Thursday, December 27, 2007

Sinus Washes

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

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

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Alamar Ranch Again

I've mentioned previously the controversy about Alamar Ranch, a residential treatment school that is trying to set up operations in a rural part of Boise County. Some of the neighbors don't want it there.

Last night, my wife, my daughter, and I attended the second Boise County Planning & Zoning Commission hearing about this. The neighbors hired an attorney to represent their interests. I am sure that he thought he was being slick and effective at manipulation.* I find it hard to believe the Commission was stupid enough to be taken in by his tactics--but perhaps I'm giving them too much credit. They did finally vote 3-3 (one commissioner recused himself) on the request for a Conditional Use Permit--which means that Alamar Ranch now has to appeal to the County Board of Commissioners.

The Philosophy of Planning & Zoning

When I was younger, I found grand ideas and principles mesmerizing. The older I have become, the more I have seen that grand ideas and principles can often be very useful models, but the complexity of the real world and the variability of human abilities and foibles often means that a strict adherence to ideas--any ideas--can lead to silly or destructive results.

Land use, planning, zoning is one such example. As a grand idea, I don't think there should be restrictions on how you use your land, except those that you voluntarily accept as part of deed restrictions. If there is a problem of external effects (pollution, traffic, noise), well, injured parties should file suit against the polluter. If someone can figure out how to operate a slaughterhouse in a residential neighborhood without smells, noise, offal, then why should anyone care?

I can imagine a way that this could work--with underground tunnels bringing in cattle and sending out steaks, big air filtration systems to deal with the smells, lots of sound insulation, and little nuclear reactor in the basement to power everything. If this sounds like something out of L. Neil Smith's The Probability Broach (1981), now available online as a graphic novel--well, that's my point. Lots of things are possible in a science fiction novel, but the real world tends to be a bit more difficult.

In practice, the external effects are sometimes so horrendous that damages after the fact can't compensate for the injuries. For example, if a lead smelting operation pollutes the ground water and air, causing birth defects in dozens of kids. Yes, you can buy the silence of the families, but the damage done to those kids is permanent, and unrepairable.

Sometimes the external effects are so minor from any single property owner that it simply does not make sense to file suit. How much air pollution does a single property owner burning trash upwind from you make? Not much--and it is impractical to file suit against that one owner. But if thousands are doing so, the cumulative effect is quite destructive--but the cost of filing suit against thousands of trash burners--especially when you can't identify each and every one of them--just makes this an absurd exercise.

When I was younger, most of what I saw of planning and zoning was in the Los Angeles basin--where the level of detail and control being exerted made libertarian ideas about this quite attractive. Since I moved to Idaho, what I have generally seen of the planning process is a lot of people making genuine attempts to resolve real world problems. You might have a philosophical objection to the process, but questions of traffic flow, blocking of sunlight, adequate parking within a development--I just haven't seen a lot of completely absurd concerns or solutions for most development proposals up here. As long as we are discussing relatively unemotional matters such as traffic, noise, property values, you can get have a polite and reasonably intelligent conversation.

But when it comes to personal safety--the NIMBYism (Not In My Back Yard) goes ballistic. As I've mentioned with respect to Booth House, a homeless family shelter in Boise, and this recent situation near Idaho City with Alamar Ranch, there's a lot of fear--and intelligent conversation seems to stop.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Alamar Ranch (Continued)

I mentioned the other day that my daughter spoke at the Boise County Planning Commission hearing as well. Here's what she had to say. I strongly encourage you to read it in full, to see how important it is to not give up on a troubled teenager.

Friday, August 3, 2007

Alamar Ranch

I attended a meeting of the Boise County Planning and Zoning Commission last night. Alamar Ranch is a proposed residential treatment school for troubled teenaged boys. There has been some opposition to the project. The supposed objection had to do with increased demands on emergency services, but enough of the discussion in the local newspaper (the Idaho World) and at the hearing last night makes it clear that the real concern driving the opposition is fear that the boys that would be treated at Alamar Ranch would be there just to run away, steal cars, rape the local girls, and in general, turn Idaho City into the next Oakland. (Here you can see pictures of the historic, scenic part of Idaho City. There's no pictures of the rundown, trailer park portions of town.)

Anyway, it was a large crowd that showed up--perhaps 200 people or more. Considering that total population of Boise County in 2005 was 7,535, that's pretty impressive. This was a hot topic.

The Planning Commission staff report was clearly supportive of it, especially because Alamar Ranch has bent over backwards to satisfy every possible concern. The fire department wanted another emergency entry and exit road into the property. No problem. Alamar Ranch pointed to existing emergency service uses in similar facilities, and that they were minimal. They also offered to compare the emergency services use of any 37 home subdivision in the county, and reimburse the county for any emergency service requests above that baseline.

