Sobering Thoughts

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

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Monday, August 31, 2009

1. has a story that explores how cities are like people.

2. has "5 Awesome Movies Ruined By Last-Minute Changes."

3. Mental Floss has "6 Behind-the-Scenes Secrets from Cheers," including why they killed off Eddie LeBec and that John Ratzenberger's character Cliff was not originally part of the show until the actor lobbied after failing to get the job of Norm.

4. An iguana crashes a wedding and eats some of the cake.

5. From, fodder for the Star Wars/Star Trek nerd war: "Who would win a fight between a Stormtrooper and a Redshirt?" As Matt Blum explains: "Here’s the conundrum: Who would win this fight between a man incapable of hitting his target and a man capable of being killed by any shot?"

Three and out

3. Chris Brown at Hardball Times looks at eight young prospects Sports Illustrated highlighted before the 2007 season as players who would make their mark in baseball. Brown doesn't mean to criticize SI, only to examine how difficult it is to correctly identify the "next big thing" in baseball. A taste: in March 2007, SI called Kansas City Royal 3B Alex Gordon "The Sure Thing." The Sure Thing has a career line of 248/329/412 over three years and in his two full seasons (2007 and 2008) averaged 15.5 HRs and 59.5 RBIs. This year, in 110 ABs, he hit 198/300/313. Other players SI looked at: Colorado Rockies catcher Chris Iannetta (the Quick Study who started slowly but is now a pretty decent batter), Arizona Diamondbacks OF Chris Young (The Five Tools Guy who was demoted to Triple A earlier this season), Boston Red Sox 2B Dustin Pedroia (The Little Big Man who won AL Rookie of the Year honours in '07 and MVP in '08), New York Yankees pitcher Phil Hughes (The Pocket Rocket who pitched himself out of the rotation but has established himself as Mariano Rivera's set-up man while throwing 11.4 Ks/9 IP), Cincinnati Reds pitcher Homer Baily (The Good Ol' Boy who has had control problems and might be headed to the bullpen), Tampa Bay Rays starter Matt Garza (then the Minnesota Twins "Gas Can" who has thrown for less heat to regain some control but has established himself as the staff's second starter) and San Diego Padres infielder Kevin Kouzmanoff (The History Maker who hit a grand slam on his first pitch in the Majors but who has since been traded from the Cleveland Indians to become merely a "steady if unspectacular performer"). The nice thing about the internet is that stories like this Brown's can remind fans of what SI did three years ago and how right (or wrong) they were. I'm a little surprised how right they were: Baily might become the next Phil Hughes and Kouzmanoff has his uses (a decentish everyday player has value), and Gordon and Young look like busts who probably wouldn't have been kept on the roster as long as they have if their teams were in the middle of a playoff hunt. But Hughes, Garza, Iannetta and Pedroia have worked out, although it took Hughes and Iannetta time to figure it out.

2. When healthy, John Lackey is a consistently very good/borderline great pitcher. On Sunday, the Los Angeles Angels beat the Oakland A's and Lackey became the fifth pitcher to reach 100 wins in an Angels uniform, joining Chuck Finley (165-140 with the Angels), Nolan Ryan (138-121), Mike Witt (109-107) and Frank Tanana (102-78). Not bad company; three of the four ended up with at least 200 wins, although Tanana was only four games above 500 over his career and Witt was only one game over 500). Lackey has the best winning percentage of the five, going 100-70 thus far. Lackey will almost certainly be pitching in another uniform next year; I can't see the Angels giving him nearly $20 million a season for the next 3-5 years, which is what it will take to sign him. The Texas Rangers could use the southpaw, he was born and raised in Texas and I wouldn't be surprised to see him rack up the wins in his home state. In fact, I think the reason the Rangers didn't trade for Roy Halladay in July is Lackey's availability on the free agent market this winter.

1. The career of Dontrelle Willis appears to be done and it's sad to see an youngish player's time in a Major league uniform come to a premature finish. He has been comprehensively awful for most of the past two years, at times ineffective, at times hurt, at times a little of both. As Craig Calcaterra says at Shysterball: "He never went full-blown Blass/Ankiel on us, but either his body or his mind just forgot how to pitch. Baffling. And sad too, because I liked having a guy with his kind of delivery and (pre-wilderness) character around. At times like these it's tempting to speculate whether Willis' was one of the worst contracts ever. I find myself, however, feeling happy that at least the guy got a big paycheck to set him up for life before the wheels fell off." He had a great delivery and looked like an old-time ball player, but it just never worked out for him.

Likes trees, hates tree-huggers

I bet David Warren knows more about trees than the average environmentalist. While at university I once had a conversation with an environmentalist and I decided to test him; he couldn't tell the difference between an elm leaf and an oak leaf.

Enough responsibility to go around

Washington Post columnist Robert Samuelson on the deficit:

Although the recent surge of budget deficits -- the annual gaps between outlays and revenue, resulting in more federal debt -- reflects the savage recession, the true cause is political. Deficits allow liberals and conservatives to maintain self-serving public positions. Liberals claim we can have more government (more health care, more education, more transportation) without taxing anyone but "the rich." Conservatives promise that taxes can be cut without depriving anyone (retirees, veterans, cities and states) of existing government benefits.

Could there be another Milton Friedman?

Dan Klein, guest blogging at Austrian Economists, says probably not:

I don’t think that a clone of Milton Friedman could today become Milton Friedman. To get on in Econ he’d have to do a lot more math, and identify with “normal scientists.” Back in the day, Hayek, Coase, and Buchanan could eschew math and still end up with Nobel prizes. Not today. Normal scientists won’t embrace you academically if you don’t seem like their kind.
But it isn't only about qualifications (or lack thereof) but the age in which we live:

Today most of the political culture is tepid, bound by status-quo policies, led by establishment players, and framed by “liberal versus conservative” – a framework that epitomizes the breakdown of liberal understanding. To get play in mainstream culture, one must bargain to an extent that permits little of the inspirational quality that Milton had.
One commenter (Greg Ransom) snootily says that the great teacher of today is Mark Levin insinuating that a Milton Friedman probably couldn't be appreciated today.

HT: (Tyler Cowen)

Sunday, August 30, 2009

1. Mental Floss has a list of "5 Quirky Things You Can Insure."

2. Daniel Finkelstein of the (London) Times points to "The 10 best wikipedia entries" (his post has links). This was really fun reading, from Lawsuits Against God to Mary Toft, from the Ding Hai Effect to the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

3. Coca-Cola-Brined Fried Chicken. Sounds quite tasty.

4. Wall Street Journal has the 10 most expensive hotels rooms.

5. Comic illustrates how science stories are reported.

Republicans for Ignatieff

David Akin has a story on Yancy Williams, Missouri state chairman of Republican for Ignatieff. These types of organizations are probably not very effective or important but they make great copy -- or at least they fill space on political blogs. But I can't see how this quote from Yancy can help Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff if it gets wide play:

"I have no particular criticism of your current prime minister. I just don’t feel that he has the tie to the United States that Ignatieff has. Ignatieff lived here. From what I’ve seen -- I don’t know that he considers it his home but he certainly considered himself one of us while he was here."
There is the possibility that the whole idea is part of Harper's diabolical plan. It is never good when Ignatieff supporters remind people of the Conservative "Just Visiting" ads.

Quote of the day

"Ted Kennedy, like 999 out of every 999.0001 politicians, was a fraud."
-- Don Boudreaux at Cafe Hayek

Saturday, August 29, 2009

1. The Avenue is a joint blog from The New Republic and the Brookings Institution Metropolitan Policy Program that will "explore what it means to be a metropolitan nation." Sounds promising, but could really go off the rails, too.

2. New Scientist reported on a German study that found taekwondo competitors wearing red won more often than competitors who won blue; the sports psychologists digitally manipulated video to change the colour of the uniforms each wore. Red competitors received an average of 13 more points than players in blue. It replicates the results of a 2004 study that found Olympic wrestlers who wore red did better and the Daily Telegraph suggests that it might explain why Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal consistently do better than other soccer teams (well their jerseys and their owners' deep pockets).

3. Over at Slate, Troy Patterson explains the ins and out of watching members of the opposite sex. It's kind of creepy: "Watching a stationary girl—or the mobile rear of a girl—is a whole different thing and affords a rather more meditative experience of physical virtue."

4. Kingsford is one heck of a cute piglet.

5. Here's an oldie: Male Restroom Etiquette. It is a very funny, 10-minute video. Nothing less than our civilization is at stake, but I'd settle for a simple rule: flush.

