Sunday, June 29, 2008

Heller case

This passage from Justice Stevens' dissent in the Second Amendment case struck my eye:
The Amendment’s use of the term “keep” in no way contradicts the military meaning conveyed by the phrase “bear arms” and the Amendment’s preamble. To the contrary, a number of state militia laws in effect at the time of the Second Amendment’s drafting used the term “keep” to describe the requirement that militia members store their arms at their homes, ready to be used for service when necessary. The Virginia military law, for example, ordered that “every one of the said officers, noncommissioned officers, and privates, shall constantly keep the aforesaid arms, accoutrements, and ammunition, ready to be produced whenever called for by his commanding officer.” Act for Regulating and Disciplining the Militia, 1785 Va. Acts ch. 1, §3, p. 2 (emphasis added). “[K]eep and bear arms” thus perfectly describes the responsibilities of a framing-era militia member.
Two points:

1. This passage is illogical. Stevens had been arguing that the phrase "bear arms" was somehow peculiar to the militia, thus suggesting that the Second Amendment right to "bear arms" must be connected to militia service. Problem: The Second Amendment speaks of the right to "KEEP and bear arms." This is why Justice Stevens shows a couple of places where the work "keep" was used in connection with the militia. But that's illogical: What Justice Stevens needs to support his argumen) is not anecdotal evidence that the word "keep" was occasionally used in the militia context, but evidence that the word "keep" was rarely or never used with any other meaning.

That, Justice Stevens doesn't have. Justice Scalia pointed to numerous occasions where the term "keep arms" was used outside of the militia context. As Scalia puts it, when Stevens gives significance to militia statutes that happened to use the word "keep" somewhere:
This is rather like saying that, since there are many statutes that authorize aggrieved employees to “file complaints” with federal agencies, the phrase “file complaints” has an employment-related connotation. “Keep arms” was simply a common way of referring to possessing arms, for militiamen and everyone else.

2. From a footnote, here is one of Justice Stevens' examples of colonial-era laws:
An Act for establishing a Militia, 1785 Del. Laws §7, p. 59 (And be it enacted, That every person between the ages of eighteen and fifty . . . shall at his own expense, provide himself . . . with a musket or firelock, with a bayonet, a cartouch box to contain twenty three cartridges, a priming wire, a brush and six flints, all in good order, on or before the first day of April next, under the penalty of forty shillings, and shall keep the same by him at all times, ready and fit for service, under the penalty of two shillings and six pence for each neglect or default thereof on every muster day.
Justice Stevens italicizes the word "keep," finding it significant that any militia member is described as having kept arms at home. But Justice Stevens passes by the fact that here the state government was requiring literally every person between the ages of eighteen and fifty to provide himself with a gun, ammunition, and a bayonet, on pain of what seems a substantial fine. It strikes me as surprising that anyone would quote such a law as evidence that the government is allowed to do the precise opposite, i.e., ban everyone from owning a usable firearm.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Lethal Objections

In a post on the Supreme Court's recent death penalty decision, Andy McCarthy of National Review twice refers to execution by "lethal objection." I imagine there are quite a few lawyers who, while defending a deposition or listening to opposing counsel speak at trial, have wished that they had such an option.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Advice to Parents

If you have a three-year-old daughter who thinks that painting her fingernails and toenails is perhaps the most desirable of all human activities, it is advisable to secure all bottles of White-Out in an location that is at least 6 feet off the ground (or perhaps in a locked safe).

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Cognitive Dissonance

Maybe not in the precise psychological sense, but cognitive discord of some sort is what I experienced tonight when I went from reading this in-depth analysis of peak oil* to this celebration of the pursuit of bodily near-immortality here on earth.

*Sample conclusion:
Within a few decades, the U.S. will lack automobile, truck, air, and rail transportation, as well as mechanized agriculture, adequate food and water supplies, electric power, sanitation, home heating, hospital care, and government services.
UPDATE: I'm reminded of the joke a classmate of mine made about Hobbes' description of the state of nature, in which life was "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short": "What, would you want life to be solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and long?"

Friday, June 20, 2008

Obama on Vouchers

I couldn't improve on this analysis of Obama's statement as to whether he would support vouchers:
Take the question of how many kids would leave government schools for private schools under a full school competition system. Obama wants to be on both sides of this assumption, sometimes assuming the number is small (when discussing benefits) and then assuming the number is large (when discussing costs). Obama is a master because he makes this switch back and forth from sentence to sentence. First, the number leaving public schools is low, since choice would just benefit "some kids" (Bad old rich ones at that) and leave our "a lot of kids." He again in the next sentence implies the number switching must be low, because there are not many private school spots. One sentence later, though, the number switching is high, since it would be a "huge drain of resources." And then, in the third paragraph, the number switching is very high, since all that are left in public schools are a small core of the "hardest-to-teach kids."

