that a recession doesn't wipe out so many jobs that it makes real estate buyers disappear.)

Sunday, January 27, 2008

The Professor and the Madman

The Professor and the Madman

I just finished reading Simon Winchester's The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary. I won't be giving much away if I tell you the outline of this--you can figure it out from the introduction and the cover.

One of the single most prolific contributors to the creation of the Oxford English Dictionary--one of the greatest, most astonishingly ambitious research tools of all time--was confined to a British insane asylum at the time. He was a American, a surgeon who shortly after the Civil War, spiraled down into paranoid schizophrenia.

The book examines in detail some of the possible explanations: traumatic, barbaric actions he was required to take during the war; growing up in a missionary family in Ceylon, and suffering great moral conflict between his desire for the native girls (not women) and what he knew was right.

But as much as Winchester explores these explanations, I find myself looking at Dr. Minor's age--he was in his very early 30s when the U.S. Army retired him as disabled--and I think that looking for an environmental explanation is unnecessary. Schizophrenia strikes most people in their late teens to mid-20s--with a few outliers afflicted both younger and a bit older.

This is one of those tales that has tragedy to it--lots of tragedy. It is also a reminder that as bad as insane asylums of the Victorian period were supposed to be, somehow, in a controlled environment, where Dr. Minor could no longer kill anyone--and without any medical treatment available at all--Dr. Minor managed to redirect his enormous talents and love of scholarship into an activity that left the world a better place after his death.

Flying Hotspots?

I was in Boise a few days ago, waiting for my wife to run various errands, and I had my notebook with me. I thought, "What's the chance that I can find a wireless hotspot that isn't encrypted so that I can check my email?"

I searched for wireless networks--and I found a couple of them that appeared. They were weak, but I seemed to be able to connect to them--and then they disappeared.

About five miles away, an hour or two later, I tried again--and again, two wireless networks showed up--and then disappeared. A few minutes later--one of them showed back up again--and then disappeared again. And while one of these mysterious wireless networks had what was obviously the Linksys default name, the other had the name "Jet Blue Hot Spot."

Was it possible that I was seeing passenger jets on approach to Boise International? They might be at 10,000 feet or less--which is less than two miles--just barely within the range that I would find possible. This might explain why I would see them, then they disappeared, then reappeared a few minutes later. It might be the same plane, flying in a circle, or multiple Jet Blue planes all configured with the same wireless network name.

Global Warming Really Is A Problem

Yup, people are dying in avalanches...near Los Angeles. From the January 27, 2008 Washington Post:
LOS ANGELES -- A series of avalanches in the mountains outside of Los Angeles killed three people after sweeping backcountry slopes in the San Gabriel Mountains, authorities said Saturday.
When was the last time that avalanche deaths near Los Angeles were a major news item?

When the polar bears start killing environmentalists in Bali for global warming conferences--then the news media may start to ask questions.

DC Incompetence

Arms and the Law points to this January 22, 2008 Washington Post editorial about a gross failure of the DC criminal justice system. It is a reminder of why they have strict gun control laws there--because the alternative is for the criminal justice system to work:
D'ANGELO THOMAS, 18, was arrested in the early hours of Oct. 11 with three other men after D.C. police found five guns in the car they were riding in. Mr. Thomas had a previous gun conviction, but when he appeared the next day before a magistrate in D.C. superior court, the case was dismissed. Two weeks later, Mr. Thomas was arrested again, this time on a murder charge.


The backdrop to his death begins on Oct. 11, when officers from the First District became suspicious of a Buick LeSabre with tinted windows. Police pulled the car over and found the loaded guns. Mr. Thomas, Anthony Smith, Torrey Robinson and Anthony Gray were arrested on charges of carrying pistols without a license. They appeared later that day before a judge, who discovered that Mr. Thomas's name was missing from the narrative in the criminal complaint showing probable cause. His name appeared only as a caption of the case, U.S. v. D'Angelo Thomas. The judge held the defendants without bond until a hearing the next morning, noting that the oversight could be corrected at that time. Explicit orders were given for everyone to be there at 9 a.m.

Magistrate Judge J. Dennis Doyle was presiding when the case was called sometime between 9:24 and 9:35 a.m. Neither the case jacket nor an arresting officer were present. Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Little asked that the case be passed over so the officer and paperwork could be located. Defense attorneys objected and moved for dismissal, arguing that the government wasn't ready. The judge agreed. Sometime between 9:40 and 9:45 a.m., the officer -- who was in the courthouse fixing the paperwork -- appeared in the courtroom, only to be told the case had been dismissed. Police were furious; they believed the men to be a menace. The U.S. attorney's office quickly moved to bring new charges. On Oct. 19, a grand jury returned multiple-count indictments against the four defendants and arrest warrants were issued. Before Mr. Thomas was found, Mr. Kent was killed. Mr. Thomas was then charged with his murder.


Certainly, one can understand the annoyance of a judge who is dealing with a crammed court calendar and is slowed by prosecutors who are unprepared or lawyers who are busy with other clients. None of that, though, can excuse a decision that at its most elemental lost sight of what's really at stake. Four young men -- two with prior gun offenses -- are picked up with loaded guns, and the court can't spare five minutes to see if letting them go is really in the interest of public safety?

Last year there was an increase in homicides in the District -- 181 people were killed -- and generally it's the police who get put on the griddle. But no matter how well police do their jobs, as officers Thomas Zurowski, Ty Truong, Anthony Smith and Christopher Beyer did on Oct. 11, they are part of a system where the role of prosecutors and the judgment of judges come into play. This case is said to have resulted in some soul-searching at the court. No one, though, could tell us if anyone got in touch with the family of Delonte Kent to report what happened. Or to say they are sorry.
If the Supreme Court rules in our favor about the current suit, it won't affect charges like those brought against these defendants. If DC wants to require concealed weapon permits to carry guns in the District, and those permits are available, as they are in most states, to people more than 21 years of age without a criminal history, that won't be a problem. Pretty clearly, this bunch wouldn't qualify for permits, and would still be subject to arrest and prosecution.

One of the recurring problems with overbroad gun control laws is that by attempting to make everyone into a criminal, they make it very difficult to focus on those people who are really the problem. The average person isn't a hazard because they own a gun--a relatively small percentage of the population who have violent criminal behavior histories, and who need to be disarmed.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Adulterers, Liars, & Tactless Sorts

I mentioned a couple of days ago my concern about my state senator introducing a bill adding "sexual orientation and gender identity" to Idaho's employment discrimination law. I've received some encouragement to put the fear of the voters into Senator Corder by running against him in the primary. I'm mulling it over. Like the dog that chases after a car--what do you do if you catch it? (Okay, not likely.)

