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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Tuesday, December 31, 2013
Best books of 2013
The three best
The Great Escape: Health, Wealth, and the Origins of Inequality by Angus Deaton. I am a cornucopianist so I am a sucker for books that argue that life is getting better. Here is the book's home page. Deaton wrote about foreign aid for Foreign Policy magazine and while reviewers in The Guardian and New York Times focused on Deaton's anti-aid views, the book is about so much more than that. Relatedly, there is The Bet: Paul Ehrlich, Julian Simon, and Our Gamble Over Earth's Future by Paul Sabin. The New Scientist had a good review that nicely captures the books even if one does not agree with its environmental pessimism. Sabin has written a good book that provides background to the famous story we cornucopians like to retell.
Farewell to Reality: How Modern Modern Physics Has Betrayed the Search for Scientific Truth by Jim Baggott. Much of modern science is theoretical and Baggott comes down on one side of a philosophical debate about what science is, or should be. Peter Woit of Not Even Wrong has a good review and numerous links to other reviews.
Average is Over: Powering America Beyond the Age of the Great Stagnation by Tyler Cowen. This is the most important political, economic, and sociological book of the year. Even if the future is not as stratified between rich and poor (without much of a middle class) as he predicts, Cowen makes some important observations about the future and possible policies that could make life better for more people. The Wall Street Journal had a good review, as does The Economist and Slate. Cowen's book has been the subject of a lot of commentary and it should be for years to come.
The next tier of great books
The Entrepreneurial State: Debunking Public vs. Private Sector Myths by Mariana Mazzucato shows that often private sector innovation has more state involvement than many free market enthusiasts would like to admit. This book should be read with Mass Flourishing: How Grassroots Innovation Created Jobs, Challenge, and Change by Edmund S. Phelps, who argues that most private sector innovation is done by millions of small-time inventors and entrepreneurs; large industry is not a great creator. For a bit of a teaser, The Economist wrote about The Entrepreneurial State and William Watson wrote about Mass Flourishing.
Ninety Percent of Everything: Inside Shipping, the Invisible Industry That Puts Clothes on Your Back, Gas in Your Car, and Food in Your Plate by Rose George. Containerization is the most important story of the past century and George does a good job telling it if you can get past the intrusion of the author because her trope is the personal experience of riding on a container ship. It is not a romantic view of the industry. The Guardian had a good review of the book, which went by the title Deep Sea and Foreign Going: Inside Shipping, the Invisible Industry That Brings You 90% of Everything in the United Kingdom. Not as good Marc Levinson's 2006 book The Box: How the Shipping Container Made the World Smaller and the World Economy Bigger but still worth reading. It might also have the best home page of any book I have ever seen.
1913: In Search of the World Before the Great War by Charles Emmerson. I thought the book was about the lead-up to the World War I, but that does not quite capture it. 1913 is more of a history of the world just prior to the war as seen through a number of cities from Vienna and London, to Algiers and Winnipeg.
I am still reading The Sea & Civilization: A Maritime History of the World by Lincoln Paine. It is thoroughly excellent and avoids the eurocentrism I was expecting.
I read more than 20 Canadian politics and history books and the best by far was Building the Orange Wave: The Inside Story Behind the Historic Rise of Jack Layton and the NDP by Brad Lavigne. Other Canadian political books were good, most were just okay, but Lavigne wrote a meaty book that truly informs. The NDP have not been written about as much as the Liberals because they have never quite mattered as much. They do now. Lavigne's insider account seems truthful and less self-serving than most such books, and we learn a lot about the long-term plan ("The Project") for the NDP to win power. They are not there yet, but they are doing better than anyone expected when Layton became leader. Lavigne explains how that happened.
The second best Canadian politics or history book is John Buchan: Model Governor General by J. William Galbraith. He played a larger political role that we are now accustomed to the Governor General playing, especially in international affairs.
Public policy and American politics provided its usual smorgasbord of good books. The best were Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America's Police Forces by Radley Balko, Democracy and Political Ignorance: Why Smaller Government Is Smarter by Ilya Somin, Abuse of Discretion: The Inside Story of Roe v. Wade by Clarke D. Forsythe, and What to Expect When No One's Expecting: America's Coming Demographic Disaster by Jonathan V. Last; The Gamble: Choice and Chance in the 2012 Presidential Election by John Sides and Lynn Vavreck. The strength of The Gamble is that is relies more on statistics than narratives. Charles Krauthammer's collection of columns and essays Things that Matter: Three Decades of Passions, Pastimes, and Politics is worth reading because his very best commentary is worth re-reading. The best polemical book is Peter Schweizer's Extortion: How Politicians Extract Your Money, Buy Votes, and Line Their Own Pockets which should make readers angry.
The Margaret Thatcher: The Authorized Biography: Volume One: Not for Turning by Charles Moore was as expected very good, but unexpectedly not sycophantic. I was not expecting to like Matthew d'Ancona's In It Together: The Inside Story of the Coalition Government because the author is a David Cameron sycophant and it is too early to draw many conclusions on the British Conservative-Lib Dem coalition. It is still a highly informative account of how the coalition operates. Despite reading it with my guard up, I found myself more sympathetic to the British Tory Prime Minister.
The best sports book was Their Life's Work: The Brotherhood of the 1970s Pittsburgh Steelers, Then and Now by Gary M. Pomerantz. The Steelers of that Super Bowl era were huge personalities but they came together as a team. The best sports books of the year were all about football: Newton's Football: The Science Behind America's Game by Allen St. John and Ainissa G. Ramirez; League of Denial: The NFL, Concussions and the Battle for Truth by Mark Fainaru-Wada and Steve Fainaru; The System: The Glory and Scandal of Big-Time College Football by Jeff Benedict and Armen Keteyian; Fourth and Long: The Fight for the Soul of College Football by John U. Bacon; The King of Sports: Football's Impact on America by Gregg Easterbrook. Bacon focuses on four college programs (Michigan, Northwestern, Ohio State, Penn State) while Benedict and Keteyian look at college football in general, but the theme is what is wrong with college ball. Fainaru-Wada & Fainaru and Easterbrook both provide that rarity: a book that locates what is wrong about a sport in order to fix it despite -- or because -- the authors' affinity for their subject. Too much talk about any issue (in sports and politics) comes down to pro and con, but these authors want to address the game's problems to make it even better.
It was not a great year for baseball books. The best was Southern League: A True Story of Baseball, Civil Rights, and the Deep South's Most Compelling Pennant Race by Larry Colton. In a year in which there were not a lot of great baseball books, the story of the 1964 Birmingham Barons in their first year of integration is a compelling story, well-told by Colton. Good mix of baseball and cultural history. The next best baseball book is probably The 34-Ton Bat: The Story of Baseball as Told Through Bobbleheads, Cracker Jacks, Jockstraps, Eye Black, and 375 Other Strange and Unforgettable Objects by Steve Rushin, is precisely what the subtitle promises. Rushin's charm is his meandering style and it works nicely for this story.

Most under-reported stories of 2013
The folks at PJ Media -- Ed Driscoll, Roger Kimball, Roger L. Simon, Bridget Johnson and others -- select the most under-reported stories of the year. I disagree with the Kimball choice which is less an under-reported story than a distressing trend that has been on-going for some years: "One of the most underreported domestic stories of 2013 was the eclipse of tolerance as a prime liberal virtue and its enrollment in the index of unpermissible reactionary vices."

'Washington's three most irrational arguments in 2013'
The Washington Examiner's Timothy Carney has a short column on the three most irrational arguments used by politicians in the nation's capital, and it is topped by the worst argument for any public policy: "If we can save only one life ..."

Guess which religion famous comedian will not parody
Michael Palin of Monty Python is quoted in the Daily Mail:
Religion is more difficult to talk about. I don’t think we could do Life of Brian any more. A parody of Islam would be even harder.
We all saw what happened to Salman Rushdie and none of us want to get into all that. It’s a pity but that’s the way it is. There are people out there without a sense of humour and they’re heavily armed.

