Posts tagged ‘Barry Bonds’

Justice, Rich and Poor

Ken at Popehat has some good thoughts, prompted by the dropping of the rape case against Dominique Strauss-Kahn.

The critical narrative holds that this case shows that the rich and the powerful are above the law. I’m not so sure. I don’t believe the DA took this route because he was afraid to prosecute a rich and powerful man, or as a favor to rich and powerful forces behind the curtain. But there’s no doubt that money and power get you a vastly better chance of this result. They get it because rich and powerful people can field a team of lawyers and investigators to find problems with the case. Those problems are often there — but usually the defendants don’t have the money to hire teams of people to find them. The rich and the powerful draw media attention, which leads to people coming forward with information that might not otherwise come out. Sometimes this hurts the defense, but just as often it yields critical impeachment evidence about prosecution witnesses. Perversely, this case shows how wealth and power and lead prosecutors to discover flaws in their own case. Most rape cases wouldn’t get anywhere near the police and prosecutorial scrutiny that this one did. But the police and the DA knew they were under the spotlight, and knew that Strauss-Kahn could field a serious team, and devoted vast resources to the case — resources that revealed issues that might never have been discovered in a rape case against the poor and the obscure.

Why decry the quality of justice that the rich and powerful get, when we could decry the level of justice that the poor get? The justice that the rich and powerful get illustrates how the system can meticulously test the adequacy of evidence against an accused. Why not try to raise every defendant closer to that level, rather than suggest that we ought to tear down the adequate justice available to the few? Believe me, the government lovesthat narrative — loves it when people view a vigorous and thorough defense as some sort of scam to be scorned. Resentment of the justice that Strauss-Kahn can afford is the government’s weapon, which it wields to get you to accept steadily less and less justice in every other case.

I am sure there are situations where the rich get a special break, but anyone who wants to argue that they systematically get off easier has to explain Martha Stewart, who went to jail not for insider trading by lying to the police, a charge no street hustler would ever be brought to court on.  And how about Barry Bonds, on whom the full force of and resources of the US Government is focused for a crime I can find going on in about any Gold's Gym in the country.

The imbalance of wealth and power are on the prosecution side, and politicians trying to get elected propose laws constantly to increase this imbalance.  The rich have the resources to stand up to this onslaught, the poor often do not.

Believe it or Not, Steroids Have an Actual Medical Use

The other day I was listening to a national sports-talk radio show and they were discussing an prominent athelete's recent injury.  They were expressing concern that the doctor who was treating the athlete (succesfully, it seemed) had treated other non-ahtlete patients with HGH and steroids.

Well, duh.  This is what has driven me crazy about the whole steroid craze.  Steroids were not invented to as sports performance enhancing drugs.  They were invented because they had a variety of medical uses, including aiding recovery from certain injuries.   Is the sports world really better off if we deny, say, Tiger Woods the injury-recovery tools that any non-athlete would have access to?

I will add here, just to tick people off and highlight yet another area where I am grossly out of step from the rest of America, that I have no particular problem with PED's in sports.  It's fine if governing bodies for whatever reason want to ban them, but its not a straight forward case to me.  These drugs have dangers, but getting our panties in a knot about people's informed choices on these dangers seems hypocritical to me as we routinely attend sports that have been demonstrated to cause, for example, major brain damage in athletes (e.g. football, hockey, boxing).

I suppose I get the comparability issue (people like records from 1900 to be comparable to those today) but to some extent this is outright hypocrisy as well.  Don't modern training techniques, like altitude sleeping chambers, equally make a mockery of comparability?  Baseball cries the most about steroids messing up the record books, then it does stuff like lower the pitching mound to help hitters and add the DH.

On the plus side, isn't there value to seeing our athletes play longer?  Wouldn't it be nice (if you are not a Red Sox fan) to see Derek Jeter play a little longer?  To see Tiger Woods return quicker from injuries?

And don't even get me started on the government's campaign to throw steroid users like Barry Bonds in jail.  As I said earlier, I don't have a particular problem if private governing bodies choose, for competitive or marketing reasons, to ban PED's and enforce that ban within their community.  But throwing Barry Bonds in jail for choice he made with his own body?

