Monthly Archives: December 2010

After this, people were saying that it’s the kind of play you only get away with once. For that school, maybe, but apparently Euless Trinity in Texas (the same state as before), didn’t get the message:

This was a more transparent play than the middle school one in Corpus Christi. The object of confusion was almost certainly the fact that the offensive line was in a standing position. I found the Driscoll play to be more problematic because it’s the kind of thing where a defense is much more likely to be reasonably afraid to tackle the player for fear of an unsportsmanlike penalty. In this case, it’s hard to imagine that after the proper snap that they would be penalized even if it were a mistake.

Category: Theater

Category: Theater

Last season, three of the four fattest coaches in FBS (Division I-A, the highest division) college football were fired (Mike Mangino during the season, Weiss and Leach after). This year, the last of the four, Ralph Friedgen, was let go. When Mangino was fired, I wrote the following:

People are willing to put up with a lot when you’re winning or doing a great job. Texas Tech coach Mike Leach can be a weird Mormon Pepperine Law graduate in a part of the country that doesn’t think a whole lot of Mormons and educated people, but as long as he is winning, nobody will care. That’s not to say that it won’t hurt your career when it comes to advancement (like Mangino, Leach doesn’t get the job offers his records would indicate), but you’re not going to lose your job over it without some other justification.

Unfortunately, this applies not only to people with significant attitude problems, but people that for no fault of their own defy people’s perceptions of what they should be. This is where Mangino’s weight comes in. The guy does not look like a coach. He looks like somebody whose only exposure to sports is getting hot and sweaty when standing up to cheer for a team from a college that he never went to.

Of course, people look at the fact that there are obese coaches and black coaches* and suggest this proves that there is no discrimination going on. And further, if Kansas was willing to hire an obese guy, they’re not going to fire someone for being obese, are they? Most likely not. But that doesn’t mean that he is necessarily going to be given the same opportunity to succeed and the same margin of failure.

I didn’t realize at the time that Mike Leach (who was actually the fourth most overweight coach, though to be fair the other three are in a class all my themselves in terms of sheer volume) was going to be fired at the end of the season. Here is a rundown of the success level of each of the four coaches involves:

  • Mike Mangino – He had a .510 winning percentage, which is higher than any coach since the 1940’s at Kansas. He produced the first 10-win season in the program’s history, going 12-1 in 2007. In seven seasons, he produced four of the team’s nine winning seasons in the last thirty years. His successor, Turner Gill, posted a 3-9 record this season.
  • Charlie Weiss – He was marginally less successful than his two most recent predecessors, posting a .564 winning percentage compared to .583 for Ty Willingham and Bob Davie. His successor, Brian Kelly, posted a 6-6 record this season (bowl game pending).
  • Mike Leach – He had a .661 winning percentage, the highest Texas Tech has had since the 1940’s when they were in the Border Conference when they were playing West Texas State and Arizona State Teacher’s College–Flagstaff. He posted 8 or more wins in eight of his ten seasons (a feat only accomplished three other times since 1975) and the program’s only 10+ win season (11-2 in 2008). His successor, Tommy Tuberville, has a 7-5 record this season (bowl game pending).
  • Ralph Friedgen – He had a .596 winning percentage, the best the Maryland program has seen since the early 80’s. He was the ACC Coach of the Year this year.

So were these coaches fired for being fat? Not in any individual case. Even so, it’s quite interesting that only the Weiss firing seems strictly justified. Also noteworthy is that Leach and Mangino, despite their extraordinary success, were both regularly passed over when it came to better job opportunities. On the other hand, Maryland seems poised to replace Friedgen with Leach, suggesting that extra heft doesn’t bother them.

With the exception of Weiss (again), they all had another thing in common besides their girth: they didn’t fit in. Mike Leach was not west Texas material. The administration there technically fired him due to some allegations of player mistreatment, but internal memos surfaced that they wanted to fire him the season after he posted the best record Texas Tech has ever seen. Being slim wouldn’t have helped him much, but being less odd would have. He wasn’t the good ole boy that the program wanted. All he did was win games. The same applies to Mangino, whose feat was far more impressive than Leach’s, in my opinion. Neither fit the mold of being the good old ball coach, which both programs believed they were entitled to. Friedgen, on the other hand, very much fits that profile and were he not from New York (and perhaps not so heavy) would almost be exactly what Texas Tech would have looked for. But they wanted the very thing that Texas Tech detested in Leach: a spark of the odd. Someone that draws fans. Because of this, one imagines that they will give Leach more leeway than Friedgen and Texas Tech will give the slim and accented Tommy Tuberville a few more losses than they gave Leach.

