Saturday, May 31, 2008

That's Why They Call Themselves Mad

Radley Balko asks what the hell is wrong with MADD?

Many juniors and seniors were driven to tears – a few to near hysterics – May 26 when a uniformed police officer arrived in several classrooms to notify them that a fellow student had been killed in a drunken-driving accident.

The officer read a brief eulogy, placed a rose on the deceased student’s seat, then left the class members to process their thoughts and emotions for the next hour.

The program, titled “Every 15 Minutes,” was designed by Mothers Against Drunk Driving. Its title refers to the frequency in which a person somewhere in the country dies in an alcohol-related traffic accident.

About 10 a.m., students were called to the athletic stadium, where they learned that their classmates had not died. There, a group of seniors, police officers and firefighters staged a startlingly realistic alcohol-induced fatal car crash. The students who had purportedly died portrayed ghostly apparitions encircling the scene.

Though the deception left some teens temporarily confused and angry, if it makes even one student think twice before getting behind the wheel of a car while intoxicated, it is worth the price, said California Highway Patrol Officer Eric Newbury, who orchestrates the program at local high schools.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Lost Tonight

Season 4 of Lost concludes tonight, and Ginia Bellafante of the New York Times is excited about the truly unique show.

Good dramas confound our expectations, but “Lost,” about a factionalized group of plane crash survivors on a cartographically indeterminate island not anything like Aruba, pushes further, destabilizing the ground on which those expectations might be built. It is an opiate, and like all opiates, it produces its own masochistic delirium.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Back To The Futures Markets

On the heels of my discussion last week about everything I don't understand in finance comes this little gem by the brilliant Walter Williams on the very basics of Futures Markets.

And What About The Individual?

David Boaz of the Cato Institute has a nice little piece on Our Collectivist Candidates.

Sen. Obama told the students [during his address at Wesleyan University's graduation ceremony] that "our individual salvation depends on collective salvation." He disparaged students who want to "take your diploma, walk off this stage, and chase only after the big house and the nice suits and all the other things that our money culture says you should buy."

The people Mr. Obama is sneering at are the ones who built America – the traders and entrepreneurs and manufacturers who gave us railroads and airplanes, housing and appliances, steam engines, electricity, telephones, computers and Starbucks. Ignored here is the work most Americans do, the work that gives us food, clothing, shelter and increasing comfort. It's an attitude you would expect from a Democrat.

Or this year's Republican nominee. John McCain also denounces "self-indulgence" and insists that Americans serve "a national purpose that is greater than our individual interests." During a Republican debate at the Reagan Library on May 3, 2007, Sen. McCain derided Mitt Romney's leadership ability, saying, "I led . . . out of patriotism, not for profit." Challenged on his statement, Mr. McCain elaborated that Mr. Romney "managed companies, and he bought, and he sold, and sometimes people lost their jobs. That's the nature of that business." He could have been channeling Barack Obama.


The real issue is that Messrs. Obama and McCain are telling us Americans that our normal lives are not good enough, that pursuing our own happiness is "self-indulgence," that building a business is "chasing after our money culture," that working to provide a better life for our families is a "narrow concern."

They're wrong. Every human life counts. Your life counts. You have a right to live it as you choose, to follow your bliss. You have a right to seek satisfaction in accomplishment. And if you chase after the almighty dollar, you just might find that you are led, as if by an invisible hand, to do things that improve the lives of others.

More Drug Raids Gone Bad

Radley Balko has the latest on Ryan Frederick who has now been officially charged with first degree murder. Long time readers may remember I blogged about Frederick back in January. Long time readers may also remember that this was a classic case of a drug raid gone horribly wrong. No drug chargers, no evidence Frederick was dealing drugs, and one dead cop whom Frederick said he shot in self defense, not realizing that it was the police who were busting his front door down.

And to all my local Connecticut readers who think that this sort of thing doesn't happen here, Radley has the news of a raid in Easton that left a Norwalk man dead. (More here.)

The point that I've been hammering home over dead body after dead body is the horrible cost of these tactics in the name of the war on drugs. Drug policing encourages these sorts of tactics that put police officers and innocent civilians at risk. Whatever the cost of drug abuse is, it shouldn't justify this use of military style tactics on our own citizens. It's just not worth it and I wonder how many bodies it's going to take for the rest of the country to realize it.

Bad Menu, part II

Perhaps I was a bit over the top and not quite so clear in my last post. If a restaurant- particularly a fast food restaurant with extremely standardized portion sizing- wants to provide nutritional information to their consumers, then good for them. My big problem is the push- as in the case of New York city- to require large chain restaurants to provide this information to consumers.

It's not as much about public health as it is about corporate control. As is the case in New York, proposals for restaurants to provide nutritional information focus on the big chains. Small mom and pop joints, local diners and the like, are all left out, as well they should be. The failure rate of such small enterprises is fairly high to begin with, and requiring literally tens of thousands of dollars in nutritional testing would put virtually all of them out of business. The big boys can afford it, so government has no problem sticking them with the bill. But if this really is all about health, then why should anyone be exempted? It's disingenuous to say that these sorts of policies are needed in the name of public health, yet exempt half of the restaurants out there. As I said, this is just as much about controlling big corporations as it is public health.

The essence of my arguments from the last post still stand- the more of a human touch there is the cooking and preparation of food, the less accuracy there will be in standardized nutritional information. And this is a real concern from a public health perspective. It's one thing for a company to make a decision to provide nutritional information and be legally bound by that decision and the information they provide. But it's quite another to mandate the disclosure of that information based solely on corporate status without looking at all to the nature of the food being served.

Incorrect information would seem to be more of problem in terms of public health than no information at all. Take for example, something as simple as cheese fries at any one of the chain casual dining restaurants. (I chose cheese fries because of the likely lack of any precise measuring- I've had a lot of cheese fries in my day and it seems to me that the amount of fries and the amount of cheese can vary from trip to trip- Not to mention the problem of that little lump of sour cream and the ranch dipping sauce- Does the nutritional information include all of that?) Absent specific information, customers concerned with calories and the like can make a reasoned decision- cheese fries are probably not all that good for you. With specific information, people may try and make more specific decisions. Cheese fries may somehow be justified now that they're listed at 800 calories and you're only planning on having half. Unfortunately, the cook today has much bigger hands than the cook the other day, so today's slightly larger heaping of french fries with two extra large handfuls of melted cheese actually comes out to 1300 calories, or 650 when you have half. Personally I don't think any of it is such a big deal, but for the people that do, imprecise information can lead to decisions that may have been avoided in the first place if there was merely an absence of information. All the laws in the world can't change the fact that there are going to be problems in the world with standardized nutritional information on some products. Maybe the double cheeseburger at McDonalds is easy, but that doesn't mean Ruby Tuesday's cheese fries are as simple.

Won't Somebody Think Of The Children!

The latest worry for today's parents: Energy Drinks Tied To Risk Taking Behavior. So if you see your teen with a Rock Stare Energy drink, be worried, be very worried. This could be a sign that they're doing drugs, having unprotected sex, or maybe even doing their best "Fast and the Furious" imitation. Or it could just mean they enjoy a caffeine fix. Either way, it's probably time to panic.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Bad Menu

From Hit and Run, the reasons why mandated posting of nutritional information for restaurants is a bad idea. According to the study cited, the actual fat and calorie counts at a number of restaurants were drastically different from what was actually being posted in the restaurants. Writing at Hit and Run, Katherine Mangu-Ward is right- this incorrect information could provided the basis for a lawsuit alleging some sort of fraudulent advertising.

