Stories of the nanny state

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No good deed goes unpunished.

At least that’s how Muir Beach resident Sigward Moser felt Friday after he says he was threatened with a Taser gun, forced to the ground and handcuffed by a National Park Service ranger for refusing to stop cleaning up the oily beach beneath his home.

Moser, a 45-year-old communications consultant, said he was forced to sprawl handcuffed on the wet sand for an hour before he was released and given two misdemeanor citations, one for entering an emergency area and another for refusing a lawful order.

“It was pretty wet and uncomfortable,” he said Saturday. “This is very frustrating, and it was completely avoidable.”

Moser’s Pacific Way home overlooks Muir Beach, where cleanup crews with 100 professionals in white and yellow protective coveralls were at work yesterday.

But there was no one cleaning up Friday when oily globs the size of bowling balls began washing up on shore from Wednesday’s disastrous fuel oil spill.

Moser, a neighborhood liaison on the Muir Beach Disaster Council, went out on the oily beach with an impromptu crew of Buddhist monks in training at the nearby Green Gulch Zen Center.

He said they scooped up 7,000 pounds of solidified oil and put it in plastic bags before park service officials arrived in the afternoon to size up the situation.

“You don’t have to be trained to do this,” he said. “We had on gloves and we didn’t feel there was a health risk. It just lifted up from the sand like it was in kitty litter. They came late with only five people. We felt that anything we could do is better than nothing.”

Moser said he declined three orders to halt his activities before he was cited.

Park service officials held a conference call on Saturday about the incident with members of the Muir Beach Community Services District.

“They were upset, but we tried to reassure them why trained professionals are needed to do this work,” said National Park Service publicist Rich Weideman, citing health hazards and unintended injuries to wildlife by untrained volunteers.

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How government works

I grew up in San Francisco, and always found the intersection at 19th Avenue and Sloat Boulevard frustrating and nerve wracking. Sloat runs east/west and 19th Avenue runs north/south. If you’re heading south on 19th Avenue, and want to make a left turn onto Sloat (heading east), there is a left turn signal. However, if you’re heading east on Sloat and would like to make a left turn onto 19th Avenue (north), there is no left turn signal. Instead the far left lane is a left turn only lane, with the second left lane being a lane that allows drivers to go straight ahead or turn left.

During peak traffic periods, when a green light hits, people in the far left lane creep out into the intersection and sit there waiting for an opportunity to make that left turn. Often, when the light changes, they find themselves trapped in the intersection, with traffic on 19th Avenue heading their way from both directions, always an unnerving experience.

If you’re in the second to left lane, the situation is even worse, because drivers who had no intention of turning left find themselves trapped in that lane behind the left turners. They get impatient, and start pushing in dangerous directions. They, too, find themselves trapped in the intersection when the light changes but, instead of turning into the north/south flow of 19th Avenue, they’re still trying to head east, against the flow.

Just to add to the chaos, students from several nearby high schools traverse the intersection (as I did in my day), and things get even worse on summer weekends because of the popular open air concerts held at Stern Grove, which fronts on the intersection. The statistics for the intersection are amazing:

With its 7.5-mile length, 85,000 daily vehicles, and 80,000 daily pedestrians, 19th Avenue is one of the busiest — and most dangerous — corridors in The City, connecting Interstate 280 and highway 1 to the Golden Gate Bridge. At least three deaths have occurred along the state highway, which is under the jurisdiction of Caltrans and not the city of San Francisco.

There were seven injury collisions in 2006 and six in 2005 at 19th and Sloat.  (Emphasis mine.)

Sadly, just last month, a 21 year old woman joined the list of fatalities at that intersection (and four other people were injured).   It therefore didn’t surprise me today to read that Caltrans is finally going to do something to make the intersection safer — it’s going to put a left turn signal on Sloat Boulevard for east bound traffic that wants to turn left (north) onto 19th Avenue:

A new traffic signal, to be installed today at the intersection, will allow drivers eastbound on Sloat to make a left onto 19th without the threat of a collision from incoming cars on westbound Sloat.

That’s the good news.  Here’s the shocking part of the story:

According to Municipal Transportation Agency spokeswoman Maggie Lynch, the agency’s engineers have been seeking approval for the installation for seven years.  (Emphasis mine.)

In other words, because of bureaucratic inertia, several people have been injured and one woman has died at a manifestly dangerous intersection — and one that routinely contributes to major traffic jams on that well-traveled 19th Avenue.  No matter how you slice it, bureaucracies are inherently inefficient institutions.  This type of story is one of the main reasons I’ve moved away from being a liberal.  Their faith in government means that every single policy they support requires creating ever more bureaucracies.  I recognize the necessity of these institutions when it comes to traditional government functions such as transportation or defense, but I shudder to think of expanding them into more and more corners of our daily life.  (Think:  managed care.)

