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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.

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Saturday, February 19, 2005

Over at Reflections, Reflections, Alessandra points out that NAMBLA is getting a bit of press again, and the ACLU is busily defending their right to promote child sexual abuse in a Massachusetts case in which NAMBLA is being sued for encouraging the rape-murder of a ten year old boy. This suit isn't new (I'm assuming it is the same suit that I heard about last year). Imagine if a neo-Nazi promoted racism and murder of blacks, and some members of his organization went ahead and did it, even without any direct orders to do so.

Of course, we don't have to imagine it. Such an incident happened, and there was a lawsuit, and the neo-Nazi lost the suit. I still don't think that an advocacy group should be held liable for the actions of followers, without a pretty direct connection between an advocated behavior and the actions of the followers. But I somehow doubt that the ACLU defended the neo-Nazi in that case. Of course, NAMBLA is rather special to the ACLU, for obvious reasons.

Even more troubling is this other blog entry from Alessandra, about a group of NAMBLA members arrested as they prepared to go to Mexico to look for little boys:
LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Eight members of the North American Man/Boy Love Association, including an Orange County minister and two teachers from other states, were arrested in Southern California on charges of allegedly planning to travel to Mexico to have sex with boys, authorities said Monday.

Four men were arrested in Los Angeles, three in San Diego and one in Orange County Saturday, following a sting operation in which each man paid hundreds of dollars to an undercover agent to arrange the sex, the Federal Bureau of Investigation said during a news conference.

The Orange County man, Jeff Devore, is a pastor at the Brea Congregational Church, part of the United Church of Christ. Devore, 53, was charged with distributing child pornography, said FBI spokeswoman Laura Eimiller and was allowed to post bail but it was immediately unknown whether he had done so. A phone call to the church seeking comment was not immediately returned.


The seven arrested Monday included: Sam Lindblad, 56, of Albuquerque, N.M.; Gregory Mark Nusca, 43, of Dania Beach, Fla., also known as David R. Busby or Steven West; Steven K. Irvin, 46, of Pittsburgh, a special education teacher at Carrick High School; Richard Stutsman, 59, of Seneca, S.C., a substitute teacher for a school district in Oconee County; Phillip Todd Calvin, 43, of Dallas; David Cory Mayer, 49, of Chicago, a flight attendant; and Paul Ernest Zipszer, 39, of Deltona, Fla.
The pastor horrifies me, but considering what denomination he is part of, I am not surprised:
The United Church of Christ was created in 1957 with the merger of the Congregational Christian Churches and the Evangelical and Reformed Church. They currently have about 1.5 million members. 1

Congregationalists had an impressive history of opposition to discrimination based on race, gender and sexual orientation. They were the first American mainline/liberal Christian church:
bullet to make the first public declaration against slavery (1700)
bullet ordain a black person (Lemuel Haynes, 1785),
bullet ordain a woman (Antoinette Brown, 1853),
bullet ordain the first openly gay man (William Johnson, 1972), and
bullet ordain the first openly lesbian woman (Anne Holmes, 1977).

In 1973, The United Church Coalition for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Concerns was formed. 7 In 1998-NOV, Rev. Paul H. Sherry, President of the UCC, commented that the coalition "has been a prophetic presence in our church, clarifying concerns, challenging stereotypes, providing leaders for every setting of the church's life, gently and persistently changing hearts and minds, providing a refuge for those who have suffered wounds of prejudice and exclusion in church and society..." 5

In 1975, their General Synod passed a resolution in support of full civil liberties and equal protection under the law to persons of all "Affectional or Sexual Preferences."

In 1977, the Church passed a resolution which "deplored the use of scripture to generate hatred, and the violation of civil rights of gay and bisexual persons and called upon individual members, local churches .... to continue to work for the enactment of civil rights legislation at the federal, state, and local levels of government."
The teachers--oh, joy. A special education teacher wants to go to Mexico to have sex with little boys. This really makes me willing to trust him with developmentally disabled children--but then again, I'm just a bigot about these sort of things.


Big Bertha's Makeover

I mentioned that there was still some work to do on Big Bertha--a bit more than I first expected. As I mentioned (I think), I created a full flotation mirror cell that sits on three 3" 1/4-20 machine screws, with 28 pound springs between the back of the mirror box door and the 1/2" plywood octagon that holds the mirror. Today I added nine 1" diameter furniture glides to provide an airspace between the board and the mirror (thus improving cooling). But where to put those nine supports?

There's a program called Plop located here that uses rather sophisticated techniques to calculate optimum location based on the mirror material, diameter, focal length, number of supports, etc. Of course, all that precision runs into the problem of how accurately I can measure the location of where to put the supports, but it is still better to be off 5% from perfect, than to just guess, and probably not be even close. If it looks like one of the supports isn't quite right, you are probably correct. I suspect that relative to the precision of the mirror and other parts, this is probably the least of my problems. "Measure with micrometer. Mark with chalk. Cut with axe."

Here's the front of the cell, with additional airspace and lightening holes drilled through using a 1.25" wood boring bit. (And yes, it lightened it enough to solve the slight balance problem that the more sophisticated cell had introduced.)

Here's the back of the mirror box assembly, pretty much as it arrived. The difference is that the 1/4-20 screws now use wingnuts for adjustment.

As you can see, what was actually a pretty nice piece of wood has some water damage. If the optics turn out to be really decent, I'll probably spend some time refinishing the wood, and replacing some parts lower down in the cradle that were much more seriously damaged.

Here's the latch that holds the mirror box in place--and it is a far less precise result than I would prefer.

I'll probably replace that at some point with something more repeatable. The problem here is that depending on position, you can get perhaps 1/10th of an inch more opening in some positions than others, and that is going to affect collimation pretty substantially. Over a common range of angles, it won't be that dramatic, but from vertical to horizontal it will be substantial.

The next step was the focuser. I didn't even need my combination square to see that the focuser wasn't square to the tube and, presumably, not square to the optical axis of the telescope. In addition, the focuser was stiff and cranky, which I suspected was dirt, oil, and sludge in the gears, so I removed it.

If you keep a kosher kitchen, you don't use the same dishes for meat and for milk. You should take the same approach to mixing metals in fasteners. Whoever built this made such nice woodwork, but then combined brass screws with zinc coated steel nuts. In the presence of water, this makes a battery, and corrosion. Two of the four screws put up a fight, but eventually came loose. Another one broke in half, and the last had to be removed by the brutal technique of worrying the head off the brass screw with Vise Grips. This has all the subtlety and finesse of stopping a robbery with a hand grenade.

The focuser itself seems to be an older University Optics 2" unit made in Japan. You change it to 1.25" not by putting in an adapter, but by removing the 2" collar and replacing it with a 1.25" collar that screws onto the chrome barrel. Unfortunately, this 1.25" collar, once removed, would not screw back on to the chrome barrel. Careful examination revealed that while the threads were fine, the 1.25" collar had apparently been dropped onto a very hard surface, and was bent on its side, in the threaded area. This was easily fixed by taking a Vise Grip, using the minimum force to get a good grip on the bent side, and twisting slightly. Now it screws on and off like it was new.

