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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Wednesday, December 31, 2008
Buy Gerry's book

Gerry Nicholls, the former vice president of the National Citizens' Coalition, has penned a book that is one part memoir, one part history of the NCC, one part clarion call to the conservative movement, and it promises to be the must-read Canadian politics book of 2009 -- and I mean that as a compliment. You can order Loyal To The Core: Stephen Harper, Me And The NCC, here.

It is published by Freedom Press Canada Inc., which released my Jean Chretien: A Legacy of Scandal in 2004. If you don't have a copy of Jean Chretien, it's price has recently been reduced to $11.95.

On the value of literature

From Joseph Epstein's ISI lecture, "A Literary Education," last May:

"One of the most important functions of literature in the current day is to cultivate a healthy distrust of the ideas thrown up by journalism and social science. Novels and poems can be the antidote here. “The novel’s spirit is the spirit of complexity,” Milan Kundera writes. 'The novelist says to the reader: things are not as simple as you think.' When he is working well, the good novelist persuasively establishes that life is more surprising, bizarre, fascinating, complex, and rich than any shibboleth, concept, or theory used to explain it. A literary education establishes a strong taste for the endless variousness of life; it teaches how astonishing reality is—and how obdurate to even the most ingenious attempts to grasp its mechanics or explain any serious portion of it! 'A man is more complicated than his thoughts,' wrote Valéry, which, if you think about it, is happily so."

You can watch the entire lecture, here.

15 predictions for 2009

15. Barack Obama will be centrist on economic and foreign policy 80% of the time. Admittedly, the centre has moved leftward over the past eight months ...

14. Congress will approve another $35 billion for the U.S. automakers within the next 12 months.

13. U.S. President Barack Obama will maintain popularity numbers over 50% throughout 2009.

12. Kim Jong Il, whether by death, retirement or coup, will not be the leader of North Korea by the end of the year.

11. Russia will not invade any of its neighbours in 2009

10. Neither the United States nor Israel will bomb Iran.

9. The California Supreme Court will overturn Proposition 8, the voter-approved constitutional amendment that banned same-sex marriages.

8. The GM Volt will not be delivered to dealers by year's end.

7. There will not be a federal election in Canada. Stephen Harper will still be prime minister come 2010.

6. Notable papers announcing major restructuring and/or sizable layoffs will include the New York Times, Detroit News, National Post, Vancouver Sun, Chicago Tribune and Miami Herald.

5. While Likud will win the most seats in Israel's parliamentary election, Benjamin Netanyahu will not be prime minister.

4. The New York Yankees will finish first in the AL East and make it to the World Series.

3. The Guantanamo Bay detention camp will still be operational by year's end although the administration will announce a 'target' date by which all prisoners will be removed from the facility.

2. The Obama administration will announce that 50% of U.S. troops in Iraq will be gone by January 1, 2012.

1. The Dow Jones will fall below 8000 at some point this year.

Cool things on YouTube

1. Stringfever's 'history of music'.

2. The Unborn Band cover of Mr. Brightside -- which is probably better than the original by The Killers.

Rob Paravonian's American Idol Loser Song (quite funny).

4. Four million dominoes.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008
Three and out

3. The Los Angeles Angels don't seem to be interested in Manny Ramirez any longer, the Los Angeles Dodgers have withdrawn their two-year deal in the $50 million vicinity, and the Boston Red Sox aren't going to bring him back because they are tired of Manny being Manny. Unless he takes a big pay cut to sign with a club that might want to spend $15 million per season to put people in the seats such as the Texas Rangers or perhaps the Tampa Bay Rays who need a power bat and has room at DH, it would appear that the only team that would have the money, positional room and inclination to put up with ManRam is the New York Yankees. That is partially wishful thinking on my part (and Hank Steinbrenner), it is hard to see who else he might sign with.

2. The New York Mets who seemed to be interested in acquiring Andruw Jones from the LA Dodgers, have come to their senses about trading for a rapidly declining centerfielder with a $15 million price tag for 2009. In 2008 he hit a measly 158 for the Dodgers. This makes even less sense considering they already have one of the best centerfielders in the game in Carlos Beltran. Moving the unproductive bat of Jones to the corner outfield position would make even less sense.

1. Rich Lederer and Patrick Sullivan at the Baseball Analysts have a Christmas wish list for various players, teams and baseball entities, including this one: for the Toronto Blue Jays and Baltimore Orioles "to play in another division." But why? If the Tampa Bay Rays can win the division and make it to the World Series despite a payroll about one-sixth of the Yankees, why can't the Blue Jays do better with a payroll about one-third the size? It isn't about revenues, or about just revenues, but about talent and talent evaluation. The Yankees haven't done a great job of the latter in recent years. But the Jays and Orioles have done much, much worse.

Four and down

4. I totally agree with this comment in the ESPN Power Rankings: "If the Jets and Cowboys weren't in such big markets, people around the country would be talking about Tampa Bay's collapse. As it is, folks in Florida are griping about a team that went from 9-3 to missing the playoffs." I'd say there about a 50-50 chance that coach Jon Gruden is looking for a new job next season.

3. Gruden might be a good fit for the New York Jets who canned Eric Mangini on Black Monday (three coaches were fired yesterday). Mangini might make good game plans but but lacks the ability to change on the fly. Gruden is more resourceful and would use a more balanced offense than Mangini's run-reliant game did.

2. The Washington Redskins finished with a 500 record but they look like a team that needs major repairs to have a chance to contend in 2009.

1. It is surprising that Buffalo Bills coach Bill Jauron was not among the fired coaches on Monday. After his third consecutive 7-9 season with the Bills, he has demonstrated that his long experience as a coach and co-ordinator doesn't mean much. In fact, what he has experience with is losing, putting up sub-500 records with every club (Chicago Bears, Detroit Lions and Bills) he has headed. He is 57-76 over his nine full or part seasons, with just one year at 500 or better (13-3 with the Bears in 2001). If he stays with the Bills, they deserve their mediocrity; as will anyone who signs Jauron if the Bills let him go.

Supporting the 'status quo'
Or, why a fetus is like a cell phone plan

Over at ProWomanProLife, Tanya Zaleski, quotes abortion advocate Joyce Arthur: "Canadians don’t want to go back to the abortion debate. People are happy with the status quo. It’s working well." Zaleski goes on to say:

"I just changed my cell phone plan. I had the same plan for years, and I thought it was a great deal, mainly because it was a great deal back when I got my first phone. I’d tell everyone how great my plan was, and in 2002 I wasn’t lying. But in 2008, I was sorely misled. After doing a little homework, I learned I could get all the same services with the exact same cell phone provider for about half the price. All this to say, I was happy with the status quo until I got all the facts."

Maybe Canadians support only what they think is the status quo and they are doing so in ignorance because people like Joyce Arthur prevent an information-based discussion on the topic. Many people, for example, do not know that a woman can have an abortion for any reason, at any time until birth, usually paid for by the taxpayer. Many think there are gestational limits. Most would recoil at the eugenic nature of many late-term abortions, designed to eliminate those with Down Syndrome. Also, many people are ignorant about the gruesomeness of the abortion procedure. But once people learn the truth about abortion and abortion law, many begin to look askance at it. Which is why the likes of Joyce Arthur do everything they can to prevent a real discussion of the issue.

On (an academic's) travel

Tyler Cowen answers the question of why he hasn't been to Portugal:

"The first reason is intertemporal substitution, namely that I often wait for people to pay me to go places. In general this factor leads small countries, especially with Romance languages, or in geographic corners, to be visited late. The small country has a bigger place in your mind's eye than it does on the conference and lecture circuit. The American Midwest ends up being overvisited, as does New Orleans, and Nova Scotia ends up being undervisited (I want very much to go there).

If you are invited to a lot of talks and conferences, your non-work travel should avoid centrally located hub cities and focus on poor corners, such as Albania and Yemen. You'll get to Paris and London anyway.

That said, I have an invitation to Portugal for this April and I will be going. Since I'm not sure I need to go twice, I am glad I waited."

Probably true for most people

Gideon Rachman, the chief foreign affairs commentator at the Financial Times, begins a recent blog post thusly: "Usually, when I sit down to make a list it is a form of procrastination." I am not saying that making a list of things to do is bad, but I think that for many people, lists and other forms of 'planning' are too often a means of putting off what must be done; and for some, much smaller number of people, the planning is often the main thing -- the action item, so to speak. Of course, the list Rachman is making isn't a to-do list, but a peak at the top stories of the year which is quite another matter.

Geographic distribution of ten terrible things

Medicines sans Frontieres has a list of the 10 worst humanitarian disasters of 2008 and it is notable that five are happening in Africa, three are occurring in Asia (Pakistan, Iraq, Mynmar) and another two are global but disproportionately affect Africa (childhood malnutrition and HIV/TB co-infections). So seven of the ten worst humanitarian disasters are happening in Africa. In the Congo and Somalia, the problem is that there is effectively no government whereas in Zimbabwe and Sudan, the problem is that there is too much government.

