Sobering Thoughts

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

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Saturday, December 31, 2016
Four NFL games to watch (Week 17)
Honourable mention: New Orleans Saints (7-8) at Atlanta Falcons (10-5): This game is meaningful for the Falcons as they would capture the #2 seed in the NFC (and a first-round bye). Assuming everyone comes to play, this game should be fun as it features the top two scoring offenses in the NFL (Atlanta scores 33.5 ppg, New Orleans 29.1). Falcons win and take the over whatever it is.
4. New York Giants (10-5) at Washington Redskins (8-6-1): While the AFC field is decided with only seeding affected by Sunday's contests, there are four teams chasing two spots in the NFC (although the Tampa Bay Buccaneer scenario is almost not even worth discussing as it requires a specific combination of nine wins and ties). The Redskins have a chance to become a wild card team and third playoff team from the NFC East with a victory (as long as the Green Bay-Detroit game doesn't end in a tie). Another supposed narrative is that 'Skins QB Kirk Cousins is playing for a big contract, although there have been numerous stories throughout this month talking about how he's getting paid so it is a dubious talking point that one game will decide whether Cousins continues playing pro football as a very wealthy man. The Redskins won in New Jersey in Week 3, 29-27, and we don't know how long the Giants will keep their starters in the game. Cousins has a diverse set of receivers to throw to, so Washington's offense is a lot of fun to watch. Football Outsiders has Washington as the fourth best offense, but if the Giants keep their defense on the field, they're the second best unit on that side of the ball, making for a fantastic matchup. Could be a great game, but there are good reasons for Ben McAdoo's club to rest their players, so it might only be good for a few series (if at all). Washington punches their ticket to the playoffs after pulling away from the Giants as the game progresses. If we knew the Giants would try to win this game, it would be the second best game to watch in Week 17.
3. Oakland Raiders (12-3) at Denver Broncos (8-7): The Broncos are eliminated, but the Raiders are fighting for seeding. With a victory and New England loss, the Raiders will finish first in the conference and guarantee the AFC champion goes through Oakland. If the Raiders win and Pats win, they still capture the AFC West and first-round bye. But if Oakland loses and Kansas City wins, the Raiders will fall to the fifth seed, and likely be on the road for the entire playoffs. The Raiders, who haven't been in the playoffs since 2002, will be doing all this without QB and MVP candidate Derek Carr. Matt McGloin will face one of the toughest defenses in the NFL. While the Broncos have lost four of their last five and haven't score more than 10 points in any of their last three games, I think they win this one.
2. New England Patriots (13-2) at Miami Dolphins (10-5): The Pats have clinched a first-round bye but are probably playing for first overall. The Fins could improve from the sixth seed with a win combined with a Kansas City Chiefs loss, which is the difference between facing the Pittsburgh Steelers or Houston Texans in the divisional round (Pittsburgh has a potent offense and sneaky good defense while Houston won a weak division with a mediocre quarterback). The Pats won in Week 2, but they didn't have Tom Brady and Dolphins RB Jay Ajayi had yet to emerge as one of the top running backs in the sport (five rushes for 14 yards). He'll face one of the better defenses against the run: third in yards per game (89.5) and tied for seventh in rushing yards per attempt (3.9). I just can't see backup QB Matt Moore beating the Pats in game that New England needs in December even though the Fins have a three game home winning streak against Tom Brady's team. Patriots secure the first overall seed.
1. Green Bay Packers (9-6) at Detroit Lions (9-6): Let's not complicate this. The Packers-Lions tilt was flexed into the prime-time slot because the NFC North is up for grabs. After falling 4-6, Aaron Rodgers famously said the Packers had to win out to make the playoffs. Five consecutive wins later, here they are playing for a playoff spot in the final regular season game of 2016. There is a chance that both teams will make the post-season if Washington loses their afternoon game, but the right to host a playoff game rather than as a wild card is worth playing for. Rodgers has been playing well enough to be a fringy MVP candidate and Lions QB Matthew Stafford is part of that conversation, too. Detroit has trailed in the fourth quarter in 14 of their 15 games; that fact leads to two opposite narratives: either they can't pull away from opponents or they are resilient and can engineer comebacks (although both are obviously true, the talking points are both featured on football panel programs). Keeping it close is dangerous against this Packers team, especially as the Lions are missing one of their best defensive players, CB Darius Slay. Lion's president Rod Wood lobbied the league to host a home game on the final weekend -- they have finished on the road the last four seasons -- and it should give Detroit a boost in this vital game. But I think the Packers win their fifth division title in six years, denying the Lions their first division title in 23 seasons.

I'll rip off David Brooks' Sidney Awards idea
These are the best and most important essays of 2016.
The best five
Mike Tanier's Bleacher Report article, "Johnny Manziel: Why We Cannot (and Should Not) Look Away," is a meditation on how we should react as fans and human beings when famous people's lives are spiraling out of control. Tanier is one of America's best and most thoughtful writers. You should read it even if you are not a football fan.
Becca Cudmore's Nautilus article, "The Case For Leaving City Rats Alone," is the most thoroughly interesting essay of the year, jammed with fascinating facts about the world's most infamous rodents. One need not accept the conclusion to appreciate the force of this essay.
Rod Dreher's blog post "Hillbilly America: Do White Lives Matter?" for The American Conservative. It was the first important commentary or review on J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and a Culture In Crisis.
John Pepall's Fraser Institute paper "First-Past-the-Post: Empowered Voters, Accountable Government," is a vigorous defense of Canada's electoral system. Electoral reform advocates assume the current system is a problem and unfair. Pepall makes the case that FPTP is not a system in need of correction.
Ilya Shapiro's National Affairs article, "Against Judicial Restraint," is the libertarian case against the conservative case against judicial activism. In an age of legislative and executive overreach, the judiciary must check the power of the other branches of government.
Other good essays
Edward Glaeser's City Journal essay, "If You Build It ... Myths and realities about America’s infrastructure spending," looks at the debate on infrastructure with a more jaundiced eye than we are used to. Even if the United States needs better roads, bridges, and airports, its track record on delivering them is should serve as a giant yellow caution light.
John H. Cochrane's "Economic Growth," which is a long (26-page) essay prepared for the Focusing the Presidential Debates Initiative, says that politics gets in the way of the one thing that produces economic growth: productivity per worker.
Written pre-Trump's victory, Jonathan Rauch's Atlantic essay "How American Politics Went Insane," should be read by everyone with an interest in U.S. politics. He argues that "Trump, however, didn’t cause the chaos. The chaos caused Trump."
Yuval Levin's National Review Online essay on "The New Republican Coalition," is an insightful prediction on how the three conservative legs of the GOP coalition will change under the Trump presidency.
Sarah Trick's Walrus article, "No Vacancy," is a first-person account of the difficulties individuals with disabilities face in finding housing.
Brian Griffiths had a long essay in Standpoint, "Britain's Opportunity Is Europe's Warning," on how the United Kingdom could prosper after Brexit and help save the European Union from itself.
Michael Totten is a very good freelance foreign affairs writer. His blog post, "Estonia Prepares for an Anti-Russian Insurgency," is about how the Baltic nation could become the next Afghanistan.
Jillian Keenan's "Why Did It Take 9 Hours and 3 Emergency Rooms For This Woman to Get a Rape Kit?" in Cosmopolitan should outrage readers.
If you read Jordan Weissmann's Slate article, "The Failure of Welfare Reform," as a history of welfare reform and not a polemic against the best policy to come out of the Clinton years, it's a very good if biased bit of writing.
I've mentioned before that one difference between those on the Left and Right is their view of work (as ends in themselves vs. means to an end). James Livingstone provides an insight into the progressive view with a critique of work as a means to an end in "Fuck work," in Aeon.
Allison Herman wrote about "Mothers of the Rebellion: With ‘Rogue One,’ the ‘Star Wars’ universe puts female characters front and center," for The Ringer.

