Thursday, August 31, 2006

Libertarians, F- Yeah

Via Reason, South Park Refugees: Republicans Can't Count On The Votes Of Team America. Yes, the South Park co-creators are far more libertarian than anything else. Why are they less than enamored with the right than they used to be?

The religious right used to be a better alternative, [from big-government liberals] Parker said. "The Republicans didn't want the government to run your life, because Jesus should. That was really part of their thing: less government, more Jesus. Now it's like, how about more government and Jesus?"

A Brief Immigration Response

To respond to the comment from the previous post:

1- As I've pointed out before, virtually no one is happy with our current system of laws on immigration. The fact that we have such a large influx of illegal immigrants makes me beleive that we need to make it possible for more people to come into the country legally.

2- Every other historical wave of immigration in this country has been followed by more wealth, and greater standards of living. So why should this current wave of immigration be any different?

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Reason Funnies

Monday, August 28, 2006

Results Oriented Opinion Writers

Wanted to link to this last week, but never got the chance: Molly Ivins criticizing the media backlash against the recent NSA surveillance decision.

Another bee-you-ti-ful example of the right-wing media getting it all wrong. Here they are having the nerve to mutter in public about “activist judges” because Judge Anna Diggs Taylor has pointed out that spying without a warrant is illegal in this country—so warrantless telephone tapping is illegal in this country.

Improbably enough, the first complaint of many of these soi-disant legal scholars is that Taylor’s decision is not well written. No judicial masterpiece, they sneer. Nevertheless, warrantless spying is illegal. Did it ever occur to these literary critics that Taylor has a lay-down hand? The National Security Agency program is flat unconstitutional, and for those who insist this means Osama bin Laden wins, it’s also ridiculously easy to fix so that it is constitutional.

I suppose the right wing media she criticizes includes independent minded academics like Professor Ann Althouse. I know this is a political puff piece, but even political puff should have some sort of legal grounding when you're talking about the Constitution. Molly Ivins says the critics are wrong, and Judge Anna Diggs Taylor is correct that the NSA program is unconstitutional. That may be, but tell us why. It's not a real debate when you don't answer the criticism of your critics.

Ivins really has it all backwards. Judge Anna Taylor Diggs is being called an activist because her Constitutional reasoning is flawed and the opinion seemed more concerned with the results than the reasoning. Ivins than accuses critics of being results oriented, even though some of the criticism (at least in academic circles) has been sympathetic to the outcome. It may be hard to believe, but there are those of us out here who believe in something other than results-oriented jurisprudence.

Ivins continues with the typical liberal activist jumping jacks,

Money, money, money is the motif of the “New Activist” federal judges, but they have also been busy, busy limiting congressional authority and individual rights. As People for the American Way notes, federal appellate courts—effectively the court of last resort for most Americans—are working on: questioning the constitutionality of the Endangered Species Act, overturning the National Labor Relations Board rulings against anti-union discrimination and other unfair labor practices by employers, allowing the Bush administration to keep secret the records of the Cheney energy task force, and rewriting by court order a state law on First Amendment activity.

We've been through this before. Activism has nothing to do with laws being overturned- It has everything to do with Constitutional interpretations that are based outside of text, structure, and original meaning.

Judge Anna Diggs Taylor's opinion could be considered activist because she interprets the 4th Amendment in a way that can't be reconciled with any traditional method of interpretation. In other words, she seems to be making it up as she goes along in order to get the result she wants. The other sorts of activism mentioned by Ivins? Well once again, it's the reasoning, not the result that makes the activist. Yet again, she's looking in the wrong place.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Isn't This What I've Been Saying?

The Cato Institute has a new report reviewing recent global warming scares. Full report available here.

The report touches on the problems with climate models and simulations, along with the selective use of data. A very good read. Random interesting factoid from the report- In Greenland, temperatures have risen over the past 10 years. However, the rate of temperature increase was 50% higher during a previous period of warming from 1920-1930.

As always, my point is not to end debate on global warming, only to point out that climate science is complex and often times inconclusive. As the summary of the report mentions, the result of global warming scares is the push of the "political process toward toward some type of policy restricting emissions of carbon dioxide."

Science, good. Drastic policy decisions based on complicated and inconclusive science, bad.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Color Of Money

I found this Daily Kos post and the ensuing comments to be somewhat interesting.

To explain as simply as possible, apparently Republicans in Pennsylvania helped contribute and gather signatures for the candidacy of a Green Party member in Pennsylvania’s upcoming U.S. Senate election- signatures of which some are seemingly invalid. This seems a lot like politics to me- so why so interesting?

What's interesting in the comment thread is the anger directed at the Green Party- as if they shouldn't take Republican money or Republican help in their quest to gain political offices. All these so-called progressives are really mad about is the Green Party attempting to play the same game that Democrats and Republicans play- And yet, in rooting against the Greens, aren't these so-called progressives playing the exact same game?

And another interesting note- are politicians really beholden to the money that elected them? Say a Green candidate gets elected somewhere after taking money from Republicans. Do you really think he's going to turn into a Republican? Yet another wrench in the campaign finance machinery.

Golden Age of Television

Blogging about Arrested Development made me think- Even with the show's cancellation, could we be in the middle of a Golden Age of Television. Or perhaps the beginning of a Golden Age?

I don't watch a lot of TV, but I'm struck by the large number of shows I'd like to watch- or rather, shows I've just heard very good things about. I can probably only count 24, Southpark, and Battlestar Galactica among the shows I watch regularly, but even that group tells me why we are in the midst of television's golden age- 2 of the 3 shows I watch are on cable. The success of the Sopranos on HBO sparked a cable revolution- whereas the cable networks used to be home to endless repeats and overplayed movies, cable has now chosen to innovate. Between HBO, Showtime, USA, TNT, and Fx alone, you've more than doubled the number of networks producing their own dramatic programming over the past 20 years.

But it's not just numbers. Even given the fact that there are more networks producing more shows, the shows we have today are still better. As a means of comparison, look at the top 20 programs from 20 years ago. For top comedies you have The Cosby Show, Family Ties, Cheers, and The Golden Girls, along with shows like Who's The Boss, Night Court, and Growing Pains. For dramatic programming you've got Murder She Wrote, Dallas, Dynasty, and Miami Vice.

Given this list, historically good television seems to be the exception, not the rule. What's on today? Off the top of my head (other than the 3 shows I named above) I could name Curb Your Enthusiasm, Deadwood, The Sopranos, House, The Office, My Name Is Earl, Monk, The Shield, It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, and any of the Law and Order or CSI type shows as worth watching. I'm sure I'm leaving plenty off that list. (Which by the way, didn't even include cartoon stalwarts The Simpsons or Family Guy, or sketch comedy gems on Comedy Central like Chapelle's Show or Mind of Mencia.) It's not so much that so many of the shows are better- maybe that's something to argue about (or maybe not). Today's shows just seem far more unique, far more quirky, and far more interesting.

The other thing is, the array of choices we have isn't limited to traditional programming. There is a wide variety of reality programming and documentary shows, geared specifically toward the audience of the network they are presented on. (Think of shows on Court TV, The Food Network, or the History Channel.) A large number of cable networks now have their own original primetime programming. So turn on the TV at 8:00 and rather than the 3 choices you had 20 years ago, you may now have 30 or 40.