But having experience at both a laboratory involved in nutritional testing and in the legal field, my head is spinning. First, as anyone who does nutritional testing will tell you, there is always going to be some variability between the product and the nutrition label, even when that product is meticulously manufactured. What you see on a nutrition label is the product of rounding, so it is not precise in the first place- and, even the most stringent QAQC program can't ensure that every single item that hits store shelves has the exact right weights and proportions of every ingredient.

The story here isn't really talking about such minor differences, but the principles are still the same. The problem is that restaurant food is not prepared in the precise manner that processed food is prepared in. Rather than a machine distributing a precise amount of ingredients, you may have a minimum wage worker putting a dollop of sour cream on your challupa. When it comes to something like fat content, those dollops could make a big difference. The point is that having individually prepared items- even certain sorts of fast food- introduces the human element and makes it near impossible to have any sort of consistency in nutritional information. Yet the food nannies continue to push mandatory labeling, even though the result is people may rely on faulty information.

As Katherine Mangu-Ward notes, the only real solution to this problem is eliminating the human element and requiring prepackaged meals at every restaurant. Of course, such "eliminate restaurants because they're bad for us" arguments fly in the face of .. well .. everything.

There is also the real legal problem associated with these ridiculous labeling requirements. Imagine if customers actually could sue for fraud because of posted nutritional content that didn't match what was served. You could see lawsuits left and right, all because restaurants were forced to post this information in the first place. It's just insane- adults should be allowed to be adults.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Good News For All You Guys With Multiple Wives

Good news. A Texas Court of Appeals has ruled that the state should not have removed all the children from the FLDS polygamist compound. Basically saying what I said several weeks ago, the court ruled that the state did not show that the children were in immediate danger, nor was the weird polygamist cult's belief system enough to justify taking children from their mothers.

Actually, it doesn't say much at all for the polygamist aspect of this, but it is rather nice that the government isn't being allowed to skirt the law just because this is a weird creepy group.

Updated 5/23/2008 @ 11:00 AM : Jacob Sullum has a bit more on the Hit and Run blog.

Stuff I Just Don't Understand

All the recent economic news has gotten me thinking about topics and issues I'm pretty much in the dark on. And not to sound arrogant, but if I'm in the dark about this stuff, then I'd be willing to be a vast, vast majority of the American people are as well. I'm talking about money and finance.

The thing is, I think basic economic concepts of supply and demand are very easy to grasp- so to is the concept of cost-benefit analysis, an idea just about everyone should be familiar with. But when we get into the money supply, and lending rates, and just what it is that goes on on Wall Street, I don't think I'm the only one that feels a bit hazy.

I've been reading a number of books lately that deal with finance and investment and the like, several of which are from a very liberal, very egalitarian point of view. I have some trouble following the arguments- and I have trouble coming up with "libertarian" counter arguments because of all the nebulousness about the topic in the first place.

From a purely libertarian philosophical point of view, I question the relationship between government and finance. I question the need for the fed and I question the need for the government to control the money supply. That's my libertarian gut reaction, but I'd be hard pressed to give any concrete reasons why those feelings actually would make any practical sense. I know from reading that the great economist Milton Friedman believed that the Great Depression was exasperated and prolonged by the mismanagement of the federal reserve. But would we be better off without the Fed in the first place? That seems to be the general thrust of the argument of Ron Paul and his supporters, who urge returning to the gold standard.

What I don't know about finance and monetary policy I can certainly make up for with my knowledge of history. Today, the power and influence of Wall Street is protested by certain anti-capitalist liberals and certain anti-government libertarians. The big libertarian dogs (Reason, Cato, ect.) never seem to have much to say. And all I'm left with is the thought that this is a debate which has raged for centuries- for anyone who watched HBO's very excellent John Adams mini-series, this seems to be the debate that was fought between Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson- Hamilton wanting a strong national bank and federal involvement in finance, while Jefferson was more concerned with limiting federal power.

But even though the Federalists lost political power early on, Hamilton seems to have won the debate in the long run- there were several national banks throughout the nation's early years and eventually, the federal reserve was created in the early years of the 20th century. Certainly today the worlds of government and finance are so intermingled that even mainstream libertarian groups tend to say little on the subject. I want to ask whether or not this system is any good, but I think like most people, I struggle with the question because I don't really understand the system in the first place.

What do I know for sure- it seems to me that when the financial industry suffers, the nation as a whole suffers. That was the great depression and to a much lesser extent that seems to be the case today. It also seems to me that money- and the availability of money is what makes the economy thrive and makes us all the richer. After all, how would the economy grow without investment dollars to start new businesses and to build small businesses into larger ones.

I'd gladly take any recommendations anyone has on monetary policy or finance, but for now, as much as I can try and sort things out here, I still feel more than a bit in the dark. Which is okay- it's important to understand our intellectual shortcomings- I just wonder how easy it would be to fill this gap and whether or not the knowledge I'm missing is important to my libertarian world view.

Inequality By Any Other Name

Will Wilkerson posts on a paper by University of Chicago economists explaining how consumption is a better gauge for economic well-being than income and when taking consumption into account, the gap between rich and poor that's been supposedly widening over the past thirty years vanishes.

This shouldn't come across as that far fetched to those of us with brains. Even with the economic troubles of late, food prices are still relatively low, gas prices are only now exceeding the prices of the late 70's in inflation adjusted dollars, and a wide variety of technical and time saving devices are available at a fraction of their earlier costs. As Wilkerson points out, the realistic concern over rising food and fuel prices (particularly in regards to the poor), are a real world example of why consumption is such a better tool.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

It Sure Sucks When Life Gets In The Way Of Blogging

Stories I meant to blog about but never got around to:

Missouri mother indicted in deadly MySpace hoax. Some of you my recall the case of Megan Meier, a 13 year-old girl who committed suicide after a series of nasty internet exchanges with who she believed to be her online boyfriend, but was actually a hoax perpetrated by Lori Drew, the mother of one of Meier's classmates. It was certainly a tragedy and Drew is certainly a nasty person, but as Orin Kerr points out on the Volokh Conspiracy, the indictment, which was brought in Federal Court in Los Angeles, seems to be a bit of a stretch.

In a story that made all the local rounds, kids are sharing inappropriate pictures via their camera phones. I actually blogged on a somewhat related Public Service Announcement back in February regarding kids not posting pictures online. Not surprisingly, kids don't seem to listen.

And finally, John Tierney brings up the real inconvenient truth: that certain brands of environmentalism hurt the world's poor.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

If At First You Don't Succeed ...

Reason's Kerry Howley blogs on the Congressional attempt to redefine human trafficking to include all prostitution, irregardless the uses of force or fraud.

Now that nearly all of the supposedly 50,000 women who had been trafficked into the United States can't seem to be found, the definition of human trafficking is being redefined, rather than examining the accuracy of that number in the first place.

In Other News

And in news that should be bigger than Spygate, disgraced former NBA official Tim Donaghy has attempted to cast doubt on the integrity of the entire NBA, alleging that relationships among officials, players, and coaches, affected the outcome of games.

Now there's your conspiracy for yah.

The Evil Greg Easterbrook Weighs In On Spygate Revelations

The formerly entertaining, now truly loathsome Greg Easterbrook weighs in that Bill Belickick should be suspended, for at least a year, because really, even a year's suspension would be getting off too easy.

I know, I know, I promised I was done with Spygate, but I'm not the one who can't let it go. What we have left is a battle for New England's reputation and place in history. The NFL's position seems to be in favor of New England, critical of what the Patriots did, but none too concerned about the final product on the field. But some in the media just can't let it go, determined to find conspiracies lurking in every corner.

