Monday, December 31, 2007

A Very Special AR-15

A Very Special AR-15

You know, if this were legal for sale in California, I don't think there would be any danger of gang members being willing to use it. Don't worry, it's work-safe, unless you work for NRA.

Thanks to Arms and the Law for bringing this to my attention.

The Fiberglass Follies

The Fiberglass Follies

It's a very small world. Someone that I used to work with--and who, several years before that, sold a small telescope to a friend of mine--has done extensive work with carbon fiber composites for aircraft.
Anyway, he tells me that the polyester resin style of fiberglass that I am using is much less stiff than the epoxy kind--and for the intended purpose (repairing car fenders and such) that is probably a good thing.

Also, as my wife suggested, and I surmised, fiberglass stiffness is highly dependent on cross-section, and scaling up the diameter of the tube requires scaling up the wall thickness as well. As a result, four layers of fiberglass cloth for a 1.75" ID tube is far less stiff than four layers of fiberglass cloth for a 20.4" ID tube.

I had thought about contacting Sky Valley Scopes about a tube because they used to make honeycomb composite fiberglass tubes that were very strong, and very light. See this example of a remarkably strong and light tube. The honeycomb composite use a very strong honeycomb layer in between two thin skins of fiberglass. You get all the benefits of the strength of the honeycomb and its lightness. (The XB-70, to my knowledge, was the first to use this approach, with stainless steel honeycomb sandwiched between titanium skins.)

Unfortunately, Ken Ward, who ran Sky Valley Scopes, reached a point where his arthritis prevented him from continuing to make the tubes. His wife Judi forwarded his instructions on how he made these tubes to me. It sounds like something that I could ruin a lot of materials before I got good at it!

Anyway, I have abandoned the idea of making a fiberglass tube for the Big Bertha rebuild. As soon as National Metal Fabricators opens for business Wednesday I am going to order up aluminum tube sections for this. I will also return the unused container of polyester resin--but not the fiberglass cloth. I may continue to experiment with making fiberglass tubes, using epoxy instead of polyester, and the honeycomb material that you can buy from operations like Aircraft Spruce and Specialty.

I have been tempted for some time to rebuild the 3" f/4.5 reflector that I built some years ago. Because of the scarcity of parts in this size, there are a number of compromises to it. I used a larger tube than I needed (4" ID) because the only mirror cell that I could find had that as an OD for the base plate. The diagonal was bigger than it needed to be, because of what I could buy at the time, and the limitations of a high profile focuser. Now that I can machine the parts that I need (especially in this inky-dinky size), I may do a complete rebuild, with an optimally sized diagonal, tube, and focuser. And maybe I will replace that heavy piece of PVC that is the current tube with something made of fiberglass. Even the polyester resin should be capable of making an adequately stiff and light tube, based on the 1.75" ID experiment.

So Glad That I Don't Live There Anymore

This article from the December 30, 2007 Santa Rosa Press-Democrat is rather startling--because it actually admits that there are decent people who buy guns out of fear of the scum that have started to terrorize their neighborhood:
Marie Ibanez walks through her neighborhood in Bellevue Ranch in southwest Santa Rosa, pointing at various households where she says she knows residents are armed with guns.

The two-story homes, not more than a decade old with neatly trimmed lawns, have all the appearances of a classic suburban scene, not a modern-day danger zone where neighbors talk of their fears and how they sleep with shotguns next to their beds.

Ibanez and her husband bought a shotgun in March after repeated incidents of vandalism and seeing more crime and gang activity in the area.

The latest incident occurred Thursday night, when someone wielding a baseball bat busted out the windows of five cars in front of four households. Video from surveillance cameras that the Ibanez family installed a year ago in front of their home on Antelope Lane does not show the crime, but does show three people, two wearing hooded sweat shirts and another wearing a beanie, casually walking down the sidewalk with a bat at about 7:30 p.m.

Getting a gun was no easy choice for the couple. They have three kids between the ages of 3 and 11.

"It was a difficult decision to make because we have kids. It's the last thing you want in your home," said Marie Ibanez's husband, Tim.

It also seems like the last thing that would happen in this maze of short streets and cul-de-sacs in the heart of Bellevue Ranch, a 500-home subdivision built in the late 1990s that drew many families moving into their first homes, and that is now dotted with for sale signs, reflecting the housing downturn.

Santa Rosa police Lt. Hank Schreeder, who is assigned to the area, said Saturday the fear and concern arise from issues of personal animosity as well as broader community conflicts, and he cautioned against homeowners taking up arms.

Despite such assurances, some homeowners say they are acting in self-defense.

Laurie Pachorek, who lives around the corner from the Ibanez family, said she and her husband purchased a gun because they fear crime could soon escalate into home invasions.

The Pachoreks have three children, with the most recent addition coming 4½ months ago.

"At night, my husband takes the firearm out and puts it next to the bed in case somebody breaks in," said Pachorek, adding that both she and her father-in-law have had their cars broken into.
Unfortunately, because Sonoma County is so intent on being so liberal and multicultural, they have problems like this:
Neighbors say gang activity in the area is on the rise, and some have seen all-out brawls in front of their homes. They say they've practically ceded Bellevue Ranch Park to young thugs who regularly drink alcohol there and harass passers-by.

"Yesterday, I saw some kids in broad daylight passing what looked like a joint around," said Sharon Cisneros, a real estate broker who moved to Santa Rosa from San Diego a couple of years ago.

Cisneros' car was the last of the five vehicles that had their windows broken Thursday.

"I moved here two years ago and was basically floored at the level of gang activity," she said. "I thought that I was moving to a safer, more rural area. When I came up here, I was very surprised."
Oh, and here's one of those terribly complex to describe relationships that, in some language, I'm sure, has a single word:
Marie Ibanez said the incidents were likely retaliation for a restraining order her family obtained against the ex-husband of her husband's stepsister, a man with a criminal history who died earlier this year.
Quick! Draw a diagram of that relationship!

How Many More Of These Do We Have To Have?

Before Americans recognize what a terrible mistake deinstitutionalization was? From December 31, 2007 WBIR channel 10:

The father of the 25-year-old shot to death by Knoxville Police Sunday night says he's sure officers did what they had to do.
Instead of blaming officers, Charles Rudd of Sevierville feels his son David's death is the result of a lack of affordable - or available - mental health care.

He says David suffered from severe bipolar disorder, as well as paranoid schizophrenia. He had been living on the streets for the past five years.

Charles Rudd and his wife Diana adopted David as a 10-month-old baby. They knew David's biological family had a strong history of mental illness, but hoped their son wouldn't fall victim.

They say that until age 13, David was a happy, healthy child who made excellent grades in advanced classes and enjoyed art. But in early adolescence, symptoms began appearing. David started hearing voices, and by young adulthood, David Rudd was severely afflicted with major mental health problems.

His family says they worked tirelessly over the years to get David the mental health treatment he needed. They also encouraged him to take his prescribed medication, which David resisted.

"He always said it made him feel tired and kind of out of it," Charles Rudd says. "We tried to make him take it."

The family, originally from Maryville, moved to Ohio for a period, and it was there David first spent three months in a mental health facility. He was in middle school, and the struggle to find and pay for the type of care their son needed has been ongoing for the Rudd family ever since

"As long as your mental insurance lasts, you have a spot," Charles Rudd says. "It's 'Here's the door' after that.'"

After the family moved back to East Tennessee in 1999, David Rudd was committed to Peninsula Hospital when he was 18 years-old, but only for three days. Two years ago, David spent another three days at Lakeshore Hospital.

"Three days," his father says. "I guess he was suddenly 'cured' and shown the door. It
takes months to get on medications, not days.

"We've tried. We had him in treatment in Sevierville with a psychiatrist within the last year," says Charles Rudd, adding that David also had outpatient treatment again at Peninsula.

According to his father, David refused to stay in shelters or motels, for the same reason he couldn't hold a job.

"He had 10 jobs in seven years in Sevierville," Charles Rudd explains. "None lasted more than two weeks."

Rudd says David couldn't keep a job or stay in one place because he had "bizarre thoughts that weren't real." He often thought people were talking about him behind his back.

"Sometimes, he thought there'd be a man that would change into a woman," Charles says, struggling to explain his son's condition.

Charles Rudd believes his son likely was the man who shot two people at a Knoxville Hooters restaurant, killing one of them. He says David probably went to Hooters Friday night to drink beer and warm up for a few hours. He says David often stayed along the railroad tracks that ran through that area of West Knoxville.

The senior Rudd says he feels terrible for the families of the victims hurt and killed at Hooters early Saturday morning.

