Sobering Thoughts

Comments on politics, the culture, economics, and sports by Paul Tuns. I am editor-in-chief of "The Interim," Canada's life and family newspaper, and author of "Jean Chretien: A Legacy of Scandal" (2004) and "The Dauphin: The Truth about Justin Trudeau" (2015). I am some combination of conservative/libertarian, standing athwart history yelling "bullshit!" You can follow me on Twitter (@ptuns).

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Thursday, August 31, 2006
Baseball predictions, Part I

October ball

The New York Yankees win the AL East by 8-10 games, the Oakland A's win the West by nearly as much, and the Detroit Tigers edge out the Chicago White sox for the Central Division lead but the ChiSox make the post-season. The Twins end up four games behind the Sox. Either the Tigers or Yankees represent the AL in the World Series -- whoever's pitchers are hot in mid-October.

American League hardware

Cy Young: Over the past few years Roy Halladay (Toronto Blue Jays) and Johan Santana (Minnesota Twins) have constistently put up the best pitching stat lines in the American League and this year, again, they are both have phenomenal years.
Santana's stats (as of Wednesday night): 15-5 (15 wins ties for second most in the AL), 3.01 ERA (best in AL), 1.02 WHIP (best in baseball), 221 opponent's batting average (best in AL), 196 Ks (best overall), 191.1 IP (2nd in AL). Yet in every case, he is worse than last year and last year was worse than 2004. In other words, having the worst season in the past three years and Santana is still a dominating pitcher. But a good case can be made for Halladay who co-dominates. He is first in wins (16) and IP (193), second in complete games (4), ERA (3.12), WHIP (1.08) and has a respectable opponent's batting average of 251. If there is a big difference it is that Halladay only has 111 strikeouts, significantly less than Santana. And yet, it hasn't hurt Halladay's ERA and WHIP. I wouldn't have predicted that; Halladay is a groundball pitcher and I predicted at the beginning of the season that he (and A.J. Burnett) would notice the loss of the best defensive infielder in the AL, 2B Orlando Hudson, who was traded to the Arizona Diamondbacks for Troy Glaus. While Toronto's entire infield defense is worse than last year, somehow this has not hurt Halladay. A good case could also be made for closer Jonathan Papelbon (Boston Red Sox) to win the Cy Young. He has 34 saves (tied for 3rd in AL), 72 Ks in 65.2 IP, 0.96 ERA, 0.75 WHIP (best among AL closers) and a 158 opponent's batting average (best among AL closers). He is doing this as a second-year player under the pressure of Beantown baseball. As I said, a good case could be made for Papelbon but he'll likely finish a distant but secure third in Cy Young voting. I predict that Santana will win the Cy Young and I think that because of the enormous strikeout differential and the fact he is playing on a playoff contender, he deserves it. But if Halladay does win, Santana certainly won't feel robbed. Nor should either feel robbed in the off chance that Papelbon takes home the hardware. It is incredibly close.

MVP: SS Derek Jeter (New York Yankees) deserves the award but baseball writers like to reward homeruns and RBIs so David Ortiz (Boston Red Sox) might have become the first DH to win the MVP if he had remained healthy and Boston made the playoffs. Neither seem likely. With the BoSox seemingly out of contention, Jermaine Dye (Chicago White Sox) and the great young pair from Minnesota, Joe Mauer (353/431/509) and Justin Morneau (319/372/585) will get some votes. Without going into the merits of Mauer and Morneau, suffice it to say that whatever case can be made for either of them, it always hurts the superior candidate when two contenders are from the same team. Because of that, I think there is a very good chance both will finish in the top five or six in AL MVP voting but likely neither win finish in the top two. Mauer will have to satisfy himself with being the first catcher to win a batting title since World War II. Dye is having a great year in Chicago: 324/390/651. But he will be one of three ChiSox with 30 homers and Jim Thome (although he has far inferior numbers) might bleed some support or otherwise prevent baseball writers from giving Dye his due. That said, his great stats -- 39 HRs, 106 RBIs and the baseball writers like run production -- should be enough to land him as the runner-up for MVP. DH/1B Travis Hafner (Cleveland Indians) warrants consideration with his impressive 308/436/650, 40 dinger, 114 RBI season thus far. But considering he is not on a contender, he is likely to be overlooked. I also think Carl Crawford (Tampa Bay Devil Rays) is among the best players in the league: 314/358/498, 45 SBs, 13 triples, 16 homers. But considering he plays in Tampa, he is likely to be overlooked. Which brings us to Derek Jeter who carried his team through its rash of injuries to others (Hideki Matsui, Gary Sheffield, Robinson Cano, a host of pitchers) and himself (took time off but no time on the DL). He provides very good defense (he is, in fact, getting better; he use to be a defensive liability), sports the second best average in the AL (337) with a great 413 on-base percentage and he is the team leader who does the kind of things that stats can't measure (like giving the thumbs up to Jason Giambi when he bumbles the ball at first and the runner is safe). Even though the power is not there, he is probably having his best season of his career. His slugging percentage (480) is good for a shortstop and 17 points higher than his career average. Add on top of that his 26 stolen bases in 29 attempts and you have a player that is contributing a lot to a team headed to the post-season and frankly, might not be if Jeter hadn't stepped it up this year. And for all the talk about Ortiz being a clutch hitter, Jeter is second in the league in game-winning RBIs with 10. For me it's Jeter hand's down.

Manager of the Year: It won't be John Gibbons of the Toronto Blue Jays. For me it comes down to two: Jim Leyland who turned around the Detroit Tigers quicker than anyone expected and Ken Macha who despite being at the helm of the perennial low budget Oakland A's, is set to once again squeeze every last advantage the team has to win the AL West. Detroit is unexpectedly posting the second best record in baseball (83-50). It is not even September and they could lose every remaining game and still end up with a 500 record. Oakland has battled injuries to put up the fourth best record in the AL. It is a coin flip but I'd probably vote for Macha if I had a vote. I predict that Leyland takes home the prize, though.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006
And now for something completely useless Part II

Stephen Taylor has details of the leaked proposed NDP policy resolutions for their policy convention later this Fall. Apparently the party wants to be completely irrelevant with proposals that include getting Canada out of Afghanistan, NAFTA and the WTO and supporting Hugo Chavez over the United States.

And now for something completely useless

The Simpsons vs. Star Trek (musically speaking)

HezboLiberal is back up

Hosted by the brave souls from Calgary, The Western Standard. Check it out here. Ezra Levant explains why, here.

Music to write books to

Here's what my iTunes was playing while I was working on my book this evening: I Can't Stand It (The Velvet Underground); Hit the Road Jack (Ray Charles); Time Changes Everything (Johnny Cash); Air on a G String (J.S. Bach, conducted by Sir Neville Marriner); Concerto for Harpsichord and Strings in F minor (J.S. Bach, conducted by Trevor Pinnock); Back in Black - Live (AC/DC); She's Leaving Home (The Beatles); I'm So Excited (John Lee Hooker); What I'd Say (John Mayall); You Only Live Twice (Nancy Sinatra); Play Me (Neil Diamond); Sunrise (The Who); Kamp Krusty Medley from The Simpsons; Allegro, Symphony in E-flat Major (Mozart, conducted by Trevor Pinnock); Primary (The Cure); Bob Wills is Still the King - Live (Waylon Jennings); Spam Song (Monty Python); Glow Worm (Dean Martin); Heavy Fuel (Dire Straits); You'll Have to Swing It (Mr Paganini) (Ella Fitzgerald); Desire (U2); Bird of Paradise (Charlie Parker); You Won't See Me (The Beatles); Symphony - Yorkshire Feast Song (Purcell, conducted by Trevor Pinnock); Killing An Arab (The Cure); That's A Plenty (Red Nicholls); Moonlight Mile (Rolling Stones); Apple Tree (Wolfmother); You (Marvin Gaye); Concerto for Viola and String Orchestra (Georg Philipp Telemann).

Tuesday, August 29, 2006
Liberals need to get a sense of humour -- or at least drop the bullying is down after the Liberal Party of Canada harassment. The host of HezboLiberal responds:

"If the Liberal Party ever wants to repair its reputation, it has to learn that it can't censor, threaten or demand that Canadians 'shut up.' There are too many of us, and it is too easy for us to communicate these days for that sort of tactic to work anymore, in a free society.

If the Liberal Party doesn't like what it sees on blogs and on the Internet, it has to stop doing stuff so outrageous and offensive that someone would spend an entire day building a website just to mock it.

Until that happens, you are going to have to learn to live with it."

Not quite. HezboLiberal is no longer operational. You don't have to live with it when your critics surrender. But the point about the Liberal instinct to censor opposing views and their tetchiness about mockery of their own views needing to end is absolutely right.

Monday, August 28, 2006
So is Vancouver a small town full of rubes or incompetent?

Sorry but I'm catching up on a weekend's worth of news. CTV reported on Friday night:

"Some Liberals said the party can't be blamed for the disorganization since both the forum and the rally were organized by local Liberals.

'You have to remember that we're in a city that's not used to having this size of meeting, to move 200 politicians around,' said Senator Terry Mercer, a former national director of the party."