Three and out

3. The Minnesota Twins acquired reliever Jon Rauch from the Arizona Diamondbacks. He bolsters the bullpen, but I'm tempted to ask "what's the point?" The Twins are 64-64, 4.5 games behind the Detroit Tigers. The Twins bullpen has been atrocious behind Joe Nathan, Matt Guerrier and Jose Mijares, with the team struggling to find the right mix to round out their relief corps -- or is it corpse. Rauch had a 9.31 ERA in April but has allowed just four runs in his last 20 appearances. At $2.9 million for next year, Rauch is an affordable addition for the stretch this season and the Twins first year at new Target Field. I wouldn't have a problem with the move as a longer term solution to their relief problems but it appears the Twinkies actually have eyes to this year's post-season. What I don't get is the team also added left-handed reliever Ron Mahay who was recently released from the dreadful Kansas City Royals. Mahay allows about 1.8 baserunners per inning. Scouting reports say that his fastball is too straight and opposing batters are hitting him and hitting him hard (778 OPS vs. left-handed batters, 1.043 against RHB). More intriguing is the fact the Twins claimed Chicago Cubs starter Rich Harden; they'll have until Monday to work out a deal. That's a lot of salary to add to a team with just a 14% chance of making the playoffs.

2. The Los Angeles Angels acquired Scott Kazmir from the Tampa Bay Rays. Kazmir is sporting an ERA just a hair under six but has had brilliant moments (striking out 10 and walking just one in six innings against the Toronto Blue Jays while surrendering a single run in his last outing). He has posted a 4.41 ERA since the All Star break. The Angels gave up good but not top drawer prospects (neither left-hander Alex Torres and infielder Matt Sweeney were among Baseball Prospectus's top 11 Angels prospects) and they'll have him under contract for at least the next two seasons (for a total of about $20 million) to be part a solid rotation for 2010 that will likely include Kazmir, Jered Weaver, Ervin Santana and Joe Saunders. Kazmir probably has good stuff left in him, but the Rays have young pitchers in their system and Kazmir was about to get too pricey for them. Rob Neyer says that the Rays get financial relief and two quality prospects, at least one of which might make the roster next season. It's a win-win for both teams. Totally agree.

1. Joe Posnanksi has blog post entitled "3361 Words About The Royals" at his personal blog. Worth reading even if you aren't a Royals fan. In brief: the Royals are bad. How bad? "The Royals have a losing record after EVERY SINGLE INNING (except extras). And not just a losing record — a SUBSTANTIAL losing record after every one of the first nine innings ... They are bad early, late and everything in between. And that’s what makes them the worst Royals team I’ve ever seen. They do absolutely nothing well. Nothing."

Friday, August 28, 2009
Journalism decline watch

The National Post reports on the layoff of some high profile hosts at Toronto radio station CFRB. In her article, reporter Megan O'Toole says of Paul and Carol Mott, husband and wife co-hosts: "The Motts, a long-time presence on the station..." One of the first things you learn in J-school is to report specific details. It may seem a small thing but the exact number of years would be a specific detail worth reporting. Not providing that information might be a result of ignorance on the reporters part or it is more likely the result of laziness: asking questions of sources is more work than merely copying press releases, echoing what has been reported on air, or even borrowing from other news articles.

Three and out

3. At Baseball Analysts, Larry Granillo has an in-depth look at walk-off victories since 1954 ("the Retrosheet Era" until the end of the 2008) with the focus on the non-homerun walk off win. Excellent reading with lots of charts. While the game-ending homers are dramatic and memorable, most bottom of the ninth (or extra inning) victories are won on a run driven in by a single -- 4805 singles compared to 2729 homeruns. I was surprised that 400 times a game has been won on a bases-loaded walk. Both the St. Louis Cardinals and Pittsburgh Pirates are among the top five teams in terms of walk-off wins and losses when decided by a HR. I was impressed by this statistic and would like to know who they were: 75 times a runner scored the winning run from first on a single.

2. Minnesota Twins SS Orlando Cabrera, quoted by Scott Miller at CBS Sports: "I always say, nobody from the Yankees should be MVP. All the players they have, they protect each other [in the lineup]. Why wouldn't you give it to somebody else on another team who is doing exactly the same thing, or better, with a lineup that's not that good?" How is that fair? Nobody from the Yankees? Ever? I get that Cabrera wants team-mate Joe Mauer to be AL MVP, and deservedly so, but to disqualify Yankee players because they play on a good team is stupid. And anyway, if Mauer loses to a Yank (which he won't) it will be payback for seasons in which undeserving players beat out Bronx Bombers for the award (Minnesota Twins 1B Justin Morneau over Derek Jeter in 2006 and Boston Red Sox 2B Dustin Pedroia over Alex Rodriguez in 2008).

1. According to Jay Jaffe's Baseball Prospectus articles on Thursday (American League) and today (National League), the remainder of the schedule could but likely won't come into play in determining who goes to the post-season. The Chicago Cubs have a glimmer of hope despite being nine games behind the St. Louis Cardinals in the NL Central in part due to the easiest schedule in the senior circuit the rest of the way; unfortunately for them, the Cards have the third easiest schedule. Nine games is a lot to makeup. The three division winners are all comfortably ahead: the Phillies lead the Atlanta Braves and Florida Marlins by seven games and sport a 91.87% chance of making the post-season according to PECOTA; the Cards have a 97.74% chance; the Los Angeles Dodgers have an 84.69% chance of winning the division and a 12.56% shot at the wild card. The Los Angeles Dodgers, who have sported a losing record since Manny Ramirez returned July 5, have the second easiest schedule down the stretch and only face opponents with winning records for three more series (six games against the San Francisco Giants and three against the Colorado Rockies). The Colorado Rockies are three games up on the Giants in the wild card race and have four more series against contenders (the Dodgers, Cardinals and two against the Giants). The six games with San Fran could be decisive. In the American League, the Boston Red Sox are 1.5 games ahead of the Texas Rangers for the wild card and six behind the New York Yankees for the AL East title, and play 14 of their next 19 against contenders before a couple of easy weeks to end the season. The Chicago White Sox face the toughest schedule of any contender in either league with 23 of their remaining 35 games against other contenders. The Detroit Tigers have a four game lead on the ChiSox and 4.5 on the Minnesota Twins and play a pair of series against both in the final two weeks; if things remain this close until then, those will be important games but chances are that either Detroit will pull away or (at least) one of the other teams will fall out of contention. The Twins have the easiest schedule in the AL the rest of the way, but it might be too late considering their pitching woes (Nick Blackburn is the latest DL casualty). The Los Angeles Angels have two easy weeks before series against the White Sox, Red Sox, Yankees and Texas Rangers. The Rangers are in the best shape, contending for both the AL West (four behind the Angels) and wild card, giving them two routes to the playoffs. The Tampa Bay Rays 3.5 games out of the wild card and 9.5 games behind the Yanks and play their next 17 games against the Tigers, Red Sox and Yankees. They have the opportunity to make up ground against their division rivals in three head-to-head series (six games against the BoSox), but it won't be easy.

Voting until they get it right in Europe

Doug Bandow writes in the Washington Examiner:

When it comes to the European Union, any vote to increase authority in Brussels is viewed as final. Any vote against consolidating power is treated as merely temporary.
Fourteen months ago, the Irish turned down the Lisbon Treaty in a referendum and since then it has faced pressure, intimidation and ridicule, as have other countries that don't enthusiastically embrace the EuroElites' vision of federalism. The Irish will get a do-over in October to satisfy Europhiles on the continent.

In praise of oil

Writing in the Independent Business Daily, Alex Epstein celebrates the 150th anniversary of Edwin Drake striking oil with the first commercial oil well. And it isn't only energy that oil provides -- although that would be enough. But there are plenty of petroleum-based products:

One underappreciated form is petroleum-based products. We live in a world where chemists are able to employ oil to suit any conceivable purpose, from making shatterproof glasses to ultra-durable synthetic rubber tires to medical implants to bacteria-resistant refrigerators to HDTVs to iPhones. Look in your home and you can find 100 things made of oil in no time.
And there is more. Even those products that are not made with oil are transported by it; without (relatively inexpensive) "oil-powered transportation" the globalized economy would be much less efficient. As Epstein notes: "Nearly every item in your life would either not exist or be far more expensive without oil; there is simply no comparable source of practical, portable energy." Yet, oil has become a villain to environmentalists, anti-capitalist leftists and the health and safety fanatics. We should be celebrating oil, not demonizing it.

