Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Value given for value received

I'm glad that we live in a world that has room for a flamboyant bullshit artist like Francesco Vezzoli. Apparently living entirely off the freely given largesse of wealthy patrons and foundations, Vezzoli produces self-indulgent ... err ... creations, like Trailer for a Remake of Gore Vidal's "Caligula" and A True Hollywood Story (a fake documentary about himself). These works are best appreciated by the sort of sophisticates who like to think that they're in on the joke -- and who keep their wallets open to ensure that the next project comes along.

I can't say I'd pay a cent to see Vezzoli's work, but he seems to have made a place for himself in the world without hurting anybody in the process.


Saving us all from medical marijuana

Oh joy. For our own good, the Drug Enforcement Administration has staged yet another series of raids on medical marijuana dispensaries that are perfectly legal in California. That'll teach folks not to choose medicine unapproved by their government masters.


What anti-war protests?

We could have used a little more news coverage of last weekend's anti-war protests across the U.S. on the fifth anniversary of a Senate vote to authorize the Iraq invasion.


Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Pigs in blankets of red tape

People have been raising livestock in my neck of the woods for as long as there's been settlement here. This is the kind of place where you can drive down the road and see goats munching on weeds in yards, cattle grazing in fields, pigs wallowing in pens, chickens in coops ...

You get the idea.

There's exotic stuff too. Some people around here raise such animals as llamas. I'll be damned if I know what they're doing with llamas, but to each his own.

But we're getting an influx of new people, some of whom want the rural way of life without, you know, those icky rural parts. They don't like to see trucks parked in yards or to hear chainsaws tearing into firewood or to see people loading up guns for hunting season. Basically, they just want the view, and they want to move out the folks already here and share the setting with people like themselves.

And they really don't like to smell animals.

Somehow, enough of them have apparently congregated down the road in Camp Verde to force through an ordinance that requires people to seek special use permits if they raise more than a few animals a year. The law was originally targeted at one guy who raises pigs for sale, but since the U.S. Constitution so rudely bans bills of attainder, the wording applies to anybody who raises livestock anywhere in town.

This raises special concerns since, among the most enthusiastic breeders of animals in Camp Verde, are kids raising pigs and other critters for 4H and Future Farmers of America. "The town is so adamant to stick it to us that they are willing to sacrifice what is going on with the 4-H program," the pig breeder targeted by the bill told the local paper.

The petty bureaucrat detailed to enforce the law begs to differ, of course.

[Community Development Director Nancy]Buckel said she has yet to set guidelines for the use permits, but has a basic idea of how that process will go.

"We will draw up a simple application form, where the 4-H member is going to have to do some work. They will have to outline their 4-H practices, how they are going to dispose of manure and draw up a map of how the housing will be laid out.

It's not going to be a free gratis thing. I think going through the application process will not cost them anything but will be a learning process," Buckel said.

Oh, what a valuable lesson. The virtue of begging a government official for permission to do on your family's own property what your parents and grandparents did on their own initiative. That's right; teach the kids to bow and scrape.

Inevitably, the paperwork burden will simply dissuade many children from raising animals, ending generations of tradition and what I consider an important measure of self-reliance. Of course, that may be the idea.

Nancy Buckel, nasty piece of work though she is, didn't pass the ordinance, but she's as good a place to start as any. She can be reached at: 928-567-8513 x118 or

The Camp Verde town council as a whole can be reached at:

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Free market victory

Minneapolis will have some real competition n its taxi industry for the first time in years. That's courtesy of a decision by U.S. Magistrate Judge Franklin L. Noel, who ruled that the city's established taxi cartel has no grounds for challenging free-market reforms that do away with caps on the number of cabs in the city and restrictions on the entry of new competitors into the business.

The Institute for Justice intervened in this case on behalf of Luis Paucar, a man seeking for years to enter the taxi market. The case stands as the fourth victory for economic liberty by the Minnesota chapter of IJ.


Now returning to your regular programming ...

