Thursday, March 31, 2005

Family History, Chapter I

The first Warnack in the New World was Lieutenant Colonel Frederick Christian Warnack of Prussia and Princess Anne County, Virginia. He served in the Virginia line. He was captured by Benedict Arnold because he was too drunk to flee from the armory he was guarding and was held prisoner for some time. Following the war, he married in Princess Anne County and died about 1786. LTC Warnack was granted bounty lands in Barren County, Kentucky, and the administrator of his estate, his nephew and namesake FC Warnack, II, sold the land in about 1801. At the time, Frederick II was living in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania.

By 1804, Frederick II and his wife Elisabeth, together with their son Isaac Edward (1800) and daughter Hellene Christiana (1798), had settled in Greene County, Tennessee, then the frontier. Three other children were born there: Heinrich Daniel (1804) and Wilhelm Christian (1807) and Elizabeth (1810). By 1817, the family had moved to Knoxville, Tennessee, the principal city of East Tennessee. Frederick II owned and operated Eagle Paper, a company which manufactured, among other things, newsprint, until his death in 1821.

Hellene, who married John Chapman, Isaac Edward, who married Nancy Lonas, and Henry Daniel, who married Asena Chapman, all moved around 1835 to Madison County, Illinois, just across the Mississippi River from St Louis. The family became involved in the production of earthenware. The fate of Elizabeth is not known. William Christian, who married Nancy Morrow in 1829, remained in Knoxville. Nancy died in 1835 from consumption. Her father was William Morrow of Ulster and her mother was Isabella Mebane, among the earliest inhabitants of Knoxville. William died between 1835 and 1840 and left his two children, William Carl (1831) and Ann Eliza (1832) in the care of their uncle Samuel Morrow (1812-1864). Wm Carl was apprenticed out to a tailor and established a tailor shop in Marysville, Blount County, Tennessee by 1850. In 1849, he married Elizabeth Barnes in Blount County.

Wm Carl and Elizabeth had five children: Samuel B. (1851-1927), James L. (1854-1923), Walter A. (1856-about 1925), Wm Mortimer (1858-1929) and Elizabeth Harriet (1862-?). Wm Carl served in the Confederate Army with the rank of sergeant and participated in the battle of Chickamauga. Following the war, the family moved to Jacksboro, Campbell County, Tennessee on the Cumberland Plateau where the Morrows had substantial holdings. Wm Carl served as Justice of the Peace. By 1880, Wm Carl and Elizabeth had returned to Knoxville where they died c1899 and c1910, respectively.

Samuel moved to Kentucky where he was a constable, a mining manager, and a restauranteur. He died there without issue. Walter stayed in Knoxville where he was a road superintendent and a grocer. He also died without issue. James settled in Monroe County, Tennessee and worked as a bootmaker and a farmer. He and his wife Louisa had ten sons and a daughter. James's entire family moved to Los Angeles by way of New Orleans by about 1910. Two of his sons, Henry Christian and John Houston were silent movie screenwriters. Another son, James Marshall, was religion editor of the LA Times. Three others were druggists. Elizabeth married Arthur Merriman, and her susbsequent fate is not known.

Wm Mortimer married Elizabeth Waller of the Chesapeaker Wallers and settled in Rhea County, Tennessee and then Whitfield County, Georgia. He is the founder of the Warnack family of Northwest Georgia, about whom more will be written in a later chapter.

I have no idea whether any of the East Tennessee Warnacks owned slaves, but none are listed in the slave censuses of 1850 and 1860. Moreover, this part of Tennessee was never marked by slaveholding on the scale seen in lowland areas, including West Tennessee.

It does not appear that any of these Warnacks participated directly in attacks on or swindles of Cherokee Indians; however, like every white settler in the region, they would have benefited from increased white population and diminishing tribal holdings.

The Warnacks do not appear to have been particularly influential in Tennessee politics, and it is not know whether they were aligned with any of the factions active in the area.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Cassiopeia/Llys Don

My wife bought me a telescope for Christmas. Mounds of snow in the yard have kept me from using it, but I have been preparing for its debut by learning some constellations. Up until recently, I could identify Orion and the Big Dipper (not even a whole constellation but a mere "asterid"), and that was it. Now I can identify several circumpolar constellations and some individual stars by name, and I have only begun to learn.