And why do we always say "nothing is on?" Maybe our taste has just improved, and maybe TV is a bit more than the brain drain we used to think it was.

Comments Welcome

Do It For George Michael

Arrested Development's third and final season is going to be released on DVD next Tuesday, and the critics are once again urging everyone to give the show a chance. They're right. I think the cancellation of Arrested Development falls somewhere in the vicinity of the cancellation of the original Star Trek. All of us fans have nothing left to do but encourage people to go out and watch the DVD's. (And considering you'll be able to get all three seasons in the 60-70 dollar range, you're really talking about quite a bargain.)

Jen Chaney of the Washington Post puts it best, "The show is so layered that it's nearly impossible to summarize its greatness." But whereas other clever television comedies of the modern era (think the Simpson’s), attempt to wow us with references to pop culture, classic films, and historical references, Arrested Development wows with a blistering number of self-contained jokes and references. Some of the humor is over the top, while other jokes give away the punch line before revealing the setup (which may be episodes down the road). I can't think of another show which has been funnier and funnier with each viewing.

Some of the wackiness in Arrested Development resembles that of Seinfeld, or Larry David's current hit, Curb Your Enthusiasm. But while Seinfeld led us down a nihilistic path that ended with our heroes sitting in a jail cell for their utter lack of humanity, the characters of Arrested Development are endearing despite their numerous flaws. In an odd way, they are more relatable than characters of supposedly more realistic shows- in fact they seem much more real than the wooden participants and melodrama queens we get on reality television.

So do yourself a favor- go out and buy it. It's a brilliant, brilliant show.

Open Post On Abortion

By request, I am blogging (in a very general manner) on abortion. I suppose given my views on a variety of other topics, some of you might find them interesting.

1- I believe in the right of a woman to choose whether or not to have a baby. Society should not have the right to tell an individual what they can and can't do with their own body. Let me stress that I am for legal abortions.

2- However, I personally find abortion to be morally difficult to justify. It's difficult to characterize a fetus as anything other than a human life, and human life is precious and should not be cast aside lightly. I would never openly encourage abortions- I'd rather urge adoption for those who don't have the resources to care for a baby.

3- Abortion involves a clash of rights between the right of the fetus to live and the right of the woman to make choices about her body. Yes abortion is the taking of a life, but law and morality have always recognized certain types of situations when the taking of a life is permissible. Pregnancy is a hardship on a woman, and a woman should not be forced to remain pregnant against there will. Imagine a man came into your kitchen uninvited, sat down, and said he planned on remaining there for the next 9 months. (And imagine, there are no police to get him out, and the only way to get him out and stop him from eating your food would be to kill him.) Would killing that man under those circumstances be justified? Morally, I'd say yes and no. I wouldn't fault someone who did, but I don't think I'd do it myself. This is about where abortion lies on the moral scale.

4- In the Constitutional realm, Roe v. Wade is a horrible decision that can't be justified by any honest method of Constitutional interpretation. It's a purely result oriented decision.

5- I think the abortion debate is not as absolute as pro-deathers and anti-choicers make it out to be. Virtually no one favors abortions at 8&1/2 months, and virtually no one is opposed to early abortions in the case of rape or incest. What's my point? I think that the anti-choicers recognize that abortion under some circumstances is permissible, even though you would be killing a human life. And I think that the pro-deathers recognize that a fetus is a life, at least to some extent, or at some point during pregnancy.

6- I think both pro-deathers and anti-choicers fail to realize the consequences of their positions. Both sides can get fanatical. You can be pro-choice and find abortion to be reprehensible. And you can appreciate the pro-life viewpoint without wanting to make abortion illegal. Why do I say pro-death and anti-choice? Because neither the pro-death or anti-choice activists seem to recognize the importance of both freedom and life.

7- My view on abortion comes from the same place as my view on drugs, sex, food, and any other personal decisions dealing with our own bodies. We all have our own moral codes we follow, but we shouldn't force those moral codes upon anyone else.

Comments welcome.

"So lend me all your ears and let me state my case, about all the types of satellites we must embrace ..."

Say it ain't so: Astronmers Say Pluto Is Not A Planet.

Perhaps no better time to appreciate the 2 Skinnee J's classic song, "Pluto"

With depravity,
I break laws of gravity
Blast past the atmosphere
to the last frontier
I go boldly through space and time
The sky's the limit,
but the limit isn't the sky
I break orbit by habit,
I ignite satellites and leave rings round the planets
A flying ace like that beagle,
nevertheless this alien remains illegal
Cause their discovery don't cover me
the immigrants been left in the cold
to grow old
and disintegrate
against the distant and disclaim us,
Cause small minds can't see past Uranus
But I shun their race
cause that's just a phase
and my odyssey runs in 2001 ways
And I can see clearly now like Hubbell
shoved off the shuttle,
here's my rebuttal
It's a planet.

Who you represent?
I represent the smallest planet
Attorney in this tourney
versus those who tried to ban it.
If you don't agree
go see interplanet Janet Cause
the sun is star like
is planet.
So lend me all ears
and let me state my case,
about all the types of satellites we must embrace
Cause like parents'
this planet was an immigrant,
to deport it's an offense.
It's an upstanding member of the solar system
Abide the laws of Earth and make it a victim.
It's a proposition
When Pluto spawns a moon it will apply to the heavens.
Abandoned like Judas of Iscariot
If you demote this mote to affiliate
It's like taking ET's custody from Elliot,
Support your Lilliput, 'cause simply put

Pluto is a planet

Do it for the children
(If not for yourselves)

Pluto is a planet. Pluto!
Pluto is a ....

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Another Inconvenient (And Complicated) Truth

Via JunkScience.Com, Greenland's glaciers have been shrinking for 100 years.

Junk Science also links to this piece on the rapid acceleration of Greenland's ice loss.

Apparently, the results of the two studies don't really add up. The climate is much more complicated then the mainstream media would ever report.

Updated 8/22/06 @ 1:25 PM: I'm not reporting that Greenland's glaciers have been melting for 100 years to "prove" that manmade global warming is not occurring. Unlike the mainstream media, I present this information to show the complexities of the issue. My only political point is that given such a complicated issue, our policy should reflect the complexities of the issue, and not be reactions to scare tactics.

Maybe We Can Change Our State Nickname To "The Nanny State"

From today's Hartford Courant, the State is looking to coerce school systems into banning bake sales.

Are cupcakes really that bad? Do we really need to ban them from even showing up at an occasional bake sale?

The way society is beginning to deal with nutrition is starting to feel more and more like the way we deal with drugs- forget teaching personal responsibility, let's just ban everything!

Just Read The Agitator

Monday, August 21, 2006

30 Days

I caught bits and pieces of Morgan Spurlock's FX show 30 Days late last night. I've never had much interest in watching, but there weren't many other choices last night at midnight. Last night's episode was the "New Age" episode, where a skeptical average Joe tries various bizarre new age treatments. Two comments about the episode-

1- As someone who is going to be directing the movie based on Chris Mooney's book The Republican War On Science, (Along with his numerous "scientific" based attacks on McDonalds in Supersize Me) you would think Spurlock is actually interested in science. But maybe, as usual, it's all political.

2- The episode culminates with our participant walking barefoot over hot coals. It's some sort of showing of strength, or mind over matter, or something ridiculous. As I recall Penn and Teller debunked the barefoot hot coal walks on their first season of Bullshit! Apparently, the dead skin cells on the bottom of our feet are poor conductors of heat, so walking over hot coals, if you do it quickly, is really no big deal.

