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Friday, June 30, 2006

Staggering Into The Weekend

You've heard of that expression "Eats nails for breakfast," haven't you? Weeeeell, they turn out to be hard to digest.

When ever I start really getting peeved about some my local petty tyrants, I'll think of this story about a mayor Tennessee is trying to remove:
District Attorney General John W. Carney filed the 17-page complaint this week after more than 500 of Coopertown's nearly 3,000 residents brought a petition to him.
Read it, and remember that it such officials who often make eminent domain decisions, and retire wealthy.

Bernie Kerik pled guilty and got a slap on the wrist.

Crooks really aren't all that smart, are they? When you've got a good racket going, calling up a reporter to brag is not the wisest course of action. I guess this bank robber felt the need to recycle her junk mail, but she should have torn off the piece with her home address before writing the hold-up note. She had inside help, too - help that seems to have been further up on the Dunning Scale.

We must thank The Florida Masochist for posting about one of the dumbest criminals ever. Florida Cracker also provides a good example of why we need dumb criminals - the police don't always have freedom of action.

There is a blog dedicated to stories about dumb criminals if you are in the mood. I'm thinking of starting a competing one about the NY Times. Stupid And Traitorous has a nice ring to it, don't you think? The only thing holding me back is that I would have to read The Grey Doxy every day. Yuck. Life is too short.

Sometimes You Sit And Wonder

Conservative Cat always has some fun things, so I always check Ferdy on Friday. It's sad when cats get wimpy.

But the link that really caught my attention was Mamacita's strange encounter with a mobile Shroud of Turin. (Mamacita's Saturday.) Now I'm dying of curiosity, and I suppose a spate of googling lies in my future.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Hamdan - Sigh

I am still reading Hamdan (185 pages, pdf) and will be for days, but for now, I agree with the commenters at LGF who noted that the decision seemed to imply that we weren't going to be taking very many prisoners. The idea that we can apply procedures similar to court-martials to people captured among or in the context of a terrorist operation is somewhat odd, to say the least. I experienced a moment of pure incredulity when I read this part of Stevens' opinion:
Nothing in the record before us demonstrates that it would be impracticable to apply court-martial rules in this case. There is no suggestion, for example, of any logistical difficulty in securing properly sworn and authenticated evidence or in applying the usual principles of relevance and admissibility.
Huh. Tell that to the family of Lebanese journalists!

Ann Althouse noted the "strained" effort to assert jurisdiction and commented that the case "invites more legislation". It explicitly does - and it just shifted the balance in the 2006 Congressional elections toward the 'Pubs. I agree with Lederman at the SCOTUSblog; the majority (a very fractured majority) was trying to create a legal framework that would outlaw torture.

However, I don't think that's what they accomplished. I think they have created a legal framework which practically dictates killing or turning certain captives over to non-US authorities very quickly .

It's all very well for Stevens & Breyer to say that Congress has to figure out how these people should be tried, but how likely is it that Congress will do that? They'll throw it back to the executive wrapped in indefinite language so that they have plausible deniability no matter the position of the group for whose votes they ask.Thus the executive will gain even more power constitutionally, and it will be a constitutional power so generally phrased that we will have moved one step further toward an imperial presidency. Sooner or later, the President's horse will be honored in the Senate....

I have some sympathy for the court's position here, but I think this is an opinion that will assume an infamous place in history. Let's just call it Plessy V Hamdan.

But those who are announcing that the SC justices should be impeached and hung as traitors should realize that the SC must deal with the abstract position under law. The justices had pretty major issues on their minds:
On November 13, 2001, while the United States was still engaged in active combat with the Taliban, the President issued a comprehensive military order intended to govern the “Detention, Treatment, and Trial of Certain Non-Citizens in the War Against Terrorism,” 66 Fed. Reg. 57833 (hereinafter November 13 Order or Order). Those subject to the November 13 Order include any non citizen for whom the President determines “there is reason to believe” that he or she (1) “is or was” a member of al Qaeda or (2) has engaged or participated in terrorist activities aimed at or harmful to the United States. Id., at 57834. Any such individual “shall, when tried, be tried by military commission for any and all offenses triable by military commission that such individual is alleged to have committed, and may be punished in accordance with the penalties provided under applicable law, including imprisonment or death.”
The generic nature of this authority could mean that the President could accuse a lawful resident of the United States of being Al Qaeda or an enemy of the US, imprison him or her, and pass sentence in a trumped-up military court with no opportunity to criticize the evidence. Of course Hamdan is an Al Qaeda member; he was OBL's driver, attended terrrorist training camps and meetings, and was definitely regarded as a deeply loyal member of the group which declared war upon the US. Stevens writes:
We have assumed, as we must, that the allegations made in the Government’s charge against Hamdan are true. We have assumed, moreover, the truth of the message implicit in that charge—viz., that Hamdan is a dangerous individual whose beliefs, if acted upon, would cause great harm and even death to innocent civilians, and who would act upon those beliefs if given the opportunity. It bears emphasizing that Hamdan does not challenge, and we do not today address, the Government’s power to detain him for the duration of active hostilities in order to prevent such harm. But in undertaking to try Hamdan and subject him to criminal punishment, the Executive is bound to comply with the Rule of Law that prevails in this jurisdiction.
Interestingly, the review panels that operate at Gitmo to decide whether a detainee should be released may well be challenged under this opinion. If so, they may well cease, resulting in lifetime sentences for these people. Several of those released before have been recaptured in anti-terrorist actions already....

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Old Folks Update

I just called my mother's neighbors. They're holding!!! During the last six months, every time my mother had gone away before, her neighbor had landed in the hospital within 3 days. Not this time.

In fact, they're well enough that today they drove out and walked around to look at the river flooding. They had pork chops for dinner. I'm unbelievably relieved. The old lady was complaining because people keep coming over, so I suppose that the arrangements for visiting help are working out. I think dehydration really was her major problem, and that it was messing up her blood sugar.

My mother is resting and gradually reducing her medication, with my brother acting like Cerberus at the gates to ensure that she gets her rest. So blessed peace is settling over family/neighbor connections (and in the country, neighbors really are family).

RE: A Failure To Engage With Reality

This should actually be meat for the blogging shrinks. Why are so many economists refusing to admit what is so obviously happening in the housing market? Why is Congress unable and unwilling to deal with fiscal reality?

