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Saturday, April 29, 2006

Andrea Clark And Futile Care Laws

Andrea Clark is a patient at St Luke's Episcopal Hospital in Texas. She is very ill (endocarditis) and on a ventilator and dialysis. The hospital's bioethics committee voted to invoke the "futile care" law and remove her from the ventilator and dialysis, which action will certainly kill her. Her family is desperately fighting to save her. The latest news is that she is doing better, and has a reprieve until Tuesday:
Andrea is quite ill still, but there seem to be signs that she's on a path to getting at least slightly better. Her white cell count is normal for the second day in a row, and that hasn't been true in a long time. Her blood pressure is still too low, a sign that her heart is pretty weak from the infection and all, but her meds have been lowered, which is a good sign. Her lungs are also finally clear for the first time in months. In other words, she's still very ill and in the intensive care unit but doing much better than she was doing even just three days ago.

There's a new doctor in the mix now who is reviewing her case and helping the family know what's going on and how to deal with the hospital. He's of the opinion that Andrea isn't out of the woods yet but doing better than had been reported.
Democratic Underground threads: One, Two, Three, Four. Previously Andrea's sister, Melanie, had reported that Andrea had been sedated to the point of unconsciousness. One wonders if all the media attention hasn't produced a few treatment modifications. If you have faith, you might believe that all those praying for her did. Then there is the very real possibility that she is turning the corner, and may continue to improve.

Beth of My Vast Right Wing Conspiracy has been very active in the battle. For her pains she is now banned from DU. I knew this would happen - the right-to-kill crowd is pretty strident over there and are probably appalled to see a strong joint left-right coalition forming on this issue. Beth has a superb contact list available here, and links to other sources here.

Hyscience points out the irony that a supposedly faith-based hospital would do this. Weeell, there's faith and there's faith; I have previously written about why I abandoned the Episcopal Church. Nonetheless, even the Catholic church maintains that one need not take extraordinary measures to prolong the life of a dying person. No faith requires this.

But is Andrea Clark dying? That is the question with an uncertain answer, unless the bioethics committee renders it certain, and it is the problem with futile care laws. As(edited to fix name) Wesley J. Smith notes:
For years I have been warning that bioethicists are getting their ducks in a row to permit them to refuse wanted life sustaining treatment that is removed because it keeps the patient alive, not because it doesn't provide medical benefit. These are value judgments, not medical determinations.
Note that the treatment is apparently being removed because it works, not because it doesn't--which means, in effect, that the hospital ethics committee has declared the patient's life to be futile.
And expensive. Let us not forget expensive! This is all about money, isn't it? I doubt that human beings can handle such distinctions made in such a way ethically. Maybe this is something we should just concede. It is true that some treatments are very unlikely to help some patients - but it is also true that when you start to withdraw life-sustaining treatments because you have made the judgment that a particular life is no longer worthy of them that you have stepped into dangerous territory.

Andrea Clark's case is not about choice. According to her family, she had clearly expressed the wish that she wanted to continue these treatments. Andrea Clark's case is about who makes the decision to withdraw treatment, and when, and for what reasons. Andrea Clark's case may be about whether hospitals are deliberately oversedating patients they want to remove, since heavy sedation for a patient with breathing problems and heart problems can definitely kill the patient, or it may not, because in some cases sedating a patient allows enough rest for the patient to improve.

The chronicle of the case in the Democratic Underground threads is interesting, because it brings up questions of the varying opinions of doctors and the role of the insurance company. However, if you read them I would like to make a few points to offset some of the flat untruths in the threads:

Terri Schiavo was never brain dead until she was killed. There was a real question of whether she was in a PVS state, and the autopsy could not confirm whether she was or she wasn't. The doctors in the Andrea Clark case are unlikely to be the villains; there is so much unknown in medicine that certainty often only emerges from autopsies. Most states have some sort of futile care laws or standards. Texas did not come up with this concept on its own, and George Bush vetoed the first draft of the Texas futile care law and was active in negotiating for a longer grace period. In many cases, courts have been the leaders in instituting "futile care" standards. Take, for example, this Massachusetts ruling in 1995:
Miss Gilgunn's lawyers, led by Donald E. McNamee of Boston, said the case was about how society treated its most vulnerable members, people like Mrs. Gilgunn who could not speak for themselves.

Frank E. Reardon, a lawyer for the hospital, countered that the case was about the limits to patients' rights, and whether doctors and hospitals should be required to provide care that they believe is futile and only prolongs the process of dying.

"I guess the real point," Mr. Reardon said in a telephone interview yesterday, "is that in very rare instances, particularly in situations at the end of life, where medicine simply cannot hold off death, that physicians can't be required to do things that they feel would be inappropriate and harmful to the patient."
Dr. Sherwood Gorbach, chairman of the ethics committee at New England Medical Center in Boston, said the ruling was "enormously important." He said that virtually every week doctors at his hospital were confronted with families who demanded care that doctors thought was futile.

"We have all kinds of permutations of this main theme -- the conflict between doctors wanting to do what is best for their patients and not provide futile care and prolong suffering when families want to carry on," Dr. Gorbach said.
Note the contradiction in the article. The "very rare cases" according to the lawyer are encountered "virtually every week" according to the doctor. What was true in Massachusetts in 1995 is true in Texas in 2006; Andrea Clark's situation may well have a direct effect on the life of someone in your family. All socialist health care systems do ration treatment in this way, and the more socialist a health care system gets the more quickly the plug is pulled on patients who are very ill and especially on those who are expected to be chronically ill. "Futile care" standards are about deciding who is worthy of life, and bioethics committees make decisions based on cost and their assumptions about "quality of life" for the patient. The Schiavo case was not about choice and this one isn't either. The Schiavo case was about declaring disabled humans unworthy of life. So is this one.

Isn't it interesting that as anti-Semitism rises in Europe and the US, the Lebensunwertig crowd comes snarling back out of their skull-filled closet? I urge you to read this:
That the Holocaust proceeded from a debate about the limits of law may surprise those who, lead perhaps by the popular media, take the Holocaust as an expression of mindless hatred. Many may be surprised as well to discover -- as Raul Hilberg, the dean of Holocaust studies, seeks always to remind us -- that the Holocaust was a surprise to all involved, victims, bystanders and perpetrators alike (indeed, Hilberg reports that Heydrich himself was "ashen-faced" on first being informed that the Final Solution meant the physical destruction of European Jewry). However, conceiving of the Holocaust in any other fashion -- as an orgy of murder rather than as an act of state framed by the discourses of civilized life or as a vision pursued and planned rather than as a sequence of events made possible, but not inevitable, by certain moral and political commitments -- shelters us from the Holocaust's horrific historical and moral burden: its revelation, as human possibilities, of a new form of death, Vernichtung, death as manufacture, desacralized and meaningless, nothing, and of a new form of being, Lebensunwertig, life unworthy of life, meaningless even to itself, an insult to life. It is its invention of these -- this understanding of morality and this form of being -- that will forever burden Germany with shame and guilt, and the rest of the world with an irreparable harm, that insidious mistrust which ever since shrouds our sense and experience of life.
The points here are true. The Jews could not have been killed as they were if the theory that some life was unworthy had not taken hold in Germany. The first organized effort at mass murder, which coordinated medical committees and hospitals, were gassings, murder by starvation and/or dehydration and killing at birth of disabled people. Now we are doing the same thing, and it will have the same result - the same tragedy under a different name.