Friday, December 30, 2016
Quartz has 99 good things that happened in 2016. I wouldn't consider all of them good things (reversing the offshore oil exploration in the United States is questionable, as are several other bits of environmental news), but some are extremely good:
The World Health Organisation released a report showing that, since the year 2000, global malaria deaths have declined by 60%.
A new study from the world’s leading health journal reported that the number of women dying from pregnancy and childbirth has almost halved since 1990.
Life expectancy in Africa has increased by 9.4 years since 2000, thanks to improvements in child survival, progress in malaria control, and expanded access to ARVs.
World hunger reached its lowest point in 25 years.
But this is the best news: "Harvard scientists created a new platform for antibiotic discovery that may help solve the crisis of antibiotic resistance." You can read more about it at Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology News.
Progress stories -- and science stories in particular -- are under-appreciated in year-in-review articles.

At least one Tory leadership candidate dropping out
This doesn't clarify the crowded leadership field at all.

'Education costs have soared ... but learning has stagnated': it's time to rethink how we educate kids
Jonathan Rothwell of the right-wing think tank Brookings Institute reports:
College tuition, net of subsidies, is 11.1 times higher in 2015 than in 1980, dramatically higher than the 2.5 increase in overall personal consumption over the period. For private education, from pre-K through secondary, prices are 8.5 times higher now than in 1980. For public schools, the rise is lower—4.7 from 1980 to 2013—but still far above general inflation ...
For the nation’s 17-year-olds, there have been no gains in literacy since the National Assessment of Educational Progress began in 1971. Performance is somewhat better on math, but there has still been no progress since 1990.
And for all that extra spending, the United States is doing poorer on international comparisons:
International literacy and numeracy data from the OECD’s assessment of adult skills confirms this troubling picture. The numeracy and literacy skills of those born since 1980 are no more developed than for those born between 1968 and 1977. For the average OECD country, by contrast, people born between 1978 and 1987 score significantly better than all previous generations.
Cultural inputs (parents, class, home values) are probably more important than how much jurisdictions pay for education, but perhaps the education model needs rethinking. I'm not talking demand-side changes like school choice (vouchers, charter schools, etc), but the very model of the 9-3:30 assembly line school.
I prefer the flip-the-day model in which lectures are provided online (nationally, not at the grade or school level) and students go to school to work in competence-level, not age-level, groups. Students could spend less time in "class" because they do not need to be in school between 9 am and 3:30 pm, as most of the instruction would be online. (Or the online lessons could be viewed in schools on laptops with earphones, if the babysitting function of schools is necessary.) The homework side of schooling -- working on projects and otherwise applying the lecture material -- would be the essence of what happens in schools. Because teachers wouldn't be providing time-consuming instruction as much as being on hand to provide guidance, the same number of (or fewer) teachers could be used to hover around individual groups of students that are applying what they learn. So schools can provide lower teacher-pupil ratios (good for kids who need extra help) or save money on teachers. For more on this, check out Salman Khan's excellent 2012 book The One World Schoolhouse: Education Reimagined (and various Glenn Reynolds books on education reform). It is time to really talk about fixing America's (and Canada's) schools, not only because they are expensive, but there is little evidence that they do their job properly educating students.

New Year's resolutions and changing (bad) habits
Gretchen Rubin writes in The Guardian about changing one's habits and takes on the one-size-fits-all advice that self-improvement experts often push:
The most important step – and a step that, oddly, most habits experts ignore – is to understand ourselves. Once we recognise the essential aspects of our habit nature, we can tailor habits to suit ourselves.
It is easy to assume that if a strategy worked for Steve Jobs or for a neighbour, it will work for us. But that’s just not true. Consider this popular tip: “To stick to that [fill in the blank] habit, wake up early and do it first thing.” Great advice for morning people; but what about night people, who are more energetic and productive later in the day? Night people often fail if they try to follow a particular habit early in the morning. Not because they’re lazy or undisciplined, but because they’re night people.
Similarly, we’re often advised to indulge in moderation, to allow ourselves the occasional “cheat”. But some people (like me) find it much easier to abstain altogether from a temptation, like sweets or a video game; for abstainers, having some is far harder than having none.
Some people do better by starting small; others, by starting big. Some people are simplicity-lovers; others, abundance-lovers. Some people need accountability; some defy accountability. Such distinctions matter.
Experts in all fields often ignore human individuality. What works for some people won't work for others. The important thing is not to give up on changing completely; instead, change what doesn't work and try something new.

Sidney Awards, Part II
New York Times columnist David Brooks has his second batch of Sidney Award-winning best essays of 2016, named after the criminally under-rated pragmatist philosopher Sidney Hook. Brooks begins his column:
Every December I read hundreds of long-form essays to select the Sidney Awards, and every year I regret that I spend so much of the other 11 months reading online trivia. Then, every January, I revert to Twitter.
And the first essay he discusses is Andrew Sullivan's much-discussed New York piece, "I Used to Be a Human Being," on being an addicted online infovore. It should be noted how much better the Brooks Sidney Awards work online compared to reading them in a paper, sans links to the original essays.
There are also brief descriptions (and links) to the New Yorker profile on Martha Nussbaum, Jonathan Rauch's brilliant Atlantic essay "How American Politics Went Insane," and "The Flight 93 Election," from the Claremont Review of Books, among others.
If you have some free time, these are long pieces worth reading, and re-reading.

What to watch for in 2017
Tyler Cowen has a list of nine, mostly international, things to watch this coming year. For Americans, he wonders if the country's institutions endure: "Will the United States Congress and courts continue to secure some version of rule of law in this country? And will we agree on what that means?" There are very important questions for India and Nigeria. Some good "sleeper issues," too, although I doubt a Russian-Israel conflict over Middle Eastern air space will occur while Donald Trump is in the White House.

It is nice to see a special interest group not go all doom-and-gloom
The Daily Mail reports that the World Wildlife Fund highlights positives from 2016, including 1) upgrading the Giant Panda's status from threatened to vulnerable, 2) marking no poaching of rhinos for the second consecutive year in Nepal, and 3) an increase in the number of wild tigers globally for the first time ever. WWF also highlights what they consider other good news in terms of energy policies in numerous countries and the signing of international agreements. Aside from the news that some of these large mammals are on the rebound or aren't being senselessly killed for the Asian aphrodisiac market, is the welcome development of a charity expounding success stories rather than warning the world is going to hell in a handcart.

Thursday, December 29, 2016
Theresa May delays human rights act
The Daily Mail reports:
Plans to scrap the Human Rights Act have been kicked into the long grass until after the next general election in more than three years’ time.
The Government has abandoned David Cameron’s idea of a British Bill of Rights on the grounds that it would cause a parliamentary battle but still leave the UK in the grip of the European Court of Human Rights.
Instead, the Conservatives will campaign on a manifesto promise to leave the jurisdiction of the court, which is separate from the EU.
According to Conservative insiders that talked to the Mail, it would have been difficult to pass Cameron's plan which included maintaining a role for the European Court of Human Rights. Also, politically, the House of Lords would have a more difficult time not passing a government bill that it was elected to enact, hence the vow to make the matter a manifesto promise.
Of course, the Conservative have been pledging to review the Human Rights Act since at least 2005, so punting the ball yet again is frustrating to many Tories. The Daily Mail editorializes that ridding Britain of the ECHR's pernicious influence on UK law is worth the wait even if the paper has concerns about enshrining a new Bill of Rights in law.

Conservative Home awards
Conservative Home surveys readers on several end-of-the-year topics. Michael Gove, on the strength of his debate performance, was Leave campaigner of the year and James Dyson was the celebrity/business Brexit referendum campaigner of the year (Leave or Remain). Daniel Hannan was voted the politician who did the most to achieve Brexit (40% compared to Boris Johnson's 21%). Hannan did not qualify for Leave campaigner because he did not take part in the formal debates. Good choices for all.

