Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Event: "Something from Nothing" in science

I like to think of this as a "Third Culture" 'blog. It isn't about science per se, but at least one of the authors is a scientist, and it brings an analytic, empirical sensibility to current affairs and questions of public policy. Instead of ab initio ideology or "principles", insights from modern economics, environmental science, and other disciplines are brought to bear.

Thus I'm comfortable posting an announcement here for Tucson's premier "Third Culture" event, the fortnightly Science Salon. There an early-career scientist leads a discussion of a major idea in modern science, or of science policy, researchers' ethics, or the culture of professional science.

Thursday (tomorrow!), 1 Oct 2009, physicist Alan Cooney will lead a discussion on emergence:

Title: Something from Nothing

Abstract: Something cannot arise from nothing, so goes the adage, and this has long had an impact on the scope of scientific studies. Yet the scientific revolutions of the last 150 years beset us with examples like emergent systems (complexity from simplicity), quantum ones (literally something appearing from the vacuum) and even the Big Bang theory of creation. These revelations offer scientists the opportunity to tackle this philosophical quandary. In this Salon, we will explore more examples and the questions they raise, as well as ask if the persistence of the “something from nothing” myth retards our pursuit of science and the public's understanding of our field.

Time: 5:30 PM-7:30 PM

Location: The Auld Dubliner, intersection of University and Euclid, Tucson.

Fee: Free. Appetizers will be provided. Attendees must purchase their own drinks. The Dubliner features a modest beer selection and a declining but still respectable assortment of Irish and other whiskeys, in addition to the usual soft drinks.

These events are some of the best intellectual stimulation in the area, and a great way to meet interesting people. I'm pushing against a major research deadline, but may be there.

HT: Cory Christenson

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Lisull arrest about more than free speech.

By now readers have probably heard of Desert Lamp 'blogger Evan Lisull's arrest for ostensibly lawful conduct: writing on the sidewalk with chalk.

The charges have since been dismissed, but that only solves one problem. Police suffer harm for flouting the Constitutional and common-law bounds on their conduct so rarely that there is little incentive for them to respect our rights. Surely, gross misconduct is often--but not always--punished, even with a slap on the wrist. It's this 'blogger's opinion that such a "coarse-grained" or "low frequency" approach is insufficient: police should be made to toe the line. (You could call it a "broken window" approach: there's a slippery slope from Evan Lisull to Cheye Calvo and from there to Cory Maye--and even if there is no slippery slope, what happened to Lisull is bad enough!)

"But they won't be able to do their jobs if they know they'll be second-guessed", say right-wingers, who seem sometimes to get their idea of policing more from The Commish or Walker, Texas Ranger than from reality. (Regarding reality: one of us has trained in close combatives with the police, been drinking with the police, etc.) If that's the case, and they won't be able to simultaneously do their jobs and respect the rights of others, fire them all--if they cannot toe the line they are not qualified for their jobs. Fire them all and hire more intelligent ones. Pay them more and even raise taxes if we must. Given the power afforded to police, the lower standards for use of force, the ability to waste others' time and ruin their day, they must be strictly constrained. And I'll pay a dollar extra to get police who say "yes sir" and "no sir", too.

Why do I write of police misconduct? Seizures, including arrests, must only be made based upon probable cause. And if a statute explicitly exempts a person's conduct in its definition of an offense, then that conduct alone does not constitute probable cause. A letter I just sent to the Daily Wildcat has more:

Hitting a baseball thrown by my neighbor with a bat is not probable cause for my having hit my neighbor with a bat.

Writing in my lab notebook is not probable cause for my having wrote on the artwork in the Center for Creative Photography.

Driving my car on the street is not probable cause for my having driven it on the sidewalk.

Sending an e-mail to my brother is not probable cause for my having wired money to Osama bin Laden.

Writing with chalk on the sidewalk is not probable cause for my having wrote with chalk on a building.

Arizona Revised Statutes 13-1602, which establishes criminal damage as a statutory offense, is very explicit about what that act is: "Drawing or inscribing a message, slogan, sign or symbol that is made on any public or private building, structure or surface, _except the ground_ (emphasis mine), and that is made without permission of the owner."

The arrest of sidewalk chalker Evan Lisull for violating this statute, with its clear exception for writing on the ground, is not merely an infringement of free speech, and the dismissal of the charges should not be treated as a reprieve or amnesty: no reasonable person would believe that Lisull committed a crime. The arresting officers showed contempt for rule of law per se and for the "probable cause" standard governing the power to arrest, established by the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The explicit exemption of Lisull's conduct in the statute makes it highly unlikely that the officers were even acting in good faith. They should be fired at once, and the University should consider itself fortunate if Lisull does not sue for damages.