Monday, December 30, 2013
Schools cannot tell difference between imaginary and real
Glenn Reynolds in USA Today:
At South Eastern Middle School in Fawn Grove, Pa., for example, 10-year-old Johnny Jones was suspended for using an imaginary bow and arrow. That's right - - not a real bow and arrow, but an imaginary bow and arrow. A female classmate saw this infraction, tattled to a teacher, and the principal gave Jones a one-day suspension for making a "threat" in class.
To be fair, it probably takes a lot of imagination to turn what sounds like a bit of old-fashioned cowboys-and-Indians play into a "threat." But while the principal, John Horton, gets an "A" for imagination, he deserves an "F" for distinguishing between imagination and reality. Sadly, he's not alone.
You've probably also heard about the 7-year-old Maryland boy who was suspended for gnawing a Pop Tart into the shape of a gun. And then there's the case of the 8-year-old Arizona boy whose drawings of ninjas and Star Wars characters -- and interest in, gasp, zombies -- led to threats of expulsion. And, of course, there's the six-year-old boy charged with "sexual harassment" for kissing a girl ...
But the constant stream of stories of zero-tolerance stupidity suggests that there's something more lacking here than just academic smarts: There seems to be a severe deficit of the very sort of critical thinking that the education industry purports to be instilling in kids. One might dismiss any one of these events as an isolated incident, but when you have -- as we clearly do -- a never ending supply of such incidents, they're no longer isolated: They're a pattern.
This is a serious PR problem for the American education establishment, but underlying the bad publicity is a serious substantive problem: When your kids attend schools like these, they are under the thumb of Kafkaesque bureaucrats who see no problem blotting your kid's permanent record for reasons of bureaucratic convenience or political correctness.
I have long said that there is probably something seriously psychologically wrong with people who go into education for study or career; the deep-seeded desire to boss around children inherent in factory-style education probably means the teaching profession and educational bureaucracy attracts people who are unhinged and cannot distinguish between fantasy and real-life.
Parents also share responsibility in this mess, for as Reynolds says: "At some point, voluntarily putting your kid in such a situation looks a bit like parental malpractice."

The Tea Party and the Republican Party
Jonathan Rauch writes about the Tea Party better than any other pundit. He is fair and strives to understand the diversity, complexity and subtlety of the movement, and his observations are based on data and defensible conjecture rather than merely following the predominant narrative. At the Brookings Institute FixGov Review of 2013 Rauch compares the Tea Party to the 1968 movement led by George Wallace (in a good way). This part is important for the Republican leadership and media commentators to understand:
The lesson of 2013, however, is that Tea Partiers really are quite different from partisan Republicans, in three important ways. First, they regard compromise not as a necessary element of governing but as a threat to the constitutional order. Deal-making, in their view, is what made the government obscenely bloated; obstructionism, they think, is not by itself a solution, but it at least abates the problem.
Second, they behave more like a single-issue interest group than like conventional partisans. Yes, like other Republicans, they oppose gay marriage and abortion (for example). But, unlike other Republicans, they are willing, indeed determined, to subordinate other goals, including the goal of Republican electoral success, to the goal of reducing government spending.
Third, and perhaps most strikingly, they exhibit little loyalty to the Republican power structure. Just the opposite: they believe party loyalty has made fools of conservatives, harvesting their votes without delivering on their agenda. In 2010, as the Tea Party first hit its stride, polls found that its sympathizers disliked Republican leaders almost as much as Democrats did. That strange pattern that continues to hold. In September, a Pew poll found that more than 70 percent of Tea Party sympathizers disapproved of Republican leaders.

Good riddance, Michael Bloomberg
Michael Bloomberg will not be the mayor of New York City beginning on January 1. Reason TV has a video, "The Mike Bloomberg Legacy: 12 Years of Little Tyrannies in 2 Minutes!"

Eliot Spitzer likes to pretend he is attacking women during sex
Call girl Rebecca Woodard (aka Rebecca Kade) writes in her memoir, Call Girl Confidential: An Escort’s Secret Life as an Undercover Agent, about her session with former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer. It is excerpted in the New York Daily News:
It was really about pretending it was a struggle. He wanted to believe that the situation was real, that he was attacking me and that I was defending myself ...
It takes a lot to scare me. I’ve been through a lot. But at this point I was starting to get worried.
He wasn’t pretending to be a rapist. But he was like an attacker.
I still had my lingerie on. He was naked. He was aroused. I thought, What can I do to get this part over with? What can I do? At some point we have to get down to having sex and move on.
I remember trying to push myself up off the bed. That made him apply more pressure. It happened so quickly. I think when I pushed up, he thought I was asking for more. He applied more force. Almost the entire time was consumed with this struggle.
It wasn’t that easy to get out from under him. This wasn’t playtime. He was taking it really seriously. He was getting what he wanted. He liked the struggle. There was no safety code word we’d agreed upon. I hadn’t thought it would get this intense. He doesn’t know I’m being serious that enough is enough, I thought. I was really worried. It got rough. And then he put his hands around my throat, strangling me.
When he grabbed my throat, that was too much. He wasn’t squeezing. He was pushing down. I was on my back. I don’t know if he was trying to really hurt me, but he was.
He took it a little too far.
If Spitzer was a Republican, this would be exhibit #3785 in the War Against Women.

Year in review (sort of)
Gerry Nicholls looks back at the year in Canadian politics (as he remembers it).

Regression is a bitch
MarketWatch: "Record run for stocks has investors nervous about 2014." Always be cautious after record performances; while the correction might not be negative, the rate of growth is likely to lower.
For fantasy and real sports owners, the correction is almost certain to be negative with less production from athletes on the field. Do not pay for past, unrepeatable performances.

2013 was good for conservatism
George Will in the Washington Post yesterday:
In 2013, they learned that they may have been wasting much time and effort.
Hitherto, they have thought that the most efficient way to evangelize the unconverted was to write and speak, exhorting those still shrouded in darkness to read conservatism’s most light-shedding texts. Now they know that a quicker, surer method is to have progressives wield power for a few years. This will validate the core conservative insight about the mischiefs that ensue when governments demonstrate their incapacity for supplanting with fiats the spontaneous order of a market society ...
Conservatism is usually served by weariness of government.
Will then catalogues the recent failures of liberalism. In 2012, Barack Obama was like the Bill Clinton of 1996; not an failure, but a president who did not appear to live up to his promise and thus was deserving of four more years to prove his worth. But 2013 has proven Obama is more Jimmy Carter than Bill Clinton. 2014 and maybe 2016 should be good for the Republican Party and perhaps even conservatives.

A top ten list that should not exist
At Ilya Shapiro of the Cato Institute has the list of "President Obama's Top 10 Constitutional Violations Of 2013."

In praise of innovation
Doug Bandow of the Cato Institute in Investor's Business Daily: "A Tribute To The People Who Invent Things That Make Life Better." Bandow says: "Some inventors just love to create. Others hope for money, glory, or something else. Whatever their motives, the rest of us gain." Thank God for these creators of everything from Post-it-Notes to the telephone to the combustion engine to ... gummy bears.

