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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Monday, April 30, 2012
Is heckling in Parliament so bad? NDP House leader Nathan Cullen wants a crackdown on heckling and other behaviour politicians engage in that people say they don't like. After all, as Cullen notes, workers in most environments don't get to yell and heckle (obviously he doesn't watch Celebrity Apprentice). Heckling is a problem but it is far from the only problem in the House of Commons. Phony outrage and silly gotcha questions with non-answer replies are a bigger issue and a larger annoyance. But all these are a problem only if you think the House of Commons is a place for deliberation and debate. Of course, it isn't and hasn't been for a long time. In Parliament the MPs don't consider evidence and listen to logical arguments to make up their minds; they take orders from the party leadership. Political expediency and ideology -- both of which are defensible bases for decisions -- rule the day, not deliberation in Parliament. So parliamentary "debate" is theatre, and not very good theatre at that. Heckling and bullshit interplay makes a silly exercise no less silly but a little less monotonous.

Alberta election & polls I wasn't blogging last week so let me provide my two cents on the polls -- not the election but the polls. Everyone knows the standard story-line: the public polls had the Wildrose Party up all campaign but the Alison Redford Tories was re-elected, and with a comfortable majority. The pundits and pollsters took a butt-kicking after this supposed embarrassment. Some pundits turned to hand-wringing, admitting they made a colossal error, and vowing never to quote a poll again, at least until they do. But should they be embarrassed? Should they swear off polls? In short, were the polls wrong and were pundits who counted on them wrong. The short answer is probably not and perhaps a little. Pollsters defend themselves saying that polls are accurate at the time they were conducted. That sounds like an excuse but there is something to it. I give such a defence more credence when all the polls had the Wildrose ahead in the same range, at least the week before the election. The Forum Research and other private polls showed the race narrowing in the final days after all the other public polling was complete. The people I've talked to in Alberta who worked on campaigns at the ground level say that the reaction to Wildrose candidates in the final days was markedly different with people at the door either being turned off WRP or generally supporting them but not ready to vote Wildrose (compared to the first 3.5 weeks of the campaign when voters were much more open to the idea of voting Wildrose). When I asked some experienced people on the ground whether there can be a 20-point shift in a few days, they said it certainly seemed like that is what happened. A second point is more of a theory: the polls were right but the Wildrose Party was inefficient at getting it to the voting booth. As a populist party that's relatively new, they might not have had the ground game or campaign infrastructure to turn support into votes. I'm not wedded to this theory, but it's plausible. I wonder about the wisdom of making predictions in print and broadcast media -- columns can be used for better things, like analysing policies and political trends without making predictions -- and dislike political commentary that pays too much attention to the horse-race of politics. Pundits can use polls but should use common sense in how much credence to put in them, watch the trends, and beware of the possibility of last-minutes swings.

Sunday, April 29, 2012
Will on Caro & LBJ George Will's Washington Post column is on Robert Caro's latest LBJ biography. A snippet:
This example of the malignant malice of some liberals against the president who became 20th-century liberalism’s most consequential adherent is described in Robert Caro’s “The Passage of Power,” the fourth and, he insists, penultimate volume in his “The Years of Lyndon Johnson,” which when completed will rank as America’s most ambitiously conceived, assiduously researched and compulsively readable political biography. The new volume arrives 30 years after the first, and its timing is serendipitous: Are you seeking an antidote to current lamentations about the decline of political civility? Immerse yourself in Caro’s cringe-inducing catalogue of humiliations, gross and petty, inflicted on Johnson by many New Frontiersmen and, with obsessive hatred, by Robert Kennedy.

Thursday, April 26, 2012
Four and down (Four best 1st round draft days by team) #4) Dallas Cowboys: The 'Boys had the fourth best day because they filled a need trading up eight spots to #6 to get CB Morris Claiborne, the consensus best defensive player in the draft. The Boys were 25th in defensive quarterback rating so adding an immediate difference maker to the secondary is a big plus. #3) Pittsburgh Steelers: Fans are going to love Guard David DeCastro because he could be the second coming of Alan Faneca. DeCastro fell into the laps of the Steelers as many analysts had him as a top 13 talent. Instead, he fell into the bottom third and the Steelers are looking to have C Maurkice Pouncey and DeCastro lining up together until the 2020s. #2) Tampa Bay Buccaneers: The Bucs had a great day. They moved back two spots from #5 to #7 overall and acquired a fifth round pick, then chose Alabama safety Mark Barron to help the NFL's worst defense and then traded to get a second first-rounder, RB Doug Martin. Added good, solid players on both sides of the ball on the first day of the draft. This draft isn't going to get Tampa into the playoffs, but it will help build a strong foundation for the future. #1) New England Patriots: Usually Bill Belichick makes numerous trades to move down the ladder and stockpile picks which he uses for future trades or to amass talent through multiple value picks. This year, the evil mastermind traded up twice in the first round and vastly improved the Pats defense with the additions of inside linebacker Dont'a Hightower and defensive end Chandler Jones. Both could be big playmakers in the near future, and of course, over time.

Thursday, April 19, 2012
A blogging break I'll be taking what will probably be a week-long break from blogging because of a work deadline and the illness of my maternal grandmother who will likely pass away sometime soon.