Let's start with NAR by reviewing the Lereah writeups for its Pending Home Sales Index. The next release is slated for July 6th and will contain June data:
February, 2006:
Pending Home Sales Down, But Expectations Up
Pending home sales continue to decline but are expected to recover in the months ahead. The Pending Home Sales Index, based on contracts signed in December, was down 3.0 percent to 116.4 in November, and is 5.5 percent below December 2004. David Lereah, NAR’s chief economist, attributed the decline to a delayed effect of mortgage interest rates that peaked in November. With the recent upswing in mortgage applications pending home sales are poised to rise in the next couple months, he said.
March, 2006:
Decline in Pending Home Sales Slowing
The slide in pending home sales is leveling out, an indication of more sustainable sales activity in the months ahead. The Pending Home Sales Index, based on contracts signed in January, slipped 1.1 percent to 116.3. This is 4.8 percent below January 2005. David Lereah, NAR’s chief economist, says: “We are at a much more sustainable level of home sales now – a welcome cooling from the super-heated conditions that were driving exceptional price gains. This will give people the time to be more thoughtful about a process that is the biggest single investment most of us make in our lifetime.”
April, 2006:
Pending Home Sales Leveling Out, Market Balancing
Pending home sales are showing signs of leveling out, indicating that the housing market is stabilizing. The Pending Home Sales Index, based on contracts signed in February, slipped 0.8 percent to 117.7 and is 5.2 percent below February 2005. David Lereah, NAR’s chief economist, said most of the cooling in the housing market has already occurred, and a historically strong market can be expected moving forward.
May, 2006:
Pending Home Sales Ease
NAR's Pending Home Sales Index eased again in March as interest rates continued to rise. The March index dropped to 116.2 -- down from 117.6 in February. This means a modest slowing can be expected in home sales in the months ahead, although the market will hold at historically strong levels, according to NAR Chief Economist David Lereah.
June, 2006:
Pending Home Sales Index Slides
Pending home sales, the leading indicator for the housing sector, are continuing to ease. The Pending Home Sales Index, based on contracts signed in April, fell 3.7 percent to a level of 111.8 from an index of 116.1 in March, and is 11.7 percent below April 2005. This marks the third consecutive monthly decline. David Lereah, NAR’s chief economist, explains: "We’re in a period of transition. Pending homes sales probably give us the best measure for the overall direction of the housing market, which is falling from historical highs,” he said. “Home sales will level out toward the end of the year. Over time, homeownership remains the best investment a family can make.”
In other words, don't expect to make a profit in the short term, because most buyers won't. He's right about this being a period of transition; these figures are worse than they seem. As of the latest stats, we have a 6.5 month overall supply. In some markets it is more like 10-12, and in a few abysmal markets, condos and townhouses on the market will take 3 to 5 years to absorb at current sales rates. Some first-time home buyers will not get mortgages because, in an evironment of falling RE prices, the appraisals will not justify the amount of credit the borrower is requesting. Furthermore, conditional clauses in sales contracts are coming back into vogue as the number of prospective buyers competing for a home plummets. In many cases, contracts now include the provision that the buyer is able to sell his or her home, and under current conditions, this means that many of these sales will not go through.

NAHB provides excellent summaries of housing stats in spreadsheet format. The census bureau's report on new single-family (house and land, scroll down to the end) reports a raw 8.95 month supply at the current sales rate. For a state and MSA breakdown of building permits, which is a long leading indicator, go here. This will give you some sense of the generalized slump in the housing market. There are a few hot markets, such as Texas, which reports an overall 15% increase. But there are many regions reporting 20-30% drops in building permits.

For those who have been captured in RE sales offices lately or read the NY Times consistently, let me offer this gentle hint: A drop in building permits generally translates into an equivalent drop in employment/housing supply revenue. Thus, when San-Diego, Carlsbad reports a 44% drop in building permits, it is safe to assume that local employment and building supply sales will, in the future, suffer a similar drop. This is a pretty broad-based trend; the states reporting a no-growth or negative growth rate in building permits are:
Connecticut, -6%
Maine, -8%
New Hampshire, -22%
Vermont, -7%
New Jersey, -9%
New York, 0%
Indiana, -12%
Michigan, -30%
Ohio, -13%
Wisconsin, -9%
Iowa, -19%
Minnesota, -12%
Missouri, -7%
Nebraska, -16%
North Dakota, -35%
Delaware, -10%
Florida, -6% (but local areas show large drops over 20%)
Maryland, -18%
Virginia, -5%
Alabama, -8%
Kentucky, -30%
Arkansaw, 0%
Arizona, -9%
Colorado, -1%
Idaho, -2%
Montana, -1%
Utah, -5%
Wyoming, -6%
California, -10%
Hawaii, -21%
Oregon, -4%
Washington, -1%

To give an example of what this means for the suppliers, let's look at what happened to Darling Rinker's (concrete, primarily) share prices. The stock was targeted at a price of $25.00. Analysts just lowered its target to $17.55, and the stock closed at $16.80 yesterday. Profits remain strong, but analysts are looking at leading indicators and expressing severe doubt that sales can continue to increase, as well as the shrewd suspicion that lowered sales mean lowered profit margins on remaining sales.

Here I want to point out the obvious: building, upgrading and repairing housing is a capital-intensive business. Banks have huge concentrations of lending to these businesses, both for land purchases and for building supply purchases. In some cases, banks will lose their capital as land prices fall and cash flow to builders suffers. The resulting contraction in credit will be significant, and will be exaggerated by the number of borrowers who will owe more than their home is worth, and who cannot continue paying on their mortgages due to resets. Through 2007, the mortgages resetting are at least 1.5 trillion dollars, and many of those are recent purchases with little or no real equity in their homes. It is true that housing prices have overall increased greatly within the last few years - but it is also true that loans on housing equity increased monumentally, leaving relatively little spare equity overall. Banks will take significant losses on their 20% loans to purchasers and their home equity loans and lines of credit in many hot areas.

Bloomberg takes a look at the current housing sales environment:
Many sellers are finding they must cut their initial asking prices by 10 percent or more to entice buyers, according to brokers.
The average U.S. rate for a 30-year fixed mortgage was 6.62 percent. Adjustable-mortgage rates have climbed by more than 2 percentage points to 5.7 percent, removing from the market most investors who plan to ``flip'' properties and first-time buyers who are stretching to qualify for a loan, says David Berson, chief economist at Washington-based Fannie Mae, the largest U.S. mortgage buyer.
Investors who buy homes to resell at a profit are rushing out of the market, putting more pressure on prices, Berson says. Such investors bought a record 2.34 million homes last year, according to data from the realtors group. Excluding investments, home sales rose 0.9 percent to 5.99 million last year.
This is not a stable market, because at least a million of those investor purchases were bought under terms that will not allow investors to hold them long-term. It's notable that the current drop in prices has produced a strong sales environment for buyers who are seeking a principal residence. In May, the annualized sales rate was greater than last year's - 6.67 million. The reason inventories are rising and prices are falling is purely that the investors have largely exited or are trying to exit the market.

We are now seeing the first predictions of a housing-related recession in 2007 from US sources, but many economists still insist it isn't going to happen:
The U.S. housing market is now tracing a clearly downward trajectory that economists say will steepen as interest rates rise, raising chances of a recession by early 2007.

The key will be the extent to which the slowdown in sales activity translates to a decline in selling prices, eating away the cushion of home wealth and spending power that U.S. consumers have accumulated in recent years.

Merrill Lynch economists say there is now about a 40 percent chance of a recession in the first half of 2007 -- even without a widely anticipated 25 basis-point Federal Reserve rate hike this week.
The Reuters article linked and quoted here is worth a read, but the second paragraph basically outlined the situation. There is not really an accumulation of overall equity; it has been tapped already by those who are willing to tap it. The decline in sales prices is already occurring, and is hardly going to stop given the fundamentals - falling median US incomes, widespread speculative buying, building projects based on speculative demand, not owner-occupied demand, more units coming on the market from both builders trying to improve cash flow and investors trying to bail, and the certainty of additional forced sales and tightening credit standards within six months. These are self-reinforcing trends.

One thing that relatively few people realize is that a great deal of speculative buying was done by people whose jobs are based on the housing market. Real estate brokers, mortgage brokers, construction workers and contractors all tended to buy housing on spec and on margin, and now both their jobs and their purchases are endangered. This will translate into significant losses for banks and real estate investment trusts.