AGS revisited

Carolina Panthers 33, New Orleans Saints 31: Drew Brees was going for Dan Marino's single-season yardage record -- Brees threw the ball 49 times (30 completions) for 386 yards, to finish just 15 yards short of the 5,084 he needed for the milestone. The Panthers, who needed the win to secure the second seed in the conference, led 30-10 going into the fourth quarter. The Saints score three TDs and lead 31-30 with just over three minutes left in the game and kick the ball to the Panthers own one yard line. Jake Delhomme leads a seven-play, 57-yard drive in just over three minutes. With six seconds left on the clock, John Kasay makes a 42-yard field goal to win the game and clinch second in the NFC. I correctly predicted the Panthers would win but not cover the three point spread.

Houston Texans 31, Chicago Bears 24: The Bears were up 10-0 going into the second quarter but the Texans scored the next 21 points. Houston was up 31-17 at the two-minute warning, so the game isn't as close as the score might indicate; Bears had just 22 minutes of possession. I predicted the Texans would win, but that the game would be closer.

Pittsburgh Steelers 31, Cleveland Browns 0: QB Ben Roethlisberger suffered a concussion just before half-time and left the field on a stretcher and the stadium in an ambulance. The Steelers scored 14 points with him in the first half and 17 points without him in the second. The Browns set a new NFL record by not scoring an offensive TD in 24 quarters (six games). I predicted the Steelers would cover the 10.5 point spread.

Green Bay Packers 31, Detroit Lions 21: The Lions were tyring to avoid becoming the first team to go 0-16 and the Packers were trying not to be the only team to lose to the comprehensively bad Lions. Packers got ahead 14-0 in the first quarter but went into half-time with that lead cut by half. The game was tied going into the fourth quarter before the Packers scored 10 points. The Lions scored a touchdown with just over a minute left. Hearts were racing on both sides: could the Lions come back? No. WR Donald Driver put the icing on the cake by scoring on a 71 yard play with 16 seconds left. I said the Packers would 'easily' beat the 9 point spread -- they beat it but not easily and not by much. Aaron Rodgers was great: 21 of 31 for 308 yards (in Green Bay!) for three TDs and a 132.2 passer rating. The Packers might have been 6-10 but it wasn't because they were Favreless.

Cincinnati Bengals 16, Kansas City Chiefs 6: I thought Cincy would win but that it would be closer. Chiefs had a total of 31 rushing yards. First time the Bengals have scored more than 14 points since the first game after Halloween and they close out the season with three straight wins.

New York Giants at Minnesota Vikings: The Giants rested Eli Manning for about half the game and were leading the Vikes 19-10 five minutes into the fourth quarter. The Vikings were desperate and needed the win to guarantee the NFC North. They came back with a touchdown at the 9:35 mark and a field goal with five seconds left in their season. I thought Minny would win but fail to cover the 6.5 point spread.

New England Patriots 13, Buffalo Bills 0: See my four and down post yesterday on why the Pats won and Bills lost. I was right to pick the Pats but wrong to be doubtful over the 6.5 point spread.

Oakland Raiders 31, Tampa Bay Buccaneers 24: For the first half of the season, the Bucs had a great defense. Up until last last week, the Bucs were a perfect 6-0 at home. They finished the season losing four in a row, including the final one against the Raiders. I said the Bucs would win but not cover the 13 points. I failed to grasp the depth of their fall.

Atlanta Falcons 31, St. Louis Rams 27: In many ways the Rams were better than the Falcons -- more than 35 minutes of possession, no turnovers (compared to three for Atlanta), only nine less yards of net offense -- but good teams find ways to win and bad teams find ways to lose. The natural order of things meant that the Falcons would win and they did, but I was wrong to predict they'd cover the 13 point spread.

Indianapolis Colts 23, Tennessee Titans 0: Peyton Manning played only the first series, was a perfect seven for seven for 95 yards and a TD and then left the game. Manning got his ninth consecutive season with at least 4000 yards. Indy WR Marvin Harrison moved into second on the all-time receptions list with 1,102, ahead of Cris Carter and behind Jerry Rice. Manning's replacement, Jim Sorgi, playing his first game this year, was a competent game caller for the Colts. Tennessee played mostly backup players, including on defense. I said Tenny would win unless the Colts tried for the victory. I hedged my bets so I had to be right, in some sense.

Philadelphia Eagles 44, Dallas Cowboys 6: How do you lose a playoff-like game by 38 points against a division rival when you essentially split the time of possession (31-29 minutes)? Easy: five turnovers. Twice in just over three minutes in the third quarter, the Eagles returned a Cowboys fumble for score. Sports Illustrated's Peter King said, "Sunday was one of the five worst days in the 49-year history of the Dallas Cowboys." Probably right. The chemistry on the Cowboys is awful, Tony Romo has to make TO happy but by passing to #81 he upsets Big Baby #2, Roy Williams, acquired from Detroit during the season in exchange for lots of draft picks. No way to run a team. And Wade Phillips can't coach. All they had to do was win, but the situation is so bad few people thought they could. I correctly predicted Philly would win 'easily'. And while I make it sound like the Cowboys lost but the Eagles did their part to earn the win. While the offense was nothing special, the Philly defense was stellar: four sacks, two forced fumbles and an interception.

Baltimore Ravens 27, Jacksonville Jaguars 7: A battle between a team that vastly over-achieved (Baltimore) and greatly under-achieved (Jax) with predictable results. Ravens are 9-2 since starting 2-3, mostly because of the competency of first-year QB Joe Flacco and big play receiver Mark Clayton (four catches for 128 yards on Sunday). Jax is 2-8 since their bye-week and one of those victories was against winless Detroit Lions -- and two of their losses were at the hands of the Cincinnati Bengals and Cleveland Browns. Like everyone else, I had the Ravens covering by at least 2 TDs.

Miami Dolphins 24, New York Jets 17: Brett Favre was really awful: 20 for 40, three picks and 45.1 passer rating and pulled in the final seconds of the game for Brad Smith in what might have been Favre's last game ever. Miami came back with the last ten points for the win, its ninth in ten games. Miami becomes only the second team to improve by 10 wins from one season to the next and makes the playoff one year removed from its 1-15 campaign. Again I hedged: I predicted that Favre would rise to the occasion but said I wouldn't be surprised if the Fins won.

Arizona Cardinals 34, Seattle Seahawks 21: I really thought the 'Hawks would pull off the upset, but one should not under-estimate Kurt Warner: 19 of 30 for 263 yards and four TDs. The teams combined for 182 yards in penalties. Cards go into the post-season with few people expecting them to make it past the first round.

San Francisco 49ers 27, Washington Redskins 24: I correctly predicted the Niners would win by three, although I thought the game would be a lower scoring affair. It should've been, too: no player on either team had more than 80 yards of offense. While they fought back from a 17-7 deficit, San Fran needed a field goal with three seconds left to win.

San Diego Chargers 52, Denver Broncos 21: Denver had sole possession of first in the AFC West every week of the season until the final week, when they became the first team to blow a three game lead with three weeks left and San Diego became the first team to make the playoffs after being four games under 500 (4-8) at any point of the season. I thought the Bolts would win a high scoring affair but not cover the eight point spread. Got the first part right. San Diego scored five rushing TDs and two passing TDs, putting double digit points on the board in every quarter of the game. Philip Rivers made two big passes -- to WR Vincent Jackson and TE Antonio Gates -- for at least 34 yards. Both passes were caught on the dive. Tremendously exciting game to catch on TV. RB LaDainian Tomlinson had a big game: 14 plays for 96 yards and three TDs. As John Madden said, LT was 'finishing his runs' -- something he hasn't seemed to be doing for most of the season (for whatever reason). RB Darren Sproles had a total of 132 yards of offense and both a running and receiving TD. Bolts may have gotten through on a 500 record, but if they can get past Indianapolis in the first round, it wouldn't be surprising to seem them in Tampa on February 1. And if they play the way they did on Sunday, there is little doubt they'll be representing the AFC.

Monday, December 29, 2008
Four and Down

This one is all about the game in Buffalo yesterday which I attended with my eldest son.

4. It was cold. About three Celsius (39 Fahrenheit) but with 30 mph winds and gusts of 55 mph, it felt more like -10 C or colder. Sitting on metal seats didn't help. When the sun appeared in the fourth quarter, the crowd cheered.

3. It was so windy, that when the New England Patriots approached goal in the second quarter, the goal posts had to be straightened. The crowd booed when the referee announced that they was to be so. It didn't help: Stephen Gostkowski missed a 26 yard field goal attempt.

2. It was so windy that Buffalo attempted only three passes in the first half. Watching a lot of running plays -- the crashing of the defensive and offensive lines and the running back carrying the ball a few yards -- can get tedious. But man does the clock move fast when the ball isn't being thrown out of bounds or hitting the ground. Matt Cassel didn't throw much either: six passes in eight attempts for a total of 78 yards.