Sunday, December 29, 2013
Four downs
1. Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk has all the playoff scenarios. Only one team, the Kansas City Chiefs, knows its seeding for the playoffs. The Miami Dolphins are in if they win and the Baltimore Ravens lose, but not if they both win, in which case, the Fins need the San Diego Chargers to also win. If all three teams lose, the Pittsburgh Steelers are in. Unfortunately, the Bolts are playing the only team in the NFL that knows its playoff seeding (KC). According to Rich Eisen of the NFL Network, there are 128 AFC playoff scenarios. The most impactful game is the Cincinnati Bengals vs. Baltimore Ravens, as the Bengals can finish with a second, third, or fourth seed, thereby affecting both the New England Patriots and Indianapolis Colts, and Baltimore's result impacts four wild card contenders (including themselves).
2. Here is my personal ideal seeding, a combination of favouritism and quality of football: AFC: 1st - New England Patriots; 2nd - Denver Broncos; 3rd - Cincinnati Bengals; 4th - Indianapolis Colts; 5th - Kansas City Chiefs; 6th Pittsburgh Steelers. Pittsburgh can beat the Bengals and then would face a slightly more vulnerable Patriots team and not have to travel to Denver where they can't play Ryan Clark due to a health problem and the altitude; the Chiefs can beat the Colts and then the AFC West rivals would face off against each other in the second round; the finals would probably then pair Manning's Broncos vs. Brady's Patriots, but leaves a small chance of Pittsburgh in the AFC Championship. The NFC: 1st - Carolina Panthers; 2nd - San Francisco 49ers; 3rd - Philadelphia Eagles; 4th - Green Bay Packers; 5th - Seattle Seahawks; 6th - New Orleans Saints. This is highly unlikely to happen but having the Seahawks on the road gives everyone a slightly better chance of making it out of the NFC. Philly is exciting no matter who they play and Aaron Rodgers (if healthy) gives the Packers a decent chance of winning any game. I don't buy the baloney that the Saints/Drew Brees can't win on the road (it has more to do with recently facing D-lines that dominate their O-line and therefore the Saints are losing the "war in the trenches," not "games on the road") and I want to see more of their offense in the playoffs. The Panthers getting the stop seed is impressive considering no one considered them anything but a fringe wild card team at the beginning of the season, and they'd be difficult no matter who they play, but even at home they don't dominate. That seeding makes the NFC wide open; Seattle can beat anyone on the road, but seem absolutely unstoppable at home (despite last week's loss), so having them as a wild card makes the playoffs more interesting. Again, this is an ideal bracket, not my prediction.
3. I am less concerned that the New Orleans Saints have lost three of their last four games, than the fact they haven't scored more than 16 points in any of those losses. On the other hand, those three losses came against the Carolina Panthers, Seattle Seahawks, and St. Louis Rams, who are ranked first, second, and thirteenth overall in scoring defense. Also, if Drew Brees throws for 219 yards (10 300 yard games this season), he will become the first QB to throw for 5000 yards three years in a row. The only game in which Brees threw for less than 230 yards was in Seattle (147 yards) facing the league's best D.
4. Rich Eisen this morning on the NFL Network's Gameday Morning said the pundits on his panel spend all year wondering how the Dallas Cowboys can win with Tony Romo as the starting quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys and the minute he's not healthy, they all wonder how they can win without Tony Romo. That's the nuttiness of sports commentary.

Saturday, December 28, 2013
Weekend stuff
1. Popten has the "Top Ten Most Evil Dictators of All Time (in order of kill count)."
2. The New Yorker has The Parisianer (if the magazine was set in Paris).
3. Two on sports. Zach Lowe at Grantland has, "Life Beyond the Arc: Is a heavy reliance on the 3-pointer the future of basketball?" The Atlantic's Paul Glavic has "Why Sports Fans Attempt to Set Noise Records."
4. Collectors Weekly: "How Boomboxes Got So Badass."
5. Super nerdy. Rivendell in Lego. And Star Wars paper snowflakes.
6. Tyler Cowen used and reviews Google Glass.
7. From the animal kingdom. Slate: "Do whales kill people." Brian Palmer answers yes, both by accident and on purpose. Science Daily reports, "Seven Distinct African Crocodile Species, Not Just Three, Biologists Show." National Geographic: "Elephants Use Their Trunks to Ace Intelligence Tests." The Smithsonian magazine has pictures of Bao Bao, the new baby panda at the National Zoo in Washington.
8. Cracked has "5 Reasons 2013 Was Actually 1996 All Over Again," from government shutdowns to Dennis Rodman.
9. Wonders and Marvels looks at the invention of pizza.
10. Kottke notes, "This oral history about Sir Mix-A-Lot's hit Baby Got Back is way more interesting than it had any right to be."
11. John Stossel interviews Julie Borowski and Matt Kibbe about spreading liberty online.

First world problems
Buzzfeed has "The 23 Most Agonising Middle-Class Problems Of 2013." I especially enjoyed how rough life is for 9, 10, and 19.

Friday, December 27, 2013
Four downs (Week 17 games to watch)
1. San Francisco 49ers at Arizona Cardinals: The Niners are assured a playoff spot, but their seeding variance is huge, with a possible first-round bye if they win and the Seattle Seahwaks lose against the St. Louis Rams, in which case San Fran wins the NFC West and with it either the first or second seed. With a Seattle win, the Niners are playing for seeding (fifth or sixth). The Cards only chance to make the playoffs is a win combined with a New Orleans loss against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Both teams' strength is defense with the Niners ranked third in points allowed (16.8 ppg) and the Cards seventh (20.1), but depending on the combo of metrics you choose, you could make a case for either of these teams being the second best defense behind only the Seattle Seahawks. Everyone knows the Pro Bowl defensive lineup for the Niners, but the Cards have done it with a combination of castoff veterans (LBs Karlos Dansby and John Abraham) and emerging stars (CB Patrick Peterson and DE Calais Campbell). The Cards are a more balanced offense with a competent QB (Carson Palmer) throwing to a pair of quality receivers (Larry Fitzgerald who has 841 yards and 10 TDs and Michael Floyd who has 950 yards and 5 TDs). The Niners offense has improved with the return of Michael Crabtree but QB Colin Kaepernick has had a 300-yard game since opening week (412 yards) and even during the current five-game winning streak has three games of 203 of fewer yards. San Fran might have trouble depending on Frank Gore and the running game considering Arizona allows just 3.7 yards per rushing attempt. These teams are popular opposites in terms of interceptions, with the Niners giving up an NFL low pick every other game while the Cards have given up three picks every two games. They are both adept at forcing turnovers (about two per game). That should have me concerned about Arizona losing the ball on a drive, but Palmer's arm allows for compensatory big plays in the way that Kaepernick's doesn't. The Saints aren't likely to lose to the Bucs, but the Cards will take care of business on their end by beating the Niners are home to give them some playoff hope.
2. Philadelphia Eagles at Dallas Cowboys: This game was flexed into prime time quickly last Sunday and is one of the two win-and-their-in games, the loser goes home. For the third year in a row, Dallas is facing a different NFC East team in such a game (2011 was the New York Giants and 2012 was the Washington Redskins) for the division title. So far the 'Boys are zero for two, but they won't have Tony Romo to blame for missing the playoffs if they lose because he's not starting. Romo's herniated disk has Kyle Orton seeing action for just the second time this regular season; he three five passes on December 9, and just 22 passes in the pre-season. (Was it just three seasons ago that Orton lost his starting quarterback job in Denver to Tim Tebow?) If Romo was healthy, this could be a great game and would top our list instead of being just the third most watchable game on a weekend in which all but three contests have playoff implications. Philly has been kept to under 24 points just three times this season, and the last time was in October. Dallas has scored at least 24 points in seven of their last eight games. When Romo was the presumptive starter, the question was whether Philly's defense was going to do enough to let their offense win or whether a Tony Romo interception would get blamed for Dallas losing after the 'Boys D gave up 44 points? The implications are huge and Philly is fun to watch. The viewing highlight might be seeing what league-leading rusher LeSean McCoy (98.6 ypg) can do against a Dallas defense that gives up the sixth most rushing yards per game (127.9) and second worse yards per run (4.76). And Dallas will be without linebacker Sean Lee. Nick Foles has 25 TDs and 2 picks since he started and lost to Dallas in October, so the Eagles can win through the air or on the ground, and Dallas has a whole bag of tricks on how to lose a game, with or without Romo. Philly will become the third different team in as many years to beat Dallas to win the NFC East. That will make the playoffs more exciting, too.
3. Baltimore Ravens at Cincinnati Bengals: This game will be watched by fans across the country because of the implications because it can affect seeding for the second, third, fourth spots and whether four other teams make the playoffs. The defending Super Bowl champs are in the playoffs with a win if the Miami Dolphins lose to the New York Jets. If the Ravens lose, the San Diego Chargers and Pittsburgh Steelers have a chance to make the playoffs. The Bengals also have some major stakes as they can finish seeded anywhere between second (and a first week bye) and fourth. Cincy has scored at least 40 points in four of their past eight games, but are just 1-3 in the four games in which they scored fewer points. That might become an issue facing the 8th best defense according to Football Outsiders. The Ravens have a near useless running game (3.13 yards per rush attempt) so they'll depend on Joe Flacco's arm, but the Ravens offense will have to deal with the fourth best defensive passer rating (76.34) and fifth best defense according to Football Outsiders' DVOA. Both teams are flawed but have exciting offensive weapons (Flacco's arm that can effortlessly chuck the ball half the length of the field for Baltimore, Andy Dalton to A.J. Green and Marvin Jones for Cincy). Bengals have to defend against the big play which is the Ravens' bread and butter this season. Some streaks are on the line. The Bengals are 7-0 at home this season and the Ravens are trying to make it six consecutive playoff appearances under the combination of coach John Harbaugh and QB Joe Flacco. The Ravens are just 2-5 on the road this year, so their November 20-17 victory over the Bengals probably isn't very indicative of what to expect in Cincinnati. The Ravens have lost four in a row in Cincinnati but are 4-0 since 2008 following losses of 20 or more points and they were defeated 41-7 by the New England Patriots on Sunday. The narrative about Baltimore is that they get by on grit and always seem to get the victory they need ; the Bengals are terribly inconsistent as they can look like a legit Super Bowl contender one week and lose a stinker against the Pittsburgh Steelers another. A win does not guarantee either team anything, but both teams must win to have a chance to improve their playoff position or make the playoffs, so both sides should put everything into this game. The game probably comes down to the last possession and while my head says bet on Baltimore, my heart wants Cincy (only chance for the Steelers to make the playoffs).
4. Green Bay Packers at Chicago Bears: The long-time rivals (this is their 187th meeting) feature in the other win-or-go-home game this Sunday, this one for the NFC North division title. The Packers have surrendered at least 36 points in three of its past four games and they are facing the team that has allowed the third most points this season, so this contest might feature some scoring because neither team can stop an offense. The Packers have announced that Aaron Rodgers is starting and it made Green Bay instant favourites. As I had prepared to write before the announcement that Rodgers would start, backup QB Matt Flynn is capable of great games (he has completed two-thirds of his passes in two of his five games for the Packers or had passer-ratings of 95.6 and 113.1) but also miserable games (passer ratings of 69.6 and 51.9). If Flynn has a good game, Green Bay should win the game and the division. He'll get help from rookie RB Eddie Lacy (1,112 rushing yards) who is facing the league-worst rushing D (5.4 YPA). With Rodgers starting, I still think it is a good idea to use Lacy because of the favourable match-up against a defense that has allowed a 100-yard rusher in seven of their past eight games. I'm also not sure that Rodgers, who hasn't seen action since November 4 is going to be the superstar he usually is considering that it wasn't clear a few days ago Rodgers would even be playing this Sunday. If the weather allows the quarterbacks to throw the ball, Jay Cutler has a great pair of receivers in Brandon Marshall (1,221 yards and 11 TDs) and Alshon Jeffery (1,341 yards and 7 TDs). Pundits are down on the Bears after they lost 54-11 to the Eagles last week, but I'm not so sure. I'd take a completely healthy Aaron Rodgers over the Bears in Chicago, but we don't really know how close to 100% Rodgers is. Also, don't underestimate the loss of linebacker Clay Matthews to the Green Bay defense. Both teams give up points (26.7 ppg for Green Bay, 29.7 for Chicago) and both teams are capable of taking the ball downfield and scoring. This game seems like a coin flip. You'd hope for Green Bay because the Packers led by a mostly healthy Aaron Rodgers will probably put up a better fight against the other NFC teams in the playoffs. I flipped my coin and it came up Packers.

