Monday, June 29, 2009

Dealing With Inflation

Dealing With Inflation

I mentioned a bit more than a month ago that I was wrestling with the question of how to deal with an inflationary economy. I'm still wrestling. The economic disaster hasn't injured me quite as much in the non-retirement portfolio as I had feared, or rather, the damage to my stock mutual funds and some of my bonds has been almost compensated by the improvement in some of my other bonds. The Fannie Mae bonds, for example, are actually above par! And I have some hope, that over the next ten years, either the voters will get smart enough to kick the Democrats out of power, or more direct action will make the value of anything but freeze dried food and ammunition rather irrelevant.

Liz Ann Sonders of Schwab is indicating that there is beginning to be a cautious, realistic optimism about the market, and investors are moving from cash to a variety of investments. I don't find this hard to believe; the economy was supposed to rebound by second half anyway, and even the crooks who control Congress couldn't completely screw this up. As Sonders pointed out on June 24, the Fed believes that the recession is beginning to ease, and their actions reflect this. But also:
Schwab's Investment Strategy Council continues to believe inflation is not a near-term risk.

Although money supply has grown, the money multiplier (or velocity of money) has collapsed. Quantitative/credit easing ("printing money") doesn't cause inflation unless that money is getting into the economy … at this point, it isn't.

In the longer-term, credit growth will revive and the economic recovery will be more clear—and only then will the Fed need to begin the tightening process. The Fed made it clear that stage is still well ahead of us.
Which fits with some stuff that I linked to several months ago. For those that are still many years from retirement, slowly easing back into conservative growth stock mutual funds might be a good idea. For those of us who aren't that many years away, perhaps either short-term bonds (maturities of 2-5 years) make sense, or adjustable rate bonds.

Of course, don't make the mistake that I made, buying some Sallie Mae adjustable bonds--ones that could theoretically drop to 0% interest if interest rates fell to 0. Not like that could happen, I told myself! Unlike a fixed rate bond, where falling interest rates at least make the value of the bond go up--with these, not only does the interest rate fall--but so does the value of the bond, since it now pays a much lower interest rate. I guess that I will just hold onto these, until they mature (some years out), or the inflation ogre shows up and spoils the party--at which point, those bonds will probably be worth having.

Atmospheric Nuclear Weapons Testing: 1951-1963

Atmospheric Nuclear Weapons Testing: 1951-1963

This is part of the Battlefield of the Cold War series, volume 1. This is a detailed history of nuclear weapons testing by the United States. In spite of the title, it actually covers 1945 to 1963, and is not limited to the Nevada Test Site. It includes information about the Pacific and outer space nuclear weapons tests, as well as those conducted at the Nevada Test Site--including a list of all the test explosions (including yield and purpose) in this period.

In light of the subsequent problems of the Downwinders (who allege, and I guess with good reason, that they were injured by fallout from the tests), there's a lot of interesting discussion of the struggles over what the proper limits of the tests performed. It would appear that there was a genuine effort to avoid unnecessarily dangerous exposure to those outside the test site--but the combination of bad luck and insufficient understanding of the risks meant that these efforts failed.

This makes a nice companion to Trinity and Beyond: The Atomic Bomb Movie.

More Humorous Posters

More Humorous Posters

The first one really gave me a laugh.

The second one is a little more vulgar in language than I prefer, but it really captures the insanity of our first Affirmative Action President. (Why couldn't our first black President have been Thomas Sowell?)

"Pedophiles Aren't Gay"

"Pedophiles Aren't Gay"

This is conventional wisdom--and I've been told this repeatedly by gay activists and their liberal apologists--even when the pedophile preys exclusively on little boys.

Sexual preference is on a different axis from pedophilia. There are heterosexual pedophiles, bisexual pedophiles, and homosexual pedophiles. As I pointed out in 2006, in spite of the talking heads that the news media interview on the subject, serious, very PC scientific journals still use terms like "homosexual pedophile" and "heterosexual pedophile" to describe these offenders.

It is true that a majority of homosexuals are not pedophiles. It is also true that a majority of pedophiles are heterosexual. (Since heterosexuals are about 97% of the population, of course a majority of pedophiles are heterosexual.) Scholarly works published into the early 1990s (before Political Correctness took over) were still showing that homosexuals and bisexuals were 20-30% of pedophiles--or about 8-10x disproportionate to their fraction of the population. While I'm a bit skeptical of the article linked here, because Paul Cameron has a strong ideological orientation on this, it is curious that the percentage of homosexual child sexual abuse that he found analyzing Illinois foster care data was...24%, right in the middle of historical data. And there are cases like this one, involving an openly gay couple, molesting a foster child. Or Paula Poundstone, a lesbian entertainer who was charged with lewd acts on one of her under 14 foster children.

I've also pointed out that one rather special group of pedophiles--Catholic priests--overwhelmingly victimize little boys: 81%. And guess what? Catholic priests have about 11x the rate of AIDS of the general population. (Surprised? I was, too. But when I look at those two figures together, I'm not surprised.)

So let's not pretend that this horrific case from Duke University is just a big surprise, shall we? From the June 28, 2009 North Carolina News-Observer:
Federal authorities say Lombard, 42, of 24 Indigo Creek Trail, performed sexual acts on his son and invited an undercover investigator online to fly to North Carolina and do the same.

Lombard owns the home with another man, according to Durham County property records. The pair bought the home, which sits at the end of a narrow path lined with trees and multicolored homes, in May 2007, the records show. The co-owner has not been accused of any wrongdoing.


Lombard, associate director of Duke's Center for Health Policy, was arrested Wednesday evening at his home. Investigators seized two webcams, five computers and a sex toy, among other items, after searching his home.
The 5-year-old and another child in the home were placed in protective custody.
Lombard, a licensed clinical social worker with a master's degree in social work, is a health-disparities researcher who studies HIV/AIDS in the rural South.
Professor Mike Adams points to the wailing fest from the Duke faculty when the lacrosse players were falsely accused of raping a black woman, and were almost railroaded by a dishonest district attorney. But this is going to be a lot more entertaining:
So it will be interesting to see how Duke faculty members respond to Frank Lombard. Because he is white, Lombard is fair game at Duke, isn’t he? But Lombard is also gay, so will that complicate things?
Unfortunately for Frank Lombard, the affidavit in support of his arrest warrant shows that this second Duke rape case will also have a strong racial component. According to a confidential source (CS) a man using the user name “cooper2” or “cooperse” logged onto an internet-based video chat room. CS saw him perform oral sex on an African-American child under the age of ten. He also performed other acts on the child, which are too obscene to be described in this column.
The user name “cooper2” has now been linked to Frank Lombard, the associate director Duke University’s Center for Health Policy. A second source has now alleged that “cooper2” has confessed to being “into incest” and that he has adopted two African American children.
The only good news coming out of this story is about Frank Lombard’s live-in homosexual partner. The affidavit in support of Lombard’s arrest warrant shows that he made special arrangements when molesting the child – sometimes even by drugging the child – to make sure his partner did not find out.
As I said, most homosexuals are not molesters. And there are enough heterosexual molesters out there--certainly a strong majority--that if you decide to focus on gay men as the danger to children, you aren't being very honest. I suspect that most gay couples that are adopting children are trying to create a white picket fence middle class life that they can't have without marrying the opposite sex. But there are some creeps out there, too, and I do worry a bit that in the mad rush to allow gay adoption, the agencies involved aren't being careful enough in screening.

When we were raising our kids, we were extraordinarily careful who we let watch our children, and I encourage you to be similarly careful. Do not assume that [fill in your favorite male relative] could never have done something like that! Children make stuff up, without question. But they are victimized--a lot.

