Wednesday, January 31, 2007

This Is What It Sounds Like When Eskimos Cry

I actually heard about this book a few months ago, but courtesy of Reason, we have a picture and a brief description of "Artifact: A Tale Of Global Warming."

The United Nations has ventured into children’s publishing with a scary story about a small boy who loses a dogsled race because of global warming. In November the odd little picture book cum policy brief, Tore and the Town on Thin Ice, made the rounds at the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Kenya.

The night after he loses the race by falling through a weak place in the ice, Tore has a dream in which he sees the Inuit goddess Sedna, who warns him that “rich countries use—and waste—an awful lot of energy. Huge cars. Too many cars instead of efficient trains and buses.” The animal kingdom comes out in full force with some nightmarish warnings of its own. A snowy owl tells Tore winning dogsled races “might not be your top worry” soon, since “some people who hunt for a living are already going hungry because a lot of seals and walruses are heading north.” A polar bear moans that he is starving, and then—when Tore gets upset—a whale calls to him: “That’s the spirit! Get good and angry. You’ll need all that energy to make a difference.”

Tore awakes, furious and full of resolve to build solar panels and to nag his parents about their gasoline consumption—the United Nations’ idea of a happy ending.

The New York Times Knows Best

At least according to the editorial page: Mixed News For Wolves. (Here's the story from earlier in the week, from USA Today.

Here's what the Times has to say:

What’s disturbing about this proposal is that two of the states that will assume responsibility for managing the wolves have shown little interest in protecting them. At a recent rally, Idaho’s governor, C. L. Otter, called Butch, said he would authorize the destruction of more than 80 percent of the state’s 650 wolves, leaving the bare minimum required to keep them from being returned to the endangered list. Not to be outdone, Wyoming said it would allow 16 of its 23 wolf packs to be killed on sight. Montana, by contrast, will bar any hunting until officials see how well the wolves are doing, and even then hunting will be strictly monitored.

This eagerness to resume the slaughter is based on claims that the wolves are devastating livestock populations and game animals like elk. These claims have little basis in fact and should be rigorously examined during the public comment period ahead. Even then, the wolves should not be de-listed until Idaho and Wyoming adopt adequate regulatory mechanisms for protecting wolf populations that present no threat to humans, are valuable to the ecosystem and have taken years to rebuild.

Just remember, the Times is disagreeing with the EPA, and more importantly, with all the people who actually live in the states. I'll just let the rest of this stand on it's own.

More Drug War Collateral Damage

Radley Balco has more on another innocent death in the collateral damage of the drug war, here and here. (More kudos to Balco, who deserves the Internet equivalent of a Pulitzer for his work on the war on drugs.)

This time it's an 81 year-old man, Issac Singletary, who found two undercover police officers attempting to make a drug deal on his property. When the undercover officers wouldn't leave the property, Singletary came after them with a gun and the officers fired to defend themselves. And now Singletary is dead.

Balco makes the point that this is not the sort of scenario that could have been easily avoided- there appears to have been no police misconduct and no excessive use of force. End the war on drugs and you don't have SWAT-teams and undercover officers roaming the streets. How many deaths are too many? How many deaths before we say enough? How long until we realize that the cost of individuals' own choices ruining their own lives is a lot less than the cost of the lives of the innocent victims of the war on drugs.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

The Problem With Campaign Finance Laws

Today's Wall Street Journal had a front page article entitled: How Milt Romney Avoided Campaign-Finance Rules. (I only have the hard copy, so, sorry, no link.)

The article describes the loophole that Romney used to raise money for his presidential campaign- because he's not a federal office holder, Romney was not subject to federal regulations until he set up an exploratory committee earlier this month. And while most states do have limitations on political donations, certain states do not have any such limits. So, before officially declaring he was running for president, Romney raised 7 million dollars in Michigan, Iowa, and Alabama- and remember, this is money not subject to the federal $2,300 individual contribution cap.

This brings to mind two comments about campaign finance laws. First, that politicians are going to continue to find their away around these laws. That's what they do. I don't think there's a system that could be put into place that politicians wouldn't find a loophole in.

Second, and more importantly, this just shows the utter ineffectiveness and pointlessness of campaign finance laws to begin with. Everyone decries "big money" in politics, but why is it that some money is bad, and other money is not? Let's look at very simple example. Say I want to run for president and I'm running againast Bill Gates. Bill Gates has billions of dollars, while I have none. If Bill Gates can spend millions on advertising, why shouldn't I be able to raise the money to compete with him? A system that gives the wealthy an inherent advantedge in running for elected office seems patently unfair.

Many people will agree with that point and say, "See, that's why campaigns need to be more heavily regulated in the first place. Either there should be strict limits set on spending by individual candidates, or better yet, all campaigns should be funded with public money."

But hopefully, most people can see the problem with that suggestion. On one hand, someone not running for elected office is free to say what they want and to spend as much money as they want getting out their message. Yet the moment anyone decides they are running for elected office, their freedom to speak their mind and get their message out is restricted? Not only does it make no sense, it seems an anathema to democracy.

The problem with all the talk of campaign finance reform is that people would like to be able to separate speech from money, as if the two concepts were completely distinct. This can't be done. Freedom of speech means nothing without an accompanying right to use your resources to spread your message. If you don't have the resources to get your message out, you might not even be heard. Imagine if someone suggested to major newspapers that the money they spend ought to be limited. The New York Times would go crazy. Yet in their editorial pages, the same New York Times constantly advocates for more restrictions on campaign contributions and campaign spending.

To distinguish campaign expenditures from campaign contributions, as the law currently does, is asinine. Speech can not be separated from money, no matter how much people may want it to be.

Discuss and Debate Amongst Yourselves

Interesting, interesting post at the Volokh Conspiracy on the suppression of the speech of the radical right.

Obviously, this is a very controversial, very interesting subject for debate, so I'll just include a few thoughts of my own. First, it's sort of scary how the sedition argument actually echoes some extreme right wing rhetoric. Let me just say simply that this is why we don't define treason broadly. We don't want to start executing nutty anti-war protesters and nutty religious extremists.

Secondly, is it really true that we have no right to preach the extermination of others, as Chris Hedges suggests? If I were to say that all child rapists should get the death penalty am I really exceeding the bounds of what I should be able to say. Of course, I'm using an extreme example to make a slippery-slope point, but if Hedges wants to lay down a moral principle then everything that moral principle entails should be considered.

The real disconnect here is in regards to the degree of the rhetoric. I don't think there are any radical right preachers who make speeches telling their followers to go out and kill homosexuals. This is the sort of speech that falls close to shouting fire in a crowded theater- it is direct incitement of violence. Arguing that our laws should be changed and certain people should be put to death is the other side of the spectrum- this is pure political speech.

It's easy to lay out a general principal that inciting violence is illegal- it's much harder to lay out a general principle that certain types of speech are beyond the pale, most simply because of the problem of deciding who makes the moral judgments about what speech is okay and what speech is not.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Green Power, Black Death

Just in case anyone was wondering, there is a Green Power, Black Death, Eco-Imperialism website.