Charles' brother in Florida had seen a news story about the shooting on TV and called. Both say they "just knew" from the suspect description that it was David. Family members alerted police to their concerns, telling them what area of town they were likely to find their suspect.

"I just feel terrible for the families involved with this," Charles Rudd says. "I don't know how they feel, but I have a pretty good idea."

Rudd says he always thought he would hear that something happened to his son.

"I kept expecting a phone call that he'd be either hurt or killed on the street," Rudd says. "I couldn't make him seek help. Once they turn 18, it's very difficult."

Rudd says his son was home for the holidays, but he had a "bad episode." David apparently thought someone had poisoned his food and the situation escalated. He showed his father a gun, and his father told him he would have to leave.

Rudd says he knew his son had "a couple starter guns," but he says he had no idea before this that his son had a real firearm. Rudd says he figured his son picked it up on the street.

"I told him he couldn't come back to the house because I could tell he was getting out of control," Charles says.

The Rudds called the police to tell them their son had a gun, but by the time authorities arrived, David Rudd was gone.
I'm guessing that the three days wasn't determined by insurance, but by how long someone can be held without a finding of dangerousness. I can't quite figure out from reading Tennessee's mental health laws how long someone can be held against their will, but I do notice that a lot of stuff has to happen in intervals of 72 hours (which is three days).

Early Repeating Firearms

Early Repeating Firearms

I am astonished at the number of repeating, magazine-fed firearms--sometimes repeating handguns--that appear in the 17th and 18th centuries. Yes, even in the era of flintlocks, there are people making handguns with rotating barrels, and one that is clever enough to automatically load the priming pan with gunpowder when the barrel rotates into position to fire.

These were probably devilishly hard to make, and perhaps not very reliable, but it does show that lots of clever people were working the problem--and apparently with some success--more than a century before Samuel Colt--and more than a century before the Second Amendment.

An Interesting and Unfortunate Case

You should always, always be sure before using deadly force. Here's a case that at first appeared to be a clear-cut use of deadly force against a burglar:

Memphis, Tennessee

From WREG of December 28, 2007
Man Shoots And Kills Burglary Suspect

"It's so bad around here and i'm just afraid for my safety," says one woman we spoke to as she stepped outside of her apartment and saw crime scene investigators. Police were combing her neighbor's apartment following an alleged burglary attempt that ended in gunfire. Rhonda, who didn't want to give us her last name or show her face on camera, says crime at the Camelot Apartments has driven her to leave.

"I was already in the process of making preparations to move, but this has done it. This has given me the right to make the decision to just leave here," Rhonda says. A little before 5:00 this morning, a woman returned home and caught who she thought to be a burglar in the act.

Lt. Tony Armstrong, a homicide detective with the Memphis Police Department, says, "The victim called her boyfriend. Her boyfriend came over and investigated, found him inside the house and shot him multiple times."

Medics took the suspect to the hospital where he later died. Police spent several hours later combing the apartment for more evidence. We're told the man who shot the suspect did have a state gun carry permit. It's likely the man who shot the intruder will not face any charges. Neighbors like Rhonda agree with that decision.

"People work too hard to make a living for someone to just come in and take things, your personal items or to invade your apartment like that. I think it was justifiable," she adds.
However, further investigation revealed that it was not what it first appeared:
From MyEyewitnessNews of December 30, 2007
Southeast Memphis Shooting: Woman Charged

On Sunday, December 30, 2007, we have new information on a deadly shooting at the Camelot Manor apartments in Southeast Memphis.

Memphis police have charged a woman who lived at the apartment in connection with the shooting.

22 year-old Asa Marmon was shot and killed in Antionita Clay's apartment by her boyfriend after she told her boyfriend Marmon was a burglar.

Memphis police say Antionita Clay knew it was Marmon inside her apartment before she called her boyfriend and police about a burglar.

Police say that Clay and Marmon had a prior relationship and she wanted to end it.

Clay is charged with false reporting and reckless homicide.
The boyfriend didn't do anything illegal (although I would not be surprised to see him sued by the next of kin). He operated based on what Clay told him, and there was nothing particularly implausible about the claim or the circumstances. It is rather like this case, where a man found his wife in the front seat of a pickup truck. She screamed rape, and the man fired at the fleeing rapist. But it turned out that the relationship was consensual, and the wife made the false claim to hide her adultery. The wife was indicted; the husband was legally not at fault.

When my wife and I took concealed weapons class in California, the deputy sheriff who taught the class showed us a videotape that showed a number of situations where at first glance, you know who the criminal is, and who the victim is--and where it turned out to be not the way it first appeared. It is very important when you make that very serious decision to draw and fire that you are completely certain--or as completely certain as the circumstances allow--who the bad guy is.

I encourage you to think through the different scenarios now, while you are calm, and not in fear. A person dressed all in black comes into the mall carrying a rifle? Look carefully to make sure that it isn't someone from a police SWAT, who tend to dress in ways designed to make them less visible. Waiting until the person has opened fire on someone who is clearly not a threat is probably wise.

You walk onto a situation where a man and a woman are engaged in some confrontation, and the man is holding a gun or a knife? Very likely, she's the victim--but this is by no means certain.

Waiting until the last possible moment to use deadly force is both morally right, and puts you in a much better legal position with respect to both criminal and civil liability.

Sunday, December 30, 2007



S-CHIP isn't particularly a hot topic at the moment, after the President's second veto of it. My daughter had to write a paper analyzing some aspect of public policy for one of her classes, and gave me permission to share it with you.

I suppose that I should explain that she is rather partial to S-CHIP because she sees such a program (regardless of the fine details) as an alternative to a broader and more costly system, such as single payer health coverage.

I am not comfortable with the national government funding such a program. The decision about whether to operate such a program properly belongs with the states, simply because there is nothing intrinsically national about medical care. I have some concerns about the way that some states have implemented S-CHIP, and the dangers of mission creep.

As an example of mission creep, the Rural Electrification Administration was originally established in the 1930s to assist in setting up rural electric coops for desperately poor farmers with no electricity--and some of those coops are now very prosperous suburban communities. When last I checked, some years back, the REA was still enjoying a very nice subsidy from the federal government, when the justification for it no longer existed. More recently, I blogged about how families with incomes above $100,000 a year live in government-subsidized low income housing. They were poor when they moved in, but they aren't poor now.

I am also concerned about one of Bush's concerns--the danger that S-CHIP might encourage people who are currently have private health insurance to change plans. In the Victorian period, the followers of Jeremy Bentham argued that public assistance in workhouses should be "less-eligible conditions." By this, they meant that if a person sought governmental assistance by entering a workhouse, it should be less pleasant than being on the outside. The reason was simple: there was a limited amount of resources available to the government to spend on caring for the poor, and therefore the workhouse should be of a nature that no one would go there if they had the option of finding a private sector job, and providing for themselves. In the modern context, I think all but the most hopelessly deluded would agree that welfare assistance to the able-bodied should provide less benefits than you would get from working at minimum wage. (At least in Idaho, that is definitely the case.)

As I have previously explained
, I suspect that both the scale of the expansion Democrats in Congress proposed, and Bush's actual reasons for the the vetoes, have more to 2008 election politics than the stated reasons.

Anyway, without further ado, my daughter's paper about S-CHIP:

Analyzing the Children's Health Insurance Program Reauthorization Act (CHIPRA) of 2007

In the 1990's, the federal government began to evaluate the large-scale issue of uninsured children in the United States. By 1997, 23 percent of low-income children (those from households below 200 percent of the federal poverty guidelines) were uninsured (“State Children's Health Insurance Program” [S-CHIP], 2007). Medicaid provided insurance for the very low-income children, but those from “working poor” families (between 100 to 200 percent of the federal poverty guidelines) were ineligible for Medicaid (“S-CHIP,” 2007). As a way to provide insurance for them, the federal government established the State Children's Health Insurance Program (S-CHIP) as part of the Balanced Budget Act of 1997 (Kaiser Commission, 2007a). By 2006, the number of low-income, uninsured children has decreased to 14 percent, and S-CHIP (together with Medicaid) is generally acknowledged as the cause (Kaiser Commission on Medicaid and the Uninsured, 2007a; “S-CHIP,” 2007).

