Monday, February 28, 2005

End of the lapse

Whew! It's been a busy week and I've done the unthinkable ... let my blog lapse. And now it's late on Monday night and any profundity I might have is running on fumes.

But here's an "interesting" fact:

I paid government $1,568.00 late last week for the privilege of buying a new (to me) vehicle. Actually, that was just the sales tax. In addition, I paid $79.00 in B&O (Business and Occupation) taxes (next time you think "business" pays those taxes, think again); $150.00 in title and license fees; $35.00 in documentary fees; and $6.50 for a King County trauma care fee.

Since the vehicle is used, government already collected more than that from the first person who bought it. And since I am likely to sell it someday several years down the road, government will collect money again from another buyer.

Government makes a lot of money when we spend money.

Saturday, February 19, 2005

State of Fear

A friend of mine recently sent me a copy of Michael Crichton's latest novel State of Fear. I recommend it, both for entertainment and a great overview of the modern global warming debate.

Amid numerous gory deaths (fair warning) and a fair amount of profanity (warning, warning), Crichton picks apart the myth of global warming, starting with all of the common claims we hear every day. Though fictional, the novel is full of footnotes to scientific documents, proving Crichton did a significant amount of research in the process.

I think one of the most interesting observations he makes (through the character of an intelligent but wild-eyed professor) is the crux of the novel's title:

"For fifty years, Western nations had maintained their citizens in a state of perpetual fear. Fear of the other side. Fear of nuclear war. The Communist menace. The Iron Curtain. The Evil Empire. And within the Communist countries, the same in reverse. Fear of us. Then, suddenly, in the fall of 1989, it was all finished. Gone, vanished. Over. The fall of the Berlin Wall created a vacuum of fear. Nature abhors a vacuum. Something had to fill it."

Evans frowned. "You're saying that environmental crises took the place of the Cold War?"

"That is what the evidence shows. Of course, now we have radical fundamentalism and post-9/11 terrorism to make us afraid, and those are certainly real reasons for fear, but that is not my point. My point is, there is always a cause for fear.

"Has it ever occurred to you how astonishing the culture of Western society really is? Industrialized nations provide their citizens with unprecedented safety, health, and comfort. Average life spans increased fifty percent in the last century. Yet modern people live in abject fear. They are afraid of strangers, of disease, of crime, of the environment. They are afraid of the homes they live in, the food they eat, the technology that surrounds them. They are in a particular panic over things they can't even see -- germs, chemicals, additives, pollutants.

"How has this worldview been instilled in everybody? ... I call it the politico-legal-media complex. The PLM. ... Western nations are fabulously safe. Yet people do not feel they are, because of the PLM. ... Politicians need fear to control the population. Lawyers need dangers to litigate, and make money. The media need scare stories to capture an audience. Together, these three estates are so compelling that they can go about their business even if the scare is totally groundless. If it has no basis in fact at all."
You can no doubt pick the book up at Amazon.com if you're interested.

I may have been unfair

I mentioned my theory on liberal mind-readers to my dad, and he emailed back with some very interesting thoughts and information about brains and tendons:

[The nurse] was partly right. ... Some people can mentally block a deep tendon reflex, like a patellar reflex. I've encountered lots and lots of people who could.

When you thump certain tendons, like the knee one, it stretches it, which stimulates proprioceptors in the tendon, which fire a signal up the nerve to the spine and then to the brain. With deep tendon (or myotatic) reflexes, the spine fires a motor signal back and makes the quadricept muscles contract and slightly extend the knee before the brain can interpret the signal, decide not to contract the quadricept and send a motor signal back. But some people anticipating the thump to the patellar tendon already have the signal on the way before the reflex can happen.

But... the theory is that a brain can only actively deal with three signals, give or take depending on the individual, at a time. Like three sensory ones, coming from some place in the body to the brain; or three motor ones sent from the brain to some muscle in the body; or some combination of sensory and motor signals.

Brains give priority to motor signals. That's why when someone is playing a rough, active, intense sport where they have to notice and respond to many things at once, they don't notice all the bumps and bruises and associated owies and pain util they are done playing.

So... if you occupy a brain with three motor tasks, it will ignore insignificant sensory signals, like the signal sent from the proprioceptors in the patellar tendon after it is slightly and briefly stretched by being thumped, and not send a motor signal to block the reflex triggered by the signal fired back from the spine.

