Friday, February 29, 2008

Simpsons Shouldn't Have Done It

I've always kicked around the idea of doing a post about how the Simpsons of the past decade or so is nowhere near the level of the show at it's height in the 90's. It's a daunting task, mostly because I grew up loving the Simpsons. While I ahven't quite gotten to it yet, I did catch an episode last night, The Heartbroke Kid,which is one of those newer Simpsons episodes that seems to encompass everything wrong with what the show has become.

In the The Heartbroke Kid, Bart gets fat after chowing down on junk food from the school's new corporate sponsored snack machines. He gets so fat that he has a heart attack and is sent to fat camp. The Simpsons I remember was subtle in it's commentary, never preachy, but the new Simpsons tend to wield their p.c. politics like a blunt instrument. I mean come on, kids as mindless zombies in the wake of advertising, snack food machines making our kids fat. It's just not the sort of thing that makes for clever and entertaining tv. The most concise indictment I could come up with? Just imagine what the South Park episode would be like.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Let's Just Be Blunt

Economist Walter Williams on Costs vs. Benefits. I love the bluntness.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported that there were 43,443 highway fatalities in 2005. If we had a maximum speed law of 15 mph, the death toll wouldn't be nearly as high, probably not even as high as 500. You say, "Williams, that's a crazy idea!" You're right, but let's not call it crazy; it's more accurate to say: saving some 43,000 lives aren't worth the cost and inconvenience of a 15 mph speed limit.

The biggest problem in America today is not nearly enough people understand this sort of basic economic thinking.

The HMO Killed My Baby Today

Alternet has one of those really dumb stories on how the for-profit health care industry is literally killing us. I've blogged numerous times on the various problems with our health care system and have even suggested that a single payer system might actually be preferable to our current monstrosity. There are some reasonable arguments to made in favor of single payer care, but this is not one of them. Advocates of universal care need to get past the idea that the problem of patients being denied expensive treatments is one that would be simply solved with a single payer system.

It's as if some people on the left have no idea how money works. Whether it's the government or an HMO, any system of managed care will have someone making decisions about costs. And any time you have large bureaucracies making decisions regarding individuals you're going to have some people who get screwed in some way or another. There is no way a single payer system would ever function in a way that gives patient doctors the final say in expensive treatment regiments. Government can't work that way as the money to pay for these treatments has to come from somewhere. As I said, there's a lot of worthwhile debate going on about our health care system. This just isn't one of those debates.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Jericho's Huge Tiny Mistake

Since Jericho's first season ended last April, I've spent months following the program's rebirth, attempting to convince the world at large to give the apocalyptic drama a real shot. Three weeks into Jericho's seven episode Season Two run and I have to say I'm a little disappointed. What made Jericho a truly special program was that it wasn't just "24 if the bombs actually went off". The show captured the feeling of small town America, inspiring hope for our values in the face of tragedy. Part of the fun was the mystery of the attack, but the show thrived on the ever growing cast of characters who dealt with the tragedy and the aftermath in their own unique ways.

This season we're left with Hawkins and Jake struggling to reveal the truth of a massive government cover-up. We're given a taste of human drama with the ongoing story of Stanley and Mimi, but those brief moments- so disconnected from the rest of the plot- only serve to highlight everything else we're missing.

Part of the fault lies in CBS only commissioning seven episodes this spring, necessitating a more condensed story line. Additionally, from what I understand, CBS also put tighter strings on the budget, making it impossible to include the full extended cast on a weekly basis. That's why their are plenty of faces we haven't seen this year. But the truth is, even with the limitations, there's been some sloppy storytelling. First and foremost, as opposed to last season's slowly unfolding mystery, this season we've been given the plot template from day one. Clearly, there will be some sort of stand againast Valente and the new Cheyenne government. Clearly, Jennings and Rawl and the evil mercenaries of Ravenwood are intamitely connected with the new government. And clearly, the new characters, Major Beck, and the blond Jennings and Rawls employee are going to end up with our good guys. The first season gave us plenty of shades of grey- The helpful criminal Jonah Prowse, Mayor Grey Anderson's semi-incompetent administration, and the moral shortcomings of nearly all of our major characters

Beyond the basic plot, there's also the use of the show's characters. While some have been essentially written off, others are being written in. Eric Green has been a footnote the last two weeks and while his ascension to the mayor's office makes sense, there's still been very little for him to do. Emily seems to be an afterthought, sticking around because she's blond and pretty, but only doing whatever the plot requires of extra characters. And Heather, given the role of ambassador between Jericho and New Bern, seems to be similarly available as needed. We've seen the town rebuilt, but we haven't seen a clue of how anyone is doing emotionally, other than Stanley and Mimi.

The worst part is the complete loss of Jericho's sense of community. What had been a real, fully fleshed out, vibrant town seems reduced to five or six characters meeting in secret. Now this all being said, I'm still enjoying the show and I'd love to see it picked up for a full third season. But I guess it just goes to show how much work it is to actually come up with real good television.

A Pox On Both Your Houses

In local news, today's Hartford Courant reports on the liberal think tank, Connecticut Voices For Children, who are all steamed about the state's 30% film tax credit. According to the group, this means an estimated $116 million in lost revenue next year. What we really have is a lot of mind-boggling stupidity all around.

A tax credit means that film companies at work in the state are paying some sort of reduced tax rate. In this case, that means that when their income is taxed, 30% of that income will be tax exempt. It does not mean they're not paying any taxes, nor does it mean that the state is literally writing checks to big film companies. The only reason you have an increasing number of major movie productions going on in Connecticut is because of the tax credit. Take away the tax credit and you'll probably be losing a great deal of tax revenue. So the state would have less revenue in which to invest in the children Voices For Children cares so much about.

Unless you actually understand what a tax credit really means, you may have been under the wrong impression after reading the article - and apparently Connecticut Voices For Children has no idea what they're talking about either.

That all being said, it's funny how politicians love these wacky little tax schemes. The truth is, they do make a great deal of financial sense - everyone's a winner when the movie companies can pay less in taxes and the state gets more revenue and an influx of jobs. Of course, seeing how well this works for the film industry, you'd think some of the politicians would get the idea that this could work in other industries. But rather than going across the board and rather than granting tax credits, why not just reduce the corporate income tax rate? Why not set taxes at a rate that would actually make businesses want to come here? I don't have a big problem with the film tax credit, but the truth is, it's sort of a slap in the face to businesses that have been here for years. Why should businesses be invested in staying in the state when the state would rather give tax breaks to newcomers.

It all just goes to show how totally fucked up the system is. I always like to say that liberals have it half right when they complain about special interests and government favors to big business. The thing is, the problem isn't business. The real problem is the government failing to treat everyone equal, giving special favors to certain industries and companies.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

More Of The Usual Sex Offender Hysteria

Catching up on some old local news, the Hartford Courant reports on a 15 year-old sex offender, who had the terms of his probation altered so he could continue to attend Simsbury High School. Interesting not so much for the story as for the public outrage. Bill O'Reilly would be proud, as Connecticut parents ignorantly vent on dangerous sex offenders and judges who don't get it.

To the best of my ability, allow me to recap the story. The Courant reporting is unclear on some points, but this is what we've got. In November 2007, a then 14 year-old Simsbury boy plead guilty to a charge of risk of injury to a minor based on charges he molested two young boys. The initial charges involved first degree sexual assault, but those were dropped upon the plea deal. The boy received probation as part of the plea deal, probation which contained a term that restricted contact with individuals under age 14. The problem was, there are a number of 13 year-old students at Simsbury High School, the high school the boy was attending. So a change in the terms of probation was sought and the terms were modified to allow him to attend school- If the terms weren't modified the town would have had to pay for some form of alternative education. And now, of course, the righteous are up in arms.

This highlights perhaps the biggest problem of sex offender laws- once the public sees the sex offender label, logic and reason go out the door- no one is all that interested in what the sex offense was, people just assume everyone is in danger. In this case, we really don't know what it was that the young man did, but we do know he was younger than 14 at the time- maybe 12 or 13- and that it involved young boys- which I would imagine to be kids under the age of 10. I'd also imagine that there was no physical violence involved, as I can't imagine a violent kid being allowed to stay in school. Of course, some posters on the comment thread still urge parents to watch out for their daughters. Even though the kid's crime involved little boys. Given what we know, I'd venture that this kid is in much more danger from his male classmates than any high school girls are in danger of this teen sex offender.

The outrage over the boy's attendance in high school and the modification of his probation is just plain misplaced and doesn't fit any of the facts we have. It's just typical sex offender hysteria. The more difficult question is what to do with teen sex offenders in the first place, particularly those who molest young children. It's said that these sort of offenders can't be rehabilitated, but how do you tell the difference between a young teen who's going to grow into an adult pedophile and a young teen who's merely confused about appropriate sexual behavior? Here's the thing- there are a lot of really difficult questions when it comes to sex offenders and it doesn't help when hysteria clouds the real issues.

The lonely libertarian's list of the smartest tv shows ever

Mensa had their list, so here's mine. The top ten smartest tv shows of all-time. I've confined myself to what I know, meaning a show like The Wire- which I've heard so many good things about- is off the table.

1. The Prisoner

The 60's era mini-series caught my eye in high school as a shining example of what could be done with the medium of television. Patrick McGoohan's Number 6 attempts to escape from the Village, fights a psychological battle of wills, and delves into philosophical notions of the individual.

2. Battlestar Galactica
I hope you all realize I mean the new series. It's bold in what it sets out to accomplish, dark in it's application, and downright thought provoking in it's execution. It's the rare the show that never talks down to it's audience.

3. South Park
Probably the most subversive show to ever grace the airwaves. It manages to delve into issues of human nature, explain economic theory, and question social norms, all under the guise of a show about four foul-mouthed fourth graders.

3. The X-Files
The show had it's good and bad moments, but the good moments were some of the best hours ever seen on tv. In a show that was supposedly about the search for the truth, the best moments questioned whether there even was such a thing. Probably the only show to ever be so self-reflective, yet go on to bigger and greater heights.

5. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
Less madeup techno-babble and more beleivable geo-politics than the other shows in the Star Trek universe. The show delved into war, religion, friendship, and marriage, while showcasing a cast of well over 20 characters who evolved as the show went on.

6. Seinfeld
Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld unraveled the traditional sitcom from the inside out, all while becoming a template for those interested in the unwritten rules of human interaction.

7. House

Not for the medical mysteries as much as for the show's stilted take on human nature and the almost Seinfeld-like obsession of Dr. House's refusal to accept social niceties.

8. The Simpsons
Or at least, the first decade of the show. In it's heyday the show was layered with cultural references and subtle in it's politics.

9. Arrested Development The show is so layered with inside jokes and call backs that it grows funnier on repeated viewings and your appreciation grows over time.

10. Carnivale HBO's attempt at telling a six-year story of good and evil along the backdrop of a dust bowl carnival was cut short after only two years. Critics thought the slow was too slow in developing, but I always had the impression of a novel brought to life.

Obviously, this list is by no means the last word. I'd welcome comments about other shows, but I'd be particularly interested in criticism of the shows I've included here.

Who's Really The One Stuck Behind A Rigid Idealogical Wall?

I'll admit, I often write about my "faith" in the free market, a phrase that invokes images of blind, unscientific belief. So I suppose I should clarify what I mean when I say I have faith in the free market- I don't mean a belief that the free market can solve every problem or the free market, in every instance, can make every single person's life better. I only mean that when I look to history I see that the free market is the one mechanism that has moved masses of people out of destitute poverty and that the scientific and technological innovations which continue to enrich our lives exist because individuals sought the rewards of the free market. My faith is not so much an unquestioning belief as it is an understanding of history.

Of course, history is always subject to debate and my mind is never closed to those that would debate the subject. Nor is my mind closed to the limitations of the free market. Yes there is poverty and yes people can lose their jobs. And I don't think there's anything wrong with the notion that society has an obligation to assist those who have fallen on hard times. So as I said, I have an open mind, as do most free marketers. But I don't think the same can be said for the other side. Witness this Democratic Underground post on the
expansion of Wal-Mart's in-store health clinics
. The consensus in the comment thread is that this a horrible, no good, very bad idea.

Wal-MArt needs to be stopped.
They will become the only place in some small towns to do ANY commerce.
In Fascism - The merger of State and Corporate Interests they become The Company Store.

They want a slice of that national insurance pie
only the poor,unemployed and uninsured will go to "the company doctor". They may be better off with no medical insuance at all

"...a burden on the health care system..."
If Mal-Wart was really interested in changing their image and fixing the healthcare crisis in this country (and of course, they're not interested), they'd use their vast wealth to buy armies of lobbyists to lobby Congress that we need to transition to single-payer. What MW and other nazi businesses are too stupid and short-sighted to see, is that single-payer would benefit them and lower their costs.

If there was any glimmer of hope for national healthcare, this just took it around back and put a bullet through it's head.

If anything shows people we need Single Payer National Healthcare, it is developments like this
I think people look at these clinics as a depressing sign of the times. I have zero health insurance and had to go to one in Wally World. The people I was waiting in line with commented on how bad our healthcare is to come to this. I say that each one of these that are built brings more people in the National Healthcare Camp. Repukes will of course comment on its "greatness"

Paint It Black-
You're witnessing the Republican answer to universal health care
Allow giant mega-corporations like Walmart to set up cheap clinics for low-income people.
I'm sure they'll provide the best medication that China has to offer.

Except until it turns out that the vaccine or the needle were sourced from the lowest bidder - who happened to be the Guangzhou Chemical Company in China. Chinese chemical companies are not licensed for pharmaceutical production, but they make them anyway - and that classification difference means there's no drug agency oversight.

Even if it's not right now, who's to say that when things settle out and people become complacent, that they won't switch things out quietly when no one's looking to make that extra dollar. This happens all the time on other products, a supplier change under the same brand name makes the new product that's nowhere near as good. GE does that, actually. GE products sold in Wal-Mart are produced separately and handled separately than GE products sold elsewhere. At least, that was the case a few years ago.

Personally, I'd rather not trust the company known for reselling tainted, remaindered Chinese merchandise with my health care. Especially with recent high-profile security breaches, I'd rather not trust any retail chain with my medical records of any kind. Who knows what kind of marketing database will be cross-referenced with that.

'Retail clinics' Discount healthcare can only come at a price, and I doubt it will be at the expense of the provider. We need healthcare solutions, yes, we don't need Walmart healthcare.

They Will Cram Untested, Low Price Pharmaceuticals down our throats and make huge margin further killing the elderly with cheap low quality goods that are made to destroy us rather than help us.

*** I live in the same neighborhood as the CEO of costco and I will have MUCH TO SAY when I meet with him in a month or so.

THe only reason Walmart wins is the costco and the other dem companies of the world don't get there first.

we need to do this on our own terms.

but in general quality clinics makes sense, making healthcare more accessible and affordable is the goal, but Walmart will make it more dangerous , harder to access and more expensive.

*** you can thank andy groves of Intel for this.. he gave the idea of "disruptive markets" to the CEO of walmart. fuck you very much andy!

A few of the commenters delve into the notion that maybe, just maybe, low-cost, affordable, and easily accessible health care for minor illnesses and ailments would be beneficial to the poor. Everyone else can't get over the fact that this is Wal-Mart we're talking about and Wal-Mart is supposed to be evil. That and any health care ideas that aren't single-payer driven just aren't worth the time of day. So tell me again, who's more closed minded- the free market types or the anti-free marketers?

Monday, February 25, 2008

Organization For Geniuses Ranks Mad About You 9th Smartest TV Show Of All-Time

Another bit of fun news from last week: Mensa Picks The Top 10 Smartest TV Shows Of All-Time. Here's the list from the group that's supposedly the world's most brilliant, along with Mensa Chairman Jim Werdell's comments:

1. "M*A*S*H" – It had smart repartee and was so much more than a comedy.
2. "Cosmos" (with Carl Sagan) – Sagan was able to communicate something extremely complicated to the layman and do it well, and that’s unusual for a scientist at his level.
3. "CSI" — The way they use science to solve their programs is intriguing to viewers.
4. "House" – Again, it’s high level type of show; it’s the personality that makes it a winner, plus it deals with science.
5. "West Wing" – You had to pay attention to stay up with it. The repartee was fast and furious and you needed a fairly high level intelligence to keep up with it.
6. "Boston Legal" – It’s primarily because of the characters. The story lines are okay, but the characters are incredible and the writers give them great dialogue.
7. "All in the Family" – The show dealt with social issues before its time and was on the forefront of trying to show people’s feelings, beliefs and the complexities of personality, in both a serious and comedic way.
8. "Frasier" – The repartee was sensational; the main characters were very good. Even though they portrayed people who were likely of high intelligence, they also showed their weaknesses.
9. "Mad About You" – It’s a personal favorite, I loved the characters and the back and forth. It was very smart.
10. "Jeopardy" – It’s about the only game show that really tries to test people’s intelligence. There’s very little luck involved, and there are few game shows like that. I don’t watch it all that much honestly, but from what I’ve seen it tests more than knowledge, it tests intelligence too.

Either the Mensa folks don't watch a lot of tv or Mensa isn't all it's cracked up to be. Some of these shows I can see- Frasier was smart, All In the Family was smart, and I'll take their word on M.A.S.H. But Boston Legal? CSI? Mad About You? Seriously, Mad About You? It wasn't very funny, it wasn't very witty and as an observation on human nature it pales in comparison to Seinfeld, which happens not to be on the list- Nor is the Simpsons, despite at least 10 good years of very intelligent programming. And no South Park and no Arrested Development.

Also missing from the list? One of my personal all-time favorites, The Prisoner, whose finale ranks as one of the all-time thought-provoking existential pieces ever to be on tv. I'm also surprised to not to see any sci-fi on the list, no Star Trek of any incarnation, no Battlestar Galactica, and no X-Files.

If this was a halfway decent list, I'd be happy House had made it, but I'm not sure what to think as it's grouped with dramas like CSI and The West Wing. Maybe House belongs on the list, but not so much for the medical mysteries as for the incredably deep philosophical subtext. But what about the shows that have thrived on HBO? The Sopranos, The Wire, Big Love, Deadwood, and one of my forgotten favorites, Carnivale.

I'm more then reminded of the Simpsons episode They Saved Lisa's Brain, when the Springfield chapter of Mensa takes charge of the town, yet can't seem to run it successfully.

Problems From The World Of Socizlized Medicine

Meant to link to this story last week- Paying Patients Test British Health Care System.

Although the government is reluctant to discuss the issue, hopscotching back and forth between private and public care has long been standard here for those who can afford it. But a few recent cases have exposed fundamental contradictions between policy and practice in the system, and tested its founding philosophy to its very limits.

One such case was Debbie Hirst’s. Her breast cancer had metastasized, and the health service would not provide her with Avastin, a drug that is widely used in the United States and Europe to keep such cancers at bay. So, with her oncologist’s support, she decided last year to try to pay the $120,000 cost herself, while continuing with the rest of her publicly financed treatment.

By December, she had raised $20,000 and was preparing to sell her house to raise more. But then the government, which had tacitly allowed such arrangements before, put its foot down. Mrs. Hirst heard the news from her doctor.

“He looked at me and said: ‘I’m so sorry, Debbie. I’ve had my wrists slapped from the people upstairs, and I can no longer offer you that service,’ ” Mrs. Hirst said in an interview.

“I said, ‘Where does that leave me?’ He said, ‘If you pay for Avastin, you’ll have to pay for everything’ ” — in other words, for all her cancer treatment, far more than she could afford.

