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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Saturday, January 31, 2009
Super Bowl prediction

Pittsburgh Steelers and Arizona Cardinals at Tampa: Steelers favoured by seven

I want to say that Pittsburgh is going to win. I'll be cheering for them on Sunday night, dressed in a 'five-time Super Bowl champions' Steelers t-shirt, maybe even wearing my Steelers gloves and tuque. My eldest son will wear his Steelers shirt and cap, my other son will be swimming in one of my surplus Steelers shirts and if I can convince my wife, she will wear one, too. My wife is quite sensible and probably won't let me paint the faces of our three girls (ages two to six) black and yellow. I'll be ordering a Super Bowl terrible towel minutes after the game if Pittsburgh wins. But I don't expect them to.

On paper, this is a great game. The best defense (Pittsburgh) against the second-best offense (Arizona). The Cards offense is pure aerial and the Steelers have the best pass defense. Get the teams on the field and let them play. May the best team win. May the team that does the best at what they do best, win. For most of January, I would have said that Pittsburgh's defense is better than anyone else's offense. Right after the championship games, I would have predicted the Steelers to win, but a close analysis of the matchups and the motivation of the Cards after being disrespected for a full month, including after their NFC Championship win, leads me to the awful conclusion: the Cardinals are going to prevent the Steelers from winning their record sixth Super Bowl. The Cards will win their first. Or maybe I've fallen victim to what Bruce Arthur describes in the National Post today (spending "the last two weeks trying to talk ourselves into picking the Cardinals).

Two weeks ago, I would have predicted the incredible Steelers defense to stop Kurt Warner and the army of outstanding receivers the Cards put out there. But not today. Larry Fitzgerald is, as I've said a few times already, the best WR in the game today. He does things no one else can: he has great hands, makes terrific leaps, runs amazing routes, and has tremendous strength and speed. He seems able to contort himself to get his body or the ball to where it needs to go, sometimes in defiance of what is physically possible. His body looks like it will be a yard and a half outside the end zone as he is being triple covered while sprinting the final yards after a deep catch but he stretches out and puts the ball inside the pylon and scores the TD. And not just once, but whenever necessary. If the red zone was a pool of water, no doubt Fitzgerald would glide across it effortlessly as a pair of safeties sink following him.

Fitzgerald will be the difference. He makes big plays, he forces double and triple coverage (and still breaks free), and requires opponents to change their game plans. His presence on the field gives Kurt Warner a special target and at the same time draws coverage away from a pair of other incredible wide receivers (Anquan Boldin and Steve Breaston). The problem for the Steelers is that whatever they do to cover Fitzgerald will leave them vulnerable in so many other areas, that the Cards are going to make deep drives, get into Pittsburgh's end zone, and score. The Steelers kept 15 of 18 opponents to under 21 points this year, but Warner is more than capable of consistently leading the long drives and making the big plays that the Steeler defense usually prevents.

The Steelers have the best defense in the game this year. It is truly remarkable, something very special, and nine times out of ten -- maybe 19 times out of 20 -- it will get the job done. When the Steelers lose, it usually isn't because the defense let them down. But the Cards are not any old offense. They are probably the most dangerous scoring team in the NFL this year.

RB Edgerrin James has emerged as a genuine running threat, running at least 74 yards or scoring a TD in each playoff game thus far. During the regular season, the Cards run offense was ranked worse than that of the Detroit Lions. Now it is an integral part of their game.

Arizona has been a different team since the turn of the calender. A defense that already featured five Pro Bowl or Pro Bowl quality players has come alive: safeties Adrian Wilson and Antrel Rolle, linebacker Karlos Dansby, defensive tackler Darnell Dockett and rookie cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.

One of the storylines of this Super Bowl is a pair of former Steelers coaches facing their old team: head coach Ken Whisenhunt and assistant coach and offensive co-ordinator Russ Grimm. But there is an advantage for the Cards; Whisenhunt and Grimm know the Steelers better than any other NFC opponent could. This is not the same Steelers team that they were part of when it won the Super Bowl three years ago, but there is a surprising amount of talent that remains from their old days in Pittsburgh.

And one last thing: no one believes the Cards can win this. Nine of ten Pro Football Weekly staffers picked the Steelers, and while that is extreme it speaks volumes about how most football pundits still don't believe Arizona deserves to be in the Super Bowl after their lackluster 9-7 regular season record, winning a weak NFC West. Apparently beating three superior playoff teams -- the Atlanta Falcons, Carolina Panthers and Philadelphia Eagles -- doesn't count for anything. Nothing. Nada. Last year few people gave the hot team, the New York Giants, any chance of beating a clearly superior (and perfect) New England team. We all remember who went home with the Lombardi Trophy. That kind of disrespect -- and that's the word some Cardinals are using -- is precisely the kind of thing that rally a team.

The Steelers are the better team, but wheareas great defense and strong running can win the Super Bowl, it is just as often that the team with a player that has the greatest performance is the one who wins. That's why I'm picking the Cards. The Steelers are the better team, but Warner to Fitzgerald is the better play-making machine.

The Steelers will try to control the pace of the game by utilizing a running game to keep Warner and Fitzgerald off the field, but if the Cards score early or are ahead, Pittsburgh will be forced to the air, which is not what they will want to do. There is a path to victory for the Steelers: their pass rush on Warner forces errors, their defense stops the Cards running game turning Arizona's offense into a predictable one-dimensional threat, and Big Ben exercises the demons of the Super Bowl three years ago and comes up with a few big plays. But I don't see that as likely to happen, although OLBs James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley should be able to get to Warner a number of times; Warner sometimes reacts poorly to pressure, but I would guess the former Super Bowl MVP will not be easily thrown off his game on Sunday.

Or Pittsburgh wins if Troy Polamalu makes a big interception and returns or nearly returns it for score. As good as Polamalu is, that's just not a safe thing to bet on.

It breaks my heart to say this: Cards win 27-17. I hope I'm wrong and Rush Limbaugh is right.

Really disgusting Super Bowl menu

Wired suggests olive chips, puree bratwurst, puffed sauerkraut and beer ice cream. Give me 'boring' wings, nachos and regular bratwurst. Really, does this look like Super Bowl food? It looks a little pansified to me.

The president's guest list for his Super Bowl party

It's boring. Here's the list as reported by the Washington Post:

From Pennsylvania:
Senator Bob Casey (D-PA)
Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA)
Congressman Charlie Dent (R-PA)
Congressman Mike Doyle (D-PA)
Congressman Patrick Murphy (D-PA)

From Arizona:
Congressman Trent Franks (R-AZ)
Congressman Raul Grijalva (D-AZ)

The rest:

Congressman Elijah Cummings (D-MD)
Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes-Norton (D-DC)
Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL)
Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN)
Congressman Artur Davis (D-AL)
Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D-CT)
Congressman Paul Hodes (D-NH)
Congressman Fred Upton (R-MI)

He's the president; can't he do better than this?

Friday, January 30, 2009
Cool things on YouTube -- Mean Joe Greene edition

Classic 1979 Coca Cola ad featuring great Pittsburgh Steelers defensive tackle Mean Joe Greene

Sesame Street parody of Greene's Coke ad

Just a thought

Tyler Cowen examines a new paper on whether conservatives are happier than liberals (the study concludes yes) and he concludes with this possible explanation:

"[P]eople have a certain amount of unhappiness in them and they channel their political discontents to fill that unhappiness."

Think what you will of Islam or Geert Wilders but Buruma is right

Ian Buruma in the New York Times: "[F]or a man who calls for a ban on the Koran to act as the champion of free speech is a bit rich."

The folly of just doing anything -- and everything

Mark Thoma writes in an Economist symposium on the Olivier Blanchard (an IMF economist) essay on fear and the economic turmoil. Thoma points to the problem with the political 'stimulus' solution of doing everything when the politicians (and the bankers) don't know anything:

"But I do worry that a portfolio approach to policy will undermine confidence instead of building it. If my health is deteriorating and my doctor does test after test, sends me to specialists, yet still isn't quite sure what is wrong, and if the result is a broad-spectrum, let's-try-a-variety-of-things-and-hope-something-works approach, I don't think it would cause my confidence in my doctor or the medical profession to increase. And if my recovery depends on my believing that this approach will work, then it's not likely that such a remedy will be very effective."