The goal is not peace
The goal is the destruction of Israel. Douglas Feith, George W. Bush's first-term undersecretary of defense for policy, writes in the Wall Street Journal about the never-ending war on Israel and how pretenses to neutrality often still take the side of Israel's enemies. Feith begins:
Last week’s United Nations Security Council resolution on Israel is a weapon of war pretending to be a plea for peace. Israel’s enemies say it has no right to exist. They claim the whole state was built on Arab land and it’s an injustice for Jews to exercise sovereignty there. Palestinians still widely promote this untruth in their official television and newspapers, whether from the PLO-controlled West Bank or Hamas-controlled Gaza. That is the unmistakable subtext of Friday’s U.N. Resolution 2334, despite the lip service paid to peace and the “two-state solution.”
Lots of history in Feith's column, including these tidbits:
The resolution exhorts all countries to distinguish between the territories on either side of the 1949 armistice lines. When Israel, before 1967, was confined within those lines, none of its Arab neighbors respected them as Israel’s legal borders. In each of the 1949 armistice agreements, at the Arab side’s insistence, there is language denying that the lines signify any party’s rights to any land. When the lines might have protected Israel, its neighbors, without U.N. protest, deprecated and violated them. Now that those armistice lines are long gone, the U.N. pretends that they are sacred.
The pretense has a purpose. It is to aid anti-Israel activists who call for boycotting Israeli settlement products. Boycotts have a grim place in Jewish historical memory similar to that of nooses for African-Americans. They have long been a favored weapon of the Jews’ most hateful enemies—in late 19th and early 20th-century France at the time of the Dreyfus Affair, for instance, and in Germany in the Nazi era. The U.N. and the U.S. delegation in particular should have been sensitive to the vicious connotations of cheering on the boycott movement. Perhaps they were.
The cause of peace, Feith argues, is not served when Israel seems vulnerable. The American abandonment of Israel, especially this 11th hour act of hostility by the Obama administration, emboldens Israel's enemies by creating the appearance of the Jewish state's isolation.
Donald Trump's first policy announcement upon assuming the presidency should be that the U.S. embassy is moving to Jerusalem. It would be a clear signal that America stands in solidarity with Israel.

Breaking the cycle on opioid addiction
The Wall Street Journal reported a few days ago on a Vermont program that:
[S]teers low-level lawbreakers with drug addictions into treatment and other services, bypassing incarceration and using the threat of prosecution as leverage. Operating entirely outside of a courtroom, prosecutors in participating counties can allow people arrested for drug crimes to move on with no charges if they adhere to a contract.
The story focuses on the details of recovering addict Todd Popovitch:
Bearded and heavily tattooed, Mr. Popovitch now faces a daily struggle over whether the program’s ultimate payoff—a clean record and no jail, probation or work crew—is enough to motivate him to stay off heroin and fentanyl. For now, he is winning.
Many communities are experimenting with such programs, many with great success:
In 2015, University of Washington researchers found participants in Seattle’s Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion program were 58% less likely to be re-arrested than individuals in a control group.
Others have less success:
Of 650 people referred to treatment in Jefferson County, Ky., soon after pleading guilty to misdemeanors, 142 picked up new charges, mostly drug offenses, through October. Still, Louisville prosecutor John Balenovich considers the 17-month-old “rocket docket” program a success, because in his experience “like 99%“ of heroin addicts generally reoffend because of their addiction. “Right now we’re losing, and we’re losing bad,” he said.
The program is still better than the criminal justice model that definitely is not working.
(Via David Gratzer on Twitter)

Wednesday, December 28, 2016
Sidney Awards
David Brooks has part one of his Sidney Awards -- the best essays in American intellectual life of the past year. It is worth clicking on these links if you haven't read them yet.

The parking racket
The (London) Times reports that despite David Cameron's government promising to clamp down on National Health Service hospitals excessively profiting from parking, last year NHS hospitals made £120m from parking. That represents a 5% increase over the previous year and a record in parking profit; the real number is much higher considering that only 89 of 160 hospital trusts provided information on their parking revenue. Many hospital trusts continue to charge people with disabilities and cancer patients despite guidelines from London that the practice should end.
A case could be made -- as it is, poorly -- that the funds are needed to enhance services for the families for which they are provided. Parking revenues provide necessary funds, with a good many hospitals netting well over £2m from the service. But the government is trying to have it both ways by 1) condemning the practice in general, 2) setting up a hierarchy of people who deserve breaks (including "frequent" visitors), while 3) shortchanging hospitals knowing they can make up some shortfall with parking charges.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016
King on Brexit
Mervyn King, the former governor of the Bank of England, has said that a hard Brexit -- leaving the single market -- will be better off for the British economy. King told the BBC:
There are many opportunities and I think we should look at it in a much more self-confident way than either side is approaching it at present. Being out of what is a pretty unsuccessful European Union – particularly in the economic sense – gives us opportunities as well as obviously great political difficulties.
King said Brexit will be "no bed of roses," but he also said it won't be the disaster that many predicted, either.

Thomas Sowell's valedictory column
After a quarter-century with Creator's Syndicate, Thomas Sowell announces he is ceasing regular column-writing. He says he wants to "to spend less time following politics and more time on my photography." Fair enough, indeed enviable. Then Sowell reflects on the changes he has seen: the (many) societal advances in terms of well-being, but also the decline (in many ways) of his childhood community in Harlem. He concludes his farewell column:
We cannot return to the past, even if we wanted to, but let us hope that we can learn something from the past to make for a better present and future.
Goodbye and good luck to all.
Senator Ted Cruz captures my sentiments exactly:

Monday, December 26, 2016
Sessions and civil asset forfeitures
The Washington Post's George Will takes issue with Senator and Attorney General-designate Jeff Sessions and his support of civil asset forfeiture:
There might somewhere be a second prominent American who endorses today’s civil forfeiture practices, but one such person is “very unhappy” with criticisms of it. At a 2015 Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on forfeiture abuses, one senator said “taking and seizing and forfeiting, through a government judicial process, illegal gains from criminal enterprises is not wrong,” and neither is law enforcement enriching itself from this. In the manner of the man for whom he soon will work, this senator asserted an unverifiable number: “95 percent” of forfeitures involve people who have “done nothing in their lives but sell dope.” This senator said it should not be more difficult for “government to take money from a drug dealer than it is for a businessperson to defend themselves in a lawsuit.” In seizing property suspected of involvement in a crime, government “should not have a burden of proof higher than in a normal civil case.”
[The Institute for Justice’s] Robert Everett Johnson notes that this senator missed a few salient points: In civil forfeiture there usually is no proper “judicial process.” There is no way of knowing how many forfeitures involve criminals because the government takes property without even charging anyone with a crime. The government’s vast prosecutorial resources are one reason it properly bears the burden of proving criminal culpability “beyond a reasonable doubt.” A sued businessperson does not have assets taken until he or she has lost in a trial, whereas civil forfeiture takes property without a trial and the property owner must wage a protracted, complex and expensive fight to get it returned. The Senate Judiciary Committee might want to discuss all this when considering the nominee to be the next attorney general, Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions.

Parris, a non-believer, on the superiority of Christianity
Matthew Parris goes all Straussian on Christianity in the (London) Times:
I don’t believe in the equivalence of all faiths; I don’t (unlike the prince in Thursday’s broadcast) see all faiths as paths to the same destination; I think modern Christianity tends in a better direction. I’ve seen at close hand the work of missionaries in Africa and have no doubt that the church, especially the Protestant church, with its emphasis on the individual’s unmediated relationship with a deity, does more to liberate from superstition than it does to impose (though it does) superstitions of its own…I feel (sometimes) respect and (often) admiration and (always) tolerance towards Islam, but I cannot warm to militancy, exclusivity or intolerance. I am cool, too, towards the exceptionalism of some Judaic belief. Christianity has over the past two centuries moved decisively away from the making of differences, and towards the brotherhood of man.

Scientists believe in weird things, too
I'm catching up on my internet reading. Ross Douthat writes about non-conversion stories in his Christmas New York Times column, but makes another observation:
Sometimes at Christmas I’ll write a column that gently tweaks the sterner sort of atheist, whose theories seem ill-matched with the empirics of the universe and the stuff of human life. (I suspect many of them know it; hence the zeal for ever-zanier God-substitutes. Yesterday, the multiverse; today, the universe-as-simulation; tomorrow, some terrifying omnicompetent A.I.)

Sunday, December 25, 2016
'For unto us a child is born'
From Handel's Messiah, "For Unto Us a Child is Born."

