Activist Judges

A fascinating look at what goes into a Supreme Court decision, from Justice Stevens.

In one, the eminent domain case that became the term’s most controversial decision, he said that his majority opinion that upheld the government’s “taking” of private homes for a commercial development in New London, Conn., brought about a result “entirely divorced from my judgment concerning the wisdom of the program” that was under constitutional attack.

His own view, Justice Stevens told the Clark County Bar Association, was that “the free play of market forces is more likely to produce acceptable results in the long run than the best-intentioned plans of public officials.” But he said that the planned development fit the definition of “public use” that, in his view, the Constitution permitted for the exercise of eminent domain.

Justice Stevens said he also regretted having to rule in favor of the federal government’s ability to enforce its narcotics laws and thus trump California’s medical marijuana initiative. “I have no hesitation in telling you that I agree with the policy choice made by the millions of California voters,” he said. But given the broader stakes for the power of Congress to regulate commerce, he added, “our duty to uphold the application of the federal statute was pellucidly clear.”

First of all, what does ‘pellucidly clear’ mean? I can’t be the only one who has never heard the word in my entire life. Anyhow, it shows that judges are by and large the exact opposite of activist. An activist judge would do what they thought is right instead of doing what the law compelled them to do.

This brings to mind the famous activist judges of Massachusetts, who supposedly legalized gay marriage. This is simply untrue. “We declare that barring an individual from the protections, benefits and obligations of civil marriage solely because that person would marry a person of the same sex violates the Massachusetts constitution,” Chief Justice Margaret Marshall wrote in the 4-3 decision. I don’t see anything in there about legalizing about gay marriage, it’s about giving the same right to those who do. And it’s based from the text of the constitution, not made up out of thin air.

As many have documented, in today’s current environment, an activist judge is one you disagree with.

Giving conservatism a bad name

The New York Times reports that some of the states (mostly northeast) are voluntarily imposing pollution standards on themselves, since the federal government has done such a terrible job at it.

First the good news: They are using a market model of emissions trading. This is a fantastic idea, and the one good part of Bush’s environmental legislation. The biggest problem with environmental issues is that they are externalities. There is no incentive structure around them, it is almost always to your economic benefit to pollute as much as possible. Laws are great, and social pressure is great, but they have a way of bending before the power of the almighty dollar. Trading emissions bring the externalites into the market system, and all the great things that implies. Similar to Clinton’s attempted BTU tax, it penalizes and rewards the right parties.

Trading emissions is great at aligning polluters with their degree of pollution. But where do you set the overall cap? How do you deal with grandfathering in old systems? How do you deal with different pollutants? How do you deal with all the little niggling things that the real world throws in the way of a great theory? If you’re the current administration, you flip the finger to the public. Bush’s loyalty to the corporate world has consistently outweighed any bursts of intelligent policy, regardless of whether that policy speaks perfectly to the economic conservatism he loves to speak of. It’s a shame that the few good policies this administration is behind seem to fall victim to their brand of politics-as-usual.

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On a semi-related topic, get a load of the sourcing in this paragraph.

Preliminary details of the region’s emission reduction goals were included in a confidential memo circulated among officials of all nine states that was given to The New York Times by a person who supports the enactment of national legislation to control emissions, but who did not want to be identified because he was not authorized to have the memo.

The NYT, as it should be, is struggling with how to source material that comes from anonymous sources. After their many journalistic snafus, it’s a welcome change. It reads very oddly, but it does give you a sense of potential biases and motivations in getting the information.

No Smoking at The Vortex

The Nanny state strikes again. We’re big fans of The Vortex here at Muttroxia. Fairly standard bar & grill food, in a nice atmosphere. The Vortex is one of those places that makes it clear the customer is not always right. The menu is great fun to read. Take a flip through their No Idiots Policy. One piece of it is out of date, the smoking policy. It currently reads, “The Vortex is proud to accommodate non-smokers and smokers alike, and we will continue to do so as long as this choice is not taken away from small business owners by anti-smoking zealots and evil government bureaucrats.”