While S-CHIP has been successful, funding was only alloted for ten years. As a result, the S-CHIP program funding had to be reauthorized by Congress in 2007 (“S-CHIP,” 2007). In spite of S-CHIP's success, the Children's Health Insurance Program Reauthorization Act of 2007 (CHIPRA) has been the subject of heated debate. The first bill (H.R. 976) was passed by Congress, but vetoed by the President. It was revised and Congress passed H.R. 3963 (the revised CHIPRA bill), only to have it vetoed again in mid-December (Kaiser Commission on Medicaid and the Uninsured, 2007b; Stolberg, 2007). This second veto leaves Congress and Americans wondering what will happen to the S-CHIP program in the future.

S-CHIP Program Overview

Since S-CHIP is administered at the state-level, there is some variation between state programs. However, as a whole, S-CHIP is designed to insure low-income children “who are uninsured and not eligible for Medicaid, typically from families with incomes up to 200 percent of the Federal Poverty Level (FPL)” (Kaiser Commission, 2007a, p. 1). Nationally, there were 6 million low-income children covered by S-CHIP throughout 2005, and 4 million children enrolled at any given point during that year (Kaiser Commission, 2007a). Children are the focus and majority of enrollees in the program, though the original legislation allowed states to use waivers to cover parents, childless adults and pregnant women (Kaiser Commission, 2007a).

Today, the S-CHIP program costs approximately $7 billion annually and consists of both federal and state funds. In 2006, S-CHIP was funded by $5.4 billion of federal funds and $2.4 billion of state funds (The Kaiser Family Foundation, n.d.). The federal guidelines regarding the use of the federal funds are fairly broad. States have the choice to use the federally administered funds to expand the current Medicaid program, create a completely separate S-CHIP program, or use a combination of the two approaches – which is what Idaho and twenty other states use (Kaiser Commission, 2007a).

When the program began, the federal funds alloted for S-CHIP were more than the states needed. However, as the program has expanded, the current level of funding is not enough. There are estimates that “over the next five years $13 to $15 billion over current levels will be required to maintain current SCHIP enrollment levels” (Kaiser Commission, 2007a, p. 2). This amount is needed for current enrollment and does not begin to address the eight to nine million uninsured children, the majority of who qualify for Medicaid or S-CHIP, but are not currently enrolled (“S-CHIP,” 2007; Kaiser Commission, 2007b).

The reauthorization of federal funds for S-CHIP is not simply continued funding at current levels; instead, it will require a dramatic increase in funding. Besides objections to the content of the proposed CHIPRA bills, the level of funding is one of the issues debated by Congress and the president's administration.

H.R. 976

With an expiration date of September 30, 2007, Congress began debating how much funding to reauthorize and where the extra funds would come from. In July, the Senate voted on a bill that would add an additional $35 billion beyond the current $5 billion spent annually, resulting in a total of $60 billion for S-CHIP over the next five years. The House voted to increase the $35 billion to $50 billion over five years, but eventually compromised on the final bill – H.R. 976 – and asked for the additional $35 billion (“S-CHIP,” 2007). To increase the extra funding, Congress debated between increasing the federal tobacco tax or cutting Medicaid payments to insurance companies who cared for the elderly (Pear, 2007a). Eventually, the bill proposed a 61-cent cigarette tax per pack which would result in $35 billion, and would allow an additional 4 million uninsured children to enroll in S-CHIP (“S-CHIP,” 2007). The Democrats wanted to make sure that the federal tobacco tax would pay for the extra $35 billion and not add to an already immense federal deficit from the current administration's spending on the Iraq War (Pear, 2007b).

Bush (along with many Republicans) felt that H.R. 976 had several problems, and threatened to veto H.R. 976 almost immediately (“S-CHIP, 2007). Bush had originally proposed to continue paying $5 billion annually and gradually add an additional $5 billion (total) over the next five years. He stated that a very large expansion of the program would be a step “down the path to government-run health care for every American” (“S-CHIP,” 2007, para. 4). In addition, Bush demanded that “nearly all poor children eligible for the program be found and enrolled before any in slightly higher-income families could be covered” (Loven, 2007, para. 12).

There were other criticisms of the bill because it did not “adequately address the following issues: income eligibility for coverage of children, crowd-out, and the treatment of immigrants, parents and childless adults” (Kaiser Commission, 2007b, p. 1). Bush felt that the issues of inadequately addressed expansion, funding and eligibility justified his presidential veto of H.R. 976 on October 3, 2007 (“S-CHIP,” 2007; Kaiser Commission, 2007b).

H.R. 3963

After Bush's veto in October, Congress rapidly create a revised CHIPRA bill (H.R. 3963). Taking into consideration the criticisms of the bill, H.R. 3963 was similar to H.R. 976 with several significant changes. It still required the additional $35 billion of funding, and sought to cover an additional 4 million children (Pear, 2007a). However, it addressed several of the problem areas. Under H.R. 976, states could set their eligibility levels, though the matching rate was restricted if they went above 300 percent of the federal poverty level (FPL). H.R. 3963 did not allow any state (except New Jersey) to cover children above 300 percent of the FPL (Kaiser Commission, 2007b). Neither bill allowed coverage of legal or illegal immigrants, but H.R. 3963 has a stricter citizenship verification process through the use of the Social Security Administration's records (Kaiser Commission, 2007b). H.R. 976 had proposed a two year period for childless adults to transition off of Medicaid. However, Republicans criticized this period as too long, so H.R. 3963 shortened the transition period from two years to one year (Kaiser Commission, 2007b).

Once H.R. 3963 was revised, the House passed it at the end of October. The Senate passed it one week later on November 1, 2007 (64-30) (Pear, 2007b). The bill was sent to the president, who had until December 12 to sign it into law or veto it. He chose to veto the bill, writing to the House that since “Congress has chosen to send me an essentially identical bill that has the same problems as the flawed bill I previously vetoed, I must veto this legislation, too” (Bohan, 2007, para. 4). Once again, he wrote that the problems with the bill were “it allows adults into the program, would cover people in families with incomes above the U.S. median and raises taxes” (Loven, 2007, para. 4).

Future of S-CHIP

After Bush's second veto, there is concern about the next step for S-CHIP funding. On Wednesday, December 12, the House chose to defer the vote to override the presidential veto until January 23. January 23 was chosen since it “coincides with the week Bush come to Congress for the State of the Union address” (Loven, 2007, para. 8). If the veto stands, some Democrats have discussed a possible extension at current funding levels until September 30, the end of the fiscal year (Bohan, 2007). However, the current funding is not enough to even maintain the 6.6 million children currently enrolled in S-CHIP (Stolberg, 2007).

The Congressional Budget Office reports that S-CHIP needs at least $5.8 billion to keep the current enrollment, meaning it will be $800 million short over the next year (Stolberg, 2007). As a result, 21 states estimate that they will have fully exhausted their federal funding before September 30. In fact, nine states will have exhausted their funds by March 2008, leaving millions of children uninsured (The Kaiser Family Foundation, 2007). This leaves people wondering what is next for S-CHIP. Judith Arnold, the director of the Children's Health Insurance Program in New York, sums up what many are thinking: “I am getting more and more nervous about the future of the program” (Pear, 2007a, para. 9).

Implications for Idaho

Although Idaho is not one of the states who will experience a funding shortfall in 2008, Idaho's children depend heavily on S-CHIP and federal funding. In June 2006, 14,287 Idaho children were enrolled in Idaho's separate S-CHIP program, and enrollment is increasing (The Kaiser Family Foundation, n.d.a). Nationally, the percentage increase in enrollment from 2005 to 2006 was 1.7 percent. Idaho's increased enrollment was twice as high with a 3.6 percent increase from 2005 to 2006 (The Kaiser Family Foundation, n.d.a). As Idaho's population rapidly increases, the need for S-CHIP will probably increase as well.

To provide coverage for the approximately 14,000 Idaho children enrolled in S-CHIP, Idaho depends heavily on federal funds. Compared to the national average of 65%, federal funds made up 79% of Idaho's S-CHIP total funding from FY 2004-2007, and is projected to stay at that level if the federal funding is available (The Kaiser Family Foundation, n.d.b). Idaho may not be directly affected yet by the presidential vetoes of both CHIPRA bills (H.R. 976 and H.R. 3963). However, Idaho's dependency on federal funds and increased need for S-CHIP coverage could mean that it will be negatively affected by a lack of increased funding at some point in the future.


S-CHIP is a program that affects six million children nationally, and 14,287 children locally. A program that affects this many children deserves continued attention. The second veto left Congress wondering what was next for the S-CHIP funding debate, but the House quickly decided that they would not let this second veto stand. In the next month, one would hope that the House could overturn the veto with enough bipartisan support. Since the second bill (H.R. 3963) passed the Senate with a large margin (64-30) and has both Republican and Democratic support, there may be a chance for Congress to overturn the president's veto (Pear, 2007b). At a minimum, our Congress needs to come up with an alternative for 2008 that keeps the program funded enough to keep the currently enrolled children insured. Ideally, they would extend funding for more. Regardless of what happens, Americans needs to understand S-CHIP, its impact, and demand that our Congress reach a decision to support this program.