Officials said that allowing Mrs. Hirst and others like her to pay for extra drugs to supplement government care would violate the philosophy of the health service by giving richer patients an unfair advantage over poorer ones.

Patients “cannot, in one episode of treatment, be treated on the N.H.S. and then allowed, as part of the same episode and the same treatment, to pay money for more drugs,” the health secretary, Alan Johnson, told Parliament.

“That way lies the end of the founding principles of the N.H.S.,” Mr. Johnson said.

Sort of a damned if you do, damned if you don't. Pay for some care out of pocket and risk losing government coverage for your overall treatment. But here's the worst part- the poor aren't hurt by this rule, as they don't have the money to pay for private care in the first place. Nor are the rich hurt by it, as they could afford to pay for all of their medical expenses should the need arise. No, it's the middle class that are forced between a rock and a hard place in these sorts of situations, as they can afford some special care, but generally not the cost of an entire treatment. It's the sort of policy that strikes me as extraordinarily backward, punishing people in a twisted version of egalitarianism that keeps the vast middle class on the level of the poor, but still allows the wealthy to take advantage of their circumstances.

The point should be well taken that every health care system has it's weaknesses. As the election approaches, be wary of politicians with easy answers.

Changing The Terms Of The Debate

I posted several times earlier today on a blog over at the Nation on how climate change skepticism is idealogical in nature and have decided to declare a truce on the battle of global warming science. Personally, I think the views of the global warming absolutists tend to be idealogical in nature, but name-calling by non-scientists in the debate over climate science is unlikely to get anywhere. So at least as far as public discourse goes, I'll bow to the "scientific consensus" that man-made global warming is occurring. The burden will fall on the "act now" crowd to prove that the action they propose will actually be effective and efficient. And the burden will fall on the "act now" crowd to come up with solutions that aren't just based in ideology.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Why I Love Battlestar Galactica

The Volokh Conspiracy's Ilya Somin has a great post on Law and Politics in Battlestar Galactica. The post inspired a great comment thread, so if you're at all interested in the series, make sure you take the time to read through those as well. I've cut and pasted Ilya's comments along with those of several commenters. First Ilya,

The series' mostly left-wing politics are very far from my own. In addition, I have some reservations about the way the show's premise is set up. For example, the "colonial" humans' political system seems far too similar to that of the United States, given that these humans supposedly developed in complete isolation from Earth for thousands of years. Many of the show's moral and political dilemmas seem a bit trivial in a setting where most of the human race has already been wiped out through genocide and the few survivors are in grave danger of suffering the same fate. In such an extreme situation, drastic measures such as the use of torture and suspension of due process are surely justified (assuming that they really are effective in staving off annihalation). The show's attempts to make these questions seem difficult strike me as unpersuasive. The more difficult question, of course, is whether these and similar measures can be defended in the much less dire circumstances we face in the real world. To a certain exent, BSG's creators were boxed in by the scenario they inherited from the original 1978 series; there is sometimes a poor fit between the show's basic premise and the issues they want to explore.


Some of the confusion arises because the creators of the show are indeed quite left-wing. On the other hand, they are also incredibly pro-military, which can be tough to do when showing atrocities and torture, but they pull it off. And not in the silly "we support the troops" bumper sticker kind of way, but in showing that the most admirable (although not always correct) characters are military - even some of the bad guys, like Cain.

Of course, some of the moralizing is a bit tired - its ok for Starbuck to waterboard Leoben and for Roslin to summarily execute Cavil, but its wrong for Cain to have Gina raped? Would it have been wrong for Cain to just shove Gina out the airlock?

Still, the most "moral" characters like Helo and Lee Adama are shown as arrogant jerks sometimes, while the most morally questionable characters are also shown as heroic, like Cain and Tigh. Thats why its good drama.

Abd Jim47, who hits the nail right on the head:

One of the things I like about BSG is that it seems more interested in portraying political conflict than taking sides. There are very few good guys in the series; there is no one in the series that is portrayed as the one who is always right.

Roslin, Adama, Tigh, Baltar, Cain, Zarek and others are all portrayed as fallible humans; some of the best things are done for selfish reasons, some of the worst things are done for good and pure reasons. Roslin is at once the hero but also a deeply disturbing leader; she shows the dangers of a powerful leader at the same time that her competence is shown to be a necessity. The closest the show comes to characters that is "right" are Helo and Apollo, and they are both very conflicted moral figures.

What is intriguing about the show is precisely that it exists in a counterfactual scenario where the rules of normal society break down. It explores which things can go, and it explores the human cost to those who find themselves faced with doing horrible things.

It strikes me basically that a well done piece of fiction, one that tries to have realism, and which tries to confront important themes, is beyond politics. It can be used to advocate any belief system that actual reality can be used to advocate.

Long time readers will remember I've blogged before about the futility of those who attempt to read partisan politics into Battlestar Galactica. Actually, I've blogged about it several times. The greatness of the show lies in it's willingness to showcase human tragedy at both the large scale and personal levels. It's not about left wing, right wing, it's about difficult questions of right and wrong that have no easy answers.

Plenty have criticized the New Caprica story arc as a simplistic Iraq parable, but as I written in the past, the only parable is the one your own mind creates. The images are supposed to be familiar- not just American occupied Iraq, but Palestine, and even Nazi controlled Vichy France. Since day one the show has strove to present the audience with familiar images- witness in the miniseries, when Laura Rosalin is sworn in to the presidency in a scene remarkably familiar to LBJ's swearing in after the JFK assassination. The familiar images are meant to anchor the show to the audience emotionally, but that familiarity in characters and situations is a vehichle for asking hard questions.

Ilya and others question the shows premise- that perhaps the annihilation of humanity is not the best forum to ask these sorts of moral questions. But if we're talking about values, maybe the scenario of civilization on the brink is precisely the point. What values make us human and what values are merely the niceties of our modern comfortable existence? We splice hairs when we talk about survival- is the struggle with Islamic terrorism a struggle for survival? Was war with Nazi Germany a struggle for survival? Battlestar tosses those politically charged questions aside to give us a clearer example of an actual fight for survival. What little ambiguity there is to start with provides an excellent template for these moral dilemmas and questions about what it is that makes us civilized.

But then again, I'm in the biased group who thinks the show is one of the best things to ever be put on tv.

Friday, February 22, 2008

More Professional Journalism

Leftover from Friday, more professionalism from the New York Time's editorial staff. This editorial is entitled "No Recourse For the Injured" and is in response to the Supreme Court's decision in Riegel v. Medtronic. Legal geeks can read the opinion here. The actual reporting of the decision is halfway decent, but still typically flawed in the way it fails to explain legal basic to the lay public. I won't bust on the Times for that, as it tends to be true of most legal coverage in the media. But the editorial is the exact sort of piece of been railing about, distorting the facts about the Supreme Court's decision in a way which misleads the public. And yeah, it's a little personal- I tried to post a comment Friday evening and either it never got posted or it was taken down. Here's the gist of the editorial:

Consumers are already at the mercy of the all-too-fallible Food and Drug Administration. So it is especially disturbing that the Supreme Court ruled this week that patients injured by defective medical devices cannot sue for damages in state courts if the device was approved for marketing by the F.D.A. and made to the agency’s specifications.

That means that any consumer harmed by a faulty device — whether it be an implanted defibrillator, a heart pump or an artificial knee — will have no chance of fair compensation and the manufacturers will have a dangerous sense of impunity.

And as briefly as possible, here's why it's misleading. Product liability is an area of the law where strict liability applies. Consumers need not show any fault on the part of the manufacturer if they are injured by a routine use of a product. Injured individuals need only show that every product produced is flawed, in the form of a design defect or that the individual product in question was flawed, in the form of a manufacturing defect. The intricacies can be much more complicated, but that's the basic framework you need to understand the case. The Supreme Court's decision only applies to design defects. It does not apply to manufacturing defects. Consumers are still free to bring suits in state court when a product is manufactured in a way that is different from the specs that have been approved by the FDA.

As a matter of law, the 8-1 nearly unanimous decision appears to be correct. The MDA (Medical Device Act) has a fairly clear preemption clause that would prevent individuals from suing over design defects. As Justice Scalia explains in his opinion, there is good reason for this. In order for a medical device to be sold to the public, the specific specs of that device must be approved by the FDA. In considering the request for approval the FDA weighs the risks and benefits of the device to the entire public. If individuals were permitted to sue over design defects, it would give a scientifically untrained jury the opportunity to overturn the expert judgment of the FDA based solely on an evaluation of the risks of the device to a single individual.

Towards the end of the editorial, the Times expresses concerns with the FDA's approval process and questions what recourse an individual would have when the FDA fails. It's a good question, but one that's obscured by completley off-the-mark self-righteousness that pervades the rest of the editorial. As a libertarian however, it's always important to take government incompetence into consideration. I don't have a real good answer in this case because of what I discussed above- even if the FDA does make a mistake in the approval process, an untrained jury looking at one specific instance hardly seems the appropriate forum to correct the FDA's mistakes.

The real interesting question is one of general legal theory- Should government regulation absolve manufacturers of liability? It's not quite the case here, but what if a government agency says you must do X, but your company wants to do Y and you do X just to comply with the law. A consumer is hurt by X and would not have been hurt by Y. Should the consumer be able to sue on theory that the company should have used Y? Generally, I think those sort of damned if you do, damned if you don't theories don't make for very good policy. But the real truth of the matter is that each regulation is different. What the New York Times needs to understand is that it's difficult to have it both ways- the more throughly companies are regulated, the more difficult you make it to sue companies.

Department of Murder?

Why is it we hear calls a new government super agency to regulate the food supply when no one can come up with specific examples of problems with existing food safety regulations? The reaction seems to be, "Oh look, there's a problem! Let's create a new federal agency to deal with that problem!" It doesn't matter if we already have mechanisms for dealing with that problem, we already have regulations on the books about the problem in question, and in this case, those regulations were violated.