'Is psychology about to come undone' The headline, from the Chronicle of Higher Education's Percolator blog is a little over-the-top, but Tom Bartlett has a post there worth reading on reproducibility and what should be an important development in psychology (and, one hopes, other areas of research):
If you’re a psychologist, the news has to make you a little nervous—particularly if you’re a psychologist who published an article in 2008 in any of these three journals: Psychological Science, the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, or the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition. Because, if you did, someone is going to check your work. A group of researchers have already begun what they’ve dubbed the Reproducibility Project, which aims to replicate every study from those three journals for that one year. The project is part of Open Science Framework, a group interested in scientific values, and its stated mission is to “estimate the reproducibility of a sample of studies from the scientific literature.” This is a more polite way of saying “We want to see how much of what gets published turns out to be bunk.” For decades, literally, there has been talk about whether what makes it into the pages of psychology journals—or the journals of other disciplines, for that matter—is actually, you know, true. Researchers anxious for novel, significant, career-making findings have an incentive to publish their successes while neglecting to mention their failures. It’s what the psychologist Robert Rosenthal named “the file drawer effect.” So if an experiment is run ten times but pans out only once you trumpet the exception rather than the rule.
Of course, it would be helpful if journalists who reported on studies published in psych (and other medical) journals showed some skepticism when reporting on dramatic or interesting new "finding." Journalists should understand the incentives for researchers to fudge their results, but journalists themselves have an incentive in hyping flawed studies, don't they? And without painting with too broad a brush, you would think that practicing and academic psychologists would be a little more tempered in their acceptance of every new theory that comes along. Bartlett also mentions the important Psych File Drawer. If there is a "takeaway" from all this it is that science is not the perfect, disinterested method some people like to believe it is.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012
Terrible anti-WRP ad

Gerry Nicholls comments on "I Never Thought I'd Vote PC," perhaps the worst political ad ever. The ad is funny, but not in a good way. In many ways it is offensive: the implicit criticism of Stephen Harper (in Alberta?), obvious lies (Danielle Smith doesn't believe in gravity might not be seen as humour), and use of profanity (dropping the f-bomb). I hope this backfires, and it likely will.

Four and down (NFL schedule edition)

4. Andrew Luck will play his first real game against the Chicago Bears on September 9. Robert Griffin III will face the New Orleans Saints in the SuperDome. Welcome to the pros, rookies.

3. Positives and negatives for the Pittsburgh Steelers sked. They play three of their final four and five of their final eight at home. The Steelers will also play five prime time games but all them are in the first 11 weeks. Them are the pluses. The Steelers also play the Baltimore Ravens twice in three weeks (November 18 and December 2) which will test the team's resilience, stamina, and health -- in other words, I'm not looking forward to it. Big problem with a week four bye for this veteran (read: old) team; I'd like a later bye. There's also a point of the season in which the Steelers play three games in 12 days. Pittsburgh's schedule is not the Steelers' friend.

2. This is probably the worst game of the season and it will happen in Toronto December 16: the Week 15 contest between the Seattle Seahawks and Buffalo Bills. Neither team is very good and worst than that they are bad in a boring way. Seattle might be competitive team in a weakish division but the Bills are probably one of the five worst teams in the NFL. Even if Seattle is in the playoff hunt, who can get excited by a match-up of Tavaris Jackson and Ryan Fitzpatrick?

1. There is ten weeks worth of Thursday night match-ups (plus the opening week Wednesday night contest between the New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys) and contra Mae West, perhaps there can be too much of a good thing. Who, really, wants to watch a prime time Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Minnesota Vikings (week 8) or Miami Dolphins at Buffalo Bills (Week 11) game? I get why the NFL is giving every team a Thursday game, but there are some potentially real ugly prime time games.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012
Why write?

In Grantland's wrap-up of the latest Mad Men episode, Molly Lambert talks about Ken Cosgrove (one of the few likable characters on the show) who is moonlighting as a short-fiction writer:

Ben Hargrove, a.k.a. Ken Cosgrove, has become that rarest of commodities in the Mad Men universe: a good egg. Ken has matured and keeps his lusts in check. He doesn't openly thirst for recognition the way the others do, and is pleasantly surprised when it comes his way. While Pete was always eager to credit "golden boy" Cosgrove's annoying success and superiority to his looks, Ken's continued knack for short stories proves that he is talented in non-superficial ways. He now writes unpretentious genre fiction, which his publishing-world wife encourages, and he doesn't seem to think Galaxy is a step down from The Atlantic Monthly. Let's be real: That robot story sounded good! Peggy doesn't seem like the kind of person who is capable of lying about a personal critical opinion of art, even to a good-looking, "pact"-sharing buddy like Ken. Ken shrugs off compliments with believable modesty and doesn't quite comprehend why he has simultaneous competing desires to keep his writing private and to share it with everyone in the world. The solution is to invent multiple pseudonyms, to draw the curtains so that the different secret parts of him might punch it out. When a jealous Roger fells his plans to publish a sci-fi collection, Ken just comes up with a new name and skips genres again. He is adaptable and somewhat self-contained. He knows that no matter how many accounts he slam-dunks, it won't satisfy him like writing does. He writes for validation, but mostly because he just can't stop. It's how he makes sense of the world and his experiences in it.
I'm often asked for advice from would-be writers. Most people want to write because they either like to read and think writing is easy or they don't like to work too hard and think writing is easy. The truth is writing is ridiculously easy but good writing is hard work unless one has an unusually natural talent at it (if such thing exists). My advice to would-be writers is that they need to want to do it more than anything else; in the words of George F. Will (describing himself) they have to be unable to imagine doing something else (and, I would add, not because they lack to the skills to do anything else). Ken Cosgrove is one such person.