As I pointed out a while back, both here and here, there is a curious connection between child sexual abuse (CSA) and adult homosexuality--enough so that it seems plausible that CSA causes at least some adult homosexuality. More worrisome is that a small percentage of CSA survivors end up becoming molesters themselves when they grow up. Usually male victims become molesters--but sometimes, female victims do so as well. The exact mechanism isn't well understood, but the connection seems clear enough. And that's part of why we aren't making any progress on stopping it. This ideological pretense that pedophiles are always heterosexual, or don't have an adult sexual orientation is not only false, it is dangerously false.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

No, It Isn't An Article From The Onion

No, It Isn't An Article From The Onion

But you are forgiven for wondering at first. It comes from the June 25, 2009 Telegraph:
Canterbury is sufficiently gay, council inspectors rule

One of Britain's most historic cities, Canterbury, has been told it is sufficiently gay – after a complaint sparked a two-month investigation costing thousands of pounds.

A government watchdog decided that Canterbury in Kent does enough to promote homosexual culture, rejecting a complaint by local activists.

The Local Government Ombudsman – who asked for the city's council to provide evidence of how it supported the gay community – said it was satisfied the pink pound was being catered for.

As part of the investigation, the council had to prove its inclusiveness by giving details of "touring plays and musicals, for example, which would be of interest to the LGBT community".

And it had to show that it had "put forward suggestions for small events that it might help fund, as well as proposals for other events such as exhibitions".

Rob Davies, spokesman for the council, said: "Obviously we're delighted with the outcome of the investigation.

"We feel we do a great deal for the gay community in Canterbury and we have always tried to support various gay events and promotions."

"But at the same time it is not the duty of any council to set up a gay bar – that's not what councils do."

The two-month investigation began at the end of April after a letter was sent from two representatives of Pride in Canterbury.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Please Explain This To Me

Please Explain This To Me

Most homosexuals don't do stuff like this. I know that. Whenever this type of behavior happens in a public place, I'm told by apologists that this sickness is not either typical or accepted by the gay community.

So answer me this question: If this sort of sickness--exhibitions of torture and sexual pleasure--is not generally considered acceptable in the gay community--why doesn't the government of New York City (or San Francisco) enforce its laws against public lewdness and indecency? (Or even just stop actively funding and encouraging it, in the case of San Francisco.)

It is pretty clear that city governments are at least tolerating, and often encouraging or subsidizing this sickness because they do not want to offend the homosexual community--and doesn't mind offending the majority of its citizens who unquestionably would find this behavior on public streets completely unacceptable. If this sickness is actually a tiny, tiny fraction of homosexuals, and most homosexuals would also find this behavior unacceptable, why do city governments not enforce their existing laws?

Remember that even in San Francisco, homosexuals are only about 11% of the men, and 4% of the women--so perhaps 8% of the total population. If this type of pubilc behavior is really only acceptable to a tiny fraction of homosexuals--say, 5% of them--then that means that enforcing the law would upset less than 1/2 of 1% of the population. Does anyone seriously believe that less than 1/2 of 1% of the population is this important to politicians?

This isn't "what consenting adults do in private." It isn't the type of behavior that would show that gay people are "just like straight people, except for who they love." It's a pretty clear indicator that there's something terribly broken about homosexuality, that city governments are afraid to offend homosexuals by saying, "You have to obey the same public lewdness laws as everyone else in public places."

If The Senate Passes This Insane Cap-And-Trade Bill

If The Senate Passes This Insane Cap-And-Trade Bill

The good news is that it might solve the inflation problem that is likely to bite us as soon as the economy recovers...because it will prevent the economy from recovering. The damage that it will do is so astonishing that I suspect that it will probably end the Democratic Party's hopes of winning elections again. (I'm hoping that this means that they will lose power, but if things get bad enough, I wouldn't be surprised to see Chicago-style elections become a national norm.)

Humorous Gun Posters

Humorous Gun Posters

A reader sent a collection. Here are some of the more amusing examples.

The Maternal Instinct

The Maternal Instinct

When we returned from the Grand Canyon trip, we had a new neighbor--a rather loud one at that.

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It appears to be a Western Meadowlark, with an astonishingly bright yellow coloration. And yes, when seen from above, it appears that she has picked one of our rain gutters to build a nest.

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I suspect that in our absence, she decided that this would be a nice quiet place to lay her eggs, without worry about predators being able to get to it.

Of course, now we're back, and as soon as we open the garage door, or pull up in one of our cars, she zooms out of the nest, squawking loudly, hoping that we will chase her, and leave her eggs alone.

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She'll take off on a great loop, and eventually land out in the brush.

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Only when we have left the vicinity does she fly back home.

Don't Be Stupid

Don't Be Stupid

From the June 24, 2009 New York Times:

WASHINGTON — An Internet radio host known for his incendiary views was arrested Wednesday in North Bergen, N.J., after federal officials charged that his angry postings about a gun case in Chicago amounted to death threats against three judges.

In a case that tests the limits of free speech, the Justice Department charged that the radio host, Hal Turner, had crossed the line into hate speech.

Mr. Turner, regarded by civil rights monitoring groups as a white supremacist, an anti-Semite and a “maestro of radio hate,” posted commentaries on his blog denouncing a ruling by the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, in Chicago, that upheld two local bans on handguns.

“Let me be the first to say this plainly: These judges deserve to be killed,” Mr. Turner wrote in a blog entry on June 2. “Their blood will replenish the tree of liberty. A small price to pay to assure freedom for millions.”

He said the three judges, William J. Bauer, Frank H. Easterbrook and Richard A. Posner, should be made “an example” of in order to send a message to the rest of the federal judiciary: “Obey the Constitution or die.”

Mr. Turner also posted the judges’ photographs, phone numbers, work addresses and courtroom numbers.
A year or two from now, the Supreme Court will have overturned this idiotic Seventh Circuit decision--and Hal Turner will still be spending money defending himself on a criminal charge. Don't be stupid. You can politely disagree with Bauer, Easterbrook, and Posner. You can rudely disagree with them. But calling for their assassination--and then providing information that might be used by some confused malcontent for that purpose? Bad manners, criminal, and incredibly stupid.

Ways To Make Your Head Hurt

Ways To Make Your Head Hurt

Read the U.S. Supreme Court decisions concerning the constitutionality of the federal income tax. Pollock v. Farmers' Loan & Trust Co., 157 U.S. 429 (1895) is one of the more obtuse decisions that I think that I have ever read. I am not surprised that a lot of the "income tax is unconstitutional" crowd gets this wrong--what a messy, ugly, confusing, clumsy decision.

At the core of the question is this claim made by the plaintiffs:
alleged income tax incorporated in the act of congress were unconstitutional, null, and void, in that the tax was a direct tax in respect of the real estate held and owned by the company in its own right and in its fiduciary capacity as aforesaid, by being imposed upon the rents, issues, and profits os said real estate, and was likewise a direct tax in respect of its personal property and the personal property held by it for others for whom it acted in its fiduciary capacity as aforesaid, which direct taxes were not, in and by said act, apportioned among the several states, as required by section 2 of article 1 of the constitution; and that, if the income tax so incorporated in the act of congress aforesaid were held not to be a direct tax, nevertheless its provisions were unconstitutional, null, and void, in that they were not uniform throughout the United States, as required in and by section 8 of article 1 of the constitution of the United States, upon many grounds and in many particulars specifically set forth.
You see, there are direct taxes and indirect taxes. Direct taxes, before the 16th Amendment, had to be apportioned among the states by population, because of Art. I, sec. 9, cl. 4:
No Capitation, or other direct, Tax shall be laid, unless in Proportion to the Census of Enumeration herein before directed to be taken.
Art. I, sec. 8, cl. 1, provides for:
The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States; but all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States;
It appears that indirect taxes, including excise taxes and tariffs, were not subject to this same requirement about proportion to population as direct taxes. But makes some taxes "direct" and others "indirect"? Pollock is awash in discussion and example, but can't seem to give a consistent statement, and admits that there is a bit of contradiction in the precedents and original public meaning (as evidenced by debates in the 1790s about a tax on carriages) of these terms, even admitting in one place that an income tax, in the original public meaning, would have been a direct tax:

The general line of observation was obviously influenced by Mr. Hamilton's brief for the government, in which he said: 'The following are presumed to be the only direct taxes: Capitation or poll taxes, taxes on lands and buildings, general assessments, whether on the whole property of individuals, or on their whole real or personal estate. All else must, of necessity, be considered as indirect taxes.' 7 Hamilton's Works (Lodge's Ed.) 332.