If you follow the pointers in the Big Dipper to Polaris and keep going, you may see what looks like a celestial "M" or "W" about as far from Polaris as the Dipper on the opposite side. This is Cassiopeia, boastful mother of Andromeda whose comeuppance was wrought by Perseus, sitting in her chair. Some see it as a queen on her throne. Some say it is Mary Magdalene or some other uppity woman of legend. It sits right smack dab in the Milky Way, and I have become obsessed with it. I suppose it is it's recent salience to me that inspires me to look for it every night and meditate on it.

The Norse may have seen it as the deer who pick at the shoots of the World Tree. I like this image. The constellation, seen from our porch at about 9 pm, lies right over the meadow where the deer feed behind our house. The meadow is surrounded by woods just as Cassiopeia is surrounded by the Milky Way, trunk of the World Tree. The pesky eternal squirrel runs up and down the trunk sowing discord between the Serpent at the root and the Eagle in the canopy, just like the pesky squirrels in our woods (except we don't have a serpent or an eagle, and frogs and turkeys will have to do).

To the Celts, the constellation is Llys Don, the house of the earth goddess Don, consort of Belenor, mother of the Gods. The Milky Way in which it lies is the fortress of her son Gwydion. Belenor is sometimes Christianized into St George, for whom I am named.

If I had a coat of arms, I think it would have to feature Cassiopeia.

Why Are There Still Indian Tribes?

Is it just me, or does the whole Indian tribe thing seem like an anachronism? Indian policy has changed over the years from diplomacy, to removal, to genocide, to limited tribal sovereignty. Indians are now US citizens and are under no civil or political disability. What rationale is there for continuing to deal with "tribes" instead of with individual Indians? Would Indians be better off if tribal property were partitioned or converted to corporate property with tribal members as shareholders? Now, Indians who leave the reservation no longer derive any benefit from tribal resources. Moreover, they are not free to deploy what would be their share of such resources as they see fit. In effect, maintaining the tribal system works to ghettoize Indians and works against their assimilation into the US culture and economy.

But what would happen to tribal culture, an imaginary reader might ask? Indians would be free to associate with other Indians, to practice Indian ways and maintain Indian culture. If they choose not to, that is also their right. I don't think that Indians exist to maintain artificial cultural diversity for everyone's amusement. The diversity and Indian culture memes are part of the arsenal of legitimizing discourse employed by tribal elites to maintain power and to garner favors for the tribe. They do not, IMO, do much for individual Indians.

But what if individual Indians squander their patrimony, another highly condescending imaginary reader might ask? That would be unfortunate for the individual Indians and is one of the risks of liberty. It is my understanding that Indians are no more stupid than other Americans.

Bottom line: abrogate the treaties and buy out of any ongoing obligations and treat Indians as free men and women. Convert tribal assets and rights into private property, and let Indians handle their property as they see fit.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Close the VA and its Hospitals/Close the BIA

One of my first official acts as king will be to shut down the VA. Veterans' benefits can be administered by one of the other check cutting agencies for the time being. The hospitals will all be closed and sold, and veterans' subsidized health care will be handled like health insurance. This is bound to be cheaper and more convenient for the veterans. The graveyards will be administered by one of the other property administering agencies, and future burials will be in private graveyards with perhaps a modest burial benefit. This way, we can free a quarter of a million federal bureaucrats for productive service in the private sector without touching veterans' programs (at least not yet).

On the same day, I will close the Bureau of Indian Affairs. The tribes will just have to get along without a Great White Father in Washington. We will settle all obligations under treaties for present value and let the tribes govern themselves as they please.

Pretty good work for one morning.

Will Kids Turn Gay if Exposed to Happy Gays?

My car pool conspecific (let's call him Dan) has three little children, aged 5,4 and 2 (Irish triplets?), the older two being boys. He does not want his children to know about the existence of gays because he is afraid that they will somehow "catch" gay. Thus, he opposes references to alternative lifestyles in children's media and literature, openly gay teachers, and openly gay parishoners in his church. He hasn't been able to explain to me the mechanism by which gayness would be transmitted, but it seems to boil down to a belief that acceptability of homosexuality would increase the likelihood of his children's embracing it.

