Friday, April 30, 2010

My ePub Odyssey

Like Odysseus, I have a very simple goal in mind. Like Odysseus, I seem to be taking forever to get there. My goal is to create an ePub version of my book, Values of Harry Potter. Hopefully in describing my difficulties in doing that I can help point others in the right direction, and perhaps encourage some software developers to help with the transition.

The good news is that I have already made a Kindle version of the book available, as I've noted. I also have great HTML version of the book finished (and this was the basis for the Kindle version), as well as a pdf with fully functional internal links. With direct sales of the ebook, I want to include all three versions -- HTML, pdf, and ePub -- so that last format is what's hanging me up. (In general I think all publishers should offer multiple, DRM-free ebook versions, to provide maximum flexibility to customers.)

I like the idea of the ePub format, developed by Adobe. It is open, so anybody can use it. At least theoretically, any author or publisher can create an ePub, and anybody can create a reader for the format; several readers now exist. ePub already reads on a variety of devices -- including my iPod Touch -- and I hear several more compatible readers are entering the market. Unlike an HTML ebook, ePub organizes many files, including text and images, into a single package. Unlike pdf ebooks, ePub reflows text to fit your screen and reading preferences.

The problem is that it is a royal bitch to create a complicated ePub book.

I finalized my book in inDesign, Adobe's design software. From that finished text, I created a text-only file and hand-coded the HTML version, adding hundreds of internal links. Then I modified this file for Kindle. For the pdf, I went back to inDesign and added all the internal links, which inDesign anchors to specific pages.

I didn't want to create the ePub straight from inDesign, because I doubted the internal links would work well. (With the HTML version, I anchor particular words and paragraphs rather than pages.) Anyway, even though inDesign supposedly has a built-in ePub converter, this didn't work for me. It merely told me -- repeatedly -- that the conversion had failed. Thanks a lot, Adobe. Perhaps with Creative Suite 5, inDesign's ePub converter will actually, you know, work, and perhaps Dreamweaver will also offer a functional converter for use with HTML.

So I decided to go back to the HTML for the ePub conversion. Dreamweaver automatically converts HTML to XHTML 1.1, so I made that conversion. (I think ePub requires XHTML, but I'm not sure about the details.) Those without the software will have to code by hand. (In the future, I'll just code straight XHTML to save myself the hassle.)

One page lists a variety of ePub conversion programs. I tried Calibre, which created an ePub with tons of junk characters that eventually crashed my readers.* I also tried eCub, which created a file that immediately crashed my readers.

Jedisaber provides the single best source on ePubs that I've yet found. Indeed, creating an ePub from his "sample" file is at least as easy as trying to use one of the software converters. (It has the added bonus of actually working.) After modifying the "sample" files with my content and information, I immediately created an ePub that opened on Adobe's Digital Editions.

Unfortunately, after making a minor tweak to the file, it no longer opened. After a lot of exasperating trial and error, I figured out that the problem was that the files were not listed in the correct order in the .zip folder (which, renamed, becomes the ePub). Finally I downloaded YemuZip, dropped in the files in the correct order, and created another working ePub.

I should say "partly working ePub." Digital Editions would recognize only a few of my internal links. It took me quite a lot more trial and error to figure out the problem. In HTML, I had used the "a name" tag, such as (a name="1note"), which Dreamweaver converted to (a name="1note" id="1note"). I learned my HTML back in 1998, so I wasn't aware of the new (apparently nonsensical) regulations. Anyway, I quickly learned, "the id attribute's value must be an XML name and cannot start with digit or have spaces in it."

I used "search and replace" in Dreamweaver to change all the offending digits to text. The resulting ePub opens in Digital Editions and functions perfectly. All the internal links work great. Unfortunately, the ePub crashes the BN reader and works improperly in Stanza, which doesn't display any of the internal links.

My hypothesis is that the "a name" tags are causing problems in those other readers. I learned, "In XHTML, the id attribute has essentially replaced the use of the name attribute. The value of the id must start with an alphabetic letter or an underscore. The rest of the value can contain any alpha/numeric [character]."

Unfortunately, it is not immediately obvious to me how to convert all the "a name" tags to "id." In order to prevent hard line breaks (with an extra return), I used breaks with space indentations rather than paragraph markers. So for long stretches of text there's nothing to attach the "id" marker to. (Perhaps the way to do this is obvious to somebody who actually knows all the XHMTL codes; if so please leave a comment.) I think it is possible to correct this problem by using the style sheets to read paragraph breaks as soft returns, but I don't know how to do this off hand. (Plus, I'm not even sure this is what is causing the problem with other ereaders.)

The upshot is that I still do not have a fully functional ePub. I have one that works great on Digital Editions but poorly on every other reader I've tried. I guess my next step is to convert all the "a name" tags to "id," then try to compensate with the style sheets for the soft returns. Unfortunately, I'm not sure how to do this, and I'm not sure it will even solve the problem.

If you have a simple, straight-text book you want to convert to ePub, using Jedisaber's directions should be a piece of cake. But God help you if you want to take advantage of the digital format with many internal links, something that becomes even more complicated if you try to link across chapters in separate files. (I just put the main text of my book in a single file.)

So consider this a status report. The ebook version of Values of Harry Potter is coming. Soon. If I can just get past the cyclops.

* Update: After reading Jason Fleming's comment, I decided to give Calibre another try, using the XHTML with the corrected link tags. I got very similar results that I got doing it by hand: an ePub book that works beautifully on Digital Editions, crashes the BN reader, and works with Stanza sans links. If you just have a cover image and straight-text book in a single file, this software probably works great. However, it doesn't (obviously) allow the flexibility of splitting up files; for instance, in my hand version I broke off the title information into a separate file.

Update May 1: After recoding my entire xhtml document to eliminate the "a name" tags (in favor of "id" tags tied to the paragraph markers), I created a new ePub with Calibre that works exactly as before. It works beautifully in Digital Editions, crashes BN, and works in Stanza but without any active links. So that was a complete waste of time. I wonder whether BN or Stanza are even set up to handle internal links. If anybody happens to know, please comment.

Value Adders Should Reap Rewards, Not New Taxes

The following article originally was published April 30, 2010, by Grand Junction's Free Press.

Value adders should reap rewards, not new taxes

by Linn and Ari Armstrong

Once American revolutionaries fought to rid themselves of European politics. Now, given the direction the Obama administration is moving our nation, we might as well start applying for membership in the European Union. Or maybe we could become a colony again.

First the Democratic health bill moved us closer to British-style rationing and waiting lines. Now an advisor to Obama wants to adopt a value-added tax, or VAT, which spread from France throughout Europe and beyond. While White House spokespersons denied that Obama wants a VAT, reports the Associated Press, Obama himself said he wants "to get a better picture of what our options are" before deciding.

The premise of the VAT is that all people who add value to the economy should be bound more tightly in bureaucratic red tape. This is distinct from a regular sales tax, in which only businesses that sell directly to consumers must track and pay sales tax. Currently various state and local governments impose a sales tax, but the federal government does not.

To take an example, under a simple sales tax, somebody who buys a teddy bear pays a percent to the retailer, who must collect the tax for each sale and pay it to the applicable levels of government.

Under a VAT, everybody involved in the production of the teddy bear must calculate and pay taxes, including the makers of thread, stuffing, sewing machines, eyes, and the bear itself.

Why do politicians prefer a VAT to a regular sales tax? Consider what would happen with a sales tax of, say, 25 percent. Lots of consumers would be tempted to find a way to avoid paying the tax, and lots of sellers would be tempted to help them. If everybody in the production line pays a little part of the tax, nobody has much incentive to evade it. Moreover, when every business reports sales records to the government, no business has an easy time escaping the tax.

While a VAT is great for politicians, it dramatically expands the number of businesses required to keep intricate tax records, an especially onerous burden on small businesses. A VAT also invites eternal special-interest warfare, as groups argue that particular goods should be taxed at different rates.

Today, the major harm of a VAT would be to raise taxes. True, the Democrats are spending our children's future on special-interest payoffs and bloated bureaucracies. But the answer to that is to cut spending, not raise taxes.

Unfortunately, various conservatives have long advocated a national sales tax, which would inevitably morph into a VAT. They foolishly imagine that a sales tax would replace the income tax. (George Will recently wrote of this possibility.) But all those conservatives have accomplished is to legitimize another sort of tax without undermining the income tax. In the reality of American politics, we'd end up with both.

Instead of talking about a new type of tax, we should be figuring out how to reduce the types of taxes. Having more types of taxes dramatically increases compliance costs -- the effort required just to calculate the taxes -- and obscures from the citizenry how much they're paying and where the money is going.

