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).

XML This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?
Wednesday, March 31, 2010
The errors of Frumism

In a way, I hate to continue the David Frum-American Enterprise Institute, but this from No Left Turn's Pete Spiliakos is too good to pass up:

I don't want to kick Frum when he is down, and getting to appear on the Larry King show is no compensation for losing a steady (and to me, suprisingly large) paycheck. I take him at his word that he is trying to articulate a viable right of center politics under contemporary cricumstances. I just think that his approach involves giving up too many principles, uses too little strategic imagination, and will do no long term good to conservatives or America. I think that his now famous Waterloo article is a good example of the type. Frum was upset that Republicans did not try hard enough to "compromise" with the White House. From what I gather, this compromise would have involved accepting a nationalized program of government madated comprehensive health care prepayment, in return for a different funding mechanism (he seems to want a carbon tax rather than Obamacare's taxes on high earners) and restrained Medicaid spending. This is almost a parody of Ross Douthat's unfriendly description of liberal Republicans as trying to "head in the same direction as the Democratics, but more slowly, with more attention to balancing the nation's books." No thanks.

Frum is also an eager but unconvincing salesman for how his more socially liberal, environmentally statist conservatism represents the future. Frum argues that if Tom Campbell, Meg Whitman or Carly Fiorina, win statewide in Califormia, it will signal a win for "middle-class opportunity and social modernism." Now you don't think Frum may be talking about himself now do you? I have two problems with this analysis. First, so many kinds of Republicans are likely to win so many races this year that everyone will be able to point at how their kind of Republican (Rubio, Kirk, Portman, Toomey whoever) represents the way forward for the party, and all of them will be seeing what they want to see. Second, why does Frum think he needs to look into the future to see how his kind of conservatism works?

Who better personified the Frum conservative combination of social liberalism, green preening and "fiscal conservatism" than Arnold Schwarzenegger? He won two statwide races but, from a conservative perspective, it was a barren victory. He was able to win over some social liberals by hugging them on the social positions and offering the hope of fiscal competence in the face of Democratic mismanagement. He was able to make some marginal gains among nonwhites by distancing himself from the toxic conservative Republican brand - toxic in California that is. The problem was that the win was not really based on winning the voters over to shared principles or a durable issue agenda aside from better economic management. He was hired to be social liberalism's Mini-Me and economic liberalism's finance coach. The state's normal coalitional dynamics reasserted themselves and Schwarzenegger moved farther and father left in order to buy off liberal-leaning interest groups and survive.

In California and the rest of the country, there is no real alternative to doing the hard work of recruiting constituencies that are currently alientated by political conservatism, and doing so on a set of principles that can unite the current conservative base and potential converts.

Midweek stuff

1. Michelle Kerns has "The top 20 most annoying book reviewer cliches and how to use them all in one meaningless review."

2. Paul Kedrosky counts the number of times the f-word shows up in best-selling books about the financial crisis.

3. Science Daily: "Orange Corn Holds Promise for Reducing Blindness, Child Death." The challenge: "introducing a new variety of corn to consumers."

4. Mental Floss has "14 Quirky College Donations (and the Strings Attached)."

5. I`m looking forward to season two of Deadliest Warrior: New Blood on Spike.

6. GraphJam illustrates the common factor among ``Cartoons that still run after 10+ years.``

7. Pineberries: the pineapple meets the strawberry.

8. Popular Mechanics: "The World's 18 Strangest Airports." (Make sure to scroll down because there are two airports a page.) It is a fine line between strange and neat and I think most of these land on the neat side. That said, Antarctica, Barra (Scotland), Courchevel (France) and Copalis State Airport in
Grays Harbor County, Wash., are strange; Gibraltar is my favourite. Here's video of the airport in St. Maarten:

And this is a pretty extreme but typical landing at Toncontin International Airport in Tegucigalpa, Honduras:

Wok racing

The Wall Street Journal reports:

Racers sit in the middle of kitchen-quality Chinese woks and hurtle down chutes of ice at speeds of up to 60 miles an hour. Four-seaters—four woks linked together in wooden frames—can clock 75 miles per hour.