There were concerns that boys at Alamar Ranch could demand the Bogus Basin School District provide services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 2004; Alamar Ranch put in writing that they would be taking care of all such needs of the boys it will be treating, and would reimburse the district for expenses that might fall on them. Alamar Ranch also agreed to contribute $500 per new student to Bogus Basin School District for any children of Alamar Ranch employees that were new additions to the schools.

An economics professor from Northwestern Nazarene University shared the results of his economic analysis of the likely effects of Alamar Ranch. It would add about $800,000 to $1,500,000 a year to the local economy, because of the number of jobs. Since a lot of these jobs are pretty high paying compared to the average annual wage of $23,862 in the county in 2005, this would probably lift the Idaho City area a good bit.

Even something as trivial as exterior lighting: Alamar Ranch will use full cutoff light fixtures to preserve the dark skies of Boise County.

Contrary to my fears, quite a number of people turned out to speak in favor of Alamar Ranch. Some of them were neighbors; one was a competitor! There's a roughly similar facility in Garden Valley (another community in Boise County) that treats troubled teenaged boys and girls, and the director told of the enormous change in the lives of the troubled kids that they have helped. Another speaker was a psychiatrist from Boise who treats Idaho City kids, but because of the enormous distance that they have to travel, a fair number are medicated rather than provided the individual and family therapy that they need. Having Alamar Ranch in Idaho City would put at least one psychiatrist and many social workers and counselors in the community, where they would be available to provide services independent of Alamar Ranch.

One woman spoke of having to drive 12 hours to southern Utah each way to visit her daughter, who is in a similar program, because there is a critical shortage of space in programs like this.

Here's what I had to say:
My name is Clayton Cramer. I live at 36 Sunburst Road, Horseshoe Bend.

I don’t live in this part of the county, so I really don’t know the fine details of the concerns about traffic or fire protection. But I do know that a lot of what I have seen expressed in letters to the Idaho World sounds like prejudice against residential treatment schools, and the troubled teens that will be housed at Alamar Ranch.

So, why do I care about Alamar Ranch? A few years back, my daughter Hilary was a teenager. I think every teenager drives his or her parents crazy, but this was a bit beyond that—my wife and I were very worried that our daughter might not live to adulthood. With great reluctance, and a lot of tears, we sent our daughter from California to a residential treatment school in Utah, after which Alamar Ranch is patterned.

Our daughter was away for 6 ½ months. We visited her every few weeks, injecting vast quantities of money into the local economy each time. It was astonishing to see how rapidly our daughter recovered, while continuing her education. When she was 15, I was worried about whether she would live to 18. Instead, she came home, and finished high school. Shortly thereafter we moved to Idaho. Last year she graduated from the University of Idaho—and brought back a good husband as well. Now she and her husband are working on their master’s degrees at Boise State University.

I mentioned that Alamar Ranch is patterned on the residential treatment school where my daughter went in Utah. How do I know that? Because my daughter’s primary therapist there is Alamar Ranch’s executive director, Amy Jeppesen. What a small world we live in! I have tremendous confidence in Ms. Jeppesen, and I have seen the miracle that she performed with my daughter—and I believe very strongly in the importance of residential treatment schools for kids whose problems can’t be handled in an outpatient setting.

If there are legitimate complaints about Alamar Ranch, I implore you to find ways to work these concerns out with the neighbors. Every unnecessary roadblock that a planning agency puts in the way of a residential treatment school is really an obstacle in the path of helping a kid who is in trouble, become a success like my daughter. What Alamar Ranch will do for troubled teenaged boys is not just a business—it is, for some families, the last hope before a child spirals down into destruction.

One woman I spoke to afterwards told me that she was very impressed with what I had to say; "I think you changed my mind about this."

My daughter spoke about how the very similar program at New Haven Residential Treatment Center changed her life. As soon as she has statement up on her blog, I'll link to it.

UPDATE: My daughter's statement is here. No matter how hard it may be, don't give up on your troubled teenager.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Majority Will, Consensus, and Public Policy Making

One of my readers took issue with my comment a few days ago that as long as a large minority supports abortion of demand, a general ban on abortion is unlikely to be successful. Let me point out something that I observed a while back: even before Roe v. Wade (1973), Oregon theoretically made abortion unlawful except to save the life or health of the mother--and yet still had 199 abortions per 1000 live births in 1970. Does anyone really believe that 1/6th of all pregnancies in Oregon required an abortion for the life or health of the mother? You can pass laws, but if a large fraction of the population strongly disagrees, that law will be disobeyed unless you have a very powerful police presence trying to enforce it. Think back to the national 55 mph speed limit, or most restrictive gun control laws.

