On Gay Marriage, or: Man, Those Are Some Terrible Arguments

May 10, 2012 by Wayland Smith

Between the people of North Carolina voting (without really understanding) to outlaw something that was already illegal, 30 of the 33 Republican representatives in Colorado hijacking the legislative process to prevent something that 71% of Coloradans approve of, and the President of the United States coming out in support of gay marriage, today seems like as good of a day as any to flesh out a post that’s been kicking around in my head for some time.  Specifically, I’m talking about the absurdity of the arguments against marriage equality.

Let me back up.  Despite the fact that I wholeheartedly support marriage equality for same-sex couples, it’s not a topic that seems to come up much when talking or writing about Arkansas politics.  I’m not sure whether to chalk that up to my being a straight, married guy or to the fact that Arkansas (like Georgia) is so very backward in many ways, but it’s true nonetheless.  Whenever it does come up, however, I am always flabbergasted by the arguments — often made by otherwise intelligent people — against marriage equality.  I mean, the arguments in favor of such equality are pretty straightforward.  They tend to be things like equal protection or even “why should I care if two consenting adults want to marry one another?”

The arguments against it, however?  Well, let’s take some of the most popular ones in turn and discuss the inherent flaw(s) in each.

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And, If You Are ALEC, She’s Totally Your Huckleberry

April 21, 2012 by Wayland Smith

The mud lets you know she isn't some liberal, car-washing elitist.

Apparently, a Holiday Inn in Heber Springs was hosting a meet-and-greeting last night, and all local political candidates were invited.  Sen. Missy Irvin (R-Mountain View) RSVPed on behalf of herself and roughly 100 additional people that she invited.  Because, hey, party!

Then she learned that the Holiday Inn had the unmitigated temerity to — gasp! — serve alcohol to attendees.  Well, she wasn’t going to have any of THAT, because (paraphrasing) such antics “alienated the Christians.”  So Sen. Irvin attempted to rally people not to attend the meet-and-greet.  Take that, Holiday SIN!

Oh, except she didn’t actually get in touch with all of the myriad people she’d invited, so people showed up, expecting her to attend.  That would have been embarrassing if Sen. Irvin had the capacity to be embarrassed by her own action.  Which she obviously does not.

But, hey, embarrassing or not,  maybe we should give Sen. Irvin credit for sticking to her faith-based guns (and for ignoring that 59% of the Bible’s references to wine/alcohol are positive), right?  Well, we could do that.

Or we could point out that tonight Sen. Irvin held a private event at the Red Apple Inn in Heber Springs.  Where . . . wait for it . . . alcohol was served!

If I ever film a re-make of Tombstone, I’m totally casting Missy Irvin as Doc Holliday.  Because when she says “it appears my hypocrisy knows no bounds,” you’ll know she absolutely means it.


Astronomy, Math, and Bobby Petrino: An Adventure In (More) Lies

April 10, 2012 by Wayland Smith

From the Department of Not-Shocking Statements: Bobby Petrino’s explanation for why he wrecked his motorcycle is a complete lie.

What I’m referring to, of course, is Petrino’s statement to the investigating officer from the State Police that the wreck was “because of sun and wind,” which caused him to be unable to “maneuver the turn.” On first glance, this statement seems to jive with the report, which lists Petrino as traveling west in the westbound lane. Obviously, at least for anyone living in flatter parts of the state, heading west at 6:30 p.m. on a relatively clear April day is going to subject you to some bright sunshine. Seems legit.

Until you actually look at the road, that is.

For one thing, Petrino was heading “west” only in the most nominal sense of the word. The stretch of Highway 16 where the wreck occurred run 334-degrees NW, which is just another way of saying “damn near due north.”  A quick look at U.S. Navy’s calculator, however, shows us that the azimuth (the angle of the sun relative to north for a given time and location) for around where Petrino crashed was about 266.6-degrees SW. [Note: the calculator does not use Daylight Savings Time, so you have to look at the 17:30 entry for 6:30 local time on April 1.]

Knowing that, we can plot these angles on a highway map.

Click to enlarge that picture.  The red arrow is Petrino’s trajectory.  The yellow line is the angle of the sun relative to Petrino’s position.  You can then see that Petrino, even after taking a slight curve that brought him to the 334-degree NW trajectory, was in no danger of having the sun hit him in the eyes. In fact, the sun was over 70 degrees toward his left shoulder, if Petrino was looking straight ahead on the motorcycle.  Assuming that Petrino’s eyes were looking toward the next curve (a slight right), the sun’s angle would have been on the very fringes of normal human peripheral vision. But, hey, maybe having that sunlight in the periphery distracted him, right?