Legalize drugs?

DQ here.  I’ll be dropping in while Bookworm is on vacation.  Danny L. picked up on one of my earlier comments and suggested I make a topic out of my belief that we should legalize drugs.  Good idea.  I’d also legalize gambling, prostitution, and other “victimless” crimes.  I take this stand on principle — what I do in the privacy of my own home, what I put in my body, what two consenting adults do in private (and whether money changes hands), whether I gamble my money away, etc., is none of the government’s (or anybody else’s) business. 

But there are many practical advantages as well.  The prison population would be cut in half, making prisons much more manageable.  A whole drug underculture would be eliminated, since the profits would be drastically reduced and drugs would be available through legitimate sources.  Police resources could be redirected to stopping real crimes.  The government could tax drugs as it does cigarettes, and tax gambling in a way that would make the lottery revenues look like chump change.  Addicts could seek treatment freely, without fear of arrest.  

Best of all, people would be forced to take responsibility for their own actions.  Rather than relying on the government telling them what they can and can’t do, people would have to make their own decisions.  Many will make the wrong decisions, and they will learn from those mistakes.  But all of us will grow up stronger from having to make our own decisions.

So, what do the Bookwormroom readers think?  What would you legalize and why?  What would you continue to prohibit people from doing and why?  How far should government go in regulating our behavior?  Why are conservatives not all libertarians on all social issues?  I look forward to your thoughts and suggestions.

“Shut yer mouth”

One of the things that irritates and amuses me in equal parts is the Left’s habit of crying “censorship” whenever someone disagrees with them. They deliberately (I think) confuse the distinction between government acts shutting down debate and mere disapprobation. Nothing shows the difference more clearly than this story about the climate “scientist” who testified before Congress that the Bush administration was muzzling him because his views about global warming:

A NASA scientist who said the Bush administration muzzled him because of his belief in global warming yesterday acknowledged to Congress that he’d done more than 1,400 on-the-job interviews in recent years.

James Hansen, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, who argues global warming could be catastrophic, said NASA staffers denied his request to do a National Public Radio interview because they didn’t want his message to get out.

But Republicans told him the hundreds of other interviews he did belie his broad claim he was being silenced.

“We have over 1,400 opportunities that you’ve availed yourself to, and yet you call it, you know, being stifled,” said Rep. Darrell Issa, California Republican.

Mr. Hansen responded: “For the sake of the taxpayers, they should be availed of my expertise. I shouldn’t be required to parrot some company line.”

So, despite 1,400 points of intersection between himself and the media, Mr. Hansen believes he was muzzled because he didn’t get to go on NPR.  Wow, the tears are streaming down my cheeks even as I think about the suffering he must have experienced. Never mind that, in the real world, if you work for a company, you tow the company line.  And in the real world, if you don’t like the company line, you leave the company.

In any event, this was a far cry from true government repression, of the type you see in, say, Egypt, where criticizing the government means torture and imprisonment. In the marketplace of ideas, he’s too lazy or unconvinced by his own rightness to even bother speaking up.

Hat tip:  Drudge

If they’re so good, why do we need a law?

Although I find the light they give too sterile and cool to be appealing, we have a bunch of the new compact fluorescent bulbs in our house, both because they are cheap to operate and they are long lasting.  Being no fools, Mr. Bookworm and I like to save money and appreciate not having to run to the store on a regular basis to buy bulbs.  Apparently we’re not the only wise consumers:

Compact fluorescent lightbulbs (CFLs) use about 25 percent of the energy of conventional lightbulbs.

Many CFLs have a spiral shape, which was introduced in 1980. By 2005, about 100 million CFLs were sold in the United States, or about 5 percent of the 2-billion-lightbulb market, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

That number could more than double this year. Wal-Mart Stores Inc. alone wants to sell 100 million CFLs at its stores by the end of 2007, the world’s biggest retailer said in November.

What the above tells me is that the marketplace is responding appropriately to the advent of a product that reasonably competes with the traditional incandescent bulb.  That being the case, I just hate it that one California legislator (a Democrat, natch) wants to one-up the marketplace by banning incandescent bulbs altogether:

A California lawmaker wants to make his state the first to ban incandescent lightbulbs as part of California’s groundbreaking initiatives to reduce energy use and greenhouse gases blamed for global warming.