It occurs me to that why stop with "sexual orientation and gender identity"? Why don't we protect adulterers, liars, and those who are remarkably tactless (that's to protect people like me) from being discriminated against by employers? I mean, as long you show up to work, and do your job, why should an employer use what do you after hours against you? I'm sure with a little effort, we can come up with a much longer list of behaviors that an employer just shouldn't hold against you--and therefore, the government needs to step in and make sure that they don't!

There comes a point where you really do need to draw the line and say, "This shouldn't be the government's job." Whether the government has the constitutional authority to take certain actions, it seems like very poor public policy for the government to be telling us what width of stripes we are allowed on our shirts, how wide our ties should be (or even if we should be wearing a tie), how often we should clean our glasses, or whether we should be carrying a handkerchief in our pocket, or a packet of Kleenex. Hands off!

It Might Not Do Any Good...

But I don't see that it could do any harm, either. There's some guy organizing a petition to Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne (who used to be Idaho's governor) asking the federal government to "institute an exception to 36 CFR 2.4 and 50 CFR 27.42 to allow law-abiding citizens to transport and carry firearms consistent with state laws" in national parks and other facilities of the Fish & Wildlife service that currently prohibit guns. (Go there to sign up.)

Now, notice that this isn't a request to abolish all weapons regulation in national parks. The proposal is to make the rules in the parks consistent with the surrounding state. If the surrounding state allows concealed carry with a permit, so would the national park. If the surrounding state allows open carry, so would the park. If the surrounding state doesn't allow carry of any sort, the national park's rules wouldn't change.

In case you are wondering: the reason for allowing carry in a national park isn't for hunting. In some national parks, there is a problem with violent criminals. Okay, Yellowstone isn't Watts. But there are disturbing incidents like the murders of Carole and Juli Sund, and Silvina Pelosso, and then some weeks later, Joie Ruth Armstrong, by an employee in the park named Cary Stayner.

Some other national parks do have dangerous wildlife. Yes, incidents where visitors get badly injured or killed by wildlife are very, very infrequent. But there is nothing wrong with being allowed to defend yourself, and something terribly wrong with guaranteeing that if a grizzly mistakes you for a Big Mac, you have no lawful way to prevent yourself from becoming lunch.

The Puckle Gun

I've mentioned in the past the Puckle gun, an early 18th century patent for a repeating firearm something rather like a Gatling gun. I've also written that it was never actually made, because the machining technology didn't yet exist.

To my surprise, I have been pointed to a number of sources that indicate that Puckle actually had a couple of prototypes made, and that they worked. Harold Leslie Peterson's The Treasury of the Gun (1962), p. 205, indicates that 1722 London Journal accounts indicated that one fired 63 rounds in seven minutes in the rain. Okay, that's not a machine gun, but nine rounds a minute is a major technological breakthrough compared to muskets that fired three rounds a minute, and not at all if it was raining. Anthony Smith, Machine Gun: The Story of the Men and the Weapon that Changed the Face of War (St. Martins Press, 2003), 18, tells the same story, and identifies the date of the article in the London Journal as March 31, 1722.

According to Great Britain Patent Office, Patents for Inventions: Abridgements of Specifications (1859), p. 26, Puckle received patent number 418 on May 15, 1717 for his design.

UPDATE: I made reference to a 1722 patent to James Kerr. That was actually the patent number, not the date.

Making the Tube Rounder

Making the Tube Rounder

I've mentioned that the two aluminum tubes that I had fabricated came out far from round. I've been trying to stretch the upper tube assembly to get it closer to round--and I'm getting somewhere! When I started, this tube was about 20 5/8" ID on one diameter, and about 19 7/8" on the diameter perpendicular. Now, by using a clamp/stretcher device I bought at Harbor Freight, it is now 20 1/4" on the smaller diameter, and 20 1/2" on the larger diameter after removing the stretcher. I'm hoping that if I keep this up, I will get it to 20 3/8" both dimensions--and if not, this is getting close enough to round to do what I need to do.

How Obsolete Is The Unorganized Militia?

Less obsolete than you think. I've read that Oregon's governor at the start of World War II, because of the shortage of military units available, asked the state's unorganized militia to patrol beaches, looking for signs of Japanese invasion. I've also read that similar actions took place on the East Coast. But I never had a source that I could cite before. Now I do. Starting at Archives of Maryland, 409:616-18, is a radio address by Maryland Governor Herbert L. O'Conor on March 10, 1942:
The sincere hope of every person in Maryland is that our State may never experience invasion or attack. That we should consider such a thing as possible is in itself a terrible shock to the American state of mind. Nevertheless, with so much of the world overrun by the enemies of Democracy, and with the invasion of Java and New Guinea as well as other points in the Australian Archipelago fresh in our minds, we would be foolish, indeed, not to be prepared, as completely as possible, for any such happening, even here in Maryland.

Our people didn't want this war and, prior to the dastardly and cowardly attack on Pearl Harbor, the thought of sending American troops to fight in faraway lands was abhorrent to the minds of every American. Recent developments of the most threatening nature, however, have completely changed America's attitude toward the present conflict. The unexpected and continuing success of the Japanese forces, who have swept everything before them except General MacArthur's heroic band in the Philippines, have impressed on our minds most forcibly that new tactics are demanded.


Only today, for instance, have I been advised by the Commanding General of the First Army, in New York, that the presence and increasing activity of enemy submarines off the Maryland Coast require additional drastic measures.

With the prospect that the regular Army units will be engaged in more important operations elsewhere, and with our State Guard and Military Police assigned to particular functions, it is felt absolutely necessary to have an additional protective force—-as a home guard—-for the protection of our various communities. Competent military officers, one of whom, our capable and experienced Major General Milton A. Reckord, will speak to you in a few minutes, advise that there is need of this further, wide-spread, alert defense organization to cope with and to be available instantly for any sudden attack by parachute troops, by forces landed from the sea by enemy sympathizers within our State.

I propose to meet this need by the organization in every part of the State of a Reserve Militia. The completed plan has just been approved by General Reckord, as Commander of the Third Army Corps. It offers the opportunity for every able-bodied man to assist in protecting his home and his community against enemy activities. The militia will be organized under our State Law, and the men who enlist at this time of our grave emergency will be known as the "Maryland Minute Men."

The mission of the Maryland Minute Men is to furnish immediately, local protection against parachute troops, saboteurs, or organized raiding parties. It is planned that the units be confined to their own communities so that there will be assurance at all times that every residential section of Maryland will have protection.