The Sherman Antitrust Act

I was reading in last week's Economist that "The Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890 is the foundation of America's competition policy." How odd is that? With all the changes in the economy, technological progress, globalization, and new/advanced economic theories, U.S. competition policy is based on legislation passed 119 years ago.

How much have things changed? Standard Oil was one of the biggest companies in the United States, but it would no longer after a United States Supreme Court decision in 1911 that broke it up into smaller pieces. Six in ten stocks listed on the stock exchange in the 1890s were railroads. In 1890, there wasn't one foot of paved road, it would be six years until Henry Ford built a car and nine years before he created the Detroit Automobile Company; by the turn of the century there were 8,000 registered automobiles and ten miles of paved road in the entire country. Today there is mover 6.4 million miles of highway (not including streets) and more than 250 million registered passenger vehicles. John Maynard Keynes was just seven years old and it would be another nine years before Friedrich August von Hayek was born. Culturally, it would be six years before the first movie theatre opened and in the same year, the Supreme Court of the United States, in Plessy v. Ferguson, sanctioned the doctrine of 'separate but equal.'

The world has changed a lot since 1890; shouldn't U.S. competition policy?


1. I have no idea what this Russian ad is selling but it appears to be quite funny.

2. Listverse has "10 Mammals You Probably Didn’t Know Exist." The list is actually 11 animals with the fennec Fox as a bonus. Coincidentally, I watched a DVD last night with my oldest daughter that featured the fennec Fox. (I also fondly recall watching the fennec fox as a youngster at the Toronto Zoo; although the zoo still has this species in its collection, it is no longer on display.) The only one that I wasn't aware of is the European souslik, the common ground squirrel, rare among squirrels in that it eats meat.

3. From 2002, Listology has 23 James Bond movies ranked and reviewed. My top four (probably in order): Goldfinger, Casino Royal (2006), Diamonds are Forever, and Live and Let Die. My next favourite might be anyone of a half dozen depending on my mood: The Man with the Golden Gun, From Russia with Love, GoldenEye, The Spy Who Loved Me, Thunderball or A View to a Kill. And despite that list, I didn't mind Timothy Dalton or George Lazenby as 007.

4. The Daily Telegraph reports that a Barbary macaque attacked American Pie star Jason Biggs in Gibraltar. A source claims the monkey jumped on the actor and "tried to bite his face off." Some interesting history of the macaque and the British colony at the end of the story.

5. About the most embarrassing thing that could happen to a person: a television news story about a guy, described as an adult "unemployed porn user" who lives with his parents, who gets caught checking out pornography on the computers at a public library and masturbating. The guy at first denies he did any such thing until he was presented with the video evidence. Then he says he did it because he wasn't thinking and eventually he said: "I didn't think I was doing anything wrong at the time."

Thursday, August 27, 2009
Would you want to learn about sex from this guy?

For work I'm reading a document from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) entitled, "International Guidelines on Sexuality Education: An evidence informed approach to effective sex, relationships and HIV/STI education." I don't really think we need the United Nations providing international guidelines on sex-ed. (And what the heck does "effective sex" mean?)

I am deeply concerned by the notion that the United Nations or any of its agencies need to provide resources on sex and sexuality to education ministers, principals and teachers in any country. I just don't see how this is any of the UN's business. And I am very worried about the UN's suggestion that sex ed needs to go beyond teaching the mechanics and avoiding STIs and pregnancy, to "address personal values about having sexual intercourse or multiple partners and perception of family and peer norms about having sexual intercourse and multiple partners." This smells like favouring one set of values over another and all too often the United Nations is ready to impose a western "progressive" morality over traditional local customs and mores. For better or worse, this is a form of imperialism that the UN takes part in all too often.

Moreover, most of the document is full of innocuous sounding terms and phrases but they are indeed words that have specific meaning among the types of non-government organizations that push for these types of things. There is a radical agenda underlying this document and countries concerned about '60s-style sexual liberationist movements should beware using ">"International Guidelines on Sexuality Education: An evidence informed approach to effective sex, relationships and HIV/STI education."

Congress obviously has too much time on its hands

USA Today reports that Rep. Dan Lipinski (D, Ill.) wants Congress to regulate overhead bins in airplanes so that instead of every airline setting its own guidelines on the size of carry-on bags, the federal government will establish a one-size-fits-all, strictly enforced, standard, in the Securing Cabin Baggage Act. Says Lapinski: "It's clear if anything is going to be done, it's going to take an act of Congress to do it." But it's not clear anything should be done. Lapinski continues: "The airlines are not enforcing their own restrictions that they have on the books right now ... and that causes problems." I would suggest that if it were a problem, the airlines would become more stringent enforcing their own rules. The Club for Growth's Andrew Roth points to an American Spectator article by Ryan Young from last month that might explain Lapinski's interest in the issue: the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, which represents airline baggage handlers, gave Lapinski $10,000 in the last election cycle. Young also notes that:

United Airlines also gave money to Rep. Lipinski. Now that they are charging for checked luggage, they could also see a windfall. Yes, they could strictly screen carry-on size themselves. But with the TSA doing it for them, United can deflect customers' ire away from itself.
Furthermore, as Young points out, if Lapinksi really thinks that the overhead baggage compartments are over-crowded, why is he proposing size restrictions smaller than those already employed by most major airlines (United Airlines, American Airlines, Delta Airlines, Midwest Airlines)?

Three and out

3. Joe Posnanski says that Zack Greinke is even better than Tim Lincecum this season. Worth reading in its entirety.

2. From the Sports Illustrated Vault (May 18, 1981): "Will the Bubble Ever Burst" -- the magazine's cover story on young sensation Fernando Valenzuela. Again, worth reading in its entirety.

3. Jon Paul Morosi at has 10 predictions for September. I'll quote them and then provide my take:

a) "The Dodgers will withstand the Rockies' late charge and win the National League West." Los Angeles has only three series remaining against teams with a 500 record and they have a great third order record since July 5 despite a losing record. They'll win the NL West and do so solidly. Even if the Rockies surge ahead, the Dodgers will probably do no worse than fall back into the wild card. But I doubt that will happen.

b) "Brett Myers will save at least one game for the Phillies during the regular season." Possibly, but probably not. It makes sense for Philly to try someone other than Brad Lidge in the closer role, but teams are notoriously conservative and don't like to try new things. I'd say there is less than a 10% chance of this happening.

c) "Jake Peavy wins not more than one game for the White Sox, and the Tigers take the American League Central." Depends on the extent of his injury, but if Peavy returns he wins games. At this point, Detroit's 4.5 game lead in the AL Central has more to do with who wins the division than Peavy's performance.

d) "With their worst skid behind them, the Red Sox right themselves and win the wild card ahead of the impressive Rangers." The BoSox are one of the best teams in baseball, period. They'll win the wild card and it will be clear that they will do so before the final weekend of the season.

e) "Zack Greinke will pitch his way to the American League Cy Young Award." He already has and he would require a colossal meltdown to fall out of contention. Moronic voters might hold his lack of wins (12 compared to AL leader CC Sabathia's 15) against him, but that isn't Zack's fault, it's the Royals.

f) "John Smoltz will perform well enough to remain a candidate for the Cardinals' postseason rotation." It's possible but the front four (Chris Carpenter, Adam Wainwright, Joel Pineiro, and, if he is healthy, Kyle Lohse) are pretty solid. Smoltz won't break the rotation for a five game series, not with Carpenter, Wainwright and Pineiro all finishing in the top 17 among NL pitchers in VORP. By then Lohse should be healthy enough to pitch without concerns.

g) "Joe Mauer wins the batting title with a .370 average and positions himself for his first American League Most Valuable Player Award." If Mauer hits 370 he wins the AL MVP. He is in line to win the slash stats triple crown (BA, OBP, SLG) while playing Gold Glove defense behind the plate. I don't understand how anyone else could win it, unless voters hold the performance of the Minnesota Twins against him.

h) "The Braves will mount the most serious threat to Colorado in the National League wild-card chase." I haven't looked at it closely enough yet, but I'm not ready to count out the San Francisco Giants.

i) "The Nationals — the Nationals! — post a winning record in September, greatly improving the chances that interim manager Jim Riggleman returns next year." They might, but I wouldn't wager much on it. Riggleman deserves to come back next year although the new GM will probably want his own guy in the job.

j) "The Angels will win the American League West and draw the Red Sox in the first round." It' hard to argue with that. It will be a rematch from 2004, 2007 and 2008, all of which were won by the BoSox. Morosi is predicting a different result this time. I think Boston will be tough to beat in a short series. They have the best bullpen in the game right now, they are experienced in the post-season, they have five bats that can do serious damage, Terry Francona is a great manager, and their starting pitching is good enough for the team to release John Smoltz and Brad Penney within weeks of each other in August.