If there's a lesson to be learned from the Iraq War, it is that majority--even a very large majority--in favor of a policy--is not enough. A minority that disagrees, especially if, like the left, it is control of the news and entertainment business, can frustrate a policy so effectively that you may be better off waiting for consensus to develop--even if the cost of building that consensus is enormous loss of life.

We had a consensus about invading Afghanistan. We did not have a consensus about Iraq--and the left did its best to take what would have been a difficult situation and make it much, much worse. Perhaps we needed to wait until Iraq-produced chemical weapons were going on in American cities before we could have achieved the required consensus.

Similarly, there is a majority that wants some restrictions on abortion--although not a general ban. Even in states where there is a majority in support of quite severe restrictions on abortion (such as South Dakota), I would suspect that at least 30% of the population is strongly in support of at least first trimester abortions being available on demand. Persuading most of that minority that abortion is a terrible action that should be reserved for remarkable circumstances--and not something that is used as secondary (or worse, primary) birth control--would go a long ways towards reaching a political condition where sweeping restrictions would enjoy sufficient support that the courts would go along with it, and where the relatively small number who still disapproved of the restrictions would either move somewhere else, or acquiesce to the law.

If you have to arrest and try your own citizens for a crime on a massive scale (as would be necessary to enforce a general ban on abortion), it is usually a bad indicator for the moral health of your society.

UPDATE: A number of people have linked to this posting, and this one, and misread that I was saying that abortion was as common before Roe v. Wade as it was afterwards. I never made that claim (which is absurd). I was pointing out that in some states, such as Oregon, where abortion on demand was theoretically illegal still had rates so high that it was apparent that the law was not being followed. I certainly would not claim that Roe reduced the abortion rate. Not at all.

UPDATE 2: Over at Instapunk is a long detailed proof that Roe v. Wade (1973) increased abortion rates, and claiming that I cherry-picked the data to make my point. Except that:

1. I have never disputed that abortion rates increased because of Roe--simply that Roe didn't make quite as dramatic of a difference as both pro-life and pro-choice activists like to think. Abortion wasn't completely unavailable before Roe--and Oregon was evidence of how the law was clearly being ignored by doctors. I never claimed that Oregon was representative of the nation--only indicative that even pre-Roe laws could be, and were ignored.

2. I consider Roe wrongly decided as a matter of law, and its effect--to make abortion available on demand--a terrible mistake.

Monday, July 2, 2007

Small World

One of the local political controversies going on in Boise County right now is concerning approval of a residential treatment school named Alamar Ranch. What is a residential treatment school? For kids with serious psychological or emotional problems that aren't responding well to treatment within the community (sometimes because the community itself is part of the problem, sometimes because the family interactions complicate matters), these schools provide a controlled, structured environment, therapy, medical treatment (for those problems that are amenable to psychotropic drugs), and continuing a child's education.

I didn't even know about such facilities until my daughter ended up in a heap of trouble--and this seemed like the last resort. I was quite concerned that she wasn't going to make it to 18. So on the recommendation of a specialist, we sent her to a place called New Haven Residential Treatment Center in Spanish Fork, Utah. This was easily the hardest, most painful action that I have ever had to take.

I have nothing but good things to say about what happened to my daughter there. She was there for 6 1/2 months. We visited every six weeks for intensive family therapy sessions and to visit her. As I said, I was sure she wasn't going to make it to 18. Unlike a lot of kids struggling with similar situations, she came home, completed high school, went off to college, met a wonderful young man, got married, and is now working on her Master's in Social Work. The last words of Jesus' parable of the Prodigal Son have never meant more:
But the father said to his servants, 'Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let's have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.'
New Haven was expensive. The cost was $9000 a month, back some years ago. Eventually, my insurance company picked up about 30% of it (although I didn't know it at the time). I was getting ready to move my portfolio from conservative growth stock mutual funds into municipal bonds so that I would have the income to pay for New Haven, when a good friend who was temporarily a multimillionaire (wonders of the dot-com madness) stepped in and practically begged to take care of the bill. (That's when you find out who your real friends are.)

In retrospect, I would have been better off paying for it myself, because the stock market collapsed a few months later, and those bonds would have gone up dramatically while I watched my stock mutual funds sink. But who knew? Most parents in a similar situation aren't so lucky, either because the cost is prohibitive, or because their child is legally an adult--and simply refuses to accept treatment.