Maybe . . . if the sun hadn’t already been too low in the sky to cause a problem for him at that moment.

See, if we go back to the Navy’s calculator, we can see that the angle of the sun relative to the horizon at 6:30 p.m. on April 1, 2012, was 13.2 degrees. But, as we see in the photos of the scene, the west side of the highway has a wall of trees.  If we were being really kind to Petrino, pretending like the sun was directly in line with that safety marker (which it absolutely, positively was not) and pretending like the land around the crash site was perfectly flat, we can use the measurements in the police report and figure out how high the sun would have to be to cause a problem there.

First, we can use the measurements on the crash side of the road to figure out the distance between where Petrino left the highway and the safety marker by the culvert on the other side of the road.

(Crash site image from FriendOfTheProgram.Net.)  Then, using the highway safety marker as a guide, and conservatively estimating that the marker is about 5′ high, the trees appear to be at least 75′ tall at this point.  Using our two known measurements and a right angle, we can calculate the angle to the top of the tree from the spot where he left the highway.

That gives us an angle of just about 31 degrees.  The pink line in that picture shows roughly where the sun would be based on the actual angle at the time of the crash.  Obviously, the sun is large enough that it would not have to be all the way above the trees to cause a problem, so we can revise our measurements downward further, again for the sake of giving Petrino the benefit of the doubt, and we can still see that the sun would need to be at least 25 degrees above the horizon right there to be a problem.  With the sun at 13.2 degrees (the pink line), the trees would have blocked all but the occasional sunbeam coming from that direction.

Of course, the sun was not in that position, as we’ve already demonstrated. It was further to Petrino’s left. That’s even worse for his version of the story; back to the left of Petrino’s bike, the mountain on which he and his passenger were driving increases elevation markedly.

It looks to me like the mountain increases nearly 200 feet in height over a span of about 2000 feet in that direction. On top of which, there are of course more of the same very tall trees. Assuming that the trees to Petrino’s left were not closer than the trees out in front of him in our previous example, the sun would have to be not only at the 25-degree incline needed to clear the treetops but, also, would have to be higher to account for the mountain that those trees were sitting on. (And, if the trees to Petrino’s left were closer to him that the trees in front of him, the angle would be steeper still.)

Petrino apologists will likely point to the “manuever the turn” statement and suggest that Petrino was talking about the previous curve, as if the sun/wind caused him to get wide coming out of that turn and just continue off the road. To that, I say simply that, until he had navigated the curve, Petrino was traveling NE, not NW. Given that we’ve just shown that the sun would not have been a problem after successfully navigating the previous curve and turning back to the west, it follows logically that the sun was absolutely not a problem when Petrino was not even driving in a westerly direction.

Speaking of the wind, however, that doesn’t hold up under scrutiny either. According to Weather Underground, winds in Madison County on April 1 around the time of the crash were under 15 mph, and they were coming out of the South. With Petrino’s more-or-less northerly trajectory at the time of the crash, a 15 mph tailwind would not have been a problem, especially not in terms of prevent him from turning the bike further to his left.

In short, there’s is simply no way in the world that, on that stretch of highway, at that time of day/year, Bobby Petrino was blinded by the sun, causing him to wreck. It’s not just unlikely; it’s mathematically impossible. It’s similarly ridiculous to suggest that a little tailwind somehow caused any problems driving the motorcycle. Am I shocked that Petrino would lie to try to cover up having the girl with him? Not in the least.

I am, however, shocked that people would be so concerned with the success of Hog football in 2012 that they’d happily turn a blind eye to a man who lied to police about the cause of his wreck, tried to cover up the existence of a passenger, and (it would seem) tried to use his influence as head coach to essentially have public records altered to reflect something other than the truth.  It’s one thing to hire a guy who has a record as a sleazeball; it’s another thing entirely to let him think he’s above the law and above what’s best for the university as a whole.


Well, When You Put It THAT Way . . .

February 29, 2012 by Wayland Smith

I feel the same way about internal polls released by a candidate (or a candidate’s consultant) as I do about the Kardashians—they don’t matter, and I never understand why so many people seem to care about them at all.  They (both the polls and the Kardashians) are, in a word, absurd.  But, then, we expect these polls to be absurd.  After all, no candidate or consultant is going to release a poll that shows the candidate losing, and the polls are almost always worded to elicit the answer that the candidate wants.

