Wednesday, December 31, 2008

An Unfortunate Juxtaposition

An Unfortunate Juxtaposition

Right down the street from St. Luke's Hospital in West Boise:

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is this unfortunately named restaurant:

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What next? A restaurant called "Epidemic Enchiladas"?

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

"Like It Never Even Happened"

"Like It Never Even Happened"

It's unfortunate that ServPro is already using this service mark, because that's how I feel about the job that Treasure Valley Collision did on the Jaguar.

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There is one very, very minor scratch on the hood that was there before the accident, the insurance adjuster says--and I have no reason to doubt it. I suspect that it will polish out. Otherwise, it is as perfect looking and driving as before the unfortunate incident with the ice.

The salesman says that he thinks the manual was in the glove compartment when I received the car, so I'm going to call the body shop tomorrow and see if someone removed it to check something, but if not, there's on one order, and I can read this one online.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Nice Piece From the British Paper, The Telegraph

Nice Piece From the British Paper, The Telegraph

From December 28, 2008:

Looking back over my columns of the past 12 months, one of their major themes was neatly encapsulated by two recent items from The Daily Telegraph.

The first, on May 21, headed "Climate change threat to Alpine ski resorts" , reported that the entire Alpine "winter sports industry" could soon "grind to a halt for lack of snow". The second, on December 19, headed "The Alps have best snow conditions in a generation" , reported that this winter's Alpine snowfalls "look set to beat all records by New Year's Day".
Easily one of the most important stories of 2008 has been all the evidence suggesting that this may be looked back on as the year when there was a turning point in the great worldwide panic over man-made global warming. Just when politicians in Europe and America have been adopting the most costly and damaging measures politicians have ever proposed, to combat this supposed menace, the tide has turned in three significant respects.
First, all over the world, temperatures have been dropping in a way wholly unpredicted by all those computer models which have been used as the main drivers of the scare. Last winter, as temperatures plummeted, many parts of the world had snowfalls on a scale not seen for decades. This winter, with the whole of Canada and half the US under snow, looks likely to be even worse. After several years flatlining, global temperatures have dropped sharply enough to cancel out much of their net rise in the 20th century.

And yet President Obama still wants a carbon tax to solve a problem that is increasingly clearly non-existent.

Playing Into the Hands of Holocaust Deniers

Playing Into the Hands of Holocaust Deniers

This type of fraud
plays into the hands of Holocaust deniers:

NEW YORK (AP) - It's the latest story that touched, and betrayed, the world.

"Herman Rosenblat and his wife are the most gentle, loving, beautiful people," literary agent Andrea Hurst said Sunday, anguishing over why she, and so many others, were taken by Rosenblat's story of love born on opposite sides of a barbed-wire fence at a concentration camp.

"I question why I never questioned it. I believed it; it was an incredible, hope-filled story."

On Saturday, Berkley Books canceled Rosenblat's memoir, "Angel at the Fence." Rosenblat acknowledged that he and his wife did not meet, as they had said for years, at a sub-camp of Buchenwald, where she allegedly sneaked him apples and bread. The book was supposed to come out in February.

Rosenblat, 79, has been married to the former Roma Radzicky for 50 years, since meeting her on a blind date in New York. In a statement issued Saturday through his agent, he described himself as an advocate of love and tolerance who falsified his past to better spread his message.

"I wanted to bring happiness to people," said Rosenblat, who now lives in the Miami area. "I brought hope to a lot of people. My motivation was to make good in this world."

Rosenblat's believers included not only his agent and his publisher, but Oprah Winfrey, film producers, journalists, family members and strangers who ignored, or didn't know about, the warnings from scholars that his story didn't make sense.

It is never right to do wrong to do right.

Clever Snow Plow

Clever Snow Plow

We finally have a patch of 40 degree weather, and the driveway is now almost completely clear, but think ahead! I'm looking at the snowplows that attach to TrailBlazers, most of which involve considerable complexity with attachment hardware, wiring, etc. But I did find this very clever product from SuperPlow that attaches using a standard trailer hitch and trailer wiring, making it "Plug and Plow." (Groan.) You can either drag it and scrape the road clear, or back up and push snow out of the way. It is still at a price point that justifies paying someone to come up and do our driveway periodically.

Progressives Making Progress

Progressives Making Progress

David Gans and Doug Kendall over at Balkinization
admit that the method by which the Supreme Court has applied parts of the Bill of Rights to the states through the Fourteenth Amendment is suspect:
For the last forty years, the Court’s fundamental rights jurisprudence developed under the Due Process Clause has been dogged by persistent claims of illegitimacy. Roe v. Wade has been the target of most of these attacks, but the claims made by Roe’s attackers go well beyond Roe or even abortion rights. Justice Scalia – the most fervent of the challengers – argues that the protection of unwritten fundamental rights is simply not lawyer’s work. “The tools of this job,” he says “are not to be found in the lawyer’s – and hence not the judge’s – workbox.” But one need not reach for tools beyond Scalia’s favorites—text and history—to see that judges properly protect substantive fundamental rights not enumerated elsewhere in the Constitution. On Scalia’s own terms, his objections fall flat when faced with the text and history of the Privileges or Immunities Clause.

The words of the Privileges or Immunities Clause protect the substantive fundamental rights of all Americans. As Senator Jacob Howard said in the Senate debates on the Amendment: “[i]t will, if adopted by the States, forever disable every one of them from passing laws trenching upon those fundamental rights and privileges which pertain to citizens of the United States . . . .” Many others said the same thing, and the Amendment’s opponents never once contradicted them.

The list of fundamental rights the Privileges or Immunities Clause was designed to protect began with those in the Bill of Rights, but it did not end there. In discussing the fundamental rights of citizenship, the framers regularly included a long list of fundamental rights – such as the right of access to the courts, the right to freedom of movement, the right to bodily integrity, and the right to have a family and direct the upbringing of one’s children – that have no obvious textual basis in the Bill of Rights. These were core rights of personal liberty and personal security that belong to “citizens of all free governments;” it did not matter that they were not enumerated elsewhere in the Constitution. The framers’ thinking should hardly be surprising. The Ninth Amendment affirms that the Constitution protects unenumerated rights; as Steven Calabresi reports, more than three-quarters of state constitutions at the time of the ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment did the same.
They start out well, but then insist that using the "Privileges or Immunities" clause of the 14th Amendment gets to the same results as Roe v. Wade (1973) and Lawrence v. Texas (2003). This is incorrect. To use the P&I clause in an honest way would require us to look at what rights were generally recognized in 1868. Was there a right to eat meat in 1868? I doubt that there was even a single state law that regulated it. But for many of the examples that Gans and Kendall, such as abortion and homosexuality, there was a consensus the other direction, that these were legitimate exercises of state power in the interests of public morality. Hence, homosexual sex was a felony in every state. Abortion, at least from "the quickening" had been a criminal offense (although infrequently prosecuted) for decades, and at least some states were beginning to criminalize it in the first trimester. There was no recognized right to homosexual marriage in 1868; indeed, I suspect that if you had argued the case in print, you would likely have been prosecuted for publishing indecent material (another reminder that freedom of speech and the press, while certainly examples of "Privileges or Immunities" did not include the broad definition that the Court has recognized).

It is important to recognize the dangers of ends-based legal theories. Originalism doesn't always give us everything we want. Was there a right to keep and bear arms? Yes, but not quite as unlimited a right as I would like there be there. The only laws that interfered with the broad exercise of that right were the ones that the drafters of the 14th Amendment clearly intended to destroy by its passage--and that opponents acknowledged would be struck down. But as much as I would like it to be otherwise, I do not think that an honest assessment of the evidence from 1868 would argue that ALL modes of bearing arms were completely protected. There was certainly no consensus that concealed carry was a protected right--and many states that clearly regarded it was a grievous evil within the authority of the state to regulate.

I'm glad to see progressives acknowledging that the Due Process clause precedents are seriously flawed, and coming back to looking at Privileges or Immunities. But an honest evaluation of the evidence doesn't give them the results that they want.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Auto Backup for Macs

Auto Backup for Macs

Any recommendations for a backup program for Macs that lets you specify to backup specified folders on a daily basis? I bought my son a 640 GB external hard drive for his Mac, and we are chagrined to not find anything built into the Mac OS to do this. There are some freeware programs out there, but if you can recommend one, that would be fine. It doesn't have to be clever--just clever enough to identify which files have been modified or added since the last backup, and copy those files to an external drive.

UPDATE: It turned out to be simpler for my son's needs to just set up a crontab to run rsync to do the backups.

