Sunday, November 30, 2008

CDs For The Drive Over

CDs For The Drive Over

My wife's TrailBlazer demanded an oil change this morning, and while waiting for Wal-Mart to do the job, I remembered that I needed some CDs to listen to in that huge empty space between radio stations in eastern Oregon. (And yes, it is a very long distance where there is no FM and surprisingly sparse AM choices.)

So being a cheapskate, I went to the music section and looked for some cheap stuff. I found a $5 2 CD collection mistitled 25 Best Disco Hits. I say "mistitled" because while there were some awesome disco hits that I remember from the era ("I Will Survive", "Disco Inferno", "Right Back Where We Started From"), there were a number of songs that I do not remember ever hearing in that fashion-challenged era--and hearing them for the first time reminded me of why I do not remember ever hearing them way back when.

Somewhat more disappointing is that while some of them were the original versions that I remember, quite a number of others are re-recordings by the original artists. In a few cases, I can't hear any difference. Maxine Nighingale's Right Back Where We Started From sounds identical to the version that I hear on the radio. Others were subtly different, but not necessarily worse. A few were very disappointing. They had a version of More, More, More by Andrea True that sounds like she was far weaker than when she recorded the version in Jamaica that we all remember.

It's rather interesting to listen to these disco songs and compare them to the vulgarity of some modern music. Some of them were regarded as a bit naughty because of their double entendre. (Yes, I'm thinking of the Pointer Sisters' I'm So Excited. And some weren't even double entendre; Disco Duck's background vocals, if properly separated, were clearly making a suggestion that rhymed with that, and fit rather well with the whole reason that discos existed.) Still, many of these songs were surprisingly sweet and monogamous, even when there was a suggestive edge to them, "I'm just a love machine, and I won't work for nobody but you."

One of the other CDs I bought, however, was a Lionel Richie/Commodores greatest hits collection--and wow! What a spectacularly romantic collection this is!

Ford Escape

Ford Escape

The rental from Enterprise turned out to be a Ford Escape. Even though the back says "4WD" I see no controls that would suggest that there is a full-time 4WD system available, so I am guessing that it may be actually an AWD system. For my needs on this trip, that's probably sufficient.

This is a member of what has come to be called the CUV (Compact Sport Utility Vehicle) segment--not quite as big as the Chevy Trailblazer, but with a tall and large greenhouse, unlike Subaru's 4WD sedans.

Mileage is pretty decent: I averaged 25.3 mpg from Boise Airport to Bend, and while I wasn't driving quite as fast as the Corvette, I was moving pretty quickly. (Mileage definitely drops noticeably above 80.)

In spite of being taller than a sedan, with the lawyer-required warnings about handling, I was quite pleased with it. Body roll was really tiny, and handling was quite neutral, with only the slightest hint of understeer--far better than I am used to from anything with a Ford nameplate on it.

Acceleration was pretty respectable, especially considering that I had the overdrive on the entire time. It's not the Corvette, but for its intended purpose, it is darn respectable! I didn't have a chance to really put the brakes under any stress, but they did nothing to make cringe or get upset.

Unlike many Fords that I have been cursed with over the years, the ride is definitely in the well damped and controlled category. There was never any harshness over rough surfaces, but there was still enough road feel to know what is going on down there where the rubber meets the road.

While not luxury car quiet, it was decent, with one odd rattle in the back (perhaps from my luggage--I'll know in a day or two of driving around town).

The stereo, while nothing special, is so good that there is literally nothing that I thought needed improving.

Yes, I know that this is largely a Mazda with a Ford nameplate, but at least Ford didn't manage to screw it up!

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Life at the Bottom

Life at the Bottom

Theodore Dalrymple, Life at the Bottom: The Worldview That Makes the Underclass (Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 2001), pp. xv + 263

This is an astonishingly depressing book. You really do need to read it--but there are a few caveats that I will get to at the end of the review.

Dalrymple is a psychiatrist in a large inner city. If you just flipped the book open at random, some people would read these horrifying accounts, and notice that the all the prices and values are expressed in dollars, and start screeching, "Racist!" "He's blaming the victims!"

But Dalrymple is a psychiatrist at a large inner city hospital in London, and he is quite emphatic that while some of the underclass he is describing is black, and some is Asian, most of it is white--and that race is really quite irrelevant to the problems of the underclass. It is the values that have been promulgated by upper class and upper middle class intellectuals that have created the problems of the British underclass.
Listening as I do every day to the accounts people give of their lives, I am struck by the very small part in them which they ascribe to their own efforts, choices, and actions. Implicitly they disagree with Bacon's famous dictum that "chiefly the mould of a man's fortune is in his own hands." Instead they experience themselves as putty in the hands of fate.
Dalyrymple describes how the words that many of those he sees imply that everything bad that happens to them is just random chance. He tells of a convicted murderer who was asking him for a methadone prescription:
I told him that I would prescribe a reducing dose, and that within a relatively short time my prescription would cease. I would not prescribe a maintenance dose for a man with a life sentence.

"Yes," he said, "it's just my luck to be here on this charge."

Luck? He had already served a dozen prison sentences, many of them for violence, and on the night in question had carried a knife with him, which he must have known from experience that he was inclined to use. But it was the victim of the stabbing who was the real author of the killer's action: if he hadn't been there, he wouldn't have been stabbed.

My murderer was by no means alone in explaining his deed as due to circumstances beyond his control. As it happens, there are three stabbers (two of them to death) now in the prison who used precisely the same expression when describing to me what happened. "The knife went in," they said when pressed to recover their allegedly lost memories of the deed.

The knife went in-unguided by human hand, apparently. That the long-hated victims were sought out, and the knives carried to the scene of the crimes, was as nothing compared with the willpower possessed by the inanimate knives themselves, which determined the unfortunate outcome.
He recounts a prisoner who specialized in breaking into churches and stealing valuables, then burning down the church to hide as best he could the crime. And who is responsible for these crimes, in the mind of the prisoner? Churches, because "in general churches were poorly secured, easy to break into, and contained valuable objects in silver."

Dalrymple describes women who move from brutal man to brutal man, with a string of children, seldom more than one by each. When they find a man who isn't violent towards them, they leave, because he clearly doesn't care about them enough to express his feelings.

Oddly enough, as much as anger as Dalrymple has for these members of the underclass who seem intent on destroying their lives, and that of everyone with the misfortune to be their lovers, neighbors, and friends, his greatest rage is directed at the multiculturalists and Marxists who have created this mess.

Dalyrymple, who is pretty clearly not a Christian, points out that the collapse of traditional sexual morality did not free the underclass from all the horrible limitations of narrow-minded rigidity. Instead, it destroyed a system of family ties and duties that provided the most stable situation for the poor to rise up and out. The underclass has all the sexual jealousy that was present in the past (and then some), but without any of the rules or social conventions that punished men for philandering and discouraged them (not always very effectively) from abusing their wives and children. The absence of those rules has only aggravated the sexual jealousy problem that seems to be natural to the species.

I have a few complaints about the book. It consists of a series of essays that first appeared in the Manhattan Institute's City Journal in the 1990s. Not surprisingly, you will find certain ideas and examples appear in multiple essays.

A more serious problem is that because it has no footnotes, there are some claims that Dalrymple makes that leave me wondering, "Could that really be true?" He claims that roughly 1/4 of the younger generation of Britons are illiterate, or so close as to be practically illiterate. He tells me that he now has to ask patients that he sees that over age 16 if they can read and write. He reports that many not cannot do so, but do not find it even slightly odd or embarrassing that they cannot. He says that many who can read can sound the words, but often how no idea what they mean. When it comes to general knowledge--he reports that only a very few can identify when World War II took place.

I visited Britain in 1999, at the time that Dalrymple was writing these essays describing a nation reduced to almost medieval levels of literacy, violence, and ignorance. I saw some very discouraging and worrisome signs of social degradation there. I have read a lot of other sources that at least hint at the decline that Dalrymple describes. Still, I do find myself wondering if Dalrymple is letting his experiences of inner city London too strongly color his perceptions. If all of Britain were this bad off, the country would be completely unmanageable.

Perhaps Dalrymple's account is too dark. Still, I recognize that his description of the promotion of victimhood, the destruction of educational standards, the exaltation of racism and classism as the defining causes of everything, and the creation of a dependency society, has created this quagmire, is accurate. We saw it happen in the United States, and in spite of the welfare reforms that Congress passed in 1995, we still have a lot of these problems. I have known too many examples over the years.