Update: The Wildcat printed the letter, albeit with a curious wording change that takes the emphasis away from the Fourth Amendment issues. The UAPD, according to Lisull's account, claims he was not under arrest, but there was clearly a seizure, which is enough. And, reading the police report now posted to the Web, there may have been borderline probable cause. If an angry, flaky University employee calls to complain of chalk on walls, and in his own mind decides that the guy chalking the sidewalk must be responsible, is that probable cause? Possibly, but at some point in the seizure, when it becomes clear to a reasonable person that the caller was drawing unsupportable inferences, that should mean that there is no longer probable cause and the seizure must be ended: "you're free to go." Otherwise, for example, every time a senile old lady calls the police after deer eat her geraniums and claims "the colored kid next door, with the basketball and the rap music, he tore 'em up" the police could take the kid in question down to the station.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Let me decide whether or not to run over pedestrians, "by choice"

I'm a bit overdue for this one, but did you think I'd let it go?:

The old saying has democracy being three wolves and a sheep deciding what's for dinner. The common rejoinder is that it's the worst system we know, except all the others. Bryan Caplan has markets being the superior alternative. With reservations, I tend to agree.

One of those reservations: Markets give much more choice than democracy, for example, in certain market systems, wolves and sheep alike can purchase mutton at their choice of Super Wal-Mart, Albertson's, or Costco.

But seriously, markets are only as good as the regulations that define them. "Let the market do it" is never an adequate answer. Market failure in the technical sense does exist (and is probably inevitable, although progress is certainly possible), and negative externalities are not a myth conjured up by leftists as an excuse. A market can even be worse than command and control if it creates the illusion in the minds of the gullible (I'm looking at you, "libertarian" global warming denialists) that harm to others is either "natural" or an inevitable precondition for prosperity.

Case in point: Nick Dranias of the Goldwater Institute. Quoting a recent Monday Message:
By letting entrepreneurs sell electricity from renewable sources to environmentally-minded consumers, competition shifts the costs of green policies to green consumers, keeping rates lower for everyone else.

Dranias would take the ethical imperatives completely out of "going green", reducing it to a matter of fashion. Let consumers--special "green consumers" who care about the moral rights of others, about their welfare, their property, who treat both their neighbors and the distant unseen Kenyan or Bengali as ends in themselves--bear the full cost of this, while the restuvus get a discount for our craven willingness to continue to contribute to harm despite having the harm explained to us over and over and over again.

There are very good reasons for Arizona to not take too bold a unilateral action to lower CO2 emission associated with electricity generation, and less good ones for AZ to not do better at freshwater conservation, although it is important that this is done effectively and with the respect for individuals as having lives of their own that can only be provided by markets. Some of these are referenced, at least between the lines, in Dranias's message. But with his reduction of simple decency to fashion, Dranias is a better enemy of markets than the enemies of markets.

New firearms laws go into effect on 30 September

The various new firearms laws--some good, some bad--passed this Spring go into effect on Wednesday, 30 September. They are:
  • HB 2532 Limited restoration of rights for people no longer deemed incompetent
  • HB 2569 New penalty for smuggling people for profit, involving a deadly weapon
  • SB 1113 CCW in liquor-serving places OK without drinking, unless no-gun signs
  • SB 1088 Domestic violence protection extended to romantic or sexual partners
  • SB 1168 Parking lots cannot ban firearms locked in vehicles, with exceptions
  • SB 1242 Exemptions from CCW and more for more "proper authorities"
  • SB 1243 Defensive display of a firearm in self defense defined and protected
  • SB 1437 AZ High School Marksmanship Program instructor definition expanded
  • SB 1449 Retroactive self-defense clarification ("Harold Fish gets away with murder" law)

I remarked on several of these, including SB 1168, earlier in the year. Of them, SB 1243 is the most important from a practical point of view, and those who carry should familiarize themselves with it thoroughly.

HT for the list: Alan Korwin

ACLU-AZ supports RKBA

I thought I 'blogged this over a year ago, but couldn't find the post when I needed to reference the policy change in an e-mail to (firearms law publisher) Al Korwin. Unless it is a duplicate post, it's quite an omission:

The ACLU's Arizona affiliate, ACLU-AZ, now supports the right to bear arms. From its Tough Questions about ACLU Positions policy FAQ:
The ACLU of Arizona, which is based in Phoenix, supports the individual right to bear arms – a right that is expressly identified in Article 2, Section 26 of the Arizona Constitution. In 2008, the U.S. Supreme Court in D.C. v. Heller held for the first time that the Second Amendment protects an individual's right to keep and bear arms, whether or not associated with a state militia. In July 2008, the ACLU of Arizona Board of Directors passed the following policy: “Resolved that ACLU of Arizona does not follow national board policy #47 that the right to bear arms is a collective, not an individual right. The Arizona Constitution expressly provides that the right to bear arms, to the extent constitutionally protected, is an individual right, so policy #47 has never been operative in Arizona.”

"Never been operative" is a bit Orwellian; the Board of Directors during my tenure as a member acted as though the National policy was operative. Former Executive Director Eleanor Eisenberg's explicitly anti-RKBA and downright hoplophobic legislative testimonies against liberalization were nonetheless never official ACLU-AZ position. She was advised by the Board to cease opposing RKBA, followed this instruction for a while, and then became rather insubordinate about the matter around the time she resigned, but events played out in such a way that there was never time for a reprimand. No doubt Eleanor turned off the marginal gun owner to the ACLU; the organization's new affirmative pro-RKBA stance could bring such people back, were it actually publicized.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Best of the 'blogs, week of 18-25 September 2009

I'm a little late this week, posting from Chicago.