The question is not whether there will be a recession beginning in 2007. The question is how severe the recession will be and how long it will last. There are things the US would be able to do to shorten the severity and duration of the recession, such as opening up oil fields (especially the sand fields) and moving quickly to construct nuclear plants. Expanding the SBA program would be an excellent move at this time.

Unfortunately these steps would require action by Congress, which is getting bad economic information and is barely able to pour piss out of a boot if the instructions are written on the heel. These are people who are still unable to grasp the reality that Medicare is cash-flow negative now, and that Social Security will be cash-flow negative within a decade. Since we have been using surplus revenues from these taxes for general spending, the net affect is to greatly increase the required level of income and excise taxation required to fund entitlements and governmental operations. It's a double fiscal hit amounting to at least 300 billion a year by 2020.

Thus any stimulative measures cannot come either in the form of tax cuts or any investment programs that will not generate a real return, or such programs will generate further imbalances in the economy and make the economy worse instead of better. Subsidizing ethanol is not precisely the most brilliant way to spend our patrimony under the circumstances; neither are amnesty programs and additional entitlement commitments when many of the jobs the illegals are doing now are going to disappear in the next year and a half.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Eternal Springs Of Acid In Their Rice Crispies

Christian Bagge told the President that he wanted to run with him when Bush visited him in the hospital after Bagge lost pieces of both legs:
WALLACE: And always someone who knows just what they are going through. The Brook Army Medical Center in San Antonio is home to one of only two U.S. army amputee care centers in the country.

BAGGE: It's kind of like a brotherhood in there. We're all rooting for each other and pushing each other to do the best that they can.
WALLACE: Also available to amputees like Christian, state-of- the-art technology to create custom-made legs for any activity they choose. Christian's immediate goal, to run with President Bush. When the president visited the center on New Year's Day, Christian asked if they could jog together some time. He says Mr. Bush said yes.

BAGGE: He said that I would be an inspiration to other people and I think he's right, you know, hopefully, and then I can be an inspiration.
Bush did precisely that after Bagge got up and running. DU is revolted. There is a sample of their bile in the first comment if you have a strong stomach. But, as Liberal Larry says, they fully support the troops:
Make no mistake, this is NOT a retreat, but merely a phased "redeployment" of our troops back to the States, where they can be reunited with their loved ones and then tried for possible war crimes. There’s no shame is running away and living to fight another day – preferably while wearing a baby blue helmet.
The thing is, the rabid, blood-throwing pacifists of DU would be quoting Bagge if he were sitting around whining about his injury and blaming Bush for it. They'd adore Bagge if he were running against the Republicans or the war. They are horrified about him getting up and running with the president.

A poster on DU who replied to another anti-military thread is worthy of some attention:
53. All right, I've had enough Why use the term "kidnapped" instead of "POW"?

It's pretty simple. All it takes is a few minutes of rational thought.

A POW is a combatant who is captured by an opposing combatant force. The capturing force must report that the POW has been captured. The capturing force must exercise proper care and protection of the POW. The capturing force must allow periodic inspection of POWs by international bodies such as the Red Cross. Is there anyone on this site who is so divorced from rational thought that they think al Queda will observe any of these criteria? Since the soldiers in question fail to meet the definition of POW, then some other word should be used to describe them. "Kidnapped" seems to fit pretty well.

Regarding "turnabout's fair play": Does anyone here seriously consider al Queda to be a legitimate combatant force, following the Geneva Convention? For the perpetually muddle-headed that would include a distinctive, identifiable uniform, protection of innocent civilians, protection of POWs, etc.

Frankly I'm a little fed up with those who see a moral equivalence between US and UK forces and al Queda Islamo-fascists. Have there been violations of prisoner rights by US troops? I'm sure of it. Have there been similar violations or worse by al Queda? Certainly. The difference is that with the U.S. troops such violations are contrary to policy and will be investigated and prosecuted. With al Queda, beheading seems to BE the policy.

Regardless of how despicable one may think the Bush administration is, it is a disgusting, deranged libel to claim that the privates, corporals, captains, majors, etc. in Iraq are engaging in wholesale torture and wanton killing. Those who spew that sort of slander against our troops have lost all capacity for reasonable thought. I know quite a few military personnel, many of which have seen service in Iraq or Afghanistan. They are without exception quiet, thoughtful, professional people who would be appalled at the thought of torturing or killing innocents. I'm getting sick and tired of having ignorant people characterize US troops as bloodthirsty savages just to advance their political position.

Journalistic Scientific Malpractice

You have to feel sorry for science teachers nowdays. At the same time that we have an explosion of scientific information and access to that information (see, for example, ScienceDaily), teachers of science must contend with absurd but nearly universal scientific misreporting. This misreporting violates the basic principles of scientific method and probably contributes to a widespread distrust of science by the general public. It also obscures the fascinations of genuine science; in this social climate, it's hard to get younger people's minds engaged in the glorious puzzle of science.

Instead, science is transformed into a boring sermon preached to an apathetic audience, in which the conclusion is always known and the details of the research are subliminally perceived as an unimportant flourish. Instead of a disciplined attempt to comprehend the unknown, science is displayed to the public as an endeavor similar to a romance novel, in which the setting, names of the characters and details of the drama may vary, but the certainty is that the hero will end up at the feet of the heroine.

Is it possible that the new rise of primitivist thought patterns in our culture is related to this pattern? Many of our students who attend major universities seem to be graduating with a fixed inability to assess scientific information and a stunningly irrational set of beliefs about even our physical world. We are generating people who are deeply scientifically illiterate.

Here's one example: BBC's report on the study finding an increased rate of male homosexuals with older maternal brothers. The headline is that the womb environment "makes men gay", and the article leads off with this paragraph:
A man's sexual orientation may be determined by conditions in the womb, according to a study.
It concludes with this quote:
Andy Forrest, a spokesman for gay rights group Stonewall, said: "Increasingly, credible evidence appears to indicate that being gay is genetically determined rather than being a so-called lifestyle choice.

"It adds further weight to the argument that lesbian and gay people should be treated equally in society and not discriminated against for something that's just as inherent as skin colour."
Actually, the findings of this study suggest that homosexuality is not genetic but related to prenatal development, and the speculation of one researcher is that male homosexuality is antigenically produced. Concluding the article with the above quote is highly misleading to say the least.
Another article covering the same study includes the following information:
Bogaert said the increase can be detected with one older brother and becomes stronger with three or four or more.

But, he added, this needs to be looked at in context of the overall rate of homosexuality in men, which he suggested is about 3 percent. With several older brothers the rate may increase from 3 percent to 5 percent, he said, but that still means 95 percent of men with several older brothers are heterosexual.
Providing some context does change the picture, doesn't it? The idea that maternal antigens produced to earlier male births create male babies with homosexual orientations is harder to support if overall most male homosexuals are born as the first or second male child. Given the smaller family sizes in the west, this might well be true based on the comment above. (I'm not pointing this out from a personal objection to the findings, because I do believe that most men expressing homosexuality as adults show that signs of that trait as very young children. My belief is based on personal and reported observations only, and is not scientifically based. See Dr. Melissa Clouthier for some excellent points about the study.)