That’s why your typical, flawed internal poll will contain questions similar to this one from the one commissioned by Rep. Tiffany Rogers (D-Stuttgart):

Question: As you make your decision to vote for State Senate are you more likely to support?
1) A member who has worked with Governor Beebe to pass the largest tax cut in state history and pass budgets that have kept our state’s budget balanced while maintaining essential services – 56%
2) A member of the opposition party to the Governor that recently attempted to hold up his budget proposals and has tried to implement multiple policies in opposition to the Governor’s agenda – 12%
3) Undecided – 31%

Wow.  That question could only be worse if the second option ended with “and also likes to kick stupid puppies in their stupid puppy faces.”  But, to repeat myself, we expect this kind of silliness from the candidate.

What we don’t expect, however, is for someone who styles himself as a legitimate news source to buy into this kind of internal poll and write a few hundred words about the poll’s validity.  Someone like, say, Michael Cook.  But, there in that link, that’s exactly what you get, including a statement about how the question of who respondents were more likely to vote for “was one of the first ones asked in the poll.” That’s the type of comment that only someone who knows a poll is flawed, but who still wants to use that poll to prove a point, would make.

Obviously, I hope that Cook is right when he says (in a forced, folksy way) that Arkansas Senate Dist. 28 “is currently as tight as a tick and it should be viewed as a complete toss-up.” I am no fan of Jonathan Dismang — because he sucks as a legislator (see, e.g.,  here and here) — and I’d like a Democrat to take that seat.  That said, I’m no more or less convinced of Rogers’ chances based on this poll, and Michael Cook should not be, either.


Past As Prologue: Josh Johnston in 2012

February 14, 2012 by Wayland Smith

Well this is interesting and more than a little telling.

When Max Brantley spoke to Rep. Josh Johnston today, Johnston indicated that he was not running for reelection in 2012, citing the new size/shape of his district. OK, fine. I mean, we should all still hold it against Johnston and the other reps (both Democrat and Republican) that Johnston will apparently not be removed from office, but at least he’s not going to run for reelection and force someone to sue to have him removed from the ballot.

Wait . . . what’s that?

He’s running for Sheriff of Cleburne County, you say?  Why, you must’ve read the caption on the picture to the left.  Pretty clever, you are.

Also, you are correct:

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Article V . . . I Do Not Think It Functions Like You Think It Functions

February 14, 2012 by Wayland Smith

Something that never ceases to amaze me about the current crop of Republicans, especially in Arkansas, is their complete acquiesence to whatever the trendy group-think idea is. There’s no room (or, perhaps more accurately, ability) in their ranks for critical thinking; the corporate or special-interest overlords take care of that part, and they feed the message to willing Republicans like a mama bird regurgitating soundbite-sized chunks.

It should come as no surprise, then, that the posterchildren for this non-thinking group of Tea Party-backed Republicans[1] have pre-filed Joint Resolution #1, which is a call for a constitutional convention to pass an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would require the federal government to get state approval before it could raise the national debt. This resolution, already adopted in North Dakota and Louisiana, is the pet project of a group called RestoringFreedom.Org. To hear RestoringFreedom.org tell it — and to hear the Arkansas Republicans parrot — this amendment is necessary because Congress is not going to stop spending, and only by using the constitutional power of states to propose an amendment can we be sure that the out-of-control spending in Washington will cease.

Ignoring for a moment the fact that the idea behind RestoringFreedom.Org is supported by ALEC (among others), I can see at least two problems with the effort itself. First, an amendment-proposing convention under Article V of the Consitution cannot be limited to a single subject matter, meaning that calling a convention to consider this amendment would necessarily require that the convention consider any and all amendments that might be proposed, which could lead to some unintended consequences. Second, if this amendment passed, you would either create a situation where the government was forced to raise taxes or you would effectively return to an Articles of Confederation-style situation where the government lacked the ability to raise the money it needed.  We’ll tackle each of these in turn.

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A Couple ARGOP Reps Find Racism Hilarious.

February 11, 2012 by Wayland Smith

How did you spend the last Friday night before the 2012 Fiscal Session begins?  I went out to dinner at Faded Rose in Riverdale, where I had a delicious soft shell crab topped with lump crab meat and mushrooms.  Also at the restaurant were Rep. John Burris (R-Harrison) and Rep. Charlie Collins (R-Fayetteville) meeting with a lobbyist type.

