Sunday, July 31, 2005

"The State of Nature"

This is a pretty interesting debate between Carl Pope and Bjorn Lomborg (courtesy of MeFi) about the state of the environment.

As a libertarian and staunch defender of private property, admittedly I'm inclined to view the Chicken Little proclamations of environmentalists with bemused skepticism -- but don't typecast me just yet. I also maintain a healthy respect for science so I'm willing to give both sides a fair hearing.

But what's maddening about environmentalists is that the application of science for them is a one-way street. Their vague, "trust us, we're experts" appeals to authority include geologists and climatologists, but seldom economists -- the very ones best equipped to explain the consequences of human choices and behavior, and also to prescribe voluntary measures that respect private property. And the debate between Pope and Lomborg boils down to prioritization and allocation of scarce resources, clearly the purview of the economist (for his part, Pope seems to have no clue of the concept of opportunity cost). The climatologists and geologists tell us the whats and whys about the environment, but that doesn't mean they should tell us how to fix the problems.

This situation isn't analogous to the physician or auto mechanic who analyzes problems and prescribes fixes. It's more like traditional (not design-build) construction -- the architect designs the structure and then delegates construction to the general contractor, who in turn delegates to all the subtrades like
plumbing, electrical, etc., for specialty items. All of these disciplines working together form a synergy. When we're talking about the global ecosystem, and the impact that drastic shifts in public policy would have on the entire world, shouldn't the same model prevail? Shouldn't we hear from experts and enlightened minds from many, many disciplines? If not, why?

Environmentalists seem to want not only their interpretation of data and reality to govern, but only their proposed "solutions" implemented -- and considering those solutions always default to "government empowered to regulate the shit out of everything" -- well, you can see why I consider the input of a few free-market economists necessary. Call me crazy. The sad part is, if environmentalists truly respected science, they would want economists (and many other types of scientists) to have a voice in the chorus.


Truly I'm not trying to be a turd-stirrer here -- but I've never heard a reasonable explanation, from any environmentalist, as to why Stanford's Paul Ehrlich was so hilariously wrong in his famous bet with the late, great Julian Simon...

Friday, July 29, 2005

"Your Band Sucks" on SomethingAwful.com

It's too late for me to write a coherent synopsis of this semi-regular column but, if you like your music criticism served up with biting hilarity (and honestly, who doesn't?), you'll get a kick out of this. You don't even have to be a music fan to appreciate this guy's writing or comic sensibilities. Here's a sample from the "They Might Be Giants" article:

They Might Be Giants have always had an appeal to children similar to that of a van full of puppies, so it was only natural that they would break their fall by grabbing onto the lowest rung of the rickety rope ladder hanging from the helicopter of fame: children’s records. In 2002, they released No!, a collection of insidious mind-programming tools designed to turn your children into friendless nebbishes; they followed it up this year with “Here Come the ABCs,” which I will admit to not having heard, even though it takes some of the credibility out of my assessment that it sucks (then again, at some point we have to just learn from experience and develop a natural prejudice; if someone said to me, “hey Dave, the Nazis are back!” I’d say “hey, fuck those guys” without waiting around to see if they were different this time).

For whatever reason his style just cracks me up. Anyway, the articles are long and the archive is a treasure trove, so make sure you have plenty of time to waste (like, say, at work) before getting sucked in...

Thursday, July 28, 2005

In Times of War, the First Casualty Is Always Truth

Well, well. Turns out that the British authorities lied about the innocent Brazilian kid murdered by cops at London's Stockwell tube station last Friday. Despite the early spin, he was not wearing a bulky jacket and did not leap the ticket barrier as reported.

Since the neocons' bloodthirsty defenders of state murder screamed about these fabrications as being prima facie evidence the kid deserved five in the noggin, I wonder if they'll recant anytime soon.

I'm not holding my breath.

Chicago Skyscraper Would Be Nation's Tallest

This is pretty cool. I love Chicago. Downtown is vibrant and walkable, and the signature architecture is breathtaking. Parks and natural beauty abound. Last June Tra and I spent a Sunday afternoon ogling the view from the top of the Sears Tower, then headed due east into Grant Park for the annual Blues Festival; finally we walked north along the lake shore back to our hotel. Two years ago I lost an entire afternoon at the Field Museum, marveling at Sue the T-Rex and a traveling exhibit from the Baseball Hall of Fame; then I took a few moments to inspect the giant UFO that had perched itself atop old Soldier Field. If the winters weren't colder than a witch's teat I'd happily live there.