Perhaps the most depressing aspect of Dalrymple's book is that he fails to acknowledge that there is a legitimate distinction between the undeserving and the deserving poor. There are people who, even with all the horrible bad ideas that have been dropped on them through government schooling and the general destruction of the criminal justice system, are still victims. The girl who gets raped, and ends up in a cycle of destructive relationships as a result. The children who are physically or sexually abused, and end up violent or self-destructive. The many women that Dalrymple describes who have tied themselves to violent losers because they have never seen any other pattern of relationships! These are people that might well benefit from a hand up--if those who are offering the hand up recognize the nature of what put these victims in their situation.

As Dalrymple points out, racism is widely used as an excuse for problems among Britons of African or Caribbean ancestry--and he does not dispute that racism has been, and may still be a problem. But he also points out that it utterly fails to explain white Britons who have reduced themselves to the British equivalent of a "wigger." It also fails to explain why Britons of East Indian ancestry are disproportionately going to law school and medical school. At the same time, there is now a sizable population of third generation East Indians in Briton, who are beginning to take their cultural clues from the British underclass. The parents and grandparents of these kids came to Briton when racism was legal and widely accepted--and yet did not end up as drug abusing, violent criminals.

Well worth checking out of the library. Read it and meditate on Dalyrmple's thoughts about how multiculturalism and class envy (promoted from the top) is turning Britain into a Third World country. It isn't the immigrants that are doing this; it's the intellectuals.

Leasing vs. Renting

Leasing vs. Renting

I mentioned a couple of days ago that I was considering leasing a Subaru as opposed to renting a 4WD for the weeks that I need to travel to Bend. Some months back, I saw Subaru ads that offered a lease at $119 per month for 10,000 miles per year, and $199 per month for 12,000 miles per year. By comparison, renting a 4WD from Enterprise costs me $275 for a week (including tax).

I didn't pay careful attention to the rest of the lease details (amount down, for example) because I wasn't really in the market at the time. Now I was trying to see if might make more sense to lease a Subaru, even for 36 months. If the monthly cost and initial payment was small enough, it might make sense to do that rather than rent a 4WD for alternate weeks driving to Bend. There is a possibility that a job will open up in Boise in the meantime--perhaps changing the equation. Or I might talk my current contract employer into letting telecommute full-time. The net result is that leasing had to be substantially cheaper than renting, because renting involves no long term commitment.

I made some calls to the local Subaru dealers this evening. One salescritter I reached on the phone did the traditional song and dance--pretending to be interested in knowing more about me, avoiding direct answers to questions about leasing costs, and when his finance manager got back to me, he was still astonishingly vague on what a lease would cost: "under $300 a month."

By comparison, Tony at Larry Miller Subaru in Boise wins the award for being straightforward. I told him what I was trying to find out, and within 20 minutes, he was back to me with a quote: $900 upfront, and $256 a month for a 36 month lease, 10,000 miles per year. This is exactly what I needed to make a decision about lease vs. rent, and if I decide to buy or lease a Subaru in the future, I'll give Tony first shot at it.

At this point, because of the uncertainty of whether I will need a 4WD long-term--or perhaps only for another month or two--it makes more sense to spend the extra money to rent a vehicle, knowing that I am not tied to it. A rental is someone else's maintenance and repair headache, and if it breaks down somewhere, or has problems, the rental agency gets to deal with it, instead of me having to arrange an appointment for warranty work.

Hard At Work On Another Law Review Article

Hard At Work On Another Law Review Article

The layoff pretty well took the steam out of my efforts in support of the lawsuits attempting to get the 2nd Amendment incorporated through the 14th Amendment against the states. (If I were a paranoid megalomaniac, I would assume that was the reason for the layoff!) But my job situation, while still not good (I'm driving to Bend shortly for another week), at least has enough money coming in to cover all my bills without a struggle. Therefore, I have resumed work on a paper about original public meaning.

A little explanation, for those who don't spend too many hours reading this stuff. When one claims to be an originalist concerning the Constitution, this used to mean, original legislative intent: what did the body that passed a bill, wrote the Constitution, or passed an amendment, intend for it to do?

One of the common criticisms of originalism (and there is real merit to the concern) is that sometimes there was no agreed upon original intent. They may not have discussed every detail. For example, there's a lot of Congressional debate about the militia clause of the Second Amendment, and the religiously scrupulous clause (which was scrapped by the Senate), but essentially no discussion of the "right of the people" clause. I believe that we have demonstrated that the lack of debate or even discussion of this clause was because there was a well understood meaning to it, and the meaning was so universal that no one felt a need to discuss it. (We wouldn't much debate the meaning of "blue" today, would we?)

Another criticism of original intent is that while the legislature or Constitutional Convention may have understood a particular clause to mean X, the population at large might not shared that understanding--perhaps 3/4 of the population thought it meant X, and another 1/4 thought it meant Y. Trying to determine the original public meaning is a lot harder to do, and requires you to do a lot of digging through newspapers, letters, and other accounts--and it also requires you to be very honest in admitting when you find minority viewpoints. Perhaps only a couple of kooks thought that the meaning was Y. Perhaps there was a sizeable minority viewpoint that the meaning was Y. You can't just ignore minority viewpoints, if you want to be honest.

My friend David Hardy is completing a law review paper right now about the original public meaning of section 1 of the Fourteenth Amendment--which includes the privileges and immunities clause. This is an important and valuable piece of scholarship, since the Supreme Court has done a really fine job of mucking up Fourteenth Amendment jurisprudence from the first decision, The Slaughter-House Cases.

Anyway, the paper that I am working on--and which Professor Joe Olson is going to be contributing to--attempts to determine the original public meaning of the right to keep and bear arms in the period leading up to the ratification of the 14th Amendment. If the privileges and immunities clause was widely understood as imposing the Second Amendment onto the states, then it is vital to understand what meaning the people understood the Second Amendment to have in 1868 and the years leading up to it.



I have been building a caster set for a Takahashi EM400 mount. These are a very expensive, high end product, and because the first customer that asked for a set wanted brass compression rings to protect the finish on the legs, I indulged him--and all subsequent customers.

What is a brass compression ring? Instead of having a screw directly squeezing down on a piece of metal, the screw squeezes down on a brass ring that sits in a channel. A detailed description of how it works is here. And here's a picture of one of these with the brass compression ring visible:

Anyway, how do you cut one of those channels in which the brass compression ring sits? The brass can't move up or down, so you have to cut this channel a little ways into the sleeve. Until today, I have done this with a tool that I constructed that slides into the boring tool hole in the tool holder of my lathe. (Pictures and description are here.) This is called a reverse rake boring tool holder. (If I had known what it was called, I might have bought it.)

The problem is that there is only a single cutting point on the tool in the holder, so you get one beautiful right angle, when you really need two, like this cross section shows:

One way to do this is to cut the near end of the channel, then take the cutting tool out of the holder, turn it around, and then cut the far side of the channel. This way you get two right angles--with a bit of hassle.

Anyway, today I decided that I would take a 1/4" cutting tool, and instead of a single cutting point, I would grind it so that it is a right angle, producing a 1/4" cutting edge. Now, to cut a 1/2" wide channel, I only have to turn it into the near end, then crank the lead screw 1/4" to produce the far end of the channel.

Obviously, because the cutting surface is larger, you have to be a less ambitious about how much you try to cut at once--take off relatively thin layers, and don't advance the lead screw too quickly, or the workpiece will pull right out of the chuck and go flying! And I wouldn't try cutting steel or even aluminum using this approach--but for Delrin, it works okay. It doesn't produce as beautiful a finish as a single point of contact, and I would not be surprised to see the cutting tool wear out quickly. But it does produce a very neat channel without having to reconfigure the boring tool holder.

This Is A Duh Sort of Statement

This Is A Duh Sort of Statement

But it still needs to be made. My friend David Hardy over at Of Arms and the Law points out that had the Mumbai attacks taken place in Tucson, the results would have been very different:
And Instapundit reports that there were only ten terrorists. I really wouldn't give ten men attacking a few thousand Tucsonans much of a chance. About 2% of Pima County has a CCW permit; others carry openly or have one in their car (you don't need a permit to have a holstered gun in the glove compartment). So an attack on 2,000 people means an attack on *at least* forty who have a gun on them, and more who will have one available in seconds. A fair number of whom will be behind the attackers' backs.
Now, it's true that at least some Americans with a carry permit would have been mowed down by the terrorists anyway. But it is hard to imagine that all of them would have been killed by the terrorists, without a few of the terrorists being disabled or killed along the way. Of course, in Idaho, we aren't wimpy like Pima County--about 4% of adults in Idaho, last I checked, had a carry permit.