Or, as Tyler Cowen says in the same symposium: "Most generally, we all need to keep in mind that trying to restore public confidence is tricky." A placebo -- the government appearing to provide a fix for the economy -- might work. But it might not.

A trillion here, a trillion there

Larry Kudlow says that spending on the Troubled Asset Relief Program is getting out of control:

"[N]ews reports suggest that Team Obama is contemplating as much as $2 trillion in TARP additions to rescue the banking system in one form or another. That would be $2 trillion on top of the nearly $1 trillion stimulus package."

The New York Times reported that Senator Charles Schumer (D, NY) says it may take $3 trillion to $4 trillion to buy the bad assets. Frightening stuff.

George Will suggests a strategy for the Republicans:

"The opposition should oppose mere opportunism, which comes in two forms. One is presenting pet projects hitherto considered unworthy of funding as suddenly meritorious because somehow stimulative. The other attaches major and non-germane policy changes to the stimulus legislation, counting on the need for speed to allow them to escape appropriate scrutiny."

That would mean stopping almost all so-called 'stimulus'.

Thursday, January 29, 2009
The irresponsible budget

I disagree with Andrew Coyne that the federal budget is the end of (fiscal) conservatism: conservatism is dormant, just hibernating. As Charles Murray told the Cato Institute last month, libertarians will be around to say "I told you so" but it will take some time. Eventually the country will catch on that this is fiscal madness.

That is not to say that the budget is not profoundly irresponsible. Nearly $90 billion in new debt over the next five years. I don't understand why, if the Finance Department says that the recession will be over by this coming fall, we need deficit spending to stimulate the economy in 2010. I am worried that this won't be the end of Ottawa's spending. On budget day, Jim Flaherty told reporters that if this budget doesn't stimulate the economy, the government is willing to do more. Yikes. More? There is even reason to believe that it won't work because, as Terence Corcoran notes in the Financial Post, economic models on which a lot of Flaherty's assumptions are predicated are unreliable.

And it can't be good when Floyd Laughren, Bob Rae's former finance minister, gives the thumbs up to a Conservative budget in Ottawa: "It's on the right track." (HT: Gerry Nicholls)

The spending is out of control and the tax 'cuts' insufficient: a 10% increase in spending; an extra five weeks of EI that will be impossible to rescind when the economy turns around for the better; $12 billion over two years for 'stimulus' even though the recession is predicted to be over in nine months; the creation of a new regional development agency (for southwestern Ontario); billions for forestry and manufacturing; spending a record $6500 inflation-adjusted dollars per Canadian -- 50% more than the Chretien government spent near the end of its tenure; modest 'tax cuts' that are nothing more than fiddling with the thresholds and raising the basic personal income exemption. As Coyne says, the budget is a "monumental, even reckless gamble." Aside from the cynical politics, this is offensive because a Keynesian fix is not what the Canadian economy needs; the layering of new spending, which will be difficult to reverse, and the destruction of the psychological barrier to deficit spending, will cause further damage to the Canadian economy, saddling future generations with higher debt repayments and larger government.

Considering the damage done to the country, all to preserve the Tories' hold on power, it has become irresponsible for a conservative to continue supporting the Conservative Party, the Conservative government and Stephen Harper.

(Photo: Rick Mercer Report Photo Challenge)

The war against European groceries

The Washington Post reports on the pushback by the French makers of Roquefort, a stinky sheep-milk cheese, against massive, last-minute Bush administration tariffs against their product. Other European 'luxury' goods that will face a 300% tariff include "among other things, French truffles, Irish oatmeal, Italian sparkling water and 'fatty livers of ducks and geese,' which apparently is how Washington trade bureaucrats say foie gras."

That said, the ewe-raising producers of Roquefort are hardly free-marketeers:

"However Roquefort got its start, the people of this village have been making it for a long time. They were granted a monopoly on producing the cheese by King Charles VI in 1411. In 1666, the parliament in Toulouse granted Roquefort a 'controlled designation of origin,' which made it illegal for other communities to claim they were producing it. A decree from the prime minister in 2001 reviewed in excruciating detail how Roquefort must be produced to retain its distinction, including boundaries for the ewes' grazing grounds."

Sam Walton vs. FDR vs. Gandhi

Art Carden, an assistant professor of economics at Rhodes College and a blogger at Division of Labour, reports on an experiment he did with his students:

"I did a thought experiment with some of my students after class yesterday that, I think, illustrates the importance of the economic way of thinking. Imagine the following three pairs of people:

1. LBJ and FDR
2. Bill Gates and Sam Walton
3. Mother Teresa and Gandhi

Now identify which pair people would classify as heroes, which pair people would classify as saints, and which pair people would classify as villains. As one might expect, LBJ and FDR are perceived as heroes, Gates and Walton are perceived as villains, and Mother Teresa and Gandhi are perceived as saints.

I then asked them to rank the group in order of the degree to which they have alleviated genuine human suffering. The students anticipated where I was going with this: I think Gates and Walton are the runaway winners, followed by Mother Teresa and Gandhi. If Robert Higgs is correct, LBJ and FDR have actually created human suffering instead of alleviating it."

Great lesson. He also shows that it is never to early to teach children about capitalism.

Sign of the times

Justin Wolfers at Freakonomics:

"The latest recession indicator: more people are searching Google for 'coupons' than for 'Britney Spears.' And it’s not that Britney is getting less popular. By this measure, the recession began in March 2008."

If Britney searches were becoming less popular I would have posed a question: is this a good or bad thing?

Give and you will receive

Adam Frucci at Gizmodo reports: "Monty Python started a YouTube channel with tons of their sketches streaming for free. The included links to their DVDs at Amazon. The result was a whopping 23,000% increase in sales." As Frucci notes:

"Are you paying attention, MPAA and RIAA? A controlled release of free material keeps people from resorting to piracy and keeps them in your controlled ecosphere, which can include, yes, ways for fans to give you money. But when you're a bunch of pricks, people go to The Pirate Bay and think of you as the enemy, and then you don't get any money."

(HT: Freakonomics)

Wednesday, January 28, 2009
What's wrong with Candy Land

Steven Johnson, guest blogging at Boing Boing:

"There’s a consistent theme to all these old-school game [Sorry, Bingo, Go Fish, Candy Land] introductions: almost without exception, I have been mortified by the pathetic game that I’ve excitedly brought to the kids. Not because they’re made out of cardboard and plastic, instead of 1080p HDMI graphics. (My boys still spend just as many happy hours with Lego as they do the PS3.) What’s irritating about the games is that they are exercises in sheer randomness. It’s not that they fail to sharpen any useful skills; it’s that they make it literally impossible for a player to acquire any skills at all.

Take Battleship. I spend thirty minutes setting up the game, explaining the dual grids and how one represents their fleet, and the other represents their opponents’. I have to explain the pegs, and the x/y coordinates of the grid, and the placement of the ships themselves. And then when we’re finally ready to go, I explain how the actual game is played.

“So pick a random point on the grid,” I explain, “and see if he’s got a ship there.”

“Nothing? Okay, now you pick a random point on the grid.”

“Nothing? Okay, let’s do it again…”

I hadn’t thought about this until I actually played the game again last week, but there is absolutely nothing about the initial exploratory sequence of Battleship that requires anything resembling a genuine decision. It is a roulette wheel. A random number generator could easily stay competitive for the first half. But even when some red pegs appear on the board, the decision tree is still a joke: “Now select a co-ordinate that’s next to the red peg.” That’s pretty much it. Yes, at the very end, you might adjust your picks based on your knowledge of which ships you’ve sunk. But for the most part, it’s about as mentally challenging as playing Bingo.
And Battleship might as well be Battleship Potemkin compared to something like Candy Land, which was fiendishly designed to prevent the player from ever having to make a single decision while playing the game. You pick a card from a shuffled deck, and follow the instructions. That’s it.

I realize that games of pure chance have a long history, but that doesn’t make them any less moronic. (And it goes without saying that Checkers, Chess, Go, and other strategy games are great tests of decision-making.) I take this as another example of how much more mentally challenging kids’ culture has become in recent years. The digital generation doesn’t seem to have much of an appetite for games structured around total randomness. My older boys have been playing Super Mario Galaxy for the Wii since they were four and six, and there is more decision making in ten seconds of that game than there is in ten hours of Candy Land or Sorry.