Charter turns 30

The statement by the Conservative government acknowledging the 30th anniversary of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms merely states historical facts; no doubt some people are furious the statement is not more celebratory in tone and they will play politics by charging the Harper government with playing politics with the Charter.

Here is the statement:

Statement by the Honourable James Moore, Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages, and the Honourable Rob Nicholson, Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, on the 30th Anniversary of the Proclamation of the Constitution Act of 1982

OTTAWA, April 17, 2012 - Today marks the 30th Anniversary of the Proclamation of the Constitution Act of 1982, which was formally signed by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II on April 17, 1982, in the presence of tens of thousands of Canadians on Parliament Hill in Ottawa.

This anniversary marks an important step in the development of Canada’s human rights policy. Building on Diefenbaker’s Canadian Bill of Rights of 1960, the Constitution Act of 1982 enshrined certain rights and freedoms that had historically been at the heart of Canadian society into a constitutional document known as the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The Constitution Act of 1982 empowered our government to amend every part of Canada’s constitution, for the very first time.

As we look ahead to Canada’s 150th Anniversary in 2017, we encourage all Canadians to commemorate the milestones that have built our nation and made us the great country we are today.
I like the simplicity of the statement. Notice, too, that it mentions Diefenbaker but not Trudeau.

Monday, April 16, 2012
Why social engineering is dangerous

And I mean social engineering from the Left and the Right. Reihan Salam from NRO's The Agenda:

Debates over women’s sex-role preferences often become contentious because the stakes are extremely high. If we assume that 10-30% of women are home-centered, another 10-30% are work-centered, and most other women fall somewhere in between, policy choices or (perhaps more to the point) cultural symbols and norms that privilege one group at the expense of the other can prove very costly to a very large number of people.

A nuke-free Middle East?

Akiva Eldar wrote recently in The National Interest that although it wouldn't be easy to have a nuclear-free Middle East, it might be possible:

Since the nuclear race has much to do with pride, a policy that ignores this element will not bring an end to the conflict. Sanctions have not persuaded the Iranian regime to stop the nuclear program and are not likely to produce regime change. Military attack may, in the best case, postpone for a few years the development of the bomb—while, however, arousing severe anti–American and anti–Israeli sentiments in the Muslim world. Both options will produce a severe energy crisis in the West.

The above analysis doesn't mean that we have to sit back and watch the entire Middle East go nuclear. There is another option, which is based on the premise that regional problems require regional solutions. The proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (or WMDs), and especially the nuclear issue, cannot be separated from other regional issues. I believe the best way to remove the Iranian nuclear threat is through a comprehensive package deal based on a regional agreement on nonproliferation of WMDs and regional peace. This has been Israel’s official policy since the 1970s, when it declared that once all its neighbors come to term with its existence and put an end to the state of war, Israel will support a regional nonproliferation treaty (NPT). This is separate and distinct from the global NPT, which Israel doesn’t trust.
Of course, that is easier said than done.

Sums up so much

The Globe and Mail reports:

Convicted murderers are among the ranks of federal workers losing their jobs through budget cuts.

The Globe and Mail has learned that one of the many federal programs that will be cut in its entirety is LifeLine, a program aimed at helping people with life sentences – or “lifers” – successfully re-integrate into society once they’ve been paroled.
Read that aloud and see if it makes sense: a rehab program for people paroled from life sentences. This is why the general public thinks the criminal justice system is more criminal than justice.

Sunday, April 15, 2012
Robert Caro interview

The New York Times Magazine has a long article on Robert Caro, Lyndon B. Johnson's biographer (so far he imagines at least a five-volume biography with the fourth installation just about to be released, but it will probably be longer). The article is interesting on so many levels and whether you are a fan of the books, a student of history, or merely have an interest in American politics or the writing books, the long read is richly rewarding. Two snippets:

Caro now finds Johnson more fascinating than ever, he told me, and added: “It’s not a question of liking or disliking him. I’m trying to explain how political power worked in America in the second half of the 20th century, and here’s a guy who understood power and used it in a way that no one ever had. In the getting of that power he’s ruthless — ruthless to a degree that surprised even me, who thought he knew something about ruthlessness. But he also means it when he says that all his life he wanted to help poor people and people of color, and you see him using the ruthlessness, the savagery for wonderful ends. Does his character ever change? No. Are my feelings about Johnson mixed? They’ve always been mixed.”
And this, about Caro's The Power Broker about Robert Moses, and how the LBJ book came about:

The two Bobs, Gottlieb and Caro, have an odd editorial relationship, almost as contentious as it is mutually admiring. They still debate, for example, or pretend to, how many words Gott?lieb cut from “The Power Broker.” It was 350,000 — or the equivalent of two or three full-size books — and Caro still regrets nearly every one. “There were things cut out of ‘The Power Broker’ that should not have been cut out,” he said to me sadly one day, showing me his personal copy of the book, dog-eared and broken-backed, filled with underlining and corrections written in between the lines. Caro is a little like Balzac, who kept fussing over his books even after they were published.