I haven't read the book, but I'd probably like it. The idea is- and I challenge anyone to show me or provide me evidence that this isn't true- that environmentalism is a movement of the wealthy and as the result of wrong-headed environmental policies, millions of poor die unnecessarily every year. I really do like the Green Power, Black Death slogan- direct, to the point, and true.

Awwwww Crap

From today's Hartford Courant: Connecticut considering Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI).

For those unfamiliar with my position on global warming, let me just say I am a skeptic of global warming politics- that is, I am skeptical of any discussion of climate change that mandates immediate political action. I am a skeptic because beyond the very basics- it seems like it's getting warmer and it seems as though carbon emissions contribute to that warming- there no definitive science out there with which to craft a political solution.

The article describes what amounts to a cap and trade system. The idea is, that in creating a market for global warming pollution, there will be incentives to develop new technologies that are not so harmful to the environment. In some regards it's not a bad idea, as such systems have worked well in other environmental contexts. However, such a system fails global warming on several basic levels.

First, the system as it's described is inherently unfair, as it targets only energy producers. Energy producers produce energy to meet the demands of consumers, yet any cap and trade system ignores this demand end of the equation. Additionally, as we've all been made well aware by the media, cars are another source of carbon emissions, that are usually unaddressed by any of these sorts of plans.

The problem with cars is essentially similar to the demand problem discussed above, although there is a greater disconnect between the producers and the consumers. When it comes to cars, regardless of what the government does to limit the carbon emissions of vehicles produced by the auto industry, people are still free to drive as much as they want. Any way you a cut it, the dude that drives his new hybrid 400 miles a day is contributing more to global warming than the grandma who drives her new H3 50 miles a week.

Of course, I recognize the practical problems with limiting or directly taxing individual use of cars and energy, but if global warming was really the impending catastrophe it's made out to be, why wouldn't a system more along those lines be a better idea.

I realize this is some what nit picky of me- however, my second problem with these sorts of global measures is more wide reaching. Even if these sorts of programs really worked and really did cut down on our emissions in an efficient manner, it would still do absolutely nothing to reduce global carbon emissions. The dirty little secret, the real inconvenient truth has nothing to do with America- it has to do with the poor in the third world. As poor countries industrialize and develop, they're going to pollute more. It's just the natural order of things. Poor countries don't have the money for the state of the art technology we have in America. In order to develop, in order to raise people's standards of livings, these countries are going to pollute, and they're going to contribute greater and greater amounts of carbon emissions to the atmosphere. Whatever is done in the United States ignores the fact that over the next hundred years or so, poor countries and the developing world are going to become the biggest contributors to global warming.

Of course, you don't really hear this discussed, nor do you hear what's going to be done about it- telling Americans to sacrifice a little of our luxury can be made palatable. Telling poor people to remain in poverty will never be politically feasible.

Just one more interesting bit, before I leave this article:

"I'm doing my best to get the environmental world to understand the energy world is part and parcel of the environmental world," McCarthy said. She linked global warming's higher temperatures to the state's summertime electric power and air pollution crises and to the 2003 heat wave in Europe blamed for at least 22,000 deaths."

That's right, it's because of global warming that people died in a heat wave, and global warming is caused by the technology of our modern world. Of course, more technology means things like air conditioning, climate control, and more efficient means of adapting to inhospitable environmental conditions. Ahhhhh, the paradox.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

More Stupid Drug Warriors

This defense of the war on drugs in Human Events comes via Hit and Run. I agree with Radley Balco- it's not really worth the time or energy debunking. Here's just a sample, perhaps the biggest hypocritical defense of the war on drugs:

If we legalized drugs, we'd be able to tax them and bring in more revenue for the state. But, how is that working out with alcohol and cigarettes? In 2004 and 2005, 39% of all traffic-related deaths was related to alcohol consumption and 36% of convicted offenders "had been drinking alcohol when they committed their conviction offense." When it comes to cigarettes, adult smokers "die 14 years earlier than nonsmokers." But, will we ever get rid of tobacco or alcohol? No, both products are too societally accepted for that and perhaps more importantly, the government makes enormous amounts of revenue from their sale. Do we really want to be sitting around 10 or 15 years from now saying, "Gee, we'd like to get rid of heroin, but how could we replace the revenue we make from taxing it at an exorbitant rate?"

That's right, John Hawkins cites to problems with alcohol and tobacco, but tells us we can't make them illegal because the government makes money off of them and they are socially acceptable. Then he points out that the government revenue is not a very good one, and he's right. So we're left with the real reason that some drugs are legal and some drugs are not: social acceptability. Wow ... great argument guy.

God Forbid We Consider College To Be An Investment ...

Good piece from Jacob Sullum on the problems with the Democrats proposal to cut college loan interest rates. The piece is entitled, "If College Is a Good Investment, Why Should the Government Subsidize It?"

Essentially, the point is that all of this government interference with the market merely serves to raise the costs of college for everyone- lower interest rates may sound like a good idea, but there is always the law of unintended consequences to consider.

I link here to the article with the comments because it's interesting to see some of the reactions from liberals and conservatives alike. The objections come from those who say we should be thinking about the good these sorts of programs do and from those who just flat out don't like it when education is referred to in financial terms as an investment. None of the objectors address the notion that forcing lower interest rates will likely raise costs for everyone and no one considers the fact that any money spent is an investment- spending on education either by the government or as an individual should make financial sense because we don't want to just throw money down the toilet. Now when it comes to the individual, these financial decisions are highly personal. If a wealthy kid wants to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to major in wine- as someone who attended NYU with my girlfriend actually did- then more power to them. The money is no obstacle for them. But to what extent should taxpayers have to subsidize every kid who wants to get a silly or useless degree?

Friday, January 26, 2007

Also On Income Inequality

This via Hit and Run- Incomes and Inequality: What The Numbers Don't Tell Us.

Happiness, possibly the most relevant variable for a study of inequality, is also the hardest to measure. Nonetheless, inequality of happiness is usually less marked than inequality of income, at least in wealthy societies. A man earning $500,000 a year is not usually 10 times as happy as a man earning $50,000 a year. The $50,000 earner still enjoys most of the conveniences of the modern world. Even if more money makes people happier, it appears to do so at a declining rate, which places a natural check on the inequality of happiness.

Studies of personal happiness, based on questionnaires and self-reporting, indicate that the inequality of happiness is not growing over time in the United States. Furthermore, the United States has an inequality of happiness roughly comparable to that of Sweden or Denmark, two nations with strongly egalitarian reputations. (See the symposium in Journal of Happiness Studies, December 2005.) American society offers good opportunities for people to be happy, even if not everyone becomes rich.

If we look at leisure, from 1965 to 2003, less-educated groups experienced a bigger boost in free time than more-educated groups (Mark Aguiar and Erik Hurst, “Measuring Trends in Leisure: The Allocation of Time Over Five Decades,” Federal Reserve Bank of Boston Working Paper). In other words, the high earners are working hard for their money and perhaps they are having less fun.

