Friday, December 31, 2010

New Additions To The Web Page

I got a bit behind on updating my publications history.

"Ninth Circuit Victory," Shotgun News, June 1, 2009, pp. 22-25
Victory in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals: Nordyke v. King (2009).
"Of Democrats and Cannibal Flatworms," Shotgun News, July 1, 2009, pp. 26-27
How Democrats in Congress demonstrated an ability to learn from pushing gun control in the past.
"National Concealed Carry?" Shotgun News, August 1, 2009, pp. 28-30
Congress considers a national concealed carry permit law.
"Home Alone... With A Gun," Shotgun News, September 1, 2009, pp. 22-24
Guns, kids, and no adult supervision.
"How To Lose Friends," Shotgun News, October 1, 2009, pp. 20-21
Open carry is sometimes not a good way to make friends.
"What Arms Are Protected?" Shotgun News, November 1, 2009, pp. 20-23
Determining what "arms" are protected by the Second Amendment: an exercise in originalism.
"Preparing for McDonald v. Chicago," Shotgun News, December 1, 2009, pp. 22-24
My work in assisting in preparation for the appeal of McDonald v. Chicago to the U.S. Supreme Court.
"Ft. Hood Massacre," Shotgun News, January 1, 2010, pp. 22-23
Chicago Mayor Daley thinks the Fort Hood massacre is an argument for more gun control; I argue it is an argument for less Political Correctness.
"Cases That Should Not Have Been Filed," Shotgun News, February 1, 2010, pp. 22-24
There are lawsuits that should not have been filed because they were guaranteed to turn out badly for the right to keep and bear arms.
"Tick Tick," Shotgun News, March 1, 2010, pp. 18-19
The clock is running out for restrictive gun control in America.
There are lawsuits tht should not have been filed because they were guaranteed to turn out badly for the right to keep and bear arms.
"Still Ticking," Shotgun News, April 1, 2010, pp. 20-21
State v. Sieyes (Wash. 2010) strikes another blow against gun control based on D.C. v. Heller (2008).
"The Right to Bear Longbows," Shotgun News, May 1, 2010, pp. 28-29
The right to bear arms goes back further than guns.
"Arizona Goes Vermont," Shotgun News, June 1, 2010, pp. 24-25
Arizona repeals its concealed weapon permit requirement (mostly); Iowa goes shall-issue.
"Early American Gunsmithing: A Family Affair," Shotgun News, July 1, 2010, pp. 22-23; August 1, 2010, pp. 30-31
The family nature of early American gunsmithing--published in two parts.
"The McDonald Case," Shotgun News, September 1, 2010, pp. 20-22
Our victory in the McDonald v. Chicago (2010) case.
"A World Turned Upside Down," Shotgun News, October 1, 2010, pp. 22-23
A series of astonishing victories in the lower courts building on McDonald v. Chicago (2010).
"Tactical Solutions," Shotgun News, November 1, 2010, pp. 18-19
I tour a Boise gun manufacturer. I had some problems converting this to HTML because of the pictures, and to be honest, it isn't one of the more important articles that I have ever written.
"Concealed Carry and Strict Scrutiny," Shotgun News, December 1, 2010, pp. 20-22
State v. Schultz, a Wisconsin circuit court decision that seems to impose strict scrutiny on concealed carry laws. There is less here than it first appears.
"Gun Control and the Death of a Thousand Cuts," Shotgun News, January 1, 2011, pp. 26-28
How we are winning the battle for gun control, one slice at a time, not only in the courts, but in the hearts and minds of the people.

Another Great Vocalist Of The 1960s

Marilyn McCoo of the Fifth Dimension (although I think she had a bit of a career separate from them, as well).

Not quite the voice that Karen Carpenter had, but a wonderful reminder that it was perfectly acceptable for black performers to aim solidly at the mainstream of American culture.  I don't know much about her, except for hearing an interview a few years ago where she seemed to be going out of her way to distance herself from what ghetto black culture has become.

While she didn't sing "Day by Day" in the movie Godspell (1973), the Fifth Dimension's recording of it is the one that most people know.  It is certainly the one that I knew at a time when I had classmates witnessing to me about Jesus, but I wasn't paying attention.

I think I need to get a Fifth Dimension greatest hits album. I can convert the sound tracks of these YouTube videos, but it would cheat some very talented people out of some money, and the sound quality isn't quite as good, either.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Ultimate Expression of Deconstructionism

Washington Post journalist Ezra Klein explaining that the House of Representatives plans to read the Constitution aloud at the opening of the new session doesn't really mean anything because it is impossible to really know what it means because it is more than a hundred years old, and everyone brings different meanings to it:

Imagine if Republicans had defended some of Bush's War On Terror policies against claims of unconstitutionality with that argument.

Environmental Predictions That Didn't Quite Work Out

It is always entertaining to look at predictions from the past, and see how far off they were.  In the 1920s, the assumption was that by the 1950s, we would all be getting around in flying cars.  Edward Bellamy's Looking Backward describes how by the year 2001, capitalism would have completely disappeared (at the instigation of the capitalists, who would see the advantages of socialism), replaced with a democratic socialism where everyone ate in common mess halls, owned everything in common, and there was almost no violence anymore. 

Many of you have already seen this April 28, 1975 Newsweek article about the crisis that was about to destroy civilization from global cooling.  Here's the other lamestream media article on the subject, from June 24, 1974 Time, with the same crisis mongering:
As they review the bizarre and unpredictable weather pattern of the past several years, a growing number of scientists are beginning to suspect that many seemingly contradictory meteorological fluctuations are actually part of a global climatic upheaval. However widely the weather varies from place to place and time to time, when meteorologists take an average of temperatures around the globe they find that the atmosphere has been growing gradually cooler for the past three decades. The trend shows no indication of reversing. Climatological Cassandras are becoming increasingly apprehensive, for the weather aberrations they are studying may be the harbinger of another ice age.

Read more:,9171,944914,00.html#ixzz19duFZHQb
Maxim Lott puts together this collection of environmental predictions from years past that haven't worked out so well.  I am actually a bit more sympathetic to those making predictions about social trends, because those are not based on science.  When scientists make apocalyptic predictions based on claims of science, I expect them to hit their marks, or have a darn good explanation for why not.

Domestic Violence Misdemeanor Firearms Disability

United States v. Chester (4th Cir. 2010): U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals ordered district court to rehear a case involving a guy convicted of domestic violence misdemeanor in possession of a firearm.  It does not appear that they were necessarily in agreement with his claim that this law violated the Second Amendment, but they were intent on seeing the district court hear a thorough presentation of his argument against the law before this goes up to the Supreme Court.  (He sounds like a real bad guy, all the way around.  The domestic violence conviction:
On April 26, 2004, Chester savagely attacked his 22-year old daughter, Meghan Chester ("Meghan"). Apparently, their dispute arose over what Meghan had eaten for lunch that day.  In this attack, Chester slammed his daughter on the kitchen table. Meghan attempted to leave but Chester followed her, threatened her, and punched her in the face. Meghan fell to the floor in pain, but Chester continued to attack her. He began kicking her as she lay on the ground, and also dumped buckets of water over his daughter’s head.
The incident that brought police to their door, leading to the discovery that Mr. Chester had guns in the house:
On October 10, 2007, the Kanawha County police returned to the Chester family home in response to a second domestic violence call. This time, the call was placed by Mrs. Linda Guerrant-Chester ("Guerrant-Chester"), Chester’s then-wife.  When the officers arrived, Guerrant-Chester told them that she awoke at 5:00 a.m. and discovered her husband outside the house, receiving oral sex from a prostitute. When Chester realized that Guerrant-Chester had seen him, he yelled, [obscenities in the original deleted] and proceeded to drag Guerrant-Chester inside the house. Once inside, Chester grabbed Guerrant-Chester’s face and throat and strangled her while repeatedly shouting "I’m going to kill you!" Chester’s daughter, Samantha Chester, heard Chester repeatedly threaten to kill Guerrant-Chester and came to the kitchen.
Charming guy, all the way around.  I can't think of a better example of a domestic violence misdemeanor that is likely to sway judges in favor of the law.

They also cite one of my law review articles at page 14 as evidence of scholarly division concerning how far prohibitions may be carried.