So Senator Mercer, Vancouver can't handle a large meeting. Perhaps if Chretien's PMO was handling the details, everything would be fine. I hope the Tories get out the message that Liberals don't think Vancouver can handle sizeable meetings. Perhaps it isn't the size of the contingent but its makeup of Liberal politicians that is the problem.

Sunday, August 27, 2006
Bad news for GOP

One of the stars of the Republican Party is Ohio's Kenneth Blackwell. Sadly, he is down by 25 points in that state's gubernatorial race against Democrat Ted Strickland. Strickland has a commanding and growing 57%-32% lead. Last month, Strickland's lead was 51%-37%. I'd advise you to read his unofficial campaign manifesto, Rebuilding America: A Prescription for Creating Strong Families, Building the Wealth of Working People, and Ending Welfare (WND Books, co-written with Jerome Corsi). In the United States it seems that everyday one politician or another is releasing his or her prescription for a better America. Rebuilding America is one of the better ones. Unfortunately, it doesn't appear that Blackwell will ever have the chance to implement his ideas.

Minority report -- and the childcare allowance

Greg Weston has a column today on the Conservative minority government, Stephen Harper's single-minded pursuit of a majority government and the polls that show he isn't there yet. I thought I was going to criticize the column for leaving the impression that not much has changed since January 23 -- polls show pretty much the same level of support for each party as the last election results -- but near the end of his piece Weston makes a crucial yet seldom made point: things will change. Right now, the Liberals are leaderless and have no identifiable key issue, but they will have a leader and probably some policy come January; the Tories are focused on their priorities and all other movement on the issues is very subtle, but they will have to move onto other issues eventually; the Bloc is still the dominating regional party it has always been, but Quebec is where most of the action will be; the NDP continues to be a rump party with a glass ceiling Jack Layton can't break through, but he might do even worse next time.

The point is that leadership campaigns, new political leaders and general election campaigns all change the political landscape. I've said this before: in December 2003, Paul Martin was preparing himself for the largest majority government ever and Stephen Harper was keeping the Conservative Party leader's seat warm for either Mike Harris or Bernard Lord. Six months later, the Liberals were reduced to a minority and Harper was plotting his long-term strategy for a majority. After the Gomery Commission of Inquiry reported to the government its findings in November 2005, the speculation was that it was damning enough to prevent Martin from getting a majority but likely wouldn't cost the Liberals the government. Two months later, Stephen Harper is prime minister.

Here's a fact about politics that makes predictions six months before an election complete folly: things change. As Weston says: "In other words, anything can happen."

One thing about Weston's article bothered me, though. He said that "anyone who thinks Harper became PM to hand out $100-daycare cheques is definitely due for a tune-up." That's true. I can't imagine he became prime minister because he wanted to create a new government handout, even one that serves conservative aims. But Harper is prime minister because of his choice in childcare plan. As I discuss in my book that I was working on today (in fact,this chapter), the policy was designed to reach out to swing voters that were uncomfortable with the idea not only of a big new government program but the premise behind it: that government shares the responsibility with parents of raising their family's children. Enough voters are still conservative enough to flinch from that conclusion. Many big city voters agree with the Liberals, mostly because that is where unattached (either to partners or their own family) single mothers live and where families need two incomes to make ends meet. Outside Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal, many women have their own parents, another family member, friends or neighbours who can watch the kids, or they do not need to work full-time themselves to pay the family's bills. They dislike the idea of a big government program usurping their responsibilities. And they might even resent having to pay for the childcare arrangements of others.

The Vanier Institute for the Family discovered a few years back that given the choice among the five most common childcare arrangements -- the responsdent staying home with the child, the respondent's partner staying at home, having another relative watch the child, using informal childcare arrangements (home daycare, often by a neighbourhood parent) and formal daycare -- institutional daycare finished last, even in Quebec, the model province for universal daycare. Not only is it not the preference, it is not even the most common childcare arrangement -- contrary to Ken Dryden's insinuation when he says that daycare is a reality of modern life. Harper's choice in childcare plan not only gave something to the majority of families who do not use institutional daycare, it spoke to the aspirations of many parents to find an alternative to daycare.

Furthermore, there was the condescending Liberal response to the Conservative plan, the beer and popcorn comment of Scott Reid. This opened the eyes of many voters to the real attitude of the Natural Governing Party toward the governed.

Lastly, internal Tory polling found that choice in childcare was, along with Liberal scandals, the most likely mover of swing voters from the Liberal Party to the Conservatives.

So indeed, the $100-a-month childcare allowance did help the Conservatives win their minority. Whether or not Harper is moved by this policy in a big way is irrelevant. I'd expect that the Harper team might even be considering ways to expand this program. A little government generosity, after all, never hurts the governing party. As long as the money goes to voters and not Quebec advertising firms.

Saturday, August 26, 2006
Book update

A few people have inquired privately about the progress on my book, as has Greg Staples on his blog. The short answer is slowly. I had hoped to finish it by the end of June and then by late summer and now it has to be completed by mid-September. There is no good reason for the delay other than the fact that I haven't sat down to really write it yet. I have a few thousand words (total) of parts of chapters but nothing is fleshed out. So the next three weeks will be very busy and blogging will be light. Sporadic posts will appear but I hope not to be blogging on most days. That's the plan but I'm addicted to posting items I find interesting and making observations on the race in the American League East, so we'll see.

But I have to finish the book because October will be busy with playoff baseball and at the end of the month our family is expecting the arrival of our fifth child. I presumably won't have a lot of free time to write the book (or blog) at that point.

By the way, the book is about the 2006 election. I argue that federal elections are about values (provincial elections are more about pocket book issues) and in 2006 the Conservatives won because they tapped into the essentially conservative values of most parts of Canada. The Liberals won big in the big cities because these people generally hold more liberal values. (They won a significant number of seats in Quebec and Atlantic Canada for other reaons.) Pundits, myself included initially, called this the urban-rural split, which is nothing more than a geographical description of an ideological or values divide. Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver are liberal, rural Ontario, the BC interior and pretty much the whole of Alberta is not. So, yes, the Harper team ran a smarter campaign and the Liberals were hurt by scandal and the most ineffective election campaign I've ever seen, but the Conservatives won because their policies and style appealed to the values of a great number of Canadians. There's more to the book than that, but you'll have to wait for the rest. And you'll have to buy the book which is expected before Christmas.

Friday, August 25, 2006
A little more discrimination in airline passenger screening, please

Rod Liddle in The Speccie on how the government, including the police, seems to care that they are not making airplane travel safer:

"To everybody else in the living world it seems patently clear that people who look a bit like we would expect Muslim terrorists to look should be subjected to especially close scrutiny. And we do have a clue as to what Muslim suicide terrorists look like, from the police photos of those involved in the 7/7 bombing in London last year ... But by its insisting on this ludicrous ‘no discrimination’ clause, the public suspects that the government does not know what it is doing ...

... neither the government nor the police wish to admit that any single person is more likely than anyone else to be a terrorist."

Are political correct notions of ethnicity more sacrosanct that the lives of airline passengers? The answer seems to be a definite yes.

European Champions League

The group tables of the European Champions League were drawn on Thursday. Milan looks to have an easier group (Lille, AEK, Anderlecht) than most the top squads. Chelsea and Barcelona are in Group A with Werder Bremen, so one of them might have a bit of a challenge to move on to the final 16. My eldest son is a little worried about Arsenal as they are grouped with Hamburg and Porto. Arsenal should move on, but they are streaky and if they are not their top-drawer selves early on in the year, they could be bounced at the group stage. I'm looking forward to the competitive Group B (Inter Milan, Sporting Lisbon, Bayern Munich and Spartak Moskva. The battle for second in Group C should be exciting; Liverpool should win the group but Bordeaux, PSV and Galatasaray all have a chance to make it to the final 16. My predictions:

Group A: Barcelona, Chelsea
Group B: Inter Milan, Bayern Munich
Group C: Liverpool, PSV
Group D: Valencia, Roma
Group E: Real Madrid, Lyon
Group F: Manchester United, Benfica
Group G: Porto, Arsenal
Group H: AC Milan, Lille

Ever strange not to see Juventas (penalized and not allowed in European action this year) or Dutch giants Ajax Amsterdam (bounced in the previous round after an own-goal and now in the UEFA Cup competition).

Stem cell bamboozle

Lots of laudatory coverage of the announcement by Advanced Cell Technology that it has come up with an ethical way of doing embryonic stem cell research without killing the embryo. If you make it to the bottom of this New York Times story (reprinted in the Toronto Star), you find two views to the contrary. Leon Kass, the most thoughtful critic of ESCR and former chair of President George W. Bush's bioethics council, said: "I do not think that this is the sought-for, morally unproblematic and practically useful approach we need." Wesley Smith has concerns (three posts on August 23 & 24) as well as criticism of the media for writing their stories off of ACT's press release rather than the original Nature story. A major ethical concern, as Smith notes, is that the safety to the surviving embryo following this new procedure has not been established. What is strange to me is the continued push for embryonic stem cell research when adult stem cell research has had greater success in human clinical trials (having been found effective in treating at least 80 different diseases and conditions) and the few attempts to use ESCs has serious problems that may limit their applicability.

