Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Wrong Place, Wrong Action

Wrong Place, Wrong Action

I just blogged this over at the Civilian Gun Self-Defense Blog, but this is too good to not share. I don't normally like the expression "think of it as evolution in action," because it is so mean, and sometimes even pretty bright people have a temporary lapse of judgment, but some people sound too stupid to live. Wrong place, wrong action, wrong bystanders.

From September 30, 2009 Jacksonville channel 4:
Police said one of two men who tried to steal a pickup truck from a group of people gathered outside a Murray Hill home was shot several times by a homeowner and his friend.

Jacksonville Sheriff's Office Lt. Larry Schmitt said when police arrived at the 3000 block of College Street, they found a man shot multiple times.

According to the police report, Keith Loftin was outside the home with some friends shortly after 2 a.m. when two men asked for a ride in Loftin's truck. Loftin said one of the men pulled a gun on them and forced Loftin into his truck. Loftin told officers that his friend, Barry Smith, ran into the house and returned with a gun and Loftin pulled his own gun from inside the truck.

Police said both Loftin and Smith fired at one of the men, striking him multiple times.

The man shot, identified as Jamel Mobley, 21, of St. Marys, Ga., was taken to Shands-Jacksonville Medical Center and was in stable condition. Police said the second man took off. Police were still looking for him, but they have only a vague description.

The shooting was still under investigation and no charges have been filed. Schmitt said it appeared both the citizens had the guns legally and that it appeared the shooting was in self-defense.
How unlucky can you get? You don't just try to steal a truck--you kidnap the owner--who has a gun inside--while a friend runs into the house to get another gun. Why do I think of the scene in Tremors where the giant earthworm smashes into Burt Gummer's rec room--the only example that I can immediately think of where I would envy the gun collection!

What Next? Mandatory Chastity Belts To Prevent Rape?

What Next? Mandatory Chastity Belts To Prevent Rape?

You can tell how stupid Los Angeles city government has become when you read that the victims are now being told what to do under threat of punishment. From September 30, 2009 channel 4:

All new buildings in Los Angeles -- including homes -- must have anti-graffiti coating under an ordinance approved unanimously by the City Council on Tuesday. There is an exception if the owners promise to remove any graffiti on their property soon after it appears.

The ordinance will take effect 30 days after being signed by the mayor.

The anti-graffiti coating must cover the walls and doors from the ground to a height of at least nine feet. The coating is mandated on all buildings, unless owners sign a "Covenant and Agreement Regarding Maintenance of Building (Graffiti Removal)" with the Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety.

What next? Mandatory chastity belts for women? Mandatory body armor if you walk outside? Why is it that when liberals run things, the one response to a crime problem is never serious punishment for the criminals?

Who Elected Obama?

Who Elected Obama?

I pointed out repeatedly during the campaign that Obama, like most Democrats, was highly dependent on the rich for his campaign contributions--and for many of the votes. Here's an article from the September 30, 2009 Wall Street Journal pointing this out:

Thomas Edsall, a correspondent for the New Republic, has written a provocative piece on just how different Mr. Obama's majority was last year when compared with previous Democratic victories. In 1976, Jimmy Carter won the White House while carrying voters making less than $30,000 (in today's dollars) by 18 points. Fueled by support from young and minority voters, Mr. Obama carried that demographic by a whopping 31 points. But he also carried voters earning over $200,000 by six points, a first for a Democrat. Where Mr. Obama failed to gain much traction was with middle-income voters, which he split with John McCain. In previous elections, Democrats had won by carrying a majority of moderate-income voters.

Mr. Edsall calls the Obama coalition "a successful alliance of the upscale and the downscale -- wealthy and needy marching hand in hand, sharing animosity to George W. Bush and the war in Iraq" But he also calls the Obama coalition a fragile one when it comes to economic issues. The Gallup Poll reports that voters earning under $30,000 a year wanted health care reform by a 13-point margin. But those earning over $75,000 a year opposed reform by 16 points.

The splits in the Democratic majorities in Congress reflect this tension. Health-care reform often pits members whose districts and states contain many uninsured people against fellow Democrats from wealthy districts who fear reform will squeeze research hospitals and generous health insurance plans.

No surprise on this. People above $200,000 a year are guilt-ridden about their comfort, and are anxious to do something about the poor (as long as it doesn't require them to reach too deeply into their own pockets). Voting for a progressive candidate lets them feel warm and cozy, without having to suffer too much. (And yes, even in California, $200,000 a year is well beyond middle class.) When we get past the symbolism--and start worrying about actual policies--it's amazing how fast that coalition of the desperately poor (some of whom are there through no fault of their own) and the coalition of the desperately guilt-ridden falls apart.

Now, if only there were a functioning Republican Party....

Cert Granted in McDonald v. Chicago

Cert Granted in McDonald v. Chicago

NRA's lawsuit against Chicago, which seeks to get the Second Amendment incorporated against the states, has been granted a writ of certiorari by the Supreme Court. This is a big case, not just because of the Second Amendment, but because it raises the question of whether the Fourteenth Amendment incorporates protections of the Bill of Rights through the privileges or immunities clause ("full incorporation") or through the due process clause (which has led to the intellectually bankrupt selective incorporation principle).

Assuming we win (and I think we have a stronger historical case on this than we did with D.C. v. Heller), the most outrageous state gun control laws are going to be swept away. I think it is even likely that the various assault weapon laws around the country will either be struck down or require substantial liberalization to survive. Discretionary concealed weapon permit laws? Dead. Real dead.

I've been asked to help write the Academics for the Second Amendment amicus brief (of course), and I expect that I will be contributing to others. I'm already hip-deep in writing a couple of law reviews related to this issue already. If you want to help fund Academics for the Second Amendment amicus brief, click over to here and hit the PayPal button in the upper right.

UPDATE: Minor correction: NRA v. Chicago is the case that NRA filed; McDonald v. Chicago is the case filed by Alan Gura. The Court often consolidates several different suits together to resolve an important issue. If you look at Roe v. Wade, you will see that there are at least two different suits, from different states, that were part of that decision.

Market Opportunity?

Market Opportunity?

The mark of how environmentally responsible these days seems to be how little goes into a landfill--and this item about recycling batteries from San Francisco suggests a market opportunity:
According to Toxco Inc., they are the only company in North America that can recover zinc and manganese from alkaline batteries; they are one of two in North America that can recycle nickel-cadmium and nickel-metal-hydride batteries; and they are the only company in the world that can recover lithium from any size or type of lithium battery.
Only? Something tells me that they are taking full advantage of that opportunity in what they charge for recycling batteries. And from a carbon standpoint, does it really make sense to ship batteries this far for recycling?
What Happens to Alkaline Batteries?
We ship alkaline batteries to AERC in Hayward. AERC is a licensed facility that recycles universal waste (electronics, fluorescent lamps, batteries).

AERC ships the batteries to Kinsbursky Brothers Inc., a transfer storage and disposal facility. Kinsbursky Brothers Inc. is a co-owner of Toxco Inc.

Kinsbursky consolidates the batteries into full truckloads and sends the batteries to Toxco Inc in Trail, British Columbia, Canada, where they are recycled.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Hinge of Fate

The Hinge of Fate

This is the title of the fourth book in Winston Churchill's astonishing history of the Second World War. But it also describes a very real event in history--when momentous events swing on individuals or small groups making decisions, either good or bad. One expression of this is Churchill's speech in which he described how the really tiny number of pilots of the Royal Air Force, during the Battle of Britain, held off the Luftwaffe--and made it possible for Britain to avoid defeat. "Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few." The film The Battle of Britain (1969) really captures the enormous human courage and loss required to hold back the Luftwaffe. If you've never seen it--you should.

I'm reading Derek Wood and Derek Dempster's The Narrow Margin: The Battle of Britain and the Rise of Air Power: 1930-1940 right now. This is the book upon which the film is somewhat based. The Narrow Margin is written in a style that I have come to expect from British academics--a bit stilted. Nonetheless, it's an important book, and worth reading.

The book points to one of those "hinge of fate" decisions in 1934, when the British government announced that it was going to expand the RAF's home defenses from fifty-two to seventy-five squadrons--by the spring of 1939. There was an uproar in Parliament, because many members were still convinced that this was pointless.

1. "The bomber will always get through" was still a dominant belief--that there was no simply no point in trying to prevent bombing raids. The parallel to the current liberal insistence that there should be no defense against incoming missiles is pretty obvious.

2. The vigorous pacifism left over the from pointless bloodshed of World War I was still dominant among intellectuals and other forms of sheep.