Here's another example of the jaded and misrepresentative reporting of science. Anyone who reads papers even casually knows that anthrogenic (man-produced) global warming is proven by melting glaciers. But is this true? Science Daily is particularly good because it contains links to other related studies when it reports one study. Let's look at this article from June 27, 2006, which covers in abstract the findings of ice-core studies done on tropical glaciers:
Their conclusions mark a massive climate shift to a cooler regime that occurred just over 5,000 years ago, and a more recent reversal to a much warmer world within the last 50 years.
“We have a record going back 2,000 years and when you plot it out, you can see the Medieval Warm Period (MWP) and the Little Ice Age (LIA),” Thompson said. During the MWP, 700 to 1000 years ago, the climate warmed in some parts of the world. The MWP was followed by the LIA, a sudden onset of colder temperatures marked by advancing glaciers in Europe and North America.
Now let's look at some of the linked abstracts. Pacific NA glaciers:
Reyes had earlier noted the first millennium AD glacier advance at the glacier he was studying for his master's thesis, which jumped out because it was not thought that glaciers in the region were expanding at that time. After pouring over old data and early results of new research, the team found that many other glaciers had advanced during that period. "If only one or two glaciers are advancing at any particular time it is not really significant," said Reyes. "But when many glaciers across a wide region are advancing with some degree of synchronicity, there is likely something going on with regional climate that causes the glaciers to advance."

Reyes was surprised that the regional nature of this first millennium AD glacier advance remained unrecognized for so long. He suspects some of the earlier reports that hinted at the existence of an advance stayed under the radar because they did not fit into the established chronology of past glacier activity.
Glacial studies continue to show massive, sudden changes in global climate:
An analysis of an ancient Antarctic ice core indicates an abrupt climate warming occurred there about 12,500 years ago, an event previously thought to have primarily influenced climate in the Northern Hemisphere.
"The ice cores from opposite ends of the earth can be accurately cross-dated using the large, rapid climate changes in the methane concentrations from the atmosphere that accompanied the warming," White said.

The evidence from the greenhouse gas bubbles indicates temperatures from the end of the Younger Dryas Period to the beginning of the Holocene some 12,500 years ago rose about 20 degrees Fahrenheit in a 50-year period in Antarctica, much of it in several major leaps lasting less than a decade.
From all this we can derive the following conclusions:
So let's consider the ice caps on Mars:
These new observations indicate that the south polar residual cap is not permanent. It is disappearing, a little bit more each southern spring and summer season. At the present rate, a layer 3 m thick can be completely eroded away in a few tens of martian years. Since each layer is equivalent to about 1% of the mass of the present atmosphere (which is 95% carbon dioxide), if sufficient carbon dioxide is buried in the south polar cap, the mass of the atmosphere could double in a few hundred to a thousand Mars years. That could lead to profound changes in the environment. For example, it would change how much and where wind erosion would occur, and where and for how long liquid water could survive at or near the surface.

It also means that Mars may have been very different in the recent past (perhaps only a few thousands of years ago). On today's Mars, the ice is eroding, but in the past that material had to have been deposited. The martian climate was probably colder, and there was more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. For some reason, large amounts of carbon dioxide froze at the south pole---one might say that there was a "Martian Ice Age"---and this freezing occurred on a time scale similar to that of the most recent Ice Age on Earth.
It's scientifically insane not to be studying the ice caps on Mars. Of course, it is politically incorrect to fund the space program because we should be paying attention to events on earth, right?

Monday, June 26, 2006

Randall V Sorrell

The Supreme Court published five opinions today, and Randall V. Sorrell (70 pages, pdf) is particularly interesting. Following Buckley, the court struck down Vermont's expenditure limit. In an innovation, the court found the contribution limit to be too low. Breyer:
...contribution limits that are too low can also harm the electoral process by preventing challengers from mounting effective campaigns against incumbent officeholders, thereby reducing democratic accountability. Were we to ignore that fact, a statute that seeks to regulate campaign contributions could itself prove an obstacle to the very electoral fairness it seeks to promote. Thus, we see no alternative to the exercise of independent judicial judgment as a statute reaches those outer limits.
This is a very interesting ruling with major implications, and after I've read it thoroughly I might have more to write about it. I think it should be read and discussed.

A Dour Commentary On Nice Americans

I ran across this at Betsy Newmark's. The comments at her post are quite funny, and the column in the Guardian Unlimited is funnier yet. It begins:
Greetings from America, where everyone's so bloody friendly and laid-back and nice it makes you want to puke blood in their faces.
"Hello there," says the engineer. "My name's Frank." He taps his nametag. It is indeed. He smiles. "You need anything fixing, any trouble with the TV in your room, computer problems, anything - just call the front desk; ask for me."

"Um, OK," I say. "Thanks Frank."
I almost have to pinch myself. I've just experienced precisely the sort of benevolent human encounter that only occurs in pre-school children's programmes, except it was real.
Funnier yet are the comments on the column. There are various theories advanced as to the root cause of this American abnormality:
I prefer German/Dutch 'service' to that found in the USA. Providing grovelling service to fat, overpaid, self-important morons by supplying them with overpriced coffee and sandwiches is an indignity that we are all complicit in, in order to generate the trade required to avoid the neccesity of sleeping in our own faeces to keep warm at night. No-one in their right mind takes service sector jobs seriously, nor should they. (The exception to this is, of course, independently owned and run establishments, as opposed to soul-destroying starbucks and their ilk) A lot of Europeans have the good grace to recognise this and behave accordingly. I find the excruciatingly hollow experience of 'customer service' in the States rather depressing. That said, I tipped my hairdresser a fiver this morning because she told me I have beautiful eyes.
This theme gets developed:
I harbour the gravest concerns about the US as a political entity, in particular its foreign polcy, but the ordinary people are generally lovely, and not just those you meet in service roles (although my experience is only of California, which may not be representative...). I suspect the folk memory the English have of working as maids or other domestics is still a bit too strong for them to make good serving staff, that and our very sharp class-consciousness.
One person wonders why Brits are so miserable, and some theorize that Americans are simply happier. Several people write in noting that Germans are much, much more miserable and rude than Brits, and one American writes in about the following encounter:
I know it's hard to understand - but I will try to explain this with a little story. My Mother was from Germany. Her brother came over for a visit. My Mother and my Uncle, her brother, went to the bank. He could NOT understand everyone standing in a nice straight line, talking politely to each other, waiting to be served by the bank teller. In Germany, it turns out, they would mob the teller windows and the most aggressive got served first. So my uncle came home and was telling my dad this story about the most aggressive getting served first in Germany and he did not understand why my mother or anyone would JUST stand in a line AND WAIT! My Dad's answer to this was: "We carry guns".
Well, I'd be grim too if going to the bank turned into a scrimmage, and I kept seeing the elderly and the frail shoved to the back of the line. And then a commenter using the handle "ColdRussian" tells a harrowing tale about Texas to support that theory:

I travel extensively, including the United States. Two experiences: 1. I had auto (radiator) trouble in the middle of nowhere Texas. A family promptly stops, tows me by strap to a town and mechanic. A part had to be ordered, and I was going to check into a hotel. They would not hear of it and set me up in a guest room. When I showed up at the mechanic the next day, the bill had mysteriously been paid. 2. They are gun crazy. I think this explains why they are so polite. Everyone has a gun.
A Texan in the service industry tries to explain:
Hi Y'all. Wonderful comments y'all have posted here, so I'll add to the fun with my own. Americans are friendly because we are taught to be so, and the whole culture is one of friendliness. We are happy because we pursue happiness. The service people you deal with in the US are of three types. 1. Those who enjoy what they do. If they didn't enjoy their work, they would quit and do something that they adore. 2. Those who are doing the job who are on their way to something else, such as a degree in Physics, etc. 3. Those who have every intention of owning their own business in the same industry and are learning the ropes. In many industries this segment may be 80 to 90% of the workstaff(I include myself in this group). As to why we are so confident and so geared towards the future. 'Cause the future is bright and you can make whatver you wish of it. Woohoo!!! Hope I answered some questions...
So there you have it. Take control over your own destiny, refuse to live in fear (even if you need a gun to do that), be happy, treat other people nicely, live long and prosper. It's the American way.