Merry Christmas
When the angels went away from them to heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go, then, to Bethlehem to see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” So they went in haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the infant lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known the message that had been told them about this child. All who heard it were amazed by what had been told them by the shepherds. And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart. Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, just as it had been told to them. -- Luke 2:15-20

Saturday, December 24, 2016
Four NFL games to watch (Week 16)
Honourable mention: Indianapolis Colts (7-7) at Oakland Raiders (11-3): The stakes for both teams are huge, in their own ways. The Raiders have a 67% chance to of getting a first-round bye, but also a one-third chance of falling to fifth and playing on the road in the division round of the playoffs. The Colts have a tiny 5.1% chance of making the playoffs and are eliminated with a loss. The Colts have 31 and 28 point victories in two of their last three games (against the Jets and Vikings respectively). Considering how bad the Colts O-line has been, it could be scary what the Raiders pass rush could do with Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin taking aim at Andrew Luck (and fun to watch if you don't think about Luck's long-term health). Still, you can't count Indy out when Luck is playing, but it would be foolish to pick the Colts in Oakland considering how good the Raiders are this year.
4. Detroit Lions (9-5) at Dallas Cowboys (12-2): Monday Night Football featuring two of the three best records in the NFC, but while the 'Boys have already punched their playoff ticket, the Lions are not guaranteed a playoff spot (71% chance to make it, but will clinch the NFC North with a victory). 'Boys clinch home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs with a victory. According to Football Outsiders, the Lions are ranked 26th overall while the Cowboys are ranked first overall. Dallas has the second best offense, while Detroit has the second worst defense. Lions QB Matthew Stafford is having the best season of his career (completing 66.3% of his passes, 95.8 passer rating), but he is playing with an injured finger. If Detroit can keep it close, the Lions have an NFL-record eight fourth quarter comeback victories. Expect the Cowboys to win easily.
3. Minnesota Vikings (7-7) at Green Bay Packers (8-6): The Packers are currently second in the NFC North but have pretty good playoff odds (65.2% chance). They are not eliminated with a loss. The Vikes have a statistical chance to make the playoffs (1%), but after starting 5-0, they have gone 2-7 as injuries piled up -- first starting QB Teddy Bridgewater and star RB Adrian Peterson, and then the defense and on the offensive line. Sam Bradford's low-level efficiency was exposed when the defense couldn't take charge of games (and score). Looking at the season stats doesn't do justice to the match-up; while the Packers are seventh in scoring offense and the Vikings sixth on scoring defense, these have been different teams in the second half. Green Bay suffered a brutal injury stack early on, going through five running backs and at one time being without their three top cornerbacks. Converted wide receiver Ty Montgomery has done a nice job at running back (162 running yards in Chicago last week). The Packers have won four in a row since Aaron Rodgers said they had to win out to make the playoffs; they are two-thirds of the way there and looked poised to continue. Rodgers has been playing like an MVP candidate. The Vikings have Adrian Peterson back but he's averaging less than two yards this season when he's playing. Packers should avenge their week two loss, but with LB Clay Matthews and Rodgers both at less than 100% playing through injuries of their own, this game could be a nail-biter for Green Bay.
2. Denver Broncos (8-6) at Kansas City Chiefs (10-4): This is the prime time game on Christmas. The Broncos have seen their playoff chances drop dramatically in recent weeks, which now stand at 17% (down 27 points in the past week) and they have no chance of winning the division. The Chiefs have a 33% chance of winning the division and (likely) a first-round bye; they clinch with a victory or a Baltimore Ravens earlier on Christmas day. KC slipped up last week against the Tennessee Titans, losing with a last-second field goal. The Broncos bring an elite defense -- first overall according to Football Outsiders, fourth in points allowed (18.4 ppg), but the offense has scored just 13 points total the past two weeks. Trevor Siemian has some superficially good games statistically -- better than last year's combination of Preston Manning and Brock Osweiler -- but there is the sense Denver can't win with this offense. It's not all Siemian's fault; the Broncos have run for just 76 yards the past two weeks, and they are 27th rushing yards per game (91.3 ypg). The Chiefs-Broncos played one of the best games of the season on November 27, but this Denver team's offense just seems hopelessly sluggish (which isn't accurate considering Siemian threw for 334 yards in their loss two weeks ago against the Titans). But the Chiefs have also struggled in recent low-scoring games, losing to both the Titans and Buccaneers in the last five weeks; indeed, KC has seven games in which they scored 21 or fewer points but they are 3-4 in such contests. Using advanced metrics, the Chiefs have a middling defense, but their special teams give their offense great field position. Chiefs win a close, low-scoring team.
1. Baltimore Ravens (8-6) at Pittsburgh Steelers (9-5): Christmas Day contest between hated AFC North rivals. The Steelers punch their playoff ticket with a victory at home and Vegas has them as 5.5 point favourites. That seems too much. If the Ravens win, they have the tie-breaker (a season sweep of Pittsburgh) going into Week 17. Still, as the Steelers guard David DeCastro says, this is "the playoff game before the playoffs." Pittsburgh's defense has improved in the second half -- it is no longer a liability, although they take too many penalties. They are averaging 14 points allowed per game during their five-game winning streak, and the Steelers haven't allowed more than 20 points in any those games. The Steelers have allowed just three sacks and sacked opposing QBs 19 times during their streak. It doesn't help Ben Roethlisberger that TE Ladarius Green is in the concussion protocol and might not play. WR Sammy Coates has been inconsistent playing with a finger injury most of the season. But he does have possibly the game's best all-around RB LeVeon Bell and the best wide receiver Antonio Brown. They face the second best defense according to Football Outsiders. In terms of points allowed, these teams are close (18.8 ppg for Baltimore, 19.7 ppg for Pittsburgh). Baltimore has had trouble moving the ball and scoring, with Joe Flacco averages 6.63 yards per pass attempt (32nd among qualifying QBs) and Baltimore has the 25th best offense according to Football Outsiders. Baltimore has won their last five games against Pittsburgh (including playoffs) and seven of their last eight. Eight of their last 15 contests between each other have been decided by exactly three points (and one game by two points). Expect another close one, but the Steelers end the Ravens' winning streak to clinch a playoff spot.

Friday, December 23, 2016
Tory leadership, fundraising, and deadlines
The CBC's Eric Grenier reminds us that Conservative Party leadership contenders must pay $25,000 to enter, a $50,000 compliance fee, and another $25,000 before the February 24, 2017 deadline for entering. Contestants who enter before the end of 2016, must pay the initial entry fee upon officially announcing and the $50,000 compliance fee by December 31. Leadership hopefuls who have not officially entered before the end of 2016 must also pay the compliance fee upon officially announcing. At this point, that would only seem to apply to Kevin O'Leary.
Grenier reports: "Chris Alexander, Maxime Bernier, Michael Chong, Kellie Leitch, Pierre Lemieux, Erin O'Toole, Lisa Raitt, Andrew Saxton and Andrew Scheer are fully paid up." And "Rick Peterson has paid the compliance deposit, along with the initial $25,000 fee." Brad Trost, Steven Blaney, Daniel Lindsay and Deepak Obhrai have all paid their entry fee; Trost says he will comply with next week's deadline while Blaney, Lindsay, and Obhrai have not commented publicly on the deadlines. I'd guess that two of the four will have trouble raising the money. It is a sign of campaign health to be able to everything before the compliance deadline and if you had to guess which campaigns were having difficulty, the list would have looked like Blaney, Lemieux, Lindsay, Obhrai, Saxton, and Trost. That said, frankly, I'm surprised that Lemieux has fully paid up and Trost has not, considering the head-start the latter had in getting social conservatives on board. Trost officially entered the race in September while Lemieux did not announce until late November.
Of those who have already fully paid up, I would guess that all are capable of making it to the February 24 deadline, but that one or two could drop out between now and early April when accurate internal polling of party members shows a lack of support that makes continuing difficult. Andrew Saxton and Chris Alexander probably top that list, along with Steve Blaney and Deepak Obrhai if they are still in it by then. There will be some people at the Manning Conference debate in Ottawa (February 23-25) who officially are in the race who drop out before the ballots are printed. I doubt that both Lemieux and Trost will be on the ballot come May. I have no idea about Peterson. This list might change if O'Leary gets in; the conventional wisdom (which could be wrong) has it that both Bernier and Raitt will have trouble raising money once O'Leary gets in the race. This might over-estimate the importance of Bay Street, which can no longer open its wallets for favoured candidates.
My guess is a final ballot of Maxime Bernier, Michael Chong, Kellie Leitch, Pierre Lemieux or Brad Trost, Erin O'Toole, Lisa Raitt, and Andrew Scheer. A seven-person race with most wings of the party and most parts of the country covered. At the very least, later debates will be manageable.

