3 May 2009

Swine Flu

Submitted by Paul Brown

I could complain about over-the-top journalism that seems determined to make everyone freak out about sneezes and "the other white meat", but instead I will simply point you to a useful website that will help you diagnose whether you have "swine flu" and give some simple instruction about what to do if you have it. See doihaevswineflu.org.

3 Apr 2009

Really? Iowa was next?

Submitted by Paul Brown

Another state has fallen to a court decision to legitimate homosexual unions as "marriages". This is not surprising. What is surprising is that the fourth state to officially endorse the terminology of "marriage" being applied to homosexual unions is my home state of Iowa. Iowa hardly has the liberal reputation of California, yet there it is. The decision is based upon a simple analysis by the state supreme court that there is no compelling reason to limit marriage licensing by the state to one man and one woman. They examined several arguments for the importance of heterosexual marriage and found them insufficient.

I find this development fascinating, as once again, a state statute is turned over for what amounts to little more than judicial fiat. As in the case of California, "marriage" is held to be a vacuous term with no intrinsic meaning. The Iowa ruling appears to be based less upon the "fundamental right to marry" that was cited in California and more upon a strictly utilitarian assessment of "gay marriage" that concluded that there's nothing harmful about it and no compelling benefit in restricting marriage to heterosexual couples.

The Iowa Supreme Court considered several arguments for guarding marriage to be only for heterosexual couples.

  1. Promotion of Optimal Environment to Raise Children The Court's counter-argument here is that many heterosexual couples do not provide an optimal environment to raise children. The Court also notes that not all homosexual couples would raise children, so it is overly exclusive to bar them from "marrying" on this ground.
  2. Promotion of Procreation The Court's counter-argument here is that letting homosexual couples "marry" does not have any detrimental effect on the procreation of homosexual married couples.
  3. Promoting Stability in Opposite-Sex Relationships The Court's counter-argument here is, like the previous one, that letting homosexual couples "marry" does not have any negative effect on heterosexual married couples.

There were a few other arguments considered, but I think that these were the three strongest. Where I think the Court first went wrong was in implicitly denying that marriage has any intrinsic definition or value. In my mind the issue isn't really about gay marriage, per se. Yes, homosexual behavior is an abomination to the Lord, unhealthy for society, etc., etc. I believe that, but I'm not going to fight for society to uphold that standard; I think we're past that now. The problem is that even the widely and deeply held belief that marriage means something is being forcibly deinstitutionalized through the courts. When marriage means nothing, then of course gay people can "marry". In fact, there's no reason why I couldn't marry two women—or even marry my canary (to borrow a line from Greg Koukl)!

Maybe gay marriage per se doesn't have a negative effect on the utilitarian benefits of marriage, but deinstitutionalizing marriage sure might. And the way the courts are moving, it looks like we are going to find out.

25 Mar 2009

How many states have you been to?

Submitted by Paul Brown

Holly posted this on Facebook, and it seems interesting, so I'm going to do it, too. I don't remember exactly where we went on some of our family vacations when I was growing up, so I may be off by a few states here and there.