I don't mean to trash every alternative approach that might make us feel better. The mind does work in mysterious ways. But there is a big difference between real medicine and "things we do to make us feel better." My personal healing therapy in the fall involves watching football and eating nachos and wings on Sundays. Then I spend the rest of the week not eating any nachos or wings. It really does make me feel better. Of course, I'm not going to sell it to you as therapy.

And finally, I've seen numerous previews for the upcoming episode of 30 Days about a Pro-Choice activist going to work with a Pro-Life group looking to help pregnant mothers. There's one clip in the previews where the Pro-Choice Activist puts her hands over her face, saying "Oh My God!" The voiceover then questions whether or not she can survive. My only question is why it would be so terrible for a Pro-Choice activist to be working to help pregnant mothers. Is it so horrible that someone might be persuaded to keep their baby? Beyond that, all these groups are doing is helping women through their pregnancies, which is certainly not a bad thing.

I'd imagine it would be much, much more awful for a Pro-Lifer to go work for a Pro-Choice group, or work in an abortion clinic.

More Food Labeling

Caught this on this morning: Bill Targets State Food Label Warnings. (The press release on the subject from the Center For Science in the Authoritarian Interest is here.)

The lonely libertarian blogged about this food labeling act here and here,
when the act was first passed by the House back in March.

The gist of the act is to require uniformity in food labeling. The Act was passed, at least in part, in response to California's stricter labeling requirements. And regardless of your views on federal versus state authority, food labeling- any product safety labeling really- are the sorts of laws that should be handled by the federal government. Why? Because eliminating barriers to trade and creating a uniform system of commerce was perhaps the primary rationale behind the creation of the Constitution in the first place.

We don't want states to make their own labeling laws because such laws have the potential to impose tremendous barriers on commerce. Imagine, 50 different states with 50 different sets of requirements. Of course, supporting such legislation is seen not just as pro-business, but as pro-Washington as well.

And finally, in my never ending quest to be fair, let me point out conservative stupidity from the Town Hall comments sections:

I want a warning label on Washington D.C.:
I think we need term limits, the totalitarians in D.C. have done enough to destroy our liberties.

Did she even read the article?

Sunday, August 20, 2006

School Lunch Fun (Unless Your Parents Gave You McDonalds- Then You Have To Go Eat Outside By Yourself)

From today's New York Times Magazine: The School-Lunch Test.

I promise I won't turn this into one of my typical rants about stupid ideas. It's not stupid to want to encourage healthy eating habits among kids, and the story here is about a local Florida program, and I am a strong proponent of "local" solutions.

However, two gripes:

1- The article frames this as part of the "obesity crisis," but I'd question the role of school lunches in this crisis- Haven't most school lunches remained essentially the same over the past 50 years? I'm highly skeptical of any claim that kids are getting fatter because of anything that goes on at school- If you want to know why kids are fat, look at their eating and exercise habits outside of school. But anyway ...

2- Is it really necessary to ban ketchup? Or force kids eating fast food to eat outside the cafeteria? Teaching healthy eating habits and getting fresh food is one thing, but at what point does this all become a little too much of a social engineering experiment?

Friday, August 18, 2006

The Free Market And Healthcare

This never fails to fire up the commentators at Daily Kos: Scathing Indictment of U.S. Healthcare. As always we get my favorite sorts of comments:

And we need progressive Democrats who will go to bat for ordinary Americans against the huge, profit-greedy insurance industry.

Ever notice how the only "profit-greedy" industries are the ones where the most people tend to be the most unhappy about the prices. Why does no one ever complain about the greedy bastards in the diamond industry? Or the leather industry? Or the DVD industry? (I mean c'mon! The first five seasons of the Sopranos costs $283.68 on

It's silly really, but that doesn't change the fact that health care costs are a big issue for a great deal of people- including myself.

But as always the real issue is no- as those on the left seem to suggest- whether healthcare is a right that everyone should have access too. The real question is what is the most efficient way to supply healthcare to the greatest number of people?

Take food for instance, because everyone needs to eat even more than they need modern healthcare. We have a free market for food distribution because that is the most efficient way of meeting supply and demand. Sure, everyone should have enough to eat, but that fact alone doesn't mean we turn food distribution over to the government. If you're going to make the argument that the government should control the healthcare business, you need to make some sort of argument about why that would be efficient. (We know it would be fair, but why would it work better than a real free market system?)

Obviously, people tend to complain about the markets where they are unhappy with prices. And sometimes, as in healthcare, these complaints can be justified. Healthcare is an utter mess because we don't have a real free market of healthcare. Insurance disconnects individuals from even the most routine of costs, and government mandates stifles the insurance market itself. What we have now is basically much more similar to government run health care than to a free market system, because in both cases we are disconnected from costs and traditional supply and demand does not function. But just because this is a bad system does not mean we want to further isolate individuals from the costs of healthcare by implementing a government run plan.

The real problem when it comes to healthcare is ensuring all Americans have access. But unlike food, which we mentioned above, healthcare is not seen as the same sort of necessity. For many people healthcare is seen as a choice. This is why young people routinely decline health insurance as they are just starting out- it may not be a matter of not being able to afford it. It's more a matter of rather having money to spend somewhere else. There are sometimes stories on the news of families that seem somewhat well-off who "can't afford" health insurance. But when you live in a 300,000 dollar house and own several nice cars, is it really that you can't afford health insurance, or is it that you'd just rather spend your money on other things?

For those who want to ensure the poor receive healthcare, why not make healthcare into another poverty based program? (Well, we actually do have Medicare and Medicaid already, but maybe those sorts of programs need to be extended ...?) The problem is, of course, where to draw the line. At what point should the government not have to subsidize your lifestyle in order to pay for your healthcare?

Of course, now I'm delving off into a conversation that isn't really going on, at least not amongst policy makers. Which is just a shame.

"Taking Drugs Was The Biggest Mistake Of My Life"

This is old, but entertaining: A Partnership For A Drug Free America's Parent's Guide to Answering the "Did you ever do drugs?" question. Here are the three examples they give-

"I took drugs because some of my friends used them, and I thought I needed to in order to fit in. In those days, people didn't know as much as they do now about all the bad things that can happen when you take drugs."

"Everyone makes mistakes and trying drugs was one of my biggest mistakes ever. I'll do anything to help you avoid making the same stupid decision that I made when I was your age."

"I started drinking when I was young and, as you can see, it's been a battle ever since. Because of my drinking, I missed a big part of growing up, and every day I have to fight with myself so it doesn't make me miss out on even more — my job, my relationships, and most importantly, my time with you. I love you too much to watch you make the same mistakes I've made."

It's just amazing how just out of touch these people are- That's what your supposed to tell your kid? The article starts out by saying you're not supposed to lie to your kids. And then the examples they give are blatant lies, at least as far as a great deal of parents are concerned. Most parents who smoked pot back in the 60's and 70's do not have a drug problem today. And peer pressure or "the biggest mistake of my life?" C'mon. I can just imagine how the conversation would go after the "biggest mistake of my life" quote ...

Son: So Dad, what drugs were the biggest mistake of your life?

Father: Well son, I smoked some pot, I took some acid. But I regret it today.

Son: So why was it the biggest mistake of your life?