Journalistic double-standards
Quick to report fake hate crimes, slow to report terrorism. Jonah Goldberg explains:
Whenever there’s a terrorist attack, the immediate response from government officials and the media is: “Let’s not jump to conclusions.” Yet when there are breaking reports that Muslim or Arab Americans were allegedly victimized by bigots in some hate crime, the response is instant credulity, outrage, and hand-wringing. This doesn’t really even scratch the surface of the double standard.
When there’s a terrorist incident, there’s deep skepticism at every stage of the unfolding story. At first we’re told there’s no evidence that the attack is terror-related. Then, when reports come in that a shooter shouted “Allahu akbar!” or has an Arabic name, we’re assured there’s no evidence that the shooter is tied to any international terror groups. Days go by with talking heads fretting about “self-radicalization,” “homegrown terror,” and “lone wolves.” This narrative lingers even as the killer’s Facebook posts declaring allegiance to ISIS emerge.
Question: why are alleged hate crime perpetrators never speculated about in terms of mental illness?

Thursday, December 22, 2016
Hope and change and higher homicide crime rates
The Wall Street Journal reports that while American cities are generally safer than they were in the 1970s-1990s, there has been a dramatic uptick in homicide in the majority of large U.S. cities, including 16 of the 20 largest metropolitan police departments. Chicago has experienced a 56% increase compared to 2015 (up to the end of September). Notably, the six cities with the largest increases have Democrat mayors and majority Democrat city councils. You might not want to make this about politics, but one possible explanation for the sudden spike in homicides is that the anti-cop, pro-Black Lives Matter rhetoric of the Left is contributing to both higher crime and lower enforcement. Police chiefs, who are often political appointments who cannot upset the Democratic machines in their cities, blame a growing drug problem and the easy availability of illegal guns. These explanations are not exclusive of the emboldening of criminals/demoralization of police that progressive rhetoric can have.

Trump's cabinet casting call
The Washington Post reports that many major Donald Trump appointments have to look good on TV:
Donald Trump believes that those who aspire to the most visible spots in his administration should not just be able to do the job, but also look the part.
Given Trump’s own background as a master brander and showman who ran beauty pageants as a sideline, it was probably inevitable that he would be looking beyond their résumés for a certain aesthetic in his supporting players.
“Presentation is very important because you’re representing America not only on the national stage but also the international stage, depending on the position,” said Trump transition spokesman Jason Miller.
This is not a bad idea. It could signal a style that should be welcome and unexpected: needing individuals who are good looking and look professional because they are salesmen, indicating a recognition that the administration has to sell policies and not just force them down the throat of Americans.

Understanding religion
Tim Montgomerie has a good article in The (London) Times about how too many journalists and politicians do not appreciate the role of religion on many people's lives. Montgomerie says that too many political participants and observers "are too sceptical about the role that scripture plays in determining what believers think and do" (even if sometimes the faithful fail to live up to those standards). Thus, they fail to understand the motivations of western voters and the real threat of Islamism:
Opposition to gay marriage, for example, is invariably blamed on perceived bigotry rather than obedience to centuries of church doctrine. And here is the point. This same lack of seriousness about the authority of religious texts and traditions — an unseriousness that amounts to complete ignorance in many cases — explains why the West keeps underestimating Islamist terrorism.
I take issue with a few of Montgomerie's comments (depending on what he means exactly about Christianity being "rescued from the perceptions generated by debates about sexuality and gender"), but the elite he is talking about it needs to read and heed Montgomerie's column.

Trudeau and pay-to-play
Julie Anne Pattee in the December 19 Montreal Gazette:
It seems that business executives pay to attend Liberal Party fundraisers where the prime minister is present. And its very possible they’ve been whispering in his ears over the course of these soirées.
There’s no actual proof of any ear bending.
No proof? Here's the Canadian Press on December 12 -- one week earlier:
Justin Trudeau admits he gets lobbied on government business when he’s the featured draw at Liberal party fundraisers.
The prime minister says wherever he goes, he’s approached by people who want to talk about issues that matter to them.
But he says he doesn’t let anything donors say to him influence government decisions.
This whole thing should be called, "Trudeau's pay-to-chat-the-leader's-ear-off-so-he'll-ignore-you scandal." Perhaps it is a pseudo-scandal. Does anyone believe that he doesn't listen to people who talk to him at these fundraisers? What if they are expert stakeholders sharing valuable evidence? Does it not count because they forked over $1500 to see the Prime Minister?
The Globe and Mail now reports that some fundraising events might be selling tickets at higher than the $1525 federal threshold for donations:
Members of the Chinese community have been asked for payments of as much as $5,000 to attend private cash-for-access functions with the Prime Minister, amounts that exceed federal contribution limits ....
In the past year, the Prime Minister has attended at least three fundraising dinners at the homes of Chinese business leaders, where he has shared a table with dozens of wealthy and influential members of the community.
Two members of the Chinese business community told the paper they were offered tickets for events attended by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for $4500 and $5000 respectively. Federal regulations permit organizers to charge above the $1525 contribution limit to cover costs, but $5K seems excessive. The official Liberal Party response is that they are unaware of the practice and they do not solicit donations above $1525. But if part of the problem with these pricey meet-and-greets with the Prime Minister or other members of the cabinet is that the cost of entry is so steep as to exclude most Canadians, these higher priced tickets mean that these meetings are even more exclusive.
An interesting question is whether the Prime Minister and those acting on his and his party's behalf, can continue to convince wealthy donors to pay up after Justin Trudeau told reporters earlier this month that he ignores what they have to say at such events?

Wednesday, December 21, 2016
Steyn on over-estimates of how many Muslims live among us
Surveys find that in almost every western country, respondents over-estimate the Muslim portion of the population. Mark Steyn says:
I'd say the reason Canadians and Australians - like the French and Germans and Belgians and almost everybody else - think there are more Muslims than there are is fairly obvious: Islam punches above its weight. Even on days when they're not mowing down Christmas shoppers and assassinating Russian ambassadors - or stabbing French priests, or blowing up Belgian airports, or sexually assaulting German New Year revelers, or storming Sydney coffee shops - the less incendiary news of Islam in the west nevertheless conveys an assertiveness and confidence that would still be impressive even if it were 17 per cent. By the time it actually is 17 per cent, you'll think it's 48.
(HT: Five Feet of Fury)

Difference between liberals and conservatives
Conservatives generally view paid work as a means to an end, whereas liberals have higher aspirations (perhaps self-fulfillment).

Phenomenal Ross Douthat column
New York Times columnist Ross Douthat has provided a reading list for progressives to help understand "the sheer number of people in our prosperous, at-peace societies who don't seem to want to live in liberalism's end of history anymore." In other words, unlike all the reading suggested by the hysterical anti-Trump pundits who want to look at the supposedly racist roots of populism, Douthat suggests liberals understand why some voters aren't excited about what's on offer from left-wing politics. Acknowledging problems with many of these works, Douthat still thinks the likes of Christopher Lasch's 1995 book The Revolt of the Elites and the Betrayal of Democracy and Samuel Huntington's 2005 Who Are We? offer useful insights, especially on how many people see their way of life eroded, if not under complete assault.
Douthat's list goes beyond Lasch and Huntington to include British journalist Peter Hitchens, French novelist Michel Houellebecq, and Polish political philosopher Ryszard Legutko. They capture the concerns many people have with invasive immigration and the ideological -- some would say theological -- belief in Progress.
Legutko's Demon in Democracy is now on my to-read list.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016
What I'm reading
1. Not My Party: The Rise and Fall of Canadian Tories, from Robert Stanfield to Stephen Harper by Tom McMillan. McMillan is a former MP and I didn't think I'd like this book. The actual content -- which is exactly what you'd think it is -- is the least of this massive tome's problems. It is 600 pages, tiny print, with small margins. Small publisher went cheap and its is a physically unpleasant book to read.
2. Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow by Yuval Noah Harari. It is difficult to write a good book about the future and I'm not far enough in to know if this will be one.
3. Win at Losing: How Our Biggest Setbacks Can Lead to Our Greatest Gains by Sam Weinman. A poor man's version of Tim Harford's Adapt: Why Success Always Starts with Failure.
4. Modern Poker: Why It Is Impractical to Use Pot Odds in Texas Hold’em by Farshad Arasteh. I agree with the argument of the book.
5. "Emerging Energy Trends: Regulatory Responses to Ontario’s Energy Future," a Mowat Centre report by Paul Sommerville, Richard Carlson and Petar Prazic

What kind of person wishes she had an abortion?
Lena Dunham:
Actress Lena Dunham announced during the most recent episode of her podcast “Women of the Hour” that she wishes she had undergone an abortion in order to combat “stigma around this issue…”
She explains:
“But one day, when I was visiting a Planned Parenthood in Texas a few years ago, a young girl walked up to me and asked me if I’d like to be a part of her project in which women share their stories of abortions,” Dunham said. “I sort of jumped. ‘I haven’t had an abortion,’ I told her. I wanted to make it really clear to her that as much as I was going out and fighting for other women’s options, I myself had never had an abortion.”
“And I realized then that even I was carrying within myself stigma around this issue,” Dunham continued. “Even I, the woman who cares as much as anybody about a woman’s right to choose, felt it was important that people know I was unblemished in this department.”