One of the limitations of living in a rural area is that I have access to only one broadband provider, other than the much-reviled HughesNet. I have an antenna on my roof that hooks me up to a sort-of-high-speed Internet connection. It's generally reliable, but last Thursday something went kablooie and my bumpy on-ramp to the information superhighway was temporarily closed for repairs.

Again, this is a rural area, so when the guy who schedules repairs at my ISP called in sick on Friday, there was nobody to pick up the slack. I had to wait until he was back in his office and ready to send out a tech to do the honors. That threw me back to the savage, uncivilized days of the 1980s, and left me with a quiet weekend of contemplation.

But now I'm back online and appreciating modern technology more than ever.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Ron Paul moves up in the polls

A new poll from St. Anselm College's Institute of Politics and SRBI Research shows Ron Paul at 7.4% among likely New Hampshire primary voters. That puts him behind Romney, Giuliani and McCain (in that order), but ahead of Huckabee and Thompson.

Hmmm ... Do you think the pundits will admit that this takes Paul out of "the fringe," now that he's pulling more interest than "serious" candidates Thompson and Huckabee?

Update: Full poll available here.


Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Watch your own ass

I have in-laws caught up in the raging inferno that is Southern California. They live in Orange County in a town that isn't immediately threatened by the fires, but which is close to areas that are. Talking to them and wishing them the best, I can't help but react the same way that I did to the news that came out after Hurricane Katrina: Relying on other people to protect your life and your property is a losing game.

The "other people" we're most often expected to rely on these days in situations like the one in California are the folks in the various agencies of government and insurance companies. The government extracts taxes from us and makes broad promises about the protective services it will provide in return to shield us from harm. Insurance companies take our premiums in return for assurances that they'll make us whole if the worst does happen. But both have their limitations.

Governments, at best, have conflicting priorities. Government officials are good at making promises and at collecting taxes, but they use the resources they gather for the purposes that suit them. Fire protection is promised and, to a certain extent, delivered. But even after years of warnings, the protection is suited only to day-to-day demands -- a level of service sufficient to avoid pissing off voters, but not to meet emergencies. For example, former FEMA chief Michael Brown told interviewers:

"The White House needs to recognize that we are overstretched. They need to increase the size of the regular Army and stop relying so much on the National Guard. ..."

"FEMA's job is to pick up the phone and call another Governor and say 'Hey California is short on National Guard, can you spare a few?' but you can call any Governor in the country and everybody is stretched."

Insurance companies are better at staying on-mission, but they don't really exist to pay claims. Instead, they exist to gamble on not paying out claims; they pay if they lose that gamble. Massive disasters mean that they really lose -- and before they can honor a tidal wave of claims, you can expect significant delay and a lot of scrambling.

At least insurance companies have a sense of reality; they charge higher premiums when there are higher risks, and refuse to offer insurance when the risks are entirely too high to make it a sensible gamble. That's a sure sign to the people seeking insurance that they may be getting in over their heads.

As with so many things though, governments are capable of making a bad situation worse. Senator Dianne Feinstein is upset that, in arid, tinder-box Southern California, some people can't get fire insurance for their homes. Rather than take that as further evidence, in the midst of smoking ruins, that fire in some places is a greater risk than can safely be insured against, she proposes a taxpayer-subsidized scheme to offer insurance that professional insurers refuse to underwrite. That can only encourage people to continue to build in high-risk areas, setting the ground for future fire seasons to be dealt with, again, by inadequate, inappropriately allocated government resources. The inevitable result will be more destroyed lives and homes.

That's right -- more promises not worth relying on.

Really, the only provisions that people can count on are the ones they make for themselves. Insurance might be part of the package -- and government services that we're forced to pay for are part of the deal whether we want them or not. But completely relying on promises of protection ... well, ask the Californians with the smoking craters where their houses used to be how that worked out.

That doesn't mean we all have to be our own cops, fire departments, insurance companies and whatever else may come to mind, but it does mean that we all need to prepare for the worst and be ready to face it on our own terms.