Father: Because son, drugs are dangerous. You can become addicted, or get cancer, or heart disease. They can make you do stupid things you wouldn't do otherwise.

Son: But Dad, you're not a drug addict, and you're not sick. Did you do any stupid things?

Father: Well, the night I first met your mother, we both had been smoking pot- we headed back to my room and ... well nevermind, that's not the point. What was I saying?

Son: Wait, you met Mom while smoking pot?

Father: Well that's besides the point, that's what people did when we were in college, but that has nothing to do with what you should do today.

Son: So you're not a drug addict, you're not sick- and you married Mom, have a good job, a good home, and a good family ... Why is it I shouldn't use drugs?

Father: Well because something bad could happen to you.

Son: You mean like when I drive my car and I could get into a car wreck ....

Father: Yes ... I mean no. Of course not.

Son: Then what do you mean Dad?

Father (starts to cry- a bit of a Southpark moment really): I just don't know son- The government and all the anti-drug people told me I was supposed to warn you of the dangers of drugs. But the truth is, I smoked some pot, I drank before I was 21, and I tried a few other drugs, and I ended up just fine. And I wanted to be honest, but the anti-drug people didn't want me to be too honest.

Son: It's okay Dad. I think I understand. Drugs are like anything else in life- you can use them but you want to use them carefully. It's just like Oreo cookies- eating a few every once in awhile is okay, but you don't want to eat a whole pack in one night

Father: That's right!

Son: And you don't want to drive down Albany Avenue on a Saturday night, because you really, really need like 3 or 4 packs of Oreos.

Father: Ummmm ... yeah

Son: So it's not the drugs that are bad, but it's my choices that are good or bad- And seeing that you raised me to make good choices for myself and to stay out of trouble, you have nothing to worry about. I love you Dad.

Father: I love you son.

Sorry to get all preachy. Lonely libertarian, signing off.


From the Agitator, this is pretty scary. Balco's right- if the cops can lie to get into your house, then the 4th Amendment really has no meaning.

Tired Of Studies

When does it end? I noticed this piece on the health benefits of coffee in the New York Times and it occurred to me how difficult it would be to actually keep up with all of these health studies- 2 cups of coffee, 2 glasses of wine, green leafy vegetables, 2 deep fried Twinkies, 1 pound of head cheese- are you really supposed to work your diet around all this stuff?

And to top it all off, studies tend to show different things- Butter is bad for you, margarine is good- no wait, make that, margarine is bad, butter is better. And then there are these food policing assholes, who would use all these studies to have the government mandate (or "encourage") healthy diets.

So, all-in-all, I'm tired of these studies. If you're concerned with your health, exercise, eat a balanced diet, and don't overeat- and see your doctor, he can tell you health concerns specific to you. It's not that complicated ... Forget the damn studies. Leave the science to the scientists and live your life.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Final Free Market Reactions For The Day

Just one more post on the subject.

As I mentioned earlier, I think one of the biggest problems liberals have is their tendency to lump all of their opponents- conservatives (paleo cons, neocons, and all other sorts of cons), authoritarians, and neoliberals (which, to put as simply as possible, is just another word for libertarian)- into the same Republican bucket, regardless of how contradictory these philosophies may be.

As I pointed out earlier in the week, the extent to which conservatives believe in the free market is up for debate. Many libertarians of late have questioned the Republican commitment to small government. All non-liberals are not of the same state in mind, nor do they share the same goals.

Of course, the real problem is that many liberals don't understand what those of us who support free markets actually want. Wanting the government to "do something about oil prices" does not reflect faith in the free market. Corporate welfare does not reflect faith in the free market. Farm subsidies do not reflect faith in the free market. Trade agreements and other laws designed to benefit certain companies, or certain types of companies do not reflect faith in the free market. And liberals who fear some sort of corporate plutocracy have nothing to fear from the free market.

Most people who believe in the power of the free market understand that 1- a free market is the most efficient way for distributing goods and services, and 2- a free market is the most moral means of economic organization. The "free" part means that people are free to make exchanges with one another and free to form relationships with one another- government plays its role by protecting people from fraud and coercion, and ensuring that agreements are kept. People who believe in the free market believe that capitalism saves lives- that our high standard of living is a result of our free market system.

But to read any of those postings from earlier today, you wouldn't understand any of those basics in the slightest. (Think also, of people who urge not free trade, but fair trade.) Reading those postings you'd think that free market ideology exists only to defend the interests of large multinational corporations looking to take over the world.

Wiretapping In The News

Just in this afternoon, Federal judge orders end to warrantless wiretapping.

I'm sure everyone will be talking about it. Just do me a favor. If you're one of those people who wants to make a big deal out of this (either as vindication for beliefs about the wrong doings of the Bush administration, or as I heard Rush Limbaugh earlier, as an indictment of "liberal, Stalinist judges") go and read the opinion- or at the very least read from someone who actually read and understood the opinion.

For my money I'd read Eugene Volokh, here, here, and here. The consensus at the Volokh Conspiracy seems to be the same as it was back in the spring when the program first became publicized: The program likely violates existing law, but has no real Constitutional problems.

The opinion released today by Judge Anna Diggs Taylor held that the program was both illegal and unconstitutional.

I have no real desire to read the opinion, just as I had no real desire to read the Supreme Court's "War and Peace"-length dissertation in the Hamden case earlier in the summer. Why? Because the real issues here are not what they're made out to be. In reality, the result of all of these of war on terror court decisions is going to be the outlining by the political branches of real rules on how the war on terror is to be conducted.

It's quite a stretch to say wiretapping enemy agents from foreign countries requires a warrant, just as it's a stretch to say terrorists captured in Afghanistan or Iraq are entitled to the same rights as criminal defendants in the United States. Has the Bush Administration violated the law? In all likelihood, yes they have, given that the laws under which they were working were not designed with terrorism in mind. I've always said that given the fact that the Bush Administration has been flying by the seat of their pants for the past five years, they've done a half-decent job. But the fact is that we don't have specific rules about the morally proper way for fighting the war on terror, which is precisely the argument I've been making here for the past year or so. And finally, someone (the courts) are getting the ball rolling.

Updated 8/18/06 @ 9:15 AM :It's quite a stretch to say wiretapping enemy agents from foreign countries requires a warrant, just as it's a stretch to say terrorists captured in Afghanistan or Iraq are entitled to the same rights as criminal defendants in the United States.

Let me also articulate the other side. It's also quite a stretch to give any administration carte blanche in detaining American citizens without trials based on terrorism suspicions, and it would be even more of a stretch to allow all domestic wiretapping in the name of the war on terror. It just occurred to me, as I read more about the story this morning, that most of the reactions from both sides of the debate are simply reactions, not solutions. Liberals jump on any decision against Bush, and conservatives are quick to defend any action taken against terrorism.

The problem with the debate over terrorism is that both sides use such broad language to defend their positions. The same rules need not to apply to every situation in the war on terror. An American citizen can be treated differently than a foreign citizen captured on the battlefield. What we should be talking about is where to draw lines, and how captured terrorists should be treated. If terrorists are not POWS's, and not criminals, then we need to explicitly define their rights in the same way we've defined rights for POW's and criminals- Again, they need not be the same. But the point is, this is work that needs to be done, and these sorts of court decisions don't do anything but make this fact all the more obvious.

And You're Telling Me This Was Never An X-File?