If I had a regular column, this would be my topic this week
I don't have the time right now to write a long post about this, but methinks that Justin Trudeau is not only under-estimated by political opponents, but under-rated generally right now. I say that as a political opponent and no fan of the Canadian Prime Minister.

BrexitCentral's greatest hits
BrexitCentral has been in operation for 100 days and they list some of their favourite commentaries. I recommend Lord Flight (on the exaggerations on the demise of The City), Grant Shapps (Brexiteer after supporting Remain), and Austin Mitchell (on the pro-Brexit Labour voter).

Ron Paul gets Electoral College vote
The New York Times reports that it appears there were only six "faithless" electors -- Electoral College voters that have every right to ignore who won the popular vote within their state. To the surprise of many political observers, Hillary Clinton lost more ECVs than did Donald Trump:
While Mr. Trump’s opponents needed 37 Republican defectors to bring his electoral-vote tally below 270, the bulk of electors who broke ranks — four in Washington State — were Democrats who otherwise would have voted for Ms. Clinton. Instead, they voted for the former Republican secretary of state Colin L. Powell and Faith Spotted Eagle, a Native American tribal leader who has led opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline ...
In Texas, two Republican electors cast protest votes, one each for Ron Paul and Gov. John Kasich of Ohio. One other Republican opposed to Mr. Trump resigned and was replaced.
The Blaze reports that Ron Paul, who ran for president as the Libertarian presidential candidate in 1988 and ran for the GOP presidential nomination twice (in 2008 and 2012), has "finally" won an Electoral College vote. If I were an elector, I would cast my vote for Senator Ted Cruz (R), but I appreciate that vote for Paul.

Truck crash?
The Guardian reports that 12 are dead and 48 injured following a Berlin truck crash into a Christmas market. The "crash" is already considered an "apparent terrorist attack" so there is no need to label the incident a crash. An apparent or suspected terrorist attack would be a more accurate headline.

Monday, December 19, 2016
Why free markets?
Cafe Hayek's Donald Boudreaux quotation of the day is one of my favourite James Buchanan lines:
Perhaps more important than any efficiency advantage, however, is the market organization’s minimization of man’s power over man.
That's from Buchanan's paper "Externalities and Public Expenditure Theory."

Public choice in action
Burton A. Abrams and James L. Butkiewicz studied the Richard Nixon tapes and discovered his real views about wage and price controls. From the abstract in Public Choice:
We uncover and report in this paper evidence that Nixon manipulated his New Economic Policy to help secure his reelection victory in 1972. He became convinced that wage and price controls were necessary to grab the headlines away from the defeatist abandonment of the Bretton Woods Agreement and the closing of the U.S. gold window. Nixon understood the impact of his wage and price controls, but chose to trade off longer-term economic costs to the economy for his own short-term political gain.
Politicians act in self-interest, not the public interest.

Religion of Peace
Rebel Media's Faith Goldy reports on a mental illness killing an honour killing in Ottawa. If you think that Goldy is speculating about the Muslim angle, so is anyone diagnosing mental illness in an alleged murderer they have never met.

Cowen on the Trump cabinet
Tyler Cowen observes of Donald Trump's cabinet appointments:
The most striking feature of many of the selections is their relative lack of experience in traditional politics. There are a lot of ex-generals and a high number with corporate backgrounds, including from the energy sector. Wall Street is well represented, with three people who have worked at Goldman Sachs, among others. President Barack Obama’s picks had stronger educational credentials.
But are those bugs or features for Trump? I think they’re features -- signs we will be in for an active four years.
Cowen says that Trump may have picked them for their ability to think outside of Washington's boxes or to engage the public (or engage the President on terms that he understands and cares about). Cowen says:
If the political default is not much change in the first place, introducing more variance into the policy process may shake up at least some parts of the status quo. There will be plenty of gaffes, dead ends and policy embarrassments along the way, but don’t confuse those with a lack of results. An incoming administration that does not mind embarrassment is a bit like a sports opponent who has little to lose. It is easy enough to say that neurosurgeon Ben Carson is unqualified to lead the Department of Housing and Urban Development, but it would be a mistake to dismiss his potential influence.
An under-appreciated point that Cowen makes is that the big appointments -- treasurer, foreign secretary, defense -- are fairly conventional and feature individuals of serious accomplishment. "For many of the other picks," says Cowen, "there's a case for taking more chances." It is a high-risk, high-reward strategy. Trump's administration could be a good -- dare I say great -- one.

Bilingualism and the Tory leadership
Celine Cooper of the Montreal Gazette says that only four of the current Conservative leadership contenders are "considered fluently bilingual" -- Chris Alexander, Maxime Bernier, Steven Blaney, and Rick Peterson. That might be charitable to Bernier, who is increasingly difficult to understand in English. Cooper comes down on the side of "I think so" on whether Canada's federal party leaders need "to be at least competent in both official languages." There can be no question that being bilingual is a benefit. Considering where Stephen Harper was a decade ago, it does appear that the threshold for competence is low. Harper is also proof that if that threshold is met, a leader can improve, and that's probably all many people are looking for. All that said, being unintelligible in English could be a larger liability than being unintelligible in French, although it didn't seem to hurt Jean Chretien at all.
Does a federal leader need to be competent in both official languages? The more it is raised as the standard, the more likely that being unilingual or barely functional in French will be a disqualifying trait. In other words, the criticism that some candidates will lose because they speak French inadequately (or not at all) will become a self-fulfilling prophecy. There is a reason that French-speaking candidates will this issue. It is also a reason for pundits to not insist it is a prerequisite for the job. That is up to party members and eventually all voters to decide.

Sunday, December 18, 2016
Hans Rosling profile
Nature has a profile of Hans Rosling, a Swedish physician, epidemiologist, and presenter of data. A snippet:
But among his fellow scientists, Rosling is less popular. His accolades do not include conventional academic milestones, such as massive grants or a stream of publications in top-tier journals. And rather than generating data, Rosling has spent the past two decades communicating data gathered by others. He relays facts that he thinks many academics have been too slow to appreciate and argues that researchers are ignorant about the state of health and wealth around the world. That’s dangerous. “Campuses are full of siloed people who do advocacy about things they don’t understand,” he says.
So now, in the sunset of his career, Rosling is writing a book with his son Ola and his daughter-in-law Anna Rosling Rönnlund to dispel outdated beliefs. It has the working title Factfulness, and they hope it will inform everyone from schoolchildren to esteemed experts about how the world has changed: how the number of births per woman worldwide has dropped over the past few decades, for example, and how average life expectancy (71 years) is now closer to that of the country with the highest (Japan, 84) than the lowest (Swaziland, 49). He reasons that experts cannot solve major challenges if they do not operate on facts. “But first you need to erase preconceived ideas,” he says, “and that is the difficult thing.”
And another:
The Cuban embassy in Sweden had asked him to find out whether toxic cassava could have caused roughly 40,000 people to experience visual blurring and severe numbness in their legs ...
With Castro’s approval, Rosling travelled to the heart of the outbreak, in the western province of Pinar del Río. It turned out that there was no link with cassava. Rather, adults stricken with the disorder all suffered from protein deficiency. The government was rationing meat, and adults had sacrificed their portion to nourish children, pregnant women and the elderly.
Reporting back to Castro, Rosling couched his conclusions carefully: “I know your neighbours want to force their economic system on you, which I don’t like, but the system needs to change because this planned economy has brought this disease to people.” After his presentation, Rosling went to the toilet. A Cuban epidemiologist approached him to thank him. He and his colleagues had come to the same conclusion several months earlier, but they were removed from the investigation for criticizing communism. Corroboration of their work from Rosling and other independent researchers supported the policy changes that stemmed the outbreak.
Everyone should watch his documentaries, the "Joy of Stats" and "Don't Panic" (about population).