It's the measures of leisure time I find to be most interesting. In other words, if you're earning a lot of money, you're likely to be working harder than someone who's not earning a lot of money. This is not to insinuate that poverty is a choice, but there is a big difference between working 40 hours per week and 60 hours per week. How bad can poverty really be in this country when we're talking about how much leisure time the poor get. It's all well and nice that the French have a 35-hour work week, but why is that the standard and more importantly, why do we have these standards in the first place? Shouldn't the amount of time you chose to work and earn money and the amount of time you spend relaxing be a matter of personal choice.

It's just sort of interesting to think about, in regards to any government benefit program which is based upon income. Taxpayers might be paying for someone working 30 or 40 hours per week, while someone working 60 hours a week at two jobs may not qualify because they make too much money. Again, just an interesting thought.

Race, Income, and Affirmative Action

This New York Times article, on colleges struggling to overcome bans on racial preferences seems to be a nice segway to this New York Observer review of The Trouble with Diversity: How We Learned to Love Identity and Ignore Inequality, a new book by University of Illinois at Chicago English professor Walter Benn Michaels.

It's interesting to see the two liberal takes at odd with each other- The Times on one hand, prays to the altar of diversity. The article does touch on long-term solutions to racial inequalities, such as ensuring better pre-college education, but in the end, the God of diversity is not to be questioned. Mr. Michael's on the other hand, warns that the focus on diversity and group identities has come at the expense of the poor. While I do have a problem with some of Mr. Michael's reasoning (more on this below), his general theme- as reflected in the title of his book- shines through in the context of affirmative action.

Modern affirmative action has become a means for wealthy and middle class minorities and women to get ahead, which is the root of my problem with the concept. There are problems with our education system that play themselves out with overtly racial overtones- this can't be denied. Living in Connecticut one only need to look at the school systems of Hartford, Bridgeport, and New Haven (all predominately black) and compare them to the school systems of the surrounding white suburbs. The real problem though is not race, but poverty. Poor kids go to inferior schools and then have trouble getting into (and paying for) college. Affirmative action based on income would achieve some of the results desired by diversity advocates and better provide opportunities for poor kids - but for whatever reason we're stuck with a system that values the color of your skin more than your background and the circumstances of your life that may make you unique.

I'd agree with Mr. Michaels if he asked, "why continue to focus on race when it the problems of poverty which are more pressing?" But here's where I lose both Mr. Michaels and his reviewer:

In reality, of course, the whole notion of encouraging economic diversity is farcical: A sane view of social justice involves decreasing the number of poor people, and hence reducing economic diversity. “Indeed,” Mr. Michaels writes, “since economic diversity is just another name for economic inequality, it’s hard to see why we would want to promote it.”

The idea of ending economic inequality is ... well ... Marxism. If we're going to have a free market and a free country there is going to be economic inequality. So, a celebration of economic diversity is really a celebration of freedom. Even poverty, as I've discussed before, is a very relative measure. If everyone in the third world lived as the bottom 20% of American income earners live today, would we call them poor? I'm all for eliminating government barriers that make those at the bottom of the income ladder worse off, but I'm not about to dive off the deep end into a sea of Marxist nonsense.

P.C.U. School Of Law Part II

The follow up to yesterday's story: Students Circle The Round Table For Frank Talk On Divisive Party. Here's a bit more about the "offensive" party.

Photos from the off-campus party, posted on the popular website, offended some students and staff because they depicted mostly white law school students dressed in baggy jeans, puffy jackets, sideways baseball hats, some holding machine guns and 40-ounce malt liquors. Some photos had captions from rap lyrics.

And after not really describing anything being resolved or even anything that was said at these meetings, the piece ends with:

Maurice Headley, another black law student, described it as an example of "unconscious racism," racism so institutionalized in the power structure of today's society that someone doesn't have to actually call someone a racial slur to be insulting.

If you ask me, this party sounds like almost anything you'd find in a typical MTV or BET video. I'd really like to know how on earth this is racism - I'd be really really really curious to know.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

P.C.U. School Of Law

This from my own back yard: Off-Campus Party Theme Called Racially Insensitive. Remember, this is the University of Connecticut, where the lonely libertarian's girlfriend attends law school - I attend Quinnapiac University School of Law, thank God.

The Courant refers to the party as a "Bullets and Bubbly" party - My girlfriend told me that according to her understanding it was a "Pimps and Hoes" party. No matter though, as I think people can get the picture. Here's the biggest "yuck" moment:

Interim Dean Kurt Strasser scheduled the roundtable discussion Wednesday after hearing from members of the Black Law Students Association, as well as some faculty and staff members who were upset about the party, which was held in a private home and drew up to 75 people.

Strasser said he hopes the session will bring the law school community together and provide a "teaching moment."

Personally, I think this is a great big deal being made out of nothing. I do understand that some people may have been upset by this and there's nothing really wrong with a "community dialogue" ... as stupid as that sounds. But providing a "teaching moment?" Come on ...... I mean .... Come on.

What disturbs me the most is not so much the outrage as it is the response to the outrage. Do we really want to live in a society where no one is ever offended? And why is it that we get such moralizing in response to this sort of situation, but other types of moralizing are looked down upon. The conservative Christian "moral majority" is often criticized for attempting to impose their morality on others - Why should it be okay to moralize about how race relations should be, but not okay to moralize about people's sexual relationships. I guess it's what disturbs me most about today's PC, liberal academic environment is not as much the stupidity of the PC as it is the way it's doled out with supposed moral authority.

It's just so damn icky how these things always play out, with people falling all over each other to offer fake apologies. It does no one any good and reinforces the notion that there are certain classes of people who need to be treated with kid gloves. It's insulting to black people and it's insulting to every one's intelligence.

Hair nets, Ear plugs, and libertarian paternalism

From the "this has been kicking around for awhile" file: The Volokh Conspiracy with several links to part of the debate on "libertarian paternalism."

I actually had a thought about the notion of libertarian paternalism in a very different sort of context last week, as I made a pickup at a local dairy plant. The lab where I'm employed picks up samples for quality control everyday at this plant. Before entering certain parts of the plant you are bombarded with warning signs. One reads, "Ear protection required beyond this point." The other reads, "Hair nets required beyond this point." I've walked past the signs numerous times without thinking, but last week, for the first time, it occurred to me how different these requirements are. (And for the purposes of this discussion, let's assume their are laws that require hair nets and ear protection.)

On one hand, you have the ear plug requirement. This is purely a worker safety requirement, to supposedly prevent workers from damaging their hearing while working with loud equipment. Libertarians can question the logic of such a requirement on several levels. First, employers have an interest in not having their workers go deaf. and more importantly, workers themselves are in the best position to decide whether or not they want to use ear protection- they have to deal with the noise level every day. Having some government official telling workers when they have to wear ear protection takes away the right of workers to make this decision for themselves.