Hybrid mutant found dead in Maine.

The most dissapointing part of this story? I was about 20 miles north of Turner Maine when this all went down on Saturday. Now that would have been quite the fantasy weekend getaway- going to Maine to investigate the mysterious creature with my own Agent Scully.


At Hit and Run, check out this post on Scottland banning swords.

What a great tagline- What would William Wallace do?

More Free Market Reactions

Yeah, I know I get a bit caught up in this. Also from Daily Kos, Neoliberalism not Fascism is what we should be fighting. It starts with this brilliant statement:

Fascism and Theocracy are merely the vehicles used to ARRANGE and FACILITATE the agenda of Neoliberalism. We attack neoliberalism (by making sure our countrymen are aware of what neoliberalism is), and the road to Fascism will be a deadend.

I hope I'm making my point here- I don't think these people understand what the free market really means.

Free Market Reactions

The sort of thread that drives me nuts: This Daily Kos diary post about neoconservatives, neoliberals, and the free market.

Forget the errors for a second, and the blatant misreading of Hayek, (Which only one commenter happens to point out), and focus on the fact that this is supposed to be an attempt for liberals to better understand their enemies.

Understand? All this piece does is mesh contradictory philosophies in an attempt to place all non-liberals (in the modern American sense) in the same box. Which is, of course, crazy. I've never really heard of Walter Lippmann before- I've certainly never heard him cited by any free market proponent. From what the author says here, much of what Lippmann says runs counter to all of the basic ideas proposed by Hayek- the strength and democratizing effect of the market, anti-authoritarianism, and anti-collectivism. Connecting these two makes no sense whatsoever, other than painting believers in the free market as authoritarians.

And this is the real problem. Leftists can't accept the notion that there are those of us who are actually motivated by the freedom promised by the free market. Not every defender of the free market is a corporate stooge or a closet authoritarian. There are those of us who believe that a free market, subject to as little government restriction as possible, makes us freer, and gives us a higher quality of life than any other economic system.

This utter lack of understanding has unfortunate consequences. In response to the commenter who questioned his reading of Hayek, the author of the piece responded,

Yes, but I think that while Hayek speaks about liberty in very sweeping terms, he's speaking most specifically about economic liberty as part of his effort to fetishize the "free market."

Actually, Hayek saw economic and personal liberty as going hand-in-hand, but that's really beside the point. The point is that Hayek, and other articulate defenses of the free market are written off- Ideas are not discussed and debated- In fact, the very heart, the very basic concepts of neoliberalism are not even reached. It's unfortunate, but it's an all too common modus operandi of leftists.

And perhaps above all else, this coincides with the theme of this blog, thinking about and examining ideas for yourself. For instance, public interest consumer groups and pro-business groups may tell you drastically different things about the dangers of some specific product. Before making your decision about that product, examine the nature of the claims being made by both sides, don't just side against big business. As one of my favorite professors in law school always says, "Don't just react - think!"

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Hungry Or Fat?

Entertaining press release from the Center For Consumer Freedom: Food Police To Starving People- At Least You're Not Fat.

Are overeating and starving really comparable problems? Can they really be (sorry) weighted equally? Does a Des Moines factory worker who is ten pounds overweight have a like interest in correcting his health as a chronically undernourished Sudanese child?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, you have officially lost all perspective. Welcome to the ranks of the food cops.

Feminism, Islam, War, and Peace

Interesting Read: Wimmin At War.

It's always nice to see someone coming down somewhere in between liberal insanity and conservative rigidness.

Pluto ... Is A ... Planet!

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Insert Joke Here

Jay-Z Gets His Feet Wet With Kofi Annan.

Try and make your own captions for the pictures.

Conservatives? Part II

As a follow up to my last post, here was my comment to Stossel's article:

Missing the point
Many of the commentators here seem to be missing the point-

All drugs are potentially dangerous, and all drugs can have side effects. The real question is one of risk, and who should make these decisions about risk- The FDA? Juries? Or individuals?

Let's make this simple to understand. For example, let's say someone discovers a drug that cures AIDS. Let's say the drug is 80-90 % successful in curing AIDS over a several year period, however, in 4-8% of all cases, the drug causes death within a matter of weeks.

Are these acceptable risks? You may ask yourself, "how should I know?" which would be a reasonable response. The truth is, the acceptability of these risks depend on your personal feelings about risk. When the FDA decides on what drugs to approve, they are setting this risk threshold for us. When juries award these large verdicts they are setting a different risk threshold with every single verdict, which can make it quite difficult to do business- And this is exactly Stosell's point- because different juries do not apply the same standards of risk assessment, drug companies can become worried about releasing potentially life saving (or just plain helpful) drugs in the first place.

Obviously, the real world is not as straight forward as the example I laid out above, but the principles are the same-

Who should make these decisions about what we put into our bodies- The FDA, based on an arbitrary scale of risk- Juries utilizing ever changing scales of risk- Or ourselves, the individuals, making decisions about risk in regards to our own bodies

My point in commentating was to redirect the odd nature the comment thread had been taking. That didn't work as I was ignored. (Again, is it any wonder I'm so lonely?)

But to expand upon the question I posed below, is this the sort of theory (my theory above) that the rank-and-file of modern conservatives believe in? Do individual rights and individual freedom form the undercurrent of conservatism today, or has such a philosophical grounding been pushed aside by a Coulter-esque mix of a hawkish foreign policy and liberal bashing?

Obviously, one should be careful about painting any sort of movement with such a broad brush, but one would hope for a similar ideological base in any political movement.

On a purely personal note, the lonely libertarian has generally felt more at home with conservatives than liberals- that even when I disagreed with conservatives, we were both grounded in a similar ideological base. My real introduction to "all this political stuff" came courtesy of two vastly different political mouthpieces, the band Rage Against the Machine, and talk show host Rush Limbaugh. Given the differences there, the similarity of their messages can be surprising. (Both would argue for skepticism of government and both would argue strongly for individual rights.) Overtime, my infatuation with Rage lessened as I realized the false distinction between "personal" and "economic" freedom. I disagreed with Rush on any number of topics, but felt that such disagreements stemmed from a question of drawing the line between society and anarchy, and not over the nature of freedom in the first place.

I still listen to Rush, on and off, and I don't think my analysis is misplaced. The question is, do most conservatives fall into that mold, or not.


An interesting observation related to this John Stossel piece (Lawsuits Make Us Less Safe) from last week.

As someone who is constantly ragging on liberals, the comments here (just scroll down below the article) coming from the opposite end of the political spectrum are, how shall we say ... interesting.

Stosell's point was to highlight the negative economic consequences of the culture of litigation that exists in America today, and to point out how this culture of litigation discourages companies from doing business that might have otherwise saved lives. The comments turned into a debate on the dangers of mercury and vaccinations.

What's most interesting is the anti-corporate thread of conservatism that reared its head in the debate. As anyone who's ever watched Bill O'Reilly knows, there are a great deal of populist conservatives out there who are not pro-business or pro-free market. Some of the logic seems to be of the sort that runs through typical liberal-type comment boards- individual rights versus corporate rights. The problem with such a point of view of course is that it ignores any notion of free exchange between individuals (or individuals and corporations if you must, but remember, corporations are still made up of individuals).

But the question remains, particularly among the rank and file of the conservative movement, is whether conservatives truly believe in the free market. And it is an important question- do conservatives just side with business when it suits them, or do they believe in the market?