Bohan, C. (2007, December 12). Bush vetoes children's health bill a second time. The Washington Post. Retrieved December 12, 2007, from

Kaiser Commission on Medicaid and the Uninsured. (2007a, January). State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) at a glance. Retrieved December 12, 2007, from

Kaiser Commission on Medicaid and the Uninsured. (2007b, November). Children's Health Insurance Program Reauthorization act of 2007 (CHIPRA): The revised CHIPRA bill (H.R. 3963) compared to the original bill (H.R. 976). Retrieved December 12, 2007, from

Loven, J. (2007, December 13). Bush vetoes kids health insurance bill. The Washington Post. Retrieved December 13, 2007, from

Pear, R. (2007a, July 9). A battle over expansion of children's insurance. The New York Times. Retrieved December 12, 2007, from

Pear, R. (2007b, November 2). Expecting presidential veto, Senate passes child health measure. The New York Times. Retrieved December 12, 2007, from

Stolberg, S. G. (2007, December 13). President vetoes second measure to expand children's health program. The New York Times. Retrieved December 14, 2007, from

State Children's Health Insurance Program (S-CHIP). (2007, September 26). The New York Times. Retrieved December 11, 2007, from

The Kaiser Family Foundation (2007, November 9). FY 2008 SCHIP allotments under current law and projected federal SCHIP financing if current allotments are made available through the end of FY 2008 (dollars in millions). Retrieved December 14, 2007, from

The Kaiser Family Foundation (n.d.a) Idaho: Federal Matching Rate (FMAP) for SCHIP. Retrieved December 15, 2007, from


The Kaiser Family Foundation. (n.d.b) Idaho: Total SCHIP expenditures, FY2006. Retrieved December 14, 2007, from


Saturday, December 29, 2007

The Diagonal Holder

The Diagonal Holder

I've decided to give up on fiberglass, and have National Metal Fabricators make the two tube sections I need. Just to be sure that the mirror cell tube can handle it, I'm having them make it out of .125" aluminum sheet, and the focuser/diagonal section out of .080" aluminum sheet. The focuser and diagonal components only weigh about eight pounds, so most of the increased weight on the mirror cell section is gained by going thinner at the other end. (Unfortunately, most of the weight that causes deflection problems is at the mirror cell end--if only there was a way to go lighter on that section.)

Here you can see the diagonal holder, almost complete. I haven't attached the spider legs yet, which will be .050" carbon steel, or the three clips that will hold the diagonal mirror to the 45 degree face. Why carbon steel for the legs? Because the thinner the legs, the less they interfere with the optical path. If thickness didn't matter, I would use aluminum instead of steel; aluminum is slightly stiffer for the same weight. But when it has to be really thin--.050" steel will be stiffer than .100" aluminum.

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

The main body is constructed of a 3" diameter piece of Delrin, hollowed out to reduce weight. I used Delrin also because it is, relative to aluminum, very light, and yet still adequately strong and stiff for this application.

To make sure that I can reach in and easily turn the collimation wing nuts, the cylinder to which the legs will attach has to be small, so I used aluminum, because it is very stiff for its weight (unlike Delrin). There's a 0.25" hole bored through the center of that piece of aluminum, and a 1/4"-20 hex head bolt allows me to move the entire diagonal assembly up and down.

There are two 8-32 x 0.5" socket head screws in the side of that piece of aluminum to let me lock the screw in position. I had thought of using thumb screws for that, but once I get the diagonal positioned relative to the main mirror, I can't imagine having to move it again.

The hex head bolts that go into the 45 degree cutoff section are going into threaded holes. There are also nuts on the top of the 45 degree cutoff section to prevent any motion of those hex head bolts.

The plate that the hex head bolts go through (with wing nuts on the top) is also Delrin. This is attached to the aluminum cylinder with the 1/4"-20 bolt which is screwed into a threaded hold in the Delrin plate. There is a nut and a lock washer on the bottom of the plate to prevent motion, and a nut on the top of the plate to prevent rotation there as well. (Maybe I am being overly cautious, but the prospect of the diagonal assembly dropping down on to the main mirror makes me nervous.)

Would I have ever attempting anything this ambitious without a lathe and a drill press? No way!

Abandoning Fiberglass

Abandoning Fiberglass

This stuff is just too inconsistent on results. That first small tube worked beautifully; nothing that I have tried since as come out anywhere near as well. One try gave me a hard resin, but very little stiffness. This morning's try, even after 25 minutes of baking in the oven, is still tacky. I suspect that perhaps the hardener I bought at Home Depot yesterday might be old (although I can smell both the peroxide and the ketones very readily).

The advantage of fiberglass over having an aluminum tube rolled is cost. The materials cost to make these tubes of fiberglass is about $40 each, as opposed to $100 each to have them fabricated of aluminum and shipped to me. The problem is that if you have to make four or five attempts to get an adequate fiberglass tube, it turns out to be cheaper to have them made of aluminum. At this rate, I don't have any confidence that even four or five attempts will be successful.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Second Try With Fiberglass Worked Better

Second Try With Fiberglass Worked Better

I mentioned the lessons
that I learned from the first attempt at making a big tube. While I did a better job of laying up the fiberglass cloth, there were still some wrinkles in the plastic, and the resulting tube wasn't as round as I had hoped. (But it does fit over the mirror cell!)

The bad news is that even with five complete turns, the tube just isn't stiff enough. It's too big to bake in the oven, so I used a blow dryer--which made an obvious difference--then I put in the spare bathroom with a heater set to bring the room up to 85 degrees for several hours. Now it is back out in the garage, with an electric heater warming the room. Perhaps I need more turns of fiberglass? Even though I haven't trimmed it to the correct dimensions, it only weighs a bit more than two pounds. Perhaps five more turns? It would still only weigh four pounds.

The good news is that the form came out very easily, without damage.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Fun With Fiberglass On A Bigger Scale

Fun With Fiberglass On A Bigger Scale

I mentioned the success of making a small fiberglass tube
. I decided to go bigger today--and I seem to have learned what not to do.

1. I needed to enlarge the external diameter of the Sonotube that I am using as a mold. It is very slightly larger than 20.25" O.D., and I need something closer to 20.375" O.D. So I started wrapping masking tape around it. It took ten turns. Then I ran out of masking tape--so I switched to traditional duct tape--that only took three turns. Then I switched to a new style of duct tape that is thinner--it took about ten turns.

2. Okay, I wanted to make sure that the mold wouldn't get stuck in there, and that I would be able to get it out again (since I had to destroy the mold that I used for the small fiberglass tube). So I ran it through the table saw, to allow me to bend one side of the circle. To make sure that it held a circle, I then duct taped the cut.

3. Then I grabbed a piece of 3 mil plastic sheeting, which came folded in half, and I thought, "Great! I'll just put this double fold over, and tape it in place!"

4. Then I tried to apply the 8" wide strips of fiberglass to the resin on the plastic sheeting.

What didn't work:

1. The cut in the mold just made it too flexible.

2. The 3 mil plastic sheeting needs to be a single layer, wrapped ten times around. That lets me skip the laborious application of masking tape.

3. I neglected to tape one end of the plastic sheeting to the Sonotube--and with the double layer irregularities, I ended up with a plastic sheet that kept moving around as I tried to apply the fiberglass cloth.

4. The longest piece of the fiberglass cloth was 51" long. The circumference is 64". Adding the next piece where the previous piece ended worked, but it isn't very elegant, compared to working with a single piece of cloth (hard to stretch to a tight fit).

5. It still hasn't finished hardening--and it is too big to go in the oven. It is hardening over night in the garage, with electric heaters warming up the air in there.

6. I ended up applying only three 51" lengths, making for a bit more than two complete turns of fiberglass on the mold. Last night I was concerned that it was going to be too heavy if I made four complete turns, because I was mistaken in thinking that the weight would increase with the square of the increase in diameter. I was tired, and not analyzing the problem correctly. The weight increases directly with the increase in diameter, and with the increase in length. Four turns would give me a 1-2 pound tube. It is apparent that two turns, even once it is completely hard, isn't going to be all that stiff, and four turns is so light that I can afford to go to six turns or eight if need be.

