Will I have to praise Anthony Bourdain, too?

Via Veg Blog, I like this clip from Hell’s Kitchen with Gordon Ramsay. Like Ryan I was not much on Ramsay because of stories I’d encountered. But he gets it correct in this video.

You don’t have to be vegetarian or vegan; most of us would like you to adopt our choices but we realize that a mass conversion isn’t coming any time soon. Still, it’s not too much to expect a basic level of respect. Personally, it doesn’t bother me when people eat meat in front of me. But it’s not funny when people wave meat in front of me while asking if I want some. Nor is it funny when people joke that they’ll slip meat in to my food to help me out.

I would be merely annoyed in this situation since it appears accidental, whether through incompetence or indifference. (The latter would probably make me angry.) Kudos to Gordon Ramsay for understanding that and demanding that these chefs respect their customers.

I’m still here…

…but I’m a little behind in news and writing. I figured this would happen during the adjustment period, and so it has. I’m just trying to readjust to a structured schedule. Sometime this week I think I’ll find the groove again. Until then, I have nothing.

The demise of SUVs is likely but not inevitable.

The obvious:

The sale of new SUVs and pickup trucks has dropped precipitously in recent months amid soaring gas prices and a weakening economy: SUV sales for the month of April alone fell 32.3 percent from a year earlier and small car sales rose 18.6 percent. This fundamental shift comes against a backdrop of relentless gas increases, and growing concerns over the environment and US oil consumption, according to auto analysts and car dealers.

Incentives matter. The balance between fuel cost and fuel economy is an incentive. Demand for fuel is relatively inelastic, since we don’t seem to be driving less. But demand for more fuel efficient cars is elastic. The late-1970s demonstrated this. I doubt that this apparent shift in consumer behavior surprises anyone.

I have a hard time accepting this, though:

“The SUV craze was a bubble and now it is bursting,” said George Hoffer, an economics professor at Virginia Commonwealth University whose research focuses on the automotive industry. “It’s an irrational vehicle. It’ll never come back.”

I expect to see that quote in every 2008 article on SUVs and gas prices. But from an economist? That’s too much. Under what assumptions is it an irrational vehicle? All contexts for all buyers? Some contexts for some buyers?

Suppose a new car buyer gets a significant incentive on an SUV. She considers her decision under the following conditions:

This is a superficial analysis that assumes all other factors (i.e. car price) are equal. If that is the proper set of assumptions and the choice is incentive 1, is the SUV an irrational vehicle?

Of course, all other factors are not equal. The price of the two cars will likely be different. The price of gas might be $8 per gallon in five years. The options available will probably be different. The safety features may be different. Her needs for those 6,000 miles could tilt to one or the other. The buyer’s annual income could be $15 million instead of $15 thousand. And so on, with any number of possible deviations from some universal evaluation that an SUV is automatically irrational. All tastes and preferences are subjective, and non-monetary criteria factor into decisions. What are Jane Doe’s tastes and preferences? Does John Doe possess the same tastes and preferences?

It’s certainly possible – and I hope it’s the case – that the author quoted Mr. Hoffer out of context here, that some qualifier from his statements is missing. As it is presented in the article, though, it’s indefensible.

Via the MINI-enthusiast site MotoringFile.

Post Script: A commenter on the MotoringFile entry makes the common, uninformed mistake regarding oil company profits.

Last year, Exxon/Mobil made a $40 BILLION profit. The biggest profit ever, by any company, in the entire history of the world. $40 BILLION. In a year that was considered by many (US speaking) to be on the edge of a recession. In a year that millions of Americans were hurting.

Wouldn’t $20 Billion have been enough? No? $30 Billion? How much is enough? What about shaving a few dollars here and there in the interests of what’s best for Americans? Naw. What about some gov’t cap? Isn’t price fixing sort of illegal?

It continues, but you get the gist. To consider the facts in context rather than screaming “Like, OMG, $40 BILLION!!1!!!!1!!”, read this specifically and this generally.

The First Amendment does not grant the right to violate the rights of a child.

I’ve known about this for a little bit, but I hadn’t planned to blog it because I don’t think it will initially amount to much. But it’s in the press now, so here’s an update on the Oregon circumcision case:

A divorced father who wants to circumcise his 13-year-old son against the wishes of the boy’s mother is trying to take his case to the U.S. Supreme Court.

James Boldt, who converted to Judaism, argues that preventing him from circumcising his son violates his constitutional right to practice his religion.

