Saturday, June 30, 2007

The Cato Institute Can Do Better Than This

They have an event planned:
Invasion of the Party Snatchers: How the Holy-Rollers and the Neo-Cons Destroyed the GOP

Thursday, May 10, 2007
12:00 PM (Luncheon to Follow)

Featuring the author, Victor Gold.

The Cato Institute
1000 Massachusetts Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20001

Vic Gold was deputy press secretary for Barry Goldwater's 1964 presidential campaign, which launched the conservative revolution in the Republican Party. He went on to collaborate with President George H. W. Bush on his autobiography and to coauthor a satirical novel with Lynne Cheney. But today, he says, the Republican Party is run by people Barry Goldwater wouldn't recognize-some of whom are identified in his polemical subtitle. His new book is a lively jeremiad against "a fiscally irresponsible, ever-expanding federal government," a messianic foreign policy, a theocratic view of church and state, and a Republican Party that has accepted all those unconservative ideas. Join us to hear Vic Gold discuss the war for the soul of the GOP and the prospects for restoring its commitment to limited government and a constrained role for politics.
There are so many things wrong here.

Using the term "Holy-Roller" to describe the social conservative wing of the Republican Party is unnecessarily insulting and inaccurate--like calling the Cato Institute's members the "libertine" wing of the Republican Party, instead of libertarian. Honest people can disagree about appropriate policy with being insulting.

"A messianic foreign policy": Sorry, but the decision to invade Afghanistan was hardly messianic. While one might argue that Iraq has turned into a real mess, it was a pragmatic decision to fix the problem of the Arab Middle East by infecting democracy into one of the countries that was perceived by almost everyone (including most Democrats) as a serious potential threat to the United States.

"a fiscally irresponsible, ever-expanding federal government": there are people that you can blame for this in the Republican Party, but the "Holy-Rollers" aren't the ones who have been pushing this--and I'm not sure that you can put the blame for this on the "neo-cons." A lot of this is traditional pork barrel politics--a problem no matter whether Democrats or Republicans hold office.

"a theocratic view of church and state" "a Republican Party that has accepted all those unconservative ideas": This is just nonsense. The social conservatives are trying to get America back to a relationship between government and religion that was present from the Founding until the 1950s. Mr. Gold may not want that, but claiming that it is "a theocratic view" shows a real misunderstanding of the role of religion in American history.

To claim that this is an "unconservative idea" means what? In the sense of "reluctance to change a way of doing things"? No, it is very conservative. Argue that it is bad policy if you want, but it isn't "unconservative."

I'm disappointed that the Cato Institute would stoop to this level.
Reasons to Carry a Gun With You Besides Self-Defense

My wife was driving up state highway 55 the other evening, just at dusk, and she saw a deer at the side of the road, badly injured. There was another car already pulled over, and she stopped to see what assistance she could provide. The other driver had pulled over for the same reason.

Even if it had not been a wild animal, it was beyond hope. One leg was shattered, and she could the bones flopping about in the skin. The animal was obviously in great pain, and had lost bladder control.

So my wife starts to head to her car to get her pistol, to put it out of its misery--and (this being Idaho) then she noticed that the other driver had already gotten his gun and was about to take care of this poor creature.

Friday, June 29, 2007

"We Won't Force Churches to Marry Same-Sex Couples"

At least, not this week. But they will force churches to provide the space to do it:
TRENTON, N.J. -- A lesbian couple barred from holding their civil union ceremony at a beachfront pavilion in Ocean Grove has filed a state civil rights complaint against the church group that owns the property.

The couple, Harriet Bernstein and Luisa Paster, of Ocean Grove, alleged in a complaint filed Tuesday with the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights that they were denied use of the boardwalk pavilion because of their pending status as same-sex civil union partners.

"They have weddings there all the time," said Bernstein, a semi-retired educational consultant. "We wanted to have our ceremony on the boardwalk, on the beach, because it's a beautiful setting, just like any married couple would want to do."

Division on Civil Rights Director Frank Vespa-Papaleo said the complaint was the first to deal with discrimination in public places under New Jersey's new civil union law, which took effect in February.

The boardwalk pavilion the couple applied to use is owned by the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association, a Methodist ministry that owns all the land and the boardwalk in the oceanfront enclave of Victorian homes that is now part of Neptune Township.

The couple applied in March to rent the pavilion for a Sept. 30 ceremony. Their application was rejected and their $75 deposit returned.
Here's an interesting question: which takes priority? The First Amendment's free exercise of religion clause? Or a state law prohibiting discrimination? A business that refuses to print wedding announcements for a same-sex couple clearly loses; there's no Constitutional right to refuse business. But forcing a church to provide space for a wedding that they find abhorrent clearly forces a church to violate its conscience. This is no different than if an Jewish synagogue or temple was in the habit of renting out its day camp in the Malibu hills, and refused to rent it to a neo-Nazi group.

Any rational analysis would conclude that the First Amendment's protection takes precedence over a state antidiscrimination statute. But I suspect that in this case, the First Amendment will be the loser. The courts will probably conclude that there's no "rational basis" for a church to object to same-sex marriage, because it is just bigotry motivated by animus (to use a phrase the Court has used when striking down an amendment to the Colorado Constitution).
Getting More Clever on the ScopeRoller Web Pages

I decided to redo the webpages so that the ordering buttons were more consistent in appearance, and easier to maintain, so I changed the pages to use server side includes. (A "server side include" is a method of making a particular collection of stuff appear throughout a web page without having to make multiple copies of it.) Along the way, I made the directory buttons at the top of each page use a server side include to make it easier to update these. I can change one file, and get all the directories to update at once.

I could make this even more clever, rewriting it all in Perl, but that's too much like my day job! Anyway, it is now a lot easier to add more ordering buttons for different countries, so I will probably add Britain, Australia, and New Zealand next.
We're On a Roll!

First, the immigration amnesty bill goes down to defeat--with some Democrats getting the message, after the Senate switchboard crashed from the volume of incoming calls. (Alas, Larry Craig, one of my Senators, voted on the wrong side.)
The 46-53 rout was 14 votes short of the 60 needed to end the debate and move the bill forward. It was a major defeat for President Bush, who had pushed hard to achieve his last major domestic initiative. It was also a bitter finale for the bipartisan team of senators and two Cabinet secretaries who worked for months to craft the intricate bill.

About two-thirds of the Senate's Republicans joined almost a third of the Democrats to kill the bill, which had been carefully constructed to appeal to both parties, but also drew bipartisan opposition.
Second, the House passed by a strong margin, which must have included a fair number of Democrats, a ban on the FCC reimposing the Fairness Doctrine. The left has been muttering about restoring the Fairness Doctrine as a way to muzzle the right. The left discovered that while it has control over the broadcast networks, Hollywood, and most newspapers, it not only doesn't control talk radio, but when it tries to compete in that space--it fails. Why? Because there aren't that many leftists in America. There some liberals (perhaps 25% of the population), but leftists--the sort of people who believe that the Religious Right is far more of a threat to our liberties than Islamofascists--are only a few percent of the population. If the left wasn't concentrated among journalists and in the ranks of the multimillionaires and college professors (no overlap there, however), they would have no influence at all.
The Definition of Amateur Telescope Has Changed Since I was Young

When I was young, a big amateur telescope was a 12.5" reflector. Now, amateur telescopes are taking pictures of the International Space Station and Space Shuttle as they go overhead. Go here, and be impressed.
Evolution in Bacteria

Instapundit points to this interesting article from the New York Times about the attempts to force evolution in bacteria:
In the corner of a laboratory at Michigan State University, one of the longest-running experiments in evolution is quietly unfolding. A dozen flasks of sugary broth swirl on a gently rocking table. Each is home to hundreds of millions of Escherichia coli, the common gut microbe. These 12 lines of bacteria have been reproducing since 1989, when the biologist Richard E. Lenski bred them from a single E. coli. “I originally thought it might go a couple thousand generations, but it’s kept going and stayed interesting,” Dr. Lenski said. He is up to 40,000 generations now, and counting.

In that time, the bacteria have changed significantly. For one thing, they are bigger — twice as big on average as their common ancestor. They are also far better at reproducing in these flasks, dividing 70 percent faster than their ancestor. These changes have emerged through spontaneous mutations and natural selection, and Dr. Lenski and his colleagues have been able to watch them unfold.

When Dr. Lenski began his experiment 18 years ago, only a few scientists believed they could observe evolution so closely. Today evolutionary experiments on microbes are under way in many laboratories. And thanks to the falling price of genome-sequencing technology, scientists can now zero in on the precise genetic changes that unfold during evolution, a power previous generations of researchers only dreamed of.