Thursday, December 26, 2013
Have yourself a bullshit little holiday
Today marks the beginning of the pretend holiday Kwanza. Kathy Shaidle has written many times about the faux African holiday made up by a former American convict and had a greatest links filled post a few years back, including a link to her especially informative Examiner column about Ron Karenga.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013
Merry Christmas
I want to wish everyone a very Merry Christmas. I hope you have peace and joy at this very special time of year. My annual present to you is the posting of the greatest peace of music ever written, J.S. Bach's "Jesu Joy of Man's Desiring."

Friday, December 20, 2013
Economists question the deadweight loss of Christmas
Economists at the University of Chicago's Booth School asked a number of economists whether they strong agreed, agreed, disagreed, strongly disagreed, or were uncertain with the following statement: "Giving specific presents as holiday gifts is inefficient, because recipients could satisfy their preferences much better with cash." They were also asked to rate their confidence in their answer. Most economists disagreed/strong disagreed, and a surprising number (I would say too many) stated their confidence was 10 -- economists should avoid the problem that most people have in over-valuing their own opinion. The comments are worth reading, especially Richard Thaler, Larry Samuelson, and the last part of Richard Schmalensee's response. Alan Auerbach, Ray Fair, and Michael Greenstone are correct to recognize the value to the giver of choosing and giving a gift when calculating the overall benefit of gift-giving. Kenneth Judd captures the essence of how most non-economists think about giving cash instead of gifts.
Here is Joe Waldfogel's original "The Deadweight Loss of Christmas" paper.

Supreme Court strikes down Canada's prostitution laws
I have a brief comment and numerous links at Soconvivium.

Want to reduce the influence of money in politics, reduce the influence of politics on money
Writing at RealClearPolicy, Rich Tucker of the Heritage Foundation explains why there is so much lobbying:
Forget T-bills; investing in policymakers is the place to win big.
What makes Washington especially profitable is that its only products are the laws, rules, and regulations that it has the power to force everyone else to follow ...
But investors, like bank robbers, go where the money is. As long as the ROI is higher in Washington than on Wall Street or Main Street, money's going to flow here.

Early literary vandalism by a very young feminist
Michelle Nijhuis at Slate writes:
My 5-year-old insists that Bilbo Baggins is a girl.
The first time she made this claim, I protested. Part of the fun of reading to your kids, after all, is in sharing the stories you loved as a child. And in the story I knew, Bilbo was a boy. A boy hobbit. (Whatever that entails.)
But my daughter was determined. She liked the story pretty well so far, but Bilbo was definitely a girl. So would I please start reading the book the right way?
I hesitated. I imagined Tolkien spinning in his grave. I imagined mean letters from his testy estate. I imagined the story getting as lost in gender distinctions as dwarves in the Mirkwood.
Then I thought: What the hell, it’s just a pronoun. My daughter wants Bilbo to be a girl, so a girl she will be.
And you know what? The switch was easy. Bilbo, it turns out, makes a terrific heroine. She’s tough, resourceful, humble, funny, and uses her wits to make off with a spectacular piece of jewelry. Perhaps most importantly, she never makes an issue of her gender—and neither does anyone else.
Well, actually the reader and audience is making an issue of gender, aren't they? It is a little odd that a five-year-old would be adamant (my word, not the Nijhuis') about changing the protagonist from a boy to a girl when J.R.R. Tolkien made it clear Bilbo Baggins is a boy. Nijhuis strongly suggests she didn't influence her daughter's decision, but one must assume that there is a fair bit of feminism in the household for the young girl to care. In our house didn't have pronoun problems until our girls were well into their schooling.
Heroes are heroic regardless of their sex. Yeah, there is a paucity of female central characters in children's literature, but I don't really think that's an issue. There seems something if not wrong at least a bit weird about changing the sex of an author's character to fit how you think the story should be. And there's something seriously wrong if the character's sex is an impediment to enjoying the story and recognizing the heroism.

I guess Harper's gone before the next election
The Canadian Press reports that Prime Minister Stephen Harper said, "We have an election scheduled in 2015 and I plan to lead the party in that." When Harper says he has not plans, he often reverses course.

Did Obama run on a 'make the poor pay their fair share' platform?
An Investor's Business Daily editorial notes:
Imagine lower-income families watching their incomes drop while their tax burden goes up. Patently unfair, right? Yet it actually happened under President Obama.
According to a Tax Foundation analysis of new IRS data, the bottom half of income-tax filers paid 36% more in taxes in 2011 than they did in 2010 — even though their incomes barely budged.
The top half, in contrast, saw their tax burden climb only 9%. The average tax rate paid by the bottom half has climbed every year under Obama, going from 2.35% in 2009 to 3.13% in 2011.
Viewed another way, the share of "adjusted gross income" earned by the bottom half fell slightly in 2011, but their share of income taxes paid actually rose — the first such increase since 1989.

Thursday, December 19, 2013
MRUniversity's new class on Hayek’s Individualism and Economic Order
Tyler Cowen has more info on the free course, which is the twelfth course in their great economist's section.