Time Warps

Well, I'm back, playing phone tag at work. My mother is tucked safely away under the supervision of my brother (way closer to her doctor), and I think she is getting better. My brother is solemnly executing the instructions about monitoring her condition, so actually she is getting better care than if she were in the hospital.

I got home on Saturday this weekend. I could complain about the length of the time I spent in the airport and on the runway, but I guess I shouldn't. It seems I got out just in time. And I could complain about the extremely bad medical care my mother's neighbors were receiving, but at least their doctor wasn't on strike. Everything's relative, I suppose, and I left all three in much better shape; my mother's neighbors are supposed to be receiving home visits from nurses and personal care assistants. I did the best I could.

According to Chief No-Nag, my absence lasted at least a month. I pointed out that the house would have been in much worse shape if that were true. However the dogs agreed with him, and maintained that I was away for much longer - possibly several months. They followed me everywhere yesterday, and I had trouble escaping this morning. It was click, click, click as I went into the kitchen, click, click, click as I went into the bathroom to clean it, and a desperate scrabbling of claws every time I neared the front door. Words cannot describe the canine performance if I chanced to wander close to my car.

Thanks to everyone for the support and the great advice.

In another odd time-warping incident, I reviewed the pending work list at my office. In my absence astonishingly little seems to have been accomplished, but, I am informed, everyone was working very hard. It would seem that I was only out of work for about half a day....

I have contacted all my bankers who I had left with proofs and questions, and, imagine this, none have them have quite managed to make progress on those issues. So there is some external, objective evidence for the localized time warp theory. The summary is:
I am considering emailing Al Gore and asking whether this phenomenon is related to global warming. Perhaps the incredible heat massively deformed the planet's surface, and the net effect was similar to travelling faster than light?

Another nice Star Trekkian hypothesis is that our universe has somehow partially merged with another with slightly different physical laws. This is the only possible explanation for Murtha's position, I think. See, in our universe the popularly elected government of Iraq wants the US troops to stay, but in Murtha's universe, perhaps the government of Iraq has asked the US to leave. I prefer to believe the best of everyone, so I am willing to entertain this theory.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Blogging Will Be Light

I'm dealing with a rough family situation. My mother, who is in her 70's and has several medical problems, has been put in the position of being the primary caretaker for two neighbors who are in their later 80's and now in terrible health. The family has basically run out on them; some rather remote family has been trying to step in and do what they can, but without authority there is little they can do.

But my mother's health is crashing under the strain. I have been very worried about the situation, and I have been praying about it. Last week while praying I was told to get my butt up here by Saturday or else. The bruise from that particular butt-kicking will last the rest of my life, and it should.

I got here yesterday, and I needed to be here. My mother is a diabetic and her blood sugar is shooting out of control; I need to get her out of here. Which she knew, but she was lying about, because the truth is, if she leaves or goes in the hospital at least one of her neighbors will die. They cannot live alone; they need daily care and medical treatment.

So I need to take care of my mother's neighbors so I can get my mother to safety. I will be cleaning their house (which the EMT's said was not fit for human habitation), making sure they eat and have food, and testing the blood sugar of one of them. She doesn't eat without being forced, and she's always about 18 hours away from coma. In fact, she's been taken to the hospital three times lately for that same problem; my mother is quite correct that if she isn't here the old lady will die.

In the meantime, my mother's neighbor's daughter is on vacation. Her mother was in the hospital last week, but hey, first things first, right?

We live in an age in which we have been studiously taught to ignore our consciences and to sneer at all the old-fashioned words like "duty", "loyalty", "self-sacrifice" and "sin". But those old-fashioned words still describe reality better than all the euphemisms of our foolish age and culture.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

What John Paul II Really Said

Famed physicist Stephen Hawking said Thursday that Pope John Paul II tried to discourage him and other scientists attending a cosmology conference at the Vatican from trying to figure out how the universe began.

The British scientist joked he was lucky the pope didn't realize he had already presented a paper at the gathering suggesting how the universe was created.

"I didn't fancy the thought of being handed over to the Inquisition like Galileo," Hawking said in a lecture to a sold-out audience at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.
Pope John Paul II's address to the participants in the Vatican Conference on Cosmology:
Dear Friends,

1. Offer very cordial greetings to the participants in the Vatican Conference on Cosmology. In this year which marks the Fiftieth Anniversary of scientific research at the Specola Vaticana, I would like to take this occasion to extend my heartfelt congratulations and best wishes to Father Coyne and the entire staff of the Observatory. Please know that your diligent work, especially in the field of astrophysics, together with your ecclesial dedication, bears splendid witness to the Church’s profound interest in the world of science and particularly in the men and women engaged in scientific research.

I warmly greet the observational astronomers and the theorists in gravitational physics and cosmology who have accepted the invitation to take part in this important meeting. It is a joy to welcome you today, together with the members of your families.

2. Through the natural sciences, and cosmology in particular, we have become much more aware of our true physical position within the universe, within physical reality - in space and in time. We are struck very forcibly by our smallness and apparent insignificance, and even more by our vulnerability in such a vast and seemingly hostile environment. Yet this universe of ours, this galaxy in which our sun is situated and this planet on which we live, is our home. And all of it in some way or other serves to support us, nourish us, fascinate us, inspire us, taking us out of ourselves and forcing us to look far beyond the limits of our unaided vision. What we discover through our study of nature and of the universe in all its immensity and rich variety serves on the one hand to emphasize our fragile condition and our littleness, and on the other hand to manifest clearly our greatness and superiority in the midst of all creation - the profoundly exalted position we enjoy in being able to search, to imagine and to discover so much. We are made in the image and likeness of God. Thus, we are capable of knowing and understanding more and more about the universe and all that it contains. We can reach out and grasp its inner workings and designs, plumbing its depths with questioning reverence and with awestruck imagination.

3. This Conference, I have been told, has as one of its principal focuses the determination of the inherent limitations of cosmology’s competency and its observational verifiability - the limits in principle and in practice of the scientific verification of its theoretical products. With a gradual and constant growth in humble self-knowledge, we are able to avoid the extremes of an inflated evaluation of our own abilities and capacities or a disparagingly narrow and superficial one. And that is true of any disciple or field of study. A sound appreciation of both our limitations and strong points enables us to plan our projects carefully, to maintain proper relationships with the material, personal and divine realities, and to become ever more sensitive to all the valuable information which is available to us through modern science.

