Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Red Eye on Ron Paul

Check out the gang of Fox News's Red Eye, discussing some of the latest Ron Paul news.

Oh, and Townhall.com's Michelle Carpenter hurls an unforgivable slur at libertarians - "Libertarians are conservatives with no morals." But later in the show, Red Eye's resident libertarian, Andrew Levy, responds with a "Libertarians are conservatives who don't believe our personal prejudices should be enforced by the Feds.

Smokings bad, mmmmmm kay

Special thanks to the lonely libertarian's dad for pointing this one out: At a Cigar Show, an Air-Quality Scientist Under Deep, Smoky Cover.

When my dad told me about the story he said, "I'm not sure what the point is." Apparently Sarah Kershaw, who wrote the article, is thrilled with the notion that anti-tobacco advocates went undercover to investigate air quality at a cigar convention at New York's Marriott Marquis hotel in Times Square. And maybe I don't get what's so thrilling about that undercover stuff, but I certainly get the point of the article. Cigar smoke is bad news! Maybe someone should tell the people at the convention. Thank God for journalists!

Monday, November 26, 2007

You're Eating That? Yes. Yes I am.

The lead editorial of today's New York Times asks readers, You're Eating That? Apparently it was a slow news day. Slow enough that the Times editorial page felt it was worth while to drub up more unnecessary scares about the food we eat. According to the Times, only 66% of American consumers are confident that the food they eat is safe. But what I want to know is if that worried 34% is the same group that still thinks 9-11 was an inside job. A poll may tell us that X number of people believe something, but that doesn't make it true. Of course, given the tone of the editorial it seems as though the Times would rather recount anecdotes then actually look to any empirical data about food safety.

If they actually looked to real data, they would have to tell us that the food we eat is pretty damn safe. I don't have numbers in front of me, but common sense tells most of us we know- or know of far more people who were killed in auto accidents than people who were hospitalized from the consumption of some sort of contaminated food. The fact is that the vast majority of food we eat is perfectly safe. Raw meat is loaded with bacteria because, well, it's raw meat. The media (and the public) freak out over e.coli only because we have regulations in place that demand meat containing e.coli be recalled. Salmonella is just as dangerous as e.coli, yet regulations allows chicken containing salmonella to be sold- some studies indicate that anywhere from 40-80% of chicken on store shelves contains salmonella. There's no outcry over salmonella because it would be near impossible to eliminate and therefore regulations reflect this reality. All the while, the truth is that any pathogen can be dealt with through proper handling and cooking to the proper internal temperatures.

But wait, the Times editorial page isn't done yet. They even have solutions!

The F.D.A. needs to follow through on promises to determine which companies abroad are more trustworthy and which require closer scrutiny. One quick solution would be to immediately require accreditation of private laboratories through the International Standards Organization. The best labs would welcome that certification.

The government should also require importers to announce which laboratory they will use in advance so that there can be no switching later. And some of the additional money from Congress should go to updating the F.D.A.’s own equipment for random or follow-up testing and to develop a system to more efficiently track data about imports, companies and their past performance.

This little passage just highlights the problem with big government today and the problem with the notion that government can solve every problem. Clearly, the Times doesn't have any clue what they're talking about, yet they somehow have the idea that existing laboratory certification procedures aren't good enough- rather, we need international standards. I highly doubt any of the editorial page writers took the time to investigate what goes into state-by-state laboratory accreditation. Yet they have no problem brazenly announcing that new and different standards are needed.

What really gets me is the same people who demand stricter regulation tend to be the same people who decry corporate power. But regulation is precisely what concentrates corporate power. For instance, the Times editorial page has called for stricter standards for food producers and stricter standards for laboratories. Regulatory compliance costs money- lots of money- and the more regulated an industry is, the more likely it is that the smaller companies will not have the resources to keep up with the regulations. More regulation of the sort the Times calls for would mean the end of smaller food producers and the end of smaller laboratories, meaning that larger and larger market shares would flow to the big companies. Additionally, when it comes to regulation, big companies have the money and resources to effect what the regulations are and how they are to be executed. Therefore, the scenario tends to be that regulation coincides with the interests of large companies and ends up keeping smaller competitors and innovators off the market.

Now, I'm just talking about general trends, but facts are facts, and regulatory compliance costs money. I'm not the sort of libertarian who would end all regulation, but I do think the regulatory burden we currently have could be drastically reduced - and unlike the Times, I'd like the regulations that are necessary to reflect reality. Not panic.

For matters of full disclosure, the writer is a member of the Connecticut Environmental Laboratory Advisory Committee

Libertarian Spin and the Ron Paul Revolution

I love Reason magazine and I love the writing of Reason editors Nick Gillespie and Matt Welch, but this column in the weekend's Washington Post has me thinking they've drank a bit too much of the Ron Paul kool aid. (Read more here on Reason.)

I've had a number of non-libertarians ask me about Ron Paul and my answer is always the same- even though it's exciting that a libertarian is fundraising so well and doing his best to muddle to GOP waters, I just can't get personally excited about a candidate who has no real foreign policy and who's nativist views put him on the wrong side of the immigration debate. In an odd way, the grassroots support of Dr. Paul has invigorated the DC libertarians who have long been a factor in the nations policy debate, yet have never played a major role in a real political horse race. Or, in other words, libertarian policy wonks finally get to feel important. I just don't think Paul's limited successes do much to excite the mainstream libertarians, like myself, who have never been excited about an election and probably never will be.