3. It was going to be expensive, and there were many prepared to argue that Mr. Hitler was simply trying to save Germany. (Remember that National Socialism had many admirers in Britain--including some members of the royal family.)

Still, Winston Churchill pointed out that Germany had already violated the Treaty of Versailles, and it was best to be prepared for war. (Much like those who think that Iran's violation of previous U.N. resolutions means that it is time for more resolutions.)

Imagine if Parliament had prevented the building up of the RAF! Even a year or two delay on this building program would have wiped out the narrow margin by which the RAF won the Battle of Britain. I would like to think that Britain would have still fought as Winston Churchill's June 4, 1940 speech put it:
We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France,
we shall fight on the seas and oceans,
we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be,
we shall fight on the beaches,
we shall fight on the landing grounds,
we shall fight in the fields and in the streets,
we shall fight in the hills;
we shall never surrender....
But I also know that without air cover, a German invasion of Britain might well have succeeded--and the costs of World War II might have been far higher than we can imagine. Occupied Britain, instead of being America's unsinkable aircraft carrier, might have been Germany's unsinkable aircraft carrier to attack Iceland, and from there, Greenland. From Greenland, easy bombing raids on Canada and the U.S.

This Really Hits The Nail on the Head

This Really Hits The Nail on the Head

Concerning Roman Polanski's extradition to the U.S. to serve time for a crime that he was convicted of long ago, this is a remarkably crisp statement of the problem by John Nolte at Big Hollywood:
Pleading guilty to unlawful sex with an underage girl — the drugging, raping and sodomizing of a 13 year-old — isn’t stopping Hollywood from ginning up an indignation campaign over the possibility of fugitive director Roman Polanski being held accountable for his crimes. Yes, these are the values of those who control the most powerful propaganda device ever created. Which begs a question: If his unspeakable deed doesn’t meet the standard, what exactly would Roman Polanski have to do in order to become a pariah in this town … I mean, besides vote for Sarah Palin?
Whenever I say to myself, "Could the entertainment industry really be such evil people as much of their product suggests?" I get examples like this to remind me, "Yes."

The trial transcripts of the victim's testimony are here. It's rough and it's unpleasant. Pretty clearly, this 13 year old made some very, very poor decisions along the way--but that's part of why our laws treat children as children, and require adults to not pursue children for sex. And since I expect that feminists will be joining the clamor of defending Roman Polanski next, "No means no." And this 13 year old said "No" on multiple occasions when this sleazeball was having sex with her.

Monday, September 28, 2009

What I'm Reading

What I'm Reading

Dashiell Hammett, The Maltese Falcon (1929). The movie follows the book very closely--and is a pleasure to read. There are a lot of people that love to parody Hammett's hard boiled detective style, but until you actually read this book, you don't realize how clever a piece of work it is. Okay, I admit, when I first read the description of Joel Cairo, I had no problem visualizing Peter Lorre in all his greasy and creepy mannerisms in the film.

I've finished the seventh book in the Harry Potter series--and enjoyed it immensely. Those who insisted on seeing it as some dark, demonic, anti-Christian work will be startled by how it ends--when Harry must sacrifice himself to save others. While Rowling was clearly trying to end it in a way that would discourage anyone from demanding more books in the series, it wasn't completely foreclosing the possibility--unlike killing off Sherlock Holmes. Can Harry Potter, Junior Auror be out of the question? I don't think so!

Robert L. Mack, ed., Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (Oxford University Press, 2007) is something that you might not expect--a critical edition of The String of Pearls: A Romance, first published in 1846-7 in The People's Periodical and Family Library, a British serial. (The ironic combination of Family Library and this truly gruesome work is a reminder that popular tastes being somewhat degraded isn't new.) This is where Sweeney Todd first makes his appearance--and yes, he is completely fiction--there is no real incident behind this gruesome story.

A number of different authors are reputed to have written various parts of this serial--and it shows. The People's Periodical was one of the aptly named "penny dreadfuls" of the time, purveying various lurid tales for the emerging market of lowbrow tastes. The early chapters are really not very well written--but by about chapter five or six, the writing has actually improved quite substantially. It is more readable than some of its Victorian counterparts, and not quite as hopelessly self-conscious in its moralizing as say, Vanity Fair.

I didn't see the movie. The notion of making a musical around murder and... inappropriate cooking ingredients is about as appealing to me as a musical like Springtime for Hitler. I ended up reading this book partly because my wife wouldn't let me have Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, and partly because I like to understand the Victorian period. Now, you may be thinking that this book must have been pretty shocking when it appeared--but the Victorian period confronted the problem of cannibalism surprisingly often, because of the problems of shipwrecks. Nathaniel Philbrick's In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex discusses how often this problem came up in the nineteenth century. That there wasn't much need for cannibalism in London did nothing to reduce the public fascination with how people deal with the discovery that lunch isn't FDA approved.



I spent some time talking to one of my readers who is an institutional bond salesman, and the more I look at the situation, the more sense it makes to buy government agency bonds. Yes, buying a 30 year bond when the prospect of substantial inflation to pay for the enormous deficits that Obama is running up isn't spectacularly wise--but the bonds that are financing houses will be called well before maturity. That's part of why these agency bonds (such as Fannie Mae) pay pretty decent interest rates--because they are likely to be called well before maturity.

Why? Because when Fannie Mae, or one of the other housing agencies issue 30 year bonds, it is to finance a collection of mortgages. If interest rates fall, borrowers refinance their houses, and pay off their mortgages. The agency then calls the bond--which means that they pay you the face value of the bond to get it back. If interest rates rise (as will certainly happen in response to rising inflation), there's less chance that borrowers will refinance their houses--but people still sell their houses, to sell up (because inflation is making their homes worth more), to relocate, or because the primary breadwinner dies, loses his job, or it's time to downsize after the kids have left home. That will also cause the bonds to be called.

There's no question that rising inflation might well cause one to get stuck with bonds that are now worth less than you paid for them. Worst comes to worst, you hold the bonds until maturity or they get called. Neither of these is optimal, but to completely get away from risk usually means a dismal rate of return. There are some Fannie Mae bonds due in 2038 that are available right now with an annualized yield to maturity of 5.510%. If they get called, the annualized yield to worst is still 5.510%. For something with the full faith and credit of the U.S. government behind it (now), that's not too bad!

I suppose that the federal government could indeed go belly-up--but if that happens, money in banks won't even be particularly safe. At that point, MREs and NATO standard caliber ammo will be the only safe investments.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

In-Flight Entertainment

In-Flight Entertainment

PajamasMedia published a piece by me titled: "In-Flight Entertainment: Not Always Suitable for Children." It seems to have brought out the child haters in the comments.

Friday, September 25, 2009

It Appears That I Have A Teaching Position

It Appears That I Have A Teaching Position

The interview went well. I was given a very short summary of the idea of checks and balances in the U.S. government, and twenty minutes to prepare a presentation. A group of professors from several different departments were dragooned to evaluate my performance--and as you might expect on this topic I was ready to teach this some years before I entered the room.

They did not know about such checks and balances as the requirement that revenue bills must originate in the House of Representatives--at the time, the popularly elected branch of Congress. The requirement that spending bills for the army be limited to two years--the interval of elections to the House--and what requirement exists--were a surprise. I had rather a good time putting together such a presentation!

Anyway, assuming that the background check doesn't reveal that I am actually in the employ of Lord Voldemort, I believe that this is a go--at least for one class.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

I Had No Idea A General's Retirement Pay Was So Poor

I Had No Idea A General's Retirement Pay Was So Poor

I just received an email from General Petreaus:
From Gen. David Petreaus .,
Good Day,
I found your contact particulars in an E-mail address guide that was provided to us here, as I desperately needed an urgent help to do this deal. I am seeking your kind assistance to move the sum of $12m {Twelve Million U.S Dollars only} to you; as far as I can be assured that my share will be safe in your care until I complete my service here.


A lot of money in various currencies were discovered in barrels at a farm house near one of saddams old palaces in Tikrit in Iraq during an operation Conquest in Fallujah north of Baghdad, and it was agreed by Staff Sgt. Kenneth Buff and I that some part of this money be shared among both of us before informing anybody about it since both of us saw the money first. This is quite an illegal thing to do, but well tell you what? no compensation can make up for the risk we have taken with our lives in this hell hole, of which my brother in-law was killed by a road side bomb last time.