The hair net requirement, on the other hand, is not for the protection of the workers- rather it is for the protection of consumers. No one, after all, wants hair in their milk. Libertarians can, and do, argue against such laws, explaining that in the absence of regulation, the market itself will solve these problems. But before looking at the possibility of market solutions, let's look at the difference between hair nets and ear plugs. The key difference is the element of individual choice. An ear plug regulation takes away freedom from those in the best position to decide whether or not they need ear plugs. And more importantly, if any mistakes are made, they costs are borne by the individuals making the decisions. When it comes to regulations designed with the consumer in mind, the public is who would be hurt by contaminated milk, and they have only indirect power to determine the milk company's policies. They are far removed from the decision making process, but bear the brunt of any mistakes in the milk production process.

To go back to the libertarian argument, libertarians will argue that should government health regulations be abolished, private health associations would arise that would set standards and provide the public with information about the health of various products and facilities. Of course, this is merely replacing the system of public regulation with a system of private regulation. Of course, while this may be a worthy goal, this tells us that certain regulations designed to protect consumers are not bad in and of themselves.

In some cases, legal regulations may actually be preferable to purely private requirements. (Of course, you could make the requirements of a private health association legal binding on those looking for association approval, but then you're talking about a system in which legal regulations are essentially passed in a different manner than today.) If you buy contaminated milk, you can make bring a suit for fraud or negligence against the milk producer. Having regulations in place promotes judicial efficiency by specifying what industry standards are, limiting the need for any searching judicial inquiry, and more importantly, having regulations in place keeps the judges from having to make legal decisions about what industry practices should be in the first place. Regulation provides a framework for resolving legal disputes that are bound to arise in any modern society.

This discussion delves a a bit from the law professor discussion, but it's meant to. Any real debate over "libertarian paternalism" is basically the same debate libertarians tend to have over and over and over again. It's a question of how small government can be and how little government can do - the macho debate as to who's the purest libertarian.

Personally, I find such discussions counter-productive. Who cares whether or not there can be such a thing as a "libertarian paternalist." For libertarians to be any sort of effective political force they need to focus on the easy things first and pick away at the bloated government one step at a time. The distinction I've made here is important. No one, libertarians included, thinks a milk company should be able to sell contaminated milk as "fresh milk." Discussions of the legal mechanisms to prevent this are important, but not as important as restoring the power of choice to the American people. Surely, all libertarians can agree on the importance of restoring choice to the American people- and the notion of individual choice is one that can be understand by those who aren't libertarians.

More importantly, getting rid of ear plug type regulations is a simple matter of putting individuals back in control of their own lives. Changing the legal mechanisms which ensure that people aren't poisoned or defrauded is going to be a bit more difficult and it can't just be done over night.

As someone who cares deeply about libertarian principles, I think these distinctions are imperative today. If we were to have a truly libertarian society at some point in the future, there's going to be a lot to fight out later on- public schools and public roads, along with everything I've mentioned above. But we'll never even get to these arguments, if we can't chip away at a system that infringes on our individual right to make choices about our own lives. It's a matter of priorities and a question of whether or not you want being a libertarian to actually mean something.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

And speaking of tobacco ...

I finally saw the film Thank You For Smoking. It's just great. Similar to the way South Park can pull one's philosophical strings, I was reminded of all the Nietzsche I read in college, as morality in the film was flipped in a very politically incorrect way.

Many critics miss the point- on the bonus features there is a segment from the Charlie Rose show, where Charlie interviews the minds behind the movie, including screenwriter and director Jason Reitman and Christopher Buckley author of the original novel. Charlie asks about the supposed anti-hero, Nick Naylor, and asks if people like to watch a tobacco lobbyist in action because they enjoy watching how a con man works. This is the point where plenty of people just don't get it. They can go half way- and see that crusading senators and intrepid reporters aren't always the moral beacons they are made out to be- but they can't go the rest of the way and see that Naylor really is the hero of this movie. The lines Naylor shoots off in the film about freedom and choice and the hypocrisy of those who spend their time bashing big tobacco are not meant purely is spin- Naylor only presents them as spin because he's a lobbyist- everything he does is spin.

Charlie Rose calls Naylor a con man, but in reality, he's one of the most honest characters in the movie- at least he's honest about what he does, to others and to himself. He sells cigarettes and isn't ashamed to do it. All the other characters (other than his son, of course) reek of moral ambivalence and wishy-washnyness. Tobacco wouldn't need any spin if it hadn't been left as a legal product that everyone from school teachers to senators will spend their life condemning.

I bring up Nietzsche because I remember being intrigued with the notion in college that Christian morality had flipped traditional morality on it's head. To be meek was morally righteous, and the strong and the powerful were condemned. The same sort of morality pervades our culture today, where victimhood is celebrated and individual success is shunned or downplayed. What's more righteous- to crusade against substances and activities you find harmful, or to crusade for those substances and activities in the name of free choice?

Told You So

This from the Competitive Enterprise Institute: The Nations Top Ten Worst State Attorney Generals. And number one worst state attorney general is ... dum dum dum dum ... none other than Connecticut's own Richard Blumenthal.

Here's a snippet of the report, regarding Blumenthal's shady goings on as part of the crusade against "big tobacco."

First came all the shenanigans stemming from the tobacco lawsuits and settlement of the 1990s. While he was not the instigator, Blumenthal, more than anybody else, is responsible for the multi-state act of corruption and cartelism known as the Master Settlement Agreement (MSA). Wealthy trial lawyers across the nation received $14 billion nationally in attorneys’ fees10 under a $246 billion-plus settlement paid for primarily by smokers—the alleged victims of the very fraud that begat the settlement.

The settlement was structured to allow the major tobacco companies to maintain their market share and raise prices in unison in order to pass settlement costs on to smokers. Together, state attorneys general and major tobacco companies were also able to force smaller tobacco companies that had never been accused of any fraud to join the settlement or pay penalties for not doing so. In a word, the settlement created a cartel, defeating free competition. As the federal appeals court with jurisdiction over Blumenthal’s home state of Connecticut observed, had the tobacco company executives entered into a similar settlement without the collusion of the attorneys general, “they would long ago have had depressing conversations with their attorneys about the United States Sentencing Guidelines.” By getting a state official such as Blumenthal to sign their settlement, the tobacco companies were able to claim that the cartel was exempt from antitrust laws under a loophole known as “state action” immunity, which exempts many state-recognized cartels under the generous assumption that state officials would not sign off on a cartel unless it promoted the public interest.

The tobacco settlement was joined by 46 states—dubbed “Settling States”—but many of its provisions apply nationally, a major encroachment on state autonomy. The MSA requires tobacco companies that join the settlement to make payments to the Settling States based on their national cigarette sales, including sales in states that did not even join the tobacco settlement. Worse, it requires companies that never joined
the settlement agreement to make payments, even though, in the U.S. legal system, court settlements are not supposed to affect the rights of non-parties.14 Moreover, such companies must make payments on any of their cigarettes which end up in the Settling States, even cigarettes resold without their knowledge by third parties in a Settling State.

Previously on 24 ...

Previously on 24 ...