This doesn't much surprise me. I've mentioned in the past the "experiments" that I have been doing in my sinuses, and how I've bred amoxicillin-resistant bacteria, with occasional misery as a result. Intelligent design advocates, for example, and even many Creationists, do not dispute what they call "microevolution," which involves relatively minor changes. Heck, we've been breeding dogs and horses long enough to create distinctive breeds; only a very unimaginative person would deny the possibility that, with enough time, you might get a distinct species.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

How Many Times Do I Have To Check These Claims?

Alan Korwin, author of Gun Laws of America, has sent out an email continuing to raise the alarm about HR 2640. One of his claims is:
1. Not Just Adjudications

Bill supporters have expressed that "adjudicated" mental incompetence, which implies action by a proper court of law, is a fair standard for gun denial, and with an appeals process in place is a reasonable line in the sand. I generally agree. But the bill says "adjudications" can come from any federal "department or agency," not just courts.

And HB 2640 isn't limited to adjudications. It speaks throughout of people with "adjudications, determinations and commitments," and not even "involuntary commitments." The word "determination" scares me most -- it isn't even defined. Who can make "a determination"? The law doesn't say. An agency with even a narrow view could read that to mean almost anything. You're comfortable with that? Does it subject people's rights to a bureaucrat's whim? Where are the controls on "a determination"? There aren't any apparent.
So I went back through the bill, and I tried to find out what is causing all this concern. There are a number of places where the bill uses the words adjudications, determinations, and commitments, but I am still not seeing a problem. The term "adjudication" is defined in 27 CFR 478.11:

Adjudicated as a mental defective. (a) A determination by a court, board, commission, or other lawful authority that a person, as a result of marked subnormal intelligence, or mental illness, incompetency, condition, or disease:

(1) Is a danger to himself or to others; or

(2) Lacks the mental capacity to contract or manage his own affairs.

(b) The term shall include—

(1) A finding of insanity by a court in a criminal case; and

(2) Those persons found incompetent to stand trial or found not guilty by reason of lack of mental responsibility pursuant to articles 50a and 72b of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, 10 U.S.C. 850a, 876b.

In some states, courts determine that someone is incompetent; in some states, what is called a mental health commission or board (which operates like a court, with the same due process requirements) makes the determination. I can't see that this "determination" is anything other than another way of handling the fact that different states have different mechanisms for determining that a person is incompetent.

Korwin's concern about "commitment"? Relatively few people engage in voluntary commitment; as late as 1974, Alexander D. Brook's comprehensive Law, Psychiatry and the Mental Health System , 736-9 points out that what is commonly called "voluntary commitment" is actually two very different procedures: "informal admission" and "conditional voluntary admission."

My impression is that informal admission is by far the more common situation where someone checks himself into a hospital, because you are free to check yourself in, and then back out again--as seems to have been the case with Cho Seung-Hui, the Virginia Tech shooter. I see no reason to believe that the term "commitment" as used in HR 2640 means anything exception involuntary commitment.

2. Funding Denied for Restorations

Restoration of rights is subjected to 18 USC 925(c). I don't know how I missed this the first time around. That's the statute Congress has refused to fund since 1992. No one can get rights restored under that statute. We know that. Why would gun-rights supporters place faith in that as a valid appeals route? More than anything else, that item makes me wonder what's going on. It's a legitimate worry. Either the NRA missed that and must fix it, or their critics' worst fears have merit.
I agree, this does seem to be a problem. The bill does say, however:
Each department or agency of the United States that makes any adjudication or determination related to the mental health of a person or imposes any commitment to a mental institution, as described in subsection (d)(4)21 and (g)(4) of section 922 of title 18, United States Code, shall establish a program that permits such a person to apply for relief from the disabilities imposed by such subsections. [emphasis added]
Maybe I'm missing something, but shall, as I read it, requires them to provide such a process. This is an improvement over the system we currently have where Congress has refused to fund the process. At some point, an attorney is going to use shall as a way to force this process to happen.

3. Arbitrary Control by Attorney General

Even if 18 USC 925 were valid (i.e., funded), as currently written it gives the U.S. Attorney General absolute and arbitrary control over restoring gun rights to a person who applies. It doesn't require any action by the AG. It says, "the Attorney General may grant such relief if it is established to his satisfaction that... the applicant will not be likely to act in a manner dangerous to public safety and that the granting of the relief would not be contrary to the public interest." A politician (unelected in this case) who doesn't think the public should have guns in the first place would never restore rights under that language. Does that seem like a fair and reasonable approach to you? Do you trust that as a baseline standard?
Guess what? This doesn't change anything in current law. If you have been adjudicated mentally defective, or declared incompetent, you have already lost your right to own a gun. This law improves the reporting of this information, but imposes no new restrictions. It does, however, provide a way to fix these firearms disabilities. An anti-gun Attorney-General could indeed be arbitrary and unreasonable on this. But right now, even a pro-gun Attorney-General can't do anything about a 40 year old involuntary commitment. This isn't perfect, but it is better than what we have now.

4. Doctors Issuing Gun Rights?

The mental health community is entrusted with the ability to restore a person's rights by declaring them fit (I'm paraphrasing a lot of legalese here). Doctors are by-and-large among the most anti-gun-rights groups in society (check the med journals, AMA, CDC, etc., but I know you know that).
Where did Korwin find that? I can't find any reference to a doctor, psychiatrist, physician, or similar term anywhere in the bill.

5. Illegal Aliens Exempt

Another giant one I missed: Under 18 USC 922 it's clear that illegal aliens cannot legally have guns in this country (and most can't have guns in their native Mexico or elsewhere). But they're not in the NICS denial files because, as newspapers put it, they're "undocumented," so there's no way to get the 20 million of them in there. So here's another blockbuster hidden in HB 2640 -- anyone who loses their "illegal alien" status is exempt from NICS (under Sec. 101 (b)(1)(B)). In other words, if the Amnesty Bill removes the illegal status from the people here illegally, they cannot be put in the NICS denial list! Did I read that wrong? It is deliberately convoluted, but it does single out 18 USC 925(g)(5), the illegal-alien gun ban.
Very true. And guess what? If HR 2640 fails, and the idiots pass an illegal alien amnesty, they will all be allowed to buy guns. That's a problem with an illegal alien amnesty, not with HR 2640.

6. Legislation by Database Management

Getting a person on or off the NICS list depends on "laws, regulations, policies or procedures governing the applicable record systems." That applies to every database and set of records everywhere that NICS draws from. Are those database "procedures" and "policies" a) known, b) available for review, c) open to public comment, d) subject to challenge, e) fair, f) subject to time frames, g) subject to change at whim, and h) are the people who make those rules known or subject to any jurisdiction we can identify? What about database "rules" mentioned in the bill? Curious minds want to know -- before this bill becomes law and grants that much power to data geeks in some deep dark isolated windowless data processing center somewhere.
And this is different from the current system that applies to convicted felons, those convicted of domestic violence misdemeanors, those with involuntary commitments in what way? This isn't new. You may not be happy about it, but the only difference from the current scheme is that the 28 states that aren't reporting the mental patients who have been committed will now have to report them. That's it. Oh, and we get an appeals process that may get people off this list who right now have no way to get off the list.

I must confess, I think it is good that everyone is being really, really careful about this. But I keep looking up these concerns, and I scratch my head. The gun control crazies have poisoned the well--to the point where well meaning gun rights activists are looking for trouble in the wrong place.
"You Can't Make An Omelet Without Breaking Some Eggs"

In the 1930s, intellectuals making excuses for censorship, police state, show trials, and mass murder, would use this expression as a jocular way of distracting attention from the Soviet Union's little...failings.

I think that I have found the modern equivalent.

Albert Brooks’ 1974 compendium of legal issues associated with mental illness speculated that if civil commitment went away as a mechanism for dealing with those who were everything from murderers to public disorder problems, that something else would take its place. His prediction turned out to be remarkably accurate:

It is assumed that if coercive commitment were abolished, most of the persons presently confined would not be confined, and would be either treated on an outpatient basis or simply left alone. It is more likely, however, that a probable consequence of abolishing civil commitment would be that persons who engage in undesirable behaviors now controlled by the civil process would become subject to our already overloaded criminal justice system, and would be treated as “criminals”…. [Brooks, Law, Psychiatry and the Mental Health System, 606.]