I suppose if one is a homosexual but grows up in an anti-gay community, one might be more likely to stay in the closet than if one grows up in an open and affirming community. If homosexuality were seen as morally and socially equal to heterosexuality, might not more people adopt homosexual lifestyles even if they were not genetically homosexual? Are some people wavering on the cusp of homosexuality/heterosexuality without a strong inborn preference? I don't know why anyone should care if this were the case and homosexuality abounded. I wonder if the ratio of gay to straight would be significantly larger in a gay paradise of tolerance and affirmation. Would this be cause for alarm?

I grew up in the Bible Belt and never even knew there was such a thing as homosexuality until I was about 16 (evidently each Southern town has only one homosexual). At that time, some of my school conspecifics discovered homosexuality and figured out that they were gay. They wisely relocated to urban areas. I was probably lucky in some respects to be sexually naive since I never learned to dislike anyone on account of his sexual orientation. I did not turn gay with my schoolmates even after I was exposed to homosexuality, and they did turn gay even though they had not been exposed to it in their tender years and even though they knew their lifestyle would put them on the margins of society and on a path to hellfire.

Based on my limited experience then and through my adult life, I suspect that the gay/straight ratio is more or less fixed by genetic factors and that an open and affirming society would result in greater happiness for homosexuals with no deleterious impact on society or human fertility.

There is no telling whether a free society would be more likely to become open and affirming. At least, gays and the people who hate them would have to leave each other alone.

Monday, March 28, 2005

TPLO Success Story

William Jasper Stone, our American pit bull, had his last follow up visit last Friday after his tibial plateau leveling osteotomy (TPLO). I am pleased to announce that Jasper (he prefers his middle name) was given a clean bill of health and that the procedure was a complete success. His knee is better than it was before his injury.

Jasper is about 95 pounds, big for a pit, and is very athletic. He is an avid Kong chaser and ball player and would play until his human companion tired. Then last Spring, he came up lame. He began to tire of his game more quickly and to favor his right rear leg. The diagnosis was severed ACL. His knee was blown. Pits have weird legs to begin with (not exactly a case for intelligent design) and ligament repair was considered a half measure. Luckily, the TPLO procedure was available. Basically, the surgeon breaks the dog's tibia and levels the plateau of the bone so as to stabilize the joint. The broken bone is strengthened with a metal plate and screws. Jasper had this done just before Christmas. As there is a long convalescent period with limited activity, we felt that Winter would be best for this.

We kept him sedated and under control or in a crate for several weeks, then gradually increased his activity level. He does not appear to favor the leg at all or to have any discomfort or disability. He can chase deer with his conspecific Jesse, the Ruthenian shepherd. He is eager to play and has tried to talk me into tossing the Kong around. He still has a few weeks of loosening restrictions, though. Besides, there is still snow on the ground.

If you can follow up on the post-op restrictions, I recommend the TPLO as a remedy for a lame dog.

Farewell, Main Stream Media

Since I am no longer in the grade-a demographic, it will hardly matter to the MSM that I have this day officially abandoned it. I pledge that from this day forth I will not, even out of morbid curiosity, turn to any network or cable news program. I may watch local news for weather and traffic and such, but I will never watch CNN, MSNBC, CNBC, Fox, ABC, NBC, CBS, PBS or any other MSM news program or news magazine. I will get my news from the web and Jon Stewart. This has been a long time in coming, and I have gradually weaned myself from the MSM, mostly because of their ineptitude, their role as shills for the state and corporate interests, and the utter irrelevance of their reportage to my life.