Gottlieb and Caro also have slightly different accounts of how the Johnson project came about in the first place. Caro’s original contract called for him to write a biography of Fiorello LaGuardia, the former New York City mayor, after finishing Moses. Gottlieb says that in 1974, when Caro came in to talk about that project, he told him: “It’s a mistake. There were two gods in my house in the ’30s and ’40s: F.D.R. and LaGuardia. But LaGuardia is a dead end, an anomaly. He doesn’t come from anything, and nothing followed from him. I think you should write about Lyndon Johnson.” Turning to me and shaking his head he added: “You have to understand, I knew nothing about Lyndon Johnson and didn’t care about Lyndon Johnson, and it never crossed my mind until that moment that was what Bob should do. It was one of the inexplicable great moments, because it came out of nowhere.”
The New Yorker has seven excerpts from the first four volumes unlocked from their archive.

Thursday, April 12, 2012
You just know taxpayers are on the hook for political bets

I hate this stuff:

In Washington for a meeting of G8 foreign ministers, Canada’s John Baird and American’s Hillary Clinton have made a wager on the first round of the NHL playoffs. Baird, of course, is an Ottawa-area MP and the Ottawa Senators are in the playoffs against the New York Rangers. Clinton, of course, is a former senator from New York.The loser of the best will have to wear the other team’s jersey at “an appropriate event” somewhere down the line.

Loved this comment on new TV show

Grantland headline: "Jennifer Love Hewitt’s Hooker Show Is a Hit!" First line from story: "Well, of course it is."

Not surprising, there is a group upset with the show because it perpetuates stereotypes about what goes on in massage parlors -- the kind that Jack Layton visited.

Three and out

3. Texas Rangers 2B Ian Kinsler signed a five-year, $75 million contract extension. Even considering the typical if inexplicable regression that most good hitting second basemen suffer in their early 30s, Dave Cameron of Fangraphs says this is a good deal because Kinsler need only be pretty good not elite to justify the annual salary, he might be movable to an outfield position and provide the team some midfield flexibility, and the Rangers can afford to overpay for each marginal win because they appear to be a regular competitor for the AL West title/wild card.

2. Jason Gay of the Wall Street Journal says the New York Mets are interesting, not quite amazing. Despite the 4-0 start -- they're now 5-1 -- there is no reason to think that the Mets will be a competitive team over the course of 162 games. I was amused by Gay's inclusion of these lines, like they needed to be said: "The Mets weren't going to finish 162-0. No major-league team has ever gone undefeated..."

1. Miami Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen said some positive things about Fidel Castro (while wondering how the (bleep) was still alive) and was suspended for five games by the Marlins. Guillen has every right to make political statements. Likewise, the team has every right to punish him. (It's a little much, though, for the mayor to demand "decisive action" be taken, but that's what politicians do -- interfere where they don't belong.) Guillen didn't just say something impolitic in Chicago that might upset people in some vague way; no, he outraged a powerful lobby in the Miami area and the Marlins had to take action to protect their brand. The Marlins have a large, new, and expensive stadium and they will require the goodwill of the sizable Cuban community to help fill it. Guillen has taken his punishment with a great deal more maturity than I would have expected, so the organization must have signalled their seriousness somehow. The team did what it had to do. This isn't about free speech, it's about economics -- and that's fine.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012
We should reward not punish wealth creation

Right now in both Canada and the United States there is discussion about raising taxes on the wealthiest in society. The Left doesn't understand, appreciate, or believe the Laffer Curve so let's put it another way. Support for a carbon tax or the introduction of sin taxes is typically predicated on the notion (at least professed, if not believed) that such surcharges will decrease the the use of so-called dirty fuels or the smoking of tobacco or drinking of alcohol. The economic principle understood by all is that if you raise the cost of X, there will be less demand for it. So won't raising taxes on the wealthy incentivize not getting rich? Raising taxes on the wealthiest income earners creates an environment that punishes productivity and creativity so it only makes sense that there will be less of those things. I take a rather contrary view that the wealthy should be taxed at lower rates because they earned their money making society better by providing it with a good or service that others wanted or needed. It is bizarre that we punish those who simply made the lives of people they did not know happier and more comfortable. We must ask the Left why they want less of that.

One other point. The Left talks about the rich "paying back" to society. This is wrong. The rich are rich precisely because they have been rewarded by consumers for giving something to society that its members want or need. The notion that the wealthy owe society anything more is disgusting because it raises envy and thievery to political virtues.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012
Bryan Caplan defends labels and good vs. evil stories

Bryan Caplan's post is worth reading as are the Will Wilkinson and Tyler Cowen posts to which he is responding. Caplan begins by being biographical:

I'm a libertarian, a natalist, an atheist, a credentialist, an economist, an optimist, a behavioral economist, an elitist, a public choicer, a dualist, a Szaszian, a moral realist, an anti-communist, a pacifist, a hereditarian, a Masonomist, a moral intuitionist, a free-market Keynesian, a deontologist, a modal realist, a Huemerian, a Darwinian, the other kind of libertarian (=a believer in free will), and much more.
He concludes:

Labels and good-versus-evil often effectively drain IQ. Many drain 25 points or more. But there's no substitute for actually examining the specific content of the labels and stories. Stupid worldviews reduce IQ. Smart worldviews raise IQ.
Of course, a person can change his or her label(s), as Caplan has. Indeed, I'm not sure how a sentient person doesn't change labels at some point in his or her life.