And yes, I do say conspiracies, because accusing the NFL and Roger Goodell of covering up the truth would a conspiracy make. The truth is much, much closer to what I've been saying for the past few weeks. There's nothing left to say because of all the ambiguities involved. Evidence clearly shows that the Patriots gleamed no major advantage from the taping- at least none that's anywhere noticeable in the statistical record of games that could have been played using taped signals versus games that couldn't have been played using taped signals. What we're left with is a few plays here and a few plays there. Yes, plays that may have made a difference in a game's outcome, but there's be no way to ever determine what those plays actually were.

Certainly the NFL is best served by putting this all in the past. I'm sure the NFL would rather not have to deal with ESPN's 8 part speculative series on the plays and the games where the Patriots could have benefited from their illegally taped signals. And you could do it too, just through the study of old game films. But the point is that it's all speculation and there's no "truths" to be learned about what games were actually impacted (if any) because of the taping.

Easterbrook raises the old canard, "why bother taping if it wasn't giving them a competitive advantage?" I'd refer the court to exhibit A, the 2002 tape handed over by Matt Walsh of a week 4 games between the Patriots and Chargers. The Patriots would not play the Chargers for another three years- If you're at all curious, the Patriots lost both games. Certainly the coaching staff hoped the taping would provide some advantages, but clearly the program was large in scope.

As I've said before, I'm willing to concede plenty to the critics. The program probably did include tapes of every game and the Patriots certainly benefited from it. There's just a difference between seeking to gain a competitive advantage and a scandal that literally throws the final product on the field into question.

Easterbrook further weakens his case by pointing to the Patriots close margins of victory in the Super Bowl. While they beat the Rams in 2001 after a loss to them in the regular season, they didn't play the Eagles or Panthers in the same season that they played them in the Super Bowl. Prior to playing the Panthers in the Super Bowl at the end of the 2003 season, the Patriots had not played them since the end of 2001. And prior to playing the Eagles at the end of 2004, the Patriots had not played them since the second game of 2003. Again, there are certain games where questions could be raised- but there are others where there is no possible way the Patriots could have any tapes of stolen signals.

Another "fact" brought up by Easterbrook- the claim that a former quarterback told Walsh that the tapes allowed the Patriots to know the opposing defense 75% of the time. In a court of law, such a statement would be considered hearsay and wouldn't be admissible. But even going with the statement as true, it would just tell us that knowing an opponents defense 75% of the time isn't that big of deal. Either knowing isn't all that helpful or teams tend to know these things a significant amount of the time anyway.

If that 75% meant something, then you'd see the differences in outcomes and differences in statistics that I mentioned before. If it makes that a big a deal, then there's no way that the Patriots offensive numbers would look so similar over such a large sample of games that could have been played with tapes versus games that couldn't have been.

What we do have is Belichick probably lying and Belichick almost certainly being a prick. Belichick lied, but that seems to me that it should be more between him and Goodell than anyone else. And I was under the impression that the fines and the draft pick penalty were just as much for Belichick's dishonesty and defiance about the whole incident as much as they were about the incident itself.

Easterbrook wants blood in the form of a Belichick suspension, perhaps even a lifetime ban, mostly because of Belichick's lack of remorse. To this I have to say, why the hell does he need to show remorse. I don't recall him showing remorse over breaking league injury report rules- nor can I remember Mike Shanahan showing remorse for that same offense. This is just the competitive nature of the game where sometimes rules are broken in the name of obtaining even the slimmest of edges. And a life time ban? Seriously? The only way you could possibly argue for such a thing is if you believed that this was so super serious, despite the evidence to the contrary.

My final take on the whole story is this- and I can't believe I've never thought of this before. If you're, I don't know, say, Jon Gruden, are you going to be more upset about that the Patriots might have broken the rules to steal some signals that maybe effected the outcomes of a few plays or are you going to be more upset about the instant replay tuck rule reversal?

Can't Someone Else Do It?

Today's Hartford Courant had an article on a nonprofit encouraging towns to petition the state to solve the "health care insurance crisis." It got me thinking about a long overdue discussion I've been meaning to have about the nature of health insurance and the nature of this supposed crisis.

I've blogged before about individuals with "preexisting conditions" and how this problem is not an insurance problem at all. What it is, is a problem of people with very high medical bills. Insurance is meant to insure against risks, not provide a mechanism from shielding you from your routine medical expenses. Sure, maybe people with preexisting conditions need help, but that doesn't mean there's some inherent flaw in the insurance system.

But beyond questions of preexisting conditions, I see a real problem with the general approach to health care and health care policy. Now it's not just individuals, but municipalities who are looking to foist th costs of health care on someone else. And deep down, this is the real issue. Health care is expensive regardless of how it's provided and people can run into multitudes of problems when they run into unexpected costs that they haven't insured for, be it an unexpected injury or medical condition, a stolen car, or a home that burns down.

The argument being made is that these costs are unmanageable for ordinary Americans, but that's really not the case. Yes, the system we have is skewed in favor of employer provided health insurance, basically disadvantaging those working lower end jobs. But we also have a system skewed by complex mandates and restrictions on limited coverage that drive up the costs for those specifically looking to avoid a future medical bankruptcy. There are plenty of problems with our system, many of which do drive up the cost of health care. But in the end, we do have system that, while distorted, is still a market system. Costs are what they are. Drugs are expensive and treatments that didn't exist 30 years ago are expensive. Health care costs more today because there's so much more to it.

As the health care debate has gone on, what's become clear to me is what many advocates of universal health care actually want is really just a middle class subsidy, no different than what I've written about before with complaints over the cost of college. We can deal with the problems of the poor and those who have fallen on hard times. But why make this crisis out to be something it isn't?

Monday, May 19, 2008

The Simple Case for Instant Replay In Baseball

Last night I had the pleasure of attending my first ever Yankees-Mets game down at Yankee Stadium. The Mets cruised to an 11-2 victory, with Awful Oliver Perez holding the Yankees to 3 hits and 2 runs over 7&2/3 innings. The margin of victory put to rest some of the controversy that would have followed, seeing as a 3-run Carlos Delgado homer in the 4th was incorrectly ruled a foul ball by home plate umpire Bob Davidson.

From our vantage point in the upper, upper, upper left field bleachers, we couldn't see the ball as it drifted out of sight below us. And maybe that's sort of the point on these home run balls- it's pretty damn hard to see a baseball when it's so far away and moving so quickly. Unlike the other major sports, baseball tends to look at change with a wary eye, and instant replay has always been a particular sore point. The perhaps not unwarranted fear is that the electronic will replace the personal and umpires will be replaced with robots, computers and sensors.

But there should be a role for instant replay in baseball and that role is simple. To resolve these questions that arise over foul versus fair balls and other disputes that take place far away from where any of the umpires are actually standing. We don't need instant replay for balls and strikes- We don't need it for base running calls. What it would be useful for is the rare situation where you can't tell where exactly the ball was flying or even where exactly it landed. It would be simple, it wouldn't be very time consuming, and most importantly it would be limited. So why not? I'd be especially curious to hear from anyone who thinks it would be a bad idea.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Ridiculous Vacation Talk

I just heard another bit on the news about people staying close to home for their vacations this year. The Hartford Courant had a similar piece a few weeks ago about how more families in Connecticut would be spending their vacations on the Connecticut shore, rather than say, Cape Cod because of the economy and because of gas prices.

It's one of the more ridiculous non-stories I've ever heard. If you're renting a beach house, your paying $100, $200, maybe even $300 or more per night, usually with a one week minimum. So we're talking thousands of dollars, just for your lodging on your vacation, not including food and not including various entertainment expenses. I know I can get to Cape Cod on a tank of gas, so depending on your vehicle, you're talking $40 to 70$ for a fill up.