Can you just imagine if we heard the same rhetoric in the criminal realm? A high profile murder would have people demanding the creation of a "Department of Murder" to prevent such a travesty from ever happening again.

Because we understand what the police do, we don't hear such ridiculousness when it comes to crime- but when it comes to food safety, media, the general public, and politicians don't have a clue, so we get all sorts of geniuses with their custom solutions to the perceived problem.

Beef Madness, Part 1112

My father, the brilliant laboratory director at Northeast Laboratories pointed out one of those other basic facts I often neglect to mention in the blog. The recalled beef is being tossed because of concerns it may be contaminated with e.coli 0157. Beef containing e.coli 0157 is considered to be an adulterated product and must be disposed of- this despite the fact that such beef could be cooked and would be perfectly safe. Under current regulations, that beef can't even be used for dog food. Meanwhile, while the beef with e.coli must be tossed, the chicken sitting next to the beef on the shelf can be sold even if it contains salmonella. You've all heard the warnings to wash your hands thoroughly after handling raw chicken? Well that's because- from what I've heard- 20 to 80% of the raw chicken on store shelves actually contain salmonella.

Relatively speaking, it's much easier to produce raw beef for the public that is e.coli free than it is to produce raw chicken for the public that is salmonella free. Why do we treat these pathogens differently? Because we can - and because there would be a public outcry if raw chicken was banned from our stores.

More Beef Madness, Local Edition

When it comes to the big beef recall, the M.O. seems to be act first and ask questions later. Today's Hartford Courant reports on local response to the nation's largest ever beef recall.

Let's just keep in mind the facts- no positive tests for e.coli or any other pathogens, no reports of any food borne illnesses and 143 million pounds of recalled beef. The response to this has been truly terrifying because everyone seems to be reacting without actually taking the time to understand the situation. Over in Glastonbury, the facilities and food service director doesn't even know why the beef was actually recalled.

"I've gotten a lot of calls from people saying, 'Are you making my kid sick?'" said Brad Devlin, the facilities and food service director for Glastonbury schools.

His short answer: no.

"It's very, very important for people to know that this was not contaminated product. It was recalled because of the inhumane treatment of the critters," Devlin said.

The beef was recalled not because of the inhumane treatment of the cows caught on tape, but because the tape showed sickly downer cows making their way into the food supply. As I said back on Monday, this is all about P.R. and politics, a bit of after-the-fact C.Y.A. (Cover Your Ass).

Here in Connecticut, some school districts are taking the precaution of setting recalled packages of meat aside. Other schools districts, like Region 4, encompassing Chester, Essex, and Deep River, have taken the further step of placing a temporary moratorium on all beef purchases.

And then there's Connecticut's own Rosa DeLauro, who has proposed legislation in Congress to consolidate all food safety regulation into one giant super agency. I heard her on the radio this morning, with WTIC 1080's Ray Dunaway. When asked by Dunaway if the recalled beef was actually tainted, DeLauro responded that it was possible the beef was tainted with e.coli and salmonella. To highlight the dangers of e.coli she referred back to the e.coli outbreaks of the past several years, neglecting to mention that those outbreaks were traced to raw produce.

In all the madness and hysteria, I've neglected to mention the most important point. Any risk of food borne illness in potentially contaminated meat can be virtually eliminated by cooking all beef to an internal temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit. Or in other words, the overcooked slop our kids are served at school lunch is never going to be the source of a food born outbreak unless some cafeteria lady forgets to turn her oven on.

As I said, we've got a lot of acting before thinking going on here. To parents of school-aged kids I'd feel pretty comfortable telling them their child was much more likely to die in a bus accident than they were to contract e.coli from eating beef at school. Just think for a moment- a few downer cows- no evidence of food born pathogens- even if their were pathogens, risks from those pathogens are eliminated with thorough cooking- Yet we've reached the point where some schools are now not buying any beef.

And just to return to Rosa DeLauro for a moment,

DeLauro is chairwoman of the appropriations subcommittee for agriculture, which will hold hearings about nutrition on March 14. The committee will specifically examine school lunches "and how to keep this from becoming the industry's dumping ground for bad meat," she said.

I'm 100% positive the meat in the school lunch program is not of high quality but I'm also 100% sure that the meat is not dangerous. Why do schools get lower quality meat? Because schools are run by the government and the government buys that meat. You know, same old story of the government trying to save a buck and cut corners.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Ryan Frederick Update And Other Stuff That Gets My Blood Boiling After 9:00 PM

Readers may remember the story of Ryan Frederick, who I mentioned several weeks ago. Radley Balko has done amazing work on the topic and has the latest update. Frederick, with no history of violence or criminal offenses, has been denied bond in his trial for the murder of Chesapeake police detective Jarrod Shivers.

Radley also reports on the Virginia bill that would grant homeowners more leeway in using lethal force during home invasions. Apparently, Virginia legislatures want to make sure the bill wouldn't apply to situations where police officers are killed- So if someone busts down your door in the middle of the night, the law would allow you to shoot first and ask questions later, unless the people breaking down your door just happen to be cops.

Radley also took the time to link back to the tragedy of Cheryl Lynn Noel. Just using the ol' cut and paste, that story is below.

The facts of the case are awful: A Baltimore SWAT team conducted a 4:30am raid on the Noel family home after finding marijuana seeds and “trace” amounts of cocaine in the family’s outdoor trash can. After battering down the door, they deployed a flashbang grenade, then rushed up the steps to the bedroom of Cheryl and Charles Noel.

Cheryl Noel’s stepdaughter had been murdered several years earlier, and her son had recently been jumped by thugs on his way home. So the family had a legal, registered handgun in the home, and Noel had reason to be frightened. When a SWAT officer kicked open the bedroom door, Noel sat up in bed with the gun, apparently pointed downward, not at the officer. The officer, who was wearing a helmet, mask, shield, and bulletproof vest, and who came in behind a bulletproof ballistic shield, fired twice. Noel slumped over, and the gun slipped out of her hand. The officer then walked over to her and ordered her to move further away from the gun. She couldn’t, of course. When she didn’t, he shot her a third time, essentially from point-blank range.

That’s Charles Noel’s version of events. But it’s supported by the autopsy done on his wife. And early police accounts of the raid have since been revised. The Baltimore Sun, for example, first reported that police said Noel was pointing her gun at them when they entered. That has since changed. She was holding the gun, but not pointing it at anyone.

As for Noel, there’s simply no way the woman would have been holding a gun had she known the intruders were police. After her death, neighbors circulated a petition vouching for her character and integrity. She ran Bible study groups on her lunch break. She’s dead not because she’s any sort of threat to society, but because Baltimore County police decided to conduct a 4:30am, no-knock raid after finding seeds of marijuana in the family trash.

I can never get my head around this stuff. Cops are killed by citizens who didn't realize that it was the cops who were busting down their door. Innocent people are killed when the cops raid the wrong house. The cops raid the correct house and innocent people are killed. The cops raid the right house and shootouts ensue with previously non-violent recreational drug users. Yet every time there's another story people come out of the woodwork to defend this shit. It's not about bad cops because sometimes these cops are good guys, sometimes they're bad guys- what's always bad is the tactics, forced entry, often times middle of the night raids, where people look to defend themselves. I don't get it, but hat I really don't get is why more people don't care.

Pol Pot Nods

Perhaps the king of completely insane comments on the Times's beef editorial:

In asking "how many people need to get sick or die before it starts repairing and modernizing the nation’s food safety system?" you pose an irrelevant question.

You might better ask what it will take to get Americans to choose clean, locally-produced food rather than eating out of the industrial trough. That would help keep farmland in the family and out of corporate hands. It would suppress urban sprawl. It would create jobs. It would foster an accountable and superior food system. There is no one in the U.S. who would not have access to locally grown food if he or she wishes to make the effort and the effort needed diminishes as more take that option.

Been there, done that. Whether we're talking about 1970's Cambodia or Thomas Jefferson's America, I think I'll take the modern world, thanks.

Again With The Beef

I suppose Lee Siegel would tell you the New York Times editorial page is more trustworthy than your truly when it comes to editorial advice. They are after all, professionals. But even my limitations as a mere citizen blogger can't hold me back from pointing out every stupid thing about today's New York Times editorial on the big beef recall. Remember, I blogged about the recall just a few days ago.

I particularly enjoy the call to "modernize and repair" our nation's food safety system. Hyperbole anyone? If anyone has a shred of evidence that our food system is less safe now than it was in the past, I'd love to see it. We here more news of outbreaks of food borne illnesses in recent years because we've gotten incredibly good at detecting such outbreaks. People get scared because respected media outlets like the New York Times perpetuate myths that we're facing a crisis in our food supply.

There are plenty of calls for regulatory changes- give the government power for mandatory recalls, make food producers track their supplies better, and merge all food regulation into one government super agency. Not a mention of what the specific problems are, let alone a mention of how these particular solutions would actually make the food supply any safer. But hey, who am I to complain. These are professionals, after all.

Thoughts On Poverty

Check out Megan McArdle's great blog post-Making It- on the Morgan Spurlock-esque Adam Shepard, a young guy who set out with 25 dollars, started living in a homeless shelter, and built his life up from scratch. Shepard was inspired by Barbara Ehrenreich’s book about the trappings of law wage employment, Nickel and Dimed, which he thought was more about her agenda than about actual strategies for getting out of poverty. I won't bother linking to everything, but if you've got the time, check out the entire post along with the comments. It turned into a rather interesting discussion about the nature of poverty. I posted several times and I won't repeat everything I said there, but I would like to share with everyone the story I posted over there.

Allow me to offer up a personal experience. I work part time as a parking ticket hearing officer for the city of Hartford, CT and a young woman came in who's car had just been towed because she owed over $800 in parking tickets. She was in tears because she had no money and she needed the car to pick up her daughter at the end of the day, a daughter who happened to be over an hour away. I felt bad for the woman and did what I could to help her, but I couldn't just eliminate all her parking tickets because that's the sort of thing that would have cost me my own job. I did what I could and left the case in the hands of the city attorneys, who are paid much better money than I am to deal with these sorts of situations.

