Monday, April 30, 2012

Dom Perignon In The Most Unexpected Places

My wife and I were out for a walk on Harris Creek Road yesterday.  I saw what looked like a champagne cork, and commented on it to my wife--since this is not a normal thing to find on a road near Horseshoe Bend.  A few feet beyond, we found the bottle: a 1995 Cuvee Dom Perignon, which ordinarily sells for about $150.  (And the bottle was not completely empty, either.)

Now, if you found this in Beverly Glen Canyon above Beverly Hills, or on a Malibu beach, or in Manhattan--well, that would not be a great surprise.  But in the area surrounding Horseshoe Bend?  What next?  Will someone open up a Ferrari dealership there?  Or will Whole Foods decide we need a store?

Lack of Rigor in the Humanities

Instapundit responds to criticism of his recent New York Post article criticizing the lack of rigor in the humanities, compared to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math).  He acknowledges that this is not intrinsic to the humanities:
But the problem with the humanities isn’t an inherent one — you could even teach a stimulating and intellectually rich course on the Occupy Movement — but has to do with execution, and here’s where the comparison with STEM comes in. Very few people complete a math or engineering major without learning a lot of math and engineering, but it’s entirely possible to major in the humanities and never learn to read, write, or reason with any rigor. The problem isn’t inherent to the subject matter, it’s a symptom of professorial self-indulgence and laziness, together with the lack of external scrutiny, a problem that is much, much worse in humanities than in STEM.
The problem isn't just laziness.  I start my U.S. History 1 lecture about the Constitution with the equation 
on the board, as a starting point to understanding the Enlightenment view of law, government, and human nature--a fundamental belief in absolute truths.  I am troubled that I have yet to have a college student admit to knowing what that equation means.  

I start out my Western Civilization class by pointing to the Periodic Table of the Elements in the lecture hall, and explain that this is one of the crowning achievements of the Western heritage of reason: finding order and logic in what would otherwise be just a jumble of elements.  That order and logic led to a progressively more sophisticated understanding of what atoms did: valence; electron shells; electron clouds; the manner in which electrons shells fill, producing transition metals and then lanthanides and actinides.

Think about it for a while: if you start admitting the concept of absolute truths in the sciences, there is grave danger that it will drift over into other areas, and before you know it, 2+2 might actually have a correct answer, not a Politically Correct answer.  Unfortunately, the humanities has been taken over by those who would prefer no absolutes, and rigor in thinking implies that there might be some absolute truths.

From an essay by George Orwell about the Spanish Civil War:
A British and a German historian would disagree deeply on many things, even on fundamentals, but there would still be that body of, as it were, neutral fact on which neither would seriously challenge the other. It is just this common basis of agreement, with its implication that human beings are all one species of animal, that totalitarianism destroys. Nazi theory indeed specifically denies that such a thing as ‘the truth’ exists. There is, for instance, no such thing as ‘Science’. There is only ‘German Science’, ‘Jewish Science’, etc. The implied objective of this line of thought is a nightmare world in which the Leader, or some ruling clique, controls not only the future but the past. If the Leader says of such and such an event, ‘It never happened’ — well, it never happened. If he says that two and two are five — well, two and two are five. This prospect frightens me much more than bombs — and after our experiences of the last few years that is not a frivolous statement.
This is one the great concerns that I have about the humanities today--the manner in which deconstructionism and post-modernism have largely accepted what used to be considered peculiarly "Nazi theory," but is now the property of progressives: that there are no absolute truths.

Obama vs. Romney Polling

Gallup is reporting that Romney is neck and neck with Obama: Romney 47%, Obama 46%.  That's within the margin of error, obviously.  As much as Romney's centrism leaves me cold, it is a reminder that there are Americans who consider Romney far, far too conservative for their tastes, and many who find him barely tolerable.  I fear that a conservative would have no chance at all against Obama.  Remember: to many Americans (especially the rich and depraved ones in Hollywood are coughing up incredible amounts of money), Obama is just a wonderful president.

Funny, Very Unexpected Movies

Today's Special.  It is about as unexpected of a film as I can imagine.  It is built around a Muslim Indian family where the son is a sous chef at a pretentious New York City restaurant with ambitions of going to Paris to apprentice to great chefs...but a family emergency forces him to take over the shabby Indian restaurant that his father runs.  There is romance, and family conflict, and a very interesting taxi driver who takes over in the kitchen.

There is some adult content and language, but otherwise a surprisingly positive film.

On the plane back from D.C. last week, I saw, We Bought A Zoo.  If you think it looks like a predictable family film, yes, you are correct (although United edited the language slightly in a couple of places, and I can't say that it was injured in the process).  So what?  I enjoyed it very much.  Maggie Elizabeth Jones plays the cute as a button seven year old, and she is just adorable!  Matt Damon (for all his stinky left-wing politics) does a great job.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Boise County Primary Races


The other interesting contest is Boise County Sheriff.  When my wife and I first ran into Ben Roeber in 2008 at a campaign event, he was so baby-faced that some of us wondered if he was old enough to drive yet. He doesn't look like that anymore.  He got married in the meantime, and is now doing budgets and other desk work--and he doesn't look so young.  He needs to be hitting the gym, or he is going to be in big trouble in a few more years.  But I was quite impressed with what he said, and how he handled tough questions.

First of all, he is much more articulate than I was expecting.  He also emphasized that before he became sheriff, his total budget experience was as a coach, where he was responsible for $1500.  Now he's responsible for a million dollar plus budget, and for all the criticism from his opponent, I don't think he's done a bad job of it.

Now, what impressed me with Roeber's answers was that he was answering questions that some people would doubtless call a bit crazy, and he managed to answer those questions diplomatically, and without pandering.  Several questions were concerning federal law enforcement agencies operating in the county.  As you might expect, Roeber was asked if he was prepared to protect the citizens of Boise County against federal law enforcement agencies.  I don't remember exactly how the question was asked, but it was essentially the idea that federal law enforcement is perilously close to a criminal organization.  

