Friday, March 31, 2006

The Problem With Unions, In a Nutshell

PHILADELPHIA - This city's hoped-for bragging rights as home of America's
tallest environmentally friendly building could go down the toilet.

In a city where organized labor is a force to be reckoned with, the
plumbers union has been raising a stink about a developer's plans to install 116
waterless, no-flush urinals in what will be Philadelphia's biggest

Developer Liberty Property Trust says the urinals would save 1.6
million gallons of water a year at the 57-story Comcast Center, expected to open
next year.

But the union put out the word it doesn't like the idea of waterless
urinals — fewer pipes mean less work.

There you go. Property rights, freedom of contract, and common sense must be cast aside to accommodate a bunch of whiny, overpaid, officious assholes. These jerks are subverting the market process (for labor and materials) as if they have some right to work at the expense of the property owner. That's criminal. And the city's licensing department can actually reward this childish, anti-market behavior by refusing to approve waterless urinals.

Do you think these guys might have a problem with the Water Dept. dictating to them what kind of fixtures they can install in their homes? "Sorry sir, but your low-flow toilet deprives us of increased usage and revenue. You'll have to install something more costly." That would piss off just about anyone, wouldn't it? So why do these union goons think it's OK to pull the same stunt?

h/t to

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Update Teaser

Overpromising and underdelivering seem to be a running theme here but I do have a few things rattling around in my noggin to share. It's way too late for me to blog at my preferred level but look soon for substantive posts covering the following:

  • George Mason 86, UConn 84 (OT). I'll have a post-mortem on the 2005-2006 Huskies and a look ahead to next year.
  • I saw "V for Vendetta" over the weekend. Although I was looking for more explicit voice to the themes and ideas of the amazing graphic novel, the film was excellent and I will post a thorough review shortly.
  • Bill Maher's "Real Time" roundtable discussion program on HBO is generally good but its shortcomings may eclipse its virtues. I'll explain.
  • You know them, you love them: it's another installment of the "Unfree Country Chronicles," this time starring the great state of Texas in an outrageous display of criminalizing a state of mind.
Until then...

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Survive and Advance!

My apologies for the lack of updates lately. I started the new job this week and have lacked the usual time and energy normally reserved for blogging. Anywho...

UConn 98, Washington 92 (OT). Wow. I missed significant chunks of the second half thanks to the local CBS affiliate broadcasting Florida-G'town instead. I tried unsuccessfully to get the game through PPV via DirecTV and that proved to be a debacle worthy of its own post. Too tired to pick myself up to head to a smoky sports bar, I settled for monitoring the game's progress via the ticker in the upper-left hand corner of the screen. Keeping tabs on a game that way is not recommended.

Despite Rashad's miracle trey to send the game into OT, this game ranks fifth at best among the pantheon of all-time great UConn NCAA wins. For one thing, as the #1 seed, they were expected to win (that's the lousy thing about rooting for the consensus "best team in the country" -- since winning is expected, you don't enjoy it as much. It feels more like relief than joy). More importantly, it's hard to call that game a "classic" because UConn was downright lousy for significant stretches. Here are my Top 5 best/classic UConn tournament wins:

1. 1990 Regional Semi-Final: UConn 71, Clemson 70. "It's Late, it's Tate, it's Fate." The phone lines in CT were literally jammed after Tate George's turnaround baseline jumper beat the Tigers. Unbelievable game that presaged UConn's status as a tournament force. Everyone remembers Tate but UConn fans will forever love Scotty Burrell (who was then a freshman) for his perfect full-court pass in the ultimate pressure situation.

2. 1999 National Championship: UConn 77, Duke 74. Trajan Langdon travels against Ricky Moore's tenacious defense, Khalid El-Amin calmly sinks two free throws to ice the game, and the Huskies shock the nation's consensus best team (37-1 entering the game) for their first national championship. And I was there!