I encourage my imaginary readership to take the pledge and cut the MSM out of their lives altogether. We can pay a few watchdogs to let us know what the boneheads are up to, if we feel as if that is necessary. Maybe an expanded edition of the "Soup" could be set up to mock it. At least try it for a few days and see if you don't feel smarter and happier.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Where souls go when you die

For the life of me, I can't figure out where this idea of "Gone to be with Jesus" when one dies comes from. As far as I can tell, very few people have actually been transliterated into Paradise or brought up early (the thief on the cross, for example). The resurrection happens all at once on Judgment Day, and it is a physical resurrection. Until then, the dead are "asleep in the Lord", ie nowhere, temporarily nonexistent. The "soul" does not exist apart from the body and will be resurrected with the body.

Subjectively speaking, the resurrected dead might feel as if they have just died (assuming the same sort of temporality in eternity).

I am glad to be able to clear this up for my imaginary readership.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Living Wills

The Schiavo family's tragedy is none of my business, but the machinations of the politicians are my business and I am disgusted, albeit unsurprised, at the Republicans' exploitation of this poor family. On Morning Sedition today, the hosts were calling for Democrats to speak out, but I think the Democrats would be right to mind their own business and let the Republicans make asses of themselves.

The case has made me wonder about the issues and whether Mrs. Schiavo is, in any meaningful sense, a sentient being and, if not, whether this should matter. It might not be unreasonable for the default position in society to be that, unless you made it clear that you wanted to be maintained in a vegetative state, you would opt for natural death under such circumstances. In the wild, a human in a vegetative state would surely die. The default at present appears to be the converse, and this may lead to perverse results. I understand how one might come down on either side of this issue, but I think a frank discussion about it would be helpful.

I am torn about this myself. On the one hand, I would not want to be a burden on my family. On the other hand, as the comedian Drew Carey remarked about comas- "What if being in a coma is the best thing that ever happened to you?" The vegetative state may be one of bliss for all I know, a state of innocence with no knowledge of good and evil, life and death, self and other. I do know that I would not want Congress to butt in.

UPDATE: I have done research on the issue (for example see and have learned that PVS entails a complete lack of awareness, no knowledge of anything, even the self. Is there anything human to preserve in that case? Is the presence of any living brain tissue enough to warrant keeping someone alive? What if it were a handful of cells in a petrie dish? What if it were not brain tissue, but other tissue? Are these endless rhetorical questions annoying or what?

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Demographic Transition

Wealthier and more highly educated people tend to have fewer children than their poorer less educated conspecifics. More affluent countries have lower fertility than less affluent countries. Why this is so has been debated for at least a century, and models have tended to focus on a single factor, eg intergenerational wealth flows or heterogeneous capital investment requirements.

It seems to me that the phenomenon is explicable in terms of subjective value net of expected costs. People will reproduce when the value of the child equals or exceeds costs, and any number of things will have to be factored into the calculation. And the most important variable is the subjective value. One should not assume that this is the same for everyone.

What is the value of a child in a typical middle class household? The child is probably not going to generate any income thanks to the child labor laws and cultural expectations that children get to keep what piddling earnings that they can scrounge up. The child may get you a tax deduction worth not more than $3,000 every year. The child may perform household chores over its childhood and possibly liberate you from having to do them yourself, but these will mainly be geared toward making a dent in the extra work occasioned by the slovenliness and activities of the child. Over the course of the childhood, each child will cost you many multiples more than the total of value of its services, its income and tax benefits. Also, with Social Security, you don't rely on the children to care for you when you are old, and you can't rely on their doing so in any event. (If you could keep the college money and wedding money for your retirement, you might well be far better off.)

But the value of a child, some parents (not mine) remind us, is not merely services and earnings. The real value is intangible and consists of things like companionship, pride, sense of meaning and purpose, someone to love, and so on ad nauseam. I concede that there is real entertainment value in children and that parenting is a perfectly legitimate hobby which would provide amusement and delight to all kinds of people. However, like any other hobby or amusement, people ultimately put a value on it, and every household determines all the time whether to have children at all or to have an additional child. Accordingly, this value is subjective but not immeasurable or infinite. Economists should be able to analyze decisions about fertility just like any other decisions about consumption and tell us what impact various public policies may have on fertility.