Why do I carry a gun just about every chance that I get?

Not because it makes me feel more masculine. (Those who insist on seeing gun ownership as a form of genital substitution must have a heck of a time explaining why I carry such a tiny handgun.)

Not because I look forward to the opportunity to use it. Twice in my life I have had to decide whether to shoot someone, and in both cases, it was a tremendously frightening choice--one where I had the option of not firing the gun.

I carry a gun whenever I can because we live in a world where homicidal madmen and deranged terrorists make the decision to kill complete strangers. I do not want to ever see such a situation happening, and all I can do is stand by and helplessly watch the murder of innocents. Ever.

The one good thing about no longer working for HP is that they had a rule prohibiting employees from having firearms in their vehicles in the parking lot. This meant that five days a week, I could not have a gun in the car. Those days are over.

UPDATE: Apparently, in spite of India's very strict gun control laws (a gift from the British), if you are an important enough celebrity, you can have a handgun at home.

Friday, November 28, 2008

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

My wife and I went to see this film this afternoon. It is emotionally overwhelming--but I confess that I had some doubts about how plausible it was. At least at some work camps, young children were immediately gassed, because their labor wasn't considered worth feeding them. There were children almost as young as the boy in the striped pajamas in some concentration camps, it is true, but I don't get the impression that this was at all common. There are problems with the lack of patrols around the fence, and the sheer unlikeliness of what happens at the end of the movie.

Still, it might be the only awareness that most young people will ever have of the Holocaust, since the left seems to prefer that kids get out of school with almost no awareness of it. Language is not a problem. The PG-13 is only because the subject matter--mass murder--is the greatest obscenity that one can imagine. It is also more subtle than I have would expected in its portrayal of the complex problems of growing up in a society where every significant instrument of government and the media were propagandizing in favor or barbarism. On the other hand, there just too many German characters prepared to voice their opposition (or at least bite their tongue) to a system that enjoyed overwhelming support from Germans until almost the end.

The Complete Sherlock Holmes

The Complete Sherlock Holmes

I am reading The Complete Sherlock Holmes, which is a compendium of all the Sherlock Holmes novels and short stories, and I am sometimes startled by expressions that I would have assumed were much more modern. For example, in The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes, the term "nark" is used to refer to a police informant. When I first heard the term used in the 1960s to refer to an undercover police officer, I assumed that it was a modern derivation of the term "narcotics"--but I am now inclined to think otherwise.

On the other hand, another short story collected in The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes includes an expression which has a pretty clear meaning to modern readers--but no, it meant something quite different back then. A certain disreputable character is described as "so far down Queer Street that may never find his way back." But back then it meant that you were deeply in debt.

Physical Relocation of Employees: Is It Becoming Outmoded?

Physical Relocation of Employees: Is It Becoming Outmoded?

Back when I was working in a DSL access multiplexer startup in California, I started writing a paper about how rapid deployment of broadband residential services was going to transform American society--if we allowed it do so. I argued that increasingly, instead of moving from city to city when they changed jobs, knowledge workers would simply reconfigure their VPN (Virtual Private Network) settings to change jobs. I examined in detail the cultural changes that would result from this--and what I considered the most important was the gradual decline of big cities.

At least in Western civilization, big cities have been the exception. Rome had somewhere between 500,000 and 1,000,000 people (and the high end seems unlikely to me) at its peak, and it was many centuries before any other city even begin to approach those numbers. It was the beginning of the nineteenth century before London reached a million people. Aside from national capitals (which have the unfortunate habit of sucking in vast quantities of money from the nation or empire, and the people then follow), there were no really big cities until the Industrial Revolution required vast numbers of workers in big factories and supporting industries. The consequences were generally ugly and producing of depravity: extremes of wealth and poverty; disease; anonymity with destructive effects on public morals and crime; the Democratic Party (which is pretty much all those problems rolled into one).

If workers could change where they work by reconfiguring some network parameters, instead of physically moving where they lived, it means that where they lived wouldn't be tied to where they work. You don't want to live crammed cheek-by-jowl with several million other people, suffering air pollution, traffic jams, two hour commutes, crime, naked people having sex in the streets? Well, you don't have to live in the San Francisco Bay Area. You can work somewhere else. Maybe you have to fly in occasionally to confer with your colleagues, but why should an employer spend $5000-$10,000 relocating you and your family to have you work for them? Especially these days, when you have no idea how long that employer--or employee--is going to last?

And for the employer, why should they have to pay $130,000 per year salary to hire someone to compensate for the fact that houses in the Bay Area are hideously expensive, when you can buy a comparable house in a nicer neighborhood in most of the United States for 1/3 the price?

Part of what motivated my little rant about this--and the importance of employers being flexible--is that someone pointed me to this job ad for people with an MA in History (and they will consider outstanding BAs). I know someone that might be a good match for this, especially because his specialization was Asian history--but custody questions pretty well prohibit him from moving to the East Coast. I'm guessing that there are a lot of other people in similar situations--and that's a shame, because the CIA needs all the good people it can get in a dangerous world like today.

Materialism Out of Control

Materialism Out of Control

I've long been upset about the manner in which materialism has become dominant in America. It isn't any great surprise, really, when you think about it. Marxism and its dishonest progressive variants have long insisted that only material goods matter--that anything of a deeper spiritual significance is simply a delusion.

There's nothing wrong with wanting some of the nice material items of life, but the entire "Black Friday" shopping idiocy has long bothered me. Some of the stores here in Boise were opening at 4:00 AM or 5:00 AM this morning--which means that employees had to be getting up at 3:00 AM or 4:00 AM to get to work. And on the morning after one of the few holidays of the year that hasn't been completely corrupted by materialism? This is repulsive. I won't shop on Black Friday, not just because of the materialism that it represents, but because if you shop at stores that demand their employees get up at this ridiculous hour, you are telling the stores that this is acceptable behavior.

And now we have this tragedy which should cause a lot of Americans to think long and hard about how important "bargains" really are. From the November 28, 2008 Newsday:
Bargain-hungry shoppers stepped on a fallen Wal-Mart worker, who died Friday morning, after the crowd knocked down the store's front doors -- and the worker -- during the "utter chaos" of a Black Friday shopping melee, Nassau County police said.

"A throng of shoppers . . . physically broke down the doors" at around 5 a.m. Friday and knocked the 34-year-old part-time worker to the ground as the crowd pushed its way into the store at the Green Acres Mall, Nassau police said.

"This crowd was out of control," said Nassau Police Det. Lt. Michael Fleming, who is investigating the death. He characterized the melee as "utter chaos."

Fleming said an estimated 2,000 people had gathered in line around 5 a.m. as the store was preparing to open. Asked at a news conference whether the store had enough security given the crowds that Black Friday shopping typically attracts, Fleming said no. Four shoppers had minor injuries, police said.

People in the rear of the line began pushing, cascading the people in the front into the doors, which were knocked off their hinges, Fleming said.

Hundreds of shoppers who then streamed in literally stepped on the worker who later died, Fleming said.

Fleming said the worker, who has not been publicly identified, was a temporary worker sent by an employment agency. Fleming said criminal charges were possible in the case, though he said it would be nearly impossible to identify individual shoppers.

But, he said, authorities were reviewing surveillance video.

Another police officer told Newsday the prelude to the death at the Green Acres Mall was "a mob scene."

Shoppers who surged past the fallen Wal-Mart worker into the store were asked to leave by other store workers, some of them crying and visibly upset, said one shopper, Kimberly Cribbs, of Far Rockaway.

Though rumors circulated among the shoppers that someone had been badly injured, people ignored the Wal-Mart workers' requests that they stop shopping, move to the front of the store and exit, Cribbs said.

"They kept shopping. It's not right. They're savages," Cribbs said.
Doors knocked off their hinges? Someone trampled to death? Clearly, the economy isn't bad enough yet to restrain these savages.

Life After HP

Life After HP

I went down into Boise on Monday to get a small rip in the Corvette's upholstery repaired. I first notice this small tear in the vinyl on the side of the driver's seat about 2003 or 2004, and someone did a repair of it with a vinyl repair kit. It looked great for several years--but started to come back again.

So I went to someone that I found by making calls out of the phone book, Jay Van Houten, who is the local franchisee of Mobile Appearance Reconditioning Service (M.A.R.S.--hence the alien on the business card). It turned out that he was laid off from HP about three years ago, and like me, found out that he was too young to retire and too old to get another job. Since he liked working on cars, he purchased the local MARS franchise, and now does this.

