Monday, March 31, 2008

Not Much Blogging

I know, I know, I've been slacking off. I've just had a number of things coming to a head in the past few weeks that have kept me from writing- 1) an extra busy schedule at work; 2) my fantasy baseball draft and the impending fantasy baseball season; 3) various and sundry wedding plans. This looks like another busy week, but hopefully I'll have everything back to full speed by next week.

In the mean time, I was working on a list of top South Park episodes, which should be up in a few days, and, I should let my readers know that I'm currently in first place in my one and only NCAA tournament bracket, my strategy of picking every single favorite appearing to have paid off- Actually, that strategy has paid off as I garnered the most points to this point and got every single one of the final four. I had to actually use my own brain to make my final four picks, and I took UCLA over Memphis and North Carolina over Kansas, before taking the Tar Heels in the championship. The problem is, with the weighted picks, I could still lose if Carolina doesn't win it all. If Kansas or UCLA win, it's tough luck for me. But if Memphis and Carolina play for the championship, I'll be the champ regardless. I think there's something to be said with the favorite strategy, particularly in small pools.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Stupendous South Park

After two so-so moments, last night's South Park episode, "Major Boobage" was a classic Trey Parker and Matt Stone triumph. What other show could pay homage to the 1981 adult cartoon Heavy Metal, reference The Diary of Anne Frank and Schindler's List, and poke fun of the hypocrisy of Elliot Spitzer in an episode who's overarching plot satirizes the hysteria over kids using everyday items to get high? Pure genius. Now if you excuse me, I'm going to go have a cat pee in my face.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

So Long, Jericho

Last year the campaign slogan was "nuts" - Maybe the fan response to this year's cancellation of the CBS drama Jericho can similarly invoke a memorable moment from this shortened seven episode run.

Only, I can't really think of anything particularly memorable. Jericho's second season did pack a lot of plot into seven hours, but left precious little room for anything else. Tuesday night's series finale was no different as Jake and Hawkins rushed to Cheyenne, took back the nuclear bomb, and presented it to the independent Republic of Texas as evidence of the duplicity of Jennings and Rawl and the Cheyenne government. Meanwhile, back in Jericho, as Eric and company decide to stand up to Major Beck, Beck finally chooses the right side and rejects Cheyenne. Like the rest of season two, the series finale was big on concepts, but disappointing on execution.

As I've written before, Jericho lost a lot of what made it special in being rewritten into a post-apocalyptic 24. For the entire first season, Jericho at it's heart was a small town story. Yes we had the mystery of the attacks, and yes, we had the intrigue of Robert Hawkins, but at the end of the day, the story was about Jericho. Through the stories and through the overall look of the show, Jericho came to life as an idealized small town roughing it's way through tough times. But this season that small town sensibility was lost. Other than a brief meeting at Bailey's Tavern in episode three or four, I never had a sense that our main characters were actually representative of their town. It wasn't the town facing off againast Jennings and Rawl and the corrupt government- It was our cast of young people. Kids were dropped from the storyline as were the old people- Grey Anderson was sent packing to a new Constitutional convention in episode 2 and Jake and Eric's mother, Gayle, makes only
a token appearance.

The worst part of this oh-so-short season is that all the elements were there for another great season. Sure, the whole Jennings and Rawl, evil corporate influenced government bit is slightly over the top (as were much of the metaphors used this year), but it would have worked well as a plot device with the proper execution. First, obviously, the town should have remained the focus of the show- not Hawkins, not J&R, not espionage, and certainly not the maddeningly slow Major Beck. For all the craziness going on, we should have seen people have their lives return to normal after the war with New Bern- and beyond Jake and Eric's anger over their father's death, we should have seen more fallout of the war, not just political ramifications, but the personal ones as well.

All the new ideas should have been given the opportunity to play out. Grey Anderson going to the new Constitutional convention was given a few lines in the last episode, but God, what an interesting idea- Also interesting was the development of Cheyenne into the center of the American west. We don't get much more than a glimpse in the finale. The troubles of New Bern are basically unaddressed until they're brought to our (and Heather's) attention. It's not surprising that New Bern would be far more likely to turn to violence than would Jericho. In the finale we see the brief return of Phil Constantino, and Eric's rejection of his outright use of violence, but all of it is never really hashed out.

Worst of all, all the character development of season one grinds to a halt in season two. Stanley and Mimi get the chance to grow their relationship and deal with Bonnie's death, but other than that, most of the characters seem to take a step back. Jake seems to spend the whole season looking angry, while we don't get much of a clue what's going on with Eric. Hawkins, who had begun to embrace his family last year, spends a lot of time doing business with his wife and seems to have abandoned his kids. Dale's growth as a leader in Jericho is relegated to the background. Heather's given a position that seems suited to her character, yet we never get to see her actually doing her job. And Emily is reduced from a somewhat complex character to eye candy.

There are rumors that Jericho might be salvaged as a cable project. I'd watch if they did, but I'd be scared of more of the same- it's too bad they can't go back and get a do-over for season two.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

What do you do with a $5,000 an hour prostitute?

For those wondering about what Elliot Spitzer was doing spending so much money on a prostitute, here's a good answer for Arrested Development aficionados, from the Season Three episode Family Ties, when Michael finds out that Nellie, the woman he thinks is his sister, is actually a prostitute being paid out of the company coffers:

Michael: Ten grand? What did you do with these guys, exactly?

Nellie: They mostly just cried. You’ve got a real morale problem here.



I think I've just about watched my fewest hours of college basketball ever this season- actually, I've probably watched less than an hour over the course of the year. It's not that I'm not interested ... I'm just not very interested. I've paid very little attention to basketball period and what little attention I have paid has been to the NBA, with the Celtics run at a championship and all the funky trades. I hate to say it but Charlie Villanueva and Rudy Gay may have permanently killed my interest in UCONN basketball, and without a team to get excited for, the entire thing is just so ... bleh.

That being said, I actually did look at the brackets and took the time to fill out my own bracket before the tournament starts tomorrow. I hope I can be like one of those office women who makes their picks based on colors and names ... Only this year, rather than picking based on any knowledge, fake or real, or any non-relevant characteristic, I decided to pick based solely on seeding. So, my entire bracket has every single top seed winning. I'll keep the blogger informed ...