A license to decide for yourself

The U.S. and the UK have been playing an annoying game of one-upsmanship over the past decade or two in the field of intrusive policies. Political correctness, penalties for racist jokes, smoking bans, "broken window" policing, asset forfeiture laws, television cameras monitoring public streets and much more -- really dumb ideas have been winging their way back and forth across the Atlantic Ocean, making life unpleasant for Americans and Britons alike. Overall, the UK has come out ahead in the nanny-state Olympics, and that unhappy country looks set to hold on to the crown.

The latest mother-knows-best proposal to make the rounds is a scheme put forth by Professor Julian le Grand, a one-time advisor to former Prime Minister Tony Blair, to require smokers to get their doctor's permission and pay 200 pounds annually to be issued a license that would permit them to purchase tobacco products. According to The Daily Telegraph, "The scheme would ensure smokers had to make a conscious decision to continue the habit and require people to become 'registered addicts'."

Prof le Grand, who lecturers in social policy at the London School of Economics and advises ministers through his chairmanship of Health England, said the idea was to make healthy choices the norm and force those who object to make a conscious effort to opt out.

The idea seems to come out of the "Libertarian Paternalism" school of thought that has become something of a craze among folks who like to crack the whip over their fellow man. For those not in the know, Libertarian Paternalism advocates imposing authoritarian policies short of outright bans to steer people to the "correct" choices, as determined by those in power, and then making such monumental presumption more palatable by attaching the word "libertarian" to it. Prof. le Grand didn't use the term -- at least, not as reported by the press -- but his proposal to permit smoking but make it harder and more expensive to be a smoker certainly fits that paternalistic philosophy.

Tellingly, le Grand advocates other mandates that also stink of aspirations to serve as philosopher-king.

He also proposed banning food manufacturers from adding salt to products, an exercise hour for all employees during the working day and free fruit in offices.

Because nothing says "we care" more clearly than forcing longshoremen and stockbrokers to take a break to perform jumping jacks side-by-side, followed by a shared apple and some good-natured bitching about the total lack of flavor in their food.

To his credit, le Grand acknowledges that not everybody would willingly go along with his scheme.

He admitted there could be a problem with an emerging black market where those with permits sold them to those without, and that it could create the impression that as long as one is licensed smoking is not harmful.

Britons might want to start looking into the practicality of growing tobacco in their gardens -- or of smuggling it in. They also should prepare for a long siege as "Libertarian Paternalists" like Julian le Grand continue to cook up ideas in keeping with their oh-so-current philosophy.

And Americans shouldn't feel too smug. If the past is any indicator, we're next.

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Monday, October 22, 2007

Fugitive from the nanny state

Scottish film actor Ewan McGregor, probably most visible as the young Obi-Wan Kenobi in the generally unwatchable three recent Star Wars movies, but much better in a host of other movies including Trainspotting and Shallow Grave, has been spending some time outside of the UK recently in parts of the world where the powers-that-be haven't yet got around to scrutinizing and micro-managing their subjects, and he likes what he sees. He reportedly told interviewers:

"Our trip opened my eyes to how insane the rules are in Britain -- CCTV cameras everywhere, congestion charge -- a ludicrous nanny state.

"If anything drives me out of the country it will be that -- not tax, I don't earn enough."

Britain has long been known for tax refugees, but I wonder if this could be the beginning of a flow of nanny state refugees. Hmmm. Somebody will have to create a firm policy to put a stop to that. For Britons' own good.


Sunday, October 21, 2007

More shenanigans in Maricopa County

Andrew Thomas, County Attorney for Maricopa County, Arizona, and co-leader of the county's ruling junta with Sheriff Joe Arpaio, has apparently been very busy spending taxpayer money on investigations of his political opponents. According to a report in the East Valley Tribune:

Thomas has paid Wilenchik and Bartness, the company he worked for immediately before taking office, at least $320,000 for legal services related to a range of opponents and high-profile political cases, according to county records.

Another firm, Iafrate & Rai, has been paid at least $35,000 to handle part of the county attorney’s legal work involving Phoenix New Times, the alternative newsweekly that on Friday was at the center of a public backlash against Thomas and Arpaio after sheriff’s deputies arrested and jailed its executives over violating grand jury secrecy rules.