Now while I felt sorry for the women, the parking tickets were all of her own doing- they were for not having money in the meter, as she chose to park at the meter outside the restaurant where she worked rather than pay $7.00 to park in the parking lot. She had accumulated 12 tickets since the start of 2008, none of which she had paid.

To top it all off, the woman's daughter was over an hour away because that's where she lived- she was commuting over an hour to work as a waitress. I asked her- politely- why she didn't park in the lot and she said it was because she had to spend all her extra money on food for her child and gas to get to work.

Adam Shepard hypothesizes that getting out of poverty is- at least in part- all about attitude. He set out to succeed and he did succeed. His friend from the shelter, Derrick, also set out to succeed, and made enough money to buy his own house. And it all makes me wonder what poverty is really all about- how much is it about money and how much is about things like attitude and the choices we make?

Many of the liberal and left-leaning commenters on Megan's blog point out the numerous cases where poverty is seemingly not a matter of choice or attitude. Accidents happens, kids happen (although that is certainly a choice), family emergencies happen, and jobs can be lost. And not everyone is young, healthy and energetic. I posted some thoughts last night, but I was struggling to put meaning to everything rushing through my brain. And maybe the point I was trying to make was this:

In looking at poverty as this tremendous social problem, we tend to forget that the real facts of poverty are specific and unique to each individual. It's not about $6.00 an hour jobs. And while people's attitudes and people's choices play a role in their relative poverty, so does their background, their family, their friends, and yeah, there's even some luck in there. And truth be told, I don't think this is the sort of idea that lends itself to the liberal goals of solving and ending poverty. This isn't to say the government should have no role to play in helping the poor, but what sort of program encompasses all the unique circumstances of those stuck in poverty without stifling those who have the ability to get out themselves?

I suppose my big thing is, for all the good intentions in the world, short of actually running people's lives, you can't stop people from making stupid decisions. You can't prevent people from wracking up a ridiculous number of parking tickets. There are always going to be people in need because of the choices they've made, regardless of the effectiveness of various poverty ending programs.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Researchers Find Internet Isn't As Scary As It's Made Out To Be

University of New Hampshire researchers have published a study in American Psychologist, debunking many of the common myths about internet predators. I picked up the story from Jacob Sullum at Reason, who links to the full story put out by McClatchy Newspapers. Here are some of the myths and the findings:

Myth: Internet predators are driving up child sex crime rates.

Finding: Sex assaults on teens fell 52 percent from 1993 to 2005, according to the Justice Department's National Crime Victimization Survey, the best measure of U.S. crime trends. "The Internet may not be as risky as a lot of other things that parents do without concern, such as driving kids to the mall and leaving them there for two hours," [sociologist Janis] Wolak said.

Myth: Internet predators are pedophiles.

Finding: Internet predators don't hit on the prepubescent children whom pedophiles target. They target adolescents, who have more access to computers, more privacy and more interest in sex and romance, Wolak's team determined from interviews with investigators.

Myth: Internet predators represent a new dimension of child sexual abuse.

Finding: The means of communication is new, according to Wolak, but most Internet-linked offenses are essentially statutory rape: nonforcible sex crimes against minors too young to consent to sexual relationships with adults.

Myth: Internet predators trick or abduct their victims.

Finding: Most victims meet online offenders face-to-face and go to those meetings expecting to engage in sex. Nearly three-quarters have sex with partners they met on the Internet more than once.

Myth: Internet predators meet their victims by posing online as other teens.

Finding: Only 5 percent of predators did that, according to the survey of investigators.

Myth: Online interactions with strangers are risky.

Finding: Many teens interact online all the time with people they don't know. What's risky, according to Wolak, is giving out names, phone numbers and pictures to strangers and talking online with them about sex.

Myth: Internet predators go after any child.

Finding: Usually their targets are adolescent girls or adolescent boys of uncertain sexual orientation, according to Wolak. Youths with histories of sexual abuse, sexual orientation concerns and patterns of off- and online risk-taking are especially at risk.

The last finding is the most telling. For myself, it's always been fairly obvious, but kids at the greatest risk on the internet are the kids who are the greatest risk off the internet. It's sort of like I've always said- rather than spending so much time worrying about what good, well-adjusted kids are doing on the internet, why don't the worrywarts turn their focus specifically to kids who are already at-risk and what they are doing both on and off the internet. Blaming the internet has become a easy way for politicians and do-gooders to make it seem like their actually doing something, but as the study shows, there is no internet problem. People never like to here that the answer to kids getting into trouble is parenting, but it sure as hell seems like the most effective strategy to me.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

These Journalists Are Professionals You Know

Overlawyered links to some just plain ridiculous legal coverage. You know, the very thing I was discussing last post, about how professional journalists can get technical subjects wrong. In this case it's not really all that technical.

The Supreme Court denied cert ("rejected an appeal" for you non-legal types) on a 5th Circuit decision that upheld flood insurance exclusions againast Katrina victims who had sought to render those terms of their insurance agreement invalid due to ambiguity. Legally, this is a technical matter, and judging from what little I've read, seems very straight forward. Some people didn't have flood insurance but they're trying to get their insurance companies to pay for flood damage anyways. The District Court actually ruled againast the insurance companies, but that decisions was overturned by the 5th Circuit and the Supreme Court didn't think there were any legal questions for them to decide.

Yet here are the headlines, as noted both on the Overlawyered post and by a commenter:

The local story says "The Supreme Court has refused to offer help to Katrina victims who want their insurance companies to pay for flood damage to their homes and businesses."

And the sub-headline on MSNBC declares "Aid is refused for victims who want funds for businesses, homes."

Overlawyered highlights this as liberal media bias, but I think the answer is a much more simple case of will full ignorance. These sort of headlines and lead offs don't just mislead the general public about this story, they mislead the public about the very nature of the legal process. As insurance law blogger David Rossmiller notes,

As if the choice in a case is simply going where your sympathies lie, and when the court decided not to take the appeal, the halls rang with evil laughter and mocking statements such as this: "We will extend no help to Katrina victims because we love to see them suffer and we love to support our evil twins, the insurance companies who steal from them."

Some Folks Still Don't Get It (The Internet That Is)

Check out the interesting review in the New York Sun of Lee Siegel's book Againast the Machine. According to the reviews (see also, the New York Times Review here), the book amounts to an anti-internet polemic, or at least a repudiation of the narrative of technological triumph as a democratizing cultural force. Clearly, some older institutions are being torn down and replaced because of the internet, but I fail to see what's so bad about change in and of itself. From the New York Sun review,

But if Mr. Siegel's claims about the Internet's antidemocratic tendencies are at times overblown (he coined the term "blogofascism"), he is correct that the blogosphere is as adept at drawing out the worst tendencies in a democracy as it is of fostering the good ones. His discussion of the blogosphere's attitude towards the mainstream media illustrates the point; the ballyhoo about "citizen journalists" storming the Bastille of established journalistic institutions has not materialized. In fact, most Web logs are an extended commentary and conversation about the news produced by those institutions, not a qualitative challenge to them. "You really have to marvel at how the blogosphere has turned a quintessential product of democracy like the American newspaper into an obstruction of democracy," Mr. Siegel writes.

Mr. Siegel is also an adamant defender of the need for expertise against the claims of bloggers who see it as a form of elitism or privilege. "Professions and trades require training," Mr. Siegel writes, and this is no less true for journalists than for other professionals. No one, he reminds us, is eager to engage the services of "citizen heart surgeons." Not surprisingly, Mr. Siegel is especially exorcised by the loss of authority of the cultural critic; like travel agents, critics have seen their business severely compromised by the Internet. Yet the passenger who conveniently purchased his ticket online is often dismayed to find that he has no reliable advocate to intervene with the airline when his flight is suddenly cancelled. So, too, our culture's embrace of the everyman critic risks leaving us bereft of standards for measuring the quality of music, art, and literature — aside from the popularity demonstrated by page hits or Amazon rankings.

This is the sort of criticism I've heard time and time again and it just reeks of someone who is familiar with the internet without really understanding it. No, blogging will never replace the traditional news gathering role of the mainstream media, because news gathering is a complex and tedious operation requiring a great deal of manpower. I have no idea how many thousands of corespondents work for the Associated Press, but that's an example of a job that can't be done by just one or even a large group of individuals. You need a big corporate organization to run that sort of operation. Blogging has never been about replacing the American newspaper traditional media, it's been about providing alternative interpretations and greater checks and balances on the stories reported by the traditional media. It's been about making the institutions we do have that much better.

It's interesting that Siegel refers to experience and training because that's exactly what a blog can provide. When a major legal decision is in the news, I don't rely on the analysis of newspaper reporters who may or may not have had any legal training. I rely on law professor bloggers who are experts in the particular areas being reported on. The same thing can be said for science-related news or any other technical subject. Blogging gives us expert opinions we may not find in traditional media.

Siegel seems to be more of spurned cultural critic, but still, what makes those who work for big media better sources of cultural criticism than other experts in the field. Is a big city film critic any better than a college film professor who maintains a blog? The point about the democratizing influence of blogs and the internet is that blogs pose no barriers to entry. Siegel seems to focus on the bad- any idiot can have a blog- but fails to understand the way the internet encourages a truly free market in ideas. All blogs are not equal and the blogs with the most readership are the blogs that blog readers consistently find to be of the highest quality kept up by individuals with the best credentials.

Siegel's comments on the travel industry are a telling indication of a complete lack of understanding of the market. Travel agents are being replaced with online travel conglomerates because the big online services are that much cheaper. Personal service costs more and when it comes to travel, most people don't feel the need to pay for that personal service. This isn't really about the internet at all, it's about what consumers want.