All About Obama

Sorry to my regular readers for the lack of regular updates this week- I've been busy and a bit under the weather. But I just wanted to take the time to agree with Reason's Jesse Walker on the Barack Obama-Reverend Wright scandal. As Walker says, this whole "scandal" has him liking Obama even more.

Now we have the Jeremiah Wright "scandal," which frankly makes me like Obama more. If you don't have a friend -- a real friend, someone who means something to you and sometimes influences your decisions -- who occasionally expresses a nutty opinion ("The government lied about inventing the HIV virus as a means of genocide against people of color") or an impolitic truth ("a country and a culture controlled by rich white people"), then you really, really need to get out more. Obama's connection to Wright is like his cigarette habit, his willingness to talk about his past drug use, his fondness for gritty TV shows -- it's a sign that there's an actual human being in that suit after all, no matter how empty it may seem when he's blathering about "an insistence on small miracles" and the like. It's a sign he might know a thing or two about the real America after all.

Swear to God I was thinking the same thing the other day. It's interesting that some of the Reason commenters are so offended. Some compare Walker's support of Obama to the Ron Paul newsletter scandal, wondering why Reason editors were so unforgiving of Paul but are now nonchalant about Obama's preacher. To respond to those questions, the situations just aren't the same. In Paul's case we were talking about newsletters published in his name- In Obama we're talking about the words of his reverend. You should have to answer for your own craziness in politics, but there's a certain lack of reality in having to respond to the craziness of people you know.

Other commenters dredge up the ghosts of Rush Limabugh's infamous Donovan McNabb comments and the Don Imus incident, missing the point that there's a difference between your own words and the words of another. As for the fact that Reverend Wright is Obama's religious and spiritual leader, I'd avoid passing judgment on one sound bite. As Walker basically said, it's nice to see some reality in this artificial world of politics.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Jericho's Disaster

Tuesday night's episode, most likely the third-to-last episode ever, did nothing to allay my fears about the direction Jericho has taken. After plowing through two seasons of Lost, the lack of production value this season on Jericho is all to evident. Just like Lost, Jericho's first season was sprawling- now we're stuck with the darkened medical center and a few on location shots that don't even attempt to give us the illusion of Kansas (the crossroads where the shootout occurs and the road to New Bern, where Goetz's body was strung up).

As I've been saying all season, the plot line is paper thin. Goetz's embezzlement of $10,000 was a poorly designed motivation to trigger Mimi's shooting and Bonnie's death. It just makes no sense- the guy could kill who he wanted and steal what he wanted from the population, so why bother embezzling from his employer? Rather than poignant, the character moments seem rushed, just like everything else on the show. I understand the show needed to work an entire season down to seven episodes, but I just don't think the writers have done a very good job.

That being said, there were a few good moments last night- one was the Ravenwood men showing up at Hawkins house only to find out that he wasn't to be messed with. And the scene with Stanley signing to his dead sister was just heartbreaking. But here's the thing- that scene with Stanley signing happened after we had another scene of him sitting in the morgue talking to Eric, who looked like he was too bored to bothered with Bonnie's death. The emotional moments of Stanley saying goodbye to his sister was needed, but we didn't need to see Eric hanging around taking up airtime.

The worst part is that the story arc this season could have been awesome. Ravenwood's relationship with the new government is a bit cliche, but it could have worked well in the context of better storytelling. The New Bern angle should have been more fully developed, as should have Heather's role- I'm still not quite sure what it is that she's doing. And to top it all off, the writing is just bad- most of the dialog is nothing put poorly executed plot exposition. Ah well. Just two weeks left.

One Of The Forgotten Founding Fathers

I literally just found out about it, but I'm super duper excited for HBO's seven-part mini-series on John Adams.

I was a history major back when I was in college and I've always been particularly fascinated by the Founding era- from the seeds of the Revolution through the years of Adams, Jefferson, and Madison. Perhaps most intriguing is that the modern media has seemed to shy away from stories about the Revolutionary era. Mel Gibson's "The Patriot" none withstanding, I can't think of any modern films about the era- And while "The Patriot" was a good looking film, it suffered a bit in it's storytelling, both in the historical accuracy department and in terms of Mel Gibson violence syndrome.

I think many potential filmmakers are put off by the scope of the period and the stature of the men they'd be portraying. So kudos to HBO to putting 100 million dollars and 8 hours into getting it done. John Adams premiers this Sunday night at 8PM on HBO.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

I'm Really Sorry About Those Thousands Of Dollars

I haven't written anything on Elliot Spitzer because the guy's a tool and even if prostitution should be legal, it's not no thanks to politicians like him. Some of the reactions are downright ridiculous. On the New York Times op-ed page, Melissa Farley and Victor Malarek are upset that Spitzer didn't apologize to the prostitute.

Come again? That's right, he should have apologized to the prostitute because prostitution is not a victim less crime. I suppose it is rather sad when the escort service collects half of that $5,000 being paid for sex. I suppose it's sad to, that according to one story, Spitzer was a good tipper. Do you know how many men would jump at the chance to make $2,5000, plus tips, for having sex? I wonder if Farley and Maralek think the men who would jump at such an offer are as psychologically damaged as all of the women in the sex field.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

TV's best cast of characters?

I've been watching the hit ABC series Lost as of late. Or maybe I should say plowing through. In the past nine days I've gone through season one and almost all of season two, with only four or so episodes remaining. Lost has always been one of those shows on my "need to watch" list and even rushing through it the show is a lot of fun. One of the best parts of the show is the incredably large and continually growing cast of characters, all of whom seem more interconnected than it originally seemed. Talking with friends who are big Lost aficionados made me wonder what tv show has the all-time greatest cast of characters.

Keep in mind that by greatest cast of characters I'm talking about numbers as well as quality. Plenty of shows have several unique characters, but I'm talking something a little more ambitious- More the character tapestry of Russian novel than the sitcom family of yesteryear.