I have come to terms with the idea that, as a person with a pretty severe medical condition, I must decide to limit the type of medical treatment I seek for myself. As a free person in a free nation I adamantly refuse to participate in any system in which I or others make this decision, by default or explicitly, for any other person. That is a state of affairs that no sane nation can afford itself. If you have accepted the idea that medical care and even simple food and water for the disabled is too expensive, stop and consider how expensive it is to go down the path of the Holocaust and the inevitable, self-inflicted destruction of the society which chooses such a path.

The Democratic Energy Escort Service.

This WSJ Opinion editorial pretty well speaks for me:
The dirty little secret about oil politics is that today's high gas price is precisely the policy result that Mr. Schumer and other liberals have long desired.
They're suddenly all for cutting gasoline prices, just as long as that doesn't require producing a single additional barrel of oil. We haven't seen this much insincerity since the last Major League Baseball meeting on steroid abuse.

So how do the sages on Capitol Hill propose to reduce gas prices? They want to slap a profits tax on Big Oil because of alleged price gouging. Here we have another head-scratcher that seems to defy even junior-high-school economics. Usually when you tax something, like tobacco, you get less of it. But somehow a tax on oil will magically lead to more oil.
Only in Washington, where we can expect that more money will grease the palms of lawmakers. I don't think this issue is a good one for Dems, because most people know that this editorial is telling the truth. Americans are environmentalist, but within reasonable bounds. It takes a lot of energy to do everything necessary to preserve clean air and water.

In the meantime, DU posters are discussing how they intend to spend their $100 "refunds". It seems as if the Democratics have realized that the voters aren't willing to put out for either candy or liquor, and now are hoping to purchase a hot date with the voters in November for $100 a pop. If this works, the US electorate deserves what it gets.

Swedes Say No To Special Laws For Swedish Muslims

That was quick:
The Swedish government and moderate Muslims on Friday sharply rejected demands by an Islamic leader to enact special laws for Muslims living in the Scandinavian country.

Mahmoud Aldebe, head of Sweden's largest Islamic organization, SMF, said Muslims should be given time off work for Friday prayers and Islamic holidays and that imams should approve all divorces between Muslim couples.
"He is lucky if he speaks for 70 of his members," said Abd al Haqq Kielan, an imam who heads the Swedish Islamic Society, one of five national Islamic organizations.
"If you open the gate for separate laws for different minorities, where will it end?" he said. "We have to have one law for all citizens. That is so obvious that I don't understand how he can come up with such an idea."
The background:
Last week a Swedish Muslim group sent an open letter to Swedish political parties.The letter was briefly published on the web. The letter advanced a list of requirements as a condition for political support, which are barely touched upon in the Jerusalem Post article above. You can read the original letter in Swedish here, courtesy of Gates of Vienna. Other posts: SC&A. Gates of Vienna here and here. LGF here.

This is interesting because it was clearly an attempt at using the mechanisms of democracy against the political structure of a society. There are enough Muslims in Sweden to make them an important voting bloc to advance such issues. Their support in many districts could decide an election.

Friday, April 28, 2006

You Vill Laff Or You Vill Die!

It's Friday. We all need a laugh. You will laugh. This here is a free speech zone for me and only me. And if you leave a comment saying you're not laughing, I can simply delete it so that you can't impose upon my freedom! Free speech for MOM only - it's a wonderful, democratic thing.

Why would anyone divorce a person who is still their friend, and should they have a ceremony and gifts to mark the occasion? And if you have broken your promises in getting married, are promises made at a divorce ceremony any more likely to be kept?

This may sound boring, but
I found it funny. Is this the "candy is dandy, but liquor is quicker" school of energy policy?

It turns out that
the denizens of Castro and San Francisco's city council shouldn't be worried about those nasty Christians messing things up - no, they need to be worried about children - the greatest threat to individual freedom and self-expression ever to haunt mankind. Ask any parent.

British look at bird flu.
cheaper Iranian weapons plan:
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, acknowledging that his nation’s campaign to develop nuclear weapons has ruffled feathers internationally, said Iran would abandon nukes in favor of bird flu bombs, which he claimed are just as effective and far less expensive.

Canucks refer to their currency as the loonie:

“I think we're going to parity, it's only a matter of time,” Dennis Gartman, author of the Gartman newsletter, told Bloomberg Television on Friday. “Why shouldn't Canada go to parity? It has what the world needs. It has water, it has oil, it has steel...you name it, Canada has it.”

Others aren't so sure, given an expected slowdown in the U.S. economy and some forecasts that oil prices are headed lower. Royal Bank of Canada said Friday it expects the currency to ease to 88.50 cents in the second quarter.

The loonie rose as high as 89.41 cents (U.S.) Friday from yesterday's close of 89.04

You have to be a strong, confident country to refer to your currency as the loonie.

I suspect that the Globe and Mail tries to sex up the news deliberately. These are two headlinks (I made that word up, if you are wondering) right next to each other:
Analysis: Tough love puts provinces on notice Related: Wilkins credits warmer relations
It sounds a bit like an S&M marital therapy seminar - tough love leads to warmer relationships?

Here are some other headlinks in today's Globe and Mail site continuing the same theme: Canadians turn to Bonk. Porn stars to act in new reality TV show.

That last might confuse you (isn't the point of reality shows that no actors are needed?) so they include the helpful explanation "Porn stars to act on London stage in new reality TV show". Ah. Now the TV reality show has actors performing on a stage. The verisimilitude. (I did not make that word up.)

Cape Cod Windfarm

Okay, by now we all know that Senator Kennedy is fighting against the installation of offshore windmills to generate electricity near his home. I just want to draw your attention to this DU thread about it so I could quote a few comments on the thread:
22. Perhaps his concern for the enviornment is not as great as his concern for the view from his home. Everybody cares about the enviornment, but many want other people to make the necessary sacrifices.
15. Fine
I know this is an empty threat, but I'm feeling it

If Kennedy opposes this because it's an eyesore, I'm going to get a raft and a pair of speedos and three of my pastiest white friends and we're all rowing out to to tan in the waters behind his house
I'll join you I'm a pasty fat old broad, over 50, and if you want an eyesore, just put me in a string bikini. I'm talking ACRES of cellulite.

Let me know where and when. I'll buy the sunscreen and the airline ticket and I'll meet you there.

They're right - we all resist change!

Big Daddy Ben Loves You, Really He Does

I don't think the Fed can save a nation of idiots, but Big Daddy Ben is trying to at least walk the least damaging line. But he cannot stop what's happening. China's interest rates have more influence than the Fed's do. The economy is very strong right now, but not sustainable:
Elsewhere in the GDP report, Americans' personal savings - savings as a percentage of after-tax income - dipped to negative 0.5 percent in the first quarter as consumer spending outpaced income growth. In the prior quarter, the savings rate stood at negative 0.2 percent.

Looking ahead, Bernanke said he expects the economy's growth to moderate in coming quarters but still be sufficiently strong to generate decent job growth. Risks to the mostly positive outlook, he said, could come from any prolonged runup in energy prices and sharp drop in housing activity. For now, neither scenario is envisioned.
Ha, ha, ha! Gentle Ben doesn't want you to worry. We're guaranteed to have runups in energy prices and sharp drops in housing activity.