Mr. Hamilton also argued: 'If the meaning of the word 'excise' is to be sought in a British statute, it will be found to include the duty on carriages, which is there considered as an 'excise.' ... An argument results from this, though not perhaps a conclusive one, yet, where so important ad istinction in the constitution is to be realized, it is fair to seek the meaning of terms in the statutory language of that country from which our jurisprudence is derived.' 7 Hamilton's Works (Lodge's Ed.) 333.

If the question had related to an income tax, the reference would have been fatal, as such taxes have been always classed by the law of Great Britain as direct taxes.

Yet otherwise Pollock cites precedents holding that an income tax was an indirect tax or excise tax, and therefore not subject to the apportionment requirement. (See the discussion on pages 635-636.)

Pollock is the case which is often referred to as ruling that the income tax was unconstitutional. But to my surprise, what it really ruled was unconstitutional was not a personal income tax, but a tax on income from real estate--which was found to be direct, and therefore subject to the apportionment rule:

Be this as it may, it is conceded in all these cases, from that of Hylton to that of Springer, that taxes on land are direct taxes, and in none of them is it determined that taxes on rents or income derived from land are not taxes on land.

We admit that it may not unreasonably be said that logically, if taxes on the rents, issues, and profits of real estate are equivalent to taxes on real estate, and are therefore direct taxes, taxes on the income of personal property as such are equivalent to taxes on such property, and therefore direct taxes. But we are considering the rule stare decisis, and we must decline to hold ourselves bound to extend the scope of decisions,- none of which discussed the question whether a tax on the income from personalty is equivalent to a tax on that personalty, but all of which held real estate liable to direct taxation only,-so as to sustain a tax on the income of realty on the ground of being an excise or duty.

The net effect of the Pollock decision was to strike down just one little part of the federal income tax code:
We are of opinion that the law in question, so far as it levies a tax on the rents or income of real estate, is in violation of the constitution, and is invalid.
The Sixteenth Amendment changed not only the apportionment requirement, but clarified that it didn't matter if the income came from real estate or not:
The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes on incomes, from whatever source derived, without apportionment among the several States, and without regard to any census or enumeration.
I see some pretty amazing claims made by the anti-income tax crowd to the effect that the Sixteenth Amendment wasn't intended to tax personal income--only corporations, or "Fourteenth Amendment citizens" (by which they mean those persons who became citizens of the United States because of the Fourteenth Amendment's protection of the freedmen). The claim is that taxing individual incomes is some rather modern perversion of the original intention. But you certainly won't find anything to support that position in Brushaber v. Union Pacific R. Co., 240 U.S. 1 (1916):

1. The statute levies one tax called a normal tax on all incomes of individuals up to $20,000, and from that amount up, by gradations, a progressively increasing tax, called an additional tax, is imposed. No tax, however, is levied upon incomes of unmarried individuals amounting to $3, 000 or less, nor upon incomes of married persons amounting to $4,000 or less. The progressive tax and the exempted amounts, it is said, are based on wealth alone, and the tax is therefore repugnant to the due process clause of the 5th Amendment.

2. The act provides for collecting the tax at the source; that is, makes it the duty of corporations, etc., to retain and pay the sum of the tax on interest due on bonds and mortgages, unless the owner to whom the interest is payable gives a notice that he claims an exemption. This duty cast upon corporations, because of the cost to which they are subjected, is asserted to be repugnant to due process of law as a taking of their property without compensation, and we recapitulate various contentions as to discrimination against corporations and against individuals, [240 U.S. 1, 22] predicated on provisions of the act dealing with the subject.
Now, the exemptions were large enough that indeed, the original tax code was a tax on rich people. But it was on people, not corporations. It is the case that very few wage earners had enough income to be subject to that original income tax, because very few people earned that kind of money. But there were some who did. The individual income tax, as unpleasant as it is, was the intention from the beginning. We have the individual income tax because Americans want it.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Obama and Prolonged Detention

Obama and Prolonged Detention

The Ron Paul crowd have taken a Rachel Maddow segment that correctly pillories Obama for hypocrisy and inconsistency and attached their campaign material at the end.

And she's right: Obama made a big deal throughout the campaign--and at the start of his speech--about the Bush Administration's ad hoc approach to the problem of detaining unlawful combatants--and then announces that they are going to do the same thing! But somehow, what was unconstitutional and criminal when Bush did it in the heat of the moment, by crossing a few more "t"s and dotting a few more "i"s, will somehow become constitutional and appropriate when Obama does it.

PowerLine has the statement of one of Bush's guys before Congress on this issue, in which he agrees that Obama's "prolonged detention" is the right policy for those who are unlawful combatants, but that Obama's emphasis on due process is likely to encourage the U.S. to not take prisoners, or to make sure that third parties--who aren't as nice as we are--end up with these prisoners.

I think a lot of people are failing to recognize how fundamentally different non-state actors (such as al-Qaeda) are from traditional nation-state enemies. The closest historical example to non-state actors are pirates and the post-World War II German Werewolves. Pirates were tried (sometimes rather summarily) and hung; unlawful combatants were sometimes not even given the benefit of a trial.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Strip Searching a 13 Year Old Girl

Strip Searching a 13 Year Old Girl

Gee, what were they looking for that could justify such an intrusive search? From the June 26, 2009 Washington Post:

Arizona school officials violated the constitutional rights of a 13-year-old girl when they strip-searched her on the suspicion she might be hiding ibuprofen in her underwear, the Supreme Court ruled yesterday. The decision put school districts on notice that such searches are "categorically distinct" from other efforts to combat illegal drugs.

In a case that had drawn attention from educators, parents and civil libertarians across the country, the court ruled 8 to 1 that such an intrusive search without the threat of a clear danger to other students violated the Constitution's protections against unreasonable search or seizure.

Justice David H. Souter, writing perhaps his final opinion for the court, said that in the search of Savana Redding, now a 19-year-old college student, school officials overreacted to vague accusations that Redding was violating school policy by possessing the ibuprofen, equivalent to two tablets of Advil. [emphasis added]

Wow. Not weapons. Not plastic explosives. A pain killer that the article describes as "prescription strength"--but I can buy bottles of 200 mg ibuprofen, and take enough to get the same result. It's still an over the counter painkiller.

I'm disappointed that Justice Thomas dissented on this, but I'll read his dissent before I get too upset. But clearly: strip searching a 13 year old for ibuprofen? The Court declined to hold the idiot who ordered this strip search personally liable. I don't think that I would have been so nice.
Francisco M. Negrón Jr., general counsel for the National School Boards Association, said he was glad the court recognized that the school officials had acted "in good faith."
I'm sure that they did act in good faith. But how about with a working brain?

UPDATE: I just read Thomas' opinion, which is "concurring in the judgment in part and dissenting in part." Thomas makes two points where I can somewhat see his point, but still think he's wrong.

His first point is that the Court made a mistake in the Tinker (1969) case when they scrapped in loco parentis as the rule for schools having the authority to act in place of the parents for maintaining order and discipline. He points to not only the serious prescription drug problem nationally, but the particular problems that the school in question was having involving alcohol and prescription drug abuse by its students--and argues that the problem is a bit more serious than the majority implies. He points out that there is an implication in the majority opinion that a near strip search for illegal drugs might be justified.