Perpetual Criminal

Perpetual Criminal

There is almost certainly more to this guy's story--but it adds a whole new dimension to the idea of a criminal with a long rap sheet. From the December 1, 2008 Nashville Tennessean:

A 22-year-old uniformed security guard who was buying gasoline at a Murfreesboro Pike station on Sunday shot and killed a robbery suspect carrying an air gun.

Metro detectives are ruling the death of Jamie L. Sullivan, 37, a justifiable homicide.

Wearing a mask and carrying what appeared to be a pistol, Sullivan entered the Mapco market at 2101 Murfreesboro Pike at 1:45 a.m.

Eric Gordon, 22, was also in the market. Sullivan pointed his pistol at Gordon's head and threatened to kill him. Sullivan told Gordon to surrender his holstered gun and a struggle ensued. Gordon drew his 9-millimeter weapon and shot Sullivan once in the face. Sullivan died at the scene.

Shortly after, detectives discovered that Sullivan's gun was a BB pistol that looked like a real gun.

Metro police had charged Sullivan with 146 offenses since June 1989. His last arrest was for trespassing Nov. 20.

One single police department had charged this guy 146 times? How many other crimes has this guy committed in other jurisdictions? How many crimes did he commit for which he was never arrested? I also notice that "since June 1989" means since Sullivan turned 18. How many juvenile arrests were sealed? Sullivan seems to have been a one man crime wave.

Cheapskates And Projection

Cheapskates And Projection

I was very pleased to see this column by New York Times columnist Nicholas D. Kristof that appeared in the December 24, 2008 Santa Rosa Press-Democrat:
This holiday season is a time to examine who's been naughty and who's been nice, but I'm unhappy with my findings. The problem is this: We liberals are personally stingy.
Liberals show tremendous compassion in pushing for generous government spending to help the neediest people at home and abroad.
Yet when it comes to individual contributions to charitable causes, liberals are cheapskates.
Arthur Brooks, the author of a book on donors to charity, "Who Really Cares," cites data that households headed by conservatives give 30 percent more to charity than households headed by liberals. A study by Google found an even greater disproportion: average annual contributions reported by conservatives were almost double those of liberals. Other research has reached similar conclusions. The "generosity index" from the Catalogue for Philanthropy typically finds that red states are the most likely to give to nonprofits, while Northeastern states are least likely to do so.
The upshot is that Democrats, who speak passionately about the hungry and homeless, personally fork over less to charity than Republicans -- the ones who try to cut health insurance for children.
"When I started doing research on charity," Brooks wrote, "I expected to find that political liberals -- who, I believed, genuinely cared more about others than conservatives did -- would turn out to be the most privately charitable people. So when my early findings led me to the opposite conclusion, I assumed I had made some sort of technical error. I re-ran analyses. I got new data. Nothing worked. In the end, I had no option but to change my views."
Something similar is true internationally. European countries seem to show more compassion than the United States in providing safety nets for the poor, and they give far more humanitarian foreign aid per capita than the United States does. But as individuals, Europeans are far less charitable than Americans.
Americans give sums to charity equivalent to 1.67 percent of GNP, according to a terrific new book, "Philanthrocapitalism," by Matthew Bishop and Michael Green. The British are second, with 0.73 percent, while the stingiest people on the list are the French, at 0.14 percent.
I am convinced that at least part of why liberals push so hard for the government to play Robin Hood is projection: liberals know what cheapskates they are, and assume that everyone is similarly unwilling to open their pockets to help those in need. Fortunately, liberals are still a minority of Americans.

There are a lot of reasons why governmental redistribution is an inferior way of providing for the needs of the poor. One reason is that the costs of administration and processing mean that more than half of the revenues spent by the federal government on helping the poor seem to get lost in the bureaucracies that collect the taxes, figure out who needs it, and then actually dole out the money. I would like to think that this is just because government is not very efficient, but I am reminded by Professor Milton Friedman's observation that when you ask middle class, college educated people to design a system for helping the poor, they inevitably come up with a system that creates jobs for middle class, college educated people.

A second reason why charitable contributions are better than governmental redistribution is that for the most part, charities for the relief of the poor don't seem to suffer from "mission creep" that transforms them into something that they were not intended to be. Rural electrification, when started during the New Deal, was intended to provide electric power to rural, usually desperately poor parts of America. Within the context of the welfare state, this was a commendable and sensible action to take. Today those rural electrification co-ops--which I understand still receive big federal subsidies--are overwhelmingly suburban communities that aren't poor.

A third advantage of charitable giving is that you get to decide which programs you consider most important. Most of our December charitable contributions (somewhat reduced from normal because of my job situation) went to World Vision and The Salvation Army, two groups whose work I greatly respect. I have no direct control over where my federal taxes will go, and for all I know, the "charitable" actions that I am funding might turn out to be an S&M festival somewhere, because of mission creep, and the inevitable ability of bureaucrats to confuse poverty and an poverty of values.

I am not suggesting that all governmental assistance to the poor should stop. There are holes in the private safety net, and the government handles some of this, although perhaps not very efficiently. But I would love to see liberals put more of their enormous wealth into helping the poor through charitable contributions, and a bit less trying to force the rest of us to fund the National Endowment for the Arts, and other offensive or questionable programs.

"Merry Christmas" and Taking Offense

"Merry Christmas" and Taking Offense

One of the culture wars battles the last year or two has been retailers that go out of their way to avoid any reference to Christmas at this time of year. Perhaps because I live in one of the more vigorously traditional parts of America--where the population is overwhelmingly Protestant, Catholic, or Church of Latter Day Saints--this doesn't seem to be a big issue. I was pleased and surprised at how many sales clerks wished me "Merry Christmas" over the last few weeks--far more so than I can remember in previous years.

What drove the move towards the generic and almost meaningless, "Happy Holidays"? I suspect that it was people convinced that there was something offensive about acknowledging that Christmas is the holiday for the overwhelming majority of Americans. For a majority of Americans, Christmas is not just a "winter holiday" but a holy day, when we commemorate the birth of our Lord and Savior. I wish that more of those who hold Christmas special for that reason operated more consistently as though they actually believed it, but people are strange and not very consistent.

For another very large group of Americans, even if they are not particularly religious, Christmas is what this season is all about, because these are people who grew up in Christian homes. Even if they no longer believe--or are too busy sowing their wild oats to believe right now--this season is a time of warm memories. To this bunch, "Happy Holidays" is slightly absurd.

I grew up on the West Side of Los Angeles--an area that had a very large Jewish population. I can remember going into my allergy specialist a couple days before Christmas one year. I think he was Jewish, and I can recall the look on his face as he searched his memory of discussions we had had over the years before he reached out his hand to shake mine and say, "Merry Christmas." I think he was trying to figure out if I was Jewish or not, and finally concluded that I probably was not.

Professor Eugene Volokh over at Volokh Conspiracy had a very thoughtful piece about what is offensive:
I don't celebrate Christmas as a religious holiday, but so what? If you wish me a Merry Christmas, is it really reasonable for me to interpret this as a wish that I have a deep relationship with Jesus on this day? I rather doubt it -- "Merry [anything]" isn't much of a call for serious religious action or introspection. Nor is it an assumption that I'm religiously Christian. Everyone, certainly including religious Christians, knows that tens of millions of Americans, including those raised nominally Christian, don't celebrate it as a religious holiday.


So if you tell me "Merry Christmas," good for you. If you tell me "Happy Holidays," I confess I'll get a bit annoyed because of its generic air, but I'll just assume that you're trying to play it safe -- often a very good strategy in social relations. Plus why be churlish about someone wishing you a happy anything? If you tell me "Happy Hanukkah," I'll start racking my brains about when Hanukkah actually is this year; I never have any idea. If you tell me "Happy Diwali," I'll assume that this is a good thing in your life, and I'll appreciate the good wishes. (If neither you nor I are Hindu, then I might wonder what you mean by that.) If you tell me "Happy New Year," my favorite greeting, I'll be extra pleased, but that's just a matter of taste.
A lot of the "we don't want to offend anyone" foolishness that provokes "Happy Holidays" is, I think, from people who are not offended by "Merry Christmas," but spend a lot of time wringing their hands about the possibility that there are Muslims, Jews, atheists, and other religious minorities who will be offended--much like when some bureaucrat in one of the British cities decreed no stuffed animals that depict pigs would be allowed in governmental offices, to avoid offending Muslims. Yes, I'm sure that al-Qaeda would be offended by Miss Piggie, but I'm skeptical that even most religious Muslims would find anything offensive about this cartoonish depiction of a pig. A lot of multiculturalism is this same hand-wringing concern that someone, somewhere might be upset.