Other political opponents of Thomas and Arpaio who have been the subject of legal work by outside counsel include immigration rights activists We Are America and the state’s top legal enforcement official, Attorney General Terry Goddard, as well as the West Valley View newspaper.

For a rabid anti-immigration demagogue, Thomas is doing a surprisingly good job of turning his county in a replica of a Central American banana republic.

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Friday, October 19, 2007

Has Sheriff Joe finally gone too far?

There is a place in the hotter climes where the local gendarmerie is headed up by strutting buffoon of a man who would be comic-opera fodder if he weren't so dangerous and powerful. Despite his thuggish behavior, this local chieftain has held his post through popular acclaim for what seems like eternity, though it has really been 15 years. While he may have the support of the people, the official leaves nothing to chance; he's notorious for purging dissidents from the ranks of his command, using his troops to spy on political opponents and even jailing journalists who cross him -- all in defiance of the formal laws of the land.

This unhappy place is Maricopa County, Arizona, and the bully who lords over the place is Sheriff Joe Arpaio. "America's toughest sheriff" is probably best known for forcing inmates in his jails to sleep in tents in the desert heat and wear pink underwear. In fact, though, Arpaio has drawn international attention and federal scrutiny for treatment of prisoners that is utterly brutal -- and sometimes lethal.

Arpaio's political dirty-tricks campaigns are less well-known beyond Arizona, and don't appear to have hurt him with county voters. It's no secret, though, that Arpaio has forced out deputies he considers disloyal. Nor is it a surprise to any Arizonan to hear that Maricopa County deputies have been caught conducting surveillance on anybody brave enough to run against Arpaio in an election or pick a fight with him in public. Perhaps the most prominent recipient of the Arpaio treatment was former County Attorney Rick Romley, who went to the feds with allegations that Arpaio's private army was spying on him.

Romley has since been succeeded by Andrew Thomas, an Arpaio ally.

Through all the years of Arpaio's reign, his most consistent critic has been the Phoenix New Times, an alternative weekly. The New Times has consistently questioned the sheriff's ethics, respect for civil liberties and fitness to hold office.

Now Arpaio has struck back, in spades.

First, Arpaio crony Thomas engineered a grand jury subpoena to the newspaper -- a document that the daily Arizona Republic describes as "unusually broad" and about which Professor James Weinstein of Arizona State University says, "It has got to be unconstitutional."

The subpoena alleges that the New Times disclosed Arpaio's home address in several critical articles (apparently a crime in this state). It seeks details about the source documents for those articles, but also for information about every Internet surfer who may have read those articles online over the past four years.

Upon receiving the subpoena, the New Times responded by running an in-depth article on the contents of the document and its implications for free speech -- again flirting with the law, which treats grand jury information as a state secret.

Arpaio retaliated quickly -- by arresting Michael Lacey and Jim Larkin, the two executives whose names appeared over the article about the subpoena.

It's possible that Arpaio has overstepped this time. The arrests are garnering press coverage around the country, and the First Amendment that the sheriff is trampling over in his effort to muzzle critics is one of the few parts of the Bill of Rights that still enjoys a fair degree of respect. Lacey and Larkin will certainly be able to pursue redress in the federal courts, which aren't as cozy with the sheriff as the state and local judicial system.

Sheriff Joe Arpaio may be a Third-World-style thug from Hollywood central casting, but he may find the larger world finally intruding into his private domain.

Update: With newspaper editorial boards and the blogosphere rightfully frothing at the mouth over the Arpaio-Thomas junta's blatant assault on press freedom, all charges have been dropped against the Phoenix New Times and its staff and the special prosecutor in the case, Dennis Wilenchik, has been fired.

Thomas and Wilenchik now face an investigation into legal and ethical complaints by the Arizona Bar Association.

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Thursday, October 18, 2007

Is this the dawning of the libertarian age?

It would be nice to think so -- and Michael Kinsley suggests that those of us who believe in live-and-let-live have reason to be cheerful.

Oh boy, I hope he's right. Then I could spend less of my income on ammo and more on booze and porn. I'm a libertarian, after all.

And really, who doesn't like booze and porn? Who you'd want to hang out with, that is.

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Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Patrick Gilman is an asshole

Who is Patrick Gilman?

