Assumptions are bad, mmmkay.

Following the same thread as yesterday’s pro-drug legalization post, I stumbled upon this entry through a blog ad. The ad promised “A New Wave of Muscular Liberalism” from Ethan R. Epstein, which intrigued me. Having no idea which direction “muscular” liberalism might lean, I wanted to find out. I clicked around Mr. Epstein’s site for a bit, with the following text inspiring the largest “huh?”:

The high rate of cocaine usage amongst Americans is a demonstration of deplorable selfishness and decadence. According the US government’s most recent figures, approximately 1.7 million Americans are regular cocaine users. Or put more bluntly, 1.7 million Americans are personally financing the destruction of a great South American nation.

The South American nation to which I refer, of course, is Colombia. 90% of the cocaine consumed in the United States comes from this vibrant country. As one would expect, the Colombian coke trade is managed by an array of rival cartels known worldwide for their breathtaking brutality. Colombia’s leading purveyor of civilian-targeted violence, the communist FARC militia, draws most of its financial strength from cocaine exports to the United States. The profits they receive from selling cocaine go directly to buying guns, building bombs, financing kidnappings and generally terrorizing the Colombian citizenry.

The violence that continues to ravage Colombia is a direct product of the American people’s love of cocaine. I used to scoff at the DARE notion, drummed into me through my middle and high school career, that personal drug use affects the world at large. I see now, that I was wrong; it turns out that DARE ‘nose’ best. To use cocaine is a fundamentally selfish act; it implicitly elevates one’s selfish pleasures over the lives and livelihoods of the embattled Colombian citizenry.

Oh yeah, and it’s bad for you too.

Hmmm, cocaine usage is selfish. We should all just stop because poor Columbian farmers are being hurt. Better to think of the communal good and deprive ourselves of what we want (more on the health aspect in a moment) so that everyone can get along? Am I oversimplifying? Misreading this? I don’t think so.

Mr. Epstein should stop for a moment and analyze his argument. The gist of his message is that we’re destroying Columbia with our selfishness. It’s dull, unthinking liberalism. Primarily, it’s this type of flabby logic that made me understand I’m not a liberal, even though I may agree with some current liberal ends. Sure, it’s selfish for people to use cocaine (or cigarettes or alcohol or food or gas or whatever else causes destruction of any kind). That’s news? And I agree that cocaine usage is unhealthy, but really, what ledge am I standing on with that belief? People should be smart enough to know how bad it is, but 1.7 million Americans are not. We’re surprised?

None of that implies cocaine should be illegal. For all of humanity, people have acted selfishly. The only foolishness is thinking that somehow an appeal to stop hurting the poor people thousands of miles away will make a difference. It never has and never will. It’s as logical as the current drug war, which is to say not logical at all. When the strategy doesn’t work, change the strategy.

That’s why legalizing drugs, in general, is better than what we’re doing. Legalizing it allows the government to regulate it. (I offer no judgment on whether that’s good or not. Here, it’s just an assumption of reality.) How much violent crime would disappear with legalized purchase? Crime still exists around alcohol, but it’s significantly different from the crime we faced during prohibition. No reasonable path leads me to a conclusion different for cocaine legalization. Legalize cocaine and there’s no more crop fumigation in Columbia. Legalize cocaine and there’s no more outrageous premium on the sale of cocaine. It becomes a business with profit and safety as the new goals.

I understand that I’m simplifying the outcome of legalization, as well as the process, but only to highlight the fallacy of appealing to world communal responsibility to end the destruction of Columbia. Such appeals are common, but they don’t work. If they did, everyone would be a vegetarian to avoid hurting the animals and the planet. They don’t and people do. Unless the explicit goal is to control people’s behavior, ending violence and destruction is the appropriate goal. I know thinking the goal isn’t to control people’s behavior is ridiculous, but I’m granting a reprieve. Ignore the flawed assumption and a better answer appears. Muscular liberalism may be interesting, but it needs better thinking than this. Rather than perpetually shifting the pawns in cocaine’s criminal empire, subvert the process and legalize it.