When Albertans want to do this there are howls of outrage
The Toronto Star is reporting that Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne is "determined to take a made-in-Ontario pension plan to the voters come the next election."

When will 'blame Bush' end?
The Washington Post reports:
Nearly five years after George W. Bush left office, half the public still blames the former president for the nation’s economic woes, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll released this week. The survey comes as Republicans have continued to keep the 43rd president at arm’s length.
Fifty percent of Americans say Bush is more responsible for the country’s current economic problems than President Obama, the Post-ABC poll shows. Just 38 percent hold Obama more responsible. Seven percent assign equal blame.
In nearly two years of of Post-ABC surveys, opinions have barely budged. Roughly half the public has consistently held Bush more responsible for economic problems since the beginning of 2012.
Of course, the underlying reasons for poor economic performance can (and often do) exist before a sitting president inhabits the White House. What is noteworthy is how consistent blaming Bush has been, and that President Barack Obama isn't blamed for failing to deliver on his promise to fix it all.

Willing dupe
Xinhua reports:
Former NBA star Dennis Rodman arrived here Thursday on a third visit to the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK).
Rodman, accompanied by a documentary crew, is expected to help train the country's national basketball team for a Jan. 8 exhibition game in Pyongyang marking the birthday of DPRK's top leader Kim Jong Un ...
The source confirmed that the ministry will also make a detailed plan on the exhibition game between the DPRK basketball team and ex-NBA players.
Foreign correspondents in Pyongyang were not allowed to go into the airport, and Rodman left the airport through a "guest channel" without giving any interview.

Sold without irony
The New York Times store is selling model replicas of the Titanic, including a 32-inch R.M.S. Titanic for $314.99 and a 40-inch Museum-Quality R.M.S. Titanic for just $1,495, the latter which was "specially built for The New York Times."

Wednesday, December 18, 2013
Thoughts on science fiction and politics
Tyler Cowen points to Tim Kreider's New Yorker piece on the topic of science fiction and politics. Kreider considers science fiction inherently liberal although notes many "conservative practitioners" (although they are actually more libertarian). Cowen concludes:
To again use Kreider’s own words, societies where “nothing can be taken for granted” are exactly the ones I would never wish to visit, much less live in. I know the radical anarcho-capitalist strand, but is there a Burke-Oakeshott-Hayek science fiction, in the traditionalist and conservative sense of that combination? Or must we resort to the “fantasy” genre to capture such a vision? What would a science fiction account of a macro-level spontaneous order look like?
Kreider considers science fiction writer Kim Stanley Robinson the great political novelist (or at least in the running). Kreider says:
The major platform planks these methods lead him to in his books are:
* common stewardship—not ownership—of the land, water, and air
* an economic system based on ecological reality
* divesting central governments of most of their power and diffusing it among local communities
* the basics of existence, like health care, removed from the cruelties of the free market
* the application of democratic principles like self-determination and equality in the workplace—which, in practice, means small co-ops instead of vast, hierarchical, exploitative corporations—and,
* a reverence for the natural world codified into law.
Depending on your own politics, this may sound like millennia-overdue common sense or a bong-fuelled 3 A.M. wish list, but there’s no arguing that to implement it in the real world circa 2013 would be, literally, revolutionary. My own bet would be that either your grandchildren are going to be living by some of these precepts, or else they won’t be living at all.
You could argue that, if I didn’t fundamentally agree with his politics, Robinson’s fiction might seem contrived and didactic to me, the way Ayn Rand’s does if you’re not predisposed toward her brand of enlightened assholism.
I haven't read Robinson and probably won't, but the point is that science fiction can have useful insights into politics in a very broad way. As Kreider says: "Science fiction is an inherently political genre, in that any future or alternate history it imagines is a wish about How Things Should Be (even if it’s reflected darkly in a warning about how they might turn out). And How Things Should Be is the central question and struggle of politics."

The bare cupboard and the budget deal
Investor's Business Daily editorializes:
Now that the Senate is on board with a budget deal that busts the sequester spending caps, lawmakers can finally stop all that dreadful cost-cutting — before they hit vital projects like NASA's 3D Pizza Printer.
The bipartisan budget deal, which will add $63 billion in spending, came just in time. After all, "the cupboard is bare," as House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., put it awhile back. "There's no more cuts to make."
We see what Pelosi means. In fact, Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., just published a lengthy report this week showcasing all the vital things the government does that, thankfully, will be spared the ax.
In addition to its $125,000 3D Pizza Printer effort, for example, NASA is spending $3 million on a space-aged study into how Congress works, and another $390,000 on a YouTube cartoon about global warming.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013
Pope Francis is encouraging sin
Lant Pritchett, professor of the practice of international development at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University notes, "By dwelling on inequality, the pope is promoting envy."

Rock 'n' roll Hall of Fame weirdness
Nirvana and KISS are going to be inducted in the same year. Isn't KISS like 20 years older. Shouldn't they have been in long ago? Kathy Shaidle comments at Taki Magazine:
If the Jews really ran show business, then KISS would’ve been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame the first year they were eligible—in 1999, 25 years after the release of their first record.
Pure snobbery has kept them out.

This sentence illustrates how messed up our culture is
TMZ reports, "Justin Bieber bragged that he f**ks 'bitches' in a desperate attempt to save face" when he was being roasted by a comedian. So to fix his image problem, that is how the young entertainer responds. That's great.

The Advocate's person of the year
American gay magazine has declared Pope Francis its person of the year, because of their belief in the "pope's capacity for persuading hearts and minds in opening to LGBT people, and not only in the U.S. but globally."

Fox most popular news broadcaster, by far
Breitbart reports:
On Monday, Variety reported that Fox News had once again dominated all comers in the annual ratings, not merely blowing out CNN, MSNBC and HLN, but drawing more viewers than the combined averages of the three other networks. Fox News averaged 1.774 million viewers in primetime; the other three averaged a combined 1.626 million viewers in primetime.
On the one hand that's sweeping the competition pretty darn impressively. On the other hand, it illustrates how few Americans (approximately 1%) watch news on TV.

Hope and change. Not.
The National Journal's Ron Fournier has a devastating article entitled, "Politics Trumped Policy, Truth for Obama's Reelect." Fournier mostly reiterates a Washington Post article on how Barack Obama's White House interfered politically to manipulate federal regulations for electoral gain. Fournier says:
Obama’s apologists will say that every president plays politics with policy in elections years. Two problems with that. First, Obama promised to be better than the status quo. Second, he’s worse.

Monday, December 16, 2013
Generational theft
ZeroHedge has a disturbing chart for anyone with a conscience that shows that seniors who turn 65 this year has received $327,500 in government benefits minus taxes paid compared to $421,600 owed by future unborn children. That fact comes from Larry Kotlikoff, "How the millennial generation will pay the price of Washington's paralysis." It also demonstrates what ZeroHedge's Tyler Durden calls "the Ponzi scheme behind America's welfare state."

Important but mostly ignored story
Business Insider: "Why Investors Are Fleeing Muni Bonds At Record Rates." Wolf Richter of the Testerone Pit reports:
Default risks are dark clouds on the distant horizon or remain unimaginable beyond the horizon. And hopes that disaster can be averted by a miracle still rule the day. However, the Fed’s taper cacophony is here and now, and though the Fed is still printing money and buying paper at full speed, the possibility that it might not always do so hangs like a malodorous emanation in the air.
Taper talk and bankruptcies are a toxic mix for munis ...
The Fed’s easy money policies over the decades encouraged borrowing binges by municipalities and states. When the hot air hissed out of history’s greatest credit bubble in 2008, the Fed’s remedy, its ingenious QE and zero-interest-rate policies, blew an even greater credit bubble – kudos! As that credit bubble transitions from full bloom to whatever comes afterwards, the associated asset bubbles too transition. And the plight of muni bond funds is just the beginning.

Satire: 'Harvard’s Grading Rubric'
Nathaniel Stein has a satirical piece in the New York Times, "Leaked: Harvard's Grading Rubric." According to Stern:
The B grade may be awarded as a joke, before being replaced with a higher grade, so long as the instructor has checked with the registrar that the student’s psychological profile permits practical jokes of a cruel nature.

