Tuesday, September 27, 2005

they hate us for our freedom

Please remember the following stories the next time some supercilious hairdo (cough *Hannity* cough) bloviates about "freedom" or "the nobility of the cause" or some other such nonsense in relation to this administration. It's all bullshit.

The next two links come courtesy of fark -- and I would strongly advise NOT clicking on either one at work:

Suicide Girls Removing Pictures, You Can Thank Bush (NSFW): Wacky censorship hijinx from those crazy folks who brought you the Iraq War and the Patriot Act! If you haven't seen Wayne's post about censorship and porn on these pages, just go on ahead and read it right now, because he got it exactly right. Remember: they hate us for our freedom, and we're battling the terrorists to preserve our freedoms and our way of life. Um, except those freedoms no longer include looking at kinky pictures. Consent be damned! How do you like your First Amendment now???

US soldiers allegedly trading pictures of dead Iraqis & Afghanis for porn (NSFW): This is very sick, and I refuse to look at the unblocked photos. I post this here because a) if this is legit, it's going to be a huge story soon, b) people need to understand the exact nature of what it is they defend when backing war, and c) you need to remember these chilling photos when some asshole exhorts you to "support our troops!" If this doesn't upset you, nothing will.

This is OK to click at work: anti-war celebrity Cindy Sheehan was arrested today, and she blogs about it at LRC. Just so we're clear -- she's presumably sitting on public property, she owns the constitutional right to peaceably assemble, and she was arrested for "demonstrating without a permit." Since when must American citizens petition the government for permission to protest? If the government denies the request, does that just nullify the Constitution? Universal 'I am not a lawyer' disclaimer applies here, but seriously, WTF? Cindy herself best illustrates the absurdity: "George is so hypocritically concerned about Iraq developing a Constitution while he ignores and shreds our own Constitution."

The moral of these stories is: strip away all the fucking rhetoric and sing-songy turd pearls about "freedom" and "liberty" that Bush's army of speechwriters spoonfeed him. He knows not the meanings of the words. Bush grinds away true freedom here while exporting some weird statist hybrid to the Middle East. What good are dumb abstractions like "democracy" and "freedom" if you don't practice what you preach at home? Bush himself is too dunderheaded and imperious to be able to reconcile his words with his deeds, and his advisers couldn't pick True Freedom out of a lineup that included Corporatism, Militarism, Statism, and Fascism. Fuck the whole lot of 'em.

There, I feel better now...

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

The Super-Terrific Happy Hour: LinkStyle

OK, hip kids, who got that title reference??? On to the japery...

• For anyone who gives a Cheney, the mighty Rolling Bones demolished the Bull Moose Party at Union Hill Park last evening, 9-0. That's not a typo. In a bold moment of weakness, I had predicted to Rob that I would get a goal and perhaps an assist or two tonight. I did pick up a couple helpers, but that first goal of the season? Remains elusive. But those ice bags on my bruises don't feel quite as frigid after so glorious a victory...

• Evidently the War on Terror is over and we won. It must be, though nobody told me, because the administration is diverting resources toward making sure you don't look at kinky stuff. You know, because the scourge of pornography is just tearing this country to pieces. In all seriousness, catch this quote from the FBI spokesmonkey:

At the FBI's field office, spokeswoman Debra Weierman expressed disappointment that some of her colleagues find grist for humor in the new campaign. "The adult obscenity squad . . . stems from an attorney general mandate, funded by Congress," she said. "The personnel assigned to this initiative take the responsibility of this assignment very seriously and are dedicated to the success of this program."
As our little friend Yoda would say, "That is why you fail." Seriously, there is no such thing as "success" here. The government never succeeds at eradicating consensual "crimes" (such as prostitution, drugs, gambling, etc.) because, for one thing, it's impossible to regulate people's appetites. More importantly, do they understand the logistics involved? Um, not that I'm an expert or anything, but I'd hazard a guess that the vast majority of pr0n is consumed over the internets these days -- you know, where it's free. How can the feds possibly prevent Americans from accessing offshore pr0n servers? Oh right -- they can't.

• I'm no NASCAR fan but this is kinda cool. It's for a good cause, and really, what else are you going to do with a spare $8 million or so (as of this writing)?

Tickets to the new Georgia Aquarium for a family of four: $79.50. Funding Bernie Marcus's giant F-you to the city of Chattanooga: Priceless.