The U.S. Supreme Court accepts a small fraction of the appeals it receives. A decision on whether it will take the case is not expected until the fall [sic]

Earlier this year, the Oregon Supreme Court ruled that the trial judge should determine what the boy wants.

Obviously the mother, who is trying to prevent the circumcision, must approach this as if the Supreme Court will consider the father’s request. I think she’d achieve the same short-term outcome if she ignored it because, until the trial judge determines what the boy wants, there is no reason for the U.S. Supreme Court to consider intervening.

That said, it might be interesting to speculate that the father is signaling something about the boy’s wishes if he’s wants to bypass his incomplete-but-favorable victory granted by the Oregon Supreme Court. But that would be speculation, so I will go no further until I know more.

To his claim that “preventing him from circumcising his son violates his constitutional right to practice his religion,” every necessary piece of information you need is in that brief statement. His constitutional right, as an individual, can never legitimately include the option to surgically alter another person. That the other person is healthy is relevant but not necessary for consideration. That the other person is his child is irrelevant. “His child” is properly stressed as “his child“. He is the child’s guardian, not the child’s owner. The child has his own individual rights that negate¹ his father’s assertion that his religious requirement permits him to remove his son’s foreskin.

Additionally, if the court is to recognize that a parent may circumcise a male child under the U.S. Constitution because a religious text tells them to circumcise, the court must also overturn the Female Genital Mutilation Act as an unconstitutional infringement upon this same alleged First Amendment right of parents to inflict genital surgery on their daughters because the law specifically excludes any parental claim to religion. If the parents have this right, it is plenary over all of their children, not just their children who were born with a penis.

Thankfully they do not have this right, so eventually this nonsense will lose its inexcusable credibility. Unfortunately, I expect the U.S. Supreme Court to botch this horribly on the barely non-zero chance that it takes the case. It will rule that the child has rights, but tradition makes this practice reasonable. (The Court will, of course, dismiss the truth that female genital mutilation is performed to adhere to tradition and social expectations.) The Court will also cite subjective benefits to male circumcision while ignoring the objective harm because the risks and inevitable outcome are “minor”. Everyone but the boy’s opinion matters. So, the most achievable path to Destination Sanity is clear, but arrival is probably not imminent.

¹ Much analysis in the news and blogosphere considers the importance of the child’s age. At 13 he can make his wishes known. Yes, but the default presumption in our society – as shamefully demonstrated in the Oregon Supreme Court’s ruling – is that we must decide whether the child’s age overcomes the parent’s wishes. That is incorrect. The default must be that the child would want his healthy foreskin because the alternative is permanent. Only medical need would allow the parents to make the child’s decision until he can state that he wishes to be circumcised.

John McCain endorses majoritarianism over individual rights.

From John McCain’s speech to the NRA:

Real activists seek to make their case democratically — to win hearts, minds, and majorities to their cause. Such people throughout our history have often shown great idealism and done great good. By contrast, activist lawyers and activist judges follow a different method. They want to be spared the inconvenience of campaigns, elections, legislative votes, and all of that. Some federal judges operate by fiat, shrugging off generations of legal wisdom and precedent while expecting their own opinions to go unquestioned.

Is there an upper bound on how many individuals may have their rights violated before we conclude a constitutional solution is better than a democratic solution? If so, what’s the number? Is there a distinction marking which rights are sacred and which may be violated at will by a majority? Is there any reservation worth considering to limit this complete trust in The People that might acknowledge those hearts and minds that are either incapable or unwilling of being won?

Like every politician, John McCain is a propagandist unworthy of being in a position of leadership. He will not behave as a leader.

“I don’t even need to.”

I agree with almost everything in Andrew Sullivan’s entry titled “Obama’s Cowardice On Marriage”. Marriage equality is not a “far left” position when the core principle is considered. Any dismissal based on such a belief is at least partially an attempt to avoid uncomfortable analysis that might reach an “incorrect” outcome. I’m not as certain that it’s possible to minimize the federal implications of equal rights in favor of federalism given that our reality (14th Amendment, DOMA, etc.) is what it is. But Mr. Sullivan quickly gets to the point of why this “far left” charge is mistaken.

Still, I must qualify my agreement as incomplete because of this:

I should add that Obama’s position strikes me as transparently flimsy. … Marriage is the one issue where Obama is still politically afraid, intellectually vacuous, and a moral coward.

