Tuesday, February 27, 2007

James Taranto Hates Poly Amorous People

From yesterday's Best of the Web, while discussing the polygamy brought up in regards to the Mormon ancestors of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney:

Now, this column yields to no one in our repugnance to polygamy. The Supreme Court held in 1890, "The organization of a community for the spread and practice of polygamy is, in a measure, a return to barbarism," and who are we to disagree?

Some people say the same thing about gay marriage today and people said the same sorts of things about interracial marriage a generation ago. It's just as bigoted today.

X-treme Eating?

This press release from the Center For Science In The Authoritarian Interest made the news rounds yesterday: Chain Restaurants Charged With Promoting X-treme Eating.

You've probably heard the story before - lots of stuff from the sit-down chain restaurants isn't so good for you. Most of us knew that already. And most of us also already knew that there's probably not all that much difference between the heavy, large portions at sit-down chains and the heavy, large portions at local mom-and-pop restaurants. Of course, mom and pop aren't mentioned because it's a lot easier to blame a faceless corporation than it is to blame mom and pop.

Future Cartman: Haha, it's me, Cartman! You from the future. I came back to tell you that this is the day you turn it all around. You stop eating junk food and you start studying harder, you stay away from drugs and alcohol and you become CEO of your own time-travel company!

Cartman: [sets the box of cookies down] Oh wow, really? That's so awesome! Now I'll really work to be successful!

Future Cartman: Right on!

Cartman: Go have sex with yourself, asshole! I'm not that stupid! Just for that, I'm gonna spend my whole childhood eating what I waunt, and doin' drugs when I waunt! Whatevuh! I'll do what I waunt!

Monday, February 26, 2007

More Al Gore

OK, one thing to say about "An Inconvenient Truth." Apparently, at the Oscars ceremony last night, Melissa Ethridge sang her song from the movie. During this performance, various messages about global warming flashed across the screen, one of which was something along the lines of: "You can even reduce your carbon emissions to zero."


Walter Williams Explains It All

Walter Williams on Nonsense Ideas. The most interesting point, on the economics of safety legislation:

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, some 43,443 people were killed on the nation's highways in 2005. If Congress were to enact a 10 miles per hour national speed limit, we'd save thousands of lives each year. You say, "Williams, that would be stupid and impractical!" My response to you is: But look at all the lives that would be saved. What you really mean by stupid and impractical is that preventing thousands of highway fatalities is not worth the cost and inconvenience that would result from having to poke along at 10 miles per hour. Of course, calling a 10 miles per hour law stupid and impractical is a more socially acceptable way of saying those saved lives aren't worth it.

When Wikipedia Is Outlawed ...

Meant to link to this from the Times over the weekend: History
Department Bans CitingWikipedia As Research Source.

The fact that such rules are even needed says an awful lot about our educational system. Don't students learn basic research skills anymore? And to top it off, it just bugs me when "research rules" are laid out as strict bans. When I was an undergrad, I had a history professor who had a rule of "nointernet sources." It was a stupid rule and I broke it by citing to academic papers and transcripts of political speeches that I found on various university websites. The point is that students should learn to distinguish between reliable and non-reliable sources. When teachers have to resort to stupid rules, it shows they've failed at teaching students the basic research skills they should have been taught in the first place.

Updated 2/26/07 @ 8:50 PM:
I should add that any college student who cites to Wikipedia in an academic paper is a moron. You cite to encyclopedias in third grade, not at an institution of higher learning.

I Don't Want A Recount

And by the way, I know Al Gore won an Oscar. You really don't need to tell me about it. I'm just not interested

Out Sick Part II (More On Health Care)

My girlfriend and I actually had quite a debate about health insurance the other night. The contentious subject was a relatively small one- basically I believe that a return to a more free market oriented health care system would help reduce health care costs and as part of that strategy, routine doctor visits, and other forms of routine care should be paid for out of pocket rather than via insurance. My girlfriend disagreed, fearing that many people would not be able to afford these routine medical costs- that even if people were to pay less in health insurance to begin with, they'd spend that money in other places and have trouble affording trips to the doctor.

My girlfriend did agree with me, however, that people should have more choices when it comes to what health insurance does and doesn't cover. Which ultimately would be my point. I think our disagreement just stemmed as to just how an increased number of choices would actually play out. (There's also a fundamental disagreement as to the question of whether poor people are capable of running their own lives, but that's a subject for another day.)

But back to my earlier discussion about health care. Today in the United States, we don't have a true free market in health insurance. We have health insurance that's regulated by laws at the state, federal, and local levels, laws that restrict what types of insurance you can provide and laws that impose numerous policy mandates. This isn't intended to be a study of health insurance law- it's just important to note the fact that the market we have is severely limited. A truly free market in health insurance would lead to the sort of discussions I had with my girlfriend. You can debate all day, but ultimately, the market- and individuals shopping in the market- would decide on the best health insurance plans. Should you just get catastrophic coverage, should you have certain types of prescription drugs covered, should you have routine doctor visits covered, and, what the heck, should your insurance pay for your aspirin? People could chose the plan that best fits their needs and pay for that plan accordingly.

Of course, this raises questions about "fairness." The article I linked too on Friday contained the following recommendation from a commenter:

The health insurance system in this country needs to have two levels: (1) Level one is a universal, government sponsored accident and sudden illness insurance program; (2) Level 2 is private insurance for all preventable illnesses (like lung cancer from smoking; cirrhosis of the liver from drinking) that is paid for by the individual and sponsored by the private insurance companies.

This is the only workable system, with a role for government and the market.

What a great idea ... Except for the fact that it doesn't work. For one thing, there's no fine line between level one and level two- in fact there's no real line at all. Some smokers don't get lung cancer ... and plenty of non-smokers do get lung cancer. And how many cigarettes do you have to smoke before you become a smoker who's lung cancer won't be covered by the state? 10? 100? 1,000? Science can tell us what puts us at greater risk for cancer, but science can't look back and tell us definitively why someone developed cancer.