3. 2004 National Semi-Final: UConn 79, Duke 78. An instant classic. Calhoun masterfully outflanks Coach K by recognizing early the tightness of the officiating. Calhoun sat Emeka Okafor, who picked up two cheap fouls early, for much of the first half despite the team's early struggles. With Duke in foul trouble late (especially Shelden Williams), Calhoun unleashes Okafor in the second half, and the big guy responds with 18 second-half points and the decisive hoop in a furious 12-0 run that capped the winning rally.

4. 1998 Regional Semi-Final: UConn 75, Washington 74. Rip Hamilton grabs Jake Voskuhl's miss and swishes a fall-away shot in the paint as time expires. One of those classic, "I remember where I was" games (Jock's & Jills in Brookhaven -- the place went nuts when Rip scored). Though the Huskies would lose the Regional Final to a loaded North Carolina team (featuring Antawn Jamison and Vince Carter, and in Greensboro no less) the team showed the pluck and fortitude that would characterize 1999's championship squad.

5. 2004 National Championship: UConn 82, Georgia Tech 74. A classic payback ass-kicking that didn't show up in the final score. UConn avenged GT's 77-61 victory in November with a dominating performance. Tech had no answer for Okafor or Ben Gordon and the deadly inside-out tandem would go second and third respectively in that year's NBA draft.

5a. 2006 Regional Semi-Final: UConn 98, Washington 92 (OT). The epitome of winning ugly. People will recall Rashad's ridiculous 3 with 1.8 seconds left but the real story was Marcus Williams donning the Superman cape again. And Calhoun has no right to complain about officiating again for a long time: UConn went to the line 47 times (vs. 23 for Washington).

Sorry for the digression. Here is why I think they'll win it all -- UConn's margin for error is far greater than any other team's. All-American Rudy Gay was all but invisible (4-10 shooting, 3 rebounds, and 6 turnovers in 32 minutes). They shot a meager 12-21 from the line in the first half (but went 8-8 in OT). They gave up 17 offensive rebounds to a much smaller team. They trailed by double figures in the second half. And then there was the usual nemesis: the team committed 26 turnovers!

(In order to say "26 turnovers" properly, yell it in the same mix of outrage and disbelief as Dante in "Clerks" did when he found out how many, um, "tongue-lashings" (37) his girlfriend had performed in the past. Getting it out really makes you feel better)

All of these negatives, and yet I'm still waiting for them to put together a complete game in this tournament and just blow somebody away. A game where they minimize turnovers, make smart decisions, display focus and intensity, play ferocious defense (that had been missing until the second half last night), and crush the opposition on the glass. Whether it's against George Mason tomorrow or (assuming they get there) somewhere in the Final Four, I still believe it's coming.

Regional Final Fearless Predictions:

1. Atlanta: Texas 68, LSU 64
2. Oakland: Memphis 76, UCLA 73
3. Minneapolis: Florida 72, Villanova 71
4. Washington D.C.: UConn 80, George Mason 72

More to come after UConn-GM goes final tomorrow...

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

NCAA Tournament Bracket Musings: Worthless Opinion Edition

To those who prefer fevered anarchist rantings over fevered sports rantings, my apologies. Without further ado, my first ever Haphazardly Organized NCAA Tournament Bracket Musings:

Best First Round Matchup: Probably Arizona vs Wisconsin, Minneapolis Region. Runner-up: Alabama vs Marquette (Oakland Region) is an intriguing matchup.

First Round Upset Potential: Every year I pick one or two 11s over a 6 and it seems to be a sucker bet. I'm still taking UW-Milwaukee over Oklahoma (that's for you, Wayne) but I'm backing off my initial San Diego St. over Indiana pick. My bracket this year looks very conservative; I'm not picking nearly as many first round upsets as years past. This decision will probably look fantastically stupid by Friday morning. Anyway, bracket glory requires successfully picking a 12 seed over a 5, and Utah State over Washington seems the fashionable choice. But I also think Syracuse is vulnerable against Texas A&M; the Orange had a magical run through the Big East championship but teams sometimes leave their best efforts back in the conference tourneys. I can see a post-Big East title hangover setting in for the Orange. Syracuse advances if Gerry McNamara continues his stellar play. I'm going to pick them in the first round but it could be closer than many people think.