Given you're talking about thousands of dollars spent on a vacation, what person in their right mind is going to change their vacation plans based solely on the extra $100 or $150 bucks needed for gas for the round trip?

Just another one of those stupid, make believe, media looking for a story sort of nonsense. Now maybe some people literally can't afford vacations because they're literally spending hundreds of extra dollars a month on gas. But that's not what the story said ... and I suspect that's because as much as everyone complains about gas prices, very few people have significantly changed their driving habits.

Spygate Questions

I feel I've made a strong case for the limits of the impact of the Patriots signal taping, but seeing as the topic won't seem to die, let me leave five questions that those who think this is still a big deal and think that the Patriots gained a significant advantage through the taping of signals need to answer.

1- How much more effective (in terms of learning opponents signals) is taping and studying those signals when compared with in-game observation and note taking?

2- How often is the use of opponents signals actually utilized in game situations?

3- What are the odds that the same play calls would have been made with information obtained through conventional methods of studying defenses? What are the odds that the same play call would have been made based on pure luck?

4- How much credence would a play caller put into stolen signals?

5- How important a factor is execution relative to play calling?

It's not that you literally need to answer the questions, but you need to at least intellectually grapple with them before jumping to conclusions.

I'll chalk this up to a Madden (as in the video game) view of the football world. Maybe some of us can imagine playing Madden and how well we'd do if we knew the defense on the field. But real football isn't Madden and knowing your opponent's coverage doesn't do you a damn bit of good if your linemen can't block the man in front of them and your quarterback can't put the ball exactly where it's supposed to be.

Yes, I have no doubt the Patriots gained advantages through their signal stealing. But I do doubt those who are willing to blow the story into something bigger without even bothering to examine the implications of their statements.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

And This Time I Mean It (The Last Spygate Post)

Listening to Mike and Mike yesterday morning (I know, I know), I caught the results of a number of polls that to me seem to indicate that people are just downright ignorant as to what spygate was all about.

The polls indicated that 1) 40 some odd percent of respondents thought the video taping of signals gave the Patriots a significant advantage (as opposed to a slight advantage or no advantage) and 2) 40 some odd percent of respondents believed that, despite what Roger Goodell said, the Patriots used these tapes during games to gain some sort of advantage. Now I'm certainly blogging here to defend the Patriots, but what I'm defending them from is outright lunacy that seems to be believed by nearly half of the sports viewing public.

I'll be clear about something. Belichick did wrong and the Patriots did wrong and, honestly, neither have been forthcoming about what really happened. But I don't want to talk about levels of deceptiveness or how evil Bill Belichick is, I want to discuss the relative advantages of stealing signals in general and the advantages of stealing signals via videotaping versus more traditional methods that would be permitted under the rules.

But before we get into all that, I just have to point out some of the lunacy I was talking about. First, there's the ridiculous notion- expressed by Mike and Mike listeners and numerous commenters on that the Patriots dynasty is tainted because players knew exactly what was coming at them and knew exactly what the man in front of them was going to do. Outright nonsense- we'll get into the specifics of defensive play calling in a second, but think for a moment about how knowing defensive signals actually helps an offensive player. Knowing when an unusual blitz or stunt is coming is a big help. But, if your an ordinary left tackle or wide receiver for example, it's not very much help to know that the man in front of you is going to cover you or the man in front of you is going to get to the quarterback.

Then of course you have the notion that these tapes were literally used during games, another ridiculous notion. The advantage of taping signals as opposed to just watching them is that it gives you time to study them. To think the Patriots used these tapes in game is to ignore the logistics. Was there someone running around, taking the tape of each defensive series, grabbing another tape of the play on the field, running them back to the locker room, synchronizing the signals with the individual plays, and studying them all in time to garner worthwhile information before the end of the game? Here's the thing, vast archives of illegal tapes, to be studied at a later date makes perfect sense, fitting right in line with Belichick's personality as a coach. The in-game possibility I just mentioned seems like insanity, not to mention the likelihood that it would give you any greater advantage than just watching signals with binoculars.

So given we can dismiss some of the more insane comments, let's deal with the question of advantage. What advantage did these tapes give the Patriots. Deep down, it's an impossible question to answer, because it is so subjective. But, in the very least, we can discuss the relative advantage such taping would and wouldn't provide.

As I noted before, every sign that was taped could have been stolen be legal methods. The question is, when taping gives you the advantage of studying, how much more information can you garner? And how hard is it to decipher signals in the first place? I think many sports fans may be thinking of these signals in terms of catcher's signs in baseball. I don't know the specifics of how signs work, but I guarantee that deciphering them is not the same as knowing one means fastball.

There probably is a great deal more that can be picked up through study- to actually figure out that X signal corresponds with Y defensive call, you actually need to figure out what Y defensive call actually is. As anyone who's ever watched football film before, film study is a long, arduous process. To figure out what every defensive player is doing takes some time. (More evidence that the Patriots did not use the films in-game.) I imagine many obvious signals can be picked up without the use of tape- unusual blitzes or unusual coverages. Maybe the more subtle stunts or oft-used coverages can be figured out to a greater extent through study. But not being in the game- and I doubt even those in the game- could say with any certainty what percentage of signals you can get through legal methods and what percentage of signals you could get through taping and study.

Even with the knowledge of signals, there's the even greater question of what use those signals are in game situations. According to Matt Walsh, a Patriots player would watch for signals and relay that information to offensive play caller Charlie Weiss. We have no indication Tom Brady knew about the taping or that he knew he was being given information based on stolen signals. I doubt they'd want him to know, because the truth is, there's no such thing as certainty. There's the question of the reliability of the interpretation of the signals and there's the ever present lingering doubts that the signals may have changed or the defenders might not actually do what they're supposed to do. That's tough for a play caller, even tougher for the quarterback on the field.

I just have a lot of questions- really subjective questions- about how useful this information was. I'm sure there was some advantage involved (in a moment I'll point out situations where the Patriots may have used that advantage), but deep down, my gut tells me that we'd be talking about a few instances in a few games. From having played football and having seriously watched football since the 80's, it's just hard for me to comprehend that knowing some defensive signals translates into significant value for the offense.

The question is, how much of an advantage is it to know the blitz coming at you? Think about it for a second- how often can quarterback's pick up a blitz just by reading the defense? That's what Peyton Manning does all the time. And just like when you pick up something at the line of scrimmage, knowing a blitz doesn't change the fact that you need to have the proper play call on, the proper protection, and most importantly, you need everyone to execute.

Many coaches and former players have pointed out that teams sometimes change their signals, even in-season. Regardless, the fact that the Patriots taped the signals of everyone show, without a doubt, that the efforts of their spying program vastly outweighed the benefits. They taped because that's what they did, not because they were literally trying to ooze immediate advantages from every taped circumstances. One of the tapes handed over by Walsh was of the Patriots 2002 week four game with the San Diego Chargers, a non-division opponent whom the Patriots would not play again until 2005. As I've been saying, regardless of how much advantage was gained, the real point of the program seems to have been a paranoid thoroughness more than anything else.

Other than the obvious divisional matchups, there are six times when the Patriots played an opponent for the second time in the season. In 2003, in their first game againast the Titans, the Patriots won 38-30. In the playoffs, they won again, 17-14. In their first game againast the Colts in 2003 the Pats won 38-34. In the second, they won 24-14. In 2004, after beating the Colts 27-24 in week one, they beat them in the playoffs, 20-3. The Patriots lost their first game in 2004 to the Steelers, 34-20, before defeating them for the AFC Championship game, 41-27.In 2005, the Patriots lost to the Broncos 28-20, before losing to the Broncos again in the playoffs, 27-13. And in 2006, the Patriots lost to the Colts at home in the regular season, 27-24, before losing at the RCA Dome in the AFC Championship, 38-34.