In and of itself, the fact that Burris and Collins had dinner with someone would not be interesting.  Where it becomes interesting, however, is when you are sitting close enough to the table that you can hear the “jokes” about which cigarettes are “only for blacks” or hear Rep. Collins talk about what he said to someone when he was drunk.  High comedy, I tell ya.

To Burris’ credit, I s’pose, he did not actually make the racial comments.  But, then again, he did not object to them, and he did laugh along.  Besides, there’s always that old reputation-by-association saw, “show me your friends and I’ll tell you who you are.”  Oh, and he also felt the need to explain to the third party why he (Burris) voted a certain way on specific bills last session, during which my wife described Burris as looking “like he was being raked over the coals naked.”

If you are the type who cares about such things, you might be wondering whether Burris and Collins paid for their own meals.  I left before they did, so I cannot say.  My guess, however, would be that they did not.  If either of the Reps would like to correct this assumption, they can contact me at [email protected]  Unless and until I hear from either, I’ll just hope that this ethics-reform package has legs.


Another Death Rattle From The D-G

February 7, 2012 by Wayland Smith

Interesting nugget from Sunday’s Democrat-Gazette: Mike Wickline reported that legislative reimbursements were down $350,000 in 2011.

And to what do we owe this welcome dip in illegal salary padding? Wickline explains:

Though not universally credited with causing it, factors leading to the reduction include:

Annual reports for years by the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and other news media on how much legislators were being paid and who was getting the most.

The 2011 General Assembly giving the House speaker and Senate president pro tempore authority to decide on travel requests made to committee chairmen.

House Speaker Robert S. Moore Jr. suggesting that chairmen schedule their committees’ meetings after the session to “provide appropriate stewardship in the issuance of per diem and mileage reimbursement.”

Former blogger Matt Campbell questioning the constitutionality of some of the payments.

The Conservative Arkansas Political Action Committee questioning the constitutionality and, like Campbell, the Democrat-Gazette and others, posting reimbursement information on its website.

The Arkansas Public Law Center, formed to litigate issues of public importance, filing a lawsuit in September 2011 challenging the constitutionality of some payments to lawmakers.

So, wait . . . let me see if I follow. Years of “annual reports” by the D-G and “other news media” that simply listed gross totals and did not touch on the illegality of the payments were important in the changes that occurred in 2011?

Important enough to be listed first, ahead of things like Blue Hog Report’s investigation into the constitutional/statutory issues in the payments, Conservative Arkansas’ launching a website to inform voters and request that legislators sign a pledge to cease accepting the payments, or the Arkansas Public Law Center’s actually filing an illegal-exaction lawsuit to stop the practice?

You know, every time I think the D-G can’t become more ridiculous, they prove me wrong.


Arkansas Republicans Treat Constitution Like A Buffet, Only Pick The Parts They Like

February 7, 2012 by Wayland Smith

Irony, billboard style.

Misleading title? Hardly. I mean, how else does one explain this story?

[Rep. Justin] Harris [(R-West Fork)] does have some support in the Legislature. Rep. Kim Hammer, R-Benton, a chaplain at Saline Memorial Hospice in Bryant, said lawmakers should oppose the rule.

“The parents have the right to choose whether they want their children to go to those centers that offer that or not,” he said. “Some parents want their children to be exposed to that, and we shouldn’t necessarily deprive them of that on the basis of the argument that DHS is making.”

OK…no. No, that’s not the issue at all.

The parents certainly have the right to choose which daycare their children attend; no one is arguing that. In fact, if the DHS money was going directly to the parents in the form of a voucher, and those parents were then choosing to use that voucher at a reglious daycare, that would be much, much closer to being constitutionally sound. In Zelman v. Simmons-Harris, 536 U.S. 639 (2002), the U.S. Supreme Court held that such a system did not violate the Establishment Clause because parents were free to use secular or religious schools, and, as long as the law did not especially encourage the use of vouchers for religious schools, the fact that most parents chose parochial schools was irrelevant.