But forgetting for a moment about my own personal feelings on Ron Paul, what are we to make of Nick Gillespie and Matt Welch's claims that the Ron Paul revolution has coincided with a mainstreaming of libertarian ideas? According to this Washington Times story, the popularity of Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert is somehow a mainstream example of libertarian success. But while their programs may appeal to certain anti-authoritarian and anti-political sensibilities, you'd be hard pressed to call them libertarian. Just ask Jon Stewart what he thinks about national health care, tax cuts, and regulation of corporate America.

There certainly are strong libertarian sentiments throughout the country and throughout our culture- however, I think it's important to recognize that these sentiments are felt most strongly on a general level. (I.e. - I believe the role of government should be limited.) But when you get down to specific policy considerations, well, people are in favor of smoking bans because they don't like second hand smoke, people are in favor of trans fat bans because trans fats are a dangerous killer, and people are in favor of a national health care plan because health care is too important to be left strictly to the market. I would say that much of the libertarian sentiment that's supposedly out there is only libertarian in theory, and far less libertarian in practice.

As the Washington Times piece points out, centralization may no longer be in fashion, but that doesn't mean that people have decided to abandon the role of government- far from it. Today we get city-by-city health solutions and health care plans that make use of the existing market structure - But even if these ideas are being framed differently, they are still decidedly un-libertarian.

Personally, I don't get as wrapped up in the security versus safety debate as do some libertarians because I'm just not all that worried - these are the sorts of issues this country has faced since it's founding, going all the way back to Shay's Rebellion, the Whiskey Rebellion, and John Adams's Alien and Sedition Acts. We have periods of government over reach and periods of greater freedom, and the pendulum has swung back and forth over the years. I do get wrapped up about issues like health care, health regulation, and nanny state laws because they've multiplied exponentially since the 1960's, becoming even more prevalent in the past decade. And combine that with a regulatory state that has been growing since FDR which consolidates corporate power and cuts down on market competition, and I think we have the real issues that libertarians need to be worried about.

Ron Paul may invoke excitement from some libertarians, but I suspect much of his popularity and support stems from the anti-authoritarian, anti-political, libertarian generalists - not to mention anti-war folks, the protect our borders crowd, and other assorted conspiracy theorists and anti-internationalists. Listening to Dr. Paul in the debates and during his speeches, I just don't feel the libertarian message about the positive aspects of individuality coming across- I don't hear a Regan-esque message of morning in America. Something about the Paul campaign seems darker and that's what scares me. I'm the sort of libertarian- and I believe there are any number out there like me- who thinks that despite my many concerns, this country and our lives are getting better and better. I fear the soft hand of a nanny state, not the clenched grasp of a police one. It just seems to me as though Dr. Paul and his supporters fear a shadowy federal government and that fear has manifested itself in the same way some Republicans have manipulated the fear of terrorism.

My qualms are not just that Ron Paul isn't the right candidate for me - I don't thing he's the right candidate to be carrying the libertarian banner. Even forgetting about the foreign policy question, I just don't think Ron Paul- or his supporters- are the way we want libertarians to be identified. We should want libertarians to be identified with the positive- the positive power of markets and the positive power and abilities of the individual. Ron Paul's message and this pseudo-libertarian spin is merely reactionary and I can't find much hope in it. I think sometimes libertarians get ahead of themselves when it comes to politics and tend to support candidates that do little to help the cause. I hope I'm wrong about Ron Paul and the public perception of libertarianism, but I fear I may be right.

The Patriots Just Keep Going and Going

McBlog! loves that the Patriots were given a bloody nose last night. Only thing is, the Pats escaped with a 31-28 victory, keeping their perfect season intact.

Let me first respond to McBlog! before making some additional observations. He's right that the Eagles came out and smacked the Patriots in the face. Other than the Colts, no ones done that so far this year, so you've got to give the Eagles some credit. But you have to keep in mind that whatever the Eagles did, they still found themselves on the losing end - I certainly don't think any Eagle players are very happy today. The notion that the Eagles may have discovered the magical secret to beating the Patriots is sort of silly when you think about it. Yes, they didn't come out waiting to be walked over like Buffalo or Washington, but can we say duhhhh. Of course teams that come out and play aggressively while putting pressure on the QB and jamming the receivers to disrupt the opposing offense's timing is going to have a chance to win. I know the Patriots have been good, but this is the NFL - if you can get consistent pressure on a QB and keep the WR's from getting open, you're going to have a good chance to win. No QB in NFL history, other than perhaps Brett Favre in the game of his life, is going to be successful against such odds.

I also take issue with this notion that the Pats are somehow a finesse team that may be in trouble when it comes to the playoffs. Let's keep in mind that the Eagles put up 28 points because A.J. Feeley played an amazing game and the Eagles line did a superb job of handling the Patriots pass rush. I didn't see the Eagles grind the game out or dominate the Patriots front 7. And while I'll admit that the Eagle DB's did a number on the Patriots receivers- particularly Moss, Stallworth, and Faulk- Brady still managed to throw for 380 yards and the Patriots offense put up 24 points while leaving even more on the field (the missed FG and the Moss offensive pass interference). I know that perhaps that makes the Patriots look more like a finesse team, but just keep in mind that they did what they wanted to do, stuck with their game plan, and came out with a victory. They didn't run the ball, but they didn't even bother trying. Before this week- in case you were wondering- the Patriots had the NFL's 5th ranked rushing attack.