No prescribed complete uniform will be required. Distinctive arm bands and caps or other items may be furnished by the State, the County, or by the men themselves. For the present the hard-pressed Ordinance Department of the United States Army cannot be expected to furnish sufficient arms, ammunition, or equipment. Hence, the volunteers, for the most part, will be expected to furnish their own weapons. For this reason, gunners (of whom there are 60,000 licensed in Maryland), members of Rod and Gun Clubs, of Trap Shooting and similar organizations, will be expected to constitute a part of this new military organization.

Officers will be drawn from the immediate area in which they are to serve. As Army officers have pointed out to me, the familiarity of the members with their particular locality, with the terrain and road not in the respective communities, will be of great value in resisting any hostile efforts against residental areas and important public necessities.


Military officials, in emphasizing the value of such an organization point out that the familiarity which the members will enjoy with the faces, customs and habits of their neighbors in the community, makes them most valuable in combating sabotage efforts. They will detect, even more quickly than a secret service man from the outside, any strange faces in the community, or any unusual activities on the part of local inhabitants.

The Maryland Minute Men, armed with weapons with which they are thoroughly familiar from long use, operating in a community in which they are accustomed to every road and trail and stream, and aroused to fighting pitch by the knowledge that they are serving to protect their own homes, their family and all that they hold dear in life, will prove a staunch defense against any enemy activity. [emphasis added]
Some people argue that United 93's passengers and crew are part of the proud tradition of civilian militias, and that the concept isn't dead or obsolete. I agree. As we can see, as recently as World War II--when, to hear some tell the tale, the concept of armed civilians as part of the national defense was obsolete--calling up the unorganized militia was hardly a crackpot idea, and for the same reasons that it wasn't a crackpot idea in 1776.

UPDATE: There was also the Alaska Territorial Guard, somewhat more than 6000 unpaid volunteers (including some women) drawn from the civilian population to protect Alaska from Japanese invasion during World War II. This was created because the Alaska National Guard was going to be deployed outside of Alaska. This October 17, 2007 USA Today article mentions that they were supplied obsolete Army rifles for their mission, unlike the situation in Maryland.

If you can find any other examples of unorganized militia use during (or even after World War II), please let me know.

UPDATE 2: And here's the details of the Oregon State Guard, formed in response to the federalization of the Oregon National Guard from the Oregon State Archives web site:
State guard members were all volunteers and legally could not be called up for federal service or serve outside of the borders of the state. They furnished their own guns, clothing, and personal equipment. Members received regular army training and were subject to army discipline. They trained in a variety of subjects, including first aid, chemical warfare, tactics, and "other soldierly topics." And, they stood ready to respond to orders from the governor, who was the commander in chief. Authorities were expansive in their interpretation of the authority of the governor to order the force to execute any "lawful command." Over time, the state guard assumed control of nearly all National Guard armories around the state. The exceptions were Ashland and Woodburn, which had no state guard units.

How to use the state guard

Generally, officials envisioned the guard to be used "to resist invasion, preserve internal order, or meet grave emergency beyond the capacity of the state and local police forces."(7) Officials described a scenario in which the state guard would be used: "In the event of invasion on the Oregon coast, the State Guard would rush to control all roads leading to the coast, would attack and harass the invaders, delaying the invading activity until such time as fully equipped regular army forces could reach the point and take over."

At that time, guard forces would "retire to serve as snipers and serve as guerrilla-type soldiers concentrating upon the destruction of parachute and air-borne troops. In the event of sabotage, the guardsmen would surround any area threatened or subjected to sabotage." Authorities conceded that "the Oregon State Guard would never win a battle against well-equipped forces of an invading enemy - that would be the lot of the regular army." Still, officials insisted that they would be a "fast striking" force of "immeasurable value" by cutting communication lines, destroying supply depots, and delaying the enemy, thus destroying their morale.

Taming the guerrillas

The Oregon State Guard also encouraged many of the independent local home guard organizations that had popped up around the state to integrate with the state guard. Some of these groups, such as the Tillamook Guerrillas, were large and very zealous. The "Bushwhackers" of southeast Portland were another such group. Comprised of men from 20 to 60 years old, most members were in their late 40s. The group formed in January 1942 and counted 150 volunteers by April. Each Monday they would meet in the basement of the Laurelwood Methodist Church for close-order military drill and to "bang away at a series of targets." Army officials were not excited about the idea of numerous groups such as the Bushwhackers traipsing through the woods with loaded weapons so they asked the state to at least check the reliability of each group's leaders. The Bushwhackers planned to bring their ranks up to 240 men and apply to join the Oregon State Guard as four new companies.(9)

Governor Sprague also worked to bring these local forces into the fold, starting with flattery:

"One thing made clear in this war is the value of guerrilla fighting; and our local fighters, familiar with the terrain, can be of great value in repelling the enemy. They should be enrolled in a military body, however; otherwise they would not be entitled to the rights of prisoners of war, if captured, but would be subjected to immediate execution. They should also be regularized for training and for proper coordination with regular troops."

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Are There Any Conservatives in Idaho State Senate District 22?

I mentioned my disappointment with State Senator Tim Corder's authoring of a bill to add "sexual orientation and gender identity" to Idaho's antidiscrimination statute. His response leaves me even more disappointed.

If I could afford it, I would run against him in the primary. (It doesn't cost much to win a state legislative race; the problem is, what do you do if you win? The pay is so awful that you have to be either desperately poor or independently wealthy to quit your day job.) I've been disappointed that an Idaho Republican could only manage a C rating from NRA last election.

Is there any conservative in Corder's district who can afford to be a member of the Idaho State Senate?

It's Like a Weird Al Yankovic Parody Song

You know, the one that made fun of the Jerry Springer show with reference to the "gay Jewish black dude" who gets into that awful fight with the KKK. Except that it seems to be real, and potentially worrisome. From the January 21, 2008 New York Daily News:
Police stumbled upon a bomb-making factory Sunday in the home of a Columbia professor who specializes in the spread of infectious disease - and are investigating whether he and his roommate have terror ties.

Cops evacuated the Brooklyn Heights neighborhood around the Remsen St. home of Michael Clatts, a medical anthropologist, after finding seven pipe bombs fitted with fuses in his flat, police sources said.

The frightening cache was discovered almost by accident - Ivaylo Ivanov, the man living with Clatts, accidentally shot off the tip of his left index finger and sought police help in the street about 1:15 a.m.

When investigators went to the 37-year-old Ivanov's apartment, they found the bombs, already capped on both ends and filled with powder. One of the pipe bombs was inserted into a Nerf football, cops said.

A 9-mm. handgun, two ammunition magazines, a 12-gauge shotgun, silencers, a bulletproof vest, a crossbow and bomb-making equipment, including a drill and threading machine that could be used to make pipe bombs, were also recovered, cops said.