4. The more we know about physical reality, about the history and structure of the universe, about the fundamental make-up of matter and the processes and patterns which at the roots of the material world, the more we can appreciate the immensity of the mystery of God, the more we are in a position to grasp the mystery of ourselves - our origin and our destiny. For creation, as we have come to know it, speaks to us in fragmentary yet very true reflections of the God who created it and maintains it in existence. Of course, that picture must always remain tantalizingly incomplete. For certain aspects of our lives rise above and move beyond the material dimension and, while having deep roots in the material, surpass the understanding which the natural sciences are capable of providing. They draw our attention to the realm of the Spirit. The human creations of art and poetry, our longing for justice and peace and for wholeness, indeed all genuine human experience, lead us to recognize that there is an interiority in the universe and particularly in human life, an interiority which cannot simply be reduced to the features of reality which the physical and natural sciences are concerned with. There are certainly important and essential contributions to be made by the sciences, directly and indirectly, to these more interior or spiritual characteristics of reality. Indeed such contributions must be made, but their investigation and study demands other complementary methods and disciplines such as those provided by the arts, the humanities, philosophy and theology. These in turn must become aware of their own essential competencies and limitations.

5. Much of what modern astronomy and cosmology investigate does not find direct application via technology. Yet it makes a vitally important contribution. For it helps us, at the very least, to put ourselves and everything else into a larger perspective, encouraging us to move beyond our own narrow and selfish concerns. Our view of ourselves, of God and of the universe is radically different from that of people in the Middle Ages. We see ourselves situated in a much larger context - in a much more vast and much more intricately, even delicately, complex world and universe.

For the first time we have seen ourselves from outside - from the Moon, and from other vantage points in our solar system. And with that startling perspective, we realize that we must be more responsible for ourselves, our neighbours, our institutions, and our planet, whatever may be our nation, religion or political stance. We realize ever more deeply our smallness and our frailty, but at the same time our grandeur. We feel more inclined to say together with the Psalmist of the Old Testament: “The heavens proclaim the glory of God and the firmament shows forth the work of his hands” (Ps. 19 (18), 1.
Judge for yourselves.

I find particle physics to be a spiritual high. We have looked into the grounds of matter and found a seemingly fixed universe emerging out of an amazingly connected potentiality and flux.

Update: Sanity breaks out on a DU thread which begins just as you would expect. Watch the flow:
6. Fucking church

Okay, this is the last of it, then.

I no longer respect religion. At all.

This does it.
19. well its the headline of the article its not necesarly forcefull, the 'direcivie' is actually pretty confusing (as are most things with the Pope for me)

Just what the hell is this supposed to mean? "It's OK to study the universe and where it began. But we should not enquire into the beginning itelf because that was the moment of creation and the work of God."

So its OK to study the beginning of the universe, but we can't enquire into it? Huh?

27. you picked up on what I did, that the statement is confusing at best.

since the statement was confusing, I found it odd to characterize it as a directive.

I am not sure, but it almost sounds like a misquote, that the pope meant to say:

"It's OK to study the universe and where it began. But we cannot not enquire into the beginning itelf because that was the moment of creation and the work of God."

it almost seems to me he was making the point that the actual moment of creation is unknowable through empirical means. But I'm only guessing, because it IS very confusing.

40. Your interpretation seems correct to me. n/t
31. It is not even the Pope's opinion - Hawking was just selling Atheism
51. Steven Hawking is not an atheist more like a deist
57. Then he has changed - because he was an atheist in 81 through 00

Indeed his pathetic over use of the anthropomorphic principle to sell his atheism in the 90's was later apologized for by Hawking (the anthropomorphic principle is both real and very weak logic as it explains nothing and excuses everything - it is lousy science).

The Fun thing is to watch each generation of physicists redo the same illogical task of disproving God. There is a discussion on DU of a fellow that tried to joke about there being no need for God because the size of matter needed to start a universe is so small we could be the result of some other universes high school lab experiment in someones petri dish. Beyond the obvious "petri dish" question, the equally obvious fact that he is into "a Creator must create the creator" non-logic that is rejected by the faithful is not discussed in reviews of his recent article. And there is a good reason for this. His throw away comment does not diminish the fact that his theory of banes and dimensions and string theory is a major accomplishment.

So we take him at his word that he was joking, and note that nerds and geeks tell lousy jokes.

There will be enough time later to point out the obvious lack of logic in the joke if he later wants to claim there is some logic in his joke.

Jack The Cat Song

One of my brothers writes not to be intimidated, and advises a meditation on the story of Jack The Cat, who wasn't having any bears in his yard!

...treed by indignant cat!

My bro also sent a song for the occasion:
"He had high hopes, he had high hopes,
he had high apple-pie-in-the-sky hopes,
So when you seem doomed to lose,
looks like it's no use;
things just aren't that unfair:

Oops, there goes a truly terrified ...
Oops, there goes a truly terrified ...
Oops, there goes a truly terrified bear!"

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Family Problems

Possible serious family problem. I may be taking off for a few days.

I should have dealt with this before and I deserve a beating for not doing it. Weak, worthless and no damn good, that's me.

The NY Times Is Not A Construction Zone

The editorial board of the NY Times has gone flipping mad. I can't stand to read this rag anymore, because they are enemies not just of our nation but of sanity. And this "guest editorial" is an example of why:
Detainees in Despair
Published: June 14, 2006