Just as a thought experiment: Imagine what the manual for Super Mario would read like were it structured like Candy Land:

To explore Super Mario Galaxy, just hit the “action” button. At that point the game will randomly determine what action you have selected, and whether it was successful. When the action is over, hit the button again to see what’s next!

You think that game would have been a runaway hit? Even dressed up with accelerometers and adorable graphics? Of course not. But that’s what most of us who grew up before videogames accepted as normal when we were five. I’m not big into the “moral message” interpretation of pop culture, but plenty of critics of digital games are, so just for the record: what sort of message does Candy Land send to our kids? (And I’m not just talking about all the implicit advertisements for cane sugar products.) It says you are powerless, that your destiny is entirely determined by the luck of the draw, that the only chance you have of winning the game lies in following the rules, and accepting the cards as they come. Who wants to grow up in that kind of universe?"

US stimulus will still fund family planning & STD prevention reports:

"Just one day after millions of dollars in contraception and abortion handouts in Obama's nearly $1 trillion economic stimulus package were made public and immediately discarded, news has come to light of another $335 million set aside for condoms and sexually explicit 'STD prevention' programs.

The Drudge Report headlined the discovery of another chunk of stimulus money headed primarily for promoting sexually-transmitted disease (STD) prevention programs, via the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)."

So, to be clear(ish): the old condom and abortion funding is out, but other old condom and sex-ed funding is still in.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009
What I'm reading - budget edition

1. Canada's Economic Plan: Budget 2009

2. Analysis of the budget from TD Economics, ScotiaBank, BMO Nesbitt Burns, and KPMG.

3. Also, analysis from the Fraser Institute and Cardus (formerly the Work Research Foundation).

Pro-Israel vote at UN may come back to haunt Canada

That should reflect the UN worse than it does Canada. The story is in Embassy magazine.

It's Canada's turn for a UPR -- a Universal Periodic Review -- that is one of the hallmarks of the UN Human Rights Council, which replaced the dysfunctional UN Human Rights Commission. Every four years, every country's human record is scrutinized by the UNHRC. Embassy reports:

"Islamic nations and those belonging to the Non-Aligned Movement, primarily comprised of southern and developing countries, have been responsible for bringing the motions. European countries and others have generally abstained, while Canada has emerged as a pariah by steadfastly opposing the motions.

The most recent example was on Jan. 12 when Canada was alone in opposing a motion condemning the 'grave' human rights violations allegedly perpetrated by Israeli military forces in Gaza.

Mr. Machon said Canada's support for Israel, as well as its strong stands on Darfur and against Burma and Iran, have netted it many enemies."

Let me translate: because Canada is standing up for human rights in various developing countries, other developing countries are going to get back at Canada.

'Why Are Faxes Still Around?'

Wired asks and answers, and concludes that most recipients of documents:

"almost certainly has a fax number, it's probably listed, and his machine can receive a transmission from any source—a brand-new multitasking office bot or a 25-year-old thermal-paper fountain. This universal utility is the technology's competitive edge. Faxing is easy."

Still seems wierd. I learned, though, that the first faxing technology was patented in 1843.

Congress may back down on family planning as part of stimulus report here.

Give a liberal enough rope and they'll take care of everything themselves. If Nancy Pelosi hadn't made the liberal case for including family planning as part of the stimulus project, no one would have cared.

Demographic winter

Don Feder was the speaker at the Rose Dinner on January 23, the 36th anniversay of Roe v. Wade. Here is the text of his speech on Demographic Winter, the idea that declining population growth and eventually depopulation, endangers our future. An excerpt:

[W]hat happens when populations begin to decline? We’ve built a civilization that depends on people – and lots of them. What happens when more and more becomes less and less? Demographic Winter is the terminal stage in the suicide of the West –the culmination of a century of evil ideas and poisonous policies. Among them:

• Abortion – As I mentioned a moment ago, worldwide, we’re killing 42 million people a year. It’s as if an invading army killed every man woman and child in Italy – then repeated the process every year.

• Contraception – For the first time in history, just under half the world’s population of childbearing age uses some form of birth control. Some of us remember when births weren’t controlled and pregnancies weren’t planned. With all of wailing about man-made Global Warming, carbon footprints and the ozone layer, wouldn’t it be ironic if what did us in wasn’t the SUV but the IUD?

• Delayed marriage. People are marrying later and later After 35, it becomes progressively harder for a woman to have children.

• The decline of marriage and the rise of cohabitation. Not surprisingly, in relationships without commitment, people have fewer children. By the way, the left’s contribution to the coming population crisis is to push the one type of “marriage” (and I use the term advisedly) that can’t conceivably produce children.

• But perhaps the most important factor is a culture (including Hollywood, the news media and academia) that tells people that children are a burden, rather than a joy; that pushes an ego-driven, live-for-the-moment ethic; a culture that tells us that contentment comes from careers, love, friendship, pets, possessions, travel, personal growth – anything and everything except family and children. It’s a culture that can look at Sarah Palin and her beautiful family and ask why she had to have 5 children and why she didn’t abort her child with Downs Syndrome?

AGS revisited

Pittsburgh Steelers 23, Baltimore Ravens 14: I not only correctly predicted that the Steelers would win, but that they'd beat the six-point spread. To be fair to the Steelers, who really dominated the game, it was never really as close as the even the nine-point differential indicates it might have been -- or the media reports on how smash-mouth it was would have it. On offense, the Steelers made 38% of third downs (7/18) compared to 23% (3/13) for the Ravens; their average gain per passing play was more than 50% better (6 yards to 3.8). Pittsburgh's defense was vastly superior, and although the Ravens defense was not apparently affected by its recent wear and tear, everyone on the Steeler D-line and their safeties, all stepped up their game. They limited the Ravens to less than 200 yards of offense, sacked the QB four times, and forced four turnovers. Joe Flacco remained as cool as he has been all playoffs but this time he couldn't get the job done: only 13 passes on 30 attempts, 141 passing yards, no TDs and three picks. The Ravens had three turnovers in the final five minutes of the game, including a beautiful interception by safety Troy Polamalu that was returned for a TD. On a key fourth-and-one, Flacco was stopped on a QB sneak when Polamalu flew over the line of scrimmage to grab the rookie and prevent him from moving forward. The Steelers offense lost their big, play-making WR Hines Ward in the first quarter and no one ran for more than 47 yards or caught for more than 60, but Pittsburgh was tremendously efficient and made three big plays for 30 yards or more, including a 65-yard reception for score by WR Santonio Holmes. The game was brutally rough, with three Ravens leaving and staying out of the game, including RB Willie McGahee who was carted off the field after a legal but vicious tackle by Ryan Clark. Steelers needed the extra week's rest after earning the victory nine days ago.

Arizona Cardinals 32, Philadelphia Eagles 25: I correctly predicted that the Cards would get the upset. Every part of the Cards team played well, but none better than WR Larry Fitzgerald, who had 9 catches for 152 yards and 3 TDs. QB Kurt Warner was almost as good: 21 passes on 28 attempts for 279 yards, 4 TDs, no interceptions. RB Edgerrin James established the running game early, with back-to-back runs for first downs. Once the Cards showed the Eagles they could run the ball, Philly was forced to spread their D and not double and triple team Fitzgerald like they needed to. The Eagles got back into the game, scoring 19 points to overcome a 24-6 half-time deficit and take a 25-24 lead at the beginning of the fourth. But the Cards scored with less than three minutes left after Warner led an eight minute, 14-play, 72-yard drive; they went for (and got) the two point conversion, rather than the extra point kick. Philly led in time of possession, had a healthy 454-369 lead in total net yards and was better at making third downs. But the Cards were a perfect three for three in the red zone. Philly's defense had great moments but couldn't maintain it for all 60 minutes. They only put the blitz on in the second half and sacked Warner only twice. QB Donovan McNabb led a few great drives but his numbers were nothing special: 28/47, 375 yards, 3 TDs, 1 pick. Kicker David Ackers broke a streak of 19 consecutive field goals when he missed a 47-yard attempt in the first half. RB Brian Westbrook had just 71 combined yards. Cards won on inspired play by some of its offensive leaders and solid efforts everywhere else. While some pundits are down on Arizona because of its mediocre 9-7 record, they have been phenomenal in the playoffs, looking not merely rejuvenated but completely new. The Steelers will have their hands full in Tampa next Sunday.