Less affluent people may have more children because the subjective non-economic value of children is marginally greater than their much lower costs compared to middle class families. Poorer families have lower expectations about capital investments in children (no private school, no higher education savings, no figure skating lessons). They may receive tax credits or public benefits which are significant sources of income to their households based on having children. More significantly, the opportunity costs of fertility are much lower in terms of sacrifices of career and foreclosing of other options for amusement. A higher time preference may lead to early childbearing which in turn forecloses other opportunities and lowers the overall cost of subsequent children.

For my part, I find that my pit bull fulfills my need for companionship and amusement at a fraction of the cost of a child. And I get a more or less free ride as an uncle many times over. I have fun with the larvae and give them back when I tire of them. It would have to be free baby day at the ballpark to get me to reproduce today.

Monday, March 21, 2005

Deer Control

It has been a snowy winter in the aptly named Stormville, and the wildlife have had a hard time foraging. I have taken to feeding them "Deer Chow" and cracked corn and have counted as many as a hundred deer visitors in a day (I don't know if these are 100 distinct deer or if some deer come back for seconds and thirds to the all you can eat buffet). I am able to count them easily since Jesse Lou Baggett, my Ruthenian Shepherd, becomes enraged every time a deer drops by and begs to be let out to chase them. Because I love him, I occasionally let him drive them away (they are on the other side of the fence, and he can't actually catch them).

I have been criticized by some deer haters who struggle with having their flowers and other vegetation eaten by the deer (we somehow have been spared this so far, perhaps due to the presence of the dogs). Although I think that feeding the deer provides an alternative to their gardens, they may have a point in that marginally more deer may make it thorough the winter due to my intercession. I should let the deer starve to death, say my critics, or even kill a few of them. I like the deer and want to encourage them to visit. Selfish b******ds think only of themselves and their gardens. And I definitely do not want anyone hunting in my residential neighborhood. We do not need gun-toting drunks running around in the woods behind my house.

A better and more natural solution would be to reintroduce large predators into the neighborhood. We have fox and some coyote, but these are apparently not large or numerous enough to handle the excess deer population. What is wanted are some wolves or big cats that can take down a deer. That would help to preserve my neighbors gardens and maintain a suitable deer population.

But when I suggest this, once again their selfishishness comes through. Now they're worried that their children will be eaten by the predators! There is no satisfying some people. In the long run, more children will be killed in car accidents involving deer than by large predators, and the handful of children taken by wolves or mountain lions would be a small price to pay for deer control. Just do the math! Moreover, I imagine only the most negligent parents would have children eaten by large predators, and these children would probably have died from some other instance of parental negligence anyway.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Negotiating Skills

Much of my work is dispute resolution, and I pride myself on my skills in mediation and negotiation. I have extensive training and experience in this area and have had a modicum of success in settling litigation and other disputes over the years. There is a science to dispute resolution. I am always dumbfounded that so few lawyers, even partners in prestigious firms, have little or no understanding of the dynamics of dispute resolution. They know one thing only- zero sum competitive negotiation- and they usually suck at it. They do all their negotiating solely by instinct, and they are usually wrong. Why is this so?

I have a few possible explanations that I submit for the edification of my imaginary readership. Firstly, law schools do not train law students in dispute resolution or conflict management even though skills in this area are among the most important that a good lawyer should possess. I received no such training in my legal studies, and not one of the young lawyers I have trained over the years from a variety of schools has had any meaningful training. Secondly, lawyering tends to attract jackasses who start out with an underdeveloped natural ability to understand opposing positions and who have a preference for more competitive methods. Thirdly, the profession thrives on conflict, and there is little incentive for attorneys to resolve disputes before they have wrung out every last dollar.

The solution? Educated clients who recognize the value of dispute resolution and conflict management services and skills.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Jury Duty for Anarchists

Jury service has come up a few times this month. One of my fellow tenors in choir announced in choir parctice that he had successfully evaded jury duty by appearing to be a defendant-hating old curmudgeon (I am not sure if he really is one since he seems to be such a reasonable fellow otherwise). Moreover, my car pool conspecific recently served as foreman of a grand jury. This has set me to thinking. The jury is often the last line of defense against the juggernaut of the criminal justice system, and it is a shame that it has been domesticated to serve statist ends.