Thursday, August 24, 2006
HezboLiberal Party of Canada

This is very funny. Great "HezboLiberal gear" and mock headline: "Coderre To Attend Spontaneous Angry Riot."

UK grows but not because of the English. Or Scots, Welsh or Irish

The population of the United Kingdom soared past 60 million, the Daily Telegraph reports. The growth is the result of immigration in two ways. 1) More immigrants means more people. 2) Immigrants are having children. As the paper says, the Office of National Statistics "cited research that strongly suggested that the reason for a positive 'natural change' – more births than deaths during the year – was the presence in the country of immigrant women who had children in those 12 months."

Las Vegas restricts marriage licences

The time people can get them, that is. AP reports:

"Night owls take note: after-midnight marriage licences will no longer by available to lovebirds in Las Vegas.

After years of sanctioning hasty matches, the Las Vegas marriage bureau plans to close its all-night counter.

County officials approved a new 8 a.m.-to-midnight schedule that will take effect next Wednesday, eliminating 24-hour marriage licence service on Fridays, Saturday and holidays. The counter did not previously offer after-midnight service Monday through today."

This is a cost-cutting measure ($200 K a year), not a sign of Sin City's newfound conservatism or anything like that. But it may have the effect of deterring some hasty weddings. As the article notes, Britney Spears, Nicky Hilton and Bruce Willis were all married in early morning services and all these marriages ended in divorce.

A history of American conservatism

William Rusher, a former publisher of National Review, gives a brief and slightly superficial but useful history of the strains within conservative movement in the United States since the 1950s:

"Back in the late 1950s, most of the conservative movement could and did meet for lunch in the company dining room of Bill Buckley's family oil business on East 37th St. in Manhattan. They were devout Cold Warriors and, in domestic affairs, were generally opposed to the steady growth of government. On both counts, they opposed the policies of the liberals, who ran the country. They called themselves, simply, "conservatives." No one rose to protest the term.

From the start, the conservatives recognized the existence of a group of country cousins who called themselves "libertarians." The libertarians had been around for a while. Their big obsession was government, which they wanted to keep as small as possible. The conservatives had considerable sympathy for this view, but thought there was more to conservatism than just that. Moreover, the libertarians' antagonism to government action kept them from endorsing wholeheartedly government measures needed to win the Cold War.

Things rocked along this way until the mid-1960s, when a small but influential group of liberals and leftists -- mostly New Yorkers -- got fed up with liberal acquiescence in the antics of the noisy New Left (especially in opposing the Cold War) and broke with liberalism altogether. This group, led by Irving Kristol and Norman Podhoretz, long resisted being called conservatives, but eventually agreed to be described as "neoconservatives."

In the early 1970s, a group of young conservatives -- led by Paul Weyrich, Richard Viguerie and Howard Phillips -- began arguing that a large number of formerly Democratic blue-collar workers were ripe for recruitment by the conservatives on the basis of their social values (the family, etc.), which were under heavy attack from the left. They were labeled the "New Right," and their analysis was correct: In 1980, millions of former Democrats backed Reagan. Meanwhile, in 1978 a liberal move (subsequently abandoned) to eliminate the tax deductibility of religious schools so alarmed politically quiescent Christians that they organized themselves for political action. Thus was born the "Religious Right."

In or about 1986 (there is some dispute over the exact year), a group of conservatives who disliked the interventionist foreign policies and alleged indifference to big government that was being displayed by the neoconservatives, ferociously denounced them, loudly abandoned the conservative movement altogether, and called themselves "paleoconservatives." Most of their names are not nationally familiar, but Pat Buchanan probably belongs in (or somewhere near) this group, since he favors America First isolationism and trade protectionism (tariffs).

Finally, in 2000 Bill Kristol and a handful of younger neoconservatives began advocating a combination of a tough foreign policy and a lean, but muscular, domestic government that they have dubbed "national greatness conservatism." Just how far they will get, it is still too early to say.

So there's a brief guide to the zoo that the conservative movement has become. As for liberalism, far from proliferating, it is hanging on by its fingernails."

There are a lot of shortcuts taken by Rusher to cover the intellectual terrain of five decades, but he only had a column to do so.

Two observations.

1) I think the differences between the strains of conservatism can be exaggerated; often it is a matter of focus or priority; many within the religious right (New Right) are foreign policy hawks and suspicious of big government; most paleocons are cultural and moral conservatives. Many economics conservatives are at least mildly socially conservative. It is notable that the vast majority of the candidates supported by the Club for Growth are also supported by the National Right to Life Committee.

2) It is telling that "conservatives" of whatever strain seldom shy from using the term conservative (unless they are true libertarians). That conservatism continues to find thoughtful advocates why liberalism (however you want to define that, and probably best modified by "political" or "modern") doesn't. And, of course, few liberals are willing to use the label on themselves or describe what they believe in.

I miss NealeNews

About this time each morning, I check NealeNews. No longer.

The bloom is off New York mayor's presidential run

Earlier this week, New York mayor Michael Bloomberg quashed rumours that he might run for president vowing to stay his full term before going into full-time charitable work. Perhaps he understands that as a left-wing Republican (he was a Democrat until the eve of running for the GOP mayoral primary in 2001), he has little chance to win over Republican or Democratic voters.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006
Me on i channel

The Zerb takes a dig at Joe Clark's kid by calling i channel "moribund." It might be. But I'm there Thursday taping a show on the Liberal Party and what it needs to do to make itself relevant again with host Ray Heard and others. Should be fun. I'll pass on details of when it will air when I get them.

When she's right, she's right

Ann Coulter on the Democrats and the War on Terror:

"Assuming against all logic and reason that the Democrats have some serious objection to the war in Iraq, perhaps they could tell us which part of the war on terrorism they do support. That would be easier than rattling off the long list of counterterrorism measures they vehemently oppose."

Fixed links

The links on my post on the Faith and Culture conference are now working. Sorry about that.

Careful what you argue for

The Los Angeles Times editorialized yesterday in favour of honesty in the death penalty debate, saying abolitionists should not argue that a particular method of execution is cruel and unusual but that capital punishment, no matter how it is administered, is cruel and unusual. I doubt that there call will be heeded concerning the fundamental dishonesty of capital punishment opponents. Two examples: 1) many use the argument that there have been hundreds of "innocent" people condemned to death but they are relying on statistics that include hundreds of convicted criminals who later got off on technicalities, hardly "innocents" in my mind, and 2) many argue for life imprisonment as an alternative to capital punishment but were they honest, they'd admit that they don't like life in prison either because many are ideologically opposed to punishment.

Anyway, I was a little bit confused by this line of argument from the Times editorial:

"... the Supreme Court in 1972 when it struck down state death penalty laws then on the books. In one of the leading opinions in that case, Justice Potter Stewart wrote that the legal systems of the time permitted the death penalty to be 'wantonly and freakishly imposed.' Stewart noted that 'these death sentences are cruel and unusual in the same way that being struck by lightning is cruel and unusual.'

Although the court later upheld revised death penalty statutes, Stewart's insight remains apt. The death penalty in 2006 is still cruel and unusual punishment in part because only a fraction of convicted murderers are put to death — some because they live in a particular state, others because they had a bad lawyer — and even then execution comes years or decades after conviction. (Most of the death penalty cases decided by the Supreme Court in its recent term involved murders committed in the 1980s.)"

Are they arguing that because not all convicted murderers are executed that capital punishment is cruel to those who are thus punished? So is the answer to this objection to the death penalty more capital punishment. And because the justice system allows enough appeals to ensure that the rights of criminals are protected, including ensuring that "innocent" death row inmates never meet the ultimate punishment, that it is cruel to those who have to wait for their execution? Is justice really served by executing criminals more quickly?

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Send them to paul_tuns[AT]

Screw you Super Size Me guy

The Guardian reports that fast food burgers are bigger and meatier than ever. Man, Hardees' Monster Thickburger -- "two thirds-of-a-pound slices of Angus beef, eight bacon strips and three cheese slices in a buttered bun" -- sounds good. And deadly, but that's my choice.

The Monster Thickburger and Burger King's Stacker Quad and other goodies are part of what the industry is calling "indulgent offerings" and they represent something of a backlash against the anti-fast-food backlash inspired by people like Morgan Spurlock. No doubt liberals in America, including Spurlock, will soon be joining The Guardian's Oliver Burkeman in denouncing the trend.

Just a tiny bit off

Years ago I read some conservative who said that one of the few things government do well is collect statistics. Perhaps. But their forecasting sucks. From a London Times editorial:

"In every respect bar one the statistics released yesterday about the Workers Registration Scheme for those seeking employment from the eight ex-Communist nations that joined the EU in 2004 demonstrate a success story. The exception is that the numbers are far, far higher than the Home Office forecast before this programme started. The official estimate was that between 5,000 and 13,000 individuals a year would arrive. The actual final tally of applications accepted from May 2004 to June 2006 was 427,000, a figure that is almost certainly an underestimation, as it excludes the self-employed — such as electricians, plumbers and the building trade."