Roeber, instead of promising to call in air strikes as soon as the feds cross the boundaries of the Duchy of Boise (as I sense some in this county want), explained that where he used to get sometimes fifteen minutes warning that federal law enforcement was carrying out an operation, he now gets many months notice and requests for coordination and assistance.  He was careful to emphasize that he would not allow a clear violation of citizens' rights to take place, but was careful to phrase it in a way that showed that he knows that it would have to be a clear violation.  I also get the impression that Roeber is smart enough to know that one sheriff of a podunk county might not be very successful taking on the federal government, all by himself.

Another question was about the drone that Canyon County now has provided to them by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.  The questioner, I got the impression, wanted some sort of statement that Boise County would refuse such, or perhaps use Stingers to take them out of the air.  (Some of these questions sounded like someone listens to Art Bell too much.)  Roeber, with an appropriate smile, indicated that he just couldn't imagine what possible use Boise County Sheriff's Department would make of such equipment, even if the federal government gave us the money.

By comparison, outgoing county commissioner Terry Day wants Roeber's job.  Day is much older (he's even older than me).  Day was a deputy sheriff, the chief deputy, and even acting sheriff at various times in the past.  Day's response to the federal law enforcement and drone questions was, by comparison, a bit disturbing.  I would like to think that Day actually believes what he said, but if not, the pandering really isn't particularly useful.  There may be genuine reasons to worry about the federal government getting too big for its britches (as I will discuss concerning the guy running for prosecutor), but there are enough people already one fry short of a Happy Meal concerning the coming revolution to encourage these sentiments, especially when you are running for sheriff.

Day seems to think that Roeber isn't spending the county's money wisely.  He listed several things that he would do immediately, including:

1. Move all maintenance and minor repair of the patrol vehicles into Boise County.  (Right now, the Ford dealer in Boise, which is in Ada County, does this.)

2. Hire new deputies in a Community Oriented Policing system, where they would have to be residents of the part of the county that was their beat.  They would be expected to be attending a variety of meetings to become familiar with the people in their beat.

I confess that I have some concerns about both of these.  It may well be that getting maintenance and minor repair done locally would be a good thing for the local economy, but there simply aren't that many auto repair facilities in this county.  The only one we had in Horseshoe Bend just closed--and I have been told some stories about that place so shockingly shoddy that I will not repeat them.  

Community Oriented Policing is a fine idea, but while this can work in big cities, this is Boise County.  Some concerns that I have include:

1. Do we have enough qualified people?  There are 7200 people in this whole county.  Many of them are retirees.  Deputy sheriffs have to complete the Police Officers Standards Training (POST), and to my knowledge, this isn't easy.  By the time you get done weeding out those who are prohibited because of criminal record or psychological unfitness for the job, there may not even be anyone in some parts of this county who could qualify, or would be interested in the job.

2. Any time you reduce the size of your hiring pool, you increase what you will have to pay to hire someone.  Right now, a number of our deputies live in other counties.  We get to hire from a fairly large pool.  What happens when we reduce the pool from 250,000 people to 7200?

3. It is a really neat idea for a deputy to know intimately the community intimately which he polices--but there are times that this also means cozy relationships that sometimes interfere with the professionalism and objectivity that a police officer should have.

County Prosecutor

There are two people running for county prosecutor: Ian Gee and Garry Gilman.  Terwilliger, our current prosecutor, is not running for re-election, and I am very glad to hear that.  I wasn't around long enough to hear what Gee had to say, but Gilman had an interesting story to tell.  He went to law school because of what he described as eminent domain abuse in Utah against his home.  He worked on Randy Weaver's defense team, and had a few stories to tell about Lon Horiuchi (the FBI sniper who shot Mrs. Weaver's head off while she was armed with a baby).  It is clear that while he isn't going to lead the independent Duchy of Boise, he would not be at all reluctant to file criminal charges against any law enforcement officer who clearly broke the law--nor does he find that prospect particularly implausible.

Gilman has been an attorney for 34 years, including seven years as a deputy prosecutor, and (if my memory serves me right) two years as a deputy prosecutor in Boise County.  I don't know anything about his opponent, but I would not be upset if Gilman won the election.  (And yes, I was upset when Terwilliger won the election in 2008.)

Perhaps Only Of Interest in Some Idaho Counties...

The various Republicans running in the May primary were in Horseshoe Bend Saturday afternoon.  My wife and I have to leave early for a social engagement, but we had a chance to talk to some of the candidates, and hear a number of them.  I spoke with Ken Roberts, currently Majority Caucus Chair in the lower house of the legislature.  Because of redistricting, his district now includes Boise County.

I asked Roberts about the ultrasound bill that passed the state senate, but died in the lower house.  Roberts took credit for killing it, and it turns out that his feelings about the bill were much the same as mine: the intentions of the sponsors were good--to discourage abortion--but that it was flawed in details and philosophically.  

The detail flaw was that the pro-life authors of the bill had hoped for a way for mothers to hear the beating heart of the embryo.  The only way to accomplish that was with the transvaginal ultrasound.  Understandably, even people who might have tolerated an abdominal ultrasound requirement though that this was going a bit far.  But also, Roberts shared my view that a governmental requirement for a medical procedure was a bit too much like the health insurance mandate of Obamacare: unpopular, and hard to justify.

When Roberts took his five minutes to speak, he did a couple of things that made a good impression on me.  A question to Rep. Steven Thayn, who is running for district 8 state senate, asked about what the government could do about rising electric utility bills.  Thayn didn't give a particularly memorable answer, except to focus on ways to reduce taxes for people at the bottom.  (Not a bad answer, but unlikely to solve the problem for those on fixed incomes who pay little or no income taxes.)  

Roberts did not need to answer that question, but went out of his way to explain that part of what is driving electric rates up is that some of the green energy stuff, such as wind power, because it is unpredictable, requires utilities to have reliable base load energy available for purchase.  When a utility company does make short-term purchases of base load power to compensate for the unpredictable green power, they are paying a much higher cost for that extra power than if they were purchasing it on a consistent basis.  When that happens, Roberts explained, it drives up electricity costs, and thus rates.  (It strikes me that this may explain why California electricity costs are so high--a green obsession.)  Roberts made no promises about how to solve this, but did point out that some of the green energy stuff is aggravating this problem.

