Tuesday, October 30, 2007

impermanence, and acceptance


Before I really get into this story, I need a little bit of background. About a month ago we took Andrew to Chuck E. Cheese. On the way in they stamped our hands with a rotating integer stamp using some pigment that fluoresced under black light. This allowed them to check that we left with the kid we came in with. He noticed this, and noticed them checking it on the way out, and then had a fit in the parking lot because it went away.

So yesterday we went to the Atlanta Zoo. One of the first things we did was to visit the Pandas. On the way out they had a little thing that stamped the back of Andrew's hand. He was very excited about the stamp, but it was running out of ink to begin with and as the day drew on it faded. On the way out a very tired Andrew who had missed his nap by about 3 hours complained vociferously that his bear was gone. It happened we were headed back that way so we went back by the Pandas and he got two more bears, one on each hand. Mommy also got one on her hand and he excitedly proclaimed that "Mommy has bear, Andrew has two bears."

From there we went to the petting zoo. He enjoyed the petting zoo thoroughly, but after the petting zoo he had to wash his hands. Now he liked this too, but it worried me a great deal because it completely washed off the bears. After this he rode a Merry Go Round with Mommy and then washed his hands again. He did not, however, notice the disappearance of the bears.

Fast forward about 5 hours and he's laying in his bed, calming down, and he gets a bit excited and tells me "I have...two..." and, as he looks at his hand gets a deadpan look. He then got a half smile and calmly told me, "They're gone."

Now at this point I was just relieved that my very, very tired son wasn't having a total meltdown at bedtime. As I've had more time to think about it, though, I'm more and more surprised. What changed between the first two stamps and this one? My first thought was maybe he learned from the first two stamps that they go away, but I'm not very accepting of that. My current theory is that perhaps he felt we were beyond the ability of effecting his wishes, much like David breaking his fast after God took his child from him.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

The National Media

The Christian Science Monitor has a story about the media coverage of the Jena 6. I haven't really followed the story that closely because honestly I never had any faith that the national media was getting it right. The thing I found interesting about the Monitor story, though, is this line:
In fact, I have never before witnessed such a disgrace in professional journalism.
I wonder if it occurred to the author that maybe the reason is that it's the first time he's been personally involved in a story that made it to the national media. Katrina was known to be a media disaster. Every piece of technical information in my field I've ever seen reported by the national media has been wrong. A friend of mine who is a lawyer said he sees the same.

If the media gets it wrong whenever you intimately know the facts, why do you assume they get it right when you don't?


Andrew 'Camping'
Originally uploaded by christophercraig
It's probably been a few months, but Andrew recently started pretending things, which is extremely cute. For instance "I'm a mommy lion, you be daddy lion." Anyway, he got this little play tent for his second birthday and we set it up inside every once in a while. This week we got it out because he's really wanted to go camping, but the new baby doesn't fit very well with that plan.

After getting me in this little tent with him he got his play camp stove and made me some eggs. He then turned his little battery powered camp lantern off and declared that it was dark outside and we needed to go to sleep. His lantern didn't really change the amount of available light at all, since the tent is in our well lighted living room, but now that it was out, it was clearly dark outside.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The oldest Constitutional debate

I said earlier that if there was one thing I would change about the Constitution it would be to clarify "general welfare". This may not actually be the oldest, but it goes pretty far back.

The spending clause says "The Congress shall have Power to lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts, and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States..." Thomas Jefferson and James Madison interpreted that as grating the Congress the power to raise money in order to fund the exercise of powers otherwise enumerated, a position that would seem to be consistent with the Convention, given that they rejected a proposal to explicitly authorize the federal government to spend on internal improvements. Alexander Hamilton, who supported that proposal, interpreted it broadly enough to cover anything (including, say, a bridge serving a small island or a monument commemorating Woodstock) though he later brought his view more in line with Monroe, who believed it covered only those expenditures that were "general" in nature, as opposed to benefiting groups in specific geographies.

Notably Hamilton's view was shared by John Adams and John Quincy Adams, and cost both of them re-election as the people rejected this expansive power. Given the history of Congress restricting its spending in line with a thought that they were allowed only to do those things ennumerated, going all the way to the Civil War, it seems clear to me that Jefferson captured the meaning intended by the Convention. I can't help wishing, though, that they had expressed that intent more clearly. It is perhaps true that even if they had said taxes may be raised "for the execution of powers herein enumerated" the New Deal Court would have found some way to finagle a general spending power much as they created a power to regulate anything which might appear in the same book as interstate commerce, but at least if the Convention had used clear wording I could clearly say the Court was wrong.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Those poor farmers

Those of you who know me know I despise federal farm subsidies. You probably could have guessed that from earlier posts as well. They're not at the top of my list of programs to cut, but they're close.