A total of 427,000 over two years when the government predicted 5,000-13,000? I hope someone lost his job over this. I doubt it, but I still hope so.

But as the editorial notes, other than the Home Office's inept predictions, Eastern European immigrants have been an incredible success: 97% have full-time employment and most immigrants are ages 18-34 (that is, they will be productive for a long time). Slightly over 1,000 or 0.4% receive some form of government assistance. Unless, of course, these government statistics are wrong.

Mets gearing up for October

I don't know what is the better news for New York Mets fans: the acquisition of outfielder Shawn Green or that pitcher Tom Glavine is okay. Green, a rightfielder who waived his no-trade clause so the Arizona Diamondbacks could save some money and he could play for a World Series contender, is not what he used to be (a four-time 100 rbi man, a 40 homer guy in 1999, 2001, 2002), but he is a significant improvement over the corner outfielders the Mets are currently using. Green's line of 283/348/429 is good but not great. That's good for 1.4 wins over a typical replacement player over the course of this season. He is consistent with the bat, hitting between 280 and 286 in four of the last five seasons. His OBP has been hovering around 350 for the past four seasons and there is a slow but steady decline in his slugging percentage (and Shea Stadium isn't going to help in that department). Under-performing Cliff Floyd (245/330/416) in on the DL for the second time this season and rookie Lasting Milledge is going to be a good player one day but isn't there yet (238/310/400); corner outfielder who barely get on base 30% of the time and don't far eclipse the 400 SLG mark don't deserve to be starters on post-season teams. Endy Chavez is performing way above what could reasonably be expected and I'm not sure I'd want to bet on his decent but uninspiring 296/336/433 to hold up under the pressure of October baseball. Green helps in the lineup and the move of Chavez to the bench gives the Mets a stronger bench.

On the same day, the team found out that they will get 40-year-old southpaw Tom Glavine back. They thought he would require season-ending surgery to fix a blood clot in his shoulder but it can be treated with medication. They would have missed his 12-6 record and 3.92 ERA. Glavine is the only pitcher on the Mets who is consistently good and healthy. (Pedro Martinez is consistently good when he is healthy enough to pitch.) With a 13.5 game lead over the Philadelphia Phillies, the Mets won't rush Glavine back, wanting to keep him healthy for post-season play.

The Mets were already the dominating team in the pathetically weak National league; the loss of Glavine might have given other teams (the St. Louis Cardinals and Los Angeles Dodgers) some glimmer of hope for late October play. The news that he will return and the acquisition of Green must be deflating to their late post-season hopes.

Faith and Culture conference

There is going to be an excellent conference on Faith and Culture in Ottawa from October 2-4. The conference is "designed to equip and to network for cultural engagement, with former and current elected officials as well as opinion leaders from Canada's associations, think tanks, and advocacy groups." There are excellent speakers (see here and here), a BBQ on Parliament Hill, networking opportunities and time to see the House of Commons in action. (You may have noticed that I am one of the speakers. I'm scheduled to discuss faith and media in one of the breakout sessions.)

Registration information is here. It's just $299, $99 for students, assuming you register before September 15 (prices go up after that). That includes two breakfasts, two lunches, and two dinners. You can also register for the Tuesday dinner separately. They are also looking for people to donate "student scholarships." Please help this important endeavour.

Significant statistic

One-third of the populations of Rotterdam and Amsterdam are foreign born. Of those under 20, more than half are foreign born.

The wages of a politically correct disease

Michael Fumento has a great piece at The American Spectator on the myth of the prevalence of AIDS. The coverage of last week's AIDS confab in Toronto suggested that AIDS was an imminent threat not only to the women of Africa who can't say no to their unfaithful husbands (and the eight-year-old virgins that South African men think will "cure" them of their disease after raping them), but every single human being on the planet. As Fumento notes, one participant wore a t-shirt that said "We all have AIDS." No we don't. In fact, few in the Western world will. In the US, fewer than 39,000 people were diagnosed with AIDS in 2004; in Canada, the number is a couple hundred. (There are about 2,500 new HIV cases reported each year.) Yet there is a lot of money spent on AIDS research and education, making it the most profitable disease per death.

Of course, it is a tragedy for those who have it and their families, but in the West it is mostly a lifestyle disease (homosexuality, intravenous drug use, promiscuity). In the developing world, it is a more widespread problem. And while the TD Financial Bank Group was right to make a business case for the treatment of AIDS in the developing world, an equally compelling case could be made for malaria (as the World Economic Forum does, here). But Hollywood celebrities and other western sophisticates don't have friends that are dying of malaria so it is ignored. As Fumento says of the victims of TB and malaria, "Alas for these victims, they don't have a politically correct disease. And for that they must die."

Yankees sweep

In just over 75 hours, the New York Yankees beat the Boston Red Sox five games in a row, outscoring their rivals 49-26. Lots could be said about the Boston massacre but I'll leave it to Joe Sheehan at Baseball Prospectus:

"As disparate as the two teams’ fortunes had been since the All-Star break, their recent history of playing each other to essentially a draw seemed to mandate a split, a 3-2 series that would leave the AL East race largely unchanged heading into the season’s final six weeks.

What we got instead was a clinic at the plate, a display of what a patient, disciplined team can do to pitchers who are unable to attack the strike zone with regularity. The Yankees worked deep counts, got into good situations and took advantage, eventually exploiting the Sox’ injury-thinned staff to take five games that were all in doubt in the middle innings."

The Yankees are a mighty patient team. That has two benefits: high on-base percentages and wearing down the opponent's pitchers and thus getting to less effective middle relievers. At one point in Saturday's game, New York Yankee batters took 18 of 19 pitches. That takes discipline. And it leads to winning. It also helps when you are struggling; it is curious but true that when most players experience hitting slumps, they generally retain their walk ratio. A player that walks a lot is still valuable to his team by reaching base and being a potential run and, more importantly, not giving up one of those precious 27 outs. The Yankees have five such players: Jason Giambi, Bobby Abreu, Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada and Johnny Damon all take a large number of walks. Even if a pair are slumping at the same time and not getting the hits, they are still likely to get on base, ready for one of their team-mates to bring them home.

The funny thing about this series is that only the Red Sox have a better OBP than the Yanks in all of the majors (363 compared to 362); the Toronto Blue Jays are tied with the Los Angeles Dodgers for third, but are are 11 points behind the Yankees. But being behind led the Boston big guns to aggressively swing for the at every at-bat. For some reason, many teams think that when they are behind, they need to score with the long ball rather than just get players on base. As Boston can attest, that isn't always a good strategy.

Monday, August 21, 2006
Taranto on the vital politic question of the day

James Taranto in The Best of the Web Today:

"We must say, we are highly ambivalent about this. We are quite fond of our civil liberties and would hate to lose them. On the other hand, we're appalled at the fatuousness of today's civil libertarians, who seem to care more about terrorists' rights than national security. That very much includes the New York Times, with its penchant for compromising national secrets.

In an age of terror, society ought to be able to strike a reasonable balance between civil liberties and national security. By insisting that liberty is an all-or-nothing proposition, civil libertarians make it more likely that we will eventually end up with nothing."

Sounds reasonable, but isn't most of the debate, including the New York Times' (faulty) position, trying to find that reasonable balance? Some (the Bush administration) may side much closer to national security and others (the Times, the ACLU) side much closer to civil liberties. Finding a balance doesn't always mean splitting the difference and coming to a conclusion precisely in the middle. Compromise might mean being closer to one end of the spectrum than the other.

`Dad ehen we were running, it felt like I wasn't disabled anymore!'

Here's a video of Dick Hoyt and his 43-year-old disabled son, Rick. They run the Boston marathon together. Below is their inspiring story, forwarded to me (and which I verified as belonging to the June 15, 2000 Sports Illustrated). There are also other videos at the link I provided if you check out the right-hand side of the page.

Strongest Dad in the World
By Rick Reilly
Sports Illustrated

I try to be a good father. Give my kids mulligans. Work nights to pay for their text
messaging. Take them to swimsuit shoots.

But compared with Dick Hoyt, I stink.

Eighty-five times he's pushed his disabled son, Rick, 26.2 miles in marathons. Eight
times he's not only pushed him 26.2 miles in a wheelchair but also towed him 2.4
miles in a dinghy while swimming and pedaled him 112 miles in a seat on the
handlebars--all in the same day.

Dick's also pulled him cross-country skiing, taken him on his back mountain climbing
and once hauled him across the U.S. on a bike. Makes taking your son bowling look a
little lame, right?

And what has Rick done for his father? Not much--except save his life.

This love story began in Winchester, Mass., 43 years ago, when Rick was strangled by
the umbilical cord during birth, leaving him brain-damaged and unable to control his

``He'll be a vegetable the rest of his life;'' Dick says doctors told him and his
wife, Judy, when Rick was nine months old. ``Put him in an institution.''

But the Hoyts weren't buying it. They noticed the way Rick's eyes followed them
around the room. When Rick was 11 they took him to the engineering department at
Tufts University and asked if there was anything to help the boy communicate. ``No
way,'' Dick says he was told. ``There's nothing going on in his brain.''