Gilman is the Scranton, Pennsylvania, police officer who used his police connections and knowledge of the law to abuse a neighbor who rubbed him the wrong way. That neighbor is Dawn Herb, of West Scranton, who loudly cursed her toilet when it backed up and overflowed on the floor. Gilman overheard Herb through her open bathroom window, and got into what the Scranton Times-Tribune describes as a "brief verbal altercation" with her about her choice of language. A report in the Philadelphia Weekly suggests he may have told her to "shut the fuck up."

Apparently she didn't shut the fuck up, or maybe she did, but gave him more lip than he liked in the process. Gilman then called his buddies at police headquarters to have disorderly conduct charges brought against Herb. She now faces 90 days in jail and a $300 fine. The ACLU has taken her case.

Disorderly conduct for cursing at an overflowing toilet? Hmmm. I'm sure this has nothing to to do with Gilman's connections and status as a police officer.

As Mary Catherine Roper, an ACLU attorney told the Times-Tribune "You can’t prosecute somebody for swearing at a cop or a toilet." It's just not illegal -- nor should it be. But power has its own logic. If ticking off a servant of the state isn't formally illegal ... well ... he and his friends will just find a charge among the dusty racks of general-purpose statutes that will stick, effectively criminalizing any behavior they don't like.

So Patrick Gilman is certainly an asshole, but he's not a standout, bad-egg asshole. Instead, he's the sort of banal abuser of authority that you can expect any institutionalized system of coercive force to vomit up on a regular basis. Undoubtedly, he thinks he's fully justified in finding a semi-clever way twist the law to penalize a neighbor who had the nerve to mouth-off to a police officer. His colleagues surely agree. The lot of them are likely scratching their heads and wondering what all the fuss is about.

I certainly hope that Ms. Herb emerges from this ordeal relatively unscathed -- and with a clear idea about the predatory way in which our supposed protectors view us common folk.

And the rest of us can just hope we don't live next door to any Patrick Gilmans.

First-hand experience

Is the occupation of Iraq a resounding success? Is it a bloody failure. Well, I know what I think, but why don't we ask some folks who have spent time on the ground there?


Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Portland's finest

I'm sure there's no way the cops would taze a man just because he was videotaping them.


Who needs a warrant?

The Washington Post reports that at least one telecommunications company -- Verizon -- has been routinely surrendering information about its customers to government officials without court orders for years. The surrender of personal data has occurred in situations where investigators invoke the word "emergency" as a magic spell to summon instant compliance in the post-9/11 world.

From January 2005 to September 2007, Verizon provided data to federal authorities on an emergency basis 720 times, it said in the letter. The records included Internet protocol addresses as well as phone data. In that period, Verizon turned over information a total of 94,000 times to federal authorities armed with a subpoena or court order, the letter said. The information was used for a range of criminal investigations, including kidnapping and child-predator cases and counter-terrorism investigations.

What's worse, Verizona and AT&T say it's not their job to ensure that requests from the government for customer information are legal and above-board. As a result, the telecoms default to deference to any government request so long as it's not embarrassingly illegal.

AT&T and Verizon both argued that the onus should not be on the companies to determine whether the government has lawfully requested customer records. To do so in emergency cases would "slow lawful efforts to protect the public," wrote Randal S. Milch, senior vice president of legal and external affairs for Verizon Business, a subsidiary of Verizon Communications.

"Public officials, not private businessmen, must ultimately be responsible for whether the legal judgments underlying authorized surveillance activities turn out to be right or wrong -- legally or politically," wrote Wayne Watts, AT&T's senior executive vice president and general counsel. "Telecommunications carriers have a part to play in guarding against official abuses, but it is necessarily a modest one."

This is exactly backwards, of course. Companies have an obligation to protect their customers' privacy from intrusions by any unauthorized party. There's no good reason for treating a request from a government official any differently from a request from a divorce lawyer or a reporter; in the absence of a legal compulsion to surrender the data, it should remain private. If customers' privacy is willfully violated, the company should be held liable.