His position is transparently flimsy because he’s a politician and marriage is a “tough” that politicians don’t want to address as long as there are voters who treat equal, individual liberty with the same approach used by children being asked to eat foods they don’t like. I’m loathe to compare politicians to parents because they already act that way too often, but it fits here. Proper parenting involves telling the child that she must eat broccoli instead of the candy she wants. The same applies here. Politicians Leaders must tell voters that some parts of American life are not up for a vote because they involve more fundamental principles of individual liberty. Majoritarianism on issues of how many rights society should respect for certain groups is the nutritional equivalent to liberty of serving only M&M’s for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

But is this really the only issue where Obama is “politically afraid, intellectually vacuous, and a moral coward”? He is a politician, right? As I see it, pandering on free trade to win votes is hardly a sign of bravery, especially when it’s apparent that the only way he will back his pandering with action is if he handcuffs himself too tightly into the position to weasel out of it later. He wouldn’t pander if he trusted voters to support the difficult truth rather than the pleasant lie. And I trust that he understands the value of free trade and the hollowness of his anti-NAFTA rhetoric in Ohio.

As I’ve said before, I think Senator Obama is the least bad of the three two options we now have in this race. That’s not enough for me to vote for him, but I can acknowledge that my analysis suggests his superiority over Senator McCain as the next president. Still, we shouldn’t pretend that Obama is anything more than a politician until he demonstrates a longer string of statesmanship when it’s politically inconvenient.

Note: The title reference is an inside joke.

Baseball and Labor Markets

Numerous Major League Baseball teams have signed young players to long-term deals recently. Yesterday the Milwaukee Brewers signed Ryan Braun to an eight-year, $45 million deal by the Milwaukee Brewers. At under $6 million per season, that’s a bargain if Braun merely puts up similar numbers (.313 with 44 homers and 127 RBI in 153 games) to his first full year in the majors, which he won’t reach until late next week. Baseball contracts are guaranteed, so the contracts to players whose career busts will be a significant mistake (e.g. Pat Burrell’s contract with the Phillies). But the upside is more than defensible.

(Braun is also an interesting example because he developed in the Brewers’ minor league system as a third baseman. His copious errors last year, his rookie season, forced the Brewers to convert him to left field this year. Do 41 games and spring training constitute sufficient evidence that he can be a competent major league outfielder?)

Squawking Baseball discusses the incentives involved :

But there’s another dynamic that is in play here: as more and more players sign these deals, the supply of premium players on the free agent market will continue to drop. That, combined with the growing war chests many teams have already put together, will create excess demand for whatever talent ends up on the open market.

In fact, this has likely already happened in the past few years. Teams have a certain amount of money they can spend on payroll; as revenues rise and each win becomes more valuable, those budgets increase. With a limited supply of free agents, there will inevitably be high demand for some mediocre players (i.e. Carlos Silva).

The real question is this: at what point does the potential reward of becoming a free agent outweigh the risks of turning down $30+ million when you have nothing in the bank? If supply continues to dwindle, free agency may simply become too rational a choice to pass up.

I think that is the real question. This is just basic economics. The intersection of supply and demand fluctuates over time. In the early to middle portion of the next decade, we could see some very interesting outcomes in the baseball labor market. It appears we’re going to see flatter incomes across players, while the players on the high end of the extreme will be distinct solely for their salaries rather than their merits as on-the-field talent.

I assign no judgment to this, of course. Participants on both sides of the baseball labor market are experimenting with new ideas to meet their individual, subjective needs. Good for them. This refining is an outstanding attribute of any free market.

For me, the more interesting questions are how will fans react to this when the results are known rather than speculated, and how will teams react to this reaction? Looking at the Pat Burrell example mentioned above, there was significant praise for then-Phillies General Manager Ed Wade’s decision to sign Burrell for a cheap $50 million after his breakout season. Yet, hindsight has proven that an unfortunate burden on the team for years. (In his defense, Burrell has been spectacular for much of the last calendar year.) Phans have booed Burrell regularly, and the team has since been quite reluctant to invest money in players. Until Chase Utley’s recent long-term deal, the free agent signing of Jim Thome was the lone commitment longer than 3 years.

An apprehension to buy out arbitration and free agent years from Ryan Howard has become a prominent discussion for Phillies phans. His salary jumped from $900,000 last year to $10 million this year, through arbitration. No long-term deal appears likely, for multiple reasons. (Fear, greed, animosity – pick two) But this may not be a bad outcome. Only now does Howard show signs of emerging from his devastating slump to start the season. A player who will predictably inhibit the middle of a team’s lineup for the first quarter of every season is a huge risk. If the Phillies had Howard to a long-term contract in 2006, when he was in his MVP campaign, they would’ve acted before Howard fully revealed the player he would become. That does not necessarily disparage Howard, but it does reveal that teams won’t always have a complete understanding of a player’s developmental trajectory after one year.