Roberts also gave a straightforward answer considering his position on the education reform bills to someone who I received the impression might have been a public school teacher.  In addition, another question was concerning Roberts' support for an increase in cigarette taxes.  Remember that we are in a very blue collar county, and very libertarian (not very conservative), so cigarette taxes are regarded with considerable upset.  Roberts was pretty courageous about this; he explained that both federal and state funds go into funding Medicare, and a lot of that (he quoted about $600 a year per taxpayer) is paying for medical costs for tobacco use.  He supported the tax increase because it is a user fee: tobacco users are driving up costs, and they need to pay their fair share.

As you might expect for someone who has been in the legislature for some time, and holds Majority Caucus Chair position, Roberts is a pretty polished speaker.  He also has a pretty good memory.  I said my name, and introduced my wife, and he remembered having met us at a political event in 2008 at the Powerhouse in Boise, when I was first running for state senate at Tim Corder.  It was not just that he claimed to remember having met me, but he was able to correctly identify when and where.

Thayn, as I mentioned, is running for state senate.  Thayn's speech was something that I am sure would make many libertarians very happy, emphasizing that wealth is not zero sum game, and that growing the economy of Idaho by encouraging production and economic development is the way to go.  But it was rather short of specifics.  Was he proposing to have the government actively promote growth, or simply get out of the way?  I think he meant the latter, but I would have preferred a bit more specifics.

One question was concerning NDAA (the National Defense Authorization Act).  A lot of people are very upset about NDAA, and I wish that I could say that their paranoia was without reason.  It does grant a lot of power, and I'm not sure that I would be any happier with a Republican President enjoying that power.  But Thayn had the good sense to explain that he was running for state legislature, wasn't thoroughly familiar with national policy questions, and did a nice job of backing away from saying anything substantive.

Extreme Dieting

The pastor of our church has lost 35 pounds over the last month or so, because of radiation therapy for tongue cancer.  It's a rather extreme form of dieting.  He has not quite lost his voice, and more fortunately, he has not lost his joy.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Copyright and Online Instruction

Something that has been a source of great frustration to me has been fixed by Congress.  In a traditional class, if you own a video, you can show it to your class.  But what do you do in an online class?  Until this year, you were out of luck.  Congress has passed the TEACH Act (Technology, Education, and Copyright Harmonization Act).  It allows non-profit educational institutions to use materials in an online class in the same way that they would in a face-to-face class, subject to these rules:
the institution must be an accredited, non-profit educational institution
  • the institution must have copyright policies and must post a copyright notice on online course materials
  • the institution must have technological measures in place to support compliance with TEACH Act requirements
  • the copyrighted material used must be for a "mediated instructional activity "
  • access to the copyrighted material must be limited to students enrolled in the class
  • the material must be used in live or asynchronous class sessions
  • the material may not include textbook materials "typically acquired or purchased by students"
  • only "reasonable portions" of the original work may be used ("reasonable portions" is usually defined as the amount used in a typical face-to-face class session)

As I read this, if an instructor, or the college, owns a video, they can put that video, or portions of it on Blackboard for the use of the students in a particular class.  (Obviously, only visible to the students in that particular online class.)  

This is of some importance to me because in a traditional U.S. History class, I often use segments from the HBO series John Adams and the PBS Nova segment "The First Americans."  I would be tempted to buy the PBS series The War That Made America for my U.S. History class.  Similarly, I have edited a History Channel documentary about the Little Ice Age and a National Geographic special The Human Family Tree for use in Western Civilization.  (And yes, I own a copy of both.)  If I were teaching this class online, I would use these edited versions.

UPDATE: I first read this as a 2012 change to the law.  No, it was changed in 2002.

I'll Get All My Blogging Done Now...

I have the equivalent of three sections to teach next semester: U.S. History online, and what College of Western Idaho considers a "double section" of Western Civilization.  Instead of a 30 student section, I get a lecture hall that starts out with 92 students.  That is three times the students of a standard section, but time spent preparing for and delivering the class is the same as a standard section.  Grading papers is three times as much, so getting paid for two sections turns out to be reasonably fair.

I have taught both these classes before, so I am not starting from scratch.  We have switched to new editions of the textbooks, so I do need to review the new editions, make sure that I don't have to make any big changes, and update my slides and notes.  This isn't a major piece of prep, but I do need to get started this weekend on any updates or corrections for fall.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Funny, She Doesn't Look Indian...

The Democrat running for the U.S. Senate from Massachusetts is a rich Harvard Law Professor.

And she's an American Indian, too!  From the April 27, 2012 Boston Herald:

Elizabeth Warren said she had no idea until she read the Herald today her Native American heritage was touted by Harvard Law School as proof of their faculty’s diversity in the 1990s — a fact her rival wants her to apologize for.
“I think I read it on the front page of the Herald,” Warren said when asked about the issue.
“I don’t even remember,” she added when asked about a 1996 Harvard Crimson article that quoted a then-law school spokesman touting her minority status. “You’re trying to raise something from 15 years ago.”
You know, if she looked like an Indian, or had grown up on a reservation, or otherwise suffered some disadvantage from being of Indian ancestry, this wouldn't bother me, or anyone else.  Our family physician many years ago was part-Indian (Cherokee, I think), and he looked it, just a little bit.  I can believe that in some places in America, not that many years ago, he might have been subject to a certain amount of prejudice because of it.  But Elizabeth Warren?  If she gets the affirmative action benefit, then it really does show what a crock this has become.

The Jefferson Memorial

After the Capitol tour was over, I decided to walk down to the Jefferson Memorial.  This was a bit harder than it looked.  I knew that I needed to walk west from the Capitol down Independence, and then turn left on 14th Street.  And that's what I did...I thought.

The sky was completely clouded over, and I managed to get turned around somehow, so I was walking east on Independence.  At first, the neighborhood was pretty nice...and then it started getting a bit sketchy.  I wasn't particular worried, although I was glad that I was carrying an umbrella, which can be used in a defensive manner.  I got lost in this neighborhood some years back at night in a car; I am very glad that I was not there at night on foot.

Once I realized my mistake--when I reached 14th Street SE (not SW), and it was running into Massachusetts Avenue--I walked a couple of blocks down and caught the Metro Blue line.  This took me to a station that was a few blocks from the Jefferson Memorial.

I stopped at one National Park Service information booth, and the ranger distinctly told me to walk south and turn right at the Washington Memorial.  I took his advice, but it soon became apparent that I needed to turn left.