Four and down

4. says that the Kansas City Chiefs are resisting trading third string QB -- and last year's starter -- Tyler Thigpen to the Jacksonville Jaguars for a fifth-round pick because several teams are interested in the quarterback (Baltimore Ravens, Carolina Panthers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers -- although I doubt the latter). Jax backup Todd Bouman is a horrendous drop-off from starter David Garrard, who is an injury risk, so Thigpen would be a significant upgrade. Every one of those teams other than the Bucs (who have a three-way race for the starter job) would benefit having Thigpen as their backup, but KC might be overplaying their hand, especially with several teams, most notably the Minnesota Vikings, having surplus QBs.

3. Speaking of the Jacksonville Jaguars, the Florida Times-Union reports that the team has announced that all 10 home games -- two pre-season games and all eight regular season games -- will be blacked out on TV due to poor ticket sales. Waving the white flag a bit early, aren't they.

2.'s Don Banks doesn't like the pre-season: the games are meaningless, they have little predictive value, the stars don't play, the battles for starting jobs are overblown, and the games are meaningless (Banks effectively makes that argument twice).'s Ross Tucker likes the pre-season: despite admitting that four pre-season games are unnecessary, there are still good story-lines worth following such as "aging veteran trying to hang on," the "no-name rookie making an impression" and three others.

1. The recent history of Super Bowl losers is hardly illustrious: eight of the last 10 failed to make the playoffs the next season and their average record is 7-9. Dan Arkush at Pro Football Weekly likes the chances of the Arizona Cardinals to repeat as NFC West division winners, despite an improvement in the Seattle Seahawks who could challenge Arizona, but thinks that four other teams (Dallas Cowboys, New York Giants, Atlanta Falcons and Minnesota Vikings) have a better chance to make the Super Bowl than do the Cards.


1. Paul Kedrosky has a table with inflation rates from history -- daily rates -- with time it took for prices to double. Hungary in July 1946 doubled its prices every 15 hours, worst than Zimbabwe in November 2008 or Wiemar Germany.

2. Custom pizza cutters. The Easy Rider and Gold Knuckle are pretty cool. (HT: BoingBoing Gadgets).

3. has the "The 15 Most Baffling Boasts in the History of Rap." It could have been subtitled, "Rap Lyrics Don't Make Any Sense."

4. Wired has a long profile of Craig Newmark, founder of Craigslist. Newmark has one of my favourite blogs, Newmark's Door, from which I steal lots of material for Stuff.

5. New Math presents email as a math equation:

Wednesday, August 26, 2009
What I'm reading

1. Losing Confidence: Power, Politics, and the Crisis in Canadian Democracy by Elizabeth May. Reading this should discount time in purgatory.

2. Tug of War: A Judge's Verdict on Separation, Custody Battles, and the Bitter Realities of Family Court by Justice Harvey Brownstone. It is more of a how-to book for parents who might be separating on how to avoid a costly and damaging custody battle during a divorce. I doubt that the people who need to read this will.

3. "The post-war intellectual roots of the Population Bomb," by Pierre Desrochers and Christine Hoffbauer in the Summer 2009 Electronic Journal of Sustainable Development. The whole issue is dedicated to "The Population Bomb Four Decades On."

4. "How American Health Care Killed My Father," by David Goldhill in the September Atlantic Monthly.

5. "Persuasion, Slack, and Traps: How Can Economists Change the World?" a speech by Bryan Caplan that basically revisits the themes of his book The Myth of the Rational Voter.

Tory partisanship

National Post columnist Don Martin complains about Stephen Harper's likely announcement on Thursday of several loyal Tories -- rumoured to include Conservative party president Don Plett, campaign manager Doug Finley, former Nova Scotia premier Rodney MacDonald, and Carolyn Stewart-Olsen, former Director of Strategic Communication in Harper's PMO -- to the Senate. This, no doubt, offends the sensibilities of many Canadians. But should it?

I have my doubts about Finley and Stewart-Olsen. I question Finley's basic decency as a human being and thought Stewart-Olsen did a horrendous job of communicating Harper's message. But that is irrelevant; Harper obviously doesn't have a problem with them considering the important positions they have held in his party and his office. And if they had the Prime Minister's confidence in these political duties, what reason is there for Harper to think they cannot handle another political job (senator) competently? Indeed, Martin's dismissal of Finley inadvertently makes the case that the campaign manager might be the perfect political animal to put in the upper chamber:

Doug Finley, husband of Human Resources minister Diane Finley, who excels at campaign donor shakedowns and serving as guard dog in deciding who was worthy of receiving Conservative nominations.
Considering the difficulty the Tories have had moving certain legislation within the Senate, a political creature such as Finley might be an asset. (I don't accept that argument, but it is one that the prime minister could plausibly make.) Martin says of Stephen Harper and the Senate appointment that have yet to be formally announced -- "he could have and should have done better." How? My question is simple: what are the qualifications for being a senator? Most senators have failed to distinguish themselves in any way. A few use the Senate to think aloud, study issues, and push ideas -- all to little effect. The problem is not the appointment process but the toothlessness of the institution. One might not like patronage appointments, but in the case of these possible appointments to the Senate, the political experience many (rumoured) Tory loyalists have -- managing a campaign, being president of a party, coming up with communications strategies, running a province or leading a party and being a long-serving provincial legislator (in the case of Bob Runciman) -- seem to mesh well with the political work of senators.

Kennedy -- a saint who made up for killing a 29-year-old

Hanna Rosin at Slate's Double X blog compares Ted Kennedy to Chuck Colson, public officials "who do something terrible and then repent indirectly in the form of a lifetime of dedicated public service". Rosin explains:

Kennedy killed a girl. That’s his Rosebud. He made up for it partly by declining the ultimate glory of running for president, and choosing the more humble path—helping the underclass using the slow, steady machinery of the Senate.
Declining running for president? What about challenging the Democratic incumbent in 1980?


1. "Facial Attractiveness Explained," from Science Daily.

2. More science: "A physicist claims to have solved one of the more persistent problems in physics: why time flows in only one direction." That from Ars Technica. Here is an earlier, ungated version of Lorenzo Maccone's paper, "A quantum solution to the arrow-of-time dilemma."

3. Listverse has the "Top 10 Incredible Sharks." And the Great White Shark is only #10.

4. Time magazine lists the best and worst James Bond theme songs. I am not thrilled by the list. They're wrong about "Another Way to Die" by Jack White and Alicia Keys (Quantum of Solice). The comment about "Thunderball" is hilarious, although I think they exaggerate how bad it is. I don't know how a list of the worst Bond themes doesn't begin with Rita Coolidge's "All Time High" (Octopussy). They are obviously correct to put "We Have All The Time in the World" by Louis Armstrong (Her Majesty's Secret Service) and "Goldfinger" by Shirley Bassey on the best list, but "For Your Eyes Only" by Sheena Easton? There might be no more James Bondish song that Garbage's "The World is Not Enough." And why isn't "The Man with the Golden Gun" by Lulu on the best list? Listology has a star-rated listing of the Bond theme songs; it gets "The Man with the Golden Gun" wrong, too.

5. Radiohead's version of "Nobody Does It Better" which would have made the list of the worst if they had done the theme song rather than Carly Simon.

Four and down

4. Amazing stat from Kickoff 2009 from Cold Hard Football Facts: 225 million Americans watched NFL football in the 2008 seasons (according to Nielsen Media Research), about 100 million more than the record number of Americans who voted in 2008 (131.2 million).

3. Gary Myers of the Daily News is exactly right that the New York Jets made the correct decision to name Mark Sanchez the starting QB. Easy choice. Right now Sanchez might be every bit as good, if not better than Kellen Clemons, and the rookie has a higher ceiling. Furthermore, Sanchez needs to get game experience to be the QB of the future sooner than sitting on the sidelines would permit. Most importantly, the Jets will probably live or die based less on what the offense is doing than whether new coach Rex Ryan, formerly defensive coordinator for the Baltimore Ravens, can turn around the team's D. If Sanchez blows a few games that the Jets should have won because of rookie-type mistakes, you'll see Ryan change course, but he'd have to be spectacularly bad for the Gang Green to reverse this decision before Columbus Day.