"Tell him a joke,'' Dick countered. They did. Rick laughed. Turns out a lot was
going on in his brain.

Rigged up with a computer that allowed him to control the cursor by touching a
switch with the side of his head, Rick was finally able to communicate. First words?
``Go Bruins!'' And after a high school classmate was paralyzed in an accident and
the school organized a charity run for him, Rick pecked out, ``Dad, I want to do

Yeah, right. How was Dick, a self-described ``porker'' who never ran more than a
mile at a time, going to push his son five miles? Still, he tried. ``Then it was me
who was handicapped,'' Dick says. ``I was sore for two weeks.''

That day changed Rick's life. ``Dad,'' he typed, ``when we were running, it felt
like I wasn't disabled anymore!''

And that sentence changed Dick's life. He became obsessed with giving Rick that
feeling as often as he could. He got into such hard-belly shape that he and Rick
were ready to try the 1979 Boston Marathon.

``No way,'' Dick was told by a race official. The Hoyts weren't quite a single
runner, and they weren't quite a wheelchair competitor. For a few years Dick and
Rick just joined the massive field and ran anyway, then they found a way to get into
the race officially: In 1983 they ran another marathon so fast they made the
qualifying time for Boston the following year.

Then somebody said, ``Hey, Dick, why not a triathlon?''

How's a guy who never learned to swim and hadn't ridden a bike since he was six
going to haul his 110-pound kid through a triathlon? Still, Dick tried.

Now they've done 212 triathlons, including four grueling 15-hour Ironmans in Hawaii.
It must be a buzzkill to be a 25-year-old stud getting passed by an old guy towing a
grown man in a dinghy, don't you think?

Hey, Dick, why not see how you'd do on your own? ``No way,'' he says. Dick does it
purely for ``the awesome feeling'' he gets seeing Rick with a cantaloupe smile as
they run, swim and ride together.

This year, at ages 65 and 43, Dick and Rick finished their 24th Boston Marathon, in
5,083rd place out of more than 20,000 starters. Their best time'? Two hours, 40
minutes in 1992--only 35 minutes off the world record, which, in case you don't keep
track of these things, happens to be held by a guy who was not pushing another man
in a wheelchair at the time.

``No question about it,'' Rick types. ``My dad is the Father of the Century.''

And Dick got something else out of all this too. Two years ago he had a mild heart
attack during a race. Doctors found that one of his arteries was 95% clogged. ``If
you hadn't been in such great shape,'' one doctor told him, ``you probably would've
died 15 years ago.''

So, in a way, Dick and Rick saved each other's life.

Rick, who has his own apartment (he gets home care)and works in Boston, and Dick,
retired from the military and living in Holland, Mass., always find ways to be
together. They give speeches around the country and compete in some backbreaking
race every weekend, including this Father's Day.

That night, Rick will buy his dad dinner, but the thing he really wants to give him
is a gift he can never buy.

``The thing I'd most like,'' Rick types, ``is that my dad sit in the chair and I
push him once.''

Borys Wrzesnewskyj is an ass

Adam Daifallah explains, although he calls him a useful idiot instead of an ass. They are, of course, not mutually exclusive. In fact, I would suggest that anyone who wants Hezbollah removed from Canada's list of terrorist organizations qualifies as both.

Sunday, August 20, 2006
Any excuse not to act

The AP reported Saturday on a statement from the office of French President Jacques Chirac on the need for a clear mandate before international forces go into Lebanon to enforce the non-existent ceasefire. Fair enough. What isn't right, though, is France's foot-dragging because the composition of the international force doesn't meet some nebulous definition of balance to make it truly international; according to the statement, Chirac "insisted on the vital need for balance in the composition of the force, which should reflect the commitment of the whole international community and, in particular, of European countries." Why is there a need for balance? I'm not a fan of the ceasefire agreement, but is there such a thing as a disproportionate number of French, Finnish, Italian or Turkish troops, just to take the example of three country's leaders whom Chirac has talked to about this need for balance? If it is necessary to have a peacekeeping force in southern Lebanon, does it really matter what country's send them?

Lieberman reaches out to the Weekly Standard set

The AP reports that Joseph Lieberman has called for Donald Rumsfeld to resign as Secretary of Defense and has said it was a mistake not to send more troops to Iraq. Lieberman is not the first Monday morning quarterback in politics and won't be the last. He is certainly right about the latter and perhaps correct about the former, although saying Rumsfeld must go smacks of politics. Sure he might have called for Rummy's resignation in 2003, but doing so now, in the first week's of his independent Senate race and the aftermath of losing the Democratic nomination seems a bit suspicious.

Friday, August 18, 2006
Egregiously bad analogy

Washington Post columnist David Ignatious criticizes use of the term Islamic fascists, saying, after similarities between 1930s-style European fascism and Islamofascists today:

"Yet I balk at the term. The notion that we are fighting "Islamic fascists" blurs the conflict, widening the enemy to many if not all Muslims. It's as if we were to call Hitler and Mussolini 'Christian fascists,' implying that it is their religion, not resistance to transcendence, that is the root cause of the problem."

This seems silly, if not outright dishonest, grounds to oppose the term Islamofascism or Islamic fascists. Unlike the jihadists we face today who carry out there murderous agenda in the name of Allah and in order to establish a Muslim state, I don't recall Adolf Hitler or Benito Mussolini invoking the name of Christ or hoping to establish a self-consciously Christian empire.

'I see drunk people'

From the Los Angeles Times:

"Haley Joel Osment, the 18-year-old actor who was injured in a car crash in La Canada Flintridge last month, was charged with misdemeanor drunk driving, it was announced today."

Osment is old enough to drive?

The Labour leader of the Tory Party

I forgot to mention an item from last week's Speccie, in which Fraser Nelson notes that Conservative Party donors in the UK are becoming impatient with David Cameron's lurch to the center, epitomized by his endorsement of William Hague's criticism of Israel's "disproportionate" response to Hezbollah in southern Lebanon. As Nelson notes, on most important issues, the Labour Party is the more right-leaning and more relevant of the two major parties: Home Secretary John Reid is proposing immigration quotas whereas the Tories have unofficially banned discussion of the topic; Tony Blair stands beside Israel in its existential war whereas the Tory leadership criticizes the Middle East's only functional democracy; long-time Labour backbencher Frank Field is promoting welfare reform to end "serfdom" in England whereas the Tories are ... well, not saying anything meaningful about welfare reform, period. But, as Nelson says sardonically, "For plans about how businesses should fit more showers so cyclists can wash properly before getting into work, listen to Mr. Cameron on Radio One." How Clintonian. Nelson says these are not merely the observations of a cranky columnist but the concerns of worried party donors. Cameron need not be Thatcher to offer real alternatives to Blairism and excite his party's base and the centrist voters he needs to win over to win the next election, but if wants not to be "portrayed as a trivial figure in a serious world" he needs to talk about something other than employer-provided showers for cyclists.

Rushdie on Greer

Yes, Salman Rushdie has feuded with numerous female writers including Germaine Greer, but what he says about Greer in this otherwise banal interview in the Daily Telegraph is true:

"What people don't often say about Germaine Greer is that she is barking mad. She is an idiot ... She's mad, and her determination to be out of step leads her into batty positions. We just watch her, and wonder why."

(The only other mildly worthwhile point in the interview is near the end where the author notes that everyone now is "living under a fundamentalist threat" as Rushdie did once (alone) when the fatwa when he wrote The Satanic Verses. Unfortunately, the author only records a single line of reaction from Rushdie to this observation.)

US War on Terror flawed only in implementation

There is a damning critique of Bush's execution of foreign policy by Gerard Baker in the (London) Times, a critique from someone who honestly wishes President George W. Bush would do better:

"The common critique of US foreign policy these past few years has been that it was insufficiently multilateral. That if only the US would work a bit more with the French and the Russians, be a little bit warmer to the Palestinians, sign up to international treaties, say nice things about the United Nations, the world would be a much safer and calmer place.

I always found that a slightly old-fashioned critique. The events of September 11, taken together with the other, steadily escalating acts of terrorism committed against the West in the past 30 years, required a radical new departure for the international system. Preventing the lunatics from blowing us all to the hereafter was going to require that the US, the only country with the power to stop it, break a bit of crockery.

But the US could take the risk of alienating the world and discarding international law only if its leadership was going to be effective. Instead its leadership has been desultory and uncertain and tragically ineffective."

Thursday, August 17, 2006
Opponents of profiling seem unaware we are at war

From the growing call for increased profiling as a component of increased airline security, Jonah Goldberg offered this gem yesterday: "[W]hile our enemies are coming up with ingenious ways to murder Americans, we’re coming up with ingenious ways to search for our enemies in the nicest manner possible." Goldberg notes the irony of the ACLU worrying about violating of the rights of Muslims while being indifferent to the random searches (or searches based on some idiotic formula) of grandmothers and young children "for literally no reason at all." Why does this matter? Because, as Goldberg notes, "The terrorists we’re looking for are overwhelmingly young, male Muslims from places like Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. Why is it morally superior to inconvenience old Mormon women of Swedish descent -— for no reason at all -— as much as young men from Pakistan?" So airport security will be nice but it won't be effective. Or moral. In fact, because it doesn't make us safe and because such non-profiling security measures violate the liberty arbitrarily of people who are no threat, such policies are morally inferior to terrorist profiling. But at least liberals are happy that no Muslim's feelings were hurt.