You can see it across the Tidal Basin, and in a relatively understated way, it is beautiful and elegant.  Up close, it follows in the classical tradition of Revolutionary and Republican America:

Inside is a heroic statute of Jefferson, really quite akin to something that you might have seen in a pagan temple in Rome or Greece:

I was slightly surprised and yet pleased to see an African-American man taking pictures, with what seemed like appropriate awe.  For all the negative press about Jefferson's relationship with Sallie Hemings, and his holding of slaves, his writings about the subject of slavery on the wall are sobering and powerful:

Of course, some of his other powerful writings are elsewhere inside:

From the front steps of the Memorial, looking out towards Washington's obelisk, and the front steps themselves:

After this experience, my feet were beginning to really hurt.  I wandered over to the food court in the Ronald Reagan International Trade Center (or whatever its formal name is) and bought lunch at a place called To Market To Market where lunch was a buffet where you paid by the pound.  It was okay.  I noticed a lot of employees from EPA eating there.

Wandering Around Washington

My ankles have not quite recovered from walking all over D.C.  Someone I knew in California had enormous feet problems from working in a warehouse-style office equipment store, because I was walking on concrete all day.  Now I know why.

In a previous posting, I showed some pictures of the U.S. Capitol.  I have always wanted to go on a tour, but you have to make reservations well in advance, so I have never done so.  But if you get there early enough, you can line up and hope to get in for what is usually described as a limited number of day passes.

So that's what I did.  I showed up in line about 8:00 AM.  In front of me was a bunch of eighth graders from somewhere in Illinois (or so I gathered from the school affiliated T-shirts that they were wearing).  They actually had reservations; it turns out that the rest of us were in line to find out if anyone with reservations did not show.  If that was the case, we would get in at their reserved time.  Being there at the front of the line really helps.

While standing in line, I struck up a conservation with a father, mother, and daughter from the Burgundy region of France.  They were here to sightsee in D.C., Philadelphia, and New York City.  (This seems like an extraordinarily limited vacation to America, but perhaps they were on a tight schedule.)  He spoke English pretty well, and for the most part he understood me, especially if I spoke slowly and distinctly.  Sometimes I would have to pick simpler words.  The wife understood English better, and I think the daughter, who was about 18 or 19, understood best of all, but seemed reluctant to speak.  (I know that I am reluctant to speak German, because I'm self-conscious about my lack of fluency.)  This seemed to be mostly an accent problem; written English seemed to not be much of a problem at all, and the father indicated that they had an easier time understanding British spoken English.  I explained that I have had problems sometimes understanding Texans, so this was not a surprise.

The outside of the U.S. Capitol is pretty impressive, in a Roman Republic sort of way.  The interior of the Capitol is absolutely beautiful.  I was shooting pictures with my HP Photosmart E427, so many pictures did not come out as well as I had hoped.  (The camera can go as fast as ISO 400, but it is clumsy to change the speed, and I stupidly forgot to do so.)

I guess that you will not be surprised to find that very little of the history of the building that our tour guide told us about was new to me.  But there were still a few discoveries, along the way.  In the center of the rotunda is this rather ornate square set in the floor.  This is apparently the center of Washington, with all the quadrants (NW, NE, SW, NE) relative to this spot.

Apparently, the original goal was to bury George Washington under this, rather like St. Peter is reputedly buried under the Vatican (and there is some archaeological evidence to back that up).

Looking up, these pictures do not do justice to the beauty of the interior of the dome:

The painting at the very top of the dome almost makes me want to laugh--it's kind of a Sistine Chapel representation of George Washington's divine selection:

Also in the rotunda each state gets to select who to display.

And yes, on the left of the door is California's bronze representative, Ronald Reagan (shockingly enough), and on the right is Kansas's choice, Dwight D. Eisenhower.

There are, of course, plenty of patriotic paintings, such as this Jonathan Trumbull painting of the signing of the Declaration of Independence:

and Robert Weir's Embarkation of the Pilgrims (1843):

You can get a much clearer picture of it here, but there's something so diverse about the crowd in front of the painting that really goes well with the content, don't you agree?  As the tour kept emphasizing: E Pluribus Unum: One out of many.

In the hall of statuary there are some surprising choices.  Jefferson Davis, for example, from Mississippi.  How many countries have a statute of a traitor on display?  Louisiana sent a statute of Huey Long--which makes Jefferson Davis seem almost okay.  Davis was a traitor, but genuinely believed that he was in rebellion against an oppressive system; Huey Long was just a remarkably crooked politician, and a Democrat (but I repeat myself).

The Coming Budget Disaster

A well done video explaining why the federal budget problem is simply beyond any of the relatively painless solutions such as tax hikes or small reductions in spending.

As he points outs, the mandatory programs (the one that existing federal law requires Congress to fund) are already above the amount of revenue that the federal government receives.  This is going to hurt.  The alternative is far more scary.

Two Americas

Democratic Senator John Edwards, when he was running for office, liked to talk about two Americas: the really poor and the really prosperous.  I guess he knew of what he was speaking.  The trial under way involving illegal campaign finance activities to keep his mistress quiet leads to this fascinating section from April 27, 2012 CNN:
Prosecutors have argued that Edwards broke federal law by accepting about $725,000 from now-101-year-old heiress Rachel "Bunny" Mellon and more than $200,000 from Fred Baron, a Texas lawyer who has since died.
Ah yes, the party of the little people.

Can Someone Please Explain To Sec. LaHood The Concept of Federalism?

From April 26, 2012 Reuters:

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood called on Thursday for a federal law to ban talking on a cell phone or texting while driving any type of vehicle on any road in the country.
Tough federal legislation is the only way to deal with what he called a "national epidemic," he said at a distracted-driving summit in San Antonio, Texas, that drew doctors, advocates and government officials.
LaHood said it is important for the police to have "the opportunity to write tickets when people are foolishly thinking they can drive safely or use a cell phone and text and drive."
It is a national epidemic.  But this is the domain of the states.  Some states, such as Idaho, have banned texting while driving.  Oregon bans use of cell phones (except hands-free).  I think that in both cases the existing laws about inattentive driving are sufficient, but these are at least properly a state's responsibility to determine the law.  The federal government's authority on this is limited to roads that are entirely under the national government's jurisdiction: military bases; national parks; territories; the District of Columbia.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Forty Days of Prayer

It's a bad day when you can't tell satire from the real thing.  This is a flyer from Humboldt County Clergy for Choice, encouraging readers to spend forty days praying for Planned Parenthood and what they do.