Two years earlier, M. F. Abramson, a psychiatrist who consulted “to a county jail system, county courts, and the adult division of a county probation department,” described the effects of California’s cutting edge Lanterman-Petris-Short Act (1969). While acknowledging that some of the effects were positive, “There may be a limit to society’s tolerance of mentally disordered behavior. … [M]entally disordered persons are being increasingly subjected to arrest and criminal prosecution.” Because so many of these deinstitutionalized or never-institutionalized mental patients were using illegal drugs, when they came to the attention of police, drug possession was likely the basis for processing them—but as criminals, not as persons in need of care. The state prison system was suddenly awash in mentally ill prisoners.[M.F. Abramson, “The Criminalization Of Mentally Disordered Behavior: Possible Side-Effect Of A New Mental Health Law,” Hospital and Community Psychiatry, 23[1972]:101-105.]\

Unsurprisingly, Abramson’s concerns were soon met with a response by a J. Monahan that argued that forcing mentally ill people into the criminal justice system was actually a good thing:

But the criminal justice system forces society to confront its tolerance level, to think out, evaluate, and agree upon exactly what behaviors are so deviant that their perpetrators should be incarcerated. By holding up for public debate in the courts and the legislature such issues as homosexuality, prostitution, abortion, and marijuana use—all of which have mental health aspects—the system forces society to come face to face with its norms and values.

Perhaps most disturbing is how this wonderful confrontation of society to deviance was couched not in terms of concern for the mentally ill offender—for Monahan admitted that “on a purely humane level mental hospitals may be preferable to jails in many jurisdictions”—but that the mental patients would bear the costs of confronting what Monahan clearly saw as a hypocritical and rigid society: “the current paradigm clash between criminal justice and mental health may be a portent of true progress, a sign that revolutionary advances in our ways of conceptualizing and responding to antisocial behavior are in the offing.” [J. Monahan, “The Psychiatrization Of Criminal Behavior: A Reply,” Hospital & Community Psychiatry, 24[1973]:105-107.]

And what a tragedy this wonderful theory has produced.
Gun Rights Policy Conference 2007

I'll be one of the speakers. If you are planning to attend, great! And if not: here are the details.
Advantages of a Conservative Plurality on the Supreme Court

They're willing to strike down racially discriminationary laws--at least when they are this gross. In today's decision Parents Involved In Community Schools v. Seattle School District No. 1 (2007) they ruled that assignment of students to schools strictly on the basis of race violates the Constitution--and they point to Brown v. Board of Education (1954). As the headnotes point out, a bit more articulately than Chief Justice Roberts' opinion, in Brown, it wasn't the inequality of the schools that was the legal problem, but that individuals were discriminated against based on race--and that's the problem with both the suits that were consolidated into this decision.

The Seattle case involved students applying to hard to get into public high schools; the school district decided who to assign to what school based on whether that student's race would advance their goals for racial balance--and as Roberts' opinion points out, the only race that matters is white vs. non-white. If "diversity" was the goal, they would have been concerned about more than just this crude distinction, and they would also have been concerned about socioeconomic class. Roberts' opinion points out that what made race a tolerable factor in the Grutter decision was that race was not the only factor. In addition, Seattle schools have never been racially segregated.

The Kentucky case involved a child who couldn't get into the elementary school one mile from his home because it was full. The district, again making a decision based solely on whether the child was black or not, offered an elementary school ten miles away--but refused the child's entrance into an elementary school that had openings, and was also one mile away. Again, race was the only factor in making the decision, and it reminds me of the absurdity of the bad old days when black kids might have to pass right by a neighborhood school because they were the wrong race.

Justice Thomas' concurring opinion points out that the liberal dissent was destroying the meaning of the word "segregation" when they claimed that racial discrimination was necessary to prevent "resegregation." He reminds the reader that the evil of segregation was not that some schools were majority black and some majority white, but that the law required that students be assigned to schools based on their race, treating every individual as simply a representative of whiteness or blackness. Thomas also quotes from many of the decisions of the Court from the 1960s and 1970s that insisted that school districts had to obey the law, and not assign students to schools based on their race.

Thomas also points to the hypocrisy of the Seattle district, which claims that racial balance is necessary--but runs a K-8 "African-American Academy" which is, unsurprisingly, 99% nonwhite.

Justice Stevens' dissent, of course, argues against strict scrutiny--which is really sad. Part of why we have "strict scrutiny" as a doctrine is because segregationists for many years had the best lawyers. Strict scrutiny became a mechanism for striking down discriminatory laws that would otherwise have survived less demanding standards. Now liberals are reduced to arguing against strict scrutiny with respect to race!

I'm disappointed with how opportunistic much of the Republican Party has become in the last year or two (the illegal immigrant amnesty, for example), but if there's any question about whether we need a Republican Senate and a Republican President, you need only look at a decision like this. Imagine if the last two Supreme Court justices had been appointed by a Democrat--I think we can say with some certainty that they would have approved treating students not as individuals, but as black and white chess pieces.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Idaho's Health and Human Services Budget

I had a chat with someone who told me that the legislature has again cut the budget for the Idaho Health and Human Services Department--so I decided to find out how heartless our legislature is.

Look on page 9 of this summary; it shows that Health & Human Services has increased spending from $772,100,000 to $1,719,200,000 between FY 1997 and FY 2007. CPI-U (consumer price index urban consumers) increased from 159.1 in January 1997 to 202.416 in January 2007--or about a 27% inflation in the value of the dollar. The 1997 population of Idaho was about 1.22 million; the 2006 population estimate (closest that I could find) was 1,466,465. That means that the 1997 Health & Human Services per capita spending, in 1997 dollars, was $632.86; the 2007 per capita spending, in 1997 dollars, was $923.10. That's a 45.9% increase in per capita spending, inflation adjusted, over the last ten years.

I'm not sure who told my friend that the legislature has been cutting the budget on this, but they are wrong. The 2008 budget request from the Health and Human Services Department was $1,800,035,700; the Governor's recommendation is $1,768,205,500. The Governor's request is 2.8% larger than last year, probably just enough to keep up with inflation and population growth.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Cross-Slide Vise (Again)

I mentioned last September that I had bought a cross-slide vise at Harbor Freight which had dials allowing you to move the X and Y directions in .1 mm increments, but I was a bit disappointed--it was at least 3% inaccurate. This was so far from accurate that it was hardly worth messing with.

Well, I was looking at it yesterday, and I suddenly noticed some screws on the side of both the X and Y stages--and decided to play with them a bit. They tighten up the play in both directions--and improve the accuracy.

When I was done fiddling, the X axis is now very accurate. I made 30 turns of the crank, and then measured the movement with a micrometer. It should have been 90 mm. It came to 89.93 mm--which is .2% accurate. There's more error in how I positioned the micrometer. The Y axis isn't quite as good, but 30 turns should have been 90 mm. It came to 89.45 mm--or .6% accurate.

I am now using this not just as a coarse positioning device, but as a sufficiently accurate method of positioning objects within a hundredth of an inch!
Irony Overload

The Sandusky, Ohio Register has just published a list of all Erie County residents with concealed handgun licenses. In the discussion forum attached to that article, there is a list of "Discussion Guidelines" (really rules) for use of the forum:
Likewise, you may not post content that is libelous, defamatory, obscene, abusive, that violates a third party's right to privacy....
But they will publish a complete list of the names, ages, and city of residence of people with carry permits--with predictable comments from creeps like this:
Mister Gash wrote on Jun 26, 2007 2:23 PM:
" KARA GROFF 21 ERIE NICOLE BEVERLY 23 ERIE TANA DEAN 25 ERIE Young coeds with handguns! This is a total turn-on! I wonder if they are so hot that they need to gun to beat off potential rapists!? "
Imagine if a newspaper published a list of the names of known homosexuals. How long would it take for the ACLU to decide the right to privacy took precedence over freedom of the press?

Oh, and the Sandusky Register really should start running photographs and names of women spotted entering abortion clinics. The public has a right to know, doesn't it?
I'm Voting for Virtue Soup for President

This is half-way between humor and multicultural absurdity:
Mitt Romney's been called many things as he runs for president, but chances are "Sticky Rice" isn't one of them.

That's how his name might be read on some Massachusetts ballots, according to state Secretary William Galvin.

Galvin says the federal Justice Department is pressuring Boston election officials to translate candidates' names into Chinese characters in precincts with prominent Chinese-speaking populations.

But there's more than a little lost in translation, according to Galvin.

Since there's no Chinese character for "Romney," translators have resorted to finding characters that most closely match the sound of each syllable in the name.