In Arizona:

Farther afield:

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Jeff Flake isn't running flat.

We can usually count on (6th District Congressman) Jeff Flake to be a voice of both tolerance and good economic sense. For a dose of the latter, see his letter to President Obama about the tire tariff.

Far from distilling think-tank talking points, Flake (or his staff) are contributing something new to this discussion: it is worth considering, as they remark, that this will make US producers--or Big Labor--think pursuing Trade Act Section 421 claims and provoking further trade disputes with China will be a fruitful strategy. The law or not, this sends a bad message.

The claim that the domestic tire industry wasn't involved is not an exaggeration. Some producers even objected. Sensible--I'd want to sell my tires in China, too, were I in that business.

Monday, September 21, 2009

This protest almost certainly can't help

From the Arizona Daily Star, a report of an upcoming anti-Minutemen demonstration by the Brown Berets.

The Brown Berets are coming from California due to the murders of Raul and Brisenia Flores by a group calling itself "Minutemen American Defense"; they allege official government collusion with the Minutemen but don't give any names or even hint at details, which gets me thinking that this is just, like, dippy '60s radicalism against The Man, man.

It's important to get details right, and the lack of attention to detail is part of what has me thinking this is a nostalgia show. The Minutemen Civil Defense Corps, the group commonly called the Minutemen (ask their wives...), has dozens of members, stirs up nativist paranoia and race bigotry, exaggerates whatever economic case exists for immigration restrictions, talks about defense and fights and such, and then sits in lawn chairs with binoculars, watches for suspected crossers, and and enly the facts right, too. (Roger Barnett they ain't.) Minutemen American Defense, according to its own narrative now coming out in the press, is a small handful of crazies who wanted to rob suspected drug dealers (and apparently kill their nine-year-old daughters) to get money to fund paramilitary activities. As San Diego Union-Tribune columnist Reuben Navarrete wrote, the mainstream Minutemen can't entirely disown Minutemen American Defense, however, it's sloppy to simply lump them together as the Brown Berets do.

But this isn't the worst error made by the Brown Berets. The mistake is made in their showing up in the first place. Like Ernest Hancock and Chris Broughton with the AR-15 at the health care demonstration, it would seem that they don't care what impression they make. The average fence-sitter, who isn't inclined to believe that there's a "Reconquista" or such a thing as Aztlan will be scared almost to the point of crapping his pants by the Brown Berets, who once engaged in Reconquista activities, including trying to claim California islands for Mexico, and vocally call for the establishment of Aztlan. Forget that they're flaky aging '60s radicals, in print they make MECHA (of Raul Grijalva fame) look like the Daughters of the American Revolution. More, not fewer, people will support Minutemen vigilantism due to the presence of the Brown Berets.

The intelligent thing to do: Get together at the bar, have a pint, and say to each other: "Man, those were the days. Weren't we stupid. What fun!" and then support education funds, MALDEF, or better still, the ACLU. But if they did that, then I couldn't call them "aging '60s radicals", right?

Speaking of aging '60s radicals, from the bottom of the Star's followup piece:
Tucsonan Roy Warden, a lightning rod in the local immigration debate due in part to his burning of Mexican flags and attending protests armed, is organizing a counterdemonstration.
Looks like Ol' Roy is back. Will he assault and threaten to murder anyone who trespasses in his spontaneously homesteaded circle of sidewalk? Is he still a prohibited possessor or will his nametag be back on? And will he bring Russ Dove (because we all need rants and tool belts) and Joe Sweeney (mumbles and unaccredited law schools complete the picture) along with? Now that I wrote this here, will he send another series of e-mails about me (supposedly I'm a lawyer with the ACLU, a child molester, and a male prostitute for the purpose of raising funds from old ladies) to every press contact in town? Should be interesting. Too bad I'll be in Chicago when it's taking place.

Liberty on the Rocks, this Wednesday

It doesn't look like I'll be able to attend, but there should be plenty of other cool liberty-minded people, including Nick Coons, (Phoenix Libertarian Examiner) Dan Heller, and (too many things to list) Kim Ruff at:

Liberty on the Rocks
Wednesday, 23 Sept 2009
6 PM - 8 PM

Location: Monti's, 100 S Mill Ave, Tempe.

Be there or me.

Friday, September 18, 2009

'Blog roundup for week of 18 Sept

A quick "best-of", in no particular order:

In Arizona,

Farther afield,

Goldwater on government's track record

I'll stray a bit from strictly Arizona matters in providing a link to a guest opinion in the Capitol Times wherein Barry Goldwater, Jr. provides a punchy list of failed Federal government schemes, many involving government entry into competition with the private sector. Worth considering now that the idea that health care can be fixed by creation of Government Public Option Insurance Co. has somehow gained currency.

A fair enough digression: the 'blog is named in honor of the elder Goldwater, and Barry Jr., although formerly a member of California's Congressional delegation, now resides in Arizona, remains active in politics, and has his name frequently dropped as a short-lister for Governor or Senator. Seventy-one is younger than it used to be, and he's a classical-liberal, not a nativist paleocon like cousin Don; I'd welcome those campaigns as much as I'd welcome the also-rumored Jeff Flake runs for yet higher office.