If I knew that someone was not a Christian and religious, I would not say, "Merry Christmas" to them, because I know that it might be taken as offensive. If I meet someone wearing a yarmulke, or one of the several types of Muslim clothing that clearly identify someone has religious, I'm not going to say, "Merry Christmas." But this is--still--a Christian nation. If I don't have a pretty strong indicator that a person that I meet is going to find the sentiment offensive, I see no reason to engage in any form of euphemism. Nor is there any good reason for retailers to do likewise. Doing so offends the vast majority of Americans who, if they don't treat Christmas as the day when we commemorate the birth of Jesus Christ, at least see Christmas as at least a time for reflection and good will towards others.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Another Day of Aerobic Road Clearing

Another Day of Aerobic Road Clearing

We got back from Christmas with family and friends late, and part way up the hill, the TrailBlazer refused to continue forward. Earlier in the day, when we were clearing the road with the snow thrower, we had cleared to the right margin of the road--and when I drove up, I had hugged the right margin. When I tried to back up and try again, I slid off the road into the drainage ditch. It wasn't much, but enough that we couldn't go forward, or backward. The surfaces were just too slick. We knew we needed chains, but there were none to be had on Christmas Day.

This morning, we made another attempt to get out on our power, but it just wasn't possible. Fortunately, a complete stranger had decided to snowplow Sunburst Road. This being Idaho (where right-wing selfish conservatives dominate everything), he came over, offered to help extricate us, then decided that he needed his tractor for this--the snowplow was just too big to get up our driveway. An hour later, he pulled us free, and since we had now cleared the driveway to the left margin of the asphalt, we had no problem climbing to the top. He also used his tractor to clear our driveway from top to bottom, and simply would not hear of accepting any payment for it. He was just doing it for the fun of it!

Readers who were here last year will realize that we have had similar experiences before with complete strangers bringing their earthmoving equipment up to help, and refusing to accept payment of any sort.

Finding the Security Chain Company Super Z6 traction devices was a bit more work than I expected. Some of the retailers listed on their website not only did not carry their products--but had never even heard of them. Finally, when I called Commercial Tire on Fairview Blvd. in Boise, they not only had them, but they had the specific models required for the TrailBlazer and the Jaguar X-type.

Remembering that it is always best to first install chains under ideal circumstances--we installed them on the TrailBlazer around sunset at my daughter's house, which is one of those unplowed subdivisions in the valley that still had plenty of snow and rutted ice to make it a realistic test. I was pleased to report that while not quite as easy as in the video, this is so much better than the traditional ladder chains that I now declare ladder style chains obsolete! It took about two minutes to get them installed on the first wheel, and about a minute to get them installed on the second wheel. I'm guessing that with practice, we'll be able to do them in under a minute each. Removal was very slightly harder. We did actually have to move the car a couple feet to get the wheel off one of the chains.

Driving around the subdivision, it was clear that these were providing substantially more traction than the all season tires alone. Obviously, chains don't allow you to ignore the laws of physics. You still have to drive with great caution, and you dare not consider driving more than 30 mph with chains. Of course, if conditions are so bad that you need chains, it would be crazy to drive 30 mph anyway. And if conditions are good enough to go faster, you need to stop and take the chains off, because you are wearing out the chains and your tires.

Coming back this evening, we had planned to chain up when we left state highway 55, because the old highway is plowed down to where we turn onto Sunburst, but still has lots of snow. The more I thought about it, however, I decided to wait until we reached the bottom of our driveway before making the chain-up decision. When we reached the bottom of our driveway, I could see significant portions of asphalt exposed. The combination of the stranger clearing our driveway, our active effort to expose the asphalt by removing ice in others, and intermittent sunshine, had made the road something that 4WD could easily and safely navigate. But it was gratifying to know that if we needed to chain up, Security Chain Company's Super Z6 product would make this an only slightly unpleasant task.

When the Jaguar comes out of body shop on Tuesday, I'll make sure that the set for it fit as well. Since the Bridgestone Blizzak WS60 tires that I was planning to put on it don't seem to be available before I have to go to Bend next (what a surprise), having these chains is very important.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Dude, Where's My Global Warming?

Dude, Where's My Global Warming?

The snowstorm last night was so powerful that it looked for a while like we weren't going to be getting out to visit our daughter and son-in-law for Christmas. We had three foot drifts in front of the house--and the slope was steep enough, and the snow soft enough, that we couldn't at first get on top with the snowthrower. Once we cleared some room, the TrailBlazer couldn't get traction--and the only chains we have are for the Equinox, and they don't fit the TrailBlazer.

The trick was to use 4WD Low--where the wheels can be made to turn slow enough to get traction.
I'm a little unsure if we can get back up the driveway without chains--and good luck finding chains for sale on Christmas Day! We may be staying in the valley tonight.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

For You NRA Members...

For You NRA Members...

The issue of America's First Freedom that just arrived in your mailbox--and might arrive in the next or day--has an article by me about Revolutionary marksmanship.

UPDATE: It's here as a searchable PDF (although a bit large--over 5 MB). I had originally included all the footnotes and other form of a scholarly paper. The editor did a nice job of losing the footnotes and the form, while retaining enough information for you to go find the primary sources--and then using bold to make the primary source material stand out.

UPDATE 2: A reader noticed that one page didn't make it in. Fixed!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Important New Law Review Article Out

Important New Law Review Article Out

Professor Saul Cornell, who fancies himself a serious historian because he is faculty at Ohio State University, wrote a law review article a few years back that claimed that St. George Tucker, one of the early and very important commentators on the Constitution, argued that the Second Amendment did not protect an individual right at all, based on Tucker's lecture notes. Both the majority and minority opinions in D.C. v. Heller (2008) assumed that Cornell knew what he was talking about and cited his claim.

My friend David Hardy
now has a new article out in Northwestern University Law Review that quotes in full the lecture notes that Cornell claims take this non-individual rights view of the Second Amendment--and shock of shocks! It turns out that Cornell's quotes are from Tucker's discussion of the militia clauses in Art. I, sec. 8. Tucker's remarks concerning the Second Amendment are essentially identical to his individual rights discussion in his 1803 gloss on Blackstone's Commentaries on the Laws of England.

This is not much of a surprise. Cornell defended Bellesiles' fraudulent work, and as several reviewers of Cornell's most recent book have pointed out, Cornell's work is riddled with gross factual errors--and like Bellesiles, those errors are remarkably one-sided:

When discussing regulation in the Jacksonian era, Cornell argues that several states expanded their use of the police power to prohibit "the sale or possession of certain weapons," and suggests that these weapons included both guns and knives. He specifically claims that Georgia and Tennessee passed "wide-ranging laws prohibiting the sale of pistols, dirks, and sword canes" (p. 142). There are two problems with Cornell's presentation of this material. The first is that Tennessee's statute applied only to Bowie knives, which clearly fell outside the scope of the right to keep and bear arms. The second problem is that Georgia's statute, which did apply to small pistols, was struck down as an unconstitutional infringement of the right to keep and bear arms in the 1846 case _Nunn v. Georgia_. Because Cornell never cites the case, it is difficult for a lay reader to discern the lack of balance in his presentation of the evidence. Cornell's assertions aside, there is little evidence that any colony or state exercised a police power to disarm citizens prior to the Civil War.

Cornell also asserts that pistols clearly fell outside of the constitutional protection afforded by the Second Amendment. He rests this assertion on the 1840 Tennessee Supreme Court Case _Aymette v. State_ upholding the aforementioned statute banning Bowie knives. Cornell declares that "in the view of the _Aymette_ court, the legislature enjoyed the widest possible latitude to regulate pistols" including the right to ban their possession (p. 146). But no such suggestion appears in the court's opinion. The court in _Aymette_ declared that "the object for which the right to keep and bear arms is secured, is of general and public nature, to be exercised by the people in a body, for their _common defence_, so the _arms_, the right to keep which is secured, are such as are usually employed in civilized warfare, and that constitute the ordinary military equipment.... The citizens have the unqualified right to _keep_ the weapon, it being of the character before described, as being intended by this provision."[3] The court found that Bowie knives were not of a military character, but made no mention or suggestion as to the status of pistols. Postbellum legal commentaries and judicial decisions applied _Aymette's logic in support of the argument that some small pocket pistols lacked military utility and thus fell outside the Second Amendment's protection, but Cornell has read this postbellum doctrinal development into an earlier text.

One Advantage of Telecommuting....

One Advantage of Telecommuting....

I was mentally exhausted from trying to understand a particularly complicated piece of code, so I shut down the VPN connection, took myself off the clock, and voila! I'm back in Horseshoe Bend!

One of my objections to chains and other add on traction devices for snow is that they are a real struggle to put on, especially because you are doing so in the cold, and often, in the dark. While cable devices are easier to put on than chain devices, because they are still a "ladder" design, they are still a nuisance to put on because you have to get your hands behind the wheel to hook the inside connectors together, and you have to roll the car onto the cables to pull them up and over the top of the tire.