And while I do sympathize with some of Siegel's criticism of MySpace and social networking sites turning our inner most selves into products for consumption- something I do find a bit distasteful myself- such criticisms ultimately come back to the point I made to start. Yes the internet is drastically changing the way we live our lives, but who am I- who is anyone- to say that those changes are for the worst. We're not mindless robots subjecting ourselves to the possibilities of technology merely because those possibilities are there- We are a thinking, rational people, whose culture reflects our desired uses of technology. No matter what some snooty, put-off, old has-been writer might say.

We're Like, Totally Into Organic

College kids like the "organic" label, but they don't know what it means- or, apparently, what it tastes like.

Milk has certainly been a problem for Sodexho and many other suppliers. When the company, responding to a student movement, found a local supplier for client Denison University in Ohio, the new product didn't meet expectations.

"The students noticed that the flavors were different," said Ronnie Hinz, director-administrative services at Denison. "Some of the students at first said, 'I don't like this milk.'" Eventually the students adjusted.

Ms. Cook said Sodexho experienced problems with organic milk at a Florida school. Onion grass was in season and apparently was giving the product a greenish color and the flavor of onions.

Free-range meats present their own difficulties. Sodexho client Menlo College served heritage turkeys to its students. Heritage turkeys are so called because they belong to breeds older than the broad-breasted white, which usually graces the Thanksgiving table. Heritage turkeys take twice as long to grow, cost upward of $60 per bird, and have a gamier flavor and more sinewy texture.

"Students came back and said, 'There's something wrong with this meat; it tastes like it's spoiled,'" Ms. Cook said. Chefs explained that it was a different kind of turkey, but students asked why it couldn't be prepared in a manner more familiar to them.

Oh those crazy kids. Just wait until someone tells them that meat actually comes from real live animals.

The War On Energy Drinks

Maine proposes law that would ban the sale of highly caffeinated energy drinks to minors.

But they'd still be able to buy a cup of coffee. Apparently, drinks named "Monster" and "Rock Star" are more dangerous than Starbucks, whose 16 oz. cup of coffee contains twice the caffeine of some energy drinks.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Just Some TV Blogging

Just a few short blog posts -

First, Jericho made it's return last week, making it's first on-air appearance since fans of the show bombarded CBS with thousands of pounds of nuts in an attempt to get the network to rescind it's cancellation of the show. The network brought the show back and made for at least one happy blogger. I know I haven't blogged much about it before, but it's an incredibly enjoyable, if not quite great program- anyone who's into any of the other shows I've blogged about would enjoy Jericho. That being said, I have some good and bad thoughts about the new season. I love the fact that we're getting to see more about what happened to the rest of the country since the bombs went off. After last season's isolation, this season will be a period of reintegration with the rest of the country (or at least, the Western states). The bad probably stems from the fact that this season is only going to be seven episodes. So many of the characters seemed to be missing in last week's episode and I can't imagine them having much to do given the direction the plot seems to be heading. Last week there was no Dale, no Skyler, no Bonnie, no Hawkins kids, and maybe most importantly, no Gayle Green, who always seemed to be the heart of the small Kansas town. Clearly, this season is more down to business, more focussed on action, but it's sort of a shame to see the show's age diversity go by the wayside- there weren't too many other shows on tv that actually took the time to flesh out characters of virtually every age group.

Second, to those of you with good Video On Demand Service and a Showtime subscription, I'd highly recommend David Duchovony's series Californication. The show aired this past summer with 12 half-hour episodes, so it's the sort of thing you can watch over a long gray weekend ... which is precisely what the future Mrs. Lonely libertarian and I did this past weekend. There's a lot of sex, drugs, and bad language, but if you're not opposed to all that, then the show is more than worth a gander. To be extremely brief, the show features Duchovny as a southern California writer struggling with his career, his daughter, and soon to be newlywed ex-wife. What amazes me is the consistent quality of these subscription cable network shows. Meanwhile, the broadcast networks provide us gems like Two and a Half Men and The Big Bang Theory.

Dude, Where's My Super Bowl Ring?

Under the category of stupid lawsuits comes the story of former Rams player Willie Gary, suing the New England Patriots in a multi-million dollar suit over allegations the Patriots secretly filmed the Rams final walk through practice the day before Super Bowl XXXVI. You're not alone if you don't remember Willie Gary. Gary was an undrafted defensive back with the Rams in 2001 who was cut before the 2002 season.

Now we don't need to rehash the multiple spygate stories here - I'm just blogging to point out that the lawsuit has no merit even if the Patriots did in fact secretly record the Rams before that Super Bowl. You can't sue because a team broke the rules of the game - you sue when people break the law. You also sue when you have some sort of a claim for damages, not when you suck and can't make the awful 2002 Rams (7-9).

Flat Broke

You all know I love my peeps at Democratic Underground, right? In all seriousness I do appreciate their enthusiasm and their attempts to defend civil liberties. And sometimes you've just got to love the questions they come up with: How Does A Country As Rich As Ours Go Broke?

I love how the various commenters attempt to answer the question without realizing that it doesn't really mean anything. After all, I'm not sure what it means for a country to be broke- by any measure you come up with (GDP, whatever), the United States is the wealthiest nation in the world. Perhaps the question refers to the government being broke, but even that's misleading. We've been running a national debt since the Washington administration. Maybe the question refers to our budget deficit, but there's a simple answer if that's the case. We have budget deficits when the government spends more money than it takes in through taxes. Maybe I'm just confused as to the point, but a commenter named coalition_unwilling seems to be able to answer the question for us.

The military industrial congressional media complex redistributes wealth from the commons to rentiers and haute bourgeoisie through imperialist adventurism and resultant crony capitalism.

The wealth is still here but has been redistributed.

That's just awesome.

More Cigarette Hysteria

Last week the New York Times printed a story with this dire warning: You can get hooked from the first cigarette!

Reason's Jacob Sullum debunked the study debunked the study and Megan McArdle questioned just how meaningful the study actually was.

Referring to Jacob Sullum's work, here's what I posted in Megan's blog in response to those who thought the study might be worthwhile.

In the study, nicotine addiction is determined as loss of autonomy, which is measured via a 10-point, yes or no checklist. The accuracy of such a checklist is questionable, particularly when it comes to asking teenagers "Have you ever felt like you really needed a cigarette?" Even adults may have difficulty in distinguishing between wanting a cigarette and needing one.

The point is that this is bad science- scare mongering pseudo-science. Just because a study get published, that doesn't make it unassailable truth. Yes cigarettes are addictive, but that's no reason to overstate the risks. Kids who smoke today are fully aware of the risks- they give it a try and continue to do it because they like it or because their friends are doing it. Studies like this just increase public ignorance, perpetuating the myth of drugs as evil substances, ensnaring innocent and unsuspecting users. The truth is that there's a lot that goes into addiction- the choices we make about how, when, and why we use drugs and the biochemical makeup of our individual bodies.

The Times starts their story with "You can get hooked from the first cigarette." If that's not overhyped hysteria than, I don't know what is.

There are a couple things at play here, most notably the idea promoted on this blog that we, as individuals, should critically examine the "facts" we're given, even when those facts come from supposedly reputable sources. The point here isn't that cigarettes are less dangerous or more dangerous or anything like that- the point is to promote honest dialog and honest science.

My Beef With The Beef Recall

You may or may not have heard this morning, but Westland/Hallmark has initiated the largest beef recall in U.S. History, recalling 143 million pounds of beef. Most of the beef, apparently, has been eaten already.

Technically, this is not a regulatory issue- CNN doesn't even get the story right as the USDA does not have the legal authority to issue recalls for products already on store shelves. (The New York Times, to it's credit, actually gets this right in noting the company issued the recall.) I tend to blog a fair amount about "over-regulation" but what we have here is more a symptom of the mindset that leads to over regulation in the first place. If you've noticed, this recall is termed a class II recall, because there is no indication that any samples tested e.coli 0157h7 positive, nor is there any indication that anyone has been sickened from eating the meat in question. Which of course makes me wonder why the big-to-do in the first place.

Clearly, you had some bad stuff going down at the Westland/Hallmark Meat Packing Company. I saw the video (which you can see via the New York Times link) of the animal abuse and animal abuse is never cool. Of course, at the same time, animal abuse shouldn't be a reason for a recall. Apparently several sick animals made it into this 143 million pounds, but not the brain, spinal cord, or any of the other parts associated with mad cow disease. The media will spin this as a disaster in our food supply and the company will get the good P.R. of having initiated the recall, but the truth is a lot different.

As the media has pointed out, most of this beef has already been eaten. The probability the meat could cause illness was remote (which is basically saying "virtually impossible, but just don't hold it againast me if I'm wrong.") and no one has gotten sick. So then why the recall and why the big news? In part it's because of the same environment that gives us over-regulation in the first place. There is a belief out there, perpetuated by the media, that all risk can be eliminated and no level of risk should be tolerated. Just witness the number of scare stories we see about our food supply, despite the fact that our food supply is safer than it has ever been. But while we can reduce risk factors, it would be impossible to eliminate them, particularly in fresh, raw products like beef. And because of this environment that seems to meld fear with a misunderstood faith in science, you have what amounts to the perfect storm. The company issues a recall, not in the interests of safety (as the meat's already been eaten), but in the P.R. interests of protecting their image. And the media reports on the recall uncritically.

But just think for a moment if that 143 million pounds of beef had not been sold and eaten already- what if it could actually be recalled? I know Westland/Hallmark would think twice about a recall- and who knows, maybe that's what they did, buying time until a recall wouldn't cost them as much. But again, what if that meat could be recalled? Do you think if that meat was headed to feed people in Africa that it should be recalled? Hell, should we not give it to poor people right here in America? It's nice to say we're all for safety, but I think too many of us tend to forget that our hypersensitivity to these sorts of safety issues- and the belief that we can eliminate all risk- is a direct result of just how wealthy and prosperous we are.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

More Football Stuff - The Best Teams Not To Win A Super Bowl

It's not just because the Patriots lost, I just wanted to get this old football stuff up on the blog before it gets to be too late. What I have here are several lists of some of the best teams not to win a Super Bowl. I stuck with my era, so these lists begin with the 1983 season and run through the present, a nice 25-year span. Originally, I was going to have one big list, but I figured the various categories work a bit better. The numbers are uneven because I've avoided the teams which finished 12-4 during the regular season. Over the past 25 years, 40 teams have gone 12-4 and failed to win the Super Bowl, making it much too large a sample size to really consider. In all three categories, I've stuck with the teams that finished 13-3 or better during the regular season.