So in 6 games, a record of 4-2 and more importantly, they scored fewer points in the second game 4 out of 6 times. Not to look to each and every division game, but in the 2001-2006 period, the Patriots were 15-5 in second (or third) matchups againast division opponents. (Their record in first matchups? 15-4.) In those 20 rematches, the Patriots scored more points than the first matchup 11 times. These are hardly numbers that look like trends indicating some significant advantage.

And I know, I know- the real advantage was probably much more subtle- a play here or a play there. But my point in writing all this is to raise some questions as to just what these advantages mean. For example, allow me to cite to two cases where, perhaps, the studying of signals via tape from a previous game may have given the Patriots the opportunity to make a big play. An early one that comes to mind is back in 2001, when the Patriots played the Colts in Indy only a few weeks after crushing them in Foxboro. Some of you may remember this as the game David Patten caught, ran, and passed for a touchdown. The one he caught was a 90 some-odd yard bomb from Tom Brady that found Patten matched in single coverage. Here we have a big play and a scenario where maybe, just maybe, the Pats could have been relying on their study of taped signals.

My other example would be in the AFC Championship game in Pittsburgh in 2005. With a 3-0 lead in the first quarter, the Patriots stopped the Steelers on a 4th and 1, taking over at their own 40. The Patriots went with a play action pass on first down, and Brady hit Deion Branch- who found himself singled up- for a 60 yard touchdown. Again, maybe, a call made in part because of reliance on taped signals.

So does this sound like I'm giving in to the spygate hype? Of course not. Let's go back to knowing what defensive signals means. Knowing you have a receiver matched up in single coverage is useful- it's what teams try to do all the time, through formation, through motion, and through the standard study of the defense on the field. Good players and good teams tend to be good because they have a better idea of what's coming at them. When JeMarcus Russell plays for the Raiders this year, he's going to have no idea what's going on. Peyton Manning on the other hand, is usually in control of the game. So once again I'll ask- how can you tell- how can you ever really know- the significance of knowing some signs ahead of time?

Beyond knowledge though, is the even more important factor of execution. In both of the cases I cited, it's possible that the Patriots put themselves in the right situation through regular film study or even just by pure luck. Regardless of how they got there, it wouldn't have mattered if the entire team wasn't executing efficiently- offensive linemen picking up all the pass rushers giving Brady time to throw the ball, Brady taking the right amount of time and throwing a catchable pass, and the receiver running the proper route and holding on to the ball. I don't think anyone can sit there with a straight face and tell me what percentage of success is execution and what percentage is the right call.

And ultimately this is my point. That you have so much ambiguity because of the very essence of what football is that you can't ever really know precisely what advantage s the Patriots gained through taping. As I've demonstrated any number of ways, those advantages could not have been significant. We can point to possible individual circumstances as I have done, but because there are no large, noticeable trends, you have to assume that these advantages were few and far between. Because here's the thing. Either there were a lot of the David Patten/Deion Branch situations mentioned above, meaning that it's difficult to take advantage of those sorts of situations, or there weren't very many of those situations, meaning the very thing I've been saying, that the opportunity to use stolen signals in any significant manner is limited.

It's nearly been the end of me having to listen to all these moronic sports fans and reactionary ex-NFL players who never bothered to actually think any of this out. I know we're not done yet, even though we should be, mostly because of the most ridiculous, pompous member of the Senate, Arlen Specter. I'll entertain discussions as to what the spying meant- as I've said, I think some of these discussions go to the very heart of football. But come on, just no more ridiculousness about the integrity of the game or banning Bill Belichick for life (as someone on Mike and Mike suggested).

Just a final note, about another historical cheating scandal which I had forgotten about- Another salary cap violation, this one by the Denver Broncos in their 97-98 Super Bowl run and, from that same team, an incident when they were discovered filming a San Diego Chargers practice. The were sanctioned back in the day and I don't want to downplay the need for fines and penalties in the wake of any rule breaking. But as I've been saying, there's a big difference between rule breaking and professional football being closer to professional wrestling than a real competitive sport. If you want to get down into the nitty gritty, I'd love to see it, here on this blog, or anywhere else. But 40 some-odd percent of sports fans believing that the advantages gained through taping were significant and that despite what's been said (and common sense) he Patriots were utilizing these tapes in-game? That's the different between intelligent discussion and conspiracy mongering.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Bleg For New Blogs

I'm looking at reworking my blog roll- which is getting a bit old- and was wondering if anyone had any good blog recommendations. I'd like this to remain eclectic, so I'll take almost anything. Policy and politics, legal blogs, sports blogs, nerdy sci-fi blogs, anything that somehow relates to the sorts of things that we talk about here. Even if your not the commenting type, throw out whatever you've got.

Why It's OK For Wal-Mart To Pay Low Wages (And Other Thought Experiments)

One of the arguments anti-Wal-Marters use againast the retail giant is the number of Wal-Mart employees who receive welfare, foodstamps, subsidized health care, or any other of government assistance. The point being that Wal-Mart makes out like a bandit, pocketing money that workers need to live on while the government picks up the tab. It's a good argument in the sense that, yes, taxpayers do end up picking up the slack of low wage employers (not just Wal-Mart, obviously). But it's a poor argument when you keep in mind that there's no possible way an employer can ensure that every single employee is making enough money to meet their financial needs. (After all, a single mom with two autistic kids at home is going to have trouble providing for her family herself at any number of jobs that would otherwise ordinarily be considered middle class jobs. It's not just the Wal-Mart wages- 50,000 a year might not be enough.)

The question I want to ask is- assuming that more money for workers is a desired political outcome, why should Wal-Mart rather than the public as a whole be forced to pay that extra money and does it even make sense to have Wal-Mart do so. To answer the second question, I'd have to say no. Forcing a company to incur greater costs has one likely result and that is increased prices. In the case of Wal-Mart it's difficult to see how increased prices would benefit their own low wage workers or the low wage workers in other sectors of the economy. If prices rise along with wages, the wage increase is essentially meaningless.

More importantly, if we're talking about a large scale social issue, than why shouldn't the costs be spread around, rather than forcing Wal-Mart to pick up the tab. Even if your big concern is "social justice" and you think that somehow, magically, Wal-Mart will pay higher wages straight out of their profits, why does it make sense to attack the profits of Wal-Mart and not the profits of companies who have higher paid and higher skilled work forces?

The point is- as always- that large scale decisions have large scale consequences and that sometimes notions of fairness fail to take the entire picture into account. The question that's never asked is whether having low wage workers on public assistance is actually more efficient and more fair than artificially raising wages to create a living wage.

Next topic and this one's a bit shorter. This is more of a question for anyone who urges that George Bush or the next president should spend more money to rebuild the homes of those displaced from Katrina. Why do you feel Katrina victims should be treated differently than victims of different hurricanes, tornadoes, fires, and other natural disasters?

Or maybe you don't feel Katrina victims should be treated differently and you feel the government should help everyone in the country who's home suffers damage, regardless of the circumstances. The point is, before you start making grand pronouncements, have some understanding of what your talking about- have a real plan and have some understanding of what the costs of that plan actually are.

The End of Spygate ... Really

I just caught the tail end of Roger Goodell's press conference on ESPN radio, highlighting his discussions with former Patriot video assistant Matt Walsh, and, I hope, finally closing the book on spygate. According to Goodell, the conservation provided no further incriminating evidence. The only bit of new evidence was a 2001 tape of a Patriots player practicing while supposedly on injured reserve. And, as was reported last week, there was no Rams walk through tape, nor did Walsh have any knowledge about any such taping ever ocuring.