Mayonnaise 4 Social Security 0

Good post from yesterday's Agitator, on the difference between social security and Mayonnaise. It starts off with the jar of mayonnaise in the fridge outlasting social security and just gets better.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Testing the Waters 2006 Follow Up

I honestly find this to be frightening-

My latest google search reveals no real criticism of the NRDC's 2006 beach report, blogged about here and here.

Well there is one criticism, but that's my own, coming in at number 21.

Virtually every major media outlet and all sorts of major newspapers picked up the story, and not one of them examined the NRDC's claims with a critical eye. It was just reported as news.

This is more than just an indictment of our media; this is a problem that stems to the very notion of just what is truth. If no one questions these sorts of findings- supposedly made in the public interest- than the unthinking assumption becomes that these claims are true. And this is a horribly frightening thought, that "public interest" claims about health, safety, and the environment can so easily become unquestioned assumptions.

It's no wonder I'm so lonely.

Blame the Satire

MTV draws fire for cartoon.

In it [the cartoon], a look-alike of rap star Snoop Dogg strolls into a pet shop with two bikini-clad black women on leashes. They hunch over on all fours and scratch themselves as he orders one of them to "hand me my latte." At the end of the segment, the Snoopathon Dogg Esquire character dons a rubber glove to clean up excrement left on the floor by one of the women.

MTV defended the cartoon as satire.

But several prominent blacks, including New York Daily News columnist Stanley Crouch, condemned the segment as misogynist, racist and crude, and they questioned the sincerity of MTV's contention that it was satirizing the outlandish behavior of a real-life rapper.

Crouch suggested in a column this week that the "Where My Dogs At?" segment was an extension of dehumanizing images contained in gangsta rap videos aired by MTV and projected "around the world as 'real' black culture."

So we deal with the problem by blaming the cartoon, and not what spawned the cartoon in the first place? Sounds ass-backwards to me, but then again, what the hell do I know?

MySpace Saves The Day!

Via CNN- MySpace leads to school plot pleas.

I guess social networking sites can be used for good as well as evil. Who would have thought. People were actually able to figure out just what these troubled kids were up to, and it's all thanks to MySpace!

I Must Be Missing Something

Environmental Bounty-Hunting

Good Wall Street Journal Opinion Journal piece on "Environmental Bounty-Hunting." Just a good overview of the abuse and misuse of so-called "citizen suits."

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

More Global Warming Insanity

From ABC News, Global Warming Could Slam Food supply.

Where to start, where to start ...

To begin with, this piece isn't really about global warming at all, it's about the effect of the recent summer heat wave on agriculture in the San Joaquin Valley. The reporters then twist it all into a cautionary tale about the perils of global warming. Of course, anecdotal science is not science at all, but I guess that's just beside the point. I suppose we should start at the beginning ...

Suppose the dinner on your table last night had cost 20 times what it did? Or 50 times as much? Scientists say global warming very likely has something like that in store in the coming decades.

Scientists don't say any such thing, at least not in this article. And scientists don't generally talk about prices to begin with- economists will tell you about prices. Basically, the article starts out with an unfounded global warming scare. It gets better.

In that double heat wave, Fresno County, Calif., alone suffered $85 million in beef, dairy and poultry losses. That's not surprising, as they had 20 days exceeding 100 degrees, including three consecutive days of 113 degrees.

Once again, these anecdotal stories about specific local weather conditions don't tell us much of anything about global warming- additionally, the effects of warmer temperatures would likely be dependant upon a wide variety of local conditions. In other words, Fresno County's experiences with higher temperatures and hotter weather could be completely different from the experiences of other communities.

Scientists now calculate that man-made global warming makes the chances of events such as the deadly 2003 European heat wave, which killed more than 35,000 people, twice as likely — and that by 2040 Europe could well experience such serious heat waves every other year.

Just a little side comment- 35,000 people died in Europe in the heat wave because civilized as the Europeans are, they don't have the American love for air conditioning. Who ever died from a heat wave while sitting in an air conditioned room?

The warming attacks in different ways. Blossoms may open weeks too soon, before insects arrive to pollinate them, and fruit trees may produce weaker crops because there are fewer cool nights, which the trees need for recovering between harvests.

This is just ridiculous- as if nature doesn't adjust to climate changes. Plants that may struggle in their current habitats, may thrive in new ones.

The agricultural miracle of the San Joaquin Valley — crops stretching in every direction literally as far as the eye can see — simply wouldn't be possible if the farmers tried to pull it off with the natural weather. It only rains eight inches a year, and almost all of that in the wintertime.

In other words, farming thrives here because man-made alterations to the natural climate. And we're supposed to be worried because ... ? Here in the San Joaquin Valley we have some of the nation’s most productive farmland, where it only rains 8 inches per year. Clearly, we have the ability to alter natural conditions to better suit our needs, and I see no evidence that global warming would prevent us from doing so in the future. Maybe the San Joaquin Valley will become more difficult to farm, but once again, that doesn't mean the rest of the world will experience the exact same problems. Quite the contrary, as the article points out, these conditions here are unique to the San Joaquin Valley.

But computer model projections shown to ABC News by eminent climatologist Steve Schneider at Stanford University, and other calculations from California state water boards, now warn that because of global warming the mountain snowpack so essential to all the food is most likely to be not only melting out too fast in the spring, but diminishing drastically — by as much as 90 percent, according to some computer models — before the end of the century, well within the lifetime of today's kids.

Given everything in this story report, even the slightest climate changes may well have negative effects on the San Joaquin Valley. But once again, the ability of this one small valley to produce food is hardly indicative of the ability to produce food on a worldwide scale. The report headlines how global warming could "slam" the food supply, but this is dishonest. Climate changes in the San Joaquin Valley may well lead to high prices for apricots, almonds, raisins, and olives, as 95% of these products are produced in the Valley. But that hardly means overall food prices will increase by the 10 or 50 times the article warns us about. And not to beat a dead horse, but what are the tradeoffs here? I'll take temporary high prices on a few select fruits and nuts over having to give up joyriding in my car.

Perhaps the biggest problem with all the global warming hysteria is the utter lack of discussion about any benefits of climate change. Whether the climate was warming, or cooling, undergoing any changes, I find it impossible to believe that in addition to some regions being harmed by the changes, other regions would benefit from the changes. Yet rarely is a mention made in the media (or in any discussion of global warming) about any possible benefits of climate change. All we here is disaster, disaster, disaster, because that's the global warming storyline.

And finally, I'm well aware of the fact that I make a number of broad assumptions up above, assumptions which could well be proven completely wrong. I only make these assumptions to make the point that those in the prevailing side of the global warming debate make the opposite sorts of assumptions, with just as little evidence as I have in making my contrary assumptions.

I make these points not to hold my head in the sand, but to provide a countervailing viewpoint. I'll end by asking all my readers who sounds more rational? The lonely libertarian, the global warming skeptic, or my friends at Democratic Underground, patiently waiting for the global warming apocalypse?

smirkymonkey: This is how I think the human race will start dying out. It will start w/ massive crop failures, diseased animals, oceanic dead zones - which will all affect the worlds food supply. Combine that with oil and water shortages and we are doomed as a species.

niallmac: The question I have is will there be humans left after all the catastrophe business is over. We will be facing famine, disease floods, droughts and the spasm of global wars that only humans can inflict upon themselves so well. Thinning of the herd, I should say so.

femrap: So please people.....think very seriously about reproducing. Tell your children and grandchildren to think very seriously about reproducing. Bringing children into a world that is dying is not a nice thing to do. Tell them to adopt or get a pet.