I was very pleased with the job he did repairing the tear--pointing out that whoever did the vinyl repair several years ago neglected to put a backing underneath the material, which is why it tore again. The backing sheet provides something to which the vinyl repair goo can bind the torn sections of material.

If you are in need of detailing, glass repair, interior or exterior refurbishing of your car, I can recommend Jay's work. (208) 412-3444, or

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

A Good Argument Against Drinking To Excess

A Good Argument Against Drinking To Excess

It makes you act like an idiot:

A couple of University of Iowa fans took a break from Saturday's game at the Metrodome against the University of Minnesota to have some illicit sex in a Dome restroom, police said.
The duo — a 38-year-old woman and a 26-year-old man from Carroll and Linden, Iowa, respectively — turned a handicapped toilet stall into their love nest about 8:30 p.m., late in the Hawkeyes' 55-0 trouncing of the Gophers.
A crowd of intoxicated fans gathered in the restroom to laugh and cheer the off-the-field action, until an Avalon Security guard tipped off University of Minnesota police to the ruckus.
Officers had to interrupt the intimate moment to cite the couple for indecent conduct, a misdemeanor.
University of Minnesota Police Chief Greg Hestness said similar citations at the Metrodome or on campus usually involve public urination.
He said it was the first time in his six years at the U that his force has interrupted a sex act during a Gophers game.
Hestness assumed the woman was embarrassed about being caught: She initially gave a false name to officers and had to be identified by her husband before she was released.
The man was attending the game with his girlfriend, according to police.
"It's a long ride back to Iowa," Hestness said.
And there were bigger problems than just a rather testy conversation on the way home:
A Carroll woman who was caught having sex in the men's room at an Iowa Hawkeye football game in Minneapolis last weekend says she’d had so much wine before kickoff that she doesn’t remember walking into the restroom, the man she had sex with in a stall, or when the police opened the door.

What Lois Feldman, 38, will remember is the humiliation afterward.

“It’s ruined my life,” she said through tears today. “Not just the incident but the press.”

Feldman, a married mother of three, has been the target of Internet jokes and prank telephone calls today. She was fired this morning from an assisted living center, where she had been an administrator.

Feldman said her husband, Kelly, has been supportive. She said he faults himself for not going with her when she left her seat to use the restroom before halftime.
The husband is being so supportive. I mean, that could have happened to anyone!

Isn't This An Equal Protection Violation?

Isn't This An Equal Protection Violation?

I mean, I really don't think it should be the government's business if a company decides that it doesn't want to cover certain immoral relationships--but isn't this going to lead to lawsuits demanding that HP not discriminate? I just noticed this in the enrollment package for retirement and COBRA insurance on p. 5:
Starting January 1, HP benefit programs will no longer offer coverage for opposite-sex domestic partners or their children....

There is no change to benefits eligibility for same-sex domestic partners.
So if you are a heterosexual couple that for whatever reason has decided not to have your relationship formally recognized by the government--you are out of luck. But gay couples, no problem!

Now, imagine if HP had swapped this around, and refused to recognize same-sex domestic partnerships. How long would it take for the California Attorney-General to file suit? One second, or two?

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

A Single Cell 3 Centimeters Across?

A Single Cell 3 Centimeters Across?

This is a rather bizarre item from November 20, 2008 Discovery Channel:

Nov. 20, 2008 -- Slowly rolling across the ocean floor, a humble single-celled creature is poised to revolutionize our understanding of how complex life evolved on Earth.

A distant relative of microscopic amoebas, the grape-sized Gromia sphaerica was discovered once before, lying motionless at the bottom of the Arabian Sea. But when Mikhail Matz of the University of Texas at Austin and a group of researchers stumbled across a group of G. sphaerica off the coast of the Bahamas, the creatures were leaving trails behind them up to 50 centimeters (20 inches) long in the mud.

The trouble is, single-celled critters aren't supposed to be able to leave trails. The oldest fossils of animal trails, called 'trace fossils', date to around 580 million years ago, and paleontologists always figured they must have been made by multicellular animals with complex, symmetrical bodies.

But G. sphaerica's traces are the spitting image of the old, Precambrian fossils; two small ridges line the outside of the trail, and one thin bump runs down the middle.

At up to three centimeters (1.2 inches) in diameter, they're also enormous compared to most of their microscopic cousins.

"If these guys were alive 600 million years ago, and their traces got fossilized, a paleontologist who had never seen this thing would not have a shade of doubt attributing this kind of trace to the activity of a big, multicellular, bilaterally symmetrical animal," Matz said.

One problem with a lot of reconstructions of early life from fossils is that there are assumptions that paleontologists bring to the the evidence--and here's an example of how easy it is to let those assumptions mislead you about what was really here.

As the article goes on to explain:
Until about 550 million years ago, there were very few animals leaving trails behind. Then, within ten million years an unprecedented blossoming of life swarmed across the planet, filling every niche with hard-bodied, complex creatures.

"It wasn't a gradual development of complexity," Matz said. "Instead these things suddenly seemed to burst out of a magic box."

Charles Darwin first noticed the Cambrian Explosion and thought it was an artifact of a poorly preserved fossil record. The precambrian trace fossils were left by multicellular animals, he reasoned, so there must be some gap in fossils between the nearly empty Precambrian and the teeming world that quickly followed. But if the first traces were instead made by G. sphaerica, it would mean the Explosion was real; it must have been a diversification of life on a scale never before seen.

Hey, watch it with those assumptions! As I have pointed out in the past, there's a lot that is still unknown and uncertain about the development of life on Earth. Let's not get too arrogant.

Monday, November 24, 2008

The Good Side Of The Economic Problems

The Good Side Of The Economic Problems

I paid $1.87 per gallon for regular Sunday night. I just received a notice that my mortgage payment on the house here in the mountains is adjusting--downward. It's only about $65 a month less, and because the reduction is all interest, it means that about 1/3 of that will be a reduction in the tax deduction I get to take, but it's still, on net, an improvement.

What I don't get is where the spectacular leasing deals on cars can be found. It is beginning to look like I am going to need AWD or 4WD to get to work next Sunday in Bend. I can remember seeing Subaru Impreza leases being offered for $119 per month last year. Okay, you needed to put about a thousand dollars down, and it was only 10,000 miles per year, but if I only used it in winter, that would have been fine. But now, everywhere I look, the cheapest leases turn out to be $325 per month and up.

The temptation would be to rent an SUV from Enterprise for the week--which turns out to be about $330. If I expected to be doing this commute twice a month for any length of time, leasing makes more sense. But I really, really don't want to believe that I will be commuting to Bend this regularly through the winter.

Solving The Wrong Problem

Solving The Wrong Problem

Seattle is considering a proposal
which violates the Washington State Constitution, as well as Washington State's firearms regulation preemption law--and yet, the real solution is obvious:

Following a shooting that injured three people at the Folklife Festival on May 24, Mayor Greg Nickels directed all City of Seattle departments to study the adoption and enforcement of policies, rules and contractual agreements which would prohibit the possession of dangerous weapons, including firearms on city property. The suspect in the Folklife shooting had a concealed weapons permit, despite a history of drug abuse and mental health problems.

Wouldn't it be more sensible to ask the Washington legislature to correct the concealed weapon permit law so that a person with "a history of drug abuse and mental health problems" doesn't have a concealed weapons permit? This would benefit not only Seattle, but the rest of Washington State--without impacting those of us who aren't any danger to others at all. And what makes Seattle thing that someone with problems this serious--and who is willing to shoot other people--is going to obey their new rules? Do you suppose that deinstitutionalization of the mentally ill might be the core problem that needs addressing?

Feel free to comment at the link above.

Back From Washington, DC

Back From Washington, DC

The Cato Institute held a brunch to thank those of us who played important roles in the D.C. v. Heller (2008) case. While not everyone who was invited could make it, it was still a pretty impressive collection of gun rights scholars and lawyers in one room. Off the top of my head: Stephen Halbrook; Prof. Eugene Volokh of UCLA Law; Prof. Nelson Lund of George Mason University; Prof. Bob Cottroll of George Washington University; Nicholas Johnson of Fordham University Law; William Van Alstyne; C. Kevin Marshall; Dave Kopel; Bob Dowlut; Alan Gura, and a few others that I can't immediately name. At my table (excuse me, that's sounds egotistical, at the table at which I was sitting) Robert Levy, who bankrolled the suit; Don Kates; Dave Hardy; Sandra Froman, former President of the NRA; Prof. Dan Polsby of George Mason.