But that’s not good enough for Justin Harris. Nope, he wants the state of Arkansas to not only cover the tuition for the students of Growing God’s Kingdom, but also to subsidize the daycare itself and to allow him to continue teaching the Bible as part of the curriculum. Essentially, he wants to promote Christianity on Arkansas’s dime. Trouble is, there is a long line of Supreme Court cases that prohibit arrangements that aren’t even as over-the-top as what Harris is suggesting. For example, Lemon v. Kurtzman, 403 U.S. 602 (1971), the Court struck down a Pennsylvania law that allowed the state to reimburse religious schools for the cost of secular textbooks, secular materials, and the salaries of teachers who taught secular subjects. Think about that for a second: paying money to a religious school just to cover the costs of the non-religious teaching that occurred there violated the first amendment, yet Justin Harris wants people to believe that paying money to a religious school to subsidize all activities, religious and secular, is somehow acceptable.

How to explain Harris’ willingness to make an ass of himself (moreso than usual, I mean)? I see three possible explanations:

1. He’s an idiot who honestly believes that it’s ok for the state to fund a religious daycare. The problem with this explanation is that you have to assume that Harris would happily support the same funding for a Muslim or Jewish or Zoroastrian daycare, which we all know is not true. Though I did just get a good laugh at idea of Harris holding a press conference to explain why he thought it was fine for a state-funded Unification Church-based daycare to teach that Sun Myung Moon is the Messiah.

2. He’s greedy, and he’s willing to use his elected position to continue to milk the state for hundreds of thousands of dollars each year. This absolutely reeks of a conflict of interest, what with Harris, in the capacity of a legislator, begging other legislators to oppose an agency rule that directly impacts Harris’ business. (Though, to be fair, his actions do not fit squarely within the prohibited activities under Arkansas Code Annotated 21-8-304, but only because Harris is arguing that the ability to run a church daycare on the public dime should be granted to anyone who so desires.)

3. He and other ARGOP types like Hammer and Rep. Johnny Key (R-Mountain Home) see this as a possible election-year campaign issue. The Arkansas Blog hit on this theory yesterday, and it makes sense on a basic level: if Harris can pitch himself as the martyr, being persecuted by mean ol’ liberals just because he loves Jesus, then he and other Republicans can appeal to that voting bloc that thinks “loves Jesus” trumps “violates the state and Federal constitution.”

If I had to guess, I would say that the explanation for Harris’ buffoonery is a combination of the last two options. Specifically, he’s greedy enough to try to use his elected position to keep the state money coming in, Constitution be damned, and other people have realized that they can spin his greed into a campaign issue that plays in the Arkansas hinterlands (all of which reminds me of the second epistle of Peter, verse 2, chapter 3: “In their greed they will exploit you with false words,” but I digress).

Regardless of the rationale, however, the simple, indisputable fact remains: Justin Harris would willingly violate the Arkansas and U.S. Constitutions for his own personal gain.


Constitution Optional, Or “Why Doesn’t The Arkansas House Remove Josh Johnston?”

February 6, 2012 by Wayland Smith

If bad mustaches were a crime, he'd be serving life.

If you’ve paid the slightest attention over the last year or so, you already know that Rep. Josh Johnston (R-Rose Bud) was convicted in 1995 of passing hot checks, an A misdemeanor.  (See: Josh Johnston Conviction Order.)  Had anyone other than Johnston known this prior to his being elected, someone — say, perhaps, Steve Choate — could have filed a lawsuit, seeking to keep Johnston off of the ballot.  That lawsuit would have been successful, too, as Article 5, section 9, of the Arkansas Constitution makes it clear that:

No person hereafter convicted of embezzlement of public money, bribery, forgery or other infamous crime, shall be eligible to the General Assembly or capable of holding any office of trust or profit in this State.

Now, as discussed elsewhere, it does not matter that Johnston pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor rather than a felony.  “Infamous crime” has been defined as more than just felonies; it is any misdemeanor involving an element of dishonesty.  See State v. Oldner, 361 Ark. 316 (2005) (“It can be said that the framers in drafting Article 5, Section 9, intended that an infamous crime be one involving elements of deceit and dishonesty”).

If you are the type who asks questions aloud while reading blogs, you might be saying, “hey, why hasn’t someone sued to have Johnston removed if he’s ineligible?”  That’s a good question, but therein lies the rub; once Johnston was seated by the Arkansas House, he was no longer subject to removal via a lawsuit due to a little thing known as the separation of powers.  After all, once the House has determined, however erroneously, that someone is qualified to be seated as a legislator, allowing the courts to remove an ineligible legislator would step all over the toes of the legislative branch as a co-equal in our tripartite government.

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