While a full description of taxation would fill more than this entire paper, the main forms of taxation are income, sales, and property. (A VAT is a type of sales tax, and a payroll tax is a type of income tax.)

New Hampshire, to take an interesting example, relies largely on a property tax, and the state imposes neither a general sales tax nor a personal income tax. But we strongly dislike the property tax, because it's like paying rent forever to the government. You never truly own your property if politicians can kick you off of it for not adequately paying them off.

As we've mentioned in a previous article, we'd also love to completely abolish state and local sales taxes, even if that meant moving everything over to the income tax.

If we could wave our magic wand, we would also rather have just a sales tax than both a sales and income tax. However, it wouldn't do much good to eliminate the personal income tax without also abolishing payroll taxes (such as the Social Security tax), for otherwise people would still have to track their income in intricate detail for the government. Eliminating all sales taxes seems more politically feasible.

In our ideal world, all forced welfare would be replaced by independent effort and voluntary charity, and politicians would spend far less of other people's money. In such a truly liberal order (to use the term precisely), taxes would be simple, few in number, and dramatically lower. At least that would be a good start.

For now, though, Americans who care about our founding ideals of liberty and Constitutionally limited government must at least resist the imposition of new sorts of taxes.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

John Hargis: Colorado 2010 Candidate Survey

John Hargis, Sr., is an independent candidate for for Colorado's Third Congressional district. Questions are shown in bold. See the other replies to the survey at


In a Twitter-length reply (140 characters maximum), please state why you are running for political office.

[No answer.]


* Should the federal or state government spend money in an attempt to "stimulate" the economy? If so, on what sorts of projects?

No, but as they are intent on doing so. To set funds aside to back solvent and responsible institutions only.

* Should tax dollars be directed toward energy projects, tourism, or any other form of business subsidies?

No. Energy projects will not be self sustaining and will always require grants, the rest will take care of itself with regulation preventing outsourcing.

* (State-Level Candidates:) Should the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights be kept completely intact? If not, how should it be altered?

TABOR will not work if the unemployment rate rises above 3.5 %. Keep the basic right to vote on taxes, remove the rest.

* Should state or federal spending (depending on which office you seek) be higher or lower than it is currently?

Lower, reduce the unemployment rate and audit gov. after gen. election to eliminate waste.

* Should the state or federal minimum wage (depending on which office you seek) be repealed, maintained, or increased?

Maintained and add cost of living increases per projected inflation, not determined by previous year.

* Should college education be subsidized by tax dollars?

Only with scholarships.

* Should antitrust law or its enforcement be changed?

All laws must be open ended to develop as our country develops.

* (Federal-level candidates:) Should Sarbanes-Oxley be repealed?

Any act that fails must be replaced, but there also must be a replacement act that is developed to fix loop holes.


What do you believe is meant by the "separation of church and state," and do you endorse it?

Yes, but as our law's were designed around God, representatives must have faith in God to honor the oath of office.

* Should religious institutions receive tax dollars for providing welfare or other faith-based services?

No, it is a matter of individual charity.

* Should the teaching of creationism or Intelligent Design be subsidized by tax dollars?

No, though i believe evolution and God go hand in hand, we were given a mind to use, free will is Gods gift to allow us to evolve.

* Should tax-funded schools establish a period of permitted or required prayer?

It should be allowed to those who wish to exercise their belief and allow them time to pray.

* Should government officials promote religiously oriented displays and comments on government property and at government events?

Only to the extent of their oath of office.

* Do you support gay marriage?


* If you answered no to the question above, do you support domestic partnerships, civil unions, or comparable legal recognition of gay couples?

Yes, freedom and free will go hand in hand.

* Should gay couples be allowed to adopt children by the same standards as heterosexual couples?

No, undue influence on children would deter the natural course of a childs development.

* Should government never, always, or sometimes mandate parental notification and consent before a minor may legally obtain an abortion, and, if sometimes, under what conditions?

Always, a parent is a childs guardian until adulthood, we cannot infringe upon that right.

* Should government mandate waiting periods or ultrasounds before a woman may legally obtain an abortion?


* Do you endorse the "personhood" measure that may appear on the 2010 ballot?

Life begins at inception.

* Should abortion be legal in cases of fetal deformity?


* Should abortion be legal in cases of rape or incest?


* Should abortion be legal in cases of risk to the woman's life, as determined by the health professional selected by that woman?

If the fetus is healthy, then it should have priority.

* Should elective abortion be legal?


* If you believe that abortion should be legally restricted, what criminal penalties do you advocate for a woman and her doctor for obtaining or facilitating an illegal abortion?

Life in prison.

* Would execution ever be an appropriate penalty for obtaining or facilitating illegal abortions?

No, taking of one life to revenge another is not right.

* Should types of birth control be legal that may prevent a fertilized egg or zygote from implanting in the uterus?


* Should fertility treatments be legal that may result in the freezing or destruction of a fertilized egg or zygote?


* Should research involving the use of embryonic stem cells be legal?

If the stem cell's can be harvested from the birth cord and placenta, then yes

* Should abortions or embryonic stem cell research be subsidized by tax dollars?

No, all research should have a financially self sustaining goal.


* (Federal-level candidates:) Should the U.S. expand a legal guest-worker program or legal immigration, and, if so, by how much?

No, if the unemployment rate is reduced to 1-2 %, then maybe.

* Should federal or state tax-funded benefits (depending on which office you seek), including K-12 education, be extended only to U.S. citizens, to legal immigrants and guest workers, or to everyone in the U.S. including illegal immigrants?

U.S. citizens, to legal immigrants and guest workers


* What restrictions, if any, should be placed on the use of eminent domain?

Only used for security or in case of necessary economic development with above normal restitution.

* Do you endorse the use of eminent domain in the case of the Pinon Canyon military expansion? Do you support the military expansion if it does not involve eminent domain?

No, the military's playground is big enough.

* Should the Endangered Species Act be altered or differently enforced?



* Should McCain-Feingold and state campaign finance restrictions be repealed, maintained, or expanded?

Whole thing needs to be rewrote from scratch, too hard for Independents to compete.

* Should the federal government control what radio or television stations may broadcast?

Only in the case of child restrictions or child abuse.

* Should the FTC's rules regarding blogger endorsements be rescinded?


* Should students with licenses be legally permitted to carry concealed handguns on the property of tax-subsidized colleges?

No, experience must dictate security.

* Should additional restrictions be added (or repealed) on gun ownership? Please specify.

Only in the issue of children and automatic weapons, minimum 21 years to practice with one under supervision.

* Do you believe that desecration of the U.S. flag should be outlawed by Constitutional amendment?

Yes, we must stand by the value's that built this country, and those value's include our flag.

* Do you believe that pornography or obscene materials involving consenting adults should be legally restricted?



* Should state or federal laws (depending on which office you seek) pertaining to marijuana be altered, and, if so, how?

If we allow marijuana by popular vote, then it should be restricted to a commune and subject to a limited time and frequency of use.

* If there is any important issue that you believe we have missed, please state what it is and state your position on it.

To give Independents in state and federal elections a chance, matching funds should be accorded as are in Presidential elections. American's have limited options and Independents have no chance of succeeding in our monetary society.

Thank you.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Why James Taranto is Clueless on Mohammed Drawings

James Taranto just doesn't get it with respect to "Everybody Draw Mohammed Day," which I have endorsed and promoted.

Here are the essential lines of Taranto's April 26 column entitled, "Everybody Burn the Flag: If we don't act like inconsiderate jerks, the terrorists will have won!"

[H]olding an "Everybody Burn the Flag Day" would be stupid, obnoxious and counterproductive if one seeks to persuade others that flag burning should be tolerated.

"Hate speech"--for example, shouting racial slurs, positing theories of racial supremacy or denying the Holocaust--is illegal in Canada and many European countries. In the U.S. it is protected by the First Amendment--but it has been known to provoke a violent reaction. ... This column is also of the opinion that hate-speech laws are pernicious and that the First Amendment does and should protect the expression of even ugly and false ideas. But we would not endorse or participate in an "Everybody Shout a Racial Slur Day" or an "Everybody Deny the Holocaust Day" to make the point.

Why is "Everybody Draw Mohammed Day" different? Because the taboo against depictions of Muhammad is not a part of America's common culture. The taboos against flag burning, racial slurs and Holocaust denial are. The problem with the "in-your-face message" of "Everybody Draw Mohammed Day" is not just that it is inconsiderate of the sensibilities of others, but that it defines those others -- Muslims -- as being outside of our culture, unworthy of the courtesy we readily accord to insiders. It is an unwise message to send, assuming that one does not wish to make an enemy of the entire Muslim world.