This all reminds me of a farmer's fable, which is told in various forms all over the country:
A city man moved into the country and decided to take up scientific farming. He decided to develop a herd of cows that required much less feed. His neighbors listened to his tales of his program with much interest at the store and said little for several months, until one day the news that he had called the vet in spread through town. The next day he showed up at the post office looking depressed. "How's it going?" they asked. "I've had a little setback," he replied. "Everything was going wonderfully. Each day I had been feeding my herd less and less. But just when I had succeeded and was feeding them nothing at all, those cows got some disease and started dying!"

It's not the time to be buying homebuilder stocks. From this article (see other link for context):
Centex shares headed for the cellar, dropping 9% in midday trading, after the Dallas-based home builder missed quarterly earnings estimates, lowered guidance and announced it was walking away from land deals in some markets. The warning offered clear evidence that rising interest rates are pulling the choke chain on the housing market.
It's more than just interest rates. It's affordability. Higher interest rates do make homes less affordable, but we have seen the profusion of no-money down, I-O, option-ARMs (negative amortization) and adjustable rate loans during a time of extremely low interest rates. What's left in the cupboard? If interest rates were to drop tomorrow by 1%, it wouldn't change last year's abysmal affordability rates in hot markets.

Two posts by Mish about Florida: McCabe Research:
Jack was telling me about "mezzanine financing". I had to ask him what that meant. It seems a lot of home builders were on short term financing, hoping to get projects completed "Wham bam thank you mam". Jack is now telling me that some of those developers now have a "cash flow problem". It is one thing when people are camping out overnight to get in line to buy a condo. It is a far different situation when projects are being delayed and even cancelled.

In fact, projects are now being cancelled left and right. McCabe told me of a development that has sold 2 units out of 250 after cancellations. Hello world! If that is a small time developer, that person has just been busted big time for speeding. The next step is bankruptcy.

Jack spoke of a project in Sarasota where because of a technical delay in condo document filing with the state of Florida, the developer had to recently do a special two week rescission period. Well guess what? It seems that 100 units that the developer thought were sold have now been cancelled. That is 100 out of 270! Given that not all of the units were presold, the cancellation rate is enormous. "Speculators are bailing every chance they get" he said.
It is true that in many areas real estate-related employment (agents, mortgage brokers, loan officers, construction workers) will take a hit, but there's a definite upside for lawyers!

Next Mish post - Morgan vs. Lereah. I thought Lereah did a fine job of contradicting himself. Eminent domain projects like Riviera Beach may become less common as commercial lines of credit dry up. On the other hand, every bust has its bottom just as every boom has its peak. In a few years, developers will be seeking to buy cheap in order to sell high two years later. My guess is that in most areas the bottom will hit in 2008. There are many real estate investors who sold their holdings already or are in the process of liquidating them now. They will be sitting on those assets waiting for the time to buy as this thing plays itself out. Robert of Exurban Nation is one of them.

Over the weekend I guess I'll get off my butt and start explaining HELOC portfolios.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Howard Takes A Look At Ethanol

It ain't pretty, it ain't gonna solve our problems, but ethanol is going to make some special interests happy. Howard of Oraculations has the ethanol scoop.

And Betsy Newmark takes a cold look at Hillary's economic plan, such as it is. "Soak the Rich" will not help us at all. It's just a diversion from the real problems in our economy, many of which are demographically based. When will we get serious?

Btw, Betsy also has a great post on the media and Mitt Romney.

Volokh Says Not To Worry

This really is funny. The Volokh Conspiracy observes that enraged law professors fleeing the US is not a threat to national security. The original column by Canadian Michael Byers about surrendering his green card is one to be saved down and cherished.You have to read it several times to appreciate the glorious humor:

My wife and I had moved to North Carolina in 1999. The stock market was booming, most Americans felt prosperous and secure, and Bill Clinton -- despite Whitewater and Lewinsky -- was still capably in charge. It seemed obvious that one of two smart, experienced, open-minded internationalists, Al Gore or John McCain, would follow in January, 2001.
But then we were amused, perplexed and finally disgusted at the dirty tricks deployed in the 2000 election campaign, first to defeat Mr. McCain, and then to steal victory from Mr. Gore. And we felt nothing but horror as the Twin Towers collapsed, knowing not only that thousands of lives had been lost, but that Mr. Bush's neo-conservative advisers would seize their chance to plot a militaristic course.
My instinctive response was to put words to paper.
Five days later, on Sept. 16, 2001, my article, "The hawks are hovering. Prepare for more bombs," appeared in London's Independent on Sunday. I continued to write, almost exclusively for British papers, chastising the Bush administration for its unnecessary violations of human rights and international law.

Yep. What can you say? As Volokh observes, Duke isn't conservative and we don't need to worry until the engineers and scientists start heading for the borders. Darcey, come back!

Other dark destructive moves by the US include Congress's legislation to require official identity documentation when letting people into the US. Apparently Congress is part of "Bush's neo-conservative" advisory group. There's just no hope anywhere in Bush's deepest, darkest Amerikka. Even walking around with a British accent earns you dark looks and suspicion. Run for your lives, you Brits!

Do we detect a slight pre-existing animus toward the administration before 9-11?

I doubt the first instinctive response of most persons after watching those planes fly into the buildings was to sit down and write about the terrifying DANGER OF BUSH! What was yours?

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

The President Has A New Press Secretary

The funniest episode ever of "Tommy's World" is up at Striving for Average. See, when Tommy turns on his TV he gets different programs than all the rest of us. Sometimes he shares.

UPDATE: Liberal Larry has some thoughts on the position:

Last week, Scott McClellan resigned in disgrace as well, leaving the position of White House Press Secretary up for grabs.

It’s an important job; one that requires a deep appreciation how vital a room full of screeching, hysterical journalists is to our democracy. As the person charged with carefully listening to the press and then informing the President of their wishes and needs, a White House Press Secretary must be more than a partisan mouthpiece for the Shrub, and possess the clarity of mind to see through Bush’s web of lies unbound by the restrictive shackles of reality.

Folks, the job has Helen Thomas’ name written all over it.

Sinai Bombers Manage To Commit Suicide Loudly

Fortunately, the only damage was to the bombers themselves. We'll file this one under "divine justice and mercy":

Two suicide bombers struck Wednesday outside the main base of the multinational peacekeeping force near the Gaza border in Sinai, killing themselves but causing no other casualties in an attack two days after a deadly triple bombing in a beach resort.

At least the only thing they're guilty of is suicide and bad intentions.

Very Humano-centric!

Via Ann Althouse, cheerfully. People are having fun in the comments on her post. Are they juveniles under the law? Adults? Can they be tried for murdering people?

Spain Herald article:

The Spanish Socialist Party will introduce a bill in the Congress of Deputies calling for "the immediate inclusion of (simians) in the category of persons, and that they be given the moral and legal protection that currently are only enjoyed by human beings." The PSOE's justification is that humans share 98.4% of our genes with chimpanzees, 97.7% with gorillas, and 96.4% with orangutans.

The party will announce its Great Ape Project at a press conference tomorrow. An organization with the same name is seeking a UN declaration on simian rights which would defend ape interests "the same as those of minors and the mentally handicapped of our species."
Well, since the Europeans seem to be trending toward the euthanasia of impaired children, equality for simians under the law might not be a good thing. In The Netherlands, the approved action might be euthanasia on the grounds that they will live a short, brutish life. It's all about "quality of life", you know!