Thoughts on Barry Bonds

I really don't like Barry Bonds.   I found his home run chase last summer almost painful, and was happy it was over just to stop hearing about Barry Bonds.

That being said, I am pretty non-plussed by his recent indictment on perjury charges.  I really am deeply concerned about going after high-profile people on perjury charges, particularly ones that are associated with cases where no underlying crime was even prosecuted (Martha Stewart and Bill Clinton also come to mind in this category).

The problem is that these cases get prosecuted incredibly selectively.  The vast, vast majority of people in Bonds situation never get prosecuted, much less have four year investigations.  As a result, it is pretty clear that those who do are selected on some basis having more to do with their profile (Martha Stewart), political animus (Bill Clinton) or just because the person is incredibly unsympathetic (e.g. Bonds).  As evidence for this in Bond's case, where are the similar investigations into McGwire or Giambi?

Tom Kirkendall has a great roundup of posts for those who are more concerned that titillated by Bond's indictment.  Or then there is TJIC's take, which is always, uh, not moderate:

What I find most amazing about cases like this, and the Martha
Stewart thing, is that there's some sort of unstated presupposition
that the state has a right to extract information from people.

Lying to government officials on fishing expeditions isn't just a right; it's a duty.

What Do We Know and How Well Do We Know It

"Consensus" is an absurd word to apply to science.  It is more accurate to say that we have a series of hypotheses about the universe with varying levels of confidence.  LuboÅ¡ Motl has a post to get all you physics geeks arguing:  His estimate of the probability certain hypotheses about the universe are correct.  Some examples:

  • 99.999% - String theory is a mathematically consistent theory
    including quantum gravity, even non-perturbatively, at least in some
    highly supersymmetric vacua
  • 99.999% - General relativity
    correctly predicts phenomena such as frame dragging and classical
    gravitational waves in the real world
  • 99.995% - Black holes exist  ...
  • 60% - At very high energy scales, a GUT theory with unified gauge
    interactions becomes more natural zeroth approximation: GUT is correct
  • 50% - Supersymmetry will be found at the LHC
  • 40%
    - The Hartle-Hawking wavefunction or its generalization that will
    require the author(s) to cite Hartle and Hawking correctly predicts
    non-trivial features of the initial conditions of the Universe...
  • 0.0001% - Loop quantum gravity, with the metric as the only and
    well-defined degree of freedom and with quantized area, is a correct
    description of gravity in the real world at the Planck scale
  • 0.00001%
    - One of the ESP phenomena measured in the Princeton lab actually
    exists and can be measured again with a similar equipment

Many more here.

Here are some of my own:

  • 95% - Probability that the Raiders, Browns, and Lions will all botch their first draft picks next weekend
  • 85% - Probability someone will introduce legislation in Congress in the next 7 days in direct response to the Va Tech shooting rampage
  • 80% - Probability that man-made CO2 is contributing a non-zero effect to global temperature
  • 70% - Probability that Barry Bonds will break the home run record this season
  • 60% - Probability that Prince Charles will ever serve as King of England
  • 50% - Probability that all-electric vehicles will make up more than 10% of the auto market in the US in ten years
  • 5% - Probability that man-made CO2 will contribute more than 2 degrees C warming in the next 50 years
  • 5% - Probability of meaningful earmark reform getting passed in Congress
  • 5% - Probability that ethanol or other bio fuels will make any measurable reduction in oil imports.
  • 1% - Probability that the costs of CO2 reduction will be less than the benefits of CO2 reduction
  • 1% - Probability that a true libertarian candidate will be elected president in the next 20 years

More Useless Government Information Gathering

Apparently I am required by law to fill out an "annual accommodation report" from the US Census.  Just what I needed.  The IRS, state sales tax authorities, and the Department of Commerce all gather this same information, but for some reason the Census Bureau needs me to repackage it for them  ("estimate time only 34 minutes -- thanks alot").  In fact, they need the data so bad that I am required by law to respond to their request. 

Here is the weird part.  First they ask for revenues including both lodging revenues and sales of merchandise, all as one single number.  Then, they ask for "operating expenses" in which they want me to exclude the cost of any merchandise sold.  What is the point of gathering a revenue number that includes merchandise sales but a cost number that excludes the cost of goods purchased for resale?  Bizarre.  My only guess is that this is so they can stack industries up without double counting, but that makes no sense either.  If this were the case, they would ask me to eliminate all product purchases (e.g. toilet paper for the bathrooms, cleaning supplies).  Also, wouldn't they in that case also ask me to leave out services purchased from other companies?