Back to the Future: Budget day 2009

Conservative Party returns to its Brian Mulroney pedigree with a spend-happy budget. As Joseph Ben-Ami states:

"So now, finally, all is revealed. It seems that the critiques were right after all; the federal Conservatives under the leadership of Stephen Harper really did have a “hidden” agenda – just not the one everyone thought. Instead of being the committed conservatives that some people feared, but that just as many people hoped for, it turns out that the Harper Conservatives were actually big-borrowing, big-spending liberals in the style of Brian Mulroney and Joe Clark."

What a horrible day to be a conservative. Two quotes from the Toronto Star yesterday.

Gerry Nicholls, former National Citizens Coalition vice president:

"Absolutely he has abandoned his principles ... I don't even recognize this person who is the Prime Minister of Canada ... [Harper] was a principled small-c conservative who believed that ... conservative politicians should stick by their principles ... I think he began to care more about public-opinion polls than his principles."

University of Calgary political science professor and former Harper confidant Tom Flanagan:

"[Harper] lost the initiative by provoking the other parties into this potential coalition against him ... and now he finds himself having to put together a budget which is really a coalition budget ... the government's hand is fairly weak right now."

It isn't good enough that Harper says the deficits will only be temporary. And I don't buy the line from Conservatives that the Liberals would be worse. The Liberals couldn't get away with a deficit in excess of $30 billion because they would fear the Tories siphoning votes from the right; but today's burgeoning deficits will make it easier for the Liberals to grow government more, with even larger deficits in the future, having broken the psychological barrier to (large) deficits now.

Monday, January 26, 2009
Democrat stimulus package

Fewer people.

The Daily Telegraph reports:

"The Democratic leader defended plans in the government's $825 billion (£600 billion) economic stimulus package to reimburse states for contraceptives and other family planning services given out as part of the Medicaid programme for people who cannot afford health insurance.

Mrs Pelosi said that 'contraception will reduce costs to the states and to the federal government.'

Mrs Pelosi, the mother of five children and grandmother to six, did not spell out exactly how fewer babies would help the economy.

But she told ABC television: 'The family planning services reduce cost. The states are in terrible fiscal budget crises now and part of what we do for children's health, education and some of those elements are to help the states meet their financial needs'."

As Catholic League president Bill Donohue said (according to a report):

"Now we have Pelosi arguing that the way to balance the budget is not by cutting expenditures, but by cutting kids. We have reached a new low when high-ranking public office holders in the federal government cast children as the enemy."

From James Pethokoukis' U.S. News and World Report blog:

"This is wrong on so many levels, one of which is looking at children born to the 'wrong people' as economic burdens rather gifts, the music makers, the dreamers of dreams. She sees them as a cost instead of blessed benefits."

In need of a better Jindal

Quin Hillyer at the AmSpec blog points to C.B. Forgotston who says that Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal's actions don't match his conservative rhetoric. Says Hillyer: "So conservatives must hold Jindal's feet to the fire. For our sake, and for his. His potential is almost limitless. His performance needs to stop lagging behind."

The inevitability of failure

From Thomas Friedman in the New York Times:

"So, just to recap: It’s five to midnight and before the clock strikes 12 all we need to do is rebuild Fatah, merge it with Hamas, elect an Israeli government that can freeze settlements, court Syria and engage Iran — while preventing it from going nuclear — just so we can get the parties to start talking. Whoever lines up all the pieces of this diplomatic Rubik’s Cube deserves two Nobel Prizes."

Interesting anecdote/joke

Here is an anecdote reported in a New York Times story on Barack Obama's chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, although I'm not sure it means anything, but it is interesting:

"At a White House gathering with Mr. Obama and a bipartisan team of lawmakers on Friday, the House majority leader, Steny H. Hoyer, Democrat of Maryland, joked that Mr. Emanuel was too busy to talk to him, so he called the president instead. Mr. Obama said he was always happy to take calls for his chief of staff — a reference to an incident a few weeks ago when Mr. Hoyer called Mr. Emanuel, who was in the back of a car and claimed he was too busy to talk, so he handed the phone to Mr. Obama."

I also liked this part of the profile on Obama's #2: "When Mr. Emanuel lost part of his middle finger while cutting meat at an Arby’s as a teenager, Mr. Obama joked, the accident 'rendered him practically mute'."

This strikes me as true in theory but not in practice

Tyler Cowen:

"The total population of terrorists ebbs and flows all the time. When the number goes up by one hundred, no one much notices. If the number goes up by one hundred because we release some previously identified terrorists, there is or will be a public outcry. But it's the same consequence.

Fewer terrorists are better than more terrorists, to be sure. But a terrorist we release is not obviously worse than a terrorist who was free in the first place.

We evaluate outcomes differently when we feel we are in control or should be in control. We should examine this intuition carefully, since it is not always justified.

We also treat an outcome differently when we feel it allows an enemy of ours to 'get back at us.' I suspect this difference in feeling is not usually justified and that it is the primary driver behind the fear of releasing terrorists.

I can think of 'political theater' reasons why an attack from a released terrorist would be worse than an attack from an 'already free' terrorist. Overall I do not yet feel that we are thinking about this issue rationally."

There is also the question of whether terrorists should be set free as a question of just desserts (getting what they deserve) and not just public safety that is being ignored.

January Interim is up

The whole issue is here. Notable stories:

The cover story on our first-ever Person of the Year, Ezra Levant is here. There is Kathy Shaidle's story, Mark Steyn's appreciation of his fellow freedom fighter and my Q&A with Levant.

Our lead editorial is about the fight against the human rights commission industry. Our second editorial is about the attempt by the University of Calgary to censor pro-life students. Our news coverage of the UofC bullies is here.

My story on visiting the Holy Land, with lots of pictures.

Rebecca Walberg's review of Elizabeth Fox-Genovese's Marriage: The Dream That Refuses to Die.

Rory Leishman's column on abortion and the medical profession.

Our top stories of 2008.

Reaching out to new voters by shutting out existing ones

That is essentially what most attempts to modernize conservative parties do. I'll have more about's new-fangled view of a faddish conservatism sometime soon, but for now consider Jonas Stankovich's post on how to attract the 'youth' vote:

"The Republicans lost much of the youth by not offering the 21st change on social issues. Let’s show young people that Republicans are in sync with their modern world by leading the charge for gay rights and equality for all. We can compete for their votes again by showing them that we are a party of small government instead of a party of small minds."

Do youth -- who barely vote, by the way -- decide who they'll pull the lever for based on the single issue of gay rights? I don't think so, although I'd be willing to hear arguments about gay rights being a proxy for other 'progressive' positions youth care about. And I find it amusing how quickly being 'tolerant' of gays becomes "leading the charge for gay rights." The Republican base, for better or worse, is not the under 35 crowd but older voters who do, in fact, hold more traditional views on moral issues like gay rights. How does the Republican Party get ahead by attempting to attract potential youth voters while actively pushing away actual conservative voters?

Sunday, January 25, 2009
Pro-abortion media? Yes, but not quite as bad as you think

Fr. Jonathan Morris, a "Fox News religion contributor," writes about the media' non-coverage of the March for Life in Washington and says that it might not be an ideological pro-abortion bias but a combination of economic interests and media priorities. He says:

"1) We must keep in mind the media doesn’t like anniversaries because anniversaries, by definition, are not news (whatever is being remembered, already happened).

2) Annual events, like the March for Life, have a similar obstacle to overcome. In television, 'annual' is synonymous with 'nothing new'.

3) Getting bigger numbers each year to an annual event is not enough to change this fact. First time events, if they are big enough, and events that change the game may be considered newsworthy.

4) Even if abortion is a 'hot' topic, the debate is not media friendly...

5) If we are going to advance a serious conversation about how to limit abortions ... there is a need for a smarter media strategy. Don’t you think the Roe v. Wade anniversary would have made news if every pro-life congressman and senator would have walked out of his or her offices and marked the moment with a giant press conference in front of the Supreme Court? Would it not have made news if hundreds of pro-life black pastors were to have issued a request to meet with President Obama to talk about the genocide of the black population...