Well, that choice got taken away. The new policy in that neck of the woods is that no one under 21 can be exposed to smoke. The Vortex management believes strongly in personal choice and individual responsibility. So they made the choice to no longer allow anyone under 21. There is a bouncer at the door at all times to check IDs. This is a shame. As the Vortex managment says,

VORTEX TO REMAIN SMOKER-FRIENDLY
At The Vortex Bar & Grill we are staunch supporters of individual liberty and freedom of choice. But unfortunately the State of Georgia is not. Under the rules of the new “Georgia Smokefree Air Act of 2005,” we are legally prohibited from offering smoking as an option for our customers unless we restrict minors from our premises.
We are saddened that the State government is forcing us to limit the choices we offer our clientele, but since The Vortex was established as a social gathering place for adults, we will continue to offer the option of smoking to our patrons.

Therefore, EFFECTIVE JULY 1, 2005 you must be 21 years old to enter The Vortex.

We are deeply concerned that more citizens do not understand the real danger in government-sponsored Smoking Bans and other types of coercive legislation that violate individual choice and private property rights. Yes, tyranny is alive and well and can often be found hiding behind the label of “Public Safety.”

I couldn’t have said it better. It’s exactly because of idiocy like this that so many people identify themselves as libertarians, the normal liberal vs. conservative lines aren’t adequate to express how many people are appalled at their government intruding in their lives like this.

(It’s all the more ironic, because the evidence that is used to go crazy about the barest possibility of second-hand smoke is extremely suspect. Take a flip through, and watch the video here. The gist is that all sources trace themselves back to one EPA study, which was itself overturned in court because the science was so poorly done.)

I don’t smoke. Disgusting habit, and obviously not very smart health-wise. But hey, if you want to do it, go ahead. I’ll even have a meal with you. America, get over it.

Fair Tax: Back for more

The closest thing to controversy this little blog has had was my particpation in The Fair Tax discussion, primarily waged by Jabley, but I was contributing a lot of the arguments.

Today I found out that Neil Boortz has a book out about The Fair Tax, completely endorsing it. I’m not sure how I feel about this. For those of you who don’t know him, Neil Boortz is like diet Rush Limbaugh. Not quite as ideological, not quite as big a liar, not quite as in the pocket of the GOP — but not exactly a fair unbiased journalist by any measure either. His book is already a best seller.

I’m still curious to get a wider range of opinions on this. If you haven’t read the Fair Tax posts, search Muttroxia and Jabley, read the comments, tell me what you think.

Car Seats again

My faithful readers may remember my previous rant on car seats. I just installed a new car seat in our Mom-mobile. (The old one seemed fine after the accident, but you don’t want to take chances.) In the course of installing it, I discovered that the old one was not installed correctly. Or not as correctly as possible. Or something like that. Turns out there is a trick to tighten the seat more than I had before, and that our car has a tether hook. Neither of which I had done correctly, despite rereading the instructions on the previous carseat a good dozen times.

I just need to vent again. 80-98% of people install these devices incorrectly. That’s an amazing number. What other consumer product can get away with that? What other consumer product, whose sole purpose is to save lives, can get away with only a sliver of people understanding their product well enough to get the full safety?

Doesn’t it seem like Graco is setting themselves up for a class action suit? It’s not that their product is defective per se, just that it’s next to impossible to use correctly. (Any lawyer readers out there?)

Give me some feedback here — I can’t be the only parent who is pissed off about this.

Paper or Plastic

Last weekend, the Muttrox family went to the Providence Children’s Museum. If you click to that picture, you will see there is a hundred foot dragon that lies atop the building. Our boy couldn’t stop talking about it days later. You would ask him if he went potty in his pants, or if he wants more banana, and the answer would be “Dragon! Big tall nice dragon!” That has nothing to do with anything, I just think it’s pretty neat. Providence is home to a disproportiate number of large animal sculptures, the most famous being the Big Blue Bug (featured in Dumb & Dumber). I was just reading about it here, interesting history. It’s name is “Nibbles”. Nibbles.

Anyhow, one of the exhibits at the museum is something called “Littlewoods“. Basically a big plastic forest type place for toddlers to go wild in. And of course some pamphlets for the parents. Including one on paper vs. plastic. Which (FINALLY) brings me to the point of this post. Paper vs. Plastic bags. The eternal debate, at least as far as mediocre comedians are concerned. This pamphlet was strongly in favor of paper, for many environmental reasons. And the further I read, the more I realized something important.

I don’t care about the environment. I just want to get my foodhome easily.

I hate plastic, but not because of the environment. I just hate those plastic bags. They are awful.