Three and out

3. Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports wonders: "The Yanks and Red Sox were 0-3 while the Mets and O's started perfect. What does it mean?" Passan concludes not much and, of course, he's right. But then there's still plenty of ponderous hand-wringing. (That was obviously written before Monday's games -- the Yanks and BoSox won and Orioles lost (the Mets are now 4-0).) I wouldn't invest a whole lot of meaning in a long weekend's worth of baseball. Right now there are about two dozen players on pace to hit 400 and the New York Mets are on pace to win 162 games. Both propositions are silly, as is any commentary about what this weekend might indicate for full season. It is, after all, only 2% of the season. If these four games happened in May or July, no one would care. Every team every year suffers a three- or four-game losing streak and a similar winning streak. Just because it occurs in the first games of the year, don't be fooled that it means any more or less than any other consecutive three or four games that appear on the schedule.

2. When the San Francisco Giants signed Barry Zito to a 7-years, $126 million contract, most pundits knew the Giants made a mistake, although few saw him falling to the depths of pitching sub-mediocrity that Zito has suffered. That said, there have been times when Zito hasn't been as awful as pundits think he has -- he has been better than average at times. So it is nice to see Zito throw a shutout in his first game of 2012 -- and his first since 2003. It hardly marks a resurgence, but it is a useful reminder that Zito is not the automatic loss some in the baseball opinion world think he is. Indeed, in 146 games (and 140) starts for San Fran, Zito is 43-61 with a 4.55 ERA (a full run per nine innings worse than he did with the Oakland A's). That's not worth the $18 million a year the Giants are paying him, but simply because a player is being overpaid doesn't mean that a pitcher's lack of success should be exaggerated.

1. An early theme of this season is the blown save. The sabermetric community has responded: Jonah Keri of Grantland and Dave Cameron of Fangraphs says it is time to retire the save statistic. Keri focuses on how the stat leads to "suboptimal" use of players and Cameron discusses the difficulties in abandoning the stat and finding another useful measure by which to evaluate relief pitchers.

Monday, April 09, 2012
The Left can't win most debates, so they'd rather shut down debate

Mark Steyn, talking about John Derbyshire's gutless firing from National Review, makes a larger point:

The Left is pretty clear about its objectives on everything from climate change to immigration to gay marriage: Rather than win the debate, they’d just as soon shut it down. They’ve had great success in shrinking the bounds of public discourse, and rendering whole areas of public policy all but undiscussable. In such a climate, my default position is that I’d rather put up with whatever racist/sexist/homophobic/Islamophobic/whateverphobic excess everybody’s got the vapors about this week than accept ever tighter constraints on “acceptable” opinion. The latter kills everything...

Saturday, April 07, 2012
Weekend stuff

1. Perez Hamilton covers American history in the style of Perez Hilton. Right now it is tackling the events of the 1690s.

2. Vulture has "Saturday Night Live’s 25 Most Repeated Characters." (HT: Newmarks Door) Worth scrolling through even though the commentary on the #1 most repeated character is stupid. I was surprised that some characters repeated so often.

3. Cory Doctorow at Boing Boing remembers the palm pilot. Remember palm pilots?

4. Retronaut has pics of Las Vegas gaming chips from the 1960s and 1970s.

5. Paul Lukas Uni-watch has everything you need to know (and more) about the new uniforms Nike unveiled for all NFL teams. Lots of detail and a handy chart, this is the type of thing blogging was invented for. His initial impressions are reported in an article for On a purely personal note, I'm glad the Pittsburgh Steelers didn't change much and the Green Bay Packers refused any changes.

6. In an Easter-themed Wall Street Journal article about egg size, there are lots of fascinating details about the U.S. egg industry.

7. Via Slate, two articles from February editions of magazines about the Zanesville, Ohio zoo animal slaughter from last year: "Animals" in Esquire and "18 Tigers, 17 Lions, 8 Bears, 3 Cougars, 2 Wolves, 1 Baboon, 1 Macaque, and 1 Man Dead in Ohio" in GQ. Very good longform journalism.

8. From "9 Supposed Action Stars Who Clearly Couldn't Fight."

9. Periodic table symbols in song:

Thursday, April 05, 2012
2012 MLB predictions

American League

East: (Any of the top three are good enough to be the best team in baseball, but playing each other and the Toronto Blue Jays nearly 50 times, makes it difficult for all three to make the playoffs.)

New York Yankees: 95-67

Some regression in OF Curtis Granderson, SS Derek Jeter and C Russell Martin, but expected small rebound seasons for 1B Mark Teixiera and 3B Alex Rodriguez. Rotation is solid but expect worse seasons for Hideki Kuroda and Michael Pineda because of the move to the AL East and a hitter friendly park. Very strong bullpen and a minor league talent pool that can buttress the major league team or be used to acquire missing pieces via trade. A 105-win season is not out of the question but it is hard to see them failing to make 90 wins and at least a wild card berth.

