Friday, May 30, 2008

PayPal Email Notifications Not Coming Through?

PayPal Email Notifications Not Coming Through?

I rely on PayPal for the ScopeRoller business, and I had a recent embarrassing situation. A customer submitted an order through the ScopeRoller web site. The money ended up in my PayPal account--but the email notification that is supposed to tell me about this did not. It didn't go in my junk folder--it just never arrived. Almost a month later, I received an email from the customer, upset because his order hadn't been filled, and demanding his money back. Of course, I apologetically refunded his money.

Today I heard from someone I bought some skateboard bearings from (for a double secret project--one of my readers will know what for) on eBay, who hadn't received notification of payment--and then discovered that my payment had arrived--but the email notification did not.

If you rely on PayPal, it is probably a good idea to check your account periodically to verify that you are getting notified of incoming money.

The Problem of Violence is Cultural

The Problem of Violence is Cultural and Moral

And this article from the May 30, 2008 London Evening Standard really captures this well, describing how their equivalent of emergency rooms are being overwhelmed by stabbings:
One of Britain's leading trauma surgeons has told how one in three of his Accident & Emergency patients is now a stabbing victim.
Karim Brohi, a consultant surgeon at the Royal London Hospital, said the proportion of injuries from knives and guns was now on a level with - if not greater than - cities such as Los Angeles or Chicago.
He described how, on occasions, the wards in his hospital resembled "a war zone" with some patients being treated for their second or third knife wound.
And - in a letter to the Evening Standard - Mr Brohi, along with two senior trauma medics, called for more prevention strategies to solve the underlying causes of knife crime.
He said there was a real "potential" for surgeons and doctors to help in the fight against crime through a variety of schemes - such as doctors visiting schools to talk about knife injuries.
Mr Brohi spoke out as an Evening Standard survey showed how casualty wards across the capital were bearing the brunt of the rise in knife crime and treating hundreds of victims each year.
A snapshot survey of wards reveals at least 424 knife victims have been treated in hospital for stab wounds so far this year, 227 of which were serious cases. The true number of victims is even higher because each hospital records cases of stabbings in different ways.
Of course, the rest of the article suffers from the usual delusion that education is going to solve the problem. It will not. There is a serious cultural and moral problem that has developed, and no amount of education is going to fix this.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

More Reasons for the Very Bad Election Results

More Reasons for the Very Bad Election Results

I found several additional reasons that individually contributed to the poor results, I suspect.

1. Jamie Anderson, who signed up to run for county commissioner as a Republican, sure didn't sound like one to me at one of the candidate forums--she sounded like a liberal to leftist Democrat. Sure enough, that's exactly what she is. But a lot of Democrats voted in the Republican primary here in Boise County to help her get the nomination--and while they were on the Republican ballot, they appear to have voted heavily for Tim Corder--who is something of a Democrat Lite. This may explain why I didn't even carry Boise County--and why there were only 182 votes for the Democrat running for state senator in the Democratic primary. Yet another argument for a closed primary. Since there are seldom contested Democratic primaries, the temptation for Democrats to play games like this are very strong--and they have a strong reason to protect Tim Corder from a Republican challenge.

2. A co-worker who lives north of Horseshoe Bend tells me that at school, his daughters are able to play with the children of other newcomers--but the children of the families that have been here for generations pretty much keep to themselves. I suspect that the same thing is at play at election time. My family hasn't been here for several generations. If this is a factor, I have no hope of ever getting elected, as long as Tim Corder or one of the other third generation Idahoan families decides to run.

3. I answered a number of questionnaires, including one from Idaho Chooses Life and the Cornerstone Institute. Both of them were asking very binary questions about complex issues. In particular, I did my best to articulate that concerning abortion, Idaho has gone about as far as it can under Roe v. Wade, and until the Supreme Court overturns it, there's not much that the state can do--but in the meantime, pro-life groups should be working hard to persuade pro-choice people over to the pro-life side--or at least neutralize them.

The reason is that passing laws to restrict abortion is unlikely to be successful at reducing abortions--and I gave the example of Oregon. Before Roe v. Wade, Oregon had a very restrictive abortion law--and yet it had 199 abortions per 1,000 live births. Pretty clearly, the law was not being followed, nor prosecuted. Much of the decline in abortions in the 1990s wasn't because of laws, but because pro-life groups successfully persuaded a lot of people that abortion was either murder, or a bad choice, or pragmatically a bad idea.

But all those subtle points were lost in the detailed statements that I attached to the questionnaires--only the simple yes and no answers went up on the web. I am inclined to think that the next time, I will simply not return questionnaires like this.

The Boise County Republican Central Committee is going to reform on Monday night. I think I will show up, and try to find out exactly what is going on here. In this primary, I emphasized several significant areas of difference with the incumbent: illegal immigration; sexual orientation as a protected class; and more alternatives to the public school system. It is possible that Republicans here are heavily in favor of illegal immigration, sexual orientation as a protected class, and maintaining the public school monopoly. If so, I am terribly, terribly confused by what is going on here.

Oregon-Like Weather

Oregon-Like Weather

The last couple of weeks (ever since I finished balancing Big Bertha 2.0) has been like Oregon: cloudy when it isn't raining. Tonight is the first night that I have been tempted to roll out the telescope. If this keeps up, everything will be green and beautiful--and then the liberals will move here and make the place uninhabitable.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Another Mass Murder Stopped Before It Got Mass

Another Mass Murder Stopped Before It Got Mass

From the May 26, 2008 Reno Gazette-Journal:
The initial investigation indicated that there had been two separate shooters during the incident. One of the alleged shooters, Ernesto Fuentes Villagomez, age 30 of Winnemucca, was among the three men who were dead on arrival. The other was a 48 year old Reno man who was initially taken into custody at the scene as a person of interest.

The subsequent investigation lead detectives to believe that Villagomez entered the bar and at some point began firing multiple rounds. At least two of these rounds struck and killed the other two decedents, Jose Torres age, 20 and his brother Margarito Torres, age 19 both of Winnemucca. At some point during this shooting spree Villagomez allegedly stopped and according to witnesses reloaded his high capacity handgun and began shooting again.

It was at this point that the second shooter, the Reno resident, produced a concealed handgun and proceeded to fire upon Villagomez who succumbed to his wounds. The Reno resident was in possession of a valid Concealed Carry Permit issued through the Washoe County Sheriff’s Office.

After further investigation as well as ongoing discussions with Humboldt County District Attorney Russell Smith, the decision was made that the shooting of Villagomez by the Reno man was a justifiable homicide as outlined in Nevada Revised Statute 200.120 and 200.160. Because of this the Reno man was released from police custody.
Gee, did this get major news coverage? I wonder why not?

Thanks to Dustin's Gun Blog for the pointer.

Really Bad Ideas Spread, Like Herpes

Really Bad Ideas Spread, Like Herpes

My friend Eric Scheie over at Classical Values has a rather long piece that starts out about preservation of a beautiful old fire station in Philadelphia, then moves rapidly into a discussion of the economics of cities building sports stadiums and convention centers--and points out what many troublemakers have been pointing for a number of years: these projects are always pitched to the voters as ways of promoting economic development--but they don't work.

Of course, once one city screws up and does this, other cities decide that they need to do likewise in the hopes of getting their share of the sports team and convention business. Special interests in the area of the proposed development make out like bandits on these projects, while taxpayers as a whole get looted--and business in other parts of the city are the usual losers.

Because Civilization Comes First

Because Civilization Comes First

Why will I be voting for John McCain, the least repulsive of the Democrats who are running? M. Simon over at Classical Values is definitely libertarian, not conservative. There's a lot about McCain he doesn't like--as there is a lot about McCain that I don't like. But he's voting for McCain for a reason. He reminds us that there is a war on against a force that is hard to distinguish from the Nazis, and "my pet issues can wait until our civilization is properly secured." Obama is going to lose that war. Here's the motto for those of us holding our noses and voting for McCain in November:
Because Civilization Comes First

A Profoundly Serious Criticism

A Profoundly Serious Criticism

This is a profoundly serious criticism of the Bush Administration coming from someone who was part of it. From the May 27, 2008 Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

WASHINGTON — In a book due out Monday, former White House press secretary Scott McClellan offers a blistering review of the administration and concludes that his longtime boss misled the nation into an unnecessary war in Iraq.
"History appears poised to confirm what most Americans today have decided — that the decision to invade Iraq was a serious strategic blunder," McClellan wrote in "What Happened," due out Monday. "No one, including me, can know with absolute certainty how the war will be viewed decades from now when we can more fully understand its impact."
"What I do know is that war should only be waged when necessary, and the Iraq war was not necessary," he wrote in the preface.