I think that jury service may present an opportunity for anarchists, minarchists and libertarians to make a difference and live their ideology. We would be able to exercise jury nullification in the case of unjust and noxious laws and to make the anti-state case to our fellow jurors. If I am ever called to a grand jury, I pledge to vote against indictment of anyone for drug charges or any offense that is not related to theft or violence. If I am on a criminal trial jury, I will vote to acquit any defendant charged with violation of an unjust law. I urge like minded folks to do the same if they are ever compelled to serve as jurors.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Intelligent Design

Some folks want children in state schools to be taught the Bibilical account of creation as historical fact. In order to get around the Establishment Clause of the US Constitution, these efforts are now cloaked in the guise of "Intelligent Design Theory" which is supposed to be a scientific alternative to descent with modification. It appears that the gravaman of ID is that anything that is not readily explainable in the imagination of the IDiot is "irreducibly complex" and must have been created by an "intelligent" designer, the usual suspects being drawn from various pantheons. There is no way to design an experiment or set of observations that would bear the theory out. Moreover, ID has no predictive power whatsoever (unless I have gotten it horribly wrong).

What do the pushers of ID fear about the theory of evolution? After all, their children are not going to get much evolutionary theory in their 12 years of public education, and what they do get will probably not mean anything to them. Half of them are of below average intelligence, and the average ones are not really bright enough to use evolutionary theory in any way in their lives. A handful may become biological scientists and need to understand and use evolutionary theory.

As I see it, the problem lies with the propensity of folks to become confused about the meaning and appropriate applicability of scientific statements and religious statements. That species evolved via natural selection has no moral implications whatsoever. That God created the universe has no scientific implications. Neither statement contradicts the other when understood in its proper sphere. However, folks appear to take the scientific proposition about evolution as having moral implications, eg there being no Creator, we have no choice but to embrace nihilism. And they take the religious proposition as having scientific import. We are by and large not smart enough to avoid the confusion.

Given our overall stupidity, are the IDiots right to worry that exposure to evolutionary theory will weaken their children's faith and start them down the road to nihilism? They may have a valid concern, and I propose as a solution that state schools expose only the brightest pupils to evolutionary theory. This will assuage the concerns of the IDiots and prevent the possible creation of an army of nihilistic simpletons while permitting us to maintain a small pool of bright biologically literate pupils.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Social Security, etc.

I met a 30 something woman at a party the other day. She is a "human resources professional", and she informed me that she had received a letter from the SSA that indicated that no person born after 1965 will receive social security benefits in the future (except those who become disabled). This was the reason that she supported the Bush reforms. She believed that she would get nothing without the private accounts. Was such a letter transmitted? She also told me that black squirrels are carnivorous.

In discussing reform around the water cooler, there seems to be a lot of confusion about what the Bush plan is. Most folks are skeptical, given the administration's track record of screwing things up, but the one reliable Bush-apologist insists that it is not appropriate to criticize the Bush plan because he has not actually proposed anything. We are supposed to support the President (war time and all that) and trust him to come out with a great plan.

I would just as soon scrap Social Security altogether, and one of my wingnut acquaintances assures me that the Bush plan is just a step in that direction. That is, the Bush agenda is to (a) make SS look more like a private asset than a social obligation, and (b) divert so much money from it that it fails without massive tax increases. If we are going to get rid of SS, we should debate it honestly. The "starve the beast" idea does not work; it just sticks taxes on future selves or descendants. I don't have children (thanks to those pesky child labor laws that make them unproductive), but I do not think it is moral to burden children with debt.

In fact, when I told my 9 and 10 year old nephews that Bush had borrowed so much money that they would probably have to pay enormous taxes when they grew up, they told me that they did not feel that they should be responsible and that they were not going to pay. I would not blame them if their generation repudiates the national debt.

Friday, March 04, 2005

Recovered Memories

It has been disturbing to discover that the idea of "recovered memories", which I thought had been thoroughly debunked in the late 1990s, continues to thrive. A priest has recently been convicted of sexual molestation of a child decades after the supposed events based on "recovered memories", and there are apparently still support groups of folks claiming to have been ritually abused by Satanists on the basis of "recovered memories" (see )I am fairly certain these folks believe that they were ritually abused by a vast conspiracy of "multi-generational Satanists", but I am equally certain that the memories were planted by therapists and that the abuse claims are total horses**t. The abusers are the therapists.