The above figure was given to me as my share, and to conceal this kind of money became a problem for me, so with the help of a Red Cross Official working here, at Southern Basra British fortified green zone, whose office enjoys some immunity, I was able to get the package out to a safe location entirely out of trouble spot. He does not know the real contents of the package, and believes that it belongs to a British/American medical doctor who died in a raid here in Baghdad, and before giving up, trusted me to hand over the package to his family in United States. I have now found a much secured way of getting the package out of Iraq to you, for you to pick it up, and I will discuss this with you when I am sure that you are willing to assist me, and I believe that my money will be well secured in your hand because you have fear of God.

I want you to tell me how much you will take from this money for the assistance you will give me. One passionate appeal I will make to you is not to discuss this matter with anybody, should you have reasons to reject this offer, please and please destroy this message as any leakage of this information will be too bad and catastrophe for soldiers here in Iraq. I do not know how long we will remain here, but I hope to have a shift very soon for me to return back to the States. I have been shot and wounded twice and I have survived two terrible suicides bomb attacks just by special grace of God, this and other reasons I will mention later has prompted me to reach out for help, I will honestly want this matter be resolved immediately.

I thank you so much for everything and anticipate that you will be trustworthy and handle this transaction to the best of your ability to benefit both of us.

God Bless you and your family.


Gen. David Petreaus
For those whose sarcasm detectors are broken--yes, I'm pretty confident that this isn't from Geneneral Petreaus.

The Obamajugend

The Obamajugend

This video from a public school in Burlington, New Jersey, should disturb you. This kind of organized praise of an elected political leader fits cult of personality states like Nazi Germany, Mao's China, or Stalin's Russia.

I'll be curious to know how liberals justify this. If anyone had proposed that school children should sing the praises of President Bush, even right after 9/11, conservatives would have been perplexed, amused, or shocked.

Take a look at about one minute into the video--you can see the poster of Dear Leader on a stand. And the "equal pay for equal work" verses--I'm guessing that progressives aren't going to apply that to trial attorneys.

Signs That The U.S. Is In Trouble

Signs That The U.S. Is In Trouble

A group called Public Policy Polling decided to see how much support there was for certain ideas in New Jersey:
We've been uncovering a remarkable level of anger toward Barack Obama in a lot of our recent polling so for New Jersey we decided to go a step further in determining how extreme some people's feelings are about the President and asked respondents if they think he is the Anti-Christ.

8% said yes. 13% aren't sure. Among Republicans 14% said yes and 15% weren't sure.
Those crazy Republicans, right?
The extremism in New Jersey isn't limited to the right though. 19% of voters in the state, including 32% of Democrats, think that George W. Bush had prior knowledge of 9/11.

Beyond that 21% of respondents, including 33% of Republicans, express the belief that Obama was not born in the United States.
The poll found that 3% of those surveyed believe both that Obama was not born in the U.S., and that George Bush had prior knowledge of 9/11. That would have to qualify as a very, very upset bunch. (Perhaps I'm being too polite.)

I've never thought of New Jersey as a hotbed of right-wing extremists--but then again, I never thought of it as a hotbed of left-wing crazies, either. This country may be in a lot more trouble than I thought--and I'm not exactly Mr. Optimistic.

The really bad news is when you go to the cross-tabs, and you find that 5% of those who believe that he's the Anti-Christ voted for Obama . (Perhaps this is New Jersey's Satanist vote?)

Mean and Nasty Attacks On The President

Mean and Nasty Attacks On The President

Those mean and nasty attacks on the President of the United States! How awful! You can see some of them over at Zombietime. But because Democrats were doing these, and the President was Bush, it was all okay.

I agree: we should stay focused on genuine public policy questions, not engage in nasty personal attacks. But I won't take seriously any Democrat who whines about nasty personal attacks on President Obama. I had eight years of listening to Democrats insist that Bush was:

1. An idiot who could barely read.

2. A brilliant Svengali who masterminded the 9/11 attacks so that he could bamboozle the Democrats into supporting wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Mackenzie Philips

Mackenzie Philips

I remember when the actress Mackenzie Philips (son of John Philips of the Mamas and the Papas) was fired from her job on One Day at a Time. This was one of my favorite TV shows in the late 1970s, at least partly because Valerie Bertinelli was so darn cute and funny! Philips' firing seemed to related to her widely publicized drug problems at the time. Now Philips has published a "too much information" account of being raped by father the night before her wedding. This September 24, 2009 Daily Mail article is absolutely nauseating--including her account of when Daddy introduced her to heroin, and missed a vein in her arm.

One of the most troubling aspects of what the 1960s generation bequeathed to America was the widespread acceptance of drug and alcohol abuse. Philips described how Daddy showed her how to roll joints at 10, and introduced her to cocaine at 11. Where I lived in Sonoma County, this type of childrearing was, if not the norm, at least not all that unusual.

Unfortunately, intoxication tends to produce all sorts of very destructive behaviors, simply because it removes inhibitions--and there's a lot to said for being inhibited, when you look at how John Philips treated his daughter.

She said her father knew it could be his child, so he paid for the abortion.

‘My father was not a bad man. He was kind of a testament to what drugs and alcohol - in huge quantities - can do to a person's priorities. Their motives,’ she said. ‘I don't hate him. I understand that he was a very tortured man, and he sort of passed that torture down to me.’

I keep hoping that Americans wake up and decide to walk away from the culture of intoxication and casual depravity. But from what I see, it is gaining.

Obama's Fantasy World

Obama's Fantasy World

I just saw President Obama chairing the U.N. Security Council meeting. He delivered a speech in which he explained that the goal is now universal nuclear disarmament.

In some ideal world, where every government is democratically elected, with free and open discussion of what its military is doing, and where terrorist groups with vast quantities of money don't exist, this would be just fine.

In the real world, many nations are not even close to being democratic (such as Libya and North Korea), and even those that have the forms, increasingly, lack the civil liberties required to make democracy even close to workable--like Russia. A policy of universal nuclear disarmament works to the benefit of those nations prepared to violate international law and create (or retain) nuclear weapons in secret.

A world where several reasonably responsible nations have nuclear weapons is scary. A world where one criminal nation keeps them is even scarier.

I can't decide if Obama just doesn't understand the real world, or if this is an intentional effort to destroy the United States.

Should I Be Amused Or Angry?

Should I Be Amused Or Angry?

The ASPCA is asking its members to support HR 3501, Humanity and Pets Partnered Through the Years (“HAPPY”) Act, "which would amend U.S. tax code to allow qualifying pet care expenses, including veterinary care, to be tax-deductible."

Making an expense tax-deductible, because it reduces overall tax revenues, is effectively a subsidy for a particular action. The deduction for dependents is a subsidy to having kids. The deduction for home mortgage interest is a subsidy for homeowners. The deduction for medical expenses and medical insurance exceeding 7.5% of your adjusted gross income is a subsidy for those who have serious health problems, or who have to pay for their own health insurance.

You can argue about whether each of these is necessary, or appropriate. In some ideal world, we wouldn't have any of these subsidies written into the tax code. I'm not keen on adding more tax deductions or credits into the system, except as an alternative to something worse. That's why I grudgingly support a tax credit to help lower income people afford health insurance--it's more efficient than a general subsidy to a government health insurance plan, because it is precisely targeted.

But a tax deduction for pet care? This is a frivolous subsidy at a time when our economy is in danger of collapse from insanely large deficits. I suspect that the goal is to curry favor with high income voters who call their pets "fur children," and spend thousands of dollars a year taking care of these substitutes for real children.

UPDATE: Dave Hardy points out that the proposed deduction is actually far better than the deduction for medical care or medical insurance, because your pet's expenses don't have to exceed 7.5% AGI.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Idaho Constitution Gets More & More Curious

The Idaho Constitution Gets More & More Curious

Art. XIII, sec. 1
Bureau of immigration -- Commissioner. There shall be established a bureau of immigration, labor and statistics, which shall be under the charge of a commissioner of immigration, labor and statistics, who shall be appointed by the governor, by and with the consent of the senate. The commissioner shall hold his office for two years, and until his successor shall have been appointed and qualified, unless sooner removed. The commissioner shall collect information upon the subject of labor, its relation to capital, the hours of labor and the earnings of laboring men and women, and the means of promoting their material, social, intellectual and moral prosperity. The commissioner shall annually make a report in writing to the governor of the state of the information collected and collated by him, and containing such recommendations as he may deem calculated to promote the efficiency of the bureau.
Yet when I search Idaho government pages for information about this "Bureau of Immigration Commissioner," and search the Idaho Code, the only actual reference that I can find is in this report from the Division of Building Safety, which acknowledges that the Bureau of Immigration Labor and Statistics was created in 1899, and eliminated in 1919.