6) This media strategy should highlight scientific dialogue about the biological status of the human embryo."

I disagree with the statement "the mighty dollar almost always trumps ideology." Not true of media and not true of most things. If it were, we'd lie, cheat and steal even more; if media owners cared more about money, they wouldn't get into the newspaper and broadcast business, or at least they wouldn't cover politics. But I digress from his more important points.

I would also add that not every bias is a form of ideological bias. Often what seems like an ideological bias can be attributed to ignorance, journalistic laziness or (relatedly) the herd mentality. But there is something soothing to the pro-life side to blame the enemy and wrap themselves in the cloth of victimhood at the hands of all-powerful pro-abortion journalists.

I also agree that 'annual' events and 'anniversaries' are not news, and that just because something (a march for life or other annual demonstration) is 'bigger' is no reason to cover something the media didn't cover last year. I think niche publications might be different because they exist to cover what the media ignores. But the challenge for them is to cover it in new and interesting ways that respect a certain journalistic integrity.

I'm totally on board with Fr. Morris that pro-lifers need to find a better media strategy, especially by creating events that are newsworthy. I like some of the ones he suggested (the ones I kept in the post) and not others (see his Fox News column for what I omitted).

I don't really agree with the need to highlight scientific facts about the fetus; most people know the unborn are human beings. They just don't care. The argument isn't over the biological facts but philosophy: who deserves legal protection. The only people I ever hear say the fetus is just a clump of cells are pro-lifers when they refute an argument the pro-abortion side hasn't used in 20 years. Two decades of widespread ultra sounds has changed the debate.

I'd add one point: pro-lifers think the gravity of abortion warrants the breaking of normal media rules. Sure the March for Life is annual, but it marks the killing of human babies -- why doesn't the media cover it? Problem is, not everyone recognizes the situation for what it is and pro-life complaining is not going to change that.

This is not to say that a lot of journalists aren't biased and that there isn't a detrimental effect to our side because of that. Television and print news is far from perfect but ideological bias is not the only obstacle pro-lifers face when they are ignored by the media.

Why wholesale reform won't work

A few weeks back, The Economist magazine joined the chorus of pundits calling for comprehensive and simultaneous reform of Social Security, the health care system and the tax code. The thinking is that 1) they are inextricably linked anyway and 2) the politics of hurting everyone a little makes it more likely to reform entitlements than if one constituency was bearing most of the burden. This so-called Grand Bargain is nice in theory, but in practice it is not likely to happen. As George Will explains in the Washington Post today:

"The theory of a grand bargain is that if every American faction is being nicked simultaneously -- if tax increases and benefit cuts ('cuts' understood, perhaps, as disappointing increases) make everyone surly at the same time -- there will be unity born of universal grievance, which will morph into a public-spirited consensus. Perhaps. On the other hand, George Kennan, diplomat and historian, said that the unlikelihood of any negotiation reaching an agreement grows by the square of the number of parties involved."

Murphy v. Obama

Globe and Mail columnist Rex Murphy praises Barack Obama's speech-giving abilities, but criticizes the inaugural address:

"Barack Obama could read a string of fortune cookie messages and some people would come away thinking they'd heard the Gettysburg address.

He gave a great performance Tuesday. The speech itself, however, was a dud. So much skill operating on so lifeless a text. It was Vladimir Horowitz playing Chopsticks. A speech that has hardly begun gives us clouds that are 'gathering,' storms that are 'raging,' a fear that is 'nagging,' grievances that are petty, interests that are 'narrow' and decisions that are 'unpleasant' displays an alarming hospitality to cliché. Is there a dull-adjective shop in the new White House?

If they carve this one in marble, the appropriate subscript will read: Bring me your poor, your tired, your hackneyed phrases - your obvious descriptors yearning to be twee.

It contains sentences that begin as merely flat but end in perfect banality: 'Now, there are some who question the scale of our ambitions, who suggest that our system cannot tolerate too many big plans.' How many times have you heard that sad rhetorical turn? And where the sentence should deliver its punch, in comes the pale tepid verbal paint of 'too many big plans'."

Read the whole column.

McGuinty takes sides (with the administration) in York U strike

The Globe and Mail reports:

"The Ontario government will recall the legislature Sunday to introduce legislation that would end the 11-week strike by contract faculty and teaching assistants at York University. But a speedy end to the dispute will not happen because of opposition from the New Democratic Party."

Officials and students at York are happy with the imposition of binding arbitration, although the union is understandably miffed. I'm on the union's side on this one. I'm just wondering what the compelling case for state intervention is? The provincial government is giving the administration what it wants but at the cost of undermining collective bargaining. I'm no fan of collective bargaining, but if we have, we have it and the state is wrong to violate that. The province ordering the striking part-time faculty and teaching assistants raises some important questions about whether a university (or a specific university) is an essential service? (I'd answer no.)

That is not to diminish the anguish of students, especially foreign students who have not been allowed to work off-campus, and those who graduate this year (assuming they can) who will face employers skeptical about the value of their diploma.

But I still want to know, what has changed this week from last, other than the passing of seven days?

Saturday, January 24, 2009
Four and down

4. Pro Football Weekly reports that the New York Giants are interested in Chad Ocho Cinco "at the right price." I don't know if the G-Men need a player who 1) provides the drama that the former Chad Johnson does and 2) seems to have suffered a sudden departure of skills. Normally I wouldn't have a problem with a team taking a problem player, but 1) New York would seem to be a bad place for such a player and 2) Ocho Cinco seems to be in steep decline.

3. Cold Hard Football Facts says; that the 2008 Pittsburgh Steelers' defense compares fairly favourably with the defensive powerhouses Pittsburgh put on the field in the 1970s -- except in one are: points scored per game. However, as CHFF points out, the game has changed in significant ways (especially the kicking game) which affect scoring and in this statistical area, the '08 squad at a disadvantage. The exception is the freakishless good 1976 Steelers that allowed fewer than ten points per game.

2. Vinnie Iyer has an interesting article over at (The Sporting News) about how the 2004 draft is key to the post-season success of both Super Bowl contenders. The Steelers drafted QB Ben Roethlisberger and the Arizona Cardinals drafted WR Larry Fitzgerald (among others). You could probably write a column like this for most teams that match up in the Super Bowl -- it makes sense that the top draft pick four or five years ago would be a big contributor to a successful team -- but those are two big pieces for the offense of each team next Sunday in Tampa.

1. I like it when teams think big, but only when they do it realistically. I'm not sure new Kansas City Chief general manager Scott Pioli (formerly of the New England Patriots) is being realistic when he fired interim head coach Herm Edwards (good move) and is said to be interested; in former Denver Broncos head coach Mike Shanahan. Shanahan will get paid a lot of money if he doesn't coach in 2009 (about $8 million) and might want to take the year off before heading back behind the motorola headset. But he does have 15 years experience in the AFL West and KC is a great football town. Great move he Pioli can pull it off.

Three and out

3. Bill Price blogs about sports for the Daily News and he doesn't think Jeff Kent is worthy of Hall of Fame consideration. He says that because everyone but catchers are putting up gaudy offensive numbers, Hall of Fame voters shouldn't take position into account when judging a player's Hall worthiness. I don't buy that at all. Some shortstops are putting up huge numbers (Hanley Ramirez) as are some second basemen (HanRam's team-mate Dan Uggla and Chase Utley), but they are still exceptional. Corner infielders and corner outfielders still out-homer middle infielders by a wide margin even if the margin is decreasing compared to the 1950s or even 1970s. I do agree, however, with Price when he says that Kent is not bound for Cooperstown, but I think it is because the Baseball Writers of America Association is likely to make a mistake rather than the idea that Kent is undeserving of the honour.

2. has a list of the best outfield arms in baseball today. The New York Yankees will get a slight upgrade by not using Bobby Abreu in rightfield (now that he is gone via free agency) but will be hurt by having to use Johnny Damon for any substantial period of time. I was a bit surprised to see Grady Sizemore of the Cleveland Indians listed as the worst centerfielder in baseball. He may not be great, but I didn't think he'd rate as the worst.