1. The Patriots won 13-0 and the score was well deserved by both sides. The Pats played smart, sharp, disciplined football, taking the weather into consideration. Bill Belichick called for three fourth-down plays -- twice in one drive -- and his team made all three of them. In each case, they were within Buffalo's 35 yards (at the 35, 25, 14 yard lines) and it was impossible to kick against the wind. The Bills weren't moving the ball very well so even if the Pats turned it over on downs, it wasn't likely they were going to suffer for it. New England took a chance and at least twice Cassel faked a throw and ran for first down. Despite going against the wind, Cassel had thrown enough short, low passes that the Bills had to have pass coverage, opening up the lanes for the Pats QB to gain significant yardage. The Bills were awful. After their first drive, Brian Moorman punted the ball a grand total of 13 yards to New England's 49. With 28 seconds left and the Bills on second down on the Pats 15 yard line, Dick Jauron uses his last timeout. The next play was a pass that wasn't caught, stopping the clock and the final play was a Fred Jackson run up the middle. Even if he had made it very far, they wouldn't have had time to get everybody off the pile and get into formation or take a knee and get the kicker on the field. The play didn't make sense, and even with the time-wasting skirmish between several Pats and Bills players, it was bad time management on Jauron's part.

The abortion status quo

Pro-lifers are against it, pro-aborts are in favour and the unborn can't register their opinion.

Rod Bruinooge is a heroically outspoken pro-life Conservative MP from Winnipeg and chair of the non-partisan Parliamentary Pro-Life Caucus. He has called for re-opening the debate about abortion and has vowed not to give up on the issue as long as the unborn are without legal protection. See his column Why I am Pro-Life in the National Post. And, of course, by raising the issue, he has re-opened the abortion debate, at least in a perfunctory way. The Globe and Mail story about this turn of events gives the last word to the pro-abortion lobby's Joyce Arthur, who says: "Canadians don't want to go back to the abortion debate ... People are happy with the status quo. It's working well." Unless, of course, you are an unborn person. And then its not working so well, is it?

Using the financial turmoil to advance big government

Larry Summers, who will be the head the White House National Economic Council in the Obama administration, writes in the Washington Post about a government stimulus package:

"Investments in an array of areas -- including energy, education, infrastructure and health care -- offer the potential of extraordinarily high social returns while allowing our country to address some long-standing national challenges and put our economy on a solid footing for years to come."

As Arnold Kling observes, "This does not sound like a short-term plan to stimulate the economy. It sounds like a long-term plan to stimulate bigger government." Today -- and for the foreseeable future -- any government spending is tagged as 'stimulus', no doubt to hide an interventionist agenda. The public, for some reason, believes stimulus policies are both urgently needed and temporary measures.

At TNR, Jacob S. Hacker promotes the idea of "temporarily throwing fiscal caution to the wind when it comes to health care reform" -- and be able to do so in the name of economic stimulus. Of course, any kind of massive government involvement in the health care sector is not going to be temporary, so any such a plan would be to permanently throw fiscal caution to the wind. But in its essence, Hacker's argument is correct: "[G]overnment health spending is also an extraordinarily effective way to boost the economy," because "families [will] have more to spend on other things, improving their own situation and the economy in general." That doesn't make (more) government intervention in the health care sector more desirable, but if any old government spending is thought to stimulate the economy, there is no reason why roads repairs and bank bailouts are better than a doctor's checkup or transplant surgery.

It appears that the Left is hoping to reap political dividends on the economic turmoil but promoting not economic growth but the growth of government in these troubled times.

Worstall on life

Tim Worstall on the leftist idea that life is 'inescapably political':

"I don’t regard life as inescapably political. I regard those who do as at best dunderheads with little understanding of the joys that life offers and at worst thieves of such joys from others. For they would use the political system to insist that others do as they wish, not as those others themselves would wish.

Politics is all very well in its place, that place being very much on the periphery of life. Yes, we need a system of choosing those who we decide should be responsible for the scut work in our society. We also need a system to collectively decide what is that scut work which needs to be done collectively and with the monopoly of legitimate violence which we accord the State.

To regard life as inescapably political is to extend that place well beyond what is reasonable or even rational."

Sell you unwanted gift cards

At Gift Card Rescue. Usually, you sell (and buy) at 85-95 cents on the dollar.

Sunday, December 28, 2008
2008: The end of global warming?

Sunday Telegraph columnist Christopher Booker writes:

"Looking back over my columns of the past 12 months, one of their major themes was neatly encapsulated by two recent items from The Daily Telegraph.

The first, on May 21, headed "Climate change threat to Alpine ski resorts" , reported that the entire Alpine "winter sports industry" could soon "grind to a halt for lack of snow". The second, on December 19, headed "The Alps have best snow conditions in a generation" , reported that this winter's Alpine snowfalls "look set to beat all records by New Year's Day".

Easily one of the most important stories of 2008 has been all the evidence suggesting that this may be looked back on as the year when there was a turning point in the great worldwide panic over man-made global warming. Just when politicians in Europe and America have been adopting the most costly and damaging measures politicians have ever proposed, to combat this supposed menace, the tide has turned..."

Booker explains that "temperatures have been dropping in a way wholly unpredicted by all those computer models," the scientific 'consensus' has been exposed as a sham, and the realization that we cannot afford the luxury of unnecessary environmental programs, have combined to kill environmental hysteria. At least for now.

The UN does something well

It counts. Literally, the UN counts. The Washington Times has a lengthyish article on the UN's data collection and how it is the gold standard for numbers, which may be true but can be called into question when the data is praised by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's spokesman Michele Montas, thusly: "These statistics ... are essential for our own humanitarian assistance to refugees and displaced people, for school feeding programs or to support women's participation in political life." If the data is good and essential to various humanitarian efforts, why do those humanitarian efforts stink so much?

Great sentences to ponder

George F. Will in the Washington Post about the growth of government -- and in the public's and Congress' belief that such growth might bear good fruit: "Today, there is more Johnsonian confidence in government's competence than at any time since Johnson's policies shattered such confidence."

Saturday, December 27, 2008
Any given Sunday

Carolina Panthers at New Orleans Saints: Panthers are playing for seeding; Saints are playing to help Drew Brees break Dan Marino's single-season passing-yards record. He needs 402 yards to break Marino's mark of 5,084. In home games, the Saints let loose, scoring -- get this -- 24, 31, 30, 34, 37, 51 and 29 points thus far this year. That's better than a 30 average. The Panthers are a physical team and could over match the banged up Saints and they have four legit offensive weapons: RBs DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart and WRs Steve Smith and Muhsin Muhammad. Carolina is favoured by three points but will have difficulty covering with the Saints' potent offense.

Chicago Bears at Houston Texans: Potentially interesting game and not just because the Bears need it for any chance to make it into the playoffs. Bears are playing better offensively, but so are the Texans. Bears' RB Matt Forte should be a rookie of the year candidate, but Bears QB Kyle Orton has struggled recently, especially with his accuracy. On the plus side, Orton is facing the weak Houston secondary. Bears defense has been inconsistent although never really sketchy. They can pass rush and blitz, so expect them to pressure QB Matt Schaub who has 14 turnovers in his 10 starts. He should be looking to get the ball to Andre Johnson more; just two catches last week in Houston's loss to the Oakland Raiders. Texans are favoured by three, which sounds correct.

Cleveland Browns at Pittsburgh Steelers: Pittsburgh has clinched the number 2 seed. Pittsburgh has won 11 straight against the Browns and the heated rivalry between the two means there won't be that much resting for the Steelers, as regional pride is at stake. Browns will be looking for their first offensive TD in six weeks and it will tough for the inept Browns and Bruce Gradkowski, their fourth-string game caller (now that third-stringer Ken Dorsey is out with a concussion) to get it against the Steel Curtain. Browns are also missing TE Kellen Winslow, so it is almost impossible to imagine how they will get the ball down the field. Big Ben will start for Pittsburgh, but once the Steelers get the lead, expect Byron Leftwich to see significant time, not that he is much of a downgrade: 117.2 passer rating in parts of four games subbing for Roethlisberger. If the Steelers can't score and it comes down to scoring field goals, both PKers, Steelers Jeff Reed and Browns Phil Dawson are pretty good at kicking in cruddy weather and on grass. Steelers are favoured by 10.5 points which sounds like a lot for a game featuring a team that has already clinched second seed for January, but probably not against the Browns and Gradkowski; they simply do not have the depth or the speed to stay in a game with a team that has lost just once over the past six games (against 13-2 Tennessee last week).

Detroit Lions at Green Bay Packers: The winless Lions will try to avoid the infamy of 0-16 as they visit Lambeau Field. The Packers have been losing because their defense doesn't hold up its end of the bargain, but that shouldn't be a problem against the Lions. Green Bay outplayed the Chicago Bears last week in an overtime loss and despite losing twice as often as they win, they have outscored opponents 388-359, whereas the Lions have almost allowed almost twice as many points as they have scored (247-486). Watch the Packers to maintain a balance between a varied aerial game ably led by Aaron Rodgers and a solid ground game led by Ryan Grant. Packers win and beat the nine point spread easily.