The Gifts That Mean The Most

The Christmas gifts that mean the most are the ones that show thought and effort--not just spending money.  Since my wife went gluten-free because she's allergic to it, and I've gone along mostly out of curiosity, I have recounted some of my experiences with various gluten-free alternatives.  I can't see any difference in my health from going gluten-free--and even on those occasions when I have had something with gluten in it, no obvious or immediate differences.  I am doing so at least partly because if I can find something gluten-free that I am happy to eat, then it is a simplification for meal making in our house.

My daughter's Christmas gifts this year included several very large glass storage containers with gluten-free pancake mix and gluten-free chocolate cake mix that she mixed up from recipes that she has found--and the results were really quite impressive.  The gluten-free pancake mix was indistinguishable from Krusteaz pancake mix; the gluten-free chocolate cake mix is slightly different in mouth feel from the commercial cake mixes--but not worse: just slightly different.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Ohio Supreme Court Strikes Down Local Gun Control Ordinances

Not on right to keep and bear arms grounds, but on the grounds that Ohio's pre-emption statute takes precedence over "home rule" provisions with respect to police powers.  I don't claim to be knowledgeable enough to know if the Ohio Supreme Court got this right nor not.  I'm pleased with the result.  Uniform state gun control laws make a lot of sense--rather like uniform state-wide vehicle codes.

Obviously, We Aren't Spending Enough Money On Education

Here's a graph showing K-12 spending for the U.S. and the other major industrial powers.  We're #2 in spending--but we are not even close to being #2 in the education level of our graduating high school seniors.  I don't want to blame teacher unions (well, I do, but that wouldn't be fair).  The real problem has a lot more to do with the values that Americans are passing onto their children about education.

A Gun Is Not A Toy

From December 28, 2010 CNN:

(CNN) -- Arthur Sedille was up-front with police: He would often put a gun to his wife's head during fantasy sex play at their Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, home.

But Sedille said he didn't know the gun was loaded when he pressed it to his wife's head and pulled the handgun's slide back during sex on the night of December 21.

Now Sedille, 23, is facing the possibility of a murder charge in Canadian County, Oklahoma, in the death of his wife, 50-year-old Rebecca Sedille -- who died when the handgun went off in their bedroom.
He's 23.  She's 50.  Now she's dead.  Any chance she's rich (and now he's rich, if he doesn't get convicted)?

A Very Idaho Business

Except that they aren't using high explosives to solve the rodent problem.

Obama's Revenge On Idaho!

Since my wife and daughter have gluten-allergies, potatoes are a bigger part of our diet than formerly.  Yet Hans Bader's opinion piece in the December 27, 2010 Washington Examiner points out that the Obama Administration has gone anti-potato:

Chris Voigt lost 21 pounds and improved his health by living on a potato-only diet for 60 days.  Potatoes are more nutritious than other starchy foods like rice and bread, and “are a good source of vitamins.”  They have a lot of vitamin C (much more than a banana or an apple), and potassium levels slightly higher than potassium-rich bananas).

But the Obama Administration, which does not understand nutrition, has banned white potatoes from the WIC program (for school lunches and poor mothers), based on the false belief that potatoes are unhealthy.
Bader points out that the U.N. declared 2008 the "Year of the Potato" because of its nutritional value to the poor, and that the Obama Administration remains committed to the absurd corn ethanol subsidy program.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Chris Matthews Asks Why Obama Doesn't Release His Long-Form Birth Certificate

Click here to watch Chris Matthews (a hardcore Obama worshiper) admit that Obama should release his long-form birth certificate--because only 58% of Americans are convinced that Obama was born in the United States.  Think about this for a moment: Almost half the population thinks that Obama may not be eligible to be President!  Either there is a real basis for concern about this--or 42% of the population is too stupid to do important things like vote.

I lean towards the idea that Obama was born in Hawaii, but that there is something really embarrassing on the long-form birth certificate.  What that would be, I have no idea.  (Maybe his race is listed as white?)  But it would have to be very embarrassing to let this controversy continue to fester.

Adventures in Winter Travel; Sick

I mentioned a couple of days ago that I was traveling to Portland and back to get our son moved back to Boise.  It was an adventure--one that I do not intend to repeat.

The drive over wasn't too bad; there was some snow on the road in the Blue Mountain passes, but not enough to be frightening.  There was one semi that was in the median strip pointed 180 degrees the wrong way.  I am still trying to figure out what happened.  There were no tracks indicating that he came from the opposite lanes of traffic--leading the conclusion that he somehow spun himself onto the median.  Sobering, even if we couldn't figure exactly what went wrong.

Coming back was another matter.  Getting the trailer loaded was slower than I expected.  Getting his apartment cleaned up enough to have some hope of getting his cleaning deposit back also took longer than expected.  By the time we left, it was early afternoon--and it was raining in Portland.

As we reached the Blue Mountain passes after dark, it was snowing pretty heavily, and some of it was sticking to the road surface.  Worse, there were some places where the snow was a thin layer on top of icy patches.  Our daughter and I took turns doing the driving, which often meant driving very slowly.

The TrailBlazer is 4WD, although we kept it in Auto mode the whole time.  (Auto mode is an all wheel drive mode that distributes power to the rear wheels until it starts detecting slip, then it redistributes power to the front wheels.)  A common misunderstanding is that AWD or 4WD means that you can drive as fast as you want on slick surfaces.  This is emphatically not the case.  AWD and 4WD mean that you get going just fine on slick surfaces, but do nothing for stopping on slick surfaces.  If you don't have chains on, or studded tires, you are going to get a field demonstration of the equations we learned about in physics involving near-frictionless surfaces and deceleration.

Remember also that the level of damage that you will incur sliding off a road surface is dependent on the kinetic energy involved.  A 40 mph crash has four times the kinetic energy of a 20 mph crash, and sixteen times the kinetic energy of a 10 mph crash.  If you slide off the road at 10 mph, you may end up with some minor body work damage.  At 40 mph, you are likely going to need a tow, and possibly an ambulance.

Lots of people passed us; we passed very few.  Some of these were semis driving 50 on surfaces so slick that my daughter was driving 35.  A lot of cars passed us at speeds that seemed utterly insane--and we saw some consequences.

One was a minivan driving perhaps 20 miles per hour faster than us--and when we caught up to it about 20 miles later, it was off the road, rolled on its side, with considerable damage.   Oregon State Police were already on the scene.

Another was a BMW 5-series sedan that passed us at what seemed like a risky speed.  Within a few seconds, we saw both his tail lights and head lights as he executed a 360 degree pirouette, and ended up in the snowbank on the right.  It looked like he was going to need to be towed out--and I hope the tow truck driver brought a change of underwear, too.  It did not look there were any serious injuries, but we were not going to risk an accident by stopping, so I called 911 (from the back seat) to report the accident.

This was a very scary journey, and we did not end up home until about 2:30 AM this morning.  Perhaps because I was using muscles not ordinarily exercised, or the stress of the drive, or road food, I am feeling quite under the weather today.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Still Can't Sleep: Bonhoeffer

I'm reading Eric Metaxas' Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy right now--a book that simultaneously irritates and charms me.  It irritates me because it is so worshipful of Bonhoeffer.  When I was on jury duty, another member of the jury pool asked me about it; I found myself comparing it to medieval hagiography.  I respect Bonhoeffer immensely--but can anyone be that wonderful?  I also suspect that Metaxas and I share an awful lot in common theologically--and there are times that I find myself wondering how much Metaxas is reading into Bonhoeffer what he (and I) would like him to be.

Still, it is a book chock-full of important and thoughtful information, and the occasional, "Whoa!  That's the sort of thing that should make a non-believer wonder."  Metaxas describes Bonhoeffer's reaction to Kristallnacht, the Nazi destruction of synagogues, Jewish businesses, and in some cases, Jews:
In the Bible that day or next, Bonhoeffer was reading Psalm 74.  This was the text he happened to be meditating upon.  What he read startled him, and with his pencil he put a vertical line in the margin to mark it, with an exclamation point next to the line.  He also underlined the second half of verse 8: "Sie verbrennen all Haeuser Gottes im Lande."  ("They have burned all of God's houses in the land.")  Next to the verse he wrote, "9.11.38."  Bonhoeffer saw this as an example of God speaking to him, and to the Christians in Germany.  God was telling him something through his Word that day, and as he meditated and prayed, Bonhoeffer realized that the synagogues that had been burned in Germany were God's own.  This was when Bonhoeffer most clearly saw the connection: to lift one's hand against the Jews was to lift one's hand against God himself.  The Nazis were attacking God by attacking his people. (p. 316)

Rocky Road Ice Cream Won't Let Me Sleep; Laptop Hard Disk Enclosures

Too much caffeine in the chocolate ice cream, I think.