What I have learned:

1. Don't cut the mold to make it easier to remove. If I use 10 turns of the 3 mil plastic, there should be no problem removing the mold from the tube.

2. Use a single sheet of plastic wrapped repeatedly so that you can get a reasonably tight fit to the mold.

3. Tape the starting end of the plastic securely to the mold--perhaps with packing tape.

4. Once you have the fiberglass cloth cut into strips of the correct length, sew them together so that you have one continuous length that you can wind in one continuous action. There's a gross enough weave in the cloth that it should be possible to hand sew the ends together with just a little overlap--maybe go in and out every third hole. This should be strong enough to tolerate the tugging to get a tight fit.

5. Plan on making it long enough to do at least four complete turns on the mold. That's part of why the small fiberglass tube I made worked out so well.

Fortunately, I still have a second, unused Sonotube that I can use. Since these 12 inch sections cost all of about $6.50, if this one gets destroyed removing it, it isn't that big of a deal to go buy another.

UPDATE: Sewing fiberglass cloth is right up there with nailing Jell-O to the wall. I guess I will just have to apply in 51" lengths, using the resin to hold it in place. Unfortunately, I have run short of the hardener that came with this 5 gallon container of resin. This must be a pretty common problem, because I notice that Home Depot sells the hardener both with the resin, and separately as well.

UPDATE 2: Here's a picture of this first attempt with the split tube mold:

Click to enlarge

Her Majesty's Spymaster

Stephen Budiansky's Her Majesty's Spymaster

I just finished reading Stephen Budiansky's Her Majesty's Spymaster: Elizabeth I, Sir Francis Walsingham, and the Birth of Modern Espionage. This is a biography of Francis Walsingham's official functions as a government functionary under Elizabeth I, first as an ambassador to France during the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre, and then as Principal Secretary--which developed into head of the emerging English intelligence service. I suspect that Budiansky's focus on Walsingham's official duties is partly because they are so interesting, and partly because we have so little information about the personal lives of even fairly prominent officials of the time.

I reviewed Elizabeth: The Golden Age a while back, and of course, my wife have recently been given an HBO Films released British miniseries, Elizabeth I, starting Helen Mirren (as Elizabeth I) and Jeremy Irons (as the Earl of Leicester). Unfortunately, both of them are really too old to play these persons when the film starts in 1579. I'm sorry, I should be more forgiving, but Helen Mirren is clearly far too old to be the 45 year old queen.

Unlike Elizabeth: The Golden Age, Elizabeth I is not shy about portraying the savagery of the age. From what I have read, Walsingham was prepared to use torture to obtain information necessary to uncover plots against Elizabeth. He found it distasteful--but he was prepared to do bad things to bad people to protect his nation from civil war, the imposition of a foreign religion with a pretty bloody recent history, and fanatics prepared to get themselves killed in the process. (Any parallels to current events are, of course, completely obvious.)

The movie does manage to convey Walsingham's discomfort with the use of torture in a relatively subtle and careful way. There is nothing so gross or ahistorical as a speech against torture, but the actor playing Walsingham manages to convey quite a bit with a few words and an expression during the torture scene.

The depiction of the drawing and quartering of the people involved in the Babington Plot is far more graphic than most people will want to see. The camera doesn't linger, but you see men's intestines being slowing pulled out of them while they groan in pain. The depiction of the execution of Mary, Queen of Scots--including the need for multiple ax strokes--is also far more graphic than it needed to be--except, perhaps, to remind you of the savagery of the punishments meted out in those days. And England wasn't particularly severe in this regard.

Elizabeth: The Golden Age is practically hagiography compared to Elizabeth I, which shows Elizabeth's well-known temper, and her willingness, when pressed, to use extraordinary savagery to keep Catholic extremists in check. (I have read that one of those executed in the Babington Plot was kept alive and conscious for three hours while the executioner worked his way around his internal organs, squeezing them.)

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Fun With Fiberglass

Fun With Fiberglass

Okay, I'm trying again, this time to make a fully fiberglass tube--not fiberglassing a piece of Sonotube. But since the last experience was so unpleasant, I am starting small (using this set of instructions).

I started out with a paper towel roll cardboard tube, wrapped it in Saran wrap, which is taped to itself. (The theory is that you should be able to pull the cardboard tube out of the plastic on which the fiberglass has set.) The cardboard tube will be used strictly as a mandrel around which to wrap the fiberglass--and only the middle of the tube gets used for this, providing a non-sticky, non-messy section to grab and turn.

Then I coated the outside of the tube with resin, and did a four times wrap of fiberglass cloth, applying resin liberally as I turned it. While the cardboard tube wasn't perfectly round (my wife fished it out of the trash compactor), the surface of the fiberglass came out surprisingly smooth and glassy--and will probably look even better after it hardens and I sand it.

Click to enlarge

Even with the difference in scale factored in, this was much easier than trying to fiberglass a piece of Sonotube--so much easier that I am now prepared to seriously consider using Sonotube as the mandrel around which to form the tubes that I need.

Now it just needs to harden. It's unfortunate that I can't put it in the oven--I understand that most of these resins cure remarkably quickly at 185 degrees--but the wife can't stand the smell, and putting this sample in the oven just isn't going to make her happy! A rotisserie--that would be perfect--rotating and heating at the same time.

UPDATE: After a few hours sitting next to a forced air electric heater in the garage (and after my wife figured out a way to set up reflectors to force more of the heat back onto the tube), it was sufficiently non-pungent that my wife relented, and let me bring it inside, and cure it in the oven at 170 degrees for ten minutes. And wow, it went from pretty hard where the heated air had been hitting it to absolutely solid over the entire length.

Removing the cardboard tube wasn't quite as neat as the pictures linked to above suggest. I had to crush the cardboard tube, but once I did, it popped right out. The Saran wrap mostly came out, but some ended up on the inside. I couldn't very easily get inside to sand it out. I was able to smooth it on the outside with a belt sander.

Click to enlarge

As I mentioned, the cardboard tube wasn't all that round, having been through the trash compactor, so don't let the shape make you think this was a failure. It wasn't! The tube averages about about .090" thick, is a bit over six inches long, 1.75" ID, and weighs just slightly more than one ounce. It is incredibly stiff, and strong enough that I don't think it would break unless I intentionally crushed it between both hands.

I'm not sure how this is going to scale up on weight. The weight will increase directly as the length increases. I think (in my exhausted, ready to go to bed state) that the weight will increase with the square of the increase in diameter, which would mean the 8" long section I need would weigh 11 pounds--which is way too heavy. However, this was four turns, and I've read that three turns of fiberglass cloth is as much as you need to make a telescope tube. It is certainly clear to me that this little tube here is far stiffer and stronger than I needed. Two turns would be about a 5 1/2 pound tube section. I could live with that.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007


Telescope Tubes

I am still struggling with the tube issue. It does seem as though I do need tubes both to position all the parts, but also to help provide some positioning for the square tubes. The difficulty is getting sufficiently round tubes.

I experimented with rolling .065" 5052 aluminum sheet--and developed an increased appreciation for the difficulties in rolling .090" aluminum sheet into a reasonably round tube. It strikes me that it might be possible to start with a thinner sheet--say, .025" aluminum sheet--and roll more layers, something like doing a spiralbound cardboard tube. Four turns would produce a .100" wall tube, which I could then bolt the layers together, at least long enough to get it to a welder to weld the ends and the edge. I'm told that model airplane builders sometimes use epoxy and aluminum to get a result somewhat similar to making fiberglass tubes--and perhaps epoxy between each roll would give the same result. The big problem is that I can't seem to find a local supplier of .025" aluminum sheet that can provide longer than a 48" strip. Four turns on a 20.4" diameter means slightly more than 256 inches.

Trying to get someone local to roll an aluminum tube hasn't been so successful. They either want a pretty frightful amount, or they aren't able to weld the resulting rolled sheet into a tube.

Perhaps I gave up on making a fiberglass tube too quickly. I did so because I thought that I had a supplier of aluminum tubing the right size. Instead of struggling to get fiberglass cloth to wrap around the end of Sonotube, I should plan on using the Sonotube as a mandrel around which to form a pure fiberglass tube.

The technique for this involves applying a layer of polypropylene as a release layer, then painting epoxy on the polypropylene, then applying the fiberglass cloth, then another layer of epoxy, repeating until you have something that is stiff enough for you to be happy with the result. Since the 20" ID Sonotube is about 1/4" wall, I would end up with a 20.5" ID fiberglass tube. The web pages showing how to do this make it sound relatively easy to do--maybe I just need to make another try. Certainly, the materials cost isn't bad, and I still have a good bit of the resin from the last attempt.