But what really interests me are the grounds for this decision. Isn't it awfully politically incorrect to rate animals' by their degree of shared DNA with us? Are elephants less able to empathize? Less intelligent? What about dolphins? I would not have thought that the Spanish Socialists would be this retrograde in their thinking!

New Home Sales March

Inman News:

The rate of new single-family home sales in March was about 7.2 percent below the March 2005 estimate, while the supply of for-sale inventory was up about 31 percent, the U.S. Census Bureau and the Department of Housing and Urban Development announced today.
The median sales price of new houses sold in March 2006 was $224,200, down 2.3 percent from the median sales price in March 2005; and the average sales price was $279,100, which is 3.8 percent below the March 2005 average.

Source (pdf).

There's really no surprise here. Year over year pricing is down slightly and sales are down year over year. The average sales prices are probably a bit overstated because incentives and credits at settlement aren't reported. The peak for median new home sales prices was October 2005, at $243,900. The median new home sales price for March was $224,200. This is the fifth month that median new home prices have declined. The median new home price in February was $239,900. That is a one month decline of 9%.

The mean new home sales price peaked in February 2006, at $300,400 (almost the same as September, 2005's mean new home sales price of $299,600). In March, the mean new home sales price was $279,100. That is a one month decline of 9%.

(edited) Overall months of supply (new home inventory/monthly sales) dropped from a month ago. I may well be wrong, but I would expect new home sales prices to inch up over the next couple of months as we head into prime sales time. That trend will not continue for long.

UPDATE: Let this be the fastest acknowledgement of a stupid statement on record: Puchase Money Apps fell below 400. I'm dumb, okay?

Existing Home Sales - March

Update: For a graphic demonstration of the pricing pressures on hot markets with rising numbers of homes going into pre-foreclosure, see this forum topic at Professor Piggington's. End update

Existing home sales and price figures were released for March. Remember, new home sales are generally recorded when the contract is signed, and existing home sales are recorded as of closing. The new home sales figure is therefore more of a leading indicator than existing home sales. Last month (February stats) existing home sales rose while new home sales declined overall and by a wide margin in the west.

New home sales will probably be out within a day or two. However reported prices for new home sales in hot markets are being distorted by incentives not reflected in the reported price. Within a few months existing home prices will be a better, although lagging, indicator for the housing market.

The existing home sales and prices for March show further trouble in store for the housing market. At this point it's important to realize that the price appreciation figures are figured year over year. That is, appreciation figures compare March 2006's reported median prices to March 2005's reported median prices. Normally that's a decent measure, but when bubbles peak the crest can be quite sharp, and in some areas in the US, declining house prices for six months are still being reported as yoy price appreciations. See this article about Treasure Coast (FL SE coast) real estate:

In the Fort Pierce-Port St. Lucie Metropolitan Statistical Area, which includes Stuart, the median price of an existing single-family home increased by 10 percent, to $258,000 from $235,000 last year. Prices had gone up 14 percent in January and 17 percent in February.
"I think the 10 percent increase is a false number because the market has changed since March 2005," said Brad Hunter, who follows housing trends on the Treasure Coast and South Florida for Metrostudy's South Florida division. "It's really meaningless. Prices are in a decline."
As of Tuesday, there were 5,955 homes for sale on the Multiple Listing Service for St. Lucie County. In the first 23 days of April, 309 homes sold in St. Lucie, down from 440 in the same period last year.
That inventory figure translates to 19 months of supply. It's no mystery as to why housing prices are dropping in Florida. But look at the appreciation figures and note how they are dropping month-by-month. What is happening is that homes are losing their gains. Within a few months, we will be in negative yoy territory in many hot markets. We are entering the slow period for sales in most of Florida now.

If you look at NAR's Existing Home stats (pdf file) you will see that housing seems to have peaked last year.
US sales are down .5% compared to March 2006; sales in the West were down 11.2% compared to March 2005.
Year over year median price appreciation:
US: 7.4%; Northeast 5.0%; Midwest: 2.6%; South: 6.5%; West: 8.3%
The average price appreciation is lower for each region.

For multi-year comparisons by quarter, see NAHB's existing and new home sales and prices on this page. These are Excel files and they only contain data through the fourth quarter of 2005. For the US as a whole, new home prices ended 2005 almost exactly where they started, whereas existing home prices showed solid growth over the course of 2005 for the US and in the Midwest, South and West. But if you look at the updated yearly figures for 2006 from NAR through March, you can see the market appears to have peaked last year.

For contrasting commentaries, see NAR's rosy outlook and contrast it to this more realistic commentary.

In many cases the industry is still in deep denial about what's happening. See, for example, this Voice of San Diego article:

Prices aren't in a freefall and sellers aren't panicking, said Gary London, president of the London Group Realty Advisors in San Diego. It may be taking longer to sell a property, but London said people who can't sell are more likely to pull their homes off the market than to slash their asking prices.

"Prices might level, might even go down a little, but where you're really going to see a reduction is in this level of listings. People will simply take their homes off the market," he said.

That's Darren Fulhorst's plan. The 39-year-old La Jolla resident bought his five bedroom, three-bathroom home in La Jolla in Jan. 2005 and he put it on the market one week ago. Fulhorst said he isn't desperate to sell, but he nevertheless put his home on the market for $100,000 to $200,000 less than comparable properties.

"I'm not accepting anything lower," Fulhorst said. "I'm listing it for six weeks, at the peak sales time, at an excellent price, and if it doesn't sell, I'm holding onto it."
The article starts by noting that San Diego sales listings reached an all-time high over the weekend. The rest of it is mostly devoted to various people explaining why that doesn't mean a thing! Except, of course, that it does. Look at Fulhorst's situation, which is used to support the idea that prices won't drop (although they already are dropping). He is listing his property toward the bottom of the offerings by pricing it at least $100,000 below at least some comparables, yet he knows it may not sell. Does that sound like a stable price environment to you? There are always some people who must sell, and they push the market down for new home buyers. For one thing, they force appraisals down for their local area.

More people are leaving San Diego than are moving in. The affordability rates in San Diego are abysmal, well below 20% at best, and inventory is quite high. Furthermore, San Diego is one of those areas in which the majority of all home buyers in the last few years put little or no money down and/or financed with various exotic mortgages. With a minimum of 40% of SD borrowers facing sharply higher mortgage costs within the next few years, we can see that this is not a market with stable home ownership.

What can take up the excess inventory? Credit standards for underwriting loans really cannot go lower for this market. The only thing the market could come up with to make it easier to buy would be a ten year interest-only loan. But even that would not be much help in increasing affordability and therefore sales, because interest rates appear to be on the upswing. This is why the last wave of buying was achieved with option-ARMs. These loans often have teaser rates for an initial year or two, but either add the unpaid interest to the loan principal or have higher underlying margins that kick in within a few years.

Many recent buyers in SD cannot afford to keep their homes. The reason most of them bought using the exotics was to make the home affordable. In a market with price appreciation above 15% each year they could be confident that they would not lose money, even if they were forced to sell in three years because they couldn't afford their mortgage. In a market with price appreciation below 10% a year they cannot be sure they will not lose money and they usually do, compared to renting. In a market with price appreciation below 7% a year the lender may well lose money.