My Christmas gift to my daughter and son-in-law was a combination of cheap parts and a bit of computer expertise.  They had two laptops that both became inoperable because the power jack to internal power supply connection failed.  These are apparently not easy to repair because the required parts are expensive (relative to buying a new computer), and relatively few people are interested in spending the time to repair them.  However: in both cases, they had substantial materials from grad school, as well as many photos and downloaded music on the hard disks--and no backups.  How to get them out?

What I did was to buy two hard disk enclosures: a Sabrent USB 2.0 and a Ultra Aluminus.  The Sabrent is for EIDE/PATA notebook hard drives, and the Ultra is for SATA notebook hard drives.  They were not expensive.  My plan was simple: remove the still functioning notebook hard drives from each computer, install them in the enclosures, and then use the USB cable to move the contents of the drives onto their new desktop computer.  Once they have copied all these files down, they can then reformat the drives, and use them to do daily backups of their notebook computer.  (I ordered these from I had them in about three days, without paying anything for shipping speed--and at Christmas!)

The Sabrent was a bit easier to get operational.  I unscrewed the three screws holding the drive into my daughter's notebook, removed the side rails from the hard drive, removed one press fit pin adapter from the hard drive, and then connected it to the interface in the enclosure.  This was dead simple: in about ten minutes, I had the EIDE drive talking to the desktop computer just fine.

One odd quirk for both of these drives: Windows 7 asked if I wanted to make the drive accessible.  My guess is that permissions are wrong because the drive came out of another computer with different owner names, and Windows 7 had to force ownership to match the account under which I was running on the desktop.

The Ultra was a bit more work, partly because the two ends of the enclosure both can be removed--and I did.  Trying to get it all back together with the SATA drive was a bit more complex than it first appeared--but even here, it only took about fifteen minutes to do the deed.  One interesting feature of the Ultra unit is that it supports not only a USB 2.0 connection, but also an external SATA connection as well.  The Ultra unit includes an interface that goes into the back of the desktop rather like the traditional add-on card.  In this case, it does not plug into one of those PCI or whatever slots.  Instead, there is a connector that plugs into one of the SATA interfaces on the motherboard.  You then plug the external SATA cable from the hard disk enclosure to the socket exposed on the back of the desktop.

I decided to do the extra work of installing the external SATA inteface partly because an external SATA connection is substantially faster than the USB; partly because this desktop was starting to get short on USB ports; and partly because my daughter wanted to know what to do to expand the RAM in the desktop.  To my surprise and pleasure, instead of using two 1 GB DIMMs to fill both available slots (which means that you have to discard both to put in more RAM), there was a 2 GB DIMM in one slot, and another sitting vacant.  Now all she needs is another 2 GB DIMM to double her RAM.

Anyway, these enclosures provide an easy way to deal with the problem of a busted notebook, while also providing backup drive capacity as well.  Both the Sabrent and Ultra are pretty nice looking units, with little black pseudo-leather cases in which to carry them.

Now I have two notebooks that have no hard drives, and which will not reliably power up, but which are otherwise just fine (including a fair amount of RAM for four and two year old notebooks) that need to find a buyer.  One is a Compaq Presario F672US; the other is a Dell PP21L.  Perhaps I can list them for parts on eBay, and get them sold to someone that can use and appreciate them!

Holiday Traditions: A Time To Share

Many people do not realize how many of the customs associated with Christmas in America are actually surprisingly recent.  The Christmas tree is a German tradition introduced into England by Queen Victoria's German husband, Prince Albert--and from there, it spread to America. I have previously written about the nineteenth century's tradition of Christmas shooting--the apparent predecessor!
When I was in grad school, I remember reading a rather sad little account about one of the living history museums in the Midwest that had, for many years, done a Charles Dickens' Victorian Christmas in the reconstructed cabin.  Then, some troublemaker discovered by looking through contemporary accounts that at least in this rather Puritan part of the Midwest in 1840, Christmas was not celebrated.  Like those dour Puritans in 17th century New England, they regarded it as all rather suspect, because of the association of the traditional English Christmas celebration with drunkenness, overeating, and debauchery.  But the problem was that visitors to the museum expected something Dickensian--and what to do?

In my family, there were certain Christmas traditions that I have since learned were slightly different in other Protestant homes--and probably in Catholic homes, too.  For example, like most Christian homes in America, there was a tradition of putting up stockings over the fireplace (or as close as we could find to one in an apartment).  When we came out on Christmas morning, we would find that it had been filled by Santa with nuts, fruits, and candy.  These stockings were not actual functional stockings.  In our home, they were made of plaid flannel cloth, of different patterns, with the name of each of us in red material on the front.  We hung them by the fireplace in age order--I was the youngest, and so always at the right end of the fireplace!

Another part of our tradition--and one that was apparently different from some other homes--was that each of us opened one gift on Christmas Eve, and the rest on Christmas Day.  I have since found out that in some homes, the tradition was to open all the gifts on Christmas Eve.  I would be curious to hear of different traditions.

I used the term "Holiday Traditions" in the title for a reason: I know that some of my readers are Jewish.  I also know that in more than few Jewish homes, the osmotic pressure of Christmas caused some compromises, such as 'Hannukah bushes," and gift giving on Christmas.  (Having tried to raise our children in a Christmas tradition that emphasizes Jesus Christ as the reason for the season, and discourages materialism, I am very sympathetic to the struggles that Jews must go through this time of year.)  What I have read tells me that Hannukah has gone from a relatively minor Jewish holiday to a fairly important one largely because of its proximity to Christmas.  I'm curious to hear about what traditions your family had with respect to not only Christmas, but also Hannukah, and New Year's Day.

In our family, one of our New Year's traditions, inherited from my Manchester-born maternal grandmother, was plum pudding.  It came out of a can, and was served with flaming vanilla extract and an incredibly sweet substance called "hard sauce."  I confess: I did not particularly like it.  Perhaps canned plum pudding is the source of the problem!

Some years ago, I spent some time working with an elderly woman, the mother of my best friend, recording her memoirs.  (A fascinating collection of stories, some horrifying, some absolutely hysterically funny, but unpublishable because she has passed on, and there's no market for memoirs of ordinary people.)  Her account of her family's Christmas and New Year's traditions is quite interesting:
My mother does remember that they had a “watch” for the old year going out and the New Year coming in.  For some reason it was celebrated in their home with eating a piece of chocolate cake with a dill pickle at midnight, then going to bed.  I’m not sure if that was a German custom or just something done because her family liked cake and pickles together. It sounds awful to me, but she said that it was a common thing to serve together in their area.  At least, lots of parties served that combination for refreshments. 

When I was growing up we still had “watch” for year end and begin.  I remember dozing through a lot of it and hoping midnight would hurry up so I could go to bed.  We usually had popcorn to pass the time while the clock dragged on.  

My mother remembered most the Christmases before her Papa died, so I will tell about those. She remembered that the tree was brought in on Christmas Eve.  The days before Christmas the children spent making decorations for the tree.  Walnuts were gathered and wrapped in the salvaged foil pieces.  Some were made into chains for the tree.  The children strung popcorn, and by night the tree was beautiful except for the “finishing touch.” There were no strings of lights in the days before electricity, but by saving pennies all year there were candles for the tree.  It makes you shudder to think of the danger of having all those candles lit at one time on an evergreen, especially in those days when the fire department consisted of family and any neighbor who might help by getting buckets of water from the well to throw on the fire.  It is a wonder there were not more tragedies.  Perhaps the lack of news coverage in those days prevented our knowledge of how many of these Christmas tragedies there were. 

At least caution was used in Papa’s time.  On Christmas morning, first breakfast was served, then all the children—even the older ones—were to wait in the kitchen while Mama and Papa went into the living room.  The children were given a signal when to line up, then all went to see the glory of all the candles on the tree.  This was a sight for awe and wonder, which all watched until Papa thought it was time to blow out the candles and see what Santa had put in the stockings. There was always an orange for each child and store candy.  Store candy was hand-decorated hard candy that you still see advertised in some places today as “old fashioned Christmas candy.”  