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Modern Architecture

I recently stumbled across the story of the proposed new library in Prague. Here's the winning design:

Res ipsa loquitur, as we lawyers often say.

One of the library's defenders described the design in the Prague Daily Monitor:
The term which has been used to describe the proposed shape of the National Library building on Prague’s Letná plain corresponds to a new worldwide trend, dubbed “blob architecture,” “blobism,” “blobitechture,” “blobismus,” or simply “blobby.”

Blobitechture is not very well known in the Czech lands. However, in the world around us, amoeba-shaped buildings are the latest rage in architectural design, and they would make our little “Octopus” feel right at home.
As luck would have it, not everyone is pleased that a protoplasmic eye of Sauron might overlook the city, and the proposed design has run into a bit of controversy. The disgruntled architect said:
'Architects should be proud of me,' said Kaplicky. 'I'm in this battle for all of them.'

Kaplicky warned the mayor that his political career would be finished if he continued to oppose the scheme, which he claims has huge popular support among the public.

'Twelve thousand people have signed an email petition in support of [the library]. There are stickers and they have even made cakes in the shape of it. When I get on a tram, at every stop three people from age five to age 80 stop to wish me good luck.'
I'll take the liberty of doubting that final sentence; I doubt that any architect in the world would ever be recognized at a random bus stop, let alone praised for such a "blob" design. And the relevance of 12,000 signatures on an email petition is rather dubious as well, even if all of the signatures came from Prague (a city of 1.2 million people), which is likely not the case.

The problem with this type of modern architecture -- beyond the fact that it seems to be intended to please the architect's vanity rather than to fit in with the surrounding neighborhood -- is that it is inflicted on a large number of people who are unwilling viewers. When it comes to modern music, you can put on an avant garde concert consisting of farts, jackhammers, fingernails on chalkboards, and the tenpenny whistle -- but no one is forced to buy a ticket to your performance (and no one will). As for modern art, you can sponsor an exhibit consisting of trash and defecation, or perhaps blank sheets of paper, but again no one is forced to view the exhibit.

But when a gargantuan eyesore of modern architecture is erected in the middle of a city, its ugliness is right there in view of anyone who needs to visit the building, who walks or drives by, etc. It's not quite as easy to avoid, unless you forswear ever visiting the library again or even visiting the neighborhood for any reason.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Underground Cities

Portions of both Sacramento, California and Eureka Springs, Arkansas are built on top of a previous layer of the city, such that what you see as street level actually has the original street-level one story beneath the ground. I wonder how many American cities were built in this way.


Given Ezra Klein's previous skepticism towards vouchers, it's nice to see that he's come around and has now written two posts supporting vouchers.

UPDATE: Never mind, my mistake. He supports healthcare vouchers, which would be completely different from school vouchers, with no parallels or analogues at all.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Size and Inequality

Tim Lee has an interesting post discussing power laws and the rise of inequality. I have often had the same intuition about monetary inequality, which has risen on a pre-tax basis over the past 30 years. There might be nefarious reasons behind this rise, of course, but when the entire country wants to patronize the best person(s) in a given field -- and where the work is scalable -- the growth of population probably means that people in that field will earn relatively more money than people in other professions.

For example, the best basketball player or the most popular movie star in a nation with 300 million people will make more money than the best basketball player or most popular movie star in a nation with 100 million people. That isn't true of janitors or mechanics or any number of non-scalable occupations; population growth doesn't enable them to sell their work to more and more people. And then add to this the fact that we're a richer country than in the 1950s, making it more likely that the wages of the best basketball player or hedge fund manager will be bid up. I wonder how much these factors account for the rise in inequality during the last few decades.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Wal-Mart Subrogation

A while back, a lot of people criticized Wal-Mart for this story:
A collision with a semi-trailer truck seven years ago left 52-year-old Deborah Shank permanently brain-damaged and in a wheelchair. Her husband, Jim, and three sons found a small source of solace: a $700,000 accident settlement from the trucking company involved. After legal fees and other expenses, the remaining $417,000 was put in a special trust. It was to be used for Mrs. Shank's care.

Instead, all of it is now slated to go to Mrs. Shank's former employer, Wal-Mart Stores Inc.

Two years ago, the retail giant's health plan sued the Shanks for the $470,000 it had spent on her medical care. A federal judge ruled last year in Wal-Mart's favor, backed by an appeals-court decision in August. Now, her family has to rely on Medicaid and Mrs. Shank's social-security payments to keep up her round-the-clock care.
Wal-Mart eventually had a change of heart.

I didn't follow all of the commentary on that story too closely, but in all of the denunciations of Wal-Mart, I don't recall seeing anyone acknowledge that our own federal government does the exact same thing. Under federal regulations, Medicare is "subrogated" -- meaning it has a right of reimbursement -- when it makes medical payments for services and the person then gets a damages award in a lawsuit for the same services. Medicare can also file its own lawsuit against the injured person if he or she refuses to reimburse Medicare. Here is one plaintiff's lawyer's perspective, for example.