Taranto is totally wrong in all of his comparisons. (He is right to defend the First Amendment even in troublesome cases, so he gets full credit for that.) Drawing Mohammed is not remotely like burning the flag, shouting racial slurs, or denying the Holocaust. Nor does drawing Mohammed to protest Islamist death threats have anything to do with defining Muslims as cultural outsiders.

Even though people have the right to burn the American flag, it is the wrong thing to do because burning the flag is an expression of hatred against America, in its essential founding principles of liberty the greatest nation in the history of humanity. Shouting racial slurs, while properly legally protected, is wrong because racism is immoral and rooted in irrationality. Denying the Holocaust, again while properly legally protected, is wrong because the Holocaust is an objective fact of history, and denial of it is inextricably tied to racism (antisemitism).

In contrast, there is nothing inherently immoral about drawing Mohammed or any other religious figure. The Islamic taboo against drawing Mohammed is sheer irrationality and utterly ridiculous. Therefore, not only is drawing Mohammed properly legally protected, it is entirely morally proper, unlike burning the flag, shouting racial slurs, or denying the Holocaust.

For Taranto to miss this key distinction is simply stunning.

(Update: however, I can think of a hypothetical circumstance in which burning a U.S. flag would be acceptable, if unsavory. Let us say that some Americans were making death threats against some leftist group or some Muslim group for burning the flag. Let us further say that such a threat had actually been acted on or carried out, as is the case with Islamist threats, and that there was a legitimate fear of more murders. In that case, burning the flag with the express purpose of protesting the death threats and alleviating the plight of the threatened parties (by providing moral support and by spreading the risk) would be acceptable. In that case, burning the flag would not be a sign of hatred for America, but an act of solidarity for the core principles of America, which involve the protection of individual rights. Similarly, if the U.S. passed "hate speech" censorship laws, there might be a way to violate the technical aspects of the law without actually endorsing racism or Holocaust denial. Notice that no such contextual nuance is possible regarding an outright taboo against drawing Mohammed, precisely because such a taboo is by its nature inherently irrational.)

Now, I also went out of my way to make my drawing of Mohammed otherwise blasphemous, in that I refer to Mohammed as a "false prophet." However, in my view, Mohammed really is a false prophet, and in reality Mohammed in no way represented any god.

My wife, by contrast, drew a great picture of Mohammed that is not on its face blasphemous, beyond the fact that any drawing of Mohammed is considered by Islamists to be blasphemous. (Whether scholarly Islam in fact prohibits any and all drawings of Mohammed is a theological point beyond my interests.)

A free society requires a clear distinction between what is moral and what is legally protected, and Taranto largely grasps this critical point. People properly have the legal right to do all sorts of immoral things, ranging from getting roaring drunk and lying to their mother to expressing racist views. What is properly outlawed is any action that violates the rights of another individual by initiating force or fraud.

Taranto is noting a superficial similarity between drawing Mohammed, expressing racist views, etc. -- namely, that all those things are properly legally protected -- and inappropriately drawing a moral equivalence between all those things. But expressing racist views is inherently immoral, while drawing Mohammed is inherently within the bounds of morality. Taranto grasps that not everything that should be legal is moral, but he fails to notice that, in the case of drawing Mohammed, what is properly legal is also perfectly moral.

Regarding the alleged definition of Muslims as outsiders, Taranto is simply Making Stuff Up. While perhaps some who participate in the "Everybody Draw Mohammed" campaign may wish to define Muslims as outsiders, there is nothing involving the campaign itself that does so. Taranto seems to forget that plenty of U.S. citizens are Muslims. Taranto also seems to assume that all Muslims everywhere think it's wrong to draw Mohammed. I'm sure that lots of Muslims throughout the world regard the taboo against drawing Mohammed as stupid, irrational, and counter to an enlightened religious view.

Regardless, what is relevant is that some Muslims (who happen to be American) have made death threats against other human beings. While I am especially motivated to participate in the campaign to draw Mohammed because the most recent threats were made against people from my home state, the point of the campaign is to protest such death threats, regardless of where they are made and against whom they are made.

If (counterfactually) it were the case that drawing Mohammed made "an enemy of the entire Muslim world," that would only prove the irrational hatred and violence of the entire Muslim world -- hatred and violence that would be sparked by any number of faux "offenses." But, thankfully, Taranto is wrong; a significant portion of the Muslim world -- particular within the U.S. -- is more enlightened than to display hostility over some drawing. However, obviously violence and rights violations are all too common in the Muslim world, and we have a moral responsibility to condemn that.

* * *

Taranto also quotes Ann Althouse as condemning the "Everybody Draw Mohammed" campaign because it "doesn't show enough respect and care for the people who are trying to tolerate the expression that outrages them."

By that logic, the recent works of the "new Atheists" never should have been published, because those works did not adequately respect Christians.

Althouse's argument is bunk.

The primary and overriding purpose of free speech is to allow us to express our ideological views without fear of punishment or reprisal. I think Platonism is false. I think Kantianism is false. I think Christianity is false. I think Islam is false. And by God I'm going to say as much, and I'm not going to be intimidated into silence because Platonists, Kantians, Christians, or Muslims may be offended by my statements.

I'm certainly not going to refrain from drawing some religious figure because of an absurd, antirational, ignorant taboo.

I do not believe that it is a sign of respect to someone to pander to his or her blatant irrationalism. I believe it is a profound sign of disrespect. For, apparently unlike Taranto and Alhouse, I believe that Muslims, as people with a rational capacity, are potentially open to reason, rather than hopelessly mired in insane superstitions.

While it is true that a drawing of Mohammed, as such, is not an argument, it is also true that my drawing contains an explicit message, and that a drawing can point toward a rational argument.

It is precisely because I define Muslims as "insiders" -- as fellow members of the human race -- that I insist on engaging them in reasoned dialog and refuse to accept their threats of violence as substitute.

It is Taranto and Althouse who disrespect Muslims and define them as outside the realm of reason.

* * *

Taranto does provide some useful background on the matter. While I had credited Dan Savage with the idea for "Everybody Draw Mohammed Day," in fact he in turn picked up the idea from Molly Norris. Norris, it turns out, was quite surprised by the attention her little cartoon generated.

Of course, having seen Norris's cartoon, I understood that her "group" was fictional and intended in jest. I had noticed the line from her cartoon: "Sponsored by Citizens Against Citizens Against Humor or CACAH (pronounced ca-ca)." I remember enough Spanish to understand that was a joke. Also, Norris drew the "likeness" of Mohammed as various silly objects, such as a coffee mug and a cherry.

Regardless of its origins as a jest, the "Everybody Draw Mohammed" campaign is a great idea, and it has a very serious purpose. The point of it, beyond illustrating the lunacy of prohibiting the drawing of a religious figure, is to provide so many targets that the violent Islamists cannot hope to intimidate everybody. They can send a handful of Danish cartoonists into hiding. They can suppress South Park. But they cannot intimidate, suppress, or harass all of us. Drawing Mohammed is a legitimate and important way to express our outrage over such death threats, to show our solidarity with the threatened, and to stand up for freedom of conscience.

For what it's worth, here is Norris's recent statement, as posted on her web page:

I make cartoons about current, cultural events. I made a cartoon of a fictional ’poster’ entitled “Everybody Draw Mohammed Day!” with a nonexistent group’s name — Citizens Against Citizens Against Humor — drawn on the cartoon. It was in specific response to the recent censoring of a South Park episode, a desire to bring home the importance of the first amendment. I did not intend for my cartoon to go viral. I did not intend to be the focus of any ’group’. This particular cartoon has struck a gigantic nerve, something I was totally unprepared for.

Personally I can feel afraid of Muslims because I really have no idea if in their hearts they hate non-Muslims. There are so many interpretations of the religion that I hear told — sometimes it is a very extreme translation (that’s the scary part, the radicals that believe that Westerners should die), then at other times it sounds more peaceful.

I hope for the sake of this country that moderate Muslims will speak out with everyone else against any violent members of that or any other religion. That way I would know that there is a difference. Maybe this cartoon I made, this fictional poster of “Everybody Draw Mohammed Day!” had such a wildfire effect because it is finally time for Muslims and non-Muslims to understand one another more.

I am going back to the drawing table now!


My response is this: Hang in there, Molly! You did nothing wrong. Those of us who have chosen to draw Mohammed have done so for our own reasons, and not because of you. I respect you for standing up for the First Amendment, and I encourage you to be even more bold in that stance.