Modern Use Of Language

This morning's Hartford Courant online covered early problems at polling places in New Haven. (For today's Democratic primary) According to the report, this one paticular polling place in New Haven was about a half hour behind schedule in getting set up.

According to one Robert Schoenberger,

"It's a shame that in America we are disenfranchising people who are trying to vote and given the rates of voting I don't think that is a very smart thing to be doing."

Remember when blacks were denied the right to vote because they were black. They were disenfranchised. This here, this is an inconvenience. In some parts of the world, people risk their lives to vote in democratic elections. In the United States, we claim every minor inconvenience is some sort of a violation of our rights.

Monday, August 07, 2006

When Life Imitates The Movies

This from Radley Balco, covering the latest botched SWAT-raid:

"Police gave him several commands to 'drop the weapon, drop the weapon,' and when he didn't do so, that's when they used deadly force," Johnson said. "They weren't after this guy. If he had not done what he did, he wouldn't have been shot."

(As Balco points out, this was the innocent uncle of a drug suspect, who had barricaded himself behind several doors in fear of this home invasion.)

This scene here (courtesy of IMDB) is from Quinton Tarintino's first hit Reservoir Dogs, when the unstable Mr. Blonde explains what went wrong at the botched jewelry store robbery:

Mr. Pink: He seems okay now, but he was crazy in the store.
Mr. White: This is what he was doing.
[Mimics randomly shooting innocent bystanders]
Mr. White: Bam. Bam. Bam. Bam.
Mr. Blonde: Yeah, bam, bam, bam, bam, bam. I told 'em not to touch the alarm, they touched it. If they hadn't done what I told 'em not to do, they'd still be alive.
Mr. White: [clapping] My fucking hero.
Mr. Blonde: Thanks.
Mr. White: That's your excuse for going on a kill-crazy rampage?
Mr. Blonde: I don't like alarms, Mr. White.

Wanted: A Practical Guide For Saving Andrew Sullivan

Let me just say, I really do like Andrew Sullivan- the media could use more independent minded thinkers like him.

But that being said, his piece on wanting a practical guide to save the planet pushes the limits of topics I can agree to disagree on. Disagreement on policy is one thing, but disagreement on the impending doom of the planet is something else entirely.

Some of Sullivan's ideas are great, regardless of the dangers of global warming- market based methods for pollution control would be far more efficient than the command and control methods used by most of the world today. But calling for higher gas prices to spur innovations in alternative energy? Conservatives that truly believe in the free market should be offended by such a proposal. I know I am.

The worst part of all of the global warming discussions (if you can call them discussions) is the lack of ... well ... anything concrete. Just what is going to happen, and when is it going to happen? Obviously, no one can tell us for certain, but there is one question that no one ever asks:

If global warming is occurring, which would be greater- the costs of trying to prevent global warming, or the costs associated with having a warmer earth? (In other words, is global warming actually worth doing anything about?) Couldn't some scientists and economists work on that problem? Maybe that would make too much sense.

Brief Thoughts On the Connecticut Democratic Primaries

Just a few thoughts going into tomorrow's Democratic primaries here in Connecticut:

* Predictions on the winners? Lamont and DeStefano - At this point I'm more confident about Lamont winning. I heard some news clips of Lieberman's attacks on Lamont from this past weekend, and he sounded just plain desperate in attacking Lamont as a "float with the political winds" sort of politician. Also- the hundreds of messages from Joe Lieberman supporters on the answering machines of Connecticut residents will probably hurt more than help. I got two from Bill Clinton alone last week. I'm picking DeStefano just because he's followed the Lamont model.

* My gut feeling is that Lamont won't have enough to beat Lieberman in the general election. And I'm not really going out on a limb when I say neither Malloy or DeStefano is going to defeat incumbent Republican governer Jodi Rell.

* The Lieberman-Lamont campaigns have gotten just plain nasty. A plague on both their houses. It's too bad the libertarians aren't running anyone in November. (Or at least, if they are, I wouldn't know it from their awful Connecticut webpage.)

Just Caught This On The Radio : Falls From Shopping Carts Cause Head Injuries To Children

See the government's consumer product safety alert here.

Apparently, several recommendations about preventing falls were not included in the safety alert:

* Do not operate your shopping cart with a child passenger if you are under the influence of alcohol or other drugs.

* Do not launch your shopping cart at the pyramid of cans at the end of the isle while your child is in the front of the cart.

* Do not allow your seeing eye dog to pull your shopping cart while your child is sitting inside the cart.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Swimming Water Hysteria Part II

And here is the Testing the Waters 2006 report on beach water quality. Notable from the report:

1- 14,602 days of beach closings were due to elevated bacteria levels of unknown origin. (Or over 50% of the reported closings.)

2- The report only seems to include ocean front beaches along with beaches on the Great Lakes. Why is this notable? Because it fails to include smaller swimming areas- lakes, rivers, ponds and the like. Watching the news in my home state of Connecticut, one often hears of closings of swimming areas at various state park lake swimming areas. I was unable to find any specific numbers, but it's important to keep in mind that these small swimming areas close too- and usually not because of either sewage or stormwater runoff, as a lake in the middle of protected forest doesn't have such concerns.

I make this point because the report focuses on man-made causes of pollution to a fault. Even the brief section on pollution from water fowl blames that pollution on the loss of wetlands and other habitats, as if birds have no business congregating on the beach.

This report cites increased beach closings, but it's possible that increased closings are partially related to increased monitoring, or an increased number of precautionary closings. That's just a guess, but the report gives us only the raw numbers with no basis on which to judge whether there is really a problem statistically.

And finally, as I alluded to above, less than half of these closings can be attributed to man made causes. From personal experience in the water testing business, virtually all the beach closings I've been involved with are due to natural causes. The report would like to find fault with something we've done, but that not be the case. After all, nature can be a dangerous place- it's loaded with bacteria.

So again, I question whether this crisis really exists, or has just been manufactured by the NRDC and spoon fed to media and the various PIRG groups around the country. More importantly, for everything the report tells us, I wonder whether 1- there are any real solutions to this perceived problem, and 2- whether there are any economically feasible solutions to these perceived problems.

Updated 8/4/06 @ 12:30 AM : More dishonesty from the report- The updated bacteria standard should be more protective than the current EPA standard which allows 19 illnesses per 1,000 saltwater swimmers, and 8 illnesses per 1,000 freshwater swimmers. Just as I told you below, no mention is made of the costs associated with lowering this standard. Now of course, the current standards are somewhat arbitrary- any of these sorts of standards are. Obviously we don't want people to get sick- but an absolute zero standard would likely lead to every single beach in the country shutting down. And obviously, lower standards would be better. But the report just tosses out "lower standards" with no discussion of the feasibility of such a recommendation.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Swimming Water Hysteria

Caught this on the news this morning: NRDC to sue EPA over beach water standards. I almost drove my car off the road. I was sure this was one of those stories that had to get worse the further I delved into it. I was right. (Keep in mind, I have worked in the health/environmental testing industry for most of my adult life, working for a lab which is involved in the testing of beach waters.)