I removed the four screws holding the pinion assembly onto the rack, and then removed the tube to which the rack is attached. The gearing was dirty, but some BreakFree cleaned it up nicely. Still, the tube slid in and out of the housing with some effort, especially at the innermost travel. I polished the inside of the housing, used a little BreakFree there--now it isn't quite as smooth and slick as a Moonlight Accessories Crayford focuser, but it is pretty darn good. There's a very, very slight amount of backlash at some points in its travel--if you are looking for it. Of course, after reassembly, adjusting the tension of the four screws is essential to get this feeling silky smooth.

Reinstalling the focuser, I used 8-32 1.5" long stainless steel screws, washers, lock washers, and nuts. The previous design used only nuts on the inside of the tube, which meant that because the tube is Sonotube, the nuts had buried themselves into the material. Using washers prevents this; lock washers keeps them from getting loose; using all stainless steel dramatically reduces the risk of corrosion. These screws are longer than the 3/4" screws that were in there before, but then again, I can remove these if I need to do so later.

Also, I needed somewhat longer screws on at least one side to correct the out of square condition. I did this by adding three washers between the base of the focuser and the tube on the two screw holes closer to the mirror. This means that the focuser is now so close to optically square that I can't quite persuade myself that I have gone too far the other way.

I washed the mirror one more time, and the found the exact center of the mirror. Traditionally I have center dotted my mirrors with a single drop of garish red nail polish, but since I no longer have a teenaged girl living in the house--and my wife's tastes are a bit too mature for anything garish--I had to pick the better solution, which is a white notebook paper reinforcing ring. This gives you a target where if your laser beam doesn't hit dead on, it is obvious. Unfortunately, Target only had these in packs of 544, so I will be able to center dot 543 more mirrors, no problem!

Here's the mirror, with the center dot (just barely visible):

You can also see the nicely fitted box that the mirror was stored in when I received it, as well as the two eyepieces that came with it. One is a University Optics 18mm Orthoscopic in 2" diameter--which is rather unusual. The other looks like some sort of military surplus eyepiece, apparently about 35mm or 40mm focal length.

I finished reassembling everyhing, then pulled out the laser collimator. Everything came together much more quickly this time, and I suspect, when it stops raining, that the images will be much better.

Now that the primary and diagonal mirrors are clean (and the cobwebs are removed from the focuser), I needed to keep it covered. I couldn't find a spare 35mm film canister for the focuser, so I put a Glad Bag over it. A Hefty Leaf & Lawn bag just barely fit over the front of the tube, but most of the bag droops down. My wife took one look at this loose and droopy cover, and asked, "Are you trying to prevent it from reproducing?"

The next step, if the lawn ever dries, will be remove all the glass, and spray paint the inside flat black to reduce internal reflections.


Friday, February 18, 2005
Get The Lead Out

This article is about one of my pet peeves:
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Lead left in paint, water, soil and elsewhere may not only be affecting children's intelligence but may cause a significant proportion of violent crime, a U.S. researcher argued Friday.

He said the U.S. government needs to do more to lower lead levels in the environment and parents need to think more about where their children may be getting exposed to lead.

"When environmental lead finds its way into the developing brain, it disturbs neural mechanisms responsible for regulation of impulse. That can lead to antisocial and criminal behavior," said Dr. Herbert Needleman, a professor of psychiatry and pediatrics at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.

Needleman's team, using a technique called X-ray fluorescence, found very low levels of lead in the bones of children.

Needleman cited several studies that associate crime with high levels of lead either in the bodies of those accused or in the environments they came from, including one that showed the average bone lead levels of 190 juvenile delinquents were higher than those of adolescents not charged with crimes.

His study suggested that between 18 percent and 38 percent of delinquent crimes in the Pittsburgh area could be attributed to lead toxicity in the adolescents.


Taking lead out of most gasoline has contributed to a sharp reduction in the level of lead in the blood of Americans over the past 30 years.

But lead is still found in paint, some types of fuel for older vehicles, older water pipes and in the soil.
I pointed out in August of 2003 in the midst of a discussion of genetics and intelligence, that removing lead from the environment could be about the best public works project imaginable:
One thing we can do immediately, however, is solve the lead paint problem. Lead exposure creates a significant risk of mental retardation; that's part of why the Reagan Administration speeded up the removal of lead from gasoline. There was a study from Australia that clearly demonstrated the risk.

Poor people, especially east of the Rockies, are more likely to live in houses with lead paint in them. Even something as low-tech and low-cost as having the government pay to repaint existing lead-paint homes every couple of years would be a worthwhile effort. It's not as effective as sanding down to bare walls while guys in hazmat suits vacuum up every paint particle, but we could certainly afford to repaint every lead paint house every couple of years--and it would put an enormous number of unskilled and unintelligent workers (likely, the kids who grew up in homes like those) to work--and give them at least some job skills.
It is still a good idea--a long-term investment in reducing violence and retardation in inner cities, and a short-term investment in giving some basic job skills to a lot of teenagers and young adults who are probably unemployed right now.


I Thought The Catholic Church Was Hierarchical

But you wouldn't know it from this article about the continuing pedophile priest crisis. Part of the article indicates a serious effort to fix the problem:
WASHINGTON (AP) - The nation's Roman Catholic bishops said Friday that over the last year they received 1,092 new allegations of sexual abuse against at least 756 Catholic priests and deacons.

Half of the accused priests over the past year had been previously accused of abuse, said Kathleen McChesney, executive director of the bishops' Office of Child and Youth Protection.

Most of the alleged incidents occurred decades ago: 72 percent of the priests were either dead, defrocked or removed from public ministry before the newest allegations were received, McChesney said.

The information came as the bishops released a new national audit of U.S. dioceses to determine how well they've complied with the child protection policy American prelates instituted nearly three years ago at the height of the clergy molestation crisis. Teams of auditors, comprised mainly of former FBI agents, compiled data in visits to dioceses across the country.

The auditors found that more than 95 percent of dioceses have taken the required steps to keep children safe.
The next sentence, however, makes me wonder what's going on. Okay, the dioceses that are "out of compliance" may simply not have completed their plan for out to prevent this in the future, but what's with Lincoln, Nebraska?
Seven dioceses and Eastern rite territories were out of compliance and one diocese, Lincoln, Neb., refused to participate.
One of the big differences between most Protestant churches and the Catholic Church has been the style of governance. Most American Protestant churches have a relatively democratic structure to them. At least in theory, and often in practice, power comes from the members of the church, who delegate operational authority to a board of elders or deacons, who in turn hire the pastor. The Catholic Church's structure is theoretically from the top down. So how does the diocese in Lincoln, Nebraska, get away with refusing to participate? Isn't that rather like an army private refusing to follow orders?

UPDATE: A reader tells me:
A Bishop's immediate superior is the Pope, not the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

They have no more authority over the Bishop of Lincoln, Nebraska, than the National Governors Association has over tthe Governor of Nebraska.

Thus, the formal answer to your question is "It's like an army private refusing to follow orders--from a committee of other privates."