Never Underestimate the Power of the Internet

I mentioned a week or two back that Zimmerman had set up a website to raise funds for his legal defense.  I guess it worked.  From April 26, 2012 Reuters:
George Zimmerman, the former neighborhood watch volunteer who is accused of murder in the death of unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin, has raised at least $200,000 through a website set up to fund his defense, his lawyer said on Thursday.

United's MileagePlus Program

One of the reasons that I prefer flying United (besides that I have generally had good experiences with them, unlike Northwest) is that I had miles building up in their Mileage Plus program.  In fact, I had 70,000 miles built up earlier this year...and they just expired them.  I didn't realize that they were going to expire suddenly.  Had I realized that, I might have used them for travel somewhere...if I could ever figure out the complexity of their mileage program.

If You Live In Boise County (Not Boise City)

The details on the proposed bond to pay off the Alamar disaster are here.

Supreme Court of Kentucky Rules in Favor of Employee With Gun in His Car

Volokh Conspiracy points to Mitchell v. University of Kentucky (Ky. 2012), which ruled that an employee and grad student who was fired from his job for having a handgun in his car (for which he had a concealed handgun license) has a valid basis for a wrongful termination suit against the university.  It's a complicated discussion, but the core of the argument is that Mitchell was exercising his right to keep and bear arms in conformity with Kentucky law.  While the university has some authority to regulate possession of arms on university property, when those regulations are in conflict with public policy, as defined by the state legislature, the university's rules lose the fight.

Distinct Cultural Differences Between Islamist Perspectives and Ours

There are some ideas so shocking that if you made them up, they would be legitimately a hate crime.  From the April 26, 2012 Daily Mail:

Egyptian husbands will soon be legally allowed to have sex with their dead wives - for up to six hours after their death.
The controversial new law is part of a raft of measures being introduced by the Islamist-dominated parliament.
It will also see the minimum age of marriage lowered to 14 and the ridding of women's rights of getting education and employment.

Read more:
Not all cultures are equally valid.  Sorry, that pretty well blows ever being employed by a prestige institution of higher learn, but it's true.

So hard to believe, I looked for other news sources to confirm it.  From April 26, 2012 Hurriet Daily News (Turkey):
Egyptian Parliament is preparing to discuss a draft law that would let husbands have sex with their “dead wives” within six hours of their death, an Egyptian columnist from daily Al-Ahram has said.
The draft law, which will reportedly legalize necrophilia, has caused an uprorar in the country.
Egypt’s National Council for Women (NCW) has appealed to the Islamist-dominated Parliament not to approve controversial law, according to Al-Arabiya’s report.
Parliament was also said to be discussing another legal resolution that would allow women to marry at the age of 14. 
According to Al-Ahram’s Amro Abdul Samea, NCW appealed to Parliament to avoid passing controversial pieces of legislation that would rid women of their rights to obtain an education and employment on alleged religious grounds.
UPDATE: From the comments at Small Dead Animals about this story:

Can only imagine the "rape awareness" posters at Egyptian universitities:
"No means I'm still alive"
And many others so shocking that I laugh, but will not quote.

And here's the coverage from April 25, 2012 Al-Arabiya (English language version):
Egypt’s National Council for Women (NCW) has appealed to the Islamist-dominated parliament not to approve two controversial laws on the minimum age of marriage and allowing a husband to have sex with his dead wife within six hours of her death according to a report in an Egyptian newspaper. 
The appeal came in a message sent by Dr. Mervat al-Talawi, head of the NCW, to the Egyptian People’s Assembly Speaker, Dr. Saad al-Katatni, addressing the woes of Egyptian women, especially after the popular uprising that toppled president Hosni Mubarak in February 2011.
She was referring to two laws: one that would legalize the marriage of girls starting from the age of 14 and the other that permits a husband to have sex with his dead wife within the six hours following her death.
UPDATE 2: The April 26, 2012 Christian Science Monitor calls the story "Utter hooey."
The chances of any such piece of legislation being considered by the Egyptian parliament for a vote is zero. And the chance of it ever passing is less than that. In fact, color me highly skeptical that anyone is even trying to advance a piece of legislation like this through Egypt's parliament. I'm willing to be proven wrong. It's possible that there's one or two lawmakers completely out of step with the rest of parliament. Maybe.
 The rest of the article basically says that this unbelievable, and at best might represent a couple of weirdo kooks.  If the only place this article appeared was in the Daily Mail, or some Christian websites, I might be inclined to be skeptical.  But Al-Arabiya isn't exactly looking to make Muslims look crazy or stupid.  Who should I believe?  Reporters who read Arabic, and have an incentive to not make Muslims look crazy?  Or a reporter with an American newspaper which has an incentive to assume that crazy sounding stuff from the Muslim world just can't be true?

UPDATE 3: The April 26, 2012 Daily Mail quotes the Egyptian embassy in London as claiming that this is utter nonsense--that nothing of the sort was introduced in their Parliament.  I'm glad to hear that.  It is rather interesting that Arab news media were prepared to believe it.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Simplifying National Firearms Act Transfers

Chuck Michel, a prominent firearms attorney in California, points me to an article from the NFA Trade & Collectors Association indicating that BATF and DOJ are preparing a significant simplification of the procedure for transfers of NFA Form 1 and Form 4 weapons.

Right now, you need to the signature of the Chief Law Enforcement Officer (CLEO) for your location on these forms before BATF will transfer these machine guns, short-barreled rifles, silencers, and other oddities.  Even when there is no legal obstacle, CLEOs in some states are notoriously reluctant to do this, and some attorneys make a living just getting courts to issue writs of mandamus directing the CLEO to sign the form.  This will certainly greatly simplify the process of transferring these weapons for those of you who live in states that do not have particularly restrictive state regulations.

If this happens, I expect that many gun control advocates will suffer apoplectic fits.