Lost would certainly be up there on my list, but I don't think it would be number one. Not to go all geeky on you, but my number one all-time show for it's cast of characters would have to be Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. The credited cast of nine was wonderful from top to bottom but the show thrived as the secondary characters developed and were fully integrated into the rest of the show. There was Gul Dukat, one of the most well-drawn villains I can remember in any genre and Garak, the simple tailor and former spy who saw subterfuge as an art form. There were the various Ferengi, cast aside as hopeless jokes on Star Trek: The Next Generation, but redeemed through Quark's pacifism, and Rom and Nog's evolving values. There was General Martok, a Klingon counterpart to Worf who rose above the typical Klingon caricature. There was the conflicted Kai Winn, committed to her Gods, but jealous of their relationship with Captain Sisko. And on and on. Plenty of shows have great characters, but Deep Space Nine's weren't just great- they furthered plots and themes all while following alongside one another. Like I said, Lost is very good, but itt'l take some doing for it to beat Deep Space Nine.

When Liberals Meet Regulation

Liberals tend to love government regulation in all it's forms, at least until it comes back and smacks them in the face. Keep that in mind while checking out this latest piece in the Nation on the war on raw milk.

The problem? The FDA says raw milk isn't safe, but plenty of nature-loving holistic types love to laud the benefits of all fresh, raw foods, including milk. And good for them- they should be able to drink whatever sort of milk they want. But that oh-so-pesky regulatory state just gets in the way. It's an informative read, but just keep in mind that these are the very same sorts of regulations that the big milk producers have to follow. Raw milk is only singled out because it just doesn't quite fit into the existing regulatory structure.

Working this year as a parking citation hearing officer I've come to realize something- everyone hates parking regulations because everyone gets hassled by them in some way or another. The problem with the rest of the massive regulatory state we live in is that people only get mad when they're affected.

Told You So - Action Now, Science Later

AP Water Probe Prompts Senate Hearings.

Sen. Barbara Boxer, who heads the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, and Sen. Frank Lautenberg, chairman of the Transportation, Safety, Infrastructure Security and Water Quality Subcommittee, said Monday the oversight hearings would likely be held in April.

Boxer, D-Calif., said she was "alarmed at the news" that pharmaceuticals are turning up in the nation's drinking water, while Lautenberg, a New Jersey Democrat who said he was "deeply concerned" by the AP findings, both represent states where pharmaceuticals had been detected in drinking water supplies, but not disclosed to the public.

"I call on the EPA to take whatever steps are necessary to keep our communities safe," said Boxer in a statement.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Drugs In The Water

This was the big news yesterday: Prescription drugs found in drinking water across the United States.

It seems to me that this may be the ultimate pinnacle of modern media-centered scare science. After all, what sounds more scary (and scientific) then ... "our water is contaminated with everything." It's a problem that starts with the public's general lack of scientific understanding, includes the media, and even includes the scientists who issue the scary sound bites.

The truth should be obvious to any environmental geek- our environment is all interconnected. We use all sorts of drugs, so all sorts of drugs are present throughout our environment. Scientifically speaking, these are interesting findings, but I can't say I'm all that surprised. Although nothing has been said specifically, I worry about the general tone this sort of reporting takes. The focus seems to be all the possible risks we're facing, not the further studies that need to be done. I have no idea what the effects of small trace amounts of pharmaceuticals would be. I don't think anyone does, nor have I seen any number crunching as to what these numbers actually mean. Do the results add up to 1 pill over the course of a lifetime of drinking water? 2 pills? 10 pills? Enough for us to be worried about? I don't know about you, but taking in the equivalent of one of every scary sounding pill on the planet over the course of my lifetimes just isn't enough to scare me. And it certainly shouldn't be enough to warrant a scared public.

When it comes to danger, the fact is that the dose makes the poison. Before any legislation or regulation, I'd like to see some science. Thank God the EPA shows more common sense than certain other people in this world.

Not Your Problem

Today, the New York Times editorial page worries over whether or not the benefits of the prescription drug Avastin is worth the risks in regards to treating women with breast cancer.

The key study showed that when used with another drug, Avastin almost doubled the time cancers were held in check before starting to worsen. It also doubled the number of women whose tumors shrank significantly.

It did not extend overall survival rates and caused more serious side effects, including perhaps half a dozen deaths. That seems like a modest basis for approval pending completion of additional clinical trials. The quandary is whether an extra 5 1/2 months of holding tumor progression at bay is worth toxic side effects.

Hey New York Times ... Ever occur to you that maybe this shouldn't be your quandary?

Seven Stupid Sins

Caught this one on the news this morning: Vatican Updates Seven Deadly Sins For Modern World. You would think the Catholic Church, with all it's emphasis on tradition, would be beyond such nonsense. But nope, here are the new sins, in all their modern glory:

Genetic Engineering
Being Obscenely Rich
Drug Dealing
Causing Social Injustice

Quoting from Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano, The Times reported that certain actions were so unholy that they needed to be deemed as “mortal sins” – not the less serious “venial sins”.

The man in charge of examining confessions and indulgences for the Vatican, Monsignor Gianfranco Girotti, told the Vatican newspaper that priests should be aware of the “new” sins.

“New sins have appeared on the horizon of humanity as a corollary of the unstoppable process of globalisation,” Monsignor Girotti said.

“You offend God not only by stealing, blaspheming or coveting your neighbour’s wife – but also by ruining the environment, carrying out morally debatable scientific experiments, or allowing genetic manipulations which alter DNA or compromise embryos.”

As those of you who know me know, I'm not at all religious- I'm really the exact opposite of religious. But I always thought the seven deadly sins- lust, gluttony, avarice, sloth, anger, envy and pride- were about what was in your heart and soul, and not as much about the actions you'd taken. I thought the seven deadly sins were supposed to be a bit different from the ten commandments.

But even so, however you want to look at these ... they're still stupid. I understand a few of them- pedophilia, abortion, genetic engineering. I don't understand the rest. What's being obscenely rich anyways? How do you know if you're just rich and not obscenely rich? And drug dealing? Not to drag my libertarian-ness into a religious question, but isn't God's law supposed to be different than man's law? We have laws about illegal drugs and we have laws about legal drugs, but what does that mean in terms of the marijuana dealer and the pharmaceutical rep selling potentially addictive pain killers?