1. Apparently Toronto Blue Jays general manager J.P. Ricciardi might not be incompetent about personnel decisions, but rather incompetent in his how he approaches personnel. John Brattain writes about how the organization is a "Selig loyalist"; that is they are given to MLB commissioner Bud Selig's vision of not paying players what they are worth, much to the detriment of the team's success -- and of Jays fans. Not that Selig is necessarily and consciously anti-player, but he has the wrong economic view of players. As Brattain says, "To be a Selig loyalist one must view players as an expense (something to keep to a minimum) rather than an investment (a vehicle that can be used to increase profits)."

One half of Bush's legacy (big government) hurts the other half (defender of America)

The war hawks who support George W. Bush should remember what Nick Gillespie writes at the Wall Street Journal because our ambiguity that results in mostly a free pass due to an appreciation for preventing further terrorist attacks is a bit too much ambiguous. Gillespie:

"In a way that was inconceivable when he took office, Mr. Bush -- the advance man for the "ownership society," smaller and more trustworthy government, and a humble foreign policy -- increased the size and scope of the federal government to unprecedented levels. At the same time, he constantly flashed signs of secrecy, duplicity, ineffectiveness and outright incompetence.

Think for a moment about the thousands of Transportation Security Administration screeners -- newly minted government employees all -- who continue to confiscate contact-lens solution and nail clippers while, according to nearly every field test, somehow failing to notice simulated bombs in passenger luggage.

Or schoolchildren struggling under No Child Left Behind, which federalized K-12 education to an unprecedented degree with nothing to show for it other than greater spending tabs. Or the bizarrely structured Medicare prescription-drug benefit, the largest entitlement program created since LBJ. Or the simple reality that taxpayers now guarantee some $8 trillion in inscrutable loans to a financial sector that collapsed from inscrutable loans.

Such programs were not in any way foisted on Mr. Bush, the way that welfare reform had been on Bill Clinton; they were signature projects, designed to create a legacy every bit as monumental and inspiring as Laura Bush's global literacy campaign."

Mark Steyn has often written that the European-style welfare state destroys the type of character needed to fight winning wars, such as a civilizational battle between the West and Islam. Bush has brought America closer to the regulation/welfare state that is destroying Europe, so in the long run America will going to be be less capable (because less willing) to fight for its principles of liberty and rule of law.

Presidential words

This feature at the New York Times allows you to see how often each president used certain words in their inauguration address (just put the cursor over the president's picture). Interestingly, that since Lincoln's inauguration, the presidents who used the word 'government' most often are mostly Republican (the exception being Woodrow Wilson's first inaugural, although he didn't use it once in his second), with Calvin Coolidge, Herbert Hoover, Ronald Reagan and William Howard Taft having mentioning 'government' the most. Only a few times (Coolidge and Reagan) was it uttered to talk about its limits. On the flip side, Republicans also tend to use 'free' and 'freedom' more often.

Cool things on YouTube

Nigel Kennedy and Juliet Welchman play Inventions on violen and cello. As Kennedy says, J.S. Bach did not write one inferior piece of work. I am tempted to go further and say Bach did not write an imperfect piece of work.

Top 10 commercials from Super Bowl 2008

Wolf Blitzer dances on the Ellen Degeneres show which is mildly funny, but Jack Cafferty's reaction is pretty good. Sadly, Blitzer promoted this embarrassing episode multiple times on CNN.

Daft hands. I think I've linked to this before, but it's pretty cool.

Friday, January 23, 2009
Sign of the times

Headline from the Toronto Star: "The hijab gets an eco-friendly makeover."

Great headline

From No Left Turns: "In the Long Run, is Keynes Dead?" Except I wouldn't have put it in the form of a question and I would have switched the Keynes and is.

How to deal with Gitmo

From Steven Hayward at No Left Turns:

"It appears already that the Obama Administration is going to have its hands full figuring out how to close down Guantanamo. Since no Congressperson wants a detainee sent to their district, and many countries of origin of these fine world citizens won’t take them back, why don’t we just cut a hole in the fence and set them loose in Fidel’s island paradise? It would be a nice first step in lifting our obsolete embargo."

The state of the stimulus debate

Tyler Cowen at Marginal Revolution:

"Matt Yglesias has a very good post on Robert Barro's latest. Brad DeLong seems to agree with Matt. Paul Krugman uses the word 'boneheaded' to describe the Barro piece.

This exchange is a good micro-cosm of how the stimulus debate has proceeded. A highly respected anti-stimulus economist puts up some anti-stimulus evidence in a highly imperfect test (in Barro's defense, he did cover more than just WWII). The anti-stimulus economist is attacked by pro-stimulus economists. But the pro-stimulus proponents are focused on attack. They are not putting up comparable empirical evidence of their own for the efficacy of fiscal policy and there is a reason for that, namely that the evidence isn't really there.

I fully admit that I don't trust the oft-cited evidence that tax cuts are 4x better stimulus than government spending boosts; I think the result is a mirage from underspecified models. Overall we simply don't know how well the proposed stimulus will work -- if at all (is aggregate demand always the relevant war?). It's a kind of Hail Mary pass, an enduring belief in aggregate demand macroeconomics at the theoretical level, even in light of broken banks, sectoral shifts, and nasty, failing expectations, all mixed in with hard to spend well, slow to come on line, monies. Yes it could work but our agnosticism should be strong rather than just perfunctory.

Writing polemics against market-oriented economists, no matter what the failings of such economists (and I am one of them, and I have failings), doesn't get us out of that box.

I'll say it again to the pro-stimulus forces: a stimulus is going to happen, so I'd love to be cheered up by your evidence. Put it on the table."

He has more, including the links to people mentioned in the first paragraph, here.

Playing house is not marriage

Andrea Mrozek has a column in the Montreal Gazette on shacking up that is nicely summed up by her ProWomanProLife colleague Brigitte Pellerin: "To pretend that drifting into shared domesticity is the same as getting married is wrong." Mrozek explains why:

"Marriage is not the same as living together, on any number of scales, and with great consensus from social scientists no matter their political stripe. The statistical realities are this: People living together break up more readily -- even if they do eventually wed. They are more likely to have multiple partners. Any children face more problems - higher rates of school dropout, more drug use and an earlier age of sexual initiation. And single parents -- mostly mothers -- are more likely to be poor. Kay Hymowitz, the New York-based author of Marriage and Caste in America speaks of a 'marriage divide' -- a new class division between those who marry and those who don't. The latter end up trapped in a cycle of poverty."

Worse, as Mrozek points out, the state is not only not discouraging pseudo-marriage, in many Canadian jurisdictions, it is actively shoving couples living together into pretend marriages, with not only the rights of marriage but the legal and financial obligations as well.

Thursday, January 22, 2009
Stat of the day

From a (London) Times story on a plan to air condition a huge outdoor beach in Dubai:

"About 60% of Dubai’s huge power bill is for air-conditioning..."

The country cannot be half free and half slave

Michael Novak notes in The Corner:

"As we think of the first African-American president in history, our minds drift to one class of Americans who will never be allowed to become president -— the 45 million lives aborted in the womb since 1972."

A real politics of hope would include ending abortion. As Novak says:

"I think many are now praying that the eyes of Barack and Michelle Obama will be opened and that they will not seek to narrow the circle the number of Americans whose rights are protected in law, but rather to widen the circle so that the rights of these great potential talents and loving persons will be protected during the months of their greatest vulnerability."

The act of governing moves politicians to the center

No doubt, many of you are getting tired of hearing that refrain from me. As the Heritage Foundation's Helle C. Dale concludes a Web Memo on foreign policy challenges for the new administration:

"In the days ahead, Obama's foreign policy will take shape. There is no doubt that philosophically, Obama differs from his predecessor. Yet how far world events will allow the Obama foreign policy to diverge from that of the Bush years remains to be seen."

Only a complete idiot ignores reality to follow a narrow ideology. While I think Obama is a left-liberal, he doesn't strike me as dumb. He might try to change reality as he sees it, but probably understands that reality is not optional.