Children now seem to think of store candy as always being there, but when my mother was growing up, it was a special once-a-year treat.  My mother remembered the beautiful, colorful ribbon candy, the sour balls, red hot balls, and the twisted peppermints.  Of course, there was plenty of homemade candy for Christmas, as the taffy pull was part of the Christmas Eve preparations.  Unless you have pulled taffy you have no idea of the energy it takes.  My mother and her siblings made vinegar taffy and molasses taffy.  They didn’t make saltwater taffy, although I don’t know if this was because they did not care for it or if they were just too tired after making their first and second choices, vinegar and molasses taffy.  The Christmas taffy tradition carried on when I was younger, but only with the vinegar type.  (My mother never liked molasses after World War I. There was no sugar or flour available during the war, so corn bread was the only bread, and molasses was the common sweetener.  She developed an allergy to corn and distaste for any thing with molasses because of this.)  

There was not much money for store presents so there was only one present for each child.  The orange and store candy were the main treat.  Only once a year did they have an orange, and only one for each child; none for the parents.  She remembered later that had she known at the time, she would have shared the orange with Mama and Papa as they would have enjoyed the treat also.  

There was one other item on the tree, a little Santa Claus that had been on the tree in Germany.  It had been given to my great-grandmother along with the family Bible when she left the Black Forest for her journey to America.  My grandmother received it, probably because no one else in her family wanted it.  It was getting rather faded and bedraggled, and had writing in German on it.  It was made of some sort of fabric.  Of course the German Santa is really Father Christmas, not the jolly fat Santa we see in the shopping malls these days.  That Santa was passed on to my mother, probably for the same reasons that her mother had it, then on to me.  It was on all our Christmas trees until the first disastrous move from Malibu that splintered our family.  There was little time to save the dear things; the little dearly loved Santa was lost in the shuffle.  Nothing has been the same since.  I grieve for that poor tired Santa; he was loved by so many, and was lost on my watch.  I should have been more careful with this legacy. 

When my mother was growing up, the shiniest silver piece of foil was always used to make a star for the top of the tree. The gifts were mostly homemade, corncob dolls and the like. However, one year there were two “store bought” dolls under the tree. Aunt Barb was the oldest child still at the doll stage (Aunt Katie was dating by then), so she was given first choice of the store bought dolls.

Comment Spammers Who Aren't Competent

I mentioned a couple of weeks ago how much I hate comment spammers--people who put in comments that include links intended to get commercial traffic, for which they will get affiliate fees.  I just received some comment spam that shows a remarkable lack of ability: it contains gobs of links to blogs that appear to be Finnish porn sites--but every single one of the links is non-functional!

A Little Late For Christmas This Year

My wife and I were talking today about the rapid collapse of Christianity in America, and how the secularization and commercialization of Christmas (which is not new, unfortunately) is a model for what is coming. This song by Becky Kelley rather captures the problem, unfortunately:

I'm not interested in seeing kids lining up to sit on Santa's lap to tell them what they want as part of the the materialism orgy. I'm interested in seeing kids learning what Christmas is all about at a soup kitchen, or a homeless shelter.

A Trip I Don't Want To Make

I'm headed over to Portland to help my son get moved back to Boise. We'll be towing a trailer coming back--hoping to cross the passes along I-84 before the snow starts to fall heavily on Monday. I won't be blogging for a couple of days, understandably.

Friday, December 24, 2010

This Must Have a Story To It

Another Ferrari:

2009 Ferrari F430 SCUDERIA 16 M F1 CARBON FIBER - $650,000

This Vehicle Is Ferrari Certified

Program Benefits: 101-point inspection and reconditioning, Vehicle history report
But it only has 126 miles on it.  Did someone's check bounce?  Who, exactly, buys cars like this, other than Hollywood celebrities when they aren't bemoaning how the evil Republicans want to cut taxes on rich people?

I Guess This Recession Is Hitting EVERYONE

This Ferrari for sale ad indicates the seller is in Hailey, Idaho.  If you don't know the area--this is Sun Valley--the only county in the state rich enough to consistently vote Democrat for President.  It is one of those places where the billionaires are pushing the millionaires out.
456M GTA in Silver with Bordeaux leather seating with low miles of 8,507 Even with the V-12 engine this stunning machine / moving art is easy to drive with it's automatic transmission and four wheel ventilated DISC brakes with the Teves anti-skid braking system. What makes this Ferrari so appealing it that even with it's low miles the last owner felt that due to age it was due for it's 30,000 mile major service. Not only was the major service done but shocks and ball joints were replaced all the way around.
It includes the original window sticker showing that the MSRP was $230,237.  Several things jump out at me from reading this ad:

1. How good can a car be that with 8,507 miles, it makes sense to replace the shocks and ball joints?

2. I understand that for the billionaire Democrats who make up Sun Valley and environs, it is really important to have a car that sits there, waiting for those rare occasions when you fly into your several million dollar mountain chalet and need to get around town.  (This explains 8,507 miles on a ten year old car.)

It used to be common for airline pilots to keep a beater of a car in several airports that they regularly flew in and out of so that they wouldn't have to spend the money on a rental.  Perhaps a $230,000 Ferrari is a billionaire Democrat's notion of a "beater."

3. Obviously, bad times are even hitting people that buy $230,000 Ferraris.  Depreciation tends to be one of the big costs of buying a new car--and I should say that this is certainly proof of that!  If you buy most new cars, and sell them again three years later, you may rack up ten or twenty cents per mile in depreciation.  This little gem, assuming it sells at its bargain price of $69,995, will rack up $18.84 per mile in depreciation.

Pray For This Guy

I saw this ad on Craig's List, and all I can think is: this guy needs professional help.
"WANTED" AMC Gremlin

Please call me if you have an AMC Gremlin that you want to sell or get rid of.

It Does Look Like The Local Economy Is Recovering...

At least there are software engineer jobs in Boise being advertised--and some of them sound rather desperate

If you know Java/JSP we need you yesterday.
I will be curious if I hear back from them.

Clueless Twits

Thanks to Jammie Wearing Fool and The Shekel for bringing this bizarre story to my attention.  December 20, 2010 Fox News reports on a decision by the U.S. 2nd Court of Appeals upholding the conviction of a sailor who leaked ship movement information to al-Qaeda:

In 1997, Abu-Jihaad changed his name from Paul Raphael Hall to Hassan Abu-Jihaad, the surname of which translates to "Father of Jihad," the appeals court said.

"This curious choice appears not to have raised any concern in the United States Navy when, in January 1998, Abu-Jihaad enlisted," the appeals court said. It said the Navy cleared Abu-Jihaad to receive classified national defense information from 1998 to 2002.

Ya think?

Having Trouble Falling Asleep, But Thought You Might Appreciate This...

A law firm's "Happy Holidays" card!  With appropriate legal warnings and exclusions!

If Picasso Had Painted This...

There would be learned articles written about how it represents how life slips away from us all, melting before the onslaught of time and biology, with the thermometer in the background representing the harbinger of doom.  You can see the drops caught in mid-flight as they drip off the icicle.

Click to enlarge

Or like Bill and Ted, trying to explain deep wisdom to "So-Crates" after time traveling to ancient Greece:

Here's a photograph this morning over Bogus Basin, as the sun struggles to rise:

Click to enlarge

Sitemeter Again Operational

Back when I had a more handcrafted and crankier Blogger template, I had the widget to keep track of my visitors.  When I switched to a standard Blogger template early this year, I forgot about the widget--and since it shows how much traffic I have historically gotten, it was a bit of a disappointment to see it showing zero visits a week.  Anyway, I have added the widget back in, and I can now  glory in how many people come to see what brilliance I am bestowing on the world.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Amusing Car Ads

Like this one:
1983 V-8 Jaguar 14k miles Original
Car has been stored for years
Owned by the Gov of New Mexico
Powerful 350 Chevy V-8 with a B&M Slap Stick Auto Trans WoW!!!
Like New Asking $14999 Very Rare Car?
A 1983 with 14,000 miles?  I am reminded of the story that used to be told of Jaguars (before Ford bought them and dramatically improved their quality): "The man that wants to drive a Jaguar needs two.  One to drive, one to have in the shop."