The USCCB didn't even exist until the sixties, after Vatican II. Rome discouraged, or actually forbade, such national conferences, for the same reason the Army doesn't encourage its privates to form Committees of Correspondence.

A quick look at the record of the Bishop of Lincoln, Nebraska suggests that he's an old-fashioned holy terror, of the 1950's model, and if he's not cooperating with the USCCB, it's probably because he insists on setting his own house in order, rather than because he's hiding something.


This Sounds Suspiciously Like A Diet Aid

From Reuters:
NEW YORK (Reuters) - The diners arrived at a nice Manhattan restaurant on a cold February night and stripped off coats, hats, gloves and scarves. They didn't stop there.

Skirts, shirts, pants, underwear and stockings all ended up stashed in plastic bags by the bar as the patrons got naked for the monthly "Clothing Optional Dinner."
What makes this a diet aid?
"It's exciting to be in a restaurant nude," said George Keyes, 65, a retired junior high school English teacher.


Around 30 people arrived for the buffet dinner -- organizers specified no hot soup on the menu -- most of them middle-aged, several married couples, some singles, the youngest perhaps in their 30s.

"They're a good class of people, they're no different to you or I," said John Bussi, owner of the midtown restaurant. "They're not hurting anybody, it's not a wild Roman orgy."
There are so few people that are better looking naked--and very few of them are middle-aged.

Thursday, February 17, 2005
Big Bertha: Continued

I did another star party this evening, at an elementary school this time. My, what little...energetic creatures...2nd to 4th grade boys can be. Girls that age are so much better behaved. Still, there were a lot of well-behaved kids genuinely excited by looking at Saturn and the Moon. The junior high I worked last Saturday has kids old enough to have something more than, "Isn't that cool?" conversations, but at this age, just getting them to see something beyond their own horizons is enough.

When I came home, I replaced the too weak (12 pound) springs on Big Bertha's mirror cell with some 28 pound springs--much improved. There's still some work to be done on collimation, perhaps cleaning the mirror again, and center dotting it, to improve the precision of the collimation, but it is only a little disappointing on image. At 222x, the Moon is still a bit soft; Saturn is definitely disappointing. But I noticed that Saturn was going in and and out focus--this may be a mirror cooling issue still. My mirror cell lacks sufficient ventilation for cooling; it is probably time to cut some cooling (and lightening) holes in the cell.

Anyway, some readers wanted to see this beast, having some trouble imagining it.

You can see why I take the 5" refractor to star parties.


Another Tragedy--And Another Coincidence?

This news article about the conviction of another Catholic priest for molesting a little boy is curious for what it implies:
BALTIMORE (AP) - A defrocked priest was found guilty Thursday of molesting a former altar boy who shot and wounded him on a city street a decade later.

Jurors found that Maurice Blackwell, 58, who did not testify, molested Dontee Stokes, 29, when Blackwell was pastor of St. Edward, a Roman Catholic church in West Baltimore.

The jury convicted Blackwell of three of four counts, finding he abused Stokes in 1990, 1991 and 1992 but acquitting him of a charge relating to an alleged incident in 1989, when Stokes was 13.
This is just tragedy. What's curious is:
In closing arguments Wednesday, the prosecution called Stokes a vulnerable victim who was preyed upon by a trusted father figure. But Ravenell portrayed Stokes as a disturbed young man who made up the allegations to deal with a sexual identity crisis.


Prosecutor Jo Anne Stanton called the allegations that Stokes was concealing homosexual tendencies a "smoke screen."
I've mentioned before the evidence that suggests a connection between childhood sexual abuse and adult homosexuality: surveys that show disproportionate reporting of childhood sexual abuse by adult homosexuals; homosexuals who recognized that early sexual abuse played a part in their becoming that way; and the role that recently convicted child molester (and defrocked Catholic priest) Shanley played in the formation of NAMBLA. Yet there are a lot of people who still pretend that there's no reason to wonder if there might be a connection between childhood sexual abuse and adult homosexuality (at least for some homosexuals).


Torture & The Nightmare Scenario

What happened at Abu Ghraib appears to have been the actions of a few soldiers who justified what they did as necessary for extracting information and maintaining discipline. Whatever rationalizations they came up with later, the evidence suggests that the primary reason was a need for highly stressed and frightened soldiers to blow off steam by venting their rage on prisoners. Our laws do not allow torture of captured unlawful combatants--although they do allow us to make them very uncomfortable, trick them, and take advantage of their cultural discomforts (e.g., making them think that they have come in contact with menstrual blood).

Still, I like to remind people that if the nightmare scenario happened, and law enforcement discovered strong evidence that terrorists had brought, or were bringing weapons of mass destruction into the United States, I have no question that torture would be, and should be on the table--and Instapundit points out that a rather surprising liberal agrees:
Last June, in the immediate aftermath of the Abu Ghraib revelations, Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said at a hearing of the Judiciary Committee, �If we knew that there was a nuclear bomb hidden in an American city and we believed that some kind of torture, fairly severe maybe, would give us a chance of finding that bomb before it went off, my guess is most Americans and most senators, maybe all, would say, �Do what you have to do.��

Schumer added, �It's easy to sit back in the armchair and say that torture can never be used. But when you're in the foxhole, it's a very different deal.�
Torture--defined as initially inflicting great suffering on a person to get them give you information--is a horrifying action to take. It degrades the person inflicting the torture. I would expect that anyone who doesn't react in revlusion at having to inflict torture--even if necessary in a nightmare scenario like the one that Senator Schumer was talking about--should probably be kept in a cage when their unique "talents" aren't being used.

Torture is also notorious for causing people to say anything to stop the pain. Enough torture will get people to confess to crimes committed before they were born. Information obtained by torture should never be used as part of a trial, nor acted upon without some form of corrobation, because it is likely to be unreliable.

Still, what happens if this awful scenario comes to pass, and Homeland Security knows that a nuclear weapon has been smuggled into the United States? The Nuclear Emergency Search Teams can probably find such a weapon, if they know what part of a city to search. Nuclear weapons emit a rather specific radiation signature, unless they are extremely well-shielded. But you need to know what city, and roughly what area.

We certainly should not change our laws to allow torture. As I mentioned yesterday, the law needs to have a bias against certain behaviors, even if there are unusual circumstances where breaking those laws is either tolerable--or even praiseworthy. The common law necessity defense would seem a sufficient argument were a law enforcement officer to be prosecuted or sued for torturing a terrorist for information about the location of a nuclear or biological weapon.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005
Battling Big Bertha

I spent most of the evening building a proper flotation mirror cell for the 17.5" mirror. The strategy was to start with a 1/2" by 24" by 24" piece of birch plywood.

1. Then I cut it down to 20.5" x 20.5" with the table saw.

2. Then I measured the exact center of it.

3. Then I measured where 17.5"/2 put me along the center lines.

4. There I marked places for four supports to hold the mirror in place.

5. The supports I cut out of a 1 1/2" x 2 1/2" piece of oak.

6. I put each block in its appropriate place, clamped it there, and then drilled one hole.

7. Screwed in a #7 x 1 1/2 wood screw.

8. Removed the clamp.

9. Drilled a second hole, to preven the supports from rotating.

10. Screwed in another #7 x 1 1/2 wood screw.

11. Repeat steps 6-10 three times.

12. Made sure the mirror actually fit before screwing down the fourth support. Then discovered that I would have to make the plywood into an octagon with the table saw, to fit inside the back of the square telescope tube assembly.