Coming from a school with a sporadic football tradition at best, this whole thing is pretty alien to me. In fact, I tend to root against programs that pull stunts like this. Firing a good coach not because they couldn’t win but because they didn’t fit some pre-conceived role of what a coach should be. Absent actual misconduct, let the coach be a Mormon Pirate or a tub of lard.

Ultimately, though, the coaches often seem to become victims of their own success. The schools start thinking that the victories are owed to them. They take them for granted and start thinking that it’s the greatness of the institution and the program rather than the efforts of a single coach. And taking the wins for granted, they start becoming more concerned with how they win. So they become embarrassed by Mike Leach’s defense, or lack thereof (there’s no accident that they hired a defensive coach as his replacement), not thinking that it might be hard to recruit great defensive players to Lubbock. They wonder why Friedgen isn’t drawing from the fickle fan base in Maryland*, nevermind that it’s the fickleness of the fanbase that’s part of the problem. They start thinking that they can get a winning coach with a winning personality, forgetting that any such coach is not likely to want a whole lot to do with them.

Of course, such thinking can really lead you astray. Southern Tech ran into this when, after a string of success with innovative coaches with innovative offenses, the administration started wondering why they couldn’t win the old fashioned way. After years of mediocrity, they found out that the success was not owed to the Packers but was a product of coaches finding the right formula for the right school and changing that formula meant futile efforts to try to out-recruit programs with athletics budgets twice our size. When it happens to other schools, I get a feeling of schadenfreude. Kinda sucked when it happened to mine, though**.

* – I shouldn’t pick on Maryland too much, since the coach they seem to be eyeing is a coach that may well help with attendance and they seem more aware that they need the trickery and weirdness to draw fans and win because they’re not going to do it based on Terp tradition and fanbase. It’s really Kansas that I believe misread the situation the most. Texas Tech falls somewhere in between.

** – The fiasco started before I enrolled, but I happened to be there during the nadir. My high school and college teams both went winless in conference/district my senior years.

Category: Theater

This actually isn’t hypothetical, because it happened to a classmate in my college phys-ed class. About a third of our grade was based on overall physical fitness (our ability to run the mile-and-a-half, life weights, and so on), a third based on participation (were you at least trying?) and a third based on classroom work. That second part was also based on physical fitness, to some extent, because you started getting docked whenever you stopped jogging or when you had to call it quits for lack of physical fitness. The classwork was dreadfully easy. Obviously, for someone not in good physical shape, the fitness tests were hard.

My friend-for-a-class Ned was in overall pretty good shape (well, much better shape than me – and I was not a smoker at the time). The thing is that he was a smoker. He could start and stop at will and so for the fitness tests (most specifically the running test which was the hardest) he would actually stop smoking for a few days before the run. So on the jogging test, he kicked my posterior and actually came in 7th (out of 30). He beat me by some margin on every physical test.

When we got our grades, though, I got a B- and he got a C. When he talked to the instructor about this (I was with him to verify that we showed the same effort in class), she said that she docked him because he was a smoker. She’d seen him smoking first thing after class or before class. He smelled of the stuff. In her mind, his smoking was indicative of a lack of commitment to physical health. Ned’s counterpoint was that it was none of her business. He ran the laps, lifted the weights, and did everything he was expected to do. On what basis could she dock him points? She said that his “participation” grade was low because he really wasn’t giving it his all (usually working at the same pace that I did). If it weren’t for the cigarettes, she said, he could have done more. And since smoking was his choice, he lost participation points. And yet I (Will) didn’t, Ned argued, despite showing the exact same effort.

The difference, she argued, was that what was a greater effort for me was less of an effort for him. It’s graded on a curve.

He argued that he was then being punished for being in shape (in terms of effort) more than I was being punished for being out of shape (in terms of fitness challenge performance).

She shrugged it off, saying that physical fitness was about appreciating your body and that there was no sign that somebody didn’t appreciate their body like smoking, and so ultimately he deserved a worse grade than he got. Did he want that? The conversation ended there.