I will say, my X-type has been spectacularly reliable. 

How Not To Sell A Car

I've been looking through used car ads on Craig's List, since my son will probably be needing to buy a car when he gets back here shortly.  I saw this one ad that is a reminder of how not to sell a car:
Clutch was going out when I parked it 6 years ago. Should run with a battery and new fuel. Will accept offers or trades for pickup. Snow is free. (You must haul.)
Honest, at least!

Count On Pat Robertson To Get It Wrong

This report tells us:
During the Dec. 16 CBN broadcast from Virginia Beach, Robertson and his co-host discussed what they called the success of religious-based programs to help people with addictions to drugs, including alcohol.

Robertson then lamented long prison terms for people who have "taken a couple puffs of marijuana."

He added, "We've got to take a look at what we're considering crimes and that's one of 'em."
If we were sending people to prison for taking "a couple puffs of marijuana" I would agree with him.  But we don't.  If someone is in prison, it is most unlikely to be for simple possession, it is for possession for sale or for sale.  There may be some exceptions, but not many.


A pilot exposes that TSA's security is ineffective, because you don't even need a photo ID to get access to the plane--and TSA decides to punish the pilot for exposing it.  Here's a local news story concerning the absurdity of it.

I am reminded of when I worked for JPL, and we had to wear photo ID badges to get in and out of the Lab, and to get into Space Flight Operations Facility (SFOF), we needed an additional badge.  But the janitors who came in and cleaned up?  One of them accidentally shut down the whole building one day by hitting a master power switch with his broom!

LED Light Bulbs

The 75 watt incandescent flood lamp above the shower finally gave up the ghost--not bad, considering that it has been service since early 2006.  I have not been thrilled with either the lifetime or time to full illumination of the CFLs that the government has been strongly encouraging us to buy, so I thought that I would look at one of the LED replacement bulbs. 

Be prepared for some sticker shock.  The 75 watt equivalent LED bulb (18 watts consumption) that I bought at Home Depot cost $44.97 plus sales tax.  On the plus side, it promises a 50,000 hour lifetime--with a warranty.  How long is 50,000 hours?  If I ran it continuously, that would be almost 25 years.  You might therefore assume that since it gets about fifteen minutes use a day in my shower, my grandchildren will be using this bulb.

The fact is that power surges when you turn a bulb on have something to do with how long an incandescent bulb lasts.  I remember an article when I lived the Bay Area about a fire house with a bulb that had been installed early in the 20th century--and was still burning.  But that was a 12 volt bulb, and it was never turned off.  That makes a difference.

Still, I am hoping to get so many years from this bulb that I will have misplaced the warranty information--and the maker is probably hoping that, too.  Still, it is bright, it is white, and uses less electricity than what it replaced.  The only potential gotcha is that it is intended for use in a non-wet environment.  Fortunately, the flood lamp is in a nine-foot high ceiling, so unless some NBA professionals move in, I don't think there's much to worry about in that area.

One other nice thing about this LED light relative to a CFL: time to full illumination.  You can see that it does not turn immediately--there is a perceptible delay of perhaps 1/3 or 1/2 second between power and light, presumably as it charges up a ballast.  But once on, it is full lighting--unlike CFLs, that can take many seconds to reach full brightness.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

That Mask Really Works

I mentioned a few days ago that I was ordering the Polarwrap Warm Air Mask from Sierra Trading Co.  It arrived today--in spite of a driveway so icy that the UPS driver hiked up the hill to deliver the package. (Our driveway is 600 feet long, and about 100 feet of elevation gain.  Talk about commitment to the customer!)

My wife and I went out for a walk this evening--and it worked very well.  It wasn't as bad this evening: 31 degrees when we left, and no wind--but I could immediately feel the difference.  If you use the mask exactly as intended (breathe through your mouth in and out of the heat exchanger system), you indeed get air that is as warm as inside your house--maybe warmer. 

Unfortunately, I can't get quite as much air in and out through my mouth as through my nose (perhaps because of Venturi effect increasing air speed), but still, it helped a lot.  The walk we did up the old highway is a bit more than a mile--and it is a steep hill.  There is about a 500 feet gain, and even with warm air, it was a vigorous workout.  But at least my lungs weren't in pain and shutting down from the cold.

Another strategy that seemed to work was to pull the mask down so that I had my nose pointing at the heat exchanger port that is supposed to be in front of your your mouth.  This enabled me to get nearly all the warming benefit of mouth breathing, with the extra air flow of nose breathing.  Perhaps if it was substantially colder--such as when out hunting mastodons or saber-tooth cats--it would not be such a good idea.  But at typical winter temperatures, this is a great victory in the battle against cold-induced asthma. 

I remain convinced that anyone who drives somewhere that you might get trapped in your car by snow should have one of these in the emergency kit.

Broken Link

One of my readers noticed that in hundreds of places across the net, this was the link to my blog--and it was broken.  (A leftover from the mad dash to make sure that there was nothing for Righthaven to go through and look for more opportunities to sue.)  I have since fixed it so that it redirects to my current blog.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Things That Make My Day

My department chair is busily going through the course evaluations, and shared one particularly encouraging comment from a student in my U.S. History class:
This was the most amazing course i took this semester. I love history and learned a lot. I felt my professor was very knowlegable about everything. He also kept me intrested the whole time he was talking. I find that there isn't very much to even improve on in the course. I always looked forward to coming to this class. I was also astonished by how much information my professor knew, and it was really awsome..
Okay, there's a few spelling and capitalization errors, but it still felt good to read!

Boise County & NIMBYism

I've previously mentioned the Alamar Ranch debacle--where someone that I know and greatly respect attempted to set up a residential treatment facility in Boise County--and the immediate neighbors were so furious about the prospect of having highly educated people move into the area with a sizable payroll that they persuaded the county commissioners to kill the project.

This led to lawsuit--and today, the December 20, 2010 Idaho Statesman reports that Boise County lost the civil suit--and now gets stuck with a four million judgment for violating the Fair Housing Act.   All residents of the county will get stuck paying this bill, because a small number of county residents didn't want a residential treatment center in the area.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Congress Repeals DADT; But Only For The Military

Instapundit points to this December 18, 2010 New York Times article about astronomer C. Martin Gaskell who is suing the University of Kentucky because, he alleges, he was denied a job when they found out that he wasn't deeply enough in the closet about being an evangelical Christian.  Perhaps they were concerned about a loss of "unit cohesion" if other astronomers found out he was playing for "the other team."  Perhaps they didn't want someone who didn't share their orientation looking at their theses during conferences.  Perhaps they fear Dr. Gaskell would try to seduce them with his perverted ideas about the universe. 

I guess it would have been okay for Dr. Gaskell to have had his sick ideas, as long as he kept his mouth shut, and Didn't Tell.  They certainly could not lawfully have Asked.

There are always those who don't get with the progressive program and abandon their ancient superstitions:
The insanity of the Christian doctrine of redemption really doesn't fit at all into our time.  Nevertheless, there are learned, educated men, occupying high positions in public life, who cling to it with the faith of a child.  It is simply incomprehensible how anybody can consider the Christian doctrine of redemption as a guide for the difficult life of today.....  A church that does not keep step with modern scientific knowledge is doomed.  It may take a while, but it is bound to finally happen.  Anybody who is firmly rooted in daily life and who can only faintly imagine the mystic secrets of nature, will naturally be extremely modest about the universe.  The clerics, however, who have caught a breath of such modesty, exercise a sovereign opinionated attitude toward questions of the universe. [Goebbels' paraphrase of Hitler's philosophy concerning religion: Louis P. Lochner, ed. The Goebbels Diaries 1942-1943 (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1948), 375, quoted in Eric Metaxas, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy (Nashville, Tenn.: Thomas Nelson, 2010), 166.]


One of the comments on this discussion here reports:

I live in San Antonio, TX. Also, around Easter without fail someone would also call my kids 'christ killers'. When they were little they would come home and want to know who was this 'christ' and why did people think we killed him. They would try and tell them we never killed anyone. We are reform jews and our kids go to temple, etc. My kids weren't bullied, they have friends and enjoy school (well middle school, not so much, but that's middle school). It's the pervasive nature of this that is so upsetting to me. However, my kids also say there are racist slurs directed towards other minorities from mostly hispanic kids, especially african americans, since we have very few.
What in the heck is going on in San Antonio?  Where, oh where, would this terminology be coming from?  I would like to think that any Catholic that would use language like that died before World War II.  Is there something missing from this discussion about San Antonio that I need to know?