Pre-helicopter parents
Jenny Isenman of The Stir has "21 Things '80s Kids' Did That Would Horrify Us Now." Most of us survived the '80s so here's my question: why do so many of my generation parent like our children are fragile eggs.
(HT: Instapundit)

A reminder about the income inequality debate
E21's Scott Winship makes the case that concern for income inequality is overblown, and notes:
Even if it is true that in the absence of rising inequality, more income would have gone to the poor and middle class than actually accrued to them, that need not mean that we should object to rising inequality. We all have our own ideas about who deserves to make what. Again, Krugman and the Inequality Patrol think it’s obvious that the top doesn’t deserve what they’re making.
Trotting out stats that show economic growth's benefits accrue disproportionately to the already wealthy doesn't prove an injustice. The Left should not promote envy, which is what progressives do when they harp about income inequality. The issue for those truly concerned about the poor is their material well-being, not how much they have compared to another group of people.

Raising the minimum wage is a good if ...
George Will says the minimum wage is a good idea if you believe in 15 propositions, including this one: "If you think government should prevent two consenting parties — an employer and a worker — from agreeing to an hourly wage that government disapproves." That is the key issue for me. There are others, such as, "If you think tweaking the minimum wage is a serious promotion of equality by an administration during which 95 percent of real income growth has accrued to the top 1 percent." Excellent column that demonstrates one must believe a lot of dubious propositions to think the minimum wage is good policy.

Turf wars
The Canadian Press reports that Finance Minister Jim Flaherty is upset with Minister of Employment and Social Development Jason Kenney because the latter talked about the Toronto mayor and Toronto belongs to Flaherty:
Finance Minister Jim Flaherty is saying little about a report that he had sharp words with a cabinet colleague for criticizing Toronto's embattled mayor, but hinted it had to do with political turf.
The CBC has reported Flaherty confronted Jason Kenney in the House of Commons last month after the employment minister called for Rob Ford's resignation ...
Flaherty, who is the senior minister in the Toronto-area, suggested Kenney, who is the minister responsible for southern Alberta, should stick to his neck of the woods.
“You know, I’m the minister for the Greater Toronto Area. I don’t comment on the mayor of Calgary,” he told reporters as he arrived for a meeting with his provincial counterparts.
The Finance Minister comes across as a child. I've never seen a minister responsible for a certain area actually declare it off limits for discussion for his colleagues. Furthermore, it is hardly a principle that the Tories adhere to generally, for as Paul Wells notes on Twitter: "Non-Vancouver ministers who commented on drug policy in Vancouver: Clement, MacKay, Agglukaq, Ambrose, Harper..." I don't recall now Industry Minister James Moore whining that his Conservative cabinet colleagues were talking about a British Columbia matter.

Detroit selling its art is not a tragedy
Reason's Nick Gillespie says if you want to freak someone out, "suggest that [Detroit] unload its little-seen yet high-valued art collection hiding in plain sight at The Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA)." Gillespie explains the over-the-top reaction:
Don’t get me wrong: In its attempts to deal with an estimated $18 billion in debt, Motown will absolutely be giving out buzzcuts worthy of an Army barber to everyone who has ever drawn a paycheck from City Hall or was stupid enough to lend it money. But with a collection valued at somewhere between $452 million and $866 million, the DIA’s collection—featuring pieces by Picasso, van Gogh, Matisse, and other masters—should absolutely be on the market.
Critics of the idea consider such an option not only “delusional” but reminiscent of Stalinist art sell-offs during the 1930s. “Michiganders might remember that in the 1920s and ’30s, the cash-hungry Soviet government sold off Russia’s art treasures, dispersing them to other countries,” sniffs Judith H. Dobrzynski in The Wall Street Journal. “Today, that episode is viewed as a national tragedy.” That may well be true, but if so, it’s among the least objectionable crimes against humanity perpetrated by the USSR. After all, they didn’t destroy the art—they merely sent it to places where it could be appreciated without fear of execution.
But more importantly, as Virginia Postrel has pointed out, from an art appreciation perspective, it makes sense to sell the art to art galleries in other cities that attract more visitors. Why does Detroit's art museum get the right to effectively hoard masterpieces, especially when the city is bankrupt.

'Why 2013 was the best year ever – and 2014 will be better still'
The Spectator makes the case for optimism, noting that for most people, things are getting better:
As a public service – and one which is rarely provided in broadcast or print – The Spectator will below provide evidence for these assertions. We can start from crude figures: $73.5 trillion, the world’s economic output this year. Never has so much wealth been generated — but, importantly, never has growth been shared more evenly. While the rich world is wallowing a mire of debt, the developing world is making incredible progress. The global inequality gap is narrowing – and thanks not to the edicts of governments, but to the co-operation of millions of people, rich and poor, through international trade. Or, as critics call this system, ‘global capitalism’.
As a result goals that once seemed fantastical are now within reach: from the end of Aids to the end of famine. To understand the speed of this progress consider the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals, drawn up in 2000. The plan then was to halve the number of people living on $1 a day by 2015. This target was reached five years early. Not that you’d know: very little was said at the time, perhaps because the progress was made by global trade with very little help from the aid industry. It was clear, then, that something was going badly right.
But wealth is not the only barometer of success. The world is getting healthier, too:
Extraordinary advances in medicine, and in the ability to produce affordable drugs for millions, is sending levels of life expectancy soaring in the poorest nations. The introduction of anti-retroviral drugs in Malawi, for example, has seen its Aids death toll fall from 92,400 ten years ago to under 46,000 now. This reflects a worldwide trend. Cambodia recently announced its hopes to eliminate deaths from malaria by 2015, having halved infections over the course of this year. Malaria is one of the world’s biggest killers – and, as the World Health Organisation recently confirmed, its death rate has almost halved since the turn of the century.

Obamacare: it's going to get worse
Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Michael J. Boskin, an economics professor at Stanford University and senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, says:
Next year, millions must choose among unfamiliar physicians and hospitals, or paying more for preferred providers who are not part of their insurance network. Some health outcomes will deteriorate from a less familiar doctor-patient relationship.
More IT failures are likely. People looking for health plans on ObamaCare exchanges may be able to fill out their applications with more ease. But the far more complex back-office side of the website—where the information in their application is checked against government databases to determine the premium subsidies and prices they will be charged, and where the applications are forwarded to insurance companies—is still under construction. Be prepared for eligibility, coverage gap, billing, claims, insurer payment and patient information-protection debacles.
The next shock will come when the scores of millions outside the individual market—people who are covered by employers, in union plans, or on Medicare and Medicaid—experience the downsides of ObamaCare. There will be longer waits for hospital visits, doctors' appointments and specialist treatment, as more people crowd fewer providers.

Sunday, December 15, 2013
Instability is not a bad thing when the status quo is tyranny
Samizdata's Perry de Havilland notes that the BBC gets North Korea wrong.

Tories have their Romney 47% moment
Industry Minister James Moore was asked about child poverty and responded: "Is it my job to feed my neighbour’s child? I don’t think so." Moore is correct to note that programs for the poor are a provincial matter, but this is the kind of thing that makes the Conservatives look uncaring and will sink them. He is right policy-wise but tone deaf to the politics of his comment. The only way to make this a non-losing quote now is to hammer away at it and educate the public, which could backfire.

Wall Street Journal asks 50 'friends' to name their favourite books of the year
Mike Tyson is among those asked by the Wall Street Journal, and he writes: "I'm currently reading 'The Quotable Kierkegaard,' edited by Gordon Marino, a collection of awesome quotes from that great Danish philosopher." The rest of the Tyson paragraph is worth reading because the former boxer waxing poetic about philosophy is ... awesome. Among the 50 are Daniel Hannan, Charles Moore, Edmund Morris, Mitt Romney, Marco Rubio, Samantha Power, Steven Pinker, Stanley Crouch, Lawrence Summers, and Willie and Korie Robertson. Wendy Davis and Katie Couric, too.
The WSJ also has the list of best non-fiction and fiction books of the year.

