Clayton Cramer's BLOG
Clayton's commentary on news and events of the day. Broadly speaking, I'm a conservative with libertarian sympathies (getting more conservative as my children get older).
Email me at blogmail at claytoncramer dot com. Sorry to be so indirect, but all spambots must die! But they haven't died yet! Include the word spamIamnot in your subject line to make sure that my spam blocker lets you through.
Saturday, April 19, 2008
Picking Up Trash
I went to the Men's Prayer Breakfast this morning at my church to talk about mental illness. My experience is that many people, unless they have studied it in college, or had the misfortune to have family or friends affected, are at best ignorant, and serious misconceptions about mental illness from the popular culture.
Afterwards, a group from the church was headed out to pick trash along Victory Blvd. between Eagle and Cloverdale, since we have taken that on as a responsibility. We put on our orange safety vests, grabbed our safety orange trash bags, and started walking.
I wasn't surprised by the number of empty--or partly empty--alcoholic beverage containers. I think Idaho is one of the states where an open alcohol container is a no-no. (I never bothered to find out because I don't drink.) If you think that you are in danger of being pulled over at night, discarding the beverage probably makes sense. What startled me was the number of cigarette butts I found along the side of the road. Doesn't anyone use an ashtray? It isn't like they are options on cars.
One of the recurring arguments about punishment of crimes is severity vs. certainty. There is a school of thought that says that the certainty of punishment matters more than the severity of punishment. Pretty obviously, a $50 fine for speeding would be a strong discouragement if every single time you exceeded the speed limit, you were pulled over and ticketed. This would probably more reliably stop people from speeding than a $1000 fine that had only a tiny chance of being assessed.
These cigarette butts should be a pretty good indication of this. Idaho Code 18-3906 provides for a $300 fine for littering along public roads. (And amusingly enough, the court may order the defendant to pay $50 of the fine be paid "to the person or persons, other than the officer making the arrest, who, in the judgment of the court, provided information that led directly to the arrest and conviction of the defendant." A finder's fee! Excellent incentive system!)
A $300 fine for failing to put the butt in your ashtray is truly huge--and yet the chance of getting caught and fined--even with that finder's fee provision--is trivial. I don't know anyone who has ever been fined for littering. Pretty clearly, even a $2 fine--if it was nearly certain--would achieve the desired result.
I'm not suggesting that there is any solution to the littering problem (except trying to raise the consciousness of litterers--don't hold your breath), just that this is a reminder that certainty matters more than severity.
UPDATE: A reader reminds me that sometimes these "incentives" have their own set of problems--such as people looking for a way to get rich by turning others in. I would hope that a $50 fee, even for the poorest Idahoan, wouldn't encourage intentional false reporting.
Friday, April 18, 2008
Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed
This is Ben Stein's new movie. I will confess, I had some misgivings going into this that it might be the right's equivalent to Michael Moore's "documentaries." There are aspects of it that seem intentionally mocking key elements of the Moore style. For example, trying to get into the Smithsonian to talk about the retaliation against Richard Sternberg, a scientist who allowed a peer-reviewed piece that mentioned intelligent design to be published in a Smithsonian-affiliated science journal. There's a cartoon about the origins of life casino clearly intended to parody the history of America in Bowling for Columbine.
I also had some nervousness when the opening credits were, very cleverly, added into archival footage of the building of the Berlin Wall. I feared that perhaps this was going to be heavy-handed.
Nope! The first half was actually quite amusing, once we got past the credits, partly because of Ben Stein's deadpan delivery, and partly because the film uses a lot of very funny 1930s movies clips intercut with what otherwise might be excessive numbers of talking heads.
The primary point of the film is that the biological sciences (and to a lesser extent, astronomy) has reached a point of simply refusing to allow any serious criticism or discussion of any alternative models--and interviewed a number of people whose careers have been cut short for raising questions or even, in some cases, simply for pointing out that there are legitimate scientists who suggest that methodological naturalism (the dogma that says that only non-theistic explanations are allowed or even considered) might be a mistake.