Texas & The Right To Secession

I frequently hear (usually form Texans) that Texas retained the right to secede from the Union as a condition of the treaty that brought Texas into the United States.  This is a plausible claim; unlike other states, Texas is remarkable in having an existence for a number of years as an independent nation.  But when I look through the documents in question, I see no evidence of any such right.

In Texas v. White (1868), the Supreme Court ruled that Texas had no right to secede:
When, therefore, Texas became one of the United States, she entered into an indissoluble relation. All the obligations of perpetual union, and all the guaranties of republican government in the Union, attached at once to the State. The act which consummated her admission into the Union was something more than a compact; it was the incorporation of a new member into the political body. And it was final. The union between Texas and the other States was as complete, as perpetual, and as indissoluble as the union between the original States. There was no place for reconsideration or revocation, except through revolution or through consent of the States.
Okay, going to the Supreme Court for history is not exactly going to the most trustworthy source.  The Congressional joint resolution that annexed Texas has no mention of it.  The Texas Annexation Treaty (1844) makes no mention of such a right.  This treaty was not ratified by the U.S. Senate, so it isn't legally binding, but you would think that if this right to secession was understood at the time, it would have been mentioned in one of these important documents.  There is a right to subdivide Texas into multiple states without Congressional approval--a rather remarkable right indeed--but no mention of secession.

Can anyone enlighten me where this supposed right to secession appears?

Saturday, December 18, 2010

The Assange Rape Charges Just Get Juicier and Juicier

My friend Robert Stacy McCain at The Other McCain discusses how Assange is being accused of not only rape, but not very good in bed, too.  Considered how Assange seems to be a bit too focused on how many women he can take to bed as casually as possible, this can't help him any!

A Nice Comparison of Fox News and MSNBC

The left is really big on the idea that Fox News' slogan "Fair and Balanced" is absurd--that they are a Republican organ.  What I find frustrating is the way that critics of Fox News fail to distinguish the news shows from the opinion shows.  The O'Reilly Factor is not news; neither is Glenn Beck's show, or Hannity's show.  Fox News is actually, within the limitations of television news, pretty good about balance--and they cover stuff that a lot of other news organizations do not.

The opinion shows are another matter.  They are partisan, and only O'Reilly pretends otherwise: "The Spin Stops Here."  Nonetheless, this column by Stu Bykofsky in the November 4, 2010 Philadelphia Daily News makes a good point about balance.  He watched a week of Bill O'Reilly's show on Fox, and Keith Olbermann's equivalent show on MSNBC--and makes the point that if you want to hear more than one point of view, there is not much choice:

"The O'Reilly Factor" welcomed 20 guests from the right, 11 from the left and seven who were neutral. Left and neutral voices combined almost equaled those from the right.

"Countdown with Keith Olbermann" had 20 guests from the left, two neutral and not a single voice from the right. Zero voices of dissent.

So, if you never want to hear anyone challenge liberal views, lock in on Olbermann. While progressives disdain Fox's claim of being "fair and balanced," "The O'Reilly Factor" does present opposing views. O'Reilly will cut them off in midsentence, true, but he even does that to people who agree with him. (Shock therapy might help.) Olbermann seems unable to even listen to anything other than progressive orthodoxy.

Read more:
Watch sports videos you won't find anywhere else
 I no longer have cable, so I don't see O'Reilly, Beck, or Hannity anymore.  I do not miss O'Reilly; his pugnacious style is annoying, and his ego has been inflating at a horrendous rate for several years now. 

I do not miss Hannity much.  While he seems like a nicer person than O'Reilly (or at least he knows how to simulate decency and humility), I seldom see much deep thought coming from him. 

Beck, like Hannity, seems like a decent person--someone I would invite over for dinner, and while not deep, he occasionally says things that contribute to the national conversation.  The signal to noise ratio, unfortunately, is not terribly high.  Realistically, how can it be, on a show that is intended for mass consumption?

If the left wanted to complain that television is not a terribly effective method for serious discussion, they would have my complete agreement.  If they wanted to complain that Fox, especially the opinion shows, is clearly on the conservative side, I would agree with them--and point out that the broadcast networks are just as clearly on the progressive (or fascist, or crony capitalist, whatever label you want to give it) side.  What I find detestable is the notion that Fox is somehow especially bad, or evil, or despicable, compared to other media organizations. 

Friday, December 17, 2010

Comment Spammers

Things that really annoy me: when people post comments that include a link to a website that apparently pays them for every clickthrough.  In some cases, the website is completely and utterly unrelated to the comment or anything.  Even if the comment is otherwise plausible, it makes me suspect that the comment isn't genuine.

I Sometimes Wonder What Drives The Fierce Anti-Christian Sentiment of the Left

Volokh Conspiracy discusses what happened when the Federal Reserve Board order a bank to take down its Christmas tree and religious symbols--and then backed down, after a storm of negative publicity.  What's really interesting is to read the comments, many of which seem to think that any Christian symbols are an immediate sign that a business hates Jews.

There are anti-Semites out there.  But I have met more people than I can count who either hate blacks, or think they are stupid and immoral.  I have met a few who hold similar views of Mexicans.  I think I have met two or three in my entire life who have similar views of Jews (and one of them was half-Jewish).

Where does this perception come from that American Christians are one step removed from buying Zyklon B and firing up the ovens?

UPDATE: There are a number of interesting comments on this (even more so since Instapundit linked to it), of which this is perhaps the most disturbing:
There is this datum from a poll: 'some 60 percent of religiously conservative white Protestants in the United States, polled in 1987, agreed: "The Jews can never be forgiven for what they did to Jesus until they accept him as the true savior."' Quoted in John Weiss, Ideology of Death: Why the Holocaust Happened in Germany (Ivan R. Dee Publishing, 1996).
I see this and I am just amazed.  I've attended religiously conservative overwhelmingly white Protestant churches since 1979.  If anyone that I have ever attended church with this believed something this odd, then they had the good sense not to say it.  Yet this exact question has been asked for decades, and the percentages agreeing with this statement are so high as to be unbelievable to me.  Is there some secret hatred of Jews in Protestant churches that never gets expressed in my presence?  I have not attended particularly liberal churches.  Actually, they tended to be more fundamentalist than I could be in complete agreement with: Southern Baptist; Church of the Nazarene; and some nondenominational churches of a distinctly fundamentalist flavor.

Other Blackboard Users Out There?

Or is the word "victim"?  College of Western Idaho uses Blackboard for communicating with students, including grade reporting.  I provided an extra credit assignment opportunity--and now I can't figure out (nor, apparently, can our Blackboard support person) how to tell Blackboard to include the points in a student's total--but not include the possible points in every student's possible points.  Any ideas?  There is a way to tell Blackboard to not include a column in the student's total points, but that just makes it not count at all, in any student's total points.

UPDATE: There is a solution: set the number of possible points on the extra credit column to zero, and all the points in that column get added to the total--but the number of possible points from that column is zero.  Warning: some versions of Blackboard apparently don't handle zero possible points correctly, and you have to enter something silly like .01 points to make it work.

Cold Induced Asthma

I really can't exercise very vigorously in below freezing weather--my lungs start to hurt, and I can't get enough oxygen flow.  I tried wrapping a scarf around my face, as some websites have suggested, as a solution.  This helps a bit, but only a little bit, and worse--my glasses start to fog up!  This product, Polarwrap Warm Air Mask, claims to provide 80 degree air even when it is 20 degrees outside--and the one review is enthusiastic about it.  Does anyone have experience with this product or others that perform a similar function?

I would think that those who live in places with severe winter storms might find this (or something like it) a useful addition to one's automotive emergency kit.  A lot of the calories you burn in cold weather is spent warming up and humidifying incoming air before it gets to your lungs.  While burning calories is usually a good thing, if you get stranded in your car for a couple of days, or lost in the wilderness, conserving calories may be the difference between life and death.