Is there any way this can work? 80 bucks for a family of four is outrageous enough but it doesn't include things like gas, parking, food & souvenirs for the kiddies, etc. Much of the money in greater ATL resides in the northern 'burbs -- does the aquarium brain trust honestly think those folks are going to cheerfully load up the SUV and shlep downtown, just for the privilege of spending that kind of money on some fish? Anyone see any problems with this scenario?

Have a sublime Wednesday. Update coming late tonight...

Monday, September 19, 2005

Modest Monday Night Linkery

A few interesting tidbits from a Monday...
  • "Oh, groovy! Smashing! Yay capitalism!"

  • This is rich. DeKalb CEO Vernon Jones (a politician) has the audacity to -- get this -- call out the Red Cross for being disorganized and inadequate. Um, Mr. Jones, that's a mighty fine black pot you've got there in that glass house of yours...

  • Tonight marked the season premiere of the cleverest show on TV -- did you watch?

  • Good grief. I waited four freaking years for Jamiroquai's new album and they're not even coming to Atlanta on their North American tour. Hello? We have a huge urban and acid jazz loving population here. Throw us a frickin' bone, will ya?
Have a grand Tuesday y'all. More later...

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Site Redesign

It took all of 2.5 months for me to tire of my blog's appearance so I changed the template and plan to tinker some with the HTML. That I know very little HTML presents only minor difficulties. But things will probably change often and with scant notice -- I'm pulling a mad scientist routine so if something looks even more craptacular than before, that's why. Just bear with me during the experimental/developmental stages.

Comments/feedback/WTFs? welcome.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

The 2005 NL MVP Race (Or, Mr. Bonds, Thanks for Not Playing)

It's mid-September and you baseball fans know what that means: talking heads and worthless opinions galore about who is most worthy of the game's major awards! Today's Iron Chef ingredient: NL MVP!

If you listen to baseball's anointed punditry, the NL MVP race is now a two-man proposition: St. Louis Cardinals strongman Albert Pujols and Atlanta Braves superman Andruw Jones. Looking at the key raw data, Pujols has the edge in batting avg/on base/slugging (.338/.434./.630 vs. .275/.358/.608), runs (117 vs. 89), BB (85 vs. 61), and SB (15 vs. 3). Andruw prevails in HR (49 vs. 39), RBI (124 vs. 108), and defense/position (CF vs. 1B).

Seems like a compelling case could be made for either one, huh? Maybe not. The raw numbers are nice but don't tell the whole story, which explains the evolution of new statistics that seek a better understanding of performance. Over the last 20 years or so, the sabermetrics community has devised many sophisticated metrics to objectively measure and analyze ballplayer performance. These metrics consider everything a player contributes: they take the raw data, whirl it around in a blender of complex formulas that normalize for contextual factors such as ballparks, playing time, defense, etc., and distill it all into neat, bite-sized numbers for ease of comparison.

Here are a few of the best:

Runs Created (stats courtesy of The Hardball Times):

• Pujols: 131 (2nd in NL)
• Jones: 91 (14th in NL)

Advantage: Pujols

Baseball Prospectus's VORP (Value Over Replacement Player):

• Pujols: 96.5 (1st in MLB)
• Jones: 65.1 (9th in MLB)

Advantage: Pujols

Bill James's Win Shares (thanks again to The Harball Times):

• Pujols: 34 Win Shares (1st in MLB)
• Jones: 22 Win Shares (30th in MLB)

Advantage: Pujols

As a Braves fan, I hate to say this, but the facts are undeniable: Albert Pujols is your 2005 NL MVP. I'm thrilled that Andruw has finally fulfilled expectations and lived up to his tremendous potential. The Braves would not be once again peering down at their NL East foes without his monster season (he hit his 50th HR as I wrote this but the Braves still got the broom in Philly).

But Andruw's MVP candidacy is unsupported by objective data. It's bad enough his 22 Win Shares place him just 30th in MLB -- what's worse, he ranks 3rd in Win Shares...on his own team (behind Marcus Giles and Rafael Furcal). If Andruw isn't MVP of his own team, how can he be the league MVP?

Andruw's had a magical season -- but not an MVP one. His performance has been great but firmly behind such players as Jeff Kent, Jason Bay, and David Wright -- and nobody is touting their MVP credentials (though in fairness, their teams' performances have doomed their chances).