There was considerable discussion of strategy and upcoming actions; obviously, I'm not going to publicly reveal the details. But the good news is that there is a strong chance that we are going to win the Nordyke case in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals--where our lawyers are arguing that the 14th Amendment incorporates the 2nd Amendment against the states--opening up the door to demolishing some of the most absurd gun control laws adopted at the state and local levels.

I absolutely hate flying--and this as bad as it gets: seven hours in planes and airports to get there, and another seven to get back. So was it worth it? Dave Kopel and I crashed the Federalist Society reception, and I got to meet a number of interesting people. To my surprise, John Fund of the Wall Street Journal knew who I was! It almost makes me feel important!

More importantly, one law professor expressed interest in seeing if Armed America might be a good text for an upcoming class that he is teaching; another wanted to see the manuscript for my next book, because deinstitutionalization is a subject of great interest to him. Doors open sometimes if you are in the right place.

I wasn't feeling great when I left for this event, and I was when I returned that I have a sinus infection. The good news, however, is that my blood pressure this morning was 124/84, and my pulse was 64. Whatever the deficiencies of a microwaved diet might be over there in Bend, I am getting enough exercise to keep my cardiovascular system in good shape!

Friday, November 21, 2008

Who Steals Bathroom Stall Doors?

Who Steals Bathroom Stall Doors?

There's a comedian who has a bit about, "Who steals men's room bathroom stall doors? Does he have like a collection of them?"

Of course, no one steals them. Ladies, you may not be aware of this, but in many public men's rooms, especially in roadside rest areas, there are no doors on the stalls. Women's restrooms don't have this indignity--and for a reason.

This is a sore subject to me today. I was driving back from Bend to Boise, and nature didn't just call--but screamed--on a lonely stretch of U.S. 20 between Bend and Burns. I pulled into a roadside rest area to use the men's room.

Having to do your business sitting down in a public restroom is stressful enough already, but without even the modicum of privacy of a door that closes makes the situation even more unpleasant. And seeing the general filth of the toilet made me just endure the scream of nature until I got to Ontario. (Yes, there's not much on that road.)

And why do men's public restrooms get this additional degradation--but not women's public restrooms? Because some gay men use public restroom stalls for casual, completely anonymous sexual assignations. Senator Larry "Wide Stance" Craig (R-ID) briefly brought this whole sordid behavior to the attention of the public, but because it didn't fit the popular culture's image of homosexuality as an enlightened alternative lifestyle, the popular media did their best to spin the story as "hypocritical conservative Republican" rather than asking why this is a depressingly common part of the culture of gay men. And when I say, "common," I mean the evidence like this: a nationally prominent gay law firm producing a pamphlet telling gay men how to avoid being arrested while soliciting strangers for sex in the men's room.

Now, I admit that there are other unlawful activities that go on in public men's rooms that may also cause governmental bodies to steal the stall doors. When I lived in Orange County, California, heroin addicts would sometimes shoot up in public restrooms, and female prostitutes occasionally came to the attention of the police by turning tricks in gas station men's restrooms. But let's be honest: the vast majority of the reason for this is gay men. Obviously, not all gay men. I suspect that a majority of gay men don't have sex in public toilets. But the ones that do aren't exactly rare, and because they can't exercise enough self-control to go somewhere else for sex, they have caused this degrading loss of privacy in public restrooms--and force the rest of us exercise enormous self-control all the way from the Burns, Oregon, to Ontario, Oregon.

Over the years, I have been repeatedly told by gay activists that men who have sex with other men in public restrooms aren't necessarily gay--that they are overwhelmingly straight men. If that makes you brain start to catch fire and explode--let me explain that gay activists insist that a person's sexuality isn't defined by who they have sex with, or even who they want to have sex with--but with which sexual orientation they publicly identify themselves. So a man who is married to a woman, but cruises public restrooms for anonymous sex with another man--why, he's straight! Someone who makes an argument like that is obviously confused about more than just their sexual identity.

Idaho Democratic bloggers like to claim that there's something unhealthy or weird about "obssessing" about homosexuality. I'm actually obssessing about the loss of privacy. If gay men want to signal to other gay men (excuse me, "straight men who like to have random, anonymous sex with other straight men") to go somewhere in private for their actions, we wouldn't have lost the bathroom stall doors!

In 1960, or 1970, or even 1980, when homosexuality was illegal in most states, or even socially octracized in the other states, I could somewhat see the argument forwhy this behavior was being done in this anonymous and degrading way. But today? Or, for that matter, any time in the last ten years?

Do what you want in private. But do it in private. I want the bathroom stall doors back.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

What A Shocker!

What A Shocker!

Corruption in the process by which a California sheriff issues concealed handgun licenses! Who would have thought? From the November 8, 2008 Los Angeles Times:

Newport Beach millionaire Don Haidl testified Friday that badges were for sale under the administration of former Orange County Sheriff Michael S. Carona, and that the shields for volunteer reserves were purposely changed to look exactly like those carried by sworn deputies because "that's what campaign contributors would like to have in their pocket."

Haidl, who was appointed by Carona to be the assistant sheriff and put in charge of the reserve division, told jurors that the initial group of reserve officers they recruited shortly after Carona's election were made up of 86 friends, relatives and business associates tied to the campaign.


Carona also modified the policy for issuing permits to carry concealed weapons so that members of the special reserve unit, known as Professional Services Reserves, would automatically qualify, Haidl testified.

Carona and his longtime mistress, Debra V. Hoffman, are on trial in federal court in Santa Ana on charges that they conspired with others to trade the powers of the sheriff's office for hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash and gifts. Haidl has pleaded guilty to lesser tax charges and agreed to testify against Carona and Hoffman. Carona's wife is also charged, but will be tried separately.

Haidl has been on the witness stand since Tuesday. When he agreed to cooperate with the prosecution, he went undercover and wore a wire during three meetings with Carona in the summer of 2007.

Haidl has already testified that he bribed Carona with cash payments of $1,000 on a monthly basis for more than three years, provided Carona with access to his private jets and yacht and paid for vacations and other items.
The only thing remarkable about this is that Carona appears to have been caught. The sleazy manner in which sheriffs in urban California counties have issued carry permits has been going for at least a couple of decades. It is one of the most blunt signs of the incredible dishonesty and corruption of the liberals that dominate the California legislature that they simply refuse to fix this mess.

The current concealed handgun permit law was adopted in 1923 as part of a package that was openly stated as being to disarm Chinese and Hispanics. It has created enormous corruption in the urban counties. If other states had not demonstrated for decades now that a non-discretionary permit system (which eliminates the corruption) is not a public safety problem, there might be some plausible explanation for maintaining the current corrupting system. But there isn't. Most American states now have a non-discretionary permit system, the expected disasters didn't happen--and the corruption and racism problem has been fixed. And yet liberals refuse to consider fixing California's corruption breeder. Why do you suppose that is?

"Destined For Greatness"

"Destined For Greatness"

A Dr. Ablow, a psychiatrist, was being interviewed on Fox News. He said that large numbers of young people are growing up convinced that they are destined for greatness, because there is so much false praise from parents.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Lack of Blogging

Lack of Blogging

And what little blogging I do from Bend is all the energy that I have at the end of ten hour days. I had this illusion that I would get a lot of work done on the next book and a novel that I am starting to write (a kind of time travel, mystery thriller that takes some subtle jabs at deconstructionism)--but I'm just too tired by the time I get back to my unswinging' bachelor pad.

Bend is a beautiful mid-sized town (about 80,000 people) in the high desert of Central Oregon. It reminds me of what Boise must have been like ten or fifteen or years ago. There isn't a lot of weird facial piercings, and when you see someone with "sleeves" (the tattoos that cover most of an arm or leg), it really stands out, because it is a bit unusual. If there wasn't anything holding us in Boise (like family and a spectacular house that we could never sell right now), I could see moving here. It almost doesn't feel like Oregon, it is so unliberal.

I have been working off the stress of the ten hour days by going to the Juniper Swim & Fitness Center, which is a City of Bend Parks operation. I neglected to bring a swimsuit (and even finding gym shorts in stores here was a struggle, much less a swimsuit), but they have two indoor pools, one of them Olympic sized, and a very complete gym. I've been working on my upper body exercises and using the treadmill--and it really does wonders for my attitude and for reducing my appetite. (Being all alone over here, I'm doing a bit too much eating for comfort, so anything that brings this under control is a good thing.)