The same is true for Medicaid; a federal law specifically requires that state Medicaid plans be designed so that "in any case where such a legal liability is found to exist after medical assistance has been made available on behalf of the individual and where the amount of reimbursement the State can reasonably expect to recover exceeds the costs of such recovery, the State or local agency will seek reimbursement for such assistance to the extent of such legal liability."

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Urban Farming

As the price of oil continues to rise, several stories have pointed out that more and more people are taking up gardening (see here, here, and here). Presumably we'll start to see more of the urban farming described here. Also of interest is an urban artisan cheesemaker in Atlanta; note all of the obstacles that she faced in even getting off the ground:
Under the flight path of the world's busiest airport, one of the world's oldest crafts takes shape in curds and whey.

Georgia's newest artisan cheesemaker, Mary Rigdon of Decimal Place Farm, turns out creamy chèvre, feta and tuma, a mozzarella-type cheese. Rigdon's dairy, supplied by a small herd of Saanen goats, received state certification earlier this month.

For Rigdon, it's the culmination of 13 years of dreaming and working to meet the state's rigorous standards for dairies, printed in a book more than two inches thick.
I predict that there may be some pressure to reduce such anti-competitive regulations in the future, if food prices continue to rise.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Fake Ad

Another fake ad, with a heavy debt to Dr. Boli:
Homeopathic Education

Doctors of homeopathy believe that a sick person can be treated if he ingests a drug or toxin that would produce the same symptoms as the sickness itself. But first, the doctor must dilute the drug or toxin numerous times, such that the toxic effect is removed while (for reasons too obvious to state) the healthful qualities are retained by the water or alcohol in which the dilution occurred.

At long last, Dr. Grumply and Associates -- all of whom are eminent experimental educators -- have come up with a curriculum based on these sound medical principles. It begins with the simple notion that all education aims at avoiding error. Based on homeopathic principles, erroneous propositions must be diluted many times over by interspersing them with nonsense words or syllables. The result will be a book that eliminates all error in the relevant subject.

For example, our new 3rd grade math book consists of 200 pages of nonsense words, along with the proposition 2 + 2 = 5 somewhere in the middle. We predict that, using this math book, 3rd graders will successfully learn the entire traditional math curriculum with a minimum of effort.

Order Dr. Grumply's curriculum today, and you will be the earliest adopter (even ahead of California). Dr. Grumply's Homeopathic Curriculum, PO Box 1492, Asparagus, ND 70564.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

4-Year-Old Fitness

I occasionally do Tabata burpees in my living room. My adopted son, who just turned 4 a few weeks ago, is very impressed with burpees, and he does them all the time (seriously -- my parents were keeping him the other night, and he must have done 50). I caught him on film this morning:

His form obviously isn't perfect, but that will come.

I also got him on film doing kneeling jumps. I showed him this once, and he immediately caught on. (For some reason he thinks that he has to return to the kneeling position by jumping as well.)

I don't pressure him at all to do this kind of stuff. He just sees me do it and then does it on his own obsessively. He's going to be the fittest 4-year-old ever. ;)

Friday, June 06, 2008

Protein Drinks

In opposing post-workout protein drinks, Arthur De Vany says this:
Feeding does little to alter the balance of protein wastage versus protein retention. Why? Evolution designed our regulatory mechanisms to conserve protein through many mechanisms I have mentioned over the years on this blog. Our ancestors did not have supplements, yet they were as muscular as any one of us should be in a healthy state.
As I've suggested before, I'm skeptical of this whole notion that "evolution designed" our bodies to be optimally healthy when eating or exercising as did our ancestors. To be sure, our ancestors were able to survive without protein drinks -- just as they (or at least enough of them to produce marvelous offspring like you and me) were somehow able to survive without eating any vegetables or fruit for most of the year, as there were no freezers, canners, or ships bringing food from Chile. That doesn't imply that it is optimal for us all to avoid vegetables and fruit for most of the year.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Another Good Reason to Sprint

From Science Daily:
Brief, Intense Exercise Can Benefit The Heart, Study Shows

ScienceDaily (Jun. 4, 2008) — Short bursts of high intensity sprints--known to benefit muscle and improve exercise performance--can improve the function and structure of blood vessels, in particular arteries that deliver blood to our muscles and heart, according to new research from McMaster University.

. . .

"As we age, the arteries become stiffer and tend to lose their ability to dilate, and these effects contribute to high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease," says Maureen MacDonald, academic advisor and an associate professor in the Department of Kinesiology. "More detrimental is the effect that blood vessel stiffening has on the heart, which has to circulate blood".

The research compared individuals who completed interval training using 30-second "all-out" sprints three days a week to a group who completed between 40 and 60 minutes of moderate-intensity cycling five days a week.

It found that six weeks of intense sprint interval exercise training improves the structure and function of arteries as much as traditional andl onger endurance exercise with larger time commitment.
. . .