So as I said, hopefully this is the end. The media and the Patriots haters may wish it was more, but that doesn't make it true. I bring up the 2001 injury tape to make one final point, a point I've neglected to make previously. This tape shows a rules violation that I don't doubt the Patriots probably did violate. I don't remember any other specific instances in recent years of teams allowing players on IR to practice, but I'm sure it is the sort of thing that happens. The injury case made me think of the rules about reporting injuries, rules that I believe both Belichick and Denver coach Mike Shanahan have been caught violating in the past. The ambiguous "unfair advantage" would certainly have been gained for violating these rules as well. So I'll ask the haters, one last time, isn't the whole spygate fiasco much closer to these rules about injuries being broken than it is to something like bugging your opponents locker room or tapping into their electronic signals?

Yes, the Patriots cheated, if by cheated you mean broke the rules. But they're not the only cheaters in the league and spygate was never the story the haters and the media wanted it to be.

Updated 5/13/08 @ 1:15 PM: One final note. I link here to news from back in 2000 of the NFL's final settlement with former 49ers GM Carmen Policy over salary cap violations in the 90's. Cheating (or a violation of the rules)? Certainly. Worse than spygate? Honestly, I couldn't say- arguments probably could be made both ways. But what's definitive- the media circus about this violation was no where near what we've seen during spygate.

On A Lighter Note- Fantasy Baseball Rights and Wrongs

For all the fantasy baseball gurus out there, a very enjoyable piece by ESPN's AJ Mass on the right and wrong ways to spin a trade. Mass lists five levels, the first two of which are good solid spin, the last two of which are basically evil and a level 3 which encompasses the gray area of Nick Swisher being third on his team in steals.

Just from personal experience I'd probably want to add a level 3.5, for all those discussions of statistics done in person without the benefit of the internet to look them up. Did you know that for a few years earlier this decade, former Red Sox Trot Nixon hit .300 and averaged 30 home runs and 100 RBI's over a 3 or 4 year span?

No? Well, neither did I, but that's how one owner in our league who shall remain nameless tried to sell the former Sox outfielder.


Sometimes I get the feeling that those on the left would actually be happy if George Bush overthrew our democratic system and became an evil dictator, just so they could say, "I told you so." With that in mind, don't ask me how I found this insanity.

Picture a totalitarian United States: With no end in sight to the War on Terror, fourth-term President George Blush rules without restraint. The Constitution has been replaced with a "Patriotic Citizen's Bill of Rights and Responsibilities," and the country has been renamed "God's United States." The opposition party has been outlawed, and 20 million Americans languish in Homeland Security prison camps. This terrifying political thriller conjures up a vision of the future that lays bare the most incendiary political issues of our day.

Seriously though, what motivates someone to write this? This isn't some dark, creative cyberpunk tale, it's a lame polemic on where crazy people think we are and where crazy people apparently think we're going.

Friday, May 09, 2008


I meant to link to this horrific David Brooks editorial last week, arguing for a version of conservatism unrecognizable to those conservatives who still believe in limited government.

That means, first, moving beyond the Thatcherite tendency to put economics first. As Oliver Letwin, one of the leading Tory strategists put it: “Politics, once econo-centric, must now become socio-centric.” David Cameron, the Conservative Party leader, makes it clear that his primary focus is sociological. Last year he declared: “The great challenge of the 1970s and 1980s was economic revival. The great challenge in this decade and the next is social revival.” In another speech, he argued: “We used to stand for the individual. We still do. But individual freedoms count for little if society is disintegrating. Now we stand for the family, for the neighborhood — in a word, for society.”

This has led to a lot of talk about community, relationships, civic engagement and social responsibility. Danny Kruger, a special adviser to Cameron, wrote a much-discussed pamphlet, “On Fraternity.” These conservatives are not trying to improve the souls of citizens. They’re trying to use government to foster dense social bonds.

They want voters to think of the Tories as the party of society while Labor is the party of the state. They want the country to see the Tories as the party of decentralized organic networks and the Laborites as the party of top-down mechanistic control.

On the Cato blog, John Samples links to a Lyndon Johnson speech from 1964 that sounds suspiciously similar.

The challenge of the next half century is whether we have the wisdom to use that wealth to enrich and elevate our national life, and to advance the quality of our American civilization…. For in your time we have the opportunity to move not only toward the rich society and the powerful society, but upward to the Great Society….

The Great Society … is a place where the city of man serves not only the needs of the body and the demands of commerce but the desire for beauty and the hunger for community…. It is a place where man can renew contact with nature. It is a place which honors creation for its own sake and for what it adds to the understanding of the race. It is a place where men are more concerned with the quality of their goals than the quantity of their goods….

Worst of all, expansion [of the economy] is eroding the precious and time-honored values of community with neighbors and communion with nature. The loss of these values breeds loneliness and boredom and indifference….

The solution to these problems does not rest on a massive program in Washington, nor can it rely solely on the strained resources of local authority. They require us to create new concepts of cooperation, a creative federalism, between the National Capital and the leaders of local communities….

For better or for worse, your generation has been appointed by history to deal with those problems and to lead America toward a new age. You have the chance never before afforded to any people in any age. You can help build a society where the demands of morality, and the needs of the spirit, can be realized in the life of the Nation…Will you join in the battle to build the Great Society, to prove that our material progress is only the foundation on which we will build a richer life of mind and spirit?…There are those timid souls who say this battle cannot be won; that we are condemned to a soulless wealth. I do not agree….”

What's scary is that David Brooks and those like him are the basis of John McCain's intellectual base.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Cory Maye Video

To any readers who don't know the story by now, take 20 minutes to watch Reason TV's documentary on the story of Cory Maye. It's a tragedy on numerous levels and some of the video is just heartbreaking. If you're someone who thinks the drug war works, maybe this will help you reconsider.

Regs Gone Wild

This is just the sort of thing that gives me goosebumps, liberals complaining about regulation. It's the same old story, people who love the idea of strict regulation until it rubs them the wrong way. In this case, it's stricter enforcement of food safety regulations (in the wake of the spinach e.coli outbreak of 2006) getting in the way of environmentally friendly farming and efforts to farm the land while maintaining biodiversity.

The best part is (or worst part, really) that it's the same old story. Regulation is designed first and foremost with the needs and wants of the big boys in mind, while small businesses (in this case smaller organic farmers) are the ones who really feel the bite of the vast regulatory state.

Updated on 5/8/2008 @ 11:25 AM : Just a brief note on food safety regs and food safety in general. The quickest, safest, cheapest method to ensure food safety is irradiation, but talk of irradiation tends to be squashed by environmental crazies.

All that being said, farmers should be able to provide consumers with all natural, organic products, including things the FDA regards as dangerous, like unpasteurized milk. If producers want to sell it and consumers want to buy it, who is government to stand in the way.

The End of Spygate?

One of the most overblown scandals in the history of sports appears to be drawing to a close, now that former Patriot video assistant Matt Walsh has turned over eight tapes to the NFL. The tapes are solely of defensive (and apparently some offensive) signals. Despite reported rumors, there was no tape of the Rams Super Bowl XXXVI walk through. In fact, there doesn't appear to be anything new in these tapes, despite certain ex-Ram players and Pennsylvania senators who seemed certain Spygate was only a small piece of the Patriot's nefarious machinations.

The idea that Walsh- an ex-video assistant- would have anything super incriminating is just a joke. The reason it took him so long to talk to the league isn't because he had damaging information, but because he was quite possibly subject to a potential lawsuit by the Patriots for just having the tapes (which I'm sure he wasn't supposed to keep and copy) in the first place.

