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February 5th, 2002:

Why I’m not a libertarian

Charles Dodgson sums it up pretty well for me. I like the free market just fine, thanks, but I’ve never viewed it as magic. I agree with Molly Ivins here – government is like a hammer. It can be used for good and it can be used for evil, but it is inherently neither.

Fish In A Barrel Dept

Britney Spears is starring in a new movie. According to the IMDb, the plot summary is as follows:

Three high school girls, from a small Georgia town, who used to be best friends when they were younger, but now have very different personalities (a cheerleader, a straight-A student and a “burnout”, whatever that means) (Spears plays the smart one) get together for a trip across the country. Along the way, they meet a musician who persuades them to go to Los Angeles to compete in a musical contest.

Britney plays the smart one…Well, I guess she won’t have to worry about typecasting. I can’t wait to see what she says about the experience in her blog.

UPDATE: Well, my friend Amy Hemphill has to actually consider seeing this movie because she knows the guy who plays Britney’s boyfriend. Yet another examples of the dark side of show business.

The local angle

Chronicle political columnist John Williams makes this interesting observation about Enron: For all the lobbying power Ken Lay had, the company “never won a big government contract in Houston.”

Life in the not-so-fast lane

As part of its effort to clean up the air and comply with EPA regulations, an eight-county area covering Houston and its hinterlands is now under a 55 MPH speed limit. Some folks are not too happy about this, saying that lower speeds will have no effect. Naturally, officials defend the science behind the lower speed/fewer emissions link.

I’ll stipulate the benefits of driving 55 MPH – it’s safer, it burns less fuel, and yeah, it’s more emissions-efficient. I’m a leadfoot, so this is gonna be hard on me, but I’ll try my best.

Of course, I wouldn’t bother blogging about this if I didn’t have some gripes. First off, I can’t help but think that the real problem is with jammed freeways during our everlasting rush hour. Surely going 70 MPH is better on the air than stop-and-go driving. And speaking of stop-and-go driving, don’t get me started on Houston’s bizarrely unsynchronized and poorly timed traffic lights. I’d like to see more light rail plans and better traffic light management before I’m willing to make nice about driving slower.

One nice thing about this is that I have yet another reason to feel smug about not driving an SUV:

In general, the lighter a vehicle and the smaller and cleaner its engine, the less improvement in pollution from a lower speed.

As a group, [Randy Wood, deputy director for environmental policy at the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission in Austin] said, heavy-duty vehicles, including big trucks and larger pickups and sport utility vehicles, release about 10 times the [Nitrogen oxides, called NOX for short] per mile as light-duty vehicles, which include cars and smaller pickups and SUVs.

Of course, even if everyone started driving Geos at 55 MPH, we’d still be a long way from compliance:

The 55-mph speed limit is part of a two-prong plan to cut vehicle emissions, which the H-GAC estimates produce 24 percent of NOX emissions in the region.

The other prong, certain to also elicit howls of complaint from motorists, is a tightened tailpipe testing program scheduled to begin May 1.

The slower speed limit is projected to account for a NOX reduction of about 12 tons a day, the tailpipe test about 36 tons. Together, they would achieve about 7 percent of the needed reductions, set at 750 to 800 tons a day under the state’s air plan.

Can’t wait to see what industry (read: refineries) will have to do. You can read about the plan here and here.

Confirming what we already knew

There will be no contraction in baseball in 2002, as Minnesota’s Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal of an injunction that forces the Twins to honor their lease this year. Many folks in Minnesota, including the players, are glad to hear it.

I’ll be rooting for the Twins to win the Central Division this year. I just can’t see Bud and the boys trying to eliminate a team that makes the postseason. How can you claim that a winning team is doomed to failure?

For those of you who’d like to better understand baseball’s complicated and obfuscated finances, I highly recommend this series of articles from The Baseball Prospectus. I’ve linked to article 6 of 7 (the seventh is forthcoming). It has links to all of the previous articles. You will have a much better understanding of the facts after you’ve read them.