Duty alone compels me to vote today

Since today is election day, and Virginia has one of the two races for Governor, I’ll vote tonight on my way home from work. We have no other ballot issues that I’m aware of, so it’ll just be the three major offices and my delegate. Here are the choices and my decision:

Governor: Virginia is generally quite conservative on national politics, but somehow, a more moderate appeal sets in when the fight is for Governor. We had Democratic governors throughout the 1980s and early 1990s. George Allen and Jim Gilmore broke that string, but Mark Warner, our current governor, is a Democrat. That doesn’t mean far-left liberals can get elected, but voters will elect a Democrat. I hope we do so again this year.

I have no real affinity for Tim Kaine, the Democratic nominee. He’s riding on Gov. Warner’s remarkable popularity in Virginia. That may be enough, especially when President Bush’s approval rating in Virginia is below 50%. That’s monumental. Again, I hope it’ll be enough.

As for why, I already announced that I will not vote for Republican Jerry Kilgore because his campaign has been sleazy beyond any rational expectation. I don’t want anyone like that in the Commonwealth’s highest executive position. Given that there is little difference between Mr. Kaine Mr. Kilgore on economic and transportation issues, I see no reason to regret my decision. I don’t have high hopes if Kaine is elected, but I suspect he’ll keep the state a few inches further from the excess moral legislating we’ve seen in recent years. Kaine it is, even if it’s a reluctant vote.

Lieutenant Governor: This is an easy one, only because the office of Lieutenant Governor means little in the realm of Virginia politics. The primary aim for any Lt. Gov. is statewide name recognition for the Governor’s race in four years. In terms of this race, I’m not worried about four years from now. Hopefully the Republicans will nominate someone more interested in limited government than government control of personal lives. Democrat Leslie Byrne opposes the Virginia right-to-work law, which prohibits mandatory union participation. I strongly disagree with her on that, but her opponent, Republican Bill Bolling, beat her on my scale of political sins for which I can’t cast a vote, support for marriage amendments to the state Constitution. Workers in a union shop can always quit in a free society. Gays and lesbians can’t. No contest, Mrs. Byrne gets my reluctant vote, with the caveat that she won’t likely get it in 2009. (Hint, hint Republicans Libertarians)

Attorney General: This one should be interesting. The only difference I can decipher between Republican Bob McDonnell and Democrat Creigh Deeds is abortion. I don’t need to explain their opinions, I think. On every other issue, they’re the same. Regarding the Second Amendment, which is HUGE in Virginia, Mr. Deeds sponsored the state constitutional amendment protecting the right to hunt and fish. He’s so “strong” on the Second Amendment that he received the NRA endorsement over Mr. McDonnell. In Virginia, that’s surprising and will influence many. Personally, I don’t like guns, but I like the Constitution more. The Second Amendment is there, so it’s not going away. I don’t much worry about the politics behind it.

The deciding issue for me between Mr. Deeds and Mr. McDonnell is same-sex marriage. Neither is for it, but that’s not a surprise in Virginia. When I was a kid growing up in Richmond, a survey of local business leaders found a prevailing opinion within the city that Richmond was twenty years behind the times… and proud of it. That extends to much of Virginia politics, particularly social issues. The rest of the state mimics Richmond in that regard, excluding Northern Virginia to a degree. I didn’t expect the same-sex marriage opinion to change in time for this election. Neither candidate disappointed, as both support amending the state Constitution to “defend” marriage. This contest is a draw, with neither getting my vote.

Delegate: I’m voting against my delegate, knowing that he’ll be re-elected. Like much of the country, Virginia’s Republicans and Democrats gerrymandered the state to guarantee re-election. That’s bad for government, but it’s not changing between now and 7pm tonight. Considering my delegate loves the marriage amendment, I say no thanks. Also, his campaign sends fliers and letters and postcards to my house every day. Enough already. I can read. Trust that I read the first one. If your record is good (it’s not), I’ll feel confident. If it’s not (did I mention that it’s not?), you remind me every day not to vote for you. Brilliant strategy.