Best Teams To Lose In The Super Bowl
1. 2007 New England Patriots (18-1)
2. 1983 Washington Redskins (16-3)
3. 2001 St. Louis Rams (16-3)
4. 1984 Miami Dolphins (16-3)
5. 1997 Green Bay Packers (15-4)
6. 1990 Buffalo Bills (15-4)
7. 1991 Buffalo Bills (15-4)
8. 1998 Atlanta Falcons (16-3)
9. 2004 Philadelphia Eagles (15-4)
10. 1999 Tennessee Titans (15-4)
11. 2005 Seattle Seahawks (15-4)
12. 2006 Chicago Bears (15-4)

Best Teams To Lose In A Championship Game
1. 1998 Minnesota Vikings (16-2)
2. 2004 Pittsburgh Steelers (16-2)
3. 1990 San Francisco 49ers (15-3)
4. 1992 San Francisco 49ers (15-3)
5. 1999 Jacksonville Jaguars (15-3)
6. 1997 Pittsburgh Steelers (14-4)
7. 2007 Green Bay Packers (14-4)
8. 1997 San Francisco 49ers (14-4)
9. 2005 Denver Broncos (14-4)

Best Teams To Be Upset In The Playoffs
1. 2005 Indianapolis Colts (14-3)
2. 1986 Chicago Bears (14-3)
3. 1996 Denver Broncos (13-4)
4. 1987 San Francisco 49ers (13-3)
5. 2006 San Diego Chargers (14-3)
6. 2007 Dallas Cowboys (13-4)
7. 2007 Indianapolis Colts (13-4)
8. 2003 Kansas City Chiefs (13-4)
9. 2000 Tennessee Titans (13-4)
10. 1999 Indianapolis Colts (13-4)
11. 2006 Baltimore Ravens (13-4)
12. 1984 Denver Broncos (13-4)
13. 1997 Kansas City Chiefs (13-4)
14. 1995 Kansas City Chiefs (13-4)
15. 2001 Chicago Bears (13-4)
16. 1987 New Orleans Saints (12-4)

Dangerous Driving

Remember a few weeks back, when I made fun of the New York Times Editorial blog for calling on Hollywood to self-censor smoking in movies? Well, it was in that same spirit that this Hartford Courant story on how tv, commercials, and movies glorify dangerous driving made me wonder why we feel the need to treat smoking as a more serious problem than dangerous driving.

When it comes to smoking, we get newspaper editorial pages and attorney generals calling for R-ratings for any films with smoking, yet when it comes to dangerous driving, as the Courant points out, worried politicians worry there's little they can do. It's all a bit ridiculous, but when it comes down to it, isn't reckless driving more likely to kill your teenager than smoking? It's just sort of telling as to what politicians think is their business and when they think there are limits- and when it comes to smoking there are no holds barred.

Not Just Bad Apples

Today's Hartford Courant has a story about the corruption rampant in the Madison Police Department.

The biggest problem facing the Madison Police Department isn't the dizzying list of brazen, on-duty crimes by officers, from burglaries to the electronic stalking of women to receiving oral sex from prostitutes to ripping off taxpayers through workers' compensation fraud.

The thorniest consequence, the one facing most crippled police departments, is this: The climate of corruption is so deeply seated that just removing the bad cops -- the painful process going on now with no clear end in sight -- may not by itself bring radical, permanent change.

"The 'rotten apple theory' is a farce,'' said Neal Trautman, who's been teaching police officers about moral dilemmas for 20 years through the National Institute of Ethics, which is based in Mississippi. "These problems are cultural, and they're created over a period of years. Just removing the bad apples is a way of the dodging the truth.''

It's nice to see the "rotten apple theory" tossed out the window in a major local media account.

Friday, February 15, 2008

The Right To Sex Toys

The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals rules that a Texas law banning the sale of sex toys is a violation of the 14th Amendment right to privacy, following the Supreme Court's Lawrence decision of 2003 which found state laws againast sodomy to be unconstitutional. (Cato's blog has a bit on the decision here.) And for the first time in ten months I'm actually interested in reading a judicial opinion- not because it's about sex toys but because it's a substantive due process case.

I'm actually going to take the time to read the decision this weekend (especially seeing as there's a circuit split which will likely lead the case into the Supreme Court sometime soon), but here are just a few brief thoughts. Back in 2003, Lawrence vs. Texas was decided based on the principle that the rights of adults to privacy in the bedroom were not outweighed by states interests in promoting morality. My biggest problem with the decision- along with the dissent- was the way the majority opinion danced around the Constitutional issues. The majority defined the issue as a question of a right to privacy, while the dissent placed the issue into a much narrower context. As I've blogged about before- which I can't find at the moment- I have a big problem with the notion of a Constitutional right to privacy. As a legal matter, such a right ends up being mushy, undefinable, and subject to the whims of the judiciary. Privacy in the bedroom seems like an easy call to make, but the problem is, where in the Constitution does it give us any guidance as to what is private and what is not.

When it comes to sex toys, there's an additional problem- unlike the consensual activities of two people in the bedroom, purchasing a sex toy is a commercial transaction. How do you distinguish- on privacy grounds- between purchasing a sex toy for private use in the bedroom and purchasing marijuana (for example) for private use in the bedroom? The real difference is the government's purpose for the law, which on one hand is based on morality and on the other hand is based on personal health. And yes, there is a difference there, although I do think it's much more fuzzy than most people would think. And more importantly, in terms of legal doctrine, where does it say (in either case law or the Constitution) that we determine the level of judicial scrutiny based upon a legislature's motives in passing law?

Should be a good weekend.

Somewhere Over The Rainbow

A PSA That Actually Makes Sense

I'm notoriously tough on public service announcements, probably because they tend to come across as too over-the-top or just plain inaccurate. They also tend to be completely ineffective (unless of the course, the goal is to get people to laugh at a little girl on a tricycle getting hit by some pot heads in a car). With that being said, I like to think I'm nothing if not fair. So when I see a public service ad that's actually worthwhile, I might as well take the time to point it out. Take this set of ads from the Ad Council on the dangers of posting personal information on the internet.

There's one in which a young girl pins a risque picture of herself on a real world bulletin board, only to discover that once she tries to take the picture down, someone else keeps putting it back up. The other one has a young girl with her friends approached by increasingly creepy strangers with a variety of comments about what she posted on the internet. It's amusing, in a creepy sort of way, but it's also to the point. While I disagree with most of these groups about the dangers of the internet- it's not a virtual cesspool where the tentacles of unnamed perverts freely grasp at unwitting children- It's also a message that's worth getting out to kids. Be careful what you post on the internet. The creep factor is the extreme end of the spectrum, but the fact of the matter is that anything you post online could be preserved for eternity and could be used againast you. Just having some fun when your 16 is good and all, but just having some fun when you're 16 and posting it on the internet could quite possibly cost you a job when you're 26- the point is, you never know, and as the ad effectively demonstrates, once something is on the internet, it's out of your control.

I have no idea what the effectiveness of the ad campaign actually is, but at least it's a message that's worth sending out to kids that everyone can actually agree on. (And for those who have had nasty things to say about me in the past, see, I really do care about the children. Teach them well, let them lead the way, and all that good shit.)

David Brooks and Big Government Conservatism

I know it's been a slow blogging week, but I just had to post on this David Brooks editorial in today's New York Times that caught my eye. Brooks writes on a fresh start for conservatism that sounds more like a plan from the Joe Lieberman play book than anything I'd expect from the political philosophy that gave us Barry Goldwater.

Here's my deal- as a libertarian, I can relate to conservatives who come from a philosophical standpoint of limited government, and a belief in the ability of individuals and the free market to solve problems. I have trouble relating to liberals who base their philosophy in the ability of government to solve problems. So when a supposed conservative comes out with a plan for the future that's all about the government solving problems, it's a bit noticeable and more than a bit disheartening. Brooks's ideas, in order, are 1- have the federal government encourage two parent families, 2- have the federal government encourage early childhood education, 3- have the federal government loosen the control of the teacher's unions, 4- national service for all, and 5- portable health insurance. As Brooks points out,

The agenda could go on, but the point is this: Democrats believe in fine-tuning the economy. They believe in intervening in a thousand little ways to address problems. Republicans believe these thousands of little Band-Aids hinder movement and distort productivity. But Republicans do believe, or at least should, that positive government can help prepare people for the rigors of competition, so they can have an open field and fair chance.

If conservatives and Republicans can remember back this far, Ronald Reagan actually ran (and won) with a platform that involved abolishing the department of education. Now we're told that the problem isn't the fact that we have such a department in the first place, but that Democrats just try to do too much- Republicans should want the government to help prepare people for competition and give folks a fair chance, they just have simpler solutions. Or so says David Brooks. It's a future, quite honestly, that scares me, where Republicans (and conservatives) can't even pay lip service to limited government as a desirable goal as opposed to merely a means to an end. I mentioned Joe Lieberman before, but actually, I'm more than reminded of the rhetoric of John F. Kennedy. If this really is the new direction of the Republican party and the conservative movement, we libertarians have a lot more loneliness in store.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

More Super Bowl Wrap-Up Stuff ... The Big List

Updated 2/12/08 @ 4:25 PM : Responding to the comments, I look for and found my statistical list which I had misplaced, and proceeded to make a few changes. Most noticeable moves? The '91 Redskins from 11th to 5th, the '78 Steelers from 4th to 10th, the '76 Raiders from 10th to 15th, the '69 Chiefs from 31st to 22nd, the '68 Jets from 35th to 26th, and the '00 Ravens from 36th to 30th.