The second point that Thomas makes is that there is a well established set of precedents holding that once a police officer believes that a crime has taken place, it doesn't matter how trivial that crime it is: the police officer is supposed to arrest. Thomas' point is that we are going to create a real problem figuring out at what point a police officer has gone too far in performing a search based on how trivial the crime is. Continuous second guessing about, "Is this serious enough to take action?" saps the willingness of school administrators to do their job.

I agree that there is way, way too much finding of constitutional rights in places that the Framers never intended. I am also incensed that the rules keep changing to satisfy political correctness. You want to wear black armbands to protest the War in Vietnam? That's protected free speech. You want to wear a T-shirt on "National Coming Out Day" that expresses an opinion about homosexuality? That's not protected free speech. But I still reiterate my earlier point: I expect school administrators to think occasionally, and use a little common sense.

Of course, part of the problem is that equal protection suits have caused school administrators to go utterly beserk in "zero tolerance" because if you start behaving as though you have a brain, someone is going to sue you because Johnny wasn't expelled for having a pocket knife in his car in the parking lot, but Emilio was expelled for carrying a switchblade knife in his back pocket. That's gotta be racism!

The Punch Line To A Bad Joke

The Punch Line To A Bad Joke

As we were leaving Grand Canyon National Park, we saw this motor home ahead of us--and the rather chaotic nature of how the bicycles were stacked on the back caused my wife to wonder:

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Would this be the punchline to a joke involving the Tour de France and a motor home going too slowly?

Too Stupid and Disgusting For Me To Even Hint At

Too Stupid and Disgusting For Me To Even Hint At

But of course, it's a type of performance art in San Francisco. From the June 25, 2009 San Francisco Weekly. You have been warned.

Across the Middle East...

Across the Middle East...

There are little boys who, if they know what just happened, would be praising Allah that they were saved from him.

It's not good to speak ill of the dead. And it's pretty clear that something really bad must have happened to Michael Jackson to warp him this way. But there does come a point where an adult can make the conscious decision not to visit the evil on others that was visited on him.

Bright Angel Fault

Bright Angel Fault

I think that I mentioned the Bright Angel Fault is one of the causes of the Grand Canyon's transept--part of what makes it so much wider than just what the Colorado River and its tributaries have gouged out of the Earth. Here's another panorama shot that shows a fairly recent landslide (the white patch on the right) and the canyon excavated by the fault. This was taken from a little ways up the Transept Trail.

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Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Yet Another Reason San Francisco Should Be Expelled From the Union

Yet Another Reason San Francisco Should Be Expelled From the Union

This is something so awful that if a novelist wrote it, you would put the book down in disgust, because it would be so unbelievable. From the June 22, 2009 Los Angeles Times:

San Francisco D.A.'s program trained illegal immigrants for jobs they couldn't legally hold

As she runs for state attorney general, prosecutor Kamala Harris faces questions over a program that trained illegal immigrant drug felons for jobs, kept them out of jail and expunged their records.

The assault on Amanda Kiefer at dusk in San Francisco's posh Pacific Heights was extraordinary enough for its cruelty.

A stranger, later identified as Alexander Izaguirre, snatched her purse and hopped into an SUV, police say. The driver sped forward to run Kiefer down. Terrified, she leaped onto the hood and saw Izaguirre and the driver laughing. The driver slammed on the brakes, propelling Kiefer to the pavement. Her skull fractured. Blood oozed from her ear.

Only after the July 2008 attack did Kiefer learn of the crime's political ramifications. Izaguirre, police told her, was an illegal immigrant who had pleaded guilty four months earlier to a drug felony for selling cocaine in the seedy Tenderloin area.

He had avoided prison when he was picked for a jobs program run by San Francisco Dist. Atty. Kamala Harris, now a candidate for California's top law enforcement post. In effect, Harris' office had been allowing Izaguirre and other illegal immigrants to stay out of prison by training them for jobs they cannot legally hold.

The program, Back on Track, is a centerpiece of Harris' campaign for state attorney general. Until questioned by The Times about the Izaguirre case, Harris, a Democrat, had never publicly acknowledged that the program included illegal immigrants. In interviews last week, she and her office offered inconsistent explanations.

The fact is that San Francisco's DA can do stuff like this without worry of the voters getting upset. They like this sort of thing. It makes them feel so progressive.

Breaking Up California

Breaking Up California

Another article that I couldn't interest PajamasMedia in running. (Admittedly, I write them faster than they have space to publish them.) It's unfortunate that there aren't more conservative magazines that:

1. Pay for articles.

2. You don't have to be someone important to get published in.
The May 14, 2009 Economist talks about how California has become ungovernable—which is apparent to almost anyone who pays any attention to the Golden State’s annual budget crises—and gives a pretty obvious set of explanations for why. Only a minority of Californians actually vote, and they are “older, whiter, and richer” than the population as a whole. (And who’s to blame for that? The last I checked, there weren’t any Klansmen blocking the polling places.)

The Economist also blames gerrymandering and “self-sorting” into highly partisan electoral districts for the problem—with no apparent awareness that redrawing those district lines along latitude would largely wipe out this partisanship. (Generally, the closer you are to the ocean, the more expensive the property, and thus, the more dominant the Democrats.)

It is certainly true that the California Constitution’s twin requirements of a 2/3 vote of both houses to pass a budget and to raise taxes are part of the problem. The popular referendum process’s interaction with the legislature contribute significantly to the problems. But The Economist, and presumably the experts that they interviewed, seemed to have missed California government’s biggest problem: bigness.

I grew up in California. I spent most of my adult life there, and I was as actively involved in politics there as a non-millionaire could realistically be. But in the entire time that I was so involved, I never met a member of the California legislature. At most, I saw a few members from a distance. I certainly never ever shook hands with any of them, much less had a conversation about public policy.

Here in Idaho, my legislators know me by sight (and not just the one that I tried to knock out in the Republican primary last year)—and I have had serious public policy conversations with other members of the Idaho legislature. Last year, my state senator so irritated me with his sponsorship of a bill that I ran against him in the Republican primary. Okay, I got beaten by 24 points—but I was able to make a serious effort, spending less than $10,000. In California, this would not have been possible. What’s the difference?

California has 33 million people—so the 80 members of the lower house of the California legislature each represent 412,500 people. By comparison, each member of the Idaho lower house represents less than 22,000 people. You don’t have to be obscenely rich to spend fifty cents per voter on advertising running for Idaho legislature—nor do you have to sell your soul to raise the money required to run a serious campaign. (Well, I suppose if you really wanted to sell your soul, you could, but I was able to raise huge amounts of money without anyone asking to see if I still had the pink slip.) It is even possible to spend a few months going door to door, and actually talk to a majority of the voters.

Spend fifty cents per voter in a California legislative race—and you need enough money that you are either personally wealthy, or you will have to sell your soul to even have a realistic chance. (Former California state senator Alan Robbins wrote quite eloquently about this problem from his federal prison cell at Terminal Island.) Going door to door in a California legislative district is just not possible. Even if you spend five minutes per voter, eight hours a day, it would take more than six years to talk to a majority. California’s bigness has created a chasm between its legislators and voters that simply can’t be resolved without either a dramatically larger legislative body—or a much smaller state.