What candidates can learn from this is that I’m cynical about both major parties, but understand that this is the system we have. I can look for nuance. When you offer none, you won’t likely enjoy the results, whether short-term (Republicans) or long-term (Democrats). No vote this year is a party-loyal vote, all three will be lesser-of-two-evils votes. And the special lesson from the Attorney General race is that traditional marriage amendments are a deal-breaker. When you support that nonsense, you’re attacking my family directly. That’s stupid politics.

Update: I need to change my remarks to reflect new information that Mr. Kaine’s opinion shifts. Apparently, he supports a marriage amendment, as long as it doesn’t include civil unions (which he also doesn’t support). I think. It seems he supports many different versions, all seemingly politically expedient to the intended audience. I can’t say I’m shocked, but it frustrates me. I don’t want to vote for either, since both Kaine and Kilgore seem ignorant of the purpose of government, i.e. not legislating a slippery definition of morality. I guess I’ll find out in the voting booth if I can actually push the button for Mr. Kaine. If I do, I’m only revising my earlier statement that support for traditional marriage amendments is a deal-breaker to include an exemption for the lesser-of-two-evils for the Commonwealth’s highest office when the other candidate ran a despicable series of ads. Why does Virginia suck so much?

Ding dong ding dong .. mmmkay

By now everyone knows that Denver residents approved Initiative 100, legalizing possession of up to one ounce of marijuana within the city limits. This is, of course, mostly symbolic since state laws against possession will still trump Initiative 100. We all know how the “Drugs are bad, mmmmkay” nanny statists will view this, so shock at continuing arrests and disregard for this message from the voters would be pointless. Remember, it’s all about the will of the people unless the will of the people don’t do what’s in their best interests. The people don’t get to offer input into what’s in their best interest, either, but no matter. “Drugs are bad, mmmmkay” continues.

Personally, I agree with the gist of the “Drugs are bad, mmmmkay” message, although I’d change it to reflect that I merely don’t get the fascination with drugs, or even alcohol. That doesn’t mean I expect to deny it to you. As long as you don’t endanger me, I don’t care, so I think drugs should be legal and would’ve voted for Initiative 100. With all the issues facing our society, prohibition laws make no sense. Possession of one ounce of marijuana is trivial when considering other dangers. Legalize all of it and end the nonsensical battle.

While in Blacksburg over the weekend, I read the student newspaper, The Collegiate Times, for a bit of nostalgia. I always do this and I’m always amused at how bad it is. It was awful when I was a student. A reporter interviewed me for a story on a student organization I was involved in at the time and misquoted me after I e-mailed my response to her questions. Seemingly everyone involved was some combination of lazy and/or incompetent. Now, more than seven years later, nothing has changed. From Friday’s edition, this editorial tackles the passage of Initiative 100 in Denver. Consider [sic’s everywhere]:

News of such a measure brings about issues of legalizing marijuana in general. Denver should not have allowed such a measure to pass, even its mayor and the state of Colorado agree with that. The new procedure essentially stops people in Denver from being punished for carrying small amounts of marijuana. State law still allows for fines and speaks nothing to buying, selling or smoking the drug that has been known as a gateway drug to other addictive ones.

By passing such a procedure, the city of Denver may have gotten more than it bargained for. Then again, perhaps they really are attempting to become the next Amsterdam. If possession of marijuana becomes legal, what is to stop arguments of legalization of prostitution, heroin or any other illegal drugs?

In a country full of people who cannot even handle alcohol, legalizing marijuana is ludicrous. The United States arguably has some of the strictest laws pertaining to alcohol; however, drunken driving statistics are higher than those of most other countries, if not all.

What all of this boils down to is this: Making a vice more accessible, even legal, only ensures that it will become more harmful. Allowing people in one city to carry less than an ounce of marijuana literally removes the deterrence of carrying drugs in general. Not only that but a measure such as the one that has just passed in Denver, push the movement of legalizing marijuana in general.

That seriously could be the only reason something such as this has happened. In Telluride, Colo., the same measure as in Denver was narrowly turned down. It seems as though the purpose of introducing these procedures in localities that are so close to one another can only be to eventually challenge the state law itself.

