Friday, June 30, 2006

Blowing Second Hand Smoke

This from a few days ago-
New Surgeon General’s Report Focuses on the Effects of Secondhand Smoke.
Of course the mainstream media has jumped all over the dangers of secondhand smoke bandwagon.

The lonely libertarian wonders how many journalists actually looked at the report, which the government kindly makes available here.

The second chapter of the report focuses on the toxicology of secondhand smoke. As the media reports have focused on the carcinogenic effects of secondhand smoke, I figured I'd take a look at what the report actually says. Yes, there is a lot of science in there, but the conclusions are crystal clear:

4. The mechanisms by which second hand smoke causes lung cancer are probably similar to those observed in smokers. The overall risk of secondhand smoke exposure, compared with active smoking, is diminished by a substantially lower carcinogenic dose.

So, as Jacob Sullum points out at Hit and Run, the dose really does make the poison. Sullum tells us,

As I noted in my book For Your Own Good: The Anti-Smoking Crusade and the Tyranny of Public Health, two studies using personal air monitors conducted in the 1990s found that nonsmokers with the heaviest exposure to secondhand smoke were absorbing between 0.8 and 1.5 milligrams of "tar" a day. By comparison, a single regular Marlboro has an official (machine-measured) tar yield of 12 milligrams.

In other words, a pack a day smoker- you know, the kind who MAY develop lung cancer 30-40-50 years down the road- is taking in 240 milligrams of tar per day (20 cigarettes times 12 mg per cigarette). That's anywhere from 160 to 300 times the amount of tar a nonsmoker with heavy exposure to secondhand smoke is receiving. Or in other words, our common sense- which tells us that secondhand smoke is probably a lot less dangerous than actually smoking- is correct.

We could compare two hypothetical individuals, one a pack a day smoker, and another, a non-smoker with heavy exposure to second hand smoke. For the smoker in a year, that's 87,600 mg, or 87.6 grams- After 40 years of smoking, that's 3504 grams. For the non-smoker, that's 547.5 mg per year (using the high number of 1.5 mg per day), and 21900 mg, or 21.9 grams after 40 years of heavy exposure to secondhand smoke.

So why are we convinced that secondhand smoke is going to kill us, so much so that state after state, and city after city have begun to implement all sorts of wacky smoking bans? You've got me. These smoking bans aren't science, they're politics disguised as public health.

One final note- it's amazing to me the way in which any announcements George Bush makes about Iraq are cast into doubt by the media, regardless of whether or not they have actual evidence to challenge him, while the media happily announces results like these without even bothering to look at the report.

Sex Offender Zoning

More common sense from Reason, on the stupidity of sex offender zoning laws. These seem like typical sorts of laws to the lonely libertarian- ignores the real problem, doesn't really help anyone, and infringes on peoples rights.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

I Wonder How Wizards Blog?

Harry Potter blogging on the Volokh Conspiracy, here and here.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Future Lawyers Of America- At Least That's My Hope

Lots of fun comments, mainly from teenagers, in the local Austin American-Statesman on the sexual assault lawsuit against MySpace.

My favorite, from (seemingly) a teenage girl named Katie:

She put herself in that situation. She met up with him. Thats her choice. The creators of myspace have nothing to do with being like yes hes ok meet him. therefor theres no suit!! Shes the only one to blame here and her mother for not knowing where her daughter was.

Reading through the comments I'm convinced of one thing- there are far more stupid adult lawyers out there then there are stupid children.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

The War On MySpace Heads To The Courts

This from the other day, but certainly lonely libertarian worthy: Girl, 14, sues MySpace over alleged sexual assault.

The thrust of the legal argument is that MySpace does not take enough steps to protect children from adults. But just what the hell is a networking website supposed to do? Unless it's suddenly become illegal to have children communicating with adults via the internet, how can a website have any obligation to prevent such communication?

Of course, the more you delve into it, the more ridiculous it gets. The best comment I saw was from Brian Doherty at Hit and Run, who is more concise and clever than I could hope to be:

Both whoever their telephone provider might be, and most likely both the state of Texas and the federal government (ostensible owners of the roads the accused rapist used to meet her and take her to the scene of the crime) seem at fault as well in facilitating his heinous action, as they too surely are aware--or should have been, if they weren't so damn criminally negligent--that sexual predators are on the phone and on the roads.

Negative Action

Stay Tuned For Supreme Court Blogging

This week, the Supreme Court announced several key decisions, notably Rapanos, the Clean Water Act case- stay tuned for some lonely libertarian analysis this weekend. Unlike some people, I'd like to actually read these opinions before commenting on them, and I'm still in the process of wading through them. This is, perhaps, the most important thing my legal education has taught me: Don't rely on what someone else says when you can read something for yourself. Don't neglect your own critical reasoning and critical thinking skills.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Hunny, You Think KFC Is Still Open?

Yes sir, the Center For Science In The Public Interest is at it again: KFC sued over use of trans fat.