So I was very pleased to find out about what are called Z design cables, such as this from Safety Chain Corporation of Clackamas, Oregon, so called because they make a Z across the tire. The Super Z6 design lets you install the cables without having to move the car, and without having to reach around behind the wheel where you can't see to connect everything. And the Super Z6 requires only 1/4" of clearance around the wheel. Watching the video almost makes it look painless to do.

I think I am still going to get some Severe Winter Traction tires for the Jaguar, but having chains this easy to install would make me a lot more willing to install them if needed.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Good Samaritans, Watch Out

Good Samaritans, Watch Out

This December 19, 2008 Los Angeles Times article
reports on a California Supreme Court decision:
The California Supreme Court ruled Thursday that a young woman who pulled a co-worker from a crashed vehicle isn't immune from civil liability because the care she rendered wasn't medical.

The divided high court appeared to signal that rescue efforts are the responsibility of trained professionals. It was also thought to be the first ruling by the court that someone who intervened in an accident in good faith could be sued.

Lisa Torti of Northridge allegedly worsened the injuries suffered by Alexandra Van Horn by yanking her "like a rag doll" from the wrecked car on Topanga Canyon Boulevard.

Torti now faces possible liability for injuries suffered by Van Horn, a fellow department store cosmetician who was rendered a paraplegic in the accident that ended a night of Halloween revelry in 2004.
As is often the case, the actual facts of the situation may have prompted the majority to make what I consider a very dangerous decision:
Torti, Van Horn and three other co-workers from a San Fernando Valley department store had gone out to a bar on Halloween for a night of drinking and dancing, departing in two cars at 1:30 a.m., the justices noted as background.

Van Horn was a front-seat passenger in a vehicle driven by Anthony Glen Watson, whom she also sued, and Torti rode in the second car. After Watson's car crashed into a light pole at about 45 mph, the rear car pulled off the road and driver Dion Ofoegbu and Torti rushed to help Watson's two passengers escape the wreckage.

Torti testified in a deposition that she saw smoke and liquid coming from Watson's vehicle and feared the car was about to catch fire. None of the others reported seeing signs of an imminent explosion, and Van Horn said in her deposition that Torti grabbed her arm and yanked her out "like a rag doll."

Van Horn's suit alleges negligence by Torti in aggravating a vertebrae injury suffered in the crash, causing permanent damage to the spinal cord.
Perhaps Torti was more observant than the others. Perhaps Torti's nice of drinking caused her to make a bad decision, and fear of imminent explosion was an after the fact rationalization. I am sure that we can all find situations where Torti's actions would still have been justified evne with the injuries that Van Horn suffered. And pretty clearly, there are situations where Torti's actions would have been inappropriate. For example, if this had been a 5 mph fender bender, and Torti had dragged Van Horn out through a broken windshield, cutting her up in the process.

Still, it doesn't seem to me that the California Supreme Court made the right decision from a legal standpoint, or from the standpoint of encouraging individuals to take steps to help others. I know that this decision would make less willing to take action in the aftermath of a traffic accident.

The Physics of Braking on Ice

The Physics of Braking on Ice

Back when Mr. Burkhard taught us physics in high school, we learned about computing the size of a circle that a vehicle could negotiate based on the friction of various surfaces. So I found myself asking, "What is the deceleration that we are getting on ice with various tire types?"

The formula for computing deceleration for a particular speed down to zero over a particular distance is v^2/2x. The data that I found here for stopping with studded tires, Bridgestone Blizzaks (a superior snow tire), and all season tires from 25 mph are 106 feet, 118 feet, and 128 feet. A little arithmetic tells us that the studded tires give .135g deceleration, the Blizzaks give .121g, and the all season tires gives .118g. By comparison, most decent cars (that is to say, the kind that I like to drive) will stop on dry pavement from 60 mph in 120 feet or so, which is about .70g deceleration.

The good news is that ice is not a frictionless surface--or you would keep sliding until wind resistance slowed you down, somewhere in the next state. Even on ice, tires will eventually stop you--but not before you run into another car, or in my case, a hillside.

Ordinarily, I would make the assumption that while there differences within class (some snow tires stop better than others, some all season tires stop better than others, some studded tires stop better than others), it isn't very likely that the best tire in any of these categories is as good as the average tire. In other words, the best all season tire isn't going to decelerate as fast as the Blizzaks; the best snow tire isn't isn't going to decelerate as fast as the studded tire average. This report indicates, however, that in some cases, the best snow tires (such as the Bridgestone Blizzak WS60) are noticeably better than a studded tire.

What this all means is that the advantages of the average studded tire over the average snow tires is only about 12%, and over all season tires is only about 14%. (Although this report indicates that the best snow tires might be as much as 15% better than a studded tire for acceleration.) Why? It appears that while studs actually do punch into the ice--the ice isn't strong enough for the studs to continue to get traction. tested on a ice skating rink, where the ice is as smooth as you will ever get on the street, and found out why studded tires aren't the enormous gain that you might think:
Considering that only about six studs are in contact with the ice at any one time as the tire rolls across its surface, we found that the weak link is the ice itself, which chips away during contact with the studs. The ruts left on the surface of the ice showed that the studs were making contact, but the ice itself just wasn't strong enough to be considered a good traction partner for the tires.
I suppose at -20 degrees, the ice would be sufficiently strong that the studs wouldn't be braking the ice so easily--but at -20 degrees, I understand that a lot of tires work okay. Remember that the reason that ice is so slippery is that as you roll across it with a tire, the pressure causes it to melt, forming a thin sheet of water. When it gets cold enough, the pressure of your tire isn't going to melt so much of the ice.

Another issue is that when you start to skid, you are not supposed to brake--but to turn the wheel in the direction that you want to actually go. Of course, because I don't have a lot of experience driving on ice, when I started to skid, I did what makes the most sense on dry pavement--I stepped on the brakes. When you turn your front wheels intead away from the direction that you are skidding, the tires are both resisting your motion towards the ditch, and because they are getting some traction, you have some hope of ending up staying on the road while you are losing speed.

Unfortunately, the only way to do the right thing under these circumstances is to get experience skidding in a controlled environment. That's true with other aspects of driving as well. That's why the more practice you get, the better you are at driving. Like many skills involving muscle memory, you must do them regularly to become proficient.

What A Surprise: Canadian Human Rights Tribunal Treats Some Religions Differently Than Others

What A Surprise: Canadian Human Rights Tribunal Treats Some Religions Differently Than Others

DaTechguy's Blog reports that the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal--which has gone after Christian pastors for writing letters condemning homosexuality--declined to do likewise with Muslims condemning homosexuality, Christianity, and Judaism. He quotes from this column in the December 19, 2008 National Post:
In April, a Quebec blogger named Marc Lebuis brought a complaint to the commission over a book published on the Internet by a Montreal-based fundamentalist Muslim, Abou Hammad Sulaiman al-Hayiti. Lebuis claimed that the book exposed gays, Jews, non-Muslims generally and other identifiable groups to “hatred or contempt” under the plain meaning of Section 13 of the act.
Mr. Lebuis’ purpose, he admits, was to “test the objectivity of the commission” in light of commission rulings against Christians for publishing equally or less strident language.
The commission failed the test spectacularly. On Dec. 5, CHRC officials told Lebuis that they would not proceed with an investigation of his complaint. They argued that Mr. al-Hayiti was free to say whatever he liked against “infidels,” and particularly non-Muslim women (what with their disturbingly wanton habits of dress and behaviour!) because they do not constitute an “identifiable group.” As for Mr. al-Hayiti’s imprecations against groups established as “identifiable,” like gays and Jews, the commission reported vaguely that these “do not seem” to meet the criteria for promoting hatred.
The first part of the finding has the tendency of permitting any kind of abusive language to be used against members of a notional majority group by a member of a minority. As for the second, Mr. al-Hayiti’s own words raise the question of what a radical Muslim writer could possibly ever do to be found guilty of arousing “hatred or contempt.”
Allah, Mr. al-Hayiti warns, has taught that “If the Jews, Christians, and [Zoroastrians] refuse to answer the call of Islam, and will not pay the jizyah [tax], then it is obligatory for Muslims to fight them if they are able.” Christianity, in particular, is denounced as a “religion of lies,” which is responsible for the West’s “perversity, corruption and adultery.”
At one point, Mr. al-Hayiti’s book refers to “the incredible number of gays and lesbians (may Allah curse and destroy them in this life and the next) who sow disorder upon the Earth and who desire to increase their numbers.” In one short passage, this combines a seeming accusation of demonic “recruitment” with an open wish for the complete elimination of homosexuals and a claim that they are a source of social chaos. It is like a mini-compendium of every form of dehumanization, in other words, to which gays and lesbians have ever been subjected. Can you imagine how a Christian who uttered a similar statement would be treated by a human rights commission?
Actually, we don’t need to wonder. A few years back, a Christian pastor named Stephen Boissoin printed some negative remarks about gays that were far tamer than those of Mr. al-Hayiti. The result: Alberta’s Human Rights Commission smacked him down, declaring that henceforth he “shall cease publishing in newspapers, by e-mail, on the radio, in public speeches or on the Internet, in future, disparaging remarks about gays and homosexuals.”
This doesn't surprise me. For a very long time, it has been apparent to me that much of the "separation of church and state" reasoning of the ACLU is actually hostility to Christianity. Perhaps if most American were Muslim, the ACLU would show as much interest in going after Islam, too. Of course, that would be difficult for the ACLU to do, since they would (at best) be sitting in prison cells in the Islamic States of America.