State constitutions tend to accumulate debris over time, as ideas of one era become unfashionable, or get struck down by the courts--but tend not to get removed, since this requires a vote of the people to amend the state constitution. I've read that the infamous "The Chinese" article XIX of the 1879 California Constitution wasn't actually removed until 1952, even though it had been unenforceable for a long time before that. If Idaho Const., Art. XIII, sec. 1 merely granted authority to the legislature to create such a bureau, and the governor to appoint such a commissioner, that would be one thing. But this seems to obligate both to do both. A general cleanup of the Idaho Constitution would seem like a good idea.

I'm pretty sure that Art. XIII, sec. 5 is also no longer enforced:
Aliens not to be employed on public work. No person, not a citizen of the United States, or who has not declared his intention to become such, shall be employed upon, or in connection with, any state or municipal works.
This is probably the more subtle Idaho version of the California Constitution's Art. XIX. It is pretty clearly contrary to the Fourteenth Amendment's equal protection clause, which has been repeatedly recognized to protect the rights of permanent residents.

A Rather Odd Provision of the Idaho Constitution

A Rather Odd Provision of the Idaho Constitution

There are actually a number of rather odd provisions, but this is one of the more startling. Art. XIV, sec. 1:
Persons subject to military duty. All able-bodied male persons, residents of this state, between the ages of eighteen and forty-five years, shall be enrolled in the militia, and perform such military duty as may be required by law; but no person having conscientious scruples against bearing arms, shall be compelled to perform such duty in time of peace. Every person claiming such exemption from service, shall, in lieu thereof, pay into the school fund of the county of which he may be a resident, an equivalent in money, the amount and manner of payment to be fixed by law.
Note, "shall be enrolled in the militia." Normally, "shall" in legal documents is a requirement--something that must be done. It would be interesting find out when this enrollment requirement stopped.

Section 2 of Art. XIV
is even more explicit:
Legislature to provide for enrolment of militia. The legislature shall provide by law for the enrolment, equipment and discipline of the militia, to conform as nearly as practicable to the regulations for the government of the armies of the United States, and pass such laws to promote volunteer organizations as may afford them effectual encouragement.

Toto, I Don't Think We're In California Anymore

Toto, I Don't Think We're In California Anymore

I have a job interview to each state and local government at a local technical school on Friday, so I was trying to learn all the curious details of the Idaho Constitution in preparation for that. (Federal constitution, I'm ready, but who studies the state constitution?) Anyway, Idaho Const., Art. III, sec. 24:
Promotion of temperance and morality. The first concern of all good government is the virtue and sobriety of the people, and the purity of the home. The legislature should further all wise and well directed efforts for the promotion of temperance and morality.
I was also a little surprised by the Idaho Constitution's eminent domain provision in Art. I, sec. 14, which is extremely detailed as to what constitutes a "public use," which therefore allows confiscation of private land (with compensation to the owner):
The necessary use of lands for the construction of reservoirs or storage basins, for the purpose of irrigation, or for rights of way for the construction of canals, ditches, flumes or pipes, to convey water to the place of use for any useful, beneficial or necessary purpose, or for drainage; or for the drainage of mines, or the working thereof, by means of roads, railroads, tramways, cuts, tunnels, shafts, hoisting works, dumps, or other necessary means to their complete development, or any other use necessary to the complete development of the material resources of the state, or the preservation of the health of its inhabitants, is hereby declared to be a public use, and subject to the regulation and control of the state.

I'm Wondering If I Need To Go Back To School

I'm Wondering If I Need To Go Back To School

I'm discovering that 30 years of software engineering experience is insufficient to get a full-time job (or even a part-time job). An M.A. in History turns out to be of no value, either.

UPDATE: I have a job interview for an adjunct position!



I guess that the Department of Justice hasn't been completely corrupted. From September 21, 2009 Reuters:

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Hassan Nemazee, a fund-raiser for Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and other Democrats, has been indicted for defrauding Bank of America, HSBC and Citigroup Inc out of more than $290 million in loan proceeds, U.S. prosecutors said on Monday.

The announcement follows last month's indictment of Nemazee, head of a private equity firm and an Iranian American Political Action Committee board member, on one count of defrauding Citigroup's Citibank.

The new indictment adds allegations that he defrauded two other banks, Bank of America and HSBC Bank USA, in a similar fashion by falsifying documents and signatures to purportedly show he had hundreds of millions worth of collateral.

The office of the U.S. Attorney in Manhattan and the FBI said he used the proceeds of his scheme to make donations to election campaigns of federal, state and local candidates, donations to political action committees and charities.

It makes you wonder if the Democratic Party would have much of a fundraising operation without crooks like Stanford, ACORN, and the guy who Made-off with all the money.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Not Waiting Until 18

Not Waiting Until 18

I was told by a reader that for all the fuss in Britain recently when a boy came back to school as a girl, that this only hormone therapy and dressing up as a girl; that surgery waits until they are 18. Apparently not in Germany. From the September 21, 2009 Independent (one of the left-wing newspapers in Britain that doesn't impress me with the quality of its reporting on other matters):

Petras started hormone therapy at 13 and in 2006 appeared in a German TV documentary which drew attention to the plight of transsexuals and German laws which prohibit sex change operations on people under 18.

Her campaign led to her being given legal permission to undergo the reassignment operation in November last year, when she was 16. "I went to a lot of psychologists and many of them agreed that it would be really important for me to have the surgery as soon as possible and not wait until I was 18," Petras said in a recent interview with the German media. "Because I had so many psychologists on my side, I got the legal permission I needed."

She says she has no regrets about her surgery and insists that the operation did not really change her, although she admits to feeling a soaring sense of deep satisfaction when the doctors had finished their work. "When I first saw my body I was just so happy," she said. "I finally knew that I was complete."

She enjoyed singing and – thanks to the early age at which she started hormone therapy – her voice never broke. She started making videos of herself singing Alicia Keys songs in 2007. But nowadays she writes, performs and co-produces all of her own music, using her past as an inspiration for her lyrics. She has just signed a deal with the top German record producer Fabian Gorg.

I do find myself wondering how much of this, "I was born a girl" might be tied to this:
Kim Petras is quietly moving on from the issue which defined her adolescent years. For Kim began life as Tim, a little boy growing up with two older sisters in the German city of Bonn.
Lots of boys grow up as the only boy in a family of girls, of course, and don't become convinced that they are really females born in the wrong body. But I find myself believing that makes more sense than the notion that somehow Tim Petras was born female, trapped in a male body.

There's another case now in Britain, involving a nine year old boy who just returned to school as a girl. From the September 19, 2009 Daily Mail:

A boy of nine has returned to school as a girl in what is believed to be Britain's youngest gender swap.

Children at the school in southern England were told the child had left and been replaced by a female pupil.

The child came dressed in girls' uniform with long hair tied in a pink ribbon.

The case comes after it was revealed yesterday that a 12-year-old boy had started his first term at secondary school in southern England as a girl.

Some parents at the school have criticised staff for not informing them before telling children about the gender change at a special assembly.

Now, the nine year old is too young to start on hormone therapy, but I find myself wondering what is being put in the water to make parents go along with this idiocy. Part of why I am so skeptical of the whole transgender craziness--aside from the some of the articles and studies that I have previously linked to--is that young kids are highly impressionable. As I explained several years ago:

About twenty years ago, my wife and I attended a class about child sexual abuse. My wife and I had run into an astonishing and depressing number of adult survivors (this was California, remember), and we decided that we wanted to know more about abusers and the problems of the victims. Most of the other students were in the health professions, and I was almost the only guy in the class.

Anyway, over lunch we got to talking to a woman in the class whose husband today would doubtless be considered "transgendered." He wanted a sex change, because he didn't feel like he really belonged in a male body. His wife was distraught about this; she explained that her husband had grown up in a home with a macho Marine father, and a mother who had desperately wanted a little girl, not a little boy. As a result, Mom had made him wear dresses (at least at home), had painted his nails, etc. until he was old enough to refuse. Gee, why do you think he was conflicted about his sexual identity?

Movie Version of Twelve Years a Slave

Movie Version of Twelve Years a Slave

I recently mentioned how powerful Solomon Northup's Twelve Years a Slave was. Written in a more modern and more powerful style than Frederick Douglass' Autobiography--at least as dramatic as any adventure story of the time. It is also short enough that I found myself marveling that someone hadn't made into it a movie--it's short enough to make a fine two hour film without having to cut anything out. But I couldn't seem to find any details of a movie by that name.

And then a reader pointed me to this description of a 1984 made for TV production with the title Solomon Northup's Odyssey. Some of the comments criticize Avery Brooks' overacting in the role of Solomon Northup. I must say, I always enjoy Brooks' portrayal of "Hawk" in Spenser: For Hire, where he played one of those ambiguous characters who was both good and bad. But I can't say that I have seen Brooks in much else.