UPDATE: I'm not seeing any other competition in even close to the same price range, and other reviews were positive, so I ordered it up from Sierra Trading Post.  (The local Sierra Trading Post doesn't have it--this is a clearance item.)   I'll report back how it works out in a few days.  At $24.95, if it even just turns 20 degree air into 50 degree air, that would be acceptable.  The only question is whether I will sound like Darth Vader when using it.

Don't Ask, Don't Be Fabulous

I see one of the automatically generated ads on my blog is from the Democratic National Committee, asking you to call your senator to repeal Don't Ask, Don't Tell. 

I really appreciate the advertising revenue--but as things now stand, DADT is really more like, "Don't Ask, Don't Be Fabulous."  There are some rare cases, such as the Air Force pilot at Mountain Home Air Force Base, who sexual orientation came out during a criminal investigation of an acquaintance.  But strictly speaking, he did not "tell."  He was required to tell by a criminal investigation--he did not go out and make a noise about it.

There are many gay people serving in the armed forces.  They have chosen to put service to their country above making a big noise about their sexual orientation.  I appreciate them for what must be, at times, a bit of a sacrifice.  What I will not appreciate is if repealing DADT means a bunch of gay activists join the military just to "be fabulous" as a way of making a point. 

Final Exam

I'm sitting here, waiting for the last student to finish his final.  I was pleased how many students made a point of telling me how much they enjoyed the class!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Decline & Fall Of Writing

In English, we have certain standards of proper writing.  One of them is that when you are referring to the Judeo-Christian deity, or if you choose to refer to Islam's deity other than by the name Allah, the three letter word we use is capitalized: God.  The only time that it is considered proper English is when you are referring to pagan gods (plural), or referring to a single pagan deity as an improper noun.  Example: "The Norse worshiped many gods, but among this little group of Viking explorers, Thor was the god most important to their adventures."

No surprise on this.  The rule of capitalization in English is that you capitalize proper nouns: a reference to a particular or specific instance.  It's a dog--unless some precious child with a lack of imagination named it Dog.  (Or you are a bounty hunter.)  We capitalize John because that is the name of one particular person.  While strictly speaking, "god" is not a proper noun, in English, because of two thousand years of Christianity, during much of which time many ordinary Christians were unclear on the difference between His job title and name, the Judeo-Christian deity is normally styled God.  Perhaps, if we were starting from scratch, and making English completely consistent and logical we would not do this--but English is not particularly consistent or logical.  We live with the rules and the many exceptions.

Many years ago, the science writer and biochemist Isaac Asimov published a book called In The Beginning: Science Faces God in the Book of Genesis, an ostensibly fair minded discussion of religion and science that tried very hard to show that he wasn't hostile to religion--just arguing for a more enlightened understanding of the Old Testament.  And yes, it conformed to the rules of English: the Judeo-Christian deity was consistently capitalized as God.  

Yet at the same time the book came out, The Skeptical Inquirer, a magazine to which I used to subscribe, carried an article by Asimov that consistently and regularly referred to the Judeo-Christian deity as lower-case "god."  This was about 1980.  To make such a consistent, non-standard use was clearly intended by Asimov as a statement--and one completely contrary to the "I don't have an ax to grind" claims that Asimov made in the introduction to In The Beginning.  It annoyed me, because it was not very honest to pretend one thing in a mass market book, and say rather the opposite in a narrowly aimed magazine.

Now, I expect students to not know all the rules of English on this, and eight zillion areas.  Part of my job in grading papers is to let them know about: run-on sentences; singular/plural mismatches; unclear antecedents; proper use of apostrophes for possessives.  And yes, God vs. god.

So imagine my frustration to read an article from the December 16, 2010 New Hampshire Journal that was annoying in its own right, and see this:
Democratic spokeswoman Harrell Kirstien accused Republican State Rep. David Bates of attempting to impose a “Bible belt social agenda” after video surfaced of Bates saying “the only hope for America” is to “turn from our wicked ways and ask god to heal our land” and “the problem we have here in this country and in all of our states is that we no longer fear god” at New England Solemn Assembly in Plymouth Massachusetts.
Bates' speech appeared on video--so he was not responsible for the capitalization error.  Was "Democratic spokeswoman Harrell Kirstien" responsible for this?  Or was it the writer of the article that does not know the rules of English.

Idiocracy is arriving--and faster than in the movie.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Jury Duty

I did not get the jury.  It was a stalking case, and one of the questions that the defense attorney asked was if any of us had ever experienced stalking, or anything like it.  Two other jurors had difficulties with boyfriends who didn't take, "It's over" well, and I related my experiences with death threats, harassing phone calls to me, obscene phone calls to my kids, back in the 1990s from some political activists.  I suspect that this is what knocked me off the jury.

I was a bit surprised (and the jury commissioner was obviously disappointed) at how few of those summoned to jury duty actually showed up.  Weather was bad, but still.

My impression of Judge Roger Cockerille was pretty positive.  He gave the prosecutor and defense attorney considerable leeway to ask questions during voir dire, but he was also prepared to get them to move forward towards a conclusion on questioning, and handled the only objection (by the prosecutor) in what seemed a fair manner.

This being a very small county--and most of the jury pool who showed up being from the area near where the stalking incidents were alleged to have happened--there were a lot of people who were bumped because they knew one of the victims well.  One member of the jury had roomed with one of the victims; another had employed him some years ago, and was friends with one of the witnesses.  I think there were some ties between members of the pool and this victim.  As Judge Cockerille pointed out, in a county this small, if you exclude everyone who even slightly knew either party, you would have a hard time making up a jury.

When the question was asked about previous contacts with the judicial system, I began to wonder if perhaps a DUI conviction was a requirement to live in Boise County!  Admittedly, this is a very common crime in America.

UPDATE: Almost forgot: a herd of elk crossed the highway in front of me on my way out of Idaho City.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

We Are Making Negative Progress On Education

Every once in a while, I see something passed around the Internet that purports to be a high school graduation requirement from 1885--and the demands are so high that it is a bit hard to believe.  To be fair, however, most Americans did not go on to high school in 1885--so we may be looking at a pretty elite population that graduated high school back then.  On the other hand, my great-great-great-grandfather's Civil War diary makes use of a vocabulary that I think would surpass many college graduates today.  (Okay, he was a school teacher when he wasn't a farmer.) 

I was therefore surprised and a little sad to see this 1931 West Virginia Elementary Diploma Test that graduating eighth graders apparently needed to pass.  This is an image of the original, at the Washington Post website, so if this is a fraud, it's an astonishing clever fraud.

Let me emphasize: this is to graduate eighth grade.  I see a depressing number of college students that might have trouble passing this, and even many college graduates who might struggle with many of the questions.  At the risk of being accused of stereotyping, let me emphasize: West Virginia.  I suspect that expectations might have been higher in some other states.

No wonder this country is in such trouble.

Another Unsold Article

What Laws Are Constitutional Post-Lawrence?

I’m sure by now you have seen the news coverage of Columbia University Professor David Epstein’s arrest for incest with his adult daughter.  And you probably know that among Epstein’s memorable writings was a criticism last year of Republicans “taking hypocrisy in their personal lives to new levels of self-indulgent weirdness....”  (Stone, please meet glass house.)  I’m not here to have fun criticizing Professor Epstein for projection or hypocrisy—after all, he has only been accused of this crime.

No, I’m here to ask a serious question: why is incest not constitutionally protected, since Lawrence v. Texas (2003)?  Justice Kennedy’s opinion in that case struck down the Texas law prohibiting homosexual sex, arguing, “The State cannot demean their existence or control their destiny by making their private sexual conduct a crime.”  So why can states criminalize consensual incest between adults?  Or not recognize polygamy?  Or ban bestiality?  These are all “private sexual conduct” and the various state laws against these activities do a lot more than “demean” someone’s existence—they subject people to prison time.
Let me emphasize, before the screeching and hollering starts: I support repealing laws against homosexuality, because they are nonsensical.  What you are going to do if you convict a man of having sex with other men?  Lock him up with thousands of other men who haven’t had sex with a woman in years?  This may not produce the desired result!

At the time the Lawrence decision was handed down, Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA) pointed out if homosexuality could not be prohibited, neither could bigamy, or adultery, or bestiality.  Some misinterpreted (perhaps willfully) Santorum’s remarks as saying that homosexuality was equal to those other behaviors.  Santorum’s point was that if the laws prohibiting homosexuality are unconstitutional, because it is a private sexual conduct, then how could states prohibit a variety of other activities that are also “private sexual conduct”?