So, the question is, should phys-ed be able to punish someone for being a smoker if it doesn’t show up in their ability to practice and perform? Even though I later became a smoker, I can actually somewhat appreciate her perspective on the matter. Smoking, as compared to excess weight (my problem at the time) is a more binary decision. And as difficult as it is to quit smoking, the quit-success is much higher for smoking than dieting is for overweight people.

On the other hand, it seemed pretty apparent to me that this declaration was pretty arbitrary. She was punishing him for a habit that he found disgusting. Nowhere was it written down that smokers are penalized (beyond the physical toll it takes). Presumably, if it had been written down, he would have at least taken more care not to show up smelling like smoke. Maybe he should have done that anyway to be considerate, but being considerate is not a factor in his grade.

Of course, all of this comes back to the difficulty when it comes to grading people in PE. In no other college course is “effort” graded directly, nor should it be. Or maybe it is, since that’s what attendance grades and a lot of homework assignments are. Ultimately, though, most of your grade is supposed to come from the degree to which you demonstrate mastery over the subject matter. That’s hard to do for PE because you can understand the subject matter of running very, very well and yet still not be able to do it. It’s difficult to make up for lack of ability (over the course of a single semester) with determination and discipline. Most classes, determination and discipline are going to be, if not sufficient to overcome all, at least sufficient to overcome some of it.

And, ultimately, being able to run the 1.5-mile over a period of time isn’t really what people go to college for. Even classes like Comparative Folk Dancing offer something in terms of learning how to communicate ideas (regardless of the frivolity of the subject-matter). I suppose the ability to take care of oneself physically does matter to future employers, but that has to be viewed as a lifetime project and not something you’re going to pick up in class. It’s easy to translate term papers into something useful in the business world, but more difficult to translate squats.

All of this is of course contingent on viewing college as vocational training. I suppose if you disagree with that on a fundamental level, you can view phys-ed as a more abstract good. Of course, those that view college as a sort of a self-improvement thing apart from vocational training are also the types who hate jocks for all of the wedgies they got when they were younger.

When it pays for something to be wrong with the kid, you’re often going to find something wrong with the kid.

An interesting story from the Boston Globe:

Geneva Fielding, a single mother since age 16, has struggled to raise her three energetic boys in the housing projects of Roxbury. Nothing has come easily, least of all money.

Even so, she resisted some years back when neighbors told her about a federal program called SSI that could pay her thousands of dollars a year. The benefit was a lot like welfare, better in many ways, but it came with a catch: To qualify, a child had to be disabled. And if the disability was mental or behavioral — something like ADHD — the child pretty much had to be taking psychotropic drugs.

Fielding never liked the sound of that. She had long believed too many children take such medications, and she avoided them, even as clinicians were putting names to her boys’ troubles: oppositional defiant disorder, depression, ADHD. But then, as bills mounted, friends nudged her about SSI: “Go try.’’

Eventually she did, putting in applications for her two older sons. Neither was on medications; both were rejected. Then last year, school officials persuaded her to let her 10-year-old try a drug for his impulsiveness. Within weeks, his SSI application was approved.

“To get the check,’’ Fielding, 34, has concluded with regret, “you’ve got to medicate the child.’’

There is nothing illegal about what Fielding did — and a lot that is perhaps understandable for a mother in her plight. But her worries and her experience capture, in one case, how this little-scrutinized $10 billion federal disability program has gone seriously astray, becoming an alternative welfare system with troubling built-in incentives that risk harm to children.

I suppose it’s only a sense of ethics that would prevent Fielding from simply throwing the drugs away (and the law from selling them). It’s an interesting dilemma. I don’t have any problem helping out parents with kids that have disabilities. My ex-sorta Delsie ended up marrying a man with a disabled (like, seriously disabled) daughter and even though she’s very positive and upbeat it sounds like a real handful. And really expensive.

Of course, when you implement these programs you always have to be on the lookout for perverse incentives. Whether Fielding is genuinely doing wrong or not is unsure. That’s part of the problem when it comes to issues like ADHD, depression, and other things. With Down Syndrome, it’s an up-or-down thing. A kid with serious autism pretty obviously has something abnormal about them. But a lot of psychological issues are difficult to nail down. There’s no good blood-test and brainscans and the like are expensive and as much a product of learning about disorder (through subjective diagnosis) than objective diagnosis. This has (unfortunately) lead some to believe that the entire disorder (ADHD in this case) is really a “disorder” or simply a product of or metaphor for our times. Or that it’s simply a matter of laziness.