Investigators with the NYPD-FBI were questioning Ivanov, a native of Bulgaria, to determine whether he had any terrorism or Russian Mafia connections, a source told the Daily News.

"Russian Mafia aren't fazed by getting a fingertip shot off - and they certainly don't go to the cops for help," the source said.

Neither man so far has popped up on any foreign criminal watch list or is a known member of an organized crime ring, sources said.
To add to the weirdness, Ivanov, who claims to be Jewish, according to this January 22, 2008 New York Times article, admitted to a series of swastika painting incidents on local Jewish synagogues and school buildings. But the pipe bombs were for fishing. I believe that, don't you?

And what about the roommate, Michael Clatts? Well, he spends an awful lot of time doing research about homosexuality, AIDS, and drug abuse--gobs of papers. That doesn't necessarily mean that he's gay, of course. But when the Society Of Lesbian and Gay Anthropologists had a meeting several years ago, Clatts was the chair of a panel titled "Out in the World: The Role of Eros in the Tourism of Sexual Minorities." And as a number of troublemakers, like this commenter over at Ann Althouse's blog pointed out, his department is a very PC operation--the sort of place that I would expect a modern Weather Underground sort to work:

The Department of Sociomedical Sciences is distinguished by its focus on the social determinants of disease and health. This is accomplished by examining the correlation between epidemiological trends and structural inequities in order to expose the fundamental social causes of public health events, including discrimination, stigma, and poverty.
For some odd reason, unlike other faculty members, Professor Clatts' page is curiously empty now.

Maybe Clatts had nothing to do with his roommate's curious method of fishing, or artistic use of swastikas. You know, some people just aren't very curious about what their roommates leave around the place.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Why Liberal Is A Dirty Word To Me

Idiots like this guy. From the January 20, 2008 Chicago Tribune:
Jay Grodner, the Chicago lawyer who keyed a Marine's car in anger because the car had military plates and a Marine insignia, finally got his day in court last week.

Grodner pleaded guilty in a Chicago courtroom packed with former Marines. Some had Marine pins on their coats, or baseball jackets with the Marine insignia. They didn't yellor call him names. They came to support Marine Sgt. Michael McNulty, whose car Grodner defaced in December, but who couldn't attend because he's preparing for his second tour in Iraq.

Grodner was late to court for the second time in the case. Grodner called Assistant State's Attorney Patrick Kelly, (Marine Corps/Vietnam 1969-1972), informing Kelly that he would be late to court.

"He wanted to avoid the media," Kelly said Friday. "So he's coming a half hour late."

"I don't run my courtroom that way!" responded Judge William O'Malley, ordering Grodner be arrested and held on $20,000 bail when he arrived. Finally, Grodner strolled in. A short man, wide, wearing a black fedora, dark glasses, a divorce lawyer dressed like some tough guy in the movies.

Grodner told me he'd describe himself as a "radical liberal" who's ready to leave Chicago now with all this negative publicity and move to the south of France and do some traveling.

Ready to leave and go to the south of France for a while? Book yourself a one-way ticket, Grodner. And don't come back.

A Bad Idea From My State Senator

Tim Corder has introduced S.1323 in the Idaho State Senate. This bill would add "sexual orientation or gender identity" to the existing Idaho Code 67-5909 which prohibits discrimination in employment.

I agree that in the vast majority of jobs it doesn't matter what a person's sexual orientation is. What they do after they get off work is really quite irrelevant. But there are some jobs where I think there are some legitimate questions. For the same reason that most people wouldn't be comfortable having a male gym teacher in the girls' locker room (and most people wouldn't be much more comfortable with a female gym teacher in the boys' locker room), there's a reason not to have homosexual men in the boys' locker room, or lesbian gym teachers in the girls' locker room.

Another problem is that "sexual orientation" doesn't just include homosexuality. It includes pedophilia, necrophilia, and a lot of fetishes that I am not going to mention on my blog. Should a daycare center be allowed to refuse employment to a man known to be a member of the North American Man-Boy Love Association? This bill would make such discrimination unlawful.

What if your employee gets arrested in the Minneapolis airport men's room? The ACLU has already argued that there is a constitutional right to solicit sex there. Would an employer be within his rights to fire a person who was using the company restrooms for that purpose? Or would that just become another basis for a lawsuit?

The "gender identity" clause opens an even larger can of worms. It certainly includes cross-dressers, and people that show up for work some days dressed as a man, and some days dressed as a woman. It will certainly be held to protect gay men who insist on dressing "fabulous." A business that suggests that an employee needs to dress appropriately to the position (meaning, guys shouldn't be wearing feather boas, 5" long eyelashes, and half a pound of eye shadow) is going to get sued for that as well.

I've long been uncomfortable with the extent to which the government interferes in private matters. I can understand and somewhat agree with the arguments for banning discrimination against blacks, since both the federal and state governments, for many decades, either required such discrimination, or actively encouraged it. But there does come a point where you have to say that the government needs to back off. As far as I am concerned, what consenting adults do in private isn't properly the government's business, and it doesn't matter whether that is sex or employment.

Needed: Image of Belt Driven 19th Century Mill

I've been trying to find a picture of a belt driven 19th century mill--the kind where a single driveshaft (usually coming from a water wheel or steam engine) provided all the motive force for the various manufacturing processes. I need this for a presentation in a class that I will be lecturing in Wednesday evening.

UPDATE: Thanks! I now have enough pictures!

Oral Arguments Scheduled In The DC Gun Case

March 18, 2008, is the date scheduled by the Supreme Court for oral arguments.

Monday, January 21, 2008

The Mirror Cell Is In The Tube

The Mirror Cell Is In The Tube

After repeatedly running the base plate through the sander, the mirror cell now slides into the tube. It is a tight fit--but not so tight that I can't loosen the bolts in the flanges and slide the entire mirror cell back and forth.

Click to enlarge

I took off only as much of the base plate as I needed to barely fit into the tube. For that reason, the tube, which was delivered somewhat out of round, is now close enough to round for my purposes.

Unfortunately, I can't use the same trick for the upper tube assembly. The spider legs were designed to be light, and to hold the diagonal mirror holder in position under tension. But because the upper tube assembly is so far out of round (even more so than the lower tube assembly), I don't have any easy way to get the diagonal mirror holder exactly centered using the tensioned legs approach.

I am thinking of replacing the .050" carbon steel legs with something a bit thicker and stiffer--perhaps .100" carbon steel. These might be stiff enough to actually force the tube walls closer to circular. In this case, they aren't held in tension, but add rigidity to the upper tube assembly.