The Minnesota Fox affiliate posted a follow-up story about Norris, which is a little sad:

In more fallout around the decision by Comedy Central to censor an episode of "South Park" that contained comedic depictions of the Islamic prophet Muhammad, a cartoonist has now censored herself. ... Now Norris has backed off from that position. She no longer has the illustration on her website and she claims responses to the idea were overwhelming.

When did we get so damned afraid in this country speak our minds?

* * *

Throughout the debate over South Park, various commentators have been extremely sloppy in their use of the term "censorship." That's a real problem, because censorship is a horrible evil, but it's hard to fight if people don't even know what it is.

While in other contexts "censorship" can carry a broader meaning (as with the term "self-censorship"), in the political context censorship means the use of political force to ban or suppress expression. For example, if the government fines, arrests, imprisons, or harasses you for what you say or write, that is censorship.

The actions of private parties never constitute censorship. If a newspaper decides to fire a writer or pull a writer's article, the newspaper is NOT censoring that writer. If I write a blog post but then intentionally erase it, that is NOT censorship.

While Comedy Central capitulated to terrorist threats and suppressed the expression of the South Park creators, Comedy Central did not technically censor the show. You can call the acting executives at Comedy Central damned cowards, but you oughtn't call them censors. They have the right to broadcast whatever they want on their station, consonant with their contractual obligations.

To conflate government censorship with nonviolent private acts is to obliterate the very concept of censorship and to open the gates to actual censorship.

If somebody calls you on the phone or writes to you and threatens you over an article you've written (as I have been threatened), that certainly constitutes the criminal suppression of speech, something that is properly outlawed and that the government properly protects against. However, such criminal action is not properly considered censorship, a term that refers only to government action.

Now, a government can sanction the criminal suppression of speech, by failing to protect those who have been threatened, and that becomes censorship. Or, as with the case of the Taliban, the street criminals effectively constitute the government, so criminal suppression of speech amounts to censorship. Morally, government censorship and criminal suppression of speech are equivalent evils.

The U.S. government has, by my understanding, taken measures to protect the creators of South Park, even if those measures have been too weak. If President Obama has condemned the death threats, I have not heard of it.

It is absolutely critical that we understand and articulate the meaning of censorship, for there is nothing more important to the maintenance of a free society than the protection of free speech, which requires the eradication of criminal suppression of speech and of (government) censorship.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Prenatal Planning

As I've discussed, my wife Jennifer and I are planning to have a baby. While not pregnant yet, we've decided where we (probably) want to deliver the baby, and we've verified that our high-deductible insurance will cover emergencies related to the delivery and infant. Assuming a normal birth, we've already saved ample funds in our Health Savings Account to pay for the prenatal care and delivery, and we'll have our full deductible saved well before delivery.

Obviously another big key is for Jennifer to prepare her body for pregnancy. As a point of general health, we checked Jennifer's cholesterol counts. Jennifer also went to the dentist so she won't need to do that during pregnancy.

Jennifer started taking a prenatal vitamin; her book What To Expect When You're Expecting suggests that Vitamin B6 can help alleviate morning sickness, and obviously other vitamins are also important. A midwife at Mountain Midwifery suggested that Costco fish oil is a good source of Omega 3 fat, so we're sticking with that (as opposed to an algae based form of the fat, which is considerably more expensive, even for the Target brand).

One thing I'd never heard of is an "Rh factor" test. According to What To Expect, "In a pregnancy, if the mother's blood cells do not have the Rh factor [an antigen] (she's Rh negative) while the fetus's blood cells do have it (making the fetus Rh positive), the mother's immune system will view the fetus... as a 'foreigner.'"

Conveniently enough, PrePaidLab offers the Rh test, so Jennifer signed up for it. So if she tests negative, then apparently I also need to get tested.

While we were at it, we thought we'd get her level of Vitamin D tested. (PrePaidLab also offers that test.) The Vitamin D Council has more general information. One study suggests that a deficiency in the vitamin can cause underweight babies. A second study seems to confirm those results. Another concern is that a deficiency can harm the child's bone health.

One big question we have is how much fluoride Jennifer should be taking. According to our dentist, she should be drinking regular tap water for its fluoride content during pregnancy and breast feeding, so as to give the child enough of the mineral for strong teeth. A child needs it for several years thereafter, according to my dentist. I've heard the claim that fluoride per se is bad, but such claims strike me as unsubstantiated hysteria. However, it's unclear to me exactly how much fluoride Jennifer should be taking, and when she should be taking it. (If anybody has good, objective evidence on the matter, please share in the comments.)

Tracy Ryan of Mountain Midwifery suggested that Jennifer should have gone off the birth control pill long ago (and in general she prefers the IUD to the pill). But Jennifer is off of it now, so she'll have at least a complete cycle without the extra hormones.

The next step is the obvious one.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Everybody Draw Mohammed

Americans do not cower over death threats made against those practicing their First Amendment rights.

Americans do do stand idly by while terrorist thugs treat our Bill of Rights like toilet paper.

As an American, I may hate what you say, and I may loudly condemn you for saying it, but I will fight -- to the death -- to defend your right to say it.

Our First Amendment guarantees freedom of conscience -- properly a universal human right -- a cornerstone of a free society:

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

Americans do not equivocate between freedom of speech and rights-violating action. You are free to say whatever you please, using your own resources and in voluntary association with others, so long as you steer clear of violence, including such indirect forms of force as fraud and incitement to violence.

Offending somebody's religious sensibilities is NOT incitement to violence. The fact that somebody may respond to free speech by destroying property or threatening or murdering people is no legitimate reason to squelch free speech; it is instead an overriding reason for the government to take defensive action against the aggressors. If speech is held hostage to the irrational violence of some, then there is no such thing as freedom of speech. There is only tyranny.

The latest targets of death threats by Islamofascist terrorist thugs are Colorado's own Matt Stone and Trey Parker, creators of the television show South Park. As the Associated Press reports:

Muhammad appeared on Wednesday night's [April 21] episode of the cartoon with his body obscured by a black box, since Muslims consider a physical representation of their prophet to be blasphemous. Last week, the character was believed to be disguised in a bear costume.

When that same costume was removed this week, Santa Claus appeared.

The bear costume had angered the New York-based group Revolution Muslim, which posted a message on its website saying that producers Trey Parker and Matt Stone had insulted their prophet.

The message included a gruesome picture of Theo Van Gogh, a Dutch filmmaker murdered by a Muslim extremist in 2004 after making a movie about a woman who rejected Muhammad's teachings. The message said the "South Park" producers would "probably wind up like Theo Van Gogh" for airing the show.

Fox News offers more details. See also my 2006 report on the terrorist response to the Danish cartoons of Mohammed.

Unfortunately, Comedy Central, the station that airs the show, capitulated to these threats of terrorism. Stone and Parker posted a statement to their web page on April 22:

In the 14 years we've been doing South Park we have never done a show that we couldn't stand behind. We delivered our version of the show to Comedy Central and they made a determination to alter the episode. It wasn't some meta-joke on our part. Comedy Central added the bleeps. In fact, Kyle's customary final speech was about intimidation and fear. It didn't mention Muhammad at all but it got bleeped too. We'll be back next week with a whole new show about something completely different and we'll see what happens to it.

David Harsanyi brilliantly critiques the terrorists -- and Comedy Central's capitulation to them -- in an April 23 column for the Denver Post, noting that today all that is needed to trigger censorship is a "a violent temperament, a demented ideology and a poorly constructed website." He concludes:

[I]f those who bankroll satirists can be so easily intimidated, shouldn't we all be troubled about the lesson that sends religious fanatics elsewhere? And what does it say about us?

"South Park" might be offensive, but I assure you there would be few things more unpleasant than watching a cable lineup dictated by the members of Revolution Muslim.

Thankfully, not all Americans are prepared to cower in some corner as terrorist goons shred the First Amendment and impose theocratic censorship. Some Americans are taking a stand.

Dan Savage proposed May 20 as "Everybody Draw Mohammed Day." This idea has been picked up by Michael Moynihan at Reason and Allahpundit at Hotair.

I propose only a slight modification to the plan: to protest death threats made by freedom-hating terrorists, Americans should draw Mohammed -- and publish their drawings -- by May 20.

Below is my entry. For I am an American. Give me liberty, or give me death.


Update: See the CNN segment in which Ayaan Hirsi Ali discusses the death threats made against the creators of South Park.

My wife drew a very nice likeness of Mohammed and added a poignant message:


April 25 Update: Below are links to other drawings of Mohammed.