Retractable Studs

Retractable Studs

I found myself thinking last winter, "You know, someone should make studded tires where you can control whether the studs come out or not--maybe based on tire pressure." A few weeks ago, I read that tire companies were experimenting with retractable studded tires. And here's a company that is going to have them out real soon.

Because their technology uses a wireless remote, it means that you can retract them or extend them without getting out of car--and there's no need to take them when winter ends. This looks like a very good idea--but the next step will be when someone figures out how to make the ABS or 4WD system tell the wireless remote, "We're beginning to get slippery road surfaces--put the studs out."

I suspect that most of the time, you get at least a second or two warning that the surface is changing from snow to ice, because at least one wheel is going to be on ice first, and start slipping. Having the system extend the studs as soon as slipping starts means that by the time you are on full ice, the studs are out.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Studded Snow Tires

Studded Snow Tires

I've reading up on studded snow tires at the moment, primarily because of concern about ice. (You know why, of course.) It seems that there aren't a lot of choices in the Jaguar's standard size: 225/45-R17. The Pirelli Winter Carving gets enormous numbers of positive comments (and a few negative ones, as well), but those who specifically said that they ordered the Pirelli Winter Carving with studs seemed quite happy--and many of these were in Canada, and one especially notable comment from North Pole, Alaska.

The initial guess of the body shop was that they were going to need to replace the Jaguar's wheels because they were scratched up--and perhaps I could buy them cheap, and use them with studded tires in winter. I thought that this was a bit much, and I guess after reconsideration, they decided that the scratches could be polished out and refinished.

There are two reasons why you might buy winter wheels, instead of having a tire store swap the studdable and all-season tires every December 15 and April 1. One is that it typically costs around $15 per tire around here every time you get a tire changed. Buying a spare set of wheels for the Jaguar would cost about $280 (including freight). It would only take a bit more than two years ($15 * 4 * twice a year) to pay for the wheels. The other advantage is that after you have the tire store swap the tires--you then have to put the other tires in the back seat, and take them back home. At least with a set of winter wheels & tires, you just need to jack up the car to do the swap.

Unfortunately, by the time you get wheels and tires--it's almost $1000! Gasp! On the other hand, that's not so bad compared to $250 deductible every time you slide off an icy road--and hope that you don't end up in the hospital.

UPDATE: I have found a variety of discussions of the merits of studded tires vs. snow tires vs. all season tires scattered about the web. here's one that seems to have lots of information--but to be honest, I find it so oddly organized that I can't find what I looking for--the relative braking capabilities of studded tires vs. snow tires. The Washington State Department of Transportation web site reminds us that studs, as wonderful as they are on ice, carry a cost:
On untreated icy roads at or near freezing (32ºF) studded tires do provide some measure of improved stopping ability, but on a statewide average these (glare ice) road conditions occur less than 1 percent of the time in Washington. It is anticipated that the frequency of these events will continue to decrease as WSDOT continues to implement proactive snow and ice control practices.

WSDOT is particularly concerned about the use of studded tires in areas where motorists are exposed more to wet conditions than icy or glazed road conditions. WSDOT wants to make sure motorists are aware of the safety issues regarding studded tire performance in wet conditions.

Under wet driving conditions the stopping ability of vehicles equipped with studded tires is actually reduced. Tire studs reduce the full contact between a tire’s rubber compound and the pavement. Research on studded tires consistently shows that vehicles equipped with studded tires require a longer stopping distance on wet or dry pavement than do vehicles equipped with standard tires.

Also an issue for WSDOT is the accelerated pavement damage done to roadways by studded tires. The abrasion on pavement surfaces caused by studded tires wears down pavement at a much greater rate than do other types of tires.
This article discusses an Alaska government study of Blizzaks (a non-studded snow tire) relative to studded and all-season tires:
Stopping. In one test on packed snow, the Blizzaks shortened stopping distances from 25 miles per hour (mph) by as much as 33 percent. On the average, the Blizzak tires performed on packed snow only slightly better than studded tires and non-studded all-season tires. On the big pickups, the Blizzaks actually yielded longer stops.

Under icy conditions, the Blizzaks reduced stopping distances by an average of 8 percent over all-season tires. Studded tires reduced stopping distances by about 17 percent under icy conditions when compared with all-seasoned tires. Average stopping distances from 25 mph were 106 feet for studded tires, 118 feet for Blizzak tires, and 128 feet for all-season tires. These distances were about three times farther than stopping distances on packed snow and 7 to 10 times farther than stopping distances on bare pavement.

In one test near Fairbanks involving a sedan, a station wagon, and a van under generally icy road conditions (as opposed to the glare ice of a Zamboni-smoothed frozen lake, where studded tires performed best), the Blizzaks brought heavy rear-drive vehicles to a stop from 40 mph in 121 feet, as compared with 141 feet for studded tires and 179 feet for all-season tires.

On bare pavement, the Blizzaks showed a 2-35 percent stopping-distance advantage over studded tires. In a test with one full-sized sedan, the studded tires had stopping distances more than 40 percent longer than the Blizzaks or the all-season tires. In some bare-pavement stopping tests, the all-season tires were marginally superior, and in other tests the Blizzak tires excelled.

What all of these are saying is that if you have glare ice (like what I slid the Jaguar on the other day), studded tires are an advantage--but the difference between 106 feet (studs) and 128 feet (all season) is not as dramatic as I had hoped. What this tells me is that tires that meet the new Severe Winter Traction Standard are probably going to be only about 10-15% longer stopping distances than studded tires on glare ice, and about all season tires will only be about 25% longer stopping distance than studded tires. It also tells me that under the far more common bad weather conditions, such as packed snow, loose snow, rain--and even the occasional dry road!--the studded tires are inferior.

If you reach a point where studs might be an advantage, you need to recognize this before you start sliding. (And that's the mistake I made a few days ago. I did not recognize that this was ice, and very slick ice at that.) And if things are that bad, you either need to wait for conditions to improve, or put on chains.

I notice that Oregon's chain law allows use of Severe Winter Traction Standard tires on vehicles under 10,000 pounds GVWR instead of chains:
If your vehicle is rated 10,000 pounds GVW or less and is not towing you must use chains or traction tires.
There is one set of conditions where a passenger car might be required to use chains:
However, in very bad winter road conditions all vehicles may be required to use chains regardless of the type of vehicle or type of tire being used (this is known as a conditional road closure).
I really hate putting chains on--which is why I have been looking at studded tires and snow tires. I have some very unpleasant memories of putting chains on with my father when I was young--perhaps aggravated by being young, and not having adequate gloves at the time. My wife and I have put them on our Equinox once, and it wasn't much better. My experience in the Sierra Nevadas is that many people put on chains prematurely, well before there is a need for them to improve braking. But before I head over to Bend again, I need to verify that I have the right size of chains for the Jaguar.

UPDATE 2: This report over at indicates that the best snow tires are now better than studs even on glare ice--in this case, a skating rink!

The Tragedy Just Keeps Getting Worse

The Tragedy Just Keeps Getting Worse

I blogged a few months ago about one of those tragedies of deinstitutionalization compounded by what seems at first glance to be an absurd lawsuit. A mentally ill man named Eddie Mies had murdered his father, and then was killed by police in a gun battle. The experience was traumatic for the police officers involved--and some of them filed suit against Mies' mother for failure to keep her son disarmed--and includes the bizarre allegation that:
Eddie Mies should have known that he was "afflicted with certain mental health conditions" that would result in dangerous and violent behavior.
In short, a person with a severe mental illness should have known that he was dangerous and done what? California was one of the "leaders" (if you want to call it that) in deinstitutionalizing the mentally ill, and making it very difficult to get treatment for those who are so disturbed that he don't realize that they need help. And this is one of the consequences.