In other words, the demand implosion in these markets and the subsequent fall in prices will be produced by stiffer credit terms. There is no possible "soft landing" for RE in areas in which more than 30% of the buyers are using non-amortizing mortgages with less than 20% downpayments. So the statement about prices "levelling" is ludicrous. Prices cannot "level" in San Diego. They must either go up or come down. A "levelling" will produce a self-reinforcing spiral of tightened credit standards driving down demand, followed by higher inventories and lower prices.

The problem with any housing market supported by creative financing is that it must experience continuous high price appreciation in order to allow borrowers to continue to buy. Inevitably the market crests, and then there is a quick drop produced by a drastic reduction in demand. We are now seeing the crest in CA. Inman News:

The sales rate of existing single-family homes dropped 15.1 percent while the median price of an existing home in California increased 13 percent in March compared to March 2005, the California Association of Realtors reported today.
Condo sales dropped 23 percent from March 2005 to March 2006, while condo prices increased 8.7 percent from March 2005 to March 2006 and dropped 0.4 percent from February 2006.
The median price of an existing, single-family detached home in California during March 2006 was $561,350, a 13 percent increase over the revised $496,890 median for March 2005, C.A.R. reported, and the March 2006 median price increased 4.8 percent compared with February's revised $535,480 median price.

The inventory of homes for sale fell from a 6.6 month supply in February to 4.8 months in March, said Leslie Appleton-Young, C.A.R. vice president and chief economist.
Regionally, sales dropped 27.5 percent in the Orange County area from March 2005 to March 2006, 27.2 percent in the Sacramento area, 25.4 percent in the Monterey area, and 24 percent in the Central Valley area. Prices dropped in 11 of 20 regions from February to March, and year-over-year price appreciation in March was slowest in Northern Santa Barbara County area (1.6 percent), and highest in the High Desert region (23.6 percent).
Have a nice day, and remember, friends don't let friends play with non-amortizing mortgages unless they have a 20% downpayment. That means cash, not a 20% piggyback loan.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

What She Said

Update: Today Bush suspended some of the environmental rules that are driving up gasoline prices. See this article. Wholesale gasoline prices for delivery in June dropped from 2.18 to 2.10 on the news. (The price to the gas stations is wholesale plus transportation costs.) Also see The Anchoress' post on the subject - I bet Bush is beginning to feel like he's leading a dieter's group in which all the participants refuse both to eat less or exercise more. Instead, they stare at him expecting the weight to magically drop off. End update.

We aren't going to get the government we deserve until we stop our nasty, dishonest, pandering Congressional demagogues in their tracks. Betsy Newmark has two posts up about gasoline prices that are excellent. Go here and here.

In Georgia, over 40 cents a gallon is going for taxes. Federal taxes are 18.4 cents a gallon. Exxon Mobil says it is getting about 9 cents per dollar of sales. Assume they get 30 cents a gallon. Is it fair to expect the primary producer to receive much less than the government makes?

One of the commenters on Betsy's post wrote:
While we are being angry with the politicians, let us not forget that they are chiefly responsible for the fact that no new refineries have been built in 30 years, no nuclear powerhouses have been built, drilling has not been allowed offshore for new rigs nor in ANWR. IOW they have done nothing that would allow us to meet our existing demand 30 years ago, and certainly not the increased demand since then, and have actually stopped private enterprise from developing the other sources of energy that would have at least partially insulated us from the problems we now have.

Another poster criticizes Bush for his pandering on this issue, and I don't blame him. We have the Congress we voted in, and I am in the mood to vote most of it out. We all must face the reality that they aren't focused on solving problems. Instead they are adept at whipping up outrage.

Exxon's market share of world oil has got to be significantly less than 9% (the largest oil companies are government owned). Does anyone really believe that they are controlling the world oil market?
If Americans want to blame someone for high oil prices, perhaps they should blame Chavez and the bully-mullahs of Iran. We don't want to be paying these prices, and we don't want to be forced into oil wars. The obvious solution is to develop other domestic energy sources, which at this time do not need to be ethanol.

Will Congress sit down and have a debate about this? Nah. The spinmeisters would rather talk about excess profits taxes. We'll get this Congress until we make it clear that we will not accept this Congress.

Of Law And Men

There is no question that many of the UK's Muslims are radical by western standards. I suspect that the average Muslim in the UK is far more radical than the average Muslim in many ME nations. Why?

Perhaps the UK's policy on crime might be the answer. Immigrants always start on the lower economic rungs of society, and are the least insulated from petty and major crimes. If a society does not defend the rights of the vulnerable, then inevitably a gang society develops on the street level, as different groups attempt to defend their individual members without any official assistance. Recently the UK sent a directive to its police forces:
New rules sent to police chiefs by the Home Office set out how seriously various crimes should be regarded, and when offenders who admit to them should be sent home with a caution.
Some serious offences - including burglary of a shop or office, threatening to kill, actual bodily harm, and possession of Class A drugs such as heroin or cocaine - may now be dealt with by caution if police decide that would be the best approach.

And a string of crimes including common assault, threatening behaviour, sex with an underage girl or boy, and taking a car without its owner's consent, should normally be dealt with by a caution, the circular said.
Shadow Home Secretary David Davis said: "Yet again the Government is covertly undermining the penal system and throwing away the trust of ordinary citizens that criminals will be punished and punished properly.
Imagine that you were a UK shopkeeper of Pakistani origin, and people broke into your shop with impunity. If you sleep in your shop overnight and capture a person who broke into your shop by holding the invader at bay with a knife, calling the police will be more likely to result in a charge against you than against them. That's the truth - in the UK, defending yourself against violent assault with any sort of weapon is considered a crime. Get that? If your wife or daughter is walking home from shopping and is assaulted and robbed, bystanders may respond by capturing the offenders. However, the police will probably respond by letting the offenders go with a caution, and if the capture became violent, it's as likely that the bystanders who captured the offenders will be charged as it is that the attackers will be charged.

So what do you do? You beat them half to death and let them go. The unemployed young men of your neighborhood form an unofficial neighborhood patrol, and you contribute money to that effort. Your community is forced to develop its own unofficial self-defense unit, and to respond to attacks upon it with secretive force and threats. Society, overall, is not your friend, and you do not respect common law, because common law does not respect you. You have contempt for UK law and society, because you see it as a society of thugs. You consider it decadent and ripe for a fall. Can there be a better recruiting ground for Islamists pushing the doctrine of violent revolution?

If you will read the whole article, you will see that the policy stated above is really a return to a policy which has dominated UK law enforcement for about three decades. UK society is becoming increasingly violent and is doomed to continue down that path until it changes its ways.

Now go read SC&A's impassioned response to Ali's post on traditionalist inadequacy and terror. SC&A:
Ali Eteraz is absolutely correct when he says, The fundamental belief of a pragmatic postmodernist is that a belief can still regulate action, can still be thought of worth dying for, by people who are quite aware that this belief is caused by nothing more than the fact that we have belief in it. That said, the pragmatic postmodernists he hopes for cannot come from the ranks of the postmoderns of today. They are morally bankrupt.