Any form of universal coverage is bound to have these sorts of problems because decisions have to be made about what is covered and what isn't. And remember, I'm not talking about the sorts of disputes we have today about whether a particular procedure was covered in an insurance contract (disputes are an inherent part of insurance contracting, which is why I think we're better off getting away from insurance as a means of providing health care in the first place.) The decisions I'm talking about our the decisions about what goes in the contract in the first place- that is, if the government is our insurer, what exactly are they insuring us for? These are the same questions I raised before- catastrophic injuries, routine doctor visits, aspirin- what exactly is covered?

And are we better off having the government decide what's covered than we are making those decisions for ourselves? Why is it that a trip to the doctor might be covered, but certain forms of self-medication might not be?

Let me stress something here- my opposition to universal health care has nothing to do with government assistance for the poor. A fully functional free market system would be compatible with government refunds or grants to the poor for medical and health expenses. My opposition to calls for universal health care stems from the point of view of efficiency and more importantly, an anti-nanny state point of view. The minute the government becomes the sole health care provider, the government has a vested interest in our individual lifestyles. From that point on, society would have an interest in controlling, limiting, or taxing activities that are deemed to be unhealthy. And that, more than anything else is what scares me, because that is not freedom.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Kids, Privacy, and the Internet

Check out this really good piece that's basically about theinternet age gap. (Via Arts and Letters Daily)

One point is hinted at, but not fully examined in the piece- the fact that even twenty-somethings (a group to which I belong) does not have the internet way of life hard wired into our social structure the way that teenagers today do. My generation has options when it comes to theinternet. Not everyone has MySpace or FaceBook pages - some people don't even use the internet all that much. But for teenagers today, I get the sense that the lack of privacy the article discusses is an expected aspect of youth culture today.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Out Sick

Sorry for the lack of postings - I've spent most of the week knocked out with some sort of flu like thing. I'm finally feeling a bit better - at least better enough to blog - on friday night. Just in time for saturday morning bar review. Yay.

For now, ponder this irony, courtesy of Hit and Run. Or just take a gander at one of the pieces Reason links to: Private Health Insurance Is Not The Answer (via the liberal website Alter.net)

I take a personal interest in every discussion about health care. We all should. And every time I'm sick or injured I think extra hard about the mechanisms that provide me with health care. People always have such big ideas about health care but don't talk very much about what the practical effects of these ideas are. We should fix our problems with health care, not look to copy flawed models from other countries.

But just think about it for a second - I'll blog more on the topic later - but for now, think about every cost you have related to health care. Not just the big hospitilizations, but the asprin, bandaids, and antacid you purchased at the drug store. Think hard - what's the best way to pay for health care?

Friday, February 16, 2007

Another Death In The War On Drugs

Radley Balco on the latest "isolated" SWAT team death, this one in Houston. More here, here and here.

Just Say No (To Universal Health Care)

And speaking of Democratic Underground, I also caught this
discussion on the desirability of universal health care.
I'll give the discussion credit for this- it doesn't hide the fact that a national, single payer system restricts individual choice. The way the picture is painted on Democratic Underground, the choice is between a system in which everyone is ensured access and a system in which the poor are denied access. When you put it that way, who wouldn't choose universal health care?

Of course, the discussion conveniently ignores the question of efficiency- what sort of system for delivering health care is the most efficient? For my money, I'll take the free market, but hey I'm sure history is full of all sorts of examples where the government is more efficient than the market at delivering consumer goods and services.

Perhaps most interesting is the commenter that mentions the fact that universal health care spreads the costs and risks to everyone- a thought that really isn't followed up on. After all, if society shares in the costs and risks, this means society is responsible for the healthy and fit man of 45 just as much as society
is responsible for the alcoholic, overweight man of 45. In other words, society has a vested interest in individual lifestyles. And even more than the economic disaster it would wreak, I fear a system of universal health care that justifies intrusions into our private lives and private choices on the basis of public health.

This Is What It Sounds Like When Eskimos Sue

Yeah, a group of Inuit want to sue the United States for global warming, claiming it has destroyed their way of life. I found this story at Democratic Underground, and here is some of the accompanying commentary, from the poster, RestoreGore:

What our behavior is doing to affect the rest of the world is something we must morally address on all levels. I am happy to see this delegation going to Washington DC to hold all of them accountable for their indifference to the plight of other humans who are suffering because of their inaction. Next should be an African delegation, and one after the other coming to DC to hold them all accountable in front of the world for placing their own political agendas over the needs of all of us.

And then there's this, also from RestoreGore:

And yes, the ice in the Arctic is our world's mirror and the shield that regulates our global thermometer, and the more that ice disappears the more the way of life for us and many other species is at risk. It is truly sad how so many show little to no interest for people of this world who live as the Inuits do. Theirs is a culture of true family values and living as one with the Earth. So far from the reality TV, SUV, Big Mac, media sound bite culture we subsist in... And I say subsist, because to me that is not really living. How I long to see that way of life where the Earth in all of its natural splendor is truly cherished and the signs that it is not well taken seriously now on the part of all of us, for we are surely moving our way to a tipping point of our own doing by forgetting our stewardship to her, and that to me is absolutely incomprehensible and something we simply must not allow to continue. Thank you for your well thought out and heartfelt response.

Michael Moore, Eat Your Heart Out

This is the sort of movie I've been waiting for: Mine Your Own Business. (Read the report from Junk Science's Steven Milloy here at FoxNews.com) Here's a taste:

The film starts out in the remote and desolate Romanian village of Rosia Montana, home to a most eco-unfriendly state-run mine. Gabriel Resources, a Canadian Mining Company, is trying to open a new gold mine that meets or exceeds strict European Union standards, but it runs into opposition, not from local villagers, but from first-world non-governmental organizations (NGOs) such as Greenpeace.

The NGOs, who don’t seem particularly bothered by the poorly-operated state-owned mine, take the position in the film that the poverty-stricken residents of Rosia Montana don’t need any economic opportunity and, instead, are willing to settle for being “poor but happy.”

Thursday, February 15, 2007

George Will Asks The Tough Questions About Global Warming

Really good piece by George Will on global warming, making many of the points I've been trying to make in a much more articulate manner. (This via Hit and Run who has a bit more about the economics of global warming. Here's a taste:

Climate Cassandras say the facts are clear and the case is closed. (Sen. Barbara Boxer: "We're not going to take a lot of time debating this anymore.") The consensus catechism about global warming has six tenets: 1. Global warming is happening. 2. It is our (humanity's, but especially America's) fault. 3. It will continue unless we mend our ways. 4. If it continues we are in grave danger. 5. We know how to slow or even reverse the warming. 6. The benefits from doing that will far exceed the costs.