2. Cold Hard Football Facts have their pre-season power rankings up. I'll a little surprised that the Baltimore Ravens are ranked second (behind the Pittsburgh Steelers). I am not convinced their defense is as good after their coordinator took the head coaching job in the Meadowlands and two starters left with him. I was surprised that the Denver Broncos are 30th (out of 32); I don't totally disagree but that is a terrible ranking for a team that went 8-8 in '08.

1. The St. Paul Pioneer Press reports that Minnesota Vikings coach Brad Childress acknowledges he has seen reports that there are "factions" on his team that want Tarvaris Jackson to start QB rather than Brett Favre, but he denied that there was any truth to the rumours. Then he said some team-mates are close to Jackson and that "I think it's tremendous that guys feel that way about their teammates." That seems a implicit admission that some Vikings players might prefer to see their long-time team-mate, rather than the new old guy start for Minny.

Three and out

3. Both Rob Neyer and Nick Kapur say that the New York Mets have acted irresponsibly by continuing to use Johan Santana when it was apparent he was injured. Kapur points to manager Jerry Manuel admitting that Santana hasn't been throwing between starts since the All Star break because he was hurt. Why risk a star pitcher, with four more years and nearly $100 million on his contract, in a season that has been clearly lost? I've defended Manuel saying that he cannot be held responsible for a disastrous injury-plagued season (although general manager Omar Minaya can, up to a point). But needlessly risking injury to one of the top pitchers -- one which the team has invested a nine-figure contract -- is indefensible. Now Santana is having surgery to remove bone chips from his elbow and hopes to be back by spring training next year. As Neyer says, if Manuel isn't going to make the decision to rest Santana, then someone above him within the organization should have. As Kapur says, "there is some serious idiocy going on here, because how dumb do you have to be to not take steps to protect an investment like [Santana] in a lost season?" Ultimately, the blame will go all the way up to the Wilpon family (the owners) if Minaya and Manuel are back (which appears likely). Fangraphs doesn't like the remainder of Santana's contract, making certain assumptions and estimating that the Mets will overpay him about $20 million over the next four years. While acknowledging he is a re-injury threat, it is still too early to tell whether the contract was a mistake. But I know one thing: I wouldn't keep Manuel and Minaya responsible for this sizable investment.

2. Jonah Keri ranks the top 10 New York Yankees position players of all-time. Mickey Mantle (#2) gets picked ahead of Lou Gehrig (#3) because he played CF (a more difficult position than 1B) and in an integrated league. I'd still put Gehrig #2 but Keri's order can be legitimately defended. It says a lot about the Yankees and their illustrious history that one can defensibly not have Don Mattingly on the top 10 list. I'd put him there, but there's an argument for Earle Combs, whom I would drop him to 11th. And we still don't get to Tony Lazzeri, Charlie Keller, Rickey Henderson, or Phil Rizzuto. Give him a few more seasons and Alex Rodriquez will unquestionably be on the top 10 list, too. In a decade, Mark Teixeira might deserve mention, bumping Bernie Williams out of the top 10.

1. As of August 23, the Kansas City Royals had 927 losses in the 2000s -- more than either the Pittsburgh Pirates (903) or Tampa Bay Rays (901). Rany Jazayerli says with just over a month remaining, the Royals can be expected to have one of the worst decades in MLB history. Here are the others:

Philadelphia Phillies, 1920s: 962
St. Louis Browns, 1930s: 951
Philadelphia Phillies, 1940s: 951
Philadelphia Phillies, 1930s: 943
San Diego Padres, 1970s: 942
Boston Red Sox, 1920s: 938
Kansas City Royals, 2000s: 927 and counting
Those early 20th century Phillies were pretty bad: three of the four worst decades. Sadly, for the Royals, the futility can be expected to continue. As Jazayerli notes, "This season, the Royals have designed a roster that not only is hurtling towards 100 losses, but a roster with few players that can be expected to improve in the future."

Mrs. David Frum's list of 40 reasons to have kids

Here. Included: shoveling the driveway, fetching things, getting out of things (children "get sick" all the time), and my favourite:

Over the long term, they are less smelly and do less damage to the furniture than cats.

Ted Kennedy, RIP

The New York Times obit goes on forever and then some. I was amused by how it handled the death of Mary Jo Kopechne:

Senator Kennedy was at or near the center of much of American history in the latter part of the 20th century and the early years of the 21st. For much of his adult life, he veered from victory to catastrophe, winning every Senate election he entered but failing in his only try for the presidency; living through the sudden deaths of his brothers and three of his nephews; being responsible for the drowning death on Chappaquiddick Island of a young woman, Mary Jo Kopechne, a former aide to his brother Robert. One of the nephews, John F. Kennedy Jr., who the family hoped would one day seek political office and keep the Kennedy tradition alive, died in a plane crash in 1999 at age 38.
It's like July 18, 1969 was akin to any other day of Ted Kennedy's eventful life. Notice how the Times equates Kennedy's responsibility in killing Kopechne to the tragedies for which he bore no responsibility. Later it gets three paragraphs; despite the editorializing throughout the obit, these three paragraphs were merely reporting well-worn facts. I also doubt if the paper realized the inappropriateness of referring to Kennedy taking on new duties as assistant majority leader in the Senate thusly: "He plunged into the new job with Kennedy enthusiasm." Ouch.

Conservative magazines and columnists will look at the Kennedy legacy in terms of his impact on policy (which was ever more intervention). For now, read John Pitney's ironic take on Kennedy.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009
Kauffman blogger forum video

It's about 20 minutes long and it's about both economic blogging and the current recession, and it is worth a look if you like to read economics blogs. Mark Thoma has a great line about how blogging is like dairy farming (at about the seven minute mark).

Not so much money when you think about it

The Center for Responsive Politics tracks donations to the political parties and has a chart of the top 100 donors from 1989-2008. It is noteworthy that many are unions that give overwhelmingly to Democrats and that of all the associations, companies and unions that give, only one gives more than 90% of its donations to the GOP whereas 21 give 90% or more to Democrats. Still, I was was most struck by how little money is given by the top 100 donors. Consider these three facts:

1. AT&T gave $43,501,240 over two decades. Goldman Sachs (the fourth largest donor) gave $31,183,662. Those are not large sums of money when you think about it.

2. Over two decades, the American Medical Association gave $26,213,449 (60% of it to Republicans); Blue Cross/Blue Shield gave $15,779,305 (again, 60% of it to the GOP); Big Pharma is represented by four companies -- Pfizer Inc antied up $13,210,087 (70% GOP) while GlaxoSmithKline gave $10,895,744 (70% Republicans), Eli Lilly & Co $9,039,674 (71% GOP), and Bristol-Myers Squibb $7,282,437 (78% GOP); National Committee to Preserve Social Security & Medicare gave $9,144,499 (80% to the Democrats); American Hospital Association gave $16,126,109 (52% to the Democrats). All that sounds like a lot of money but remember that there have been two big health care debates, not to mention all the regulations that govern the health care system. It isn't a lot of money in the grand scheme of things. Think how much money (profits) are at stake when compared to what these groups give to candidates to get access and influence.

3. The oil industry, as represented by BP, Chevron, and Exxon Mobil, gave roughly $27.4 million. Again considering all the environmental and energy issues the federal government deals with, not a lot of money considering what is at stake.

CIA interrogations

Barack Obama's Attorney General Eric Holder will investigate those involved in the CIA interrogations of terrorists. Peter Brookes, a senior fellow at Heritage Foundation, at The Corner responds:

Once we get beyond claims about the alleged mishandling of interrogations by CIA officers, there are a couple of things that people should keep in mind:

1. The interrogation program provided critical information that led to the disruption of terror attacks against U.S. interests in the difficult, early days after 9/11.

2. It isn’t by chance that there hasn’t been another terror attack on U.S. soil since 9/11.

3. These actions were taken by well-intentioned individuals who were likely doing what they thought would help keep their fellow Americans safe.

4. The Justice Department investigation will likely have a chilling effect on CIA officers in the field, who will wonder if they should be getting the terrorist or getting lawyers.