Then there's pollution, which I've written about before in this blog. Industry pollutes and pollution laws are designed to limit the amount of pollution industry produces. So what's the deadly sin? Any and all polluting (meaning any and all industry) or just pollution exceeding of permit levels? I certainly hope exceeding your regulatory permit doesn't make you guilty of a deadly sin. And finally, there's the liberal canard, causing social injustice ... good luck trying to figure out if you're guilty of that.

Local Radio Liberal Douche, part II

I'm not sure who it was, but some idiot on WTIC 1080 this weekend came up with the absolute worst global warming metaphor that I've ever heard. The metaphor was that of clothes on a clothesline on a day where a chance of showers. If there's a chance that it might rain, we'd bring our clothes in the house- Similarly, if we know there's a chance global warming is occurring, then we ought to take necessary precautions.

Stupid? Yeah. If it rains and we leave our clothes on the clothesline we know the result will be wet clothes. But if man made global warming is occurring, we don't know what the consequences of it are actually going to be. Those consequences could be very different depending on the rate the climate is actually changing and even if we did know the specific rate the climate was changing, we would by no means be certain about the more distant future. The point is, the clothes problem has an obvious solution- global warming is not a simple problem with an obvious solution.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Local Radio Liberal Douche

Usually I find local liberal radio personality Colin McEnroe tolerable- tolerable in that I can listen to him on my drive home in the afternoon in between getting the traffic and the weather. But last Friday was just one of those days where McEnroe's show turned me off to the entire idea of liberalism. The topic for discussion was the Connecticut legislature's consideration of a ban on plastic grocery bags. The idea being of course, that plastic bags are not so environmentally friendly.

To his credit, McEnroe was wary of such a ban, noting that such drastic measures tend to produce strong reactions from the public, who dislike being told what to do. McEnroe's idea was a sort of public service campaign, to ween us off of our addiction to the ubiquitous plastic bag. Of course, if such gentle measures failed, the more drastic step of a ban would be taken in order to force people into making the right decision. That's where McEnroe- and most liberals- tend to lose me. It's not just the fact you want to tell people what to do, it's the arrogant attitude that would force your world view on the rest of the world.

Friday, March 07, 2008

So That's Why They Got Rid of Josh Beckett

Former Philadelphia Eagles owner Norman Braman is suing the city of Miami to stop a 3 billion dollar public works deal that includes a new stadium for the baseball Marlins.

Braman is suing to stop Miami's so-called "global agreement" in its tracks, contending it was illegally hatched in secret and improperly uses money intended to cure urban blight and help poor people. Braman wants voters to decide projects of such magnitude, rather than politicians.

"Taxpayers in this town have been ripped off constantly over the years," Braman said in a recent interview in his downtown Miami office.

"It's time that as citizens of this community that we say enough is enough -- that we're not going to put up with this any more," he added.

The 37,000-seat, retractable-roof Marlins stadium -- along with a 6,000-space parking garage and possibly a future adjacent soccer stadium where the soon-to-be-razed Orange Bowl now sits -- is only one part of the grand agreement between the city of Miami and Miami-Dade County.

It also envisions a $1 billion tunnel under Biscayne Bay for trucks rumbling to and from the Port of Miami, a passenger trolley line serving the downtown area, additional money for a just-opened performing arts center with budget problems and work on a park that will become home to several Miami museums.

It's an interesting convergence of politics and sports - and not just because of the debate over whether cities should build stadiums with public money (I don't think they should). I'd be suing too, if I lived in Miami. Why on earth should the taxpayers shell out billions of dollars to a team that literally auctions off all it's good players a couple times a decade?

Random Friday Reads

The New York Times's David Pogue on the Overblown Dangers Of the Internet and Children.

Reason's Kerry Howley on Overreaching Medical Journals denouncing poaching of medical professionals.

And former Democratic Presidential Candidate George McGovern in the Wall Street Journal, defending the much maligned sub prime mortgage market. McGovern's piece lends optimism to the notion that maybe there is so hope liberals can move in a libertarian direction.

Since leaving office I've written about public policy from a new perspective: outside looking in. I've come to realize that protecting freedom of choice in our everyday lives is essential to maintaining a healthy civil society.

Why do we think we are helping adult consumers by taking away their options? We don't take away cars because we don't like some people speeding. We allow state lotteries despite knowing some people are betting their grocery money. Everyone is exposed to economic risks of some kind. But we don't operate mindlessly in trying to smooth out every theoretical wrinkle in life.

The nature of freedom of choice is that some people will misuse their responsibility and hurt themselves in the process. We should do our best to educate them, but without diminishing choice for everyone else.

More Reasons To Be Wary Of John McCain

The title of this Jerry Taylor post on the Cato blog literally made me lol. The Crazy Talk Express ...

... just keeps rolling along. The other day, the topic of conversation turned to autism and vaccines. “There is strong evidence,” John McCain said, “that indicates that it’s got to do with a preservative in vaccines.”

Strong evidence, eh? If so, that evidence has escaped the attention of the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences, which recently published a thorough review of the data available on this matter and, well, shot John McCain’s opinion to pieces. But what do they know? John McCain has been studying this issue for years - in between his investigation of human growth hormones in baseball, of course, and a panoply of other pressing medical and scientific matters.

New York Times Urges Congress To Do The Unconstitutional Thing

It's been a few days, right? So I suppose it's no surprise to see the New York Times editorial page saying something stupid again. According to their alarmist editorial, half of all the waters in the United States are at risk of pollution because of the Supreme Court's 2006 Rapanos v. U.S. decision. Therefore, the Times is encouraging Congressional passage of the Clean Water Restoration Act, which would apparently extend Clean Water Act jurisdiction to all waters in the United States, no matter how remote or isolated they are.

As long time readers may remember, I discussed the Rapanos decision in detail, along with the limitations of the Commerce Clause on the Clean Water Act in my law journal article, "Constitutional Limits to Federal Environmental Regulation: The Commerce Clause Challenge to the Safe Drinking Water Act" available at 10 Quinnipiac Health L.J. 77-112 (2006). I don't want to get too complicated for non-legal readers, but basically, the Supreme Court decision in Rapanos avoided the Constitutional issues to reach a conclusion on statutory grounds, saying that the Clean Water Act did not intend to cover every drop of water in the country.