Only the first tenet is clearly true, and only in the sense that the Earth warmed about 0.7 degrees Celsius in the 20th century. We do not know the extent to which human activity caused this. The activity is economic growth, the wealth-creation that makes possible improved well-being—better nutrition, medicine, education,
etc. How much reduction of such social goods are we willing to accept by slowing economic activity in order to (try to) regulate the planet's climate?


Did You Ever Want To Know What Law School Is Like?

Orin Kerr had this great post the other day at the Volokh Conspiracy on how to best answer questions on law school exams. But it's not what you think. For anyone who was ever curious about what we actually do in law school, this is a pretty good indication with a very straight forward and easy to understand example. Just take that example there, and multiply the intensity by a few factors, and that's what law school basically is. Just imagine having to read, 30, 40, or 50 cases over the course of a semester, any number of which may be potentially relevant to the fact pattern you're given.

More Dumb Ideas

This one from our own US Senate: Raise the Price of Health Insurance! (This comes via the Cato-at-liberty blog.)

It's not that they actually are proposing mandated cost increases. Just more mandated coverage - if your an insurance company and your policies cover mental illness, than you must cover mental illness to the same extent that you cover physical illnesses. Now to be fair, we have lots of laws like this- but my point is that they're all stupid. As the Cato blog points out mandates always always always raise costs. Imagine how much cheaper health insurance could be if we got rid of mandates and stopped having stupid ideas like this one.

Half Hour News Show? More Like The Half Hour Olds Show

I'll link to Hit and Run, because that'd where I saw it first, but the entire blogosphere is abuzz about Fox News's new and upcoming "The Half Hour News Show." The show is supposed to be like the Comedy Central Hit "The Daily Show" but with a conservative spin. And as was noted at Reason (and by Ann Althouse) the early clips of the show really, really really suck.

What is really funny - and who knows if anyone else will point this out - is that the show seems to fall into the same trappings as Air America did. That is the "we need to provide a response to the other side's success in this media format." Just as Air America always seemed to be liberal first, and interesting and entertaining second, The few clips of "The Half Hour News Show" seem to be well, not even just conservative, but Republican first, and interesting and entertaining second.

Actually I was intrigued when I first heard about "The Half Hour News Show." I used to love the Daily Show and now find it only watchable on occasion. Somewhere during the "Indecision 2000" coverage it began to seem like John Stewart actually cared about the results of the election. That pretty much ended the Gen-X, "don't really give a shit" appeal of the show to me. I was hoping this new Fox News show would be the same kind of thing with a different kind of spin. I was hoping for criticism of the mainstream media's coverage of Iraq, global warming, and big corporations. I was hoping for idea's, not a fake magazine about Barak Obama called "BO".

I think the thing is, people tend to miss what political humor is really all about. It's easy to make jokes about people and about political parties. It's a lot harder to do satire that actually deconstructs your opponents ideas while reinforcing your own. Ahhh well. At least we'll always have South Park.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

From The "World's Dumbest Ideas" File

From Wisconsin, comes one of the worst proposals I've ever heard- A tax on oil companies, that, get this- can't be passed on to the consumers. (I bring you this story via OpinionJournal.com.) According to the report,

Oil company officials would face up to six months in jail if they passed the tax on to consumers. The state Department of Revenue would audit the firms to ensure they do not.

Considering the way oil prices rise and fall, and the myriad of complexities behind these price changes, can anyone explain to me how it could ever be legally shown- in a criminal, beyond a reasonable doubt context no less- that an oil company passed the costs of a tax on to consumers. Forget about any of the Constitutional concerns for a minute - has there ever been a more wretched example of political pandering?

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

More On 24 (The New Yorker Backlash)

And speaking of 24, the New Yorker has a piece on the problems with the show's overuse of torture. It's a decent read, but one of those "is there really a point to this" sort of articles. I mean after all, I'm assuming most of us are smart enough to know 24 takes place in an alternative "ticking time bomb" reality, where all this moralizing about torture doesn't really apply.

In a way, this article reinforces the point I was making in my previous post - the realism I miss from the new 24 stems from how the newer plots play out, not the torture and not the ticking time bomb scenarios. There's a good rule in fiction that you can ask people to suspend their disbelief once, but after that you're probably asking for too much. Even most out of the box science fiction and fantasy asks you only to suspend your disbelief once, before building a world around that suspension of disbelief. In 24, the urgency of the 24-hour time frame and the accompanying nature of the ticking time bomb scenario is that suspension of disbelief.

Of course, as I mentioned in my last post, and was mentioned in the comments, the problem with the show this year is that not all of the character's actions and motivations seem to fit very well into the established 24 reality.

Latest 24 Thoughts

I'm still watching, but I maintain that 24 has officially jumped the shark. Here are some of the things that don't make sense this season (along with some basic complaints).

* I don't quite understand the motivation of Jack's father. He's willing to kill his whole family to save his company? That doesn't sound like something an old man does - if money matters to him more than people, why not just take the money and run. This saving the company at all costs thing

* I don't understand this desire on the part of the defense ultra-hardliners to want to intern all Muslims. At this point in the show, they've identified the specific threat and the specific individual responsible for that threat. Interning the Muslim population would be a huge process taking days, weeks, or maybe even months. I'm unclear on what good this would do in stopping the nuclear threat. Moreover, the President Palmer's suggestion of having the former terrorist leader ask the Muslim population for assistance seems to at least have the potential of a solution to the immediate nuclear threat. The show seems to present this as some sort of a moral dilemma, but I don't see any practical side to an internment plan. Maybe some form of internment is justified in times of war, but in this case it won't help with the immediate threat - and there's virtually no one who would argue that the broad internment and suspension of civil liberties being talked about would be appropriate after this threat is over.