Alamar Ranch's request for planning approval created what seemed like a firestorm of upset residents. Some of the concerns were about the strain that it would put on fire services and roads--which seems a bit odd, since schools of this type aren't normally high population density. I began to see some comments in the local newspaper (the Idaho World) that suggested that a lot of the upset crowd was concerned that serious violent criminals were going to be staying at Alamar Ranch--even though Alamar Ranch made it clear that no one with a serious criminal history would be allowed.

As far as I am concerned, New Haven Residential Treatment Center saved my daughter's life, so I wrote a letter to the Idaho World explaining that I was not taking a stand about whether Alamar was a good situation from a planning standpoint or not, and I knew nothing about Alamar Ranch and its program, but that schools like New Haven (and Alamar Ranch seemed to be a school like that) were a very good thing indeed.

After I sent the letter to the Idaho World, I decided to send a copy to Alamar Ranch as well--and I received a reply from the Executive Director of Alamar Ranch. Her name was very familiar--and eventually we figured out why she recognized my name as well. She worked at New Haven--and she was my daughter's primary therapist. Her plan for Alamar is something like New Haven, but aimed at boys.

Not surprisingly, I am now looking for ways to help Alamar get whatever governmental approvals are required, because I now know what sort of person the executive director is.

Sunday, March 4, 2007

Did The Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection Clause Guarantee Equal Rights to Women?

I've been arguing with the usual liberals over at Volokh Conspiracy, and they got rather indignant when I pointed out that the "equal protection clause" of the 14th Amendment doesn't mean what they think it means:
Nearly all of our laws discriminate. The laws against robbery discriminate against those who take the property of others by force or the threat thereof. Our gun control laws discriminate against convicted felons, against minors, against U.S. citizens that have given up their citizenshp. School attendance laws discriminate against (or you might argue, in favor of) minors. They discriminate based on geography--you can't send your kid to a certain school unless you live in that district. Our laws discriminate based on age as to what public offices you may hold. Our laws discriminate against people who drive with more than a certain amount of alcohol in their blood--even if they haven't hit anyone yet!

The entire basis of law is discrimination based on criteria established legislative bodies and in some cases, by federal and state constitutions. The only reason that "discrimination" became a dirty word is because discrimination based on race was determined by a strong majority of those who decided to stay in the Union as wrong.

Now, you certainly regard discrimination based on sexual orientation as wrong. I would certainly agree that in many situations, it is wrong, and with a few exceptions, I don't regard such discrimination as particularly sensible. But equal protection of the law means quite a bit less than you think.
I pointed out that the evidence is quite clear that the primary focus of the 14th Amendment, as demonstrated by statements from both proponents and opponents, was protecting the rights of blacks, and secondarily, the rights of Unionist whites who either already lived in the South, or had moved there after the Civil War. (Amusingly enough, I have seen liberals defend the racism of affirmative action on the grounds that the 14th Amendment was intended to protect blacks--not whites. There's some merit to such an historical analysis, as offensive as the results might turn out to be.)

So, one of the liberals commenting over there decided to show his superiority over me by asking if the 14th Amendment prohibited discrimination based on gender. The answer is very clearly, "No." If it had, there would have been no need for the later amendment to the Constitution granting women the right to vote, and all this discussion of an Equal Rights Amendment a couple of decades back would have been completely pointless.

It is not that no one thought of this argument. There was a challenge in 1872 to Missouri's law limiting the vote to men that ended up before the Supreme Court in Minor v. Happersett, 88 U.S. 162 (1874). This was specifically raised on the "privileges and immunities" clause of the 14th Amendment, so it isn't strictly an equal protection argument, but the Court's position on this is essentially an original intent argument based on the fact that Congress passed the 15th Amendment to guarantee the right of male citizens to vote--something that suggests that the right to vote was not one of the "privileges and immunities" that the 14th Amendment protected. A similar argument, and a similar response, shows up in Bradwell v. Illinois, 83 U.S. 130 (1872), where a woman challenged an Illinois law that only licensed men to be lawyers.

As late as Goesaert v. Cleary, 335 U.S. 464 (1948), the Supreme Court upheld a Michigan law that prohibited woman from being licensed as bartenders unless they were the wife or daughter of the owner, and decided that this was no violation of equal protection:
The Constitution in enjoining the equal protection of the laws upon States precludes irrational discrimination as between persons or groups of persons in the incidence of a law. But the Constitution does not require situations 'which are different in fact or opinion to be treated in law as though they were the same.' Tigner v. State of Texas, 310 U.S. 141, 147 , 882, 130 A.L.R. 1321.
In short, as long as the statute's distinctions between different women in different situations had some connection to a perceived public need, there was no violation of equal protection--and certainly, the mere fact that the law discriminated against women as a sex was not an equal protection violation.