Anyway, I sincerely hope the project gets off the ground. Lost in all the fallout after 9/11 was that most punditry doom and gloom turned out not only wrong, but spectacularly so. "Irony is dead," "the skyscraper era is over," "we'll never be the same," etc. This tower represents a monument to architecture and the indomitable human spirit. Fuck fearmongering -- we aspire to build ever higher and we will not be cowed. What better way to make that statement than by erecting a soaring, elegant symbol of all that is great about humanity and its ability to create and inspire?

The best part is that Carley's and Calatrava's gift to Chicago's skyline will outlive both men as their legacy. Future generations might never recall that the structure was conceived when some wondered whether, owed to the 9/11 terror attacks on the WTC, dizzying heights might be the artifact of a bygone era. The Empire State Building was built in scarcely over a year (1930-31) during the depths of the Great Depression, but that's hardly evoked in the building's defiant, dignified profile. When future generations look to art and architecture for clues about life in the early 21st century, will they see terror, risk aversion, and excessive precaution reflected there? Or will they see resolve, hope, and optimism instead?

Let's hope other cities follow Chicago's determined lead...

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Woman Faces Prison After Run-In With Airport Screener

It’s hard to tell which aspect of this story is worst: that government goons are “combating terrorism” by feeling up 62-year old former schoolteachers; that it’s permissible for TSA agents to brazenly grope people but returning the insult is considered a crime; or that the feds have elevated themselves into a separate class of victim – apparently this woman is being charged for “assault of a federal employee,” as though the egregious part isn’t assault but the exalted status of the federal employee. Really belies the antiquated notion that the state exists to serve its citizens when the opposite has been true forever.

Who among us feels safer or freer knowing that stories like this are depressingly common?

Quick Fantasy Baseball Review, 20/20 Hindsight Edition

This blog is described as being about "[l]ibertarianism, sports, pop culture, and random bits of virtual insanity," and thus far I've fulfilled expectations except where sports are concerned. Admittedly, sports have gotten short shrift here. Whether it's because I've been growing increasingly jaded by the business of sports or I'm just too busy screaming from the rooftops, I don't know -- but my love for the games abides.

Anyway, sports. As if further evidence of my irredeemable dorkiness was needed, you'll be shocked to learn that one of my oldest and favorite hobbies is fantasy baseball. As Tracy will attest (with requisite eye rolling and head shaking), I devote an extraordinary amount of time to this nerdiest of pursuits. So much time, in fact, that my opinions on players and game strategy are often solicited (and sometimes respected) by friends who happen to share the obsession.

This is all preamble for the "funny" part -- while doing some e-mail housecleaning I came across an assessment of second basemen that I had assembled for a friend this spring. File this under Stuff I Actually Wrote:

"Brian Roberts, BAL -- He's Mark Grudzielanek with speed and a little better eye. Only value to a fantasy team is the SB -- a little doubles power but little chance to be a consistent HR threat. If you're desperate for steals, have at him -- but very little star potential here."

How's that assessment looking now??? Roberts is pounding the ball to the tune of .333/.407/.561, along with 27 2B, 5 3B, and 15 HR. Oh, and he was the starting 2B for the AL All Star team. Is it any wonder I'm sitting in 6th place out of 14 teams in my 5x5 league?

The lesson, of course: when the advice is free, you get what you pay for.

Writer to Hillary Clinton: STFU!

Because the world apparently suffers from a shortage of politician posturing, bullying, and self-aggrandizing, Hillary Clinton now wants to stick her fat nose into investigating video game content. But writer Steven Johnson pours her a nice tall glass of ice cold shut-up juice here.

Fun for the whole family!

Monday, July 25, 2005

Boortz and the FairTax Hoax

Faux-libertarian Neal Boortz pimped his new book about the "FairTax" (co-authored with Congressman John Linder) again today. True free-market economists have already debunked this nostrum as folly here, here, here and here.

The FAQ on the FairTax website emphatically states that the FairTax is "replacement, not reform," and that the system is revenue neutral, meaning "raising the same amount of federal funds as are raised by the current system." So Leviathan still crowds out private investment and extracts trillions from the productive sector, and that largess is still redistributed to supporters and favored constituencies. Choosing different types of victims doesn't change the fundamental nature of the crime, so I'm not exactly sure what makes this inaptly titled system "fair." I guess what really sticks in my craw is not the FairTax itself since it's so easily dismissed -- it's that a self-described "libertarian" would waste energy promoting a crusade too stupid to even call "quixotic." Boortz should be bright enough to know better.