* One problem the past three season of 24- The "terrorists with unlimited funds" scenario. Terrorists with enough money (millions upon millions) to pay off anyone and everyone they need to in order to achieve their goals is a far cry from today's reality. What was so unique about 24 from the beginning was how real it was and how relevant it was to the real world. But the past few seasons have given us intricate terrorist networks with the financial capabilities to deal with any hurdle that gets in their way. (Also, there are an awful lot of mercenaries willing to work with really bad dudes.) This bugs me because 1- it takes away from the reality of the show and 2- it provides the writers with all sorts of cop outs when it comes to the plot. My point is not that the first few seasons of 24 were utterly believable- just that the nature of the threat was more in line with our reality.

And by the way, at this point I think Battlestar Galactica has passed 24 in terms of quality and relevence.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

The First Amendment and Stupidity

I meant to blog abou the CCSU rape article controversy this weekend, but I didn't get around to it as I was taking a mock bar exam. I figure I'll still offer a few comments.

For those of you who may have missed it, here's the story in brief. Last week, the CCSU student newspaper published an opinion piece by opinion page editor John Petroski entitled "Rape Only Hurts If You Fight It." Not surprisingly, the piece resulted in campus wide protest and condemnation. According to Petroski, the piece was intended as a piece of a satire and was not meant to hurt anyone. The whole affair culminated with his firing from the paper and his public apology yesterday.

My point of view is that he deserved to fired- not for what he wrote, but for his editorial stupidity. Often times, these sorts of college newspaper controversies stir up a first amendment debate, that quite honestly, is besides the point. There is a difference between an individual's right to express their opinions and the editorial choices a newspaper must make- in other words, papers are free to publish, but they are not immune from the consequences of what they publish. And by consequences here I refer not to legal punishment but social responses.

The New York Times would be well within their legal rights to publish editorials denying the Holocaust and lamenting the end of slavery, but if they did, people would stop buying it and it would no longer be considered to be a reliable or useful source. This is the market at work, both in a commercial and an academic sense.

College newspapers are in a bit of a different position, because they are not as subject to market forces as commercial papers. All students are essentially forced to pay to support their school paper, so it's not beyond the pale to argue that the paper has obligations to the school community as a whole.

In either case, we're still talking about editorial judgment- raising the first amendment defense only clouds the issues because no one would argue that the school newspaper should be able to publish racist and offensive hate speech, despite the fact that they'd have a first amendment right to do so. In this CCSU case, Petroski, and the other editorial members of the paper showed absolutely no judgment in publishing something like this. They should have known that it might not come across so well. Additionally, if it's supposed to be a piece of satire, it's not even well done. I'm still unclear about the ultimate point of the satire and why rape was used to illustrate this point. After all there's a difference between being offensive and shocking to make a specific point and being offensive and shocking to be offensive and shocking.

I do worry that there are people who would punish Petroski not for his judgment but for his words. This raises the stakes and gets into a different sort of issue- it's a very different argument when you're talking about a person's right to speak their mind and say stupid things. But as I said, that's really not the issue here- speech codes are, perhaps, a topic for another day.

When The Fat Police Are Privatized

Via Consumerfreedom.com, Beware the fat fighters! Apparently, grocery chains in Great Britain are starting to employee Healthy Eating Advisers to patrol the aisles of their supermarkets.

If such a thing ever came to pass here in America, I think my reaction would be something along the lines of Cartman's reaction to his future self at the end of the season six episode of South Park, "My Future Self and Me."

Cartman: Thanks. But you know, all this talk about future selves has made me think, maybe I should ...take better care of myself. I mean, maybe I should think about who I'm going to become.

Future Cartman: [tall and fit, arrives] Atta boy, Eric. You've made the right choice.

Cartman: Who the hell are you?

Future Cartman: Haha, it's me, Cartman! You from the future. [genuflects] I came back to tell you that this is the day you turn it all around. You stop eating junk food and you start studying harder, you stay away from drugs and alcohol and you become CEO of your own time-travel company!

Cartman: [sets the box of cookies down] Oh wow, really? That's so awesome! Now I'll really work to be successful!

Future Cartman: Right on!

Cartman: Go have sex with yourself, asshole! I'm not that stupid! Just for that, I'm gonna spend my whole childhood eating what I waunt, and doin' drugs when I waunt! [The Marshes leave. He joins them] Whatevuh! I'll do what I waunt!

Future Cartman: No, wait! [a flash of lightning on his body changes him into a fat plumber, his suit replaced by street clothes amd a name tag] Oh, God-damnit!

Friday, February 09, 2007

Climate Change Denial

Check out this really good piece on the
problems of anti-denial type laws and morality.
The problem of course - telling people that they can't deny global warming or even the Holocaust is just plain authoritarian.

It is particularly unfortunate that science has been mobilised to assist the policing of free thinking. Sections of the science establishment argue that the debate on global warming is finished, and that those who deny the so-called scientific consensus ought to be ostracised. But science cannot be legitimately used to close down debate. At its best, scientific research can provide us with evidence of important problems – but how society interprets that evidence is subject to controversy and debate, to political, moral and cultural factors. Every culture has
something different to say about what is an acceptable level of risk, how much pain people should be expected to put up with, and about what is safe. Claims made about safe sex, child safety and environmental pollution are the product of cultural interpretation, as are the many threats to the world that apparently lie ahead. Science has some very important things to say about these problems that cannot and should not be ignored. But science does not provide the answers as to what a
problem means for society, and how we should deal with it. That is why no subject should be treated as a taboo. It is also why science should not be used to end a discussion. In our search for meaning, we are entitled to argue and debate and freely express our views about everything. And in our conformist era, a healthy dose of disbelief is no bad thing.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

There's the truth ... and then there's the truth!

The Hartford Courant and the Associated Press get it wrong, in this story on environmental regulation.

Here's the first line of the short piece:

Aerospace manufacturer Hamilton Sundstrand pleaded guilty Thursday to two counts of violating the federal Clean Water Act, admitting to dumping industrial discharge into the Farmington River from its Windsor Locks plant.

You don't need to go any further to see that they've already confused the story. The Clean Water Act allows dumping of industrial discharge, provided that the discharger has obtained a permit and their discharge meets the requirements of their permit. In this case, Hamilton Sunstrand apparently exceeded their limitations for hex chrome and copper.

This isn't a case where I'm trying to make some sort of point about environmental law- rather, I'm posting here to illustrate how poorly the media reports on matters of environmental law. If you're a reader who doesn't know much about the Clean Water Act, you might get the idea from the first sentence that a company was dumping waste where they weren't supposed to be dumping waste, where in fact, the company was dumping in the right place, but they were essentially dumping too much.