Saturday, December 14, 2013
Four downs
1. Jeff Fedotin of the National Football Post has an article entitled, "The Biggest Reason for Kansas City's turnaround." The biggest reason is regression to the mean (a lot of things are going to go wrong in a two-win season, so there is a lot room for improvement and reversing bad luck). Fedotin's article is actually about nose tackle Dontari Poe, who is indeed very good and makes a big difference. The bigger in the headline refers to Poe's 340 pounds. He's a space eater (although not a BBQ eater) and he certainly helps collapse the pocket and to keep running backs from finding open space. The blocking done on the line never gets the attention that linebackers who get the tackles and sacks do, so this is a good and overdue article.
2. According to Pro Football Talk, Washington Redskins coach Mike Shanahan says the team might be able to get a first-round pick after they showcase backup QB Kirk Cousins now that they have benched are resting starting quarterback Robert Griffin III for the rest of the season. Earlier this week, Grantland's Bill Barnwell indicated he was skeptical of the plan to let others see Cousins noting that his small body of work features two good games and a few truly terrible outings and that there is a fairly strong chance that Cousins will prove the latter as real. In a 2014 draft that many observers say feature a deep quarterback class, I doubt even Barnwell's optimistic best-case scenario of Washington convincing anyone to give them a third-round pick for their over-rated backup.
3. The Charlotte Observer reports on how a long-time Panthers fan it retiring from tail-gating.
4. Good article at ESPN on how the first year coaches in Philadelphia and Chicago have done a great job getting the most out of their backup QBs to help put their teams in the playoff hunt. I think Marc Trestman is making a giant mistake letting Jay Cutler start for the Bears as Josh McCown has been very good over the past three weeks (admittedly against weak pass defenses), including 703 yards and 9.8 yards per pass over the past two games; he has a 109.8 passer rating in seven games (five starts). Chip Kelly eventually got around to making the right choice in starting Nick Foles who has been magnificent (5-0) as the everyday starter.

Weekend stuff
1. Big Think's Strange Maps blog has "Climate Maps of Middle-Earth." This is probably too nerdy even for me.
2. Sports on Earth has "Goofy English soccer mascots."
3. Twitter feed entitled "Faces in Things." Scroll down to November 29 for the one that made me smile.
4. "5 Animal Rights Campaigns That Managed to Screw Over Animals." Reading about the release of minks is worth clicking on this.
5. has a photo essay of abandoned space observatories.
6. Slate has "Absurdly expensive gifts for the super-rich."
7. Something a little longer: Eric Gibson in The New Criterion with "The overexposed museum: Camera technology and the iPhone are changing the museum experience."
8. Patrick Redford at the Classical: "Talkin' About Praxis: What Antonio Gramsci can tell us about the slippery, difficult business of building a basketball team."
9. From the animal kingdom. From Science Daily: "Chameleons Use Colorful Language to Communicate: Chameleons' Body Regions Are 'Billboards' for Different Types of Information." New Scientist's Zoologger blog reports, "Alligators use tools to lure in bird prey." Buzz Hoot Roar has the "Five Insects We Never Want to Have Sex With."
10. Mental Floss: "11 Incredible Facts About Venus Flytraps."
11. A short (less than a minute) video of extreme teeter-tottering training.

Friday, December 13, 2013
The rich get richer, courtesy of Kathleen Wynne's Liberals
At Canadian Business, Mike Moffatt explains how the wage subsidy to Cisco Canada announced by Ontario's Liberal government won't help create jobs but will help create more income inequality:
Earlier today, the Ontario government announced that it is “partnering with Cisco Canada to launch the largest job-creating investment in the history of the province’s tech sector.” We should naturally be skeptical of any deal that sees taxpayer dollars go to a firm that made over $2 billion in profit just last quarter. However, reading through the details of this plan, skepticism turns to outrage. This is a plan that is explicitly designed to increase income inequality and transfer money from poorer regions of the province to one of Canada’s wealthiest cities and will likely not create a single new job.
The deal promises that “up to 1,700 jobs” will be added in the next six years, with the province providing “up to $190 million” in return, for a cost of $112,000 per job. Cisco estimates that 80% of the new jobs will be in Ottawa, a city with one of the lowest unemployment rates in the province at 5.7%. And if a 5.7% unemployment rate seems relatively low, it towers over the sub-3% rate in the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) industry. Because of the low unemployment levels of both the city and the sector, the number of net new jobs created here is likely to be zero. Cisco will be simply luring away workers that would have worked for other ICT companies (or who would have been hired anyway by Cisco even without the handout). This will help raise the wages of workers in that sector, but does nothing for jobs. Those jobs are already very well compensated, so this is acting as a wage subsidy to high-income workers, paid for by the general population.
This should lead to people protesting with pitchforks in the streets. But it won't. Instead of subsidizing the jobs of big business, the Ontario government should help the province attract new business by lowering taxes and reining in the power of unions.

Four downs
1. The Denver Broncos lost at home to the San Diego Chargers 27-20 at home, resulting in predictable hyperbolic concerns about not hitting their stride at the right time and other nonsense. Sometimes a bad game is just a bad game. It could change the playoff scenarios, but just because New England now controls its own destiny that doesn't mean that Denver can't win the first overall seed. Nor does it mean that Peyton Manning can't win in the cold (although that narrative is predicated on the notion that he can't play in temperatures below freezing and the game started at 37F, and he does okay in those games). But if pundits think that Denver is in trouble and that Manning can't put together a good performance in the cold, then why is losing the top seed a bad thing? It's all a little ridiculous.
2. The Bolts-Broncos game lacked the offense many of us where expecting but the game was close and exciting enough to stay tuned until the end. Denver got off to a quick 7-0 lead and San Diego responded by marching down the field and settling for a field goal. The broadcast team started the finger-wagging, claiming you can't beat Denver settling for three points. Denver marched back down into San Diego territory and settled for a field goal to go up 10-3 and it was assumed the game was over. Manning then had two terrible quarters (2nd and 3rd) in which he got the ball for four drives and went a grand total of 13 yards and produced just one first down. Philip Rivers and the Chargers scored a bunch and established a 24-10 lead before Manning belatedly led a comeback attempt. Ryan Mathews had 127 yards on 29 carries (and a TD), providing balance to the SD offense and keeping the clock rolling so Manning stayed off the field. Manning's numbers were ostensibly OK: 27/41 for 289 yards, 2 TDS and one pick, and a 92.4 passer rating. Watching the game, it seemed like he struggled a lot more than that. I think the problem was that he completed one pass that went more than 20 yards and missed four of them. Another problem is that the yards after catch, which Denver has been great at all year, were practically non-existent. Neither defense was all that great and San Diego was aided by several stupid Denver penalties, including one on a punt that gave the Bolts a new set of downs. The real problem for Denver was that they were 2/9 (22%) on third downs. That won't happen often, so Denver is still in good shape going forward.
3. According to ESPN, since the Cleveland Browns rejoined the NFL in 1999, they are 77-159, tied with the Detroit Lions for the worst record during that time frame, have finished last in their division (three more than any other team), and have used 18 different starting QBs (tied for the most with the Miami Dolphins). That was before last week's losses by both teams. So now they are still tied with the worst records, 77-160.
4. There's always lots of pre-season talk about teams that go from last-to-first, but very little about first-to-last. Right now there are three 2012 division winners (Atlanta Falcons, Houston Texans, Washington Redskins) that are last. I predict at least one of these teams will be a serious contender next season, probably Houston. Houston? Yeah, Houston. This is what I blogged when Gary Kubiak was fired by the Texans last week: Houston was nearly a consensus pick to win the AFC South and if not that, at least being a wild card. Instead, they've been both bad (30th overall in the DVOA ratings of Football Outsiders) and unlucky (they are 2-8 in games decided by seven points or fewer, near the bottom of the table on turnovers, and been victimized by five pick sixes). These things tend to even out over time (season to season). With one of the five best running backs (Arian Foster, who is injured and has played hurt), one of the five best wide receivers (Andre Johnson), and one of the three best defensive players (DE J.J. Watt) in the NFL today, and the one of the top picks in the stacked 2014 draft where they can land either a potential franchise quarterback or an elite pass rusher, the Texans will likely be a 500 or better team next year and the best candidate to go from last to first. Whoever replaces Kubiak on the full-time basis for 2014 is going to have all those advantages and be a contender for the Coach of the Year Award.