The United States simply isn’t ready for the legalization of marijuana. This country cannot handle the inhibitions that exist from alcohol, how can citizens expect to be able to handle marijuana? While it seems as though state law may trump the measures being taken in Denver, the overall effects of such things are the real problem. Legalizing possession in Denver pushes the movement towards general legalization in Colorado and basically paves the way for legalized marijuana all over the United States. Without a doubt the road the followers of this movement are headed on must be stopped.

I’m ashamed that poorly reasoned, grammatically ignorant screeds pass for thinking at Virginia Tech. There are so many lapses of logic that it’s hard to decide where to begin. Is it the ridiculous notion that government officials are a better arbiter of standards than the governed? Could it be that the editors invoked the “slippery slope” argument without providing any justification for how that would happen, or even why it’s a “bad” outcome?

No. It’s the low level of intelligence needed to believe that “strictest laws pertaining to alcohol/drunken driving statistics are higher than those of most other countries” forms a strong pretext to criminalize drugs more until the people finally get it that drugs. are. bad. and they can’t be trusted to make good decisions, so Thank God the government is looking out for them. The editors provide no support for their generalizations. No statistics, no theories, no anecdotal evidence. They offer nanny statism at its core: if we give you freedom, you’ll only fuck it up, so trust us that we know better. No, thanks.

Yet, the editors don’t stop there. Somehow America cannot handle the inhibitions that exist from alcohol, so how can citizens be able to handle marijuana? First, prove that Americans can’t handle alcohol. I might agree generically, although I come to the conclusion that allowing Americans to drink earlier, where parents and society can teach moderation, would be more effective than “protecting” them from themselves with strict laws. I don’t agree, though, that a blanket statement of fact is sufficient in this argument. Prove it with at least one fact. Surely one is available.

More importantly, the editors failed to prove that marijuana is worse than alcohol. Again, prove it. State at least one fact indicating that legalization of alcohol is reasonable but legalization of marijuana is not. It can’t be the gateway drug nonsense, either, unless you prove that, too. Wishing it so doesn’t it make it true. Cause and effect.

Finally, what kind of government do the editors believe we have? Granted, that’s mostly rhetorical because the clear implication in that editorial is that the federal government mandates best. But consider the federal part of federal government. Isn’t it reasonable to allow a locality to decide that it wants to try this experiment? If it doesn’t work, it’ll stop and presumably won’t spread to other places. If it succeeds, the next locality has proof that it can be done without destroying society. In that regard, the editors are correct in assuming that it could spread all over America, but that’s not a bad outcome if the experiment proves a success. But that’s just my crazy notion that I’ll err on the side of freedom unless the facts reveal that as unwise.

They don’t know Jack about business

I have several thoughts on the “breaking news” that Infinity Broadcasting (or just K-Rock?) suspended Howard Stern for one day. His offense: he talked about Sirius too much.

How is this shocking? As a Sirius shareholder, I love that Howard Stern talks about his looming move to Sirius in January. Free commercials are wonderful, but that’s what makes this suspension laughable. He’s been ranting about this or that offense by the FCC and/or K-Rock since almost the moment Sirius announced his new deal. Why would Infinity wait until now to suspend him? If they didn’t like it, they should’ve stopped it immediately, whether through an order or suspension. Waiting until now, more than a year later, Infinity looks stupid. Oh, shocker, he’s talking about Sirius more now that he’s 58 days away from starting his new gig.

Not surprisingly, Stern is playing this up to get maximum exposure. On Howard 100, they’re doing every hour on the hour coverage of the outrage. Yes, the outrage, because people are stupid. Those brilliant minds calling in are bitching about Infinity trampling on Stern’s First Amendment rights. Sorry, folks, but only the government can do that. Infinity Broadcasting is not the government. It’s a private business protecting (however foolishly belated) its business. With any other business, we’d call the employee stupid for publicly ranting against his employer. We’d register no shock if the employer took such an action. We’d only be amazed if the employer didn’t fire the employee. This case is no different in that fundamental logic just because Howard Stern has a microphone and use of Infinity’s airwaves. This example is more exaggerated than “reality”, but it’s not different. Duh.