5. Let’s not forget: We’re still at war, and our intelligence professionals represent our first line of defense.
Here's my take on the five points Brookes makes:

1. Probably true.
2. Possibly true.
3. Absolutely.
4. Certainly.
5. People don't like being reminded of this.

I'm pretty sure this was a CSI episode

Steven Levitt at Freakonomics:

A body was recently found — a brutal murder in which the killer cut off the fingers of the victim and removed all her teeth in order to make identifying the body more difficult. One thing he hadn’t taken into account was that her breast implants would have serial numbers that would allow her to be positively identified.

Amazon reviews for the classics

Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Joe Queenan offers Amazon reviews for classic works of literature and some are laugh out loud funny. Here's a review of Sophocles:

• "Oedipus Rex"—Average reader rating: Four stars. Sophocles is a satisfying author who writes in clear, snappy prose. Youngsters in particular could learn a lot by imitating Mr. Rex, until he goes a bit off the rails toward the end. Nothing earth-shattering here, but zippy stuff. Have to admit I'm still puzzled by the weird subplot involving Mr. Rex's mother.
And this book of the Bible:

• "Deuteronomy"—Average Reader's Rating: Three stars. I don't get it. I've read most of the books in this series, and they totally kick butt, but this one leaves me scratching my head. Is there a story here? Am I missing something? Why so much talk about clean and unclean beasts? The author really got on a roll with Genesis and Exodus, and I was on the edge of my seat when I read The Book of Numbers. But this one runs out of gas early. Now I'm glad I skipped Leviticus!

America and Europe

Bryan Caplan writes about, "Touristic Bias: Why Americans Overrate Europe, and Europeans Underrate America," which is really not about travel but that "tourists' experiences are deeply misleading" about living standards. I don't think people travel to appreciate/understand living standards or make judgements about where they want to live, although inevitably they do make such judgements and comparisons. It is a long post and worth reading even if I have small problems with a couple of points. Tyler Cowen and Meagan McArdle respond. One commenter at McArdle's blog says, "In other words, people fall in love with places that are different from where they live." That isn't quite what Caplan is saying (although it is sort of the point several commenters are making).

Caplan says that European travelers usually visit "the most European" U.S. cities like New York or San Francisco, but "Since NYC and SF are basically uglier, scarier versions of the premiere European cities, it's natural for tourists to go home with a negative impression." (I don't know about the accuracy of this comment but it seems likely that would be the judgement a European would make.) But this is the most important point of Caplan's post:

[V]ery few Americans live in such cities - even if they can easily afford to. Why not? Because the natural habitat of the American - including most affluent Americans - is the suburb.

It's easy to see why tourists don't go to the suburbs, because they're places to live and work, not places to see. But almost no one in Europe lives in places as comfortable and convenient as American suburbs: The houses are spacious, the cars are huge, cheap Big Box stores and chain restaurants are nearby, and (to quote South Park) there's "ample parking day or night." Europeans can learn a lot more about the American psyche with a visit to a random CostCo than a visit to the Guggenheim.
I quite like that last line and it relates to the point I made earlier: most people don't travel in order to better understand the lives or standard of living of foreigners. In the same way that a Caribbean cruise with stops in a few ports that cater to tourists or a vacation at an island resort can hardly tell you what life is like for the average person who lives on these islands, the typical destinations in North America and Europe are hardly indicative of what life is like for the average American or European. Inevitably, people over-value what they see for themselves even if they don't appreciate context. That is what Caplan is saying.

Monday, August 24, 2009

1. Scientific American has an article about how "Scientists are creating transgenic mosquitoes with reduced ability to carry the devastating diseases that have plagued much of humanity." But there might be a down side.

2. Indexed shows how Christmas lights are like on-line dating profiles.

3. If Darth Vader had a sense of humour.

4. I had no idea that comic book super heroes were so gay -- at least according to Fab, the gay entertainment scene magazine out of Toronto.

5. One of my favourite songs, Saeglopur by the Icelandic band Sigur Ros

Three and out

3. Andrew McCarthy, who usually writes about politics, war on terror stuff, the law, etc... for National Review, writes in the The Corner about why baseball is great. And he says that after a heart-breaking game in which his New York Mets lost (again) to the Philadelphia Phillies, in part due an unassisted triple play (the 17th in MLB history) in the ninth inning (only the second time that has ever happened). As McCarthy says -- thus proving he is a Mets fan -- "Only the Mets could find this way to lose a game." And in the next sentence: "But only baseball could make it happen."

2. John Smoltz was acquired by the St. Louis Cardinals last week after being released by the Boston Red Sox. He threw five innings, gave up three hits and struck out nine. He didn't allow a walk. I haven't seen the pitch-by-pitch analysis, but any pitcher who strikes out seven consecutive batters and allows just three baserunners and no runs in five innings, even if it is the San Diego Padres, is doing something right.

1. Probably way too much is going to made of this: New York Yankees battery mates, A.J. Burnett and Jorge Posada are not on the same page. Burnett is in his first year with the Bronx Bombers, Posada is the team's veteran catcher. Bergen Record columnist Bob Klapsich says, "While it’s a notch below an actual rift, the Yankee battery has issues." And then he treats it almost like a rift. In New York this can turn into a dangerous distraction.

Best trailers

What a time waster this was for me on the weekend: IFC's 50 greatest trailers (includes links). But they missed some excellent ones. There isn't one Disney trailer; Aladdin is probably the best. All the Planet of the Apes (original five movies, not the Tim Burton re-make) had great trailers but Beneath the Planet of the Apes is the best, although it misleadingly makes the movie look much better than it is. I'm not a fan of the movie Apocalypse Now, but the trailer was excellent. Ditto for American Beauty (probably because of the use of Baba O'Riley). Likewise, Gimme Shelter would probably get Casino and Departed on my list.

The trailer for Batman Begins is as good as at least half the ones that made the IFC list. Ditto Snatch. There is a bias in favour of artsy films and action movies among the IFC list; a rare comedy that should be on it is Thank You For Smoking. Perhaps, too, Goldmember; I cracked up at the 15-second mark. While Goldeneye is on the list, a second Bond movie trailer should be on it: You Only Live Twice ("You only live twice ... and twice is the only way to live"). I'm torn on whether Soylent Green should be on any such list because there appears to be a spoiler -- unless it is something you'd notice because you are already familiar with the plot. The trailer for Wanted was fun because it was so ridiculous, but I've never seen the movie (because it looked so ridiculous). And speaking of ridiculous, the final 25 seconds of The Cannonball Run trailer has cop car spinning out of control and quite the look from Burt Reynolds. And another Reynolds movie, Boogie Nights, had a strong trailer. The first 50 seconds of Jaws was very good but went downhill from there. The trailer for Jaws 2 was much better. And the one for Empire of the Ants has me wanting to see more.

Sunday, August 23, 2009
The failure of the UK Tories

Matthew Parris in The Times yesterday on the British Conservatives in opposition:

But it was on the central domestic question of the era that the Tories’ nerve failed almost fatally. At first new Labour held to the tight spending plans that it inherited from John Major’s outgoing administration. Then the Government let go. The letting go was, in retrospect, fairly spectacular. But the Tories didn’t seem to notice, or, if they noticed, didn’t dare warn too loudly. A massive splurge on health, unaccompanied by serious reform, went through on the nod.

Public sector employment began to rise, and the share the State was taking of economic growth was not pared back, as it could quite painlessly have been. On all this — on both the details and the general direction — there was no clear or sustained blast on the trumpet from the Conservative Party. Research will no doubt turn up a basketful of critical press releases and parliamentary questions, but if the Tories had wanted to tell the New Britain of Tony Blair’s imagination where to get off the big-state, big-spending carousel, they could have.

Car seats, safety and good parenting

Bryan Caplan has a post on infant car seats and child safety and you can colour the GMU economist a little skeptical. Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner are also skeptical, writing four years ago, "car seats and booster seats aren't the safety miracle that parents have been taught to believe" and that they "may not add much lifesaving value." Caplan notes:

Contrary to what you'd expect, infant car safety has not improved a lot more than the safety of older children ... Safety improved about as much for older kids (who usually just use seat belts) as it did for younger kids. So there must be many reasons why car travel is safer than it used to be; car seats can't be more than one piece of the puzzle.
Putting aside the law and applying an economic analysis of how paranoid parents should be about properly installing a infant safety seat:

Suppose that 25% of the improvement in infant safety came from child seats. That's 1.2 fatalities per 100,000. If you plug in a conventional $7M "value of life," that comes out to $84 of value for your baby's first year. Legality aside, it's still probably worth installing a cheap child seat. But it's probably not worth spending hours doing what I did six years ago: perfecting your installation technique. (Now, of course, that's a sunk cost!) And if your cousin offers to take your kid to a movie, it's almost definitely a mistake to refuse out of fear that you won't transfer the seat correctly.
Caplan acknowledges that the average reader would consider him a bad parent for "thinking such thoughts." Yet what Caplan is doing is promoting prudence over paranoia. He notes, "While you should put a high value on your child's safety, it's OK to find facts and weigh trade-offs." Dubner and Levitt say the safety literature and their own test show that children should always have some sort of restraint, whether it be a seat belt, booster seat or car seat. I would suggest that even if a parent was convinced of all this on a theoretical level, they might not be persuaded to act on it. That is because the law (wrongly) persuades people that infant safety seats are by far the safest route to go when traveling with your child and why would the government ever lie to us?