Build a better central banker or better yet, no banker at all

Greg Mankiw, a former economic advisor to President George W. Bush, gets feedback from Milton Friedman on a paper on the "macroeconomist." (HT: The Eclectic Economist) Here's a choice snippet from Friedman:

"One more side point. I have come to the conclusion that the central bankers did a marvelous job of pulling the wool over the eyes of economists. They led us all to believe that maintaining a relatively stable price level is a very difficult problem that requires the judgment of the wisest of experienced bankers and business people. The ease with which New Zealand, Australia, Britain, etc., have maintained relatively stable prices, have reduced greatly the variability of inflation, suggests that maybe it isn’t such a hard job at all, that the cycles of the past were not attributable to the difficulty of achieving price stability, but to the mistakes of the central bankers in not achieving price stability."

Friedman suggests, as he has for years, increasing the money supply at a fixed rate at regular intervals, before adding, "Even better would be to abolish the Fed and mandate the Treasury to keep highpowered money at a constant numerical level."

Sundry items

A few things that you should check out for your reading pleasure/edification from the past few days.

Tim Fernholz notes at The New Republic that nothing has changed in Darfur since a peace agreement was signed earlier this year. Actually, that's not entirely true; the killing and displacement have gotten worse. Of course, the UN was involved and after the US bathed itself in good PR, there was little left for the West to do. And it doesn't help that Khartoum is not keeping its end of the bargain as it prevents peacekeeping forces from entering the country.

Alex Singleton talks about "fair aid" at the Globalization Institute blog. Fair aid, it seems, requires some conditionality.

At TCS Daily, Steven Schwartz explains what Islamofascism is ("Islamofascism refers to use of the faith of Islam as a cover for totalitarian ideology").

Gerry Nicholls says that the Canadian Auto Workers are right to jettison the NDP if they are interested in curtailing the pro-free market policies of the Conservative Party; smart strategy, but bad policy, but at least they are thinking strategically for once.

In another post, Gerry outlines the Mackenzie Institute's John Thompson's ten truisms of terrorism. Read them all but consider, especially the significance of #8 ("Their [the terrorists] idea of peace is not your idea of peace").

Speaking of the Mackenzie Institute, the essay on immigration and assimilation on why Muslims don't integrate easily, from their April newsletter, is worth reading.

Slightly amusing story

Clayton Cramer retells this story: "I am reminded of something that happened to a co-worker some years ago. He went to the post office to pick up a package. He had a book in his hand that had the word 'algorithms' in it. Another person standing in line looked at the title and asked, 'Is that a book of the sayings of Al Gore'?"

This reminds me, for no very good reason, of something that fhe former leader of the Ontario Libertarian Party, Kaye Sargent, told me: that numerous times she was asked if libertarians are Liberal feminists.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006
Elvis lives

Elvis Aaron Presley died 29 years ago today. I am not a huge Elvis fan with perhaps only a dozen of his songs doing much for me -- unless he was performing them live. The album that I just can't get enough of right now is Elvis Live featuring performances from several concerts. A couple highlights: a slightly up-tempo version of In the Ghetto, great covers of See See Rider, My Way and Bridge Over Troubled Water, How Great Thou Art and my favourite Elvis song, Suspicious Minds. Elvis and his great backup singers do a fantastic version of How Great Thou Art -- his voice was created to do that song. The live performance of Suspicious Minds at the International Hotel in Las Vegas on August 22, 1969 is incredible, 7 minutes and 27 seconds with about the final 80% of that repeating the chorus at different tempos.

Elvis, like Frank Sinatra, was an entertainer -- a singer, an actor, a larger-than-life personality. Elvis was among those Daniel J. Boorstin named as the celebrity turned star, those who "can 'perform' in almost any kind of piece ... the star-celebrity is an undifferentiated entertainer." In the mid-1970s, Elvis was getting paid $100,000 for a two-week gig at the Hilton in Vegas (two shows a day), which he did twice a year. It was said that only Elvis was bigger than Sinatra in that town (that truly never sleeps) with 20-foot neon lights flashing his name. That was 20 years after breaking onto the music scene, 20 years after eclipsing Dwight Eisenhower for fame in the Republic. In 1975, George Will called Elvis the "cultural disturber of the general's decade." Leonard Bernstein told Time magazine's Dick Clurman Elvis was the "greatest cultural force in the twentieth century." Challenged on this and offered Picasso as an alternative, Bernstein replied, "No, it's Elvis."

A slight exaggeration but consider how things have changed. I find Elvis more interesting for sociological reasons than his music. Elvis is often credited with making marketing to youth -- the ducktail, side-burns, tight black pants, the leather jacket, transistor radios and, of course, hit singles -- fashionable. Elvis marketed not only his music, but his look and his persona.

His controversies, such as his swiveling pelvis, seem quaint today. I've heard more than once the comeback to some complaint about the latest shock rocker (Marilyn Manson, Madonna, Eminem) that people, including TV censors, were once upset by Elvis's gyrations, famously banned from the shots of him on The Ed Sullivan Show. But isn't it possible that we got Manson and Madonna because Elvis opened Pandora's Box?

Not being judgmental, just wondering and making observations. The moralizing over Elvis is not the only thing that is quaint. So much has changed since Elvis first hit the music scene in the mid-'50s. Two illustrative anecdotes. When Elvis was called by WHBQ, a radio station in Memphis, to do an interview, the station had to call the Presleys neighbours because the family did not have a telephone. When Elvis was interviewed by Dewey Phillips, the host asked the artist which high school he went to in town. Elvis, whose music sounded "black", answered Humes, subtly sending a signal to listeners that he was white.

Elvis, though, did grow up among blacks in federally subsidized housing in the late 1940s after the family moved from Mississippi to Memphis and listened to the "black" radio station as a child in Tupelo, Mississippi. Historian David Halberstam said that the airwaves were the one thing that was not segregated in Elvis's early life.

While the Supreme Court ended the practice of segregating the races in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka on May 17, 1954, Elvis probably did more to bring blacks and white together by conflating notions of black and white music. He recorded his first song, That's Alright (Mama) at Sun Records in Memphis 49 days after the Brown decision, on July 5, 1954 (sometimes called the day Rock 'n' Roll was born).

And while he was initially quite subversive and he was not prone to making political statements, there are a number of aspects of his life that might warm the cockles of the hearts of conservatives. Even as a greasy-haired, hoodlum-looking interview subject in 1954, he referred to men as sir and women as mam. He served in the military in the late 1950s and when he rejoined civilian life, he was more mature and less rebellious. In the 1960s he denounced the politics of The Beatles as "anti-American" and in the 1970s, he asked Richard Nixon to name him a federal agent at large to help battle the scourge of drugs. He appears to be a serious Christian. Once when a woman called him the King and placed a crown on his head, he replied, "I'm not the King. Christ is the King. I'm just a singer".

Then again, one can read too much significance into an entertainer when he becomes a cultural phenomenon. One can appreciate his contribution to entertainment, and enjoy his music and movies. And probably not worry if Elvis is still alive.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Send them to paul_tuns[AT]

Choosing a leader because he's electable is folly

NCC veep Gerry Nicholls comments on one of my earlier posts on the Liberal leadership race and says:

"The Liberals aren't thinking about new visions or promoting an ideology, it's just "who can beat Stephen Harper."

And it's not just the Liberals; the Tories were guilty of the same mindset while they were in opposition.

The irony, of course, is that a party that spent more time on developing a coherent set of policies and less time on short-term political tactics, would likely be more successful at the polls."

He is exactly right. But here's another argument against choosing a leader because he can win: Ernie Eves (Ontario Tories choose Ernie Eves over Jim Flaherty in 2002), Michael Howard (the British Tories dumped Iain Duncan Smith in 2003 because he wasn't electable due to his perceived right-wing extremism and replaced him with the bland former Home Secretary), John Kerry (the Democrats choose John Kerry over Howard Dean after the Dean Scream in 2004) and Al Gore (the same party's heart was with Bill Bradley in 2000, but they thought Al Gore, as vice president, would win). Likewise, many Canadian Liberals were only enthusiastic about Paul Martin (whom they considered a little too right wing) because they just knew in their bones that he would deliver the largest majority ever.

On the other hand, few people gave Stephen Harper much chance of forming a government and thought he was merely keeping the Conservative leadership warm until either Mike Harris or Bernard Lord was ready to run federally.