Don't get the wrong impression: I really am enjoying the work that I am doing. Writing unit tests involves learning how a particular class works, then figuring out how to test all of its methods, then writing up bug reports that describe what I found that is broken.

And this isn't difficult--even code that works often has significant errors in it. For example, what happens if you pass in invalid inputs, such as null? A lot of coders simply don't think about these possibilities--and if you don't handle them, you open up the possibility that someone calls a method with a bad input and produces unexpected results.

$1.99 Gas

$1.99 Gas

The Arco station in downtown Bend had regular gasoline for $1.99 per gallon! I wish that these bargains weren't built on the collapse of the economy and the loss of jobs.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Mob Activity

Mob Activity

I wouldn't go into the Castro District and sing hymns--but Christians have a perfect right to do so--at least as much right as homosexuals have to engage in sex in the middle of public streets. In the video that Michelle Malkin has on her website, you can hear homosexuals insisting that Christians should not be allowed in "their" neighborhood. Gee, what if Christians said that homosexuals weren't allowed outside of the Castro? That would be fascism! But the reverse is just liberalism at work.

Warning: the language is raw (these are homosexuals, so you have to expect that).

Monday, November 17, 2008

Headed to DC This Weekend

Headed to DC This Weekend

The Cato Institute invited those of us who played a part in the D.C. v. Heller (2008) decision to a brunch and discussion next Sunday. (And before you ask, the event is not open to the general public--I asked.) They are actually paying my airfare and my stay at the Hay-Adams Hotel--which is the only reason that I could consider going, considering the state of my employment.

I expect to be free Saturday evening, if any of my readers want to be disappointed meeting me in person!

I'll take those German lessons with me on the plane--I can fit an MP3 player in my pocket, and have almost nothing to carry but my Pentax.

The Last Nail in the Coffin of "Let The Police Handle It"

The Last Nail in the Coffin of "Let The Police Handle It"

From November 14, 2008 WCPO channel 9:
The new tactics developed in response to Columbine involved creating an ad-hoc tactical team using the first four or five patrol officers on the scene.
They would enter the shooting scene in a diamond formation with guns pointing in all directions.
This technique was employed by police departments around the country.

Then 32 people were killed by a lone gunman at Virginia Tech in April 2007.
Seung Hui Cho shot 47 people, 30 fatally, in the university's Norris Hall in just 11 minutes.
That means every minute he killed more than three people and shot a total of four.
Once again, the gunman continued shooting until a four-officer team made entry and then he killed himself.

Law enforcement reviewed its tactics.
Based on the Virginia Tech data, experts determined the first officer on scene should make entry immediately with an aggressive attack on the shooter.
Every minute the officer waits for back-up, another three or more people could die.
In other words, while it was once considered suicide for a lone officer to take on an active killer, it is now considered statistical homicide for him not to do so.

Tactical Defense Institute in Adams County, Ohio developed one of the first "single officer response" programs in the nation.
TDI was teaching the tactic even before Virginia Tech. Now the National School Resource Officer Organization (NSRO) is using TDI instructors to teach school resource officers how to confront a gunman immediately.
So it appears that anyone taking a shot at an "active killer" is an improvement over waiting for more police to arrive. And the article goes on to admit that there's something else at play:
The other statistic that emerged from a study of active killers is that they almost exclusively seek out "gun free" zones for their attacks.
In most states, concealed handguns are prohibited at schools and on college campuses even for those with permits.
Many malls and workplaces also place signs at their entrances prohibiting firearms on the premises.
Now tacticians believe the signs themselves may be an invitation to the active killers.

The psychological profile of a mass murderer indicates he is looking to inflict the most casualties as quickly as possible.
Also, the data show most active killers have no intention of surviving the event.
They may select schools and shopping malls because of the large number of defenseless victims and the virtual guarantee no on the scene one is armed.
As soon as they're confronted by any armed resistance, the shooters typically turn the gun on themselves.
Clear enough?

Another Republican Fat Cat In Trouble!

Another Republican Fat Cat In Trouble!

We all know that insider trader is done by rich Republican fat cats! So who just got charged?
On Monday, the Securities and Exchange Commission filed a civil suit charging Mr. Cuban with insider trading for selling shares of a small Internet search company in 2004, just before its share price fell.
Mr. Cuban saved himself a $750,000 loss, according to the complaint filed in United States District Court in Dallas.
Mr. Cuban swiftly fired back, accusing the regulator of “prosecutorial misconduct” and alleging that he was the victim of a political vendetta by the agency in the waning days of the Bush administration.
“I am disappointed that the commission chose to bring this case based upon its enforcement staff’s win-at-any-cost ambitions,” Mr. Cuban said. “The staff’s process was result-oriented, facts be damned.”
And just so you don't think Cuban was apolitical, or something--this is the guy who helped finance distribution of Loose Change, one of those bizarre 9/11 conspiracy theory movies.

The Booming Economy

The Booming Economy

I mentioned a couple of days ago how gun sales were booming because of the Obama election. This article from the November 14, 2008 Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel gives some real data:

Handgun purchases in Wisconsin skyrocketed 82% in the days before and after Barack Obama's election as president compared with the same 13 days in November last year, figures on state background checks show.

Most of the early November background checks took place after the Nov. 4 presidential election, a sign that gun owners anticipate new restrictions with Democrats taking control of the federal government.

Calls for background checks that are required for the purchase of handguns have flooded the state agency. In the first 13 days of the month, 2,642 background checks were requested. During the same 13 days last November, the number was 1,453, state Justice Department spokesman Bill Cosh said.

Tom Smith of Eagle said Friday that he purchased two handguns, a .22-caliber snub nose and a .45-caliber semiautomatic, in the days before the election when it became clear Obama would win.

"I bought them because I was afraid they were going to be outlawed . . . ," said Smith, who was at the McMiller Sports Center shooting range near Eagle in western Waukesha County.

Gun owners also are worried that Obama might push for tax increases on ammunition and gun accessories, what they described as a back-door way to bring about gun control.

"I went out and stocked up on ammo. I bought 20 cases of rifle ammunition," Kyle Troeger of Muskego said.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

The Lake House (2006)

The Lake House (2006)

I caught this on Oxygen Channel (which emphasizes that it is aimed at women) and this may be the perfect film for them. It is your basic time travel love story (of which there are many, although Somewhere in Time perhaps the most romantic), but with a new twist, because it doesn't involve time travel per se (except for some materials--this is exposed early enough in the movie that this doesn't really qualify as a spoiler).

What makes this remarkable is not just the romance involved, but how it sticks to the theme of Jane Austen's Persuasion--although it is not in any sense based on that novel--the value of waiting for the person that you really love. This is an astonishing idea in our microwave, instant gratification world. (Admittedly, anyone who wouldn't wait for Sandra Bullock is clearly beyond hope, anyway.)

There are several interesting subplots that provide interest tangents without distracting from what is, after all, a love story. To my surprise and pleasure, there is only the subtle implication of a sexual relationship involving the doctor and her old boyfriend; a very small amount of vulgar language appears to have been edited for broadcast. Within the secular worldview that this film inhabits, it is a powerful message about waiting for the right person--not taking whatever is currently available.

Watch this with someone you love.

Too Stupid To Drive And Refresh German At The Same Time?

Too Stupid To Drive And Refresh German At The Same Time?

After seeing my comments about finding some free German lessons that I could burn to CD for my drive back and forth to Bend, a reader told me of his experiences trying to use audio learning CDs while driving on a rural Interstate--and indicated that it was surprisingly easy to lose concentration on driving, even in what would seem like a demand situation. My first reaction was to thank him for the warning, while wondering, "How hard can this be? I listen to the radio all the time."

But actually doing it, I came to the conclusion that the learning process of listening to CDs, and trying to make sure that I remembered what these German words mean, was far more distracting than I expected--enough so that I won't be trying this in the future. Nor did I even get through the first CD.

In addition, while these audio files probably work fine in the context for which they were intended--using the workbook that came with them--they really aren't suited to the purpose for which I was using them. I might transfer the MP3 files to my wife's MP3 player, and use them (and the printed book) when I fly to and from the District of Criminals next weekend (for the Heller Brunch that the Cato Institute invited me to attend). At least I am not trying to pilot the plane at the same time!

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Cutting Spending, Not Marginal Tax Rates

Cutting Spending, Not Marginal Tax Rates

For several decades now, Republicans have used cutting tax rates as a path to office. It worked--but it had consequences.