I'll keep my eyes peeled on Black Entertainment Television network for this to show up as a re-run--which would be the most obvious place to find it on cable.



This September 21, 2009 Topeka Capital-Journal article again mentions the near record low sunspot numbers and its likely effects on climate:

But the sun's recent activity, or lack thereof, may be linked to the pleasant summer temperatures the midwest has enjoyed this year, said Charlie Perry, a research hydrologist with the U.S. Geological Survey in Lawrence.

The sun is at a low point of a deep solar minimum in which there are few to no sunspots on its surface.

In July through August, 51 consecutive days passed without a spot, one day short of tying the record of 52 days from the early 1900s.

As of Sept. 15, the current solar minimum ranks third all-time in the amount of spotless days with 717 since 2004. There have been 206 spotless days in 2009, which is 14th all-time. But there are still more than 100 days left in the year, and Perry expects that number to climb.

Perry, who studies sunspots and solar activity in his spare time, received an undergraduate degree in physics at Kansas State University and a Ph.D in physics and astronomy at The University of Kansas. He also has spent time as a meteorologist.

A sunspot, Perry explains, is a location on the sun's surface that is cooler than the surrounding area. When there are more sunspots, the sun's surface becomes more dynamic and an opposite effect takes place, releasing more heat and energy when other parts of the sun become hotter.

A solar minimum is when the amount of spots on the sun is at a low and the reverse is true for a solar maximum. The complete solar cycle is about an 11-year process. Perry says the current solar minimum could continue into 2010.

"There's a fair chance it will be a cooler winter than last year," Perry said.

Perry said there is a feeling from some in the scientific community the Earth may be entering into a grand minimum, which is an extended period with low numbers of sunspots that creates cooler temperatures. The year without a summer, which was 1816, was during a grand minimum in 1800 to 1830 when Europe became cooler, Perry said. Another grand minimum was in 1903 to 1913.

Perry said there is anecdotal evidence the Earth's temperature may be slightly decreasing, but local weather patterns are much more affected by the jet stream than solar activity.

However, Perry said snow in Buenos Aires and southern Africa, the best ski season in Australia and a cooler Arctic region are some of the anecdotal evidence for a cooling period.

So, Perry said, sunspots may have a far greater impact on weather than previously thought.

I'm sure the eco-worshipers will point out that Perry is a hydrologist, not a climatologist, so we can ignore his Ph.D. in physics and astronomy, and therefore, everything he says is wrong.

The weather here has gone from sometimes unpleasantly warm to "is it time to turn the heater back on again?" quite suddenly. And others are noticing this as well, as this September 21, 2009 Coloradan report tells us:
Southern Wyoming this morning has already seen upward of 2 inches of snow, said Don Day Jr. of DayWeather, the Coloradoan's weather service. Parts of Larimer County above 7,500 feet saw snow this morning, including Red Feather Lakes and Glacier View Meadows.

While that snow hasn't stuck much, Day said, it's a harbinger of things to come. Autumn officially starts tomorrow.

"Fall was cancelled and we've gone straight to winter," he said as a joke.

Day said there's a potential for a rain-snow mix to fall on the Front Range starting tomorrow night and into Wednesday morning. He said many people seem surprised at the sudden cold snap, but said about eight years of above-average temperatures have conditioned the public to expect summer to linger longer.

"This is actually a lot closer to normal," Day said.

Here's a pretty amazing web site concerning the role that angular momentum changes caused by planetary positions may have on solar cycles--the Landcheidt Cycle. This site has graphs showing correlation of C-14 and Be-10 production, which matters because C-14 production is a proxy for solar output. (As solar output increases, more cosmic rays are prevented from reaching Earth's upper atmosphere, reducing C-14 production.)

Backing Up Via FTP (Thanks!)

Backing Up Via FTP (Thanks!)

I asked yesterday for suggestions for FTP backup software for Windows--and I received a vast swarm of useful suggestions. Thanks to all!

Monday, September 21, 2009

What Is Cruel & Unusual Punishment?

What Is Cruel & Unusual Punishment?

I suspect that these examples might be the sort of thing the Framers had in mind when they prohibited cruel and unusual punishment in the Bill of Rights. Four slaves, one Indian (Indian Sam), three black, in the household of William Hallett, Jr., murdered Hallett, his pregnant wife, and five children with an ax as they slept on January 11, 1708.
All of the defendants were executed by torture at Jamaica, Long Island. On February 2, 1708, Sam was gibbeted alive in a barbed cage.
Bodies of especially notorious criminals would be left to rot in an iron cage where all could see them. Indian Sam was apparently not given the option of being killed first.
The female defendant (who was said to be the catalyst of the whole affair), was roasted alive over a slow fire for several hours with a vessel of cool water held near her mouth. When she finally expired her body was burnt to ashes.
From Daniel Allen Hearn, Legal Executions in New York State: A Comprehensive Reference, 1639-1963 (Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland & Co., 1997), 5-6.

Backing Up Via FTP

Backing Up Via FTP

I've been thinking of backing up to a remote server, since I have 100 GB of storage included in my domain. The obvious way to do this is via ftp--but it only makes sense to backup new files, or files modified since the last backup.

Back when I wrote PC-DOS programs, I had occasion to build some cool little utilities that made this pretty easy: one was a program that took two file names, compared the file modification dates, then copied the first file to the second file.

NEWER *.* f:*.*

It would thus compare files in the current hard disk directory to those in the current hard disk directory on drive F:, and copy all files to F: that were either not present on F:, or that had a more recent modification date than the version on F:.

I was going to write a similar program that used FTP, but it occurred to me that there may already be such a program out there that one of my reader is using. Any suggestions?

UPDATE: Oh my, was I impressed how many of you responded! While I was waiting for answers, I started writing my own FTP backup as a C# console application, and I had it working well enough that it was successfully doing backups when I started receiving your replies. Here's the core of the code--I could probably have spent a few more hours verifying that I had all the exceptions properly handled, but there were so many existing programs available to do this, it wasn't worth the effort:
class Update
static void Main(string[] args)
if (args.Length != 3)
Console.WriteLine("USAGE: [directory to backup] [files to backup] [destination for backup]");
DirectoryInfo dir = new DirectoryInfo(args[0]);
FileInfo[] files = dir.GetFiles(args[1]);
foreach (FileInfo file in files)
DateTime lastWriteTime = file.LastWriteTime;
string name = file.Name;
Uri uri = new Uri(args[2] + "/" + name);
FtpWebRequest request = (FtpWebRequest)WebRequest.Create(uri);
FtpWebResponse response = null;
//request.EnableSsl = true;
request.Method = WebRequestMethods.Ftp.GetDateTimestamp;
response = (FtpWebResponse)request.GetResponse();
catch (WebException ex)
Console.WriteLine("file " + name + " does not exist on backup server");
BackupFile(dir, file, args[2]);
catch (AuthenticationException ex)
if (response != null && lastWriteTime > response.LastModified)
Console.WriteLine(name + " local time=" + lastWriteTime + "; server write time=" + response.LastModified);
BackupFile(dir, file, args[2]);

private static void BackupFile(DirectoryInfo dir, FileInfo file, string destBackup)
Uri uri = new Uri(destBackup + "/" + dir.Name + "/" + file.Name);
FtpWebRequest request = (FtpWebRequest)WebRequest.Create(uri);
request.Method = WebRequestMethods.Ftp.UploadFile;
// Copy the contents of the file to the request stream.
StreamReader sourceStream = new StreamReader(file.Name);
byte[] fileContents = Encoding.UTF8.GetBytes(sourceStream.ReadToEnd());
request.ContentLength = file.Length;
Stream requestStream = request.GetRequestStream();
requestStream.Write(fileContents, 0, (int)file.Length);
FtpWebResponse response = (FtpWebResponse)request.GetResponse();
catch (Exception ex)
Most of my readers suggested using one of the Windows ports of rsync, which talks to most *nix systems. Here's one. There were several suggestions that I use FileZilla, an open source program for this purpose. Unison was also suggested, but it required more than zero thought to install, so I didn't pursue that. I ended up installing SyncBack, a freeware program that has a nice GUI, and seems to be working just fine.

Thanks to all for your suggestions!

New PajamasMedia Article

New PajamasMedia Article

"'Stand Your Ground Laws': An Unfortunate Necessity"

Several readers immediately noticed a mistake on the second page:

"I wish that bullies like Podany could get some sense knocked into them by the age of 24" should be "I wish that bullies like Landes could get some sense knocked into them by the age of 24"

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Lawn Ornaments

Lawn Ornaments

The picture's a bit grainy because the sun was barely lighting up the sky when I took this photograph.