Andruw will finish 2nd in the MVP voting and that's still a hell of an achievement -- just ask Pujols, who has twice (2002-2003) fallen short against Mr. Bonds. We Braves fans must hope that Andruw's 2nd place finish motivates him to even greater heights in 2006.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Opening Day!

Of what, you ask? After 4 months off, my sedentary ass gets back to roller hockey tonight. The Alpharetta Recreation & Parks Adult Roller Hockey league drops the puck on the fall season at 7:30 tonight with Bull Moose Party taking on MD 20/20. My team, the Rolling Bones, squares off against the Large Farvas at 8:30.

Kudos to league commish Kevin McDonald for setting up a cool website with seasonal and career stat spreadsheets. Your humble host, in case you were wondering, has produced the following stat line over the past year: 22 games, 5 goals, 12 assists, 17 points, 8 penalty minutes, and fittingly, 0 game winning goals. Not great but respectable for a defenseman who skates like a monkey on quaaludes.

Attendance typically hovers between 2 - 6 (depending on the temperature -- it's an outdoor rink). Feel free to come on out and boo yours truly; clandestine drinking in the stands is encouraged and unintentional comedy is often present. Fun for the whole family!

No Criminal Charges in Death of Fan After World Series

Wonderful. More examples of the state exonerating itself for murder. Some of you may remember the tragic tale of Victoria Snelgrove: she was the 21-year old Emerson College student "shot in the eye socket by a pepper-spray pellet outside Fenway Park on October 21."

From the ESPN article:

"There is no evidence that any officer on Lansdowne Street acted with any intent to commit a crime," Suffolk District Attorney Daniel Conley said at a news conference attended by Boston Police Commissioner Kathleen O'Toole.

Um, I'm not a lawyer, but when you don't intend to commit a crime but still kill someone by accident, isn't that called...manslaughter? That's still a crime, right?

What would happen to you or I if we randomly fired pepper-spray pellets into a crowd during a rowdy celebration, and someone died?

And why are representatives of the state above the law?

Friday, September 09, 2005

Government in a Nutshell

Since its inception in early July, this blog has been about "Libertarianism, sports, pop culture and random bits of virtual insanity," but the truth is that the content has evolved somewhat differently. If one theme has consistently dominated the discourse here, it's the desire to debunk bad ideas, and replace them with a new way of thinking about issues. I know that sounds really pompous and presumptuous but our most important weapon - critical thinking - in the battle against bad ideas is in short supply these days. Whatever small role I can play, even if it's just blogging in the wilderness, is better than doing nothing.

The general assumption that government is a necessary evil, that it's inefficient but on balance more positive than negative, is the one idea I'm working hardest to dispel. Most of you disagree with me and I'm not trying to change any minds -- but I am trying to shake faith in the institution, one depressing story at a time.

Does this story make anyone feel better about the power wielded by local police officers? How about their judgment in using it?

And this is government in a nutshell -- it doesn't matter how old you are or the reasons why: do what we say or we'll harm you. Submit or be destroyed. That's government.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Notes on Katrina and Government Failure

In the midst of all the stories of horror and misery coming out of the Gulf, one thing is abundantly clear: the government failed in every conceivable way. Its long-term negligence and inertia in dealing with the levees helped cause the catastrophic flooding. Its flat-footed response needlessly delayed rescue efforts and cost lives. It protracted the suffering, looting, and violence. It bullied the innocent it was supposed to be comforting. It failed in every way possible.

And let's not politicize this by making it a partisan issue, because it goes way beyond Dems vs. Repubs or left vs right. This is the essence of government. It produces nothing. It provides nothing. It does nothing well except coerce, bully, and destroy. Want evidence? Look how it handled Katrina's aftermath:

Guardsmen 'Played Cards' Amid New Orleans Chaos
"'The guard arrived 48 hours after the hurricane with 40 trucks. They drove their trucks in and went to sleep. For 72 hours this police department and the fire department and handful of citizens were alone rescuing people. We have people who died while the National Guard sat and played cards. I understand why we are not winning the war in Iraq if this is what we have.'"