Jack defies death yet again, this time to jump a bomb wielding, terrorist shark. Well, not quite. In reality, last night Jack saved a dude from a helicopter in a random act of heroism, before heading off to his brother's house in an attempt to extract information from this previously unknown (from the audience's perspective) sibling. That's right Jack has a brother and a father we didn't know about- And, of yeah, the brother is the shady character who was manipulating President Logan last season.

I haven't given up on the show completely, but if you can't smell the end coming you must have had your nose bitten off by the aforementioned shark. I'll watch because of Jack, the production value of the show, and the fact that terrorists with nukes demand my attention, but through the first five hours of day six, let's just take a look at what we've got.

First, the overarching plot is why we watch- terrorists have already detonated one nuke, and they have four more. And, an ex-terrorist (none other than Deep Space Nine's Dr. Bashir) is now committed to peace and committed to stopping these attacks. This is all good. But what's missing is the subtle character drama and interconnected subplots which made 24 so wonderful in the past. Everything this season is just so over the top. The dialogue is stale, as most of the characters waste screen time rehashing the action, the character traits, and everything else we already know. The number of hence before unknown relatives occupying important plot positions has become a bit ridiculous. The Palmer sister, who's name escapes me, spent most of last night pestering the FBI as they attempted to run an undercover operation. I don't understand her motivation, unless it turns out that she's a terrorist. And all the potential dramatic setups involving Jack's family was painfully transparent.

24 on many occasions has bordered on the ridiculous, but in the past it's managed to walk that line between good fun and absurdity. Maybe I'll turn out to be wrong, but this season it's pushing ever closer to the wrong side of the line.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

More NFL Blogging: The Hall of Fame

I've always enjoyed hall of fame debates and I find the NFL Hall of Fame paticularly fascinating. On this year's short list of potential inductees are wide receivers Art Monk, Michael Irvin, and Andre Reed, along with running back Thurman Thomas. There are no quartberbacks on this year's short list. Currently, from the modern era (1945 to the present day) there are 23 quarterbacks, 24 running backs, and 17 wide receivers.

Wide receivers are a paticulary interesting group- Only three wide recievers in the Hall of Fame played the majority of their career in the 80's- Steve Largent, James Lofton, and John Stallworth, and one of those (Stallworth) is much more well known for his Super Bowl victories with the Steelers in the 70's than for anything he did in the 80's.

Among running backs, Barry Sanders is the only 90's inductee, although among quarterbacks, Troy Aikmen, John Elway, Jim Kelly, Dan Marino, Warren Moon, and STeve Young all represent the final decade of the twentieth century.

Going beyond the question of Monk, Irvin, Reed, and Thomas, the interesting question is who else should (and shouldn't) be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Let's take a look at all three positions.


This may be the simplest cattagory. There are no significant quarterbacks who have been left out, there are none waiting the mandatory five year period to be inducted, and among the current crop of quarterbacks, Brett Favre, Peyton Manning, and Tom Brady should be locks. Favre and Manning will go for their phenomenal numbers and Brady for his championships.

Clearly numbers do not mean everything for quarterbacks- Vinny Testervede and Drew Bledsoe have great career numbers, but none seriously thinks either of them should be in the Hall of Fame. The same goes for Boomer Esiason and Dave Krieg from the previous generation. For the younger guys, McNabb is a possibility, but with no rings and not enough yet in the numbers department, he still would have a ways to go.

Running backs

There are several locks who will be inducted as soon as they can be- Emmitt Smith, Curtis Martin, Jerome Bettis, and Marshall Faulk. Throwing them in the mix as running backs of the 90's, this means that about five to six running backs per decade, on average are Hall of Famers. So who does that leave amongst today's RB's? What's interesting is the number of running backs in the last twenty years or so who have posted big numbers. To get into the Hall of Fame today, you're likely going to need to finish your career with not just good, but great numbers- like Martin and Bettis finishing #4 and #5 all time respectively, or Marshall Faulk's 136 career TD's

Here's the list of active (or recently retired) running backs not yet in the hall of fame, but worthy of consideration. Beyond this year's nominee Thurman Thomas there is Eddie George, Ricky Watters, Corey Dillon, Tiki Barber, Edgerrin James, Fred Taylor, Warrick Dunn, Shaun Alexander, Ladanian Tomlinson, and possibly Priest Holmes.

And meanwhile, don't forget the younger running backs who could come to dominate the second half of this decade- Larry Johnson, Steven Jackson, Brian Westbrook, Rudi Johnson, and who knows who else.

See the problem as far as these running backs go- I've named 15, and in all likiehood, only five or six of them are hall of famers. Obviously, a lot will depend on how everyone names finishes their careers. But just looking at numbers today, it's hard to distinguish anyone on the list. Ladanian Tomlinson will probably end his career in catagory by himself, and Alexander could be a lock too, with a couple more good years. Tiki Barber was probably in the same position, but retiring at the top of his game will undoubetdly hurt his Hall of Fame chances.

Among all the players on this list here's who has numbers that stand out: Thurman Thomas with 16,500 plus career total yards and Ladanian Tomlinson and Shaun Alexander, both with 100 plus career TD's. I'd put them at the top of any list. Watch how Thomas does this year- if he doesn't make it, maybe no one on the list of maybes is going to make it with what they've done to this point.

Wide Receivers

This is the most fun. Look at the top twenty receivers all time in terms of receptions and you'll find only three- Steve Largent, James Lofton, and Charlie Joiner- who are in the Hall of Fame. Similar to running backs, going with about five or six players a decade, this leaves up to 10 spots for wide receivers from 1985-2005. So who gets in?

First, the locks- Jerry Rice, Cris Carter, Marvin Harrison, and Tim Brown, all with 13,000 plus yards, over 1,000 catches, and all with over 100 TD's.

Everyone else is a question mark. On that list of everyone else is Art Monk, Andre Reed, Michael Irvin, Irving Fryar, Henry Ellard, Jimmy Smith, Issac Bruce, Terrell Owens, Torry Holt, and Randy Moss. And if you're going to be thourough you really should include Rod Smith, Keenan McCardell, Muhsin Muhammad, Eric Moulds, Joey Galloway, Andre Rison, Gary Clark, Keyshawn Johnson and maybe even Sterling Sharpe. That's a list of 19, not including young up-and-comers like Chad Johnson and Steve Smith.

As much as I hate to give credit to Michael Irvin, I think you need to ask yourself which receivers on this list were playmakers- Irvin certainly was. Sterling Sharpe was too, and I think he warrants consideration despite a career that was cut short. Who else goes in the playmaker cattagory? No one else stands out, other than TO and Randy Moss, and maybe Torry Holt and Irving Fryar.

So who else gets in on numbers? Well, remember, with receivers, receptions probably get the least respect- we'll look more to yards and TD's. So who are the leaders amongst this group in terms of yards and TD's? The top five for yards (after our 4 locks) are Henry Ellard, Andre Reed, Irving Fryar, Art Monk, and Jimmy Smith. The top five for TD's are Terrell Owens, Randy Moss, Andre Reed, Irving Fryar, and Andre Rison.