And if the media can't get this right, how much should we trust the mainstream media on other reports of science and policy.

Updated 2/8/07 @ 10:52 AM: Here's the updated version of the story in today's Hartford Courant. The first line of the story is basically the same:

Hamilton Sundstrand agreed Thursday to pay $12 million in penalties for dumping contaminated wastewater into the Farmington River and altering documents for two years to hide violations, state and federal officials said Thursday.

In a way, this longer, local report makes it even less clear that the company exceeded it's permit limits. Knowing the Clean Water Act, I can't really tell the seriousness of the violation from the story- clearly they broke the law, but there's bad and then there's really bad when it comes to the enviornment. If this was really bad, the public should be upset that no one's going to jail. And if this was just bad, well, 12 million dollars in penalties might be fair. Again, the point is, the reporters writing these stories don't seem to have a clue what they're talking about.

USA Today Hates Freedom

This editorial extolling public financing of political campaigns graced today's USA Today editorial page. (You can read the opposing view from Kentucky Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConell, here.)

McConell's response is good, but being a Republican, he misses perhaps the key point of any debate over campaign financing - whether your talking about public financing, restrictions on fundraising, or restrictions on spending, the groups hit hardest are those that exist outside of the two-party system.

Say for instance that I want to start my own lonely libertarian party. Should I get taxpayer money? Clearly not, as a system where any lunatic can get money to run a campaign is unworkable. Therefore, we set restrictions as to who can get campaign money and who can not. So when I decide I'm starting my own party and running for office, my tax dollars go to support my opponents in the two major political parties. Can anyone tell me a way in which that scenario sounds fair or Constitutional? Isn't the government not supposed to favor certain types of speech over other types of speech and isn't it all the more egregious when the speech we're talking about is political speech?

I don't think many people would have liked if the Republican Congress, on it's way out the door, had passed a law that allocated taxpayer money to Republican and only Republican campaigns. Yet somehow, when Democrats and Republicans leave everyone else out in the cold it's supposed to be okay? I don't think so.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Reason's War On The War On Drugs

Very good postings today over at Reason's Hit and Run Blog on drugs and the war on drugs, here from Jacob Sullum,here from Sullum again, and here from Radley Balco.

Boston Backlash

I was reading John Stossel's column on the Boston Light-Brite/terrorist incident and I was struck by some of the commenter's thoughts. Here are just a few of the comments, arguing against Stossel, who agrees with me that the city overreacted:

Trashman writes:
Get all of the facts before you judge.
In the middle of the fiasco of finding Lite-Brite displays all over the city there were also 2 pipe bomb like devices found. One was at the New England Medical Center and the other was at the Longfellow bridge. This news was reported locally, but wasn't picked up by the national media. Police officials were concerned that the Lite Brites could possibly have been diversions while there were real bombs out there.

DTOM writes:

Sorry, I have to disagree with John Stossel on this one, and it's too bad because I love his work. As a First Responder here in Atlanta (Firefighter / EMT), the opinion around the firehouse is simple - never assume anything. That's the way people die, and every year in the fire service approximately a hundred firemen die. Boston did exactly the right thing in our opinion, and no one died. Everyone who complains about the delays and the 'overreaction' needs to remember - everyone went home that night to their families. As for the other cities that didn't 'overreact' - well, if I'm a terrorist, where will I plant my devices (disguised as whatever)? Boston, where people are alert and the public safety personnel respond with caution, or Los Angeles, where it will be ignored until the boom? I wonder how many people will be complaining then and what they will

I posted last week on Professor Long's "other" blog. Here's my comment:

I think, perhaps, that this doesn't need to be so complicated. I don't think this was dumb and insensitive nor do I think it really represents any generation gap.

This was an over reaction - similar advertising devices were left in nine other cities, none of which shut down because of a bomb threat. And the devices in Boston were observed for what they were weeks ago by bloggers and other internet savvy individuals.



I don't think anyone involved in the advertising plan had the slightest thought that these devices would be mistaken for bombs.

I think part of the problem is the general feeling that all threats must be taken ultra seriously. This makes sense when there actually is a threat, such as when an airport or a school is threatened with a bomb. Even though 99.9% of those threats turn out to be false, everyone recognizes the need to take them seriously. The problem is when we apply that same logic to a perceived threat- in Boston, someone must have identified one of these objects as possibly being a bomb, and once it was given that "bomb" label, the seriousness of the situation escalated beyond reasonableness.

Real threats must be taken seriously, but perceived threats should be examined more closely before the response is escalated to the point of shutting a city down.

The point is, with several of these devices in ten different cities for a period of a few weeks, think of how many people had to observe them and not think "bomb." When one person in Boston cried "bomb" the situation should have been dealt with better, period. We can't live in a society that shuts down cities every time someone thinks an everyday sort of object could be a bomb.

And Prof. Long, to answer your question about considering the issue as a corporate lawyer from a legal perspective, I think you raise a different sort of issue. I don't think any corporate lawyer would give his okay to the sort of underground marketing these men were engaging in. But this has less to do with the perceived threat and more to do with the fact that these men were placing advertisements on private and public property without anyone's knowledge.

And to answer your second question, I think it completely depends on context. Seemingly a city could only be considered to have acted negligently if they responded unreasonably to a threat- again a real threat is different from a perceived threat. In this case, if someone never determined that there was a threat, I wouldn't call the city negligent. After all, given the overwhelming response of people and other cities that this wasn't a threat, how can anyone be held to a standard of care that a reasonable person should have regarded this as a threat?

In my mind, if this had been a bomb, the only way you could really call Boston negligent would be if someone had told the city, "hey, that's a bomb," and the city had responded, "no it's not," and not even looked into the matter.

And Professor Long's response:

I am not saying you are mistaken, but it does seem that your answers beg the questions. For instance, the NPR report suggested a possible generation gap. To counter that you need to trot out the argument(s) as to why a 45 year old (and one that probably does not watch the same programs, movies, etc., as a 25 year old) could NOT reasonably (though mistakenly) have concerns about possible terror threat. [One of the advantages of being 25 years of age, an advantage which will soon fade away as the years begin to roll by, is the view that one is invulnerable. So, have you really made an effort to see this through the a 45 year old's eye?] Are you telling me that you, as someone about to graduate from law school, could not trot out a credible argument in defense of the reasonableness of the reaction of the Boston Police? That is all that is required.