Even if a law were to pass explicitly extending the coverage of the Clean Water Act, such a law would be of dubious Constitutionality. The reason being is that Congress is limited in the legislation it can pass to the powers specifically granted in the Constitution- this includes the interstate Commerce Clause, which has been interpreted to permit legislation regulating the channels of commerce, people in commerce and the instrumentalities of commerce, and activities with a substantial effect on commerce. In the past 70 some odd years, the Commerce Clause has been the rationale behind a myriad of federal laws, but although it's meaning has been stretched, it does still hold real limitations. The Federal government has no power to regulate strictly intrastate activities that do not impact on interstate commerce. So while the federal government is fairly free to pass economic legislation, they are not permitted to legislate traditionally local issues- like for instance, local zoning and building codes.

I mention that traditional sort of land use regulation because that's exactly the sort of regulation the Clean Water Act permits the federal government to butt it's nose in to. Now such regulation makes sense, logically and legally, if we're talking about the connected waterways of the United States- lakes and rivers which provide an inter-connected system that extends beyond state boundaries. And yes, even the regulations of wetlands adjacent to such waterways makes sense. As I well know from where I live now, if you build a shopping mall down the road, it effects all the land nearby- the lake near my house, the swamp behind my house, and the drainage issues we have when it rains.

What doesn't make sense is the regulation of waterways and wetlands unconnected with the major waters of the United States. There may be circumstances where you have several brooks flowing into a pond, but the reach of the impact of such a system of waters would probably be limited to the valley which they're all located. In the Rapanos case, the individuals involved wanted to develop land that was adjacent to a seasonal brook and miles from any real substantial body of water. The issues isn't whether there should be any regulations on development at all, the issue is whether in cases like that, regulation should be left to local authorities and not to the federal government.

Not surprisingly, the New York Times has argued for federal regulation, implying that anything less would result in the complete destruction of our environment. As I said, I don't think the proposed legislation withstands Constitutional scrutiny. Permitting such legislation opens the door to the federal regulation of all land use- not just wetland regulation, but any and all use of the environment. It's a rather scary proposition because we know where we live and we know our communities, certainly a lot better than some bureaucrat in Washington or some ignoramus at the New York Times.

Fires and Health

Personally, I think Megan McArdle poses some great questions on her Asymmetrical Information blog. Today she points out that it makes little sense to compare mandates on paying for fire department services with individual mandates for health insurance.

As usual, Megan's readers are up in arms, both the libertarian egg-heads and the self-anointed liberal economists. I'm amazed by the arguments people make in regards to health care, as no one would ever consider making the same arguments in other facets of life. One commenter complains that our current system of health care restrains our liberty because it restricts our ability to move from job to job- It is true that because of government policy, we've tied health care into our jobs, and this does make moving from job to job more of a financial liability- But health care is out there, it's just expensive. The high costs of a product or service is not a restriction of liberty, not really anyhow. Maybe at some point, government imposed costs would be a restriction of liberty, but given how much we dole out to the government in taxes, I find it hard to point figures at any one particular instance.

Another commenter complains about how complicated health policies are ... which is a perfectly good complaint, but that's the world we live in. I don't think people need give up their autonomy just because the world's gotten more complicated. And then there's the commenter who points out that unpaid health care bills actually raise the cost of health care for the rest of us. As I took the time to point out in the comments, that may well be the case, but that logic would apply to all unpaid bills, not just health care ones. If we're that worried about the effect people not paying their bills will have on the economy, why have a market economy in the first place?

Thursday, March 06, 2008

More Thoughts On Free Speech and Schools

Just to expand a bit on yesterday's discussion ...

Going through all the law again, I'm convinced that there's no way the school's action is allowed to stand on any grounds other than some sort of higher standards for student council candidates. Student council isn't a right and the whole notion of student government is really more about building the bright kids resumes than anything else. A punishment of banishment from student council elections wouldn't be a punishment as such, merely a failure to meet strict standards of citizenship.

I know that sounds like a lot of bologna, but schools do have a great deal of leeway. But however broad the discretion of school administrators might be, I can't imagine that discretion would extend to speech outside of school, even if that speech happens to discuss school activities. Legal precedent is fairly clear that schools have authority over activities that could disrupt the educational experience. In our Burlington case, the alleged disruption could have been caused by the girl's use of the term "douchebag" in reference to school administrators. The problem with that argument is that it's centered on both the language and the subject- seemingly if the girl has called President Bush a "douchebag" that would be acceptable. And, if the girl had just called the administration "incompetent" then I can't imagine that language would warrant punishment- not unless we literally have a system where students are literally not permitted to criticize the educational establishment and I don't think we live in that totalitarian of a nation. So it goes back to the real problem is the particular language together with the particular target. Missing in the analysis is the forum- an internet blog. You can get punished for using the term "douchebag" in school and I suppose you can get punished for insulting the administration- The point is that the school has a great deal of leeway within their walls. But outside the school, you can't have schools in the business in judging the effect of speech. School administrators can't dole out discipline because they suspect a blog is well read by other members of the school community.

The 2nd Circuit of Appeals case Wisniewski v. Board of Education of the Weedsport Central School District did allow the school to reach into the realm of internet speech outside the classroom- but only because the student in question had created an instant messaging icon suggesting violence againast a school teacher. The forum wasn't so much an issue in that case, the violent imagery was. Many of us make fun of zero tolerance policies, but the need for caution when it comes to the possibility of violence can't be ignored. Regardless, we're not talking about violence in Burlington, just douchebags- the kind that take kids to court for exercising their First Amendment rights.

Big Kid Support

There's currently a bill in the state legislature that would lengthen child support to age 21. Current law terminates child support obligations upon age 18 and the graduation of high school.

The future Mrs. lonely libertarian and I have debated this issue before and I know she'd be fully in favor of this bill. College is expensive and generally, kids need help getting their adult lives started. Here's my problem- the bill applies only to non-custodial parents paying child support. Or in other words, children from families of divorce could, by law, receive support until they turn 21, whereas children from intact families could be thrown out on the street at age 18 with no legal recourse.