Kansas City Chiefs at Cincinnati Bengals: Both teams, which have combined for five wins this season, have played with a lot of fight lately. I'll go with the hot team; Cincy has won two in a row and they are at home. They are favoured by three, which sounds about right because 1) the Bengals haven't scored more than 14 points since the first week of November and 2) their current two game winning streak has been the result of stellar defense and the run of Cedric Benson. But its impossible to take the Chiefs on the road, with only one road win this season (against the Raiders).

New York Giants at Minnesota Vikings: The Vikes have caught a break -- a win and their in, although they can make the playoffs with a loss if the Chicago Bears lose, too -- because the Giants have clinched home field advantage and will probably rest the banged-up RB Brandon Jacobs, NT Fred Robbins, and CB Aaron Ross. Others such as WR Domenik Hixon and QB Eli Manning might not see the whole game. The Vikings clearly were missing NT Pat Williams on the D-line last week against the Falcons. The G-Men's lesser used running options Derrick Ward and Ahmad Bradshaw might get to shine against a weakened Minny run defense. It isn't clear who the Vikings will use under center -- Gus Ferotte has not played in three weeks after going down with an injury, but Tarvaris Jackson really stunk last week after two good showings. Vikes should win because they will do whatever it takes for the win, while the Giants might begin resting players at some point in this game. Vikings are favoured by 6.5 points but that is too much.

New England Patriots at Buffalo Bills: Pats win and they'll have their sixth consecutive AFC East division title, and normally you wouldn't take the visitors in the gusty, chilled winds of Ralph Wilson Stadium, but New England stomped Arizona 47-7 last week and QB Matt Cassel is looking Favre-like in adverse weather conditions thus far this season. (Tom) Brady who? Cassel has thrown 14 TDs over the past six games, including seven to Randy Moss. Also, Moss has a significant size advantage over the Bills' corners, although Terrence McGee's has the skills which will help mitigate that disadvantage. And there's always WR Wes Welker who is averaging 10.4 yards per catch. If the weather forces the Pats to the ground, power RBs Sammy Morris and LaMont Jordan and speedy RB Kevin Faulk will face a front Bills seven that includes MLB Paul Posluszny and DT Marcus Stroud. If it is a ground game, the Bills might be in trouble with star RB Marshawn Lynch battling injuries. In last week's come-from-behind win against Denver, Buffalo's QB Trent Edwards looked to have regained some of his early-season form. After a shaky start, New England's defensive line has gotten better as the season progressed. Tough game to call, though I will take the Pats because they know how to win and Bill Belichick is a great coach who will get his team to the playoffs. But 6.5 points in Buffalo sounds like too much.

Oakland Raiders at Tampa Bay Buccaneers: SI's Peter King is predicting the Raiders don't score, not even a field goal. Bucs have lost three straight and their defense, which has looked less stellar in December than it did over the first three months of the season (giving up an average of more than 400 yards and 30 points per game over the past three weeks). Raiders usually rely on RB Justin Fargas but the Bucs defensive line does not pass rush, so JaMarcus Russell will have plenty of time to eye his passing targets. Bucs should win but considering the way they have played lately, 13 points sounds like too much, even against the Raiders. Bucs need a win along with a Dallas Cowboys loss to make the post-season. The Bucs will do what they have to do.

St. Louis Rams at Atlanta Falcons: Rams face their tenth consecutive loss and are so terrible that their points for/against differential (-229) is only ten worse than Detroit's. Falcons could secure second seed with a win combined with a Carolina loss. Rookie QB Matt Ryan, RB Michael Turner and WR Roddy White are a solid offensive trio. They'll win and should cover the 13 points.

Tennessee Titans at Indianapolis Colts: Pretty meaningless contest and neither team will want the other to see their best game in case they meet each other in January. Tenny is even likely to use opening day starter Vince Young -- who almost immediately lost his job to Kerry Collins -- both to audition for 2009 and to prevent a potential playoff opponent from seeing too much of their regular starting QB. The Colts defense is much smaller than the Titans O-line. Indy's RB Joseph Addai and WR Marvin Harrison having been playing through injuries so they'll need to rest this week; QB Peyton Manning is not likely to play more than a few series, so the Titans should win. They are favoured by three, which makes sense because neither team is likely to strain themselves running up a score. But if Indy wants to go to the effort to win, they will. But why would they?

Dallas Cowboys at Philadelphia Eagles: Cowboys win and they are in; Eagles win and they might make it if the Bucs lose and either the Bears or Vikings lose, too. Donovan McNabb is the better QB than Tony Romo and RB Marion Barber is nursing a toe injury. It won't help that Romo will face one of the better defenses (top five in total yards allowed, rushing yards, passing yards, first downs allowed). Cowboys have a lot of drama going on now and the Eagles seem to be over theirs. Philly is favoured by 1.5 points and they should win it easily as long as McNabb can keep away from OLB DeMarcus Ware, who has a chance to break the season sack record.

Jacksonville Jaguars at Baltimore Ravens: Baltimore is one of the best teams in the NFL with a superb defense (ranked second overall) and surprisingly good offense led by rookie QB Joe Flacco. Jax has disappointed all season and although they kept it close for a while ten days ago against the Colts, their cruddy offensive line will be man-handled by the Ravens' defense. Almost all prognosticators have the Ravens covering the 13 point spread. There is no reason to swim against the stream on this one.

Miami Dolphins at New York Jets: Forget the drama of Chad Pennington returning to New York to (possibly) eliminate his former team from the playoffs; I'd take the lacklustre-looking Brett Favre against the over-performing Pennington in this kind of high-pressure game. Fins have been victorious in eight of their last nine games and are playing in January if they make that nine in ten. After a November swing that had pundits' tongues a-wagging about the Jets in the Super Bowl, New York has lost three of four. They need a win and a Patriots' loss to advance. The Jets D is lacking with the once-strong run defense looking as awful of late as their passing defense has all season. Pennington is accurate with his conservative short passing game (17 TDs compared to just 7 picks) and the running game is working with blockers Jake Long and Vernon Casey as good as anyone in the NFL right now. But Favre looks like a man ready to hang up his cleats and he will want to do it on a high note, to undo the story of his past four games: 1 TD vs. 6 interceptions. He'll have help: the Jets O-line is strong and RB Thomas Jones is one of the best in the AFC right now. I expect the Jets to win by three but won't be surprised if the Fins pull it off.

Seattle Seahawks at Arizona Cardinals: The 'Hawks have looked better lately and the Cards have lost four of five, giving up nearly three times the yards (514) than they got (186) last week against the New England Patriots. Cards should also rest ailing WR Anquan Boldin and RB J.J. Arrington, both of whom missed last week, thereby limiting the options on offense. The O-line is increasingly porous and QB Kurt Warner is coming off a 30 passing yards game. Seattle will be motivated to give Mike Holmgren a decent send-off in his final game coaching the Seahawks and backup QB Seneca Wallace has looked more than competent in Matt Hasselbeck's absence. Seattle upsets. Cards are favoured by six, but I'm predicting an upset. Arizona has lost their past two games by a combined score of 69-25.

Washington Redskins at San Francisco 49ers: The Niners have won four of their past six and the Skins, notwithstanding last week's victory over the inconsistent Philadelphia Eagles, have had a terrible second half. The Niners have the second fewest (17) forced turnovers in the NFL and Skins QB Jason Campbell has been pick-free in 80% of his games. RB Clinton Portis is nursing injuries and aches in every part of his body (Pro Football Weekly lists: "a calf strain, a sprained ankle, back spasms, a bruised hand and neck, knee and hip issues") and faces a San Francisco team adept at stopping the run (four of their past eight opponents have been held to fewer than 100 rushing yards). Niners will miss RB Frank Gore, but their defense has got its act together: only one of its past six opponents have scored more than 16 points and they've allowed just 42 points over the past four games. Skins haven't scored more than 14 points in any game since November 23. San Fran wins by three.

Denver Broncos at San Diego Chargers: Whoever wins this game takes the AFC West title and Denver is hoping not to become the first team to blow a three game lead with three games left in the season. San Diego is hoping to reach 500 with its fourth win a row, thus far powered by the arm of QB Philip Rivers. Likewise, the Broncs are fueled by their QB, Jay Cutler. Broncos QB Jay Cutler -- AFC passing yards leader with 4,210 -- faces the worst pass defense in the NFL, but due to injuries he doesn't have a reliable RB option, so the Bolts will double team the Broncs' pair of excellent receivers, Brandon Marshall and Eddie Royal, and solid TE Brandon Stokley. As great as Cutler has been, Rivers is better, leading all QBs in TDs (32), passer rating (104) and yards per pass attempt (8.3). The pass defense of the Broncs is only slightly better than that of the Chargers, so this could be quite the aerial game. While LaDainian Tomlinson has struggled all year, his reputation is enough to keep opposing defenses honest. If he is given the ball and he can carry it for a few yards, that just makes WR Vincent Vackson and TE Antonio Gates that much more fearsome. San Diego has an advantage on special teams with Mike Scifres, one of the best punters in the game, and return man Darren Sproles, a speed-demon. Bolts win (but don't cover the eight points) and make the playoffs, absolving week 2 referee/goat Ed Hochuli of any injustice in the Broncos narrowly making the playoffs over the Chargers.