The Dispossessed of New Orleans Tell of Their Medieval Nightmare
"It is the mess with the buses that makes Ms. Benson most angry. She and her family had abandoned their home in the projects last Sunday and fled immediately to the Superdome. The stampede for the buses began on Thursday. She described soldiers of the National Guard barking orders - 'Make a hole, make a hole, that was their favourite order,' she says - and making no effort to keep parents and children together. 'They treated us like dirt, like dirt. They wouldn't even help my kids when they got lost. 'Ma'am, you've got to stay behind the barricade' is all they said.' The soldiers did at least give them water while they waited - throwing bottles into the crowd. 'Just popping people on the head with them.'"

• It's always difficult to discern tone and inflection in a written piece but this is probably the most frustrated that Lew Rockwell has ever seemed:
"Moreover, every American ought to be alarmed at the quickness of officials to declare martial law, invade people's rights, deny people the freedom of movement, and otherwise trample on all values that this country is supposed to hold dear. A crisis does not negate the existence of human rights. It is not a license for tyranny. It is not a signal that government may do anything it wants.

"This crisis ought to underscore a point made on these pages again and again. Being a government official gives you no special insight into how to best manage a crisis. Indeed the public sector, with all its guns and mandates and arrogance, cannot and will not protect us from life's contingencies. It used to be said that infrastructure was too important to be left to the uncertainties of markets. But if it is certainty that we are after, there is a new certainty that has emerged in American life: in a crisis, the government will make matters worse and worse until it wrecks your life and all that makes it worth living."

Exactly. And contrast all of this failure with the fine relief efforts of the private and charitable sectors, most notably the Red Cross. We are constantly told that government is needed to protect us, especially in these crisis situations. So when it fails this miserably, when it can't even secure basics like protection of life and property, what exactly is it good for?

The worst part is the lack of accountability. You can't fire the government. Voting out individuals makes little difference when the problem is institutional. A company that fails to serve consumers goes out of business, but sadly, this is not true of FEMA. No, the Feds will scapegoat some figureheads and install new bureaucrats in their places, and they will no doubt promise "sweeping changes" and "full investigations into what went wrong." But in the end, no one in government will have to answer for gross incompetence. No government official will face civil or criminal penalties for negligence.

Look how the government treats people like Ken Lay and Martha Stewart: wouldn't it be nice if the same brand of ruthless justice was brought to bear on the state's bullying minions themselves?

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Perdue Works to Stem Price Gouging

Gah. Here we go again with the outrage over "price gouging." I blogged about this in the aftermath of Hurricane Dennis but economic ignorance is damn near impossible to cure. Georgia governor Sonny Perdue signed an executive order Wednesday authorizing state sanctions against gas retailers who "gouge" customers. Two excellent articles explaining the reasons prices tend to spike in times of crisis, and why price controls and sanctions for "gouging" are such horrible ideas, can be found here and here.

It's understandable why most people feel disgusted when prices spike in desperate times: it's immoral for people to profit from others' suffering and misfortune by charging exorbitant markups on staple items. But understand this: prices signal to market actors the relationship between supply and demand. This is immutable economic law and no less true in times of crisis than under ordinary circumstances. There are legitimate reasons beyond "profiteering" or "gouging" for why prices increase, and politicians would do well to just let the situation run its course.

The economic science is covered in the articles cited above but the shorthand is this: rising prices encourage wise consumption patterns. People tend to buy less when prices are high, leaving more gas (or water or whatever) for others. Higher prices are also an incentive for entrepreneurs (or others who have saved) to deliver goods to market when scarcity prevails.

There is a moral issue beyond the economic realities: what is "moral" about the government limiting consumer choices? Sonny Perdue's grandstanding will only harm Georgia consumers in the long run. It's hard to believe that gas retailers are "gouging" consumers when people lose their minds and willingly pay high prices. Caveat emptor and all. Just yesterday at work, several people literally ran out of the building to go fill up their tanks. By falling for rumors about dry pumps and skyrocketing gas prices, people helped to ensure that these dire predictions came true. The smart thing to do was stick with normal fueling habits, maybe conserve a little, and just wait it out.

Personally, I don't understand what's "moral" about punishing voluntary exchange. Ask yourself which is worse: having to pay $4.00+ per gallon for gas, or not being able to buy any at all? This is no false choice: Perdue's punitive measures will reward poor consumption habits and cause shortages in the future. This is political opportunism masquerading as consumer protection. And that's way more immoral to me than so-called gouging.