Click to enlarge

Why Public Option Scares People

Why Public Option Scares People

The reason that the public option scares people is a fear that if directly subsidized, it will drive private insurers out of business, leaving us with a Canadian health care system. This opinion piece from the August 13, 2009 Calgary Herald does a good job of explaining the concern:
You've been noticing for a couple of months that your vision is deteriorating. You've been having headaches and unexplained vomiting. You feel tired all the time.

You know your doctor is busy so you don't trouble her for an appointment immediately, hoping you'll get better. When you finally do go, she's alarmed by your vision loss and your skyrocketing blood pressure. She orders an MRI scan. Five weeks later you get the report: There's a lesion on your pituitary gland, just below your brain. The doctors aren't sure what to call it. It could be a meningioma, a pituitary adenoma, a craniopharyngioma, an epidermoid adenoma, or a Rathke's cleft cyst, they say.

You ask what these are. Several are types of brain tumour, one possibly malignant. Uh-oh. Your doctor refers you to two specialists. The earliest appointment you can get with a neurologist is more than seven weeks away. The earliest appointment with the endocrinologist is 16 weeks away.

But this thing is growing in your head. Your optometrist's tests confirm you are getting progressively closer to blindness. What to do?

Shona Holmes, the woman who has been criticized in some quarters recently for jumping into the U. S. debate on health care reform, faced exactly this situation. She decided to take matters into her own hands. If Canada's health-care system didn't care enough about her to alleviate the unbearable anxiety that anyone would feel under such circumstances, there were other places in the world that would.

The Mayo Clinic managed to get her in and identify the cause of the problem in seven days. But even though it was urgent to get the non-malignant growth removed, or she would go blind, that wasn't enough to get the Canadian health care system to step in and do the surgery. She had to go back to the U.S. for the surgery that saved her sight.

What's really tragic is that the Canadian system, until 2005, actually made it illegal for a health care provider to operate outside their single payer system. Not just "the government's health insurance won't pay for it"--but illegal to provide care. The Canadian Supreme Court in 2005 ruled that "Access to a waiting list is not access to health care," and struck down the Quebec health insurance monopoly. That Calgary Herald piece explains that the doctors at the Mayo Clinic that did the surgery that restored Shona Holmes' vision? They were Canadians, too--who had moved to the U.S. to practice medicine.

So if the crowd that wants Canadian style single payer gets its way--either openly or in a roundabout way, as I pointed out last month that Obama seems to be taking us--where will Americans go to get medical care? Of course, when I say, "Americans," I really mean, "rich Americans." Most Americans, if confronted with a serious problem like Shona Holmes, won't have the resources to pay for medical care in another country, or the cost of traveling there. But the people that Obama represents--George Soros, Nancy Pelosi, and the other obscenely rich--they won't have that problem, will they?

Friday, September 18, 2009

Oh Yeah, This Makes Sense

Oh Yeah, This Makes Sense

From the September 18, 2009 Sun, one of the British tabloids (which make most American newspapers look pretty respectable), so take it for what it is worth:

A BOY aged 12 turned up at school as a GIRL - after changing sex during the summer holidays.

Teachers called an emergency assembly to order fellow pupils to treat him as female.

The lad, whose parents have changed his name to a girl's by deed poll, arrived in a dress with long hair in ribboned pigtails. He is preparing for sex-swap surgery.

Angry parents told yesterday how their kids were left tearful and confused after school staff announced the boy pupil was now a girl.

They said the head teacher should have informed them in advance of the "sex change" so they could prepare their sons and daughters and inform them about gender issues.

They added that the school's failure to do so had left the boy to suffer cruel taunts and bullying.

One mum said: "They behaved appallingly by throwing this hand grenade into the room and then leaving the inevitable questions about it for unprepared parents.

"Maybe we could have explained sexual politics and encouraged our kids to be more sensitive if we'd had a chance to be involved."

Over the summer holidays his parents changed his name to a female one by deed poll. He is preparing to undergo hormone treatment and surgery - and could become the world's youngest sex-swap patient in the coming years.

Oh yes, sex change surgery makes so much sense--and especially for someone that age! I've said it before: sex change surgery makes homosexuality look downright normal and healthy.

UPDATE: A reader points out that some people regard circumcision as bad. This is irrevocable, lifelong mutilation of a confused young boy.

Some Things Never Change

Some Things Never Change
A bowie-knife, dirk, or pistols, commonly occupy the desk-drawer of Congressional members; who, as a close observer remarked to me—"not only look four ways at once, but in manners and deportment strongly remind me of runaway convicts." [Henry Cook Todd, Notes Upon Canada and the United States: From 1832 to 1840 2nd ed. (Toronto: Rogers and Thompson, 1840), 181]
Okay, doubtless not completely fair back then, or now, but I was looking for references to Bowie knives in that period, and I thought you might get a laugh out of the description of members of Congress.

The Tragedy of Mental Illness

The Tragedy of Mental Illness

In going through Legal Executions in New England, I have found nineteen cases where a person was executed for crimes that are clearly or likely the result of severe mental illness. There was a notion of not guilty by reason of insanity (NGRI) even at the start of the Colonial period, but just like today, the legal definition of NGRI is far narrower than the medical or conventional definition of insanity. The first NGRI verdict in Pennsylvania is in the 1740s. This being a book of executions, it doesn't include any situations (except one) where a person was found NGRI--and that one case involved a person who was NGRI, then committed another murder some years later, and this time, the jury wasn't taking any chances. That is also like today, where juries have sometimes found people sane who were clearly not (some as the cannibal serial killer Kemper)--for fear that they might be released. Still, while I haven't found a list of all NGRI verdicts, I don't get the impression that there are dozens of such cases.

Most of these are executions for murder, but in a few cases, there are people murdered for witchcraft where their confession clearly shows mental illness. There are people who confess to witchcraft in the Colonial period who genuinely believed that they were successfully casting spells to cause livestock to die and to afflict people--but I am not including those. I'm including people who have hallucinations that they were having sex with devils, for example, and confess to such crimes.

There are several murders in the list that while not clearly mental illness, don't make sense otherwise. There are some cases like that of Alice Bishop of Plymouth, who in 1648 slit her four year old daughter Martha's throat from ear to ear. She pleaded guilty, but refused at any point to explain why she did this. There are crimes that are incredibly brutal without any apparent reason, where the accused either wouldn't explain his actions, and freely admitted what he had done, with no apparent concern about the consequences. (And these are such heinous crimes that I won't even tell you about them.)

Considering the number of people in New England, and the more than 150 years covered, this is really a very low number of cases.

Still, every case is a tragedy. There is a Peter Abbott of Fairfield, Conn. who began to evince symptoms of lunacy as he grew into adulthood. “For that reason he was kept close to home, working in tandem with his father.” Schizophrenia usually shows itself in the teen or early adult years. The idea of keeping him close to home, in the hopes of preventing him from coming to harm, or harming others, was a good idea--but he married, and soon, there was no one to supervise him. Peter Abbott was executed in 1667 for murdering his wife and attempting to murder his child by slitting their throats while they slept.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

What I'm Reading For Pleasure

What I'm Reading For Pleasure

I'm reading grim but important books at the moment for historical research--but that's not all I read. I've recently finished William Makepeace Thackery's The Memoirs of Barry Lyndon, Esq. If you saw Stanley Kubrick's movie version in 1975, yes, it captures some of what a cad Barry Lyndon is--but only somewhat. I would say that Barry Lyndon is a superior novel to Thackery's Vanity Fair, which is often considered Thackery's masterpiece. Barry Lyndon suffers far less from Victorian self-conscious self-righteousness than Vanity Fair, and is far more subtle in how it tells you that the narrator can't be trusted--and yet, unintentionally provides you enough information to figure out what a cad he really is. The opening sentence of the first chapter, once you read a few chapters in, becomes the ultimate statement of projection:
SINCE the days of Adam, there has been hardly a mischief done in this world but a woman has been at the bottom of it.
I've been reading through the Harry Potter novels--and J.K. Rowling deserves the billion dollars or whatever that she has made from writing them, and selling film and product marketing rights. They were immensely popular with kids 8-15 (at least, those that still read), and yet adults can read them and enjoy them tremendously as well. There is just enough wit to them to prevent them from being too dark--and yet, in their own parallel universe way, there are important lessons about the nature of good, evil, love, and friendship in them. And it is so nice that someone is prepared to write novels about teenagers that don't insist on going beyond very passionate kissing. I've just finished Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince; I'm waiting for my wife (who is teaching four classes this term, and is a bit busy) to finish the seventh novel before I dig in.