Alabama – Visited family there twice, I think (1)
Alaska – no
Arizona – I don't think so
Arkansas – I don't think so
California – Yep, visited friends there twice (2)
Colorado – I live here now, and visited family in CO many times before that (3)
Connecticut – Yep, visited Sarah and Kevin several times (4)
Delaware – Not sure, but I don't think so
Florida – Yep, Disney World (5)
Georgia – Yep, passed through a few times (6)
Hawaii – no
Idaho – I don't think so, but maybe
Illinois – Passed through many times (7)
Indiana – Passed through many times (8)
Iowa – I lived there for fifteen years (9)
Kansas – Passed through a few times and went for Katie and Theoden's wedding (10)
Kentucky – Toured around for one family vacation, passed through many times. I think Kentucky is a beautiful state. (11)
Louisiana – I don't think so.
Maine – no
Maryland – Passed through, I think (12)
Massachusetts – Yes, I flew into Boston when visiting Sarah and Kevin once or twice (13)
Michigan – I went to visit the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor when I was considering colleges in high school (14)
Minnesota – Yep, at some point I'm sure we went there. I remember that we went to the Mall of America (15)
Mississippi – I *think* so on the way to AL, but I'm not sure. (16)
Missouri – Yes, many times passing through (17)
Montana – I don't think so
Nebraska – I did two co-op terms in Columbus, Nebraska (18)
Nevada – I don't think so
New Hampshire – no
New Jersey – I think we went there on a family vacation once (19)
New Mexico – Visited family there, drove through to El Paso, and a couple of work trips (20)
New York – Family vacation and later some training in Schenectady (21)
North Carolina – Was born there! (22)
North Dakota – I don't think so
Ohio – Passed through at least once (23)
Oklahoma – Passed through on the way to Houston and now visited family in OK. A few work trips as well, and probably one more in the near future. (Ugh.) (24)
Oregon – no
Pennsylvania – Family vacation, I think (25)
Rhode Island – Passing through from Boston to CT. (26)
South Carolina – Family vacations to Myrtle Beach and visiting friends in Charleston (27)
South Dakota – Mt. Rushmore and the Black Hills. Also a trombone seminar in high school (28)
Tennessee – Passed through a few times, I think (29)
Texas – Visited family in Houston several times (30)
Utah – I don't think so
Virginia – Passed through several times, visited Sarah and Kevin when Kevin was stationed there, visited family (31)
Washington – no
Washington DC (not a state but…) – family vacation (32)
West Virginia – Passed through many times (33)
Wisconsin – I don't think so
Wyoming – Passed through on family vacation at least once (34)

Holly hit 38 and has me beat by a few. The map below shows which states we claim to have visited. It looks like we're due for a vacation or two across the northern United States!

States Visited by Holly and Paul

(Base map from Wikimedia Commons, edited with Inkscape and ConTEXT to make this SVG file before exporting to png, then converted to jpg with the Gimp.)

19 Mar 2009

A.I.G. Bonuses: A Rant

Submitted by Paul Brown

It seems that our elected officials in Washington are all up in arms about what they consider extravagant bonuses that A.I.G. decided to give to some of their employees after receiving huge sums of bailout money from the government. The furor seems to be coming from both Democrats and Republicans, yet I think that this whole firestorm is, in short, ridiculous.

If I hire a company to provide some service for me, the transaction is quite simple: I pay them the agreed amount, and they perform the service agreed upon. Sometimes a simple verbal agreement may be sufficient, but for complex transactions, a contract may be required to be sure that all parties are clear on exactly what the terms are. At the company I work at, we use specification and contracts for practically all the work that we hire others to do or that we are hired to do. If we are hired to design a substation, our client will provide us a specification of exactly what they want. If something isn't specified, then we are free to do what we want as long as we meet our due diligence to provide a product that is safe and meets the client's needs.

In the massive bailout of A.I.G. and other companies, the government was apparently handing out money without any clear specification of what those companies were to do with it. Was there no clear service that was to be provided? And if the money was being provided with no expectation of anything in return, is the company not free to do with it whatever they think best, including giving bonuses to their employees?

I see three possibilities:

  1. A.I.G. has not met the terms of their bailout monies. In this case, the government can pursue corrective action so they receive the services expected.
  2. A.I.G. has met the terms of their bailout monies, but the result is not what the government expected. In this case, the fault lies with the government for agreeing to a contract that did not adequately express their intentions and expectations. Everyone knew the bailout was being rushed, and oversights like this are the result of being hurried. There's an engineering adage that says, "Quality, Speed, Cost: Pick any two". (My sense is that in this case all we will actually have gotten is speedy action. It will be exceedingly costly and all screwed up.)
  3. A.I.G. has met the terms of their bailout monies, and the government is getting what they wanted and expected. In this case, everyone needs to simmer down and let A.I.G. do what they think is best for their company. If anyone should be punished for this debacle, it is our elected representatives, not the A.I.G. employees who did nothing wrong with respect to this whole situation.

Frankly I think the bailouts will turn out to have been a bad idea, and from what I've seen in the news, more and more companies are realizing that their objectives and those of the government don't match up—to such a degree that they would rather not receive bailout money than submit to all the conditions that the government is putting on the funds.

The following graphic demonstrates how severe the flood of bailout money into the economy has been:

Moneytary Base: http://research.stlouisfed.org/fred2/series/AMBSL?cid=124

With that much new cash in the system, how can massive inflation not eventually result? (HT: Glenn Beck)

My friends, we certainly live in interesting times!

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