I understand the thought process behind the bill- divorce can be contentious and it just plain sucks when one parent walks out, leaving the other left with the responsibility of supporting a child through college. But if child support is supposed to be about the child, then it makes little sense to distinguish support on the circumstances of the parents. Imagine a situation where parents disagree over financial support of adult children and lets also say that most of the money happens to be in one parent's name. If the parents stay together, the money controlling parent could deny all support for their children after age 18. But if they get divorced, the children would receive support to age 21. It just doesn't make any sense to me and it doesn't seem to jive with the notion that child support is supposed to be about the child.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Connecticut In The News, Free Speech, Public Schools, and the Internet

The 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals has heard the case of a Burlington High School Student barred for running for student council because of comments on an internet blog. I'm tentatively familiar with free speech in schools issues, but I'll probably read up a bit to see how this might turn out.

One thing seems fairly certain to me- the decision should center on the fact that the girl was barred from serving on the student council. I don't think there's anyway this stands as a pure disciplinary decision- I can't imagine that a school has carte blanche to punish students for speech outside of school, regardless of how disruptive that speech might be. Speech can be censored in school and at school activities, but the school's reach can't extend to speech on a student's own time. The tricky part (at least for me) seems to be the student council aspect- I know schools can require certain standards of those serving on student council, but I'm not sure if there's much law on that particular question. More later ...

Guess Who Has Another Bad Idea?

This weekend's Hartford Courant had a story on the Connecticut's interest in taking lessons from Massachusetts's restrictions on teen driving. It's one of those hot topics in the news that seems to me to be an appropriate topic for discussion. Here's an instance where government can take action in the interests of keeping the roads safe. Graduated licensing policies, restrictions on teen driving, and more severe penalties for conditionally licensed drivers all seem like good ideas to me, or at least, ideas worth discussing.

But trust the New York Times editorial page to take a good idea and ruin it. According to the Times, we don't need the states making all sorts of haphazard laws about driving- We need Congress to come up with uniform national rules for teen drivers.

States have a duty to regulate driving on public roads and part of that regulation is to consider means of making our roads safe for everyone using them. But the idea that there's one correct way of regulating teen driving is just asinine. Even in a small state like Connecticut there's a lot of room for discussion as to what methods are most effective and the state's should be free to experiment with a variety of regulations. And to think that driving in every state throughout the county is similar enough to require the same regulations ... I mean come on.

This is precisely what I'm referring to when I discuss the biases of the New York Times- they're all about big government, the bigger, the better. There's a world view at play in which there are no different answers, only right and wrong, and only a big federal government capable of determining what's right and wrong. I know I've said it before, but I fear New York Times world.

Jericho stumbles, then shines

For most of the first 40 minutes of last night's Jericho, as the future Mrs. lonely libertarian pointed out, something about the show didn't seem all that interesting. I wrote last week about the problems with the show and those problems seemed to be highlighted again last night- most noticeably how the show has transformed from being character driven to nearly completely plot driven. Last season, the characters were given time to develop, while this year they all just seem along for the ride, so much so that some of last years starts seem little more than decorations this year.

This is not to say plot-driven can't be any good- 24 ( at least in the old days) did a great job at utilizing characters in a plot that proceeded at breakneck speed. 24 worked so well precisely because it was the story of a single day's action. But that's just not what Jericho is.

The soon to be Mrs. lonely libertarian was also troubled by the scenario we'd been given- the military, the military contractors, and the small town government, all working side-by-side, trying to co-exist, with no clear roles defined. I thought about, and the more I did, the more I realized how awesome that sounded- "Sort of like Iraq" was the thought that popped into my head. The problem isn't the scenario we've been given this season, the problem is that they've done such a piss poor job of storytelling. Rather than letting the problems and difficulties of such an arrangement slowly unfold, we've been given the black and white of it from day one. Rather than getting the chance to see our characters interact in this new environment, we've seen the plot pushed forward at 24-like speed.

Of course, last night was redeemed with a tremendously shocking and emotional ending. I won't spoil it for those who haven't seen it yet, but the last 15 minutes or so reminded me of last season- getting to see the characters react rather than having the plot forced upon them. Only three episodes left, so we'll see where the show is going and if it can be saved for another year.

Updated 3/6/07 @ 12:05 PM
: TV Guide's recap of the last episode was a bit more complementary than my own. Here's one of their comments:

Another great moment happens when Jake and Hawkins bring Heather into their exclusive "club." They need Heather to remove a document from Major Beck's files, which would have revealed the location of a nuclear bomb in Jericho. Hawkins' mysterious benefactor, only known as John Smith, informs Hawkins that he will be caught within 24 hours if this evidence isn't confiscated. Since Heather is the only civilian with access to Beck's office, she is the only person Jake can trust to destroy the papers. This gives Jericho a newfound opportunity to utilize this wonderful character to a greater potential.

I love Heather too, but as we saw when the writers sent her off to New Bern last year, it's hard to work her into the narrative on a regular basis. As I've pointed out before, this year she shows up as the plot requires- it doesn't really make all that much sense that Heather would have security clearance and Sheriff Jake Green wouldn't.

I hated the Hawkins-Jake-Heather scene because it seemed so awkward. I don't remember whether Heather and Hawkins had really interacted much in season one, but regardless, Heather is going to know who Hawkins is. The scene made me realize that Hawkins has basically dropped out of sight and probably hasn't been seen by many people in town since the end of the war with New Bern and bringing him back in the fold like this would probably make a smart girl like Heather ask where he's been and what he's been doing. Heather trusts Jake, but she doesn't seem like the sort that trusts unconditionally and without explanation. Getting her to steal the report seemed to me like a rush job, not all that true to the characters.

Regulatory Capture, Product Safety, and the Right to Recovery

Good discussion on Megan McArdle's Asymmetrical Information blog on the aftermath of Riegel v. Medtronic, the Supreme Court's decision that confirmed that the MDA (Medical Device Act) does preempt state tort actions for design defects in medical devices. Check out On Approval and Libertarians Under the Skin.

In essence, Megan asks the very good question of whether it makes sense to have a system where products are scrutinized both before the fact through regulatory approval and after the fact through product liability lawsuits. I posted a few times in the first comment thread, but probably didn't get my hands around everything I was really trying to say - I figured I'd try again back here at my own place.

First, it's fairly easy to point out the flaws of both systems. When it comes to regulatory approval, regulatory agencies often suffer from regulatory capture- the idea that the regulatory process is driven by industry itself, so that the approval process may be skewed more towards corporate interests than the safety of the public. This is a potential problem as is the possibility that the regulatory agency may be completely incompetent.