Now, I don't know how fairly Expelled portrays all of these incidents. I know that, if anything, they understated what happened to Richard Sternberg. With respect to Guillermo Gonzalez, he is an astonishing superstar of astronomy. That he was turned down for tenure for having argued that perhaps there's some merit to intelligent design claims is certainly a plausible explanation. I would have preferred that Stein at least mentioned the claim that it was because Gonzalez wasn't very good at getting research grants that he was denied tenure. Still, Stein does a nice job where he interviews Gonzalez's former boss. He asked this guy to explain the email he sent to the faction that was trying to get Gonzalez kicked out of Iowa State where he referred to "religious nutcases." It was obvious that the department chair didn't expect Stein to actually ask him about this. I would say in conjunction with Gonzalez's publication history, the most logical explanation for failure to get tenure is the profound contempt that much of the academy has for ideas that even slightly smack of any religious beliefs.
Where the film gets a lot heavier is where Stein points to the connection between Darwinism and Naziism. This is hardly new; Stein does a nice job of using Nazi propaganda films justifying eugenics that are awash in Darwinian terminology. Stein is also fair in pointing out that while Darwinism was a major factor in Nazi racial ideology, it was not the only factor. Certainly, there are big chunks of leftover Romanticism, nationalism, and radical environmentalism that went into brewing up Naziism. But Naziism without Darwinism, as most historians admit, would have been a very different beast. Probably still beastly--but just differently beastly.
Stein also interviews a left-of-center philosopher who does raise some interesting points about how evolution, because it deprivileged man, reducing him to just another animal, fundamentally changed the notion of ethics. Stein interviews Professor William Provine, who is a loud and vigorous atheist, and who argues that evolution inevitably leads to no God, no fundamental ethics, and no free will. In that respect, Provine is right up there with Clarence Darrow, whose defense of Leopold and Loeb, two smart rich kids who murdered a 14 year old boy (probably after raping him) was that they had no choice--they were simply biological organisms driven by biology to do what they did, and therefore not fully responsible for their actions. In light of the role that Darwinism played in Naziism, and the various eugenics movements here in the U.S., one would think, if Provine had any awareness at all of where his idol has taken us before, that he would recognize the dangers involved.
Like any good Michael Moore documentary, there's some scary music in places. But scary music doesn't add much when you are going through one of the T-4 species improvement extermination facilities, and through Dachau.
At one point, the film is trying to give some idea of the enormous complexity of the interior of a cell. The graphics are impressive--but I wish that they had made a bit more of an effort to explain what you are seeing: how DNA unzips; becomes a pattern for creating messenger RNA; how transfer RNA ends up used to manufacture proteins, folds them for a purpose, and then exports it. Unlocking the Mystery of Life does an excellent job with this same subject--but it would have taken a bit of the humor out of what is still fundamentally a film intended to entertain (and maybe do a little educating).
By far the best part of the film is the very end, where Stein interviews Richard Dawkins, the biologist who insists that teaching children about God is a form of child abuse. Dawkins insists that intelligent design is absurd--and then Stein asks Dawkins a few questions which leads Dawkins to admit that perhaps life on this planet was intentionally created by another species, which must have come about because of evolution. And it wasn't like Stein was being very manipulative. Dawkins strikes me as a very angry person--but not necessarily all that bright.
Labels: intelligent design
Another Loss for the ACLU
I mentioned several months back my surprise at seeing an Indiana license plate with "In God We Trust" on it--and that I was surprised that the ACLU hadn't filed suit. There is nothing quite as predictable as the ACLU's willingness to file suits over trivial matters. From the April 18, 2008 Indianapolis Star:
A judge has halted a lawsuit over Indiana's popular "In God We Trust" license plate, ruling the state can sell it without charging an extra $15 fee.Aside from the points that the judge made, I would also point out that if the ACLU chose to sue on the basis that "In God We Trust" doesn't belong on state license plates because it shows a preference for religion, they have a somewhat larger problem in their wallet.
As I have pointed out before, the First Amendment's establishment clause was intended to prevent special preference given to a particular church or denomination. There is simply no historical basis for believing that the intention was to create a separation of church and state, and the evidence is clear that the goal was not to put religion and irreligion on an equal footing.
Labels: establishment of religion
Thursday, April 17, 2008
Corvette Repairs and The Virtues of Living In Idaho
I started the Corvette yesterday morning, and it made a far more...aggressive noise than usual. I found myself wondering if perhaps a rock had punched a hole in the muffler.
So I ran into Big O Tires in Eagle, who are a friendly and helpful bunch. They don't do mufflers, but they ran it up on their rack (no charge) to see what the problem might be. It appears that it might have been hitting a big rock, but it wasn't a hole in the muffler. Instead, the flange where the tail pipe is welded to the cross over pipe (the one that goes up and over the rear axle) was cleanly broken. Big O Tires doesn't do mufflers, but I they recommended Boise Muffler in Garden City.