Why Roe v. Wade needs to be overturned

Over in The Corner, Ed Whelan posts his 2005 testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee. An excerpt:

"Roe v. Wade marks the second time in American history that the Supreme Court has invoked "substantive due process" to deny American citizens the authority to protect the basic rights of an entire class of human beings. The first time, of course, was the Court’s infamous 1857 decision in the Dred Scott case (Dred Scott v. Sandford, 60 U.S. 393 (1857)). There, the Court held that the Missouri Compromise of 1820, which prohibited slavery in the northern portion of the Louisiana Territories, could not constitutionally be applied to persons who brought their slaves into free territory. Such a prohibition, the Court nakedly asserted, "could hardly be dignified with the name of due process." Id. at 450. Thus were discarded the efforts of the people, through their representatives, to resolve politically and peacefully the greatest moral issue of their age. Chief Justice Taney and his concurring colleagues thought that they were conclusively resolving the issue of slavery. Instead, they only made all the more inevitable the Civil War that erupted four years later.

Roe is the Dred Scott of our age. Like few other Supreme Court cases in our nation’s history, Roe is not merely patently wrong but also fundamentally hostile to core precepts of American government and citizenship. Roe is a lawless power grab by the Supreme Court, an unconstitutional act of aggression by the Court against the political branches and the American people. Roe prevents all Americans from working together, through an ongoing process of peaceful and vigorous persuasion, to establish and revise the policies on abortion governing our respective states. Roe imposes on all Americans a radical regime of unrestricted abortion for any reason all the way up to viability—and, under the predominant reading of sloppy language in Roe’s companion case, Doe v. Bolton, essentially unrestricted even in the period from viability until birth. Roe fuels endless litigation in which pro-abortion extremists challenge modest abortion-related measures that state legislators have enacted and that are overwhelmingly favored by the public—provisions, for example, seeking to ensure informed consent and parental involvement for minors and barring atrocities like partial-birth abortion. Roe disenfranchises the millions and millions of patriotic American citizens who believe that the self-evident truth proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence—that all men are created equal and are endowed by their Creator with an unalienable right to life—warrants significant governmental protection of the lives of unborn human beings."

In part of the presentation to the senate committee that Whelan did not post, he examines some of the confusion surrounding the infamous 1973 Supreme Court decision:

"The assertion that Roe "legalized" abortion also bears on a surprisingly widespread misunderstanding of the effect of a Supreme Court reversal of Roe. Many otherwise well-informed people seem to think that a reversal of Roe would mean that abortion would thereby be illegal nationwide. But of course a reversal of Roe would merely restore to the people of the States their constitutional authority to establish—and to revise over time—the abortion laws and policies for their respective States.

This confusion about what reversing Roe means is also closely related to confusion, or deliberate obfuscation, over what it means for a Supreme Court Justice to be opposed to Roe. In particular, such a Justice is often mislabeled "pro-life." But Justices like Rehnquist, White, Scalia, and Thomas who have recognized that the Constitution does not speak to the question of abortion take a position that is entirely neutral on the substance of America’s abortion laws. Their modest point concerns process: abortion policy is to be made through the political processes, not by the courts. These Justices do not adopt a "pro-life" reading of the Due Process Clause under which permissive abortion laws would themselves be unconstitutional."

Read the whole testimony, especially his analysis of the Roe v. Wade, Planned Parenthood v. Casey and Stenberg v. Carhart decisions, and what they mean to abortion law and the system of constitutional government.

No reason for pro-lifers to be despondent

Michael J. New, a University of Alabama political scientist and Witherspoon Institute visiting fellow, is one of the best writers anywhere on pro-life issues. Writing in NRO today, he addresses the pro-life moment now. Today is the 36th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, and to mark the occasion about 100,000 pro-lifers will march in Washington. But the March for Life won't get much coverage, and perhaps that is not a bad thing. Pro-lifers are despondent, dreading the next four years under what is most likely to be the most pro-abortion president ever. That's not the message that should be put on display for America; a movement should not appear to have lost its confidence.

New begins his article thusly:

"The pro-life movement is despondent. During the recent election cycle, pro-lifers incurred a series of disappointing political defeats, culminating in the election of a president who steadfastly supports keeping abortion legal. Furthermore, some pundits suggest that the Republican party’s pro-life stance hurt its candidates, and thus the party should take a more moderate position.

Worse, the new president has pledged to support the Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA), which would give the legislative and executive branches’ seal of approval to the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision and roll back many of the pro-life movement’s hard-fought gains. Because of the recent electoral losses in the U.S. Senate, the pro-life movement is desperately scrambling to find 41 senators to mount a successful filibuster.

Is this the dystopian scenario we face today? Nope. What I have just described is the political landscape in 1993, the last time the pro-life movement found itself in the political wilderness. There were plenty of reasons for pessimism at the time, but the movement refused to give up and went on to make some very impressive gains during the 1990s—gains that remain today, and should give pro-lifers plenty of hope for the future."

We've been here before and we didn't give up. Pro-lifers, especially Christian pro-lifers, should understand the virtue of hope -- even if that word perhaps summons other connotations today.

And there are signs of hope. Michael New points to better efforts activating the youth -- a demographic that can effectively evangelize on behalf of the pro-life ethic and which goes against the stereotype. The pro-life movement has done a better job in recognizing that there are two victims of abortion (the killed child and the damaged mother) and putting out a pro-woman message. New says:

"The pro-life movement has also reached out to women facing crisis pregnancies. The Silent No More campaign provides powerful testimonies from women who have suffered emotional and physical pain after undergoing abortions. Feminists for Life has made great progress in urging a number of college campuses to be more accommodating for single mothers. The Vitae Caring Foundation has conducted important research about the best ways of approaching women who are facing crisis pregnancies."

Other reasons for hope? Ultrasound technology is changing the debate -- sometimes one woman at a time, but over time that will have a huge effect on the culture. Planned Parenthood is facing greater scrutiny and being exposed for what it is. Public opinion is changing and, most importantly, the number of abortions is decreasing. New concludes:

" The 2008 elections were certainly a setback, and pro-lifers need to be vigilant about countering the Obama administration’s inevitable efforts to expand legal abortion (at home and abroad). Fighting for the sanctity of life is seldom an easy task. In fact, enacting and enforcing pro-life laws and changing the culture are battles that will likely engage the right-to-life movement for years to come. However, as pro-lifers gather to protest the 36th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, we should take heart. Despite the setbacks, we have made real progress. And there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic."

For other signs of hope, read my December 2007 Interim cover story, "In the pro-life struggle, the glass is half full." I write that despair is a sin because giving up hope is a heresy because it means believing nine judges, or a Parliament of 300 or Congress of 500, or president or prime minister, is more powerful than God. As John Jalsevac wrote in last week:

"To despair about Obama is to give him too much credit, to overestimate his power. The true response to Obama is the Christian response, and that is to shoulder the weight of the responsibility ourselves instead of looking to another fallen human being to save us; it is to step up our efforts to change the world within the limited sphere that has been given to us. And it is to labor under the knowledge that the final victory has already been won by Christ, and all we’re doing is somehow tying up the loose ends. In this way only will the United States, and the whole world, be transformed; in this way only will a true Culture of Life triumph."

The reason not to despair -- apart from the conflicting facts and signs of the state of abortion today -- is that politicians are limited in what they can do. President Barack Obama is likely to make abortion worse in the next few years, but the pro-life movement and pro-life politicians can limit the damage. More importantly, they can continue to do the work -- laying the tracks, so to speak -- for future victories. But despair would hamper the best efforts, taken on with less than full vigour in the expectation of defeat. President Obama makes things worse; giving up will make it disastrous.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009
Four and down

4. The stats and post-season record says that Cold Hard Football Facts is right about Kurt Warner being a better QB than Peyton Manning, but there is something to be said about the consistency of Manning over the past decade over the course of a 16-game schedule. Also, when Warner does well he has had good receivers raising a chicken-and-egg question: is Warner good because he has good receivers or are his receivers good because Warner is throwing to them? There is also the matter of what my eyes see: Manning does things that nobody else does, such as not tipping off opponents with his eyes and being situationally superior. But Warner is the 'clutch' performer who gets better in January whereas Manning gets much worse.

3. I love the hiring of Baltimore Ravens defensive co-ordinator Rex Ryan as coach of the New York Jets. Why? He could be a great head coach and might be what the Jets need to make it to the next level, but I don't really care about the Jets. I do, however, care about the Pittsburgh Steelers and it is great to see their division rival's brilliant defensive mind move to another division.

2. The Dallas Cowboys are reportedly interested in Baltimore Ravens inside linebacker Ray Lewis. It is unlikely to happen -- who isn't 'interested' in acquiring one of the best defensive players in the league -- but I'd love to see this happen for the same reason that I like Ryan heading to the Jets: it gets a major thorn in the side of the Steelers out of the division.