Interesting, huh? Personally, I'm not sure if Fryar or Reed or Hall of Famers, but they're the two on both lists. As I mentioned before, I think Irvin is, and I think Sterling Sharpe warrants serious consideration. And if Sharpe warrants consideration, Randy Moss does too, regardless of how his career works out over the next few years. After all, a Hall of Famer should be the sort of player that inspired fear in oponents- Sharpe, Irvin, and Moss all did that. I'm not sure anyone else did.

The Stats
Retired Receivers
Jerry Rice 1549 catches for 22,895 yards, 197 TD's (20 years)
Cris Carter 1101 catches for 13,899 yards, 130 TD's (16 years)
Tim Brown 1094 catches for 14,934 yards, 100 TD's (17 years)
Andre Reed 951 catches for 13,198 yards, 87 TD's (16 years)
Art Monk 940 catches for 12,721 yards, 68 TD's (16 years)
Jimmy Smith 862 catches for 12,287 yards, 67 TD's (12 years)
Irving Fryar 851 catches for 12,785 yards, 84 TD's (17 years)
Henry Ellard 814 catches for 13,777 yards, 65 TD's (16 years)
Michael Irvin 750 catches for 11,904 yards, 65 TD's (12 years)
Andre Rison 743 catches for 10,205 yards, 84 TD's (13 years)
Sterling Sharpe 595 catches for 8,134 yards, 65 TD's (7 years)
Gary Clark 699 catches for 10,856 yards, 65 TD's (11 years)

Active Receivers
Torry Holt 712 catches for 10,675 yards, 64 TD's (8 years)
Keyshawn Johnson 814 catches for 10,571 yards, 64 TD's (11 years)
Keenan McCardell 861 catches for 11,117 yards, 62 TD's (16 years)
Muhsin Muhammad 702 catches for 9,364 yards, 53 TD's (11 years)
Terrell Owens 801 catches for 11,715 yards, 114 TD's (11 years)
Randy Moss 676 catches for 10,700 yards, 101 TD's (9 years)
Eric Moulds 732 catches for 9,653 yards, and 49 TD's (11 years)
Marvin Harrison 1102 catches for 13,697 yards, 122 TD's (11 years)
Joey Galloway 612 catches for 9,558 yards, 71 TD's (12 years)
Issac Bruce 887 catches for 13,376 yards, 80 TD's (13 years)
Rod Smith 849 catches for 11,389 yards, 68 TD's (12 years)

Running Backs
Emmitt Smith 4,409 carries for 18,355 yards (4.2 ypc) 164 TD's
(3,224 yards receiving, 11 TD's - 15 years)
Curtis Martin 3,518 carries for 14,101 yards (4.0 ypc) 90 TD's
(3,329 yards receiving, 10 TD's - 11 years)
Jerome Bettis 3,479 carries for 13,662 yards (3.9 ypc) 91 TD's
(1,449 yards receiving, 3 TD's - 13 years)
Marshall Faulk 2,836 carries for 12,279 yards (4.3 ypc) 100 TD's
(6,875 yards receiving, 36 TD's - 12 years)
Thurman Thomas 2,877 caries for 12,074 yards (4.2 ypc) 65 TD's
(4,458 yards receiving, 23 TD's - 13 years)
Ricky Watters 2,622 carries for 10,643 yards (4.1 ypc) 78 TD's
(4,248 yards receiving, 13 TD's - 10 years)
Eddie George 2,865 carries for 10,441 yards (3.6 ypc) 68 TD's
(2,227 yards receiving, 10 TD's - 10 years)
Corey Dillon 2,618 carries for 11,241 yards (4.3 ypc) 82 TD's
(1,913 yards receiving, 7 TD's - 10 years)
Tiki Barber 2,217 carries for 10,449 yards (4.7 ypc) 55 TD's
(5,183 yards receiving, 12 TD's - 10 years)
Edgerrin James 2,525 carries for 10,385 yards (4.1 ypc) 70 TD's
(3,056 yards receiving, 11 TD's - 8 years)
Fred Taylor 2,062 carries for 9,513 yards (4.6 ypc) 56 TD's
(2,205 yards receiving, 8 TD's - 9 years)
Shaun Alexander 1,969 carries for 8,713 yards (4.4 ypc) 96 TD's
(1,435 yards receiving, 11 TD's - 7 years)
Ladanian Tomlinson 2,050 carries for 9,176 yards (4.5 ypc) 100 TD's
(2,900 yards, 11 TD's + 6 TD passes in 6 years)
Warrick Dunn 2,256 carries for 9,461 yards (4.3 ypc) 43 TD's
(3,771 yards receiving, 15 TD's - 10 years)
Priest Holmes 1,734 carries for 8,035 yards (4.6 ypc) 86 TD's
(1,945 yards receiving, 8 TD's - 9 years)

Monday, January 15, 2007

NFL Blogging

I've avoided too much discussion of the NFL on this blog because I could go on and on and on if no one stopped me. That being said, here are some brief thoughts from the second round of the NFL playoffs and more importantly from the Patriots win this weekend.

# I've already heard a lot on sports talk radio this morning about how the Chargers handed the game to Patriots, but lets give the Patriots some credit for finishing the game off. The fact of the matter is, after Troy Brown stripped the ball from Marlon McCree following McCree's fourth down interception, the Patriots had the ball at the Chargers 32, down by 8, with only 6 minutes left. Yeah, the Chargers dumb mistakes had cost them until that point, but from that point on the Patriots took control of the game. From that point on, Tom Brady was 6 of 9 for 100 yards and 1 TD, leading the Patriots on two scoring drives. The Chargers didn't stop them. In between the Patriots two scores, the Chargers went three and out. I'm not going to say the Pats didn't get lucky, but luck only helped to keep them in the game- Brady and the defense came through in the end to win the thing.

# Early this season the Patriots were blasted by many, including their own fans for letting Deion Branch get away. The Patriots off season wide receiver acquisition was Reche Caldwell, formerly of the Chargers. While the Chargers current wide receivers were dropping balls, catching only four passes amongst them in the entire game, Caldwell was busy catching 7 balls for 80 yards, including the game tying touchdown and a the 49 yarder on 3rd and ten that essentially won the Patriots the game. And by the way, Deion Branch, who got 36 million to play for the Seahawks had 8 catches for 96 yards and no touchdowns in 2 playoff games. Caldwell's numbers through two playoff games: 12 catches, 130 yards and 1 touchdown. And Jabar Gafney, Caldwell's former teammate at Florida and a Patriot mid season acquisition: 18 catches, 207 yards, and 1 touchdown.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

More About Freak Dancing

This story on freak dancing was too priceless to pass up, from a very conservative college student columnist. The columnist, Hans Zeigler, describes his own experiences while in high school:

When I was a sophomore at Puyallup High School near Seattle, parental concerns over excessive freak dancing led to new rules for the 2001 Valentine's Day Ball. Students and administrators worked together to formulate a reasonable compromise that included things like no simulated sex acts, no ankle grabbing, and no lewd groping. But renegade students, determined to repudiate the new rules, organized a competing no-rules dance at the Liberty Theater down the street from the high school. At the time, I was Class President, and I organized a meeting at which I addressed my class of 500 on the importance of public modesty and school spirit. My exhortations went unheeded by the several hundred students who ended up at the anarchic orgy down the street.