Best Potential Second Round Matchup: (Tie) 3-North Carolina vs. 6-Michigan State (Washington D.C.); 5-Pitt vs 4-Kansas (Oakland).

The First #1 Seed Out Will Be: (Tie) I have Memphis bowing out to Kansas in the Sweet Sixteen; Villanova falling just short against BC also in the Sweet Sixteen. If Villanova had a different draw (say, Duke's), I'd not hesitate to put them in the Final Four.

The First #2 Seed Out Will Be: Ohio State in the second round against Georgetown. (When Georgetown loses to Northern Iowa in the first round, I will ritualistically immolate my bracket and take down this post.)

My Final Four: UConn, Duke, BC, and Kansas.

National Champion: UConn over Duke (what, you thought I'd pick against my Huskies???)

A Couple More Random Thoughts:

  1. I'm a Big East fan but their teams fuck up my brackets every single year. I'm constantly victimized by the "exposure effect." Pitt always falls short of where I think they can be (I finally wised up and picked them to lose to Pacific last year) but you pick against them at your own risk. I can see them knocking off Kansas even though I picked Kansas to go to the Final Four. Anyway, every year I overestimate Big East teams and my bracket ends up in tatters by the end of the tournament's first weekend. Despite boasting eight tournament teams (and it should be nine but Cincy got hosed) and the undisputed Best Conference belt, I'm not going crazy with Big East teams this time. I have just Georgetown, UConn, and Villanova in my Sweet Sixteen. So naturally, we'll probably see a repeat of 1985 (three Big East teams in the Final Four). I hate my bracket already.
  2. The Pac-10, too, is completely unpredictable for me. I will freely admit to East Coast Bias, the bete noire of the Left Coast sports fan. UCLA is another one of those teams that fucks up my bracket annually. They tend to go the opposite of wherever I have them, so I apologize in advance to any UCLA fans who inadvertently stumbled here: I have the Bruins going to the Elite Eight this time, which means they're guaranteed to lose in the second round against the winner of Marquette-Alabama. Sorry.

My Team is the Consensus Pick for National Champion and I'm...Cautiously Optimistic? (Or, "I'm Ron Burgundy...?")

The national media is way too bullish on UConn's title chances. Maybe it's the salty, pessimistic New Englander in me, but I'm less sanguine about their chances. I have high hopes but it's clear this team is talented and flawed. Most talent in the country? I think so. Star players? Yep. Depth? Loads. Great coaching? Calhoun's a Hall of Famer and two-time national champion. So what's the problem? In no particular order: focus, intensity, and turnovers. They have all the traits of a national champion (experience, depth, great defense and rebounding, etc.) but too often their heads are up their asses for long periods. You can get away with that crap against South Florida in February but not against Illinois in March. UConn's seniors make too many freshman mistakes. I hold my breath every time Denham Brown dribbles the ball in the open court, begging for him not to lose control, get stripped, or get trapped. The next time Rashad Anderson fights through a screen to defend a shooter will be the first time. Plus, when Rash is cold, he's likely to shoot them right out of the game.

And on and on. How does a team with Marcus Williams running the point turn the ball over so damn much? They're just careless with the rock and it drives me batshit -- ill-conceived interior passes, home-run lobs that get deflected, not coming back to the ball to help a teammate being trapped or doubled, etc. When the Huskies play smart basketball, they can overwhelm even a talented opponent. But the way to beat them is to attack. This team should shred the press apart but they are way too tentative. Teams have some success attacking UConn's shotblockers on the interior; sure they'll get a few swatted, but the Huskies will go for head fakes, and their weakside help can lead to easy offensive rebounds and put-backs. Boone and Armstrong will also get into occasional foul trouble.

