damnum absque injuria

June 26, 2007

Restoring the Bill of Rights

Filed under:   by Xrlq @ 5:05 pm

While there has been much fanfare surrounding the DC Circuit’s recent discovery that there is a Second Amendment, I am equally pleased that the Supreme Court has finally discovered the First – as it almost certainly would not have done if John Kerry had been a little more popular in Ohio. You read it here first.

June 16, 2007

Freedom, Freakhood and Economics

Filed under:   by Xrlq @ 4:24 pm

I recently obtained a review copy of Freedomnomics, which was economist John R. Lott, Jr.’s reply to Levitt and Dubner’s Freakonomics. As I noted on the Amazon review, I’m conflicted as to whether the reply was necessary, given that Freakonomics itself is more of a puff book than a serious economics treatise. That said, enough people apparently do take Freakonomics’s conclusions seriously enough to make a convincing rebuttal necessary, and Professor Lott has done an excellent job of that. In particular, Lott takes on Levitt and Dubner’s conclusions that campaign spending is a waste of money, abortion reduces crime and realtors are out to scam you. Lott also discusses a number of other interesting topics not raised in Levitt and Dubner’s book, such as the importance of reputations, and the possibility that reputational harm should be considered when determining the sentences for various crimes.

Lott is on the strongest footing with regard to campaign finance, noting generally that for Levitt and Dubner to be right, virtually every politico in the world must be terribly wrong. Levitt and Dubner do have a lesser point, namely that no amount of spending can make up for a candidate’s lack of political acumen or convert an unpopular candidate into a popular one, but by claiming it cannot impact any election by more than a point or two – thereby making all campaign spending in all but the closest races a colossal waste of money – they clearly get carried away, and Lott rightly calls them on that. Similarly, Levitt and Dubner point to the data indicating that realtors make more money selling their own houses by leaving them on the market slightly longer than their clients’ houses stay on the market on average, from which they conclude that realtors just don’t try very hard to get the best deal they can for their customers. That too is rebutted by several of Lott’s arguments, including the equally plausible (or, by Occam’s Razor, more plausible) theory that non-realtors don’t always heed their realtors’ advice, while the realtors themselves obviously do (when was the last time you ignored your own advice to yourself?). And his argument on reputational costs of white collar crime is interesting not so much as a rebuttal to any particular work, but simply as an issue to think about in its own right.

I’m more skeptical of Lott’s position on abortion vs. crime. On the one hand, common sense would appear to support Levitt and Dubner’s basic theory that unwanted kids are more likely to be raised badly, and therefore, more likely to turn to crime, than wanted ones. Lott does not appear to dispute the general connection between unwanted children and crime, but reaches the opposite conclusion with regard to abortion on the more tenuous theory that abortion causes more unwanted children by lowering the incentives for unprotected sex. This makes little sense, as legalized abortion only creates an incentive (or, more accurately, removes a disincentive) for unprotected sex among those willing to obtain abortions. For those who oppose abortions even at a personal level, the legality of abortion should not change the incentive structure at all. The only way it could, in my view, would be if it could be shown that a large number of couples have unprotected sex because they think they can always get an abortion later if need be, only to have a change of heart and suddenly become personally opposed to abortion as soon as the unwanted pregnancy develops. I don’t doubt that this ever happens, but the likelihood of it happening often enough to offset the number of abortions every years appears remote. To the extent that legalized abortion and high numbers of unwanted children correlate (and I have little doubt that they do), it would seem more likely that the sexual revolution caused both the increase in sex outside a stable relationship and the political impetus to legalize or further deregulate abortion.

Like Freakonomics, Freedomnomics is written to make basic points come across clearly to the unwashed masses, not to beat the reader to death with regression analysis. This makes the book much more accessible to the average reader, and more entertaining as well. It also makes the conclusions more suspect, however, as it effectively asks the reader to trust the author’s conclusions rather than demonstrating beyond any possible doubt (as he did in, say, More Guns, Less Crime) that they are correct. For this reason, I’d urge people to read Freedomnomics the way one should read Freakonomics, namely, to make you think about the issues raised, and not necessarily to tell you what to think about them. So read Freedomnomics. I’m confident you’ll enjoy the book, but even if for some reason you don’t, at least you will make Tim Lambert cry.