13. Then I cut four very small pieces of Delrin (the wonder material!) to make mirror clips.

14. I drilled the mirror clips and the supports on the top, and screwed them in place. The Delrin is slippery enough that they can turn, but they don't turn unless pushed.

15. Drilled three holes in the plywood, 120 degrees apart, 5.25" from the center of the mirror, a bit larger than 1/4".

16. Used a 1/2" wood boring bit to enlarge each of these holes in the top 3/16" of an inch (approximately) so that the head of the 1/4-20 machine screws would not be scraping the back of the mirror.

17. Drops the machine screws in, put lock washers on the bottom side of the panel, then tightened down nuts to keep them screws from turning.

18. Put a 12 pound spring (after clipping for length) on each screw, and then put the screws through the holes at the bottom of the telescope mirror access door.

19. Attached wing nuts to the screws on the outside of the telescope mirror acess door.

I was still a little amazed at how far off the collimation was, but with a bit of fiddling, I now have it much better than it was, and the mirror is no longer under stress. It's a little hard to tell when I have it properly collimated. I'm using the LaserMate Deluxe collimator, which projects the image back onto an aluminum screen that you can see from the back of the telescope, but the laser beam is supposed to drop into a little centered hole, and you only see a "spray" of red around that hole. By the time the beam has traversed the full focal length of this monster (about 2000mm, I think) twice, it completely overwhelms the hole.

The image isn't perfect yet--not even close. (Sad to say, not dramatically worse than many Meade and Celestron Dobsonians that I have looked through over the years.) Anything above 111x is still fuzzy. This may be that the springs are too compressed--I should probably use 4" long machine screws, not 3". I'll get those tomorrow, and try again. It may also be that the focuser isn't exactly aligned with the tube. Maybe I need to wait for the mirror to finish cooling. It could even be a lousy mirror, of which Coulter made a few.

I will say this: the phrase "light bucket" was coined for monsters like this. I am impressed, even here in suburbia, how much color the Orion Nebula has at low power, how much color lots of stars are showing (because there's enough light to excite the cones in my eyes), and how much detail the Moon shows, even at 57x. There are many satellites of Saturn visible with this beast--it takes you down a lot of magnitudes!


This Really Bugs Me

I don't have a big problem with living wills. I am not comfortable with suicide, even under conditions of great suffering, and I am even less comfortable with doctors actually assisting with the process--it strikes me that it crosses a line from passive to active killing that I am not sure, especially after the Holocaust, that we want doctors performing. Put me on a jury involving an actual case of a person in extreme pain, with no prospect for recovery, and I would have a very hard time convicting a doctor or a nurse for helping end that suffering. I don't want something like this written into the law, however. There needs to be a bias in the law against the intentional killing of a helpless person, for the same reason that there needs to be a bias in the law against robbery, even if there are rare occasions (at least in America) where a hungry person steals food.

But Terry Schiavo's case really bugs me. I've seen videos of her. If that is a "persistent vegetative state" as her ex-husband claims, then the state governments can save a lot of money, going through the state hospitals for the severely disabled with syringes.

Killing is sometimes unavoidable. Mercy killing is sometimes a tolerable but horrifying action. Terry Schiavo's case is way too far from the circumstances that would make it tolerable if I were sitting on a jury--much less given the weight of judicial action.

That Lawsuit Against The U.S. Government For The Tsunami

An alert reader pointed me to this article which blows the suit right out of the water (assuming that facts matter to ambulance chasers):
Geophysicists frantically worked the phones from the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center in 'Ewa Beach on Christmas night, trying largely in vain to warn Indian Ocean nations of the incoming tsunami disaster.

In vain, because in most of those nations, there is no warning mechanism. Tens of thousands were killed.

"The first thing, when you realize the quake is a magnitude 8, you go, 'Uh!' You feel that gut hit, that this guy is big," said Barry Hirshorn, one of the geophysicists on duty Saturday afternoon. The crisis built as the magnitude was recalculated to 8.5, and then revised to 9. Each upward revision indicated the quake was several times more powerful than the geophysicists initially thought. A magnitude 9 quake is 10 times stronger than one measuring 8.

Just days later, the same officials who tried to sound the alert are brainstorming the establishment of an Indian Ocean tsunami warning system that will save lives when the next tsunami hits.

Does Illness Cause Bankruptcy?

This is probably the first time that I have linked to something by Todd Zywicki over at the Volokh Conspiracy, but it is an important item. Do you remember some news coverage last week about how 50% of bankruptcies were caused, at least in part, by medical problems, and that many of these people had health insurance?

I remember reading those same accounts and finding it troubling. After all, if someone has health insurance, and medical bills can still drive them into bankruptcy, then it isn't just irresponsibility causing so many bankruptcies, is it? Zywicki points out that this is not only contrary to previous research on the matter, but that his analysis of the research casts doubt on the accuracy of the news summaries:
Reviewing the study, it appears that the estimate that 50% of bankruptcy filings are precipitated by a "serious medical problem" cannot be supported based on what that study actually examined.


In fact, the "finding" in this article of a massive rise in medical bankruptcies appears to actually be a result in the way in which medical bankruptcies are counted, rather than an actual change in the numbers. They draw their data from two sources. First, self-identified bankruptcy filers who say that some medical event "caused" their bankruptcy. Second, analysis of "objective" facts on filers bankruptcy papers that find either (1) debtor or spouse lost at least 2 weeks of work-related income because of illness or injury or (2) uncovered medical bills exceeding $1,000 in 2 years before bankruptcy, or (3) debtors who say they had to mortgage their home to pay medical bills (which for some reason they list as an "objective" factor rather than a self-identified factor.

Do these findings support the claim that 50% of bankruptcy filings were caused by a "serious medical problem"?

First, consider the self-identified filers. Among the self-identified factors that are listed as "medical" causes of bankruptcy in Exhibit 2 of the article are the following: illness or injury, birth/addition of new family member, death in family, alcohol or drug addiction, uncontrolled gambling. First, it is surely open to question whether uncontrolled gambling or a death in the family really should count as a "medical" problem. More generally, the category "illness or injury" is very broadly defined in the study, and there is no apparent limit on the time frame over which the illness or injury occurred, or the severity. So classifying all of these factors as medical problems that have "caused" bankruptcy certainly seems open to question.

Second, the "objective" measures from the debtors bankruptcy petitions are, if anything, even more questionable. First, the authors count anything above 2 weeks of lost work income as a "serious medical problem." There appears to be no time frame over which this is measured, nor does it apparently even need to be consecutive lost work. So, for instance, if a restaurant waiter called in sick for 2 weeks or more in some indeterminate period of time prior to filing bankruptcy, this would presumably count as a serious medical problem.
There's a lot more there, but don't take as gospel the claim that large numbers of bankruptcies are caused by medical bills--even for those with health insurance. It does not appear to be so, or at least it is not persuasively proven.