There's no question that cutting marginal tax rates--especially in the higher brackets--promoted economic growth. I think it is also pretty well proved that the Laffer Curve was correct--that growth meant that revenues actually grew faster. Had spending kept pace with inflation, most of these tax cuts would have resulted in shrinking deficits--but alas, keeping spending under control with our current political system is pretty much impossible.

As I previously mentioned, one downside of this is that increases the amount of wealth that people making above $200,000 a year have available to fund hard left causes. Can you imagine how small MoveOn would be if there weren't vast numbers of multimillionaires in America to keep them funded?

Another consequence was that it ballooned deficits--because while cutting taxes makes you popular with the under $100,000 a year crowd, there has been relatively little conservative emphasis on cutting spending. And there's a reason for this. Cutting spending is a two-edged sword (maybe three edges).

1. Cutting spending means that some programs that put money into the pockets of rich people will have to be cut. For example, limiting farm price supports to people making less than $500,000 a year would infuriate large numbers of "gentleman farmers" who get a million dollars in farm price supports so that they can keep their Gulfstream V jets fueled up. There aren't millions of these people; there might be thousands or tens of thousands of them. Their votes don't much matter; their political contributions do. If Republicans were to run on a platform of cutting spending on programs for the extremely rich, we would have to work very aggressively on getting the word out to the masses--the people whose taxes are raised to keep those Gulfstream V jets fueled.

2. Cutting spending means that we would have to actually educate some significant number of voters about why some of these programs are not just expensive, but often bad ideas. Now, I know that there is no realistic possibility of educating most voters. You can only get their attention with slogans and simple ideas. (I like to think that these voters are almost all Democrats, but alas, there are more than a few Republicans who operate at this same lizard-like level.) There is a significant fraction of voters who are actually capable of thinking and learning. The problem is that so much of political campaigning is built around signs, bumper stickers, and simple slogans. To do this right is going to require some significant revision to how political campaigns operate.

3. At some point, we need to openly state that the reason that we are focusing on cutting spending is that the marginal tax rates are actually low enough now that there's really not any reason to cut them more. The harsh reality is that I look around America, and I see an awful lot of signs that a lot of people (especially in the higher salary ranges) now have more disposable income than they can sensibly use. There are an awful lot of teenagers developing no character at all because Mom and Dad have $200,000 a year coming in, and as a result, they are spoiling their kids rotten.

General Motors & America

General Motors & America

You are doubtless aware of the famous statement by the chairman of GM, back some years ago: "For years I thought that what was good for our country was good for General Motors, and vice versa." If so, they are both in big trouble right now. GM closed on Friday at $3.01 per share of common stock. I understand that it is now at the lowest price since 1946. With 610 million shares of common stock outstanding, there are people that I used to work with who could buy a majority of GM shares without enormous strain--the whole value of the common stock is only about $2 billion.

The prospect of GM going under is pretty terrifying, not because of sentimentality, but because this is one of the largest manufacturing companies on Earth, and at the core of much of the American economy. This whole bailout idiocy has done to American business what welfare does to ordinary people: it encourages those who might not need help to decide that it is easier to go on the dole.

So, does anyone seriously think that the value of GM is only in the low billions? It owns a vast number of manufacturing plants. It has a pretty talented bunch of engineers who are capable of quite astonishing work. (If you don't believe this, take a Corvette out for a spin.) I am almost inclined to think that buying a thousand shares of GM wouldn't be a particularly risky thing to do at this price.

UPDATE: A reader points out something that I remember reading a while back, and something that I didn't know. The UAW wants GM bailed out because then they get to continue to enjoy their extraordinary health insurance plan (no copayments, no premiums for employees or family--including for retirees)--and if the only way to keep this afloat is to have the federal government take over the insurance plan as a first step towards nationalized health care, all the better! GM management doesn't want to go bankrupt (even though it would let them force renegotiation of the UAW contract) because the preferred stock and associated options would become pretty much worthless.

Remember that the UAW's contracts are a lot of why GM, Ford, and Chrysler are in such serious shape--while other company that make cars here (Honda, Mercedes, BMW, Subaru) are not. That's not the only reason (the Big Three have managed to do plenty of harm to themselves without union help)--but it is a big part of it. There's a reason that the other makers are located in right to work states, or at least states that aren't spectacularly union friendly.

The Obligation To Confess

The Obligation To Confess

In 1984, those who have been broken to the will of Big Brother confess to their crimes--and like the show trials of the Stalinist purges, they often confess to crimes that they did not commit, and that no one could possibly believe that they committed. We aren't quite to that point yet, but this commentary by Diana West really captures some of where we seem to be going as a society:

In a dramatic, closed door meeting, the owner of a renowned Mexican eatery in Hollywood expressed regret in her decision to donate $100 to the “Yes on Prop 8″ campaign, but her remarks before a group of about 60 members of Los Angeles’ LGBT community fell short of an outright personal apology.

Just the spectacle of an American citizen expressing regret for her political conviction to avert economic harm is gruesome already. But it goes on:

“I’m sick of heart that I’ve offended anyone in the gay community,” said Marjorie Christoffersen, co-owner of El Coyote Mexican Cafe for 17 years. “I have had, and do have family, friends, and people I work with of course who are gay…and you are treasured people to me.”

The tall, frail Christoffersen stood in the center of the group. She appeared to be shaking during her prepared remarks which lasted about 3 minutes. Two young female family members flanked her to prevent her from fainting, according to a restaurant employee. At several points during her speech, Christoffersen simply became too emotional to continue.

El Coyote has become the latest casualty in the local outburst against the passage of Proposition 8, an anti-marriage amendment [sic] to the California State Constitution. Dozens of e-mails and websites, including the popular online local guide,, have urged boycotting the legendary cafe in recent days.

Christoffersen, who is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, insisted that her donation was personal, and reflected her religious faith.

“I’ve been a member of the Mormon Church all my life,” she said. “This was a personal donation. In like fashion, any employee here would be free to donate, worship or support anything of their personal choosing."

Freedom, the Golden Rule, conscience--none of it is good enough for the commissars.

"Over the years Coyote has financially supported many charities and thousands of dollars most particularly have been given to the gay interests and charities. The restaurant does not support any political group.”

Progressive bona fides aren't good enough for the commissars, either.

In the only question taken by Ms. Christoffersen after her remarks, and before those gathered, I asked her directly if she would personally make an equal donation to the campaigns to repeal Proposition 8.

“I cannot change a lifetime of faith,” she said.

I would love to know how felt after the old lady's quiet riposte, but he doesn't say.

Moments later, the same group which had been invited for lunch and margaritas grew increasingly verbal, apparently reacting to the lack of a direct apology from Ms. Christoffersen, and she left the building in tears. The group continued to meet for another 30 minutes, before dispersing for what appeared to be a looming boycott. One demonstrator was already shouting outside.

Still, there were some dissenting voices in the room. One woman compared the angry gathering to Nazi Germany, when Hitler’s military singled out individual Jews in a witch hunt for their religious beliefs. “Why are we singling out one restaurant?” the woman asked. “Are you ready to go up against every single restaurant in the city?”

Those who live in homosexual dominated societies need to remember that they are no longer allowed to disagree--at least, if they don't want to choose between abject apologies and business ruination.

Homosexuality, freedom: pick one.

Another Dot-Com.munism Success

Another Dot-Com.munism Success

I mentioned a couple of days ago wanting some CDs to refresh my knowledge of German--and that ideally, they would be free, somewhere on the Internet. One of my readers pointed me to this collection of MP3s for teaching German, originally recorded by the U.S. government back in 1961. And there are dozens of other languages available as well!

I don't know how good this will be, but it's free, and since I already have had several years of German, it isn't like I am starting from scratch. It is interesting to hear how differently the American speakers from 1961 sound--probably because back then, Eastern accents were still so common in recording. Not so now!

Friday, November 14, 2008

Senator Boxer Sure Hires A Bunch of Weirdos

Senator Boxer Sure Hires A Bunch of Weirdos

Some years ago, it was one of her staff trying to get a handgun through security at San Francisco International, and giving some absurd claim that he worked for the CIA. Now, according to the November 14, 2008 Washington Post:
A senior aide to Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) was fired from his post last week after he was charged with distributing and receiving child pornography.
Jeffrey P. Rosato, an aide to Boxer and a senior policy adviser on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, was arrested last Friday, the same day he was fired from Boxer's office, and charged with one count each of receipt and distribution of child pornography. He appeared in U.S. District Court in Alexandria on Wednesday and was released on his own recognizance, but he is forbidden to have access to children or computers.
According to an FBI affidavit, an unnamed person "distributed more than 600 files containing graphic images and movies of child pornography to an undercover detective that [the person] believed was a 13-year-old boy" over the course of more than 15 online chats during a three-week period in January. In that person's computer, the FBI found information suggesting the person had exchanged pornography with Rosato.