Metaphor Alert

Monday morning, since I did not have anything to do, I took the Metro down to the Capitol, because my misreading of the map told me that the Capitol South station was the closest to the Jefferson Memorial.  (It wasn't; I should have been looking at the other Metro lines as well.)  If you have never been there, the U.S. Capitol is a really impressive building.  In pictures, it doesn't look so terribly different from many of the statehouses, which are generally modeled on it, but the scale is very different.

The top of the Capitol looks a bit odd, doesn't it?  Along with many other repairs and restoration projects, they are busy doing work on the Statue of Freedom that stands atop it.  

At the moment, she is not terribly visible, and unfortunately, I can't blame this all on Obama.  Some of this is the inevitable encroachment of the national government on our liberties over the last century or so.  Some of it is regrettable, and sometimes not even particularly sensible encroachments caused by the War on Terror.  (You do remember that we are still at war, right?)  But the Statue of Freedom is at least temporarily invisible up there.  We all have an obligation to do something about that.

Stand Your Ground & Justifiable Homicide Increase

I mentioned in my presentation the problems with the claims concerning a tripling of the Florida justifiable homicide statute.  John Lott's April 25, 2012 New York Daily News article presents another side of this:

  The media have also been busy painting a picture that an epidemic of justifiable homicides has erupted since these laws have passed. The Wall Street Journal ran a story suggesting that an increase in justifiable homicides nationwide from 176 in 2000 to 326 in 2010 arose from a “shoot first” mentality.
But part of that increase is just a trick of numbers; it occurs because the laws have reclassified what is considered “self-defense,” not because more people are being shot.
In addition, the numbers for 2000 (and 2005) are artificially low compared with other years because relatively few states actually reported justifiable homicides. Using the FBI Uniform Crime Report in 2000, justifiable homicides were counted by the FBI for 30 states. In 2010, the number of states counted was 35. And which states reported the numbers also changed.
Read more:

A Man Without Shame

Jonah Goldberg points out that Jon Corzine's MF Global lost about a billion dollars of their customers' money:
Under Corzine, MF Global lost well over $1 billion, and I don’t mean in the profit/loss sense. I mean it was physically misplaced and Corzine cannot account for where it went. The Justice Department is investigating, and news-media accounts suggest a criminal prosecution is likely. 
So what is Corzine doing these days, since, of course, he isn't in jail?  As this article at Real Clear Politics explains, he is doing something very important:

Jon Corzine -- under federal and congressional investigation following accusations that the securities firm he headed illegally took clients' funds before collapsing -- is among President Obama's top re-election campaign bundlers, raising at least $500,000, according to the campaign’s filing Friday with the Federal Election Commission.
Corzine, the former New Jersey senator and governor, and former head of Goldman Sachs, is among 127 individuals (dubbed “volunteer fundraisers” in the parlance used by Obama’s Chicago campaign) credited with raising more than $500,000 through the first quarter of 2012.'
You would think the President who screeches about how rich people aren't playing by the same rules as the rest of us would be embarrassed by this.  But why would he be?  Who is going to make a fuss of it?  I found this interesting piece over at Democratic Underground, where Democrats write who are so far left that they actually believe Obama's rhetoric:
After all, I learned all about MF Global and Corzine right here on DU. Obama gave money back but now he's taking the money from him? Democrats talk about this everywhere. Who's money is this? It's workers! Why is this going on? There are several sources for this, but dems are getting attacked for asking about this. One dem I know wrote this back after being attacked for sending out "right wing" news sources! 
Democrats were told in the Fall Obama was going to return the bundled money from is obvious by Obama's own "current " financial report..the money was not returned! 

This ABC story is the first I have seen from any MSM ! 
And yet anyone can go to Obama's web site..and look at the campaign finances..and scroll down to the highest bundlers...and see Corzines name on the 1/2 a million dollar bundler list! 
When one has an open investigation for fraud and lying to congress..and having lost 6.3 Billion Dollars of investors money..there damn well should be questions about this!! 
Money lost was pensioner's money..and it was illegally gambled! 
There are new emails produced ..and under investigation..of Corzine lying to congress! 
The Reason I have always been a because we "USED to be different " than Republicans..we didn't steal pensioner's money..we protected it!  
 I think this guy was deluding himself thinking that there used to be a big difference there.

Over at Rolling Stone they are comparing Corzine's ability to get away with this to George Zimmerman...but not a word mentioning that Corzine is a major Democratic fundraiser and politician, which might explain why he is getting away with it.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Walked All Over D.C....

I am very close to crippled.  I can't believe how much my ankles hurt.  Is there something special about D.C. concrete?

I took the Metro from Ronald Reagan International to the Mount Vernon Square station, which was only a couple of blocks from the Henley Park Hotel.  But of course, I am not used to the peculiar system of grids, spokes, squares, and circles that is the D.C. road system.  The flag A is where the hotel is:

The Metro station is on 7th St, on the right lower side of Mount Vernon Square.  I was looking for Massachusetts Avenue--and when I walked north, I saw Mt. Vernon Place, but I didn't see Massachusetts Avenue (which essentially ceases to exist in Mount Vernon Square).  After a few blocks of walking with my bag, in the rain (and not a "light rain," contrary to the forecast), I figured that I was lost.  I looked at the AAA city map (which being a primitive technology, printed on paper, did not show the detail of the scalable Google map above), figured out I must have somehow walked past Massachusetts Avenue, and turned around.

This time I spotted Massachusetts Avenue, and started walking down it...but the street numbers were getting smaller, not larger.  So I turned around, and walked back to Mount Vernon Square.  This time I figured out that Massachusetts Avenue magically reappears on the other side of the square, and found the hotel pretty quickly.  But by this point, I was pretty well soaked, and even my clothes in the duffle bag that was I carrying (to avoid having to check my bag) were damp.

The Henley Park Hotel is a charming historic hotel, built in 1918, but obviously modernized, without losing some of the antique details.  Being right across 10th Street from the Cato Institute makes it a perfect location.  (I want to thank Cato for being sympathetic to the absurd airline schedules that Boise has, and putting me up two nights.  Otherwise, I would have had to get up at 3:30 AM Monday to get there in time, and even this would have been cutting it tight.)