One thing I'm sure the Patriots are doing is keeping Lawrence Maroney fresh for the playoffs - this strategy worked well for them in 2003 with Antwoin Smith, who followed a mediocre regular season with a 3-game playoff series in which he averaged over 100 yards per game. The running game is not like the passing game, where timing and practice mean everything. Oh yeah, and when they needed to, they ran the ball well last night, twice punching it in at or near the goal line. Don't be surprised if the Patriots are very effective in the playoffs, doing what they want to do, whatever the weather. All that being said, I'm sure they will miss Sammy Morris. Just keep in mind that with all this I'm not saying the Patriots are unbeatable or assured of going undefeated - only that I think many of these critiques of the team thus far are unfounded and many of the so-called blue prints for beating the Patriots are generic blueprints for winning in the NFL. (And to follow along with that line of reasoning, many have given the Giants a shot at ending the Patriots undefeated hopes because they have the ability to get pressure on the QB with their front 4 - And yeah, that ability gives them a better shot than most, you'll win almost any game, at any level, if you can consistently pressure the opposing QB with only your front 4.)

Now lets take a moment to look at the good and the bad from last night's game.

The Good:

Tom Brady- Who, in the third game of the year in which the Patriots were challenged, once again came up huge. I've always been one to call Montana the best ever, but Brady may be surpassing him, not because of the numbers this year, but because of the way he handles adversity. I trace this back to last year's playoffs, where the Patriots trailed the Chargers in San Diego 21-13 in the 4th quarter. The Chargers were physically dominating the game and Brady stunk. Yet somehow, he managed to come up with big play after big play in the 4th quarter to help lead the Pats to a come from behind win.

Wes Welker- Yeah it's obvious, but forget the stats and just marvel at how tough he is.

Asante Samuel- The Pats need to pay him after this season is over. He's the best player on that defense and it's number one play maker.

The Bad:

The rest of the Pats secondary- I know Harrison and Hobbs were in and out of the game, but the Eagles really found a way to exploit the Patriots defense last night. It was so glaringly obvious that John Madden pointed out to a national audience some time in the first half that the Eagles receivers were just running different variation of in routes, taking advantage of the Patriot DB's outside technique. Now, there is a logic to playing this sort of defense, particularly when you're used to playing with the lead, you're looking to prevent big plays and you're looking to create turnovers. However, with no pass rush, the Eagles consistently made the Patriots look stupid, as A.J. Feeley hit pass after pass after pass in the middle of the field. I'm not sure this is a blue print for how to beat the Patriots, but if you remember, the Cowboys had a great deal of success throwing to their WR's in the middle of the field earlier this year. At least in my mind, these problems in pass coverage are my biggest worry.

Before I finish off, it's funny that a game like this has the so-called experts pontificating that the Pats now seem much more beatable than they did a week ago. It's funny because experts are quick to jump on the band wagon when a team like the Bills just rolls over and dies, yet experts are quick to find flaws when a team like the Eagles comes out, hits the Patriots in the face, gives them a great game and still can't over come Tom Brady and company. It sounds cliche, but winning these sorts of games builds character and knowing how to win them puts you in great shape when it comes time for the playoffs. I know more teams will be looking to give the Patriots a bloody nose, but they've already won twice this year after being bloodied. So what will it take to beat the Patriots?

Friday, November 23, 2007

Hey Bill Simmons ... You, Me, and That Kiddie Pool Filled With Jello Out Back

Fellow Patriots fan Bill Simmons is getting on my nerves. His columns this year have generally been a tad bit arrogant, but that's to be expected given the Patriots success. I started feeling the bad vibes a few weeks ago, after the Patriots escaped from Indianapolis with a truly awesome come from behind victory. Rather than enjoy the greatness that is Tom Brady, Simmons responded to the win with a column entitled Sore Winner that proceeded to turn a few bad calls into an anti-Patriots conspiracy theory. As fans of a team that started its dynastic run with the Tuck Rule call, I would think Patriots fans would adopt the teams own take-what-your given attitude before whining and name calling in a national column.

But, whatever. Then, just last week, there was Bill Simmon's last NFL column, the one that claims that the 2007 NFL season may go down as one of the most fantastic, memorable seasons of all time. According to Simmons, here's why:

Think about everything that has happened since Labor Day: Brett Favre finding the Fountain of Youth; CameraGate turning the Pats into the Cobra Kai Yankees; Adrian Peterson threatening to become the Barry Sanders of his generation; the dueling quests for 19-0 and 0-16; the running-up-the-score debates (one of the top-10 sports radio topics ever); Michael Vick's incredible fall from grace; big-time years from two spectacular receivers (Moss and T.O.); an increasingly bitter Colts-Pats rivalry; Brady's quest to shatter the TD record; the Norv Turner Face climbing to new heights; another Ricky Williams comeback; Roger Goodell turning into Buford Pusser; the Cris Carter-Steve Smith interview; one of the greatest "Monday Night Football" games ever (Favre beating the Broncos with the OT bomb to Greg Jennings); the Saints improbably climbing back from 0-4; Tony Romo and Ben Roethlisberger emerging as big-time QBs; the Browns finally waking up as a potential playoff team; Jimmy Kimmel getting banned from "MNF"; Herm Edwards shattering the Unintentional Comedy Scale on "Hard Knocks"; Vinny Testaverde's improbable comeback; Andy Reid's bizarre season; Jon Kitna and God's Team potentially sneaking into the playoffs; the Travis Henry Show (which should really be a reality show); Tiki Barber's quiet run for the Ewing Theory Hall of Fame; and the Niners potentially handing over a top-three pick to the Patriots in 2008.