Without Boone and Armstrong in the lineup together, it's much harder for the team to establish its inside play, which is predicated on Williams spreading the floor, distributing to the big men, and getting easy baskets or kickouts for open jumpers from Brown or Anderson. That's it though; that's the offense. When the team struggles to establish its game in the paint and the jumpers aren't falling for the wing players, the half-court offense can wilt. Rudy Gay should be the guy to step up and lead the team with clutch baskets during these stretches but usually he disappears instead. Williams then takes it upon himself to make something happen, which he can do at times with dribble penetration and pull up floaters, but teams eventually stymie him and then the offense really goes into a funk.

I'm still picking UConn to win the national title because of their superior talent and myriad matchup problems for most teams. Nobody can match them on the interior. Their defense, rebounding, and shotblocking are unparalleled. Boone, Brown, Anderson, and Armstrong have championship experience. Calhoun is a master motivator. When UConn fires on all cylinders, like they did against Syracuse in the regular season (twice), the Villanova game at home, and the Seton Hall game, they're scary good.

The question is whether they can put it together for 6 consecutive tournament games -- I'm betting they can, because their best effort still outstrips the best anyone else can muster. But I'm worried about the unanimity with which the national experts have anointed UConn champion -- have all these experts watched as many UConn games as I have? The Huskies are plenty talented but will they be focused, smart, hungry, and tough enough?

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

The Unfree Country Chronicles, Vol II: Unpasteurized Milk Edition

State gets tough on drinking...milk
Fans of unpasteurized product create 'white market' to get raw goods

Sunday, March 05, 2006
John Horton
Plain Dealer Reporter

Pssst . . . got raw milk?

Christina Trecaso does; the unpasteurized product -- which is illegal to sell in Ohio -- is chilling in the refrigerator at her Copley Township home. Just don't ask Trecaso where she acquired the fresh-from-the-farm liquid. The underground doesn't share its secrets.

The Summit County mother of two oversees Northeast Ohio's "white market," a network that supplies raw milk to more than 120 local families. Drop-off points exist in Akron, Broadview Heights, Cuyahoga Falls, Copley Township, Gates Mills and Lakewood.

Similar cooperatives -- which involve participants pooling money to buy "herd shares" at dairy farms and circumvent the ban on raw milk sales -- exist around Columbus, Dayton and Toledo.

In essence, the setup works a legal loophole. A group buys the cows on the farm, not the milk, and pays the farmer a monthly boarding and management fee. State law does not prohibit individuals from drinking raw milk taken from their own cows.

"We know what we want," said Trecaso, 36. "And there are ways to get it."

Opening that barn door is drawing notice, however. The Ohio Department of Agriculture is investigating the legality of the herd-share arrangement, said LeeAnne Mizer, a spokeswoman for the agency. She said there are public health concerns about the growing number of people consuming raw milk products.

Ohio outlawed raw milk sales to consumers in 1997. In 2003, the last dairy farm grandfathered into selling unpasteurized milk to individuals relinquished its license following a salmonella outbreak.

Raw milk can carry disease-causing organisms that cause a host of foodborne illnesses, according to health officials.

"Is raw milk worth the risk?" asked Mizer. "This state doesn't think so."

Pardon the horrendous pun, but holy fucking cow!

It's incredibly naive to think this issue is about "public health concerns" and "salmonella outbreaks." For another perspective, read the whole story and some of the discussion about it here. And leave aside the debate about the alleged benefits and risks of drinking fresh vs. pasteurized milk; it's really beside the point. What's most interesting is the state's cavalier attitude (ding! Horrendous pun #2! Get it? Cleveland Cavaliers? OK, I'm a moron) toward Ohioans' right to self-ownership.

Listen to the arrogance oozing from LeeAnne fucking Mizer; what a typically snotty, officious bureaucrat: "Is raw milk worth the risk? This state doesn't think so." With those eleven little words, Mizer sums up tyranny and the nanny state's attitude toward its subjects, doesn't she? When the state's "judgment" supercedes that of its so-called free people, that is not freedom. When "free" people are not permitted to make informed choices and live with the risks and consequences thereof, that is tyranny.