Maybe there's a reason to like cholla!

I've found that cholla make interesting photographic subjects, but have also have had to remove plenty from my legs while hiking, especially while off-trail. Ordinary hard-rubber men's combs seem to be the best implement for that purpose, although an afro pick might allow for more leverage.

Beyond their good looks, they're an annoyance, but an edible one, according to the Desert Leaf. Their September issue featured a recipe for cholla buds, supposedly similar to asparagus.

As readers have probably inferred from previous posts, I'm not only a conservationist, but also a native foods enthusiast. When we consider water usage and riparian restoration, the two positions become very complementary. Consider that the Hohokam at Casa Grande ate a lot of mesquite, look around the next time you're at the Casa Grande Ruin at the absence of live, healthy mesquites, and then recall that New Deal-era "progressive" farm policy is to blame. A few legal reforms would re-open foraging as a source of basic income for the poor of the state, too. Ever see how much mesquite flour costs at retail?

But back to the topic: we all know that saguaro and prickly pear fruit, prickly pear pad, and mesquite are edible. And both arugula and London rocket grow here as invasive weeds. But who'd have thought to eat cholla? Like the first person to eat cheese, probably somebody brave and hungry.

Daniel Baker of the Saguaro-Juniper Corporation (a northern Cochise County conservation group), has provided reasonably good notes on using cholla and a number of other Arizona desert plants as food.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

To what extent are carry liberalization bills signaling?

Over on the Desert Lamp, Evan Lisull speculates that many firearms bills, like this year's SB 1168, are signaling.

A question for readers (I hate the term "bleg"): Are there any data on how many people unlawfully carry concealed weapons in states without shall-issue permits? Or on how many were unlawfully storing in locked vehicles at Arizona's universities before the new liberalization went into effect. To what extent do the remaining carry restrictions actually restrict carry?

This isn't to say that there's no reason for repeal; when caught, those who flout the law face clear injustices. The case of Plaxico Burress--serving a mandatory minimum sentence for running afoul of New York concealed weapons law--seems as barbaric to an Arizonan as Saudi Arabian or Afghan justice does. (If nothing else, Burress deserves some legal sanctions for carrying in his waistband and for discharge--maybe reckless endangerment--but in penalizing carry by someone who isn't a prohibited possessor, beyond levying a fine for not having a permit, the state loses its moral authority just as it does when it criminalizes marijuana smoking. Surely there are cleaner cases still, but Burress is known because football players make the national news and average Joes do not.) But Lisull does have a point: many of the remaining restrictions--including, if one is truly careful about the mode of carry, the ban on carry at the state universities--largely restrict invisible behavior. To quote:
Even if it encourages a few more legal gun owners to not remove their firearm before they go to work, who would know the difference? In the end, the bill is mostly Hansonian signaling. Gun-rights supporters want to show that they love guns, and gun-control want to signal that they’re really, really concerned. The real effects of this bill do not merit the discussion that it’s received. As far as statistics go, it is a null effect – and generally, this country has a tradition of favoring liberty where the effect is nil.

A while ago, when the legislature was seriously considering ending the campus carry bans, I was contacted by Daily Wildcat reporters asking to be referred to students or professors who already carry. I couldn't think of any, which means either people are extremely quiet about it even to those who are overtly sympathetic, I socialize in the wrong circles, or very few flout the law. Does anyone know how close to nil the effect of liberalization, either by SB 1168's passage or by hypothetical legal campus carry, will be?

Monday, September 14, 2009

Fatally Flawed, a documentary about the RTA election, to premiere at the Loft, Wednesday, 16 Sept.

Fatally Flawed, a documentary about the possible election fraud in the RTA transportation plan election, will premiere at the Loft this Wednesday. An announcement of what has been discovered after the end of the film--the last covered event is Terry Goddard's press conference--and a question-and-answer session with Bill Risner, John Brakey, Jim March and Mickey Duniho will follow.

It's unlikely that I will be able to attend, but guest posts about the announcement are very welcome.

Event details are below.


RTA Documentary Fatally Flawed premieres in Tucson. Discussion that follows will have new details from an analysis of the Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard's RTA ballot examination.

Wednesday, September 16, at 7 pm at the Loft Cinema, 3233 E Speedway Blvd, Tucson, AZ 85716

Admission: $8.00 general; $6.00 Loft members

Contact: J.T. Waldron

Office: 520-624-9710


The tasty desert.

The Sonoran Desert is considered by ethnobotanists to contain one of the highest if not the highest number of edible native species of any region in the world. Some, like nopales, take a little getting used to, or like palo verde beans, involve some extra preparatory steps for the cook. Others, like saguaro, prickly pear, and barrel cactus fruit, are delicious even when unfamiliar and involve no challenge for the cook. My favorite among native foods is mesquite, which can be ground into a carob-like bean flour.

Velvet mesquite (Prosopis velutina) puts forth two crops of beans per year, one in the late spring and the second following the summer monsoon. Some of the second-crop pods are beginning to snap when bent, a sign that they're ready for picking. I just gave away the last of my mesquite flour--a friend is baking and selling vegan cookies to help bring a fellow judoka's children over from Cameroon--so I'm looking forward to picking a few gallons of pods and getting them milled by Desert Harvesters. I hardly picked any at all from the first crop as I didn't expect to use up last year's flour.