The problem is that there are many different characters that could be used to match the sound of each syllable, and many different meanings for each character.

So Mitt Romney could be read as "Sticky Rice" or "Uncooked Rice." Fred Thompson might be read as "Virtue Soup." And Barack Obama could be read as "Oh Bus Horse."

Galvin's own name could be read at least two different ways, as "High Prominent Noble Educated" or "Stick Mosquito."

But perhaps the most perplexing translation would be for Boston Mayor Thomas Menino's name, which could be read as "Sun Moon Rainbow Farmer" or "Imbecile," or "Barbarian Mud No Mind of His Own."

"To try to make rhymes or approximations in Chinese, you can have unintended negative meanings," Galvin said. "It leads to confusion. You can render it with a good meaning or a bad meaning."

To add to the confusion, Galvin said, the ballots have to be offered in two major Chinese dialects, Mandarin and Cantonese, leading to even more potential variations of candidates's names.

But advocates for minority voting rights say Galvin's objections are misdirected. If the translations are awkward, they say, the candidates should be free to offer variations, or look to the way Asian language newspapers already transliterate their names.

"We are looking to make sure Asian Americans are able to vote for their candidates of choice," Glenn Magpantay, staff attorney of the New York-based Asian American Defense Fund, told the Boston Globe. "This is difficult to do when voters with limited English proficiency cannot find those candidates."
If your English is so limited that you can't even recognize the candidate's name without having it weirdly transliterated, I really don't think you should be voting. If you don't read English, your knowledge of American politics is going to be substantially narrowed by only reading non-English news and opinion. It is rather like getting all of your news from television and radio because you don't know how to read. (And yes, this is an argument for requiring at least basic literacy in English to vote.)
Remember: The Victim Asked For It

This reads like something out of a feminist diatribe about the evil old days of the 1950s. Except it is from that progressive liberal utopia of Britain:
A PEDOPHILE who raped a 10-year-old girl will be free in just four months after a British judge said his victim had "dressed provocatively".

Window cleaner Keith Fenn, 24, could have been jailed for life after twice attacking the girl in a riverside park.

Judge Julian Hall was at the centre of a storm over the "pathetic" sentence he imposed after hearing the girl had appeared much older than her age.

The same judge caused uproar earlier this year by setting free another paedophile and telling him to give his victim money "to buy a nice new bicycle".

In the latest case, Oxford Crown Court heard harrowing details of the assault on the 10-year-old. She was attacked in a park in South Oxfordshire by Fenn and his accomplice Darren Wright, 34, on October 14 last year.

Fenn removed all her clothes and raped her, then Wright took her to his home and sexually assaulted her.

Yet Judge Hall said the case was exceptional because the "young woman" had been wearing a frilly bra and thong.

The girl has been in local authority care since the age of four.

She was on her own when she met the pair in the street. They went to the park together. The judge said he faced a moral dilemma.

The court heard that the girl regularly wore make-up, strappy tops and jeans.

"It is quite clear she is a very disturbed child and a very needy child and she is a sexually precocious child. She liked to dress provocatively," the judge said.

"Did she look like she was 10? Certainly not. She looked 16."

He gave Fenn concurrent two-year and 18-month sentences but he will be free in just weeks after spending eight months in jail awaiting sentence.

Wright is a free man because he too had served eight months on remand.
The Poisoned Well

I was at first a little surprised at the number of people who have been finding some nefarious and dastardly plot in H.R. 2640. I am no fan of the gun control crowd, and I look pretty carefully at whatever scheme they come up with, because I am not terribly trusting of their good intentions. Still, I read the various criticisms of H.R. 2640, and I just don't see that it fundamentally puts gun rights at risk, except for the relatively small number of people who have been involuntarily committed to a mental hospital. Thanks largely to the ACLU, involuntary commitment (as opposed to being held for observation) is really quite difficult in the United States, and has been for a couple of decades.

So why is there this profound mistrust of not only H.R. 2640, but also of the NRA, for backing it? A friend of mine, Don Kates, who is the elder scholar of the gun rights movement in America, describes the net effect of the gun control movement's continuing efforts to disarm law-abiding people as "poisoning the well." They have created so much mistrust that even when they come together with the NRA on what should be an uncontroversial bill, there is an assumption that if the gun control crowd is for it, it has to have a dark, incredibly subtle underside to it.

Let's get straight about this: H.R. 2640 doesn't really change who is prohibited from owning a gun. The rules about those who have been adjudicated mentally incompetent not being allowed to own a gun have been in place since the Gun Control Act of 1968. If anything, H.R. 2640 is an improvement on the current system, because it provides an appeal mechanism for those who were wrongly declared mentally incompetent in the past. What it changes is the requirement for states to report this information to the federal government. Argue if you want that there's a privacy issue here, or a federalism issue, but this really isn't changing who is prohibited from owning a gun.

The gun control movement, for many years, has put most of its focus not only disarming criminals, or the mentally ill, or kids, but on disarming law-abiding adults. Hence, the assault weapons bans, the attempts to sue handgun makers out of business, and so on. The net effect has been to create an enormous body of mistrust. I know that I will never really trust the good intentions of the gun control movement precisely because it does have this dishonest history. I will always look over their claims and proposals with a concern about what they might be hiding. But I've done this with H.R. 2640, as has NRA, and there's nothing terribly dangerous about this bill.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Why Some Things Can't Be Said At Work

Imagine that a government employer threatened an employee with termination for putting a flyer on an employee bulletin board for an "alternative" lifestyle--while allowing groups promoting traditional lifestyles to put up their materials. Equal protection violation, right? Narrow-minded religious bigots at it again, right? You just know that the mainstream media would be clucking up a storm.

But because the employees threatened with discipline were promoting "one man, one woman"--you won't hear much about this. There's a bit of discussion of it online, and in a few newspapers. George Will, for example:
Marriage is the foundation of the natural family and sustains family values. That sentence is inflammatory, perhaps even a hate crime.

At least it is in Oakland, Calif. That city's government says those words, italicized here, constitute something akin to hate speech and can be proscribed from the government's open e-mail system and employee bulletin board.

When the McCain-Feingold law empowered government to regulate the quantity, content and timing of political campaign speech about government, it was predictable that the right of free speech would increasingly be sacrificed to various social objectives that free speech supposedly impedes. And it was predictable that speech suppression would become an instrument of cultural combat, used to settle ideological scores and advance political agendas by silencing adversaries.

That has happened in Oakland. And, predictably, the ineffable U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit has ratified this abridgement of First Amendment protections. Fortunately, overturning the 9th Circuit is steady work for the U.S. Supreme Court.

Some African American Christian women working for Oakland's government organized the Good News Employee Association (GNEA), which they announced with a flier describing their group as "a forum for people of Faith to express their views on the contemporary issues of the day. With respect for the Natural Family, Marriage and Family Values."

The flier was distributed after other employees' groups, including those advocating gay rights, had advertised their political views and activities on the city's e-mail system and bulletin board. When the GNEA asked for equal opportunity to communicate by that system and that board, it was denied. Furthermore, the flier they posted was taken down and destroyed by city officials, who declared it "homophobic" and disruptive.
GNEA filed suit claiming that their right to free speech was denied because they were warned against putting up flyers in
public view which contained statements of a homophobic nature and were determined to promote sexual orientation based harassment,” and noted that violation of AI 71 could result in “discipline up to and including termination.”
The federal district court decision (which is here) makes the claim that there isn't really much of a dispute to argue. On the one hand, the trial judge claimed that the plaintiffs (GNEA) weren't much injured:
On plaintiffs’ side of the balance is their interest in speaking. This interest is slight, as the restriction placed on their speech under the facts at bar was quite limited: Plaintiffs were prohibited from posting a particular flyer on an office bulletin board. Plaintiffs themselves acknowledge that no restriction has been placed on their speech outside of work (by, for example, threatening them with termination if they speak outside the workplace). They further acknowledge that they can discuss their views with co-workers as they wish at appropriate times (at lunch, on a break).
I can't argue the point. I agree with those who argue that an employer has a right to limit employee speech. If the guy at McDonald's doesn't want to say, "Would you like to SuperSize that?" he doesn't have to keep working there. In practice, of course, this recognition of an employer's rights works to the benefit of homosexuals, because large corporations are overwhelmingly run by liberals and leftists; that's part of why almost all employers bend over forwards to make homosexuals feel welcome--and force everyone else to smile vacantly if the subject comes up.