In the meantime, I'm reading Twelve Years a Slave, Solomon Northup's 1853 account of what happened when he was lured from his home in upstate New York to Washington, DC to work--then drugged, and sold into slavery in Louisiana. Eventually, he managed to get a letter to an attorney named Northup who was a descendant of the man who had owned Northup's father, before New York ended slavery, who arranged for his release.

I'm only halfway through it, but it is a powerful story. It benefits from the fact that Northup was an educated free man when sold into slavery, and was therefore more able to provide a very thoughtful and detailed account of his experiences. Like many of those who had escaped slavery, and like such fictional portrayals as Uncle Tom's Cabin, he was careful to distinguish good masters from bad, and that the core problem was institutional, not personal. In the parallel universe where I ever get to teach American history, I would be tempted to assign it. His portrayal of the separation of a slave mother from her two children at the New Orleans slave market is powerful for its simplicity and honesty--without the maudlin sensibilities of fiction of that era.

There is much in Northup's account that makes it unacceptable to those who insist on simple dichotomous narratives of good and evil. Perhaps this is why I have never seen a film version of Twelve Years a Slave, although there seems to be one out there, somewhere.



I'm looking at somewhere to invest money from the called Fannie Mae bonds, and I am actually disturbed by how high the yields are on not just government agency bonds, but even corporate bonds.

Why am I disturbed? Because a high yield on a bond usually indicates one of three things:

1. There's a non-trivial risk of default.

2. The economy is booming, and interest rates have been driven up by this.

3. There is a high risk of long-term inflation.

Well, we know that #2 isn't true. The economy is not booming. It may recover in the next year or two--indeed, I think that is likely--but it isn't booming right now. Both #1 and #3 are pretty worrisome possibilities.

If we were talking about junk corporate bonds, then #1 wouldn't be concerning. But these are AAA-rated 30 year corporate bonds with average yields of 5.36%. The government agency bonds? Those are averaging 5.51%. If there is a non-trivial risk of the U.S. government defaulting, then you are probably better off investing in cases of 7.62mm NATO and canned food. And Nancy Pelosi (D-Babylon) talking about political violence isn't helping alleviate my concerns.

That's such a scary thought that I have to want to believe that #3 is the real problem: the risk of high inflation, and not just for a few years. Inflation is fine for people that have no assets, and lots of debt--until the inflationary spiral makes their jobs go away. But unless you can find an investment that gets ahead of price inflation, anyone who has any assets at all is going to be in a world of hurt. I'm sure that George Soros and other billionaires leftists have figured out how to profit nicely from this disaster. The rest of us have much to worry about.

Now, if there were a functional Republican Party made up of responsible adults, there might be some hope of both taking both control of Congress and fixing the problems. But I'm afraid that all we can realistically hope for is the first part of that: taking back control of Congress. The corruption of the Republican Party 2002-2006 is unlikely to be corrected just because they kick out the clowns currently up there.

I understand why my ancestors immigrated to Plymouth and Boston in the 1620s and 1630s. The England that they lived in was too depraved a place in which to raise a family. If there were spaceships going off planet right now, I would be sorely tempted.

Another Depressing Aspect To The Current Reading

Another Depressing Aspect To The Current Reading

The large number of women executed for infanticide--in almost every case, unwed mothers (or worse, wed to someone who is away at sea at the time of conception). Typically these are cases where the mother (sometimes as young as 14) has managed to conceal her pregnancy from neighbors--and sometimes even from parents or landlord--and then kills the newborn in the hopes of not having the illegitimate birth discovered. Sometimes the death is just neglect--but often as not, they have actively caused the death, by strangulation, or bludgeoning. The most gruesome of all are the cases where the child is dropped into the latrine to drown.

It's tempting to blame all of this on the barbarism of Colonial America's punishments for fornication and bastardy (both of which were serious crimes). But we have plenty of examples of this in the modern era--when there is not only no criminal sanction for being an unwed mother, there's barely any social disapproval (at least from the elites that define popular culture). And of course, the distinction between abortion and infanticide is primarily a legal one.

I scratch my head when I think about these cases. These weren't spur of the moment decisions: these women knew they were pregnant for at least many months, with some putting considerable effort into hiding their condition. In a few cases, they had boyfriends trying to arrange abortions--and in at least one case, the mother's conscience took precedence, and the boyfriend ended up in trouble. They had to have known that there were going to be questions about how they had gained so much weight--and then lost it, rather suddenly. There are so many hangings for infanticide in this period that they must have known that the risk of being caught was quite high.

Hearn claims that until 1696 the burden of proof requirement for murder meant that a court had to prove that the mother intentionally caused the death of her child, and that the child was born alive. In that year, he says, "An Act to Prevent the Destroying and Murder of Bastard Children," made it a capital crime for a mother to conceal the "birth, death or disposal of a child born out of wedlock regardless of whether the child was born dead or alive." [p. 110] However, Marietta and Rowe's Troubled Experiment says that the law in question was passed in the reign of James I, and other sources such as this refer to a statute with that exact same title from 1624, under James I. I can see the reasoning on this; without such a requirement, there was a strong incentive for an unwed mother to dispose of the evidence, and no reason to not do so.

It's all very depressing. You don't want to repeal laws simply because they are often violated. Laws sometimes discourage misbehavior, even when they do not completely stop it. At the same time, criminalizing what people are doing pretty commonly sometimes leads to worse crimes, as they attempt to hide the evidence of what they have done.

Grim But Sometimes Interesting Reading

Grim But Sometimes Interesting Reading

I'm not quite halfway through Daniel Allen Hearn's Legal Executions in New England: A Comprehensive Reference, 1623-1960 (Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland & Co., 1999). Much of it is very, very grim, as people are executed for rape (more often than you might expect for the Colonial period--of children), murder, burglary, bestiality, treason, espionage, sedition, sodomy, and witchcraft.

There are some surprises here and there. On p. 47 and p. 111, Hearn recounts both petit jury and grand juries consisting of whites and Indians in cases with Indian defendants. One was the execution of Indian Tom in 1674 Massachusetts for the rape of another Indian, Sarah Jempson. (The names alone suggest that the Jempsons were Christians.) The trial jury was half white, half Indian.

The other was the execution of Waisoiusksquaw, who disemboweled her husband with a butcher knife. As you might expect from the name, she was an Indian, of the Mohegan-Pequot tribe. The grand jury that indicted Waisoiusksquaw included "six of her fellow tribesmen." She was tried at Hartford, Connecticut, convicted, and hanged on May 15, 1711. (If Waisoiusksquaw was really her name, it casts some question in my mind whether "squaw" was really an Indian word for "whore.")

I am not surprised that the legal systems were concerned about crimes committed against Indians. I was already aware of the executions of Arthur Peach, Thomas Jackson, and Richard Stinnings in 1638 Plymouth for the murder and robbery of a Narragansett Indian who survived long enough to give a deathbed deposition to fellow Indians. But I was a bit surprised to find mixed race juries! I'll try and find out if this was created by statute, or simply local custom.

Another surprise was the failure of deterrence. One of the theories of harsh punishment is that it should discourage criminal behavior. Pretty obviously, it works for some, and doesn't work for others. The story of Isaac Frasier, executed in 1768 for being a habitual criminal, is one of the examples of someone who clearly didn't learn from punishment.

He was repeatedly arrested for theft and burglary (often breaking jail). In New Haven, he was branded for burglary, "severely whipped and also had his earlobes cut off." He stole a horse in New York (a capital crime there). Worcester County whipped him for robbery. Fairfield County, Connecticut cut off the rest of his ears for burglary "and was again branded with a hot iron. He was also whipped until his back was raw."

As soon as he was loose, he went to Boston, committed three burglaries in one night. Then he went back to Worcester, committed three more burglaries where he was already learned the harshness of Connecticut justice. He was arrested, tried, sentenced to death, broke jail again, went to Middletown, Connecticut, "committed four burglaries in one night." Then he burglarized a merchant in Norwalk, then Fairfield again, then stole a horse.

While awaiting trial--he set the jail on fire, burning down the courthouse. He was then taken to jail in New Haven, from which he escaped. He did some more burglaries in Middletown, Charlestown, Massachusetts, and committed a robbery in Shrewsbury. Then he was whipped in Worcester again for being a thief. And then Connecticut got hold him, brought him back to Fairfield, and finally hung him. [pp. 148-9]

This guy was a one man crime wave.