Long-term, I suspect we’ll see this trend of locking up players early continue. But I think we’ll see more deals for third- and fourth-year players rather than second-year players. It’ll mean a bit more money to those players, but I suspect the team executives will figure out that the total money paid will change little. Individual commitments will reflect merit more than the current mixture of merit and potential. The NFL rookie salary structure demonstrates the risk involved in offering high rewards for potential rather than long-term performance. I doubt Major League teams will veer much closer to that, or stay as close as a few now appear to be heading.

Via Baseball Musings.

Post Script: I think the Chase Utley deal was the correct move, both then and now. He’s shown in-season consistency and a general improvement over several years. The core indicators for long-term success are there, shining as brightly as they could for any player in baseball.

Bob Barr on Same-Sex Marriage and Federalism

Here is Bob Barr’s statement on the California Supreme Court ruling regarding same-sex marriage:

“Regardless of whether one supports or opposes same sex marriage, the decision to recognize such unions or not ought to be a power each state exercises on its own, rather than imposition of a one-size-fits-all mandate by the federal government (as would be required by a Federal Marriage Amendment which has been previously proposed and considered by the Congress). The decision today by the Supreme Court of California properly reflects this fundamental principle of federalism on which our nation was founded.

“Indeed, the primary reason for which I authored the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996 was to ensure that each state remained free to determine for its citizens the basis on which marriage would be recognized within its borders, and not be forced to adopt a definition of marriage contrary to its views by another state. The decision in California is an illustration of how this principle of states’ powers should work.”

I’m not distracted by the potential implications of Barr’s view of federalism. This isn’t nearly enough to assume he holds the same flawed understanding of federalism espoused by Ron Paul, so I won’t assume that. But, if not for the second paragraph, I might consider such a possibility harder.

About that second paragraph… First, this from The Liberty Papers:

Constitutionally speaking, of course, Barr is entirely correct. If states like New York, New Jersey, and California want to legalize gay marriage, they should be allowed to do so. The problem with the DOMA, though, is that it would seem to be a direct violation of the full faith and credit clause of the Constitution. With very limited exceptions, states are required to recognize the validly passed laws of their sister states, including laws about issues like marriage, adoption, and inheritance.

More importantly, though, Federalism simply doesn’t mean the same thing that it meant before the Civil War. The passage of the 14th Amendment, and the Supreme Court case law that has grown from that Amendment, forever changed the relationship between the people, the states, and the Federal Government, and one of the things that changed is the idea that you don’t lose your rights as an American citizen simply because you move from one state to another.

That’s my understanding of this issue. Given how the full faith and credit issue with regard to DOMA is much stickier than just a “leave it to the states” position implies, Barr’s second paragraph is more an indication of how I should evaluate his approach to governing. Is he suggesting that we should behave as if simplicity is sufficient where facts demonstrate complexity? Is the stated intent behind legislation more important than the outcome of (poorly-worded) legislation? Does it matter if the negative consequences of simplifying the complex are predictable?

What Barr wanted to ensure with DOMA is worth discussing, but how he wanted to prevent states from “being forced” to accept valid laws of other states indicates a disagreeable approach to governing.

Do a child’s eyes belong to the child’s parents?

As a thought experiment, consider:

LASIK surgery in children.

AIMS: To report success in the treatment of high myopia in children with LASIK. To report the visual results, complications and postoperative management of children with high myopia. METHODS: Six children (seven eyes) with high myopia were included in this series. Preoperative and postoperative refraction, visual acuity, and pachymetry were compared. RESULTS: Six children with high myopia ranging from -5.00DS to -16DS were treated. There were three males and three females. Five children had improved refraction and visual acuity post-LASIK. Age ranged from 2 to 12 years. Five of the children had unilateral amblyopia preoperatively. One had bilateral high myopia. CONCLUSION: High myopia in children may be treated safely and effectively with LASIK.

Now consider this story, via Amy Alkon:

Most Lasik recipients do walk away with crisper vision, and the American Society for Cataract and Refractive Surgery reviewed studies showing about 95 percent of patients say they’re satisfied with their outcome.