Electability is a trait often ascribed in punditry but poorly understood; it usually is used to describe bland and visionless politicians with impressive credentials but few (saleable) ideas when they are faced by a principled or ideological opponent that the mainstream media considers extreme. But Eves, Kerry and Gore were ineffective campaigners, and voters wanted to know what they would do, not who they were, and when they failed to present even a mildly appealing agenda to voters, voters decided to park their ballot with an opponent who offered something (anything) even when the opponent seemed like a poor candidate (Dalton McGuinty, George W. Bush). Ignatieff seems to be a similar "great resume" candidate, but few Liberals seem to care about his ideas because all they can see is someone who "can beat" Stephen Harper.

Dion endorsed by socialist nutbar

Mike McGuire from Dispatches from the Socialist Gulag notes that organic farmer and former Tory leadership candidate David Orchard (does he still farm or does he just go around promoting protectionism and big government full-time now?) has endorsed Stephane Dion's Liberal leadership bid. I agree with Mike McGuire that the endorsement from Orchard is of marginal help and may point to some unknown sin in a past life for Dion.

McGuire says that Dion represents the Liberals best chance in the next election. Such punditry makes sense only in a vaccuum -- a lot can happen between now and the next election. But if nothing changes, I agree that Dion probably represents the best chance for the Liberals, although not to win but remain competitive. I think that the next election is about preventing the Tories from winning a majority and considering that the strategy of Stephen Harper is to focus on Quebec, the Liberals need to do well there. I can't see Michael Ignatieff and his generally pro-Iraq War, pro-American foreign policy views going over well in Quebec among Liberal voters. Dion is not likely to lead a Liberal break out in the rest of Canada (for reasons I've stated before, I think only Gerard Kennedy is capable of doing that), but he is the most solid bet for the Liberals to maintain their status of approximately 100 seats. And Dion would have done that with or without Orchard's support.

Monday, August 14, 2006
Liberal leadership stuff

Bevilacqua bows out

Business Liberal Maurizio Bevilacqua quit the Liberal leadership race and endorsed former Ontario NDP premier Bob Rae. Greg Staples wonders:

"From what I has read of Mr. Bevilacqua I would have put him on the right side of the party, economically at least. Could a former NDPer have moved that far in from the left or did I have Mr. Bevilacqua pegged incorrectly?"

Rae has moved that far from the Left. There are some who argue that he was never that far left in the first place, but this argument is unpersuasive and mostly wishful thinking or revisionist history. But he has moved rightward on some economic issues. Since leaving the premiership, Rae has joined several corporate boards, made some money and broadened his perspective. He learned how the real world worked by joining it when he left the insulated world of partisan politics. There are some who tongue-in-cheek refer to Rae as Corporate Bob mocking his new found (monied) friends.

As partial proof that Rae is not the same old socialist he was when he was premier, one only look to Bevilacqua's payoff for the endorsement: national co-chair and chief economic advisor to Rae. Bevilacqua has a well-earned reputation for being pro-business, and is more pro-business than Paul Martin ever was (if one excludes Martin's own business).

The leadership race now

Now how does this change the leadership dynamics? I doubt much at all, although there has apparently been a lot of opinion shift in the last 10-20 days.

I've been told by various Liberal insiders that in the last two or three weeks, Joe Volpe's stock has become the political equivalent of penny stock. I've talked to two former supporters of his (and likely delegates) who have changed their minds and no longer support Volpe. I'm told that that a former MP who supported the downtown Toronto Liberal has informed him that he, too, will support someone else. It took a while but the pseudo-scandal of the children's donations, the realization that Volpe has no support outside a few Liberal client groups and the simple fact that he has nothning going for him has finally caught up to Volpe. How much of his previously solid base he manages to retain will dictate how well he does but I imagine that he will fall to a lonely third tier of candidates (along with Scott Brison) who have a significant number of delegate support to help crown the next leader but who has himself fallen out of contention with no hope of doing so.

Most people I've talked to think Rae's chance of winning the leadership has slipped past him because his organization is unable to translate endorsements and donations to actual delegate support. The Hill Times said that Rae is unlikely to build any new support between now and the convention. This strikes me as too pessimistic (or perhaps wishful thinking among his Liberal opponents and conservative critics). The positive press Rae has gotten in the past few days and the fact that he is a seasoned campaigner could very well help turn things around for him. It has also been reported that he has raised the most money, something that came as a bit of a surprise to several people I talked to; it seems he is repeatedly underestimated.

Most people think that Gerard Kennedy's campaign has stalled. It seems that he has and that might be the same as actually stalling (perception is everything, or at least a lot, in politics). He will need to gain some traction soon if he wants any chance to become the next leader, but perhaps he doesn't want to be leader (or at least has realistic expectations). Almost everyone I've talked to, including Kennedy supporters, use the term "kingmaker" whenever they refer to the former Ontario education minister. He seems well poised to influence a sizable chunk of delegates come December.

Scott Brison's campaign, too, has stalled. He will probably want to be seen influencing the outcome of the leadership race but it isn't clear what he is bringing to the table. Will his core first-ballot Atlantic Canadian support stay with him far enough into the count to tip the scales later or will his supporters bail from the ship that doesn't seem to have much of a future.

Most people I talk to say there are only two candidates in the top tier anymore, Stephane Dion and Michael Ignatieff. Dion is there on three accounts: as part of a stop Ignatieff campaign, as the Quebec candidate, or a result of being seen as a winner because he has thus far exceeded expectations. I think to some degree, all three come into play but the last is the most important. However, most people I talk to say that Ignatieff has emerged as the person to beat not because he has excited the party but that likely delegates (to use a word I've heard a lot) are "settling" on him. They like the positive media coverage, they think he brings fresh ideas, and he is not tainted by either Adscam or taking sides in the Martin-Chretien feud. Most importantly, they think he is the only person who can beat Stephen Harper.

Unless opinions harden, mere settling on a candidate provides an opportunity for someone else who can articulate a vision (new policies or a strategy for victory) to become the favourite. I think the only candidates who can do that are Dion, Kennedy or Rae, but for all the behind-the-scenes politicking, I have to wonder when anyone will spell out their vision for the Liberal Party and for Canada. Usually leadership campaigns with 10 candidates can excite the general public and force them to take a second look at a party, but one gets the feeling that Canadians just don't care about the Liberal leadership race. Thus far they haven't been given a reason; the candidate who does, however, can build a lot of momentum.

Strange things people do

The Independent reports that women in South Africa are deliberately becoming obese so they are not perceived to be infected with AIDS/HIV. Says Tessa van der Merwe of the International Association for the Study of Obesity, "Regretfully, there is a perception that if a black woman is thin, she might have HIV/Aids."

Sunday, August 13, 2006
A reminder of the war we are in and why Israel matters

Only the Facts has a flash presentation of Islamic Extremism: Understand the Threat, the end of which has a feature which allows you to email it to others. Spread it far and wide.

Leo hangs it up

John Leo, a columnist for the past 18 years with the U.S. News and World Report, is quitting his column. In his valedictory column, he says it has been a privilege, he says, being part of "the conversation" (aka the "national dialogue") and notes the most common compliment people pay him:

"The trait that admirers mostly accuse me of possessing is common sense. This is a mildly deflating compliment, but I understand it. What readers mean by this is that we now live in a national asylum run by buffoons, but at least a few minds still function normally, and mine seems to be one of them. I unabashedly agree with this assessment."

I never called it common sense, but that would, indeed be accurate. Rather, I described Leo as America's BS detector. He had not patience for cant, lies, or political niceties that obfuscated the truth. His presence in the conversation will be missed although maybe short-lived. He is planning on writing a book and who knows what (not yet ready) will be. But for now, Democrats, academic charlatans, and other liars can rest a little easier.

Bush is the least bad option

That might put is a little too negatively, but that is essentially the point that Joshua Muravchik makes in the Washington Post today. Many neocons and other hawks would like President George W. Bush to go further, faster. As Muravchik reminds readers, (some) neocons felt the same way about Ronald Reagan (as they should have, especially after he tucked his tail between his legs and retreated from the Middle East after the marine barrack bombings in Beruit in 1983). But Muravchik makes a valid point:

"But for neocons or any other conservatives to turn against George W. Bush would be a terrible mistake. Presidents invariably disappoint their strongest supporters. Their powers are limited, and they must cope with Congress, public opinion, unwieldy agencies and, where foreign policy is concerned, other nations that can help or hinder us. The results never match the elegance of the policies formulated by people like me, who grapple only with editors."

Think tank types and columnists (and bloggers) all get the benefit of arguing for something that is intellectually pure and unhindered by political realities. President do not. The senior fellows, researchers, journalists and bloggers are right to call the president to be stronger and even to be disappointed when he is not, but we must acknowledge the limits under which he operates. I cannot improve unpon Muravchik's conclusion:

"None of this is to say that Bush's performance, including the campaign in Iraq, is above criticism by conservatives -- or liberals. I worry, for example, about whether he is conceding too much to our U.N. Security Council partners regarding Iran. But if he is going to bomb Iran's nuclear facilities -- as I believe he will have to do and will not shrink from doing -- his position will be strengthened by having exhausted every diplomatic possibility. I worry, too, about indulging North Korea. But no president can tackle every problem at once.