I was a child abuse prosecutor in Florida in the early 1990s when I became aware that the dimwitted state "social workers" and their managers had fallen in love with the idea of repressed memories of Satanic abuse. They had even gone so far as to declare that certain foster children, who denied any such memories, were victims of such abuse and ineligible to be adopted.

I investigated the case of a set of siblings so designated in my district and determined that there was, in fact, no evidence of any kind of any abuse of the children in question. They were in foster care because of alleged sexual abuse of some older half siblings for which the parents had been imprisoned and on the basis of which parental rights had been terminated. (It was not uncommon in Florida for parental rights to be terminated on the flimsiest of evidence in the 1980s.) The only evidence of ritual abuse was the opinion of an unlicensed psychologist who specialized in ritual abuse and memory recovery and who was affiliated with a "deprogramming" facility near Miami. The opinion was predicated on a single meeting with one of the children. His denial of any memory of abuse was characterized by the "therapist" as an indicator of repressed memories. On this basis, all three siblings (who had been in separate foster homes for years and moved frequently) were declared unadoptable and slated for deprogramming.

I was outraged, as was my wife. Not knowing what else to do to help these children, we petitioned to adopt the oldest (and least adoptable by virtue of age) of the children (a move that put my job in jeopardy and resulted in my being threatened with arrest for obstruction or worse by the therapist's state trooper husband who claimed to be part of a nonexistent Satanism task force).

Meanwhile, the children were off to the deprogrammming center in Jupiter. I managed to get permission to visit the oldest child, a boy of 10, every week or so and to tour the facility some 4 hours away. He was living with a very nice foster couple who had been trained in ritual abuse and memory recovery therapy (not to perform it but to cooperate with it) but was subjected to daily interrogation and badgering about his repressed memories and, to be quite frank, blatant implantation of memories. The treatment facility featured a holding cell in which recalcitrant children were sometimes kept in restraints in total darkness for hours at a time. The program involved nothing less than torture designed to get the children to respond to their interrogators by telling them what they wanted to hear, i.e. that they had been ritually abused and were in need of the facility's long term care at the expense of the state.

I interviewed the child who told me what was happening to him. He told me that he had told the therapists what they wanted to hear so that he could get out of the facility and be adopted. He had been led to understand that the sooner he recovered his memories, the sooner he would be well enough to become part of a family.

I interviewed the "therapist" who, among other things, told me that she was aware of a vast conspiracy of "multi-generational Satanists" who had infiltrated the highest levels of the government. She asked if I had encountered them in my military and civilian government experience. She stated that the children for whom I was advocating were "too dangerous" to be adopted because such children would have been programmed to kill their adopted families.

All of this was predicated on rank pseudo-science and the rank self-interest of the deprogramming industry that sprang up. Michael Shermer, author of "Why People Believe Weird Things", and others have called the "Satanic Panic" and the recovered memory movement examples of witch crazes.

The children's guardian ad litem objected to the treatment and supported our adoption petition, but the state contested it despite our stellar "home study" and the recommendation of the social workers from an outside district (it was thankfully a conflict of interest for my own district to perform the home study). Over time, the deprogramming facility convinced the child that my wife and I were Satanists because we opposed the treatment and that he would not be safe with us. In our last conversation, the child seemed genuinely afraid of me. We dropped our petition, I quit my job, and we moved to Seattle to get as far away as possible, partly in response to threats from the trooper husband of the therapist.

The good news is that our advocacy and the pressure we had put on the agancy resulted in all three children's adoption, albeit by three different families. The state tacitly admitted that the ritual abuse allegations were bogus, but the state would not "reward"my wife and me with a personal victory in the adoption proceeding.

In the end, we were winners in my view because we managed to save the children from the lunacy of the Satanic abuse craze AND we did not have to adopt them ourselves. Moreover, I came to despise the state and my role in child welfare tyranny. From then on, I have been anti-state (and loving it). I have been an advocate for children as a court appointed special advocate, a guardian ad litem, counsel to guardians ad litem, and as a divorce mediator and attorney with an eye toward advancing the interests of children, often against the state.