AisA Academy

Creatures of Prometheus

Armchair Intellectual

Craig Biddle of The Objective Standard

Collection by The Objective Standard

More Drawings of Mohammed, in Defense of Life (more from The Objective Standard)

April 27 Update: See also my follow-up article, "Why James Taranto is Clueless on Mohammed Drawings."

April 28 Update: See also Ayaan Hirsi Ali's outstanding article in the Wall Street Journal:

... One way of reducing the cost [of protecting the South Park creators] is to organize a solidarity campaign. The entertainment business, especially Hollywood, is one of the wealthiest and most powerful industries in the world. Following the example of Jon Stewart, who used the first segment of his April 22 show to defend "South Park," producers, actors, writers, musicians and other entertainers could lead such an effort.

Another idea is to do stories of Muhammad where his image is shown as much as possible. These stories do not have to be negative or insulting, they just need to spread the risk. The aim is to confront hypersensitive Muslims with more targets than they can possibly contend with.

Another important advantage of such a campaign is to accustom Muslims to the kind of treatment that the followers of other religions have long been used to. ...

April 29 Update: Hannah Krening drew a great cartoon:


May 3 Update: Here is Sharon Armstrong's drawing:


May 19 Update: Here are drawings by Greg Perkins and Richard Watts:


Everybody Draw Mohammed

The Objective Standard has published a third set of drawings.

See my May 18 article, "Time to Draw Mohammed."

See also the excellent articles at Reason by Matt Welch, Nick Gillespie, and Michael Moynihan Part I and Part II.

May 21 Update: The Objective Standard has published a final set of images of Mohammed.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Critics of the Tea Party

While Tea Partiers rallied at the Denver capitol April 15 (see the video), a few critics wandered the crowd. I interviewed Ali Mickelson from the Colorado Fiscal Policy Institute and Ray Harlan of the Coffee Party.

Viewers may notice that Mickelson dodged my question about the problem of deficit spending. She also inappropriately conflated tax cuts with tax subsidies; the two things obviously are fundamentally different.

Harlan insisted that the movement he supports is about process, not particular issues. However, a process apart from an end goal or standard is meaningless. He tipped his hand when he proclaimed that he wants government to implement the "will of the people;" i.e., the majority running over the rights of the minority at whim. Obviously I think his approach is fundamentally wrong. The purpose of government is to protect the rights of every individual, not bestow upon whomever proclaims to be "the people" the power to dictate to others how to live their lives.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Coal Remains King for Reliable, Economical Energy

The following article originally was published in the April 16, 2010, Grand Junction Free Press.

Coal remains king for reliable, economical energy

by Linn and Ari Armstrong

Apparently the legislature's idea of a "pro-business" bill is paying off special interests with legal favoritism that screws consumers.

Previously the Ritter administration promoted harsher drilling restrictions that dampened Colorado's oil and natural gas industry. More recently, the legislature passed bill 1365, which requires Xcel to replace some low cost, coal-burning power plants with natural gas. Guess which industry lobbied and advertised in favor of the bill.

The new controls, combined with requirements that utilities produce 30 percent of their energy from so-called "renewable" sources by 2020, will ensure that Coloradans face ever-increasing utility bills. So thank the legislature when you have to cut back on your savings, college funds, grocery budget, or entertainment spending.

Artificially increasing our energy costs is an explicit goal of the environmentalist lobby, which figures higher prices will force people to cut back on use, as well as make wind and solar energy comparatively more attractive.

While we're thrilled that our region provides the resources for natural gas production, our state shouldn't be so quick to dismiss coal. The World Coal Institute estimates that "there are over 847 billion tonnes of proven coal reserves worldwide," enough "to last us over 130 years at current rates of production," compared to 40 or 60 years worth of oil and gas. Known reserves tend to expand over time as companies find more and improve extraction technology. Our nation contains huge reserves of coal.

Environmentalists will retort that the "known reserves" of solar and wind power extend to billions of years. The problem is collecting it economically. Sunlight scatters over the surface of the earth only during certain hours, and it can be reduced by clouds. The wind blows only occasionally, sometimes it blows too hard for the generators, and again it is widely dispersed. This energy is hardly "free;" energy collectors must be built and continually maintained.

After the collection problem, the second major problem for solar panels and wind turbines is storing the energy. Most of our usable energy must be stored in chemical form. This is true of coal, gas, solar, and wind. Once we move beyond sailboats, wind-powered mills, and solar dehydrators, heating up water or bricks pretty much exhausts the possibilities of using "renewable" energy until we talk about modern advances.

Wood, coal, oil, and natural gas contain combustible elements that may be burned for energy. The electricity generated by solar panels and wind turbines must be converted to chemical energy, such as hydrogen storage or a battery. Hydrogen suffers volatility problems. The material of batteries must be mined and otherwise produced. Batteries are expensive and extremely messy to produce and discard. Plus, they leak energy.

A lump of coal is much like a little energy-packed battery that never loses energy until purposely converted. Somebody lying in a hospital bed, hooked up to various electronic devices, need not worry about clouds or other variances interrupting the local power source. Coal is reliable as well as economical. Coal has made our lives vastly safer, longer, healthier, more comfortable, and more productive.

What does the future of energy hold? We do not doubt that at some point researchers and industrialists will figure out new and better ways to power our lives. Critics of Ayn Rand's novels who have never actually gotten around to reading them may not have noticed that Rand, who once wrote of the blessings of smokestacks, imagined a world in which a creative genius invents a generator to convert atmospheric electricity into a never-ending power source, destined to replace coal and oil.

If we could accurately predict energy advances we'd grow very wealthy. Perhaps somebody will figure out how to economically convert coal to gas or chemically "burn" it in a fuel cell. Perhaps somebody will make a breakthrough in nuclear energy. Perhaps cheap solar panels will someday blanket rooftops across the country.

What we do know is that the government should stop playing favorites. Businesses should succeed or fail in a free market, not according to how well they kiss legislative backside. If the goal is to address measurable, objectively harmful, localized pollution, that is properly a matter for court remedies, not legislative micromanagement.

We've lost count of the times Governor Ritter and his media stooges have exultantly proclaimed that the higher-cost "new energy economy" will "create jobs." They neglect to count the jobs lost in other energy sectors and among all the other businesses that suffer because people must spend their money instead on higher energy costs.

In the real world, no form of energy is free. And politicians are hardly competent to evaluate the relevant tradeoffs.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Tax Day Tea Party: Denver 2010

What do the Tea Partiers believe? Many politicians and commentators have pretended to know. I figured I'd just ask them. This first video features numerous interviews with participants of the Tax Day Tea Party, held at the state Capitol in Denver on April 15, 2010.

A second video starkly illustrates the basic difference in tone between the Tea Parties and left-wing protests. Will the left and their media supporters continue to pretend that the Tea Partiers are the uncivil ones?

See T. L. James's article for more on the left-wing infiltrators and protestors.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The AIDS Party

Colorado Republicans never cease to astound me. Here were are, on the eve of a major "Tax Day Tea Party," when plenty of Americans are irritated with the Democrats over intrusive government, and Colorado Republicans issue a media release reminding everybody that they also want an intrusive government, especially when it results in more people getting AIDS and Hepatitis C. But, hey, some people deserve to get those diseases, according to one senior Republican.

It is this sort of nonsense that persuades me that 2010 may still be the year when Republicans manage, against all odds, to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Again. Because they are just that stupid.

As Tim Hoover over at the Denver Post reviews, the state senate's Health and Human Services committee referred Bill 10-189. The bill would "allow needle exchange programs for illegal drug users," as Hoover summarizes.

Here's the most remarkable line from Hoover's report: "Sen. Dave Schultheis, R-Colorado Springs, said the bill was a move toward eliminating 'the negative consequences of this behavior that's not acceptable to the majority of Coloradans.'" Negative consequences like AIDS and Hepatitis C. Because who would want to remove those!

Of course, as Hoover also points out, the Republicans were not unanimous in opposing the bill. In fact, the Republican vote was only two-to-one against. Because Shawn Mitchell, who often sides with liberty in the legislature, has not absolutely lost his mind.

Now, it is not always clear why members vote for or against certain amendments and bills in committee. Sometimes a Senator is playing some longer-range strategy. However, given that, on the face of it, one of the three Republicans on the committee supports the bill, it is unclear to me why the GOP's Colorado Senate News issued a media release stating Republican opposition to the bill. Is not Mitchell one of the most respected Republicans in this state?

Regardless, the media release itself is dishonest:

"Nobody wants to see the spread of infectious diseases, but I hardly think it is the taxpayers' job to foot the bill for a needle exchange program," said Sen. Kevin Lundberg, R-Berthoud. "And with just a month left in the session we should be focused on the economy and next year's $1 billion budget cliff. There just isn't room to debate the creation of a new public health program." ... He also lamented the fact that bill doesn't explicitly bar the use of public funds for needle exchange programs.

But neither does the bill promise "public funds for needle exchange programs." Instead, the bill explicitly says that a county or district public health agency may contract with a nonprofit organization to run a needle exchange program. If Lundberg were genuinely interested in cutting off tax funding for needle exchange, he would have restricted his position to modifying the bill accordingly, not arguing against all needle exchange programs. (Of course, I do not believe a nonprofit should have to suck up to bureaucrats to get permission to do good works in the community, but such a truly liberty-oriented bill would have faced even harsher opposition.)

The comments by Senator Minority Leader Josh Penry are equally dishonest:

"Dirty needles are an occupational hazard for drug users, sure, but so are laced drugs and gun fights," said Senate Minority Leader Josh Penry, R-Grand Junction. "Does Senator Steadman think we should buy heroin and bullet proof jackets for druggies too?"

Penry leaves his "we" conveniently vague. Regarding clean needles, does he mean taxpayers or willing contributers to nonprofits? If he means taxpayers, he should address that narrow issue.

The obvious difference between clean needles and heroin or bullet proof vests is that the spread of AIDS and Hepatitis C can have more extensive spill-over effects onto other parties. Of course Penry understands this point very well, only he is trying to score political points through willful distortion of the issues.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Objection From a Former Sailor

There's a fun letter to the editor making the rounds, submitted by Bruce L. Hargraves of Worland, Wyoming, retired from the United States Navy. He writes for the April 2 Northern Wyoming Daily News:

"I object and take exception to everyone saying that Obama and Congress are spending money like a drunken sailor. As a former drunken sailor, I quit when I ran out of money."

Insurance Covers Emergency Birth

As I wrote yesterday, Jennifer and I are planning to have a kid. One of the major outstanding issues was how insurance would handle this. I was relieved to confirm that our health insurance would cover emergency contingencies related to delivery (after the deductible). Moreover, we have 30 days to add a newborn to our plan, and the child is covered from birth.

We have a high-deductible plan with Assurant that costs us $148.16 per month (for both of us). We don't expect our insurance to cover any of our routine or moderate-cost care; that's why the premium is relatively low. Instead, we save the maximum allowable in our Health Savings Account, which is pre-tax money. We already have ample funds in our HSA to cover a routine delivery at Mountain Midwifery.

But, as Tracy Ryan, the owner of the facility, warned us yesterday, in a minority of cases a woman may need an expensive C-section, and the infant may need expensive intensive care. The worst-case scenario could easily cost tens of thousands of dollars.

Our family deductible is $10,000 per year. So, given our insurance covers delivery emergencies, that's the maximum bill we're looking at, and by then we'll have more than that in our HSA.

Assurant also gave me an estimated premium to add a newborn: a family total of $202.69 per month. While decades of political controls have mostly destroyed the market in health insurance, that's a premium I can live with. The big question for us is whether and how long ObamaCare will allow my high-deductible insurance to exist.

Blog housekeeping: I'm adding a "family" label for posts related to pregnancy and children. I use "PPC" -- for People's Press Collective -- for posts on politics. I'll use a "home" label for everything pertaining to food and the household. I'll also use a "religion" label.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Kid Planning and Mountain Midwifery

Jennifer and I have been married for over a decade, and we've been talking about having a kid since before we were married. We've finally decided to go through with it. Further, we've decided to share our experiences, not only as a record for ourselves, but perhaps as a useful point of reference for others. Perhaps experienced parents will also be motivated to write in and offer us guidance when we seem to need it.

Today we went a long way toward resolving one of our big decisions: where to have the baby. We visited Exempla Good Samaritan in Lafayette yesterday. Very nice, but not especially welcoming or reassuring. We visited Mountain Midwifery Center (MMC) today, and we both fell in love with the place, so much so that we didn't make it to our third appointment at Avista in Louisville. (We may tour other facilities in the coming weeks.)

To back up a bit, Jennifer is not yet pregnant. Thus, there are a lot of things that could go wrong between now and birth. We could fail to get pregnant. We could miscarry. We could suffer a seriously deformed fetus -- personally my biggest fear -- in which case we would obtain an abortion, as we've discussed at some length. We could suffer problems during the delivery that could endanger the life of Jennifer or the baby. But we expect a normal, healthy birth, and of course that's what every parent-to-be hopes for. As with much of life, then, the goal is to expect the best but plan for the worst.

MMC, we learned this afternoon, is the largest midwifery center in the nation, with five registered nurse midwives and eight nurses. The center has facilitated 592 births in its four-year history. (I'm not sure if this included a birth today prior to our visit.)

The visits to Exempla and MMC were completely different. I'll begin by highlighting some of the major differences.

Detail of information -- At MMC, Tracy Ryan, the owner, addressed a room full of about 20 prospective parents for over an hour. She told us what to expect, answered in detail questions about medical contingencies, and talked about general birthing facts. At Exempla, frankly I learned more about the in-hospital store than I did about the medical aspects of birthing.

Ritz -- Exempla is beautiful. The building is beautiful and the rooms are beautiful, with beautiful views and hardwood (or faux wood) floors. I began my notes at MMC, "Looks like an old Spanish-style Super 8." There were toys on the floor of the main room. Something was covered by a colorful sheet. It had a definite urban-hippie feel. I wondered in my notes whether this meant that MMC didn't waste money on frivolities or if it meant that the clinic was unserious. I soon became at ease at MMC, finding its less-formal environment to be "lived in" and meant for real people.

Pricing information -- Before we went to Exempla, I spent twenty minutes or so on the phone with a representative of the hospital. After getting a range of prices, the representative noted that she was giving me only the insurance rates. "What are the self-pay rates?" I asked. "I can't tell you that," the representative replied; I'd have to call another business office. I got no additional information from our visit to the hospital in terms of pricing. Moreover, Exempla offers a "complimentary welcome home" dinner as well as diapers for the baby. Complimentary, my ass. Somebody's paying for that nonsense at jacked up rates, and that somebody obviously would be me. At MMC, Tracy made a special point to discuss pricing. And MMC's prices are much lower, "around" $4,000 plus fees for outside tests. (Of course this is the cost of a normal delivery, not an emergency one.)

Water delivery -- Exempla will let the mother sit in the tub during labor, but it offers no water delivery. That's a facade of "natural childbirth," not the real thing. At Exempla, you end up on a hospital bed, and that point is pretty much non-negotiable. MMC features water delivery tubs as well as birthing stools. Tracy explained that mothers often have to try different approaches and positions. The point at MMC is to let the woman's body do what it does naturally, work with the baby's body, and use gravity to natural advantage.

Expected recovery -- I thought it was odd that Exempla offers a room for delivery, then moves the mother into another room for recovery. Obviously this would add to the cost, I thought. I asked, "Can a mother just leave straight from the delivery room?" Oh no! Heaven forbid! Absolutely not! That sort of thing just isn't done, apparently. Tracy said the normal delivery at her facility is quite different. Often a mother has her child and goes home to bed after a few hours (provided all the health markers are normal, of course).

Crowd engagement -- The general attitude at Exempla was "fill out this form and figure out how we do things around here." The general attitude at MMC was that the mother and her partner are in charge, and it is the job of the midwives to educate the mother and facilitate her decisions. This attitude was reflected among the prospective parents, who chatted before and after the class and peppered Tracy with difficult questions. (One of the prospective fathers there was a doctor, and he asked some great technical questions.)

I felt like Exempla was a good hospital and we'd be in good hands, but we hardly felt like we had found our birthing home. I don't have much else to say about Exempla, though I thought I'd share my photos of the building and the two rooms:




I have a lot more to say about Mountain Midwifery Center. I'll start with pictures, which capture the tubs, a stool, the building, and Tracy standing by photos of her birthday babies:





I'll start at the beginning of my notes. Tracy entered the room looking confident, nice, and down-to-business. She was wearing jeans, but in a way that conveyed a let's-get-busy attitude rather than a casual one. After finding everybody chairs (a few sat comfortably on the floor), Tracy sat in a folding chair facing everyone and began her spiel. MMC is the only licensed birthing center in Colorado, though there are 200 in the country. Tracy is hoping to expand to other locations in Colorado. As noted, her facility has helped with nearly six hundred births in four years.

MMC accepts thirty-six families per month. Five midwives work there. The facility has three birthing rooms. I asked what happens if more than three women go into labor at the same time; Tracy assured me that's practically impossible.

Tracy said that a typical delivery might happen at noon with the woman walking out by her own power by four.

"Pregnant women aren't sick. That's just something our bodies do," Tracy said. Usually there aren't big medical complications. She urged us to see the film The Business of Being Born -- which we own but haven't yet watched (perhaps tonight!), and said the "best maternity care is not in hospitals." MMC is "more like a home-birth center," Tracy said.

However, she quickly added, "We are not anti-hospital." In fact, Swedish is literally just up the street, and MMC has a good relationship with that hospital and has sent several mothers and babies there who needed extra help.

I learned some new terms today. An "episiotomy" is when the medical assistant basically makes an incision to enlarge the vaginal opening. (Sounds unpleasant.) MMC can do an episiotomy, but it rarely does one, Tracy said. Half the women who deliver there walk out without a stitch.

"We use intervention appropriately," Tracy assured us. It is definitely not true, she emphasized, that all babies come out naturally and easily. If one looks at a developing region (she mentioned Ethiopia), one finds that more babies die there and women sometimes suffer severe physical trauma.

Eleven percent of the women who have gone to MMC have ended up at Swedish. This drops to a single percent for the second baby, which often more or less "falls out." (That's not how the mother would describe it, Tracy clarified.) While most babies do come out naturally, "some babies need help."

Few "certified nurse midwives" -- nurses with additional graduate training -- work in Colorado, Tracy said (find more through the midwives association), and five work at her facility (including her). They can do all sorts of things from sew up tears to order lab work.

Tracy said that typically there's a blood test of the mother-to-be between eight and ten weeks into the pregnancy. While sometimes a nurse at a hospital will draw a woman's blood without so much as an explanation of the purpose, at MMC the goal is the inform the woman, educate her on the pros and cons, and then enact her decisions. That's exactly the attitude we're looking for.

MMC offers all sorts of classes, covering nutrition, birthing, feeding, and so on. She repeated the refrain, "diet, exercise, and three liters of water a day." (Later she guessed that Colorado's high premature birth rate is linked to dehydration.)

The staff of MMC will discuss money, family, work, and the "fear of doing labor." "Everybody has fears of doing labor, but you can do it... Labor is tough. But at the birth center, you get support."

The attitude at MMC, Tracy continued, is that as a pregnant woman "you are normal and healthy." Birth is an active event. MMC facilities mostly "hands and knees water birth by candlelight." (She said it rapidly but thankfully repeated it a few times so I could write it down.)

Tracy said that actually about forty percent of births there take place in the water. Another common position is on the bench. She said laying-down births are more common for subsequent babies, which often come out easier. Practically all the women at MMC get in the tub at some point. Women often need to try different things out and shift around, Tracy said. Moreover, babies can prefer different positions.

Tracy said that at many hospitals -- and our friends' experiences confirm this -- the spouse needs to act as the advocate for the woman to enact her birthing plan. But at MMC "we are your birth plan. We are your low-intervention place," so it's not all up to the spouse to keep things flowing according to the woman's intentions.

While MMC allows outside guests, Tracy cautioned prospective mothers to invite in only people they're comfortable with. "You can fake an orgasm, but you can't fake your birth," she said. In other words, the birthing process is an extremely emotional process, and "you need that ability to have intimacy" with everyone present.

The staff at MMC tends to cut the umbilical cord a bit later in order to allow the child to get all the available red blood cells. Then, the staff lets a child adjust before breast feeding. "Give that baby time, give that mamma time," is the usual advice.

Every mother meets every midwife. That way, whoever is on call can handle the birth. Tracy said she used to serve as a midwife in homes, but she was on call all the time. After missing her own kids' birthdays one year (and she has five kids of her own), plus her anniversary and Christmas morning, she and her husband decided it was time for a change. Her husband quit his job with Ball Aerospace to become the business manager at MMC. Working from a center allows the midwives to spend time with their own families, too. And pregnant women have the assurance that somebody will be available to help handle the birth.

After the birth the clinic follows up with in-home and in-clinic care.

Tracy believes that inducing pregnancy with drugs, while sometimes necessary, can interfere with the natural, hormonal communication between a woman and child. While such drugs can be "a really great tool," Tracy said, often they are used when women are "under the gun" to deliver.

Tracy said that the national C-section rate is 33 percent. She said the rate should be much lower than that, and the rate at her clinic is six percent. Of course, the MMC figures look good in part because women with problematic pregnancies go elsewhere to deliver, but I'm convinced that a big part of the reason is the fact that MMC works hard to work with the woman's body.

"We've only called an ambulance four times," Tracy said, once for a vaginal breech birth (which means the kid comes bottom first, I learned).

MMC features two consulting doctors, and "the best thing about the birth center is our relationship with them... they're helpful and they're not adversarial... and it's the part that you most likely won't need to see."

When needed, "then we ask for tools and drugs, because you've tried the natural thing here, and it's not working."

There are some cases that MMC can't handle, such as gestational diabetes and high blood pressure. What I like about Tracy's approach is that she is not irrationally wed either to a "natural birth" or to an interventionist birth, but she instead treats natural birth as the reasonable default and calls upon more intervention when it is objectively needed.

Tracy's passion is to facilitate a woman's choices: "I'm a convincing person and I love what I do, but this is not for everyone," she said.

Tracy said that she could be making more money elsewhere, but "we're all very idealistic here... We believe this will change your life."

Jennifer and I also talked with Nancy, another midwife. We had a question about whether Jennifer needed to switch from fish oil (for Omega 3) to algae-based oil. Nancy recommended Kirkland brand fish oil, which happens to be the kind we use. She also recommended pro-biotics. We discussed screening tests with her as well.

Tracy gave us some great advice on birth control (she likes the IUD over the pill). And she encouraged me to make sure our high-deductible insurance covers maternal care. (I have no idea whether it does or not.) Reviewing our insurance is our next major step before getting ourselves into this. I would hate to leave my high-deductible plan, but, as I've long argued, the insurance market has been totally screwed up since long before the Democratic health bill. At this point I don't even know whether or how long my high-deductible plan will remain in existence. So that's the big variable at this point. But, even if we switch insurance, we'll use MMC regardless of the plan. (We already have ample funds in our Health Savings Account to pay for a non-emergency delivery.)

At one point Tracy discussed the barriers she's faced in starting the clinic. Sure, she has faced challenges, but, she noted, "I've pushed five babies out," so she can face anything else.

UPDATE: Here's a video of a water birth at Mountain Midwifery:

And here's another water birth that Jennifer and I watched on video:

Keep Pushing for Health Savings Accounts

Despite enactment of the Democratic health law, one reform Republicans and market advocates should fight to keep alive is the Health Savings Account (HSA), which allows people to put pre-tax money into an account dedicated to health-related expenses.

Experiences my wife and I have had this week illustrate the power of paying for one's own health care, which an HSA encourages. Rather than pay a hundred plus dollars each to a doctor and an out-of-state testing facility, we each paid King Soopers $20 to test our blood cholesterol. I'm not saying this is a good substitute for seeing a doctor, but we wanted to get a test between regular doctor visits. Our actions illustrate the fallacy of claims that self-payers don't get preventive treatment. We are highly committed to doing what we can to prevent long-term health problems by taking care of ourselves and paying for preventive care.

Yesterday we checked out Good Samaritan Exempla in Broomfield (more on this later). When we asked for referrals for local doctors, the hospital's representative told us, "You'll probably want to pick a doctor based on what your insurance allows." I proudly replied, "No, we will pick a doctor based on who we judge is the best doctor."

Paying for one's own health care encourages the health consumer to be active-minded and pro-active. It encourages the consumer to seek good value for the money. In short, it promotes better long-term results for lower costs.

By contrast, ObamaCare in its core elements will promote wasteful and frivolous health spending and irresponsible behaviors, and it will contain costs only through bureaucratic rationing.

On the health bill, the Democrats won. But, even as free-market advocates fight for the full restoration of freedom and individual rights in medicine, they should push to keep the HSA alive.

It is unclear to me when and if ObamaCare will forbid or make impossible my high-deductible insurance. (It would indeed be unfortunate if one result of ObamaCare were to push me from having insurance to not having it.) Currently, an HSA is tied to such insurance (as I understand it), so if high-deductible insurance goes away, that would quickly phase out HSAs. An easy fix to this would be to sever HSAs from insurance, or allow an HSA to be linked to any sort of health insurance. To appease the "soak the rich" crowd, limits on annual contributions could remain (so that people couldn't get too good of a tax shelter).

A key reform to HSAs would be to allow the funds to purchase health insurance policies too, as well as health care.

I suspect, as I have heard others claim, that ObamaCare will encourage some people -- those who want to remain in control of their own health decisions -- to utilize "medical tourism" and cash-only clinics. HSAs would help enable the latter. (Indeed, a selling point to Democrats could be that HSAs would encourage people to seek medical treatment in the U.S. rather than in Costa Rica or India, if HSAs were valid only within the U.S. Of course, I would rather see HSAs valid for any health-related expense anywhere, but that's probably wishful thinking at this point.)

The Democrats may have changed the law, but they have not altered the basic fact that people take charge of their own health care by directly paying for routine or moderate-cost care, drawing on insurance only for high-cost emergencies. ObamaCare will continue to disempower patients and empower bureaucrats (including employees of nominally "private" insurance companies), but HSAs could help keep some remnant of consumer choice alive.

Friday, April 9, 2010

With Paleo Diet Blood Counts Look Great

Largely due to the influence of Diana Hsieh, who recently started the Modern Paleo blog, and the book Good Calories, Bad Calories by Gary Taubes, my wife and I have switched to a largely "paleo" type of diet. The results, as indicated by our recent blood work, are positive.

Basically the diet means that we have cut out most grains, sugars, and vegetable fats. Largely the diet consists of trading off carbs for healthier fats. We're not as strict in our diet as some are; I still eat an occasional slice of sprouted bread or a bowl of beans. However, most days I don't eat any grains, and my intake of processed sugar is low. I have a soda or glass of juice maybe once a month. I buy chocolate of between 60 and 100 percent purity (which contains much less or no sugar).

I just bought a freezer full of grass-fed beef from Lasater Ranch, and we enjoy other kinds of meats. We eat plenty of vegetables, eggs, and nuts. Unlike stricter "paleo" eaters, we drink (whole) milk, and we eat moderate amounts of fresh, frozen, and dried fruit. So we are getting considerably more carbohydrates than are stricter "paleo" eaters, though our carb intake is dramatically lower than seen in the typical American diet, and our carbs are a lot healthier.

Earlier this week I paid the King Soopers pharmacy $20 to test the cholesterol levels in my blood. (Because I pay for my health expenses out of a Health Savings Account, I tend to seek good value for my money, unlike the case with most American health consumers.) My triglycerides are comfortably low at 51 (milligrams per deciliter), and my high-density lipoprotein (HDL) count is nice and high at 65.

My wife has seen a dramatic improvement in her blood counts with the diet. Four years ago her triglycerides were nearly 300; today they were 127. Her HDL count is even better than mine at 81.

Eating real food works.

April 12 Update: I neglected to mention the fact that Jennifer and I are also taking fish-oil supplements for Omega 3 fat. Dr. Eades points to a study indicating the benefits of Omega 3 supplementation for triglyceride and cholesterol counts.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Values of Harry Potter Goes Kindle

I just drove to the local coffee shop, which thankfully leaves on its wi-fi even when it's closed, and purchased a copy of my book, Values of Harry Potter, in the Kindle edition for my iPod Touch. I wanted to make sure it is functioning properly as a Kindle ebook. And it is fabulous.

Now that Amazon has built a Kindle application for the new iPad, I figure the Amazon format for ebooks will remain a major part of the market. (Amazon has also released Kindle software for the PC and Mac, and rumor has it that Amazon will start selling its Kindle machines at Target stores later this month.) So creating a Kindle edition of my book seemed like the obvious move.

I am also in the process of creating other digital versions of the book, which I will sell as a package, free from digital rights management. (As a consumer I regard DRM as extremely annoying, counterproductive, and insulting, in that DRM presumes that without it I would behave like a criminal.) I have already finished the HTML version (which I hand-coded). I am working on a hyperlinked pdf in InDesign. I also hope to produce an ePub version of the book, which is trickier than one might think. Apparently I can create an ePub version from InDesign, but I doubt it will feature the sweet functionality of my HTML version. Therefore, I may try to convert my HTML file to an ePub, which I suspect will be a real pain.

My plan is to sell a zipped file with all three digital versions for the low, low price of $7.95, the same as the Kindle price. I've always thought it was stupid for stores to make consumers choose among different digital versions; why not provide all the formats and let the buyer use the one most convenient for a given occasion and device? (Obviously, Kindle users may wish to buy the digital package and then send one of those files to their Kindle device, though this is a little more complicated than simply buying the Kindle version.)

Having now read large parts of two books on my iTouch, I can say that I vastly prefer to read a book digitally than on paper. I can slip my iTouch in my pocket and take it with me wherever I go. (This is not possible with the iPad.) I have to make a special effort to take a paperback. I can fit many books on my iTouch. I can hold my iTouch, and flip pages, with one hand. With the iTouch I can toggle between a book and my notes, and I don't need to carry around pen and paper. The only disadvantage to the iTouch is that its battery can run low. The only reason I will ever again buy a paper book is if I find it used for significantly less than what I can buy it for digitally (or if it is not available digitally).

The way I formatted my ebook makes it especially useful. I'm particularly proud of two features:

1. For the Kindle and HTML version of my book, I included page numbers in brackets to match the pagination of the paperback. That way, people who want to cite my book somewhere can find the standard page numbers in the digital edition. Every publisher should do this.

2. My ebook contains hundreds of internal links (as well as links to external documents). The contents and chapter headings link back and forth. The notes link back and forth. Page numbers listed in the index link to the relevant pages. People who don't care about any of that can just ignore it. But for any sort of scholarly use, such internal linking will be quite useful, I think.

Preparing the book for Kindle was relatively easy, once I had the HTML version completed. Indeed, Amazon prefers HTML files for conversion to the Amazon format. Aside from the fact that the conversion process added some unnecessary indentations in the text, the process went smoothly. (Thankfully, Amazon offers a preview of the converted file, though this preview does not activate the internal links.)

On the whole, I am absolutely thrilled that books are finally joining the digital parade. And I am pleased that my own little book is marching proudly.

Monday, April 5, 2010

ObamaCare: "Reducing the Fat in Pastries"

The sheer insanity of politically-controlled dieting is illustrated in the hope of one Health Nanny that the new labeling mandates will result in "reducing the fat in pastries," as the New York Times reports. Because, you know, sugary, empty-carb pastries are so good for you when they have slightly less junk fat in them.

To the Health Nannies, good health is about tweaking the right variables, offering people the right carrots, and smacking them with the right sticks (but of course only when they really need it). Who needs persuasion and voluntary association when we have politicians and their pet bureaucrats to tell us what to do?

I remember a professor long ago who insisted that weight loss is a simple matter of burning more calories than one consumes. By this rationale, it hardly matters what form the calories take: so much flour equals so much canola oil equals so much steak. In the real world the sort of food one eats makes a great deal of difference in one's health, one's metabolism, and one's appetites. But, as the simple-minded believe that merely cutting calories is the key to a good diet, so they believe that merely increasing "preventive medicine" is the key to good overall health.

Reality is more complicated. In the real world, not all calories are equal, and neither are all forms of "preventive medicine." For many, subsidized "preventive medicine" will largely become another way to figure out which ailments the individual need not make any effort to prevent, as the treatment of those ailments also will be funded by others.

What the "preventive medicine" Nannies miss is the critical importance of human volition. Somebody who seeks out good medical advice -- as I finance out of my Health Savings Account and in a truly free market would pay out of pocket -- probably is genuinely seeking ways to stay healthy and avoid unnecessary long-term ailments and related monetary costs. Somebody who does not bother to stay healthy will not suddenly do so merely because "preventive medicine" is now "free." Such a person may indeed spend a lot more money on doctors and treatments, but that probably won't translate to better long-term health.

On the diet side, the reporter from the Times reveals his bias against "fatty, high-calorie foods." Yet many have successfully lost unhealthy pounds and regained good health through eating precisely such foods as consistent with a "paleo" diet or (for instance) the findings of Gary Taubes. Most Americans would be far better off if they would abandon their grains, sugars, and vegetable fats in favor of "fatty, high-calorie" meat plus vegetables.

Now that the Health Nannies will be calling the shots, they will be lobbied relentlessly by those who want to manipulate the rules to their own advantage. Which "necessary" and "preventive" services must be provided for "free?" Which practices must be legally encouraged, and which legally discouraged? Wait and see. Those political battles will never end, so long as politicians remain in control of medicine.

The only thing we can be sure of is that politically-established "preventive medicine" will tend to produce the equivalent of "reducing the fat in pastries."