I Hope You Are With Your Family Today

I was writing my monthly Shotgun News article and I ran into this very tragic quote from an article about the Omaha shooter. I don't pretend that his problems were only caused by his parents' divorce, but the rest of the article implies that many of this kid's problems were at least correlated with it--and it makes you wonder if this particular kid would have spun so far out of control if Mom and Dad had managed to patch up their differences, and stayed together. From the December 9, 2007 Omaha World-Herald:
Another former Cooper Village employee who counseled Robert remembers him as a shy guy who kept largely to himself.

Robert was sad that his parents weren't more involved with him, said the former staffer, who didn't want his name used because he still works with troubled youths.

"That's the thing that stood out," he said. "He always wanted to be with his parents."

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Lakota Secession? Or Not?

This article from the December 21, 2007 Rapid City [South Dakota] Journal at first sounds quite momentous--like the Lakota Nation has taken an official action:
Political activist Russell Means, a founder of the American Indian Movement, says he and other members of Lakota tribes have renounced treaties and are withdrawing from the United States.

"We are now a free country and independent of the United States of America," Means said in a telephone interview. "This is all completely legal."

Means said a Lakota delegation on Monday delivered a statement of "unilateral withdrawal" from the United States to the U.S. State Department in Washington.

The State Department did not respond. "That'll take some time," Means said.

Meanwhile, the delegation has delivered copies of the letter to the embassies of Bolivia, Venezuela, Chile and South Africa. "We're asking for recognition," Means said, adding that Ireland and East Timor are "very interested" in the declaration.

Other countries will get copies of the same declaration, which Means said also would be delivered to the United Nations and to state and county governments covered by treaties, including treaties signed in 1851 and 1868. "We're willing to negotiate with any American political entity," Means said.

The United States could face international pressure if it doesn't agree to negotiate, Means said. "The United State of America is an outlaw nation, we now know. We've understood that as a people for 155 years."
The more I read the article, however, the more apparent it became that Means' declaration, and this delivery of notification by a "Lakota delegation," is really a publicity stunt by a small number of Indian activists who have no official status with the Lakota Nation.

There's a lot of really ugly history involving the federal government, state governments, and a number of Indian tribes. It isn't quite as consistently ugly as some leftists would like to believe, but there's plenty of history that shouldn't make you proud to be an American. Still, Indian tribes have been doing better in getting restoration of their rights through the federal courts than they ever did as independent nations.

The Shirt Ad: Too Suggestive of a Picture?

One of my readers is concerned that as much as he would like his teenaged son to be reading my blog, that picture of the very pretty lady in the shirt ad is approaching too suggestive. My first reaction was, "Hmmmm. She's very pretty, and I'm not sure that I would accept an ad that went much beyond this, but is this really that provocative of a picture?" Admittedly, I'm not a hormone-crazed teenaged male anymore (although I remember those times with considerable displeasure), but is this picture really problematic? I mean, compared to broadcast television? She's cute, she's healthy, her shoulders are bare, but I didn't think that this was a problematic picture.

So I asked my wife--and she thought the picture was a bit too provocative as well.

Should I suggest to the advertiser that he use a different picture the next time this ad comes up for renewal? I know that ad must work, because the advertiser keeps renewing it. I hate to turn away a repeat advertiser, especially because I don't find the picture all that provocative (especially compared to say, living in California).

On the other hand, I don't want to turn away potential readers. This blog isn't primarily about making money. (If it were, I would be very disappointed.) On the other hand, the advertising revenue does roughly pay for the cost of my Internet service.

So tell me: is this young lady just too exciting for a staid, boring, and Christian blog like mine?

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Suzuki Aerio SX AWD

Suzuki Aerio SX AWD

I drove a 2006 Suzuki Aerio SX all-wheel drive sedan yesterday. I was very impressed--even more so because the dealer was asking for $11,495 for one with only 9300 miles on it. It was nicely equipped, had adequate pep for an automatic--and it would be tempting solution to my snow problem. (Some people put bags of traction sand in the trunk of rear drive cars to solve the snow problem; right now, I have "traction ammunition" instead: a case of 7.62 mm NATO and several ammo boxes filled with pistol ammo. How Idaho!)

When I looked at various consumer reviews of the Suzuki Aerio, I noticed a lot of reviews that said what a great car it was--but a disturbing new of complaints about it being nothing but trouble. One of my daughter's friends bought a new Suzuki Aerio last year--and it spent two months of the first year in the shop. It was all covered by warranty--but the combination of the various consumer criticisms (including my favorite: someone who complained about a bumper that fell off in a bad rainstorm, although I can't find that complaint online right now) and this close to home problem makes me wonder if the reason this particular Aerio is two years old--and still only has 9300 miles on it--is that it was in the shop too much to rack up any miles.

Almost everyone agrees that Subarus are nearly indestructible--and it shows in the resale price. But perhaps I will just wait until summer, and plan to carpool with my wife when I have to go down the hill into Boise.

Sinus Washes

Instapundit points to an article about sinus washes as a treatment for sinus problems. I've been using NeilMed's product for several years, and I do think that they help. But I would say that the Breathe Right strips that I have discussed here have been more useful. Of course, it's not a choice; you can use both.

One downside to sinus washes--you really need to clean the sink carefully afterwards to maintain domestic peace. There's no question that the saline wash removes stuff from your sinuses--the evidence is unmistakable.

Wow! $1/Watt Solar Panels!

One of the limiting factors on photovoltaics has been the cost. Most solar panels cost about $4 per watt (or more) for just the panel. Nanosolar claims to have shipped their first solar panels using a new process "which we believe will make us the first solar manufacturer capable of profitably selling solar panels at as little as $.99/Watt...." If so, they have crossed the line. Where I live, partly because hydropower makes electricity so cheap, solar panels have to cost $2/watt to be equal to what I can get from Idaho Power.

If Nanosolar can actually sell photovoltaics at $1/watt--and assuming that they have a lifetime equivalent to other photovoltaics of 25-30 years--then solar will rapidly replace most other energy sources in the United States. It would even make nuclear power questionable, I suspect. Not only are we talking about something that will render coal, oil, and even hydropower obsolete, but it also means that pure electric cars start to look viable.

Chevrolet's Volt concept car, for example, is a hybrid--but a rather interesting twist on the hybrid. The theory is this: "Seventy-eight percent of commuters drive 40 miles or less to and from work." The Volt is intended to carry enough of a charge that most people can plug it in at home every night, and never have the gasoline engine run. Also, unlike other hybrids, where the gasoline engine both recharges the batteries and directly drives the wheels, the Chevy Volt's engine only recharges the batteries:
Substituting an electric generator for plug-in hybrids' internal-combustion engine simplifies the engineering process because it doesn't require managing multiple power sources, according to Posawatz, and it cuts costs by eliminating a mechanical transmission.

While a hybrid drive train is more energy efficient than the Volt's, the new car will get about 50 mpg when the generator is on.
Because electricity is currently so cheap, in commute mode, the cost is about 1/5th that of gasoline. Obviously, at $1/watt for photovoltaics, this might be even cheaper. And because the plan is to have it recharge in about six hours from a 110 VAC outlet, it is a bit more mass market than the Tesla Motors vehicle, which takes either 33 hours to recharge--or a special, 220 volt, 70 amp circuit to recharge in 3.5 hours.

Suppressing Freedom of Speech

I mentioned a few days ago the Canadian courts upholding an Alberta Human Rights Commission decision that effectively bans criticism of homosexuality. Here's yet another story, again, from a Christian website, but other than the target of the complaint itself, there seems to be no news coverage of this.

TORONTO, December 20, 2007 ( - In a press release today Catholic Insight magazine responded to the charges in a human rights complaint against it by Edmonton resident Rob Wells. The magazine’s editor, Father Alphonse de Valk, dismisses the complaint as unfounded and says he intends to contest it vigorously. Fr. de Valk says the magazine considers all of the actions against it to be "trumped up and made with the intent to harass".

The Canadian Human Rights Commission has advised Catholic Insight magazine that Edmonton resident Rob Wells has filed a nine-point complaint against it on the grounds of offence to homosexuals. The Catholic Insight editor notes his publication "adheres to the teachings of the Catholic Church on homosexuality, which are clear that persons with same-sex attraction must be accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity and every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided."

At the same time, he adds that "in a democratic country respecting freedom of the press and religion, a magazine such as Catholic Insight has the right and responsibility to report on, analyze and comment on the activities of any segment of society that is involved in lobbying and activism on issues of public policy, such as changing the legal definition of marriage, adoption rights, the reallocation of social benefits and other vital questions."