Now, Treatment Advocacy Center links to a December 9, 2008 Sacramento Bee report that one of the police officers who did not file suit, and has been out on medical retirement since she was injured in the shootout, took her own life.

Suicide is a surprisingly common problem among police officers, in spite of the considerable efforts to screen out the psychologically unstable sorts. Police officers are supposed to exercise enormous restraint when confronted with sometimes severe provocations. We hear about policemen that lose self-control, as well we should. But most police officers take an enormous amount of abuse, hold it in--and as often happens with repressed anger, they turn it inward. Often this leads to divorce, and too often to suicide.

Deinstitutionalization has been a disaster for many of the mentally ill. For the society as a whole. And for 28 year old Melissa Meekma, the officer who killed herself.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Car Insurance

Car Insurance

Something that I should have thought of last winter is that when the Corvette is snowbound in the garage, it doesn't need as much insurance. When I called Progressive yesterday morning to add the Jaguar to my insurance, I asked about that. They were quite willing to remove collision and liability for the Corvette (at least as long as it was for at least one month). The Corvette still has comprehensive, and is thus covered for theft, vandalism, fire, meteor strikes, etc. As long as I don't drive it anywhere, there's no risk. The net effect of adding the Jaguar and removing the Corvette for winter was very nearly a wash--only a few dollars a month more.

Of course, I do have to remember to call Progressive back in mid-March, when there is some hope of being able to drive the Corvette again, and add it back onto the policy. I'll make up a big sign that says, "No coverage!" and put it on the dash right now.

Jaguar Sliding On Ice

Jaguar Sliding On Ice

I mentioned a couple of days ago
how well the Jaguar did on snow--but I also mentioned that even 4WD doesn't solve the problem of very slippery surfaces when braking. Yup. I've never had such a short interval between adding a car to my insurance and making a claim, and I hope never to do so again.

I drove down into Horseshoe Bend on the new highway to get the license plates. I took the shortcut on the old highway coming back. Over the two winters that I have lived here, the old highway has sometimes been thick with snow, but it has not usually been icy, in my experience. About a mile out of town, I noticed that the road surface was no longer snowy--but looked like it was just a thin layer of snow on asphalt. It wasn't. It was 60 feet of ice so slippery that I could barely stand on it. Not surprisingly, I lost control.

It is the weirdest feeling to be sliding on ice. I wasn't going all that fast--but you may recall from physics class how little braking you get on a nearly frictionless surface that even at low speed (about 20, at most), you simply don't stop! I banged into the hillside, the Jaguar spun around, and was thoroughly stuck.

I didn't feel quite so stupid when AAA told me that it would be two hours at least for a tow, because everyone else was out sliding into ditches, into snowbanks, etc.

Anyway, Treasure Valley Collision has the Jaguar now. The damage is almost entirely to the front end, and not terribly severe. They expect to have it back to me before Christmas. Studded tires--maybe worth seriously considering.

UPDATE: A reader tells me:
It's 35 years ago now, but I still remember it like yesterday as I have never been so helpless behind the wheel as I was that night. I had taken a left turn and hit black ice on the new road. I suddenly starting spinnng, 3, perhaps 4, and 1/2 spins and ended up facing from whence I came and in the proper lane for that direction. I took the hint and went on back home, thankful both for not ending up in the ditch and that there was no oncoming traffic.
In my case, the spin was prevented by a mountainside. The adjuster tells me that there is about $5000 worth of damage--and the chances of having it back by Christmas are small.

The body shop and the adjuster went over the car very carefully. All four wheels are badly scratched, first as the right side scraped against the mountainside, then after pivoting completely around, the left side did likewise. There are dozens of little scrapes, dents, and nicks on not only the sides, but even on the rear trunk lid--and the adjuster was sure that this was caused by the accident, and wasn't a pre-existing condition, because there was dirt on the dent.

I am very disappointed that I didn't go up the new highway yesterday morning. The only consolation is that a competent body shop does such wonders for an accident that is almost entirely cosmetic that I won't be able to tell when they are done.

A Politically Correct Lawyer's Holiday Greeting

A Politically Correct Lawyer's Holiday Greeting

I think I've seen this before, but it is still very funny!
Please accept with no obligation, implied or explicit, my best wishes for an environmentally conscious, socially responsible, low stress, non-addictive, gender neutral, celebration of the winter solstice holiday, practiced within the most enjoyable traditions of the religious persuasion of your choice, or secular practices of your choice, with respect for the religious/secular persuasions and/or traditions of others, or their choice not to practice religious or secular traditions at all, and a fiscally successful, personally fulfilling, and medically uncomplicated recognition of the onset of the generally accepted calendar year 2008, but not without due respect for the calendars of choice of other cultures whose contributions to society have helped make America great, (not to imply that America is necessarily greater than any other country or is the only "America" in the western hemisphere), and without regard to the race, creed, color, age, physical ability, religious faith, choice of computer platform, or sexual preference of the wishee.

[By accepting this greeting, you are accepting these terms: This greeting is subject to clarification or withdrawal. It is freely transferable with no alteration to the original greeting. It implies no promise by the wisher to actually implement any of the wishes for her/himself or others, and is void where prohibited by law, and is revocable at the sole discretion of the wisher. This wish is warranted to perform as expected within the usual application of good tidings for a period of one year, or until the issuance of a subsequent holiday greeting, whichever comes first, and warranty is limited to replacement of this wish or issuance of a new wish at the sole discretion of the wisher.] Brought to you by the Right of Rights in the U.S.A. through Scrooge, Inc producers of Web Marshal products.
My wife's response:
Exceedingly, albeit sensitively, acknowledging that humor in no way should offend persons of any or all oppressed groups. Wishing you (and any of you to whom this may apply or even those who may be unintentionally excluded) a very happy day in the calendar when people gather and shop and speak of things of a religious and/or secular nature.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Medicare, Hearing Aids, & Power Chairs

Medicare, Hearing Aids, & Power Chairs

I am constantly seeing ads for various powered wheelchairs on TV--and they emphasize that if you are eligible for Medicare, and have a need for this, it may not cost you anything at all to get one! So I was quite surprised to find out that Medicare doesn't pay for hearing aids.

Now, I can see the argument for why they might not cover any durable medical goods--after all, they have to keep expenses under control, and many Medicare recipients don't need durable medical goods like this.

I can see the argument for why hearing aids should be covered, just like those fancy power chairs.

I can see the argument that says that some durable medical goods are more of a convenience than a necessity. But I am hard pressed to see why the power chairs are any more of a necessity than hearing aids.

What I don't understand is why one surprisingly expensive item gets covered, and another surprisingly expensive item isn't covered. Do the makers of these power chairs have their factory in some rather important member of Congress' district?

I ask this question not because I have any pressing concern about this for myself, but because it seems rather unfair--and it raises questions about the fairness that we might expect from whatever plan Obama foists on us.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Good News!

Good News!

America's First Freedom (one of NRA's monthly magazines) is publishing a couple of articles by me, one about Revolutionary era marksmanship, and the other about the call up of unorganized militias during World War II.

And yes, NRA's magazines, which have huge circulations, pay very well!

The Kitty Has Claws

The Kitty Has Claws

Well, I solved the problem of the Corvette and snow. I had sworn off the X-type back when Ford still owned Jaguar because of Ford's support of various obnoxious gay festivals, but Ford sold Jaguar a while back, and I was now free to look at the X-type.

I bought a 2005 Jaguar X-type with 27,757 miles--and because it is a certified preowned Jaguar, Jaguar USA extends the factory warranty to six years or 100,000 from the in-service date in February of 2005. And it cost less than $16,000! Yes, the extended warranty is a statement of Jaguar's past history of unreliability--the days when you didn't dare use two power window buttons without checking first to see if you had spare fuses. But I did some digging, and it turns out that post-2004, Jaguar X-types are actually pretty decent. (Sad that Ford's acquisition improved Jaguar quality.)

In front of Lyle Pearson Jaguar they had what looked like a 4WD test track--a solid mass of ice in their parking lot. Wow, does this stick well! And it is a full-time 4WD system--40% to the front, 60% to the rear. Coming up our driveway--which is still plenty icy--I could feel the little cat hunting for traction, and finding it, without difficulty. In front of the house, I was able to controllably cut donuts in 5-6 inches of snow--no problem at all.

Of course, 4WD doesn't ever solve the braking problem on ice, and you still have to be careful. But the temptation to get some studded tires for it is very strong.

It's not a Corvette, of course. It has a speed governor at 121 mph, because of the tires (and probably because of the lawyers, too). It doesn't have the raw acceleration, although it is quite acceptable. It has more body roll, too, although these aren't exactly the conditions to find out the cornering limits, anyway. But it rides well, with a firm although not harsh suspension. It is quiet--and I do like having the stereo controls on the steering wheel again. The Corvette's removable top is nicer for the open air feel--but the power moonroof is certainly easier and quicker to deal with than having to stop the car to put the top on or off.