Tampa Bay Rays: 93-69 (WC)

Best rotation in baseball (rookie Matt Moore will be better than David Price) and they added some power with return of 1B/DH Carlos Pena. This is essentially the same team that has won at least 91 games in three of the past four seasons, but with more experience.

Boston Red Sox: 89-73

They were one of the best teams in baseball before their September swoon. As long as the the Josh Bard move to rotation works out, Clay Buchholz comes back from injury, and OF Carl Crawford returns to something like his Rays days performance, they should be as good or better than they were through the first five months of last season. But things could blow up and they find themselves staring up at Tampa and New York in the division and Texas stealing their wild card. Boston has a range of 85-100 wins, and counting on everything to go well for the BoSox is probably too much to bet on.

Toronto Blue Jays: 84-78

High ceiling with their young squad, but counting on so much youth to work out at the same time is risky. Team 319 OBP in 2011 should be a red flag. And of course they share a division with New York, Boston and Tampa.

Baltimore Orioles: 66-96

Not a very good team and they'll get beaten up frequently by their four division rivals.

Central (I've seen literally more than 100 predictions and only two do not have the Tigers in first. For everyone else, there is a lot of range.)

Detroit Tigers: 92-70

Despite some major holes in the lineup, the Tigers are the class of the division has the defender Cy Young/MVP winner (Justin Verlander) and the best 1-2 punch in all of baseball in Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder.

Cleveland Indians: 83-79

Good groundball-inducing rotation combined with some young quality bats (C Carlos Santana and SS Asdrubal Cabrera), the Tribe are probably the only team in the Central able to win the division if Detroit falters. It would help if OF Grady Sizemore were healthy and Shin-Soo Choo were to rebound after a disappointing season.

Kansas City Royals: 80-82

A young team with potential, I don't think they reach it this year.

Chicago White Sox: 77-85

Period of change with exit of manager Ozzie Guillen and loss of starter Mark Buehrle (11 consecutive seasons of 200+ IP) and power-hitting OF Carlos Quentin. Some real talent remains (1B Paul Konerko) and some possible rebound seasons (starter John Danks, DH Adam Dunn) and some potential (reliever-turned-closer Chris Sale). I just don't see the ChiSox as a winning team.

Minnesota Twins: 73-89

Health has become a question for C Joe Mauer and 1B Justin Morneau. Rotation has too much mediocrity. Capable of being a 500 team if a lot goes right, but it probably won't.

West (Two teams will compete for the division crown and two will compete to stay out of the cellar, and the gap between those pair of teams is huge.)

Los Angeles Angels: 93-69

Picking up 1B Albert Pujols, starter C.J. Wilson and C Chris Iannetti adds about 10 wins to a quality team. Wilson, Jared Weaver and Dan Haren are all potential Cy Young candidates.

Texas Rangers: 89-73 (WC)

The Rangers are counting on Japanese import Yu Darvish to replace C.J. Wilson and buttressing the rotation by making closer Neftali Feliz a starter. At least one of those two bets should pay off. No team in either league has an infield with such hitting productivity: SS Elvis Andrus, 2B Ian Kinsler, 3B Adrian Beltre, 1B Mitch Moreland, with DH Michael Young spotting three of those positions.

Seattle Mariners: 71-91

The Mariners can't hit. Last year, Seattle had a 640 OPS, the second worst mark in the past two decades, yet it was an improvement over the team's 2010 mark. Counting on newly acquired C Jesus Montero, who will play in his first full season, to add pop to a team that doesn't get on base or hit for power, the Mariners are saved from the cellar because of Felix Hernandez and they share the division with the A's.

Oakland A's: 67-95

Probably the worst team in the American League, if not all baseball. They traded away a pair of quality starters, probably the two best players on the team.

National League

East (Legitimately, four teams have a chance at either the division title or a wild card.)

Miami Marlins: 89-73

They've invested $191 million in the off-season and missed out on the biggest free agent target (1B Albert Pujols), but adding SS Jose Reyes, starter Mark Buerhle, and closer Heath Bell are nice additions. Moving Hanley Ramirez from SS to third, increases the offense at that position.

Philadelphia Phillies: 87-75 (WC)

Injuries and deterioration of skills to the entire infield, especially for 1B Ryan Howard and 2B Chase Utley, and mild regression in front-end of the elite rotation could erase double digit wins from Philly total. Still, having a trio of legit aces ensures a playoff game.

Washington Nationals: 84-78

Continued progress for an up-and-coming team especially with Jayson Werth returning to form, LF Matt Morse being the real deal (303 BA, 31 HRs), continued progress from two of the top six rookies of 2011 (C Wilson Ramos and 2B Danny Espinosa) and a very good rotation with Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmerman, and Edwin Jackson. The fifth-slot starters are good for that place in the rotation, so the Nats will be tough opponents.

Atlanta Braves: 79-83

Rookie relievers probably over-performed, loss of starter Derek Lowe, decline of 3B Chipper Jones and continued under-achievement of youngsters combine for significantly fewer victories. Of course, they could win the division if their homegrown talent reached its potential and the relievers prove 2011 was no fluke.

New York Mets: 64-98

With loss of SS Jose Reyes, the only bats belong to 3B David Wright and OF Jason Bay who aren't what they once were. Left-handed former ace Johan Santana returns to the rotation after missing all or most of the last two seasons, but he is the only starter on the Mets who would play for cross-town rival Yankees. This team is comprehensively terrible.