In fact, those worthy pragmatic postmodernists Eteraz envisions, will emerge from the ranks of the traditionalists he so disdains. The 'postmoderns' will be outraged because their legacy of self serving ideologies will be forgotten and discarded as the new 'pragmatic postmodernists' embrace morality, social justice and promulgate the belief that freedom is liberating and not a manifestation of evil. They will be the real postmoderns.
The type of "postmodernism" SC&A envisions is the return to the basic propositions of English common law (now rapidly being abandoned in the UK), and Jeffersonian democracy. The Constitution of the United States is that kind of postmodern document. A society that will not concede that every individual within it has equal rights to life, liberty and self-defense (which was so unquestioned a proposition at the time our republic was formed that no one felt the need to specify it) is a feudal society that can only survive by enforcing uniformity, and to do that it must abandon the principles of freedom. Communism and Fascism both abandoned the rights of the individual to exalt the rights of the group, and look at the death toll that resulted.

I don't think that the Europe of this time has anything to teach the United States. I have deep contempt for their governing elite's philosophy (Ordnung Muss Sein)l and I am horrified at what their ideology has produced. To the extent that we buy into their philosophy, we contribute to the destruction of our society.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Cold, Hard Reality Outside Your Door

You probably think I've worn myself out and just shut up, but instead I've been reading. Everyone who has never read it should read Count Ciano's diary. Here's a current English edition. Ciano was Italy's foreign minister under Mussolini, and his diary of daily events aptly delineates the story of lying thugs getting energized by the slow response of democracies and pushing it too far. Ciano, who was also an amoral murdering thug, was also a very intelligent man who saw disaster coming and could not ward it off.

Even today, the book remains the best possible antidote to the idiocies of political correctness. If you have not read it, you will recognize many of the characters in world news today when you do. This ought to be the book that Ohio State had their freshmen read, but hey. It's not exactly Jimmy Carter material (Jimmy, remember, has never met a dictator he did not like). Ciano was executed by Mussolini after he joined in deposing him, so he never got a chance to rewrite history. His wife (Mussolini's daughter Edda) smuggled the diary out.

But back to the here and now.

It's hard to ward off shock while watching the Florida RE market implode. The details are too ugly for an after-dinner post. Chunks of Arizona are not much better, either. In retrospect, it's clear that last summer was the peak of the bubble. In a May, 2005 post, Coyote Blog noted:
In the Phoenix / Scottsdale area, housing values have really starting going up, up, up in the last 18 months, though whether this is just a catch-up to other desirable metropolitan areas (Phoenix real estate has been pretty sluggish for years, and way cheaper than other resort-type destinations) or a true bubble, I can't tell. Certainly speculation activity is way up, with a lot of homes being bought and renovated by investors, but again, I could argue that Scottsdale was behind other suburban markets in the whole tear-down thing.

So, to date, I have been unconvinced about the housing bubble, at least as it applied to our community. After all, demographics over the next 20-30 years are only going to support Scottsdale area real estate.

However, over the weekend I had a disturbing experience: At a social function, I heard a dentist enthusiastically telling a doctor that he needs to be buying condos and raw land. The dentist claimed to be flipping raw land parcels for 100% in less than 6 months.

For those who don't know, this is a big flashing red light. When doctors and dentists start trying to sell you on a particular type of investment, run away like they have the plague.
Remember that rule for the future. Two months ago economists were still saying there was no housing bubble; now they are all explaining why declining real estate values won't produce a recession. What dingbats. The poorer neighborhoods are already seeing the plunge in values. I'm certain that there are very good economists out there, but evidently they don't spend their time writing newspaper columns or talking to reporters. The only real question is how bad it's going to be.

Professor Piggington runs a great site for skeptical analysis of the news. Try this forum topic; you cannot suck huge amounts of money out of any economy this way without producing a recession. Mish of Global Economic Trend Analysis is an excellent read. Robert of Exurban Nation really knows what he is talking about, but is not quite into patient explanations for those who don't. Nonetheless, read about the Mortgage Falcon. Things are going to get ugly in Flipville very fast. If you are still not getting it, ask yourself one question - why would Donald Trump give 436 acres of land in the NYC suburbs to NY state?

For statistics that are not spun, see Hanley Wood. Here's a few stats to get you started. Affordability for Existing Homes. Affordability for New Homes. Inflating housing volumes cannot be supported when household income cannot even keep pace with inflation:
Real median household income increased nominally by 2.5% to $43,389 in 2004. However, when adjusted for inflation, this actually represented a 0.2% decline. Though barely negative, this represents the fifth consecutive year that income growth has fallen short of the annual inflation rate. Prior to 2000, there had been steady increases in real median household income since 1992.
Median, remember, is half above and half below. Purchase Money Apps are down close to 13% from last year. The mortgage companies are beginning to switch their advertising to appeal to those who need to refi out of their option ARM's, etc. There's still money in them thar hills!

And in bird flu news, there were two disturbing leading indicators from India. A vet who had been supervising the culling in Jalgaon upped and died, and Indian villagers are complaining of a fever with "tiny blisters", which they believe might be bird flu. See my flu with blisters post; somehow I doubt rural south Georgia has been stricken with chikungunya. You might want to read the whole India CurEvents Flu Clinic thread. No one's checked out the Indian villagers who are ill, and the vet did not have bird flu according to lab testing.

Sing la! la! la! Only six months ago I burst out laughing from reading an Indian government official's explanation that India had a natural barrier to bird flu in the Himalayas. In 2002 or 2003, blood testing on several Indian poultry workers showed antibdies to H5N1. The Qinghai strain probably came with the barheaded geese over the Himilayas, and ever since Qinghai there's been fascinating eruptions of FMD in the areas where the birds have landed. The latest is in Egypt.

You know what the best thing is? The birds are just about to head over the Himalayas again....

If you get this thing with the blisters, you'll know. The blisters are so tiny that they are hard to see, but the unique feature of it is that your lungs seem to fill up with water and you can't cough it out. This may not be H5N1 (although several of us did test positive for flu), but I'll be darned if I don't believe it's being carried by birds. Also, the mouse population seems to have dropped like a rock around here. Some locals aren't buying chicken any more. It does spread person to person, but I think only through direct skin contact or through the gastro-intestinal tract and not through the air.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

I Just Don't Care For Strawberries

Tommy at Striving For Average presents an exercise in liberal apologetics. No Jesuits were injured during the making of this epic. If you don't click, you will miss out on the strawberries and chocolate AND IT WILL BE YOUR FAULT.

Penn State Gets Into The Action

If we don't stop this, we're going to become a nation of Euro-style twits.

Penn State's College of Visual Arts cancelled a scheduled art exhibition because it didn't like the content. The exhibit was focused on Palestinian terrorism, and it was (gasp) done by a Jewish student. Links:
PSU newspaper article:
Three days before his 10-piece exhibit -- Portraits of Terror -- was scheduled to open at the Patterson Building, Stulman (senior-painting and anthropology) received an e-mail message from the School of Visual Arts that said his exhibit on images of terrorism "did not promote cultural diversity" or "opportunities for democratic dialogue" and the display would be cancelled.
Charles Garoian, professor and director of the School of Visual Arts, said Stulman's controversial images did not mesh with the university's educational mission.

The decision to cancel the exhibit came after reviewing Penn State's Policy AD42: Statement on Nondiscrimination and Harassment and Penn State's Zero Tolerance Policy for Hate, he wrote.