False dichotomy watch

The Globe and Mail has an online poll on immigration that poses a false dichotomy (if we used the words without the political connotations): Canadian policy toward immigrants should be based on what? Integration into the mainstream or Respect for different cultures. One could respect different cultures and still want immigrants to integrate. Notably, integration is leading by nearly four to one.

Three and out

3. More of that Johan Santana is washed up sports journalism that always propped up. To be fair, advanced analysis of his pitches show Santana slightly off. But many of his stats are skewed by the worst game of his career, a 15-0 loss against the New York Yankees in May in which he surrendered nine runs in three games. So my question about average pitch speed and control is how much of the pitch analysis is similarly skewed by a short but brutal outing for Santana?

2. Amazing stat: only one New York Mets player has hit double digit dingers: OF Gary Sheffield has 10.

1. The New York Times has an interesting article on the relationship between Bill Robinson and the New York Yankees in the '20s and '30s. Robinson is better known as the dancer Bojangles. That's enough reason to include this deleted scence from Cafe Metropole featuring Bojangles, the DiMaggio of the dance floor (coincidentally, Robinson and DiMaggio were friends).

Four and down

4. "5 Things You Didn’t Know About Johnny Unitas," from Mental Floss. I didn't know that he was drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1955, was the fourth QB on the depth chart and cut after one season.

3. Jaunted, a great "pop culture travel guide," has an article entitled "It's Never Too Early To Lock In Your Super Bowl Vacation." The ticket to Miami, accommodation and tickets can cost from $4,700 for one person on the low end to $175,000 for eight people to use a luxury box.

2. The Washington Redskins had a promotion for their pre-season game last night against the Pittsburgh Steelers, their own version of the Steelers' Terrible Towel: the "Redskins Rally" towel. Instead of having towels in the Skins' burgundy, they are white. Nothing says go and fight like a white towel. What a bone-headed move. Considering how the Steelers schooled the Skins last year (23-6 but the score is not indicative of how one-sided the contest was), perhaps a bloodied white towel would be more appropriate. Last night's promotion was meant to counter the embarrassment not of last year's final score but rather the thousands of yellow Terrible Towels being waved throughout the game, making the game at FedEx Stadium look like a Steelers home game.

1. The Green Bay Packers beat the Buffalo Bills 31-21. Interestingly, Bills QB Trent Edwards didn't start the game but played the fourth quarter. The new 3-4 defense of the Packers worked quite well, forcing five turnovers: two picks, three forced fumbles, and also three sacks. With all the usual caveats that this is a pre-season game, Packs fans must be happy with that.


1. Listverse has "Top 10 Movies About Movies." Haven't seen many of them, but Singin' in the Rain is a favourite of all three males (ages 12 through 36) in the Tuns family household. I also find Boogie Nights hilarious.

2. has a list of abandoned NASA projects. The idea of the X-33, a re-usable rocket, was cancelled in 2001 because of "slipping schedules and performance, rising costs that Lockheed Martin was unwilling to absorb, and a major failure during a test of its composite-material tanks." Cost of failure: $912 million.

3. Beloit College's class of 2013 mindset list has been released. Some notable examples: "They have never used a card catalog to find a book," "Margaret Thatcher has always been a former prime minister," "Salsa has always outsold ketchup," "The nation’s key economic indicator has always been the Gross Domestic Product," (we had GNP instead of GDP), "Smokers have never been promoted as an economic force that deserves respect," and "Someone has always been asking: 'Was Iraq worth a war'?" There are 69 more.

4. This compilation video of cool things is highly recommended.

5. Jaunted has "The Most Shocking McDonald's Locations in The World," including the Museum of Communism in Prague.

Saturday, August 22, 2009
Looking at life through a camera

Nigel Farndale has a short essay at the Daily Telegraph decrying people who seem permanently attached face-to-device to their digital cameras. He complains:

I was on a cable car climbing high above the cathedrals of Barcelona. It was a cloudless day. The city was shimmering below us, its energy palpable and intoxicating. And a tourist next to me was taking photographs, from the moment we lurched off to the moment we docked at the other end. I reckon he must have taken 120. Click, click, click. He didn't stand and stare at the view once. The only way I could prevent myself from opening the cable car door and pushing him out was to fantasise about bludgeoning him with his stupid camera, and then opening the cable car door and pushing him out.

His was a digital camera, so he no doubt figured he wasn't wasting film, and he probably knew he would never get round to looking at his photographs anyway, let alone deleting those frames he didn't want. As I watched him, it struck me that photography, once a noble art, has become, thanks to the move to digital, a mental illness. Our first instinct when confronted with the sublime in nature, or the frozen music of architecture, or a tender moment with a friend, is not to contemplate it, but to reach for our cameras so that we can experience it later, second-hand – or, more likely, ignore it later, because we are too busy taking the next pointless photograph in order to have a pointless record of everything we ever saw, or would have seen, had we not been taking a photograph of it.
I imagine that Farndale is not alone in his complaint. But think about this a little more, and think about not as a technological issue. This column reminded me of a question posed to Tyler Cowen:

Is taking a photo or video of an event for later viewing worth it, even if it means more or less missing the event in realtime? What's better, a lifetime of mediated viewing of my son's first steps or a one-time in-person viewing?
Cowen responds:

If you take photos you will remember the event more vividly, if only because you have to stop and notice it. The fact that your memories will in part be "false" or constructed is besides the point; they'll probably be false anyway. In other words, there's no such thing as the "one-time in-person viewing," it is all mediated viewing, one way or the other. Daniel Gilbert's book on memory is the key source here.

Furthermore you don't need the later viewing for the photo or video to be worthwhile. It's all about organizing your memories in the form of narratives and that is what cameras help us do, if only by differentiating the flow of events into chunkier blocks of greater discreteness.
I'm with Cowen entirely (even to the point of, like him, not taking photos much myself). If taking pictures is part of your narrative of an event, click away. If you prefer to experience it first hand and have that as your story, take few or no pictures.

Farndale's reaction is about more than being grumpy about modern technologies or the behaviours they enable. He doesn't like that other people are not acting the way he prefers, doing the things he's doing (or not doing). He shows no appreciation for the fact that others might think about something differently than he does, want to experience it differently, remember it differently, or organize their thoughts in a different way. Another way to describe Farndale's reaction would be closed-minded or intolerant. And another would be boring. Who wants to live in a world where everyone experiences things the same way.

'Viagara effect' hurting Brasil's pension system

AFP reports that older men men marrying women half their age is going to cause strain on pensions. Paulo Tafner of the National Social Security Institute explains:

"The social security system was planned so that the wife receives her husband's pension for only 15 years or so. With growing life expectancy and remarriages with much younger women, benefits today stretch out over 35 years."

Three and out

3. The New York Yankees beat the Boston Red Sox 22-10 Friday night at Fenway. Both have good pitching staffs and both teams can hit. The amazing stat from that game is that despite 32 runs scored, there were only four homeruns, two for each team.

2. With last night's 2-1 victory against the Chicago Cubs, the Los Angeles Dodgers are 1,016-1,014 in the series between the two storied clubs. If the Cubs win today and tomorrow, they can tie it up and, more importantly, get back into contention for the division (7 games behind NL Central leader St. Louis Cardinals) and the wild card (6 games behind the Colorado Rockies with three other teams ahead of the Cubbies). Craig Calcaterra at Shysterball says, "I think it would be hilarious if either Piniella or Torre used that as a motivator in a pre-game speech, totally deadpanning how serious they were about wanting to leave this series with the all-time lead."