I would make a similar comment as to your assertion, that once someone identified as a possible bomb that the response escalated beyond reasonableness. More over, you have not told us exactly what reasonableness is here. I know you conclude that the Boston Police reaction was unreasonable, but you have not explained the standard(s) for reasonableness here. And, you seem not to give any weight to the fact that a criminal/terrorist might incorporate his/her criminal/terror act into an ordinary, everyday, seemingless harm, activity.

I don't what you mean when you draw the distinction between 'real threats,' which must be taken seriously, and "perceived threats" which should be merely be investigated more fully. I gather that these are on some kind of continuum, but you have not told us how to determine how to place a threat along the line and where the crucial break point are. That is, you have just described in another way your position that the Boston Police acted unreasonably (i.e., responding to a perceived threat as tough it were a serious threat. That begs the question still.

Also, I am not sure the fact that the other cities had more measured responses necessitates our concluding that Boston over reacted. We would be saying the exact opposite, that the other cities were to lacks and Boston was more responsible, had the devises been bombs. Again, the question turns on the reasonableness of viewing the devices as a threat. If there is a credible argument that the devices were a threat, then Boston acted reasonably and the other cities may not have.

I think Learned Hand is tossing in his grave with regards to your negligence analysis. And I bet you that a half way decent tort litigator would not have any problem getting way pass the summary judgment stage in characterizing the police as being negligent had they not acted and someone had been injured. You are placing to much weight on the fact that the bad thing did not happen. You have to embrace the counterfacutal, how the world would look had the bad thing in fact happened.

Lastly, I think you have too narrow a view of what high-priced corporate lawyers do. They make their money keeping their clients out of trouble, often by telling them what they don't want to hear, by saying 'No,' and by convincing their clients of the wisdom of 'No.' I think many a competent corporate law is corporate lawyer is still shaking his/her head and saying, 'what the F**K were those guys thinking?'

Again, you may be right about every conclusion you have drawn. However, your arguments have not convinced me. Or, let me put it this way. Were the matter in Boston ever to get itself before a jury, the two kid arrested in Boston better hope the jury is not packed with soccer moms or, worse yet, 45 year old soccer moms.

I stand by my initial analysis. The point about the generation gap is an interesting one, but ultimately, I think, besides the point. People are too caught up in whole Cartoon Network nature of the mistaken threat. Forget about the cartoon characters and even forget about the lite bright for a minute- what makes that sort of object any more of a bomb than an old tv or an old radio or an old clock with wires sticking out of it. (If someone leaves an I-Pod with those tiny ear piece head phones lying around, should we worry that might be a bomb? Be careful before you say no - why is that any less of a bomb than a Lite-Brite figure?) There's no limit to the number of electronic devices that could be potential bombs.

Reacting with caution upon finding a suspicious object is one thing, but there should be some sort of procedure, some steps to be taken, between finding a suspicious object and shutting the city down. I know nothing about bomb response, but it seems as though there should be some step between, 1) "Hey, is that thing a bomb?" and 2) "Red Alert! Let's shut down the city!"

As one TownHall commenter pointed out, police in Boston found two pipe bombs as part of their search- this practically makes my point for me- Even if these bombs were inactive and not dangerous, they were real bombs. And the only way they were found was in a lock-down type search of the city. If a terrorist wants to plant a real bomb, they aren't going to leave it with bright lights attached to it in a place where it stands out. That sort of defeats the purpose of leaving a bomb in the first place. If a terrorist wants a bomb to go off at a later time, they want it to be harder, not easier to notice.

Lastly, in regards to the negligence question raised by Prof. Long, I think you would have a very difficult time calling an overreaction in the name of public safety negligent. (Although an interesting question is just what that line would be.) However, if the Cartoon Network Lite-Brite had been a bomb, I don't think you would have a prayer of surviving summary judgment in a negligence claim against the city. Yes, the government has a responsibility to protect the public, but last I checked, notions of due care don't require cities to conduct frequent bomb sweeps. I would think a city's duty only begins when someone notices and reports an object they suspect to be a bomb. To find the city negligent, I think you'd have to show that they received such a report and ignored it.

If these things had been bombs, we'd all be saying, "Why on earth didn't we think these things were bombs!" But, how would we be supposed to tell, that these objects alone among thousands of electronic devices left all over the city were the ones that were bombs. Again, my point is not that the city should not have reacted at all once someone became concerned that these Lite Brites may have been a threat, just that the city's response should have been more proportionate to the supposed threat.

Oh, and also- if it had been a bomb- it would have gone off weeks ago.

Butt Out

I actually caught this on the news last night: Child Pushes Smoking Ban. This smoking ban would apply to cars with children riding in them.

Of all the pseudo-science touted in the name of public health, this second hand smoke garbage is the worst - and what's more sickening is the way kids are brought out support the nonsense.

I blogged about the surgeon general's latest report on second hand smoking back in June. This was the same report that the surgeon general lied about to the media, hyping up the claims that second hand smoke definitively causes cancer, which is wasn't what the report actually said.

Is it a disgustingly bad idea to smoke cigarettes around your kid? Certainly. But there are thousands of bad things adults do around kids that we don't waste our time passing laws about. I'd just rather not have big brother regulating every aspect of my personal life and every aspect of my family life. Butt out.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

More Thoughts On Race

This is just a follow up to the past few week's discussion on race, mainly in regards to the racially insensitive party held by UCONN law students. My undergard friend, A Fan For All Seasons, made several comments that I felt were worth addressing:

Here's post number one, on the UCONN incident,

I just posted on your race and affirmative action blog, but this is the same deal. What Maurice Headley describes is another example of what I'm learning in "white racism", it's actually how we defined the term. You comparing the party to MTV or BET is exactly the point Headley is trying to make: That this "racism" is there and yet we don't see it as racist. To go more in depth...first read what I wrote in your other post, then to take it a step further, because poverty stricken neighborhoods are mainly made up of minorities and because the school systems are so bad that there is no real hope for these kids, a culture develops where blacks may think the only way out is through drug dealing/sports/rapping/pimping. Nowadays, sports/rapping and rapping/pimping have become inter-twined. So what we see on MTV or BET are black people acting like "pimps", dancing around with "hoes" and this becomes our representation of black culture. When white law students dress as pimps and hoes, holding machine guns and 40s, they aren't imitating rappers, they're imitating their image of blacks. I think that about covers your question.

