Tuesday, January 25, 2005



Values were important to many voters in the November election. No one has yet published a report on just what the values were that influenced so many voters. It is implied that the “value voters” were mostly evangelical Christians and their values were parts of their belief systems. Two examples cited in news commentaries are the sanctity of unborn life (i.e., opposition to legal abortion) and the sanctity of marriage (i.e., opposition to providing any legal sanction to a loving and permanent union of two homosexuals). Evangelical and Roman Catholic Christians find support for their views in parts of the Bible, particularly the Old Testament. The President believes that he needed and received the support of this group to win election and intends to make good on implicit promises to advance their causes.

We are, however, a pluralistic society, with many religious sects and many religious creeds. Our tradition has been that our government remains neutral among the conflicting beliefs and does not choose one particular sect or group of sects over others. Public policy should be made in our democracy on the basis of public judgment or consensus, not on religious doctrine. There is a consensus that murder, armed robbery, human slavery, rape and other forms of violence against an individual, and lying under oath are crimes. Nearly every one of us agrees that these acts are and should be crimes under law regardless of our religious creed. The same consensus does not exist regarding homosexual unions or abortions. We willingly put murderers, thieves, and rapists in prison. We do not put a homosexual pair in prison for living together and caring for each other as much as any married heterosexual couple. We do not put a woman in prison if she has an abortion. There is no consensus that these acts are or should be crimes, even though Holy Scripture specifies death by stoning to the participants.

Emotions run high on the abortion issue. A sizeable minority of Americans advocate laws that forbid abortion under any circumstance. Such laws that have been proposed or enacted are directed toward the medical providers of abortion, not toward the women who seek abortions. A majority of Americans believe that the woman should be free to seek competent medical treatment and termination of pregnancy without interference from a government agency. Many people agree that there should be a limit on when the procedure is carried out. A mere month before the baby is due is too late except in dire circumstances.

Let us suppose that we lived in a society in which the Jehovah’s Witnesses comprised a sizeable and influential voting bloc. As a matter of creed or religious doctrine, Jehovah’s Witnesses oppose all forms of organ transplant, including blood transfusions. A devout Jehovah’s Witness will refuse a blood transfusion even to save his own life. A parent will let his child die rather than accept a blood transfusion or an organ transplant. Should a President elected in a close election with almost unanimous support of Jehovah’s Witnesses feel obligated to advance their belief to the status of law? Should everyone be denied blood transfusions just because Jehovah’s Witnesses believe it is wrong to contaminate the body God gave you with strange blood? Let us suppose further that the President himself is a Jehovah’s Witness. One can not blame him for trying to put into law a belief that he sincerely and deeply believes. But how about the rest of us, including those who voted for the President who were not Jehovah’s Witnesses? Should all the rest of us sit back and unhappily observe while laws are enacted that we do agree with? I say not. We would and should raise holy hell to prevent the enactment of laws that prohibit organ transplants, including blood transfusions.

So, what’s the moral? Let those who believe abortion is wrong forgo abortion under any circumstance. Let those who believe homosexual living together is wrong ignore homosexual couples who openly live together. Let them leave the rest of us in peace. Let us all get along.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005


About Guns and Crime

This morning at 10:30 I was listening to a talk show on radio. The discussion was triggered by the recent Supreme Court decision to allow a lawsuit to proceed against a gun manufacturer for a crime committed with the use of one of the firm's products. The host had two representatives on the line to discuss the pros and cons of the case and also to comment on comments by call-in listeners.

The Pro-gun representative asserted that crimes are committed by criminals, that gun manufacturers can not logically be held accountable for what an individual may do with their products, that of course a gun is designed to kill or badly injure a person (otherwise why have one for protection?), and that there is a cause-and-effect correlation between crime rates and gun ownership. He went on to cite rural Virginia and urban Washington, DC. The crime rate in Washington is perhaps twenty or more times that in rural Virginia. He claimed that the crime rate in rural Virginia was low because nearly everone living there has a gun for personal protection. Virginia has liberal concealed weapon laws and it is easy for one to obtain a permit to carry a concealed weapon.

It struck me that his logic is reversed. Communities enact stiff controls on guns if the voters perceive the crime rate to be high. If voters perceive the crime rate to be low, they do not demand that such stiff controls be in effect. In other words, the rate of gun ownership in rural Virginia is high because the crime rate is low, and not the other way around. At least that's my reaction to the argument.

It reminds me of something I read many years ago about the harsh penalties for theft in some countries, Saudi Arabia being an example. The punishment is that one hand of the convicted thief is cut off. The rate of theft is extremely low in Saudi Arabia. Again, one can argue that the stiff penalty deters thieves. One can also argue that a culture with a very low rate of theft is willing, in fact eager, to accept such a harsh penalty.

Monday, January 10, 2005


Our Decennial Rain

It's been raining here in Los Angeles for more than a week. It's not just a gentle rain with a few sprinkles, or maybe a heavy mist, like most of the rains here. It's been a determined, heavy rain, as though the rain god is determined to give us enough rain this year to maintain our historical average. This year the rainfall is above average. Most years it is below average. About every ten years or so we get a series of rain storms like this.

The first one I remember must have happened in 1931 or 1932. Of course, I wasn't living in California then. I was living in Michigan and my uncle, aunt, and cousins from San Diego were visiting us. One of my cousins made light of the rain we had in Michigan. He said that when it rains in California it rains for a whole week without stopping. In Michigan it rains every summer, usually about once a week or so.

The next Southern California rain I remember occurred after my wife and I moved here in November, 1955. A couple of years later we had a week of rain. Roads were flooded. There were mud slides. I was working for Atomics International at the time. Atomics International was a division of North American Aviation. Neither Atomics International nor North American Aviation exist any more. North American was bought by the Rockwell Company and became Rockwell. Later it was sold to Boeing. So now I am retired from Boeing, without ever having set foot inside a Boeing facility.

About ten years later, while I was still employed at Atomics International, there was another rain storm that lasted several days. At the time we had a proposal we were sending to federal government and we were a bit late. Our sales department used the excuse that the rain delayed the transportation of the proposal from our plant in Canoga Park to the office in Pasadena of the federal department involved. Of course, we were used to the decennial rains, but the excuse worked. It worked so well that we received a comment later that we must have had a real rainstorm.

And now, this year, another rain. The cycle of rain is almost like the business cycle. One year there is plenty of rain - so much that it becomes a problem. Then we have nine years to dry out before the next storm. Also, the business cycle provides us a boom or bubble every ten years or so. During the bubble, which can last two or three years, the State of California takes in so much tax revenue that tax rebates are mailed to us taxpayers. Tax rates are reduced so that the State won't accumulate surplus money. Then we return to the normal drout, both of water and tax revenue.

A California farmer would be foolish to plan his work on the assumption that a rain like the one we're now having is normal. Instead, he plans for years of little or no rain. He has irrigation ditches dug in his property to provide water for plants. When we have a rain like this one, he hopes that the water will be stored in the mountains as snow to provide water to fill the aqueducts later in the year. He hopes that soil erosion will not damage his fields.

I wish our Governor and other elected officials thought like successful California farmers. They would then realize that during the decennial boom or bubble in the business cycle they should put aside money for future years, instead of refunding it to the taxpayers. They would also set the tax rates high enough to raise enough money during the lean years to avoid the huge deficits the State is now enduring. However, they do not have the incentive of the farmer. Unlike the farmer, they must leave office forever at the expiration of their terms: six years for the Assembly, eight years for the Senate and other elected officials. If a farmer had similar term limits, he would have no reason to plan for the distant future, but would operate his farm to make a killing during the few years that it was his.

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