I won't get into the ten million reasons why this is a stupid lawsuit. At Hit and Run, Jacob Sollum explains how accessible KFC's nutritional information is.

But the most damning statement comes from the plaintiff in the case, retired physician Arthur Hoyte, of Rockville, Maryland:

"If I had known that KFC uses an unnatural frying oil, and that their food was so high in trans fat, I would have reconsidered my choices,"

Forget about the fact that he could have just read the nutritional information available online and at every KFC location. This is a doctor, suing because of the health effects of Kentucky Fried Chicken. It's fucking Kentucky Fried Chicken! It may be delicious, but it's not good for you no matter what the chicken is fried in. Fast food is not good for you, period. Everyone's known it for years and it's time for the Center For Science In The Authoritarian Interest to stop playing mommy.

Claims Of McCarthy Echoes Don't Ring True

Maybe it's a good thing I was out of town and missed the ACLU lecture which took place at my school this past weekend. Local coverage here in the Hartford Courant, "Hearing McCarthy Echoes."

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the protests of the Bush administration's war in Iraq and war on terror are the protesters insistence on pointing out the similarity of past American transgressions to the supposed transgressions of today, regardless of how inaccurate such comparisons may be.

According to the article,

She [Ann Beeson, associate legal director of the ACLU] compared the country's current situation with the time of Sen. Joseph McCarthy and FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, and also said that in the 1960s and 1970s the government used the threat of terrorism as an excuse to infiltrate peace groups, wiretap journalists and amass files on ordinary Americans.

McCarthyism raises the specter of Americans marginalized, threatened, and even prosecuted for their political beliefs. That's not quite what I see today. I don't see much support for the Islamo-terrorists- And peace activists are certainly not terrorists, nor have any peace activists been threatened in the same manner that those with socialist leaning were threatened back in the 1950's.

The comparisons to the past actually show how far we've come. In the 1950's the taint of communism ruined reputations and destroyed careers. Today we are free to protest, and free to hold whatever political views we chose. Who has to fear the government today? Suspected terrorists captured in foreign countries and US citizens who receive international phone calls from terrorists. Oh, and that’s right- don't forget those poor librarians who were forced to turn over those extremely top secret library records.

Do we have issues to talk about today? Certainly we do. Detention of terror suspects is a pressing issue that no one seems to want to really address. The Bush administration seems content to ignore the issue, and the Bush administration critics seem happy to be critical without being constructive. But echoes of McCarthy? I don't think so.

The Lonely Libertarian, BS Detector

The following is an exchange the lonely libertarian has been having over the past week with another member of a school discussion list. It started when this article by the UK's Greg Palast about Republican efforts to steal elections was posted.

The article was big on conicidinces, and short on evidence- a classic conspiracy piece. So I had to respond.

The lonely libertarian's first response:

There's a reason why I don't buy conspiracy theories. Whether you're talking about Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 911 factual manipulations or rants from ultra conservative bloggers (or in this case liberal bloggers), manipulating and misinterpreting facts to prove a preconceived view of the world hardly counts as evidence.

This blogger where this story comes from is a perfect example. This statistic that blacks are 900% more likely than whites to have their votes thrown out actually comes from Florida, I think from the 2000 election. This blogger Greg Palast neglects to mention this. It is unclear why we should believe this number from Florida is indicative of the entire country and not a statistical outlier.

You can often times find the specifics of these claims by googling. For instance, I found this site here:

The Florida statistic is mentioned, as is a similar 500% statistic for Hispanic voters in New Mexico. If these drastic disparities are common, why aren't there similar statistics for other states and other elections? You'd be hard pressed to find them.

Additionally, given our system of secret balloting, (although I must admit, I'm unsure if this is the case everywhere besides Connecticut), I wonder how this racial data is calculated in the first place. According to Greg Palast, he calculated that 89% of rejected and spoiled ballots were from voters of color. But this is only possible through statistical mumbo jumbo- We know racial data because of the census or other statistical surveys. And we know election results because the ballots are counted. We do know for certain that ballots from certain districts were thrown out, but unless other states don't use secret ballots, and keep track of voter records by race, there is no way of knowing the racial background of an individual ballot that was rejected. In fact, there's no real way of knowing, district by district, the racial composition of who actually voted. Remember the millions of Americans that don't vote, and the 30-40-50 or whatever % of the population who doesn't vote. Even if you knew the racial composition of registered voters, you'd have no way of knowing the racial composition of those who actually voted.

I'm sure there are all sorts of extrapolations that statisticians can do to calculate these numbers, but I'd want to know how they got them, and how accurate they actually are.

But throwing aside the misuse of statistics, there are still all the undocumented allegations- For instance there is the claim that in New Mexico, only Hispanics were rejected for failing to have a middle initial on their voter registration, but not their license. If there was any evidence of this, why is it not documented? Why no mainstream media coverage?