When Snark Trumps Substance

Filed under:   by Xrlq @ 10:48 am

David Weigel of “Reason” continues his magazine’s proud tradition of proving that sarcasm and ignorance don’t mix, snarking at Rudy Guiliani over a YouTube video in which he voices his support for the Second Amendment while acknowledging that no constitutional right is absolute. This point is made doubly ironic by the fact that Guiliani actually overstates the impact of Parker by implying that it generally guarantees a right to carry concealed. In the exchange, a citizen asked Mr. Guiliani the following (the question was cut off at the beginning):

…allow for regional differences. For example, New York City might be an area where you wouldn’t allow the Second Amendment to be enforced. To me that’s like saying someone is half pregnant. You either believe in it or you don’t, and I need to have a clear statement from you with respect to the Second Amendment.

To which Rootin’ Tootin’ Rudy responded:

Sure. The two things are not at all contradictory, in fact the two things are extremely consistent. All you have to do is read the decision of the DC Circuit two months ago, the Parker decision. The Parker decision, written by Judge … uh … Silberman, says the following, it states my view. The Second Amendment protects the right to bear arms It’s a personal right, you have that right, I can’t take it away from you, nobody else could take it away from you. There’d have to be a constitutional amendment to take it away from you, and nobody advocates that. What Judge Silberman says, however, is THAT the Second Amendment, which is equal to, in essence, the First Amendment right of free speech, the Fourth Amendment right to be free of free of unreasonable searches and seizures, is subject to reasonable limitations, just like all the other rights can have reasonable limitations. Some states can do more than others, but no state can take the right away. So a state like New York could want to have more restrictions than a state like New Hampshire. A state like Texas could want to have less. In the case … in that case, the District of Columbia put on too many restrictions, and the restrictions were declared unconstitutional. And, I mean, that’s just a statement of our constitutional law. We have basic rights, the states cannot take those basic rights away from you, but some states can legislate more aggressively than others, and we have the courts to protect us. So, in the case of the District of Columbia, they had virtually eliminated the ability of people to have concealed weapons. Completely. The court says that was unconstitutional. If the District of Columbia wanted to have limitations on concealed weapons, and they .. and they had those limitations involve people who committed crimes, people who were [sic] mental institutions, that would be OK. Some other states may not want to do that. But by going as far a they did, they violated the Second Amendment. And I think that’s the .. whether you have this position or not, that’s what the Constitution says, and I agree with it, and I think that’s the way we should approach it.

Taken at face value, this statement means that erstwhile gun control champion Rudolph Guiliani has completely reversed gears, and now believes that the Second Amendment requires either Vermont-style carry or shall issue in every state. Nobody tell Mr. Guiliani this, but Parker doesn’t actually endorse that view, and in fact contradicts it:

That is not to suggest that the government is absolutely barred from regulating the use and ownership of pistols. The protections of the Second Amendment are subject to the same sort of reasonable restrictions that have been recognized as limiting, for instance, the First Amendment. See Ward v. Rock Against Racism, 491 U.S. 781, 791 (1989) (“[G]overnment may impose reasonable restrictions on the time, place, or manner of protected speech . . . .”). Indeed, the right to keep and bear arms – which we have explained pre-existed, and therefore was preserved by, the Second Amendment – was subject to restrictions at common law. We take these to be the sort of reasonable regulations contemplated by the drafters of the Second Amendment. For instance, it is presumably reasonable “to prohibit the carrying of weapons when under the influence of intoxicating drink, or to a church, polling place, or public assembly, or in a manner calculated to inspire terror . . . .” State v. Kerner, 107 S.E. 222, 225 (N.C. 1921). And as we have noted, the United States Supreme Court has observed that prohibiting the carrying of concealed weapons does not offend the Second Amendment. Robertson, 165 U.S. at 281-82. Similarly, the Court also appears to have held that convicted felons may be deprived of their right to keep and bear arms. See Lewis v. United States, 445 U.S. 55, 65 n.8 (1980) (citing Miller, 307 U.S. at 178). These regulations promote the government’s interest in public safety consistent with our common law tradition. Just as importantly, however, they do not impair the core conduct upon which the right was premised.
[Emphasis added.]