And here is post number two, on affirmative action,

Currently, I am taking a class at the University of Connecticut entitled "White Racism". The Lonely Lib asked what I'd be learning in that class, and he has actually touched on one issue that has come up.

"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."

In class, we were taught that this sort of reasoning is the basis of a "white racism" class. It's not about individual acts of racism, but covert, institutionalized privalegs "whites" recieve. White is not about color in this class, but about status. For example, when the Irish immigrated to America, they weren't "white", but now they are. Anyway, back to the issue at hand.

This class argues that race is the problem behind poverty. The reason school systems in Hartford, Bridgeport and New Haven are in such poor condition is because of "white flight" and "red lining". A neighbor in Hartford may have started out as white, with varied income. As members of a different race or ethnicity moved in, whether it were blacks, latinos or even Italians, the prominent white members of the neighborhood would move out (white flight). This would, in turn, lead to property values declining, and an even greater increase in non-whites moving in. The prominent white members of society would then "red-line" neighborhoods, which would lead to re-districting and less funding for non-white neighborhoods.

I have been known to space-out during class, but I think this is the gyst of it all. Whether you want to believe it or not, there is at least a little truth to this.

After a family trip to New York this summer, we dropped my sister off at the botanical gardens in the Bronx. While in the process of getting lost and finding the highway, we drove through pre-dominantly black/latino neighborhoods, which made my dad (born and raised in Yonkers) think back to a time when these Bronx neighborhoods were Italian and Jewish, and in much, much better shape. You could probably hear stories like this in every city in America, (even West Hartford, think Elmwood).

I just wanted to show you a differing view, and what I'm learning.

My first comment would be in regards to the word racism- I think many of the problems in debates regarding race stems from different applications of the word. Racism in terms of negative attitudes and actions taken against a certain racial group is different from racism in terms of power and privliges. People may use the same word, but they're talking about very different ideas.

I always had a problem with notions of institutionalized privliges when I took sociology classes back as an undergrad. Is there such a thing as white privlige? There certainly is, but my complaint is that such a privlige is one of any number of privliges that exist in our society. To assume that modern urban poverty actually stems from institutionlized racism is an interesting assumption, but one not based on any real facts. In fact, these sorts of race theories tend to start out with the assumption that race is the issue- the rest of such theories are built upon this foundation. But the foundation itself should be called into question and should be supported by evidence.

Our home town of West Hartford is actually a perfect example to call into question the entire notion of "white flight." If you trace white flight back, you'll find it goes back to the 60's, the exact time the government was beggining the war on poverty. (I think you'll also find a connection between such flight and the war on drugs, which began in the early 70's, but that's a subject for another day.) The war on poverty meant subsidized housing, housing projects, and the welfare boom. It was at this time that crime increased and American cities really started to decline (despite the fact that poverty had been present in cities for, well, forever.) It wasn't until this point that you saw white flight from the cities. White people didn't leave because black people moved in, white people left because the cities were becoming places people didn't want to live.

White flight was not so much white as it was green. That is, those with the money got out while the going was good. If you look at West Hartford today, the neighborhood where I grew up is now over 50% minority- many of these minorities have come from Hartford, leaving the crime and problems of the city the same way white people did decades ago. When they have the money, they leave to make a better life for themselves, and their children.

In my neighborhood by the way, housing values have increased with the increase in minority population, and crime has decreased. Part of the decrease in crime is, in all liklihood, from the destruction of the public housing projects only a 1/2 mile from where I went to elementary school. Again, it's hard to see how a theory of institutionalized racism fits with these facts. More importantly, it shows the multitude of factors that play into every social change.

Similarly, think back to my Green Power, Black Death post of a few weeks ago. There's plenty of evidence to support the racially disparate impact environemtalism has had on blacks, Africans in paticular. And in actuality, this plays right into notions of privlige and power- after all, it's the wealthy, white enviornmentalists manipulating the poor, black third world. Of course, calling environemtalists racist sounds funny to some people, because it doesn't fit many preconceived world views. When the government's handling of Katrina was a disaster, it's easy to look sinisterly upon George Bush and his administration's views on race, but somehow the same doubt isn't cast upon those who succeeded in banning DDT use in African countries for over 40 years.

Casting these sorts of issues in racial terms may be an interesting sociological exercise, but as a practical matter, looking to race provides no hint of a solution to very real problems.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Compassionate Conservatism

Bush sends 2.9 trillion dollar budget to Capital Hill.

More and more spending from the "conservative" administration. At least GW signed off on welfare reform - oh wait ... that was Clinton.

Friday, February 02, 2007

And Liberty Takes Another Blow ...

I had originally planned on linking to this story, California Lawmaker Wants To Ban Traditional Light Bulbs, and make some comment about how crazy they are over there on the left coast. Then, I heard this on the radio this morning: Connecticut legislators want the state to consider a ban on incandescent bulbs.

Apparently, the motivation here in Connecticut is both the high cost of energy and concern for the enviornment.

Along with the global warming report, this just leaves me feeling very defeated today. Things are not getting better, they're getting worse- we're getting more and more laws that assume people are too stupid to make choices for themselves and more laws that use the enviornment or public health as a means of justifying more and more restrictions on individuals.

Obligitory Response To Global Warming In The Media

The IPCC has released it's report on climate change, to much media bombast. The report can be viewed here.

Of course, this is merely the "summary report," provided for policy makers. The actual report will come out in a few months, a report that will be adjusted to reflect this summary report. More on this at Junkscience.com

Firs there's this intro, on the report itself:

As everyone is probably by now aware, Friday, February 2, 2007 marks the release of the IPCC's political document: Assessment Report 4, Summary for Policymakers. The media seem to be operating under the misapprehension this is equivalent to the release of IPCC Working Group I Contribution to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Fourth Assessment Report: Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis -- this is regrettably neither true nor even close to the truth.