AIEEEEAAIIEEEE. Penn State's Zero Tolerance Policy for Hate? Is commenting on terrorism really hate? According to the article, earlier several posters publicizing the exhibit had been marked up. The graffiti included a swastika. Pretty close to the Oslo march, aren't we? For those who don't know, Jews who were identifiable as Jews were kept out of a march set up to commemorate the anniverisary of Kristallnacht. The only thing I could find about Zero Tolerance for Hate at Penn State (it rhymes!) was this page, which lists university police AD29 under that heading:
Intolerance refers to an attitude, feeling or belief in furtherance of which an individual acts to intimidate, threaten or show contempt for other individuals or groups based on characteristics such as age, ancestry, color, disability or handicap, national origin, political belief, race, religious creed, sex, sexual orientation or veteran status.

Acts of intolerance will not be tolerated at The Pennsylvania State University.
It sounds like you can't discuss much at Penn State, doesn't it?

Volokh posted twice. The university policies are unconstitutional on their face, as Volokh notes.

The depth of the damage can be seen in this quote from the article. The student is claiming harassment now, because someone defaced the posters advertising his cancelled exhibit:
Stulman said advertisements for the event were defaced in the Patterson and School of Visual Arts buildings, one of which had a large swastika on it.

Stulman, who is Jewish, said he felt threatened and abused by the Nazi symbol and is concerned for his artwork and his personal well-being.
We're gonna go insane if we keep this up. Everyone's going to be reeling around announcing that they fear for their lives.

Kill the speechcodes, I say!

Friday, April 21, 2006

Free Speech For Minority Groups Only

Eugene Volokh has done us all a favor by posting on a Ninth circuit case about free speech in high schools. It's extremely relevant to the free speech issues we have been discussing, because the Ninth circuit ruled that in high schools at least, members of certain groups do have special rights under the First Amendment - the right to make their case but not be criticized.

Volokh Post:
Majority Opinion (pdf)
Main precedents linked at Betsy Newmark's.

The basic facts are these. A high school sanctioned a "Day of Silence" event in 2003 and 2004. During these events, GLBT or other allied students are supposed to remain silent to protest mistreatment of GLBT people. Manual. In some such events students who are silent throughout the day wear t-shirts to express why, and in others they hand out cards to explain why.

At this particular event, the students participating were wearing duct tape over their mouths and refusing to speak in class. Some of them also wore t-shirts with "National Day of Silence" on them and a symbol. After the event in 2003, an unofficial group of protesters mounted a rebuttal day about a week later during which some of them wore anti-gay (it's vague) t-shirts. There were conflicts and those wearing the t-shirts were required to remove them.

In 2004, a student protested the Day of Silence by fashioning his own t-shirt. The first day (which passed without incident) he wore a shirt with "I will not accept what God has condemned" on the front and "Homosexuality is shameful ‘Romans 1:27" on the back. The second day the back was the same and the front read "Be ashamed, our school embraced what God has condemned"..

The student who wore the shirt was asked by a teacher on the second day to remove the shirt. He refused. He was sent to the office. His complaint said that administrators and a detective from the sheriff's office spoke to him to try to convince him to take the shirt off. He refused, and was not permitted to return to classes. At the end of the day he was allowed to leave campus. He received no other punishment as a consequence, but filed suit over the issue on First Amendment grounds in federal court. The district court refused his plea for a preliminary injunction on the grounds that his suit was not likely to succeed; he appealed.

What got
Volokh so riled (see Betsy Newmark for an alternate viewpoint) was the leap taken by the Ninth Circuit, which enunciated a new doctrine providing specific minorities specific rights under the First Amendment:

Nor, contrary to the dissent, do we believe that because a school sponsors or permits a “Day of Tolerance” or a “Day of Silence” minority students should be required to publicly “[c]onfront[]” and “refut[e]” demeaning verbal assaults on them – that they may be left with no option other than to try to justify their sexual practices to the entire student body or explain to all their fellow students why they are not inferior or evil.
Perhaps in an attempt to limit the scope of their ruling, the majority makes an interesting distinction:

In his declaration in the district court, the school principal justified his actions on the basis that “any shirt which is worn on campus which speaks in a derogatory manner towards an individual or group of individuals is not healthy for young people . . . .” If, by this, the principal meant that all such shirts may be banned under Tinker, we do not agree. T-shirts proclaiming, “Young Republicans Suck,” or “Young Democrats Suck,” for example, may not be very civil but they would certainly not be sufficiently damaging to the individual or the educational process to warrant a limitation on the wearer’s First Amendment rights. Similarly, T-shirts that denigrate the President, his administration, or his policies, or otherwise invite political disagreement or debate, including debates over the war in Iraq, would not fall within the “rights of others” Tinker prong.
(Bush-bashing good, anti-war speech good, minority-bashing bad!)

It is essential that students have the opportunity to engage in full and open political expression, both in and out of the school environment. Engaging in controversial political speech, even when it is offensive to others, is an important right of all Americans and learning the value of such freedoms is an essential part of a public school education.
(Keep marching. Republicans suck!)

Limitations on student speech must be narrow, and applied with sensitivity and for reasons that are consistent with the fundamental First Amendment mandate. Accordingly, we limit our holding to instances of derogatory and injurious remarks directed at students’ minority status such as race, religion, and sexual orientation.
Darn! The vagina people don't qualify for special rights! I've been cheated!

Note the two requirements - the protected group must be a minority race, religion or sexual orientation. In other words, wearing t-shirts with the message that "White Christian Republicans suck" is presumably not something school administrators can restrict in the Ninth District (thus making high schools safe forums for Howard Dean to speak) whereas school administrators may restrict a student from wearing a t-shirt with the message "Arab Muslims suck".

This is the point I was trying to make about rights conferred on groups rather than individuals. I can understand the school principal's position (although the precedent says he can restrict expression to prevent disruption and disorder, but not on "health" grounds), but I cannot understand the court's. The t-shirt was extremely provocative, but is it correct to say that the First Amendment allows the school to set up a forum in which one of these protected groups may wear a t-shirt espousing some view and other students may not wear a t-shirt protesting that view? Remember, some of the day silence participants were wearing a t-shirt.

There is no question that school administrators must often limit student speech in order to keep order in the schools. What troubles me here is the basis on which the court feels that the school administrators have the right to limit student speech. Clearly, the school felt that some speech on this topic was acceptable and some not. The appearance of the deputy (who spoke to the student about his own Christian beliefs and attempted to convince the student that his action was religiously inappropriate) is also somewhat problematic. The dectective was at the school that day because the principal had requested his presence in case there were conflict among the students, so it is a stretch to assert that his action in speaking to this student was prompted merely by curiosity.

Hypothetically, would this student have had the right to carry a Bible that day and duct tape his own mouth in protest, or duct tape his own mouth and draw a cross on the tape? I am troubled by this decision. To me it seems likely to generate conflict rather than suppress it. Yet it is unequivocally true that high school administrators do need the authority to restrict some types of expressive activity that would normally be untouchable under the Constitution.

It seems to me that a school administration must generally make a rule about the class of expressions that will not be tolerated, but that it shouldn't make a decision on which opinions may not be expressed.

Imagine a situation in which a group of Muslims students wore t-shirts proclaiming that the Koran was the sole authority in this world. Do we really want to say that other students might not wear shirts proclaiming the Bible as the final authority, or the US constitution, because Muslims are a minority in the US? Would that generate good feeling toward Muslims? If I remember my high school days accurately, that would act as an incitement rather than to maintain a civil atmosphere in a school.