It would be generous to call locavory oversold. It may be advantageous to produce staple foods in Iowa, vegetables in Sinaloa, and physicists and 'bloggers in Tucson even if the environmental externalities are taken into account. We don't have much water and our diet is water-intensive. Nevertheless there's quite a bit to eat from around here and a certain romance to knowing where one's food came from. (This itself can be taken to an odd extreme--think of the menus at Chez Panisse.) This also can serve along with tradition as a symmetry-breaker. We only eat three meals per day and can think of dozens if not hundreds of equally good possibilities for each. "Go local" narrows the choices. Perhaps better still, in-season produce is still the best, as any tomato enthusiast can attest.

My reservations about locavory aside: Tucsonivores, among Arizona culinary 'blogs, is the most interesting I've found. I'd add it to the roll, the but the last post was made in late 2007. It's nevertheless worthy of a read.

(My recipe for mesquite brownies will be posted later in the fall.)

At least one homosexual couple got married in AZ.

I missed this story in the Arizona Daily Star when it was printed back in February, but the act of civil disobedience is too clever to ignore:

A lesbian couple obtained a marriage license in Pima County by filling out the form as-is--without crossing out "male"--and submitting it. The legal theory on which they base their actions is that they only affirm that the information they fill in is correct; any errors on the pre-printed County form are not the subject of their oath. They made this explicit to the clerk and were told that it is not a problem. The Pima County Clerk's office's policy is not to look up skirts, grab crotches, or even ask about the gender of applicants for a marriage license.

Looks like I also failed to report on the collapse of the institution of marriage in Pima County in the ensuing months, or the confusion that ensued as "valid concepts" were muddled for elderly randish Libertarians with lame excuses for not standing up for the rights of others. Oh wait, none of that happened.

A bit of Google searching couldn't turn up the final disposition of this matter. Anyone who can provide me with an update, please do!

HT: Audrey Stirnitzke

Friday, September 11, 2009

Arizona steals a motorcycle...

Arizona virtually steals and destroys a motorcycle, and as 'blogger Adrian Little remarks, the implications are terrifying.

The "Church of Cognizance" case: Can compelling interest be circular?

The decision is no surprise: the Arizona Supreme Court ruled in State of Arizona vs Danny Ray Hardesty that Hardesty, despite being a member of the "Church of Cognizance", a cannabis-worshipping new-ageish sect, cannot eat or smoke cannabis wherever he likes and under whatever circumstances, and denied his A.R.S. § 41-1493.01-based appeal of a criminal sentence for possession with intent to distribute. (The COC self-represents as neo-Zoroastrian, but the connection to the Avesta or Mazdaism is limited to passages about Haoma.)

If nothing else, the case demonstrates why the task of expanding liberty, even very narrow religious liberty, and even narrower still, religious liberty of flakes, is best not left in the hands of flakes. The COC has been around since the early 1990s and had considerable time to file good, clean test cases establishing exemptions for religious use, first in private, then in public, then perhaps while operating a motor vehicle. Even if they waited for the burden-shifting statute's adoption as law, they had a full year to come up with a clean cases to start carving out exemptions. Better still, they could have joined with more established religious groups like the Hindus or even the Rastafarians to start pushing back against the prohibition of their sacrament. If anything demonstrates that there are less intrusive ways for government to pursue its compelling interest in limiting cannabis use per se--and that there is legitimately a compelling interest in protecting individual health is dubious--it is India's experience with legal bhang for both religious and recreational use; use by Rastas is largely illegal but their claims to both sincerity and harmlessness are much stronger thanks to history. (Which leads one to wonder: why hasn't either group raised a religious liberty challenge?)

A.R.S. § 41-1493.01 places the burden of proof on the State of Arizona to show that its policy is the least restrictive means to pursue a compelling interest. Hardesty's appeal by its nature forced the motor vehicle issue. If cannabis use leads necessarily to driver impairment (not clear) then a ban on use while driving is the least restrictive means for the state to pursue what would seem to be a legitimate compelling interest in keeping people from hitting other people with their cars. Think about it. If I claim that my (hypothetical) drunken driving is an expression of my sincere reverence for Bacchus (who's a bad motha-shut-yo'-mouth with whom you do not mess), Judge Pentheus should probably deny my appeal as my conduct infringes too much on the well-being of others.

The astute reader will note that the state prosecuted not for use but for possession. Fair enough. But the point stands: Justice Rebecca White Berch was able to avoid, in her opinion, and justices Ryan, Bales, and McGregor in their concurrence, questions of whether or not there was a less restrictive way for the government to pursue its interest when use in a private home or a religious ceremony are at issue.

That this was a poor choice of test case aside, the opinion itself contains a rather silly line of thought: that a ban could--and they do not take up the question of whether less intrusive policy is available--be justified in pursuit of the state's interest in halting criminal traffic in cannabis. Any criminal traffic is the result of the substance being contraband in the first place; Justice Berch is allowing for the possibility that the state could make something contraband because it is contraband, that the state has a circular, closed-loop compelling interest. There's no more charitable way to describe the argument, and I for one find it at least as dippy as the doctrines of the COC.