Chopping California into seven states of a bit less than five million people each would make each of those seven legislatures substantially more responsive to the voters. Depending on the new boundaries, it seems likely that each of the new states would be considerably more politically cohesive than the current legislative madhouse. The State of Bay Area could pass whatever silly gun control laws they want (until the Supreme Court incorporates the Second Amendment against the states); the States of Modoc, Mojave, Sierra, and Borrego would probably end up with gun control laws like their neighbors of Oregon, Nevada, and Arizona. Bay Area and Los Angeles would probably make their entire states into undocumented worker sanctuary zones; Modoc, Mojave, and Sierra would probably pass laws punishing renting to and employing illegal aliens. I suspect that the vast majority of Californians would find their new state governments more to their liking than the current gibbering collective idiot that presides in Sacramento.

Yes, the state of Bay Area would still be pretty hard left—but at least Bay Area’s U.S. Senators Boxer (from Marin County) and Feinstein (San Francisco) would be counterbalanced by Republican Senators from the states of Sierra, Mojave, and Borrego. And with six more states—why, we might be able to make Obama’s claim to have visited 57 states correct!

Bizarre Poll Results

Bizarre Poll Results

Dr. John Lott points to some rather astonishing poll numbers that asked, "How satisfied are you with your health care?"

A survey conducted jointly by the Kaiser Family Foundation, ABC News and USA Today, released in October 2006, found that 89 percent of Americans were satisfied with their own personal medical care, but only 44 percent were satisfied with the overall quality of the American medical system.


Uninsured Americans, not surprisingly, are not as satisfied as people who have insurance. Nonetheless, 70 percent of the uninsured who indicated their level of satisfaction said they were either "satisfied" or "very satisfied" with their health care, and only 17.5 percent said they were "very dissatisfied."
Your first reaction is probably, "What? They don't have health insurance! How satisfied can they be? Don't they realize what a tragedy they are experiencing?" But something to think about:

1. A lot of the uninsured are young people--who generally don't get sick. What's the biggest risk for many of them? An automobile accident--and their car insurance (or someone else's) will end up covering the injuries.

2. You don't have health insurance? That doesn't mean that you don't have health care. Effectively every hospital in the U.S., because of the Hill-Burton Act of 1946, is required to provide emergency room care, and even a certain level of non-ER care for the indigent. This is a lousy way to provide medical care, because it is expensive--but it does mean that in a real crisis, you will get medical care in this country. You may end up with a huge bill--but if you are as poor as most of the uninsured, what does it matter? You can't get blood out of a stone, and most hospitals eventually give up on that.

Now, there's a good argument for why the uninsured should be insured--but it as much for the benefit of those suffering from cost-shifting as it for the poor, who are clearly pretty satisfied with the medical care that they get.

UPDATE: A reader informs me:

Indeed. Any Providence Health system institution will take you without cost if you can't afford it; that's the mission of the religious sisters running it.

My wife is a physician and, years ago, volunteered at various free clinics in the Portland area. She finally gave up. She basically burned out: she generally cared more about her patients' health than they did themselves. Despite access to physicians, diagnostic tests, and medicine at no charge, a large percentage of her patients couldn't be bothered to show up for their appointments even if she explicitly warned them, "This is important and potentially life-threatening."

There's no substitute for individual responsibility.

Talk About Muzzling Scientists

Talk About Muzzling Scientists

Remember when a NASA scientist claimed that the Bush Administration had "muzzled" him because he was an outspoken supporter of global warming? And then he admitted to Congress that he gave more 1400 on-the-job interviews on the subject while muzzled? The Competitive Enterprise Institute actually has copies of emails that tell one of EPA's scientists that he is not to talk to anyone about global warming, nor show anyone the research that he is done--because it doesn't fit their claims justifying regulation of carbon dioxide production. The CEI now wants a copy of the report that Obama's EPA suppressed, so that it can included as part of the public comment on the EPA's current rule making efforts.

Is there anything that environmentalists won't do to win? Of course, when you are dealing with religious fanatics, this is not a surprise.

Innocent Until Proven Guilty

Innocent Until Proven Guilty

But it's hard to read this news story without saying: "Hmmm. Lots of victims who don't know each other telling the same story. A major talent from the entertainment industry. A very effective way to lure victims into his lair." From the June 24, 2009 Daily Mail:

The Oscar-winning composer behind 'You Light Up My Life' raped 11 women he lured to his apartment with the promise of a starring role in a movie, prosecutors said today.

The women read an online ad placed by director, Joseph Brooks, applied for the audition 'and thought this was their chance to become a big star,' prosecutor Lisa Friel said.

Instead, once the women were in Brooks' Manhattan apartment, he plied them with wine and forcibly raped them or used threats and coercive behavior to make them have sex with him, prosecutors said.

I just loved "You Light Up My Life," which was a spectacularly powerful romantic ballad (and a really stupid movie). If convicted, Brooks could become the poster boy for the disconnect between what you can write, and what you actually feel.

One of my longstanding complaints about the series Law and Order is that it has a very, very disproportionately white upper class criminal class--one that is utterly unrealistic, even in Manhattan. But an accurate criminal demographic would be depressing, most of the crimes wouldn't be very interesting, and the show would have been lambasted by liberals for its "racist" portrayal of crime. But here's a case that reads just like a Law and Order episode. I'm sure that we'll see a thinly fictionalized version within a year or two.

Another very troubling aspect to the news story:

Morgenthau said nine of the 11 women were from the Portland, Oregon, and Seattle areas and the others were from California and Florida. He said Brooks paid to fly 10 of the women, who did not know each other, to New York.

He said Brooks' scheme, which ran from at least 2005 to 2008, was enabled by his personal assistant, Shawni Lucier, who helped pick the victims, interviewed them, arranged their travel and made them feel comfortable.

He said that when the women's mothers called, Lucier, of Federal Way, Washington state, would assure them their daughters were fine.

When Brooks was ready to strike, he said, Lucier would leave the apartment 'knowing what the end result would be.'
One of the great disappointments is how often women play pivotal roles in facilitating rape, with no apparent sympathy for the victims. I remember some years ago a case from the Salinas, California area where two adult women, who were having trouble figuring how to make their monthly rent payment, picked up two young teenage girls who were hitchhiking, kidnapped them, and then charged a group of immigrant farm workers $25 each for the use of the girls. Utterly remorseless for their actions--but it paid the rent.

My Wife Figured It Out

My Wife Figured It Out

I found Governor Sanford's explanation of why he disappeared for four days a bit fishy, but my wife correctly identified that a father who disappears over Father's Day to "clear his head" with an no cell phones backpacking trip is probably up to something that wouldn't reflect well on his family values.

Michelle Malkin
has one rather rude word to describe Governor Sanford. I just keep hoping that conservatives can start doing a better job of picking conservative leaders. Or perhaps we should just accept that when you send conservatives into politics, they won't stay terribly innocent or pure for long. Perhaps we should draft them for two year terms, then yank them back before they get corrupted by the power, egostroking, and absurdity of government ruins them.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Health Care Idiocy

Health Care Idiocy

Either Commander Zero is a liar, or an idiot. I'm not sure which. I saw him responding at his press conference to a question about whether his proposal for a government health insurance plan would drive private insurers out of the market. In brief, he said that if government providing health insurance drove private insurers out of the market, then they really aren't very good at doing health insurance. Does Commander Zero not know about this concept of predatory pricing? Antitrust law makes it illegal to sell below cost, precisely for this reason. Government, of course, is exempt from antitrust law.

Commander Zero's laudable goal is to see that every uninsured or underinsured American has health insurance. But many of those uninsured or underinsured Americans are in that situation because they can't afford health insurance. How can the government provide health insurance for a family with a $25,000 a year gross income? Only by subsidizing it--which is to say, by offering it below cost. They have two choices of how to subsidize it:

1. By charging above cost to those who need insurance, and can afford it.

2. From tax revenues or increased deficits.

Take the first case. I would expect that a government health insurance plan to cover me, my wife, and my son, would cost about what my HP COBRA continuation group coverage would cost for all of us: about $780 a month. A family with $25,000 a year income simply can't afford that. (That's 37% of their gross income--perhaps 45-50% of their net income.)