If they gave money to keep small farmers in business, I'd still oppose them. We don't have federal programs to keep TV repairman or elevator operators or any number of the other industries that have become useless in our modern society, I don't see why we should take money from individuals who have adapted to a modern economy so we can keep inefficient farming mechanisms in place.

Having said that, that's not what farm subsidies do. NRO has an article today stating that the fourth largest recipient of your farm tax dollars is the Arkansas Department of Corrections. I don't think they would go under if I stopped paying them to farm (or maybe not to farm).

The end of that article has a quote from Collin Peterson (D, Minn) telling us that if we don't understand agriculture we should keep out of their business. I don't understand TV repair either, but I still oppose my money going to someone not repairing my TV.


I've frequently observed Andrew and his two year old friends hording toys and such to the point where they don't actually get to play with them because they are too busy making sure no one else takes them. This seems to me to be normal human nature and certainly one of the problems with the love of money is that the desire not to lose it causes us to miss out on many joys.

Over the weekend, though, I saw something new to me which I'm sure is also human nature, but which I've never seen before and which I guess we all grow out of. We were at Bruster's and Andrew took about one bite of his ice cream cone and pronounced himself done. He goes through stages on ice cream; sometimes he devours it, and sometimes he just licks it a couple times. Anyway, having decided he was done he handed it to me. I gave it to mommy and she asked him if he wanted to throw it away and then took a bite. He said yes, but complained at her, "Don't eat it!"

So in this case he didn't want the ice cream cone anymore. He was perfectly willing to throw it away (and did in short order) with the full understanding that things which go into the trash do not come back out, but it was unacceptable to him that someone else enjoy his refuse.

Before this instance I had always presumed that he (and all other two year olds I've met) fill their arms with toys because they might want to play with those toys, much like the fabled monkey who will not pull his hand from a trap because he wants the bait within it. This instance calls that interpretation into question, though. Maybe the motivation is even more base than that; perhaps it's simply a desire not to see others benefit from his things.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

When did he get so big?

"Hi, Pe-er"
Originally uploaded by christophercraig
Amanda was commenting the other day that all the blogs she reads have cute pictures and I need one to be consistent. I asked if I should post it under the general welfare clause.

Anyway, I often look at Andrew and wonder when he got so big, but never as much as the last three weeks. I swear three weeks ago I could pick him up and carry him up the stairs without straining my back; three weeks ago he also looked like a toddler.

Now all of a sudden, we have this little baby and Andrew suddenly got really heavy and started looking like a kid. It's eery; he gained almost no weight in the 10 months from his second birthday to Peter's zeroth (hmm, you would think it would be his first...) but now in three weeks he must have put on at least 5 pounds. I promise, he's heavier; I just can't prove it.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

The worst amendment

There are very, very few things about the Constitution that I would just outright change. There are lots of very important areas where reasonable people can differ, with enormous consequence, and I would certainly like to see those clarified, but that's not what I mean here. Here I'm talking about things in the current Constitution, as amended, that are just plain wrong.

The first and foremost among these is the 17th Amendment. If I could change one thing about the Constitution, it would be to clarify the meaning of "general welfare". If I could change two, though, the second would be to get rid of the 17th Amendment. I'm doubtful that a repeal would actually fix the problems its passage created, but I'm confident that leaving it in place would be a disaster. The idea of directly electing Senators was thought of in the Constitutional convention but it was believed that, in the words of Roger Sherman "the senators, being eligible by the legislatures of the several states, and dependent on them for re-election, will be vigilant in supporting their rights against infringement by the legislative or executive of the United States."

In other words, the Senate was seen by the framers as one of the principal bodies protecting the states from massive federal overreach. If the Senate allowed the federal government to do something crazy like building projects directly for the counties then the states would pull their Senators and Federalism would be preserved. If, on the other hand, the Senate becomes just another House, but statewide, then its occupants are better served using pork to buy votes for reelection.

This brings me to another problem with the amendment. The Senate has become much more a rarefied institution since passage. You might expect that the good ol' boy network in the state legislature would be more likely to pick a career politician for the Senate than the people would. You would be wrong. The state legislature is a rather small club. Chances are they all know each other and chances are very good that whomever the majority of them send to the Senate they actually know, at least by reputation. They're going to pick someone who will actually try to accomplish what they think the state needs and protect the rights of the state. The populous of the state is another matter. To get a majority election in the state the most important thing is money and government experience to get the right contacts. As a result, since the passage of the amendment (and actually a bit before since several states found ways to popularly elect them before passage) the Senate has become a very rich club that is very unlikely to be recalled, so long as they can continue to bring home the bacon to the right constituent groups.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Changes that we don't need

I'll still get to changes that might make sense tomorrow, but first I wanted to deal with some changes the Constitution doesn't need, though the government might.