Daniel Carlat is a doctor frustrated with parents coming to him for the reasons cited in the Globe article:

As a psychiatrist besieged by patients asking me to diagnose them with ADHD so that they can get a prescription for Ritalin, I both agree and disagree with Dr. Klass. Yes, there are clearly some patients at the extreme end of the severity spectrum whose brains simply won’t allow them to focus. These are the patients who end up being enrolled in all the “convincing” neurobiology studies outlined by Klass — the studies that suggest that ADHD might involve frontal lobe problems and dopamine deficiencies. But for every child or adult with obvious ADHD, I suspect there are several who have a “soft” or even, yes, a “mythical” version of the disorder.

The prototypical mythical case is the parent of an ADHD child who comes into my office saying that he or she tried their child’s Ritalin and found that suddenly they were incredibly productive at work. “I think I must have ADHD, doc.”

I then have to explain that Ritalin is a version of that old college term-paper completion engine — speed — and that studies show that just about anybody who takes an ADHD drug thinks more quickly and focuses more acutely. That doesn’t mean you have ADHD.

But what does? The inability to really answer that question is as much the problem as SSI, video games, medication nation, and a host of other things. That doesn’t, as Carlat notes, make it entirely mythical. But the ambiguity of it all is pretty problematic. It can be an attractive excuse for failure for some. If your kid having ADHD or not having ADHD is the difference between a few hundred dollars a month and better medical care, it’s not difficult for even honest and well-intentioned parent to determine that their kids probably have it. The ambiguity around diagnosis may make it hard for a psychiatrist to argue otherwise (and they can always find another psychiatrist if they do). It’s really not surprising that people would respond to these incentives. Some are dishonest, some are conflicted like Fielding, but a lot will simply believe what it is advantageous to believe.

Category: Hospital, Statehouse

Inspired by Ms Nomore, a collection of shows I greatly enjoyed in my younger years.

For a cartoon, it actually had a pretty fleshed-out world. A bit of the Freak of the Weak plotting, but fun nonetheless. I’m afraid to go back and watch any of it for fear that my fond memories will be tarnished.

Who couldn’t like a kid show about war? I watched a few of my favorite episodes in the run-up to going to see the movie and was pretty deflated by what I saw. It’s amazing the mundane stuff that will touch a child’s imagination. But seriously, who couldn’t like a kid show with guns and crossfire (that never seemed to hit anyone, but still)?

Nothing more need be said.

My friend Clint and I used to watch this one for reasons I do not recall. It was on, I suppose, and Tiffany Brissette and Emily Schulman each became kind of cute, each in their own way. Brissette became a 700 Club Christian. The last I ever saw of Schulman was flipping through channels on Dr Quinn Medicine Woman.

I still play the old Nintendo game from time to time. Darkwing was the inspiration behind the design of a superhero I drew up in junior high.

I was big into private investigators and Chip and Dale were two of my favorite Disney characters, so this was a pretty natural match.

They cracked me up. Still do.

Category: Theater has an amazingly harsh article on Mother Theresa. There are two main things it focuses on. The one it spends the most time on is their perception that she was willing to overlook certain abuses from people who treated her well – Indira Gandhi’s imposition of martial law in India in 1975, the son Sanjay’s program of sterilization for the poor, and the Haitian Duvalier regime given as examples. I’m sure there are other details involved, and I’m sure that she (like many people at the time, and similar to the way in which Castro and Chavez routinely have managed to pull the wool over idiotic hollyweird celebrities with more teeth than brain cells) was duped and would probably have said differently had she not been on the wrong side of the dog-and-pony show.

The second point on which it attacks her is the fact that, following the 1971 war which created Bangladesh, she called out for thousands of raped women not to abort the resulting fetuses. This is one of the ongoing items which tends to be a very hard question to answer: should abortion be allowed/encouraged for a woman impregnated as the result of rape?

The question itself lends a hint as to why it is so hard to answer. The circumstances – the rape, the condition of the mother following rape, the fact that the pregnancy will inevitably remind the woman of what happened in a very obvious way – are nothing but grotesque. Depending on one’s beliefs, the options are no less vile.