A final remark: Suppose that Hardesty were to have prevailed or that a similar but more limited appeal is successful in the future. We'd have a very strange situation on our hands, as faith would excuse one from marijuana prohibition, but reason would still be no defense. (Religious readers, especially Catholics, Buddhists, and Muslims, please note that I'm not making a general statement here about the connection between reason and faith.) If I light up, I couldn't claim as defense that I was doing it for enjoyment, that I'm aware of whatever health tradeoffs are involved, and that I endangered nobody. But I could get the law to leave me alone if I thought smoking a doob put me in better touch with Gitchee Manitou or like, spiritual consciousness, man. For reasons rooted in the U.S.'s early history, religious conduct is privileged in both popular belief and in the law. Yet it would seem--in light of consideration of compelling interest--to be sensible to adopt the following rule of thumb: Anything one is allowed to do in the name of faith, one should generally not be forbid to do. The irrational should not be privileged over the rational.

Richard Epstein: use Federal antidiscrimination laws to go after Sheriff Joe

My favorite contemporary political-philosophical thinker talks civil rights law in Forbes (HT: Reason Hit and Run), and recommends using it against one of my least favorite people:
So just what is left for the revitalized Civil Rights Division to do? The division should target state and local governments that, free of any competitive market pressures, pose genuine risks of unchecked discrimination. A quick read of William Finnegan's "Profile: Sheriff Joe [Arpaio]" in The New Yorker certainly counts in my book as probable cause for a DOJ investigation. Remember, on race relations the libertarian insight still holds true. Race discrimination does not survive in competitive markets. But it does flourish when public officials exercise monopoly power without external supervision.

Think this talk is bombast? Read up on the case of Julian and Julio Mora. Driving while appearing to be of Mexican descent appears now to constitute reasonable suspicion, if not probable cause, for MCSO purposes.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

From Grijalva's mouth, music to my ears?

"Maybe I was still in rapture, or maybe I was naïve, but I believed we were on the same page on what government’s role is in the delivery of health care and how to make the private insurances accounted."

From an interview on

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Health Care Reform Letter to the Editor Contest

Nearly all Americans can agree: health care and health insurance policy, as they currently exist, no longer meet our needs. We disagree on the solution. President Obama and most Congressional Democrats see profit and competition as expendable inefficiencies and believe that coverage can be expanded and prices lowered by government entry into the insurance market. Libertarians and other supporters of free-market health care reform see the markets in health insurance and health care as being broken by poorly thought out Federal and State regulatory policies, especially by promotion of overinsurance and coupling of health insurance to employment, and wish to use the best economic advice available to fix these markets.

Nick Coons, currently seeking the Libertarian Party's nomination for U.S. Congress, AZ 5th District, has been giving radio interviews and pounding the pavement talking to ordinary voters and promoting the role of markets and choice in health care reform.

He's just one voice. Claiming that a government program will take care of everything is easy. Explaining how to fix markets, how to expand coverage and choice at the same time, that's difficult, more so because the public and the popular press are unfamiliar. Promotion of real health care reform has been the province of policy wonks and economics nerds for too long. It's
time to take these ideas to the masses.

That's where you come in. Stand up for your health care, and help make Nick Coons's job easier, by spreading the idea of free-market health care reform via guest opinions and letters to the editor. Between now and October 24th, get your letters and guest opinions promoting free-market health care reform printed in Arizona newspapers, and submit them to our contest. The author of the best letter or guest opinion will receive a Nick Coons for Congress T-Shirt, in any color desired as long as it's blue, and a $25 gift certificate.

The Rules:

A single winner will receive one Nick Coons for Congress T-Shirt and a $25 gift certificate.

Where and when letters must be published: Entries must be published between 5 September and 24 October 2009 in a daily or weekly Arizona newspaper with circulation of more than 5,000 copies per day. Both guest opinions and letters may be entered. Web-only publication of a letter does not constitute publication for purposes of this contest.

Participants must register their entries by e-mailing a link to the page of a a newspaper's website containing the letter to, or by mailing paper clippings to

Goldwater State
Attn: Bennett Kalafut
1939 E Hedrick Drive
Tucson AZ 85719-2420.

Entrants must include their name, home address, and e-mail address along with their submissions.

Participants may enter multiple letters or guest opinions.

The name and town or city of residence of the winner and other notable or remarkable entrants will be posted on Goldwater State. Addresses and e-mails will be kept private.

Selection of winner:
A single winner will be selected by 30 October Bennett Kalafut, Nick Coons, and Nick Coons campaign manager Kim Ruff, using Condorcet voting if there is no consensus. The judges' decision is final. If we are unable to contact the winner by 7 November 2009 October, the prize will be given to the second-place finisher.

Final details:
By submitting an entry to the Goldwater State Health Care Reform LTE Contest, you agree to the rules above, and agree to indemnify and hold harmless Goldwater State and the contest judges. Contest is a project of and funded by Bennett S. Kalafut doing business as "Goldwater State" and is not affiliated with Nick Coons for Congress. Bribes will not be accepted and flattery will get you nowhere.

Welcoming another coblogger.