Now, some people do seem to understand this reductio ad absurdum of Lawrence, and have no problem with it.  The comments on the New York Daily News article about Epstein’s arrest are awash in people arguing that incest is a private consensual activity, and therefore not properly the government’s concern.  Switzerland’s government, for example, is discussing repealing its law against incest.  It is a very logical argument.  If a majority of Americans are comfortable repealing criminal laws against incest, bestiality, polygamy, adultery because these are all leftovers from Western Civilization’s Christian past (and let me emphasize past), there will not be much that us stick-in-the-muds can do about it.  But let me throw your argument back in your face: what criminal laws involving adult sexual conduct will survive by this reasoning?

The same problem of criminal laws applies even more strongly to age of consent laws.  Different states and countries have widely varying ages of consent.  The age is arbitrary, and like all arbitrary standards, different people can have honest disagreements about exactly what the appropriate standard is.  (Of course, red means “stop” and green means “go” is also an arbitrary standard; imagine the chaos if we scrapped that.)  If state legislatures choose to fiddle a bit with the age of consent, I might agree or disagree with the final result, but at least the legislature knows that there is an appropriate age limit, and the law may enforce that age limit.  By the reasoning of Lawrence, why do the courts allow states to “oppress” people by saying that it isn’t okay to persuade an 8 year old to have sex with a 24 year old?  It isn’t just the 24 year old who is the victim!  Those reactionary narrow-minded legislators are preventing the 8 year old from getting what he or she wants—candy!  There’s a free market mutual exchange that ideologues can love!

While there are a fair number of intellectuals who are prepared to follow the logic of Lawrence and abolish all laws regulating sexual morality, others are not.  A great many Americans cringe at the prospect of repealing those narrow-minded Puritanical laws against incest, bestiality, and polygamy and yet were fiercely offended by Sen. Santorum’s comparison.  They do not object to laws criminalizing sexual immorality; they object to the law defining homosexuality as a form of sexual immorality.  

This is not a principled position; it is special pleading on behalf of a sexual minority that has done an exceptional job of advancing its position.  The great difficulty is that Lawrence and similar decisions make the argument that the government lacks constitutional authority to criminalize private adult sexual behavior.  Justice Kennedy and his counterparts across the land refuse to admit that homosexuality is in principle no different from bestiality, adultery, polygamy, and a number of practices that the government has constitutional authority to prohibit.  Lawrence and its relatives in the state courts have created a special exemption for homosexuality from the legal model that applies to nearly all other private behavior.

Let’s stop pretending: if regulating “private sexual conduct” is unconstitutional, the courts need to strike down all laws that regulate what sex consenting adults have (incest, prostitution, adultery).  If those other laws are constitutional, then the courts need to stop pretending that Lawrence is a principled position—and admit that homosexuality gets special treatment because judges like homosexuality—but don’t like people who want to have sex with their kids.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Redfield Revolution 4-12x40 Dimensions For Picking Scope Caps

The objective end is 1.83"; the eyepiece end is 1.56".  For the Butler Creek Scope Covers (which I really like), that's size 11 for the eyepiece, and size 26 for the objective.

Jury Duty Tuesday

Like a lot of places now, you get notified that have been called for jury duty--but you call the night before, and find out if they need you. This is a giant improvement over the bad old days, when Los Angeles County had me go from Santa Monica to downtown for eleven days--and not only did I not get on a jury, I was only once subject tovoir dire (which is essentially the point where there is at least a small change of getting on a jury).

Anyway, they actually need me Tuesday in Idaho City.  I'm skeptical that I will get on a jury, but in spite of the absurd drive, I do not mind getting called.  We protect our freedoms with four boxes in the United States: soap; ballot; jury; and cartridge.  Each of these represents a great level of personal responsibility, effort, and risk (although serious risk only attaches if the first three boxes fail).

Very Impressive Ultrashort Film

Saturday, December 11, 2010

A Reminder Who The Primary Culprit in the Wikileaks Case Is

Zombie over at PajamasMedia points out that the person who, at least so far, was the primary reason for these 250,000 diplomatic cables seems to be a soldier named Bradley Manning, who appears to have provided them (along with some much more serious classified materials) to Wikileaks.  Of course, the news media are paying more attention to Julian Assange than Bradley Manning for a number of reasons:

1. Julian Assange is a publicity hound.

2. Bradley Manning is not exactly the poster child for "Don't Ask, Don't Be Fabulous."  Manning's misbehavior with classified document leakage apparently started out as:
While still enlisted, Manning was dumped by his transvestite boyfriend (seriously) and was so upset that he lost his temper and got into fistfights with other soldiers, and was dishonorably discharged for his violent outbursts. Before leaving his post, he downloaded all the secret files he could get his hands on, out of spite. Once back in the civilian world, he fell in with a crew of radical gay activists, to whom he bragged that he had these secret files. These activists were already aware of Wikileaks from earlier cases, and it was they who contacted Assange on Manning’s behalf, and eventually the two hooked up and Manning gave him the files on the promise that Assange would publicize them.
Obviously, there are a lot of gay soldiers who have the maturity to not do stupid things like this--and the maturity to keep their mouths shut about their sexual orientation.  They have my respect for doing their job for our country, and deciding that this is more important than making a big public noise about their homosexuality.  You can see why the news media would prefer not raising the ugly little details about Manning, however.  It doesn't fit the narrative.

UPDATE: A commenter says that the sequence of events described by Zombie in the blockquote is incorrect--that he was still on active duty when he was arrested.  I don't have any alternative narrative, but I'm interested in hearing one.

UPDATE 2: Wikipedia's account somewhat matches the above, and somewhat doesn't. It is certainly a plausible version with sources.

Gee, What Do You Think Causes Islamophobia?

Michael Moynihan at Reason summarizes Swedish news accounts of recent terrorist bombings in Stockholm and includes this tidbit:
The bomber cited the Swedish military's involvement with NATO in Afghanistan and "threatened" those serving there. According to Expressen, the letter also urges Muslims to fight back against "Islamophobia" in Sweden, presumably by murdering Swedes, and calls on "all mujahadin in Sweden and across Europe" to rise up.
I can't imagine what could cause Islamophobia in Sweden.  I mean, besides terrorist bombings by Muslim extremists.

Just Another Victim of Laws That Reflect Religious Right Domination of America

Columbia University political science professor charged with incest.  From the December 9, 2010 New York Daily News:

A popular Columbia professor was charged Thursday with incest - accused of a sick sex relationship with a female relative, prosecutors said.

Political science Prof. David Epstein, 46, bedded the young woman over a three-year period ending last year, according to court papers.

He was arraigned before a Manhattan judge on a single felony incest count.

Read more:
The Other McCain points out that Epstein is a big Palin-hater.  (What a surprise.)   But the good news is that the relationship with his daughter was consensual.  Can we expect the ACLU to file suit to defend Professor Epstein from these narrow-minded laws that must clearly violate separation of church and state, since they reflect the narrow-minded Christianist perspective?  Why is it not okay to criminalize homosexuality, but okay to criminalize a consensual sexual relation between two consenting adults?

I'm dead serious: I want to see those who argue that laws against homosexuality are unconstitutional explain why this law against incest is okay.  The risk of birth defects isn't an argument; you could criminalize having children with your daughter, and certainly, liberals would say that abortion is a perfectly fine solution.  (It is for considerably lesser reasons and risks.)

Even better, Professor Epstein's column last year attacking Palin at The Huffington Post complaining about Republicans "taking hypocrisy in their personal lives to new levels of self-indulgent weirdness...."  (Thanks to Noel Sheppard at Newsbusters for finding this gem.)

UPDATE: Amazingly enough (or maybe not so amazing), the comments section of the New York Daily News article has lots of people saying, "What's the big deal?  Why should this be a crime?" Decline and fall, part 10220303032.

UPDATE 2: I had a good laugh at The Other McCain's weather forecast, after recounting another incest news account that was even worse:
Tomorrow’s forecast: Widely scattered fire with a 60% chance of afternoon and evening brimstone.
 God's mercy is obviously extreme--but perhaps not infinite.  This country is headed into the sewer.