Hopefully this will close the door on spygate for good, and confused media, jealous fans, and the 1972 Miami Dolphins can get over themselves. To those who will insist that spygate was the scandal it was made out to be, I would suggest you go and check out Tim Donaghy and the NBA refereeing-gambling scandal and ask why a scandal whose results could be seen in the box score received far, far less media scrutiny than the spygate probe which has gone on for nine months.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Is There A Chance The Track Will Bend?

Megan McArdle makes a rather funny crack about some of the promises Barack Obama was making while speaking last night.

Gack. Now Obama is ranting about how he's going to make the corporations give us super fuel-efficient cars, find awesome new sources of oil, make renewable energy affordable, and invent a really delicious fat-free ice cream. However did we manage to get through the first 200 years without Barack Obama to beat some progress out of the corporations that have been holding us back?

Libertarians Are Really The Most Happy

Commenter b. rose brings us this latest scientific news, well worthy of it's own post. According to the study, conservatives are happier than liberals because their ideology better allows them to rationalize social and economic inequalities. It sounds about right to me. I think people tend to be happier when they don't spend time worrying about how many millions some CEO made last year. If you see unfairness in every difference in income and social standing, you probably will be less happy than those who can accept that this is the way the world is and it's probably for the best.

As a libertarian, what's of even more interest to me is the use of the conservative-liberal dichotomy in a scientific study. Given we're talking about inequality, conservative would probably refer to someone who accepts and appreciates the free market system, whereas liberal would refer to those more critical of the free market and capitalism. Under that sort of definition, I suppose myself, along with every other libertarian, would be considered conservative. In the end, it makes the conservative-liberal distinction a bit misleading. As I said, we're really talking about people who accept classical liberal economics versus modern liberals who lean toward socialism. And it all makes perfect sense. I wouldn't think conservatives would be happier because they're opposed to abortion or gay marriage.

The researchers also make a side comment about the application of their findings to personal life:

"There is no reason to think that the effects we have identified here are unique to economic forms of inequality," the researchers write. "Research suggests that highly egalitarian women are less happy in their marriages compared with their more traditional counterparts, apparently because they are more troubled by disparities in domestic labor."

I'd tend to disagree on this count. While it does make sense that conservative women with traditional values would be more at home with traditional disparities in domestic labor, you're really just talking about expectations in marriage. Two married people are going to be happy in regards to their domestic labor responsibilities if they know what they're getting into and they have an understanding from the get go. A liberal gay couple could certainly be perfectly happy if they have an arrangement that works for them, just as the traditional couple could be happy with their own arrangement.

As someone getting married in less than two months, it just seemed to be worth pointing out.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

There's No Such Thing As A Libertarian Paternalist

Reason's Nick Gillespie has a long, meandering, link-happy post on libertarian paternalism that's worth a read if you're at all interested in such things. The focus of the discussion is "Nudge," a new book by University of Chicago law professor Cass Sunstein and University of Chicago economist Richard Thaler. The book- which I have not read (but probably should)- is supposed to be a template for libertarian paternalism, the use of noncoercive alterations in certain decision making processes.

I've blogged about the topic before (see Hair Nets, Ear Plugs, and libertarian paternalism from last January) but it's worth revisiting.

If you look at the examples cited by Sunstein and Thaler in this excerpt- 401K plans, placement of fruit in a school cafeteria, and urinal design- you're not talking about government action in any sort of traditional libertarian analytical framework. To the extent you're talking about say a public school cafeteria, you're only discussing the absolutely necessary follow through of government action. Because we have public schools with cafeterias providing lunches, it's necessary to decide, down to the smallest bit of minutia, how that cafeteria is going to be set up.

In other words, you're talking about specific instances of policy that libertarian thought has never really been concerned with. Libertarians believe in free choice first and foremost because of moral precepts, not because of economic notions of efficiency. More importantly, libertarians are concerned when freedom of choice is restricted by government action. We're not so concerned if Skippy eliminates the style of peanut butter you really liked, but we would be concerned if that same style of peanut butter was somehow restricted by the government. It's an important distinction- perhaps the most important part of being a libertarian- and Sunstein and Thaler seem to just gloss it over.

If schools are placing fruit at a height in the cafeteria making it more desirable to children, then good for them. Let democracy sort all that out in it's own inefficient way. As to something like 401K plans, well, if a company is going to have a default rule, there's nothing wrong with encouraging companies to set the default rule as automatically enrolling employees. Of course, we're only talking about company policy, not law- Mandating that default position by law wades into the realm where libertarians would have a problem.

Basically, the problem is that this notion of libertarian paternalism refers solely to these policy concerns and recommendations outside the realm of traditional libertarianism or it refers to something else resembling modern liberalism, where a law like a trans fat ban would be justified because it's in everyone's best interest. Either way, it doesn't seem like anything new (although, maybe I really should read the book.)

The one thing I had noted last January was that there is room for limited regulation, even within a framework of limited, libertarian government. In my earlier post I distinguished regulations in a food plant about hair nets and ear plugs. Ear plug regulations are designed solely to protect the workers in the plant and as such is a paternalistic sort of regulation. A strong argument can be made that the workers themselves are in the best position to know when and where in the plant they actually need ear protection. Hair nets however, are another matter, as hair net regulations are designed to protect consumers. Obviously, safety regulations geared toward providing consumers with a safe product can be over done, and in fact, usually are over done. But on a very basic level, such regulations are far more justifiable in that they set before-the-fact legal standards. If you bought a food product with hair in it, you could sue the food company. At trial, the judge could decide that the lack of hairnets was not an acceptable practice in the food industry, setting a defacto hairnet standard. Regulation just avoids the after-the-fact litigation.

In terms of "libertarian paternalism," this is all I could really think of in terms of the government actually restricting choice. And it's nothing about nudging people to make the "right" decisions it's just simply a recognition of the world as it is and a means of providing more legal certainty than would otherwise be available.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

More Drug War Double Standards

Radley Balko has the latest on yet another drug raid gone wrong, this time in Columbus Ohio. There's been no statements that any drugs were found, witnesses on the scene claim not have heard an announcement by police before they came through the door, and two cops were shot and injured. Two men are being held on charges of attempted murder, one of whom is former Ohio State football player Derrick Foster, a man with no criminal record.

It should be noted that the story is still developing and all the facts have not emerged. But regardless of the specifics, Balko sums things up rather nicely:

One again we have a someone facing serious charges for shooting at police during a volatile, confrontational forced entry raid to serve a drug warrant. Again we have injured cops, and again we have a guy who otherwise would have no motivation to want to harm a police officer. But instead of questioning if it's a wise policy to put an ordinary citizen in the perilous position of having to determine in the heat of the moment if the men breaking in on him are cops or criminal intruders, the state has again decided to prosecute the citizen—for making the kind of error in judgment it rarely prosecutes police for making under similar circumstances. And the raids will undoubtedly continue.

When police are involved in an accidental shooting, we tend to give them the benefit of the doubt. Why shouldn't that same benefit of the doubt be given to ordinary citizens who find their homes being raided by armed gunmen? When the result of such questionable raids is the death of an innocent person (like Kathryn Johnston in Atlanta), there tends to be greater scrutiny and more investigation. But when it's the cops who are injured or killed, there seems to be a frenzied rush to prosecute the shooter. I understand that cops put their life on the line- part of this push to end these types of drug war raids is to better protect our law enforcement by not creating dangerous situations. But it's not at all logical to react to these disasters based solely on who the victims happen to be.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Sports Blogs And Insanity

This one's for the sports fans and internet aficionados. Earlier this week on Bob Costas Now, sports blogger and editor Will Leitch faced off againast sportswriter Buzz Bissinger over the topic of sports blog and the internet. The video is available on Deadspin and is well worth a watch, particularly for those who enjoy seeing members of the old guard explode in a giant ball of rage over the very existence of all this new media. (It's also worth watching to see the third member of the panel, Cleveland wide receiver Braylon Edwards, not quite know what to say after Bissinger's tirade.)