I also found an early hate crime--but I rather doubt many liberals will be pleased with knowing about it. John Jacob, an Indian of tribe uncertain, murdered James Chokerer, by his own admission, because Chokerer was a "damn Schatacook"--a tribe with which Jacob's tribe apparently did not have a warm relationship. [p. 150]

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Oh Joy

Oh Joy

Troubled Experiment wasn't exactly pleasant reading. They make the observation that about 1/3 of all rape charges in 1682-1800 Pennsylvania involved victims under 18--with some victims as young as 6 or 8. But now I'm about to start reading two books that are even more unrelentingly uncharming: Legal Executions in New York State and Legal Executions in New England.

Why such edifying material? It appears that there are relatively few murders in the Colonial period committed by clearly insane people--certainly not very many in Pennsylvania, a province with an enormous violence problem relative to the rest of the American colonies. My working hypothesis is that this is a combination of low insanity rates, and relatively easy commitment procedures for those who were perceived as dangerously mentally ill. Throughout the Colonial period, commitment didn't necessarily mean treatment, and certainly not effective treatment. It did not even generally mean humane custodial institutionalization.

I'm about to start reading these volumes to see if my initial impression is correct or not.

More Sodomy Laws

More Sodomy Laws

I have been collecting early sodomy laws for some time, ever since Lawrence v. Texas (2003) found that homosexual sex was a constitutional right, because the Supreme Court found that "there is no long-standing history in this country of laws directed at homosexual conduct as a distinct matter. " I am taking notes out of a book, and using my blog as a notebook has the advantage that I won't misplace the notes, and you get to learn what I am learning.

Marietta and Rowe's Troubled Experiment, which I mentioned quite recently, includes a number of mentions of sodomy and buggery laws. At p. 12, they mention that the liberalism of the early Quaker government is exposed in that in the first sessions, in 1682, they made a number of crimes that were capital under English law, such as "rape, sodomy, bigamy, and incest" non-capital. First offense led to forfeiture of property, whipping, and imprisonment. I already had a copy of this statute; first offense: 1/3 of your estate is taken, six months of "hard Labour", and life in prison for the second offense. (I have a copy of that statute here.)

At pp. 17-18 they report that in 1700, the Pennsylvania Assembly decided to make all their criminal statutes more harsh:
Conviction for sodomy brought with it a life sentence with a whipping to be administered every three months if the defendant were single, castration if the convicted felon were married.
Considering that at least person convicted of being a pickpocket committed suicide rather than suffer the punishment of whipping [pp. 78-80], this must have been a truly horrifying punishment to look forward to every three months for the rest of your life. (Castration doesn't sound like a fun time, either.) Pennsylvania's very harsh 1700 criminal code was an attempt to prove that a bunch of Quakers could be tough on crime--even though there wasn't much crime in Pennsylvania yet. They had yet to convict anyone of sodomy or buggery. But because these laws were generally less severe than English law, the English government vetoed them. The 1705 criminal code was still pretty serious on sodomy or buggery:
Conviction for sodomy and buggery also meant life imprisonment and corporal punishment (not to exceed thirty-nine lashes) every three months. [pp. 19-20]
It sounds like they might have dropped the castration provision for married men. While the statute theoretically applies to both men and women, the castration provision makes it sound like they weren't expecting to get many female convicts.

The 1718 revisions to the criminal code went ahead and made sodomy and buggery capital crimes again. [p. 22]

There's not much detail in most of the sodomy and buggery cases that Marietta and Rowe examined. (I wouldn't be surprised if no one really wanted to give the details unless necessary to get a conviction.) It does appear that the distinction of sodomy (non-vaginal intercourse with humans) and buggery (sex with animals) that appears in many of the New England and Middle Colony codes (but not in Henry VIII's statute on the subject) was being used by Pennsylvania authorities. At least one of the heterosexual sodomy cases involved a husband and wife--although it may have involved force, and she testified against her husband. [pp. 88-89]

Not until 1786 did Pennsylvania reduce sodomy and buggery from capital to imprisonable offenses. [p. 211]

UPDATE: For as harsh as the punishments were (or perhaps because of how harsh they were), there are very prosecutions for buggery or sodomy from 1682-1800: 23 for buggery and 3 for sodomy in all of Pennsylvania. [Table 2.4] The obvious explanation is that if sodomy was consensual, it either had to be done in public view, or there would be no one to file a complaint, since both parties would have been subject to atrociously ferocious punishment.

UPDATE 2: To clarify: I'm gathering this data because the manner in which the Supreme Court decided Lawrence is a microcosm of how the "living Constitution" crowd has historically warped the Constitution to get the results that they wanted.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Troubled Experiment: Crime and Justice in Pennsylvania

Troubled Experiment: Crime and Justice in Pennsylvania

I was looking for information on mass murder in Colonial America, and found this book by Jack D. Marietta and Gail S. Rowe, published by University of Pennsylvania Press in 2006. This is a highly detailed analysis of crime and how the criminal justice system operated in Pennsylvania in the period 1682-1800. As the book's Introduction explains:
This is a history of crime in a place where there should have been no significant crime and a history of laws and law enforcement where there should have been little need for them. The place, after all, was Pennsylvania, the "Holy Experiment," "the golden age ... which has apparently never existed except in Pennsylvania," the "best poor man's country on earth," a land with peace and happiness reigning with justice and liberty among this people of brothers.... If any place enjoyed the prospect of liberating men and women from the conditions that presumably engender crime--poverty, oppression, and war among them--Pennsylvania was it. And yet, in this same place, a husband killed and mutilated his wife, and then crushed the skulls of his two children and a neighbor's child. An eight-year-old girl was raped in her Chester County home while her parents were out of the house. A cordwainer who sat at his front door in Philadelphia, smoking his pipe, died when an unknown person drove a knife through his heart.
This is a book driven by the data--a detailed examination of criminal justice records from a state that the authors tell us had the highest crime rates of all the colonies. There are tables showing the number of homicide accusations by decade (total: 513), and the number of those accusations that led to indictments (total: 382). There are murder rates for all of Pennsylvania, for Philadelphia, and for Chester County. There are breakdowns by morals crime: how many charges by decade for fornication, bastardy, adultery, bigamy, buggery, sodomy, incest, drunkenness, tolerating drunkenness, violating Sabbath, profane swearing, blasphemy, scolding, practicing magic/witchcraft, gambling, horse racing, and conducting lottery. (Okay, I'm describing a day in the life of some members of Congress.)

I'm impressed with how the authors have used the tax lists to demonstrate that for the most part, not only those accused of the most serious crimes were generally poor or transient (and likely both), but so were their victims--much like today, where the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder supplies most of the victims and victimizers.

The authors also use the declining rates of prosecution for most crimes of sexual morality as the Quaker percentage declines to argue that the Quaker elite became increasingly willing to adopt a more libertarian point of view. The one great exception is bastardy, where, just like today, illegitimacy led to dependency on the community. And at the same time that this more relaxed notion of public morality was taking effect, violent crime rates were rising. The obvious reason is that much of the new immigrant population that did not share Quaker values about fornication, swearing, and drunkenness, also didn't share their values about nonviolence.

There is a very detailed discussion of what happened to crime rates among African-Americans after 1780, when slavery was gradually phased out in Pennsylvania. They make the interesting point that while the expected epidemic of crime from freed slaves did not happen, the arrival of large numbers of Haitian refugees after the 1794 slave rebellion there seems to have caused a substantial increase in African-American crime.

The most controversial aspect of the book is the conclusion, where Marietta and Rowe argue that the underlying ideology of Pennsylvania played a major part in why it was such a violent and criminal society. Keep in mind that by "liberal" here they mean classical liberalism, which was somewhere between modern libertarianism and modern liberalism:
The power that the reformers withdrew from established churches, hierarchical governments, and hereditary castes, they expected to distribute among the people, who would enjoy personal libety and self-determination. Commerce too deserved to be freed from historic constraints. Enlightenment thinkers found nothing objectionable in increasing the reach and sway of free markets in society. Quite the opposite: they extolled them. So liberal Pennsylvania was open and tolerant, exceptionally free of authoritarian elites in public and religious life, unburdened by a military hierarchy, juridically humane for its day, and physically bountiful enough to win the acclaim of residents and visitors and to attract thousands hopeful of pursuing happiness. This liberal society provided the context for surprisingly abundant crime in Pennsylvania. This intersection of liberalism with abundant crime was more than coincidence. Liberalism supported and stimulated crime. While it solved many past problems, it disclosed new ones.

Liberals may have misunderstood human nature and credited people with too much altruism or too little selfishness.... But Pennsylvania did not reckon with the number of base and selfish men and women who came to Pennsylvania.