There's a lot there, some of it memorable, but very little of it fantastic. I mean, really, that '94 baseball strike was sure memorable. League-wide embarrassments don't a fantastic football season make. Before getting in to anything Simmons has said, I have to ask myself, when I've gone to coaches, my favorite local sports bar, and watched 5-6-7-8 games at the same time, do I spend more of my time gasping in amazement, or laughing at stupidity? So far this year I think I'd have to give the edge to laughing at stupidity. Just last week I watched Byron Leftwich look stupid against the Bucs, the Bengals continue to explode against the Cardinals, and the battle of QB greats between Daunte Culpepper and Tavarias Jackson. I also watched Herman Edwards stifle Peyton Manning and for some God forsaken reason, had to endure the hell known as Eagles-Dolphins. Oh and in case you were wondering, Ben Roethlisberger followed his Bill Simmon's mention as a big time QB in the late game last weekend by looking awful in a loss to the "we're just a bit better than Miami" New York Jets.

Before I mention some of the good things going on this year, let me just mention some of the reasons why this NFL season has been pretty damn ugly.

1- Tackling has been extra ugly throughout the league this year. Even the dominant Patriots haven't been immune. It's not that poor tackling can't be overcome or that it even is certain to have an impact on every game, it's just that it's sloppy and it certainly doesn't make the season any more fantastic.

2- The young QB's have not emerged. Vince Young has been terrible to mediocre, as has Jay Cutler. Matt Leinart was really bad, started to split time with Kurt Warner, and then got hurt. J.P Losman was so bad that he lost his starting spot for a while to someone named Trent Edwards. And Phillip Rivers has taken such a giant leap back I wonder if he has a future in the league beyond this year.

3- I know that Packer-Broncos game was great (so was Bills-Cowboys earlier this year) but most of the prime time games have sucked. Last Sunday night, John Madden was talking about eating "suicidal" buffalo wings because the Pats-Bills game was over at some point in the first quarter. And for whatever reason it seems like prime time viewers have been subjected to a lot of 49ers and Bengals this year ... and Ravens.

4- Bad teams that are no fun to watch. I should be fair to the Bengals I just mentioned because they can be fun to watch at times. The same can't be said about the aforementioned Dolphins, Ravens and 49ers, along with the Jets, Raiders, Falcons, and Rams. And lets be honest, do we really want to watch teams like the Eagles, Redskins, or Chiefs play another one of the teams on this list?

5- The Chargers and Bears collapses. At least the Bears can blame poor QB play and any number of injuries. The Chargers on the other hand, only have Norv Turner, Norv Turner, Norv Turner, and Phillip Rivers to blame.

6- The year of the dull running backs. Fantasy football owners know what I'm talking about. Larry Johnson? Frank Gore? Shaun Alexander? Steven Jackson? We've had to watch two of the years most exciting RB's, Ronnie Brown and Adrian Peterson go down with injuries. Reggie Bush hasn't done anything exciting, Willie Parker has 2 TD's, and Thomas Jones has none.

I could go on, but lets just say that the level of play in the NFL this year has not been superb. But what about the good? Obviously there are any number of great stories. The Patriots pursuit of perfection. Brett Favre's resurgence. Randy Moss. Terrell Owens. Tony Romo. And as Simmons mentions, the resurgence of the Browns. The problem is, these stories are confined to the league's elite teams. For those who want to tell me otherwise I have just one thing to say - Did you watch the Lions-Giants game last weekend?

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Just What Is Politics Anyways?

A political debate at Thanksgiving this year sparked my thoughts as to the exact nature of political debate. I remember nights spent drinking and debating issues like the war on drugs with my friends. I always thought of these as political debates and things would usually get pretty heated. (If anyone is curious to know, I'd always seem to lose everyone who might have leaned to my side when I'd say that heroin should be legalized - funny that.) One thing I always enjoyed with my friends is that we didn't get bogged down in partisan nonsense - it's actually a good thing about the war on drugs, because it's the sort of issue that cleaves across party lines. But Thanksgiving was different - this debate was purely partisan, completely partisan at the expense of ideas.

While I am interested in the horse race nature of politics, I rarely have a horse in that race. I know I can't count on Democrats or Republicans to advance an agenda I care about, so I can just sit back in watch. While I understand the desire to have one's own side win, I'm still baffled at times by the way that the liberal/conservative, Republican/Democrat divide just dominates political debate. Tonight became an argument about which side is worse, which politicians did which slimy things, and whether or not Fox News is slanted right while other networks are slanted left. My answer to each topic would be, both sides are pretty bad, politics is a nasty business, and who cares what point of view media outlets take when we have so many options to chose from.

I never really thought about it to much before tonight, but as a libertarian it's the sort of thing that just gets to me. I'm really interested in issues- dismissing some of the stupid things that people tend to get worked up about and getting down to the nitty gritty of real problems that need to be addressed. And partisan bickering just takes away from that. Both sides of this liberal/conservative divide like to point out media biases, but I wonder if either side realizes that this focus on character assassination and demonizing the other side only serves to reinforce the existing power structure that is the two-party system. Until people can see beyond the bi-polar debate, I don't think there's a chance of changing much of anything in this political world of ours,

Let me also just add, I love my buddy John (and by the way, check out his new blog, McBlog, which focuses on sports, culture, and entertainment) because he's a conservative with strong points of view who doesn't get caught up in any of this nonsense. I'm not saying that liberals and conservatives don't have ideas that aren't worth hearing- I'm only saying that even if your political views seem to fit comfortably into one side of the bi-polar debate, focus on ideas, not nonsense.

The Times, Wrong Again

This from yesterday's editorial page on The Court and The Second Amendment. What really got me was this little passage.