Remember that even assuming honest error on the part of the researchers, remember that there are two groups with a powerful interest in seeing bankruptcy laws kept loose:

1. Lawyers who make their living doing bankruptcies.

2. Activists who want the government to be the medical insurer for all of us, so that no one has to go bankrupt because their medical bills got out of hand.

I am sympathetic to the person driven into bankruptcy by medical bills that exceeded their health insurance. I am even a little sympathetic to someone who was uninsured (foolish as it is) and was driven into bankruptcy. But if the medical problem is "alcohol or drug addiction, [or] uncontrolled gambling"--sorry, no sympathy for those problems. I see no reason to make life easier on people who have made the conscious decision to spend money they don't have on that sort of thing.

There Are Conservative Histories of the United States

I feel a bit better about Regnery not wanting my next book. Especially when I see that they publish history books like this, instead:
Woods is only getting warmed up. Next he comes to the origins of the "Civil War" which, it seems, was pretty much the fault of Northern abolitionists whose writings "seethed with loathing for the entire South" and "only served to discredit anti-slavery activity in the South." You might be wondering about those quotation marks around Civil War. Woods doesn't think that's a proper description of the conflict. He likes "War Between the States," the preferred term of Southern sympathizers. "Other, more ideologically charged (but nevertheless much more accurate) names for the conflict," he adds, helpfully, "include the War for Southern Independence and even the War of Northern Aggression." According to Woods, the war wasn't really about slavery (no mention of the Emancipation Proclamation). It was really about the desire of Northern plutocrats to protect themselves from the threat of commerce being diverted to "the South's low-tariff or free trade regime." He approvingly quotes H.L. Mencken's comment that Union soldiers "actually fought against self-determination; it was the Confederates who fought for the right of their people to govern themselves." Well, not quite all their people. But the plight of African-Americans does not concern Woods any more than it did Mencken. Later on, he expresses disgust with federal desegregation policy in the 1950s and 1960s.

But first Woods gives a Gone With the Wind version of Reconstruction, with evil Republican carpetbaggers trying to rape the virtuous South. He is particularly upset about the 14th Amendment (he claims it was never lawfully ratified) because it barred former Confederates from holding political office. "Thus," Woods laments, "the natural leadership class of the South would be disqualified from office and disgraced forever by having been dishonored in a constitutional amendment." It never occurs to Woods that "the natural leadership class" may have disgraced itself already by holding fellow human beings in bondage.
It appears, from this and other reviews, that Woods is one of those people who has imagined the antebellum South as a proto-libertarian society. I've written before what nonsense this is.

There are conservative histories of the United States. I'm about half-way through Schweikart and Allen's A Patriot's History of the United States. It has an annoying number of typos, a few startling factual errors (although not particularly ideological ones), and a few places where they seem to be unaware of some interesting facts that would back up their ideological view. (For example: free blacks voted in a number of colonies in the seventeenth century, and at least one held office in the Maryland legislature.) A certain amount of this inevitable in any textbook, because no historian is a specialist in everything, and you have to rely on the works of other historians--some of which are going to be erroneous. I presume that the second edition will be much improved (at least, after I give Schweikart my multipage list of corrections and questions).

But there's no romanticizing the Old South, no excuses for slavery, and the descriptions of slavery and the taking of Indian lands are measured and calm, but not at all exculpatory. This isn't just a matter of holding back; what calls itself "conservative" today as a political ideology is pretty close to the nineteenth century's definition of "liberal"--and our counterparts in that time made no excuses for slavery, and were often pretty vigorous defenders of the rights of the Indians.

Where this book is strong is economic history. Where a lot of textbooks treat the Panics of 1819 and 1837 as things that just happen, Schweikart and Allen discuss specific events that caused these economic dislocations, relying on recent scholarship in the field of economic history (one of Schweikart's specialties). This matters, because while Marxians have gone off the deep on this, it is true that economics drives a lot of history. Ignoring economics, or worse, not understanding it, make history seem like, in the words of one of my professor, "one darn thing after another." (His language was slightly stronger than that.)

Really, other than the provocative title and the rather strident preface, there's nothing in this book that I would consider wildly out of the mainstream of American history textbooks. Their discussion of the importance of religion in the early Republic, and the meaning of the First Amendment's establishment clause are probably the most out of the mainstream--and this is an area where Schweikart and Allen are clearly right--and most American history survey texts that I have seen are only a little less blunt than Schweikart and Allen about this.

Drugs Are Bad For You

At the bottom of an article about how hip-hop "artist" P. Diddy is being sued by Random House for failing to return an advance for an autobiography that he never wrote, there is this amusing/amazing aside:
Combs is not the first musician who failed to meet the deadline for delivery of his life's story. Years ago, Mick Jagger received a seven-figure advance to write his memoirs. He eventually returned the money, saying he couldn't remember anything of significance.
You know, for that kind of money, I would expect that Mick Jagger could have written a book just describing all of his groupies, and the publisher would have been overjoyed.


This arrived in my email. It claims:
These are real answers given by children.
Unless someone proves me wrong, I'll buy that!
Q: Name the four seasons.
A: Salt, pepper, mustard and vinegar.

Q: Explain one of the processes by which water can be made safe to drink.
A: Flirtation makes water safe to drink because it removes large pollutants like grit, sand, dead sheep and canoeists.

Q: How is dew formed?
A: The sun shines down on the leaves and makes them perspire.

Q: How can you delay milk turning sour?
A: Keep it in the cow.

Q: What causes the tides in the oceans?
A: The tides are a fight between the Earth and the Moon. All water tends to flow towards the moon, because there is no water on the moon, and nature hates a vacuum. I forget where the sun joins in this fight.

Q: What are steroids?
A: Things for keeping carpets still on the stairs.

Q: What happens to your body as you age?
A: When you get old, so do your bowels and you get intercontinental.

Q: What happens to a boy when he reaches puberty?
A: He says good-bye to his boyhood and looks forward to his adultery.

Q: Name a major disease associated with cigarettes.
A: Premature death.

Q: What is artificial insemination?
A: When the farmer does it to the bull instead of the cow.

Q: How are the main parts of the body categorized? (e.g., abdomen.)
A: The body is consisted into three parts - the brainium, the borax and the abdominal cavity. The brainium contains the brain; the borax contains the heart and lungs, and the abdominal cavity contains the five bowels, A, E, I, O, and U.

Q: What is the fibula?
A: A small lie.

Q: What does "varicose" mean?
A: Nearby.

Q: Give the meaning of the term "Caesarean Section"
A: The Caesarean Section is a district in Rome.

Q: What does the word "benign" mean?'
A: Benign is what you will be after you be eight.


Tuesday, February 15, 2005
Acts of God

Insurance companies have traditionally had clauses that exempted "acts of God" from coverage--and you can't sue God, can you? Well, it appears that the United States is now God, because we are getting sued for the tsunami:
A group of Austrian and German victims of the Asian tsunami disaster are to file a lawsuit demanding that Thailand, French hotel chain Accor (Paris: FR0000120404 - news) and US forecasters prove they reacted adequately to the disaster, their lawyers said.