I wish that there was some way to force the upper tube to be round, but the aluminum is just stiff enough that while I can bend it to round, it won't stay there once I remove the clamp. I can't imagine a technique for applying that force that won't obstruct the diameter. I thought about applying an epoxy coat to the outside of the tube, while I have it clamped to round--but once the clamp comes off, I expect the tube's desire to return to its natural state will crack the epoxy.

Where The "Bear Arms" Paper Went

I mentioned a couple of days ago that "What Does Bear Arms Imply?" had been accepted by a law review you might have even heard of, but we were holding the name until we had this nailed down. It is now nailed down. Georgetown Journal of Law & Public Policy will be publishing it.

Attorney's Fees & Idaho S.1283

One area of civil litigation that I think is terribly destructive is that, unlike Britain, we do not have a consistent "loser pays" rule about attorney fees. What this means is that if Ms. A sues Mr. B for $500,000,000 because Mr. B said something that hurt Ms. A's feelings, Mr. B will spend thousands of dollars on an attorney to defend a suit that has no merit. Even if the judge looks at the evidence, and decides that Ms. A had absolutely no legitimate basis for the suit, Mr. B is out his attorney's fees. In theory, judges have the authority to order Ms. A to pay Mr. B's fees if it is apparent that there was no legitimate basis for the suit, but in practice, it isn't all that common.

Let me tell you a little story. Back in the late 1970s, my friend Eric and I jointly owned a 1973 Chevrolet Caprice station wagon, which we used for transporting furniture on those occasions when either of us moved. We lent the station wagon to Eric's brother Allan one day.

So Allan is driving down the street somewhere in Los Angeles, and ahead of him, he sees a Ford Mustang smash into a streetlight post. Allan comes to a stop, slightly tapping the Mustang's bumper. The driver of the Mustang is taken to the hospital by ambulance, where she is DOA.

The police officer investigating the crash puts in the police report that the Mustang was a one car accident--that Allan crashed our station wagon into the Mustang after it had already come to a complete stop, and the collision was so slow that there was no damage to either the station wagon or the Mustang from it. The autopsy on the Mustang driver shows that she had a .23% blood alcohol level; only an idiot would fail to see that she probably passed out at the wheel.

So, about six months later, the driver's father-in-law files suit on behalf of the driver's husband. (Father-in-law and husband are both attorneys, of course.) The suit demands $15,000 in damages from Allan (he was driving), myself and Eric (we owned the car), and 20 other people who were either driving cars, or owned cars, that were in the intersection, claiming that we "jointly and severally conspired" to force the Mustang into the post, thus causing the driver's death.

The complaint itself was embarrassingly bad: not just typos, but consistent misspellings, sentence fragments, and so on. Pretty obviously, the California Bar Exam couldn't be that difficult, or perhaps they gave special treatment to these lawyers because English wasn't their native language.

So I take this over to my insurance company, and ask them what they are going to do about it. I was outraged that such an obvious attempt at extortion had been filed. My insurance agent got back to me a few days later and said, "Ordinarily, we'll settle a suit like this for $500 just to make it go away, because it costs us too much to go and litigate it, but this is probably the most ridiculous suit our lawyers have seen this year, so we're probably going to fight it."

Probably? Suits like this that are extortion under color of law. There was simply no legitimate reason for this suit, and even if the grieving husband didn't want to see that the cause of the accident was that his wife was so drunk that she probably passed out, the lawyer who filed the suit should have refused to file it. The cost to my insurance company of going to court was high enough--and the judge was simply not going to impose any penalty on the plaintiff, by requiring him to pay the attorney's fees--that the lawyer had no incentive to tell the husband, "I'm not going to do this." After all: maybe the insurance company would be willing to settle for $500 out of court.

I recognize that a strict application of "loser pays" would prevent many legitimate suits from being filed, especially where the plaintiff is poor, and the defendant has deep pockets. But there does seem to be a point where a suit is so absurd that judges should impose "loser pays" as a way to discourage such suits. Pretty clearly, this suit in which I was a victim demonstrates that there were no penalties for filing absurd lawsuits in Los Angeles at the time. Some of the lawsuits that I have seen filed over the years (such as a multibillion dollar suit against International House of Pancakes by an irate customer who couldn't get the advertised special served to her) tell me that the problem hasn't been fixed.

Now, Idaho's legislature is considering a revision to our state law. The bill is S.1283, and it adds one line to the current statute that lists the available remedies for employment discrimination:
(f) An order for reasonable attorney's fees.
Why is anyone proposing to add this? Well, last year, the Idaho Supreme Court ruled in Stout v. Key Training Corporation, 144 Idaho 195, 158 P.3d 971 (2007) that even though federal law provides for someone who wins a suit for unlawful employment discrimination to receive "reasonable attorney's fees" (are there such things?), Idaho law does not have any specific provision granting this.

I don't know what the merits of the underlying suit were. Stout claimed discrimination because she got pregnant. The defendant, Key Training Corporation, apparently trains linemen--and I can see how someone might foolishly have thought that it was a bad idea to have a pregnant woman up on top of high voltage lines.

Regardless of the merits of the case, I can see why Stout, having won the case, thought that she should receive attorney's fees. I actually don't have a problem with this change in the law--but I'm a bit funny in one respect--I think that the law should apply equally on both sides. The way that I read the statute that S.1283 would change, the plaintiff is entitled to "reasonable attorney's fees" if he wins, but the defendant isn't entitled to "reasonable attorney's fees" if he wins.

I can support S.1283 if the winner, on either side, gets to collect attorney's fees from the loser. I can't support something this one-sided, because it creates an incentive to file discrimination suits, with no costs to the plaintiff for questionable or even completely bogus claims.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Icicles So Big You Can Use Them As Swords!

Icicles So Big You Can Use Them As Swords!

This is a harsh winter--and these icicles hanging off the roof and the table of the back porch are pretty astonishing:

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Forthcoming Papers

Forthcoming Papers

The paper "Pistols, Crime, and Public Safety in Early America" has been accepted by the Willamette Law Review, so it is now available to cite as forthcoming.

The other paper "What Does Bear Arms Imply?" has also been accepted by a law review that you may have actually heard of, but I'm waiting until Sunday when my co-author Professor Joe Olson tells me that it is safe to announce. We actually turned down a higher prestige law review that suggested a bunch of actually pretty good improvements (although nothing that changed the fundamental nature of the paper)--but more than we have time to do within the constraints the Heller case is putting on us.

Second Snowiest Winter Ever in Madison, Wisconsin

Second Snowiest Winter Ever in Madison, Wisconsin

At least, that's what this article from the January 16, 2008 Salt Lake City Tribune says:
After the second snowiest December on record in the state capital - and with temperatures hovering around 20 degrees Tuesday - the Legislature abolished a statewide ban on heated sidewalks, stairs, entrances and pedestrian walkways.