Postscript: The form has this notice:  "Your report to the Census Bureau is confidential by law.  It may be seen only by persons sworn to uphold the confidentiality of Census Bureau information and may be used only for statistical purposes.  The law also provides that copies retained in your files are immune from legal process."

Does anyone above the age of eight really believe this?  Ask major league baseball players what they think about promises of confidentiality and immunity from legal process.  (emphasis added)

With Barry Bonds still in their sights,
federal investigators probing steroids in sports can now use the
names and urine samples of about 100 Major League Baseball players
who tested positive for performance enhancing drugs, following a
ruling Wednesday from a federal appeals court.

The 2-1 decision by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals
overturned three lower court decisions and could help authorities
pinpoint the source of steroids in baseball. It could also bolster
the perjury case against the star outfielder, who is under
investigation for telling a grand jury he never knowingly used
performance-enhancing drugs.

Investigators seized computer files containing the test results
in 2004 during raids of labs involved in MLB's testing program. The
samples were collected at baseball's direction the previous year as
part of a survey to gauge the prevalence of steroid use. Players
and owners agreed in their labor contract that the results would be
confidential, and each player was assigned a code number to be
matched with his nam
e.

Emergent Order and Barry Bond's Records

Warning:  This post wanders all over the place, from baseball to gasoline prices to star naming to Internet search engines and back to baseball.

Today I was listening to sports-talk radio for a while, and the topic of conversation was "Should major league baseball nullify (or asterisk) Barry Bond's home run records because he is strongly suspected to have taken steroids."  Now personally, I don't believe anyone has broken Roger Marris's single season home run record who was not taking steroids.  How much that bothers me depends on what day of the week you ask me, but my answer to the record book question never varies:  no, the MLB doesn't have to do a thing.  Here's why, though get ready for a digression.

Perhaps the toughest libertarian-capitalist concept for most people to grasp, even tougher than the idea that wealth is not zero-sum, is that of emergent or bottom-up order.  Capitalism is all about order emerging bottom-up:  Market prices emerge without any one person setting them from above;  supply matches demand without any central body coordinating production.  For many people, this process is some sort of black magic not to be trusted -- just observe Congress and their silly proposals on gasoline prices, reminding us of savages who don't understand how nature works performing elaborate rituals to make the crops grow.

In fact, this whole issue of emergent order vs. grand design is actually a point of incredible inconsistency in American politics.  Observe certain liberals, strong secularists who reject the concepts of God and intelligent design in favor of evolution and bottom-up emergent order in the natural world, but then in turn reject emergent order in human relations and economics in favor of top-down not-so-intelligent design as run by the federal government.  You have only to remember back to Katrina to see the public demand for, followed by the spectacular failure of, top down relief approaches.

The other day I had an argument with a friend about one of those commercial star registries -- you have probably heard the commercial-- pay $X and have a star named after someone you love.  My friend was appalled.  He said - "do you know that they have no authority to name those stars.  Don't people know its not official.  They just put your name in a book somewhere - but its not the official book in Switzerland (or wherever the hell he said it was)."  My reaction was -- so what?  Who had the right to call the other one "official"?  The standard star naming by scientists is accepted because it is useful.  But that doesn't mean I can't come up with my own naming system.  Let's see, I think I am going to rename the Orion constellation as "Warren".  Yes that's much better.  Now, its unlikely anyone else will find a useful reason to adopt this same convention.... The fact is that the star names we use represent a consensus that has emerged over time.  In many cases, constellations and stars had competing names (e.g. Big Bear vs. Big Dipper) that still have not been fully reconciled. 

Or here is an example that might work better for modern Internet users.  The Internet does have an official central body that sets addressing conventions.  They set up the rules by which I can lease the rights to www.coyoteblog.com and the 12-digit IP address that is attached to it.  This is the "official" way to address the web.