That's right, no ankle grabbing and no lewd groping. Sounds like prison rules. Also, I think I may have gone to the wrong high school. Damn missing out on the orgies down the street!

In all seriousness, to expand on what I was saying in my previous post, I'm baffled as to why all these graphic rules are needed. Surely high school chaperones and teachers have the authority to stop any behavior they find inappropriate at a high school dance. I'm posting here because I'm utterly baffled at the responses from every direction. Is there any sanity left in the world?

And speaking of sanity, cue the apocalyptic conservative warning:

Even the rebellious Baby Boomers were quite puritanical in their dance styles, I'm told, in contrast to this generation. Generation Y is bumping and grinding its way to the gates of perdition. The promiscuity, the abortions, the broken hearts, the empty minds, the annihilated souls are proof of a generation that is literally "freaking" out.

"George Michael!! What are you doing at a high school dance?"

In local Connecticut news, The Hartford Courant reports on Students pushing limits with freak dancing. The New York Times actually did a few stories on this back in December, so obviously, now this is a concern nation wide. The Courant reports on the letter sent home to parents by the Simsbury High School principal Neil Sullivan, describing this new style of dancing in detail so parents would be able to comprehend the gravity of the situation.

"In the kind of dancing that we are seeing, the male student stands directly behind the female student. He then places his hands either on his partner's hips or around her midsection. At the same time, he presses his pelvic region against his partner's buttocks. As the music plays, the students then thrust or grind to the beat of the music. Sometimes, girls will even bend over as they dance, placing their hands on the floor while their male partner grinds against their backside."

This, of course, spawned a student-crafted parody, which is always heartening.

"I will (now) proceed to be as awkward as possible and describe the method of `back to front dancing,'" he wrote in the parody. "First the male selects a female and approaches her directly from behind. He then mounts her by placing his hands on her lower frontal area while pushing his pelvic region into her buttocks."

Barrett included other terms for the dance, such as "getting jiggy with it," "gettin' low," "dirty dancing" or "fun." He also joked that the pregnancy rate at the school had increased 87 percent since the dance style was introduced and students had suffered "numerous groin and calf pulls" because they hadn't stretched before "getting their freak on."

I am somewhat sympathetic to the conservative point of view here, but I still can't help but find the story funny. These high school dances don't exist in a vacuum - just watch MTV and BET to see where your kids get this from. Nothing the school is going to do is going to change ideas and activities that are ingrained as part of today's youth culture. I guess I find it funny because it's a Blue State liberal response to what is ultimately a social conservative-type issue. And of course, the media as always misses the point- either this is a larger issue (about the media and the sexualization of our children at a younger and younger age) or it isn't.

I mention George Michael above, because as fans of Arrested Development will tell you, we certainly can't imagine the show's resident high schooler doing any sort of freak dancing.

Enter the Democrats

Two stories from today's New York Times:

House Democrats Pass Bill on Medicare Drug Prices.

House Democrats Propose Cuts In Student Loan Rates.

For conservatives and libertarians who shied away from the Republicans in November's election because of Republican failures to control spending and control the budget, yes, it can get worse.

Yes, but ... (Thoughts on the troop surge and the escalation of the war)

I've avoided commenting on President Bush's speech and the supposed change in strategy in Iraq because I feel vastly underqualified to say much of anything. War supporters say they want victory and accuse anti-war activists of rooting for defeat, but is it really that simple? After all, any calculation of victory depends solely on a definition of victory in the first place- I don't think President Bush has ever really provided one, although to be fair, no one else has either. We could declare victory today and head home, but the vast majority of the American people- and the vast majority of Congress would not find that palatable. Personally I don't think any notion of victory can really be determined until 10-15-or maybe even 20 years down the road. If at that point Iraq is in chaos and we have chaos in the Middle East we can call this war a failure- if Iraq is at peace, and terrorism declines worldwide, than I'd call the war a success.

At this point I will listen to any criticism of the Bush administration as far as the conduct of the war- as I've said, I just don't feel knowledgeable enough to weigh in on strategy or diplomatic relations. The one thing that I still will not accept is the supposed immorality of this war. In the long run we may well decide that this war was poorly planned, poorly executed, and detrimental to our national security, but that doesn't make the war immoral. Saddam was a bad dictator and we removed him from power and freed the Iraqi people. Period.

I have grown increasingly concerned about the apparent lack of a real plan from the Bush administration and even more concerned at the number of incidents that erode American moral authority in the realm of public opinion. Many conservatives will argue that this is unfair- that a small number of isolated incidents should not reflect poorly on what has been one of the most benign occupations in the history of war. But this argument misses the fact that this is not 1945 and we live in a world of 24-7 media coverage. Like it or not, public opinion and media coverage matters, and ever scandal is scrutinized. If our plan is what I stated above- a free and democratic Iraq as a launching point for ending radical Islamic terrorism- then we need to win the battle of public opinion just as much as we need to win the actual battle on the ground. I think at this point, Bush realizes this too, but he's a couple years too late to the party.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Terminator 4

Dr. House Wins

Dr. House wins! I actually raised my fist in triumph at the conclusion of last night's episode when we found out House had been faking the whole rehab thing and hadn't given up his Vicadin. Oh, and by the way- I was right and Jacob Sullum was wrong. Of course, as Jacob Sullum indicates in his latest post (the one linked to up above), he is very happy to have been wrong.

I had faith that the plot wouldn't take the politically correct route not because of politics but because of people- Actually sending House into rehab would destroy his character, leaving him with no credibility with us, the audience. I actually thought the plot devices used to tie up the whole drug prosecution story were a bit hokey, but better a few bad plot devices than the sacrifice of your character.

Unlike some of the commentors on reason, I'd rather not read into what this plot thred "means for libertarianism." I'm simply happy that a major network drama is willing to push the limits of conventional thinking. After all, isn't that what pop culture really supposed to do for us?

Monday, January 08, 2007

Hippocrates Shrugged

I've finally taken the time over winter break to finally read Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged, which has been previously recommended to me on numerous occasions. For those of you who may not know, Atlas Shrugged is a very long novel about the death and rebirth of man's spirit. It is, essentially, Ayn Rand's philosophy of objectivism hashed out in epic form. I won't get into it here, but objectivism shares much in common with modern libertarianism. Most importantly for my purposes here, the two philosophies share a strong moral belief in the free market and a strong belief in the power and morality of the individual. Fifty years later, much of the novel still seems relevant. In particular the cluelessness of academics and the media seems to be right on target, as both institutions continue to degrade business and wealth even as America decays into a dark age. I'm about half way through and I've enjoyed every moment so far. Future readers should be warned that the characters exist to push the philosophy and there are a number of long-winded speeches.