On the one hand, you might believe (as do most religions) that “human life begins at conception.” In this case, there are a few very ugly points to consider:
1 – Having to carry to term (or even just long enough for a caesarean or induced labor) means the constant reminder of what happened, which may drive the mother to self-destructive acts, possibly up to suicide.
2 – On the belief that the fetus deserves the full rights of any human being, and as a baby is innocent of the circumstances of its conception, ending its life is at worst outright murder and at best the killing of one innocent to try to save the life of another victim.
The question from this perspective then becomes: what is the risk to the mother, and what are the chances the fetus/baby can be carried to term and then given some form of a life (foster/adoption care, etc) to live?

On the other hand, you might believe (as a sizable portion of the population does) that human life begins at some arbitrary point; when the heart first beats, brainwaves first appear, “when it could survive outside the womb” (which keeps getting earlier and earlier as medical technology advances, and may eventually reach the point where an “artificial womb” could raise a human from zygote to birth without the need of a mother at all), or so on. In that case, the calculation inevitably turns to “get rid of it before it reaches that point, since it was forced into the mother against her will.”

To my perspective, none of the options are (at present time) particularly appealing. Bad choices tend to stem from bad circumstances, and these being particularly bad circumstances, I’m not sure that an agreement could ever be fully reached on the “right” thing to do in general. I don’t necessarily think that her calling out to try to prevent the abortions was either evil, or unjustified (especially by the teachings of her church). Neither am I fully convinced that removing the option entirely, especially for those who might be driven to desperate measures, is necessarily the wisest course.

Category: Church

Maria commented:[I]t’s pretty lousy for [banks] to tell customers these new efficiencies [such as ATMs] would make banking cheaper as well as easier, and then, once customers got hooked on them, start charging for them.

This reminds me of a trick the Delosa Toll Road Authority kept playing.

Step 1: Human toll collectors, inefficient because you had to pay people to man them. So, in the name of efficiency, they replaced them with…

Step 2: Automated tolls, which accepted dollar bills and change. However, the dollar-slots were pretty crappy back then with all but the most crisp bills being spit back out. This lead to congestive back-ups and having to hire people to help get people through. So they had to raise prices again, before deciding…

Step 3: Pull out the dollar machines and replace them with correct-change buckets and… human toll collectors again. This was going to be more efficient, except that they lead to price increases because of all the people had to be hired back. So they went to…

Step 4: Quickthru tags, which automated everything by charging-by-scanner. This was absolutely great for regular tollway users who would no longer even have to stop. It was worth it for even irregular ones to use them if they used the tollways even periodically. These didn’t require people manning booths or machines and so was more efficient, until…

Step 5: Complaints about account-upkeep, which necessitated a monthly fee to use these tags that were going to be way more efficient, which then caused…

Step 6: People to cancel their accounts, forget that they had done so, and accidentally drive through the Quickthru lanes (or people who couldn’t get over into the right lane). Allegedly poor compliance with fines lead to shortfalls, which had to be made up for with increased rates for those that actually had the Quickthru tags. But with the account fees and fines, they still found it worthwhile to make…

Step 7: All new toll roads were made Quickthru-only and entrances to High-Occupancy-Toll lanes were put right on the freeway so if you were in the wrong lane, before you knew it you were in a HOT lane and subject to the fines that they had to raise toll rates for due to the allegedly poor compliance.

Truth be told, I can’t really complain about the toll rates in and around Colosse. They’re not all that bad. And if they would have simply said “We need to raise rates to pay for the roads” or “We need to raise rates to reduce congestion” I actually would have understood. The congestion on tollways is of course better than regular freeways, but could use some cleaning up with even more high prices. I just found it aggravating that they kept reframing it as they were doing these things to make things more convenient for us.

Category: Road

For those of you that don’t know, Cam Newton is the Heisman-winning quarterback for Auburn. However, some scandal has been following Newton due to his father (allegedly) soliciting money from Mississippi State in order for his son to go there (before Cam selected Auburn). The NCAA ruled that since it was Cam’s father, Cecil, who solicited the money, Cam’s eligibility should not be threatened. This ruling has been met with objections far and wide because people believe (a) Cam totally knew about it, (b) even if he didn’t he should be responsible for the actions of his father or (c) this sets a dangerous precedent wherein top-flight recruits can stay clean as long as they get their father to do their bidding for them.