It isn't spectacularly big inside, but it is comfortable two in front, and I wouldn't object to riding for an hour or so in the back seat. (Well, not much.)

My wife has long called the Corvette "the tart" for its brazen appearance, and sometimes undignified and loud behavior. So I have started to call the Jaguar "Jane Seymour" for its elegance and beauty. There's a place for both!

Now, it may sound extravagant--but it really isn't. I have to have a way to get in and out of our subdivision in winter, and I need a way to get back and forth to Bend during the winter. (And even if I get a job in Boise, I'll still need a way to get back and forth in winter.) Compared to other true 4WD vehicles, this wasn't any worse than buying a Subaru with the same number of years and miles (which tells you how little Subarus depreciate, and how much the Jaguar did)--and cheaper than an equivalent truck or SUV--and far more civilized to drive!

UPDATE: I've previously mentioned that "the time to buy is when there is blood in the streets." That's when I bought the Corvette, figuratively speaking, in 2002, when the sports car market was very weak. I'm buying the Jaguar at a similar time. How Lyle Pearson is going to sell the new Jaguars in their showroom with >$100,000 stickers eludes me. But this is obviously not the time to sell the Corvette, unless I wanted to give someone else the deal of the century. Come summer, I might be a bit more prepared to do so.

A Clever Idea For Getting Press

A Clever Idea For Getting Press

Ron Paul's bunch got this started when they arranged for massive buying of his campaign book on one day as a way of shooting it to the top of the bestseller lists. While it all strikes me as rather manipulative, it is an effective way to get a lot of attention for a book. In this case, the book is Stephen Halbrook's The Founders Second Amendment: Origins of the Rights to Bear Arms. And it has had the expected result. It
has skyrocketed to the following rankings at

#1: Law
#1: Civil Rights and Liberties
#1: Constitutions
#1: Constitutional Law
#1: Revolutionary and Founding History
#12: History
#11: Professional and Technical
#26: Nonfiction (all)

The book has soared to an overall ranking of #140 at and #105 at Barnes & (With the enormous response, temporarily sold out of the book and is now being restocked.)
I rather wish that someone had been this clever with my last book Armed America!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Tired Of Stupid Emails That Everyone Says That you Must Forward?

Tired Of Stupid Emails That Everyone Says That you Must Forward?

You know--the kid with cancer who wants postcards...the one that says that if you forward to all your friends, you'll get $100? That kind? You might get a laugh out of this.

Record Cold: More Proof Of Global Warming

Record Cold: More Proof Of Global Warming

First, an Associated Press reporter explains how the recent cooling is proof that global warming is so severe that we have to take immediate action!

WASHINGTON (AP) - When Bill Clinton took office in 1993, global warming was a slow-moving environmental problem that was easy to ignore. Now it is a ticking time bomb that President-elect Barack Obama can't avoid.

Since Clinton's inauguration, summer Arctic sea ice has lost the equivalent of Alaska, California and Texas. The 10 hottest years on record have occurred since Clinton's second inauguration. Global warming is accelerating. Time is close to running out, and Obama knows it.


Mother Nature, of course, is oblivious to the federal government's machinations. Ironically, 2008 is on pace to be a slightly cooler year in a steadily rising temperature trend line. Experts say it's thanks to a La Nina weather variation. While skeptics are already using it as evidence of some kind of cooling trend, it actually illustrates how fast the world is warming.

The problem, however, is that 2008 isn't the first downtick. So was 2007. And look at all the record cold temperatures we're getting now. From the National Weather Service:
642 AM MST MON DEC 15 2008



From the December 14, 2008 Great Falls [Montana] Tribune:
Several places in the state have already shattered daily record lows, and more are expected to be broken as the sub-zero temperatures continue through Sunday night.

White Sulphur Springs reported 29 degrees below zero to the National Weather Service today, stretching way beyond the last daily record low of 17 degrees below zero set in 1922.


Other towns breaking records on Sunday were Lewistown with -25 degrees this morning (24 below was the previous record) and Dillon with 16 degrees below zero (the last record low was 15 below).

Fort Benton and Boulder tied previous record lows of 23 and 20 degrees below, respectively, and Havre and Great Falls are both on their way to shattering previous records as well.
From the December 14, 2008 Seattle Times:
Prepare for what could become the coldest spell in nearly two decades, according to the National Weather Service. Monday should be mostly sunny with highs around 30 and lows down to the teens. Tuesday expect sun, highs in the 30s and lows in the 20s with a chance of snow. Snow should fall Wednesday, with highs in the lower 30s.
From the December 15, 2008 Seattle Times:
Sometime before 4 a.m., the mercury at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport dipped to 19 degrees, besting the record low of 20 degrees set for this day 44 years ago.
You will forgive my skepticism when we get record cold and we're told that this is evidence of global warming.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

It Really Does Read Like Something From The Onion

It Really Does Read Like Something From The Onion

But it is from the December 9, 2008 Australian Herald-Sun:
DISCRIMINATION against dominant white males will soon be encouraged in a bid to boost the status of women, the disabled and cultural and religious minorities.


Equal Opportunity Commission CEO Dr Helen Szoke said males had "been the big success story in business and goods and services".

"Clearly, they will have their position changed because they will be competing in a different way with these people who have been traditionally marginalised," she said.

"Let's open it up so everyone can have a fair go."

Huh? If the proposed change in law required equal opportunity, then "everyone can have a fair go" would be an accurate description of the proposal. But the article indicates that the objective is to encourage discrimination in favor of all non-white, non-males. That's hardly a "fair go." Except to a liberal.

Journalists Admit Obama Is "Inexperienced"

Journalists Admit Obama Is "Inexperienced"

Instapundit points to this AP wire service story that finally admits what Republicans said during the campaign--and were generally called racist or fools for saying:
WASHINGTON (AP) -- President-elect Barack Obama, relatively young and inexperienced, is facing a rapidly growing list of monumental challenges as he prepares to take the reins of a nation in turmoil. [emphasis added]
The problems confronting America are severe: the bailouts, driven at least in part by subprime mortgage lending forced on lenders by the left; the War on Terror; a severe economic slump. And the news media decided that it was best to have someone "inexperienced" in charge.

If Republicans had run a pro-gay marriage and pro-abortion candidate for President, do you suppose that the media would have been quite so insistent on sending someone to the White House that was this inexperienced?

Winter Has Arrived

Winter Has Arrived

So much for hopes of a mild winter! We had a slight but continual fall of snow yesterday--and I was glad that I put the effort yesterday morning into getting the snowthrower ready for the season, because we used it last night to clear our driveway. The good news is that it is much easier to clear snow off a smooth asphalt surface than off gravel.

The bad news is that the weather between here and Bend is really bad. Here's the Oregon Department of Transportation report for Brothers, on U.S. 20, between here and Bend:
Severe Weather Hazard

Weather Condition: Partly Cloudy

Road Surface: Packed Snow

Current Temp: 12 F

New Snow: 1 in.
Roadside Snow: 1 in.

Last Updated: 12/14/2008 06:06 am

Even with a 4WD, I am not going to do that drive until conditions substantially improve.

Ruminations on Political Corruption

Ruminations on Political Corruption

Rahm Emmanuel, Obamessiah's White House Chief of Staff, is refusing to answer questions about his involvement with Blagojevich. From the December 11, 2008 Chicago Sun-Times:

President-elect Barack Obama’s chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, refused to take questions from reporters this morning about whether he was the Obama “advisor” named in the criminal complaint against Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

The complaint states Blagojevich wanted a promise of a high-level appointment or some other reward for Blagojevich in exchange for Blagojevich naming Obama’s friend Valerie Jarrett to replace him in the U.S. Senate.

Now, there is no accusation that Emanuel did anything illegal. After all, Blagojevich is caught on tape whining that Obama's people weren't prepared to give him anything but gratitude for putting Obama's pick in the seat. But at a minimum, if Emanuel was directly solicited for a bribe, why didn't Emanuel call the FBI, and tell them about this?

I think everyone knows the answer. Obama and Emanuel both come out of Chicago politics and government, where bribery is a way of life--as unremarkable as breathing. Operation Greylord, back in the early 1980s, had the FBI seeing how deeply corruption ran in the court system of Chicago--and the answer was deep. I recall seeing a comment by a reporter to the effect that someone should have been suspicious that people were spending a million dollars to get elected to jobs that paid $45,000 a year. The reason was that the bribes that they were regularly getting made it worthwhile.