But not everyone’s a good candidate, and an unlucky fraction do suffer life-changing side effects: poor vision even with glasses, painful dry eyes, glare or inability to see or drive at night.

How big are the risks? The FDA agrees that about 5 percent of patients are dissatisfied with Lasik. How many struggle daily with side effects? How many are less harmed but unhappy that they couldn’t completely ditch their glasses? The range of effects on patients’ quality of life is a big unknown — and the reason the FDA help a public hearing Friday as part of its new move.

“Clearly there is a group who are not satisfied and do not get the kind of results they expect,” said Dr. Daniel Schultz, the FDA medical device chief. The study should “help us predict who those patients might be before they have the procedure.”

Doctors advise against Lasik for one in four people who seek the surgery, said Dr. Kerry Solomon of the Medical University of South Carolina, who led a review of Lasik’s safety for the ASCRS. Their pupils may be too large or corneas too thin or they may have some other condition that can increase the risk of a poor outcome.

Solomon estimates that fewer than 1 percent of patients have severe complications that leave poor vision.

Should parents have an unchallenged option to choose Lasik surgery for their children for any reason?

Bonus question: Should they have that unchallenged option for only their children of one gender, with the exclusion based on a societal belief such as the (non-)desirability of glasses?

The Best Paragraph I’ll Read Today

Mark at Publius Endures provides the perfect reaction to yesterday’s ruling by the California Supreme Court:

But first – after all the claims of the Religious Right over the last few years that same-sex marriage would destroy marriage as an institution, I’ll admit my commute home from work this evening was filled with fear. Would my wife and child still be home, waiting for me? Would my wife still be wearing her wedding ring? Would my wedding ring begin to fade away, as if it were a photograph in the hands of Marty McFly? By the time I was home, I was in a cold sweat. When I walked in the door, my worst fears appeared to be coming true – my wife wasn’t wearing her wedding ring! I immediately broke down into tears, begging Chri….err, the Ghost of Jerry Falwell for forgiveness. My confused wife then informed me that she had just taken her ring off to take a quick shower. In other words: California now allows same sex marriage, but my marriage didn’t fall apart! Shocking, I know. But also true.

That’s the reality when religious extremists offer their doomsday scenario for the private, religious institution of marriage if the public, civil institution becomes fully equal as an individual right rather than the silly notion of a collective right between only one man and one woman.

The rest of Mark’s analysis is good, too. For example, this is the second best paragraph I’ll read today:

As many libertarians are quick to point out democracy is a means, not an end in itself – democracy without freedom is meaningless; freedom without democracy is not (think Monaco here, for example). Moreover, we do not live in a pure democracy, but in a constitutional republic; a republic which, according to Madison’s Federalist #10 (you knew this was coming), is set up to prevent any one group from gaining dominance over any other group. The constitutional republic that is the United States, and which forms the template for many, even most, state constitutions (including, I think, California’s, despite its bad habit of direct democracy), is specifically intended to prevent the tyranny of the majority. In other words, our system of government is supposed to distrust mob rule every bit as much as it distrusts the rule of a king. Indeed, the authors of the Constitution viewed the legislature as the most dangerous branch of government precisely because it was susceptible to the tyranny of the majority.

Despite its bad habit of direct democracy, indeed. For further consideration, read Ed Brayton’s dismissal of the Family Research Council’s predictably unprincipled response.


With the current discussion of judicial activism, the corresponding arguments about legislative activism (mostly noted by libertarians) are also relevant. Sometimes that activism takes the form of abdication of duty, to the point that it’s probably more appropriate to call it legislative “inactivism”.

I’m on record that legislatures must protect male minors to the same extent that female minors are currently (and correctly) protected from medically unnecessary genital surgery. (Most recently in the comments here.) Many disagree with that, basing their opinion on the traditional and cultural justifications for the non-medical circumcision of male children. Yet, it’s just as much a tyranny of the majority when a legislature fails to act in defense of rights¹. When it stands idly by while rights are violated because the violation is based on tradition, the legislature allows the perceived majority opinion to justify inaction. Just as prohibition based on mob rule may be improper, permission based on mob rule may be improper. The legislature’s approach must be based on first principles of individual rights. Majority opinion does not supersede the rights of the minority, even if that minority is a lone individual.

¹ The Congress intentionally ignored basic human rights principles by invoking a bizarre mental jujitsu to permit continued male genital mutilation during debate on the Female Genital Mutilation Act in 1995. I’m working on a separate entry on this. I’ll update this with a link when I post it.