Guns and suicide
Because the media ignorse suicide, America's conversation about guns is skewed. Alex Tabarrok notes that Slate has collected news stories about gun deaths and the discovered that their numbers don't align with the Centers for Disease Control, and it isn't even close. As Slate's Chris Kirk wrote: "The CDC counts about 32,000 people killed with guns each year, while Slate’s database only has one-third of that." The reason: the under-reporting of suicide in the press. The graphs at both links show how skewed our perception of gun violence might become when we base it on media reports and not actual facts.
Tabarrok has another post about guns and suicide, including to links of his other work on the topic. Before there is a moral panic about guns and suicide, however, one should read Justin Briggs and Tabarrok's Slate article carefully, where they note two important facts: "Since there are relatively few suicides, this [increased gun ownership] translates into 345 more suicides, at most," and that "Most guns are never involved in a suicide or a homicide."

Republicans could win if they talked like Mike Rowe
From ReasonTV:
"If we are lending money that ostensibly we don't have to kids who have no hope of making it back in order to train them for jobs that clearly don't exist, I might suggest that we've gone around the bend a little bit," says TV personality Mike Rowe, best known as the longtime host of Discovery Channel's Dirty Jobs.
Reason TV interviews Rowe and its worth watching -- all 41 minutes of it. Not everyone needs to go to university or is best served by doing so.

Fat suits are the new blackface. The Winnipeg Free Press reports:
A musical about weight discrimination in show business is stirring up a debate about fat suits in a Regina high school's version of the play.
Tricia Leis is upset that two teens who shared the lead role in Campbell Collegiate's production of Hairspray had to wear special costumes to make them look bigger.
Leis says the choice only emphasizes society's obsession with thinness.
She says the role is great for plus-size girls and sends a positive message to young women who may be struggling with self-esteem.
Putting young thin students in fat suits is part of an "obsession with thinness"? That's ridiculous. Maybe it has something to do with the kids' quality of acting.
Why does everyone want to be offended?

The Smoking Gun reports, "Though Jane Fonda’s private foundation has nearly $800,000 in assets, the group has not made a charitable contribution during the last five years for which it has filed federal tax returns, an apparent violation of Internal Revenue Service rules."
(Via Fox News)

It worked well for Michael Dukakis and Stephane Dion
The Globe and Mail: "Wynne will run on promise to raise taxes for transit in next election." It is brave to run on raising taxes. However, it doesn't usually endear candidates to voters.

Strange thing to brag about
A press release out of the office of the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons, Peter Van Loan, notes, "With a total of 40 bills becoming law this year, the Harper Government has set a new record for itself, passing more bills than in any other calendar year since taking office." Do not judge a government by the number of its bills, but by their content. Passing a lot of laws is not necessarily good -- and usually isn't. I prefer the British approach of David Cameron, who is removing 309 offenses from the statute book this year, including "being an incorrigible rogue." The British government also repealed 201 offenses last year.

'Why aren't cities taller?'
A few weeks ago Robin Hanson wondered about the density of modern cities isn't great, noting the modern metropolis hasn't become the sort of tall-building cities envisioned in science fiction and other futurists. Considering possible explanations, he blames politics:
Maybe local governments usually can’t coordinate well to build supporting infrastructure, like roads, schools, power, sewers, etc., to match taller buildings. So they veto them instead. Or maybe local non-property-owning voters believe that more tall buildings will hurt them personally. (The big city nearest me actually has a law against buildings over 40 meters tall.)
Note that most of these explanations are variations on the same theme: local governments fail to coordinate to enable tall buildings. Which is in fact my favored explanation. City density, and hence city size, is mainly limited by the abilities of the conflicting elements that influence local governments to coordinate to enable taller buildings.
Remember those futurist images of dense tall cities scraping the skies? The engineers have done their job to make it possible. It is politics that isn’t yet up to the task.

Google's road map to world domination
The New York Times has a long and very good article on Google's efforts to map the world. A snippet:
In 2005,, Amazon’s skunk works for search technology, unveiled an innovative feature called Block View. It was meant to be a newfangled Yellow Pages where you could find the phone number and address of a local business — as well as a photograph of its storefront. Block View was discontinued after only 20 months, but not before Microsoft introduced its own version, Streetside, that was essentially identical, except that Microsoft’s pictures of streets and storefronts were seen through a digitally created framing device. Though the photos were taken from car-roof-mounted cameras, they were presented online as if you were looking through a windshield. The result was dorky, but it was one solution to the vexing problem of coming up with a user interface. How do you move through a map made of photographs? Microsoft’s answer: In a virtual car.
Google ultimately developed a more elegant user interface. Instead of representing movement along a street as flipping through a filmstriplike series of photographs, as Block View and Streetside did, Google pursued the idea of a panoramic camera — what would become the green orb — and used it to take a panoramic photo every few feet. The effect of hopping from one photo to the next in Street View is one of walking through virtual space.
Microsoft’s Streetside debuted in 2006 with a photographic rendering of parts of Seattle and San Francisco. Google’s Street View arrived a year later, with five cities: San Francisco, New York, Las Vegas, Miami and Denver. Google eventually overwhelmed Microsoft with a more aggressive surveying program. Street View now covers 3,000 cities in 54 countries, and it has gone beyond streets and onto train tracks, hiking trails, even rivers. A section of the Amazon was the first river, appearing last year; the Thames made its debut in October; and the Colorado will be available by the end of the year. “We want to paint the world,” Vincent says. When I asked him what level of resolution we were talking about, he said, “About one pixel to the inch.”
The article concludes noting that Google is developing an autonomous car, which will use Google maps, and how Tesla's self-driving car probably won't.
Highly recommended.

'True unemployment rate 11% or higher in 49 of the last 50 months'
Investor's Business Daily's Ed Carson writes about the real (as opposed to official) unemployment rate, noting:
The official unemployment rate has fallen to a five-year low of 7%. But put away the champagne.
That gradual decline reflects a historic drop in labor force participation. Without that drop, joblessness would be 11.3%, holding at 11% or higher in every month but one in the last 50 months.
To be considered unemployed, a person has to be out of work but actively looking. So when people give up the job hunt, they reduce unemployment — even if the number of people working hasn't risen.
At the start of the recession in December 2007, the labor force participation rate was 66%. It fell sharply, tumbling to 62.8% in October, a 35-year low. It rose slightly to 63% last month.
Carson considers a number of explanations, notably demographics, anemic economic growth, and the "lack of job churn." You could add government policies that lessen the cost of not working.
Regardless, unemployment will decrease again next month:
In the meantime, get ready for more "good" news on unemployment. Extended jobless benefits are set to expire at year-end. That means 1.3 million longtime unemployed who officially are in the labor force could drop out. That could reduce the official jobless rate by up to half a percentage point by some estimates.

Thursday, December 12, 2013
Duck Dynasty stars' Christmas album out-sells Britney Spears, Lady Gaga
Breitbart reports that "Duck the Halls: A Robertson Family Christmas sold more copies this week than both Britney Spears' latest album Britney Jean and the sinking fast disk from Lady Gaga, ARTPOP." What is incredible about that fact is it outsold Spears despite the fact that the Robertsons' album was released October 29 and Britney Jean on December 3. We shouldn't be surprised.

Americans' view of government
Emily Ekins at Reason's Hit & Run:
The latest Reason-Rupe poll finds that 54 percent of Americans think government, while necessary for certain functions, is generally burdensome and impedes them more than helps them. Conversely 41 percent view government as primarily a source of good and helping people improve their lives.
A majority of Democrats (54 percent) view government as primarily a source of helping people, while 40 percent generally view it as an obstacle. In contrast, majorities of Republicans (69 percent) and independents (57 percent) disagree, viewing government as primarily as burdensome making it more difficult for people to improve their lives. Twenty-six percent of Republicans and 39 percent of independents view government as primarily helpful ...
Although majorities of young Americans agree there is more government should be doing, 53 percent view government as primarily burdensome and 43 percent view it as helpful. These numbers are similar to older Americans who feel government impedes people by a margin of 55 to 40 percent.
Libertarians could spin these numbers as either positive or negative. Also, "generally ... burdensome" and "primarily a source of good" is hardly the right binary barometer to measure attitudes toward government. Furthermore, respondents were evenly split on "The less government the better" and "There are more things government should be doing" (48% each). The full poll results are here. Overall it is disappointing to see such high support for government in general.