In Iraq, McClellan added, Bush saw "his opportunity to create a legacy of greatness," something McClellan said Bush has said he believes is only available to wartime presidents.
The president's real motivation for the war, he said, was to transform the Middle East to ensure an enduring peace in the region. But the White House effort to sell the war as necessary due to the stated threat posed by Saddam Hussein was needed because "Bush and his advisers knew that the American people would almost certainly not support a war launched primarily for the ambitions purpose of transforming the Middle East," McClellan wrote.
"Rather than open this Pandora's Box, the administration chose a different path — not employing out-and-out deception, but shading the truth," he wrote of the effort to convince the world that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction, an effort he said used "innuendo and implication" and "intentional ignoring of intelligence to the contrary."
"President Bush managed the crisis in a way that almost guaranteed that the use of force would become the only feasible option," McClellan concluded, noting, "The lack of candor underlying the campaign for war would severely undermine the president's entire second term in office."

Now, there's a lot of argument about the intelligence involved. I have been prepared to accept that Hussein's past history argued that if the intelligence was ambiguous, the precautionary principle would argue for taking action. And the British Parliament's Butler Report did find some serious evidence.

Still, I find myself asking this rather serious question: if, as McClellan says, he could see that Bush was intentionally misleading the nation into war back then, why didn't McClellan say anything? Why didn't he quit his job and blow the whistle? This would have been a serious malfeasance of office issue; perhaps even an impeachable offense. So why did McClellan stay in his job until forced out in 2006? One's obligations to the nation on something as momentous as going to war should take precedence over personal loyalty. It makes me wonder how much of this is that McClellan is trying to sell a book.

Driving Costs

Driving Costs

I've noticed that in spite of gas prices here that are beginning to hit $4 per gallon, people are still driving behemoths--with people driving from Boise to McCall in motor homes, and SUVs towing boats and trailers.

So I started to do the math to figure out how much it would save to buy a high mileage vehicle to drive in the ten months of the year when we don't have a couple feet of snow.

Our Trailblazer gets about 18 mpg by using the cruise control at freeway speed. Figure 1200 miles per month, so 67 gallons. Even at $5 per gallon, that's $333 per month.

A Toyota Prius might get 45 mpg. That's about 27 gallons. At $5 per gallon, that's $133 per month.

Okay, $200 per month difference in gasoline is pretty substantial--but it won't make the payments on the Prius, and for us, there are at least two months of the year (and sometimes three months of the year) where we have to have a four wheel drive to get in and out. Even a high mileage AWD or 4WD (like a Subaru or Suzuki SX4) doesn't get good enough gas mileage to pay for the capital costs. Even people that don't need a 4WD can't justify replacing an existing car unless gas gets a lot higher than $5 per gallon, or unless they drive 2000 miles a month.

There is one and only strategy that works--drive less. I have already reached the point where I seldom make trips to buy anything for ScopeRoller except in an emergency. I don't drive down to Interstate Plastics to buy stock; the $8 shipping charge to have UPS deliver it is cheaper than driving.

I look forward to seeing electric vehicles that ordinary people can afford to buy.

Disappointing Results

Disappointing Results

All precincts are now in. Corder received 1956 votes; I received 1202 votes.

I am a little surprised. When talking to people in person and calling people on the phone, I found only a few people who supported Corder--and even his supporters disagreed with him on issues that I thought would be hot button issues, such as the sexual orientation bill that Corder introduced.

We were roughly even in the number of signs in the district--although his signs tended to be larger.

Between my efforts and the independent election campaign efforts, material supporting me far exceeded in quantity and professionalism that produced by the Corder campaign.

I did talk to people that were concerned that I had too much money behind me. And I talked to people that were concerned about voting for someone who was from California because of California's reputation for liberalism--so they voted for someone who was far more liberal. I talked to people who told me that in Idaho, it is really important that you be a third or fourth generation Idahoan--and perhaps that played a major part.

Incumbency is always an advantage, of course.

Lots of people here don't seem to much care who runs the government. They aren't conservative; they aren't even libertarian; it's more like, "Who cares?"

A late start didn't help.

I talked to a lot of really upset people as I worked my way down the phone lists. But not upset enough to vote Corder out.

UPDATE: Name recognition may be an issue. I'm told by an economist who has studied this subject that, "over a third of winning freshmen Congressional candidates had run unsuccessfully for Congress previously and the vast majority had run for some office previously." I'm being encouraged by prominent Republican Party officials to do this again in 2010. Maybe I'll just retrieve the signs, and hold them until I make a decision in two years.

UPDATE 2: Social conservatives apparently did quite well against liberal and moderate Republicans across Idaho. I am wondering if the problem was my district, or that I am outsider. I had people tell me that being from California originally was a problem, since Californians are all known to be raving liberals.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Don't Hold Your Breath Waiting For Election Results

Don't Hold Your Breath Waiting For Election Results

Remember that my district includes two very rural, very sparsely populated counties, so it is at least an hour's drive from some precincts to the county seats--and that's in good weather. This being late May, we're having almost winter weather, with pouring rain, cold, and lightning storms. Adding to the delay is that the ballots (at least here in Boise County) are literally paper--and we mark the votes with an X.

I'm not expecting to see any results until morning. In the meantime, amuse yourself by refreshing the Idaho Secretary of State's web page.

I was slightly surprised when I went to vote that I didn't even need to tell the precinct officials what my name was--they knew me by sight!

UPDATE: It appears to be a resounding victory for Corder.

Ways To Annoy Voters

One of the political professionals that I spoke to encouraged me to use recorded phone calls to likely voters--and at about $0.10 to $0.11 per call, it was cheap enough that I could have had the robots call every likely voter in the district for less than $1000. But I decided not to do this, because I find these robocalls so annoying. If they annoy me, they probably annoy others.

Italy Going Nuclear

Italy Going Nuclear

Italy has reversed a two decade old policy, and is again interested in nuclear power. From the May 25, 2008 Scotsman:
ITALY, which last week decided to embrace nuclear power two decades after a public referendum banned nuclear power and deactivated all its reactors, could be just the first of several European countries to reverse its stance on nuclear power, a leading industry group has said.

Ian Hore-Lacey, spokesman for the London-based World Nuclear Association, said: "Italy has had the most dramatic, the most public turnaround, but the sentiments against nuclear are reversing very quickly all across Europe."

When asked which nations were likely to join Britain and France as major producers of nuclear power, he replied: "Holland, Belgium, Sweden, Germany and more."
The article goes on to point out that much of the anti-nuclear power movement of Europe was in the aftermath of the Chernobyl disaster--where a reactor of a type limited to the Soviet Union and its satellites failed--and when oil prices were much lower:
The continent turned its back on nuclear power in the 1980s in the wake of the 1986 Chernobyl disaster, but political and economic conditions are markedly different now. Oil was under $50 a barrel then, global warming was a fringe science and climate change had not been linked to manmade emissions.

Although economic considerations and global warming are driving the debate, energy security is also an issue never far from the surface. Few European countries have their own energy reserves and are completely reliant on imports. As well as escalating prices for oil and gas, plus the political upheaval in the Middle East, Europe watched in horror in 2006 as Russia's President Vladimir Putin cut off the natural gas supply to Ukraine in a price dispute, leaving it in darkness.
Not surprisingly, the environmentalists are terribly upset about the prospect of nuclear power plants.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

More Conversations

I've been working my way down the list of likely voters (those who have voted in four of the last four elections), and I'm pretty encouraged. I have talked to only a couple of voters who were on Corder's side--quite a number who have already decided to vote against Corder because of his actions, or who have decided to vote for me because they were pleased with the literature that they have seen. Quite a number hadn't committed themselves yet--but I guess this is probably a good sign--when the incumbent hasn't generated enough good will to carry him through a partisan primary.

I did have one interesting conversation where the voter explained that she was a little worried that the sheer volume of campaign literature suggested that I was showing off how rich I am. I explained that my campaign hasn't spent terribly much--that the independent election campaign trying to unseat Corder has spent, as near as I can tell, more money than my campaign. I have spent an embarrassingly small amount of money out of my own pocket. Thanks to my loyal blog readers, who have contributed relatively small chunks each--but it all adds up!

Saturday, May 24, 2008

The Virtues of Motherhood

The Virtues of Motherhood

This article in the May 23, 2008
Daily Mail (a British newspaper identified with the Conservative Party) about the virtues of motherhood and how "Feminism has betrayed an entire generation of women into childlessness" wouldn't surprise you if it came from Phyllis Schlafly, or Focus on the Family--but it's from Rebecca Walker, daughter of feminist writer and icon Alice Walker:
The truth is that I very nearly missed out on becoming a mother - thanks to being brought up by a rabid feminist who thought motherhood was about the worst thing that could happen to a woman. You see, my mum taught me that children enslave women. I grew up believing that children are millstones around your neck, and the idea that motherhood can make you blissfully happy is a complete fairytale.