Father de Valk observes the text of Mr. Wells’s complaint consists of three pages of "isolated and fragmentary extracts from articles dating back as far as 1994, without any context. This creates a misleading impression of the tone of the magazine’s overall coverage of the homosexual issue." Mr. Wells, he notes, has an additional human rights action in progress against leader Ron Gray and his Christian Heritage Party and in 2006, launched an action against three Canadian websites. Both complaints have been over the issue of homosexuality.
Can you imagine if homosexual advocacy groups had been subject to this kind of harassment in the 1960s for simply advocating their position that people should be free to have sex with members of the same sex? I don't know what it costs to defend yourself from the Human Rights Commission, but I can't imagine that's it $9.99. There comes a certain point where the cost of defending yourself has a severely chilling effect on freedom of speech.

Freedom of speech, homosexuality widely accepted: pick one.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

I Do NOT Want To Give Up My Corvette

But it isn't looking good. My rationale for maybe buying a beater 4WD was, "They keep state highway 55 pretty well cleared--I only need to get back and forth to the Old Highway." But last night, I was following a snowplow, and this weird slushy snow was falling at the summit--and I could only go about 5 mph. If I turned off traction control, I could get a little more speed, but it was mostly going sideways, which is not particularly useful. I had to park on the shoulder--it wasn't going anywhere.

I drove a Subaru Impreza today--the stripper model sedan. I was really impressed--very, very nimble handling, and I could definitely feel the benefits of all wheel drive as I was cornering. It is obviously not going to have the cornering capabilities of the Corvette, but it was surprisingly fun to drive because of the crispness of the steering.

I would prefer a station wagon, but the salesman told me that there was no Impreza wagon--you had to move up to the pricier models to get a station wagon. I am going to assume that because he was new there, that he didn't know that there is an Impreza wagon. I can see that the dealer actually has one in inventory, so it couldn't be, "We don't have it so it doesn't exist."

I also drove a 2002 Subaru Outback with 36,000 miles--which they were asking only a few hundred dollars less for it than the new 2008 Impreza. Yes, it was more spacious, but it didn't feel as nimble--and for a used car out of warranty, that's pretty silly.

I suppose that I should drive the Suzuki SX4 Crossover, and maybe the Suzuki Aerio AWD as well. I really, really don't want to give up the Corvette, but it is increasingly apparent that I need something for December through mid-March. The ideal would be if there was someone with a new 4WD who lived in Boise, and was willing to swap it for the Corvette during the winter. But even Boise in winter isn't exactly optimum Corvette driving conditions.

Homelessness, Mental Illness, & Medical Costs

Interesting article in the December 18, 2007 San Francisco Chronicle about the high costs that homeless mentally ill persons impose on San Francisco:
Niels Tangherlini is willing to state the hard truths about San Francisco's street population. And he's doing it, even if it causes howls of protests from advocates for homeless people or from some city political leaders.

For example, Tangherlini strongly believes some severely mentally ill street people need "long-term, regular care. And if they don't want to accept that, we may have to impinge on their civil rights."

He also believes that, in some cases, just giving someone a room isn't the answer either.

"We hear that all the time," Tangherlini says. " 'All they need is housing.' I don't want to get into a war with the advocates, but I strongly disagree. We get some of these guys into supportive housing and they can't handle it."

And most of all, Tangherlini thinks that the current system of support, where a 911 call sends an ambulance rushing out to treat someone who is likely to be a "chronic inebriant," is an ongoing disaster. Some of those who call clearly need medical care, but many are using the ambulance and the Fire Department as a personal taxi to the emergency room. He says it is stressing the system, the care providers and the city's financial well-being.


A Chronicle story in 2005 praised Tangherlini's efforts and noted that between March 2004 and August 2005, a relatively small group of people - just 362 individuals - accounted for 3,869 ambulance trips to the hospital. The story estimated that at roughly $3,000 per pickup and visit to the ER, the cost to the city could be over $11 million.


On a visit to the emergency room at San Francisco General Hospital last week, staff nurse Judith Chavez walked up, unsolicited, to praise Tangherlini and the work he is doing.

But she then gestured around the crowded ER, where rolling beds with dozing patients lined the halls. Despite the efforts, "chronic inebriants" are still a huge problem.

"I see the abuse" of the emergency medical services, said Chavez, who estimated that on some nights, 70 percent of the beds are filled with chronic drinkers who are repeat visitors. "We don't have that much room here. We need to take care of the sick and wounded."

Spending a day with Tangherlini gives a sense of the scale of the problem. For example, during a nonstop day of calls, he visited a Sixth Street hotel where an extremely intoxicated occupant had already been placed in an ambulance. Tangherlini was familiar with the man, who lay on a stretcher in the back of the unit, awake but unresponsive.

"You know that you are at risk of losing this housing," Tangherlini said, looking into the man's eyes. "Does that worry you?"

There was no reaction.

"He's been telling me it is February of 1967," the ambulance technician said.

"What's his room look like?" Tangherlini asked.

"Like a glass recycler's dream," the tech said. "The floor is covered with Cisco's (a cheap fortified wine), 40s (cheap 40-ounce beer bottles), Royal Gate (vodka that sells for $1.75 a pint.)"

"And he did all this in four days," Tangherlini said.

The man is a "frequent flier," the term used by public health officials all over the country for someone who routinely uses ambulance and ER services. Tangherlini says the man took 21 ambulance rides in the previous month and was just released from the hospital two days earlier.

"We've given him supportive housing," he says. "We've given him a caseworker. He's gotten both barrels of community-based care. It isn't working. This is the population that will break your emergency system. There is no more inefficient way to detox someone than to do it in the hospital."
Here's some painful truths from those on the front line. Mental illness and substance abuse are strongly correlated, because people with serious mental illness often intoxicate as a form of self-medication. It is often only a short-term solution, and many of the common intoxicants lead to other serious problems, as this article points out.

The inability to admit that mental illness is a major part of what causes homelessness in San Francisco (and a lot of other big cities around the country) means that the leftist screeching about "housing" ends up obscuring that for many of the homeless, having housing only solves one small part of the problem--and then, only as long as they can manage a place of their own.

The pleasant little theory about deinstitutionalization was that the severely mentally ill would end up back in their communities, receiving community-based psychiatric treatment. It didn't happen, because many of the mentally ill are not sufficiently well--or at least, not consistently so--to hunt up all the social services that they need to keep from freezing to death, or dying of pneumonia, or getting murdered by either other mentally ill homeless people, or common thugs looking for a thrill. As much as the mental hospitals of the 1950s were denigrated as horrible institutions, they at least simplified the providing of basic services to many of the most seriously disturbed parts of our society. What we are doing today in places like San Francisco is not only cost inefficient, it is profoundly inhumane.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

The Alternative to Solar Panels For Backwoodsmen

This is one of those news stories that I don't know whether to laugh or cry:
Toshiba has developed a new class of micro size Nuclear Reactors that is designed to power individual apartment buildings or city blocks. The new reactor, which is only 20 feet by 6 feet, could change everything for small remote communities, small businesses or even a group of neighbors who are fed up with the power companies and want more control over their energy needs.

The 200 kilowatt Toshiba designed reactor is engineered to be fail-safe and totally automatic and will not overheat. Unlike traditional nuclear reactors the new micro reactor uses no control rods to initiate the reaction. The new revolutionary technology uses reservoirs of liquid lithium-6, an isotope that is effective at absorbing neutrons.
I'm a supporter of nuclear power. It isn't as dangerous as the lunatic fringe of the environmental movement would like you to believe. But I do cringe a little bit at nuclear power reactors aimed at a market that hasn't quite mastered the art of setting their VCRs to record programs at a particular time.

Homelessness in Boise

Idaho Values Alliance isn't happy about a Boise City Council decision:
The city of Boise last night set aside $2 million in surplus funds (read “overtaxation”) to implement a 10 year plan to deal with homelessness. On the grounds that you always get more of what you subsidize, expect Boise’s homeless problem to be worse, not better, a decade from now.
The December 19, 2007 Idaho Statesman reports:
The Boise City Council spent $2 million Tuesday to ease homelessness in the city.

During a citywide summit on homelessness a year ago, city officials embraced a new direction for solving chronic homelessness called "housing first," which emphasizes finding permanent housing for those in need and bringing in intensive social services.

Last month, the Boise City Council adopted a "10-Year Plan to Reduce and Prevent Chronic Homelessness," born of that summit and philosophy.