1. Here is an amazing stat on the stability with the Los Angeles Angels rosters from Jeff Passan's column on turnover on Major League rosters: "13 players from their 2006 team on their current 25-man roster. Another four from ’06 are on the disabled list." To put that in (some) context: 12 teams have five players or fewer on their current rosters from the 2006 season. While hardly vigorous in his analysis, Passan appears to demonstrate that there is a correlation between winning and continuity/stability. There are lots of numbers in the article and a chart that demonstrates that the 11 teams with the most turnover all have losing records. But that hardly proves that continuity leads to winning; rather, losing teams are more likely to trade high-salaried players, try new things, perhaps have key players on the DL, etc... An example of the latter is the New York Mets who have just four players from their 2006 team on their current roster but six players from three seasons ago on the DL -- a big reason why they are 57-65. If you add the two, their 10 players are the same as the New York Yankees who are 77-45 or Philadelphia Phillies who are 69-50.

Four and down

4. Watched the Dallas Cowboys-Tennessee Titans pre-season game last night ('Boys won 30-10). A few notes. Dallas looked good as evidenced by the fact that they had possession for fully two-thirds of the game. The starters played enough of the game to get some idea of what both teams are like. The Cowboys defense was stellar. In fact, the Titans normally have a steady, competent offense quarterbacked by the solid but unflashy Kerry Collins. The Dallas D prevented the Titans from getting anything going, forcing the Titans three and out on two of their first three drives. The Titans were held to under 200 yards. The offense was balanced and Tony Romo looked solid (18/24, 192 yards) although he relied on favourite target (3 catches, 46 yards in the first three series). Yet, he was extremely impressive with a first quarter 15-play, 90-yard drive capped by a touchdown run by RB Marion Barber. Dallas accumulated 466 total net yards. Of special note is the new stadium and its 60 yard by 25 yard high definition screen hanging down from the center of the roof. Rookie punter A.J. Trapasso hit it during one kick, forcing a do-over. Before the game, Tenny kickers treated the world's largest high def screen as a target. I'm sure the NFL will have to do something about it and clarify the rules (such as whether calls based on hitting the screen are reviewable). Pictures from the game are available here.

3. I also watched the Minnesota Vikings-Kansas City Chiefs game. Brett Favre threw for a total of four yards in his first pre-season game with the Vikings. Four yards. He looked awful, missing his targets. The play-by-play announcers said it wasn't a problem and that it would all sort itself out by the time the season came along. That looked like wishful thinking tonight, unless Will Carroll is correct and all Favre needs is a healthy Bernard Berrian. On the plus side, Favre didn't throw an interception in Minny's 17-13 victory over the rebuilding Chiefs. Tarvaris Jackson, who was battling for the starting QB job in Minnesota until the Vikes signed Favre earlier this week, had a great game, however: 12/15, 202 yards, 2 TDs.

2. has an interesting article on the growing importance of tight ends as receiving targets. In fact, every year since 2001, total tight end receiving yards have increased, with an increase of 40% over eight years. During the same time, receiving yards by WRs has been steady and receiving yards by RBs has declined slightly. AFS doesn't explain why but does note that it isn't because of a few outliers (extraordinary catching TEs).

1.'s Don Banks ranks the backup QBs. Fun exercise and his criteria is quite sensible: "my bottom-line standard for assessing a No. 2 QB's value is whether or not you can win with him on the field." He is bang on picking Oakland Raiders 39-year-old backup QB Jeff Garcia number one and is correct to say that at some point Garcia will replace JaMarcus Russell as the starter. I wouldn't pick Daunte Culpepper of the Detroit Lions or Michael Vick of the Philadelphia Eagles ahead of Sage Rosenfels of the Minnesota Vikings or Seneca Wallace of the Seattle Seahawks. I think Rosenfels is better than the new Vikes starter and that Seneca would challenge Matt Hasselback if the 'Hawks were honest. It is hard to rate Billy Volek, San Diego Chargers backup, because he didn't play last year but when he played in 2007 he was a very solid replacement for Philip Rivers. Jon Kitna backs up Romo in Dallas and deserves his #8 spot. After the 10 spot, most of the players are has-beens or prospects that have never lived up to their billing. An exception would be Ryan Fitzpatrick (#18) who did a decent job starting in Cincinatti in '08 in Carson Palmer's absence and is backing up Trent Edwards in Buffalo this season and probably deserves a placement just inside the top ten 10. And having watched Caleb Hanie of the Chicago Bears play in a pre-season game last weekend in Buffalo, Bears fans better pray for Jay Cutler's health; Hanie deserves his 32nd ranking.

Friday, August 21, 2009
Pro-woman and pro-life

There is a good column in the National Post today on the "abortion distortion" -- the double standards of the pro-abortion side that apply to the abortion debate -- by Andrea Mrozek and Rebecca Walberg. The story is based on the special treatment abortion gets by being exempted from new Quebec regulations governing private medical facilities. Mrozek and Walberg, co-founders of, note:

Yet the more telling irony is that those who run abortion clinics have rushed not to criticize the proposed legislation in general, but only to demand that they be exempt. The rules for out-patient eye surgery clinics, oral surgery offices and dermatologists meet with their approval. In short, the new standards are just fine for other facilities, but they mustn't be applied to clinics that perform surgery on women's reproductive organs.
I read the column this morning at home and when I was standing on the subway I noticed a woman sitting near me reading the Post who glanced toward that article, rolled her eyes and turned the page. I should have gone back to reading my magazine but I decided to open my mouth. I said to her that she when she got the chance she should read the "well-written and thought-provoking article on the 'abortion distortion'," to which she replied that "Andrea and Renita [sic] are funny names for men." I corrected her, "Andrea Mrozek and Rebecca Walberg are co-founders of the ProWomanProLife blog." The woman said they were a front for men or perhaps men using female pseudonyms. I said it was sexist to believe that political views are determined by biology and returned to my Economist. Further discussion would be fruitless. Interestingly, Mrozek and Walberg wrote in their column:

For a generation, orthodox feminists have insisted that to be pro-woman means unquestioning financial, political and moral support for abortion under any circumstance. Bill 34 reveals that many of these activists are not pro-woman or prochoice, but rather pro-abortion ...

Three and out

3. In the op-ed pages of the Boston Globe, famed Harvard law professor and lawyer Alan Dershowitz weighs in on beanballs in baseball. He says that Major League Baseball is too lenient on pitchers who throw at the heads of batters and the managers who call for it. Agreed. I'm in favour of brushing batters back and even deliberately hitting them, just not in the head which is too dangerous. Dershowitz might go overboard in the "draconian" (to use his word) punishment he calls for: "The minimum penalty for a manager must be suspension for an entire season, perhaps even for life. For the pitcher, suspension for the season should be mitigated only if the pitcher turned in the manager. There should also be penalties for any baseball player who hears the manager or coach order the beaning of a player without reporting it." That is excessive, but once you acknowledge the potential lethality of throwing at a player's head, perhaps it becomes defensible. I'd like to see serious punishment but considering the difficulty of determining deliberate beaning and a pitch that got away, a season is too much. I would like to see an automatic five game suspension for the pitcher for beaning a batter and a longer suspension for pitchers that are proven to deliberately do so and 15 games for managers proven to call for it.

2. The Boston Red Sox have reportedly claimed lefty reliever Billy Wagner off waivers and the New York Mets have until Tuesday to work out a deal, let him go for nothing or pull him off waivers. The Mets should save the money ($2.6 for the rest of the season, $8 million team option for 2010 with a $1 mil buyout) and let Wagner go. Wagner has played just one game this year -- one inning, two strikeouts, no baserunners -- after having Tommy John surgery last September. It is not yet entirely clear Wagner will return to form despite his one good inning, but his career stats are impressive: 2.40 ERA, 1.01 WHIP and 1068 Ks in 819 IP. (Actually, it might be clear that Wagner has not returned to form: his first two pitches back in the Majors last night were at least 94 mph, the first just missing the strike zone, the second nailing it; he didn't hit 98 mph but averaged over 95 mph on his fastball. However, only five of his nine strikes -- and 14 pitches -- were actually in the strike zone.) Anyway, the BoSox could use Wagner who would solidify a deep if lately shaky bullpen.

1. Pat Lackey at FanHouse, a Pittsburgh Pirates fan, notes that the Bucs need just 12 more losses for a North American professional sports record 17 consecutive losing seasons. He does, however, see a little bit of silver lining: "[There is the] faint hope that maybe some of the players on the club right now ... might have some sort of long-term value." Faint hope that maybe ...