Child abuse occurs, but the agency I represented was the biggest abuser of them all. More children in my district were killed or injured in state custody and foster care than were killed or injured in families to whom they had been returned. The agency expanded the definition of abuse and neglect to fit its own needs for power and funding. I found that I was advocating the best interests of the agency rather than the best interests of the child and that these almost never coincided. I pray that Florida no longer sends children to the Satanic abuse gulag, but I would not be surprised to find that they still do do. I cannot think of anything more Satanic than that.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Environmental Law in a Free Society

I do a lot of work with environmental issues, mainly with contaminated facilities and third party sites. Generally, the EPA or a state counterpart supervises the investigation and clean-up and allocates responsibility among potentially responsible parties. In a minarchist state, these agencies would no longer exist, and environmental contamination would be addressed as a property rights concern.

This might work if a right to remediation were recognized as a remedy in private litigation for nuisance and trespass. Traditionally, recovery is limited to the value of the property which remediation costs usually vastly exceed. This limitation on the remedy means that there would be insufficient disincentives to contamination which might migrate to the property of others.

A typical scenario involves contamination which enters groundwater and moves with its flow to neighboring properties, sometimes poisoning wells. The state is empowered to require clean-up without regard to the value of the neighboring property, and the property owners have no more input into the process than any other member of the public. The neighbors may sue for injuries, if they have any, and other damages, but the right to demand remediation "belongs" to the government. (There are some provisions for private actions where the government fails to act.)

In the minarchist system where contamination is dealt with by litigation, the property owners ought to be able to compel remediation. This would make the aggrieved party whole and provide disincentives to pollution. Perhaps the property owner should also be able to opt to keep the money rather than remediate under circumstances where other parties are unaffected and where health risks are minimal. Of course, where there is no solvent tortfeasor, the aggrieved party would be SOL unless he has insurance.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Asbestos Reform

I attended the Mealey's Wall Street Forum on asbestos litigation yesterday, as I have done the prior two years. Once again, the speaker involved in drafting federal reform legislation was guardedly optimistic that it could be done this year. The consensus among the ten or so asbestos pros whom I queried was (as it has been for three years that I have been informally polling the issue) that the legislation was going nowhere. In a nutshell, the proposed legislation calls for industry and insurance companies to fund a $140 billion trust to be administered by the federal government. Claims for asbestos related injury would be handled administratively and paid out according to a schedule of benefits. Noone would then be allowed to sue for asbestos related injury.

My personal view is that the federal legislation represents yet another usurpation of state power by the federal government. As an advocate for business interests, I do not like the discussion draft circulated by Senator Specter for a couple of other reasons: (1) the trust fund sunsets if it runs out of money, and all the cases go back to the tort system; and (2) the plan provides payouts for claimants with no demonstrable asbestos related injury and expensive medical surveillance for unimpaired claimants. Accordingly, the plan provides for more payments than necessary to compensate victims fairly and makes it more likely that it will ultimately run out of money.

What business wants is finality and calculability and reasonable compensation for victims. The plan provides neither. Moreover, if the trust sunsets, what happens to all the insurance assets that well run companies have managed to marshall to cover their liability? If the trust runs for ten years and sunsets, you can be sure that the insurers will have ring fenced their risk and that it will be like starting from square one in getting coverage back in place. There is also the chance that the business lobby will be able to socialize the risk and that the government will bail out the trust in a massive corporate giveaway and turn it into another redistribution program.

That 90% of claimants are unimpaired is what makes asbestos litigation so unmanageable. Without unimpaired claimants, the risk would be entirely calculable by epidemiological modeling, and what is wanted is a way to weed out such claims and associated transaction costs. Some states (notably Mississippi) have worked on this, and the solution is for courts to do a better job at insisting that only colorable claims be advanced. Alternative legislation calling for the application of medical criteria would do a lot to solve the problem, and it would do so while doing less violence to the principle of federalism. It would leave the costs to the claimants and the tortfeasors and permit both fair compensation and calculability.