And now from the peanut gallery

Sandy Szwarc writes about paranoia over peanut allergies:

"An article in the current issue of the British Medical Journal suggested that efforts to protect children with peanut allergies have become a cycle of escalating reactions, unsupported by the science, and are making fears worse...

It’s hard to have a calm discussion about peanut allergies at most forums without the issue quickly disintegrating into a choice between a PB&J and the death of a child. Accurate information is somehow seen as a threat to children with allergies. If the risk of death isn’t heightened to the max, doctors and scientists are accused by parents of trying to hurt their children. Fear is a powerful thing, not just as a news item to generate ratings or to sell programs and products, but when it becomes part of us. Trying to find the line between unproductive fear and constructive precautions is hard..."

Not that there aren't serious and sometimes life-threatening allergies, but there is serious over-reaction to the issue. Szwarc summarizes Dr. Nicholas Christakis' BMJ article thusly: "[T]he increasingly extreme reactions of school officials over peanut allergies, and their 'draconian efforts' to completely eliminate exposures, far exceed the magnitude of the actual threat." She quotes figures from Food Insight, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Center for Health Statistics and the Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network which show that reported cases of peanut allergies have increased in recent years. Szwarc says:

"These reports might seem to be saying that more children today have diagnosed food allergies, but that is not what they are actually reporting. The studies behind these claims were surveys, all of which found that the percentage of parents who report they believe their children have food allergies has increased over the past decade.

But these reports have also neglected to reveal that repeated studies have found that 5 times more parents report their children have food allergies than actually do when tested in double-blind, placebo-controlled food challenges; and as many as 12 times more report food allergies in their infants and children than actually have food allergies when given skin prick testing. The discrepancy between perceived and actual food allergies is growing."

But to point this out -- or ever raise the objection to a school administrator that it is wrong to severely limit the lunch and breakfast options of classmates of children with non-fatal peanut allergies -- is to be an uncaring brute.

Catholic Register registers distrust of Ignatieff

A very good editorial from the Catholic Register that raises some excellent points about how little we know about Michael Ignatieff and that which we do know (mostly from his writings on the idea of human rights) does not inspire a lot of confidence.

Ignatieff's blind spots
Wednesday, 24 December 2008
Catholic Register

In his first few weeks as Liberal leader, Michael Ignatieff has been surefooted. He has exuded confidence, determination and a sense of what needs to be done. Canadians have seen a strong alternative to Prime Minister Stephen Harper if the country is forced into another federal election sooner rather than later.

Still, we know very little about him, other than that he is the son of Russian aristocracy, a Harvard intellectual, author of both political treatises and novels and has been absent from the country for most of his adult life. He offers plenty of impressions but precious little about where he would like to lead the country.

His academic reputation is based on his writing about human rights, so to get an idea of what kind of society Ignatieff would like Canada to be, it doesn’t hurt to start with his writing. A primer of sorts would be The Rights Revolution (Anansi), the published version of his 2000 CBC Massey Lectures.

In his lectures, Ignatieff offers a potted history of the evolution of human rights. Much of it is uncontroversial and would be widely accepted by Canadians...

But there are some worrisome forays into trendiness and one significant blind spot. That latter would be religion. Ignatieff, a professed secular humanist, sees religion as a largely private matter that should be tolerated, but not necessarily promoted. His few mentions of the topic in The Rights Revolution are generally negative.

Nowhere does he recognize that there would be no “human rights revolution,” indeed, no Enlightenment, had it not been for Christianity. This omission does not bode well for his understanding of the place of faith in Canadian society.

More worrisome yet is his overly optimistic evaluation of the role of the sexual revolution in debilitating family life in Western society. Ignatieff laments the high price we’ve paid in divorce, absentee fatherhood, abuse and wounded children, but argues the price of “freedom” — as he defines it — is worth what we’ve paid. To Ignatieff, the children will just have to suck it up. “We wanted freedom and we should stop apologizing for it. We must simply pay its price.”

For Ignatieff, the genius of Canada is that there is no one cookie-cutter version of what it means to be Canadian. Rather, it can mean whatever we want it to mean. This, to him, is cause for celebration.

For many others, however, it has gone too far, causing much of our discord, disunity and lack of any sense of responsibility for each other.

Maybe it isn’t fair to judge the man based on one nine-year-old lecture. But if it represents his views today, many Canadians will not be prepared to follow where Ignatieff would like to lead us.

Four and down

4. Horrible news. Just terrible. Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones says coach Wade Phillips and offensive co-ordinator and assistant coach Jason Garrett will be back next week regardless of whether the team makes it into the post-season with a win tomorrow. I wouldn't have them back even if they won and made the playoffs. Not with Mike Holmgren potentially looking for work. Or any other warm body that could coach in Phillips' place.

3. Sports Illustrated's Peter King predicts the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will beat the Oakland Raiders 30-0. It is quite something to predict a team to score zero points -- especially with a Bucs defense surrendering almost 31 points a game on their current three-game losing streak.

2. If I were guaranteed my spot and seed in the playoffs, I would probably rest my players. I don't really believe in 'momentum' going into January football (or for those who don't make the post-season, momentum going into the 2009 season seven months from now). But in the case of Indianapolis and Tennessee, there is more reason to hold back: don't let the other team see your best game. I think that one reason the New York Giants beat the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl last year was because the Pats gave their everything in the final game of the regular season last year going for a perfect 16-0, a game against the Giants in which New York got valuable first-hand intelligence about their future opponent. Tenny and Indy should not ignore that lesson.

1. Yesterday was the 15th anniversary of the first Lambeau Leap. Happy birthday -- and thanks Leroy Butler.

Three and out

3. I agree with many baseball pundits that there will be a backlash against the New York Yankee, but in many ways it is silly. The Yankees are probably going to have a payroll in the same vicinity of last year's when they finished third in the AL East because they let go a number of players with big price tags (Jason Giambi, Bobby Abreu, Mike Mussina, possibly Andy Petite). Spending money is not guarantee of success (see the Baltimore Orioles since Peter Angelos has taken over, the Los Angeles Dodgers in many years, the 2008 Detroit Tigers).

2. I think East Coast Bias' J-Red's proposal for a luxury tax on everyone over the league average payroll to be divvied up among those in the bottom half based on a formula that combines the previous year's finish and current payroll, is innovative and interesting, but wrong. It may create the wrong incentives by encouraging teams to keep payrolls low and lose in order to receive a larger percentage of the luxury tax.

1. Why would Randy Johnson want to play for the San Francisco Giants? And why would the Giants pay between $8-13 million for one season of an aged pitcher that doesn't help in their rebuilding process? The money would be better spent on a quality defensive middle infielder which would help build the confidence of their young pitchers. Watching Johnson march toward 300 wins should reminiscent of Barry Bonds chasing Hank Aaron's all-time homerun record, relegating the Giants to a sideshow to a milestone main event.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008
Christmas music

Jesu Joy of Man's Desiring by Celtic Woman.

God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen by a boys choir

Good King Wenceslas by Loreena McKennitt

O Holy Night by Josh Groban

Johnny Cash and friends sing the 12 Days of Christmas

Trent Austin does a rocked up version of The Little Drummer Boy

Merry Christmas

I wish you all a merry and blessed Christmas.

The Christmas story:

This is how Jesus Christ came to be born. His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph; but before they came to live together she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit.

Her husband Joseph, being an upright man and wanting to spare her disgrace, decided to divorce her informally.

He had made up his mind to do this when suddenly the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, 'Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because she has conceived what is in her by the Holy Spirit.

She will give birth to a son and you must name him Jesus, because he is the one who is to save his people from their sins.'

Now all this took place to fulfil what the Lord had spoken through the prophet:

Look! the virgin is with child and will give birth to a son whom they will call Immanuel, a name which means 'God-is-with-us'.

When Joseph woke up he did what the angel of the Lord had told him to do: he took his wife to his home;

he had not had intercourse with her when she gave birth to a son; and he named him Jesus.

After Jesus had been born at Bethlehem in Judaea during the reign of King Herod, suddenly some wise men came to Jerusalem from the east

asking, 'Where is the infant king of the Jews? We saw his star as it rose and have come to do him homage.'

When King Herod heard this he was perturbed, and so was the whole of Jerusalem.

He called together all the chief priests and the scribes of the people, and enquired of them where the Christ was to be born.

They told him, 'At Bethlehem in Judaea, for this is what the prophet wrote:

And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, you are by no means the least among the leaders of Judah, for from you will come a leader who will shepherd my people Israel.'

