24 May 2007

Steroids #1: Barry Bonds

The Objectivist
Dunkirk-Fredonia Observer
May 13, 2007

Barry Bonds deserves recognition for being one of the best players in the history of baseball. The hysteria and hypocrisy accompanying Bonds is simply unbelievable.

Barry Bonds took performance-enhancing drugs. Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams, authors of Game of Shadows provide a strong case in support of the claim that Bonds took a wide array of drugs, including human growth hormone, designer and run-of-the-mill steroids, a women’s infertility drug that helps a steroid user produce testosterone again after taking steroids, insulin, and a stimulant. The persons who supplied him and others with the drugs, BALCO owner Vic Conte and Vice President James Valente, and trainer Greg Anderson were all convicted. Conte got four months in prison and four months of home confinement. Anderson was found guilty of steroid distribution and money laundering and got three months prison and three months of home confinement. Valente was found guilty of steroid distribution and got probation. After taking the drugs in 1998 and pumping iron, Bonds went from hitting one home run every 16.1 at bats in his career to one every 8.5 at bats (through 2005).

Bond is also a bad guy. He is described as a menacing bully and invariably foul-tempered. For example, in 2003 his mistress Kimberly Bell claimed that he put his hand on her throat, pushed her against the wall, and threatened to kill her. He is also disliked by his teammates, a tax cheat, an adulterer, and subject to fits of rage. Even if these are private matters, the overall pattern is not pretty.

Bonds is also one of the greatest players ever. As an offensive player he is by far the best offensive player of the recent era. He won seven (count `em, seven) MVPs. He won three home-run titles (and was second five times), two National League batting titles, and twelve Silver Sluggers (the best offensive player in his position). Perhaps the best measure of offensive production is OPS (On-Base Percentage + Slugging Percentage adjusted for park and league variables) and according to BaseballReference.com, Bonds was the OPS leader an incredible ten times (and second an additional three times). He also led the league in walks 12 times (and was second four times) and was a potent base stealer (second among active players). To top it off, he is a hall-of-fame defensive player with eight Golden Gloves (the award given to the best fielder in his position).

Nor was this merely the result of steroids. He won three MVP Awards, four OPS crowns, seven Silver Sluggers, eight Golden Gloves, one home-run title, and six base-on-ball titles before he used drugs.

Here is a principle for recognizing greatness. When a player does what his competitors were doing, does not harm anyone else, and is light-years ahead of his competition, his accomplishments should be recognized. Bonds’s competitors were also on steroids. Former MVP Ken Caminiti told Sports Illustrated that more than 50% of players were on steroids (he later reduced his estimate to 15%). Former star Jose Conseco estimated that 85% were. In addition, large numbers of players took speed to improve their defensive game. It is reputed that speed was so common that pitchers used to get mad at players who didn’t take it. Other players took drugs that were legal and permitted by baseball but functioned just like steroids. For example, Mark McGwire took a testosterone precursor. Even if steroids are dangerous when properly used, and this is controversial, they only endanger the user. They are thus like Botox or liposuction.

Bonds followed the established rules of the time and we shouldn’t expect standards among athletes that bear no relation to how we would behave in their shoes and how the rest of society behaves. Would you go into a boxing match without supplements when your opponent was likely on both steroids and speed? Of course not. As a defense lawyer, would you aggressively try to keep out legitimate evidence if the police were lying in to get it in? Yes. How many of you puff up accomplishments on resumes or in interviews, overstate the abilities of those you recommend, illegally download software, or pay workers in cash to avoid paperwork or taxes? The shoe fits.

Some critics claim that Bonds’s steroid use gives him a leg up on his historical competitors and hence his records should receive an asterisk. Babe Ruth didn’t face black competition. Any guess as to whether they would have made him less productive? Hank Aaron competed before the league was awash with talented Latin American players. Think that he would have done so well against today’s crop of Hispanic aces? Comparison across eras is guesswork and controlling for one factor (steroids) while ignoring others (Hispanic pitchers) is intellectually bankrupt.

Many of Bonds’s critics have a double standard that amounts to blinding hypocrisy. When it comes to politics, they celebrate campaign- and election-cheats like John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Baines Johnson, and Bill Clinton. Clinton, for example, knowingly took big bucks from illegal Chinese donors (the conduits were all convicted of this--don’t believe me? look it up). In schools and on Presidents’ Day, we celebrate adulterers (Woodrow Wilson, Warren G. Harding, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Kennedy, and Clinton) and piss-poor Presidents (Herbert Hoover, Johnson, Richard Nixon, and Jimmy Carter). Other Bonds critics enthusiastically support a dirty politician like Hilary Clinton (she collected $100,000 from highly suspicious cattle-future trades, conveniently lost records with regard to shaky real-estate deals, and was probably in on the pardons-for-dollars scandal).

When it comes to sports, fans lionize alcoholics (Babe Ruth and Mickey Mantle) and adulterers, drug addicts, and rapists (see Michael Jordon, Lawrence Taylor, and Mike Tyson respectively). Given this, why all the venom directed at Bonds? Dayne Perry of Reason Magazine points out that given the hatred of Bonds, it is odd that little was said when Gaylord Perry was inducted to the Hall of Fame despite being well known for relying on an illegal spitball pitch.