And what a wasted opportunity! Boortz reaches millions of people every day via his syndicated radio program, and yet shamefully he champions such un-libertarian causes as the FairTax and Bush's war. By twisting and diluting libertarianism in the minds of the booboisie, he does liberty a grave disservice.

Boortz calling himself a "libertarian" reminds me of Inigo Montoya's line from "The Princess Bride:"

You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

Boortz, a libertarian? INCONCEIVABLE!

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Beat Blender on SomaFM

Described as "a late night blend of deep-house and downtempo chill" on Apple iTunes, Beat Blender is 128 kbps of streaming audio bliss from SomaFM in San Francisco. It's listener supported and commercial free. This is the best music you've never heard, so turn off the pre-programmed Clear Channel shite and tune out that same old mainstream dreck you've listened to since high school. Discover a whole new world of smooth beats and soulful grooves.

iTunes users can find Beat Blender in their "Radio" streams, under the "Electronica" category. Give it a listen...

Friday, July 22, 2005

New Lew Rockwell Column

Hey! What are you doing reading my fevered rantings??? Lew Rockwell's latest column is online so go read it, fool!

What I'm Reading

Having finished "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince," I'm now reading a fascinating nonfiction book by Richard Cytowic, MD, called "The Man Who Tasted Shapes." It's about synesthesia, a rare condition -- exhibited by only about 10 people in a million -- where the senses are commingled in such a way that people hear colors or (as the book title suggests) taste shapes. The condition is involuntary and consistent, not a result of drug use or delusion, and seems to be a subjective experience.

Given the rarity of the condition (and the likely reticence to discuss it), it's not surprising that I've never known or met any synesthetes. But I would love to hear a firsthand account or description of what their reality is like. Anyone have any experience with this phenomenon? Please feel free to comment.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Petals Around the Rose

I was first introduced to this clever little puzzle some months ago but for reasons unknown decided to take another look at it yesterday...

And finally solved it.

If you're unfamiliar with the premise, here is the quick and dirty from the website:
The name of the game is Petals Around the Rose. The name of the game is important. The computer will roll five dice and ask you to guess the score for the roll. The score will always be zero or an even number. Your mission is to work out how the computer calculates the score and become a Potentate of the Rose.

Warning: it's addictive. Second warning: the website played some Casio keyboard/midi music file when loaded with IE -- it did not with Mozilla's
Firefox. A separate, music-free applet can be found on this page.

One odd synchronicity: the first site's author set up a guestbook for new potentates to proclaim their majesty and all that the title confers. Two places ahead of my entry (#4957), another Jason from Roswell, GA, logged in his success on the same day. WTF?
!?

Enjoy -- but if you figure it out PLEASE DO NOT POST THE ANSWER HERE! Thank you.

Update and Modest Link-o-Rama

Seems that my posting here comes in staccato bursts and then ceases for awhile. I'd like to keep a more consistent writing schedule, but circumstances, they don't oft permit. Today was a chemo day and maybe the easiest we've had. I say 'we' even though Tracy's the one plugged into the Matrix, but still. I get sympathy nausea and fatigue which, psychosomatic or otherwise, feels real enough. I do think knowing that this was the last of four treatments for the first dose-dense round provided a real psychological lift to both of us. That part's done, now it's on to the weekly Taxol. From everything we've been told, it shouldn't be nearly as rough as the first round. And hey, did you see Tracy's Boobie Bulletin 6.5? Medical weed! Friggin' sweet! Technically it's that concentrated THC Marinol krep but it's the spirit that counts.

For those who managed to stick around (or even return) after your initial exposure to this blog, thanks! I've got a couple of interesting links for you -- sorry, more ideological spleen venting. No offense taken if you pass:

Livingstone Blames West for Stirring Terror
London mayor pisses off Tony Blair and GW for telling the truth about terrorist motives.

News Flash: The Military Doesn't Protect Our Freedom
Yeah, this one's not going to make many people happy. Please just read and think about it before sending me (or the author) hate mail. Then flame away :-)

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Uh Oh...

To the endlessly curious, welcome...

I had resisted giving out this url for a long time, trying to work out the kinks and smooth out the writing (still some work there). Having only moments ago been informed of my Tracela's publicizing this little "foray into online obscurity" (I learned about it, oddly enough, in the Boobie Bulletin like the rest of you), I realize some of you know me only as Her Husband. The guy whose odd, non-Jewish sounding Jewish surname she now carries. After getting over the COLD SWEATING TERROR of realizing I'd get a slight spike in traffic here, I figured I'd take this opportunity to say, in order: sorry, welcome, and thanks.