The problem is, after-the-fact product liability lawsuits don't help the people who have been hurt, nor do they really provide an efficient forum for adjudicating product safety in the first place. After all, jurors have no particular scientific or technical expertise.

Some of the commenters on both of the comment threads argue that because of these sorts of problems, both standards of protection are needed. That makes sense if one were to look only toward injured parties, but it makes little sense from both the perspective of the manufacturers and from the perspective of a logical system of law.

When we utilize multiple forums and apply differing standards, there is no guide for both consumers and manufactures as to whether or not a product is safe. Some of the commenters argue in favor of redundancy, but the problem with that is that is that it reduces the before-the-fact regulatory decisions to nothing more than a product safety floor. Regulatory approval is needed in order to sell a product in the first place, but that approval doesn't actually mean that the product is safe. Such a system would mean the expensive process of regulatory approval is essentially worthless. Companies would not rely on it to determine whether they are producing a safe product and consumers would not rely on it to determine whether or not a product was safe. So if that was the case, why have such a system set up in the first place?

As much as I am not a fan of regulatory agencies, I'm even less of a fan of juries making technical decisions about product safety. I trust the FDA's decisions on drug safety more than I would any juries. We tend to think of these cases in terms of the juries holding big drug companies liable for damages because of a so-called dangerous drug, but what if it worked the other way around? If the FDA told you a drug was not safe and a jury told you that the drug was safe and should be sold, do you think you'd really trust that jury?

For some types of products, the concept of strict liability decided by a jury makes sense. If my lawnmower explodes, that's the sort of thing a jury can wrap their heads around- and it's certainly more cost effective for consumers that every new lawn mower design doesn't have to go through an expensive pre-approval process. When it comes to drugs and medical devices, there is a lot to be said in opposition to pre-approval expenses, however, there's little argument that trained experts are in a better position to evaluate safety than untrained jurors.

The real problem with drugs is actually two-fold. It's not just the complicated science involved, but there's the simple fact that all drugs react differently for different people. We all know the wide array of potential side effects associated with both prescription and over-the-counter drugs, but the truth is, we also know from personal experience that most of those side effects are not common. And there lies the problem- how do you weigh the risks and benefits of a drug (or a medical device for that matter) to the population as a whole, when the risks and benefits can vary individual by individual? The FDA struggles with this, so it's hard to imagine a jury looking only at the cases of individuals highly prone to the risks of a drug can render decisions about their safety overall.

The real purpose of this post is to encourage discussion and avoid the usual sorts of overly broad arguments. I don't have a good answer to the problem as either a libertarian or a lawyer. One thing that seems certain to me is that the notion of corporate responsibility seems to be ingrained in the minds of most Americans. And by responsibility I don't mean the idea that corporations should behave responsibility but the notion that corporations should bare any and all damages that their products cause. Our legal system has leaned that way ever since the advent of strict product liability, but I think the public perception today seems to be that big corporations should be held responsible for any and all damages.

As we can see, that's a huge problem when it comes to drugs- Drugs that help some individuals may put other individuals at greater risk for for heart attacks and other medical conditions. A system that puts financial responsibility on the drug maker for any and all potential side effects has the end result of keeping such drugs off the market. So in order to prevent huge lawsuits over the side effects, the individuals truly helped by such drugs are denied access to them. Whatever your position on the political spectrum, that's not a result you should be happy with.

Clearly, there's a lot to balance here, and personally, I don't think much good is done just by pointing out the problems of one particular system- any system is going to have it's flaws. Maybe I'll have some good ideas in the future, but for now, I'm just fleshing out the issues.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Studies Show What Common Sense Told Me Years Ago

Today's Hartford Courant has an interesting piece on the science of Spotting the Potential Addict.

Studying colored images of brain activity in youths, researchers have viewed differences in brain function between those at risk of addiction and their peers.

In addition to differences in how pleasure, or its anticipation, is processed in the brain's reward centers, the frontal cortex — the area of the brain that helps control impulses and governs rational behavior — is slow to develop in those at risk of addiction.

That area of the brain develops last in all teenagers — a subject that has received a good deal of attention over the past several years.

But in those prone to drug abuse, the ability to govern rational behavior is a particularly late bloomer. These adolescents tend to engage in all sorts of risky behavior, whether sexual adventures, gambling, driving fast — or substance abuse.

Basically, it's what I've been blogging about, on and off, for the past several years. It's not the drugs, it's the individual. When it comes to kids, some kids are more at-risk than others. What the article doesn't answer is whether these at-risk factors are a product of nature or nurture. I'm going to go out a limb and say a little from column A and a little from column B.

The article doesn't explore the corollary of what they seem to have stumbled upon- if science can identify at-risk teens, than science can also identify the more well-adjusted kids who are not at risk. I shudder at the totalitarian implications of such science, but the truth is that we're a long way away from living in a Minority Report world where we can prevent bad things before they happen. What's interesting to me is the implications for current laws and current policies. We're always warned how drugs are a menace and how are kids are in danger, but the truth seems to be that only certain kids are really in danger- and those are the same kids who'd be in danger via other risky behaviors, even if we could actually rid our communities of drugs.

As I've always argued, the science seems to indicate that certain at-risk kids need help and seemingly, they need help whether their using drugs or not. But for everyone else? Maybe the government and the anti-drug lobbies should stop scaring us.

The Campus Rape Myth

Heather Mac Donald in the City Journal on The Campus Rape Myth.

It's a good read that basically echoes my own college experience. I still remember my student orientation special seminar on rape and sexual assault. We watched this video where a young college girl went to a frat party, got drunk, and went upstairs with some frat guy to his room where he raped her. It was stupid and cliche and I remember thinking at the time that I had seen better movies on the Lifetime network. When the presenter asked for thoughts and opinions on what we had seen, I raised my hand and suggested it wasn't a good idea for the girl to go upstairs with that guy. Apparently that was the wrong answer, and the woman running the seminar told me so. We weren't supposed to blame the victim.