Bizarrely, the actual report will be retained for another three months to facilitate editing -- to suit the summary! IPCC procedures state that: Changes (other than grammatical or minor editorial changes) made after acceptance by the Working Group or the Panel shall be those necessary to ensure consistency with the Summary for Policymakers or the Overview Chapter (Appendix A to the Principles Governing IPCC Work, p4/15) -- this is surely unacceptable and would not be tolerated in virtually any other field (witness the media frenzy because language was allegedly altered in some US climate reports).

Under the circumstances we feel we have no choice but to publicly release the second-order draft report documents so that everyone has at least the chance to compare the summary statements with the underlying documentation. It should not be necessary for us to break embargo and post raw drafts for you to verify a summary of publicly funded documentation (tax payers around the world have paid billions of dollars for this effort -- you own it and you should be able to access it).

Reluctantly then, here is the link to our archive copy of the second-order draft of IPCC Working Group I Contribution to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Fourth Assessment Report: Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis. The second-order draft was distributed in 2006, 5 years into what has so far been a 6 year process and these copies were archived last May.

And then this discussion on some of the science:

Today, the IPCC releases its latest report on the science of climate change. At least, that's what the headlines will say. In fact, this is the first stage of a staggered publication of the organisation's Fourth Assessment Report (FAR), which supersedes the third report, published in 2001. But this first tranche is not, as might be expected, the full weighty document, in which all available evidence is evaluated and carefully summarised. Instead this is the so-called Summary for Policymakers (SPM), a short (only 14 pages in draft) summary of the key points. This is the text which nearly everyone will be quoting from over the coming months and years.

Not only is it an unusual step to publish the summary of a document which has not yet been finalised and released into the public domain, but the summary itself is not necessarily quite what it seems. Rather than simply being an attempt to summarise the main points from the much longer report, the SPM is a political document, agreed line by line by the governments of the countries which are members of the IPCC. Only the release of the complete chapter will enable those with sufficient staying power and understanding of the science to compare this with today's document, but the experience from the Third Assessment report was that there were clear messages coming from the SPM which did not necessarily represent a balanced view of the science. In other words, there was spin.

Interestingly, after a ramping up of concerns as the previous three assessment reports were published, the TAR tones down some of the more extreme projections which have been headlined in the past. The report seems set to say that, if carbon dioxide levels reach (and are constrained to) 550ppm (effectively a doubling of the reported pre-industrial average of 280ppm) the ultimate average temperature rise is likely to be 2-4.5 degrees C, which is a narrower range with a reduced upper limit. By the last decade of the century, projected temperature rise is in the range 1.7-4 degrees C compared with the 1980s, for a range of emissions scenarios. Sea level rise is projected as 28 to 43 centimetres over the century, with two-thirds of that being due to thermal expansion. These figures are lower than previously suggested.

However, the headline news will not be these projections or the fact that they have been moderated, but the fact that the IPCC now says that anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions are 'very likely' to be the primary driver of recent climate change. 'Very likely' is defined as between 90 and 95% certain. But this 'certainty', which will be used constantly to discredit any dissenters, is based on the unproven assumption that the climate scientists and modellers have such a good understanding of natural climate processes that additional greenhouse gas emissions are the only possible cause of rising temperatures in recent years.

At present, we regard the link as a plausible but unproven hypothesis. While modellers claim to be able to reproduce the very variable trends of the twentieth century (by including allowances for aerosols, for example), this smacks of tinkering to get the right answer rather than a way of improving the realism and reliability of the models. Only time will tell whether the projections are anywhere near right but, in the meantime, we should remember that there has been no upward temperature trend in the last eight years.

We are quite prepared to have our scepticism proved wrong if new and convincing evidence emerges. We could be wrong. It will be progress indeed when the IPCC and scientific establishment says the same.

We are pleased to say that the Frazer Institute, a Canadian think tank, will be launching its own Independent Summary for Policymakers in London on 5th February. We hope that this will help to foster debate. (Scientific Allaince)

For additional contentious views on the report, take a look at this transcript from Larry King's show on CNN, where MIT professor of atmospheric science Richard Lindzen debates this global report with Bill Bye the Science Guy.

Scientific debate only furthers the real issue- even if there was a real consensus about global warming and it's effects, the question of what measures to take is not a purely scientific question- it's science mixed with economics, geography, politics, technology, and morality.

Updated 2/2/07 @ 1:42 PM: Here is Reason's Ron Bailey, a former climate change skeptic who has always dealt with the science, not the politics, on the IPCC report.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

The Story of the Decade

2 Arrested Over Boston Bomb Scare.

Seriously, this is the story of the decade. Fox news has the video of the two men placing the objects around the city. Please, please, watch it. I don't know much about Aqua Teen Hunger Force (which these things were part of an add campaign for), but the objects that someone managed to think were bombs are actually one-foot tall flashing signs of some boxy looking character.

This is the story of the decade because it's just too insane to be true, complete with this wacky twosome joking about seventies hairstyles in their press conference with reporters after going free on bond.

More power to them. The key fact that most of the news reports seems to have glossed over is that these same advertisements have been placed in nine other cities for two weeks! This isn't a story about terrorism or about pranksters, it's about a city that overreacted and a media that fed the hysteria. It's about a government with no common sense, not a silly Cartoon Network advertising scheme.

Crazy, crazy, crazy ... Someone please tell me I've got this wrong, because as funny as this story is, it's pretty damn scary if it means what I say it means.

A Long Time Ago ...

Just happened to catch this on the Volokh Conspiracy this morning: A Chewbacca Defense For Star Wars. It's a brief critique of the plot holes of films I,II, and III, along with numerous links to numerous other Star Wars critiques.

These critiques all go a bit beyond anything I've ever gotten into, but they ring true, particularly the David Brin critique of the plot of episode I. (If the whole point of the film was that Palpatine was trying to grab power, why on earth would he have tried to stop Amidala from escaping Naboo in the first place- why would he have sent Darth Maul after her?)

I'll be as brief as possible listing my own complaints about the most recent Star Wars trilogy.
1- Confusing plot that didn't make a lot of sense
2- No new interesting characters, aliens, ships, or planets - few memorable moments
3- The fact that the plot was self-defeating- that we watched 3 movies to see how evil came to the galaxy and every victory that the good guys had along the way was really just another step towards evil.