Will defends the Electoral College
George Will:
Far from being an unchanged anachronism, frozen like a fly in 18th-century amber, the Electoral College has evolved, shaping and shaped by the party system. American majorities are not spontaneous growths, like dandelions. They are built by a two-party system that assembles them in accordance with the Electoral College’s distribution incentive for geographical breadth in a coalition of states. So, the Electoral College shapes the character of majorities by helping to generate those that are neither geographically nor ideologically narrow, and that depict, more than the popular vote does, national decisiveness. In 1912, Woodrow Wilson won just 41.8 percent of the popular vote but conducted a strong presidency based on 81.9 percent of the electoral votes. Eighty years later, Bill Clinton won 43 percent of the popular vote but 68.8 percent of the electoral votes. In 2008, Barack Obama won 52.9 percent of the popular vote but 67.8 percent of the electoral vote. The 48 elections since 1824 have produced 18 presidents that received less than 50 percent of the popular vote.
The greatest of them, Abraham Lincoln, received 39.9 percent in 1860. So, on December 19, when the electors cast their votes in their respective states, actually making Donald Trump the president-elect, remember: Do not blame the excellent electoral-vote system for the 2016 choice that was the result of other, and seriously defective, aspects of America’s political process.

Saturday, December 17, 2016
Wells on Trudeau
I'm not sure what to think about the Paul Wells column in the Toronto Star about Justin Trudeau. Ostensibly it's about whether or not the Liberal government has delivered on its promises. I think he makes three points that are not as necessarily connected as Wells assumes and each deserves a little more consideration.
1. Wells talks about how Justin Trudeau told The Guardian that his government is providing the sort of leadership and programs that counters populism. I think there is more to this than most people understand: Trudeau considers his government THE example of progressive liberalism in the world today. And Wells (and others) miss this: Trudeau is not merely delivering (or not, as Wells later suggests) the sort of government that might help stem populism, but he understands that when you are the prime minister every utterance is a "speech" and everything is a teaching moment. The Right underestimates Trudeau's abilities and haven't noticed that despite the dip in the polls recently, the Prime Minister has grabbed a large portion of the population by the hand and led them down a path. It might be that many of them won't like the destination -- that is why there were various populist backlashes in the last few years beginning in Greece and more recently the United Kingdom, United States, and Italy -- but maybe they will. There is also a major difference between Trudeau and other governments: the tone. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton and eurocrats hector populations while Trudeau appears to gently nudge people. This is worthy of a column in itself, but it is also the difference between imposing a left-wing agenda and persuading the population to go along with a left-wing agenda.
2. Wells says, "Around Ottawa, among people who watch politics but are not combatants, there is a sense that Trudeau has started more than he has delivered." The Conservatives and NDP think the Liberals have scant few accomplishments to show for its first 14 months in office, charging the government with preferring consultations over actions. (Consultations are actions, folks. And deliberation is not necessarily a bad thing. And the consultations are teaching moments -- see above about Trudeau's MO.) The Liberals will point to a busy agenda, and indeed they have a lot on their plate. But busy isn't necessarily productive. Started more than delivered seems like a fair assessment, but not everything needs to be completed in the first year, either. I'd add that complaining that Justin Trudeau hasn't done enough when one thinks he's too left-wing (the Tories) or right-wing (the NDP) is a silly complaint; if you don't like his agenda, don't complain that he isn't implementing it fast enough.
3. The last third of the column is about Trudeau delivering and the jargony exercise known as deliverology. Wells is correct to observe that the Liberal government has talked a great game about progress and transparency but hasn't delivered on deliverology. A full column-length exploration on deliverology probably isn't necessary eight months after the last slate of deliverolgy columns. I did like the comment, "I’m told that somewhere inside the Langevin Block, people still take deliverology seriously." There is probably a column to be written about deliverolgy being the intersection of PR and BS.
4. One last comment, and its about Trudeau's Canada Child Benefit. It's probably the best designed social program introduced in any western country in over a generation (although it should be adjusted annually for inflation). It is targeted to those who need it and the CCB will make a difference to those who receive it. Going back to Trudeau's interview with The Guardian, the CCB should help lower middle and working class anxiety about globalization. The Republican Congress or Trump administration should consider some variation of the CCB (instead of Ivanka Trump's child care subsidy plan).

Friday, December 16, 2016
Trump's team of rivals or power-struggle-in-waiting
The Brookings Institute's Thomas Wright:
[N]ow that the president-elect has announced his picks for key foreign-policy positions, his foreign policy is starting to become clear or at least clearer. Though Trump’s own foreign-policy views are captured by his “America First” slogan, his administration will be split between three national security factions—the America Firsters, the religious warriors, and the traditionalists—each of which distrusts the others but also needs them to check the third. The question is what effect this power struggle will have on U.S. foreign policy, particularly amid a crisis—and whether Trump, over time, will insist on asserting his personal will against the other factions with which he has surrounded himself.
Retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn is the national security adviser and he's listed by Wright as a "religious warrior," but he's more classic neoconservative (in the William Kristol, Paul Wolfowitz mold). Defense Secretary-designate James Mattis is a traditionalist. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson a pragmatist who probably leans traditionalist. They are unlikely to get along, and that's fine, as long as the in-fighting doesn't go public and that they respect chain of command -- the President makes foreign, defense, and security policy decisions. It is also easy to imagine this becoming impossibly unruly. CEOs don't always make the best team players and Flynn is already outspoken. But not having one faction in control of everything is not a bad idea. Wright talks about the "delicate balance" in the foreign policy side of the administration:
These three factions—the America Firsters, the religious warriors, and the traditionalists—are mutually suspicious. But each also needs the others to check the third. Trump needs the religious warriors to prevent a mainstream takeover, but he fears they will drag him into a war against Iran. The religious warriors need Trump to achieve their objectives, but they also have no desire to collapse the U.S. alliance system. The traditionalists need both to check the radical impulses of the other.
Preserving this delicate balance appears to have been a key priority in the formation of the cabinet.
I think you have to give Trump credit for assembling this team and balancing the various Republican foreign policy camps.

Thursday, December 15, 2016
What I'm reading
1. Israel: A Concise History of a Nation Reborn by Daniel Gordis. At 560 pages it isn't that concise, but it is hard to imagine the author producing a book shorter than this. Gordis understands that Israel is more than its conflicts with its neighbours and the Palestinian people.
2. On My Swedish Island: Discovering the Secrets of Scandinavian Well-being by Julie Catterson Lindahl. I found that 2005 book in a used bookstore and it fits nicely in my goal this year to read extensively and understand the Nordic model. It connects the Swedish idea of personal development with the country's natural landscape. It pairs well with Anu Partanen's The Nordic Theory of Everything: In Search of a Better Life.
3. "Everyone's Business: Making Business Work for All," a Center for Social Justice report. Some of this fits well with what British Prime Minister Theresa May has been saying lately.
4. "The Coming Revolution of American Manufacturing," a brief Manhattan Institute report by Mark P. Mills

Making America care about the NEA again
The Daily Mail reports that President-elect Donald Trump will appoint actor Sylvester Stalloned chair of the National Endowment for the Arts. If true, Tyler Cowen likes it: "I say this is probably a good pick, as it would bring glamor and attention to a much-neglected agency."

This is funny

Former Liberal MP on the idea that Canada should have a carbon-free economy by 2050
Former Liberal MP Dan McTeauge tweets: "Let's all return to the state of nature, wear animal skins and eat acorns."

In football, the winner isn't the team with the most yards
Charles Lane in the Washington Post:
Tennessee Titans a win over the Denver Broncos because they scored more points, even though the Broncos got more total yards than the Titans.
Of course, this is a ridiculous complaint — but not much more ridiculous than the gripes we’re hearing about the fact that Donald Trump is president-elect even though Hillary Clinton got 48.2 percent of the total votes cast vs. 46.1 percent for Trump.
Lane explains:
As all concerned knew going in, the object of the presidential election game is to win the most electoral votes in what are essentially 51 state-level contests (the District included), just as the object of football is to score the most points. Gridiron teams would play differently under instructions to maximize yardage; candidates would campaign differently if maximizing national popular votes were the prime directive.