The first argument, quite simply, lacks any proof. You may not need to prove it beyond a reasonable doubt as you would in court, but you do need something other than an emphatic totally.

On the second argument, some have argued that if USC can be penalized for actions that they were not directly a part of (Reggie Bush was given the frills by boosters) then Cam Newton ought to be similarly penalized. The distinction I see here is that USC is a large university with millions of dollars at its disposal while Cam Newton is a kid with a mischievous father. It is reasonable, in my view, to hold USC to a higher standard. If you give universities flexibility, they can come up with extremely elaborate ways to funnel money to their student athletes (many suspect they already do) with plausible deniability. The Newtons, while not poor (Cam’s brother is in the NFL) simply don’t have those kind of resources at their disposal. And most players, unlike Cam Newton, do not have siblings in the NFL. And because USC has these resources at their disposal, it is less unreasonable for them to be on top of what their student athletes (and their families) are up to.

The third argument is the strongest. Even if there aren’t sibling-professionals, it’s not hard to imagine kids getting some sort of intermediary with less to lose. However, there are two reasons as to why we should not fear it in this case. First, there is no proof that Cam knew what his father was up to, nor is there any reason to believe that even if he didn’t he should have. Had Cam committed to Mississippi State and had he suddenly been driving a new maroon Land Rover, then there would be reason to believe that he ought to have known something was up and if you don’t punish him for knowing before hand, you punish him for not coming forward afterward. I would still feel bad for Cam in this case since he would have to choose between ruining his college’s athletics program and relationship with his father and continued eligibility, but it would still be his decision to make.

Not only is there no proof that Cam knew about it, but there’s no proof that payments were ever received. More than “no proof”, I don’t actually think any were. Cecil Newton was enthusiastic about allowing the NCAA to look over his financial records, which suggests to me that he probably has nothing to hide. Perhaps he squirrelled the money away somewhere, but that defeats the purpose of getting the money since Cam is about to become a multimillionaire NFL player. So why take the chance for money you’re not going to be able to touch until your family is swimming in it? Unless, of course, he’s worried that Cam is not going to share the wealth, in which case it becomes probably the case that Cam didn’t know about it (if he and his father are not that close).

What I suspect happened is that Cam was leaning towards Auburn (by far a better football program than MSU) and either he decided that his mind might be changed for the right payoff or that Cecil was running his own scam and had little idea of where Cam was going.

So how do you prevent this from happening in the future? By keeping an eye on the situation and coming down hard on Auburn if they made (or should have known about) any payments. Since Cecil appealed directly to Mississippi State rather than boosters, if Auburn is complicit then it seems likely that they were pretty directly involved. Ultimately, though, you go after those with the most to lose. That’s not Cam Newton, in this case. If he had been declared ineligible for the SEC championship, he would still be a millionaire by the next draft. If he had been caught at the outset and not able to play, the kid is talented enough that he would still have a shot at the NFL through backchannels. What, are they going to penalize him for taking money for playing football? Meanwhile, you can come down pretty hard on Auburn (though, preferably, not by vacating wins but instead limiting scholarships and postseason play) in a way that matters to them.

This fear may have actually played a role in Mississippi State taking a pass on Newton. Or maybe they just didn’t have the money.

In the end, without some sort of evidence that the Newton family actually received money, and without evidence that Cam actually played a hand in negotiations, I believe that the NCAA made the right call. I am not worried about this becoming commonplace (or moreso than it already is) because it relies on the families of these players hiding the money and a degree of plausible deniability by the players.

On a sidenote, there is an irony here. With USC being on the wrong side of an NCAA investigation, their national title was vacated. The #2 team (that went undefeated that year) made some noise that they ought to be given the title. The number two team? Auburn Tigers.

Category: Newsroom

In the past, I have expressed a degree of discomfort with drunk driving laws. Primarily because the limit is (in my opinion) set too low, no distinctions are made between buzzed drivers and blasted drivers, and the enforcement of these laws represent some civil liberty problems. But I can’t quite get on board with this:

People do react to alcohol differently. For many people one drink may well be too many, while experienced drinkers can function relatively normally with a BAC at or above the legal threshold for presuming intoxication. A person’s impairment may also depend on variables such as the medications he is taking and the amount of sleep he got the night before. Acevedo et al.’s objections to the legal definition of intoxication highlight the absurdity of drawing an arbitrary, breathalyzer-based line between sobriety and criminal intoxication.