What I do is give the person more than three motor functions to do at the same time. "Hold your arms with your elbows out to the sides parallel to the floor (one task requiring a signal from the brain to a muscle), hook your fingers together in front of you (another signal from brain to a muscle), focus your eyes on the orange flower in the picture on the wall to your right (signal from brain to neck and eye muscles), and pull real hard with your hands (more signals to muscles. Many people actually can't do all those things at once. They're maxed out.)." Then I thump their knee. It never didn't work.

They teach women the same theory for natural childbirth, to block pain. It's called psychoprophylaxis (mind blocking). They have them breath in certain patterns and count fingers on someone else's hands.
So I guess we'll have to see if he can make my knees bounce.

Friday, February 18, 2005

They're in your mind

My dad, a registered nurse, works with a drug research company, which is why I'm now participating in an out-patient drug study. I am a human guinea pig.

So this morning I was at the clinic having my reflexes checked with a little rubber hammer. Much to my disappointment over the years, no one has ever been able to get my knees to bounce. I really want to see them bounce. For some reason it's always a little alarming when the nurse tries and tries and finally says with wrinkled brow: "Huh. You have no reflexes." I always have to remind myself that my legs still seem to work so it's probably ok.

Anyway, today a new nurse was hitting me with the hammer.

(Key to the story: I know from past discussions that this nurse is politically and philosophically very liberal.)

As she bustled about getting ready, I made small-talk by telling her no one had ever been able to make my knees bounce. She assured me that she could.

She couldn't.

But instead of the standard response, she informed me that it was because I was steeling my will against it. She was serious. I was told to "think about something else" while she tried again. When it still didn't work she told me it was because I was still thinking about not letting my knees bounce, even though I didn't know it.

And it was suddenly clear: The reason liberals know what's best for everyone else is because they know what we're thinking even when we don't.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Cemeteries are interesting

I don't know if I'm morbid for liking cemeteries, but I always have. There's a lot to spark the imagination there, and a lot to signify the depth of humanity.

Cemeteries are a testament to the eternal significance of human life. The fresh flowers on crumbling headstones are proof that life doesn't end with death. Who we are becomes a part of who other people are, for generations to come.

The weight and the glory...

Reader's Undigestible

I'm still mourning the devolution of Reader's Digest, now the People Lite of magazines.

I grew up on the "old" RD -- the one with words on the cover instead of meaningless slogans and Hollywoodites. It was the first magazine I remember buying with my own money as a kid; the one I was impatient to get my hands on two weeks before the next issue came out.

The original RD stuck up for old-fashioned American values like honesty, strength in times of trial, kindness to strangers, and constitutional government. The research was sound and trustworthy, the dramas real, the content substantive.

I was talking with a contributing editor of the Old RD a couple of years ago, and he sorrowfully informed me the changes -- the transformation from substance to fluff -- were intentional. The first thing cut was the fact-checking department. The "old-schoolers" were phased out.

When subscriptions dropped from 16 million to 9 million, the new ownership said it was part of the plan to make the magazine "more manageable."

And so a bright candle has been snuffed.

Monday, February 14, 2005

"It's just stupid, Stupid."

Former President Bill Clinton just won a grammy for "the spoken word." He certainly didn't win it for his impeccable logic.

The subject is Bush's tax cuts "for the rich." Clinton tells the story of a young soldier who gripped his hand in a crowd and said: "I'm probably the only man in my company who wishes you were still president." (Probably so.) The man is missing a limb and four of his comrades were killed in a roadside bomb. Clinton wishes he could give as much for his country, and claims President Bush's tax cuts have "deprived us [rich people] of the opportunity to help fight terror these last four years; he is not letting us sacrifice like that brave military soldier." (paraphrase)

I'm gagging.

Can someone tell me who's stopping Mr. Clinton from writing a check to Uncle Sam right now?

No one, that's who.

But apparently 1) he's so greedy he won't part with money unless government takes it from him by force, 2) he thinks everyone else is just as greedy and he should therefore take their money by force, 3) he knows people aren't greedy but knows they still won't choose to give government more money, and/or 4) he's willing to exploit soldiers and say disingenuous, stupid things to make government bigger.