That’s at least using some of the fancy words they’ve heard Stern use, regardless of how wrong the analysis may be. The conspiracy theorists calling in are rambling on about how this is a move by Infinity executives who hold Sirius shares. They’ve suspended Stern to drive the share price higher. Ummmm, if you thought market reaction would be anything other than indifference, stop and think. Even if Infinity fired Stern, he wouldn’t start on Sirius tomorrow. Too much marketing blitz for the holiday shopping season revolves around Howard Stern arriving on January 9th. If Sirius miraculously abandoned their plans, letting Stern start tomorrow, the shares would (maybe) go up.

But ask yourself how much bounce the shares would get for an unexpected 58 days on Sirius. Not much, of course, because Stern’s arrival AND potential firing by Infinity have been priced into the shares already. The only bounce coming is from the crazies who don’t understand that. As I said here, Sirius is a long(ish)-term investment for me, not based on whether or not Infinity grows a set early or late. The day-to-day “news” blips make little difference.

Nouns are important

Danielle and I have tickets to THE game tomorrow, Virginia Tech vs. Miami. (Go Hokies!!) We’re driving to Blacksburg late tonight, so we’ll miss this invitation from the Athletic Department. I do wish we could be there, though.

Fans are invited to Hokie Sendoff at 6:45 p.m. Friday night at Cassell Coliseum.

The sendoff, a rally for the Virginia Tech football team as they depart campus in preparation for their game Saturday with the University of Miami, will occur on the court…

… Come out and wish the football well…

I wish I could be there to wish the football well.

You did catch that right? The Athletic Department invited everyone to come out and wish the football well. I wish the team well, but if this is helpful, we should all do whatever it takes.

Go Hokies!

Basic competence used to be an assumption

I mentioned this scenario last week when I wrote that I’m against the death penalty.

A death row inmate escaped from a county jail after he obtained civilian clothing and a fake ID badge, authorities said.

Charles Victor Thompson, 35, of Tomball, was being held Thursday in the Harris County Jail after he was resentenced last week in the 1998 shooting deaths of his ex-girlfriend and her boyfriend.

“He had changed out of the orange jumpsuit that inmates ordinarily wear,” Harris County sheriff’s Lt. John Martin said in the online edition of the Houston Chronicle. “He may have been taken out of the cell block and put in the attorney booth in the guise of having an attorney visit.”

The facts of this case don’t change my opinion. That’s not a huge leap because this prisoner escaped from a jail after a resentencing and not a maximum security prison, but I stand firm that death row inmate escapes indicate a need for better security, not a quicker, more determined execution schedule. If nothing else, this example shows that we have stupid people in law enforcement. Presumably the legal system is better staffed, but I seriously question whether or not the jury box is. Even leaving the moral question aside, until there are reasonable assurances (professional juries, for example?) that this tendency for mega-foul-ups is accommodated, forget it. My belief stands.

With a backbone made of cheese

D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams intends to sign the emergency legislation passed recently by the D.C. City Council to “clarify” the intention of D.C. strict DUI laws.. Given the outcry generated by the recent articles in The Washington Post, this comes as little surprise. Politics doesn’t imply good policy, so whatever. But there are interesting rationales thrown about in this discussion. Consider:

Williams (D) had criticized the emergency bill as a “hastily written” reaction to public complaints from a small number of drivers. But yesterday, Williams said he would sign the bill because he is “making progress” in negotiations with D.C. Council members over the shape of permanent legislation.

“I’m not completely enthusiastic about it. But I sign a lot of things that I’m not completely enthusiastic about,” Williams told reporters at his weekly news conference.

Ummm, the D.C. City Council passed emergency legislation to fix this. Presumably, they changed the law to reflect what they wanted. How is signing it, even though it doesn’t achieve the Mayor’s intended result (drivers with a BAC .05 or greater should be presumed drunk), going to convince the City Council to renegotiate? I wouldn’t renegotiate if I got what I wanted on the first try. If the Mayor’s purpose is similar to Tim Kaine’s objections but promise to upheld the death penalty if he’s elected governor, I might understand his argument. But he’s not saying that. He’s saying he thinks the law is bad, but he’ll sign it because that’ll help him get what he thinks is appropriate later, after negotiations. Danielle and I should’ve used that strategy when we bought our house.