What can they afford? Perhaps $200 a month. So how can the government reach that level? By charging a family like ours an offseting amount: so about $1360 a month. At that price, it's cheaper for me to buy individual health insurance from Blue Cross--quite a bit cheaper. So why would I pay $1360 a month for government health insurance, if I had a cheaper private sector alternative? I wouldn't. And then the whole house of cards collapses. You can't provide coverage for poor families by cross-subsidy from wealthy families if we have a choice in the matter. (And yes, you know that is why Obama's handlers are already backpedaling on Obama's promise of "if you are happy with your current health plan, you can keep it. Period.")

What about the second choice? If the government subsidizes health insurance from taxes or deficits, then Obama can indeed cover the uninsured and the underinsured. And you can make a case that this is a good thing, because it stops the insanity of using emergency rooms for sick babies, and cost-shifting from the uninsured to the insured.

But if everyone has the option of going onto the government's health insurance plan, how long will it be before those who are currently privately insured will switch over? And how long before employers, especially smaller employers, start dropping health coverage as a fringe benefit, to reduce costs? The snowball is going to start rolling down that hill, and the economy will utterly collapse from having to pay the bills--in taxes, or deficits.

I shake my head when I watch Commander Zero make these statements, because it tells me that he is either too dishonest to acknowledge that covering everyone requires an enormous subsidy, or forcing everyone into the same pool--or too ignorant to understand that subsidies necessarily will cause predatory pricing, driving private health insurers out of the market.

Yes, yes, I know that there are some things that can be done to reduce health care costs. But the think that we are going to reduce those costs enough to cover the 46 million uninsured without really enormous increases in government spending is fantasy. The choices are simple:

1. Rationing of health care.

2. Big tax increases.

3. Taking the already enormous deficits that Obama is running up and making them vastly larger.

Yes, in the long run, there are things that we can do to reduce health care costs by discouraging destructive behaviors. But Commander Zero can't even give up smoking--and somehow, we're going to get Americans to stop gorging themselves, eating deep fried junk, smoking, using dirty needles, having anonymous, unprotected sex with strangers, and refusing to exercise? The best that we can hope far are incremental improvements, and even this will require a level of nanny-statism that will make Democrat a curse word in every poor community in America.

Some Ideas Are So Bad...

Some Ideas Are So Bad...

That we need to repeat them. Hans Bader has a piece here pointing out that the Obama Administration's "reforms" continue the disaster that created the current economic crisis:

The mortgage crisis was caused largely by the reckless government-sponsored mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and by federal affordable-housing mandates. But Obama’s proposed financial rules overhaul does absolutely nothing about Fannie and Freddie, admits Obama’s Treasury Secretary, tax cheat Timothy Geithner, even though he admits that “Fannie and Freddie were a core part of what went wrong in our system.” Worse, Obama’s plan is “largely the product of extensive conversations” with two lawmakers responsible for the corrupt status quo, Chris Dodd and Barney Frank, and it expands the reach of regulations that have been used by left-wing groups to extort pay-offs from banks.

(Fannie Mae engaged in massive fraud and political bullying to thwart reform. It and Freddie Mac lost so much money gambling on the housing market that they were taken over by the Federal Housing Finance Agency, which took them over in the name of ending their risky practices, but instead actually increased their purchases of risky mortgage loans in an effort to artificially prop up the housing market. Obama made Freddie Mac lose $30 billion more after the takeover in order to write off mortgage loans to delinquent mortgage borrowers.)

Worse, Obama’s proposed regulatory blueprint actually increases the pressure on banks to make risky mortgage loans to low-income borrowers, by ratcheting up enforcement of regulations mandating such lending under the Community Reinvestment Act, which was a key contributor to the financial crisis. His financial regulation overhaul would create a new bureaucratic agency, the Consumer Financial Protection Agency, to enforce the Act without regard for banks’ financial safety and soundness.

It's enough to make you wonder if Obama is trying to destroy this country. But perhaps I'm giving Obama too much credit for cunning.

Garage Solutions

Garage Solutions

I've had a number of very interesting suggestions from readers about the garage/shop problem. Tuff Shed, which in spite of the name, supplies pre-fab garages. A 20x20 would be sufficient, and cost about $8500, plus permits and the cost of a slab.

Another possibility is to have the current garage extended to the front by 20 feet. There's already a garage apron that covers nearly all of that distance, so it would just be a matter of pouring a little more concrete at the edges, and then coming up a way to have the separate roof line of the garage extension not look too stupid where it met the current garage's roof.

We could move the exterior light fixtures, garage door, and garage door open from the current front of the garage to the front of the garage extension. We also wouldn't need to excavate any trenches for running electrical from our current panel to an outbuilding--and for an extension to a current building, we might not need a building permit. I know that we would need one for an outbuilding.

Because the current garage has garage doors at both ends, we would not be struggling with having to back cars out to get "trapped" cars out.

The only problem is that stick-built construction tends to be pretty expensive--and add-ons worse than new construction. I'll be curious to see what our builder says. If it is even close to the cost of a separate garage, the convenience of having this part of the current house argues for it.

Monday, June 22, 2009

A Fascinating Confusion of Sequence

A Fascinating Confusion of Sequence

I've mentioned before that there are a number of studies, both correlational and longitudinal, that find that homosexuals are disproportionately victims of childhood sexual abuse (CSA). I have also mentioned that disproportionate substance abuse problems (including IV drugs, alcohol, and tobacco) are well documented in the homosexual population--as is the case with adult survivors of CSA.

A new book, Unequal Opportunity: Health Disparities Affecting Gay and Bisexual Men in the United States, published by Oxford University Press, summarizes a variety of studies, and acknowledges that MSM (which is the new Politically Correct term for Men who have Sex with Men) are indeed, at least three times more likely to have been sexually abused as children than heterosexual men. (p. 92) The chapter summary acknowledges that there might be a connection between childhood sexual abuse and adult sexual orientation. Throughout the body of the chapter, the authors continue the little pretense that MSMs were sexually abused as children because they were already homosexual, and were attracting men, or in some way initiated the sexual abuse (pp. 87-88).

What blows this argument right out of the box is that:

1. The largest survey of childhood sexual abuse, with 17,000 HMO patients (both homosexual and heterosexual), found that 16% reported CSA--and 40% of the abusers were women. But among MSMs, 90% of the abusers are men. As the authors even admit, on p. 87, either there's some connection between CSA and development of adult homosexuality, or there's something about MSMs that causes them to have increased "vunerability."

2. The average age of the abused men was ten (p. 87)--which means that at half were ten year old or less than ten years old. Yeah, like we should really believe that six, seven, and eight year olds were out flirting with adult men because they were already interested in sex, or otherwise were doing something that made them so disproportionately victims of CSA.

Which do you think is more likely? That a psychologically scarring, sometimes violent sexual act committed on a child might screw up their sexual orientation? Or that children under ten years old are obviously homosexual, and that this attracts pedophile adults? What is especially bizarre is that the chapter admits that CSA causes sexual confusion among men:
While the outcomes of CSA are generally non-specific, sexual issues (sexual orientation, sexuality, gender role, and comfort with intimacy) do seem to be a hallmark of CSA for all men, regardless of sexual orientation, when compared to the effects of other negative childhood events such as physical abuse. CSA an be considered a form of sexual learning, even if that learning is involuntary and the results dysfunctional. Sexual orientation and gender identity can be particularly confusing for men who experienced arousal during the abuse, and MSM who experienced abuse may continue to be around by circumstances that mirror the abusive situation. [p. 86]
Gee, and yet they aren't quite prepared to admit that CSA might cause adult homosexuality. I wonder why?