A lot has changed since the nation’s founding, when people kept muskets to be ready for militia service. What has not changed is the actual language of the Constitution. To get past the first limiting clauses of the Second Amendment to find an unalienable individual right to bear arms seems to require creative editing.

The exact meaning of the Second Amendment is such a hotly contested issue because there is no overwhelming evidence one way or another as to whether or not the amendment refers to an individual right or the collective right of a militia. As someone who spent an entire law school semester studying the original meaning of the Bill of Rights, pouring through hundreds of pages of original documents, I can assure the New York Times that when it comes to the Second Amendment there is very little evidence that speaks directly to the issue and strong arguments that can be made for both sides. It's all fine and dandy to make your opinion, but it's just dishonest to indicate that the opposing point of view requires some sort of made up theory of Constitutional interpretation.

And just to throw in my two sense, it seems clear to me from many documents from the era of the founders that the right to gun ownership was considered an individual right- where it wasn't mentioned specifically seems to be more of a case of overlooking the obvious. Beyond that, even if you were to read the language as referring only to the right of a well organized militia to bear arms, the sort of militia referred to in the Bill of Rights most definitely would not apply only to the Armed Forces and National Guard of today. Militias in the 1700's were organized on purely local levels and their power or ability to organize did not flow from any sort of privilege granted by government- Put simply, even with the militia language, I can't imagine how that language could be constructed so as not to include the private wacko, anti-government sort of militias that are around today- and in which case it'd be hard to see how that group right couldn't be held by the individuals of that group.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Bill O'Reilly v. Jacob Sullum on Drugs

This is another one that's been sitting around for awhile. Check out Bill O'Reilly interviewing Reason's Jacob Sullum about his wonderful book: Saying Yes: In Defense of Drug Use.

I generally don't agree with Bill O'Reilly, but for whatever reason I often find him entertaining. This is not one of those times, probably because he not only yells, argues, and is unreceptive to other points of view, but because he doesn't seem to comprehend what Sullum's point actually is.

Rather than spend any more time on this, I'll let you enjoy the video, and read my comments that I left on the video page.

I think far too many here are missing Sullum's point and should probably take the time to read Saying Yes, which is just a brilliant, brilliant book.

O'Reilly uses language - "intoxication" - that supports his point of view, but ignores the complexity of what drug use is really all about. The bipolar distinction of responsible use and intoxication ignores the fact that the point of all drug use is to alter our mental state and to change the way we feel. And all drugs include caffeine, cold medicine, alcohol, pot ... whatever.

Sullum has brilliantly pointed out what should be quite obvious. Drugs are neither good or bad in and of themselves - it's how we use them that make them good or bad.

Alcohol is an easy example because we're all familiar with the buzz we get after a drink or two. That buzz is an example of altered consciousness, but we don't call that altered consciousness "intoxication" until we've had more to drink. Of course, being out for the night, having a few drinks on an empty stomach, and having to drive home is probably a tad bit more irresponsible than having 4 or 5 drinks on a Friday night at home.

Sullum's argument is that altering one's consciousness is part of the human condition and that the vast majority of people who engage in such behavior are responsible. O'Reilly's a narrow minded idiot.

Mayor Eddie Perez's Big Idea

For residents of Connecticut, the Sheff v. O'Neil case has loomed over the state for the past eleven years, fostering discussion and frightening parents. Hartford Mayor Eddie Perez's column from yesterday's Hartford Courant was a reminder of why we may need to be scared.

For those who may not remember, Sheff v. O'Neil was the landmark Connecticut Supreme Court decision that ordered that the primarily minority Hartford public schools be desegregated to combat the impact of racial and economic isolation. For better or for worse, the Court's decision was not the stuff of Brown v. Board of Ed. - the Supreme Court only ordered the relevant parties to attempt to find a solution among themselves. Eleven years later, as one can imagine, despite numerous attempts at special programs and magnet schools, the problems that necessitated the case in the first place remain.

As I stated to start out this post, Sheff v. O'Neil raises plenty of questions. For Eddie Perez, the answer is simple - take the 29 Hartford county school systems and combine them into one Hartford county school district. Forget the money component of the equation for a second and just think about what a large, unitary, county-wide school district would mean for local schools. I don't know if it would mean the end of the local school, but it certainly would put us on that path.

The real problem of Sheff v. O'Neil - and the real problem we face as a nation when it comes to education, is not about questions of district drawing and not about questions of funding. The real problem is that of poverty and communities that don't support their children. This is, after all, what racial and economic isolation basically mean. We're talking about poor minority kids in the city - And I really do believe there is something to be said about certain environments creating bad schools. Those of different political stripes can argue about why that is, but the fact remains that it is an issue.

But when it comes to solutions, the one proposed by Eddie Perez will never- and should never- see the light of day. The only way to eliminate the racial and economic segregation of kids in the cities would be to eliminate local schools altogether. I know this is not at all what Perez proposes, but the writing is on the wall- Why not have such a large system if you can't move the kids around within it?

Ultimately, I think my biggest problem with this sort of plan is that it amounts to a certain sort of social engineering. We've seen time and time again, that the problems of inner city schools can't be solved with money - and really, this is exactly what Sheff said. The only answer then is to change the very nature of communities and try to figure out how to place children in circumstances which are most beneficial to them. Not only do I not think government is capable of this task, but I think it's important to keep in mind that such changes should never come from above- rather, they should come from the grassroots, from the people themselves.

Monday, November 19, 2007

New York Times World Just Plain Scares Me

From today's editorial page: [T]he Bush administration’s proposed $1.4 billion counternarcotics aid package falls far short of what is needed to confront the [drug] problem.