Bizarre Incident At PA Nuclear Plant

Pittsburg Channel.com


State police said the men drove up to the Beaver Valley Power Station in a tractor-trailer on Tuesday night to pick up two large containers of tools for a contractor for whom they worked.

Security guards stopped the men for a routine inspection, but they drove away, police

The guards became suspicious and called police, who pulled the truck over about a mile from the plant. A state trooper got a warrant to search the vehicle and found a duffel bag, which he said contained $504,230 in mostly small bills.

The driver denied knowing anything about the money or who gave it to him, so the trooper seized it, police said.

Another story with different details:

Security stopped the truck and did a routine inspection. During that search the security discovered a padlocked duffel bag, and opened it up.

Inside they found more than $500,000, but police said the men left after the search.

However, security did contact state police, and the two men in the truck were pulled over.

State police said a drug dog detected the scent of drugs on the money, and they confiscated it.

Now the FBI and Homeland Security are involved. The worry is that the money may be connected to terrorist activity. However, the men claim they picked it up in Chicago and didn't know what was inside. State Police say they believe them.

The men were from Houston.

John Paul II And Sin

Sigmund, Carl and Alfred wrote a post about John Paul II that really moved me.
John Paul II didn't really change the Catholic Church. In fact, his real achievement was in letting the Church be what it was supposed to be, without being encumbered by political or agendized ideologies. The Pope that survived Nazism and Communism set the Church free. The lessons of Christ were to be true expressions of love. Under his watch, they became unconditional. They would not serve an agenda and they would not be be tempered.
There's more, and there's an intense debate in the comments. Copithorne writes:
If I say: your perception that you are called to the priesthood is false because God doesn't call people without a penis, then I am not respecting you because gender and vocation are intrinsic to who you are in a way that beliefs are not.

There are other examples.

If someone holds abstract doctrines as more important than human dignity, than the ability to respect other people for who they are is compromised.

"Hate the sin, love the sinner" is logic of people who don't understand what is involved in respecting other people.
Hah! Take myself. I've got a lot of bad personality characteristics. My worst, of which I constantly get reminded while praying, is a habit of concentrating on the objective rather than being open enough to people. In other words, I think it's more important to scrub the bathroom than to talk to Chief No-Nag, and more important to meet a deadline at work than to talk to a coworker who is having problems. I think Assistant Village Idiot pretty much summed me up (not that I'll ever be a master) when he wrote this:
My concern is what I actually read -- the childishness of the philosophical underpinnings of their justifications. Like bright sixth-graders who get over-technical and have to correct things said in their presence (That years don’t have 365 days, but 365 days, five hours, 48 minutes, 45 seconds, for example), Asperger-y people get stuck on such things and cannot let them go. If you say something is teal, and they think it’s just a little too green for that, there is no reasoning with them about it. They will sound like they are reasoning, they will think in their own minds that they are reasoning. But some glitchy thing in their brain will be telling them it’s not teal, and that glitch is immovable.
This rigidity carries over to ethical and philosophical ideas.
I'm gritting my teeth about the teal comment but I will let it pass even though I just know he's wrong. (NO! I won't! People do see shades of blue and green differently. So if I say it's not teal, it's not teal to me, okay? No way am I ever going to concede that it's teal if I don't see it as teal. I am willing to concede that you do see it as teal, but I will never concede that it IS teal. There's an objective reality, which is the color of the thing. But your perception of color is a subjective reality, because it's a human perception based on the rods and cones in your eyes and the brain circuitry that interprets them. If you get three people together and two perceive it as teal and one doesn't, that still doesn't make it teal for the third person! The glitch is not in my brain, but in the brain of the person who doesn't understand the difference in color perception! So there - reality counts. )

Ahem. To return to my point, in my case, my failure to be open enough to the human needs of any situation is really childishness and narcissism. I am concentrating on what I know I can accomplish objectively, but ignoring the possibilities that are less definite. And in theory, concentrating on what I know I can accomplish sounds good. But in practice, when I listen to what I'm told in prayer, I find that it is not good. Still, I always revert to the same reasoning. The flaw is in me.

For example, last Wednesday I got lambasted for this again in prayer. And on Friday, I was finishing something just before leaving work when a coworker stopped to talk to me. Because I was still mentally smarting, I stopped what I was doing, looked up and welcomed a conversation. And it turned out that he really did need to talk to me, and that I did have real help for him. He has a hyperactive child and was agonizing over how to deal with him, and well - my brothers and I were all hyperactive. We bounced off the walls. Literally. So I was able to reassure him and he left knowing what he had to do. (They weren't providing the kid enough structure and feedback in order to allow him to learn self-control. My coworker was confused because his parents were more lenient. But after talking with him, it turned out that his older sister was the real disciplinarian in his family, and that he had to be not just his father but also his older sister! Not that I told him that - he figured it out for himself while we were discussing our childhoods.)

But, more abstractly, think about the implications of Copithorne's claim that "Love the sinner, hate the sin" is a fallacy. Really? Are we supposed to tell each other "Just be yourself, I'm okay, you're okay", etc? If my parents had followed that advice, I'd be in prison today, because I was a passionate and impulsive child. I wasn't mean, but injustice always made me passionately angry. By now I'd probably have assaulted someone who uttered some bigoted piece of nonsense.

(There's still a little piece of my inner child that believes heartily that a good sock in the face is the best answer to "Gay people should get AIDS and die if that's the way they want to be, black people are dumb and sleep around, military men and women are baby-killers etc." Oooh. It would be so satisfying. The adult that I am has discovered that gritting my teeth and asking "Why do you say that?" works better. It's not emotionally satisfying, though, and think of the wear and tear on my tooth enamel! Don't I have the right to belt them for the damage to my dental apparatus and stomach lining? They're the ones who are wrong, right? Why shouldn't I just slap them silly?)

People have genuinely destructive pieces of their own nature. It's perfectly natural to get angry and want to hit someone. It's perfectly natural to be upset about something or other and want to lash out at someone. It's probably perfectly natural to child molesters to molest children. If you read NAMBLA stuff, they think what they are doing is just fine. It feels right to them! Obviously those teachers who sleep with their students don't think they are doing a bad thing. Plenty of people who lie, cheat or steal feel perfectly justified in doing so. Wife or husband beaters (there are plenty of those too!) always seem to feel that it's the other person's fault. People who sleep around on their spouses always have a reason for it.

The drunk didn't intend to get into the car and run over that kid on the bike, but the kid on the bike is still dead. The robber didn't intend to shoot anyone, but he did. Without being confronted by others who tell us that we are doing wrong, far more of us would stray down the path of destruction. There have to be some external, objective standards of acceptable and unacceptable behavior.

The truth is that we're not okay, and we all have to control ourselves or it ends in disaster. We really do need other people to reflect back to us the truth about our own behavior. I'm not saying that you are as much of an idiot as I am, and I am even generously willing to forgive any delusions about color that you may have, but everybody has faults and everybody needs some help and guidance in dealing with their own faults. The idea that being greatly loved will result in an adult perfectly spiritually developed and without interior conflicts doesn't seem to fit into reality. The older I get, the more I understand the doctrine of original sin.

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