And we're not talking about the "choice" of initiating violence or force against others so don't even bother trying that pathetic strawman with me. This is about what individuals choose to put in their bodies. If you are legally barred from making so fundamental choice on your own, then you are not free, you belong to whomever is legally empowered to make that decision for you. You are a ward of the state.

Self-ownership is the most basic property right imaginable. When are we going to stand up and tell the LeeAnne Mizers of the world to just shut the fuck up?

(h/t to

Saturday, March 04, 2006

The Unfree Country Chronicles, Part I: When You Pay Down Your Debt, the Terrorists Win

If you ever want to see me choke on my own bile, then suggest to me, in all seriousness, that "it's a free country!" Seriously, just try it. Four little words, that's all. Four little words that make me want to break furniture with my bare hands or repeatedly kick an effigy of Sean Hannity where the naughty bits should be.

People who say such things are either profoundly, incurably ignorant, or colossal fucking morons. There's very little room for reasoned debate on this issue. Sorry. The anecdotal evidence of our unfree status is so bleedingly, indisputably apparent, that this is one of those issues where the devil's advocate can pretty much go fuck himself.

In a shockingly vainglorious attempt to make this truth abundantly clear, herewith I present the first installment of what I hope becomes an ongoing series: The Unfree Country Chronicles:

(Oh what, title not clever enough for you? YOU come up with something pithy and urbane, Socrates. Maybe then I'll use it.)

Walter and Deana Soehnge were recently red-flagged by the Department of Homeland Security. What heinous act of sedition alerted the state to the possible threat the Soehnges posed? Their credit card payment was too high:

They just paid a hefty chunk of their credit card balance. And they learned how frighteningly wide the net of suspicion has been cast.

After sending in the check, they checked online to see if their account had been duly credited. They learned that the check had arrived, but the amount available for credit on their account hadn't changed.

So Deana Soehnge called the credit-card company. Then Walter called.

"When you mess with my money, I want to know why," he said.

They both learned the same astounding piece of information about the little things that can set the threat sensors to beeping and blinking.

They were told, as they moved up the managerial ladder at the call center, that the amount they had sent in was much larger than their normal monthly payment. And if the increase hits a certain percentage higher than that normal payment, Homeland Security has to be notified. And the money doesn't move until the threat alert is lifted.

It shouldn't take an anarchist smartass like me to point out that, when the state forces financial institutions to act as spying proxies, we've pretty much forfeited most reasonable claims to a 'free' society.

And the Kafka-esque nature of the Soehnges' predicament is stunning: send in no payment and their credit score suffers, harming their prospects for future loans. Send in too small a payment and accrue more interest and debt. Send in too large a payment and raise the suspicions of the feds despite not one scintilla of evidence of criminal activity. I'm just brimming with questions at this point:

  • How are they to read the minds of bureaucrats to know how much is the "right" amount?
  • Does a 'free country' freeze its citizens' assets until the unfairly applied label of 'threat alert' is lifted?
  • Isn't that tantamount to being forced to prove your innocence, a concept pretty noxious to all notions of a free society?
  • Had the Soehnges not called to find out why credit for their payment was delayed, would they have ever been notified that DHS had to vet the transaction?
  • If not, how would the 'threat alert' ever have been lifted? Wouldn't this require some kind of DHS monitoring or investigation of the Soehnges without their knowledge?

This is a pretty heavy-handed way of dealing with people repaying a loan for things as innocuous as really high thread count sheets or perhaps a sweet retro stereo system with turntable. (I don't know what they actually bought. Just work with me here.) It is chilling that all the state has to do is invoke the specter of terrorism and presto! Innocent (even responsible) behavior becomes suspect, and outrageous state snooping and intrusions are justified on the flimsiest of pretexts.

And it hardly needs to be pointed out where all this will end up: less and less privacy and financial freedom for us all, more state spying, and not one act of terror prevented from any of it.

Free country, my arse.

(h/t to Lew Rockwell via newsalert)

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Funny F***ing Clip

No, I didn't self-censor in the post title. It was intentional homage to this hilarious clip:

Best of Jimmy Kimmel's Unnecessary Censorship

(h/t to