It's just funny how the grassroots left understands the problems with the war on drugs, while the establishment left (the Times) thinks we need to spend even more money.

Friday, November 09, 2007

It's like, the corporations man ...

This is another one that's been kicking around for awhile. I never saved the link to the article that inspired my line of thought here, but really, the article wasn't all that important. Just imagine what your standard, know-nothing, college-educated do-gooder would have to say. I'll post a few quotes with my response, but just keep in mind that my point in writing is to point out how ignorant people are of the fact that the more you regulate business, the more business will have vested interest in embedding itself in our government. Or in other words, the problem of large corporations having so much influence on our government is precisely because they are subject to so much government oversight in the first place. Shall we begin ...

I would start by changing the legal definition of a corporation. Currently, a corporation is legally defined as a human being, and therefore it possesses all the liberties that go along with being a member of the human race.

That definition is clearly absurd--a corporation is little more than a profit-making machine formed by a loose collective of human beings. It is not entitled to protection under the Fourteenth Amendment, or any other amendment of the Constitution for that matter.

This is just another one of these things the college kids like to say that not only means nothing, but also shows just a complete lack of understanding of how our world works. If you think about the fact that a corporation actually is an association of human beings, then if you want corporations to have none of the rights we have as individuals, you need to articulate either why corporations should be treated differently than other organizations or why associations of human beings are somehow entitled to fewer rights than individuals. This is particularly difficult given the fact that freedom of association is right there in the Constitution.

And then you really think about it, and you wonder, exactly what rights should corporations- or other organizations for that matter- not be allowed to exercise. Freedom of speech? Due process? Freedom from search and seizure? The Bill of Rights would be meaningless if we lost our right to speak or to be protected from government intrusion the moment we organized with other people. And for anyone who wants to tell me that corporations are different because unlike political organizations, corporations are just about making money, then I'd like to hear about where in the Constitution such an idea could be found.

And let me just add- because the 14th Amendment is mentioned- that 14th Amendment protection is precisely what we do need in regards to corporations. It's really almost non-existent today with the deferential rational basis scrutiny applied by the judiciary, but the fact is that without the 14th Amendment protections of due process and equal protection, government would be free to pass laws blatantly favoring one business in favor of another - and I hardly thinks that's what anyone wants.

And then we have these thoughts ...

Additional regulation on corporations is also a must. While this includes environmental statutes, something that nobody seems to be discussing is how to regulate corporate America's human rights abuses abroad. In other words, if Nike is abusing workers in Indonesia, what can we in the United States do to make sure that ceases?

This is one of those ideas that's nice in theory, but absolutely impractical in the real world. The biggest problem is defining just what constitutes abuse in the first place. We can all agree that cutting off your workers fingers is abuse, but beyond the obvious, what about 14 hour work days? Or cramped, unclean working conditions? Or even child labor for that matter, in the case of child labor in poor countries where children work in order to put food in their mouths and avoid starvation?

The problem with this whole idea of enforcing standards for work conditions overseas is that the standard of living overseas is no where near to what we have here in America. Everything from standards of cleanliness to the amount of time people spend working is going to vary country to country, culture to culture. Personally, I would argue that those who would impose standards from the outside- standards based on our standard of living and how we currently live our lives- are the real imperialists.

The biggest problem leftists tend to have is the equating of economic and political power. It is true that today, large corporations hold a great deal of political influence. Leftists like to claim this is the result of "unregulated capitalism," but the truth is that this is the result of regulated capitalism. There are so many laws and regulations that impact corporate bottom lines that corporations need to be involved in politics. Additionally, because regulation has become so ingrained into our conception of government, corporations seek to influence the political process in order to help craft regulations that institutionalize their economic interests and provide themselves competitive advantages. Again, business becomes involved in politics because politics becomes involved in business. Just imagine an unregulated company with a low tax burden- why would they want to waste their money on politics?

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

There's Something (Nasty/Mean?) About Family Guy

At least, that's what I thought as I watched the shows 100th anniversary special this past Sunday on Fox. Part of the celebration involved a clip tribute of the shows first 100 episodes, spliced with footage of creator/writer/voice talent Seth MacFarlane interviewing various people who seem to want Family Guy off the air. (People who don't seem to know that they're being interviewed by MacFarlane.)

As I watched the show and listened to MacFarlane, I realized there was something about him that just rubbed me the wrong way. If you've ever listened to Simpsons DVD commentary, you get the feeling that Matt Groening and the Simpsons writers are basically a bunch of smart, funny nerds. And as a South Park fan, I hold the opinion that Trey Parker and Matt Stone are just plain geniuses- and they just seem like guys I'd want to hang out with. MacFarlane, on the other hand comes across as an arrogant, snobby, know-it-all, prep school type. (And it just so happens, as I discovered on Wikipedia, that McFarlane is from Kent, Connecticut and went to the Kent school.)

I like to say South Park is an equal opportunity offender- taking their shots and any and all comers, but South Park's brand of humor is really more sophisticated than that. South Park doesn't take many cheap shots- generally, when they target someone or something, they do so with good reason. The more I thought about it on Sunday, the more it seemed to me that Family Guy takes a lot of cheap shots.

Two things stood out in my mind, one of which was brought up by my friend John a few months ago. The first is that Family Guy can be outright hostile to religion- not just to organized religion but to peoples faith and religious values. South Park has taken their fair share of shots at religion, but those shots have always been nuanced. They did an entire episode about Mormons, but the not so subtle jabs at Mormon theology were inter spliced with an almost glowing look at Mormon family values. As Trey and Matt said in the commentary, (and I'm paraphrasing) maybe Mormons believe a lot of crazy stuff, but who's to say there's anything wrong with that if it's what makes them happy and helps them build strong families.