So Guiliani over-interprets Parker, but no matter. What matters in his case is not so much what Parker actually says, as what Guiliani believes it says, and with which he “agrees.” This is the right-wing equivalent of the gun-grabber who “agrees” with the U.S. Supreme Court supposed ruling in Miller that the Second Amendment doesn’t mean anything; it tells you nothing about the actual case, but everything about the candidate. Coming from a federal candidate (and setting aside Guiliani’s own record, in the face of which this statement appears to fly), this statement is about as pro-Second Amendment as it gets.

So leave it to “Reason” to miss the issue entirely, as is its wont, fixating instead on the fact that Guiliani also acknowledges have leeway to allow more gun rights than the Second Amendment requires, should they choose to do so. From this we get the point-missing snarkline:

Load Up on Guns, Bring Your Friends (Offer Not Valid in All States)

If Mr. Weigel’s Reason-able point is that the Second Amendment or any other should be construed absolutely, that’s his position and he’s entitled to it, though query why he’s picking on Guiliani specifically for taking a position shared by all serious Presidential candidates on both sides of the aisle (not to mention all nine Supreme Court Justices). If that’s not his point, then what exactly is his objection to the fact that some states regulate guns to the full extent allowable by the Second Amendment, while others choose not to? It almost sounds as though Mr. Weigel is reading the Second Amendment the way BAMN and the ACLU read the Fourteenth, acting as though it requires what it barely permits.

Meanwhile, Bryan Preston make hay of the fact that a guy named Al Gore once chided a guy named President Bush for understating, rather than overstating, the threat Saddam Hussein posed to the outside world. This from the same guy who later criticized another guy, also called President Bush, for overstating in 10 years later! Hypocrite! Never mind that Saddam Hussein really did possess the vast quantities of WMD in 1992 that he really did not possess in 2002. Never mind that our intel really was wrong both times, first in underestimating his stockpile when he really had it, and later by erroneously “finding” it when he didn’t. No matter. All that matters is we have a video of the same guy criticizing two different people (albeit with similar-sounding names) for two different things at two different times. Neener.

June 13, 2007

ICDSoft – ¿No Más?

Filed under:   by Xrlq @ 8:29 pm

In the past, I’ve been a loyal customer and frequent advocate of ICDSoft. I’m not anymore. If you’re curious as to why, post a comment. Oh wait, I almost forgot: you can’t!

UPDATE: Turns out I’ll be staying with ICDSoft after all, at least for the time being. Bluehost was advertised on WordPress as offering transfer assistance, which turned out not to be so helpful after all. Meanwhile, someone from ICDSoft figured out that the original guy had acted like a jerk, and offered a more reasonable solution to the problem, which was spambots hitting my site heavily, not posting successfully as a result of Akismet, but nevertheless putting an unreasonable strain on the server. I’m trying all-registration comments now to see if that solves the problem.

UPDATE (6/25): Some people just don’t know when to leave bad enough alone. Get a load of the email I just got from their a-hole for hire, Zafir Slavov:

My name is Zafir Slavov and I am authorized to represent the Management of ICDSoft.

Recently, I found this post on your blog:

I wanted to clear out two points.

1. It seems you were not happy that your script was disabled.

Wrong. I understand why he disabled the script. What I’m not happy about was his being a jerk about it, and refusing even to try to help me find any solution at all, short of permanently disabling all comments.

The comment section of your site was causing high load on the server, thus affecting other 350 users on the same machine. The abuse team member who disabled your comments section and “acted like a jerk” was actually doing his job.