If my politics, sensibilities, or general mien offend...sorry. Since I'm on hockey hiatus this summer, this blog is the only outlet afforded to me for now. This blog is also rich in screedy goodness and, as such, will not be to everyone's liking. I most regret this being your introduction to me, if that is indeed the case.

Anyway, welcome. I would love to hear from all of you, so don't hesitate to drop a line either here on the blog or to my e-mail. Opposing viewpoints here are, of course, welcome. I finished the latest installment in the Harry Potter series last night and will be posting some thoughts later.

And finally -- thanks. Tra and I have been incredibly touched by all of your love, support, and kind wishes. Thanks for caring -- it's been a huge boost.

OK, dinner calls -- Debra made spaghetti and I don't want to be late. Will write more later...

Best wishes,
J

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Right Wing Talk Radio's Favorite Epithet

Memo to Hannity, Savage, Rush, O'Reilly, Boortz, Hewitt, Coulter and the rest of the neocons' babbling surrogates: it's time to retire the epithet "anti-American." The term means nothing and its continued use signifies sloppy, undisciplined thinking. Many, many things can be characterized as quintessentially "American:" Baseball. Jazz. Barbecue. Our goofy obsession with celebrities and pop culture. Irony. Individualism. Capitalism. Malls. Strip malls. Strip clubs. Suburbia. Reality TV.

But these pieces of Americana are seldom celebrated by neocons, nor would a critique of, say, baseball much rile them. It is only criticism of the State and its bloody, nihilistic foreign policy that earns their frothing hatred and charges of "anti-Americanism" -- which says a lot about what they believe. To get some idea, try the following exercise: replace the variations of "America
" in the neocons' favored smears with "State." Suddenly neocon opponents become "anti-statists," and "hate the State," "blame the State first," etc. -- which from the libertarian perspective is a lot more accurate (not to mention complimentary). So naturally, where does this place the neocons vis-a-vis the State? This bunch loves power just as much as the Left -- only they prefer warfare to welfare. These so-called conservatives worship centralism, militarism and mercantilism, yet they have the audacity to call their opponents "anti-American!"

It's sad that the neocons and their media echo chambers don't distinguish the State from civil society, believing that old canard that "we are our government." We're not. But even worse is how they place the State ahead of all other American institutions, as if the goals and ambitions of the few in power are in harmony with the needs and desires of nearly 300 million citizens. This idea is plain nutty on its face, which is why the Founders encouraged decentralized power and self-government in the first place.

America's rich heritage is filled with dissent and distrust of power, and these are deeply ingrained in the American psyche. The flag-waving nationalism and unquestioning obedience that underpin right-wing "patriotism" are antipodes to America's true spirit and ideals. If criticizing George W. Bush during wartime is irresponsible, then by this logic a president need only wage permanent war to be perpetually above criticism!

That the neocons call this "anti-American" or "America hating" is further testament to their shallow and dreary philosophy. The sooner this bunch and their loony ideology is swept away, the better.

ADDENDUM: 7/14/05

Synchronicity. From Lew Rockwell himself on his blog:
'Anti-American'
I was shocked when I first noticed the conservatives using this phrase to mean anyone who opposes the warmaking, spying, and censoring activities of the US presidency. Now it's the normal lingo of the talkshow commissars and all the other cons.

I couldn't have said it better myself, obviously.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

New Lew Rockwell Column

Lew Rockwell is liberty's most principled, unflinching defender today. His courage, eloquence, and optimism bolster the spirit despite the present regime's headlong march toward empire. I don't throw this term about lightly but Lew is a genuine hero. His latest column is online today:

Regime Libertarians

Any new writings from Lew are cause for celebration but this smackdown on beltway "libertarians" is priceless.

New Jamiroquai CD


Jamiroquai's new CD Dynamite is out and I love what I've heard so far. I can't get enough of "Seven Days in Sunny June." Vintage Jamiroquai! Check it out...


Sunday, July 10, 2005

Just Say No...to Sudafed?

You really have to read this to believe it:

Anti-Meth Law Roils Drugstores

My adopted home state of Georgia isn't exactly renowned for vision or forward thinking but this reads like something from The Onion. Here is a microcosm of the machinations of the State: menace the populace with phantom bogeymen, propose a political "solution," and then endlessly ratchet up spending and regulations despite the policy's obvious failure.
The positive feedback loop is the State in a nutshell. Wash, rinse, repeat. Limiting access to Sudafed will inconvenience thousands of Georgians but will have no impact whatsoever on the production of methamphetamines.