I went looking for dinner after I finished taking a badly needed hot shower, and grabbing the loaner umbrella from my room (a very nice touch that puts a warm spot in my heart for the Henley's management).  I was not keen on eating in the Henley Park Hotel's restaurant, because it looked incredibly expensive and pretentious, and that's not me.  But there was very little that was in walking distance.  There was an Indian restaurant on K street, in the 1100 block, but they were not open Sundays.  There was a sandwich place called Potbelly (the name alone should make you run), but they were closed by the time I passed by.  So I ended up eating in the Henley's pretentious restaurant, the Coeur de Lion.  And yes, it was an expensive meal, but it was also darn impressive.  (If anyone from Cato's accounting department is reading--don't worry, all the rest of the meals that I ate were cheap, even by Boise standards.)

It used to be said that the state bird of Hawaii is the building crane.  Every time I go to D.C., that seems to be the case there as well.  (What was it one of the Antifederalists warned would happen if we ratified the new constitution?  All the wealth of America would be sucked into the federal city? Yeah.)  Across Massachusetts Avenue from my hotel was this major construction project:

I'll have more to say in a day or two about my walks around D.C., along with some wry observations about the place.

For Those Who Missed The Cato Institute Event About Stand Your Ground

You can watch it here.

Unfortunately, my wonderful PowerPoint presentation isn't visible on the video.  Here are the slides.

Back From D.C.

One interesting event: on the flight from Chicago to D.C., TSA did an ID check when we boarded the plane--not just at security.  I have never seen this done before, nor had other travelers with whom I spoke.  This was not just a cursory check--they were carefully comparing the picture on the ID to the person, so not security theater.  Admittedly, we're flying into D.C., but I have flown into D.C. before and not seen this done. I suspect that there is something going on at the moment that has them concerned.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

What Is This? Paragliding?

Spring 2012 Horseshoe Bend

Headed To D.C. Tomorrow

The choice was either a 5:40 AM flight (which means getting up about 3:30 AM) on Monday, or taking a 7:48 AM flight on Sunday, and spending two nights in D.C.  As a result, I will have late afternoon Sunday and most of Monday available to do tourist things in D.C.  I'll probably walk down to the Mall, and visit places that I have never actually managed to get to on previous trips, such as the Jefferson Memorial.

Of course, if my adoring fans in D.C. want to go sightseeing with me, it may be an educational experience, although with the hazard that my head may be too swollen to get back aboard the airliner on Tuesday.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Why Gun Owners Should Close Their Accounts With Bank of America

It appears that Bank of America recently told a prominent maker of gunstocks and related stuff that has now branched out into making guns, that they didn't want their business because of this:

McMillan Fiberglass Stocks, McMillan Firearms Manufacturing, McMillan Group International have been collectively banking with Bank of America for 12 years. Today Mr. Ray Fox, Senior Vice President, Market Manager, Business Banking, Global Commercial Banking came to my office. He scheduled the meeting as an “account analysis” meeting in order to evaluate the two lines of credit we have with them. He spent five minutes talking about how McMillan has changed in the last five years and have become more of a firearms manufacturer than a supplier of accessories.
At this point I interrupted him and asked “Can I possible save you some time so that you don’t waste your breath? What you are going to tell me is that because we are in the firearms manufacturing business you no longer what my business.”
“That is correct” he says.
I replied “That is okay, we will move our accounts as soon as possible. We can find a Second Amendment friendly bank that will be glad to have our business. You won’t mind if I tell the NRA, SCI and everyone one I know that BofA is not firearms industry friendly?”
“You have to do what you must” he said.
“So you are telling me this is a politically motivated decision, is that right?”
Mr Fox confirmed that it was. At which point I told him that the meeting was over and there was nothing let for him to say.
That goes both ways.  It's not like Bank of America is the only game in town.

Eco-Terrorists Threatening Us

We know who the active denialists are – not the people who buy the lies, mind you, but the people who create the lies. Let’s start keeping track of them now, and when the famines come, let’s make them pay. Let’s let their houses burn. Let’s swap their safe land for submerged islands. Let’s force them to bear the cost of rising food prices.
They broke the climate. Why should the rest of us have to pay for it?
Obviously, the ideal solution is to get our collective act together and prevent this from happening, but we need a fall-back – a mechanism that puts responsibility for damages on the shoulders of the shirkers and deniers who cause it and profit from it, and we need to build that mechanism before the damages materialize.
Liberals arguing for anarchy.  That makes lots of sense.

Epoxying Carbon Fiber Composite To Aluminum

It appears that there are some corrosion problems with epoxying carbon fiber composite to aluminum. Loctite's Hysol is apparently the preferred method of doing this.

Disability Numbers Going Up

The April 20, 2012 Investors Business Daily reports on the dramatic increase in Americans who are applying for, and receiving disability payments.

A record 5.4 million workers and their dependents have signed up to collect federal disability checks since President Obama took office, according to the latest official government data, as discouraged workers increasingly give up looking for jobs and take advantage of the federal program.
This is straining already-stretched government finances while posing a long-term economic threat by creating an ever-growing pool of permanently dependent working-age Americans.
The article points out that this has multiple causes.  Much of it, of course, is workers who run through unemployment benefits and can't find jobs.  The graph shows a similar increase at the close of the Ford Administration and during the Carter Administration.  Some of it is an aging population and an increase in the number of women in the workforce in the last thirty years.  (There was a time, amazingly enough, when many women were stay-at-home moms and never worked outside the home.)

I would not be surprised if a big chunk of this is related to addiction problems.  I have one relative who has spent most of his life in an alcohol and marijuana haze, dependent on finding women he could impregnate so that they could collect welfare.  (The reforming of AFDC in the mid-1990s put a serious crimp in his lifestyle.)  Now, he collects disability, even though mostly, he suffers from a moral and character disability.  Another person I know has spent most of his life lost in an alcohol fog, which makes it hard to hold even the lowest level jobs.  He's trying to get on disability, too.

But at the core, the problem is a lot of people either can't find jobs, or because they had high paying jobs before, disability is more attractive than working at McDonald's.  I'm not happy about this, but I can understand why the person who used to make $60,000 a year, with benefits, and now has the prospect of making $20,000 a year without health insurance, would find disability payments tempting--comparable pay, without the demanding hours and stress of work.

ABC Has The Picture of Zimmerman's Bloody Head

A new photograph obtained exclusively by ABC News showing the bloodied back of George Zimmerman's head, which was apparently taken three minutes after he shot and killed Trayvon Martin, gives possible credence to his claim that Martin had bashed his head against the concrete as Zimmerman fought for his life.
You have to click through to see what they call "graphic content" but for the generation that went to see all the Saw movies, this is nothing at all.  It does show blood coming from at least two cuts on the back of his head.

If I Had A Dog...

Remember when Obama said that if he had a son, he would have looked like Trayvon Martin?  The "Obama ate dogs when he was young" theme finally meets up.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

I'm Agreeing With Judge Reinhardt of the Ninth Circuit

Watch for those flying pigs!  From the April 20, 2012 New York Times comes a report that the VA plans "to hire about 1,600 additional psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers and other mental health clinicians in an effort to reduce long wait times for services at many veterans medical centers."  Judge Reinhardt--a federal appeals court who seems to never come to a decision with which I can agree--ruled against the government last year on this matter:

And last year, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, based in San Francisco, issued a scathing ruling saying that the department had failed to provide adequate mental health services to veterans.
“No more veterans should be compelled to agonize or perish while the government fails to perform its obligation,” Judge Stephen Reinhardt wrote for the majority. The Obama administration has appealed the ruling.

Not Sure If This Meets Any Legal Definition of Insanity

But it does conform to the less technical "crazy as a loon" standard.  From the April 19, 2012 Guardian, comes this chilling description of Breivik's testimony at his trial:

His original plan for the attack on Utøya was to time his arrival on the island with a visit from Gro Harlem Brundtland, a former Labour prime minister of Norway. Breivik told the court he planned to handcuff her, before "decapitating" her using a bayonet on his rifle and then filming the execution on an iPhone.
"The plan was to chop her head off with [the bayonet] while reading a text and then upload the film to the internet," he said.
Brundtland was his main target, said Breivik, adding that he nonetheless expected everyone else on the island to die. "The objective was not to kill 69 people on Utøya. The objective was to kill all of them," he said, explaining that he planned to scare the campers into the water.
Breivik has previously explained that he intended to be the al-Qaeda of Europe, attempting to drive Muslims out. He sounds like he was definitely in the right mindset for that.

Witchcraft Trials

For the life of me, I can't imagine why anyone would travel to Saudi Arabia.  From the April 19, 2012 Daily Mail:

A Sri Lankan woman has been arrested on suspicion of casting a spell on a 13-year-old girl on a shopping trip in Saudi Arabia.She may face the death penalty as the Middle Eastern country is known to behead convicted sorcerers.     
Police spokesman Mesfir al-Juayed confirmed yesterday that details of the woman's arrest published in local media were correct.      
The daily Okaz reported that a Saudi man had complained his daughter had 'suddenly started acting in an abnormal way and that happened after she came close to the Sri Lankan woman' in a large shopping mall in the port city of Jeddah.   
 'He reported her to the security forces, asking for her arrest and the specialised units dealt with the situation swiftly and succeeded in arresting her,' Okaz said.

Read more:
She didn't cast a spell on the security forces?  Why not?  Was she feeling magnanimous?

Adapting Carbon Fiber Composite Tube To Moonlite Telescope's Blocks

I mentioned previously that Moonlite Telescope's truss tube blocks won't work with tubes with an ID smaller than .625".  There are both cost and weight reasons not to go to a .625" ID tube.  Prices and weight rise rapidly, and finding something that is 58" long (or that I can cut down to that size) limits what is available off the shelf.  (Custom carbon fiber composite of course, is priced accordingly--start with expensive, and multiply.)

The obvious solution is to machine an adapter that uses the standard tubing dimensions that Moonlite Telescope's truss tube blocks expect (1" OD, .050" wall), and adapts to the size of carbon fiber composite tube that I need to get the required lightness and stiffness.  Going with a .625" OD, .553" ID tube gives me a maximum sag for a single truss of .0037" max, or about .0024" for all three working together (plus whatever stiffness is contributed by the top and bottom tubes).

The adapters will look like this:

It starts with a piece of 1" diameter aluminum rod.  I'll bore one end that it has the dimensions for the truss tube blocks.  The other end will be a .63" ID hole.  I can't just screw the set screw to the carbon fiber composite tube, because it will either crack or puncture it.  Instead, there needs to be something to support the tube on the other side.

I will drill a 0.25" hole through the 1" piece of aluminum.  The green piece on the drawing above is a 0.55" diameter aluminum cylinder, which will be drilled and tapped 1/4"-20.  Because the holes in both cases are carefully centered, the center cylinder will provide a space that will accept the carbon fiber composite tube.  The set screw thus locks the tube into the adapter, without putting any great stress on the tube itself.

At the same time, it's only two inches long, so it won't add much weight.

UPDATE: A commenter suggests epoxy to bind the tube to the 0.63" hole.  That has the advantage that it eliminates the need to drill and tap a hole for the set screw, and makes the interior cylinder unnecessary.  The more I think about this, the more I like it.  I might even simplify this by starting from a .625" ID, 1" OD piece of aluminum tubing.  Then all I have to do is bore one end out to .90" ID, and the other to .63" ID.

More Probably Bogus Quotes Showing Up In Print

I ran into this quote recently:
"The democracy will cease to exist when you take away from those who are willing to work and give to those who would not." Thomas Jefferson
I would love to believe that it's real, and I suspect that Jefferson would have agreed with it, but something very interesting happens if you search for it with seem to be no books that contain this quote before 1986, and that is from a book with the unlikely author name of "John Galt."

The website points out the same thing--no evidence for this in any of Jefferson's writings, anywhere.  At best:
It bears a very vague resemblance to Jefferson's comment in a prospectus for his translation of Destutt de Tracy's Treatise on Political Economy: "To take from one, because it is thought that his own industry and that of his fathers has acquired too much, in order to spare to others, who, or whose fathers have not exercised equal industry and skill, is to violate arbitrarily the first principle of association, ... the guarantee to every one of a free exercise of his industry, & the fruits acquired by it.'"
Unfortunately, libertarian and conservative writers have been using this Jefferson "quote" for years now, and it says little for their ability to critically think that they don't bother to verify it.

Look critically at stuff you disagree with, and even more critically at stuff that you agree with most wholeheartedly.