Isn't that just like the liberal elite?

Not too late

If you didn't get around to signing up for the Education Reformer, EFF's bi-monthly e-newsletter, it's not too late. If you'd like to preview it first, you can do so here. There's a link in the sidebar if you'd like to subscribe (it's free), or you can go to this link and choose the education list.

Note: It won't ever be "too late" to sign up, but if you wait a month you'll miss at least two issues, plus the one you already missed. Six months: you'll miss twelve issues.

Yikes, right? Who wants to miss an issue?

Friday, February 11, 2005

Jeremiah 9:23-24

"Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom,
Let not the mighty man glory in his might,
Nor let the rich man glory in his riches;
But let him who glories glory in this,
That he understands and knows Me,
That I am the Lord,
Exercising lovingkindness, justice,
and righteousness in the earth."

"For in these I delight," says the Lord.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Obsessing over differences

Olympia: Where psychobabble becomes policy.

As if we don't have enough taxpayer-soaking committees, boards and advisories, some legislators are trying to form the [deep breath] Joint Select Committee on Equitable Opportunity For All (JSCEOFA).

The JSCEOFA (as defined by House Bill 1659) would "consult with communities of color stakeholders" to make sure small children in our state schools have an unhealthy dose of diversity indoctrination before they're old enough to sound out the words (assuming they're fortunate enough to learn phonics).

The whole thing is a ridiculous idea. Diversity isn't something you can "promote" with a centralized program; it's something that flourishes when there is no centralized program to stifle and limit it.

Remember the old "patchwork quilt"? Proponents of "diversity programs" seem to want to stamp out thousands of identically bland patchwork quilts (hapless children who all have the same narrow understanding of "diverse"), rather than allowing each child to be a unique patch in the quilt we call culture.

Far better that we teach children to read, write, do math, think critically, and recognize that humans (who come in all shapes, sizes and colors) share the capacity to reason and communicate. That's the common ground that breeds respect for benign differences. Obsessing on those differences, for whatever reason, is counterproductive.

Bon Voyage!

According to yesterday's News Tribune (in an article reprinted from the New York Times), the Liberal Exodus to Canada has begun. Canadian officials have identified a few hundred American refugees who claim they're "fleeing Bush."

Ha HA! Bon Voyage!

Hello? Help Desk?

Does anyone out there know how I can add "links" to the sidebar on this blog? It's one of those free blogs you get at blogspot.com. I've seen other blogspotters who have links, and now I have link-envy.

Monday, February 07, 2005

Patrol and Destroy

This letter in The News Tribune today made me laugh:

As I sit in my office in downtown Tacoma, I listen to one (or more) car alarms which have been going on for hours on end. Can the city budget afford to hire someone whose job it would be to patrol and destroy vehicles which have been shrilling away, annoying people until they wish they'd lose their hearing?

Marge Neumann
Well, I can think of other, less useful things the City Council does with our money.

Cascade County?

Those rural people are trying to get away from King County and its onerous restrictions on their property again. Efforts to secede and start Cascade County have been revived after a previous failed attempt in the 90s (then called Cedar County).

Admit it: "Cascade County" has a real ring to it.

Beware, Rogue Piercers!

Kids in Washington will have a harder time poking holes in their body if Sen. Pam Roach has her way. Senate Bill 5738 would make it a misdemeanor to body-pierce a minor without written parental consent, proof of relationship with consenting parent, and a parent present for the piercing.

I don't know if the state has a legitimate role here or not. I mean, do we need Big Brother stopping teenagers from doing stupid things, or do we need a government that supports (i.e. doesn't interfere with) reasonable parental discipline before and after the fact?

I don't have any body-piercings because I'm afraid of being struck by lightning in a storm, but I did have a roommate in D.C. who came home one day and blurted out: "I wath on the thubway coming home when I thaw thith girl with her tongue pierthed. She looked tho cute! Tho I got mine pierthed! It hurtth!"

She wasn't a minor though. What is government to do about that? I know! A body-piercing tax!

Friday, February 04, 2005

Taxes, more taxes!

My latest on Sound Politics, this time about yet another education tax proposal. ('Fraid you'll have to scroll down until you see the article titled "You say 'no,' they say 'yes." For some reason I can't get the direct link to work.)