What other enterprise besides government can get away with being so contemptibly ineffective, and yet still survive? Will this law curb demand for drugs? No. Will this law harm production of methamphetamines? Not really. It may temporarily inconvenience a few drug producers but they will still get their Sudafed. Or perhaps they will create new strains out of more accessible ingredients, creating even deadlier drugs. But it's not like the State to consider the Law of Unintended Consequences. It just wants to appear to be "doing something," or "tough on crime." Even in the best case scenario, meth producers will likely add a "Sudafed acquisition premium," meaning the State has just helped drive up the drug's price, making it more profitable. Good work.

Meanwhile, we are forced to endure countless inanities and intrusions like restricted sales of Sudafed, property seizure/forfeitures, mandatory minimums, no-knock raids, etc. -- all under the rubric of an unwinnable and destructive "War on Drugs."

Where will this silliness end? Maybe Georgia can ban baggies next because people store weed in them...

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Book Review: "Scout's Honor"

As a Braves fan and Moneyball devotee, I was more than a little curious to read Bill Shanks' Scout's Honor. The dustjacket quotes throw themselves down in "we're not worthy" genuflection to the book as a worthy foil to the "Moneyballers," but frankly I was disappointed. The author constructs flimsy strawmen and then does a ham-handed job refuting them. The prose is clunky and inelegant, and the manuscript could sorely use a good editor. For instance, the author repeatedly constructs sentences around such gaffes as, "He wanted to be apart of a winning organization." Clearly we all want to distance ourselves from the success and lofty expectations that accompany a winning organization. Goes without saying.

But those critiques are for the book itself. The ideology that informs it deserves a more serious pounding. Scouting baseball players is a lot like reading tea leaves. You can put your faith in all kinds of intangibles like "makeup" and "desire," etc., but all that truly matters is whether the guy can play. Since no objective way to measure intangibles exists, the scout relies on little more than instinct and guesswork when projecting a prospect's development and career trajectory. That's not too scientific considering the millions invested in player development.

I couldn't help but relate the lessons of Malcolm Gladwell's Blink to Scout's Honor. Scouts may be able to "thin-slice" most baseball talent but many will inevitably be seduced by Gladwell's "Warren Harding Error:" a prospect may look like a ballplayer, but it's worth learning if his appearance is supported by his numbers. And to draw another parallel with Blink, consider this SAT-style analogy: females are to symphony orchestra maestros as ballplayers are to scouts. Sometimes a veil is needed to shield the senses against prejudice and preconceived notions. This analogy befuddles like the "Teletubbies" if you've not read both books; my apologies to the nonplussed.

Shanks further disappoints in the way he treats his subjects with starry-eyed fanboy reverence. Atlanta's success has been impressive but Shanks never examines the shortcomings. For example:
  • The scouting approach hasn't helped Atlanta win a World Series in 10 years.
  • The scouting approach hasn't prevented some truly terrible free agent signings. Rico Brogna, Albie Lopez, Vinny Castilla, Raul Mondesi, I'm looking at you...
The Moneyball philosophy is about efficiently employing limited resources as much as building a baseball team. Given that Oakland's achievements since 2000 have paralleled Atlanta's at a fraction (literally around 56%) of the cost, seems the Braves could benefit from a holistic approach that more fully integrates objective analysis. To believe (as Shanks seems to) that the Braves can learn nothing from Oakland's success is sheer hubris.

Too bad Bill Shanks aimed to discredit Moneyball using the Braves as counterpoint. His uncritical approach left the curious reader wanting more. A compelling book on the Moneyball vs. scouting issue could still be written.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

A Quick Plug

As most of you no doubt know, on April 12th (my 32nd birthday) my lovely wife Tracy was diagnosed with breast cancer. She's doing very well despite sharing my haircut. This blog was inspired in part by Tracy's -- she is starting a blog to chronicle her experiences and to provide a repository for thoughts, updates, wellwishes, etc. Her blog will also serve as an archive for her famous "Ballot's Booby Bulletins," e-mailed newsletters sent to friends and family to keep everybody updated on our situation. Check it out: Ballot's Booby Bulletin. Tell a friend, but please: no fucking pink ribbons.

Welcome...

Hemingway once said that he wrote to "get it out." That's an apt description of how I hope this blog evolves. Consider this more than a personal foray into online obscurity -- I hope to post often about all sorts of odd and topical stuff that I find interesting. As it reflects my myriad interests, this blog will be unapologetically eclectic, idiosyncratic, and many other adjectives ending in "-ic." Draw your own conclusions and consider yourselves warned...