Not surprisingly, telecoms face a host of lawsuits for cooperating so eagerly with the government's warrantless surveillance efforts. Also unsurprisingly, Congress is moving to grant blanket immunity to anybody who helps the government spy on private citizens.

But why are the telecoms so quick to roll over for government investigators?

Honestly, such cozy arrangements are probably inevitable when the state has regulatory power to wield as a club. Telling government officials "no" could have dangerous results when the next antitrust hearing is held or future spectrum allocations are approved. There's always that fear that regulators will remember who's cooperative -- and who's not.

Add in the rah-rah post-9/11 political environment (however attenuated it's becoming), which has had much of the population cheering on even the most ridiculous government claims in the name of national security, and it's been a tough time for a corporate executive to decide that he's going to be the guy to tell the FBI to go fuck itself.

But that's all the more reason to work to kill efforts to immunize the private sector against lawsuits over privacy violations resulting from kowtowing to intrusive government demands. Lawsuits might at least make corporate executives think twice; immunity makes instant surrender the easy choice for all but the rare idealist in the boardroom.

And if private companies find it easy to surrender to government officials, we're just going to see more of this.


Monday, October 15, 2007

End-run around drug laws

Ah, good old American (and foreign) ingenuity! Why battle to re-legalize recreational drugs when you can just invent new, socially acceptable drugs that do the same thing?


Sunday, October 14, 2007

Land grabbers tested at the polls

Americans are angry about eminent domain, but how angry? That's the question in Riverside, California, where a city council packed with enthusiastic fans of using the government's power to seize homes, businesses and land to benefit private developers faces an election on November 6.

Since 2004, when Dom Betro, Art Gage and Steve Adams took seats on the City Council, the Riverside Redevelopment Agency has filed 18 eminent domain lawsuits to help spark revitalization downtown and in other parts of the city.

The council acts as a board of directors for the agency, whose mission is to eliminate blight and boost the city's economy.

Betro, Gage and Adams are all seeking reelection Nov. 6. Their opponents and voters have raised eminent domain as an issue in the races.

From 1990 through 2003, Riverside city councils voted 12 times to authorize the Redevelopment Agency's use of eminent domain, though the city was unable to say how many lawsuits the agency filed as a result of these votes.

Since 2004, the council has voted 13 times to authorize the agency's use of eminent domain. Sometimes an authorization involved several parcels and multiple owners, and the agency filed more than one lawsuit as a result.

If anger over the U.S. Supreme Court's contemptible Kelo decision remains at a healthy simmer, the land-grabbers on the Riverside city council could face the necessity of searching for real jobs; if voters' memories are as short as politicians usually say, the election will likely doom Riverside to a continuing frenzy of assaults on property rights.

Meanwhile, in Kansas, politicians and their friends in the press are arguing that even the limited eminent domain reforms passed in that state went too far and are hobbling good works. Aww, shucks, we can trust 'em. Right?


Horrible, horrible sobriety

There's a crisis brewing in my household. It seems that my wife and I have already blown our budget for the month. Between paying off our recent vacation, prepping our house for sale and eating out just a bit too much, we've sent our entertainment and household expenses soaring. I mean, really soaring. Wow.

Fortunately, our grocery expenditures are far below budget so far, and we're well -stocked on most items. So we have room to make up the red ink. Specifically, we've decided not to spend any more money on anything except absolute necessities this month, and that includes the grocery budget. We'll eat what's in the pantry and the refrigerator, and that's that.

But here's the crisis: My wine purchases are included in the grocery budget, and I have exactly three and a half bottles of red and one of white to get me through the next two weeks. I usually drink half a bottle each evening. That puts me on short rations.

Oh the sacrifices we make for fiscal responsibility.

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Saturday, October 13, 2007

From his own mouth

For those folks following Rep. Ron Paul's presidential campaign, there's a good interview with the candidate over on the PBS Website.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Hoedown at the fetish fair

As an enhancement to what I like to think of as my writerly career, I subscribe to MediaBistro, a service that offers publishing-industry job listings, tips on pitching magazines and book publishers, and general support for writers editors and other folks in media. All the various forms of publishing tend to be New York-centric, so one of the fringe benefits of my membership is a subscription to New York magazine. Yep, it's a little odd to sit on my patio with a view of Mingus Mountain, listening to the howls of the coyotes, while paging through articles about dining and nightlife in the most urban setting in the United States.