This December 11, 2008 column by Chicago Sun-Times columnist Mark Brown points out that getting rid of Blagojevich isn't going to solve the core corruption problem:
Forcing the governor from office and sending him to prison isn't going to change anything fundamental about Illinois politics.

By all means, let's hasten to accomplish both as quickly as possible -- without discarding his due process rights. There can be no higher priority at this point than Blagojevich's removal and incarceration.

And in the short run, we'd surely be better served with the earnest Pat Quinn running state government for the next two years than this fellow in need of serious psychiatric care.

But let's not kid ourselves. In and of itself, getting rid of Blagojevich isn't going to do us any more good than it did to get rid of his predecessor, George Ryan.

There's a deeper problem here, one that extends beyond the personalities of the moment.

Throwing out the bad apples doesn't accomplish much in the long run when it's the tree that's diseased.

Another crook is taken down. Corruption still reigns.

Why is that?

I don't have the answer any more than I have the cure, but I know generally it's because the corruption is systemic and because it's tolerated, in ways large and small, from the highest officials in our land to the average voter.

Whether we're the most corrupt state in the union or just the leading contender doesn't matter. We know the problem runs deep, and in many ways, what we don't recognize is our own role in allowing it to continue.

That's not intended to be defeatist or accusatory. By all means, the more crooks the U.S. attorney and FBI round up the better. Let's hope they keep the momentum. It's encouraging somebody cares enough to try to put a stop to it. And it's difficult for voters to clean up the mess themselves when the candidates offer no clear choice.

But even Patrick Fitzgerald seems to recognize indictments will never be enough without a fundamental change at a level he can't reach.

So what is the core problem? Why is Chicago so rich in this corruption while a place like Boise is relatively free of it? Boise's mayor a few years ago was caught in some improprieties that would be laughably small in Chicago--and he was gone in short order.

The book Donkey Cons: Sex, Crime, and Corruption the Democratic Party by Lynn Vincent and my friend Robert Stacy McCain, makes the argument that at least part of why Democrats are disproportionately involved in these scandals is that starting with Aaron Burr, the Democratic Party has had a culture of corruption. Like any other institutional culture, those coming into the party machinery have either been repelled, and left, or decided that this was okay, and stayed. Even if they were not directly corrupt (and there have been many honorable Democratic politicians, such as Harry Truman), they knew that much of the crowd with whom they had to deal was corrupt, and found that acceptable.

I think there's merit to this institutional corruption argument, but this isn't the whole story. As economist Thomas Sowell pointed out over the years, "When legislatures control buying and selling, the first thing to be bought and sold are legislators." Blagojevich's corruption involved not just who would get Obama's U.S. Senate seat, but the issuance of contracts, and the granting of favors--such as the state's involvement with the sale of Wrigley Field, which he was using to try and force the Chicago Tribune to fire editorial writers that Blagojevich didn't like.

Some years back, I was reading Mike Royko's political biography of Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley, Sr. Royko explained that in the late 1940s, when Daley was elected to the Illinois legislature, it was common practice for legislators to introduce what were called "getter" bills that would regulate a particular industry. The legislators introducing these bills didn't really think the regulation was necessary; they would just wait until the industry in question would cough up enough "campaign contributions," and then the author of the bill would arrange for the bill to be killed in committee. Robert Sherrill's very entertaining Saturday Night Special makes the same claim about Senator Thomas Dodd (father of the Senator now caught in the cookie jar as one of the "Friends of Angelo"). Sherrill says that Dodd didn't really care all that strongly about gun control, but kept introducing gun control bills in the early 1960s--then arranging for them to die in committee--because he could use this as leverage to get money from gun manufacturers.

This problem is all the way up and down the chain of command in Chicago. Back in the late 1970s, I remember watching a 60 Minutes report where they set up hidden cameras in Chicago restaurants, and captured health department inspectors shaking down restaurants for bribes in exchange for passing them. I wasn't shocked by this, but it was disappointing how blatant these guys were. They weren't even slightly afraid that someone might arrest them.

The core problem is that when you give discretion to a public official that influences the lives, employment, or income of others, this creates a powerful incentive for those affected to offer bribes. Even if you are not tempted to offer a bribe, in Chicago, apparently, public officials are quite prepared to solicit you for a bribe.

Of course, there are other problems. A friend of mine some years ago decided to build a house in one of the suburban counties in Southern California. He could not seem to get the building inspectors to pass it--and it was becoming increasingly apparent that there was nothing that was really wrong with the systems that were supposed to be inspected. He finally figured out that developers were expected to pay a bribe to get an approval--but he since he wasn't really a developer, he didn't know who he was supposed to bribe, or how to make the approach. It was a very, very difficult situation.

Because bribes are illegal, sometimes you don't even know if you are getting what you think you are getting. A relative in the 1970s was arrested on some drug charges in Los Angeles County--diet pills for which she did not have a prescription. Her parents, while attempting to help her out, ran into a lawyer who guaranteed that in exchange for a much larger than normal fee, he would get her off--his father had lunch with the judge every week. They declined to be part of what was obviously bribery, because of the impropriety of it--but imagine what would have happened if they had paid this lawyer the big chunk of money, and the judge found her guilty? Filing an accusation would be effectively an admission that you had paid someone to bribe a judge.

To a libertarian, the solution is obvious: take away the opportunities by taking away government licensing, and reducing the number of actions that become criminal matters. I'm generally sympathetic to this point of view. Licensing is used far too often, and in many cases, it is either a leftover from an earlier time, or completely unnecessary. Where there is a legitimate public safety or health question, then we need to remove discretion from the process. Driver's license issuance has almost no discretion to it. The criteria for issuance are clearly defined. In most states now, concealed handgun license issuance has almost no discretion--and the states that still allow public officials to exercise discretion in issuance, such as California, New York, and Massachusetts, are awash in abuse and corruption.

High Finance

High Finance

While it doesn't excuse the role that the left played in pressuring lenders to make subprime mortgages, reading this account from Portfolio of the machinations of high finance will make you appreciate Thomas Jefferson's contempt for "the money men"--those whose primary function is to manipulate loans and bonds, as opposed to do anything productive:

But the scarcity of truly crappy subprime-mortgage bonds no longer mattered. The big Wall Street firms had just made it possible to short even the tiniest and most obscure subprime-mortgage-backed bond by creating, in effect, a market of side bets. Instead of shorting the actual BBB bond, you could now enter into an agreement for a credit-default swap with Deutsche Bank or Goldman Sachs. It cost money to make this side bet, but nothing like what it cost to short the stocks, and the upside was far greater.

The arrangement bore the same relation to actual finance as fantasy football bears to the N.F.L. Eisman was perplexed in particular about why Wall Street firms would be coming to him and asking him to sell short. “What Lippman did, to his credit, was he came around several times to me and said, ‘Short this market,’ ” Eisman says. “In my entire life, I never saw a sell-side guy come in and say, ‘Short my market.’”

And short Eisman did—then he tried to get his mind around what he’d just done so he could do it better. He’d call over to a big firm and ask for a list of mortgage bonds from all over the country. The juiciest shorts—the bonds ultimately backed by the mortgages most likely to default—had several characteristics. They’d be in what Wall Street people were now calling the sand states: Arizona, California, Florida, Nevada. The loans would have been made by one of the more dubious mortgage lenders; Long Beach Financial, wholly owned by Washington Mutual, was a great example. Long Beach Financial was moving money out the door as fast as it could, few questions asked, in loans built to self-destruct. It specialized in asking home­owners with bad credit and no proof of income to put no money down and defer interest payments for as long as possible. In Bakersfield, California, a Mexican strawberry picker with an income of $14,000 and no English was lent every penny he needed to buy a house for $720,000.

More generally, the subprime market tapped a tranche of the American public that did not typically have anything to do with Wall Street. Lenders were making loans to people who, based on their credit ratings, were less creditworthy than 71 percent of the population. Eisman knew some of these people. One day, his housekeeper, a South American woman, told him that she was planning to buy a townhouse in Queens. “The price was absurd, and they were giving her a low-down-payment option-ARM,” says Eisman, who talked her into taking out a conventional fixed-rate mortgage. Next, the baby nurse he’d hired back in 1997 to take care of his newborn twin daughters phoned him. “She was this lovely woman from Jamaica,” he says. “One day she calls me and says she and her sister own five townhouses in Queens. I said, ‘How did that happen?’ ” It happened because after they bought the first one and its value rose, the lenders came and suggested they refinance and take out $250,000, which they used to buy another one. Then the price of that one rose too, and they repeated the experiment. “By the time they were done,” Eisman says, “they owned five of them, the market was falling, and they couldn’t make any of the payments.”
As the author points out, this high finance stuff is actually pretty well removed from the stock market.