In anticipation of my departure from Arizona--next August at the latest--I'm trying to turn Goldwater State into a group 'blog. So far I've been asking people to join, but if you're interested in contributing, send me an e-mail, and I might send one back, "asking" you to join.

Thane Eichenauer is among the best readers of the Arizona policy 'blogosphere and leaves valuable comments here and elsewhere. He's also, among other things, been a candidate for U.S. Congress, on the ballot in the general election. I'm pleased to say he's joining Goldwater State as a contributor and will leave him to finish his own introduction. He'll bring a bit of a different perspective, both geographically and politically. (Still broadly "modern classical liberal", but we don't all sound or think alike.) Welcome!

The passive-aggressive "nofollow"

If you were to see the source HTML code of my posts, you'd notice something peculiar about the link tags: those to 'blogs which do not routinely link to or reference other 'blogs have a rel="nofollow" attribute.

Among other things, that means that my links do not boost their search engine rankings.

The 'blogosphere works best--it is at its most interesting and most civil--when it is conversational, when 'bloggers respond to one another's ideas and pass along items of interest, and tends to descend to "preaching to the choir" partisan banality when it is not. I don't care too much whether or not those I link reference Goldwater State, but if they're not linking, for search-engine purposes, I won't link them, either!

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Campaigning long before they're 18: Schoolchildren, permission slips, and Obama's speech.

UPDATE: The White House has greatly changed--and improved--the lesson plans, although the "how will he inspire us" line is still in the 7-12 plan. A copy of the original preK-6 plan, "Are we able to do what President Obama is asking of us?" and all, has been located.

David Safier of 'Blog for Arizona seems a bit perplexed by parental backlash against the showing of a speech from President Obama in schools. Either he missed the note from Tom Horne (Superintendent of Public Instruction) or he's willfully ignoring the rational basis for the actions of people with whom he disagrees.

I'm not going to say that there aren't parents who simply do not want their children to hear an Obama speech. But the Department of Education, in a misstep rivaling the proposal, has released suggestions for classroom activities which verge on enlisting teachers (perhaps without their realizing it) as propagandists and Obama mythmakers. (Backup copies of the K-6 and 7-12 suggestions are available on the Arizona Department of Education website.

Horne is correct: neither writing "notable quotes" from past Obama speeches on the board in big letters and having kids reflect on the meaning nor--especially!--having the kids reflect on how President Obama will "inspire" them are appropriate.

Watching Obama's speech certainly has its place in schools as part of a larger civics lesson emphasizing critical reflection on the statements of politicians and perhaps also considering the rôle of the President in American culture. The reverent attitude promoted by Arne Duncan's Department of Education, and the Obama-only focus, is inappropriate in largely mandatory schools in a free society. Parents would not be unreasonable in thinking that at least some teachers have received the Education Department's suggested lesson plans nor in thinking that some teachers, either due to left-wing personal prejudices or lack of criticality, will implement them.

Neither I nor (I suspect) many of my readers may like it, but the transition away from government-run schooling will be a very slow one; the obsolescent relics known as "public schools" will be with us for at least the near future. Until the education market develops to the point where school choice is the norm--we're not at that tipping point, yet--we need some ground rules for the sake of social peace.

It's the most cynical political slogan I can think of since the days of (Pat) Buchananite crypto-racism in the early '90s: "Elections should mean something", the lament of American soi disant "progressives" that the consent of the governed precludes a hard left turn towards social democracy. But even these left-wing ideologues should be able to agree:

Elections should not mean that the winners get to indoctrinate and propagandize the schoolkids.

Does Arizona need a budget? Should Arizona have a budget?

Last Saturday a few University of Arizona-affiliated 'bloggers--Laura Donovan, Evan Lisull, Vishal Ganeshan, and myself--got together at a local bar to say "hello" and get updatd on an upcoming project. All three are far more capable writers than I am--working with optical tweezers and Markov chain models all day doesn't provide much practice--and are also interesting enough to be worth following, so add them to your RSS aggregator or 'blog feed. (I'd say that a broader get-together should happen, but some partisan or ideological 'bloggers haven't yet learned that the 'blogosphere is improved when it becomes a conversation--e.g. when Wilkinson and Yglesias read each other and the ideas are allowed to develop--and if you don't even link, can you socialize?)

That, eight weeks past its deadline, the legislature has yet to produce a meaningful, workable budget compromise with the Governor, came up briefly in discussion and my memory was instantly loosened up a bit as though sprayed with PB Blaster: former Congressional Joint Economic Committee senior economist (among other things) Joe Cobb, now hiding from the fuzz in Arizona, had said at one point that governments do not need budgets and that until around 1900, normally did not have budgets. I couldn't, however, remember the particulars or the arguments for it, although as Lisull noted, having to re-approve spending items each year could possibly lead to more sunsetting of (on net) worthless programs.

After leaving I gave Joe a call, trying to get him to write a guest post on the subject. No such luck. (The invitation to guest post on AZ policy still stands, and readers are welcome to send him bribes on my behalf. "Did anyone order a pizza?") But I was able to get a few minutes of his time, an explanation, and referral to an explanatory draft article on his website.

To quote:
Governments pass laws to spend money. Households and businesses don’t. Those laws make it much more difficult to change if they get things wrong.