Really! So you actually pay people not only to monitor your site and take appropriate actions when necessary actions, but also pay them to send people snotty emails and refuse to help them? Nice work, if you can get it.

You can imagine how you would feel if you were one of these 350 affected customers: Your site is down, you contact the support staff, and you receive an answer – “Another customer on the same server is being spammed, we are waiting for him to resolve the problem, there is nothing else we can do”. I am sure that you will not be happy at all.
It is our job to assure the proper operation of the shared hosting servers, and this includes disabling of customer scripts which affect the server uptime and behaviour.

Neat, but it is also your job to help your customers keep their sites running, or at least not to actively prevent them from doing so.

2. The issue was with a third-party software – WordPress.

Which is just dandy if your formal policy is to prohibit users from maintaining weblogs. In which case, it would have been nice of you to say that a long time ago and saved me the trouble of ever using your company in the first place.

Our company vision and practice is to provide our customers with any help we can. This includes help and advises with third-party software. However, this is beyond the scope of our service and we are doing this just because we care about our customers Indeed, the abuse team member who disabled your comments section did not provide you with an advise how to solve the problem with comments spam, and we apologize for that. However, this is something which is beyond the scope of our service and actually you are calling him a “jerk” because he did not provide you with something which is not a part of our service.

Sorry, I didn’t realize that prohibiting people from making functional use of the most popular weblog tool on the planet is part of your service.

The abovementioned post on your blog throws dirt at ICDSoft, but it does not state any facts. I am asking you to either remove it, or post the whole story – that your comments section was disabled because it was causing high load on the server, thus affecting all customers, and that you are blaming us for not providing you with something which is not a part of our service.

Best regards,
Zafir Slavov

So by the guy’s own admission, there is nothing “factual” (and therefore, nothing wrong) with my post, but he wants it gone anyway because …. well, just because. Remember this the next time someone tries to sue ICDSoft for allegedly defamatory statements about anyone else.

June 10, 2007

Shotgun News

Filed under:   by Xrlq @ 9:55 pm

I’m generally more of a handgunner than anything else, and occasionally fire a rifle but almost never fire a shotgun. Today was the first exception in over a decade, when I met up with Counter Top at the Bull Run Public Shooting Center. He’s a regular skeeter, so it goes without saying that he kicked shot my ass. Kudos to Mr. Top for blogging about the event without gloating, as I’d almost certainly have done if our roles had been reversed.

June 9, 2007

Dooced in Reverse?

Filed under:   by Xrlq @ 4:50 pm

I know they call it doocing when one gets canned because of his blog. I’m not sure what to call it when things happen in reverse, i.e., when a totally crappy work situation just about causes you to “fire” your blog. That’s basically what happened over the past few months, and the reason why blogging has been so light. In a nutshell, I left a good job in California for what appeared to be an indistinguishable one in Virginia, only to find out soon after I began that my new boss was both a dumbass and a hardass, and that his boss, the General Counsel, apparently thinks he can do no wrong. I also learned that in addition to cycling through administrative staff too many times to count, my new idiot/asshole boss had managed to burn through four regulatory counsels in less than three years. Yesterday, I became number five.

For obvious reasons, this really, really sucks. Doubly so since one of the reasons we moved here was so we could afford to live on my salary alone. Now our family income is $0. Any possible job leads would be highly appreciated. Insurance regulatory law is my background, but I’m open to other options as well. Not wild about moving yet again, but if it happens it happens.

All whining ends now. As you were.

June 8, 2007

Dumbya Meme – It’s Not Just For Democrats Anymore

Filed under:   by Xrlq @ 2:05 pm

Time to quash this silly meme before it starts. Hillary Clinton may be a nasty person, and she may be a horrible Senator and a worse President, but the one thing she clearly isn’t is dumb. Democrats misunderestimated Dubya, and he ended up serving two terms in the White House. We can either learn from their mistakes the easy way or the hard way. Your call.


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