Then Herod summoned the wise men to see him privately. He asked them the exact date on which the star had appeared

and sent them on to Bethlehem with the words, 'Go and find out all about the child, and when you have found him, let me know, so that I too may go and do him homage.'

Having listened to what the king had to say, they set out. And suddenly the star they had seen rising went forward and halted over the place where the child was.

The sight of the star filled them with delight,

and going into the house they saw the child with his mother Mary, and falling to their knees they did him homage. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts of gold and frankincense and myrrh.

But they were given a warning in a dream not to go back to Herod, and returned to their own country by a different way.

After they had left, suddenly the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, 'Get up, take the child and his mother with you, and escape into Egypt, and stay there until I tell you, because Herod intends to search for the child and do away

So Joseph got up and, taking the child and his mother with him, left that night for Egypt.

Luke 1:18-25, 2:1-14

Merry Christmas Yankee fans

New York Yankees have now signed three of the five biggest free agents of this off-season: starters C.C. Sabathia and A.J. Burnett and now 1B Mark Teixeira. They prevented the Boston Red Sox from signing the steady switch-hitting, near gold-glove defense first baseman by dangling $180 million for eight years. Win-win, as they say. Word is that LF Manny Ramirez is still not out of the equation, either.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008
AGS revisited

Indianapolis Colts 31, Jacksonville Jaguars 24: I said Indy would 'easily' cover the six point spread; by easily, I meant clearing it by a point. Watching Peyton Manning pass -- deep passes, through coverage, down the middle, along the sides -- was thrilling. He is a true artist. The Colts won their eighth in a row and will be a popular pick to win the AFC (they are my pick).

Baltimore Ravens 33, Dallas Cowboys 24: What a disappointing result for the final Cowboys game in Irving, Texas. There is a lot of criticism of Tony Romo not able to win the big games (5-7 in December and January over his career), but the Ravens played a more intense and better game. No one on the Cowboys team played with any sense of urgency. I thought the Cowboys would win -- but they didn't play like a winning team and deserved the result they got.

Cincinnati Bengals 14, Cleveland Browns 0: I correctly predicted the Bengals would get the upset in Cleveland. I also said, "The only interesting question is whether the Browns can pick up their first offensive TD in more than a month." Obviously they didn't.

Miami Dolphins 38, Kansas City Chiefs 31: I wouldn't have predicted these two teams to combine for 31 points, let alone have both of them score at least that many. I correctly predicted the Fins covering the four points. The Chiefs almost had 500 total net yards of offense (492) but four turnovers hurt them. Fins scored with just over four minutes left in the fourth to break a 31-31 tie. For the first time all year, the Fins had a pair of turnovers -- fortunately for them, it didn't matter.

New Orleans Saints 42, Detroit Lions 7: This is what happens when the first ranked offense faces the 31st ranked defense. Predicted the Saints would cover the 6.5 -- which they did more than five times. Drew Brees had a great game: 30 for 40, 351 yards, 2 TDs.

Tennessee Titans 31, Pittsburgh 14: The Steelers gave up four turnovers, and the Titans turned those four turnovers into 21 points -- the difference between winning and losing. The Titans became the first team to get 300 total offensive yards off the Steelers defense. Tenny's defense was solid, too: five sacks, two interceptions. And aggressive coaching helped; two of the Titans' TDs came after successfully converting a fourth down deep in the Steelers' end. I thought the Steelers would win. The Titans didn't win the game, the Steelers lost it.

San Diego Chargers 41, Tampa Bay Buccaneers 24: The Bolts' win, combined with the Denver Broncos' loss, sets up a win-and-in between the two AFC West rivals for the division title and a playoff spot. The Bucs led 24-20 going into the fourth. Philip Rivers is making a strong case for MVP consideration with a super Sunday afternoon: 21 for 31, 287 yards, 4 TDs, no picks, 136.7 passer rating, converting 7 of 13 third downs. I correctly predicted the Bolts road upset of the Bucs.

San Francisco 49ers 17, St. Louis Rams 16: I've liked the 49ers of late and find the Rams' play just plain ugly so I predicted the Niners to cover the five-point spread. San Fran won but didn't cover, scoring two TDs in the final five minutes to overcome a 16-3 deficit. Last week, the Niners lost to the Miami Dolphins despite having possession for twice as long as the Fins. This week, the Niners won despite having possession for only half the time the Rams did.

Buffalo Bills 30, Denver Broncos 23: My heart said the Bills would win, not because I have any affection for Buffalo but because I want to see the Chargers make the post-season. But there was no analytical reason to predict the Bills to win and indeed I called the Broncos to win but not cover the seven points. I did, however, correctly say it would be an explosive game. The Bills outscored the Broncs 14-3 in the final quarter to win.

Oakland Raiders 27, Houston Texans 16: Me and everyone else figured the Texans would win. Looking for a reason the Texans lost: Pro Bowl WR Andre Johnson had just two catches for 19 yards -- both in the final quarter. Houston scored only one touchdown.

Seattle Seahawks 13, New York Jets 3: Blame Brett Favre, who had a fourth consecutive sub-62 passer rating game in a row. Only 187 passing yard with no TDs, but two picks. The odds-makers had the Jets favoured by 4.5, but I predicted the 'Hawks to win. Somehow they did, despite converting just two of twelve third downs.

Atlanta Falcons 24, Minnesota Vikings 17: How does a team give up four turnovers but not one interception? That is a special kind of awful, but the Vikings did it. Falcons scored 10 points on their possessions after recovering Minny's fumbles. Both teams had a 12-play scoring drive that lasted at least six minutes in their first possession. I predicted the Vikings to win but said I wouldn't be surprised to see the Falcons win. That's called hedging your bets.

Washington Redskins 10, Philadelphia Eagles 3: Philly lost to the terrible Skins. I was way off, saying I'd be surprised if the Eagles won by anything less than double digits. It was a pretty awful game, with both teams combining for just 524 total offensive yards. Washington was less awful.

New York Giants 34, Carolina Panthers 28 (OT): I said: "Giants are favoured by three, but I see the Panthers pulling off the upset." DeAngelo Williams scored four TDs, making a strong case for MVP consideration. The Giants had two RBs do the big things, too. Brandon Jacobs scored three 3 TDs and Dixon Ward rushed for 215 yards, including 51 yards in the OT to get the G-Men in position to score the rare OT TD.

Chicago Bears 20, Green Bay Packers 17 (OT): Packers played well all game and Aaron Rodgers had a decent aerial game going (24/39, 260 yards, 2 TDs) despite playing in sub-zero temperatures. Still, the Packers blew a 14-3 half-time lead by giving up TDs in both second half quarters and a field goal early in the OT. I thought the Packers would win. Five of their last six losses have been by a combined 15 points.

Monday, December 22, 2008
Lasso of Truth on feminism

Wonder Woman at Lasso of Truth has a defiant defense of becoming a stripper rather than becoming a victim or dependent -- and it is worth reading. But here is the (family-safe) quote on feminism that is her takeaway point:

"Feminism is for weak women who need excuses and causes to give their lives meaning, or for women who are too cowardly, lazy or overburdened by the massive chips on their shoulders, to measure up in any meaningful way without insisting on a handicap advantage."

Mosting interesting list of the year (so far)

The D.C. Examiner has the top five mommy stories of the year, including famous teen pregnancies (Bristol Palin), a pregnant man (who isn't really a dude), the momification of Michelle Obama, big TV families (the Duggans) and the strange phenomenon of Twilight Moms.

Options markets are a form of legal betting but don't tell anyone

Justin Wolfers at Freakonomics:

"Color me confused, but I’ve never really understood the difference between a bet and 'financial trade.' And if there ever really was a line, it’s definitely becoming blurrier.

In recent months, there have been millions of dollars bet in options markets, as traders seek a big payday in the event that the economy heads south — and this hasn’t raised an eyebrow. But when an Aussie bookie began offering bets on whether the Australian economy is headed for recession, he stirred up a bit of strife.

Federal Treasurer Wayne Swan called the bookie’s actions 'utterly irresponsible.'

The contrast between the Treasurer’s response to financial trades and bookies’ bets provides a nice example of how people respond differently, depending on how a bet is framed. One is modern finance, while the other is a repugnant market."

Sentence of the year

On January 1st each year, I begin looking forward to George Will's year-in-review column in Newsweek, in part because of lines like this:

"Caroline Kennedy, because she is a president's daughter, sought the gift of the Senate seat from New York that Hillary Clinton got because she married a president, but Andrew Cuomo, son of a New York governor, might get it, because this is a democracy."

Quite a telling admission

The New York Times reports on the marriage of Jeff Weinstein and John Perreault, an art critic and food writer respectively:

"[Perreault] even teared up when applying for the marriage certificate. 'I thought it would be just like getting a driver’s license, but it wasn’t'."

However, considering the sterility inherent in the relationship, when two men get 'married' it is more like a driver's license.