The other thought that occurred to me is that Family Guy is pretty big on stereotypes of the South, Texas, and rednecks. I seem to recall an entire episode loosely based around such stereotypes. Unlike, say, King of the Hill, which examines such stereotypes through the lens of the culture wars, Family Guy's use of stereotypes seem to be gratuitous. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that many of the stereotypes used on Family Guy just seem gratuitous. And maybe that makes me a bit like Dave Chapelle, but that makes me a little uncomfortable.

Updated 11/7/07 @ 12:39: It's not that I don't enjoy Family Guy - It makes me laugh at times. But there was a joke the other night with a retarded person, and not only did I not find the joke funny, I wasn't really sure whether there was something more to it, or if the joke was just making fun of the retarded. That's what I mean by uncomfortable.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Very Brief Mini-Movie Reviews

I saw a couple of movies in the past several weeks that greatly exceeded my expectations- the first was The Pursuit of Happyness, the one starring Will Smith and his real life son as a father and son fighting poverty, homelessness, and the IRS in trying to become a big time stockbroker. The movie received lukewarm reviews when it first came out, and I had dismissed it as the usual sort of feel good clap trap, so I was a bit surprised when I found myself enjoying it on HBO last week.

I can also honestly say I enjoyed the film as something a bit different, and, honestly, a bit libertarian. It's just plain great to see a Hollywood film where stockbrokers are not villains, but rather honest men making an honest living. Smith's Chris Gardner spends the film literally pursuing happiness- traipsing from end of San Francisco to another, attempting to take care of his son, complete his job selling portable bone density scanners, and fulfill the obligations of a full time internship with Dean Witter. Sometimes I question whether many of my generation have that sort of motivation and dedication, so it's refreshing to see it on screen. And as Chris Gardner reminds us in the film, Thomas Jefferson didn't write about guaranteeing the right to happiness, only the right to pursue it. It's not the film of the year, but it's very watchable, and Smith's performance alone is worth your time.

The other movie I'd put into the surprising category was "Let's Go To Prison" featuring Dax Shepard, the brilliantly funny Will Arnett, and the underrated Chi McBride. This one received horrible reviews, garnering a mere 8% on Rotten Tomatoes. (I do have to admit however, that one of the reviewers jokes, "Let's Go To DVD," made me lol out loud.)

Now, the movie is no gem, but it was much better than what most reviewers would have you believe. For all the portrayals of prison we've seen- both on the big screen and the little screen- this comes across as one of the more honest looks at life in the slammer. Yes, it's over the top, but that doesn't mean that there's no truth there. Perhaps the most telling bit was after Arnett's Nelson Biederman IV begins to cope with how small and disgusting his cell is, he asks Shepard's John Lyshitski what he's supposed to do. Lyshitski, in the midst of his fourth stint in prison, is a bit confused- sitting around, not having anything to do, and waiting for lunch is exactly what goes on in prison. It's just a neat little scene that captures the essence of being imprisoned and having your freedom taken away.

I'd recommend the movie for Arnett, beloved by Arrested Development aficionados, and for the scathing critique of the Prison system in the midst of a somewhat over the top film. The film attempts to lay rest to any notion that our prison system rehabilitates- in fact, the system seems to create career criminals. Some of the usual sorts of prison abuses are only hinted at in favor of showing a system itself that's drowning in corruption, from the guards all the way up to the warden. Again, not the best film of the year, but maybe one to dust off and pull out of the scrap heap of "Films Not To Watch."

Monday, November 05, 2007

Just A Few Thoughts On Pats-Colts

Or Super Bowl 41&1/2 or whatever they were calling yesterday's game. I don't want to re-state the obvious, so I'll just spend my time here making a few not so obvious points.

1- The Colts and Patriots have the two best defenses in the NFL. Period. Brady and Manning, the leagues two best quarterbacks, who've spent most of the year not being touched by opposing defenses, were actually tossed to the ground, hurried, and flustered yesterday. Brady did next to nothing before the explosive 4th quarter comeback as the Colts made it impossible for him to get the ball down the field. And Manning, other than the check down touchdown to Joseph Addai, couldn't complete anything down the field all day.

I know the Steelers play the Ravens tonight, and that's supposed to be the big defensive match up of the weekend, but just keep in mind what the Pats and Colts were both able to do against two incredible offenses. I saw the Steelers give up 31 points to a Denver team that could have been shut out by both Detroit and San Diego this year.

The Pats and Colts are the two bets teams in the league, bar none, and I'm not saying that they're defensive prowess is equally unassailable. It's just something to think about really. Think about yesterday's game and ask yourself what other defense you would want come playoff time.

2- I've heard some talk today about the poor officiating and the possibility the Colts were illegally piping in extra sound into the RCA dome. My response - blah, blah, blah.

3- Maybe I'm stupid for saying this the day after Adrian Peterson broke the single game rushing record, but Joseph Addai may be the best RB in the league. After he killed the Pats in the first half on all of those check down passes, the Pats left a linebacker to shadow him on every pass play the rest of the game. On the one pass Addai caught in the second half, he ran up, faked a block on Junior Seau, faked to the inside, and took off to the outside, leaving Seau in the dust. Addai made Patriots miss all game, but that one just stands out in my mind.