I scratch my head a lot when I read stuff like this, because the very first item that should be researched is, "Does CSA cause adult homosexuality?" The forward direction of causality for CSA and adult homosexuality is vastly more likely than that pedophiles can identify little boys that are going to grow up to be homosexual. And it doesn't take a genius to see how one can lead to the other--nor does it take a genius to figure out why homosexual activists have always had an ambivalent relationship with pedophile groups like NAMBLA. But it is so much easier for everyone to pretend that the connection just isn't there--because homosexual activists will screech up a storm if you suggest that they weren't born that way, but are the victims of abuse.

UPDATE: Let me emphasize that I am not arguing that there is a single cause for all homosexuality. At least part of why psychiatry eventually decided that homosexuality wasn't a problem was that they seem to have been too focused on seeking a single explanation. The Freudian weak father/domineering mother fit a number of homosexuals (including some families that I have seen), but certainly not all. Hormonal problems explained a few homosexuals (or at least, with the crudeness of the biochemistry then available, seemed to explain it). But a single explanation just didn't fit all homosexuals.

Because a majority of MSMs in these surveys do not report CSA, it would be tempting to conclude that the majority has repressed their memories (as some CSA survivors do). But it seems unlikely that that the discrepancy is large enough to explain this large of a gap. There may be multiple causes of homosexuality, and I will even admit the possibility that there may be some that are born that way. But even the American Psychological Association admits that there is simply no evidence that clearly demonstrates that people are born homosexual.

I'm Seeing A Pattern Here

I'm Seeing A Pattern Here

Longest Solar Minimum Since 1913
and from the June 19, 2009 Arizona Republic:

Meteorologists are reluctant to call a month "nice." They have their data and their science and typically do not describe the weather in such subjective terms.

Except now, because the data prove it.

"It's probably the best June since I've been here, and I've been here most of my life," said the National Weather Service's Valerie Meyers, who is in her late 40s. "It's been really nice."

Possibly the nicest June ever.

It's that type of thing that is fun to say but hard to quantify.

Thursday, however, was the 14th consecutive day to stay below 100 degrees. That's the longest stretch of its kind in any June since 1913.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Alternatives To A Steel Garage

Alternatives To A Steel Garage

The wife wants me to get a shop built--something that would store:

1. The Corvette in winter.

2. The snowthrower, lawn mower, and other annoying gadgets.

3. The ScopeRoller manufacturing plant.

We have no shortage of land, of course. I'm not keen on spending a lot of money on this, but I do want to make sure that it looks good. (Adding a shop/garage on rural parcels is apparently a big win for value, because lots of people want a shop.)

If we had been a bit smarter about this, we would have built a three car garage. Unfortunately, we started out planning a 2 1/2 car garage, and at the last moment, added another bedroom and bathroom, so that our son would have a place to live if he didn't go to Portland for college. And by then, the general framework of the house had been laid out, so we now have an oversize two car garage.

The contractor that built the house proposed to build a separate two car garage/shop for about $20,000, as a stick built building. That's a bit much. It looks like it a steel garage can be built for about $9000-$10,000--which is at least getting roughly into the right price range. But what alternatives am I missing?

It doesn't need to be insulated. In the depths of winter, sure, I'll run an electric space heater to get it to a tolerable temperature.

I've toyed with the idea of building a sunken structure by excavating a bit more of the hillside, and pouring reinforced concrete walls. This would add substantial insulation--and perhaps the back wall could be literally basalt. A little more excavation would also provide radiation shielding, what with all the lunatics building nuclear weapons out there. (It might end up looking too much like the Bat Cave.)

It needs to be sufficiently conventional that building permits aren't going to be a problem, and sufficiently attractive that my wife doesn't decide to bury me in it.

Any other ideas that I am missing here?



One of the new hot stupid ideas is "microstamping": a change to the firing pin that puts a unique mark on ammunition that enables police to trace a gun based on the markings on the brass left at the scene of a crime. I've pointed out in the past that this won't do any good for:

1. Revolvers.

2. Semiautos with brass catchers.

3. Stolen guns.

4. Guns so old that they were made before microstamping.

5. Guns intentionally altered so that the microstamping marks have been damaged.

6. Guns that get fired a lot--because the microstamping part will eventually wear. (It might take a while, of course.)

Along with all these problems, Arizona Rifleman reminds you exactly how easy it is to replace a Glock's firing pin (which contains the microstamping part). It's a very short video. (Other handguns aren't quite so quick.)

Of course, firing pins are astonishingly simple. Here's an example of an M1911 firing pin. I would expect that just about everyone with half a brain, not too much conscience, and a lathe would be machining replacement firing pins (not called that, of course, but "unique metal doodads") in short order for the criminal trade. My guess is that it would take me about three hours to get really good at machining these, and once I did, it would take about ten minutes, maximum, even with my little Sherline, to make one of these.

Census Coding Errors

Census Miscoding Errors

There's a new study out showing Census data on married same-sex couples vs. married opposite-sex couples--and the results are quite surprising in how much they are alike. But Professor Dale Carpenter over at Volokh Conspiracy points out that the same-sex couples are so atypical of what we know from other studies that it is likely what is called a "miscoding error," where mistakes in recording sex on forms mean that many of those identified as same-sex married couples really aren't.

There's some history on these sort of mistakes. In my book Black Demographic Data, 1790-1860, I devote a chapter to discussing how the 1840 census data was used to prove that free blacks were more likely to be "insane or idiot" or disabled the further north you went in the U.S.--and partisans of slavery used the data to prove that freedom was bad for slaves, based on this data.

While it does appear that there was actually an increase in physically disabled free blacks just north of the border, it was not because freedom was bad for blacks. It appears that the reason was that slave owners would dump disabled slaves across the border as a way of getting rid of slaves that they would otherwise have to support. (They could not free a slave in their home state without legislative permission, and this would not be granted if the goal was to dump a disabled slave onto the county poorhouse.)

All sorts of dark conspiracies were imagined for a very long time to explain how the 1840 census data ended up with these astonishing numbers--but Patricia Cline Cohen's A Calculating People: The Spread of Numeracy in Early America contains what I consider by far the most satisfying explanation--miscoding errors. The column for "idiot and insane" whites was right next to the "idiot and insane" column for blacks--and these columns were very, very long. It was therefore very easy for census marshals to accidentally enter the "idiot and insane white" count in the "idiot and insane Negro" column. Especially the further north you went, the fewer blacks there were in the population--so even moving one or two mentally disabled whites into the back column would have very disproportionate influence: the mentally ill and retarded whites who might be 1% of the white population in a small town magically became 10% of the black population.

Since homosexuals are only about 2-3% of the total U.S. population, opposite-sex married couples will vastly exceed same-sex married couples. It would only take a small number of similar miscoding errors--turning John and Janet into John and Bob--to make the same-sex married population look much more like the opposite-sex married population than it actually is. At the same time, the small number of same-sex couples means that the total miscoding errors that convert John and Bob into John and Janet will be a tiny fraction of the opposite direction. Link

Saturday, June 20, 2009

What A Shock: Newsweek Just Figured Out That Obama Isn't Transparent

What A Shock: Newsweek Just Figured Out That Obama Isn't Transparent

This June 20, 2009 Newsweek article by Michael Isikoff just floors me:
As a senator, Barack Obama denounced the Bush administration for holding "secret energy meetings" with oil executives at the White House. But last week public-interest groups were dismayed when his own administration rejected a Freedom of Information Act request for Secret Service logs showing the identities of coal executives who had visited the White House to discuss Obama's "clean coal" policies. One reason: the disclosure of such records might impinge on privileged "presidential communications." The refusal, approved by White House counsel Greg Craig's office, is the latest in a series of cases in which Obama officials have opted against public disclosure. Since Obama pledged on his first day in office to usher in a "new era" of openness, "nothing has changed," says David -Sobel, a lawyer who litigates FOIA cases. "For a president who said he was going to bring unprecedented transparency to government, you would certainly expect more than the recycling of old Bush secrecy policies."
Look, it's like a lot of the other areas where Obama's policies are turning out to be Bush-Lite (and sometimes not even Lite). The policies are being driven by both international and partisan political reality, not beautiful little fantasies that delusionary sorts wanted to believe could happen.