What I'm reading

1. Spin-Free Economics: A No-Nonsense Nonpartisan Guide to Today's Global Economic Debates by Nariman Behravesh.

2. "Government in 3D: How Public Leaders Can Draw on Virtual Worlds," a report from the IBM Business Center for the Business of Government.

3. The transcript of the conversation between American Enterprise Institute president Christopher DeMuth and U.S. president George W. Bush.

4. "Benedict XVI is magnificently right," by 'Spengler' in the December 9 Asia Times. Spengler says that traditional morality is a necessary pre-condition for economic dynamism -- and that it is "mere moralizing, not morality, to dismiss what economics has learned about the market mechanism."

5. "The X Tax: The Progressive Consumption Tax America Needs?" a AEI Tax Policy by Alan D. Viard, Robert Carroll and Scott Ganz. I am not persuaded of the wisdom of moving toward a consumption tax.

6. "Do high heels empower or constrain?," by Germaine Greer in the December 13 Times (London).

Sunday, December 21, 2008
Four and down

4. The Tennessee Titans beat the Pittsburgh Steelers 31-14. The Steelers lost the game (four turnovers, after which the Titans scored 21 points) more than the Titans won it.

3. When the San Deigo Chargers started 0-2, I was still predicting them to win the division, perhaps needing their final game, a home contest against the Denver Broncos, to clinch. Next week's NBC Sunday Night Football game features the 8-7 Broncs and 7-8 Bolts with the Bolts holding the tie-breakers if they beat Denver. To ensure that game remained meaningful, the Chargers had to beat the Buccaneers in Tampa, where the Bucs were 7-0 this season. Until today. And the Buffalo Bills needed to beat the Broncs in Denver; it was just the second victory for the Bills in nine games.

2. Might the Chargers still having a chance to make the post-season be some kind of cosmic justice, making up for the blown call of referee Ed Hochuli in week two when the Broncs beat the Bolts 39-38 when Denver scored after keeping the ball on an incomplete pass rather than losing it on a fumble (as it should have been).

1. One last Chargers item. Of the eight teams in the two western divisions, San Diego is the only one to have scored more than they have allowed (+61)/.

Three and out

3. Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports on the Seattle Mariners outfield: "Please, no more talk about how Endy Chavez, Franklin Gutierrez and Ichiro could give the Mariners the most formidable defensive outfield in the game. That outfield would have almost zero punch..." Corner outfielders need to hit for power -- and Seattle's don't.

2. Rosenthal's thoughts on Mark Teixiera are also worth reading. He says no player is worth $20 million a season for eight years (I disagree) and correctly notes that Teixeira's bat is not one of the ten best in baseball, so why all the fuss over a very, very good but far from superstar quality player? Because of his age (28) and consistency. He turns 29 in the opening month of the 2009 season, so you won't be paying for a lot of declining years (compared to signing a 30-something free agent for eight years). He averages 151 games a year (he's durable), he has a high on-base percentage (he hits and walks and looks at pitches), he is a switch-hitter (Rosenthal says one of the three best in the Majors), and plays excellent defense (value added). Today, that is worth $20 million a season to a consistent contender. So the LA Angels, Boston Red Sox and (perhaps) New York Yankees make a lot of sense. The Baltimore Orioles and Washington Nationals do not, because by the time they are ready to contend, he will likely be in decline.

1. Beat writer Sam Borden sent Peter Abraham at LoHud Yankees Blog lots of inside gossip about the Yankees and confirms what many already guessed about New York's pursuit of C.C. Sabathia: it was going to happen all along. Borden reported that the discussions in the organization began last off-season when they decided not to trade for him (and thus give up propsects). They chose to wait a year (and forego Johann Santana who eventually went to the New York Mets) and "take a gamble" that Sabathia would still be available this off-season. Good move, giving up only money rather than money and bodies.

GCH on bailing out the car companies

Gods of the Copybook Headings on the Canadian bailout of General Motors and Chrysler: "Open a Hole and Just Pour It In." I recall a Stephen Harper who once said government shouldn't pick winners and losers.


Send 'em to paul_tuns[AT]

Top 15 political blogs

Over at Full Comment, Michael Taube lists the top 15 political blogs in Canada. For the most part I agree with the list (and not just because I'm included) although I'd all tip my hat to the Manitoba-centric Hacks and Wonks and the inconsistently updated Countering the Nanny State, although I'm not sure who I would remove to make room for them.

Interim's Person of the Year

Ezra Levant. We won't have the story up until January, so you can read the feature -- or features -- at Ezra's website.

The Interim has never named a Person of the Year before, but it has been something I've been thinking about since April or May. Without Ezra's leadership in the battle against the human rights commission industry, especially his posting on YouTube of his Alberta Human Rights Tribunal hearing, I don't think HRCs would be be much of an issue today. The story is written by Kathy Shaidle, I have a Q&A with Levant and Mark Steyn has a short appreciation of Levant.

Because every half-decade or so we must vow 'never again'
Or, Africa is like the weather

People always talk about it but nobody does anything about it.

Mary Riddell writes in the Sunday Telegraph about the Congo, another African basketcase for which there is no celebrity advocate:

"In this secret hell, 1.3 million people have been driven from their homes. Around 1,000 die each day and in some areas two out of three women have been raped. In a refugee camp thick with smoke and loud with gunfire, one woman holds her baby and weeps. She began her journey with six children; five have died along the way or been snatched from her.

The chance that she will ever see them again is slight, in a country where 10-year-olds are being tortured at bayonet-point by attackers who like to snap their victims' limbs. Each night, people walk miles from their villages to huddle round the UN headquarters, balancing the prospect of a few hours' safety with the risk of being murdered on the way. "This isn't about being hungry," says an Oxfam official. 'It's about your whole life being torn up. It's about not knowing if your children are alive or dead. It's worse than you ever read, and getting worse by the day'."

British and French authorities join the UN in calling for peace -- like asking murderers and rapists to stop what they are doing is going to work. When the West actually finds the words to condemn the atrocities in the Congo (or elsewhere in Africa) it never backs them up with words, so that every few years political leaders and UN apparatchiks can vow 'never again' and cruelly give hope to those who suffer at the hands of despots and rebels.

Bailout recipients by size and state

Displayed graphically here at the New York Times (there is more underneath this graphic).

Alan S. Binder, an early (theoretical) supporter of the Troubled Assets Relief Program writes in the New York Times that TARP isn't going to do what it was designed to do:

"It pains me to say this, because I was among the first to call upon Congress to create two institutions to deal with the financial crisis: one to buy and refinance home mortgages, the other to buy what came to be called “troubled assets.” The legislation signed in October empowered the TARP to do both. Sadly and amazingly, it has done neither...

Old-fashioned believers in democracy may recall that a reluctant Congress was sold on the idea of buying troubled assets, not on injecting capital into banks."

And now is the time to prevent the second half of the $700 billion program from being paid out:

"Fortunately, the TARP legislation authorized a first tranche of $350 billion but wisely gave Congress a mechanism for blocking release of the second $350 billion. With the first tranche now committed, Mr. Paulson said he would soon request release of the second. Based on his performance to date, Congress should reject that request unless he agrees to spend most of the next installment on TARP’s two stated purposes."

Any given Sunday

Cincinnati Bengals at Cleveland Browns: The battle of Ohio losers. The Browns look atrocious and the Bengals are playing scrappy football. Cincy backup QB Ryan Fitzpatrick can beat Cleveland's third-string QB Ken Dorsey. Browns are favoured by three but the Bengals pick up their third win of the season. The only interesting question is whether the Browns can pick up their first offensive TD in more than a month.

Miami Dolphins at Kansas City Chiefs: Chiefs QB Tyler Thipgen is doing more interesting things with the offense and it is always tough for visitors to win in KC, but I like the Fins' chances. They seem to pull off improbable wins, such as in last week victory over the 49ers in which San Fran had twice the possession time. Miami plays conservatively and has yet to have more than a single turnover in any game all season. Fins are favoured by four and they will cover because QB Chad Pennington is a quality game manager and he won't be challenged by the Chiefs' defense which is last in sacks in the NFL.

New Orleans Saints at Detroit Lions: This is the best chance for the Lions to end their win-less season -- which is far from saying they will win this game. As the season progressed, the Saints offense got more diverse with RB Pierre Thomas emerging as a scoring threat (at least 87 yards and a TD in four of the past five games), taking pressure off QB Drew Brees and the receiving corps. It also spread the opposition defense. Thomas could have a great game against a Lions team that allows 168.5 running yards per game. Saints are favoured by 6.5 and they should cover considering the Lions have the 31st ranked defense (against the Saints' first ranked offense) and 30th ranked offense.