4- See above. The Pats adjusted and shut down Addai in the second half. 14 carries for 80 yards, and 4 catches for 107 yards in the first half, 12 carries for 32 yards, 1 catch for 7 yards in the second. In the first half, with Addai helping to control the clock, the Pats only had 3 real possessions. They had double that, 6, in the second half, giving them enough opportunities to get back in the game.

5- These Colts are better than any Colts team I remember, and it'd be beyond obvious to say the same about the Pats team. Can anyone else think of two teams in a single season that have separated themselves from the rest of the league as much as these two? I'm happy the Pats snapped their three game funk versus the Colts, but I'm under no illusions about how easy it might be when they meet again.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Best QB's of My Generation

Just another post that's been sitting around ... rather than get too deep into it, let me just post the list of who I feel are the top 10 QB's of my generation - the past 25 years or so. Comments are welcome.

In no particular order,

Joe Montana
Dan Marino
Troy Aikmen
Jim Kelly
John Elway
Steve Young
Brett Favre
Warren Moon
Peyton Manning
Tom Brady

School Vouchers

I've brought it up before, but I've had this post sitting around for awhile, along with this link to a Democratic Underground discussion on school vouchers.

Most liberals oppose school vouchers at every turn, and for the life of me I just can't understand it. Parents with money can send their kids to any school they want- all vouchers do is give poor parents the same opportunities as the rich.

I understand that some people feel like voucher programs are an attack on public education, and ultimately, yes, vouchers are an attack on public education. My sense of disbelief steams from the fact that so many people find the institution of public education more important than the need of an individual child to get a decent education. Politicians and policy makers discuss education endlessly, but most of those same politicians and policy makers are opposed to giving parents and children the ability to actually make choices about education. It just baffles me.

More Health Care Stuff From the Archives

Another post that's just been hanging around the nether regions of the lonely libertarian is this one from the Daily Kos, arguing against the concept of free market health care. I've included several comments below.

First, there's this:

Most goods and services can be priced and delivered efficiently by a (truly) free market.

Health Care is NOT one of them. You can not plan to be sick when you happend to have the money to afford treatment.

When you are sick, you do not decide which treatments are available.

when are are sick you are in no position to negociate the price of a treatment.

[T]he person(s) ultimatley responsible for the employeer based US Health insurance system is ....Adolf Hitler and PM Tojo. During WWII wages wer fixed by the US Government so employers enticed teh short supply workers by offering benefits such as paid health insurance.

Thus the US in 1946 had a comprehensive and fairly generous system of Employer Based Health Care and a Government based system seemed unnecessary to most Americans at the time.

As the rest of the world rebuilt form WWII and became serious competition for American companies those generous employer health insurance policies have been eliminated or have been severly degraded (see my post above.)

We need to shrink the power of the Health Insurance lobby until it's weak enough to drown in a bathtub.

And then this:

A truly market-based solution to health care costs would require 'perfect knowledge' by the consumer as well as true competition among providers and choice by the consumer. We don't have any of these things. The AMA and insurance companies have a monopoly (or oligopoly) on the provider market, and so there is no real competition. Along the same lines, consumers do not have choice--insurance dictates who we can see, when we can see them, and what service we can get. And, consumers do not have perfect knowledge of the product. Most consumers do not know whether, say, for a particular type of cancer, surgery, chemo, and/or radiation is the best treatment. We're at the mercy of the physician to tell us (and different specialists have different incentives to push us one way or the other) and at the mercy of the insurance companies to tell us which form they will pay for.

In general, I find these comment threads so interesting not because they represent the views of a few leftist wackos, but because I think, deep down, that these are the articulations of the feelings of a sizable number of Americans. Ultimately, I think many people come to the wrong sorts of conclusions, but at the same time there's a lot of insight to be had.

The anger and frustration toward insurance companies and HMO's is well-founded, and even among those on the left there is a recognition that our health care system is focused more on the health insurance industry as opposed to individual health care needs. There is even the recognition that our political and legal system is geared to those health related industries which are already in power. But after all that I just feel like there's a collective failure of imagination. Yes, this is the way the system works now, but it's not the only way the system could work. Far too many people act as though these failures mean national, universal coverage is the only way to go. Very few people even bother addressing the notion of actually utilizing a true free market based system to provide the greatest quality care to the greatest number of people.

The comments I've included here explicitly state that a free market for health care could never work. The first comment says this is because when you are sick, you don't decide on what treatments are available and you are in no position to negotiate costs. This is the health care at the barrel of a gun argument and it sounds appealing, but it misses a key ingredient of how markets actually work. First off, we generally do not negotiate prices on an individual level. Businesses set prices according to their supply and the demands of the market, so when you go in for treatment, the cost of that treatment has already been set. And second off, the scope and availability of treatments are just like everything else in life- there are only a certain number of options for every given situation. If your house has termites, your number of options to deal with the problem is probably not all that different than the number of options to deal with cancer.

The second commenter complains about the lack of perfect knowledge in making health care choices. After all, how can we make choices about cancer treatments when we know nothing about cancer. The same could be said about all sorts of products, and the truth is, no consumer ever has perfect knowledge. I think it is fair to say treatments on your body are a bit more costly and a lot more important than most of our other expenses, however, this is precisely what we have doctors for- to help explain these choices to us. And really, isn't this a great reason to eliminate the numerous middlemen and make health care decisions strictly decisions between patients and doctors. Or at least, that's what I'd like to see. Universal health care advocates would merely replace the insurance and HMO middlemen with government middlemen.

I spend so much of my time blogging on these issues because I feel far too many people are willing to abandon the market- some people with no reasons at all, and others with reasons that are filled with holes.