Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Which to ban first - Alcohol or Guns?

In 2006, an estimated 17,941 people died in alcohol related traffic accidents.  This relatively narrow measure of the likelihood of deaths involving alcohol comes out to about 60 deaths per 100,000 citizens (the average population of the US in 2006 was about 298,594,000).

The homicide by firearm death rate in the United States, from 2009, was 3.7 per 100,000 citizens.

You are about 16 times more likely to die as a result of an alcohol related traffic accident (to say nothing of other alcohol related crimes) than you are to be killed by someone else wielding a gun.

Since the discussion about gun control that has been re-ignited by the horrific shooting at Sandy Brook Elementary School in Newtown, CT has focused almost exclusively of the costs of gun ownership, and therefore, the benefit of banning them, what would a similar analysis lead us to do about alcohol?  We can even make many of the same flippant arguments marginalizing responsible alcohol users that we do responsible gun users.  We could say that alcohol is only useful for getting wasted.  That no one really needs alcohol nowadays anyway.  Some may say that they don't want to ban alcohol entirely, but only want to restrict access to high power liquor - assault liquor, if you will.  Every single argument made to dismiss the virtues of gun ownership could be made in the same spirit to dismiss the virtues of drinking.  So if one is fine with the alcohol, while simultaneously arguing for a new era of gun prohibition, maybe they're more motivated by personal preferences and moral judgments (guns bad, alcohol OK) than they are a dispassionate analysis of the facts.

(And if the natural response to this is to protest that we tried alcohol prohibition and it was a massive failure: GOOD! That's thinking about more than just the benefits of prohibition.  Now we can start having a more serious discussion than what's going on in popular media (and, apparently, college basketball press conferences).)

Friday, November 02, 2012

Evaluating Coaching: Identifying the Inputs and Outputs

Note: this post ended up being way too long.  If you want to get to the point, just skip down to the section on recruiting.

So we're back to bickering over a coach at NC State, this time (again?) it's football coach Tom O'Brien.  One of the must frustrating aspects about these debates, if one can call them that, is that people argue past each other over issues that shouldn't matter.  Which I why I wanted to list out things that I hear people argue about, and give my thoughts on whether or not a coach should be held to them.  The idea being that many factors are inputs into the program.  They may well have great effect on how successful the program is.  But we only should care about the outputs - the results the program generates (obviously some outputs may be inputs themselves to other outputs).  And obviously some outputs are more important that others.

Primary Outputs

1. Winning - This has to be one of the primary factors when evaluating a coach.  How much does the program win?  Now what level of success is expected may be judged against expectations, but you have to win.  At NC State, this probably means (in my opinion, judging from our past) consistent trips to bowl games, with an expectation to win most of them.  Hopefully to good bowl games.  Every now and then, the pieces should fall into place that send us to a high tier bowl game (see 2002/03).

We can debate what level of winning should be expected from our program, but no one can debate that it matters.

2. Ethics - Cheating, whether literally in the game, or off the field academically, cannot be tolerated.  Compliance rules must be adhered to.  A focus on good citizenship must be maintained.  Game decisions should adhere to the common understanding of sportsmanship.

Secondary Outputs

1. Entertainment value - This one drives me nuts.  This was particularly contentious in the debate over he-who-shall-not-be-named (HWSNBN).  Many fans found HWSNBN's approach to offense unbearable.  But at times, State succeeded, indeed improving under the change in offense (and with the addition of a key assistant), to the best of HWSNBN's tenure.  I thought it was ridiculous to find in the way the team played a reason to can the coach.  If the program is producing enough of the primary outputs, entertainment value should not be considered.  We've never had the luxury of risking a winning coach on another coach who may win satisfactorily and also has the team playing in an exciting fashion.  When Sidney Lowe replaced HWSNBN, he promised a style much more along the lines of what the average fan wanted, but couldn't produce the wins.  Even with all that said, if the program is at the margin in primary output, considering secondary outputs may come into play.  All else being equal, I'd like to see a more entertaining style of play than not.  But above all, I want to see wins.  Are we seeing this come into play with Tom O'Brien?  I don't know.  I do hear a lot about how we look in games, but unless we're all agreed on whether the primary outputs are sufficient, why are we discussing secondary outputs?

2. Coach's charisma/personality - This is similar to entertainment value, but at NC State, we love to have a coach that represents our passion.  Ever since the high-water mark in this regard in Jim Valvano, coaches in the major sports have fell under a long shadow.  While I think we largely appreciated the caretaker role Les Robinson filled while guiding us through the wilderness, going from him to the vanilla HWSNBN was almost a slap in the face.  O'Brien suffers from many of the same problems, but has bolstered his appeal with the fans by defending the integrity of the university as a whole from attacks, most notably from UNC interim head coach Everett Wthers.  Still, this seems even less important than the style of play on the field, and it seems hard to imagine getting to the point where this should be a deciding factor in retaining a coach.