In fact, having a child has been the most rewarding experience of my life. Far from 'enslaving' me, three-and-a-half-year-old Tenzin has opened my world. My only regret is that I discovered the joys of motherhood so late - I have been trying for a second child for two years, but so far with no luck.
I was raised to believe that women need men like a fish needs a bicycle. But I strongly feel children need two parents and the thought of raising Tenzin without my partner, Glen, 52, would be terrifying.
As the child of divorced parents, I know only too well the painful consequences of being brought up in those circumstances. Feminism has much to answer for denigrating men and encouraging women to seek independence whatever the cost to their families.
My mother's feminist principles coloured every aspect of my life. As a little girl, I wasn't even allowed to play with dolls or stuffed toys in case they brought out a maternal instinct. It was drummed into me that being a mother, raising children and running a home were a form of slavery. Having a career, travelling the world and being independent were what really mattered according to her.
I love my mother very much, but I haven't seen her or spoken to her since I became pregnant. She has never seen my son - her only grandchild. My crime? Daring to question her ideology.
Well, so be it. My mother may be revered by women around the world - goodness knows, many even have shrines to her. But I honestly believe it's time to puncture the myth and to reveal what life was really like to grow up as a child of the feminist revolution.

Cirque de Soleil

A friend of mine works as a rigger for the Cirque de Soleil, and arranged for tickets for my wife and I when their Saltimbacco show came to down. It is like nothing that I have ever seen before. Think of it as 3D ballet combined with highwire circus thrills combined with something vaguely Punch and Judy. Okay, that doesn't paint much of a picture, but it was still quite interesting.

It had rather a slow start--but soon moved into some truly astonishing and beautiful gymnastics. I am not sure how well this would play to really small children--but I suspect that most ten year olds and older would enjoy. My daughter and son-in-law went to see it earlier in the day; my daughter was really enchanted by it.

The New Indiana Jones Movie

A bunch of us from work went to see it yesterday. It has been quite a wait since Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, and in that time, Harrison Ford has aged a good bit. (Haven't we all?) To their credit, Lucas and Spielberg had the good sense not to pretend otherwise, and the movie is set in the late 1950s. The bad guys are no longer Nazis--I think you can guess who.

On the plus side, it has many of the same endearing qualities of the previous movies. The action sequences are both exciting and funny. There is some clever dialog, a few surprising plot twists, and there is an odd mixture of the supernatural and the natural. You aren't supposed to take it seriously (unless you are a von Daniken follower, I suppose).

On the down side, the action sequences in the first three movies, while clearly impossible, were often just a bit beyond impossible--just enough for you to laugh and say, "Okay, we're making fun of the 1930s action adventure genre." A couple of the action sequences here--for example, involving some waterfalls and a refrigerator--just didn't work. They were so far beyond impossible as to fall a little flat.

In the first movie, Indiana Jones comes out of these horrendous action sequences pretty clearly injured and in serious pain--but Harrison Ford was much younger. It gave a little implication that while these action sequences were impossible, the screenwriter was acknowledging that Indiana Jones wasn't Superman. In this movie, he much, much older, and if anything, the consequences of Indiana Jones' heroics are less severe. Making a cartoonish adventure even less realistic definitely did not help the drama or the humor.

Great special effects have been part of all the Indiana Jones films, but great sight gags and dialog have been even more important. Who can forget the Nazi in the first film opening up what we assume is a torture device--but it turns out to be a foldable coat hanger? Or that great moment when the heroine asks Indiana about his plans as he gallops off to catch the Nazis: "I'm makin' this up as I go along."

By comparison, there are a few good gags (we see the Ark of the Covenant again) and some mildly witty dialog--but I was hoping for more. (And the mushroom cloud is all wrong--bad perspective, and a former co-worker who was 5000 feet from Ground Zero on one of these tests tells me that they are way colorful and pretty.) And the last ten minutes of special effects really took a pretty decent action adventure movie and gave a rather leaden ending. Unlike the first three movies, where there was an adequate explication of what was going on, I found the explanation disappointing. There were too many unanswered questions.

I would say that it was inferior to the first and third movies, but clearly superior to the second movie--which I, like many others, just hated.

Dialing for Votes

The conversations that I am having with voters that I call on the phone are very interesting. Generally, I'm getting:

1. Largely friendly reactions, not committing one way or the other, but often asking questions about where I stand on issues that they care about.

2. People who are committed to voting for me because of Corder's support for S.1323, the sexual orientation bill. (And many of these are former Californians, who know where this takes us.)

3. A couple of people very committed to Corder--to the point of being uninterested in talking.

4. One reminder that you should never let how well someone fits a demographic profile cause you to make assumptions. I talked to a 78 year old Republican woman who was very concerned about the religious right's influence in the Republican Party--in particular, because of her support for same-sex marriage. But she seemed to be pretty libertarian, and was planning to vote for me because she agrees that the government shouldn't be telling people what they do in private--and that includes hiring decisions.

5. One person who indicated that she and her husband were going to vote for me because they had some personal run-in with Corder, and were so upset with him that they wanted him out of office. Maybe not the best reason to vote for me, but I'll take the votes where I can get them!

The Dangers Of Not Reading

I saw a college student's paper recently that showed the dangers of listening, but not reading. The paper discussed the problems caused by the "predigest to the Jews." It took several re-readings of the sentence to figure out that "predigest" is what happens when you hear "prejudice" and haven't a clue as to how it is spelled, because you've never seen the word in print. European anti-Semitism, as bad as it became, never moved onto the cannibalism stage.

Friday, May 23, 2008

The Downside of Independent Campaigns

I received a very irate letter today from a retired soldier:
I find your use of the Unites States Army uniform to further your campaign to be an outrage. This is prohibited under DOD policy, and imperils the poor soldier depicted. Further, the flyer I received contains no photograph of you, leaving the impression that it could be you depicted in the photo. I strongly recommend you denounce this flyer immediately and apologize to the thousands of men and women in uniform whose sacrifice you cheapen by dragging them into a campaign flyer.
I explained that I had no control over the flyer, didn't pay for it, produce, or have anything to do with it--that it was from an independent campaign that is hot to remove Senator Corder. As much as I appreciate the help of independent campaigns, this is the downside of them--people may see these materials and not realize that they are not something the candidate controls.

I would not have used the photograph in question; I would have preferred my picture on it. I don't back down even slightly from the point of the flyer, however: that Corder's vote in committee saved the state not one penny, but did make it more difficult for taxpayers to voluntarily contribute to the state's veterans' services program.

UPDATE: I received an upset phone call along the same lines today who also didn't realize that these are from an independent campaign committee. Although I suspect that the real reason for the upset was that this was a Corder supporter. She defended Corder's sponsorship of the "sexual orientation and gender identity" bill as a way of protecting heterosexuals from discrimination by gay-owned businesses, and insisted that such a law would not produce any lawsuits.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Congress Overrides Bush's Veto

I mentioned a few days ago how Bush's objection was that it provides farm subsidies to married couples making $1.5 million a year. You know: poor people. Congress has overriden Bush's veto--well, sort of, according to this May 22, 2008 CNN report:

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Congress enacted a $300 billion farm bill Thursday over President Bush's objections, but questions remain about whether a clerical error will keep the bill from going into effect.
The Senate voted 82-13 to override the president's veto of the bill Thursday, a day after the House voted 316-108 to override the veto.
Both override votes exceeded the two-thirds majority required by the Constitution.
A portion of the bill, however, remains in legal limbo.
Before the House override vote Wednesday night, lawmakers discovered that the version sent to the White House last week was missing a part. The discovery raises questions about whether that section of the bill, which dealt with authorized trade and food aid, would become law.
The discovery of the missing section, "Title III," prompted concerns from House Republicans that the override vote was improper.
Local news coverage reports that both of Idaho's U.S. Senators and both of Congresscritters voted for the override. I was actually expecting a bit better than this out of Rep. Sali. It's unfortunate that there are no realistic alternatives, since the Democrats are even more deeply corrupted by crony capitalism than Republicans.

More Signs That Californication May Still Happen to Idaho

Two signs today that Idaho may be heading down the California path.

1. I pulled into the parking lot at the store today to get a prescription filled--and ended up parking between two new Mercedes-Benz sedans. One of them was the S550, the full-sized version that costs a mere $87,575. Of course, the woman getting out of the Mercedes with her baby was in her mid-20s. I fear that the excesses of wealth are arriving. Widespread poverty is bad for a society; excesses of wealth are bad, too.