I started it, and I figured I should finish it, even with my '07 Patriots not on the list. Without further ado I give you the lonely libertarian's rankings, 1-42, of the NFL's Super Bowl Champions.

Super Bowl Winner Rankings

1. 1985 Chicago Bears (18-1)
2. 1984 San Francisco 49ers (18-1)
3. 1972 Miami Dolphins (17-0)
4. 1989 San Francisco 49ers (17-2)
5. 1991 Washington Redskins (17-2)
6. 1975 Pittsburgh Steelers (15-2)
7. 1998 Denver Broncos (17-2)
8. 2004 New England Patriots (17-2)
9. 1966 Green Bay Packers (15-2)
10. 1978 Pittsburgh Steelers (17-2)
11. 1992 Dallas Cowboys (16-3)
12. 1994 San Francisco 49ers (16-3)
13. 1996 Green Bay Packers (16-3)
14. 1999 St. Louis Rams (16-3)
15. 1976 Oakland Raiders (16-1)
16. 1973 Miami Dolphins (15-2)
17. 1977 Dallas Cowboys (15-2)
18. 1986 New York Giants (17-2)
19. 2003 New England Patriots (17-2)
20. 1971 Dallas Cowboys (14-3)
21. 1974 Pittsburgh Steelers (13-3-1)
22. 1969 Kansas City Chiefs (14-3)
23. 1993 Dallas Cowboys (15-4)
24. 1979 Pittsburgh Steelers (15-4)
25. 1995 Dallas Cowboys (15-4)
26. 1968 New York Jets (13-3)
27. 1997 Denver Broncos (15-4)
28. 1990 New York Giants (16-3)
29. 1981 San Francisco 49ers (16-3)
30. 2000 Baltimore Ravens (15-4)
31. 2002 Tampa Bay Buccaneers (15-4)
32. 1987 Washington Redskins (14-4)
33. 1983 Los Angeles Raiders (15-4)
34. 1967 Green Bay Packers (12-4-1)
35. 1982 Washington Redskins (12-1)
36. 1970 Baltimore Colts (14-2-1)
37. 1988 San Francisco 49ers (13-6)
28. 2005 Indianapolis Colts (15-4)
39. 2005 Pittsburgh Steelers (15-5)
40. 1980 Oakland Raiders (14-5)
41. 2001 New England Patriots (14-5)
42. 2007 New York Giants (14-6)

And now, back to my brooding depression.

Shameless Self Promotion

Guess what I did on Friday. My usual part-time work as a Parking Citation Hearing Officer in Hartford took an interesting turn Friday, as our typical 10-15 hearings mushroomed into 250 angry citizens contesting tickets they had received during the city's last snow ban. It could have been a real disaster, but we brought in extra hearing officers and the support staff handled the massive crowd.

As a semi-judicial figure, it's not appropriate for me to comment on the particulars, but I will say it was not an easy day and the paperwork has more than overflowed into this week. And I'll also point out that one of the men interviewed for the story had me for his hearing officer.

Although Pascone was peeved when he got into the hearing room, the hearing officer was not, he said.

"He was contrite," Pascone said. "After waiting two hours and fifteen minutes to get in, I was a little hostile. But I've got to be honest. They weren't."

After a painless hearing, Pascone was told he would hear something by mail soon.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Faith-Based Global Warming

The New York Times's John Tierney has an excellent post on the latest report from the Cato institute on global warming. What the report says- in brief- is that even given the most dire global warming predictions, money would be better spent on the development and technological betterment of the third world than it would be on Kyoto or other programs designed to reduce emissions. The report takes the science at face value and gives a pure economic analysis.

John Tierney is no global warming denier- he's written before about the need for carbon taxes- so it's interesting to see the responses to his question about whether we can afford to both reduce emissions and continue to grow economically and technologically and if we can't afford to do both what should be our priority and why. Some of these responses are not about reason or dispassionate analysis, but about emotion, fear, and a pessimistic world view based solely on faith.

Oh boy John, you like rowdy comments, huh!? You’ll certainly get them here. My contribution:

The claim that endless growth is our best path is a) demonstrable fantasy, and b) incredibly self-serving for those currently getting rich on growth. article=1

Will executives currently raking in $29 BILLION in “bonuses” alone last year, speak up for restraint? Right.

Just a few short decades ago, everyone thought the oceans were so large, we’d never see measurable pollution in them- and the fish would last forever.

WE KNOW BETTER. The world has limits- everywhere, and we are bumping up against them as our population continues to grow.

Also- please note that so far, all wonderful intentions to help the 50% of the world’s people who live on $2/day, and less- to “develop” and become good consumers - have come to absolutely nothing. They’re still in poverty- and the bonuses keep coming.

“We need to build a ply-wood plant in Rwanda- to create jobs!” = profit for the construction firm (from Texas) - bonuses for the executives, and the PR firm - and - no net gains for anyone in Rwanda, ever- the plant will close next year anyway, because of a lack of roads and diesel fuel.

Sophistry - is ancient, and has always been highly profitable for those in power.

— Posted by Greenpa

Did you read the report carefully ?

I was not impressed to say the least.

Mr. Goklany does nothing but repeat sound-bites that appeal to Cato readers. For one he advocates continued growth. He claims growth is good because it will lead to more wealth and that leads to more technology. Technology will then solve all our problems.

But as Jared Diamond pointed out in his book Collapse, there is very little evidence to support the notion that technology will solve our problems. There is however, much evidence to the contrary.

Mr Goklani’s “evidence” is in implying that the Green Revolution solved the world-wide hunger problems that were feared in the 60s and by inference did not materialize. The truth is that the Green Revolution did no such thing. It is directly responsible for most of the problems we have today, all of which stem from unchecked population growth. As for hunger, we barely made a dent. The gap between rich and poor keeps getting wider.

Mr. Goklani states that global warming is not the biggest problem now and won’t be the biggest problem in the next century. He claims the most important environmental problems are loss of habitat and reduced biodiversity. Did it occur to him that both of these are caused by increasing human populations ? Calling for more growth can only make these worse.

Global warming is just another side-effect of this unchecked growth. It is but one of a slew of problems that we will have to deal with. And continuing to do what we are doing is the problem, not the solution.

I didn’t even mention that he first lists some other “environmental problems” that aren’t environmental at all, and that are all going to get much worse if growth goes unchecked.

Unfortunately, Mr. Goklani’s assumptions (not those of the IPCC or the Stern review) are many and well hidden. They are also unproven if not outright false. Mr. Goklani does a good job promoting the “values” of free-trade, and over-consumption. His report says nothing more than keep going and everything will be fine.

In short, it is not worth the paper it is written on.

— Posted by Frank

Global warming is just one result of humanity’s exploitation of resources to maintain itself. The combination of increasing population and increasing exploitation per capita of those resources is leading to increasing modification of the planetary ecosystem.

Its scale is on the order of magnitude of naturally occuring variation over the planet’s history, but at a rate hitherto known only in catastrophic extinction events.

Global warming is not the least of our problems, but it is only one of those unfolding to an unknowable future, but which will be radically different from the present.

— Posted by OX, WA

First of all, global warming is not a problem - but a symptom of the biggest “systems” problem the world has ever faced. In order to address it properly we must view our industrialized economy as a subsystem of the biosphere in which it is imbedded. That means aligning the aim of the industrialized economy with the aim of the ecosystem.

Next, you bring up examples of how our “new” technology has saved the world from predicted famine. In truth, industrialized agriculture is destroying our most precious and non-renewable resource, topsoil, and will surely threaten the world with famine unless we start learning from nature, and aligning our industrialized economy with the lessons nature teaches. Tilling soil and spraying pesticides are destroying the very basis from which we draw our food and water, and it comes from a lack of understanding of systems.

Finally, those who advocate doing nothing about climate change have other agendas than saving lives. It’s more about saving the status quo.

— Posted by Andrew McKeon

I have to agree with the other skeptics of this report. The idea that we’ll all be wealthier in the future is an unsupported assertion offered as fact. Forget global warming…what happens when oil production begins to decline if we can not find an alternative source for our voracious energy needs? Will this growth of wealth continue unabated? I have my doubts, and could just as easily envision the scenario where we delay action on the idea that we’ll have more resources later, only to have less resources and face an even worse crisis.

— Posted by Othar Hugh Manati

Why does Global Warming and profitability have to be in the same line?Why everything have to be about economics and not just sustainability. Global warning have no longer become about saving the planet and life form but how can we as greedy mankind profit from our failures to try and save the planet. The planet is already in an exponential decay and there is very little we can do to stop this decay.The more we try the more we compound the situation. Renewable resources is the only way.”Energy is neither created nor destroyed but converted from one form to another.”We cannot produce ethanol to run vehicles .It takes energy to produce Ethanol while Polluting the soil with nitrates . Just doesn’t make sense just profit for someone.

— Posted by V Dookie

I've only had the chance to briefly glance at the report and I'm sure it'll be an interesting read, but my real point in posting these various comments is to show further evidence of the point I've been making in this blog since day one. all the global warming talk and environmentalism isn't about science and reason, it's about ideology and the belief that humankind is destroying the planet. Look at the themes that run through every comment I've posted- overpopulation, our limited resources, the peril of the planet, and the outright disbelief in the notion that economic and technological development has improved humanity's lot and will continue to do so. As I said, this isn't science and it isn't reason. Cloaking your apocalyptic fears of running out of resources or destroying the planet in the veil of science doesn't make your fears rational.

The underlying theme is that capitalism (and I would guess, the development that goes along with it) is an ideology that is destructive to the planet. It's a theme that gets repeated and repeated, no matter what the evidence to the contrary and it's why so many of these commenters don't even want to address the notion that capitalism and the free market may hold an answer to global warming.