1. Recruiting - Ok, I admit that I've buried the lede.  Seriously, I probably should have just posted, "Don't evaluate a coach for recruiting.  Evaluate a coach for whether he wins.  Recruiting is just an input!" and saved a lot of time.  Kudos to the two of you who got this far.  But this is the most important point.  People keep complaining about O'Brien's recruiting, bringing it up as a reason unto itself to not retain him.  To which I emphatically respond: WHAT MATTERS IS WINNING (WITH CLASS).  Yes, recruiting obviously matters a great deal as to whether you win.  But whether you win is what's important!  If you can't make the argument to fire a coach based on the outputs of the program, then you have no argument!  None!  O'Brien's protest that "staaahs" don't matter will be borne out in whether we win or lose.  This is an election season, so the analogy is obvious: this is just like deciding the president based on polling conducted before the election!

2. Everything else you could possibly think of - It's either an input or it's not.  Either way, it's not a part of the discussion.

Discussion point - Facilities: input or output?

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Random Thought on the NCAA and the Federal Reserve

If I may draw an off-the-wall comparison, I think there are two organizations that are rarely thought of together but bear some similarities.  Both are autonomous, secretive, and their actions and decisions are scrutinized by a captive group of smaller institutions.

They are the Federal Reserve and the NCAA.  Somehow in my mind, I made a connection between the PSU penalties and the bailouts of companies like Goldman Sachs.  In both cases, the Authority acted of its own volition, with differing degrees of legitimacy, but in a way that had critics warning of setting a precedent.  Without getting into the relative wisdom of either decision (I'm much more sympathetic to the punishment Penn State to be sure), both decisions left it open to discussion: is this how the Authority will respond in the future?

Which lead me to another comparison: Lehman Brothers and UNC.  Now there are some reasons within the logic of the bailouts themselves that Lehman (or their creditors) were not worthy of rescue.  I also have to imagine that the Fed really does acknowledge, however inadequately, the notion of moral hazard.  But maybe it's just that when you have indiscriminate power, acting with unpredictability _enhances_ the sway you have.  In either case, when many people were saying, "You just have to bailout Lehman, after all, you bailed out AIG and Goldman," it was precisely for that reason the Fed _couldn't_.

So now wihtin the same calendar year, just like 2008, the Authority is witholding action while people are screaming, "You took out Penn State, what about UNC!?"  Perhaps they're making the same pointed show of their sovereign discretion.  Either way, the member institutions are drowing in the same sea of unpredictability.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Open Letter to Michael Barone

This was an email I typed up but the form at TownHall.com didn't allow enough space.  It was in response to his statements during a Cato forum on David Lampo's book: http://www.amazon.com/Fundamental-Freedom-Republicans-Conservatives-Libertarians/dp/1442215712/ref=la_B006INUPGC_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1343049119&sr=1-1

Subject: Cato Forum - Thank You

This is one of those issues on which I think I have a unique perspective.  As a North Carolinian, I saw all this play out in great detail in blogs, Facebook posts, newspaper columns, bumper stickers, billboards, etc.  I myself voted against the constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage recognition, but I'm very close to many who voted for it.  Because I'm also a Christian and a member of a very theologically conservative church.

I consider myself a classical liberal, and while it's not a classical position, I take the libertarian position that the state should not be deciding  what marriage is.  Of course, the libertarian ideal is not realistic, so I think the next-best course of action is to extend marriage recognition.  As you can imagine, my view was not the prevalent view among my fellow congregants.  But I know well their hearts, and what they ultimately want is what I want: that the glory and grace of God be demonstrated and that many more will come to believe in Jesus Christ as their savior.  We just have different views of what the goal of civil society should be.

So when the word "hate" was quick on the lips of many of the opponents of the amendment, I took great offense to this.  I didn't let it sway my vote, as my vote was formed in my conscience, but it did lead me to expend time and emotional energy defending my brethren.  Time that may have been spent doing more to support the opposition.

I don't think I'm alone in support of these positions amongst religiously conservative Christians.  Indeed, David Lampo pointed out evidence to that fact.  But the Christians at the margin of this issue will not likely be swayed by hearing themselves and their brethren called hateful.  This is a severe miscalculation, if not an unfair slander.

So thank you.  Thank you very, very much for taking seriously the opponents of SSM.  Not that there are none hateful, but that it is only fair to presume their good faith.

Feel free to share this email if you are so inclined.

John Covil

Friday, June 15, 2012

Classic American Hypocrisy

Clinton: no return on Egypt democracy
"Even if they are temporary, they appear to expand the power of the military to detain civilians and roll back their civil liberties," [Hillary] Clinton said of the [ruling military] decrees.