2. Shortly before we left the San Francisco Bay Area, I noticed that there were now services that transported children by van from San Francisco to Sacramento for broken families. Today I heard a radio ad for a similar service for moving kids from broken homes where one parent living in Twin Falls, and the other in the Boise area.

The company is Child Safe Transportation, and let me emphasize that I am not criticizing that they provide this service. I am criticizing parents who let their marriages get to the point where divorce makes sense--and then move three hours away from the other parent and their kids. It's bad enough that the marriage ends in divorce; now, on top of the rest of the tragedy, some kid is being transported back and forth across the state.

  • before you say something mean to your spouse;
  • before you decide that hot little number in accounting might be worth chatting up;
  • before you decide that your depression can only be solved by telling your spouse to move out;
  • before you decide that your desire for a drink or another toke of pot is more important than your marriage;
think about what is going to happen to your kids. This is important; it is about a lot more than you, your spouse, or both of you combined. You are adults; you will pick up the pieces, and move on. Your kids are going to spend decades recovering from this.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The People Losing Their Houses

The People Losing Their Houses

What kind of down on their luck people are these that are having their houses foreclosed? Were they not very well educated sorts who, lacking the sophistication to see through the blather, were taken advantage of by lenders? Hmmm. This report from the May 20, 2008 Capitol Weekly tells the sad story of one of these poor, unsophisticated sorts:
As the real estate market softened in 2007, the new owner of a three-bedroom, 1,600-square-foot house in Sacramento's Curtis Park neighborhood ran into trouble. The house that was purchased for $535,000 in January had lost equity. The owner fell behind in her payments, and eventually, the bank seized the home.

What makes this story different from the thousands like it is that the owner of this house was a member of Congress.

The story of the foreclosure of Long Beach Democrat Laura Richardson's Sacramento home is a tale of a real estate market gone sour. It is also an illustration of how far many candidates will go to seek elected office, even if it means quite literally mortgaging their own financial future.

While being elevated to Congress in a 2007 special election, Richardson apparently stopped making payments on her new Sacramento home, and eventually walked away from it, leaving nearly $600,000 in unpaid loans and fees.

Oh, and Richardson took advantage of the desperation of the couple selling the house to get them to pay $15,000 in closing costs when she bought the place--with nothing down. Richardson receives a salary of $169,300 per year as a member of Congress. Yup, just another poor person who needs the government's help.

Mountain Home News Endorses My Opponent

Mountain Home News Endorses My Opponent
From the May 21, 2008 Mountain Home News:

The District 22 legislative races see only one contested race, where Clayton Cramer is seeking to unseat Republican incumbent Tim Corder.
When someone accuses Corder of being too liberal (or at least not conservative enough), you can pretty much figure Cramer is way out in right field -- in fact, beyond the bleachers. Corder may be a little more conservative on some issues than we'd normally like, but there is no question he is a hard-working, responsive and intelligent legislator who has represented District 22 well. The editorial board unanimously and strongly endorses Corder for re-election.
I'm disappointed by not surprised. They refer to their editorial endorsements as "Kiss of Death" which I suspect that it might well be--I rather doubt that many Republicans in district 22 consider Corder's support of the sexual orientation bill to be conservative.

More Progeny of the Lawrence Decision

More Progeny of the Lawrence Decision

I've previously mentioned how
the Lawrence v. Texas (2003) decision (based on false history) produced a number of lawsuits and decisions that pretty well confirmed Justice Scalia's concern that it would largely destroy laws that reflect any sort of notion of sexual morality. In some cases, I find the laws in question silly or stupid--but they are certainly Constitutional. In other cases, the laws being challenged are, I would say, pretty useful laws to have on the books, such as the law against adultery and a law against soliciting sex in public restrooms. Oh yes: and this Oregon law intended to protect the mentally defective from being taken advantage of sexually.

Now, the 9th Circuit has decided that the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" rule should be reviewed based on the heightened scrutiny standard, not the rational basis standard of review. In practice, this means that it is substantially more difficult for the military to discharge homosexuals from the military.

I have been somewhat ambivalent about "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." I know that there are many homosexuals who are serving in our armed forces and doing a fine job. The plaintiff in this case, Major Margaret Witt, sounds like one of those examples. Most of them keep their sexuality private--and it sounds like Maj. Witt was "outed" by a former lover. (Or perhaps this is all an elaborate test case.)

At the same time, as I discussed near the end of this posting, our military developed this anti-homosexual policy in relatively recent times--and the incident that the Wall Street Journal article I quote describes is one that, to put it bluntly, seems to be pretty common among homosexual men--the use of power to coerce sexual compliance from straight men. (And yes, there's definitely a problem with straight men using power against women in similar situations.) There are times that forcing homosexuals to be discreet about their orientation has some positive benefits--at least, it restrains some of the more outrageous behavior.

Lawrence has opened up a can of worms, and with the increasing acceleration down the slippery slope, it appears that the courts will impose full equality for homosexuals in very short order--followed by full equality for polygamists and pedophiles.

The bigger problem, unfortunately, is the entire notion of "standards of review." As Chief Justice Roberts pointed out during the oral arguments for the Heller case, this ladder of "rational basis," "heightened scrutiny," and "strict scrutiny" is not in the Constitution, and is actually of very recent origin.

My reading of how this standards of review idea came about is that at least into the twentieth century, the courts recognized one standard of review: did the federal or state constitutions prohibit a certain legislative action or not? If Congress or a state legislature was prohibited from action X, then they could not take action X. By the 1960s, however, judges were very liberal, and recognized that if they used this categorical prohibition model, then there would be very limited opportunities for the courts to pick and choose which laws to allow, and which to strike down.

This "standards of review" approach gave the courts a series of tools by which they could pick and choose which laws they could strike down and which they could uphold. When you go back and start reading the various Supreme Court decisions on this, you will quickly find that there is no clearly stated model for "standards of review," and in many of these cases, the notion of "standard of review" is clearly something that has been read back into the decision--the notion of "standard of review" is at best implied in these decisions.

I was starting to work on a law review paper about this, but it is hard to get much enthusiasm up for a careful analysis of what is fundamentally a dishonest approach to Constitutional law.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Money for the Blind

Money for the Blind

The D.C. Court of Appeals has ruled that the government is legally obligated to make paper money distinctive for the blind, under the Rehabilitation Act, 29 USC 794. Essentially, the Court of Appeals has decided that the blind do not have meaningful access to money because, unlike a number of European countries, we have a single size of bill, and there is no way for a blind person by touch to figure out which bills are which (unlike coins).

As sympathetic as I am to the situation that a blind person has on this, I cringe a bit at how the courts increasingly find rights that have until recently, not been recognized as rights as all--such as the right of the blind to be able to tell a $1 bill from a $10 bill. If Congress were to pass a law requiring such a change to our currency, I would be very supportive. Changing the size of the bills would be very expensive for current bill accepting machines, but one clever commenter over at Volokh Conspiracy came up with a very clever solution:
When first presented with this a year or so ago, a simple and effective solution popped into mind: security threads. Currently, US bills have a security thread running vertically through them (across the short way). It would seem to be a simple solution to make these threads heavier so that they could be felt, and vary the location and quantity to denote value.

For example:
a single thread at one end is $1, 2=$5, 3=$10
a single thread in the middle is $20, 2=$50, 3=$100

The bills stay the same size, don't have odd edges that may be prone to tearing or other damage, are easily distinguished by touch, and are (nominally) more secure from counterfeiting (as specific information could be encoded in the threads).

Independent Campaign Expenditures

Have you ever wondered what an "independent election campaign" is? It means that the candidate has no control over the materials that appear, and there is no coordination between the candidate's campaign and the independent campaigns.

I used to assume that this "no coordination" was one of those "wink, wink" sort of things. But apparently not! I was asked not to share campaign updates with some people a while back--and as a result, I am now seeing stuff in my mailbox telling me to vote for Clayton Cramer for State Senate--and I have not seen this stuff before.

Some of the material emphasizes issues that I might not have emphasized--or that I would not have phrased quite the way that it is. One of these flyers referred to me as a "grandfather" which isn't true quite yet. Seeing this on the flyer certainly created a rather Twilight Zone sensation. "How did they know about that?"

Campaign Activities

Campaign Activities

I went to the Mountain Home Senior Citizens Center last night as part of a candidates' forum. Again, the format was really not well suited to this: one minute opening statements by all the candidates, and then written questions from the audience. Still, I had a number of people approach me afterwards to tell me how impressed with how intelligent I am. (Perhaps it was just the comparison that made me look good.)