I can even agree with the concern about the potential for workplace disruption, for which the trial judge relied on a U.S. Supreme Court decision, Pickering v. Board of Education (1968). Reading Pickering, however, it is hard to imagine that the ACLU would be happy about it--the Supreme Court upheld a school board firing a teacher for writing a letter to the newspaper criticizing the school board's handling of finances. This is a far different situation than GNEA's suit involved. In some respects, GNEA had a weaker position than Pickering did. Pickering lost his job for actions that took place completely away from work; GNEA was challenging actions that were definitely in the workplace.

The trial judge not only felt that GNEA didn't have much of a claim to a right to use the bulletin board, but also agreed that there wasn't much to the employer's claim that it had a good reason to do what it did:

Defendants’ countervailing interest is also modest. As the court’s recitation of the law makes clear, workplace disruption is the touchstone of the employer’s interest in the Pickering balance. Here, there is no dispute that Rederford and Christy’s co-worker Jennings disturbed dispute that removal of the flyer was the direct result of the investigation of Jennings’ complaint. But whether the particular sensitivity of a single coworker amounts to cognizable workplace disruption under Pickering is far from clear. Furthermore, the bulk of Jennings’ disquiet appears to have stemmed from her conversation with Rederford, an event that may have been precipitated by the flyer, but was nonetheless separate from the flyer. That said, the flyer appears to have been the root of a dust-up of sorts in the office -- a Pickering disruption writ small.
If GNEA's dispute was with a private employer, this would be a slam dunk decision in favor of a private employer. As I said, I'm not impressed with the claim that there's some overpowering right to say whatever you feel like at work--even if you are a government employee. But because there is a government employer involved, I do think there's a legitimate claim that GNEA has for equal protection of the law.

GNEA was not allowed to put a flyer up on the bulletin board--and they were warned that while they could use the email system to announce the existence of their group, it was subject to editorial restrictions intended to avoid offending homosexuals. Obviously, when homosexual groups use employer resources to send out their materials, they don't have to worry about being censored to avoid offending straights. In theory, sure, but in practice, I can't imagine that the City of Oakland would even think of suggesting that a gay group's announcement of National Coming Out Day would offend GNEA's members--and maybe they shouldn't send it.

What is really the most significant part of this, however, is how incredibly sensitive some people are:

The flyer came to the attention of Judith Jennings (“Jennings”), a lesbian employee in CEDA who used the copy machine near which the flyer was posted. Jennings Decl (Doc #41) ¶6; Melaugh Decl (Doc #43) Ex A (Rederford Depo) at 130:21-131:6. Jennings felt “targeted” and “excluded.” Jennings Decl (Doc #41) ¶7. Shortly after seeing the flyer, Jennings spoke with Rederford, whose name and phone number (along with Christy’s) appeared on the flyer. Id ¶8. This conversation left Jennings “feeling anxious about working in the same office as [plaintiffs]” and she “could not believe that [she] worked with someone who condemned homosexuals like [her] so much.” Id ¶9.
In essence, Jennings pulled the levers of power to remind these two women in the office that their disapproval of homosexuality was less important than Jennings' disapproval of their disapproval. In short, when there is a conflict of values, instead of acting like a grown-up, and agreeing to disagree, she decided that her emotional problems required the heavy hand of the government come down on the GNEA.
Not the Same Neeraj Gulati

I mentioned last week that a Neeraj Gulati
was wanted for rape in India. According to Ciena, it's not the same Neeraj Gulati who is a VP of Ciena. Here's the Interpol flyer for the guy wanted in India; this appears to be the VP of Ciena by that name. They sure don't look like the same guy to me.
Oh Horrors! Religious Imagery!

This decision by the U.S. Supreme Court involves the question of whether individual taxpayers may sue for violations of the religious establishment clause. As the Court's decision explains:
It has long been established,however,that the payment of taxes is generally not enough to establish standing to challenge an action taken by the Federal Government. In light of the size of the federal budget,it is a complete fiction to argue that an unconstitutional federal expenditure causes an individual federal taxpayer any measurable economic harm. And if every federal taxpayer could sue to challenge any Government expenditure, the federal courts would cease to function as courts of law and would be cast in the role of general complaint bureaus.
What was the specific complaint here? Did the government give special favored status to a particular church? Did they provide funding to a church to propagate the Gospel? No:
This is a lawsuit in which it was claimed that conferences held as part of the President ’s Faith-Based and Community Initiatives program violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment because, among other things, President Bush and former Secretary of Education Paige gave speeches that used “religious imagery” and praised the efficacy of faith-based programs in delivering social services.
Oh yes, clearly, the Framers would have strongly objected to the use of "religious imagery." To quote from the Second Contintental Congress:
The Congress, therefore, considering the warlike preparations of the British Ministry to subvert our invaluable rights and priviledges, and to reduce us by fire and sword, by the savages of the wilderness, and our own domestics, to the most abject and ignominious bondage: Desirous, at the same time, to have people of all ranks and degrees duly impressed with a solemn sense of God's superintending providence, and of their duty, devoutly to rely, in all their lawful enterprizes, on his aid and direction, Do earnestly recommend, that Friday, the Seventeenth day of May next, be observed by the said colonies as a day of humiliation, fasting, and prayer; that we may, with united hearts, confess and bewail our manifold sins and transgressions, and, by a sincere repentance and amendment of life, appease his righteous displeasure, and, through the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ, obtain his pardon and forgiveness; humbly imploring his assistance to frustrate the cruel purposes of our unnatural enemies; and by inclining their hearts to justice and benevolence, prevent the further effusion of kindred blood. [Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789, Saturday, March 16, 1776, pp. 208-209]
Unsurprisingly, the left end of the Court, Justices Souter, Stevens, Ginsburg, and Breyer, disagreed, and managed to demonstrate their inability to read what they wrote:

We held in Flast, and repeated just last Term, that the “‘injury’ alleged in Establishment Clause challenges to federal spending ” is “the very ‘extract[ion] and spen[ding]’ of ‘tax money’ in aid of religion..” ... As the Court said in Flast, the importance of that type of injury has deep historical roots going back to the ideal of religious liberty in James Madison’s Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments,that the government in a free society may not “force a citizen to contribute three pence only of his property for the support of any one establishment” of religion.
They seem to have missed something: Madison was writing against tax funding of establishments of religion:
Who does not see that the same authority which can establish Christianity, in exclusion of all other Religions, may establish with the same ease any particular sect of Christians, in exclusion of all other Sects? that the same authority which can force a citizen to contribute three pence only of his property for the support of any one establishment, may force him to conform to any other establishment in all cases whatsoever?
The use of religions imagery and praise for religiously based social programs is hardly funding of establishments of religion.

Even worse--even if the claim that this support of faith-based social programs (which liberals love if these programs are operated by say, the Urban League or the NAACP) is funding religion in some way were true, the dissenting opinion is historically wrong:
Here, there is no dispute that taxpayer money in identifiable amounts is funding conferences, and these are alleged to have the purpose of promoting religion. Cf. Doremus v. Board of Ed. of Hawthorne, 342 U.S.429, 434 (1952). The taxpayers therefore seek not to “extend” Flast, ante ,at 24 (plurality opinion), but merely to apply it. When executive agencies spend identifiable sums of tax money for religious purposes, no less than when Congress authorizes the same thing, taxpayers suffer injury.
As I point out here, early Congressional actions demonstrate that they didn't see the First Amendment as a barrier to direct federal support of religion--even funding religious establishments on a township by township level. Congress reserved section 29 of each township in Ohio for the support of religion. See American State Papers, House of Representatives, 11th Congress, 3rd Session, Public Lands: Volume 2, p. 220, document 187:
It appears to the committee, by the statement of the petitioners, that the third township of the eighth range in the Ohio Company's purchase is a fractional township, being intersected near the centre by the boundary line that separates the track purchased from the donation tract conveyed to the said company; that the said fractional township does not contain the section No. 29, set apart for the support of religion in the several townships in the said purchase, whereby the inhabitants are deprived of the benefit of the ministerial lands.
As late as 1833, you find Congressional bills that make reference to this, such as HR 653, 22nd Cong., 2nd sess.
To authorize the Legislature of the State of Ohio to sell the land reserved for the support of religion in the Ohio Company....
This seems to be the bill that created this, from Journal of the Senate of the United States of America, 1789-1873, December 30, 1801:
Mr. Tracy gave notice that he should, to-morrow, ask leave to bring in a bill to carry into effect the appropriations of lands in the purchase of the Ohio company, in the northwestern territory, for the support of schools and religion, and for other purposes.
From what I have read, each township would vote on which denomination was to receive the benefits of sales of land from section 29, so majority will, within the township, effectively created an establishment of religion.
Good News: Political Speech is Again Protected Free Speech!