The first is the commerce clause: "Congress shall have the power ... To regulate commerce with foreign nations, and among the several states, and with the Indian tribes." There's a legitimate debate about whether "commerce" meant economic activity or diplomatic as well as business communications, but that's not a real issue with current jurisprudence. The big problem with the commerce clause is that in 1937 the Hughes court ruled in NLRB v. Jones & Laughlin Steel Corporation (301 US 1)" that Congress had the right to force an interstate company to accept union labor at a particular plant in Pennsylvania under the commerce clause. Things got worse shortly after in Wickard v. Filburn (317 US 111) when Mr. Filburn was fined by the US government for harvesting wheat in excess of the Federal government's allotment for his own personal use. They continued this way until 1995 when, in US v Lopez (514 US 549) the Court ruled that only those things that "substantially affect" interstate commerce could be regulated as interstate commerce. Lopez brought us closer to a sane understanding of the term, but if the Convention had meant to regulate things "substantially affecting" interstate commerce, they would have said so. The Federal government may only legitimately do things which are necessary and proper for the regulation of actual interstate commerce. I could accept making all internet kiddie porn illegal because it's impossible to regulate just those internet connections that cross state lines; I can not accept making all marijuana illegal because somehow Angela Raich growing her own for medical use makes it impossible to regulate interstate sale. I should note, I don't, like some conservatives, hold the Judiciary responsible for this misrepresentation of things. Senator Feinstein was reasonably surprised when the Court struck down Congress's attempt to regulate guns in schools given the Court's treatment of it for so many years, but Congress had to pass unconstitutional legislation for the Court to affirm it.

This is not true of my second class of things that don't need to be changed in the Constitution, but do in government. That is rights the Court has created out of whole cloth (though generally using substantive due process). The earliest of these I know of (though there could certainly be earlier ones) is the right to free contract established in Lochner v New York (198 US 45). The first action after the so called "switch in time" was to strike this down. I agree with that because such a right exists nowhere in the text of the Constitution. The modern famous example of this is the right to privacy which has lead to a right to contraception and a right to abortion. If we feel we need a national right to privacy (which is a ridiculous intrusion on that states' police power, particularly given its extension to abortion. If a medical procedure performed at a commercial clinic involving probably half a dozen people once you include the paperwork and insurance is too private to be regulated, it's hard to imagine something that can be.) we should amend the Constitution to create one, but I obviously don't think we should.

A New Constitution?

In my wandering through the internet today I managed to find
an article in the LA Times by a guy who thinks we should rewrite the Constitution. I rather like the one we have, but I can think of some changes I wouldn't mind making. I might outline a few of them tomorrow, today I'll just say why I don't like his:

The War Powers Balance -- I like his idea of mandating that the President has 6 months to take action before he requires a declaration of war by the Congress. I don't, however, like his followup that with war declared he needs reauthorization every 6 months. If we go back in our history I doubt any war was popular 6 months in. If the prosecution of a war was left entirely to popular opinion the cost of DDay would almost certainly have been too much to bear, especially in today's media culture. If the congress had to reauthorize our support every 6 months then any other country would be moronic to ally themselves with us because the chances would be almost certain they would be hung out to dry in a year or so when things got really bad.

The representative nature of the Senate and the electoral college. He presents these as two issues, but they're really not. If we are a national government then they make sense, but if we have a federal government (which I, obviously, prefer) then it makes sense to give power to the states as states and not just divide it among the people.

Non-natural born Presidents -- I have no problems with this, but I won't really lobby for it, either.

Monday, October 8, 2007


In an odd coincidince a friend asked this morning what happened to the mentality found in "The Grapes of Wrath" where people would do anything to avoid the indignity of taking a government handout, and I somehow managed to come across this post on Volokh. I find Ilya's argument weak.

I'm not exactly a libertarian, but I do support a much smaller government than the one we currently have, especially at the federal level. Though I oppose all sorts of government programs, I have no problems driving on federally funded roads, eating foods that were probably funded in part by ag subsidies, taking government college scholarships, or working at a state school. I've even taken state unemployment insurance before.

My disagreement with Ilya is that my opposition to policy wouldn't change even if they were given to a small group. If the Federal government were reduced to one of very limited powers, I would stand by Crockett's constituent in opposing the allocation of funds for a Georgetown fire, even if I lived in Georgetown.

One possible defense for taking government benefits for services I oppose is that it is not the benefit I oppose, but state involvement in it. If some government agency decided that my transportation was so important I could steal a car to do it I could not morally countenance that as I believe theft is wrong. I don't think interstate highways are immoral and I certainly don't think driving on them is, I just think the people of Alaska and Hawaii shouldn't have to pay for a great highway system to connect the suburbs of Boston. My taking back roads to work every day isn't going to give the people whose money was commandeered to build and maintain I-75 their money back.