Whereas households and businesses can predict wages and sales, governments have a difficult time predicting tax revenues when inflation and tax brackets have a large effect on actual revenues collected the following year.

The idea: have government Appropriations Committees fund projects based on tax revenue received, not tax revenue predicted. In Cobb's words, "This is...actually how households and private businesses control spending." The current system is biased heavily in favor of borrowing and increasing taxes when an economic downturn causes revenues to fall, and towards ballooning a budget unsustainably during short term "boom times" such as the construction-based expansion Arizona saw in the decade leading up to 2008. Going to the sort of "reality-based budgeting" where government spends money in hand restores the symmetry between spending cuts and tax increases.

Elimination of forward-looking budgeting would help Arizona to avoid, when the next downturn comes, the sort of scrambling legislative breakdown we're seeing now. It may also force a bit more rationality out of the voters, as rent-seeking will become (even more) transparent, and politicians would have to get more honest about their vote-buying spending programs. "You want the schools and prisons funded first, right? If you also want the UA Presents subsidy of highbrow entertainment, we will have to raise your taxes.

The main trouble in going back to the pre-budgeting way of doing things is the changeover. The old system worked, and in good years the new system works, but to go from the new system to the old system requires money in hand and for payment takers--both private and governmental--to get used to a bit of uncertainty and for institutional culture to change accordingly. Also, given that a switch will make it much harder for government to do everything we think would be nice, we can expect the Left to very strongly oppose such a switch when it does not appear necessary. At the risk of having a fictional villain named after me in the next Naomi Klein novel, I'll say that the current crisis provides the natural time to switch.

I hesitate in writing "crisis." Commenter Thane Eichenauer was right: government failure isn't going to happen. The legislature is already, out of necessity, switching to Cobb's prioritized, "reality-based budgeting" and for example those million kids I mentioned in a previous post aren't finding themselves locked out of grade school. It'd be nice for the change to become permanent. What it will take is for someone or several someones to get this idea to legislators and opinionmakers--for newspaper opinions and think-tank whitepapers promoting such a switch to start to appear.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Firearms, automobiles, and invisible errors.

On the last day of the rapid-fire, no-way-to-keep-up-unless-you're-at-the-capitol, legislative session, SB 1168, a bill prohibiting property owners or tenants from forbidding storage of firearms in locked cars or motorcycles parked on their lots, was passed by the House and Senate.

The bill attracted some rather odd opposition, including that of the Goldwater Institute, which offered to file Private Property Rights Protection Act (2006 Prop. 207) claims on behalf of property owners opposing the bill. Their estimate of the value of the claims: $263 million!

The Goldwater Institute is an oddball hybrid libertarian/conservative think-tank. Like most think-tanks, it does a lot of working backwards from a desired conclusion and choosing methodologies to suit. And like most think-tanks it ends up with some really sharp people (e.g. Matthew Ladner) but many who wouldn't make the cut in the world of true scholarship (e.g. Byron "They're going to regulate our breath!" Schlomach--trust that I'm pulling punches in his case.) But the usual problems aren't what's at work here: what's at work is the silly principlism that dominates most popular libertarian and much right-wing thought.

To think according to heuristic is human, but libertarians and right-wingers both like to elevate some of these heuristics to the status of "principles", which are inviolable rules. Taking stands "as a matter of principle" is considered a mark of virture among the vulgar in both crowds: rather than thinking the strange cases through, apply the "principles" blindly. This happens despite both libertarian and right-wing philosophers' recognition of tradeoffs and conflicts in law. (Law professors and analytic philosophers both love the tricky cases.) I suspect--and I'd love to see a social-scientist tackle the problem--that underlying this is a desire for "moral clarity". Principles, such as "property rights are absolute control", have moral clarity. Casuistry, although the foundation of our legal tradition, inherently recognizes lack of absolute moral certitude. Recognition of tradeoffs destroys moral clarity altogether.

The $263 million figure has been left unexplained to date, and is almost certainly glibertarian hyperbole--the pattern among libertarians and conservatives is to overstate their weak cases. E.g. "Global Warming is Teh Hoax", "Public Schools are Socialist Indoctrination Camps", etc. A hint: invisible acts do not diminish a property owner's use rights. Storage of a firearm out of sight in a locked car is an invisible act; in ordinary circumstances the act of parking is no different whether the trunk is empty, contains a firearm, or a toaster. As I understand it, invisible harms, invisible diminishment of use, has $0 value in our legal tradition. We do not consider sin, that is to say, "Invisible Error", an object of law.

Of course, there are circumstances in which this could be an actual loss to property owners: someone intent on using a firearm to commit a crime decides to not bring his own, and instead starts breaking into auto trunks, gets lucky, and finds a weapon. I'd be willing to support compensation if that happens. And I'd even support compensation for assuming this risk--but it's an incredibly low risk. (Disagree? Then show me where the $263 million figure comes from!) What I do not support is allowing the right of employers and other property owners to prevent Invisible Error to trump the right to self-defense traveling to and from work or otherwise granting hoplophobes a veto over harmless behavior tied to the right to self defense. This isn't even one of those tricky cases. Invisible Error is not, in our legal tradition, a harm.