Back in the February 1, 2004 Shotgun News
, I wrote an article about why the Supreme Court couldn't be trusted. I mentioned specifically their decision in McConnell v. Federal Election Commission (2003), in which the Supreme Court decided that a federal law that prohibited political advertising within 60 days of a general election did not violate the First Amendment's guarantee of freedom of speech. Yet the Court had previously decided that virtual child pornography, tobacco advertising, and flag burning, were all protected by the First Amendment!

You can argue if you like that the Framers wouldn't have had a problem with flag burning or tobacco advertising as protected free speech. But political speech? That is the core expression that the free speech clause was supposed to protect.

Fortunately, the Court's occupants are not forever, and Justice O'Connor is not there anymore. Today, in Federal Election Commission v. Wisconsin Right to Life, Inc. (2006), a 5-4 decision nibbled away at this outrageous censorship of political advocacy advertising, allowing advocacy groups to again run ads within 60 days of a general election that name specific candidates.
H.R. 2640: I Still Don't See It

I mentioned a few days ago a WorldNetDaily article, largely relying on a Gun Owners of America alert, that claims that H.R. 2640 would allow all sorts of people to be prohibited from owning a gun. Larry Pratt at Gun Owners of America has expanded on his explanation:
"The critics do not seem to have read our alerts. Please go to which gives an overview. It contains a link which takes one to the supporting documentation: . In that documentation are the BATFE regulations that would be codified by HR 2640. The "adjudication" can be done by any court (at least that should have due process), commission, committee or other authority. The other authority is spelled out in Section 3 where the regs are codified. That's where the psychiatrist is lurking.

You can indeed have your 2nd Amendment rights taken away with the stroke of a pen on a prescription pad.

We hope to have an alert out Monday to show how this lawless approach deprived a gun owner of his rights in Pennsylvania. The DA called the police to have a fellow involuntarily committed so his gun rights would be taken away. The DA and the police acted as an "other authority" of HR 2640.

I wish the critics were right. This is THE WORST gun control bill."

Larry Pratt
Executive Director
Gun Owners of America
I'm still not seeing it. GOA has reproduced a letter from BATF concerning this matter, and it quotes the appropriate federal regulations:


1. A determination by a court, board, commission, or other lawful authority that a person, as a result of marked subnormal intelligence, or mental illness, incompetency, condition, or disease:
1. Is a danger to himself or to others; or
2. Lacks the mental capacity to contract or manage his own affairs.
2. The term shall include—
1. A finding of insanity by a court in a criminal case; and
2. Those persons found incompetent to stand trial or found not guilty by reason of lack of mental responsibility pursuant to articles 50a and 72b of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, 10 U.S.C. 850a, 876b.

Here's what GOA says:

Anti-gun advocates have tried to create the impression in the media that "other lawful authority" means some judicial or quasi-judicial forum. But nothing in either the regulations or in BATFE's letter of May 9 says or implies this. "Authority" could be:

* A school psychologist to whom "behaviorally challenged" kids are referred;

* A psychiatrist commissioned by Medicare to evaluate seniors for Alzheimer's (an interpretation which is reinforced by the fact that such a finding by such a person is legally effectual for qualifying such a person for Alzheimer's grants);

* A Veteran's Administration psychiatrist who evaluates returning soldiers for post-traumatic stress disorder (large numbers of these names have already been turned over to the FBI by the Clinton administration);

* A psychologist who, under provisions of law, involuntarily commits a patient with no due process at all.

A fortiori, the same person whose findings are enough to "adjudicate" a person as a "mental defective" are equally capable of being able to legally "commit" the person under the second disqualifying clause, within the terms of the statute.

There's nothing in the BATF letter that even hints at these, and as GOA admits, the BATF letter is quite clear on this:

For purposes of a Federal firearms disability, ATF interprets “adjudicated mental defective” to include anyone adjudicated to be a “danger to him or herself,” “a danger to others,” or lacking “the mental capacity to contract or manage their own affairs.” For purposes of Federal law, “danger” means any danger, not simply “imminent” or “substantial” danger as is often required to sustain an involuntary commitment under State law. Thus, for example, adjudication that a person was mentally ill and a danger to himself or others would result in Federal firearms disability, whether the court-ordered treatment was on an inpatient or outpatient basis. This is because the adjudication itself (a finding of danger due to mental illness) is sufficient to trigger the disability.

It should be emphasized that whatever adjudication procedure a State employs, the Constitution requires certain guarantees of due process. In order for a particular commitment order to qualify as a prohibiting commitment, ATF historically has required that traditional protections of due process be present, including adequate notice, an opportunity to respond, and a right to counsel. Such protections are important because whether a person has been adjudicated a mental defective or committed to a mental institution, the firearms disability is permanent.
The BATF letter also is quite clear that voluntary hospitalization or being held for observation is not a commitment, and neither is "a stay in a mental institution that never involved any form of adjudication by a lawful authority."

Yes, if a court went ahead and declared that a person was mentally defective because of Alzheimer's, he could be disarmed. But relatively few people are adjudicated as mentally defective because of Alzheimer's--and I would guess that when this happens, it is probably with good reason. The example that Gun Owners of America gives, a psychiatrist evaluating patients--is clearly not a due process adjudication.

The returning veterans concern is something that H.R. 2640 specifically deals with, and corrects--so this is actually a gain for this group.

The school psychologist? What? That's not a due process adjudication--not even close.

I am not aware of ANY state where a psychologist has authority to involuntarily commit a patient "with no due process at all." In general, state laws give substantially more authority to psychiatrists on this count than psychologists, but even psychiatrists don't have this kind of power in any state, to my knowledge.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Who Gets Taken By These Scamsters?

I find it hard to believe that anyone who is stupid enough to believe an email this incompetently dishonest has any money. This guy's command of English is so weak that he is obviously not an American:
Dear Beloved,

My name is Frank Powell, An America national, based in Bahrain, I have been diagnosed with Esophageal cancer .It has defiled all forms of medical treatment, and right now I have only about a few months to live, according to medical experts.

I have not particularly lived my life so well, as I never really cared for anyone(not even myself)but my business. Though I am very rich, I was never generous I was always hostile to people and only focused on my business as that was the only thing I cared for. But now I regret all this as I now know that there is more to life than just wanting to have or make all the money in the world. I believe when God gives me a second chance to come to this world I would live my life a different way from how I have lived it.

Now that God has called me, I have willed and given most of my property and assets to my immediate and extended family members as well as a few close friends .I want God to be merciful to me and accept my soul so, I have decided to give alms to charity organizations, as I want this to be one of the last good deeds I do on earth.

So far, I have Distributed money to some charity organizations in the U.A.E. Somalia and Malaysia. Now that my health has deteriorated so badly, I cannot do this myself anymore. I once asked members of my family to close one of my accounts and distribute the money which I have there to charity organization in Bulgaria and Pakistan, they refused and kept the money to themselves. Hence, I do not trust them anymore, as they seem not to be contended with what I have left for them. The last of my money which no one knows of is the huge cash deposit of Ten Million dollars($10,000,000,00) that I have with a finance House in ABROAD. I will want you to help me collect this deposit and dispatch it to charity organizations.

N/B : KINDLY NOTE THAT 20% of this funds must go to the Tsunami victims in Asia and hurricane Katrina victims in America while another 10% for your effort and time.

Frank Powell

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Fun With Band Saws; Happy Customers

I just finished making a set of casters for the Vixen HAL-110 tripod--by far the most challenging machining operation yet. This slides inside the tripod leg assembly, replacing the "foot" that ordinarily sits on the ground.

What makes it difficult is that I wanted something that would slide into a fairly complex hole (far more complex than the insert's end, and far more complex than really needed for Vixen's purposes) without being loose. And that's what I achieved--precisely enough machined that it doesn't fall out, but also doesn't have to be pressed in hard. Of course, I use the M4-0.7 screws that hold the foot in place to hold this insert in position as well.

It doesn't look like it should be all that hard to make, but with the amount of time it took, I think I may charge a pretty premium price to make any more. Even using the band saw to hack the big chunks out, while it saved a lot of time, still doesn't make these fast to make. The problem is that even with a 1.5" long cutting surface on this end mill, the power limitations of the Sherline means that you are removing at most .020" of Delrin at a time. If you try to remove more, you get some nasty vibrations and accuracy suffers.