I'm not a big fan of Deadspin or any other sports blogs, but I do like Will Leitch. He's been on Redeye a number of times and has always come across as intelligent and witty. Leitch does himself- and bloggers everywhere- a favor by maintaining his cool and refusing to get caught up in Bissinger's madness. You can check out Leitch's responses in his blog here and here.

I'm sure Bissinger was trying to make a point with all the anger and profanity, a literal on-screen depiction of what these terrible blogs are like. Except, they're not. Yes, comment threads on some blogs can get nasty, but that's public participation. From the video you get the impression that Bissinger doesn't even know the difference between a blogger and a blog commenter. Nor does it seem he recognizes the difference between a widely read blog and (Hint- it's sort of the difference between a sports radio talk show host and the homeless guy ranting and raving on the subway about the Knicks.)

There's always a discussion to be had about the merits of various media, but it's hard to have that discussion when 1- you don't understand the media in question and 2- you're a raving lunatic.

(I got the scoop courtesy of Reason)

Friday, May 02, 2008

Operation Chaos In Trouble?

Richard Hasen writes briefly and coherently in Slate on the quirky Indiana voting law that could affect Tuesday's primary.

I caught a caller to Rush Limbaugh today informing Rush that an Indiana law professor had been in the local media claiming Republicans could be prosecuted for voting in the upcoming Indiana Democratic primary. It piqued my interest as it seems I wasn't getting the whole story and after some searching, this story here seemed to be the most descriptive. The deal is, Indiana has an open primary system, however, thanks to this somewhat obscure law, primary voters are permitted to vote in a particular party's primary only if they had voted for a majority of that party's candidates the last time around or if they were new voters intent on voting for that party in the fall. Of course, because we have a system of secret ballots, there's no real way to determine what an individual's past voting record was. This law deals with enforceability by allowing questionable voters to be challenged into signing an affidavit that they do in fact meet one of the requirements.

As Richard Hasen notes, it would be next to impossible to prosecute people for this. Even if you thought someone lied on their affidavit, how would you possibly prove- beyond a reasonable doubt- that they were lying about their past voting record when their past voting record is not just secret, but literally untraceable.

I hadn't blogged about it yet, but I'd been meaning to blog about Rush Limbaugh's "Operation Chaos" for a few weeks now. For those who may not know, Rush has been pushing this operation for over a month, urging all Republicans and independents who will listen to go out and vote for Hillary Clinton in order to extend the Democratic race and, so goes the mantra, send the party into chaos. Politically, it's brilliant, even if the effects may be overstated a bit. And Limbaugh's never really said this directly, but it has to be more than a bit of his form of revenge for the crossover Democrats and independents who helped to win John McCain the Republican nomination. Personally, I love it, but I'm just a big softy for anything connecting chaos with our ridiculous political process.

The truth is, these primaries are a big scam- private organizational elections where the costs are pushed onto taxpayers. Why should I have to pay for anything the Democrats or the Republicans do? Let them spend their own money in selecting a presidential candidate. It's all about the appearance of democracy and the institutionalization of the two party system. Needless to say, I've got no problem with chaos.

Updated 5/2/08 @ 4:20 PM : I should note that both the Democrat and Republican parties control their own destiny. Given that they hold elections on the public dime, they are bound by each state's laws regarding open or closed primaries. But there's nothing to say that a primary even has to be held in the first place- the libertarians don't hold a primary, nor does any other minor party. So if you're a Democrat, don't go blame Republicans for being evil, just take a look in the mirror and realize this is the system your party has accepted.

I Have Absolutely Zero Sympathy For You

From today's Hartford Courant: Luxury SUV owners feeling the pinch.

Yet another example of how we're redefining just what hardship is. In this day and age, having trouble affording a reasonable car may be a hardship- having trouble affording your $40,000 to $50,000 luxury SUV is not a hardship, that's just stupidity.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Quick Quiz Results

Match the following accomplishments with the President under which they were accomplished:

Ending the Vietnam War
Creating the EPA & OSHA
Deregulating the Airline and Trucking Industries
Welfare Reform
Medicare Prescription Drug Benefit
Campaign Finance Reform

Republican Richard Nixon
Democrat Jimmy Carter
Democrat Bill Clinton
Republican George W. Bush

McMc got it right. Nixon ended the Vietnam War and created the EPA and OSHA, Jimmy Carter got the ball rolling on deregulation, Clinton chalked up the NAFTA free trade agreement and welfare reform, while George W signed the Medicare Prescription Drug Benefit and Campaign Finance Reform into law.

As usual, there was a purpose behind this diabolical enterprise, and that would be to point out that when it comes to both international relations and domestic affairs, things are not always what they seem. Throw Nixon's normalization of relations with communist China into the mix and all eight accomplishments don't seem to fit our political preconceptions. Republicans ended a war that Democrats started, Republicans created intrusive bureaucratic agencies, and Republicans vastly increased both the scope and budget of government. Democrats scaled back social welfare, deregulated major industries and signed a major free trade pact.

This isn't to say vote John McCain to end the war or Clinton or Obama to support free trade, only to point out that political philosophy doesn't always play out in policy. Regardless of your political beliefs, it strikes me as a reason to be wary of both political parties- how sure can you be about what you're getting?

Latest From Texas

Jacob Sullum at Reason has a good round up of the latest news from Texas and the government's intervention in the FLDS polygamist ranch.

From the beginning I've been wondering why young children needed to be taken from their mothers- The evidence of actual abuse of teenage girls seems sketchy enough, but regardless, if the teenage girls were the focus, why were the boys and the very young girls taken away from their mothers?

Yesterday, I heard on the radio that evidence of abuse had been found amongst the younger children. When I heard that, I was prepared to write a half apologetic post. But then, I heard that the evidence was that some of the children had broken bones at some point in the past. Jacob Sullum gets into it a bit more, but I mean, come on. The fact that a small number of the kids may have broken some bones is enough to get each and every single child taken away from their mothers? I could understand if some of the kids showed actual signs of abuse, but no, just broken bones, the sort of thing that a large number of American children are familiar with.

The more I hear about this story, the more obvious it seems that authorities are struggling to cover the fact that they really fucked up.

Electoral Predictions

I went out on a limb last fall and predicted Hillary Clinton would be the next president. (Actually, I may have said the same thing as early as 2005.) The meteoric rise of Barack Obama caught me off guard, as did the unimpressive Republican victory of perennial conservative punching bag John McCain. A month ago, Hillary winning even the Democratic nomination seemed unlikely, but thanks to Obama's troubles, the Democratic race once again seems to be a toss up. Predicting the eventual nominee is difficult, seeing as the unelected super delegates should be making the final choice come August at the Democratic National Convention. Based mostly on gut feeling, I think Hillary would defeat McCain in the general election, but Obama would lose is a very close race.

Why? As I think I've mentioned before, I think that should their candidate lose, more Hillary voters would turn to McCain than would Obama voters. Similarly, Hillary's support seems to be strongest (mostly) in red states and swing states. For instance, I could very well see Hillary beating McCain in Ohio and Pennsylvania. I can't really say the same thing for Obama. We tend to talk so broadly about the general election that we forget that it'll probably come down to 4 or 5 populous swing states. It really doesn't matter what Democrat is stronger in California or Texas, because the Democrats are going to win California and the Republicans are going to win Texas.