The suit, naming Accor and the US-run tsunami early warning system in the Pacific as well as Thai authorities, will be filed in a New York district court this week, the lawyers said in Vienna.

'We found that serious lapses were committed,' said Herwig Hasslacher, one of the three lawyers for the group.

They said the suit was not, at present, designed to demand compensation but to uncover evidence that would prove negligence.
The allegation is that the U.S. government's tsunami warning system--which only covers the Pacific--should have warned Indian ocean governments.

You know, I really do believe that the U.S. has a moral obligation to bring light and liberty to places like Iraq, North Korea, and Berkeley, but why is it (other than greed) that lawyers think that the U.S. government's failure to warn other governments about an act of God makes us responsible?

UPDATE: It just occurred to me that there is a wonderful opportunity for some European ambulance chasers. Sue the U.S. government for failing to invent a time machine so that it could be used to prevent the Black Death from devastating Europe! Think of the pain and suffering claims of the 30 million Europeans that died! Think of the compounded interest on the value of those claims brought up to the present day!

Big Brother? Stupid Big Brother!

This article talks about how California is considering taxing drivers by the mile, because hybrids and other cars that make minimal use of gasoline aren't paying their fair share of fees for road repair and construction:
Officials in car-clogged California are so worried they may be considering a replacement for the gas tax altogether, replacing it with something called "tax by the mile."

Seeing tax dollars dwindling, neighboring Oregon has already started road testing the idea.

"Drivers will get charged for how many miles they use the roads, and it's as simple as that," says engineer David Kim.

Kim and his team at Oregon State University equipped a test car with a global positioning device to keep track of its mileage. Eventually, every car would need one.

"So, if you drive 10 miles you will pay a certain fee which will be, let's say, one tenth of what someone pays if they drive 100 miles," says Kim.

The new tax would be charged each time you fill up. A computer inside the gas pump would communicate with your car's odometer to calculate how much you owe.
Privacy advocates are understandably concerned about this, because information about where you drove might be accessible. But you know, California already has a mandatory biannual smog inspection in most urban counties. During that inspection, they record your mileage. They already have the information that they need to calculate a road tax. There's no need for more technology. For the counties that do not have the biannual smog inspection, it would be a trivial matter to do a biannual mileage inspection. It is already a criminal offense to tamper with the mileage readings on a car--and this method solves the legitimate concerns of privacy advocates. (It wouldn't help with the other goal--peak use fees to discourage traffic congestion. As if driving in a Los Angeles traffic jam isn't enough discouragement already!)

However: if they are going to use a mileage tax, it needs to replace the gasoline tax. Right now, I pay more gasoline tax per mile than my wife because my Corvette wants super unleaded, and I pay an extra twenty cents a gallon for super unleaded--even though I don't put any more strain on the roads than my wife's Malibu.

More About The Super HIV Strain

It appears that part of what is promoting the spread of what seems to be an especially virulent strain is the combining of meth, Viagra-like drugs, and high promiscuity. The meth causes increased sexual desire; the Viagra class of drugs provide the ability to act on that desire; the intrinsically risky nature of anal sex, and the high promiscuity of at least one subset of gay men spreads the disease.

Now, ideas for controlling the spread of AIDS--ideas that used to be considered reactionary signs of homophobia--are being openly discussed by some parts of the gay community:
fter all the thousands of AIDS deaths and all the years of "Safe Sex Is Hot Sex" prevention messages, it has come down to this: many gay men who know the rules of engagement in the age of AIDS are not using condoms. As news of a potentially virulent strain of H.I.V. settles in, gay activists and AIDS prevention workers say they are dismayed and angry that the 25-year-old battle against the disease might have to begin all over again.

While many are calling for a renewed commitment to prevention efforts and free condoms, some veterans of the war on AIDS are advocating an entirely new approach to the spread of unsafe sex, much of which is fueled by a surge in methamphetamine abuse. They want to track down those who knowingly engage in risky behavior and try to stop them before they can infect others.

It is a radical idea, born of desperation, that has been gaining ground in recent months as a growing number of gay men become infected despite warnings about unsafe sex.
I've mentioned before that gay men are considerably more promiscuous than straight men. Not hundreds of times more promiscuous, but perhaps 1.5x to 4x as promiscuous as straight men--and the exponential growth nature of how a communicable disease spreads means that doubling the number of different sexual partners octuples the number of people that get infected with an STD. Because anal sex is especially successful at spreading AIDS, and because anal sex between men provides an especially effective mechanism at spreading AIDS (women don't pass AIDS to men anywhere near as well as the other direction), the utterly out of control promiscuous homosexual male subculture is spreading AIDS at really frightening rates.
Other ideas include collaborating with health officials in tracking down the partners of those newly infected with H.I.V. At the very least, these advocates say, gay men must start taking responsibility for their own, before a resurgent epidemic draws government officials who could use even more aggressive tactics.

"Gay men do not have the right to spread a debilitating and often fatal disease," said Charles Kaiser, a historian and author of "The Gay Metropolis." "A person who is H.I.V.-positive has no more right to unprotected intercourse than he has the right to put a bullet through another person's head," he said.

While not endorsing specific strategies, even mainstream organizations like the Gay Men's Health Crisis support the idea of trying methods that would have been anathema a few years ago. "It makes a community stronger when we take care of ourselves," said Ana Oliveira, the organization's executive director, "and if that means that we have to be much more present and intervene with people who are doing this to themselves and others, then so be it."
Not surprisingly, the crowd trying to get same-sex marriage imposed from the federal bench aren't happy about this:
"We don't want public health vigilantes going out and taking matters into their own hands, particularly if it means breaching the confidentially and civil rights of people with H.I.V.," said Jon Givner, the director of the H.I.V. Project at the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund. "Frankly, I find it pretty scary."
And watching people destroy others by negligently infecting complete strangers with AIDS isn't pretty scary? This sounds like something Rev. Fred Phelps might say--that we shouldn't intefere with gay men destroying each other.

I don't know where this statistic in the article comes from, and there is reason to be skeptical of it--but remember, this is out of a New York Times article, a newspaper that is as gay-friendly as any mainstream newspaper in America--but if this is accurate, my assertions about the damaged nature of homosexuals (at least, as an average statement about a population) are confirmed:
That frustration has been ratcheted up by the growing popularity of crystal meth in New York, which many say has led to an abrupt increase in unsafe behavior and a spate of infections. Although exact figures are difficult to determine, a recent survey of gay men found that 25 percent had tried crystal meth in the last few months.
If you want to destroy yourself in a big hurry, there are few intoxicants besides toluene abuse more effective at doing so.

Okay, maybe your gay faculty colleagues aren't like this. But they are likely to be pretty atypical in a lot of other respects as well. The evidence is pretty clear: there is something terribly, terribly broken among a very large fraction of gay men. You can find plenty of examples of gay men who aren't doing orgies, random sex, and dangerously crazy drug abuse. (Some are even regular readers of my column, to my surprise.) But you can't keep ignoring that, on average, gay men are profoundly different from straight men in their notions of acceptable risks when it comes to sex. (And the average straight man isn't exactly the gold standard when it comes to be sensible about this sort of thing.)