This strikes me as a ceremonial protest, which is stupid and pointless, like President Bush’s repeated threats to veto anything. But they all did something, so the people win. Right?

Frustration beats exhaustion every time

More news from the “circumcision cures all” front:

Female sexual partners of circumcised men are less likely to contract Chlamydia trachomatis infections than are those of uncircumcised [sic] men, a study shows.

The most common bacterial cause of sexually transmitted infections, C. trachomatis can cause severe reproductive complications in women and is associated with increased risk of cervical cancer.

The relationship between male circumcision and C. trachomatis infection in the female partner has not been explored, Dr. Xavier Castellsague, at Institut Catala d’Oncologia in Barcelona, and colleagues point out in the American Journal of Epidemiology for November.

That didn’t stop Reuters from reporting it with the headline “Circumcised men less apt to transmit Chlamydia,” did it. Only in the seventh (of eight) paragraph do we learn this trivial piece of information:

Only among younger women and women with a history of consistent condom use was there no association between circumcision and C. trachomatis detection.

I’m willing to grant the younger women aspect as relatively obvious, since younger people in general encounter less disease. But history of consistent condom use? Do you think that might have something to do with protecting women (and men) from venereal infections? Is it so hard to point a nod in the direction of personal responsibility?

I’ve made the point, but I’ll do so again. I’m not opposed to adult circumcision, but responsibility must be included in the decision to engage in sexual activity, whether the choice be trust in the sexual partner, whether to use a condom, or whether the male wants to be (or should be) circumcised. But those are sexual choices, appropriate for adults. Infants obviously don’t need to make those choices, nor should they have those choices made for them. The decision to undergo circumcision should remain with the adult male who will face the consequences.

Choices matter in life. If a man chooses to remain intact “despite” the apparent scientific evidence, and then engages in behavior resulting in venereal infection (which he has to catch from somewhere, mind you – women are responsible how in this discussion?), so be it. If he then engages in activity resulting in his female partner (what does the study say about male partners – not an irrelevant question, I think), contracting his venereal disease, that’s a result of their choices. Personal responsibility matters. Circumcision may be a reasonable choice for the adult male, and that’s certainly the role of science in this discussion, but reporting on that shouldn’t be skewed.

Of course, what I’ve pointed out isn’t the only bias going on here, right? Remember the title of the Reuters article (“fans” of Reuters know where this will end up): “Circumcised men less apt to transmit Chlamydia.” What does the study’s abstract say about the study? Consider:

Male circumcision has been shown to reduce the risk of acquiring and transmitting a number of venereal infections. However, little is known about the association between male circumcision and the risk of Chlamydia trachomatis infection in the female partner. The authors pooled data on 305 adult couples enrolled as controls in one of five case-control studies of invasive cervical cancer conducted in Thailand, the Philippines, Brazil, Colombia, and Spain between 1985 and 1997. Women provided blood samples for C. trachomatis and Chlamydia pneumoniae antibody detection; a type-specific microfluorescence assay was used. Multivariate odds ratios were computed for the association between male circumcision status and chlamydial seropositivity in women. Compared with women with uncircumcised [sic] partners, those with circumcised partners had a 5.6-fold reduced risk of testing seropositive for C. trachomatis (82% reduction; odds ratio = 0.18, 95% confidence interval: 0.05, 0.58). The inverse association was also observed after restricting the analysis to monogamous women and their only male partners (odds ratio = 0.21, 95% confidence interval: 0.06, 0.72). In contrast, seropositivity to C. pneumoniae, a non-sexually-transmitted infection, was not significantly related to circumcision status of the male partner. These findings suggest that male circumcision could reduce the risk of C. trachomatis infection in female sexual partners.

And what do you know, the title of the study is “Chlamydia trachomatis Infection in Female Partners of Circumcised and Uncircumcised [sic] Adult Men.” I guess the facts just get in the way of sticking your arm up and screaming “Ooooh, ooooh, look what information I have! I haven’t read it all but you won’t believe it!”