The bill, which cleared the state Assembly in October and was approved unanimously Tuesday by the state Senate, overturns a law passed in 1980s in response to the energy crisis of the 1970s. Wisconsin is the only state that had such a prohibition in the books.
Gee, how liberal they were!

Friday, January 18, 2008

Global Warming Again

In Siberia:

Moscow, Russia (AHN) - Russians are bracing for temperatures of as low as minus 55 degrees Celsius (minus 67 degrees Fahrenheit) in Siberia as Russia's emergencies ministry warns on Wednesday of its impending dangers in the coming weeks.
Government agencies were placed on high alert, reports AFP. The ministry ordered local administration officials to prepare for the extreme chill expected to last until Jan. 21.
The ministry warned that the unusually cold weather could kill, cause frost-bite, conk heaters and cut electricity to homes, disrupt transport, increase the rate of car accidents and even destroy buildings across Siberia.
The freezing temperatures have already caused overloading of electricity grids and power interruptions in the regions of Irkutsk and Tomsk because of overused heaters in homes. Two people have already died and more than 30 others hospitalized with forst-bite in Irkutsk, reports AFP citing state media.
Bloomberg reports that worst hit will be the Siberian region of Evenkiya, while neighbor Georgia, whose climate is subtropical, already plunged to as low as minus 35 degrees Celsius. Lake Paliastomi in the western Georgia froze for the first time in 50 years, reports Rustavi-2 television.
Average temperatures in large Siberian cities in January usually range between minus 15 degrees Celsius and minus 39 degrees Celsius, according to data from Schools have been closed down in at least four regions because of the cold.

In Cyprus (you know, that island nation in the Mediterranean):
Plummeting temperatures and cold blasts of wind mean few will escape the cold in Cyprus this weekend.

The Met Office have forecast temperatures of 0oC again in Nicosia tonight and -6oC in the mountains.

The cold weather front is blowing in from Siberia.

Frost is forecast inland and on the coasts and there is a chance of snow in the Troodos mountains.

The resorts of Ayia Napa and Protaras will feel unusually cold temperatures tonight with the mercury hitting just 2oC.
In New Mexico:

This week's frigidly cold temperatures — well below freezing and dipping below zero with wind chill factored in — are cause for plenty of teeth-chattering concern for local residents.
Don't forget during the next few days to bundle yourself and your children in layers, keep hats and gloves handy and bring pets in at night.
It's cold, and it's going to stay that way for a few days.
"It's not unusual, but we will come close to record temperatures," said National Weather Service Senior Meteorologist Dan Porter from the Albuquerque office. "People here are sure not used to below-zero temperatures."
Porter predicted that Wednesday night would be the coldest of this latest freeze, predicting overnight air temperatures from 0 to 5 degrees, dipping to minus 5 to minus 10 degrees with the wind chill.
And a few days ago in Bulgaria:
Recent heavy snowfalls and temperatures as low as minus 30 degrees Celsius claimed yet another life in Bulgaria, taking the cold snap death toll up to seven.


Record-low temperatures were recorded in the Danubian Plain on Saturday, the mercury falling to minus 31.6 degrees Celsius in the town of Sevlievo, Central Bulgaria.

Several towns reported temperatures breaking the records set in 1993 - Knezha (minus 27 degrees Celsius), Veliko Turnovo (minus 20.2 degrees Celsius) and Lovech (minus 19.5 degrees Celsius).
UPDATE: Oh yeah--and it snowed in Baghdad recently for the first time in at least decades:
BAGHDAD -- The flakes melted quickly. But the smiles, wonder and excited story-swapping went on throughout the day: It snowed in Baghdad.

The morning flurry Friday was the first in memory in the heart of the Iraqi capital. Perhaps more significant, however, was the rare ripple of delight through a city snarled by army checkpoints, divided by concrete walls and ravaged by sectarian killings.

"For the first time in my life I saw a snow-rain like this falling in Baghdad," said Mohammed Abdul-Hussein, a 63-year-old retiree from the New Baghdad area.

"When I was young, I heard from my father that such rain had fallen in the early '40s on the outskirts of northern Baghdad," Abdul-Hussein said, referring to snow as a type of rain. "But snow falling in Baghdad in such a magnificent scene was beyond my imagination."

Laziness vs. Efficiency

Transterrestial Musings makes the point that a lot of people think Fred Thompson is lazy:
I have often been accused of being "lazy." Even by people who I know and love. Even, on occasion, by myself.
But what was the basis for the accusation?
Apparently, that I am not continually busy. That I often indulge in the very effective technique of "management by procrastination." That I often do what needs to be done without breaking a sweat, and while waiting until the last minute to do it.
Once, in college (in the dark ages prior to word processors), I wrote a term paper, that I had known was due for many weeks, due the next day at the end of the semester, in an all-nighter, on a manual typewriter, with no notes, no citations, no...nothing. I had just been thinking about the subject for weeks, and the night before it was due, I sat down, and knocked out a twelve-page typewritten paper, with minor erasures, in a night. I got an A minus.
So I have mixed feelings when I hear that Fred Thompson is "lazy."
Now, I don't think that Fred Thompson is lazy. I just think that, despite the southern drawl, which many (mistakenly, as anyone who has worked with smart NASA employees and contractors in Houston, Huntsville and the Cape would know) think is a mark of a slow mentality, that he works smart, and cheap. Robert Heinlein once wrote that: "Progress is made by lazy men looking for easier ways to do things."
I believe that.
I don't want a president, or a presidential candidate, who is frenetically scurrying around, appearing to be doing something, particularly two years before the swearing in. If he's really a conservative (as he claims to be, though I'm not necessarily), I'm perfectly happy with a president who, when demanded to do something, just stands there. And as a libertarian, opposed to big government, I'm happy to have a president who will think before acting, and who believes that the first instinct should not be to pass yet another federal law.
You may recall the famous Ronald Reagan quote, "Sometimes the best thing that government can do is nothing at all." Many years ago, I hired an engineer named Eric who turned out to be extremely effective at what he did. He explained that he was good at what he did because he was lazy--always looking for a way to do something with the least effort. Let me give you a couple of examples.

1. Everyone who uses Unix or one of its progeny knows this now, but in the early 1980s, this was not common knowledge yet. We all used emacs as a program editor--and on the VAX that we used back then, it took literally a few seconds for emacs to load all of its initialization files, and get ready for you to edit. Eric figured out something that none of us knew--that you could hit one control character in emacs, and put it in background mode, drop back to the shell, do what you needed, and then resume running emacs with the fg command. It doesn't sound like much, but starting up emacs from scratch a few hundred times a day per engineer really added up!