One person on the Elmore Republican Central Committee whom I have called several times approached me and explained that he had not returned my calls because he was planning to vote for Corder. After hearing me speak, especially on the Second Amendment, he had changed sides, and asked for a campaign sign.

My wife and I also went out to the most eastern part of the district, Glenns Ferry and Hammett, to plant campaign signs. The contrast between northern Boise County and eastern Elmore County is quite dramatic. Both are sparsely populated--but eastern Elmore County is high desert, while northern Boise County is mountainous pine forest.

I had another lobbyist show up at the house this morning to give me money. What really impresses me is how little work I have to do to raise money--it flows in, in surprisingly large chunks from gun rights activists, and in chunks from lobbying groups that I have never heard of, never talked to, and would not have thought were interested in me in the least.

So, what strings are attached to all this special interest money? I confess that until last year, I assumed that when interest groups gave you money, it was often a form of disguised bribery. John Lott's book Freedomnomics has one section where he evaluates voting records of politicians who have announced that they are retiring. One could assume that if politician A has been voting for X because interest groups are giving him money for that purpose, that once the interest group money stops coming in, politician A might stop voting for X. Lott found that politician voting behavior didn't really change once they announced retirement.

This doesn't mean that special interest group contributions don't influence the political process. They aren't raising and giving away money because they are such nice people that they want everyone to be involved in politics. Both from what Lott's study found, and from talking to former members of the Idaho legislature, it is pretty clear that special interest group money does influence legislation--but not in the corrupt "buy off politicians" way that a lot of people assume. It is a considerably more subtle than that.

Let's say that there are three people that want to get elected to public office: Mr. Jones, Mr. Brown, and Mrs. Smith. Mr. Jones is a Big Government liberal who support lots of governmental regulation of business; Mrs. Smith supports free market capitalism; Mr. Brown thinks the big issue the legislature needs to deal with are the space aliens among us. Business interests are going to give money to Mrs. Smith, even if they aren't 100% in agreement with her, because they believe that she is generally going to vote their way. Trial lawyers, labor unions, and other left of center groups are going to fund Mr. Jones, because they believe that he is generally going to vote their way. Mr. Brown is not going to get much funding at all, because the "space aliens among us" crowd is pretty small. (The mind control implants manufactured on Tau Ceti 4 help to keep that crowd small.)

So what happens if Mrs. Smith goes off the reservation, and starts voting for business regulation? The groups that used to fund her campaigns get less and less willing to help. If her leap to the left is dramatic enough, she may find that Mr. Jones's interest groups may start to help--but I suspect that small changes in Mrs. Smith's voting to the left aren't going to be dramatic enough for Mr. Jones's backers to consider Mrs. Smith worth backing. The net effect will be that moving towards the center will often lose more funding than it will gain.

A former neighbor of mine who was a member of the Idaho state senate for several terms described how this happened to him. He was a Republican, but definitely quite a bit to my left on business regulation issues, and over time, the business interests contributed less and less, and his re-election campaigns required more and more of his own money--and finally, he decided that it wasn't worth spending this much of his own money for a job that only pays about $16,000 a year, and involves a substantial time commitment. So he decided not to run for re-election.

UPDATE: Just to clarify: I was addressing the problem of campaign contributions. There is, without question, some serious, direct bribery that goes on out there. The FBI for a while was running around the country, seeing how long it took to give direct bribes to state legislators--and having a depressingly easy time finding legislators in California, Arizona, South Carolina and probably a few states that I missed who were quite prepared to take a cash payment in a nakedly quid pro quo action.

Nor do I want to suggest that interest group money is completely without worrisome consequences. But it just isn't quite the nakedly corrupt problem that a lot of people assume.

One reader suggested that a fairly ideological sort like myself probably is less prone to being corrupted by the process. There's probably some truth to that. The less rigidly you adhere to a set of standards or ideas about the proper role of government, the easier is to bend to the wishes of the moment. This is one of the reasons that politicians that are proud of their "pragmatism" worry me a bit.

The one area which is a real problem is that if an obscure issue comes up, interest groups are likely to have the expertise, the money, and the motivation to present their position in a way that the general public won't. A politician who doesn't know much about this obscure issue may find himself swayed by an interest group's arguments in a way that is not good for the public interest. But this is a problem whether that interest group comes bearing money or not. The best that can hope for is that there will be opposing interest groups who can bring their expertise and motivation to the legislative process. But opposing special interests are not quite the same as serving the public interest.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Need The Pants Scared Off Of You?

Need The Pants Scared Off Of You?

This November 22, 2007 Middle East Times discussion of recent examinations of the consequences of an Iran/Israeli nuclear war should do it just fine:
Anthony Cordesman may be the most influential man in Washington that most people have never heard of. A former director of intelligence assessment for the secretary of defense and director of policy and planning in the Department of Energy, he is now the top strategic guru at the Center for Strategic & International Studies.
Most serious politicians and journalists have for some years based their analyses of the Iraq war and its aftermath on his universally respected research. Cordesman is a facts man who likes and reveres good data and cool, clinical analysis as the keystones of policymaking.
He has now turned his laser-like research and forensic intelligence skills to studying the real implication of the endless diplomatic minuet at the United Nations over Iran's nuclear ambitions. In the real world, this matters mainly because an Iranian nuclear capability would transform the power balance in the wider Middle East, and leave the region and the rest of us living under the constant prospect of a nuclear exchange between Iran and Israel.
This would mean, Cordesman suggests, some 16 million to 28 million Iranians dead within 21 days, and between 200,000 and 800,000 Israelis dead within the same time frame. The total of deaths beyond 21 days could rise very much higher, depending on civil defense and public health facilities, where Israel has a major advantage.

Yet another good reason to not be dependent on Middle Eastern oil.

Cell Phones & Pregnancy

Cell Phones & Pregnancy

This article in the May 18, 2008 British rag The Independent (and I'm being charitable to call it a rag) reports on a worrisome study concerning cell phones and pregnancy:
Women who use mobile phones when pregnant are more likely to give birth to children with behavioural problems, according to authoritative research.
A giant study, which surveyed more than 13,000 children, found that using the handsets just two or three times a day was enough to raise the risk of their babies developing hyperactivity and difficulties with conduct, emotions and relationships by the time they reached school age. And it adds that the likelihood is even greater if the children themselves used the phones before the age of seven.
The results of the study, the first of its kind, have taken the top scientists who conducted it by surprise. But they follow warnings against both pregnant women and children using mobiles by the official Russian radiation watchdog body, which believes that the peril they pose "is not much lower than the risk to children's health from tobacco or alcohol".
The research – at the universities of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and Aarhus, Denmark – is to be published in the July issue of the journal Epidemiology and will carry particular weight because one of its authors has been sceptical that mobile phones pose a risk to health.
UCLA's Professor Leeka Kheifets – who serves on a key committee of the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection, the body that sets the guidelines for exposure to mobile phones – wrote three and a half years ago that the results of studies on people who used them "to date give no consistent evidence of a causal relationship between exposure to radiofrequency fields and any adverse health effect".
The scientists questioned the mothers of 13,159 children born in Denmark in the late 1990s about their use of the phones in pregnancy, and their children's use of them and behaviour up to the age of seven. As they gave birth before mobiles became universal, about half of the mothers had used them infrequently or not at all, enabling comparisons to be made.
I am really, really hard pressed to see how cell phones, especially at the two or three calls a day level, could really have this readily detectable an effect. The study apparently controlled for lots of other possible confounding factors:
The scientists say that the results were "unexpected", and that they knew of no biological mechanisms that could cause them. But when they tried to explain them by accounting for other possible causes – such as smoking during pregnancy, family psychiatric history or socio-economic status – they found that, far from disappearing, the association with mobile phone use got even stronger.
They add that there might be other possible explanations that they did not examine – such as that mothers who used the phones frequently might pay less attention to their children – and stress that the results "should be interpreted with caution" and checked by further studies. But they conclude that "if they are real they would have major public health implications".
Yup. I can see how early adopters of cell phones might have been unusually career-oriented, and the high rates of problems might be because they disproportionately put their yuppie puppies into daycare instead of raising their own kids. It is still quite worrisome: "major public health implications" doesn't even begin to describe it.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Scenic Boise County

I was out this morning placing campaign signs across the more scenic parts of Boise County. Unfortunately, I didn't bring my camera, so you will have to trust me on this. The road through Garden Valley is quite similar to California 4 through the Sierras--Alpine meadows; white water rivers; snow-capped mountains; pine forests; lots of exposed granite.