Central (Four teams have a chance to win this division and two teams absolutely cannot.)

Milwaukee Brewers: 89-73

Very solid rotation, lucky to have Ryan Braun escape a 50-game PED suspension, added great defense in the middle infield with the free agent signing of SS Alex Gonzalez, and replaced the bat of free agent 1B Prince Fielder with 3B Aramis Ramirez which is a downgrade but not brutal. Brew Crew should stay atop the NL Central.

St. Louis Cardinals: 85-77

By swapping in OF Carlos Beltran for departed 1B Albert Pujols, the Cards have three of the top nine NL batters by OPS (Bertran joins Lance Berkman and Matt Holliday). Along with 3B David Friese, no other NL team comes close to putting four bats as good as St. Louis does in four consecutive spots in the lineup. Could win the division if they had Adam Wainwright and Chris Carpenter healthy at the same time; Wainwright missed all of 2011 and Carpenter begins 2012 on the DL.

Pittsburgh Pirates: 83-79

Young outfielders Jose Tabata and Alex Presley have a lot of upside and Andrew McCutcheon should enter superstardom in 2012. Third-year 2B Neil Walker needs to regain the power of his rookie season for Pittsburgh to seriously contend deep into September. The rotation has a number of starters who could put up impressive seasons if they rebound from bad seasons (A.J. Burnett) or injuries (Erik Bedard) and with a fair bit of luck the rotation could be a real asset with hard-throwing James McDonald, solid inning-eater Kevin Correia, and useful fifth starter candidates such as Jeff Karstens and Charlie Morton.

Cincinnati Reds: 81-81

Once you get past 1B Joey Votto and 2B Brandon Phillips, there isn't much there. If OF Jay Bruce was more consistent and the bullpen not in shambles after Ryan Madson's pre-season injury, I could squint in just the right way to envision Cincy winning the division or challenging for a wild card. But their rotation is uninspiring beyond ace Mat Lantos (and his numbers will come back to earth going from pitcher-friendly Petco Park to bandstand Great American Ballpark) and there are too many question marks throughout the lineup including an on-base blackhole at the top.

Chicago Cubs: 70-92

They are at the beginning of a long-term rebuilding project and things will get worse before they get better.

Houston Astros: 64-98

They are in the middle of a long-term rebuilding project and things will get much worse before they get better.

West (Toughest division to predict because the disparity between ceiling and floor for so many players on these teams is greater than in most other divisions. That means gut comes into as much as pure brainy analysis.)

San Francisco Giants: 89-73

They have a great front-end of the rotation and one of the best bullpens in baseball, but too many spots in the lineup don't produce and their best hitter (catcher Buster Posey) is returning from a knee injury. Giants are counting on a number of bounceback years (1B Aubrey Huff) and unrepresentative good repeat seasons (Melky Cabrera). San Fran needs to come out on top of a disproportionate number of 2-1, 3-2 games to win the West -- and they will.

Los Angeles Dodgers: 86-76 (WC)

The Dodgers finished strong in 2011, they have the reigning Cy Young winner (Clayton Kershaw), the player who should have been MVP (OF Matt Kemp had the best WARP, 10, since Barry Bonds in 2004), and should expect rebounds from RHP Chad Billingsley and OF Andre Ethier. LA is good enough to win the NL West if SF stumbles.

Arizona Diamondbacks: 80-82

One word: regression. Ian Kennedy (2.88 ERA in 222 IP) and Daniel Hudson (3.49 ERA in 222 IP) won't replicate their 2011 seasons, and other than OF Justin Upton, many of the bats shouldn't be expected to repeat.

Colorado Rockies: 77-85

They score a lot of runs, but can't prevent them. The dirty little secret in Denver is that SS Troy Tulowitzki carries the offense. Useful pieces on the offense look better than they really are because of Coors Field-inflated stats. All you need to know about the quality of the pitching is that they brought in Jeremey Guthrie (4.33 ERA with the Orioles) and 49-year-old Jamie Moyer, who didn't pitch in 2011, to be their top starters; Guthrie qualifies as the staff ace.

San Diego Padres: 71-91

They continue to rebuild. It probably won't be pretty this season.


ALCS: Yankees over Rays
NLCS: Giants over Brewers
World Series: Yankees over Giants


AL MVP: Miguel Cabrera (Tigers)
AL Cy Young: Jared Weaver (Angels)
AL Manager of the Year: Joe Maddon (Rays)
AL Rookie of the Year: Matt Moore (Rays)

NL MVP: Matt Kemp (Dodgers)
NL Cy Young: Zack Greinke (Brewers)
NL Manager of the Year: Mike Matheny (Cardinals)
NL Rookie of the Year: Bryce Harper (Nationals)*

* If he is called up early enough, otherwise Randall Delgado (Braves)

Wednesday, April 04, 2012
Two on foreign affairs

"Why is Haiti so poor" from Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson, authors of the excellent new, thick book Why Nations Fail. I'm not sure I agree, but how does one explain the difference between Dominican Republic and Haiti?

Felix Salmon on the World Bank and the contest between Yong Kim and Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala to lead it. The development economists I like back Okonjo-Iweala and she is clearly better than Kim whose area of expertise is too narrow, as are his ideas of what development entails.