The gist of the suit is that the EPA has not modernized swimming water standards, as they were supposed to in 2003. The only fact mentioned in the letter of intent to sue (other than the fact that the EPA is behind schedule) is that "there were nearly 20,000 beach closing and health advisory days across the country in 2004." According to the NRDC, "beach closings due to hazardous contamination are on the rise," but no evidence is given to support this claim.

The lonely libertarian investigated a bit more, finding this article from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Are Water Tests Failing Us? In a not-so-surprising discrepancy, the NRDC complaint points out that improperly treated sewage and stormwater runoff are the primary culprits in these beach closings, while the Journal Sentinel piece mentions how sewage treatment has improved dramatically, and that many of these beach closings are due to contamination from non-human sources. This is an important distinction. Changing sewage treatment to ensure safe swimming water can be done. Solving contamination caused by natural rainwater runoff can be more difficult. Killing all the birds and animals surrounding a swimming area is probably not the best idea.

The point of the article, and the NRDC complaint is that the current state of swimming water testing poses some gigantic public health crisis. Little evidence is shown. In fact, much of the evidence is isn't evidence at all, it's not even anecdotal- it's just hypothetical:

Other animal waste also likely poses lower risks to humans, but there are risks nonetheless. Hamburgers tainted with a dangerous form of E. coli - different from the type tested for on beaches - have, for example, killed children.

As if e.coli 0157h7 was somehow going to be found in swimming water. You don't need to be a scientist to know that ground beef is very different from swimming water. I don't know why it's even brought up in the article.

Both the NRDC complaint and the article don't seem to understand the fact that testing for every single bacteria, virus, parasite, or chemical has individualized costs. Testing for every possible contaminant would cost thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of dollars. To be fair, the reason for the NRDC complaint is to force the EPA to conduct studies to determine what contaminants should concern us most. But why not pay to do its own studies, rather than giving money to lawyers and spending money on a lawsuit (along with having to wait years for the EPA to finish)?

It's not that the NRDC's legal claim is entirely baseless- apparently the EPA hasn't kept up with its responsibilities. But does this amount to a health crisis, or even rise to the level of something we ought to be concerned with? In other words, is this lawsuit even necessary? From what the NRDC tells us in its press release, I can't really tell. And I would hope an organization like the NRDC would have some solid information on which to base its claim, before making a public case and filing a lawsuit.

There's a reason I blog about these issues- for some reason we (as in the public in general) are perfectly happy to trust "experts" like the NRDC or the EPA when it comes to issues of health and environmental regulation. Yet when it comes to issues like foreign policy, we're far more likely to be skeptical of what George W. Bush (or anyone else who claims to be a foreign policy expert) tells us, even though most of us are no more experts in foreign policy than we are in health and environmental issues.

The point is that we should be as skeptical of public health and environmental claims as we are of other claims coming from either the government or other sorts of activist organizations. I'm constantly amazed that the same people who don't trust a word that comes out of George W. Bush's mouth blindly accept the word of the EPA- or groups like the NRDC- on blind faith.

Any environmental or public health issue should involve some discussion of the concept of risk, and some balancing of the costs and the benefits. If we wanted to spend the Iraq War budget on ensuring safe swimming water, we could do it, but most of us realize that would be excessive. Any regulation has costs, yet when it comes to environmental and health regulations, one rarely sees any discussion of costs and benefits from groups like the NRDC. And that's why I call them out- to make them back up their claims, and to make them tell us why their public policy ideas are worthwhile.

Updated 8/3/06 @ 11:03 PM : Just to show everyone that no, I'm not crazy, check out the Google news search to see the various news stories picking up the NRDC release- in paticular, note the number of local PIRG chapters refrencing the NRDC from a local standpoint.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

From The "World's Stupidist Lawsuits" File

Via Overlawyered, more on this ridiculous lawsuit against companies running fantasy sports leagues.

"Wow." What else is there to say?

OK, well, two things to say:

1- The vast majority of fantasy football players don't play for money. No one gambles on the possibility of winning money 16 or 17 weeks down the road. That's more like a real estate investment than pulling a slot machine or playing a hand of blackjack.

2- I would love to explain my fantasy football failures away as gambling losses. It would be nice if my 6 year playoff drought was just my bad luck in a game of chance, rather than my own fault for having a penchant for picking aging running backs in the first round (Eddie George, Marshall Faulk, ect.) But that would be rather dishonest of me. As the members of my own league will tell you, not only am I a bad owner- my teams also play terrible defense.

Update 8/3/06 @ 4:15 PM: Perhaps my real estate/black jack comparison was not so apt, as a Fan For All Seasons points out. Nonetheless, the appeal of fantasy sports is much different from the appeal of gambling. Far more people play in free fantasy football leagues than play in leagues that charge them money to join. For most fantasy footballers, money prizes are a bonus, not the reason to play in the first place. Additionally, many of the recent complaints about internet gambling have focused on the ease with which one can lose money. "Click a mouse, lose your house" was a slogan coined by one anti-internet gambling politician. Such is not the case with fantasy football, and I would imagine that's not the case with bets placed at the beginning of a season that won't come to fruition for 4 or 5 months. Maybe those sorts of bets, along with fantasy football, are closer to real estate and the stock market than they are to a hand of blackjack. Just goes to show you how arbitrary gambling laws actually are.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

DOPA Versus MySpace

Over at Hit and Run, Julian Sanchez mentions the House having passed the Deleting Online Predators Act this past week.

According to Sanchez,

However much a symptom of moral panic this is, it's probably not a complete disaster in itself if kids can't log in to MySpace at school.

Well, yes and no. The problem with these sorts of laws is not the substance of the laws, but the fact that we have the federal government telling each individual school how to run itself in the first place. (As I previously blogged about here, in relation to school soft drink bans.)

If a local school board, or better yet, a local school, wants to filter out MySpace and other social networking sites, along with banning soft drinks and other sugary beverages, more power to them. But let the parents make these decisions for their kids. Filtering the internet access available to school kids may not be such a horrible idea- After all, kids should be learning, not fooling around at school. But parents and teachers should be the ones that make these policies, not some faceless Congressmen.

And Sanchez is right when he says the schools should be teaching internet safety in the first place. But of course, that would be common sense, and when do any laws like this ever make sense? Let's see, we have internet predators going after children- Well golly, we'll put a stop to that if we cut off access to these bad websites that these kids have from schools. Little Julie would have never gone and met Johnny Predator if she hadn't spent all those hours on MySpace while she was at school. Kids must be doing all this stuff at school, and not at home. Geniuses.

And as to the commenter who asks where Congress's authority comes from in passing this bill, that has a simple answer- Like any federal education law, it is attached to federal dollars earmarked for education.

Updated 8/2/06 @ 11:20 PM : To respond to my commenter, yes this is politics, and it's bad politics. Some parents and teachers complain, so we get a law that forces Congress's solutions upon all parents and teachers. Laws like these are typical of 'bad politics' because you have legislatures making laws to make it look like they're doing something about some perceived social problem. Whether we're talking about soda or MySpace, we're talking about policies that schools are well within their power to implement. So what do we need the federal government for? Thinking big (i.e. looking to bigger and bigger levels of government to solve problems) when it's not needed does nothing but take political authority and responsibility away from individuals, and forces larger numbers of people into 'solutions' they may not be interested in.