We don’t have a duty to celebrate anyone. Celebrating someone is up to the celebrator’s discretion. Americans fasten on to some personalities and not others. For example, fans love Mickey Mantle more than Ted Williams, even though the latter was a better player. What is behind the hatred of Barry Bonds is probably in part his personality and in part the schoolmarms’ campaign against drugs. Neither should stop us from acknowledging the fact that Bonds is the greatest baseball player of our era.

09 May 2007

Guns and the Constitution: You can run, but you can't hide

The Objectivist
Dunkirk-Fredonia Observer
May 3, 2007

Perhaps the most fun provision of the Constitution is the Second Amendment (“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed”). In a recent case before the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, Parker v. District of Columbia, decided March 9, 2007, the court faced a law that in effect denied District of Columbia (DC) citizens (except retired cops) the right to own guns.

DC argued for a collective-right interpretation of the Second Amendment. On this interpretation, the Amendment protects only the rights of states to have their own military forces. Thus, individuals have no right to possess guns. In court, DC’s legal team argued that the Constitution permitted it and the states to ban guns altogether. Given the liberty-hating zeal of alcohol- and drug-prohibitionists, this gives me the chills. DC thus argued that because the Amendment protects only states’ rights to have militias and because there are either no state armies or federal-government-equipped state forces (the National Guard), the Second Amendment is a dead.

The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia rejected this interpretation. In interpreting a statute, courts often look to factors such as statutory language, statutory context, public understanding at the time the bill was passed, original intent, and precedent. All but precedent support the individual-right model and it is probably best seen as silent on the issue.

The court argued convincingly that the language of the Second Amendment supports the individual-right model, that is, a person has a right to own a gun. The court began by noting that the Amendment assigns the right to “the people.” Taken literally, this means “persons” or “citizens,” or at least something other than states. In addition, the term “the people” appears in the First, Fourth, Ninth, and Tenth Amendments and in these cases it has been interpreted to establish rights for individuals. Furthermore, the court noted, the Tenth Amendment (“The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people”) indicates that the authors of the Bill of Rights were well aware of the distinction between individual and state rights. In fact, a 1990 Supreme Court case (United States v. Verdugo-Urquidez) held that there should be a uniform reading of “the people” across the Bill of Rights.

The court pointed out that the statutory context also strongly supports the individual-right model. With the exception of the Tenth Amendment, which is a default rule against federal power, the Bill of Rights (the first ten Amendments) appears to be a list of individual rights. It would be odd if the Constitution’s authors had plopped down a state right in the list without using clear language to indicate that they were doing so.

The court noted that public understanding at the time the Amendment was passed supports the individual-right model. The court cited a number of sources, such as the 1776 Pennsylvania Constitution, in support of the claim that at the time the Constitution was written, gun-rights were justified in part by the idea that persons had a right to defend themselves against attacks by lawless individuals or a tyrannical government. The underlying notion was that the right to own guns was a natural accompaniment of the right of self-preservation. The court pointed out that this idea can be seen in the work of William Blackstone, whose writings influenced American colonists’ thinking. As a side note, given that world-class slaughterers such as Mao, Stalin, Hitler, Pol Pot, and the Rwandan Hutus moved against unarmed populations (rough estimate 60 million killed), tyrannical governments have proven no small threat.

The court argued that the Amendment’s authors intended an individual-rights interpretation. The recorded debates do not directly discuss the relevant clause. However, there is no evidence that anyone in the First Congress thought the federal government had the right to disarm private citizens. The debates indicate that the federalists used the existence of an armed populace and state militia as insurance against a potentially oppressive and tyrannical federal government. The First Congress appears to have used the preface to the Amendment (“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State”) to highlight the individual right’s most obvious benefit.

The court also noted that the one relevant Supreme Court case, United States v. Miller (1939), did not support the collective-right reading. The court argued that it supported the individual-right interpretation because it ignored the federal government’s claim that no such individual right exists. This argument is unconvincing since courts often decide cases on the narrowest ground and the Miller court did this. The court should have concluded that the Supreme Court has not addressed the issue.

The dissenting judge in the Parker case, Karen Lecraft Henderson, argued that the Second Amendment didn’t apply because DC isn’t a state and some Constitutional protections only apply to state residents. Given clear Supreme Court precedent holding that the Constitution and Bill of Rights apply in DC, the historical record which suggests that “free State” referred to the country as a whole rather than each of the states, and that the people hold the right, rather than the people who live in the states, we can safely ignore her argument.

If the Second Amendment protects an individual’s right to own a gun and the Constitution is the supreme law of the land, then anti-gun and gun-control nannies face an ugly decision. They can respect the Constitution at the expense of their anti-gun schemes or they can ignore it. The latter decision commits them to denying the legitimacy of the United States government, because its legitimacy rests on the fact that persons have consented to a government formed and constrained by the Constitution.

In addition, we can only hope that the Supreme Court takes the case and thereby injects the gun issue into the Presidential race. Significant numbers of voters in battleground states favor gun rights and this will drive a wedge between them and the anti-gun and gun-control schoolmarms

03 May 2007

Congratulations 10,000th Visitor!

Except that it was most likely me, so that would mean self-congratulations are in order. And that would be like linking on your own blog to your own comments at someone else's that link back to your own blog. Not kosher.

Oh, wait. Now that I check again, it looks like it was whichever aol.com user did this google search. Even though this person supposedly stayed 0 seconds, I'm not going to discount (much less not count) that visit--then we'd likely lose more than half of our total visits! Whoever you are, please make your prize demands in the comments!