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Affirmative Action & Ward Churchill

I mused a few days ago (and I rambled a bit) about affirmative action, Professor Ward Churchill, and his false claims to being an Indian. Here's an article by another Colorado University professor who supports affirmative action, but agrees that Churchill is a reminder of what happens when diversity pandering takes precedence over everything else:
The privileges created by tenure are supposed to insulate faculty from political pressures in general and censorship in particular. Yet those of us in the academy, if we were candid, would have to admit that few places are more riddled with the distorting effects of politics and censorship than university faculties.

Academics claim to despise censorship, but the truth is we do a remarkably good job of censoring ourselves. This is especially true in regard to affirmative action. Who among us can claim to have spoken up every time a job candidate almost as preposterous as Churchill was submitted for our consideration? Things like the Churchill fiasco are made possible by a web of lies kept intact by a conspiracy of silence.

The University of Colorado hired Churchill onto its faculty because he claimed to be an American Indian. Anyone who has the slightest familiarity with research universities can glance at his r�sum� and state this with something close to complete confidence.

Churchill thus represents the reductio ad absurdum of the contemporary university's willingness to subordinate all other values to affirmative action. When such a grotesque fraud - a white man pretending to be an Indian, an intellectual charlatan spewing polemical garbage festooned with phony footnotes, a shameless demagogue fabricating imaginary historical incidents to justify his pathological hatreds, an apparent plagiarist who steals and distorts the work of real scholars - manages to scam his way into a full professorship at what is still a serious research university, we know the practice of affirmative action has hit rock bottom. Or at least we can hope so.
Professor Campos, please stop holding back. What do you really think about Professor Churchill's qualifications?
As someone of generally liberal political inclinations, I support affirmative action in principle. (And I have surely benefited from it in practice: My parents came to this country from Mexico in the year of my birth, and I spoke no English when I started school.) In theory, the argument that aggressively seeking out persons of diverse backgrounds can enrich the intellectual life of the university has great force.
Yup. I also support at least the original concept of affirmative action--that employers, if they find that they are failing to hire minorities in proportion to their representation in the hiring population, should ask questions and make sure that the hiring managers are not either subconsciously or intentionally refusing to hire qualified minorities. That doesn't mean giving preference to minorities, and it doesn't mean refusing to consider equally or more qualified white males (as I have seen done by government contractors).

Monday, February 14, 2005
Big Bertha

My wife is getting ready to teach a World War I Literature class next month at George Fox University, so she has taken to referring to the latest addition to our garage as "Big Bertha." Yes, it does look rather like a cannon.

I reached the point where I plopped the mirror into the scope this evening, constructed a rolling base for it (I am in the telescope caster business, after all), and rolled it out into the driveway. From the noise it made, its inertia, and the growling noise it made, I found myself thinking of Edward I's "Warwolf," a great trebuchet used against the Scots.

The mirror was closer to collimated than I would have expected, but it is too far back in the tube to get eyepieces to focus. I think I am going to have to construct something a bit more formal in the way of a mirror cell for this beast. Still, the amount of light it gathers on the Orion Nebula (M42) is quite astonishing.


Caster Assemblies Taking Off

I have just about run out of casters, so I had to order another case of 60--which meant I got a pretty decent price break. I still haven't found an adequate supplier of the round plastic 2.25" rod assemblies with the 30 degree cuts--and I would consider using this same assembly in aluminum, if you want to be a supplier, and can offer a good price.

I've had to raise the price of the G-11 sets to $90 to cover the materials costs. Experimentation demonstrated that the leg inserts had to be a bit longer than I originally thought.

Business Opportunity

No, I'm not from Nigeria, and I'm not the son of a recently deceased head of state, and there aren't millions of dollars available if you just give me your credit card number. The scale of the telescope accessory manufacturing operation is becoming large enough that I need to start subcontracting work out. Adam Smith's example in The Wealth of Nations involved a pin manufacturing plant, and all the examples of specialization of labor apply here.

What I need made: a bunch of 2.25" diameter rods, 4" in length, cut at a 30" degree angle. (Scroll back a few days and you will be able to see an example of the bent cylinder that I need made.) The two faces will be parallel. This isn't high precision work--if the length is +- 0.1", and the diameter is +-0.05", that's fine. It is important that the two cut 30 degree faces be parallel enough that an eyeball examination won't reveal a problem. I would prefer black nylon, or some other plastic of roughly comparable strength. There's no real load on this part, but it does need to be tough enough for me to drill and tap it.

Initial quantity: 30, but this could become a regular source of income for your home workshop, if everything works out. Quote me a price including UPS ground delivery.

Sunday, February 13, 2005
I Guess I'm Not Getting Enough Hate Mail

One of the professional historian email lists that I am on is History of Slavery. In the midst of a discussion about the use of the legal precedents associated with slavery and miscegenation laws to attack state laws concerning same-sex marriage, one participant observed:
I know the anti-abortion movement is fond of invoking Dred Scott, as President Bush did in one of the debates, but I have never understood how they see the two issues as related.
My response:
A lot of why my sympathies on the current issue have changed is because of Nat Brandt's The Town That Started The Civil War (about the Oberlin Rescue and subsequent trial), and my own readings of slavery related arguments of the time.

Anti-abortionists see the two issues as analogous (not related) because of the following astonishing similarities:

1. On one side was a group that invoked the Constitution as their justification for what they did, and the Dred Scott case took what had been a state option (whether to recognize slavery) and required it be recognized nation wide, regardless of local beliefs.

2. Slave owners also argued that they maintained the institution of slavery not just for their own benefit and convenience, but also for the benefit of the slaves--for example, Fitzhugh's Cannibals All! (1857). (The modern analogy is: "to prevent child abuse.")

3. Also, as opposition to slavery grew, and it became increasingly difficult to win convictions from juries in state courts that often shared sympathy with abolitionist concerns, slave owners decided that the full power of federal law would have to be brought to bear, with the extraordinary heavy punishments of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 imposed through the federal courts, relying on urban juries, often heavily Democratic. (Modern analogy: FACES, which while it applied to more than just abortion clinics, was passed for that reason, and relies on extraordinarily heavy fines to deal with civil disobedience actions that, under state laws, had seldom caused great hardship to those blockading clinics.)

4. The slave owners, especially at the regional level, controlled one particular political party on the eve of the Civil War. (Modern analogy: Blue States, Democratic Party.)

On the other side was a small group of largely, although not exclusively, religious fanatics who believed a number of things (although not all abolitionists believed in all these ideas):

1. That the laws of God take precedence over the laws of men.

2. That states should have the authority to prohibit a practice if a majority disapproved of it.

3. That the slave holder argument that recognized that slaves were persons but "not parties to our social compact" was a form of sophism.

4. That civil disobedience, and even killing in defense of the rights of slaves was not only permissible, but morally obligated. At the extreme ends, you had deranged sorts like John Brown, killing anyone that they perceived as promoting an evil system.