Pittsburgh Steelers at Tennessee Titans: Titans win and they capture home field advantage throughout the AFC finals; Steelers win, and they will capture home field advantage with a win next week at home against Cleveland. The Steelers have won five in a row, including against strong teams such as the Dallas Cowboys and Baltimore Ravens the past two weeks, while the Titans have gone 2-2 over the past month after starting 10-0. The Steelers defense is the best in business, reminiscent of the Steel Curtain. No team has amassed 300 yards against the Steelers this season. The Titans defense is without two key components, DT Albert Haynesworth and DE Kyle Vanden Bosch, both out for the rest of the regular season. This is a huge plus for a struggling Steelers' run game. It will be interesting to see what the Titans O-line can do to prevent the Steelers from getting to QB Kerry Collins. Titans have allowed just eight sacks in '08, while the Steelers have sacked the opposing quarterback 47 times. The Steelers win -- and they are 1.5 favourites on the road.

San Diego Chargers at Tampa Bay Buccaneers: The Bolts have to win for any chance to stay in the playoff pictures; the Bucs can assure themselves of a playoff spot with a victory. The Bucs have lost two in a row -- both against division rivals -- and return to their home field to face one of the best QBs in the game today, Philip Rivers. Rivers consistently hits WR Vincent Jackson and is starting to get the ball to TE Antonio Gates who has too often been a non-factor in games. The big reason the Bolts are 6-8 is that RB LaDainian Tomlinson has also been a non-factor all season. Jeff Garcia is expected to start under center for the Bucs and he should have no problem hitting his targets against the wretched Bolts pass defense. Bucs are favoured by three but I'm picking the Chargers to win because, as they say, the more desperate team often wins.

San Francisco 49ers at St. Louis Rams: Its the battle of interim coaches making the case to keep their jobs. The Niners have been a lot better since Mike Singletary took over as head coach on October 20, even being in most games that they've lost. The Rams have lost eight in a row under Jim Haslett after he debuted with a pair of upset wins against the Washington Redskins and Dallas Cowboys and they have looked as bad as their record indicates. Turnovers have been their big problem, averaging three a game during their eight-game losing streak. The Rams defense is becoming more aggressive lately, challenging the QB -- but leaving the recievers open. Watch for QB Shaun Hill to throw the ball, especially with RB Frank Gore unlikely to play. San Fran is favoured by five and there is no reason to think they won't cover.

Buffalo Bills at Denver Broncos: Buffalo has really stunk later, winning just one of their past eight, after starting 5-1. The climb back to 500 is made more difficult with the health status of QB Trent Edwards and RB Marshawn Lynch up in the air. Sure Edwards has not been his earlier self as of late but he is still better than starting J.P. Losman. Broncos will likely be playing without CB Champ Bailey which gives the Bills some relief when throwing. If Lynch plays and they can get both the running and passing game going, the Broncos are in trouble. But that is a lot of if. QB Jay Cutler has just been named to the Pro Bowl and while I don't think he deserved it because it robbed Philip Rivers of his rightful spot, the honour is indicative of what Cutler can get done on the field. His job is made more difficult because the Broncos have to rely on their aerial game with injuries severely reducing the RBs available to play. The Bills will be able to provide double coverage, which Cutler doesn't mind throwing through -- or into. Potentially an explosive game with lots of scoring. I think Denver should come out on top but won't cover the seven point spread.

Houston Texans at Oakland Raiders: The Texans are lately looking like the team many expected them to be at the beginning of the season, winning four straight, including over Tennessee last week. The Raiders are awful, awful, awful. Even at home, where they are 1-6. Houston's Andre Johnson is making a case for being the best wide receiver in the league, but Oakland's CB Nnamdi Asomugha might be able to cover him to take him out of the game. Rookie RB Steve Slaton has ran for 100 or more yards in three consecutive games for the Texans and he'll face the 31st ranked rush defense on Sunday. QB Matt Schaub has been extremely impressive since returning from injury. Texans win and easily cover the seven point spread.

New York Jets at Seattle Seahawks: The Jets have lost all three games on the west coast so far this year and surrendered an average of more than 29 points per game in those losses. The 'Hawks have looked better over the past three or four weeks, although they did need overtime to beat the hapless Rams last Sunday. The Jets defense, stellar for much of the season, has looked tired the past two weeks. The Jets have continued to go with their ground game this year despite trading for Brett Favre in the off-season. His 17 picks probably have them gun shy. Still, he will face the worst pass defense in the NFL and the Jets need to trust his arm in order to make the big plays and win this one. They won't, however, and the Jets will lose to the 'Hawks despite being 4.5 point favourites for this one.

Atlanta Falcons at Minnesota Vikings: A match-up of two hot teams: the Vikings have won four in a row, the Panthers have their own three game winning streak. It is also a match-up of two of the three best running backs in the game: Michael Turner and Adrian Peterson. Turner might have a more difficult time facing the Vikes' top ranked run defense. Minny needs another good outing from QB Tarvaris Jackson who has returned and put up back-to-back great games (averaging nearly 140 passer rating, with five TDs vs. zero picks). Vikes defense will miss NT Pat Williams but Minny has deep reserves. Falcons WR Roddy White will be shadowed by CB Antoine Winfield, one of the best cover men in the game. Vikings are favoured by 3.5 and they should win and cover but it won't be surprising to see rookie QB Matt Ryan and the plucky Falcons pull off the upset. Indeed, if the game where in their home dome rather than the HHH Dome in Minneapolis, they'd probably be similarly favoured.

Philadelphia Eagles at Washington Redskins: The teams are going in opposite directions, the Skins losing five of six (including against the Bengals) and look unlikely to make the playoffs, the Eagles winners of three straight (including the Giants). Donovan McNabb should have little trouble scoring, facing the 23rd ranked red zone defense; opponents have scored 20 TDs and 14 FGs in 36 possession inside the Redskins 20 yard line. The Skins actually seem to get worse each game, with the defense falling apart and QB Jason Campbell looking alternately hesitant or sloppy. He'll come under heavy pressure from Philly's swarming defense. The Skins are having serious trouble scoring, scoring the fifth least points in the NFL, just nine more than the lowly Detroit Lions. The Eagles are favoured by five, but I'd be surprised if the margin were less than double digits.

Carolina Panthers at New York Giants: The winner clinches home field advantage through the NFC championship game, although the Panthers are not even guaranteed a playoff spot if they lose. (Ain't the NFL grand?) Carolina has won seven of eight, although they look middling on the road (3-3). Yet the Giants are struggling, losing two in a row, in part because they have lost key players -- WR Plaxico Burress because of his gun incident and RB Brandon Jacobs due to injury. QB Eli Manning looks like he has lost concentration at times and has struggled lately. Panthers have the best running duo in DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart, who have combined for just under 2000 yards and 23 rushing TDs. If the G-Men stop the Panthers running game, Jake Delhomme will throw the ball to Steve Smith. Giants are favoured by three, but I see the Panthers pulling off the upset.

Green Bay Packers at Chicago Bears: The Packers have lost six of their last seven, but that one win was a 37-3 trouncing of the Bears. And if you take out their own 51-29 trouncing at the hands of the New Orleans Saints on Monday Night Football in Week 12, the total margin of defeat in the Packers last four losses has been 12 points. Da Bears are favoured by four, but I see a Packers upset in the making. Aaron Rodgers is getting the yards and points. The problem for Green Bay has been its defense (allowing about 100 more points this year than they did through the first 14 games last year). Defense might not be a problem against the anemic Bears offense. Chicago is vulnerable, averaging just 260 yards of offense over its past six games.

Saturday, December 20, 2008
Any given Saturday

Baltimore Ravens at Dallas Cowboys: The final game at Texas Irving Stadium (unless the Boys finish fifth and face the other wild card winner in the NFC championship game, but that is unlikely). Interesting fact: The Ravens have won seven of their past nine, the Cowboys five of their past seven. The teams both lost to: the Pittsburgh Steelers and New York Giants. This match features two strong defenses; Dallas' is ranked seventh overall (7th against the run, 8th against the pass) and Baltimore's is rated second. Dallas has the better offense (ranked 8th), but it has been inconsistent and varied because of injuries. In the past two weeks, rookie RB Tashard Choice has 309 total yards catching and running, to make up for the loss of Marion Barber. Controversy dogs the Boys with Terrell Owens being TO, complaining that QB Tony Romo favours (room-mate) Jason Witten. Romo is banged up and was considered questionable for tonight's game. Baltimore's offense seems to get better every week as rookie QB Joe Flacco provide evidence of maturing exceptionally quick. Cowboys are favoured by four, but if they win it will probably be by a field goal. And if Romo can't start (questionable as of this morning), the Ravens win outright.

Three and out

3. As part of his agreement with the New York Yankees, C.C. Sabathia will get a suite while on the road, rather than share a regular hotel room. Couldn't he upgrade on his own considering his $23 million annual salary.

2. The LA Angels have signed outfielder Juan Rivera to a three-year, $12.75 million deal. To me, that's a lot for a utility outfielder who hit 246/282/438 with 12 HRs in 89 games. And it also probably means the Angels are not in on the Manny Ramirez sweepstakes if they do not re-sign 1B Mark Teixeira.

1. New Yankee Stadium with the lights on: