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Tuesday, August 7, 2007
Random Dissenting Thoughts

. . . on the war in Iraq, the local loan sharks, and yelling at the radio.

Whom Do You Believe?

American Fork recently buried one of its finest, Sergeant Nathan Barnes, who was killed in combat in Iraq. Casualties are far fewer in this war than in most, at least for Americans -- visit the traveling Vietnam Memorial currently in Provo if you need a reminder of that -- but that doesn't make any given soldier's death a happy or trivial thing. I was out of town on the day of the funeral, but we sent our flags and our Boy Scouts to line the procession's route. "It's a stunning tribute. . . . I've never seen anything like it," said one observer, quoted in Elizabeth Stuart's Deseret Morning News article.

All else being equal, we would wish for the good Sergeant to be home safe and alive, with his family and friends, and for them to be spared their great grief. Given that our wish would be in vain, perhaps I might be forgiven for noting that if one is to die, as we all eventually will, one could do far worse (and scarcely any better) than to suffer a hero's death in freedom's defense. The best tribute we can manage is certainly what is called for at such times.

The news story I cited above, among others, reported that Sergeant Barnes recently wrote of his pride in his mission, and his sense of the honor and necessity of it -- and even of its success. This is what I have heard from others who are or have been on duty in Iraq or Afghanistan. It is directly opposite most of the reports we hear from the Big Media Acronyms (BMA) and most of the raging egos on Capitol Hill.

Hmmmm. The soldiers on the ground? The BMA? I know which I believe.

Next Time, Maybe More than Rumors

There were rumors afoot that some folks from the Bible Belt were planning to show up in American Fork to stage one of their despicable protests at or near Sergeant Barnes' funeral or grave. There were also rumors that local law enforcement personnel were alert to the possibility and had some ideas for addressing it. As far I know, it was a false alarm.

I'm a big fan of freedom of speech. And I hasten to note that the best measure of my commitment to that principle is my regard for others' speech when I disagree with them. That said, there are some accepted limits on freedom of speech -- yelling "fire" in a crowded theater being the classic excluded case -- and staging protests at funerals ought to be outside those limits.

Can someone advise me? Does American Fork City have an ordinance prohibiting protests within, say, 1000 feet of a funeral, funeral procession route, cemetery, or family residence? Some other communities do. So should we -- and soon, if we don't already.

Sergeant Barnes is not likely to be the last casualty from American Fork in this long war. Let's act in time to insure that the next casualty's family won't need to endure, at close range on the day of the funeral, so revolting an exercise of the freedoms our soldiers fight for. We can't eliminate the protests altogether, and we shouldn't. But we owe it to our fallen soldiers to keep their families from having to endure those protests at the worst possible times and places.

On the (Be)Night(ed)Side

As evening programming goes on radio stations which favor news and talk, KSL's NightSide is pretty good. Its anchors have personality, even attitude, and don't seem to take themselves too seriously. True, when they delve into politics, I often find them rather shallow, but I don't mind that too much. If it gets too bad, I have the nuclear option at my fingertips: I control the power switch on my radio.

The other evening, though, they had me yelling at my radio for a moment, as I drove past Chadder's in American Fork, and before I turned them off. The big story that day was the huge fire an hour or two south of Utah County -- almost 400,000 acres, if memory serves. The item of the moment was a convenience store somewhere near the fire that was doing a year's business in a day, because of all the firefighters (and presumably all the media types).

One of the NightSide guys noted that it's really sad that anyone was making a profit off such a misfortune -- the fire, that is.

If you agree, grow up already! It would be sad if the fire had been set by someone, and that person were somehow making a profit from it. But the idea that it is wrong for  anyone to make a profit at such times is childish and stupid.

If the companies that make those fire trucks for rough terrain were not profitable, there would be no incentive to make them. So we would not have them -- or the government would have to build them at three or ten times the cost. Likewise the aircraft involved. If the companies that make the coats and boots and gloves and radios the firefighters use were not profitable, the same would apply to them. And if the radio station that pays some folks to broadcast their peurile sentiments were not profitable, in part because of the bad news they regularly broadcast, the radio folks would be out of jobs.

Profits create incentives to innovation, industry, quality, and beneficial risk. Profits allocate scarce resources more efficiently -- and therefore in many cases more humanely -- than economists and bureaucrats can. Profits (and, admittedly, charity) brought relief to Katrina victims more quickly and efficiently than government agencies could. Profits practically make the world go 'round. Thank heaven there's no law against grocery stores and restaurants making a profit on me when I am, unfortunately, hungry! If there were, I'd have to grow all my own food -- or buy it from the government at several times the price and at far lower quality.

As to the shopkeeper who makes an unusual profit for a few days because of a crisis he did not cause, I say, good for him! Wouldn't it be inconvenient if everyone had to go to the next store instead, another 20 miles up the road?

Modern Loan Sharks

My family recently took the ferry from Port Angeles, Washington, to Victoria, British Columbia, and back again a few days later. Since then, the resident toddler has advised me repeatedly that we don't want to fall off the ferry and into the water, because there might be sharks there. I suppose it's true, though we saw only whales, not sharks.

I find myself working with people on a regular basis who are in financial difficulty. Sometimes they have loans from one or more of the area's many payday loan businesses. I might say, you don't want to fall off the ferry and land in Check City (et al.), because there are loan sharks there. In fact, that's approximately what I do tell people.

Here's why: Besides the fact that the arithmetic of such borrowing is brutal, I have often seen doing business with these places become part of the problem. I have never seen a case where The Cash Store, Check City, Mr. Money, or any of the others were part of the solution. I will admit that good results are theoretically possible, but I haven't seen them.

It is illegal for a city to ban these businesses entirely, but they can be regulated and limited. Last week the American Fork City Council capped the number of such businesses to one per 10,000 population in the city. I don't know whether part of 10,000 counts, so that's either two or three for the entire city, at the moment.

There are at least half a dozen already, including one just opening. These are "grandfathered," meaning that they can stay open. But no new establishment of that type can open if it exceeds the statutory limit -- even if one of the existing sharks has closed.

It would have been nice to do this several years ago, but . . . better late than never.

Mark Steele comments (8/10/2007):

About the storekeeper, I agree that he shouldn't be castigated for selling more just because of the circumstances. I WOULD have a complaint if he jacked up his prices to take advantage of the emergency situation.

Heidi Rodeback comments (8/13/07):

To answer your question, Does AF have an ordinance restricting protests within so many feet of a funeral?

No, we don't. And you're right to suppose that drafting and passing such an ordinance would be a quick and easy thing to do. But would it be strictly necessary for a community so small as American Fork? And would we shoot ourselves in the foot by doing so? Passing the ordinance would be like sending an engraved invitation to protesters to come and stage an event here. It hardly seems worth the trouble, given that we are too small to attract national attention very often. (True, we've had a couple of events in the national news media this summer, but statistically speaking, they fill our quota for the rest of the century.)

But if you and others feel the decency of the ordinance outweighs the risk, then I would encourage you to make the pitch in a public comment period before the entire City Council. There's certainly a case to be made for limiting the right of protesters to intrude on the grief and closure of a funeral.

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