1. This story isn't about the NFL, but college football and how schools (and coaches) recruit talent. Fascinating although it left me wanting more (and not in the bad way). If you are interested in this stuff, make sure you hit the links for charts and details.

Three and out

3. Jeff Kent, one of the best hitting 2B of all time, has announced he is retiring. He should be in the Hall of Fame: 290/356/500 with 377 home runs, and 1,518 RBIs. He had eight seasons of at least 100 RBIs (a record for 2B) and his 351 homers as a 2B are 74 more than any other person who played the position. He received MVP votes in different seasons, winning the award in 2000. He went to five All-Star teams and won four Silver Slugger awards. He want to the post-season with seven different teams although he only made the World Series once (losing with the Houston Astros in 2002). If you were to say to the average baseball fan does Jeff Kent belong in the Hall of Fame, they'd probably answer no or suggest he was a borderline case at best. But looking at his numbers, he has both the sustained performance and positional dominance that HoFers should demonstrate.

2. Philadelphia Phillies 1B Ryan Howard is going to arbitration and is asking for $18 million to play in 2009. The Phillies have countered with $14 million. They will almost certainly split the difference. Howard will say that he has hit 48, 48 and 58 homeruns over the past three seasons with between 136 and 149 RBIs. On the other hand, he has struck out 199 times in each of the past two years and in 2008 hit 251 with a 339 OBP, while doing a reasonable impression of a pylon playing first base. I don't begrudge elite players their huge salaries, but Howard is probably only a near-great player and isn't worth $18 million per season.

1. Canada might not be able to field much of a team for the World Baseball Classic (an over-hyped, MLB-organized international baseball tournament) considering the pitchers who won't be able to take part: Erik Bedard (Seattle Mariners), Shawn Hill (Washington Nationals), Scott Mathieson (Philadelphia Phillies), and, probably, Rich Harden (Chicago Cubs) are injured. Ryan Dempster (Cubs) has chosen not to play. A potentially competitive squad looks like they will depart the tourney early.

Fact of the day

There are more Americans employed by the government than there are working in the manufacturing sector. It will be difficult for the Republicans to run as an anti-government party when so many voters are working for it.

Cheap house, but you have to move to Detroit

CNN reports:

"The real estate market is so awful that buyers are now scooping up homes for as little as $1,000.

There are 18 listings in Flint, Mich., for under $3,000, according to There are 22 in Indianapolis, 46 in Cleveland and a whopping 709 in Detroit. All of these communities have been hit hard by foreclosures, and most of these homes are being sold by the lenders that repossessed them."

Not that the lenders are making anything off them; the realtors are often taking 100% of the selling price.

And then there are the fixer-uppers that even when you take into account the renovation costs, still seem like a deal (if you are willing to live in Detroit):

"In Detroit for instance, Century 21 Villa owner Randy Eissa has a three-bedroom, one-bath bungalow of about 1,000 square feet listed at just $500. It's a nice place with lots of light, but it needs a total rehabilitation inside, which Eissa estimates will cost between $15,000 and $20,000. But that's not bad, considering that the home last sold for $72,000 in late 2007, according to"

But there's a hitch (and it's imposed by government):

"Often buyers are legally required to rehab these homes to bring them up to code. In Detroit, buyers are required to sign Affidavits of Compliance Responsibility, which obligates them to make repairs outlined in an inspection report. Only after that can a certificate of occupancy will be issued, which makes the house legal to live in."

(HT: Newark's Door)

Damian Brooks is blogging from Afghanistan

First post is here. Get a coffee, sit down, and read about our military men and women who are trying to make that part of the world a little more civilized, a little more inhabitable.

Brooks is there as part of a 'regional media familiarization visit' which, no doubt, needed to counter the familiar but incomplete picture the Canadian media gives of Afghanistan. He reports:

"To be brutally honest, we’ve been losing the fight for the hearts and minds of Canadians, largely because we’re surrendering the mental and emotional battle to the bad guys.

Think about it. Every time they get an IED [improvised explosive devices] victory, it’s splashed all over our news from the moment the casualty is announced at KAF, to the ramp ceremony, to the repatriation ceremony at Trenton, to interviews with friends, colleagues, and family. Canadians feel each death keenly, because we’ve come to value life so much more since the last time we were involved in a prolonged military conflict. We use the event of the hundredth death to reflect on the mission, on the human cost of it. Each time the Taliban gets lucky with an IED, the ripple effects on public opinion in Canada are huge.

But when our side wins, when we find an IED and defeat it, we clam up about it because of OPSEC concerns. So the image the public gets is a skewed one: they’re blowing our boys and girls up with impunity, and we can’t seem to do anything about it. That's why I’ve been trying to convince people in uniform for years that while we certainly need to respect OPSEC issues, we also need to strike a better balance in terms of informing the Canadian public about our own victories as well, so that they have some context when the Taliban gets one of their very few IED victories...

Countering the IED threat starts with intelligence. Where are the bomb-builders and those who plant them? Where are the detonators, switches, and explosives they use to produce the IED’s? Where are the devices planted? Very little surrounding that intelligence can be revealed to the public, and for good reason.

But it’s no secret that one of the best solutions to the intelligence challenge is the local population. IED’s are an indiscriminate weapon, and according to the CF, half of those killed in Kandahar province last year were Afghan civilians blown up by insurgent IED’s. So the Afghans are motivated to help the ISAF forces, on this issue at the very least."

Cool things on YouTube, Julia Nunes edition

I am a big fan of the (usually) ukulele-playing Julia Nunes, especially these songs:

Mr. Brightside (one of my all-time 20 favourite songs and I like this version better than the original by The Killers)

God Only Knows

Build me up Buttercup

Falling Slowly (with Danny Tieger)

Into the Sunshine (an original song)

Tuesday, January 20, 2009
There are limits to what a president can do

And regardless of who resides in the White House there are some things that are predictable. Here is Robin Hanson at Overcoming Bias:

"We've heard a lot of hyperbole about how Bush was the 'Worst. President. Ever.' and Obama's inauguration is the most exciting in a half century. So to avoid future bias, this is a good time to ask yourself: where do you set Obama's bar? That is, what does Obama have to do for you to consider him a 'good' president, or even better than Bush? It is enough for you that he is (part) black and a Democrat? Or does he actually have to do something? Or are those already insurmountable barriers to you?

For most any president today, odds are that we'd:

* be mostly out of our moderately deep recession in four years,
* add some symbolic financial rules that mostly lets old games continue,
* mostly watch as Israel, Russia, and China throw more weight around,
* mismanage another Katrina because governments are just bad at that,
* go deeper in debt 'stimulating' and 'bailing' because politicians love to spend,
* not much relax homeland security or immigration because we're still scared of terrorists,
* mildly pull out of Iraq since the war has been going well lately but we don't like to look weak,
* do little on carbon emissions or the coming Medicare train wreck as those are very expensive, and
*not reform medicine or education or welfare more than Bush's Medicare drug benefit and 'no child left behind,' or Clinton's welfare reform, as those were unusually big changes."

Policy changes will be at the margins and many will be more symbolic than substantive (not that symbolism isn't important). That's what moves politicians to the center and when a liberal Democrat takes office, that's a good thing.

How Bush should be judged

I think there are a lot of important issues that George W. Bush messed up (the failure to reform entitlements, the creation of new ones, increased regulation) and some great things he has done (two fantastic Supreme Court appointments and plenty of good lower court appointments, the promotion of a culture of life in both policy and rhetoric). But on the most urgent issue (national security) his response to 9/11 worked. As Roger Kimball noted in the NRO symposium on Bush's legacy:

"When the United States was attacked by al-Qaeda on 9/11, every expert in Alpha Centauri solemnly announced that it was only a matter of time—and not much time, either—before the United States was attacked again. Well, here we are some seven and a half years later and, guess what, it hasn’t happened."

I make this point often: on September 11, 2001, the talking heads weren't talking about if the terrorists hit America again, but when. Thankfully, they haven't -- so far. Bush gets a lot of credit for taking the fight to them rather than waiting to be a target again. Defense of the republic is the president's most important duty and on that file Bush gets a good grade.