So I drove down to Boise Muffler. I walked into the shop, and the guy behind the counter, Webb (or maybe he stole Webb's shirt) says, "Clayton, what are you doing here?" I checked--no, my employee ID (nerd tag) wasn't showing. It turns out that he goes to the same church, and he knows me--even though I don't know him. (How embarrassing.)
This Boise Muffler, in spite of the name, doesn't do mufflers, so they sent a few blocks away to the other Boise Muffler. An hour and $30 later, they had welded the parts back together and sent me on my way. I wish everything was this easy!
Big O Tires had pointed out that I wasn't just out of tread on the rear tires--cords were showing! Bad news! But it turns out that there are no Michelin Pilots available anywhere in the U.S. at the moment. They are back ordered for Big O, for Tire Rack--at least 6-8 weeks before the next production run in my size.
Fortunately, since I am a notorious cheapskate, I still had the Goodyear Eagles that came off the rear a couple of years ago. They were sufficiently low on tread at the time that driving in wet weather had become...adventuresome, but they still had tread, so I was reluctant to throw them away. My wife has been begging me to get rid of those tires in the corner of the garage, since I wasn't likely to need them.
Anyway, they still had tread on them--instead of exposed cords! So I had Big O put them on the rear wheels. These should last me at least two to three months, all of which will be dry weather--by which time the Michelin Pilots will again be available.
Wednesday, April 16, 2008
Who Is Keith Russell Judd?
He's one of the choices on the Democratic Presidential primary here in Idaho May 27th--and whether you think Barack Hussein Obama or Mrs. Bill is going to get the nomination, you have to admit that Keith Judd is probably the least likely winner. From the April 16, 2008 Houston Chronicle:
BOISE, Idaho — A federal prison inmate got himself listed on the ballot for Idaho's May 27 primary as a Democratic presidential candidate, the state's top election official said.You don't say.
Labels: Idaho politics
What Does Divorce Cost?
When I was young, there was a joke to the effect that marriage cost $10 and divorce cost $10,000--it would be better if it was the other way around. Since then, no fault divorce laws mean that divorce is often not dramatically more expensive than getting married. Red Ink In Texas points to some of the social costs of having reduced the individual cost:
$112 BillionThe costs aren't just money, either. I fear that in some weird metaphysical sense, easy divorce and its associated baggage has cost our society a bit of its soul as well. When my wife taught at a Christian school in California, we had a chance to see the enormous damage that divorce was doing to kids.
Maybe we can't get the genie back into the lamp. I think that pursuing a restoration of traditional divorce laws, with the current state of our society, would be more destructive than helpful. Some of the problems are economic: a lot of workers can't afford to raise a family on one income anymore.
Some of the problem is consumerism: an unwillingness to say, "We don't need that. And that. And that. And that." And without all those things that require money to support, perhaps one income is enough--or perhaps one and a half incomes is enough.
Some of the problem is selfishness: couples that are too focused on their own wants, and not enough on each other's needs. To fix this is just beyond the capacity of government.
Labels: family values
A Divorce Of Which I Can Approve
This case, unfortunately, wasn't a kooky bunch in a compound in Texas. From AFP:
SANAA (AFP) — A Yemeni court on Tuesday granted a divorce to an eight-year-old girl whose unemployed father forced her into an arranged marriage this year, saying he feared she might be kidnapped.All cultures are equally valid, right? Thanks (I think) to Ann Althouse for bringing this to my attention.
Tuesday, April 15, 2008
The Right Of Self-Defense
This should be a rather uncontroversial idea--that human beings have a right of self-defense--but as I have pointed out before, there are forces that deny that there is any such right--and this seems to be a pretty common sentiment among at least among the most fanatical of gun control advocates.
How early is this right to self-defense articulated in European civilization? Probably pretty early--but I was still quite surprised to see this detailed discussion in Giovanni Boccacio's The Decameron, G. H. McWilliam, trans., 2nd ed. (Penguin Books, 1995), p. 14:
'Dear ladies, you will often have heard it affirmed, as I have, that no man does injury to another in exercising his lawful rights. Every person born into this world has a natural right to sustain, preserve, and defend his own life to the best of his ability -- a right so freely acknowledged that men have sometimes killed others in self-defence, and no blame whatever has attached to their actions.'