Bush has taken on the one problem that is by far most important, and he has done it with remarkable perseverance. He led our nation into a war that is both just and necessary and that he knew could not be finished on his watch -- a thankless undertaking. For this he deserves unflagging support from neocons and other conservatives, and indeed from all Americans."

Post endorse Bolton at UN

It is hardly surprising that the New York Post supports the confirmation of John Bolton as the ambassador to the United Nations, but this editorial is nonetheless worth reading. Consider, especially, this retort to those who claim that Bolton doesn't play well with others:

"The ambassador has gone out of his way to work with France - France - to broker a lasting cease-fire between Israel and Hezbollah. This, after the French deceived and betrayed Washington in the U.N. negotiations leading up to the Iraq war.

As for envoys who feel Bolton 'hasn't done a good job' - well, he should wear their scorn as a badge of honor."

At a time that the president has, frankly, gone soft on foreign policy, Bolton's truthfulness and dedication to both the American national interest and freedom is vital.

Saturday, August 12, 2006
Quick baseball note about the Jays

Maybe fans of the Toronto Blue Jays and the Toronto media should stop criticizing the team and writing off the season. Two quick points. First, if they were playing in the National League, the Jays would be a half-game behind the St. Louis Cardinals for the second best record in the senior circuit and comfortably in the Wild Card spot. Furthermore, they are only 7 games behind the Yankees, the American League East division leaders, and eight games behind the Wild Card Chicago White Sox.

Furthermore, large swings in the standings are possible. The Los Angeles Dodgers lost 13 of 14 games following the All Star break and near the end of July looked out of the playoff contention. They have since won 14 of 15 and lead the NL West by a game. Big swings in the standings are not as rare as the pessimism of the Jays fans and Toronto media would indicate; perhaps it's their collective ignorance about baseball that leads them to such gloom. The streakiness of the Dodgers also speaks to wisdom of taking a chance on mortgaging the future to acquire the talent needed to fill gaping holes such as Julio Lugo (at 2B), Wilson Betemit (3B/SS) and Greg Maddux (third spot in the rotation). (I was skeptical about whether the Jays needed to make such a move considering the amount of talent they have on their team; the point of this post is simply to point out that the negativity in Toronto about their ball team is unnecessary.)

Of historical note: Maddux pitches tonight against the San Francisco Giants, attempting to get his 329 win which will tie him with Steve Carlton for tenth in the all-time win category.

Friday, August 11, 2006
How about those 72 virgins

Andrew Sullivan has video of comedian B.J. Novak who has some thoughts about the 72 virgins promised to Muslim terrorists.

Need to change course in Iraq

I agree with Max Boot who says in the Los Angeles Times that the Bush administration's policy in Iraq isn't working and that a new policy of either bringing in more troops or reducing the number there is necessary; this would also mean a change in the mission: reducing the numbers means supporting Iraqi forces to the country can become self-sufficient on security matters and perhaps bring some peace and stability or increasing the number of troops and taking control of Baghdad. Here's Boot:

"But there's another course short of withdrawal: reducing U.S. forces from today's level of 130,000 to under 50,000 and changing their focus from conducting combat operations to assisting Iraqi forces. The money saved from downsizing the U.S. presence could be used to better train and equip more Iraqi units. A smaller U.S. commitment also would be more sustainable over the long term. This is the option favored within the U.S. Special Forces community, in which the dominant view is that most American soldiers in Iraq, with their scant knowledge of the local language and customs, are more of a hindrance than a help to the counterinsurgency effort.

Make no mistake: This is a high-risk strategy. The drawdown of U.S. troops could catalyze the Iraqis into getting their own house in order, or it could lead to a more rapid and violent disintegration of the rickety structure that now exists.

Which path should we take? My preference remains deploying more soldiers, not fewer. A couple of divisions in Baghdad, if skillfully led, might be able to replicate the success that Col. H.R. McMaster's 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment had in pacifying the western city of Tall Afar, where the troops-to-civilians ratio was 10 times higher than in Baghdad today. But at this point, I am also open to a substantial reduction in troop numbers because the current strategy just isn't working.

Bush needs to do something radical to shake up a deteriorating status quo if we are to have any hope of averting the worst American military defeat since Vietnam."

The change in troop deployment and mission is required because 1) the current plan is not working and 2) a renewed and differently focused effort would be more saleable at home, politically speaking. It would also be a teaching moment for the president, a time for him to remind Americans about the realities of the war on terror and why the U.S. is fighting for stability and democracy in Iraq.

Terrorist attacks planned but the real tragedy is the scapegoating

The Guardian quotes Sir Iqbal Sacranie, of the Muslim Council of Britain, who said:

"We applaud the action of the police in taking appropriate action to avert a tragedy but what is really required now is to be aware of the appropriate facts on which their action was taken. There is a danger of stigmatising a whole community. We should not allow certain sections of the media and politicians to use the opportunity to carry out a diatribe against us. We need to know the facts."

Remember when the 17 suspected terrorists were arrested in Canada in June and Muslim leaders worried about a possible backlash against Muslims and the threat of spray point on their mosques. The murder of innocent people is very unfortunate but the real tragedy is simply noting that the suspects were Muslims. But I don't think that Sir Sacranie really cares about the fact that the arrested suspects in Britain (or elsewhere) are Muslims; in fact, it would be quite convenient if that fact was ignored or forgotten.

Charming observation about Americans

Andrew Grimson writes in the Daily Telegraph about a recent visit to the United States, the airplane ride there and commits some sociology after observing the amenities the American airlines plane provides:

"Luckily, American Airlines had provided a screen on the back of the seat in front of one's own, on which one could watch old movies. There was also a map showing how far we had gone, on which places of interest were marked. It began by showing only two places: London and Chartwell.

The Americans are more old-fashioned than us, and what is equally admirable, they are not ashamed of being old-fashioned. They know Churchill was a great man, so they put his house on the map. There is a kind of Englishman to whom this sort of behaviour seems painfully unsophisticated.

We are inclined, in our snobbish way, to dismiss the Americans as a new and vulgar people, whose civilisation has hardly risen above the level of cowboys and Indians. Yet the United States of America is actually the oldest republic in the world, with a constitution that is one of the noblest works of man. When one strips away the distracting symbols of modernity - motor cars, skyscrapers, space rockets, microchips, junk food - one finds an essentially 18th-century country. While Europe has engaged in the headlong and frankly rather immature pursuit of novelty - how many constitutions have the nations of Europe been through in this time? - the Americans have held to the ideals enunciated more than 200 years ago by their founding fathers.

The sense of entering an older country, and one with a sterner sense of purpose than is found among the flippant and inconstant Europeans, can be enjoyed even before one gets off the plane. On the immigration forms that one has to fill in, one is asked: 'Have you ever been arrested or convicted for an offence or crime involving moral turpitude?' Who now would dare to pose such a question in Europe? The very word 'turpitude' brings a smile..."

Thursday, August 10, 2006
Terror arrests

Twenty-one would-be terrorists were arrested in London, thwarting a plan to blow up airplanes en route to America. Here's the money quote: Michael Chertoff, Secretary for Homeland Security said, "This was a very sophisticated plan and operation ... It was not a circle with a handful of people sitting around and dreaming." Over in The Corner, Peter Brookes has the best summary of the implications of this news:

"1. We have two enemies in the war on terror: al Qaeda and complacency. The "Long War" is clearly far from over.

2 The fact that the London group may have had "some" ties to al Qaeda proves that al Qaeda is as much — if not more — an virulent, vicious ideology as a terror group.

3. Good, actionable intelligence — both foreign, like tracking financial transcations, and domestic, like the terrorist surveillance program —is still our first line of defense.

4. Al Qaeda — and its accolytes — are continually evolving (eg the use of liquid explosives to bring down planes), meaning we have to be as imaginative and nimble in our defense as they are in their offense. Of course, taking the fight to the terrorists is our best defense.

5. International cooperation — as examplified by U.S.-U.K. cooperation this time — is a force multiplier in the war on terror.

6. This may not be the last of terror plots meant to occur on or near the fifth anniversary of 9/11..."

Of course not

Quote of the day from The Guardian: "The European Commission said the EU's wide-ranging anti-discrimination laws did not apply to tobacco users." You see, for all the talk about discrimination being bad, the Left precisely means that only some forms of discrimination are bad -- namely any discrimination that runs counter to their prejudices and enthusiasms.

(HT: The Road to Euro Serfdom)

Maybe only a few Muslims take part in terror but many support it

This piece of news comes from the Religion of Peace: ITV reported earlier this week:

"Almost a quarter of British Muslims believe the July 7 terror were justified because of Britain's support for the war on terror, a poll has revealed.

... It found 24 per cent across all age groups either agreed or tended to agree that the 7/7 bombings were justified, although 48 per cent said they "strongly disagreed" and 17 per cent said they did not know."

Okay, let's recap: about one-quarter of British Mulsims surveyed said that the terrorist attacks in London last July were justified because of Britain's foreign policy and another 17% were unable to condemn the terrorist attacks. Add the numbers and you come up with an astonishing four in ten British Muslims condoning or unable to condemn terrorist attacks in their adopted homeland that killed 52 innocent civilians and injured more than 700 others.