On populism
I generally eschew the term populist when describing 2016's politics of upheaval. At a gut level I don't think Brexit and Trump are the same thing, and intellectually it is easy to separate the Italian referendum results. The always perceptive John O'Sullivan has a good essay on populism and he says, "It’s a useful label to attach to anything you happen to dislike." That seems correct.
For more -- much more -- on the European situation and how a growing number of people are rebelling against "liberal oligarchy," read O'Sullivan's full piece.

Four NFL games to watch (Week 15)
Honourable mention: Indianapolis Colts (6-7) at Minnesota Vikings (7-6): Seems like a must-win for both teams to keep slim playoff hopes alive. According to Football Outsiders, Indy has a 7.4% chance of making the playoffs and Minny has a 14.1% chance. The Vikes have seen their 2016 playoff hopes slip away due to injuries; the Colts have seen their Andrew Luck-era playoff hopes slip away due to inept roster construction by general manager Ryan Grigson. You can watch this game and wonder what Luck could do on a team like the Vikes or what Minnesota could do if it was in the AFC and the south. There is also a small chance that Adrian Peterson could be back. Assuming he isn't, the Colts win at home.
4. Tennessee Titans (7-6) at Kansas City Chiefs (10-3): Tennessee is battling the Houston Texans (who have an identical record, but a 4-0 record in the division and therefore is winning one of the tie-breakers) for the AFC South division title which probably their only route to the playoffs. Kansas City is battling the Oakland Raiders (who have an identical record, who are on the wrong side of the head-to-head tie-breaker with the Chiefs) for the AFC West division title, although they should easily qualify for the playoffs regardless of what happens over the next three weeks. Chiefs have a clear shot at the first overall seed. Just as the Chiefs got all their defensive starters back on the field, they lost veteran linebacker Derrick Johnson for the season. Still, the Chiefs have a lot of defensive playmakers, including the ball-hawking combo of safety Eric Berry and cornerback Marcus Peters and the pass rush trio of Tamba Hali, Dee Ford, and Justin Houston. The offense is getting pretty good, too, as WR Tyreek Hill develops into a serious threat and TE Travis Kelce has had four consecutive 100-plus receiving-yard games. Watching them play in recent weeks, the Chiefs look like one of the best three or four teams in the NFL. The Titans though have the third most rushing yards in the NFL behind one of the better O-lines; the Chiefs have the 27th rated rush defense, allowing 122.9 ypg. This game could come down to mistakes. The Titans and Chiefs are eighth and ninth overall in giveaways (1 and 1.1 per game respectively). But KC leads in takeaways (1.9 per game) while Tennessee is 22 (1.2 ppg). Tennessee proved they can win ugly after beating the Denver Broncos 13-10 last week. But that game was at home. I like Alex Smith at home over Marcus Mariota. KC makes Tennessee's path to January football much more difficult.
3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (8-5) at Dallas Cowboys (11-2): This game was flexed into the prime time slot Sunday as Tampa looks like a legit playoff contender. Tampa Bay has won five in a row and is tied with the Atlanta Falcons in the NFC South. The Bucs are very good on defense and are improving, allowing just 64 points during their winning streak (12.8 ppg), and against some good quarterbacks: Russell Wilson, Philip Rivers and Drew Brees. Neither Seattle nor New Orleans scored a touchdown. The Bucs are getting pressure without blitzing, allowing linebackers to fall back into coverage. The dominating pass defense could cause problems for rookie Cowboys QB Dak Prescott, although the New York Giants beat Dallas with big blitzes -- facing one-on-one coverage, Prescott just couldn't get off any big passes. That was probably an "off" game for Prescott. Fellow 'Boys rookie, RB Ezekiel Elliott ran for 108 yards. I don't think that the Giants are the only team that can beat the Cowboys, but Dallas is very good and Tampa isn't quite on the same level yet. We'll see what the Bucs front four can do against the Cowboys famously great O-line and there will be a thrilling match-up is in the trenches: Tampa Bay defensive end Gerald McCoy against right guard Zack Martin. The Tampa offense has seen Mike Evans emerge as a dangerous receiving threat and second-year QB Jamies Winston is developing quite nicely. But I see Dallas winning this.
2. Detroit Lions (9-4) at New York Giants (9-4): The Giants have just two wins against teams currently in a playoff position, and they are both against the Dallas Cowboys. The Lions should need just one win in their final three to clinch the NFC North. The Giants have an outside shot at the NFC East division title (less than 5%), but the wild card is their more likely route to the playoffs (nearly 80%). According to ESPN, this is the most important game of the week: "The game between the Detroit Lions and New York Giants has the largest playoff implications of any game this week. Whichever team wins will have greater than a 90 percent chance of making the playoffs, while the loser’s chances fall below 65 percent." The Giants have playmakers at all three levels of their defense and they face an injured Matthew Stafford (broken middle finger on his throwing hand); New York has the fourth best defense according to Football Outsiders. That said, Golden Tate has 507 yards after the catch (most among WRs), so if getting a good grip is a problem due to the injury, Stafford can use Tate on short and intermediate routes to move the ball. Detroit's CB Darius Slay has the height and speed to limit Odell Beckham Jr.'s big play abilities, so we'll see if Eli Manning goes to other targets or risks the interceptions. Still, I think New York wins at home and essentially clinches a wild card spot.
1. New England Patriots (11-2) at Denver Broncos (8-5): Broncs are now fighting for their playoff lives as the sixth seed now faces the three best teams (by record) in the AFC in their final three games. The Pats are fighting for the first overall seed and homefield advantage until the Super Bowl. This is a classic strength vs. strength contest. The Pats have the best offense according to Football Outsiders, the Broncs have the third best defense. That said, New England has the second best scoring defense (17.7 ppg), while Denver has the sixth best (18.6). Tom Brady has a losing record against only one team: Denver. Lifetime, including playoffs, Brady is 5-6 against the Broncos, but he is 2-6 in Denver. Broncos QB Trevor Siemian has been inconsistent, although he represents an upgrade over the quarterback tandem that got Denver to the playoffs and Super Bowl victory in 2015. Yet, there is no need to over-analyze this game: in recent years, Denver and New England have been the most intense and meaningful non-division rivalry in the NFL. This game matters and it features genuine superstars on both sides of the ball. Watching Von Miller attack Tom Brady will be a lot of fun, but Bill Belichick knows that Denver's defense against the run is awful -- fourth worst at 127.2 ypg, after finishing first in that department in 2015 -- and I expect him to exploit that weakness to limit the pass rush. Brady evens up his record against the Broncos and in doing so probably gives the Miami Dolphins and the loser of the AFC North division title race (Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens) a wild card lifeline.

Bernier pays outstanding campaign salary
iPolitics reports:
Political consultant Chris Rougier and Conservative leadership candidate Maxime Bernier settled a legal dispute Wednesday afternoon over $25,000 for work Rougier claimed he completed for Bernier’s campaign.
Rougier, who was director of voter contact for the Conservative Party of Canada during the 2011 election, filed suit in small claims court in Ottawa on Aug. 31, after Bernier failed to send a cheque for $27,986.43 that Rougier demanded in a lawyer’s letter July 28, 2016.
This is quite something. Not a politician refusing to pay an adviser, strategist, or organizer for work that has been done for the campaign. That happens all too frequently. What is unusual is the person getting stiffed taking a politician to court over it. I know someone who claims to be able to buy a house on the (involuntarily) unpaid work he's done. Almost every person I know who does political work has been refused payment at some point in their careers. There are several reasons for this, including, as maybe appears the case with Bernier, not having the money at the time (although I know there are others who weren't paid for work they did for this particular Conservative leadership contender). However, there is another reason: because politicians can get away with it as many campaign workers do not believe they have recourse. Some don't because they are working without a contract to hide campaign costs. But sometimes there is a contract and political staff still feel they can't do anything about it; filing a lawsuit just leads the individual to be labeled a trouble-maker which could affect his or her ability to be hired in the future. Good for Chris Rougier for taking action against this despicable practice of not paying staff.