Interesting Conversation Today
I had a conversation today with people involved in mental health services in Boise County--such as those services are. What they told me seems inconceivable--unless the objective of Idaho's Department of Health & Welfare Department is to demonstrate the truth of the statement, "Never underestimate the power of stupid people in large groups."
I was told that the rules that Health & Welfare has for Medicaid reimbursement (since states actually administer the Medicaid program) require that mental health counseling must be done in a permanent facility, with at least two counselors, supervised by at least one psychiatrist, also in that facility.
I can somewhat see the point of having a psychiatrist providing supervision for mental health counselors. These rules might make sense in a county of several hundred thousand people. In a county with 7200 people, spread over several hundred square miles, this effectively prohibits Medicaid providing any mental health services in our county--and most others. The density just isn't high enough.
So what happens to patients who are having mental health problems and who are covered by Medicaid (people with very low incomes)? I suspect that they don't get services until they reach the point where they end up hospitalized in Boise. By that point, what was mild depression might have escalated to a suicide attempt--and schizophrenia or bipolar disorder has escalated from something just starting, to something full blown. Before the people I was talking to reached that point, I was suggesting what they want--someone "riding circuit" from town to town on a regular basis. It wouldn't conform to H&W's rules, but it would allow serious problems to be identified before they reach a crisis point.
I'm guessing that there is some legitimate motivation for these rules, and someone either is too stupid to see that they don't make sense in rural Idaho, or too inflexible to work around it. Even if the goal was to save money by preventing poor people in rural Idaho from getting mental health care (and that would mean that there are monsters at work in our state government), I am very skeptical that this even saves any money. A couple weeks in a mental hospital in Boise is going to run well above $10,000. You can pay for a lot of hours of a psychiatrist, psychologist, or counselor for that kind of money--and perhaps short-circuit at least some of those hospitalizations. The money might be coming out of a different budget--but the taxpayers still end up paying it.
There's Has To Be More To This Story
I received an email about this incident forwarded from the person who was ticketed--and which was forwarded to a big chunk of the state legislature as well. I also spoke to the person ticketed a while back, and he told me an abbreviated form of this tale. If as described, there's something dirty going on in state government here. (Forgive me for being surprised.)
He also included a copy of the citation:
How one can be "trespassing" at 8th and State street (at the state capitol) eludes me. There has to be more to this story. Either he wasn't just walking up to the state capitol, or there's some very San Francisco like abuses of power going on.
Labels: Idaho politics
Results of the First Mailing
The first mailing effort was a bit disappointing. I mailed a letter and a flyer to every Federal Firearms Licensee in my district. If you don't know what an FFL is--this is a license issued by the federal government which is required to be either gun dealer, a gun manufacturer, or certain categories of serious gun collectors.
The letter explained who I was, and why it was in their interests to have a nationally prominent gun rights activist representing them in the state senate. My letter emphasized that more useful than contributions would be if they could:
1. Arrange an event where they could invite friends and neighbors over to meet the candidate.
2. Let me know that they would be willing to have some flyers up in their shop.
3. Put up a sign (once those are available).
Of the 28 FFLs in the district, exactly one (Ponderosa Sports, north of Horseshoe Bend) responded. I would think if there was any group that would respond enthusiastically, this would be the group.
Door To Door
Sunday afternoon, I went door to door along the old highway. A lot of people weren't home, it being a beautiful warm spring day, but of those who were, I was very pleased at how friendly the responses were--especially from other California refugees. One of them was overjoyed to hear what I had to say: "I don't want Idaho Californicated." At another home, I was able to introduce myself as the husband of the woman that their dog Lily follows home all the time. At another house, the wife has worked with homeless mentally ill before, and was pleased to hear my emphasis on improving mental health services.
I did meet a Democrat, however. He was friendly enough, and startled to hear me talking about the mental health issue--which he imagined was a Democrat issue. I explained that deinstitutionalization was originally a Democrat issue.
And in case you are wondering why I was spending time talking to a Democrat when I have to win the Republican primary, Idaho is an open primary state. You can vote in either the Republican or Democratic primary. This guy was going to vote in the Democratic primary because there were several contested races there, so he wouldn't be of much help on May 27. And you never know: I might end up persuading a few Democrats to vote for me in the general election.