It shouldn't be a completely alien experience, of course. I'm a former New Yorker myself--in fact, I used to attend the floating cocktail parties thrown by Laurel Touby that eventually evolved into MediaBistro. But that was a lifetime ago (at least, it seems like a lifetime after I've been changing diapers). I once lived in a fifth-floor walk-up and made 9pm dinner reservations with plans to catch a band afterward; I now live at the end of a dirt road and the local restaurants close their kitchens at 9pm--which is fine because I'm generally in bed by 9:30.

In fact, despite my New York roots, reading New York is a lot like reading a travel brochure for Papua New Guinea--except that I recognize more of the names. Life in rural northern Arizona is dramatically different from that in New York City, and I've pretty much gone native (but I still have my old punk rock record collection--and a functioning turntable).

I'm tempted to drop a copy of New York off with my neighbors, who raise horses and pigs and have never been east of the Mississippi River. I think it would be a bit like randomly pasting together words and handing them the results--they'd recognize the language, but wouldn't extract much meaning. "What's rent control?" "Where's Loisada?" "What's a 'pro-leather bias' and why would it lead something called a 'community board' to approve a ... whoah ... does that say 'fetish fair?'"

I'm not trying to suggest that life in New York City is inherently better or worse than life in rural Arizona--both places have their pluses and minuses, and you pick the one that works for you. But I am saying that life in this country is incredibly diverse--to the point of mutual incomprehensibility in many cases. I think we sometimes paper over the differences in lifestyle, preferences and culture for the sake of portraying some kind of unified "America" that doesn't really exist.

There's a danger in ignoring such diversity as we move ever closer to top-down, one-size-fits-all governance. The fact is, there's little likelihood that policies cooked up in Washington, D.C. will work equally well (or poorly) across a huge country with areas as different as the West Village and Ash Fork, Arizona. These places are just too different to have programs, laws and taxes imposed from above. Even if you come up with a scheme that works perfectly in one of these places (I doubt you can do that, but for the sake of argument ...), it's probably going to be completely inappropriate when applied to the other.

So the more the federal government involves itself in the lives of all Americans, the more it's bound to create conflicts that don't need to exist. You see, rural Arizona and New York City don't have to care about their differences unless they're being forced to swallow each other's policies. When that happens, benign tolerance inevitably turns into sniping and mutual opposition.

By trying to force us together, the rule-from-the-center types drive us apart.


Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Sorry we tortured you, now piss off

Let's say you wanted to commit an injustice and then really compound the crime--all while exposing yourself to public vilification.

Why would you do such a thing? I don't know. Perhaps you're a masochist with a taste for humiliation.

Put aside the "why" for a moment though and go with it: What would you do to achieve the above goal?

Here's an idea: You could kidnap a man based solely on the fact that his name is similar to that of a notorious terrorist. You could secretly transport him to a location far from home. Once there, you could subject him to months of torture at the hands of hooded lackeys. When it becomes glaringly apparent to everybody involved that the abducted man is no relation to the bad guy with the sound-alike name, and has no secrets to spill no matter how hard you beat on him, you could dump him, without an apology, in a remote location hundreds of miles from home. You then, of course, deny the bewildered abductee any redress upon his return home and the very public stink he makes surrounding his treatment.

C'mon, you say, I like being despised as much as the next guy, but no way am I dumb enough to pull a stunt like that!

Maybe not--but the CIA apparently is. The poor fellow who got snatched and abused is a German named Khaled Masri, and the U.S. Supreme Court just declined to hear his case--without explaining its reasoning.

Just ... astounding.

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Witness for the prosecution

The always excellent Radley Balko gets yet more mileage from his expose of Dr. Steven Hayne, a pathologist who seems to run a testimony mill for prosecutors in Mississippi. Hayne's credibility has been questioned by that state's Supreme Court, and he's not eligible for certification by the National Association of Medical Examiners because the 1,500 or so autopsies he claim to perform each year far outstrips the maximum 325 that NAME believes an ME can perform with any degree of competence. Yet he's still in business.