My point is not that we should believe everything the government and media tells us- just that all the "truths" we receive, from whatever source, should be taken with a grain of salt. The media would have a field day if George Bush or the Republicans actually did attempt to steal an election. There was a great deal of questionable behavior on both sides in Florida in 2000, all of which was reported by the media. Even if you don't buy the media as truth tellers, the media clearly responds to the bottom line above all else, and controversies that can be supported with actual evidence are reported on. (If you're one of those who think the media has a liberal or conservative bias, you're not paying attention- the media thrives on tragedy and controversy and often times goes to great lengths to manufacture its own- they care more about ratings than they do politics- only the blatantly political care about politics)

These sorts of conspiracy theories are much more like religion than they are an integral part of the political debate. They're not based on facts, but on faith.

If there were really anything to these sorts of allegations Democrats of all stripes would be all over this. After all, with 90% + of blacks voting Democrat, why on earth wouldn't some politicians actually get out and do something to try and get back all these votes that are being taken away. It would be insane not to.

Believing that politicians care a great deal about votes makes perfect sense, and is a reasonable assumption to base an opinion on. Believing that Republicans (or Democrats) are truly concerned with suppressing votes and acting illegally and Unconstitutionally is just plain biased, and more than a bit of a stretch.

And my final point? These conspiracy theories merely gloss over- sometimes even makes people ignore- actual problems. I makes logical sense that votes are much more likely to get rejected from poor districts, and that these poor districts may be disproportionately minority in comparison to other districts. After all, lower levels of education, and more importantly, older voting equipment is more likely to cause problems. But framing this issue as 1- racial, and 2- a matter of Republican criminal behavior serves only partisan political points while obscuring the real issues of poverty, voting technology, and voting uniformity.

The response from the original poster:

And now, a response.....

"This blogger where this story comes from is a perfect example." Those were the words of the person who responded to my email (which was a cut-and-paste of another author's column). The article sent appeared in the Guardian UK website. Greg Palast is not some "blogger" trying to make a name; rather, he is one of the most respected US reporters in the UK, and a regular contributor to the Guardian, BBC newsnight, and the Observer UK.

But I will not waste time defending the author, or his stats. The purpose of the Prof. Long's board is for discussion, and I am glad someone called me out for the posting. But you answered your own question. "If there was any evidence of this, why is it not documented? Why no mainstream media coverage?" That is the point. Why should I have to read UK newspapers just to incite discussion of the voter problems in the US? Why was Keith Olberman (another reporter, not blogger) on MSNBC the only reporter to even discuss OHIO voting problems (evein if it was for 15 minutes)? Where is the outrage? Answer that question and we can have a real discussion.

You wrote this, too. "My point is not that we should believe everything the government and media tells us." But, wait, that's my point. I do not believe the US media because they ignore stories which do not equal ratings, which you correctly spelled out. I like ideas such as Mr. Palast's because it reignites discussion of lond-since-dead topics. You won't find FOX news, CNN, or anyone in-between (get it?) discussing it, and for that, it is worth it to post on Prof. Long's board and discuss.

"But framing this issue as 1- racial, and 2- a matter of Republican criminal behavior serves only partisan political points while obscuring the real issues of poverty, voting technology, and voting uniformity." Those 3 issues are the center of the argument Palast was making; that the technology was manipulated to create voting nonuniformity so as to ignore votes of the poor. How can you say those issues are being ignored? They are finally being discussed. And if Palast's article is my way to open that discussion, than I will continue to post other columns like it.

And as for being partisan, you wrote, in the same article, that we should not believe everything the gov't tells us, but that believing that the gov't may have acted illegally regarding voter fraud is a "bit of a stretch." Is your point that we should trust what the government does, but not believe what they say? If so, that is a great discussion for another day. Post an entire column about that. I would like to read it.

And my final response:

This was the question I was left with-
"Is your point that we should trust what the government does, but not believe what they say?"

I don't think we should either trust or distrust government inherently. We should at all times remain skeptical of government, but skepticism is different than inherent mistrust of our basic institutions of democracy. Does government lie to us? Certainly. Does government make stupid mistakes? It probably makes stupid mistakes a lot more often than it lies to us- witness the 1.4 billion scammed from the government in the Katrina and Rita relief efforts.

If you're of the belief that elections can be stolen by those at the top with impunity, then what real hope do you have for change? Certainly not from the ballot box.

If on the other hand, you believe that we need to improve the way elections are conducted, and that mechanical and other technical problems lead to millions of uncounted votes, then you have a real foundation on which you can base solutions to the problems. There may well be issues of voter fraud, by locally isolated incidents are a far cry from implicating the leaders of our major political parties.

And one final comment on statistics- Palast mentions the 3 million uncounted votes- I'd be curious to know how this compares, percentage-wise, to previous presidential elections.

I suppose my main point is this- absent any real evidence of wrong doing, I'm not going to go on faith that an election was stolen- I'd rather focus my time, and have other people focus their time, on more concrete problems. I for one, am thankful that the U.S. is very different from the Ukraine.