Labels: Idaho politics
Monday, April 14, 2008
I Am So Surprised
Orin Kerr over at Volokh Conspiracy quotes from a memoir of working for former Supreme Court Justice Goldberg that is astonishingly honest:
What was Justice Goldberg like?This explains a lot about Goldberg's historically ignorant concurring opinion in Griswold v. Connecticut (1965), in which Goldberg used the Ninth Amendment, incorporated through the Fourteenth Amendment, to strike down a very stupid law. The problem, of course, is that the Ninth Amendment was a limitation only on the federal government (not the states), and even the privileges and immunities clause was only supposed to impose the first eight amendments on the states.
If you think there's something really neat about a judge using his own personal view of "What is just?" to decide the outcome of a case--consider what would happen in an alternative universe where the Rev. Fred Phelps wasn't disbarred, and ended up on the bench.
It wasn't just that Griswold was wrongly decided (although I can't complain too much about the result in that case)--but that it opened the door to a series of other decisions that were considerably more destructive to constitutional law, such as Roe v. Wade (1973) and Lawrence v. Texas (2003).
Labels: constitutional history
Tax Day Is Tomorrow
And writing the checks was very, very painful this year.
I wish that I could use this as a basis for denying the legitimacy of income taxes, but I really can't. I don't like them, but the government seems to have plenty of constitutional authority to levy them.
Much of what the federal government does is arguably contrary to the division of powers laid down by the Constitution, but since the vast majority of Americans don't dispute that the federal government should and does have good reason to do nearly everything it does, all I can do is whine about the taxes, and accept them.
I do need to the get the spare house in Boise sold. If you are moving to the area: 2755 square feet; 5 bedrooms; 3 baths; 1/4 acre; granite countertops in the kitchen; built in late 2001. I'll be listing it with my realtor in a month or so.
Obama Clearly Doesn't Understand America Or American History
Perhaps he should be running for President of some other country. Everyone and anyone has been pointing to Obama's remarks at a fundraiser in San Francisco (one of the places that should be expelled from the Union, so that Obama could be its President):
Here is what he said April 6, referring to people living in areas hit by job losses: “[I]t’s not surprising, then, that they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.”Americans cling to guns (in order of importance) because:
1. They hunt.
2. They are concerned about their personal safety.
3. They are aware that if tyranny becomes a problem, this is the only tool that most of them have with which to respond to tyranny.
Americans cling to their religion (in spite of an enormous amount of media efforts to denigrate it) for the following reasons:
1. They believe it to be true.
2. It provides solace in times of extraordinary personal suffering.
And Americans didn't start "clinging" to religion because of the economic downturn. Religion has been a fundamental part of American culture from the very beginning of settlement here. If Obama had even a poor education, he would know that.
Now, I agree that some anti-immigrant sentiment may indeed be related to job losses. But there's nothing irrational about that; when jobs are in short supply, anyone new to a community looking for work is going to be regarded as a problem. It is certainly the case that illegal immigrants, by driving down wage rates, aggravate existing job problems. But there is nothing new about this. Again, if Obama had even a poor education, he would know that this is also part of not only the American tradition, but that of all societies.
Some people think these remarks reflect Obama's lack of understanding of the need to keep his elitist beliefs under wraps, so that the peasants don't see what contempt elitists (the Democratic Party) have for them. That's true. But it also reveals a fundamental lack of understanding of American history, world history, and human nature. Why should someone that ignorant be running for president?
Sunday, April 13, 2008
Guess Who's Coming To Dinner?
The only friend that I have who has a history degree brought his full auto Tommie gun over for dinner this evening. Contrary to the bad reputation that they have for being uncontrollable, it was actually quite pleasant. Firing three to four shot bursts was very easy, and easy to keep on target. Recoil was very pleasant. Even holding the trigger back with the 30 round stick magazines was not a problem--very controllable. Only when firing long bursts with the 50 round drum magazine did I find it starting to climb. I can see (along with the reliability issues) why World War II soldiers preferred the stick magazines over the drums.
My other submachine gun experiences have been an M-11 (an evil, hard to control little beast), an Uzi (maybe comparable to the Thompson, or a little easier to control), and an H&K MP5 (which was definitely easier to control than the Thompson--although not by as much as I expected).
Considering the Thompson is firing a somewhat more powerful cartridge and a heavier bullet--and it is far older design--it is surprisingly effective.
Labels: gun technology