But despite how enjoyable the novel is, just like Hayek's The Road to Serfdom, which I finally read this past fall, it seems obvious that the very worst predictions of free market defenders have not come true. On one hand this is a triumph of mankind- we have not decayed into slavery and poverty and the human spirit, the human will to succeed has not been crushed. We have not descended to communism or collectivism, and the idea of the free market has been accepted, in theory, by the powers that be in the world today. Today, the debate we face is over regulation, and even opponents of the free market tend to frame their arguments in market language in order to make their arguments more palatable.

Today we have a new enemy of freedom and that is the pursuit of environmental health and more recently the pursuit of the nebulous concept of public health. This is an enemy that is more invidious than the collectivists of yesterday. As opposed to any notion of "the common good" we're specifically told "the individual good" - that is, we're told to do things not because it's for the good of society, but because it's for our own good.

This is particularly invidious because the logical premises behind what we're told is usually true. Yes, smoking is bad for us. Yes, it's unhealthy to be obese. But based on these premises, we're told to forgo making individual choices and succumb to the will of democratic majorities- Submit to anti-smoking and anti-obesity programs!

The sad thing is, society as a whole has generally rejected these notions when it comes to spiritual and moral issues. Government shouldn't tell us what kind of family we should have, how we worship, and who we should have sex with. Yet when such demands on the individual are made in the name of science and public health, many of the same people who argue strongly for individual rights in other regards turn a blind eye to public health laws.

I worry that a new Democratic Congress will push for some sort of national health plan- and I worry that Connecticut's Republican governor has proposed the same thing here in my own state. I worry because any government plan means less choice, more regulation, and less freedom. I worry that the health of the individual- which should be no one's business but your own- is slowly becoming a matter of public policy. And I worry that the greatest threat to our freedom today comes not in the form of a Marxist enemy, but in the form of government officials and public health advocates who truly believe they are acting in the best interest of the individual.

For those of you who may think I'm crazy, one needs look no further than the reactions to the recent e.coli outbreaks in spinach and lettuce to find evidence of the new public health mindset that has taken hold. There was little discussion of science and even less discussion of any sort of risk benefit analysis. Rather, there were calls for more government regulation and more government oversight, even though no one could specify just what it was the government should be doing. (Which comes to think of it, would be very much at home in Atlas Shrugged.) We've come to the point where we're left not with logic, not with reason, and not with individual choice, but with mandates and a notion that our health and ultimately our lives are the responsibility of government.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Political Quiz

Check out this really awful quiz on your political leanings. (A number of other bloggers have linked to the quiz, which Eugene Volokh, among others, feels is pretty dumb.

I'll defer to Prof. Volokh's criticisms (which I whole heartily agree with) of the ambiguities and other specific problems of individual questions. I wanted to post to point out that quizzes such as these are precisely what is wrong with political discourse in this country today. It's not so much the bi-polar nature of the quiz as it is the worldview that one's political views can be so neatly packaged. As I've mentioned time and time again, take any controversial issue and you'll find individuals whose positions seem to defy their self-identified labels. For instance, there are pro-life liberals and there are pro-choice conservatives.

The problem with a line that runs from extreme liberal to extreme conservative is that libertarians like myself can end up scoring virtually the same as populists who support government regulation in both the social and economic realms. Two politically distinct individuals could both score a 20 on this sort of political quiz even when they answered every single question differently. And to call both those individuals "moderates" when they don't agree on anything is beyond ridiculous.

All the recent talk in the blogosphere about "liberaltarians" and the move of some libertarians away from the Republicans and to the Democrats is simply another example of intelligent people falling into the same political trappings we've been force fed for years. Rather than worrying about whether Democrats or Republicans are the lesser evil, libertarians of all stripes should work on changing the political discourse in this country. In the end, the conservative and liberal labels are based not so much on one's positions on all the issues, but on the issues that individuals find to be important. To go back to abortion, neither pro-choice conservatives or pro-life liberals are likely to rank abortion as very high on their list of priorities. Libertarians need to replace the traditional liberal/conservative dichotomy with a dichotomy that has freedom on one end and authoritarianism at the other. After all, both conservatives and liberals are arguing for some sort of regulation that libertarians oppose. If libertarians can just position themselves as the political philosophy of "more freedom," maybe we can actually convert some of the free market liberals and individualist conservatives.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Big Love

The lonely libertarian's brother was nice enough to get him season one of HBO's Big Love for Christmas and I just finished watching it over the New Years holiday. I give the show a lot of credit for a sympathetic portrayal of an alternative lifestyle that truly is outside the mainstream. Perhaps the most enjoyable aspect of the show is watching Bill Hendrickson, his three wives, and his seven kids remain under the public radar, or in the closet if you will. Sure you can find faults in the family and it's members, but their unique family structure serves to blunt the effects of some of those faults. We see how polygamy works from them. It's hard to watch the show and wonder why, in an era where the push for gay rights has become so strong, other alternative lifestyles have been left behind.

Damned If You Do, Damned If You Don't

More Fun With Spinach

Somewhat interesting, somewhat stupid, from yesterday's New York Times- When Bad Things Come From Good Food. What's interesting is the often mentioned irony of deadly food pathogens coming from the healthiest, most natural of foods. What's stupid? This right here ...

Over the past 30 years, diseases linked to produce have increased, Dr. Braden said. Increased ability to detect outbreaks may explain part of the increase, but not all of it, he added.

“We’re convinced it’s real in large part,” he said. “We’re seeing an increased number of outbreaks, an increased number of cases in outbreaks, and an increase in the number of types of produce involved.”

The reason is not known for sure. But, Dr. Braden said: “The way produce is farmed and processed has changed. It’s become more centralized, and you have these huge processors and distributors that produce tens of thousands of pounds of a particular produce in a particular day. If something goes wrong with that produce you’ve got a big problem, whereas with small farmers, if there is a problem it’s much more limited.”

In addition, he said, bagged and prewashed produce didn’t exist 25 years ago, and people today eat more raw vegetables than in the past.

“There’s probably more susceptible people eating those things,” Dr. Braden said. “We have an aging population, and more people with chronic medical conditions that might make them more susceptible.”

So in other words- there are more outbreaks because 1- We are able to detect more outbreaks, 2- Food is mass produced in greater numbers, meaning outbreaks are potentially more wide reaching, and 3- People eat more food susceptible to outbreaks and we have more elderly eating such foods. Now why so I say it's stupid to have pointed this out? Well, it's the context. Read on and you'll find all of these recommendations of the context of "something must be done!" Why doesn't it occur to anyone in the mainstream media that maybe there isn't all much we can do about this problem at this point? Irradiation is a possible solution, but food producers and distributors need to know that such technological fixes won't be rejected by the government.

For those overly concerned about food safety, the best solution is so easy, even a caveman can do it- cook your food and cook it thoroughly! We don't eat raw meat, raw milk or raw eggs anymore- so maybe we should take notice that eating raw vegetables could potentially have the same risks.

Now this is not to say the risks are the same. I'd never eat raw chicken, but I'm not going to give up eating fresh salads. The point is just to be aware. And maybe keep your bed ridden granny away from the raw spinach salad. Just don't look for help in the form of magical government solutions.