I WAS released from the United States military's prison camp at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, in July 2004.
In the early summer of 2001, when I was 19, I made the mistake of listening to my older brother and going to Afghanistan on what I thought was a dream vacation. His friends, he said, were going to look after me. They did — channeling me to what turned out to be a Qaeda training camp. For two months, I was there, trapped in the middle of the desert by fear and my own stupidity.
(Oh, ho. The very popular tourist destination of Afghanistan terrorist training camps. What kind of friends does your brother have, anyway? "...what turned out to be a Qaeda training camp"? What kind of idiots do you think we are? Terrorists are always vulnerable to betrayal. The last thing they do is abduct innocent tourists from Cancun and Cannes and take them to terrorist training camps. You had to get someone to sponsor you in order to get into one of those camps, and your brother's friends were those sponsors. You had to avow to them your absolute commitment to the cause to get into one of those camps, and you did.)
As soon as my time was up, I headed home. I was a few miles from the Pakistani border when I learned with horror about the attacks of 9/11. Days later, the border was sealed off, and the only way through to Pakistan and a plane to Europe was across the mountains of the Hindu Kush. I was with a group of people who were all going the same way. No one was armed; most of them, like me, had been lured to Afghanistan by a misguided and mistimed sense of adventure, and were simply trying to make their way home.
("Lured to Afghanistan by a misguided and mistimed sense of adventure..." i.e. went to Afghanistan to join the jihad, right?)
I was seized by the Pakistani Army while having tea at a mosque shortly after I managed to cross the border. A few days later I was delivered to the United States Army: although I didn't know it at the time, I was now labeled an "enemy combatant." It did not matter that I was no one's enemy and had never been on a battlefield, let alone fought or aimed a weapon at anyone.
(Okay, so you were part of a stream of people trying to evade the clutches of authority by following an underground jihadist railroad through mosques. An illegal immigrant who had graduated from a Qaeda training camp, you were caught by the Pakistani army who did not want your type in their country and was scooping up your your ilk. So weapons were never a part of the Qaeda training camp? Why not enlighten us as to the course material there? It might surprise you, but a person drafted into the German military who was rounded up by the Allies while on deployment to active duty was also held as a POW until after the war ended. Mind you, those kids were drafted. You went to another country to enlist.)
After two weeks in the American military base in Kandahar, Afghanistan, I was sent to Guantánamo, where I spent two and a half years. I cannot describe in just a few lines the suffering and the torture; but the worst aspect of being at the camp was the despair, the feeling that whatever you say, it will never make a difference.
(Oh, man, when you have the platform of the NY Times, you should describe the suffering and the torture. By all means, describe away. We await your description with vast interest. Please. Describe it.)
You repeat yourself over and over again to interrogators from the military intelligence, the F.B.I., the C.I.A. The first time you hear "Your case is being processed," your heart, seizing on the hopeful possibilities in those words, skips a beat. After months of disappointment, you try to develop an immunity to hope, but hope is an incurable disease.
(And so is life. The purple passion of your prose is not having the expected impact on this reader, who has been blind and paralyzed.)
I remember once an interrogator warming me up during several sessions for a polygraph test I was going to take, that was, according to him, infallible. After I took the test, I was left alone in the interrogation room; an hour later, the interrogator returned. "Congratulations," he said grimly. "You have passed the test." And he gave me a box of candy.
(Part of the suffering and torture, no doubt along with the three squares and free medical treatment. Torture candy. Go on.)
In the outside world, I thought, the difference between telling the truth and lying, between committing a crime and not committing it, is the difference between being in jail and being free. In Guantánamo, it is a box of candy.
(You were not in Gitmo for committing a crime. You were in Gitmo because you had gone to Afghanistan and enrolled in a training program that was to produce an army of jihadists who had announced war on the United States and any other nation in the world that did not agree with Al Qaeda's purposes. One of the things promised by OBL was that westerners enrolled in the cause would launch domestic attacks within western nations. Oddly enough, you fitted that description.)
I was eventually released and I will go on trial next month in Paris to face charges that I've never denied, that I spent two months in the Qaeda camp. I have a court date, I'm facing a judge, and I have a lawyer, unimaginable luxuries in Guantánamo. I didn't know the three detainees who died, but it is easy for me to see how this daily despair and uncertainty could lead to suicide.
(For years I prayed to die every day, because I was in such physical pain. Once I tried to starve myself to death. Don't talk to me about despair. My life got better when I learned to pray for other people. You should try it.)
During my captivity, I saw many acts of individual rebellion, from screaming to hunger strikes and suicide attempts. "They are smart, they are creative, they are committed," said Rear Adm. Harry Harris, who commands the camp. "They have no regard for life, neither ours nor their own. I believe this was not an act of desperation, but an act of asymmetrical warfare waged against us."
(I agree with Admiral Harris. Every word written here proves to me that you have learned nothing and take no responsibility for your life. You don't have any regard for the true meaning of your own life, and that logically does imply that you have no regard for the life of others. Granted, the lunacy of the NY Times is what gave you this platform - but you are using it to try to get your fellow terrorist enrollees released. In the past, some of those released from Gitmo have been recaptured by Coalition forces during gun battles against terrorists. Since you are currently awaiting trial in France, you probably will not make it back to the battlefield. More than likely, that's why you were released. I sure hope the French authorities ask you a few questions about your brother's friends.)
I am a quiet Muslim — I've never waged war, let alone an asymmetrical one.
(You went to Afghanistan. You got into an Al Qaeda traing camp, which was difficult to do. You graduated from it, and were captured sneaking out of the country with a bunch of other graduates. Al Qaeda attacked the US and boasted about it. The US asked the Afghanistan nation to expel Al Qaeda, and it refused. Then a war began, and you were in the middle of it. I remind you, you were not drafted. You volunteered for this.)
I wasn't anti-American before and, miraculously, I haven't become anti-American since. In Guantánamo, I did see some people for whom jihad is life itself, people whose minds are distorted by extremism and whose souls are full of hatred. But the huge majority of the faces I remember — the ones that haunt my nights — are of desperation, suffering, incomprehension turned into silent madness.
(Try praying for other people. It works miracles, and no guns are required. Despair is a product of a spiritual deficit, and not of objective circumstances. If I were currently possessed by the will to destroy, I would be in despair as well.)
I believe that a small number of the detainees at Guantánamo are guilty of criminal acts, but as analysis of the military's documents on the prisoners has shown, there is no evidence that most of the 465 or so men there have committed hostile acts against the United States or its allies. Even so, what I heard so many times resounding from cage to cage, what I said myself so many times in my moments of complete despondency, was not, "Free us, we are innocent!" but "Judge us for whatever we've done!" There is unlimited cruelty in a system that seems to be unable to free the innocent and unable to punish the guilty.
(I will judge you for what you did. You went to Afghanistan to join a terrorist organization which had as its aim religious war. You graduated from a terrorist training camp, apparently in good standing. You took very committed steps to become an enemy combatant. You were justly imprisoned, and you are lying now. Only a raving fool cannot see what you are all about.)

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Troubling, As Volokh Says

Over at Volokh's there's an excellent post about the Colorado Supreme Court's striking of a ballot proposition for the November election regarding the provision of services to illegal aliens. The reasoning was that the initiative had "multiple effects". This was the text of the initiative:
(1) Except as mandated by federal law, the provision of non-emergency services by the state of Colorado, or any county, city, or other political subdivision thereof, is restricted to citizens of and aliens lawfully present in the United States of America.

(2) Any person lawfully residing in the state of Colorado shall have standing to sue the state of Colorado, or any county, city, or other political subdivision of the state of Colorado, to enforce this section.

(a) Courts of record of the state of Colorado shall have jurisdiction to hear cases brought to enforce this section.

(b) The general assembly may provide reasonable and appropriate limits on the time and manner of suits brought under this section.

(3) The general assembly shall have the authority to implement this section by definitions and other appropriate legislation.
The Colorado SC wrote:
We identify at least two unrelated purposes grouped under the broad theme of restricting nonemergency government services: decreasing taxpayer expenditures on behalf of the welfare of the targeted group and denying access to administrative services.
As Volokh writes:
All constitutional provisions -- the freedom of speech, equal rights for women, a restriction on unreasonable searches and seizures, and the like -- have multiple effects, and serve multiple purposes. The single-subject rule may itself be unnecessary and unadministrable, as my colleague Dan Lowenstein has in the past argued; but to the extent that it's the law, it surely shouldn't be used to set aside proposals that are as coherent (whether or not sound) as the one proposed by Article 55, just because they have multiple effects and multiple purposes.
Volokh also quotes the dissent:
Although the majority opinion today pays homage to the requirement’s dual concerns for secreting unrelated provisions and combining provisions too unpopular to succeed on their own, it understands the term "subject" to be so elastic as to give this court unfettered discretion to either approve or disapprove virtually any popularly-initiated ballot measure at will. Because I believe the single-subject requirement was adopted to protect voters from deception and fraud rather than to limit their right to make public policy directly by constitutional amendment, I respectfully dissent.
In the commentary, it becomes clear that those who are willing to support the CO SC's action here do in fact believe that the public's right to make public policy in this way should be limited:
Sometimes it is appropriate for the people's will to be denied or for their voice to only have influence indirectly. This is why we have constitutions that mere majorities can't change in the first place. So I don't see the problem with letting states have branches of government with considerable power which aren't directly elected.
Uh-huh. But since the right of initiative is specifically provided for in the CO constitution, and the CO constitution imposes the "related subject" rule on the legislature as well, what's left of the CO constitution if you think this way? The constitution says that people have this right, and if a mere majority shouldn't have the right to change the CO constitution, does that logically imply that a couple of judges should have the right to effectively change it?