The right solution, however, is not to push the artificial line back farther. Instead we should get rid of it entirely by repealing drunk driving laws.

Despite all of the fears about the latest and greatest dangers of driving, the roads have never been safer. Accidents are down. Injuries are down. Fatalities are down. And not just on a per capita basis, but an absolute basis as well. I suspect that the transition of drunk driving from something everyone nods and winks at to a BIG DEAL is one of the reasons for this. It’s really hard to think of something that used to be so commonplace to become so universally scorned. Yes, people do continue to drive drunk, but by virtue of its social unacceptability, it’s something that people do much more judiciously in the past and avoid when they can.

Driving drunk (as in drunk-drunk) is hazardous in the same way that driving 100mph is hazardous. Other than environmental concerns, driving 100mph is not inherently dangerous, but most people can’t do it safely and it’s difficult to interact with traffic going 70mph when you’re going 100mph. The correct and true libertarian response to this could be that we should let people drive as fast as they want and only penalize them when they get into an accident. On some roads this may actually make sense, but the majority of the time it’s an eventuality that something bad is going to occur. The laws are put in place to (ahem, among other things) prevent that from happening. It’s not often I go around and defend speed limits given that this site is a hub for scorn towards speed traps, but the basis for having speed limits is sound.

Ditto for drunk driving. Yes, you outlaw drunk driving because of the impairment it causes. But that’s the same rationale for speed limits. If something is inherently unsafe for most drivers under a sufficient number of circumstances, it is worth our while to ban it. Not to set up checkpoints for it. Not to declare war on it. But to keep it illegal and take reasonable measures to enforce it.

As with so many other things, though, the reasonable basis for a law pushes it towards being something much more problematic. On this Balko makes a number of good points. We lowered the legal intoxication level from .1 to .08 in our War Against Drunk Driving when the main issue is with people that have a BAC of twice that level. Billboards say “Buzzed Driving is Drunk Driving!” when no, actually, the two are quite different. But the law doesn’t see it that way. And when you keep lowering the limit, you can actually make things worse. When you make it so that people equate the two, you’re not just telling people that are buzzed that they’re as bad as someone that is drunk (even if they aren’t, which is why we have two different words to describe the two different conditions), you’re also telling buzzed people “Go ahead. Have another beer. You’re already ‘drunk.'”

This also becomes problematic because it increases the rationale for encroachment on other personal behavior. You know those studies that show that people on a cell phone are the equivalent to being drunk drivers? Well, they’re equivalent to being at the legal intoxication limit, which is not the same. And so The Worst Cabinet Secretary In Recent Memory (that would be Ray LaHood) puts out the idea that maybe we should prevent cell phones from even working in cars. Yeah, it might be inconvenient for passengers in the car calling to get directions and the like, but who cares? WE’RE TALKING ABOUT DRUNK DRIVERS!!!(or the equivalent thereof)!!!! And truth be told, there are all sorts of behaviors that are likely to be more distracting than having a minimal (but legally impermissible) amount of alcohol in your system. Do you listen to sports on the radio? DRUNK DRIVER! Bring the limit down to .05, as some propose, and you’re probably in the “eating a sandwich while on the road” territory and banning drive-thrus.

I’ve never seen the science to back it up, but I’ve heard that smoking a cigarette behind the wheel is the “equivalent of drunk driving.” I don’t think this is true, but lower the limit much more and it might be. And before you start thinking “Screw the smokers!” I can tell you first-hand that smoking behind the wheel is far less distracting than eating a sandwich.

It would be great if we had only well-rested, completely sober drivers behind the wheel doing absolutely nothing but driving. Or rather, it would be great if everyone else on the road was well-rested, completely sober, and doing nothing but driving. But for me? That would be hell. I’ve got the sober thing down, of course, but music and audiobooks keep me sane. Eating on the road makes trips last shorter. Getting a hotel room any and every time I get tired would get mighty expensive (and would bring medical residency programs across the country to a screeching halt, though that might be in the “plus” column).

Category: Road, Statehouse