I was pleased to see campaign signs already up in a number of places that I haven't been in a couple of years; the troops have been at work. But I also found a few places that screamed to have my sign--usually the places where a "Corder for Senate" sign was already there.

I also stopped at the Garden Valley Rifle Range, since I saw a number of people shooting there. The crowd was fathers with their kids, mostly shooting .22 LR--but unfortunately, all of them were from Ada County, which is out of my district. It was still very gratifying to see fathers demonstrating to their sons appropriate behavior with a firearm, which is something of a corrective to the media portrayal of firearms.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Big Bertha 2.0: Yes, It Works

Big Bertha 2.0: Yes, It Works

A few tweaks required:

1. I couldn't buy any blackout cloth at the Joann Fabrics on Fairview last night--they were all out. And in the early evening, there was still enough ambient lighting that it was a problem. As darkness fell, the image quality improved quite a bit.

2. Because the mirror is better supported, it does seem that Big Bertha 2.0 does have a somewhat better image than before.

3. There is still a turned edge on the main mirror--but it is much easier to get in and add a mask to cover that over now.

4. I probably need to slot the holes where the upper cage is held to the rails, so that I can turn the focuser--otherwise you get some rather awkward positions.

5. I still need to attach the finder--there's little hope of finding anything except the Moon otherwise.

6. It is still a little creaky--lots of discomforting noises as I move it around, but it seems pretty stiff.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Is Idaho Subsidizing Liquor Sales?

Is Idaho Subsidizing Liquor Sales?

Am I missing something here? Idaho has a number of state liquor stores. This is a state monopoly on sales of distilled alcohol, as near as I can tell--but since I don't buy distilled alcohol, and barely drink wine, this is an assumption on my part.

In looking at the Fiscal Year 2009 budget, I see that the state liquor stores are forecast to provide $11,574,000 in revenue from sales. But the State Liquor Dispensary's FY2009 budget recommendation from the governor is $19,205,100. Unless I'm missing something--or the state liquor stores are returning almost as much profit from non-liquor as they do from liquor--Idaho would appear to be subsidizing liquor sales.

If you can enlighten me on this subject, I would be obliged.

UPDATE: IdaBlue has details about other budgets; we aren't subsidizing liquor sales.

Handcuffing Them Is Probably Cheaper

Handcuffing Them Is Probably Cheaper

This May 14, 2008 Washington Post article
is disturbing, because it describes the widespread use of drugs to sedate those being deported:

The U.S. government has injected hundreds of foreigners it has deported with dangerous psychotropic drugs against their will to keep them sedated during the trip back to their home country, according to medical records, internal documents and interviews with people who have been drugged.
The government's forced use of antipsychotic drugs, in people who have no history of mental illness, includes dozens of cases in which the "pre-flight cocktail," as a document calls it, had such a potent effect that federal guards needed a wheelchair to move the slumped deportee onto an airplane.
"Unsteady gait. Fell onto tarmac," says a medical note on the deportation of a 38-year-old woman to Costa Rica in late spring 2005. Another detainee was "dragged down the aisle in handcuffs, semi-comatose," according to an airline crew member's written account. Repeatedly, documents describe immigration guards "taking down" a reluctant deportee to be tranquilized before heading to an airport.
In a Chicago holding cell early one evening in February 2006, five guards piled on top of a 49-year-old man who was angry he was going back to Ecuador, according to a nurse's account in his deportation file. As they pinned him down so the nurse could punch a needle through his coveralls into his right buttock, one officer stood over him menacingly and taunted, "Nighty-night."
I'm serious. Handcuff those who are a problem. It's cheaper, and less dangerous. I'm not impressed with someone's sense of appropriate response.

Obama's Deceptions

Obama's Continuing Deceptions

This guy is almost Clintonian. This March 27, 2008 Chicago Tribune article quotes Obama as saying:
Obama called his mother "the dominant figure in my formative years. . . . The values she taught me continue to be my touchstone when it comes to how I go about the world of politics."
So what were her values? Obama describes her as a Midwestern girl of faith. But this Chicago Tribune article presents a very different picture--a girl who spent 8th grade through 12th grade growing up on Mercer Island near Seattle:

Obama frequently describes the story of his mother, who died of cancer in 1995, as a tale of the Heartland. She's the white woman from the flatlands of Kansas and the only daughter of parents who grew up in the "dab-smack, landlocked center of the country," in towns "too small to warrant boldface on a roadmap."


"She touted herself as an atheist, and it was something she'd read about and could argue," said Maxine Box, who was Dunham's best friend in high school. "She was always challenging and arguing and comparing. She was already thinking about things that the rest of us hadn't."
Now, I don't hold Obama responsible for his mother's view. But I do expect when Obama makes factual statements about his mother that they be accurate. If, as he says, the values she taught him continue to be "my touchstone," then he's not playing straight with us when he claims to be a Christian.

Remember: They Only Hate Us Because of Israel

Remember: They Only Hate Us Because of Israel

So what explains this? From the May 15, 2008 Christian Science Monitor:

Seven synchronized bombs exploded in the picturesque city of Jaipur Tuesday evening, killing more than 80 people and wounding more than 200. The bombs, the deadliest such attacks in India in nearly two years, appear to fit into an emerging pattern in India, in which bomb explosions occur every few months and are attributed to Islamic terrorists.


There were, however, no claims of responsibility. India, though largely peaceful, is home to a number of militant groups, from Maoist rebels to secessionists in its northeast.
But most analysts say Islamic terrorists were behind the bombs. Some point out that India's foreign minister, Pranab Mukherjee, is due to visit Islamabad shortly to review the peace process between Pakistan and India, his first visit since a civilian government took over in Pakistan earlier this year.
They also note that the blasts occurred just days after gun battles erupted between the Indian Army and Islamic militants in the disputed region of Kashmir.
Several analysts said intelligence surrounding earlier blasts made the Harkat-ul-Jehadi-Islami, a Bangladeshi group known as the Huji, a strong suspect.
Last August, three bomb blasts, which killed 38 people in Hyderabad, were widely blamed on the Huji.
"They want Islamic extremism to take root in India," says Ashok Behuria, a fellow at Delhi's Institute for Defense Studies and Analyses, referring to Islamic terrorist groups from Pakistan, Bangladesh, and elsewhere. "These people are slowly but surely beginning to penetrate India."

Congress To Help Out Poor People

Congress To Help Out Poor People

You know, the ones with adjusted gross incomes of $1.5 million. From the May 15, 2008 New York Times:
WASHINGTON — The House overwhelmingly approved a $300 billion farm bill on Wednesday afternoon, making it probable that the measure will become law despite President Bush’s anticipated veto.
The 318-to-106 vote, far over the two-thirds needed to override a veto, sends the bill to the Senate, where the measure is also expected to have veto-proof support. Although predictions can be dicey in political Washington, the measure’s strength in the Senate has been seen as even more robust than in the House.
I've never found the arguments for farm price supports even slightly persuasive. If these programs were targeting farmers who were struggling to feed their kids, I would find the program foolish but at least built on concern for the poor. But look at who gets the government's help:
A big sticking point is how much money would go to wealthy farmers. Married farmers with joint incomes of up to $1.5 million a year and individuals who make more than $750,000 could qualify for some crop subsidies. The Bush administration has called for much lower limits that would deny subsidies to anyone with an average adjusted gross income above $200,000 a year.
This is an outrage. Oh yes, one of the apologists for this bill explains:
But Representative Kenny Hulshof, a Republican who is a farmer in Missouri, defended the bill, asserting that the costs of farming are up as well as incomes. “If farming were easy, Congressmen would do it,” he said.
Someone whose income is $1.5 million a year almost certainly has a farm worth many millions of dollars. (And if not, that means that that their farm has 50% or better annualized return on investment--which would make farming "easy.") Why are the rest of us subsidizing multimillionaires?

These are the times that I get so angry that I can't see straight. This is one of the costs of our current tremendously corrupt system--redistributing wealth from people who make $50,000 a year to people who make $1.5 million a year.

Even worse: farm prices are going up so fast that they are outpacing inflation, as this May 14, 2008 Idaho Statesman article points out.

And any Democrat who tries to tell me that their party wouldn't do this is a liar. The Democrats control this Congress:
Only 15 Democrats opposed the bill, as did 91 Republicans.
This is the sort of socialist redistribution of wealth upward that can drive otherwise sensible people to anarchism.

He Really Is George McGovern

He Really Is George McGovern

Here's a clip of Obama
explaining his defense strategy. Assuming that this isn't a fraud, this guy is George McGovern for the modern age--such a serious threat to the national security of the United States that it almost guarantees that we will end up in a war not in Iraq, but in the streets of America. It is essentially an invitation for Iran to develop nuclear weapons, and use them against us--because we won't have any capability to respond.