Do you notice the "waffle" pattern? This particular end mill was a roughing mill--meaning that it concentrates on speed, not finish quality. If you hold the final result in exactly the right position, it kinda looks like a Manhattan skyscraper.

The Sears 10 inch band saw has turned out to be the best $170 I've spent in a long time. It is reasonably consistent. I set the fence at 1 1/8", and the piece that came out was 1.03" wide, so about .09" short. I set the fence at 2 1/8", and it cut a piece 2.04" wide, so about .08" short. I tried moving the scale on the edge of the table to correct for this, but there's only a very small amount of adjustment potential. I'll just remember that the cut is going to be a little under 1/8" narrower than the fence position, and that's good enough.

The other thing about it that is nice is that I can see where the blade is while cutting. The chop saw that I have, as powerful and quick as it is, is just too dangerous to use for cutting anything small.

The blade that came with the band saw works well for Delrin and for 6061 aluminum. I tried to trim a small piece of steel, and it was clearly not going to do anything but dull the blade. This is a woodworking blade, however, so I am not surprised.

One aspect of the band saw that has me a little confused is that it produces a bit of a wavy cut in Delrin. It doesn't seem to do this in wood or aluminum--very odd. It isn't a problem, since the only band saw work I do in Delrin is just a first step towards machining, but I suspect that there's something that I don't know that might produce a smoother finish.

I made a caster set for the Celestron 93493 tripod (first time for this model). The customer is singing my praises in this thread. Now, if all the other users of that tripod would just go ahead and order.

Friday, June 22, 2007

I've Never Been Much Impressed With WorldNetDaily

And I'm less impressed because of this article:
If the Act passes in the Senate, it would provide grants so states can add the names of criminals to the NICS system, which would label them as unable to own firearms, but it also flags those with medical or psychological issues as unfit to possess a gun.

The plan allows names to be entered into the NICS system based solely on a physician's diagnosis or prescription of a medication: adults who have taken Ritalin and soldiers with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder would be classified as mentally ill and given the same opportunity to own firearms as convicted felons: None.

This is utterly wrong. From HR 2640:

As used in this Act, the following definitions shall apply:

(1) COURT ORDER- The term `court order' includes a court order (as described in section 922(g)(8) of title 18, United States Code).

(2) MENTAL HEALTH TERMS- The terms `adjudicated as a mental defective', `committed to a mental institution', and related terms have the meanings given those terms in regulations implementing section 922(g)(4) of title 18, United States Code, as in effect on the date of the enactment of this Act.

(3) MISDEMEANOR CRIME OF DOMESTIC VIOLENCE- The term `misdemeanor crime of domestic violence' has the meaning given the term in section 921(a)(33) of title 18, United States Code.

From 18 USC 922(g)(4) and (8):

(4) who has been adjudicated as a mental defective or who has
been committed to a mental institution;

(8) who is subject to a court order that -
(A) was issued after a hearing of which such person received
actual notice, and at which such person had an opportunity to
(B) restrains such person from harassing, stalking, or
threatening an intimate partner of such person or child of such
intimate partner or person, or engaging in other conduct that
would place an intimate partner in reasonable fear of bodily
injury to the partner or child; and
(C)(i) includes a finding that such person represents a
credible threat to the physical safety of such intimate partner
or child; or
(ii) by its terms explicitly prohibits the use, attempted
use, or threatened use of physical force against such intimate
partner or child that would reasonably be expected to cause
bodily injury; or

Commitment (as opposed to a hold for observation) in the U.S. is not easy. In fact, it has become far too difficult. But the claim that a person can be denied gun ownership based on taking Ritalin or simply on the say-so of a doctor is false.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

I'm The Winner of the Week!

My review of the Moonlite Telescopes CR2 dual speed focuser won the weekly contest over at
Journalist Campaign Contributions

Mainstream journalists like to pretend that they are completely unbiased in their reporting. But when you look at how journalists lean on their campaign contributions, it does suggest that they see the world considerably to the left of the average American:
Whether you sample your news feed from ABC or CBS (or, yes, even NBC and MSNBC), whether you prefer Fox News Channel or National Public Radio, The Wall Street Journal or The New Yorker, some of the journalists feeding you are also feeding cash to politicians, parties or political action committees. identified 144 journalists who made political contributions from 2004 through the start of the 2008 campaign, according to the public records of the Federal Election Commission. Most of the newsroom checkbooks leaned to the left: 125 journalists gave to Democrats and liberal causes. Only 17 gave to Republicans. Two gave to both parties.
As the sidebar article points out, this is a very incomplete list, because of what data is required in the federal campaign records.
There's a longstanding tradition that journalists don't cheer in the press box. They have opinions, like anyone else, but they are expected to keep those opinions out of their work. Because appearing to be fair is part of being fair, most mainstream news organizations discourage marching for causes, displaying political bumper stickers or giving cash to candidates.

Traditionally, many news organizations have applied the rules to only political reporters and editors. The ethic was summed up by Abe Rosenthal, the former New York Times editor, who is reported to have said, "I don't care if you sleep with elephants as long as you don't cover the circus."

But with polls showing the public losing faith in the ability of journalists to give the news straight up, some major newspapers and TV networks are clamping down. They now prohibit all political activity — aside from voting — no matter whether the journalist covers baseball or proofreads the obituaries. The Times in 2003 banned all donations, with editors scouring the FEC records regularly to watch for in-house donors. In 2005, The Chicago Tribune made its policy absolute. CBS did the same last fall. And The Atlantic Monthly, where a senior editor gave $500 to the Democratic Party in 2004, says it is considering banning all donations. After contacted about donations by a reporter and a former executive editor, this week Salon banned donations for all its staff.
I actually would prefer that journalists be allowed to make political donations; it at least puts it all out in the open where he stands. Preventing them from contributing to political causes doesn't make them unbiased; it just lets them pretends that they don't have any political preferences. Which does more good for a Democratic presidential candidate? A $2000 contribution from a reporter? Or a series of liberal leaning articles about global warming, minimum wage laws, and same-sex marriage?
Interesting Electrical System Failure on the Corvette

A couple of weeks back, and a couple of weeks after the dealer replaced the bad fuel gauge sending unit in the fuel tank, the Corvette started to act "funny." I had a dead battery one morning, even though the car had only sat idle for three days. But when I hooked up the charging unit in the garage--it started right up--which is odd, since it usually takes tens of minutes or more of trickle charging before it has enough power to get going.

Then, I was driving through one of Boise's many construction zones where they were repaving--and the road was very rough. Twice, when I went over especially rough sections, the car completely cut out for a fraction of a second, resetting all electronic counters (such as average fuel economy).

I checked the battery connections, and they seemed tight enough. Then I drove down to the mailbox on my fairly rough driveway and access road--and when I tried to restart the car--dead as a doornail. Then, miraculously, two minutes later, it started right up!

So now I have decided that there are gremlins in the electrical system. This is worrisome, because intermittent electrical problems on cars are notoriously hard to diagnose--and the extended warranty doesn't cover diagnosis time.

Anyway, I pull into the Chevy dealer, and Darrin Panda, who is the service advisor that I usually talk to, admitted that what I was describing sounded like a loose connection, and he admitted that it was not impossible that something didn't get hooked up right after the last repair.

So we pop the hood, and he finds that the battery terminal is loose--and even more interesting, he can see corrosion that has dripped out of that part of the battery. Since this is a sealed Delco battery, this is a sign that the battery has serious problems. They managed to get it all fixed for about $70 (because the battery was still under a pro rata warranty).
So Much For "Settled Science"

Interesting article in the Canadian Financial Post yesterday by "R. Timothy Patterson is professor and director of the Ottawa-Carleton Geoscience Centre, Department of Earth Sciences, Carleton University." What he has to say won't be a surprise to my regular readers:
My interest in the current climate-change debate was triggered in 1998, when I was funded by a Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council strategic project grant to determine if there were regular cycles in West Coast fish productivity. As a result of wide swings in the populations of anchovies, herring and other commercially important West Coast fish stock, fisheries managers were having a very difficult time establishing appropriate fishing quotas. One season there would be abundant stock and broad harvesting would be acceptable; the very next year the fisheries would collapse. No one really knew why or how to predict the future health of this crucially important resource.

Although climate was suspected to play a significant role in marine productivity, only since the beginning of the 20th century have accurate fishing and temperature records been kept in this region of the northeast Pacific. We needed indicators of fish productivity over thousands of years to see whether there were recurring cycles in populations and what phenomena may be driving the changes.