Related, it's possible that I oppose the benefit, but not at the cost that is going into it. If that's the case, and if my partaking doesn't significantly raise the cost, then I would be consistent in using it. Going back to Davy Crockett, Georgetown was given a fixed sum of $20,000 to rebuild. If I opposed taxing the national populace for that, but was offered $2000 I don't see it as being immoral to take it, given that I oppose the tax of $20,000 which is going to be done regardless of my actions. Similarly I have a job with a state university working on computers. I would rather see universities be private for two reasons: the first is that state universities frequently charge poor people who aren't going to get a chance to go to college (particularly via the lottery) so that they can send relatively rich kids to college; the second is that having the state run them means the state can control what is taught. My quitting my job and running computers for a private company isn't going to help with either of my two complaints.

Another reason is that like it or not, the government charges me for certain programs. At the very least I see no problem with taking money from those programs if they are fully funded. I'll use GA state unemployment insurance and my pension as examples. I think both unemployment insurance and pension funds (public or private) are a bad idea. If I were given the option of buying into such a program I wouldn't take it. But I'm not given the option. Money is taken from me every paycheck and stuck into a pension fund and an unemployment fund. It seems reasonable that if I come to have a use for one of those programs I wouldn't be hypocritical in taking out money just because I didn't want to put it in. This doesn't extend to things like Welfare or Federal Flood insurance, though. It might seem like paying premiums on Federal Flood Insurance justifies my taking money out if my home gets flooded, but the overwhelming majority of that money comes from taxing people whose houses aren't in a flood plane at all. The actual premiums are just an attempt by the fed to recover a small portion of their costs.

A third possibility is that I'm justifying hypocrisy. I'm pretty solid in my belief that these programs are wrong, and I would vote to get rid of them even if it were a personal loss to do so. It could be, though, that I'm just not sufficiently attuned to the shame I should have at taking money from the government.

Friday, October 5, 2007


There's a lot of traffic in the political blogs and news this week about S-CHIP being vetoed. I'll go ahead and say I'm glad it got vetoed, but not for the reasons most Bush supporters are.

One of the main arguments you hear for why the program got vetoed is that it supports people who aren't children, and people who are easily making enough to pay for healthcare. One of the figures Bush has produced is extremely misleading (almost lying) in that it's a maximum income that was requested by New York state, but turned down by the program administrators.

That brings me to my reason for not liking it. The Constitution reserves powers not explicitly granted to the Federal government to the states. To get around this congress is taxing individuals and then giving the money back to the states in a "partnership" where they take money from citizens of the state and then give it back, as long as the state agrees to certain conditions.

If New York wants to fund healthcare for people making $83,000 per year, they should do that. Figure out how to tax the people of New York to pay for it. If Georgia or Massachusetts thinks people eligible should pay for their own health care unless they're at the poverty line, then they can give their citizens the tax benefit that goes with such a minimal plan. Then we can see the results of 50 different programs and stop this useless arguing about what effects of such and such a program might be.

My problem with S-CHIP (and most other Federal programs) isn't that it's wasteful, it's that if each state chose to do it their own way we might learn something about what works and what doesn't. I'm pretty sure that's what Publius had in mind, too.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

"Total" Watering Bans

Because of droughts, Cobb County has recently gone to the highest level of water restrictions, GA EPA water restriction level 4. This is a "total" outdoor watering ban. This means that you cannot water anything outdoors, including newly planted grass.

Oh, except if you're in one of the classes that the EPA exempts, including:

391-3-30-.05 section (5)

(a) Professionally certified or licensed landscapers, golf course contractors, and sports turf landscapers; during installation and 30 days following installation only.

(b) irrigation contractors; during installation and as needed for proper maintanence and adjustments only.
(h) power-washing
(k) car washes

So if I plant my own lawn I can't water it even during the first 30 days, but I can still pay someone to power wash my driveway, something I couldn't do legally myself since we got to drought level 2.

I dislike any type of outdoor watering ban, even a basic even/odd system, and would prefer that the cost of water just be jacked up until the supply meets the demand. I understand that people have a basic need to keep the toilets flushing and be able to take a shower and make dinner. It's fairly easy to get an idea of what a person's consumption is and subsidize that. If the average person uses 2000 gallons of water per month to survive, charge a $10 per person flat fee for up to 2000 gallons and then jack the price up after that until you aren't using more water than you're getting in. Yes, a bunch of car washes and pressure washers will go out of business. Yes people might not have as pretty a lawn, but if you really don't want people using up water, that's the only fair way to do it. If it's worth $50 to get your car wash, pay that. If it's not, don't. Just don't tell me I can't do X because we don't have enough water, but you'll waste thousands of gallons doing Y.