Consider:
1) They are hard to get off the rack. I often see the bagger fumbling to get the front of the bag opened up and still on the hooks so items can actually be put in it. No problems with paper bags, just grab one of the stack and ffwwipp it.
2) They don’t hold anything. This almost deserves a separate post it gets me so mad. For example, I buy a gallon of milk, some ice cream bars, and a bag of chips. (For example.) And how do they bag it? I end up with three bags, one for each item. No, no, that defeats the point of having a bag! The bag serves two purposes: To give you an affordance to grip, and to put multiple items in a bag so that you carry less things. Putting three items in three bags completely defeats the point. For godsake, the milk even has it’s own handle, why the hell would I need a bag for that? 12 items or less results in dozens of these f’in plastic bags! Even when they do pack them up, they hold only three or four items a piece. Paper can hold 15-20.
3) They don’t stay organized, if they ever were. You put them in the back of the car. What happens? They instantly spill all over the place. You dcan’t pack the car, you just end up with a big heap of food. It’s just like your shopping cart was, only now there are plastic bags in random spots to add color. Paper bags don’t do that, they line up in a nice grid and stay that way.
4) So when you get home, you have to repack the plastic bags, to get all the food items back in. And they are hard to hold. Ever have nine bags in the back seat and you spend a full minute trying to arrange them one by one on your hand so you can carry enough of them at once? Kind of a pain, isn’t it? No problems with paper bags, especially since they often come with handles nowadays.

Times have changed. I speak from inside knowledge. I worked for three years as a cashier/bagger at Stop & Shop. On day one, we were trained how to pack bags. It’s not hard. Heavy on bottom, light on top, fill to the rim but no higher. Pretty simple, right? When I ask for paper nowadays, I get a look of bewilderment, as if the bagger has just been asked to solve a particularly tricky calculus problem.

(BTW, the environmental question is open. The children’s museum wanted you to use paper, but if you google around, there’s just as many ecological arguments to use plastic instead. I don’t really care, I just want to get my groceries home easily.)

War of the Worlds: Movie Review

War of the Worlds is a well-made movie of astupid book. The special effects are cool, the acting is good. Better than expected all around. The biggest problem it has is that the plot is essentially ridiculous. When War of the Worlds was first published in 1898, the suprise ending made sense. I trust that as I am writing this 107 years later, no one will be too offended if I give away that surprise ending. The Martians, having easily overwhelmed all of man’s military might, essentially catch colds and die. The bacteria get ’em. Ha ha, what a trick. In 1898, that was clever and plausible, at least plausible enough for science fiction. Nowadays, it is absurd.

We are expected to believe that these Martians are incredibly intelligent. The opening of the movie, narrated by Morgan Freeman (all movies narration must be by Morgan Freeman or James Earl Jones, it’s in the SAG bylaws), specifically states how smart they are. But not smart enough to have figured out germ theory! Smart enough to have created weapons of war that smash our puny tanks like so much kleenex, but not smart enough to make their vehicles airtight.

Now the Martians didn’t just truck on over to ol’ Terra to invade. No, Morgan tells us that they waited one million years underground, waiting and waiting for the right time to launch their attack. That’s right, one million years. Think about that. One million years ago, Homo Erectus was barely more than an animal. Their defenses consisted of sticks of varying sizes. Nowadays, we have missiles, tanks, guns, nuclear weapons, etc. If they’d given us another 100, we would have beat the pants off them. What kind of strategy are they employing? What were they waiting for? And in that entire million years, they never figured out the first thing about germ theory or bacteria. That’s a higher intelligence for you.

Anyhow, in the movie they managed to avoid a lot of this ridiculousnessosisty by just ignoring the aliens. Most of the movie (and the book) is not so much about the aliens, but about how our protagonist deals with all the change going on around him, which is mostly the fellow humans. Those were the good parts. Whenever the aliens came on screen, you had to force yourself to ooh and aah over the awesome lasers, and not think about how much easier it would be to invade Earth if you had the merest sliver of a brain. (If there ever is such thing as a war of this kind, there is one sure tactic. Bombardment. With gravity on your side, move asteriods into orbit around Earth and let them fall. A city-sized one likely killed the dinosaurs and most other terran life 65 million years ago, it would be childs play to wipe us all current lifeforms the same way.)

(On a sidenote, I am stunned by the hatred directed at Tom Cruise by friends of mine. He was a dipstick who made good movies his whole career, now he’s a dipstick who makes good movies. Whatever. Scientology is nuts, if it takes Tom Cruise to make you realize that, great, but the man’s got a right to be nuts. Who cares?)