My research team began to collect and analyze core samples from the bottom of deep Western Canadian fjords. The regions in which we chose to conduct our research, Effingham Inlet on the West Coast of Vancouver Island, and in 2001, sounds in the Belize-Seymour Inlet complex on the mainland coast of British Columbia, were perfect for this sort of work. The topography of these fjords is such that they contain deep basins that are subject to little water transfer from the open ocean and so water near the bottom is relatively stagnant and very low in oxygen content. As a consequence, the floors of these basins are mostly lifeless and sediment layers build up year after year, undisturbed over millennia.

Using various coring technologies, we have been able to collect more than 5,000 years' worth of mud in these basins, with the oldest layers coming from a depth of about 11 metres below the fjord floor. Clearly visible in our mud cores are annual changes that record the different seasons: corresponding to the cool, rainy winter seasons, we see dark layers composed mostly of dirt washed into the fjord from the land; in the warm summer months we see abundant fossilized fish scales and diatoms (the most common form of phytoplankton, or single-celled ocean plants) that have fallen to the fjord floor from nutrient-rich surface waters. In years when warm summers dominated climate in the region, we clearly see far thicker layers of diatoms and fish scales than we do in cooler years. Ours is one of the highest-quality climate records available anywhere today and in it we see obvious confirmation that natural climate change can be dramatic. For example, in the middle of a 62-year slice of the record at about 4,400 years ago, there was a shift in climate in only a couple of seasons from warm, dry and sunny conditions to one that was mostly cold and rainy for several decades.

Using computers to conduct what is referred to as a "time series analysis" on the colouration and thickness of the annual layers, we have discovered repeated cycles in marine productivity in this, a region larger than Europe. Specifically, we find a very strong and consistent 11-year cycle throughout the whole record in the sediments and diatom remains. This correlates closely to the well-known 11-year "Schwabe" sunspot cycle, during which the output of the sun varies by about 0.1%. Sunspots, violent storms on the surface of the sun, have the effect of increasing solar output, so, by counting the spots visible on the surface of our star, we have an indirect measure of its varying brightness. Such records have been kept for many centuries and match very well with the changes in marine productivity we are observing.

In the sediment, diatom and fish-scale records, we also see longer period cycles, all correlating closely with other well-known regular solar variations. In particular, we see marine productivity cycles that match well with the sun's 75-90-year "Gleissberg Cycle," the 200-500-year "Suess Cycle" and the 1,100-1,500-year "Bond Cycle." The strength of these cycles is seen to vary over time, fading in and out over the millennia. The variation in the sun's brightness over these longer cycles may be many times greater in magnitude than that measured over the short Schwabe cycle and so are seen to impact marine productivity even more significantly.

Our finding of a direct correlation between variations in the brightness of the sun and earthly climate indicators (called "proxies") is not unique. Hundreds of other studies, using proxies from tree rings in Russia's Kola Peninsula to water levels of the Nile, show exactly the same thing: The sun appears to drive climate change.

However, there was a problem. Despite this clear and repeated correlation, the measured variations in incoming solar energy were, on their own, not sufficient to cause the climate changes we have observed in our proxies. In addition, even though the sun is brighter now than at any time in the past 8,000 years, the increase in direct solar input is not calculated to be sufficient to cause the past century's modest warming on its own. There had to be an amplifier of some sort for the sun to be a primary driver of climate change.

Indeed, that is precisely what has been discovered. In a series of groundbreaking scientific papers starting in 2002, Veizer, Shaviv, Carslaw, and most recently Svensmark et al., have collectively demonstrated that as the output of the sun varies, and with it, our star's protective solar wind, varying amounts of galactic cosmic rays from deep space are able to enter our solar system and penetrate the Earth's atmosphere. These cosmic rays enhance cloud formation which, overall, has a cooling effect on the planet. When the sun's energy output is greater, not only does the Earth warm slightly due to direct solar heating, but the stronger solar wind generated during these "high sun" periods blocks many of the cosmic rays from entering our atmosphere. Cloud cover decreases and the Earth warms still more.

The opposite occurs when the sun is less bright. More cosmic rays are able to get through to Earth's atmosphere, more clouds form, and the planet cools more than would otherwise be the case due to direct solar effects alone. This is precisely what happened from the middle of the 17th century into the early 18th century, when the solar energy input to our atmosphere, as indicated by the number of sunspots, was at a minimum and the planet was stuck in the Little Ice Age. These new findings suggest that changes in the output of the sun caused the most recent climate change. By comparison, CO2 variations show little correlation with our planet's climate on long, medium and even short time scales.

In some fields the science is indeed "settled." For example, plate tectonics, once highly controversial, is now so well-established that we rarely see papers on the subject at all. But the science of global climate change is still in its infancy, with many thousands of papers published every year. In a 2003 poll conducted by German environmental researchers Dennis Bray and Hans von Storch, two-thirds of more than 530 climate scientists from 27 countries surveyed did not believe that "the current state of scientific knowledge is developed well enough to allow for a reasonable assessment of the effects of greenhouse gases." About half of those polled stated that the science of climate change was not sufficiently settled to pass the issue over to policymakers at all.
Oh, and there are politicians with some courage out there, like President Vaclav Klaus of the Czech Republic, whose article in the British Financial Times points out what is really driving the global warming propaganda war:

In the past year, Al Gore’s so-called “documentary” film was shown in cinemas worldwide, Britain’s – more or less Tony Blair’s – Stern report was published, the fourth report of the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was put together and the Group of Eight summit announced ambitions to do something about the weather. Rational and freedom-loving people have to respond. The dictates of political correctness are strict and only one permitted truth, not for the first time in human history, is imposed on us. Everything else is denounced.

The author Michael Crichton stated it clearly: “the greatest challenge facing mankind is the challenge of distinguishing reality from fantasy, truth from propaganda”. I feel the same way, because global warming hysteria has become a prime example of the truth versus propaganda problem. It requires courage to oppose the “established” truth, although a lot of people – including top-class scientists – see the issue of climate change entirely differently. They protest against the arrogance of those who advocate the global warming hypothesis and relate it to human activities.

As someone who lived under communism for most of his life, I feel obliged to say that I see the biggest threat to freedom, democracy, the market economy and prosperity now in ambitious environmentalism, not in communism. This ideology wants to replace the free and spontaneous evolution of mankind by a sort of central (now global) planning.

The environmentalists ask for immediate political action because they do not believe in the long-term positive impact of economic growth and ignore both the technological progress that future generations will undoubtedly enjoy, and the proven fact that the higher the wealth of society, the higher is the quality of the environment. They are Malthusian pessimists.

The scientists should help us and take into consideration the political effects of their scientific opinions. They have an obligation to declare their political and value assumptions and how much they have affected their selection and interpretation of scientific evidence.

Does it make any sense to speak about warming of the Earth when we see it in the context of the evolution of our planet over hundreds of millions of years? Every child is taught at school about temperature variations, about the ice ages, about the much warmer climate in the Middle Ages. All of us have noticed that even during our life-time temperature changes occur (in both directions).
For several generations, the left used "let's help the poor" as the rationale for governmental redistribution of wealth--and eventually, that argument wore out. There were several reasons why this argument stopped working:

1. Compassion fatigue. There comes a certain point where people start saying, "I'm tired of giving half my income to help poor people." This is to me the least valid reason, but the one most likely at work over the 25 years, as conservative and libertarian ideas have taken the field.

2. If you pay people to be poor and dependent--it increases the number of poor and dependent people. This doesn't mean that every poor person--or even most poor people--are scamming the system. It does mean that if someone has two choices--be dependent or work a little harder to be independent--inertia means that some people who may have the option to get out of their poverty and dependency will stay that way.

3. If the left had actually engaged in wealth redistribution, it would not have generated the upset among the middle class. Instead, because the left is already wealthy, they have focused on income redistribution. The income tax isn't a tax on wealth (except indirectly); it's a tax on people who are trying to become wealthy.

4. While not directly associated with income redistribution, the left's baggage included mindless anti-capitalism, and a general hostility towards the values that the masses, especially in America hold dear: God, patriotism, duty, and honor. I try to imagine a leftist welfare state that wasn't actively hostile towards these values, and I imagine how differently things might have turned out. I have to imagine that, however, because it doesn't happen in the real world.

What's left as an excuse for taking control over people's lives? Global warming. "Give us all this money and power over your lives, or the icecaps will melt, flood all the cities, cause terrible hurricanes, drought, starvation!"