It's the same reason that I don't criticize Nancy Pelosi for her willingness to go along with "Enhanced Interrogation Techniques" in 2002; I criticize her for her hypocrisy in criticizing the Bush Administration for adopting policies that she approved, and she thought were necessary for national security.

The Obama Administration told a bunch of whoppers: it was going to support gay rights; it was going to repeal Don't Ask, Don't Tell; it was going to close Gitmo right away; it was going to pull our troops out of Iraq almost immediately; it was going to have no lobbyists working in the government; it was going to be transparent; it was going to have every bill visible in final form for five days before Obama signed it.

And unfortunately, the mainstream media bought all this garbage, asking no questions, never challenging candidate Obama about how all this was going to happen. And they are now just barely starting to challenge President Obama when they discover that he either lied to them, or didn't have a clue what he was getting himself into as President.

I had some concerns that Sarah Palin wasn't qualified to be President, in the event that McCain didn't last the first term. But I'm guessing that being governor of a state--even a small population state like Alaska--means that she has had at least a few hints about what is involved in running the executive branch of a government. It's clear that Obama did not have a clue, and even McCain's knowledge was necessarily limited to what he learned from being in Congress.

Bright Angel Point Trail

Bright Angel Point Trail

Bright Angel Point Trail is the path we walked on the morning of the second day. It leads out (way out) onto a mildly unnerving point where you can see Bright Angel Canyon--and see where the fault line breaks the layers on the south side. I might not have noticed it without the signs telling me--but once you see it, it's obvious.

This is a panorama shot stitched together from several pictures, and pretty big--almost 10 MB. (Remember that if you click on the picture, and your browser shows you a plus sign in a circle when you mouse over the picture, you can click the picture, and blow it up full size, and get a lot more detail. You can also use the scroll bars in the browser to move around the picture.)

Click to enlarge

My wife had to just keep staring straight ahead on some stretches of this trail, and I confess, the steep slopes--without rails of any sort on the sides--were a bit scary, especially when the winds started to blow. It's a long ways down, and at least a 70 degree slope.

There's another trail (name now escapes me) that cuts roughly north to south across the Grand Canyon, and we walked along the rim for several miles--which at more than 8300 feet of elevation, I could definitely feel.

Here's a panorama I took as walked along that rim. This is about 6 MB.

Click to enlarge

Eventually, we ran into a ramshackle collection of trailers and motor homes where the employees live during the tourist season. Some of the inhabitants look like they aren't eating very nutritious food.

Click to enlarge

As It Got Dark That First Evening...

As It Got Dark That First Evening...

I used the 200mm (300mm equivalent for 35mm film) zoom lens at 1/60th second, ASA 100, and then cropped the picture. It's a reminder that you really need a bit more focal length to get detail, but it still came out rather well.

I'm Used To Christians Not Being Allow To Proselytize in Muslim Countries

I'm Used To Christians Not Being Allow To Proselytize in Muslim Countries

I'm just not used to it being in the United States. From the June 18, 2009 San Jose Mercury-News:

DETROIT — A federal judge today denied an evangelical Christian group's request for permission to hand out literature on sidewalks at an Arab festival in the heart of the Detroit area's Middle Eastern community.

U.S. District Judge Nancy Edmunds denied Anaheim, Calif.-based Arabic Christian Perspective's request for a temporary restraining order.

The group describes itself in its court filing as "a national ministry established for the purpose of proclaiming the Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ to Muslims ... (that) travels around the country attending and distributing Christian literature at Muslim festivals and mosques."

A lawyer for the group said it would seek a permanent injunction against the city of Dearborn.

"It's not over," said Robert J. Muise of the Thomas More Law Center, an Ann Arbor-based Christian rights advocacy group.

Another lawyer on the case said the Dearborn officials action could be part of what he described as a broader Muslim legal attack on critics of Islam in our "Judeo-Christian nation."

"Muslims are using the courts in this country to stop our free speech rights," said William J. Becker Jr., a Los Angeles attorney who has represented a number of prominent critics of Islam.

The 14th annual Dearborn Arab International Festival is expected to draw hundreds of thousands of visitors Friday through Sunday to the city that has the Detroit area's greatest concentration of Arab-Americans.

Wow. How many parts of the First Amendment can this judge violate at once?

1. Public streets can't be used for a protected form of free speech.

2. And this is a violation of the freedom of religious exercise clause, since proselytizing is a fundamental part of the Christian faith.

3. And arguably a violation of religious establishment clause, since it would appear that there is a distinct penalty assessed against a particular religion.

And what makes this especially silly is that even by progressive notions of not offending, this doesn't make sense. A lot of Arab-Americans are Christians; that's one of the reasons that a lot of them came here. I have attended church with Arab-Americans in the past, and I know that they aren't particularly unique.

UPDATE: Professor Volokh in email points out that the restrictions in question are content-neutral; at this point, there is no evidence that Christians are being especially disfavored. I confess that I am a bit sensitive on this subject, simply because Islam is favored by the left (because they have imagined that Bush was making war on Islam), and Christianity an especially disfavored religion for the left (because we won't get with the program on homosexuality, abortion, and Gaea worship).

And while it is true that prohibiting leafleting does not preclude other available means of expressing an opinion--it is also true that the ACLU doesn't seem to ever recognize the validity of this approach when it comes to something like virtual child pornography, where they argued that because the law was overbroad, and therefore might apply to some serious artistic works, that therefore the law was unconstitutional. (There were no alternatives in making a film that wouldn't run afoul of the law?) I mean, you don't have to burn a flag to express your opinion, do you? According to the ACLU, alternate means of expressing an opinion just aren't adequate. (Except, of course, when wearing a T-shirt might offend homosexuals--then you have to shut up--at least, according to Judge Stephen Reinhardt, who is married to the ACLU of Southern California's director.)

I also find the notion that leafleting can be forbidden because of crowd control issues--but going out into the crowd to talk to people isn't--is absurd. Go into a crowd and start talking to people about something as emotional as religion, and I suspect that it is going to produce some pretty heated discussions--which will slow the flow of traffic. Leaflets, on the other hand, get stuffed into a pocket, producing no real change in traffic flow.

This street festival is supposedly different from a public street because there's some sort of public event being carried on. Somehow, I'm hard pressed to see how this makes it equivalent to a courthouse, a legislative body, a jail, or one of the other places where government is ordinarily granted additional power to restrict speech because they are performing a landlord function. Considering that the Supreme Court ruled in the Pruneyard decision that a private property owner may not exclude persons gathering signatures in a shopping center, because this is a form of public forum, it is hard to see how the government has authority to prohibit leafleting on public streets.

Grand Canyon in Early Evening

Grand Canyon in Early Evening

Because we arrived about 5:30 PM--and because my clever wife saw that by grabbing a seat in the restaurant before a line developed, we could get in promptly--we didn't get out to look at the view until the sun was pretty low in the sky. For west-facing slopes, this worked out okay--and the fire on the South Rim hadn't yet started to haze up the views, as it did on subsequent days.

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There's a reason that some of the promontories are called "Temple of Mars" or "Temple of Venus." (None named, "Temple of Obama yet, thank goodness.) It's very easy to draw a parallel between man's creations and some of these limestone formations that have survived atop the red sandstones.

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This is looking up one of the side canyons that goes to the northeast from Bright Angel Point, where the Grand Canyon Lodge is located.

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