The “How Many Legislators Does it Take to Change a Lightbulb Act” would ban incandescent lightbulbs by 2012 in favor of energy-saving compact fluorescent lightbulbs.

I foresee only irritation if this happens.  Some old fixtures handle fluorescent blulbs badly.  Some don’t handle them at all.  Do I have to throw out all my old fixtures?  Some rooms look hideous with that harsh fluorescent light.  Do I have to redecorate my house?  Will I have to start buying incandescent bulbs on a luminescent black market?

As it is, Assemblyman Lloyd Levine’s bill strikes me as unnecessary and costly, insofar as it will require expensive government oversight over something that’s happening naturally and without any government effort at all.

The law of unintended consequences

San Francisco, in an effort to increase its revenues, raised its parking meter fees to an average of $3.00 per hour. City officials expected a cash cascade. What happened instead, was that people obligated to pay the fees figured out that they’d do better in private parking garages. By doing so, they’d pay the same amount of money as the parking meters demanded, but their cars would be safer, and they wouldn’t run the risk of a penalty for returning late to their car. It’s only a slight exaggeration to say that, in some areas of the City, the sole meter users are those who obtained one of the 90,000 handicapped parking permits issued to City residents. Read about it here.

In a similar story, when California mandated increased pay for prison doctors, in the wake of a lawsuit complaining about the abysmal medical care available to California prisoners, that law too created an unintended ripple effect. Doctors who had been working in state hospitals made a rush for the prison doors, figuring that the increased salary made up for the less than desirable working conditions. California’s mental hospitals — many of which treated dangerous offenders, or people who are potentially dangerous because of their delusions — have had to stop admissions and are unable to treat their current population. There’s a thought to keep us warm on a cold night.

As Mr. Bookworm said when I related these stories to him, “The big ideas are easy. The devil is in the details.”

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Blue, right up until it affects you personally

Marin County is one of the bluest of blue counties in America. Lynn Woolsey, the ineffectual and unintelligent Marin representative to Congress garnered close to 80% of the votes in the last election, if I remember correctly. But its easy to be Blue if you’re talking environmentalism and war. How about being blue when it affects something very personal, such as your property values and neighborhood atmosphere. That’s when the red starts trickling out:

A group of residents in the pricey Marin County community of Strawberry are mobilizing against an affordable housing plan by the renowned charity Habitat for Humanity, saying it would blight their neighborhood.

The group is convinced that the plan to build four three-bedroom units of low-income housing in their neighborhood would result in increased traffic and parking congestion and lower property values.

About three dozen residents who live near the proposed construction site — 16.5 acres just west of the Tiburon city limits — are attempting to raise $100,000 for legal fees to challenge the project, which still must be approved by the county Planning Commission.

“Habitat for Humanity goes into blighted neighborhoods and fixes them up. Here they are going into an enhanced neighborhood and blighting it,” said Bill Duane, a 58-year-old resident of Bay Vista Drive, near the proposed site. “I’m not against low-cost housing, but this is social engineering. The county does not have the right to choose my neighbors.”

Such a ruckus is not unusual in Marin, where homeowners have been notoriously hostile to development, especially the kind that threatens to lower the value of their property. But the charity made famous by former President Jimmy Carter would seem an unconventional target.

I should add that I’m completely sympathetic to the residents’ complaints. Because of a court order (we love those social activist judges), low income housing is being built near my up-and-coming neighborhood. Mr. Bookworm explained to the kids that we needed this housing so poor people could have a place to live. He seemed unimpressed by the fact that there is all sorts of non-government sponsored low-income housing (we’re talking marketplace here) within 5 miles of our home. But noooo — thanks to some do-go activists and the courts, we face the very real risk that our neighborhood will see a degradation, not only in value, but in quality. Both matter.

Value matters because we paid a lot for our house, and it is our primary asset. To have some dubious social engineering destroy my nest egg is deplorable.

Quality matters too. I know from the myriad government housing experiments in San Francisco that government sponsored housing always degrades quickly and is a crime magnet. This proved true even when San Francisco tried what’s going on here in Marin — placing low income housing in the middle of affluent neighborhoods, on the theory that the poor people would live up to the neighborhood.

In San Francisco, in every case, the low income housing brought down the neighborhood. People do not take care of rental property the way they take care of owned property. People do not even take care of property they own if they haven’t sweated and slaved to earn it. In addition, the low income housing invariably brought in the drug trade. Even if the home owners/renters were decent, hard working people, the same could not be said for their children, nieces, nephews, grandchildren, etc. These youngsters had attitude and it transcended anything the older generation tried to teach them.

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