2. The project that I was leading was all written in C. I'm not sure how many lines my team wrote, but it was easily above 100,000 lines--a windowing user interface for a rather specialized piece of equipment that ran on a Sun workstation or a VAX (both running variants of BSD Unix) or a PC running MSDOS in text mode. (This was a long time ago.) We knew that we had subroutines that were no longer in use, and the tools to find which subroutines those were just didn't exist. We could have gone through and removed each subroutine, one at a time, to see if it would still compile and link--but it would have taken days, if not weeks, and it would have been tedious labor--but Eric had a better idea.

Because I had early on created a very demanding set of standards for subroutine names, headers describing the subroutines, function and variable names, Eric was able to write a script that went through all of our source code, turning off each subroutine, and then trying to rebuild the complete system. He started it up over the long Christmas weekend--and when we came back, we had a complete list of unused functions. We still had a little bit of verification to do (sometimes a function was called in the MSDOS version, but not the Unix version, and some functions were called by other dead functions), but what would have been a long and tedious process turned into a few hours of somewhat more interesting work. Definitely a lazy man's way of doing things!

Thursday, January 17, 2008

A Constitutional Right To Solicit Sex In The Men's Room

A Constitutional Right To Solicit Sex In The Men's Room

The ACLU has once again done a fine job of combining a series of fairly reasonable decisions into a completely absurd result. Here's their amicus brief in support of my U.S. Senator Larry "Wide Stance" Craig.

The short version is this:

1. There is a constitutional right to have homosexual sex in private places. (Of course, this is the core error, as I point out here.)

2. If action X is legal to do in private, then soliciting someone to go somewhere in private to do action X is not only legal, but constitutionally protected free speech. (So if a guy walks down a busy street, crudely asking every woman he meets for a quickie, that's not disorderly conduct--that's a protected First Amendment freedom! Unless both of them are at work--then it's sexual harassment, not freedom of speech.)

3. Because the law prohibiting soliciting sex applies no matter whether you are going to do it in the restroom or go somewhere else for sex, the law thus violates a Constitutionally protected right. (A law that prohibited solicitation of sex in a public place might well qualify as Constitutional--although I am sure that the ACLU would challenge that on different grounds.)

On a parallel line, the ACLU argues that there is a right to privacy in a men's room stall based on a 1970 Minnesota Supreme Cour decision that held that two men having sex in a department store restroom stall had a right to privacy. And they argue that the proof is that is the police charged Craig with violating the right to privacy of the police officer in the next stall.

So here's a question: what makes it constitutional to limit sex in public places? And what makes a public restroom stall "private" while the locker room isn't? Almost any argument that starts out with, "You don't have to watch what happens in a stall" suffers the same problem if you change it to, "You don't have to watch what happens in the locker room (or in the middle of a public street)." The rules against sex in public places (or defecating in the middle of a public street) are purely esthetic choices reflecting traditional moral values. Why doesn't the ACLU sue to overturn these laws? Or is that just ten years down the road when they have successfully abolished the laws against having sex in locker rooms?

If you want your children to get used to seeing people having sex in the middle of public streets, make sure you vote Democrat for President this year. You can guarantee that lawyers who think the ACLU is "defending the Constitution" will end up on the federal bench.

The Tube Assembly Problem

The Tube Assembly Problem

It turns out that while I can use a clamp to get the tube assemblies properly round, once I remove the clamps, it returns to out of round. The only real solution is to reduce the diameter of the base plate of the mirror cell. I don't have a lathe capable of turning a 20" diameter round, but the solution is to sand the edge of the base plate.

I have a small belt sander that includes a rotating round disc. I have found that holding the base plate up to the disc, maintaining a steady pressure against the disc, and carefully turning the base plate, I can remove a very consistent, even amount from the edge. So far, have taken about 1/4" off the diameter without too much effort. I need to take a little bit more to get the base plate to slip easily into the tube--then I can put the mirror cell back together, and move forward.

Once I bolt the mirror cell flanges to the inside of the tube, it will pull the tube back into round (or at least close enough to round).

Female Burglary Victim Shoots Female Burglar

And then a woman journalist writes this account for the January 16, 2008 Register-Herald:

A Fayette County burglary suspect was shot by a homeowner who police said was burglarized by the same suspect at least one other time.

Nighttime burglary charges are pending against Tracey Ann McQueen, 25, of Kaymoor Road, Fayetteville, Sheriff Bill Laird said. McQueen was taken to Charleston Area Medical Center Wednesday morning for treatment of a single gunshot wound to her left hand. She was under evaluation at the hospital as of Wednesday afternoon.

At 4:45 a.m. Wednesday, the Fayette County 911 Center was notified of a burglary in progress at a Pleasant View Road residence, near Fayetteville, Laird said. Later, the alleged burglar was reported to have been shot in the hand by the homeowner. When deputies arrived at the scene, the homeowner said the female suspect fled.

A short time later, deputies identified the suspect as McQueen, Laird said. McQueen was located at a Kaymoor Road residence and taken to Plateau Medical Center. She was later transferred to CAMC.

The preliminary investigation indicates the female victim was awakened to find McQueen inside the residence, Laird said. The victim confronted McQueen, attempting to hold her at gunpoint while awaiting deputies’ arrival. A struggle ensued, during which McQueen was apparently shot by the victim’s .22 caliber revolver.

Laird said McQueen had been charged with burglarizing the same residence Nov. 4, and she was free on bond when the latest incident occurred. McQueen was also considered a primary suspect in at least one other previous incident at the same residence. Reports indicate the victim’s house had been burglarized on several other occasions during the past few months.

McQueen is believed to have, in the past, lived near the victim’s residence, Laird said. Laird was unsure if McQueen and the victim actually knew each other.

No charges have been filed against the homeowner, Laird said.
It really isn't a man's world anymore, is it?

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

The Tube Assemblies Arrived

The Tube Assemblies Arrived

I'm a bit disappointed with National Metal Fabricators. In spite of specifying 20.4" ID, +- .05", what I received for the lower tube assembly was 20" ID on one diameter, and 20.5" ID on another diameter. For this level of imprecision, I could have paid half the money and received the same or better results. I went with National Metal Fabricators at roughly twice the price of what Parallax quoted me, because Parallax warned that the tubes would be as much as 1/4" out of round--or considerably closer to round than what I have received.

I was able to, with a bit of squeezing and tapping, get the mirror cell into the tube. Part of why I built the flanges that hold the base plate in position with 2" of travel, was to be able to adjust the mirror cell fore and aft for the additional travel required for astrophotography. Something that has to be tapped into the tube isn't going to do the job.