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Friday, October 5, 2007

Regulatory roadblocks

The little piece of rural Arizona in which I live has one hospital, which caters to the diverse medical needs of a large area with the inherent limitations of a small, 110-bed facility and limited staff. Inevitably, conflicts arise over where the hospital should put its resources, and some areas of medical care lose out to others which have greater perceived need or louder lobbies. Specifically, the hospital has no pediatric unit; one has been planned for years, but the hospital is little closer to opening the doors of such a unit than it was when it made its initial promises to the area's first pediatrician back in 1999.

My wife, who owns the area's largest pediatric practice (OK, it's the only group practice--the other is a solo practitioner) has considered remedying that lack by opening a stand-alone pediatric in-patient facility. The facility would be dedicated to treating sick children to the best abilities of the local general pediatricians and whatever specialists might be lured in at a later date. It wouldn't be a full-service children's hospital, but it would be better than what we have now.

The problem is that, in our brave new world, you can't just put up a building, install equipment and beds and begin accepting patients. There are regulatory hoops to jump through, and those hoops increase dramatically if you keep patients for more than a day -- the magic cut-off point at which a clinic becomes a hospital in the eyes of government officials. Once that line is crossed, a whole new set of "i"s need to be dotted and "t"s must be crossed. Facilities must meet certain standards, a specified package of care must be provided, specified resources must be on-hand, and so on. It's not, strictly speaking, impossible to meet those requirements -- just really, really hard. It's certainly beyond the ability of a small-town pediatrician who wants to improve the local quality of care, but isn't backed by a large and sophisticated organization.

And still the area has no dedicated pediatric unit.

Rather than accept the care that medical entrepreneurs are willing and able to offer on their own, regulators impose mandates that perversely ensure that health care remains at a rudimentary level. We'll never know how often regulations supposedly meant to guarantee us good-quality products and services instead turn out to prevent us from receiving anything at all.

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A representative government that represents who?

Way to go America! New poll numbers show public support for both the President and Congress is at a historic low.

Only 31 percent said they approve of the job Bush is doing, according to the survey released on Thursday. His lowest previous approval in the survey was 32 percent — a virtual tie with the new reading — recorded several times, most recently in June. ...

Congress' job performance was approved by just 22 percent, continuing a steady decline in the public's assessment since Democrats took over in January. Unable to force Bush to wind down the Iraq war, just a quarter of Democrats gave a thumbs-up to Congress' work, compared to a fifth of Republicans and independents.

When sports teams get numbers like this, they abandon their empty taxpayer-funded stadiums in the middle of the night and move to new towns half-way across the country. Do you think we could get our politicos to emulate that sort of venue-shopping? Maybe Bush and Pelosi will share adjoining seats on a red-eye flight to new digs in some politician-friendly banana republic.


Thursday, October 4, 2007

Paul rolls in the dough

Ron Paul hauled in over five million dollars during the third quarter of 2007. That represents an increase of 114% over the previous period, apparently making him the only Republican candidate to bring in more money in the third quarter than in the second quarter.

It looks like the message of civil liberties, peace and small government appeals to Americans--if somebody bothers to present it.

If you have any interest in voting for Ron Paul in the primaries, make sure that you're registered as a Republican early enough to qualify.

If you're not sure where and how to register, or change your registration, the folks at Rock the Vote will make it easier.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Payback for activism

Paul Jacob, one-time prisoner of conscience for his efforts against draft registration, long-time proponent of term limits and, more recently, a well-known libertarian activist, has been indicted in Oklahoma as part of what appears to be an official effort to discourage citizen efforts to bypass legislators. Specifically, Jacob has been charged with a felony for allegedly hiring out-of-state residents to gather signatures to place a government-spending-cap initiative on the ballot.

The law in question is currently traveling its own tedious path through the judicial system on the way to a determination of its constitutionality, but prosecutors aren't waiting for the courts--they're going after prominent activists now.

Paul Jacob tells the whole tale in his own words at his Website.

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