Wanted: Honest Auto Electrician in Portland

Wanted: Honest Auto Electrician in Portland

My son's 2005 Pontiac Sunfire has decided to give up on the turn signals and brake lights (although the third brake light still works--probably on a different circuit). It isn't the fuse. If I were in Portland--or he was here--I could make a serious effort at figuring out where the problem is. (My guess is that there's a loose connector somewhere.)

Can anyone in the Portland area recommend an honest and competent auto electrician in the Portland area? Unfortunately, honest isn't enough; someone who doesn't know what they are doing can easily burn through 15 or 20 hours trying to figure out why something has stopped working.

Mounting Big Bertha 2.0

Mounting Big Bertha 2.0

Okay, finally have it up on the equatorial mount.

You will notice that the CI-700 equatorial mount head is on a 10.5" tall aluminum tube. It wasn't pretty, but I managed to turn the interior to the required 5.54" inside diameter by putting an end mill in the drill press, and slowly turning the pipe so that the end mill got all parts. Yes, this isn't exactly how you are supposed to use a drill press. But it worked.

The lower elevation relative to the standard CI-700 (or even G-11) tripod means that it was a lot easier for my wife and I to pick the scope up and get it into the dovetail--and I won't need to be standing tippy-toe on a stepladder to get to the eyepiece, either. At the zenith, the eyepiece is 75 inches from the ground.

I still need to add the finderscope to the telescope. I'm a little torn as to whether to add it at the balance point, near the eyepiece, or closer to the mirror. Traditionally, finderscopes are near the eyepiece so that you can quickly move from finderscope to eyepiece. Adding it there would add a pound or two to the light end of the scope, requiring me to move the scope down slightly in the saddle--and I'm already on the edge of scraping the board to which the tube is mounted.

I knew that I was going to need to put a light shroud on the scope--but in spite of that, it works surprisingly well in daylight. Mirror collimation was a bit of a struggle--it is still possible that the tube structures that I am using don't provide enough stiffness. I don't like some of the creaking noises as I move the scope from position to position. We'll find out the next time the clouds clear out at night.

This is still a work in process; I'm learning a lot along the way.

Post-Nuclear War Mutant Salt Shakers

Post-Nuclear War Mutant Salt Shakers

For Mother's Day, I took my wife out to Sad Wa Dee, an unpretentious little Thai restaurant in Meridian. The proprietor went around giving salt and pepper shakers to all the mothers in the restaurant. But looking at these salt and pepper shakers was....disturbing:

Click to enlarge

Why do I find myself thinking of props from a low-budget film about post-nuclear war mutants?

Jews and Guns

Jews and Guns

The March 20, 2008 Jewish Daily Forward has a very thoughtful article by Eric King that asks the question, "Why Are American Jews So Anti-Gun?"
I’ve been stumped by this communal aversion to firearms ever since I was a 6 year old, back in 1947. While flipping through old Life magazines one day in my grandparents’ living room in the Bronx, I came across photographs taken at the liberation of concentration camps. I saw the pictures of bodies stacked like cordwood, and was stunned.
“Mommy, why are all those people dead?” I asked.
My mother, a brilliant and subtle woman, thought for a moment and said, “The bad Germans called Nazis killed them.” To which, of course, I asked, “Why did the Nazis kill them?”
“They killed them because they were Jews,” she replied.
Although I was only 6 and not yet sure of my identity or its meaning, I asked, “We’re Jews, aren’t we?”
“Yes,” answered my mother.
“Mommy,” I asked, without missing a beat, “do you and Daddy have a gun so we can protect ourselves if the Nazis come for us?”
“This is America,” my mother reassured me. “That can’t happen here.”
All across America little Jewish boys and girls got the same answer, and pretty much all of them accepted it. That answer, though, didn’t satisfy me — and to this day I wonder how it is that Jews in America, despite no small amount of antisemitism, have so strongly devoted themselves to the belief that “it” couldn’t happen here.
Some years back, I had two co-workers. One of them was the child of an Englishman and an Austrian woman. His mother's family were aristocrats who fled the Nazis after the Anschluss--losing the family castle in the process. He was a gun owner, and knew full well where a disarmed society can lead.

The other co-worker was Jewish, and insisted that there was no need for an armed population: something like the Holocaust could never happen in America. "Americans are different," he insisted. While a comforting belief, I really don't find it plausible that Americans are so fundamentally different from Germans, Rwandans, Cambodians, Turks, and all the other nations that have, at one time or another, decided to slaughter their neighbors.

King's argument for why anti-gun sentiment is so strong among American Jews is an idea that I have seen before:
A great many American Jews had great-grandparents who originally came from shtetls or ghettos in Europe. One of the major hazards of living in another people’s country was that occasionally a few Cossacks would get drunk, ride over to the nearest shtetl, rape a few women, maybe murder a man who protested rather than begging for his life, and then ride off into the sunset.
It had to be inescapably clear to these Jews that dozens of able-bodied and sober men would surely have been a match for eight or 10 drunk Cossacks. It would have been easy, even for Jews not trained in arms, to kill the Cossacks and bury them someplace.
It is obvious, though, why they did not: Had they had done so, swarms of Cossacks would have massacred every Jew in every shtetl within 100 versts. Defense was just not an option.
The women raped and the men murdered were seen as the price Jews paid for surviving as a people. Since no Jew likely considered the possibility that without some major provocation the Cossacks would someday try to kill them all, it seemed like a reasonable, if awful, compromise.
Such a compromise must have taken a devastating and horrific psychological toll on the people forced to make it. In order to maintain self-respect, people in such a condition had to explain it as the result of something that made them better than their oppressors. This was the notion that they voluntarily — rather than of necessity, as was actually the case — eschewed the use of weapons because they understood that violence was evil, while their tormentors did not. It was the key to survival, and to self-respect.
I think this is correct; it conforms to what I have read elsewhere. It is also similar to the reasons why various quietist sects of Christianity came through the trauma of the Thirty Years Wars with a strong commitment to pacifism--and then migrated to America, where they only had to deal with Indians, not with professional armies raping their women, and torturing their men. It is difficult to tell most people, "Don't fight back--this only makes it worse." If you can put a pragmatic need on a higher moral standing, it is easier for some people to accept.

Some of the comments on King's article take issue with his explanation, and argue that the anti-gun sentiment of American Jews is based on liberalism:
I intend no offense, but I must say, unequivocally, that Mr. King has missed the point entirely. Jewish antipathy toward firearms has nothing to do with the shtetl, and everything to do with liberalism.
The essence of liberal philosophy is that the liberal feels that he is smarter, more sophisticated, more knowledgeable, better informed, and generally wiser than the great majority of his fellow citizens. From this he infers the right to tell others what to do. He considers himself to be like a parent, with us as the children, who are loved, but since immature must be controlled. And just as one would not give a firearm to a 7-year-old, the liberal wants guns taken away from us untrustworthy commoners.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Government Research vs. Subsidy

One of the recurring concerns that I have about Democratic approaches to energy policy is that they emphasize a complex system of taxation to get the "right" results on how we produce energy, and how we save it. Unfortunately, the net effect is to produce situations like the current corn ethanol situation, because it is almost impossible to distinguish subsidies that make sense for the society as a whole from subsidies that make sense for business interests.

There is nothing surprising about this. Those who benefit from the subsidies probably represent a fraction of one percent of the population. Something that puts billions of dollars of tax benefits into the pockets of a hundred thousand people creates a powerful financial incentive to lobby. At the same time, the society as a whole has far less incentive. The billions of dollars are spread out over 300 million people--so the injury per person for any particular subsidy is trivial.

With respect to purely research activities, my sympathies with respect to alternative energy are a little stronger. (Of course, "alternative energy" includes nuclear power.) While some serious boondoggles definitely come out of such research projects, there is no question that some of the government promoted R&D has created some useful results. If we could get fusion power plants operating, petroleum would become just an interesting source of plastics--and oil exporting countries that have little to offer the world but overblown thuggish leaders would go back to the fourteenth century. No loss.

That said, I think it is important to distinguish true R&D from actual production. Figuring out a way to efficiently produce ethanol from corn is an R&D activity; tax exemptions are not. Figuring out a way to produce photovoltaic cells at $1 per watt is an R&D activity; using tax exemptions to sell $5/watt cells for $1/watt may just hide that we're wasting energy making the cells.

There is a pretty long history of government directly funding basic and applied research. The research that I did for my book Armed America (but which had to be cut out to get it down to a publishable size) uncovered the extent to which the federal government in the 1790-1820 period strongly and unashamedly subsidized research into new methods of mass production by the manner in which it contracted for muskets--and we all benefit from the methods that some of the contractors invented.