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

The Justice of Unenforced Laws


Bryan Caplan has been carrying on an interesting discussion of gender equality, liberty and marriage law with Jason Kuznicki. That post makes a handful of points about the libertarian response to things like coverture (a legal arrangement of marriage in which a woman surrenders some autonomy in legal matters). Without getting into all the points that he's making, he does say the following about what the response to what bad laws should be:

3. Degree of enforcement. Suppose the government has one unalterable definition of marriage, and officially bans all other arrangements resembling marriage. If it strictly enforces its laws, then this is very coercive indeed. The less it's enforced, the less coercive it becomes. At the other extreme, if the laws against other arrangements are never enforced, then it's hard to see the big deal. Virginia still officially bans cohabitation. But since the law is a dead letter, it's no more than mildly coercive.

Here I have a small quibble. There is a harmful effect of unenforced/unenforceable laws that's not mentioned here. Maybe it doesn't rise to the level of a "big deal," but it's still there. Unenforced laws restrict freedom unequally. They only affect the behavior of the conscientiously law abiding. Consider 1 Peter 2:13:

Therefore submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake, whether to the king as supreme, (NKJV)
It doesn't say to obey only laws believed to be just. Now those who actively, if imperfectly, try to live out this principle may be in a small minority (and may do so for any number of reasons not limited to living Biblically), but it does mean that some of us alter our behavior against our 'druthers based on laws that we find unwise for any number of reasons, whether practical or principled or both. One can imagine a law that outlawed, for instance, ice cream consumption as being very anti-liberty. However, if the law is not enforced at all, there are still those who feel compelled to obey it and limit an otherwise innocent pleasure.

Taking it just a bit further, I also have to wonder if having a legal code filled with well-known, but wholly ignored laws, would engender in society a blase attitude towards following the law. "If I think it's right and I don't get caught, what's the harm?"

Friday, February 10, 2012

Freedom of Conscience for Me but not for Thee

I've been thinking about this issue for a while since it's come to light. Roman Catholics, and much more of the general public, were rightly outraged when the Obama administration ruled that religious institutions, unless they exclusively served members of their own religion, would be required to offer health care coverage that would include contraception and abortifacients. This is, of course, in direct contradiction to Catholic teaching, and the reaction was swift and severe. Priests and Bishops took to the pulpit to denounce the policy, and even reliably liberal Catholic Democrats were critical.

All this raises one question: where was the outrage before the policy was announced? Before today's reversal by the Obama administration, I started wondering what would have happened if the very narrow exemption the administration originally crafted, which would have exempted churches themselves, but likely not schools and hospitals, had been expanded to include all religious institutions that might morally object to providing such cover? Would they have been satisfied? I take the Freedom of Religion very, very seriously. I believe it is of the utmost importance, and among the most important causes for American identity and independence. But why should the freedom of conscience of religious institutions only be protected? What if I were an employer, and held such drugs in similar esteem? Why should the violence of the State be used to force me to supply those things to my employees, when it does not do so for others?

Aside: those who cast this whole debate as an issue involving the freedom of women to use contraception are so totally mistaken, it should be laughable. The supply of such things on the open market is not at stake here. But it should be not be surprising that people who regularly wrap affirmative/positive rights in the language of the negative rights upon which this nation was founded would be confused on the matter. Suffice it to say that my refusal to give you something is not in limiting your freedom to have it.

Anyway, we shall see if the bellicose rhetoric from the Catholic pulpit persists. The administration has changed the policy, in light of opposition, to exempt religious institutions from providing coverage including the offending items and forcing insurers to provide it for free. In other words, we will all pay (since we will be legally obliged to buy from the existing insurance cartel or the coming exchanges). Having acquired their exemption, I wonder if they will let the issue go. The shame is that it took getting to this point to make plain to people the disharmony that comes from using violence to force people to betray their values. Yet that is the nature of government action when it extends beyond the core principles upon which it was established. We see it all the time, most notably in government schools, where battles are raged over what should be taught, what dress should be allowed, what should be served in the cafeteria, etc. But healthcare extends the battlefield. Mortgage financing extends the battlefield. Industrial policy extends the battlefield. Every reach of government into different areas of life means an erosion of organization through voluntary agreement. Even forgetting the lessons of public choice, with the concentrated benefits and diffuse costs and the bootlegger/Baptists paradigms, inevitably, political choice means forcing people to violate their own choice. Choices sometimes found in avarice or simple pursuit of pleasure, but other times found in deep seated beliefs and values that no other man can extirpate.

The contraception ruling brought a renewed awareness of all this to a lot of people. I hope today's "resolution" doesn't satisfy their concerns and push them back onto the sidelines.

image used under Creative Commons license. Link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Palm-sunday-latin-mass.jpg