So what's the problem? Poor screening? Or is just that the density of sick and deranged sorts is higher than usual where Senator Boxer is hiring? Oh yeah, the article goes on to mention another female Democratic senator with bad luck in hiring:
Last month, a former Senate aide, James Michael McHaney, was sentenced to three years in prison on a federal charge of possession of child pornography. McHaney, 28, was arrested last year in a sting and fired from his job in the office of Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.).

My Literary Agent Has Retired

My Literary Agent Has Retired

If you have some positive experience with an agent getting a publisher for your book, please let me know. My agent did say,
I did give the first 30 or so pages of your book a quick read. It's an interesting take on an important subject and well written, so I'm fairly confident the right agent will be able to place it at the right home for it.
Nelson Current published my previous book, and the contract gives them right of first refusal for this book. (I'm still waiting to hear from them.) The book is tentatively titled Personal Tragedies: Mental Illness, Deinstitutionalization, and Homelessness.

Books about mental illness fit into two broad categories: personal accounts of what happened to a family member; and scholarly histories. I get the impression that the former sell well, but don't much move the public policy discussion, while books in the latter category don't sell well at all. My book is something of a hybrid, in that some chapters recount the tragedy that overcame my older brother, and other chapters examine the history of deinstitutionalization and its effects
on our society. I am hoping that the combination may result in a book that sells well, and influences public policy. But I'll be happy if it just sells well!

You can see a list of my books at;
scholarly articles at;
popular magazine articles at Oh yes, the Supreme Court cited some of my work in a recent decision, D.C. v. Heller (2008).

Suggestions? Recommendations?

There's One Part of the Economy That Is Doing Well

There's One Part of the Economy That Is Doing Well

Those engaged in the selling of guns. I had heard that there was an increase in gun sales in the weeks before the election. At least here in Idaho, it has exploded since the election. One of the gun stores here in the Treasure Valley sold $20,000 worth of guns on the Saturday after the election!

A friend who attended the gun show this last weekend tells me that there was a twenty minute wait to get inside, because of how long the line was. Guns that were going unsold for $350 at the previous gun show were snapped up at $450. People were buying cases of ammunition--and our local economy has been hit hard by layoffs the last several months.

A fair number of people are worried that we might be headed down the path that Allende's election took Chile. I think that's unlikely, although not impossible, when you consider the genocidal crazies that helped start Obama's career. But it is best to be prepared.

Just A Coincidence, I'm Sure

Just A Coincidence, I'm Sure

From the November 13, 2008 San Jose Mercury-News:
LOS ANGELES—Authorities say a Mormon temple in Los Angeles has been closed after employees received a letter containing a white powdery substance.

FBI spokeswoman Laura Eimiller says a hazardous materials crew was inspecting the envelope Thursday to determine its contents. Employees also were evacuated as a precaution.

The temple located in Westwood was the site of a recent gay rights march in which protesters hung signs and chanted their opposition to Proposition 8, which banned gay marriage.

Meanwhile, another envelope containing white powder was sent to the Mormon temple in Salt Lake City. Authorities say the mysterious substance spilled on a clerk's hand inside the temple's mail room. A fire official says the clerk showed no signs of illness.
Election doesn't go your way? Respond with terrorist attacks. That's mature.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Learning German CD

Learning German CD

I'm thinking of using the 4 1/2 hours of travel time each direction to Bend to brush up on my German. Any recommendations for a CD that I might be able to find in a bookstore? Or perhaps one that I could buy online and download? Even better: something that is free? (I subscribe to the dot-com.munist theory that everything on the Internet should be free, or at least paid for by someone else.)

UPDATE: Actually, paid for the by taxpayers, long, long ago. See here for a series of MP3s originally created by the U.S. government for teaching German--and dozens of other languages as well!

Bringing Back The Blacklist

Bringing Back The Blacklist

Back in the 1950s, blacklisting was evil! People that were accused of being (and many actually were) Communists couldn't get work! Evil! Bad! Nasty! Reactionary! And it's coming back! From the November 13, 2008 Sacramento Bee:
Scott Eckern, artistic director for the California Musical Theatre, resigned Wednesday as a growing number of artists threatened to boycott the organization because of his $1,000 donation to the campaign to ban gay marriage in California.

"I understand my supporting of Proposition 8 has been the cause of many hurt feelings, maybe even betrayal," Eckern said in a written statement. "I chose to act upon my belief that the traditional definition of marriage should be preserved."

Richard Lewis, the executive producer of the California Musical Theatre, said he does not plan to immediately seek a replacement.


Los Angeles-based and Tony Award-winning composer Marc Shaiman ("Hairspray") wrote a blog saying he would never allow any of his shows to again be licensed or performed by California Musical Theatre while Eckern was employed there.

Despite support from many in the local community who valued his contributions and championed his right to free speech, Eckern decided he could no longer be effective as the creative force behind the area's largest producing and presenting performing arts organization.
Professor Volokh points to the current California laws that almost touch this issue.

California law does prohibit firing someone for political activity--the Unruh Civil Rights Act. But it doesn't appear that Eckern was pressured to resign. I don't even have any fundamental objection to boycotts and such.

What I do object to is the totalitarian hypocrisy of the homosexual activists. In Gay Law Students Association v. Pacific Telephone & Telegraph (Cal. 1979), homosexual activists argued that being "out" at work was a political act, and therefore protected by the Unruh Civil Rights Act--and yet here they are, trying to get this guy fired from his job for not thinking correctly.

I do find it fascinating that homosexual activists insist that the government should prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation, and even to require a freelance photographer to photograph a same-sex commitment ceremony. But they also insist that they have the right to threaten an employer with economic damage if they don't fire one of their employees.

Make no mistake about it: homosexual activists do not want one set of laws that applies equally to all. They want the power to force independent businesses to do business with them, regardless of sexual orientation--but also insist that they should have to right to threaten businesses that employ people, regardless of their political orientation.

Freedom, homosexuality: pick one.

UPDATE: What do you know: there is an actual blacklist, right here. You might consider this a list of people that deserve our support, encouragement, and business (if they are in business).

When Phone Numbers Go Bad

When Phone Numbers Go Bad

Someone named Amanda at a company or organization named ACT called me at the company in Bend where I am consulting, and let a phone number. But the phone number is wrong. I haven't left the number anywhere, and so I assume that this person saw that I was consulting to this company on my resume. Therefore, whoever this company ACT is in the 208 area code, they are probably calling me about a local job--and I have no idea who they are.

If you have any idea who a company named ACT in Idaho might be, let me know.

"Kool-Aid Drinkers"

"Kool-Aid Drinkers"

If you don't know why conservatives use this expression to refer to the leftists prepared to defend any outrage of their heroes, this brief remembrance of the Jonestown massacre 30 years ago will help:

Thirty years ago, Jim Jones was the leader of the People’s Temple, a communist organization that had been run out of San Francisco due to intense media scrutiny. They made their way to Guyana in South America, set up a collective named (of course) Jonestown, and proceeded to swell it with his supporters, many of them minorities.

They came because they appreciated his emphasis on integration. They came because he told them that traditional religion was created to keep women and minorities down. They came because he promised them he would take care of them. They came because he promised them a socialist paradise. They came because he told them he would fight their battles with oppression and help them win.

They never left.

On November 18, thirty years ago, their savior invited them all for drinks. At the end of the day, over 900 followers had perished drinking cyanide-laced Kool-Aid Jones gave them. It’s why we use the term “drank the Kool-Aid” when we talk about someone so sold-out to a movement that he would do anything and believe anything to support it.

I should point out that while there were many Jonestown residents who drank the Kool-Aid willingly, and in full knowledge of what was in it, many others were threatened at gunpoint by Jones's machine gun wielding "security force," and many were children who had no idea what was going on.Shiva Naipaul's Journey to Nowhere: A New World Tragedy (1981) discusses some of the involvement of progressive San Francisco Democrats in breaking laws and bending rules to help make this tragedy happen.

UPDATE: I am reminded that the drink mix was actually from a company called "Flavor-Aid" and I should expect a reminder from the makers of Kool-Aid shortly!