Such government funded research might be wasteful, but as long as the research isn't being done by corporations that have an economic interest in lobbying to keep the project going, this doesn't seem too dangerous from the economic distortion standpoint. Yes, government researchers might lobby to keep the gravy train going because they are intellectually interested in the work, or just are afraid of losing their jobs, but this seems like a minor risk compared to the lobbying potential of a major corporation.

There is also a pretty long history of government encouraging innovation by the granting of prizes. The Longitude Prize, offered by the British government in 1714 for a chronometer accurate enough to determine longitude, caused a number of significant inventions that indeed led to such a chronometer. The X-Prize Foundation does something similar in a number of technology areas today. The free market itself does something similar--but generally, it does this better where the technology already exists, and needs to be made more efficient.

The Videoconferenced Legislature

I mentioned one of the Boise County commissioner candidates who wanted to see live video feeds of commission meetings to more involve the voters and save gasoline. While there is, I think, a problem with this because of how few voters in this county have a broadband connection, I think there's some merit to the idea of using videoconferencing in another governmental arena: the state legislature.

For the roughly 1/4 of the legislators who live within fifty miles of the statehouse, the drive isn't a big problem. It costs some money, and takes some time--but for legislators who represent Twin Falls, or Moscow, they need to spend four to ten hours driving to and from Boise or flying. Then they have to stay in a hotel at least weeknights.

What's wrong with this?

1. It costs a pile of money. The IRS has just raised the mileage rate to 50.5 cents per mile. For a legislator who lives in Twin Falls, that's $129 each week (assuming that he goes home on the weekends). For Tom Trail, who represents Moscow in the lower house, that would be $302 for each round trip. (I presume he flies.)

2. It is bad for the environment. Look, I'm no ecocrazy, but whether you drive or fly, there's a lot of gasoline or jet fuel burned by this much travel.

3. It wastes time--lots of time. For many legislators, it wastes five to eight hours a week going back and forth. Even for those who live nearby and who go home every night, this can be an hour to two hours wasted every day.

4. The more time you spend in Boise (especially for those who spend weeknights in town), the less in touch you are with your district. I don't know how big a role this plays in causing adulterous affairs, but I would be surprised indeed if being away from your spouse too much doesn't play a part in the well-known problems that politicians everywhere have with this.

5. For some legislators, telecommuting means that they have a chance to keep an eye on whatever their full-time business is. (Remember that Idaho legislators are part-time--and many of them have regular jobs or own businesses.) This means that some people who might otherwise find it impractical to run for legislature could now seriously consider it.

There are jobs where it just isn't practical to use videoconferencing as a substitute for being there. But being a legislator is about as close to being the perfect application of videoconferencing as I can imagine.

1. A legislator doesn't have to physically hold or touch anything. (And much of the time that they do so, they end up in trouble because of it!)

2. A legislator's primary tool of trade is words. He is writing or reading laws and regulations--stuff that is especially well suited to transport as a stream of disembodied electrons.

3. Legislators hear public comment and expert testimony in committee hearings--but this can also be done by videoconferencing. At worst, the public will be at the statehouse speaking before a camera to a room that consists of video screens showing the legislators. (I suppose that some legislators might prefer to be there in person.)

4. The actual cost of videoconferencing equipment these days isn't all that high. The only really significant expense would be expanding the broadband services to some of the more remote parts of the state where legislators live. This is one of those examples of how the state government, by guaranteeing demand for broadband services for a legitimate governmental purpose, has the potential to create the telecommunications infrastructure required to bring global business opportunities to many of the beautiful but remote parts of this state. Communications infrastructure, like canals, railroads, and highways, has the potential to substantially improve the economic vitality of what are otherwise remote places.

Monday, May 12, 2008

The Beauty of Idaho

The Beauty of Idaho

The snow has not completely melted yet--we're having an unusually cool spring. Here's the last remaining patches of snow a few hundred feet above us, on the north facing slopes:

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And here is the ski resort--a couple thousand feet higher at the base:

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While it is still quite cool at night, there's enough sunlight and warmth in the day to get the wild flowers well under way:

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My wife knows the name of the intensely bright yellow flowers, but she's not here right now. Here you can see some of them closeup, and a hillside in the distance that is so covered with them that you can only see the integrated result:

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Every once in a while I start feeling sorry for myself that I still have to work for a living, unlike lots of other people--and then I think about it and realize that I am really quite fortunate to be able to live and work in a place this beautiful.

Yesterday after church, my wife and I drove through the back country of Boise County, placing campaign signs. The roads are just terrible back there--but it is astonishingly beautiful. Much of it is Alpine meadows and granite. It looks much like the high country of Yosemite.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Other Candidates Today

These were candidates running for other offices than mine. One (whose name I didn't remember) was trying to get the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate (trying to get Larry Craig's seat), and suggested that we could solve many of the economic problems of rural Idaho by having the Idaho legislature take back federal lands so that Idaho could administer them for the benefit of the timber workers. He wasn't saying that as a member of the U.S. Senate, he would try to get Congress to transfers the National Forests back to the states--but that the states should simply take back ownership.

Hmmm. I think South Carolina tried that with Fort Sumter. There was some unpleasantness as a result. You might want to look it up.

Another candidate is trying to get the nomination for one of the county commissioner positions. (Idaho counties are administered by commissioners, roughly equivalent to supervisors in a number of other states.) She made what sounded like a pretty good suggestion at first glance: put the county commission hearings online as live video, to enhance public involvement and reduce driving costs. This is a fine idea--but I asked her, "How many Boise County residents have a sufficiently broadband connection to watch streaming video, except in a 60x20 pixel window?" My guess is that that the vast majority of Boise County residents are dialup.

Let Me Say Something Nice About My Opponent

In some ways, he is not your conventional notion of a politician. He gave a speech at an event today in which he said something quite direct and blunt. He pointed out that since the environmentalists largely destroyed the timber industry in much of the West, rural counties like Boise County have been dependent on Craig-Wyden Act funds which are supposed to provide transition funding as we move on to...something else. Each year, it gets a bit harder to get Congress to provide the funding--and when the day comes when they stop funding Craig-Wyden, counties like Boise are going to have to raise taxes to cover operating costs.

This isn't an easy thing to tell people--especially here, where enthusiasm for tax increases is extremely low. Corder didn't sugarcoat this, either. It made it just a little easier for me to make something of the same point in a different way: Idaho isn't a particularly bad operation in terms of Big Government. The legislature makes a serious effort to keep spending under control, and sometimes goes a bit too far in the penny-wise, pound-foolish direction.

I explained that the contractor who built my house asked me if I was going to be able to cut taxes, and I had to tell him that I wasn't going to make any promises that I couldn't keep. There are some services that the government provides that are either necessary, or that make life a lot nicer, and those services are paid for by taxes.

The format of this event was too much like a Presidential debate. We each had five minutes to speak, and then time for a few questions. No one had any questions for me. I can't believe that I spoke so powerfully that everyone had made up their mind based on my five minutes.

Friday, May 9, 2008

The $100,000 Economy Car

The $100,000 Economy Car

The Tesla Motors sports car costs about $100,000
--so why would anyone buy it? Because it's so cheap to own.

Okay, let me explain. The correct comparison isn't to a family sedan. The correct comparison is to a high performance two seat sports car--like a Corvette. You could buy a new Corvette for about $50,000 (maybe less, if you hit up the Chevy dealer in Boise in the depths of winter).

Tesla claims that the electricity for their little whizbang costs about two cents a mile. The gasoline for a Corvette is going to cost you about nineteen cents per mile right now--and the way things are going, I wouldn't be surprised to see it at forty cents per mile by the time you either wear out the car, or wrap it around a tree.

I don't know what the long-term maintenance costs of the Tesla are going to be, but I would be very surprised to see them comparable to a gasoline engine. Think of the number of electric motors that you use on a daily basis--and that never, ever wear out. EVER. I've never had a kitchen appliance electric motor fail. I think that I have had one electric drill motor fail. Electric motors are remarkably durable and maintenance free. Have you ever had a tune-up on an electric motor? Ever changed the oil? Ever replaced an air filter?

Other parts of the Tesla are going to be similar--like brakes, wheels, tires, steering gear, etc. I would not be at all surprised to see a Tesla end costing at least $0.25 per mile less to operate. In 200,000 miles, the Tesla's lower operating cost might well enable you to break even.

I really look forward to seeing Tesla's family sedan--and the Chevy Volt.

UPDATE: A reader tells me that the Tesla uses a different battery technology from the Prius--and one that is more likely to wear out. The batteries won't be cheap.