Earlier this year, the city sold the former Community House shelter to Boise Rescue Mission Ministries for about $2 million. City officials set aside the money from that sale with the intent to use it for homeless issues. The council made it official Tuesday by including $2 million to fight homelessness when it voted to approve spending nearly $12 million in end-of-year surplus dollars.

Boise Mayor Dave Bieter told the council $2 million would be used to establish a trust fund that would be parceled out, likely $100,000 each year, to fulfill elements of the 10-year plan.
Now, I can agree that if the money isn't spent sensibly to deal with the root causes of homelessness, there is a real risk that increased funding to help the homeless might increase the number of homeless in Boise. But there's nothing improper or immoral about trying to alleviate suffering. It may be ineffective, if the city spends that money on measures that only alleviate the suffering of the homeless one night at a time. But at least this news account doesn't indicate that is the plan.

It may well be that the social programs that they intend won't solve the problem. A significant fraction (although not a majority) of the homeless in Idaho are in that state because of mental illness. There's not much that Boise can do to solve that problem. It will require the state to take steps to correct our current system of institutionalization.

A large fraction of the homeless in Boise, from what I can find out from talking to people who have worked at the Boise Rescue Mission, are there because of alcohol and drug abuse problems. There are people whose drinking, meth, marijuana, and other drug problems take precedence over having a place to live. These are tragedies, but I am unclear what social programs are going to fix this.

There are children who are homeless because Dad disappeared, or is in prison, and Mom has no job skills, or has a substance abuse problem of her own. There is some hope that some of the social programs that Boise wants to spend that money on will be helpful. Of course, teaching young people to make moral and responsible decisions about sex, children, and marriage would help as well, but obviously, Boise isn't going to be doing anything like that. (The ACLU would doubtless file suit to prohibit anything that even slightly smacks of religion or self-restraint with respect to sex.)

We can argue about whether particular policies are pragmatically effective, and at what point governmental assistance crosses the line from "necessary for their support" to "you don't really need this." But in a place like Boise, where it drops below freezing part of the year--and darn cold for several more months--no one should be required to sleep in a refrigerator box, under a bridge, or in a car.

We can argue about whether government is the most effective mechanism for providing assistance. In small towns, such as Horseshoe Bend, it appears that voluntarism is alive and well, and working well. In big cities, it is often a different situation, and as much as I would prefer the government not be in the charity business, it may be necessary. Why? Because there are a lot of people who take advantage of the diffuse nature of private charities, moving from one to another to get what they can, rather than confront substance abuse and laziness problems.

Let me close with one very important point: America was originally thought of as a Christian commonwealth. As I pointed out a while back, Blackstone's Commentaries on the Laws of England recognized that while the law did not require equality, there was an obligation of the community to provide at least the necessities of life (which would include medical care):
THE law not only regards life and member, and protects every man in the enjoyment of them, but also furnishes him with every thing necessary for their support. For there is no man so indigent or wretched, but he may demand a supply sufficient for all the necessities of life, from the more opulent part of the community, by means of the several statutes enacted for the relief of the poor, of which in their proper places.
There are certain moral obligations of a Christian commonwealth, and Blackstone captured it well.

Liberals will doubtless be cheering about this--while ignoring the rest of the moral obligations that go with it. There are a great many social problems that we are facing today that are the results of liberals refusing to promote or encourage morality.

1. It is not okay to be encouraging the sexualization of children. A 12 year old--or even most 16 year olds--is not capable of making particularly rational decisions about whether to have sex.

2. It is not okay to be encouraging the bearing of children out of wedlock. Marriage isn't a perfect solution to the problems of impoverished single mothers and their children, but it is an improvement over the "Baby Daddy" problem of males (I hesitate to call them "men") who impregnate teenagers and then disappear.

3. It is not okay to tell young people that there is nothing right or wrong--that everything is culturally relative. There are so many pressures encouraging misbehavior even among those who know that they are doing wrong. Telling young people that right and wrong are utterly meaningless terms removes one more restraint on misbehavior that is socially and personally destructive.

Does This Mean Edwards is Pro-Life?

I mean, if this sleazy story is true, of course. The National Enquirer is among the few newspapers below the New York Times when it comes to credibility with me, and as this article points out, the National Enquirer is owned by a major Clinton backer...but that's probably just a coincidence, of course!

Anyway, if Edwards eventually comes clean and admits that he impregnated one of his campaign staffers while courageous Mrs. Edwards has been recovering from cancer, I am sure that his staff will spin this as, "See, John Edwards may believe in a woman's right to choose, but he is personally opposed to abortion!" Or perhaps he is waiting to put the hammer down so that he can demonstrate his commitment to a woman's right to choose, right up to birth!

I realize that expecting moral perfection (or even moral adequacy) from elected officials is unrealistic, but it is reasonable to expect enough judgment and good sense to do the following:

1. Stay faithful to your wife at least until after the campaign.

2. Learn the use of condoms.

3. Do not have sex with interns in the Oval Office.

4. Keep your feet and hands entirely within the bathroom stall.

A New Method For Deciding Tenure?

There are a lot of arguments against tenure for professors; I won't go into them here. But this article in the December 19, 2007 Inside Higher Education concerns me, because having failed to win tenure, a gay law professor is now suing on the grounds that members of the tenure committee weren't honest about their reasons:
Hammer’s suit is based on contract law, not discrimination law; there are no federal or Michigan laws barring discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation on which he could sue. His suit is based on the idea that he was assured when accepting the job at Michigan (and turning down other offers) of the university’s commitment to equity for gay employees, as outlined in the faculty handbook and various university policies. Hammer’s legal specialties are health policy and Southeast Asia, especially Cambodia. So while he was out to colleagues, his teaching and scholarship did not focus on gay issues.


An argument made by Hammer is also attracting attention. He examined the records and backgrounds of some of the faculty members who voted against him. In several cases (enough to affect the outcome of the vote), he argues that the professors’ comments or writings or affiliations raise questions about their fairness — especially because in the discovery process he maintains that they were not forthright about their beliefs. For example, one professor is a member of a church that will not admit gay people unless they promise to “reform their ways,” according to court documents. Yet the professor, according to depositions and statements provided by Hammer’s lawyer, denied knowing his church’s views on gay people, even though they are identifiable from links on the church’s Web site, and the professor teaches Sunday school there. In another case, a professor’s opposition to same-sex marriage is cited. Another faculty member wrote of gay people as a “pariah group.”

In discovery, Hammer’s lawyers asked these and other professors questions about hot-button social issues (not only on gay rights, but abortion in some cases) to document what Hammer considers to be a pattern of people with conservative social values misrepresenting their own views. (In all of these cases, the professors have said that they voted against Hammer because they didn’t think his scholarship rose to the necessary level of excellence and not because Hammer is gay, and the university backs these professors.)

“We were trying to triangulate the extent to which these beliefs or biases affect these decisions,” Hammer said. “You’ve got a pattern of people obscuring and denying their beliefs on these issues, and that creates an incredibly negative inference.” He added that the question for these professors is: “How can we trust you when we say the vote is all about scholarship?”

Asked if his suit would unfairly assume anyone with conservative social values would be biased against him, Hammer said that was not the case. He said that what makes the professors’ stances questionable is denying that they hold views that they hold. “This isn’t about trying to have an ideological test about who should vote,” he said. “It’s about honesty. It’s about lying about these deeply held beliefs as the discrimination claim is being litigated.”

Hammer acknowledged that his approach to the case is a new method for fighting bias. But he noted that faculty members these days are not going to say publicly in a tenure vote that they are voting for or against someone based on sexual orientation (or gender or race, for that matter). “The theory of the case is that you are dealing with this very strong combination of religion and family values. You’ve got to get inside somebody’s mind and present it in a way that can be objectively verified. You are looking for something that is so often invisible and shrouded in secrecy.”
There are at least two major problems with this:

1. People are often members of organizations with whom they do not completely agree.

2. Some of those who voted against Hammer's tenure might well disapprove of homosexuality, and yet made their decision based on the quality of Hammer's scholarly work.

In practice, if Hammer gets his way, universities will find themselves pressured to remove anyone from tenure committee decisions who is a member of a church that disapproves of homosexuality--which in practice means that the tiny number of Christians, Orthodox Jews, and Muslims that are on faculty will be further marginalized.

Can you imagine the uproar if a conservative denied tenure (which I would presume is extremely common) demanded that members of the tenure committee be carefully examined about their political beliefs, with the assumption that their decision was based on lies?