I think the solution is going to be to find a woodworking clamp that lets me stretch the tube a little in the 20" ID dimension, and trim the base plate of the mirror cell by perhaps 1/8". Since I don't have a lathe big enough to turn something this large, I'm going to have to use a grinder instead--which isn't going to win any elegance awards.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Defining Poverty

Professor Volokh tells us that the Los Angeles Times recently ran an editorial that claimed that "In our America, 60 million people survive on $7 a day." That's an astonishing number: he points out that this means 20% of the population is living on $2555 per year. The number isn't just astonishing, but wrong, based on misreading of a New York Times story about income reported to the IRS--and of course, excluding "the value of government benefits like food stamps, the earned-income tax credit for working families and subsidized medical care." And of course, a fair number of people--including poor people--work off the books, and so don't report all of their income.

Okay, no surprise: the Los Angeles Times is a bunch of liberal journalists who aren't very good at checking facts, and are so innumerate that they can't immediately spot something suspicious about this number.

More interesting is that one of the commenters pointed to this Heritage Foundation report that discusses the nature of poverty in America. There are two points that they are making, and depending on what emotional reaction to the concept of poverty that you bring to the table, you may react to one of their points, and miss the other. The first point:
For most Americans, the word "poverty" suggests destitution: an inability to provide a family with nutritious food, clothing, and reasonable shelter. But only a small number of the 37 million per­sons classified as "poor" by the Census Bureau fit that description. While real material hardship certainly does occur, it is limited in scope and severity.
In short: there is serious suffering out there--but the government's definition of "poverty" includes a lot of people that aren't what most of us think of as "poor". The report points out that of the 37 million Americans considered "poor" by the government:

Forty-three percent of all poor households actu­ally own their own homes. The average home owned by persons classified as poor by the Census Bureau is a three-bedroom house with one-and-a-half baths, a garage, and a porch or patio....

Eighty percent of poor households have air conditioning....

Only 6 percent of poor households are over­crowded. More than two-thirds have more than two rooms per person....

The average poor American has more living space than the average individual living in Paris, London, Vienna, Athens, and other cities throughout Europe. (These comparisons are to the average citizens in foreign countries, not to those classified as poor.)...

Nearly three-quarters of poor households own a car; 31 percent own two or more cars.

Ninety-seven percent of poor households have a color television; over half own two or more color televisions.

Seventy-eight percent have a VCR or DVD player; 62 percent have cable or satellite TV reception.

Eighty-nine percent own microwave ovens, more than half have a stereo, and more than a third have an automatic dishwasher.
The second point:
Most of America's "poor" live in material conditions that would be judged as comfortable or well-off just a few generations ago. Today, the expenditures per person of the lowest-income one-fifth (or quintile) of house­holds equal those of the median American household in the early 1970s, after adjusting for inflation.
For most of America's "poor," they are only poor by comparison to the rest of America. The report points out that not only by measures of material possessions, but also by measures of malnutrition, most of America's poor aren't particularly miserable:
While the poor are generally well nourished, some poor families do experience temporary food shortages. But even this condition is relatively rare; 89 percent of the poor report their families have "enough" food to eat, while only 2 percent say they "often" do not have enough to eat.

Overall, the typical American defined as poor by the government has a car, air conditioning, a refrig­erator, a stove, a clothes washer and dryer, and a microwave. He has two color televisions, cable or satellite TV reception, a VCR or DVD player, and a stereo. He is able to obtain medical care. His home is in good repair and is not overcrowded. By his own report, his family is not hungry and he had suf­ficient funds in the past year to meet his family's essential needs. While this individual's life is not opulent, it is equally far from the popular images of dire poverty conveyed by the press, liberal activists, and politicians.
The next time that Senator Edwards gives his "two Americas" speech, keep this in mind.

I find myself wondering at times if the government's definition of poverty may be so expansive that resources and money have been diverted to people that are doing okay, and might be better spent on the desperately poor--the 2% that reported that they "often" did not have enough to eat, or that lacked shelter, or were unable to obtain medical care.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Strict Scrutiny & Fundamental Rights

Strict Scrutiny & Fundamental Rights

I blathered on a bit earlier today
about the differing standards of review that the courts use with respect to laws. As I mentioned, the vast majority of strict scrutiny applications to law seem to be state laws, and disproportionately involved in questions of race and national origin, where various groups have challenged discrimination as violating the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment.

But what about the application of strict scrutiny to laws that do not discriminate against particular classes, but do impinge on fundamental rights? Because so many of the strict scrutiny decisions are decided based on application of the 14th Amendment (which applies only to the states), I found myself asking, "What are the existing precedents that would justify the Supreme Court applying strict scrutiny to fundamental rights, without the use of the 14th Amendment's equal protection clause?"

So far, I have identified the following cases where the courts applied strict scrutiny (or at least claimed that they did) to federal laws or regulations.

Really serious fundamental human rights questions:

Korematsu v. U.S. (1944) is the Japanese-American internment case--supposedly decided under strict scrutiny, but there is some cynicism about whether the Court really applied strict scrutiny in upholding the internment, or just claimed to do so.

Free speech and campaign contributions questions:

Buckley v. Valeo (1976) is a free speech case wrapped up in a dispute about campaign contribution limits.

FEC v. National Right To Work Committee (1982)
is another free speech case involving campaign contributions.

McConnell v. FEC (2003), which upheld the McCain-Feingold limitations on campaign spending.

Obscenity definition questions:

Roth v. U.S. (1957)
which held that obscenity was not protected by the First Amendment.

Ginzburg v. U.S. (1966), which also upheld an obscenity statute.

Freedom of religion:

U.S. v. Lee (1982), which argued that requiring an Amish employer to collect Social Security taxes violated the religious freedom guaranteed by the First Amendment.

Can you think of any other Supreme Court decisions that I have missed that involve:

1. A federal law or regulation.

2. A fundamental human right that was allegedly infringed.

3. Do not involve an identifiable class or group that is subject to special treatment? Oddly enough, Roe v. Wade (1973) seems to have been decided based on intermediate scrutiny--although Justice Blackmun's decision seems to weave all over the road. But it doesn't seem to be based on strict scrutiny. Also, cases like Skinner v. Oklahoma (1942) involve discrimination against a particular class--three felony convictions led to sterilization (or as one article described it, "Three strikes and you're snipped").

There probably aren't a lot of these because throughout most of American history, because of the genius of the Constitution in limiting federal power, the job of denying fundamental human rights was taken care of by state legislatures, not Congress. Hence, Gideon J. Tucker's famous observation, "No man's life, liberty, or property are safe while the legislature is in session."

I now need to find the time to read through these decisions, and find out if there is any consistent standard that they use for figuring what constitutes a fundamental human right that requires use of strict scrutiny. If only I didn't have my silly day job (the one that pays the bills) to go to in the morning.