It was my first venture into the p.c. world of college anti-rape culture, the first of many experiences that led me to abandon the more liberal ideas of my youth. What's so fascinating about the anti-rape political movement (and it is a political movement, although I'm not sure that the movement actually understands itself) are the kernels of troublesome truths amid the p.c. laden "1 in 4 college women will be raped" manual. That 1 in 4 number may be compelling, but as the story points out, it's not accurate. The majority of woman in the 1 in 4 stat don't even consider themselves to have been raped- the definition of rape is so broad that it includes drunken one-night stands that seem to be after-the-fact mistakes. Rape is a real issue, one that I think is trivialized by faulty statistics and university sexual assault boards. Rape is a criminal offense and should be handled as such- grouping girls who made poor choices with actual victims of sexual assault seems to marginalize real victims more than anything else.

Additionally, there's a startling lack of concern with personal responsibility. The anti-rape groups seems to take any mention of personal responsibility as an affront to their mission, rather than a means of educating young people about safe and responsible behavior. You don't have to be a wacko conservative to point out the dangers of intimate encounters with people you don't know and trust. As the article points out, the anti-rape movement exists at the weird intersection of women's empowerment and sexual liberation.

I remember being at that orientation- when I was only 18 years old- and realizing the flaws of what they were trying to indoctrinate in me. I didn't need a lecture to know rape and sexual assault were wrong and I didn't need a lecturer to tell me that personal responsibility was part and parcel of being a college student (or at least a female college student). Somehow, this nonsense still thrives today, and I wonder whether it's done anyone a bit of good.

Just Some TV Stuff

For those interested in the television business, this is one of my new favorite websites: TV by the Numbers. It's got Nielsen ratings and all sorts of various break downs.

The site offers some interesting features, such as this break down of the numbers for Jericho. Unfortunately for Jericho fans, the numbers don't look so good. When the show started, the show averaged over 10 million viewers an episode, numbers that declined to the 7-8 million range last spring. The first three episodes of the new season seem to be doing a bit worse, questionable territory, especially for a show that's so costly to produce. I don't think there's much hope that CBS will bring the show back.

What I'm curious about is whether or not the show could be maintained and continued on cable, where viewership above the 5 million mark would mean a ratings bonanza. As cable television has thrived with original programming over the last decade, I'm surprised more canceled network shows haven't made the jump to cable. Jericho is the perfect example of a show that can't quite garner enough viewers in the general tv watching public to make the show financially viable, but has more than enough invested fans to make continued broadcast and DVD sales a worthwhile enterprise. But it hasn't happened much, at least not yet.

Last summer, NBC made the decision to move the most rating challenged of it's Law and Order family, Law and Order: Criminal Intent, to cable, broadcasting new episodes on USA. The move worked well, particularly during the strike, when at the height of the writer's strike NBC was able to re-broadcast some of the new episodes that had only been previously seen on cable. Law and Order is a huge franchise, not so much for the die hard fans and DVD sales, but because the stand alone episodes do remarkably well in syndication. What I don't understand is that from a business perspective, why would you not want to take a look at canceled network properties? Sure, there's plenty of garbage, but no one is talking about bringing back the shows that were derided by critics and ignored by fans. We're talking about the halfway decent programs that are potential money making sources. Maybe there's something I'm missing, but if I was a cable exec, I'd love to be able to have a show like Jericho.

Irrational Science, Part II

Just to expand a bit on my last post-

Why is it that those who fear global warming the most are those who seem to understand the science the least? As I indicated in my last post, it's because a great many global warming beleivers aren't really concerned with science. For this group (which by no means accounts for all of the global warming beleivers), global warming as impending doom fits a preconceived view of the world, of politics, and of the economy. For these people, global warming isn't an inconvenient truth, it's a very convenient one.

These faith-based global warming beleivers can't claim science, because they're of the same environmentalist stripe as those who oppose agricultural biotechnology, DDT, and other environmental causes du jour. They don't really care about science and don't care about solutions that don't fit their world view.

Updated 3/3/08 @ 12:35 PM : I should probably clarify something- I'm not all that interested in how accurate the survey cited by John Tierney actually is in the first place. For me, it's just an interesting launching point for the discussion of public perception of global warming.

I've blogged a great deal about skepticism of studies in general, so I don't want anyone to misconstrue that I'm taking what amounts to a self-reported survey as the gospel truth. Again, the results we're talking about are really just a source of discussion material, not a mechanism for public policy prescriptions. In the end we're just talking about people's opinions.

Global Warming- The Rational and the Irrational

John Tierney, in his New York Times blog, reports on some interesting paradoxes in the public perception of global warming.

After asking a national sample of more than 1,000 Americans how much they knew about global warming and how they felt about it, the researchers report that respondents who are better-informed about global warming “both feel less personally responsible for global warming, and also show less concern for global warming.” Another unexpected result: “Respondents who showed a great deal of confidence that scientists understand global warming and climate change showed significantly less concern for the risks of global warming than did those who have lower trust in scientists.”

There's a lot of discussion about what the results actually mean, but I don't find them all that surprising. The more informed people are and the more they understand science, the less concerned they are about global warming. Remember, this isn't saying that the scientifically informed and knowledgeable aren't worried at all, just that they're less worried than the scientifically uninformed. Given everything I've read, this just seems to make sense. I don't know many wide-eyed global warming skeptics, but I can think of plenty of doomsday spouting global warming as the apocalypse types.

It seems to me that many of those who are not global warming skeptics- like John Tierney and Reason magazine's Ron Bailey (the subject of this story on becoming a global warming believer)- are lumped oftentimes lumped into the skeptic category, not because they say global warming is a hoax, but because they believe in the possibility of free market solutions and are willing to look critically at some of the claims of global warming believers. They encounter this hostility, even though they have both spoken out in favor of carbon taxes, because of the irrationality and ignorance of global warming extremists. The problem is that this extremism is what's presented in the media and what's being taught to our children- not science, but apocalyptic tales of how we're destroying the planet and sad stories of polar bears losing their homes.

In the crowd of the rational there is- in all likelihood- a healthy mix of skeptics and believers, united through their understanding and appreciation of the scientific process. I'm sure there are global warming skeptics out there who see the whole issue as nothing more than a vast left-wing conspiracy, but as this study seems to indicate, the ignorant skeptics are probably far outnumbered by the ignorant beleivers.