5. A few argued that the Constitution did not justify slavery because it was never explicitly mentioned. That's an absurd reading of the Constitution. Other abolitionists, such as Garrison, recognized that the Constitution provided for slavery, and regarded it an evil institution for that reason.

6. Eventually, these abolitionists coalesced into what became the Republican Party, along with several other significant political factions, not all of whom shared the abolitionist zeal for getting rid of slavery.

Another obvious analogy between the two struggles is that in a number of states, such as California, killing an unborn fetus is a felony--except if you are a licensed physician, and are doing so at the request of the mother. See California Penal Code sec. 187:
187. (a) Murder is the unlawful killing of a human being, or a
fetus, with malice aforethought.

(b) This section shall not apply to any person who commits an act that results in the death of a fetus if any of the following apply:

(1) The act complied with the Therapeutic Abortion Act, Article 2 (commencing with Section 123400) of Chapter 2 of Part 2 of Division 106 of the Health and Safety Code.

(2) The act was committed by a holder of a physician's and surgeon's certificate, as defined in the Business and Professions Code, in a case where, to a medical certainty, the result of childbirth would be death of the mother of the fetus or where her death from childbirth, although not medically certain, would be substantially certain or more likely than not.

(3) The act was solicited, aided, abetted, or consented to by the mother of the fetus.
This isn't a dead section of the code, either. I can remember seeing two sheriff's deputies convicted under this provision for calling in a false report of a disturbance so that they would have probable cause to kick in the door and search for drugs. In the ensuing disturbance, they shot a pregannt woman in the belly, causing the death of her fetus. (No drugs were found.)

What makes killing a fetus lawful if the mother wants it, but not if she doesn't? One obvious answer is: the mother owns the fetus. The analogy to the status of slaves should be obvious. In theory, a slave owner didn't have the right to kill a slave, except in self-defense or to prevent escape; in practice, by the mature phase of slavery, a slave owner might as well have had this right in theory, because they largely had it in practice.

Historical analogies are not always the best way to decide questions of public policy, but I do find the analogy very striking--and there's nothing bizarre about pro-life forces finding the analogy powerful.


Cutting Round Stock

Yesterday was spent cutting 2.25" round nylon for telescope caster assemblies--much harder than I thought it would be. When you are cutting rectangular stock, it's easy to clamp it down to a miter saw to keep it from moving. With round stock, a conventional clamp won't hold it securely. I wasn't happy with the quality of the cuts that I made on some units, so I spent far more time than I can afford for production work recutting the leg inserts. I'm still not completely pleased, but it is now in the realm of "not very pretty" as opposed to, "I can't ship that."

Anyway, after asking questions at Home Depot, I found that the best solution was to buy a 2.25" hole saw, and then cutting a hole in a big chunk of oak. Then I cut the 2.25" hole into two semicircles. The round stock fits into the semicircle, and the flat edge gives me something for the C-clamp to hold onto tightly.

Fun & Games With The 17.5" Reflector

It turns out that I don't need to replace the mirror cell, at least not immediately. Like a lot of Dobsonians built slavishly to a cookbook, this used three three-point pads attached to 3/8" bolts that stick through the bottom of the mirror box, two side blocks to position the mirror east and west, and a sling to hold the mirror in position north and south. John Dobson's original design was driven by the need to keep costs down, and to build from junkyard components--there are better ways to do this, even on the cheap.

Anyway, I removed the sling, added two more blocks to position the mirror north and south, and then replaced the 3/8" bolts which had detached from the pads with 1/4" bolts, wingnuts, and springs. The 1/4" bolts are epoxied to the back of the pads. Now the adjustment screws are free to move a little, taking tension off the connection to the pads (perhaps why they had detached). I'm a little concerned that these springs aren't going to strong enough to hold up the mirror--it is very heavy, even though it is a thin mirror. I squeezed a couple of fingers pretty good returning it to the storage container.

I also removed the diagonal mirror, and cleaned it--although it was surprisingly clean, considering the number of insect bodies and spiderwebs elsewhere in the tube. The diagonal mirror for a telescope this size is huge.

The finder was a reasonably nice University Optics 8x50mm, head in place by a homemade wooden dovetail. unfortunately, nothing held it in place except gravity and hope, so I drilled a hole in the side of the dovetail receiver, and added a thumbscrew to hold it more securely, and more repeatably.

The person who was storing this behemoth got away on vacation before I noticed that the ground board was missing. It may be in his shed still, or it may have been lost. No matter. I bought a 24" x 24" x 1/2" piece of flooring grade plywood to use as a ground board. A little sanding, and a hole drilled, and it seems okay. I probably need to put a sheet of Teflon on it to reduce friction adequately, but for initial optical quality testing, it is good enough.

I was going to respray the interior of the tube flat black, but that has to be done outside on the lawn--and it is now raining.


David Garrow's Review of Past Imperfect

From the Wilson Quarterly--well worth reading in full, for its discussion of both the plagiarism scandals of historians, and the even more troubling matter of Michael Bellesiles's Arming America:
Past Imperfect offers an exceptionally astute survey of recent trends in the history profession, and Hoffer�s subtle argument is that the more politically engaged �new history� that has emerged over the past 35 years almost inevitably led to the flock of scandals. It did so in two separate but related ways. First, as the profession became more politicized, and as the major professional organizations took on a more �distinct ideological cast� and moved leftward, a collective desire to make scholarly activity more politically relevant became increasingly pronounced. Hoffer sees the Bellesiles case as one deplorable result; during the Clinton impeachment battle, the embarrassingly partisan behavior of some historians, most of whom had no professional expertise concerning impeachment, was another.

Second, the evolution of the discipline away from the tastes of most nonprofessional readers encouraged the growth of �popular history� as a publishing phenomenon with few ties to the academy. Authors such as Doris Kearns Goodwin and the late Stephen Ambrose may have Ph.D.�s and even university affiliations, but the conception and marketing of their books is a commercial enterprise, not a scholarly one. Their �immunity from close professional scrutiny,� Hoffer explains, has further encouraged the absence of originality in most mass-market works.


Hoffer ends his impressively intelligent book on a pessimistic note. From 2002 until 2004, he served in the Professional Division of the American Historical Association (AHA). Long responsible for adjudicating accusations of professional misconduct against historians, the division had considered serious allegations in the early 1990s that a less-noted popular historian, Stephen B. Oates of the University of Massachusetts, had committed plagiarism in his biography of Abraham Lincoln. Oates challenged the association�s authority to adjudicate the charges against him, and the AHA held back from issuing an explicit verdict on Oates�s guilt.

Hoffer says that, even a decade later, the association�s handling of the Oates case �was still an embarrassment to the Professional Division,� and in mid-2003 the AHA shamefully decided to discontinue review of any professional misconduct charges against his�tor�ians. Hoffer blames this �retreat from professional responsibility� on historians� �un�willing�ness to act in cases of misconduct.� The AHA rhetorically proclaims a strong commitment to professional integrity, but its �hypocritical refusal to enforce ethical precepts,� Hoffer writes, gives the lie to that declaration.