Why is America emulating the failed European model?

A letter to the Wall Street Journal:

Regarding Mark Helprin's "Obama's Europa Complex" (op-ed, March 27): A primary feature of welfare-state models is a collective unwillingness to forgo instant gratification for the possibility of a better future. The first and easiest trade is benefits today for bond payments tomorrow. Another relatively painless trade is benefits instead of bombs. European states long ago outsourced their national defense to America, spending less than half per person on the military than does the U.S. An inevitable third trade is benefits in place of babies, a swap that puts demographic and economic growth trends into an eventual tailspin.

Shortchanging national security and charting a course for depopulation enabled Europeans to maintain their lifestyles in the past few decades, but bonds, bombs and babies are tapped out, so benefits now are on the block. According to European Central Bank President Mario Draghi, Europe's social-welfare model is already gone. Mr. Helprin points out that the model may be gone from Europe, but President Obama is determined to import it to America.

Tuesday, April 03, 2012
How restaurants and smoking bans are like me being able to take off my shoes in your living room

David R. Henderson on how property rights could solve most public policy problems:

This is just a small list of the problems that are apparently "public-policy" problems only because the government has chosen to make them so. Private property solves people's problems every day.

What, no Mike Hawk?

Staff play a trick on Toronto city councilor John Filion (my douchebag of a city councilor -- he helped bring the indoor smoking ban to the city, is considering taking it outdoors, ushered in the municipal pesticide ban, and was responsible for the failed a la carte street food vendor program). Have to watch the video at the Toronto Sun -- the video is ten times better than the story -- and then read the story.

Everything New Scientist complains about regarding Canada, I like

Bob Holmes writes in New Scientist about recent actions of the Conservative government and I must say that nearly everything he takes issue with, I've applauded (who bothers bringing up the long-form census any more?). Anyway, here's how Holmes begins:

Lately, though, that nice boy has turned into a bit of a bully. Last year, the Conservative Party of Canada, led by Stephen Harper, won a parliamentary majority after being in a minority government for five years. It has since staked out an aggressively right-wing position on many issues, notably science and the environment.
One can take issue with the idea that the Harper Conservatives have "staked out an aggressively right-wing position on many issues" but there is a more important issue: why single them out when, as Holmes admits, the Liberals were hardly any better:

After a decade of tepid efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, Canada formally withdrew from its Kyoto pledges in December. In part this merely recognised that the targets had been a fiction for years, as previous centre-left governments made little effort to cut emissions. This inaction seems to capture the mood of the Canadian public: the one serious attempt to promote a carbon tax, by the Liberal party, ended in electoral disaster in 2008.
So Canada under the Conservatives gets criticized for being honest; Ottawa gets a free pass as long as the Liberal government of the day pays lip services to green goals even if they have no intention of reaching them.

Monday, April 02, 2012
When Kentucky wins the NCAA basketball championship ...

The New York Yankees win the World Series. Previous to this evening's championship victory, the Wildcats had won seven NCAA tournaments (1948, 1949, 1951, 1958, 1978, 1996 and 1998) and in every year but 1948, the Yankees also won the World Series. (Via River Avenue Blues on Twitter)

Important observation about social issues in politics

Ramesh Ponnuru addresses the issue of Rick Santorum as social conservative standard-bearer and he makes many fine points when casting a skeptical eye on the former Pennsylvania senator. He also makes a vitally important point about social issues in politics that has a more general application:

One thing that most people involved in politics agree on is that battles over social issues are usually lost by the side that the public perceives as the aggressor. That’s why, for example, the political debates over judicial nominees so often devolve into arguments over whether those nominees would impose their views on the nation or whether their opponents are being intolerant of those views. The public seems to dislike bitter argument over social issues and to punish those it considers responsible for starting it. It is willing to support socially liberal or socially conservative candidates, but it reacts negatively to zealotry or perceived zealotry.
That's why Republicans were winning when the Obama administration was going after Catholic institutions to fund birth control but the public seemed to recoil when a Republican (Santorum) turned the debate around to be about contraception in general. It seems the public doesn't like to think about the unpleasantness involved in many moral issues (abortion, sodomy) and holds it against whichever side brings it up.

Sunday, April 01, 2012
Weekend stuff

1. IR meets pop culture in Foreign Affairs: "Game of Thrones as Theory: It’s Not as Realist as It Seems -- And That’s Good."

2. Cracked has "5 Things Nobody Tells You About Having a Career." If you are in university or about to graduate from university, read this list.

3. Buzzfeed has "50 Unique And Wonderfully Geeky Hand-Painted Shoes." These would be cool for kids, but you know precisely the type of person who wears them.

4. At Slate, Jody Rosen asks, "Is Madonna too old to make Madonna-music?"

5. An Alberta columnist/editor is a serial plagiarizer. In one year's worth of weekly columns, 42 had substantial plagiarism.

6. Mental Floss has "6 Times The Onion Had People Completely Fooled." My favourite is the $8 billion abortionplex.

7. From The Fiscal Times: "10 Insanely Overpaid Public Employees." These are specific individuals, not overpaid jobs.

8. Science Daily reports that crocodiles bite harder than dinosaurs.

9. The Post Game has a longish story and video (including the one below) on "Adventure Races Sweeping The Nation," which is about tough obstacle courses.