But early on, as web sites proliferated, entrepreneurs attempted to impose their own order on the Internet, sort-of the equivalent of suggesting an entirely new set of names for stars.  Yahoo and AOL both developed huge hierarchical directories, effectively imposing a nested-tree addressing system over the Internet's flat addresses.  And for a while, these approaches prospered, as users found these to be a more useful way to organize the Internet.  Then, along came search engines, like Altavista and then Google, and yet a new organizational paradigm was proposed, in effect a third different set of names for the Internet constellations.  Again, users found this keyword and link-popularity approach superior to hierarchical trees, and search engines have prospered while the old directories have languished. 

The point is, no one gave Google a license or top-down authority to reorganize the Internet.  They just did it, like thousands of others tried at the time.  Of these thousands of different approaches, no single smart man picked Google as the approach that everyone should use.  Rather, individuals tried all these different approaches, and over time a consensus emerged that Google was the most useful.

Which -- and I know you thought I forgot -- brings us back to Barry Bond's records.  Individual baseball records don't actually have any meaning to the game of baseball itself -- baseball is played for team wins and losses and ultimately for team championships.  So while individual hits and home runs may have mattered in getting to a champion, the fact that Barry Bonds hit 73 home runs in a year has no real meaning within the context of declaring a team as champion.  It has meaning only in the way that fans react to it. 

One proof of this is the fact that people focus so much on the single-season home run record.  Is this record more inherently valuable than say, the single season triple record?  Triples are actually harder to hit, so you might argue that the triple record is more interesting.  No one from official MLB offices ever declared the single season home run record to be among the most important.  But over time, a fan consensus has emerged that people are far more intrigued by the home run record, so most everyone can name Barry Bonds at 73 home runs but only a geek would know Chief Wilson at 36 triples.

I contend that Barry Bond's 73 home run record  (and his lifetime home run record, if he ever gets that) will take care of themselves without any action from the league office.  Over time, fans will decide for themselves if Bond's 73 is better than Marris's 61.  Today, for example, most discussion of pitching records excludes the period before 1915 or so, which people refer to as the "dead ball" era.  Someday, fan consensus will emerge that they are OK with steroid-driven records (as they have become comfortable with Gaylord Perry's records despite his use of the illegal spitball) or else they are not OK and batting stats from the past decade will be excluded as the "juiced player era".

Eliot Spitzer and the Antarctic Liberation Front

The "news" today is that Eliot Spitzer has announced he is running for governor of New York.  This is about as surprising as the "revelation" that Barry Bonds took steroids.  Duh.  The "AG" job is not nicknamed "Aspiring Governor" for nothing.  Also, Spitzer represents the worst of a new trend of AG's using their prosecutor role to engage in lawsuits more for their media and publicity value rather than an sense of public service.  Why else would Spitzer involve himself and the AG office in a compensation dispute between two private parties, except for the fact that the two private parties are very high profile in NY.

OK, but what is this Antarctica thing?  Back when I was an undergrad at Princeton, one of my fondest memories was of a bizarre Student Body Governing Council (USG) election.  The previous USG administration, headed by none other than fellow Princetonian Eliot Spitzer, had so irritated the student body that, for the first time in memory, the usually apathetic voting population who generally couldn't care less who their class president was actually produced an energetic opposition party.  Even in his formative years, Spitzer was expert in using his office to generate publicity, in this case frequent mentions in the student newspaper that finally drove several students over the edge.

The result was the incredibly funny and entertaining Antarctic Liberation Front.  I wish I had saved their brochures, but their proposals included things like imposing a dawn to dusk curfew on the school and funding school parties by annexing the mineral rights between the double yellow lines of the US highways.  All of this was under the banner of starting jihad to free Antarctica.  The ALF swept the USG election.  This immensely annoyed Spitzer and other USG stalwarts, who decried the trivialization of such an august body.  The pained and pompous wailing from the traditional student council weenies (sounding actually a lot like liberals after the last presidential election) only amused the general student population even further.  After a few student-council-meetings-as-performance-art, the ALF resigned en mass and life went back to being just a little bit more boring.

If you think I am exaggerating in saying that the Spitzer-led student council types had a whiny reaction to this bit of fun, you should know that Spitzer was still whining about it 20 years later to the New Yorker magazine.  Virginia Postrel, also a Princetonian at the time, had a similar reaction to mine here, and fisks the New Yorker article.