Basically the commenter is saying that the CO voting population is too stupid to be able to understand what it is doing. But the initiative is perfectly clear, and if the "legislative intent" of the voters proves to be a misunderstanding, then the voters have the ability to amend the amendment, and so does the legislature of Colorado. Nor is it at all clear to me that refusing to record a property transfer between illegal aliens is not exactly the effect that the voters of Colorado might wish to produce. The voters here act as a legislature by direct vote, and the Colorado constitution limits acts passed by the legislature using the same "single subject" rule as it does initiatives by direct referendum. Would the CO SC strike this law if it had been passed by the legislature?

Another commenter provides links to similar reasoning used to nullify Oregon's term limits provision and Georgia's (this just happened in May) amendment banning same-sex marriage. A federal district court also nullified Nebraska's same-sex marriage constitutional ban using some extraordinarily strained reasoning.

The Federal amendment about same-sex marriage has to be understood in the light of these actions. It's not a wild, premature measure - it does address the reality of what is occurring in courts at the current time. I'm not particularly in favor of it by my own instincts, but anything is better than a slow abridgement of the basics of democratic rule. If the people had the right to agree to the Colorado constitution originally, then they must have the right to use those provisions to set policy which does not deny federal rights.

It's obvious to me that the courts are producing a backlash with their own actions. I voted against the GA measure, but now I have to sit down and rethink this. The reason it was on the ballot in the first place was that the GA voters were concerned that the courts would impose their will upon the general population. In practice, the majority was just proved correct, and I was just proved wrong.

As a matter of principle, I do not believe that courts have the right to determine favored classes. A favored class is created when persons who have voluntarily undertaken a particular status or duty are given special rights. One example in GA is a property-tax exemption for the widows of volunteer firefighters. Anyone could argue in court that this is prejudicial; is this not unfair to other people who have also sacrificed for the good of the state? But courts are utterly unsuited to make such a determination. The moment they take this job upon themselves they become a super-legislature and the entire structure of the American democratic process has been fundamentally changed. The intricate set of trade-offs involved in such matters of public policy are a matter for legislatures and not courts.

Same-sex marriage is a fundamental change. As it is now, and as it always has been, men and women can get civilly married (although there are broad restrictions such as only marrying one other person at a time, age restrictions, legal competence etc). Wishing to support that custom and its beneficial effects (on average), a structure of law has emerged to offer special benefits to those who do. No individual is debarred from entering the state, although plenty of people don't find someone they don't wish to marry. What is discriminatory are the individual circumstances of the person, rather than an act of the legislature.

I would like to support the continued ability of people to argue for their inclusion in this favored class, which is why I originally voted against the GA provision. I really don't know what I will do when it comes up again. The liberalism which our system of laws has produced is really based on the implicit belief of the general population that they are able to experiment with social changes like this BECAUSE they can reverse course if necessary. I feel as if letting the action of the GA court succeed is a fundamental attack upon the very structure which has produced a broadly inclusive democracy.

Can The RE Apocalypse Be Far Behind?

According to Inman, Al Gore will be speaking at a real estate conference:
Is there anything former Vice President Al Gore can't do? First he invented the Internet (or at least he claimed to; back in 1992 when he and Bill Clinton were seeking the White House, they kept talking about the "information superhighway"), and now he is speaking at the 2006 Learning Annex Real Estate Wealth Expo in San Francisco August 26-27. "In addition to the speakers, The Real Estate Wealth Expo presents 70 seminars on Creating Wealth, and Residential & Commercial Real Estate Investing," the Learning Annex tells us.
I did not make this up.

And All Those Who Suffer

The Anchoress has another person who needs your prayers badly.

Monday, June 12, 2006

It's An Ill Storm That Blows A Democrat No Good

While DU darkly speculates upon the significance of Alberto~
Weather Control by PNAC:
{original post)Weather Modification? Is it Weather Warfare???
Please tell me what the hell is going on? It looks like, someone is playing games with weather!
And no amount of explanations by others can convince the paranoids that it is not so, as at the end of the thread another person chimes in....
37. Think what you wanna
But if you were a sociopath rich boy,who had no conscience, and wanted full spectrum domination of the world,(rememberPNAC?),why would controlling weather be off the table as a tool of domination? What makes you think weather control would not even be attempted? THe White house NSA etc condoned torture,what's fucking with weather to them?
Controlling weather can in be in a wcontrol freaks mind a very , possible be a way to give the controller godlike power. It can be used to make droughts,floods, hurricanes,bad storms to frighten,destroy livelihoods,and subjugate others and other nations.
Being named the same as Alberto Gonzalez!~
41. It's an election year and they've got to make Jeb look good.
19. So, has Bush ordered the Nat'l Weather Service to ....
... use all Latino names this hurricane season, to whip-up more outrage over the immigration "issue"?
30. Alberto? (Gonzo???)
Why "Alberto" (Gonzales??) The criminal appointee who can't stop thinking of ways to harm the Constitution?
Sometimes, it seems so... "coincidental," isn't it?
~We here in South GA are praying for rain. This raises an issue of etiquette. If, as President Clinton explains, hurricanes are BusHitler's fault, then do we owe Bush our thanks for sending us this relief from wild fires? TS does not know.

I'm basically sticking with the idea that Bush's powers are not as extreme as DU thinks they are. I hope no one gets hurt and that everyone gets a sorely needed drenching!

Here's Your Answer, David

Several commenters wondered whether DU was populated by refugees from the 60's. Here's your answer, guys, contained in a DU thread about parents arrested for giving their kids pot as a reward for good behavior (they were also selling it). This elicited an interesting range of opiinion, such as the idea that driving stoned is not a problem:
89. You're wrong about driving while stoned.
Obviously, we don't want to encourage 'impaired driving'......but those of us who have been smoking for 40 years, know from experience, the effects of cannabis. If we have been driving for the same amount of time, we know something about that as well.

Cannabis was the drug of choice for long haul truck drivers for years during the 70's. When truck drivers were forced to quit smoking pot, there was no notable drop in truck-related accidents.

Truck drivers had a legitimate justification.....Meeting another truck on some narrow two lane highway, all you really wanted was that the driver was wide-awake and calm. How they got to that mental state was up to them.
Nor could DU agree that giving your 11 year-old pot is necessarily, you know, bad:
82. No You are repeating the harsh judgement of the cannabis invective, and that approach is derived from racism, yes, fact. It does not make you a racist, but it does ask why you repeat it as if it were "your" judgement.

A quarter pound of pot means the parents were poor and trying to earn some extra money to get by... it means the family is poor in an economy where minimum wage jobs don't pay the rent, so people do something extra on the side, so many people.. 32,000,000 US cannabis smokers.

The real issue is that the kids get raised by their family that loves them, and for all the misjudgements, you are using a black and white moral scale, where the reality is far less palitable. You presume that the kids, when taken away by social services in our sick, uncivil society, will find a better home than they came from.
This is highly unlikely, and then its a moral conundrum, as by doing what you say is the "right" thing, and taking the kids away, you curse them to a worse life, to losing their parents and their family, and all in the name of protecting them. So whilst your argument may sound like their protector, it is nothing of the sort.

What it turns out to be in practice, is criminalizing poverty, and using the drugs laws as an excuse to break up families who are poor. Then the argument you're making belongs in Dikensian England, and not in a civil society.
Get that? You racist pig, legalize pot smoking for juveniles immediately! Shrinkwrapped has written about the sixties fallout, and I'd say he's got a point. Stoned truck drivers and parents using pot for the family hour is not something the average person would find functional.

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