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Social (in)Security

If you're following the Social Security reform debate, the Club for Growth has a great website called Social Security Choice you'll want to check out.

Also, some recent articles by David Hogberg in the American Spectator:

Insecure Arguments
The True Cost of Social Security

Village mentality

I endured another multi-hour legislative hearing this week, during which a steady stream of bleeding hearts spoke about the need to repeal the constitutional provision that requires a sixty percent majority to pass a school levy in our state.

Young students were trotted in to give the "we are the future" speech; teachers' union representatives decried the "unfairness" of it all; school administrators sobbed about heart-wrenching layoffs and leaky roofs; and one absurd education professional stated with certainty that levy committees knew how to assess a local economy and would never ask for more than their local taxpayers could pony up comfortably. (Why fret? Our benevolent leaders know what we can afford.)

The cake-taker was a PTA member who said her "darkest moment" came sometime last year when she was rushing out the door to attend a levy campaign meeting. Her son stopped her and said, "Mom, I need help with my homework tonight." She was torn. The question, she said, came down to: Should I help this one child, or the 26,000 who will benefit if we can get more money for our schools?

"Sorry," she told her son, "you're going to have to figure it out yourself. And tell your dad there's a pot pie in the freezer."

Frankly, I was a little shocked to hear her say it (I know, I shouldn't be shocked anymore), as if "this one child" wasn't her own son who should be far more precious to her than any number of other children. Her village mentality -- along with the fallacy that money is more important to student achievement than loving parental involvement -- is a big part of the problem in our public schools today.

On a good note: A lone but quintessential citizen named Myrtle (whose elderly husband accompanied her and sat in the audience) took the microphone on behalf of the invisible man in the levy debate: the property owner who will be paying the bills. She also cited the fact that less than half of the dollars we currently spend for education [an average of $9,439 per pupil per year] make it to the classroom where instruction happens. Perhaps, she suggested, we should figure out where that money is going before we demand more.

Yes, perhaps.

Let Us Now Try Liberty

Here's one of my favorite Bastiat quotes. (If you haven't read The Law, do, oh do!)

God has given to men all that is necessary for them to accomplish their destinies. He has provided a social form as well as a human form. And these social organs of persons are so constituted that they will develop themselves harmoniously in the clean air of liberty. Away, then, with quacks and organizers! Away with their rings, chains, hooks, and pincers! Away with their artificial systems! Away with the whims of governmental administrators, their socialized projects, their centralization, their tariffs, their government schools, their state religions, their free credit, their bank monopolies, their regulations, their restrictions, their equalization by taxation, and their pious moralizations!

And now that the legislators and do-gooders have so futilely inflicted so many systems upon society, may they finally end where they should have begun: May they reject all systems, and try liberty; for liberty is an acknowledgment of faith in God and His works.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Miles did a hand-stand (paw-stand?)

In stark contrast to my sister, I was agility-challenged growing up. She was bendy, twisty and flippy. I was sore after sitting cross-legged for two minutes. She could do a hand-stand in the middle of the room. I was proud if I managed to lean against the wall upside-down on my head. (My family graciously called this a "head-stand." I haven't tried it since childhood, largely due to the suspicion that my head would explode.)

But this post is about Miles.

Miles did a hand-stand (paw-stand, whatever) the other day. On a normal day it's not unusual to see him crash into table legs or lose his balance running around a corner on the wood floor. On this day, he was facing The Medicine Dropper.

I had him cornered in the bathroom. It was me and the medicine dropper against him and his twenty claws and sharp teeth. I was bloodied, but not beaten. (If our IQs were any closer, he'd win, but I think I've got at least a hundred points on him.) The medicine dropper was getting closer and closer to his frowning, growling mouth and he was avoiding it by flattening his face against the floor. He managed to shrink and scrunch backward into the corner until there wasn't room for another molecule, and then he kept on going right up the bathroom wall until he was stretched vertically as far up the wall as he could go, his face still obstinately pointed at the floor.

Miles won that round because I started laughing, but I won the battle.

We fight again tonight. And tomorrow morning. And tomorrow night. And so on until he's done taking the antibiotics. To his credit, he's managed to splatter at least a dropper-full around the bathroom.