Originally cooked up as a TV stunt, wok racing has become hot in Germany. On March 19, for the 2010 championship, 6,000 bratwurst-chowing, beer-downing wok fans packed the same 1,500-yard track here used by top bobsledders and lugers. Scalpers were charging €80 to €90 for €30 tickets, some fans said. Televised live, the race attracted 3.6 million German viewers.
Former Olympic lugers dominate the, er, sport? The WSJ story includes video that is worth watching.

Follow the (US) leader when convenient

Via Andrea Mrozek at ProWomanProLife:

Question: Mr. Rae, Secretary of State Clinton said just moments ago that the government’s maternal health plan – she panned it saying it should include contraception, it should include abortion. How do you read into that?

Bob Rae: Well, a government that’s controlled by a neo-conservative agenda is not – in today’s world not going to be able to fashion a serious consensus either with the Europeans or with the Americans. … These guys have been labouring under an illusion that somehow if you bring in a neo-con agenda that’s going to prove interesting to countries like the United Kingdom and France and Germany and the United States which have been at this very important work on maternal health for a long time. …this is the consequence of having an administration in Canada that has an agenda that’s out of step with most other countries in the world.

Question: But the fact that it was the Secretary of State though, does that add extra weight in your mind?

Bob Rae: No kidding. The Secretary of State of the United States, of course it adds weight. …

Question: The Secretary of State also says thought that Canada should stay in Afghanistan in a military mission. Do you think they should follow that advice?

Bob Rae: Of course not.
Invoke when convenient, ignore when inconvenient.

Dream Matchups

Roger Federer and Rod Laver, two tennis greats is running a series on Dream Matchups -- games that never happened between the best teams or individuals in their sport: 1975 Cincinnati Reds vs. 1998 New York Yankees (MLB), 1964 UCLA Bruins vs. 1997 Kentucky Wildcats (NCAA basketball), 1950 Cleveland Browns vs. 2007 New England Patriots (NFL), 1972 Los Angeles Lakers vs. 1983 Philadelphia 76ers (NBA) and 1932 Joe Louis vs. 1988 Mike Tyson (boxing). Putting aside quibble (no Michael Jordan Bulls, no Muhammad Ali, the `50 Browns instead of one of Vince Lombardi`s Green Bay Packers teams or the Steel Curtain Pittsburgh Steelers), I have a problem with how few matchups there are: no college football, no tennis, no hockey, no track.

NHL: Montreal Canadiens (1976-1977) vs. Edmonton Oilers (1987-1988)

College football: Michigan Wolverines (1947)* vs. Nebraska Cornhuskers (1995)

Tennis: Rod Laver (1962) vs. Roger Federer (2004)

Women`s tennis: Martina Navratilova (1984) vs. Serena Williams (2002)

100 meters: Jesse Owens (1936) vs. Carl Lewis (1984)**

Golf: Ben Hogan (1953) vs. Tiger Woods (2000)***

Pro wrestling: Hulk Hogan (1985) vs. Ric Flair (1987)****
* There was a question in `47 about whether Michigan or Notre Dame was the AP number one, but the Wolverines employed a lot of trickery and gimmicks that would be a joy to watch.

** With apologies to Usain Bolt (2008), perhaps Owens and Bolt could run the 200 m.

*** Another toughie. I think Hogan is the greatest golfer of all time which is why I picked him (just narrowly) over Byron Nelson (1945) and Jack Nicklaus (1963); some combo of Hogan, Nelson and Nicklaus probably played together so I couldn`t pick two of them for this dream matchup.

**** I know they wrestled but it would have been great to matchup up the WWF & NWA champs at the height of their popularity.

Three and out

3. First thought on the New York Mets Reyes Rules for their star but often hurt shortstop Jose Reyes: good grief. Better reaction: teams need to protect their investments in elite talents.

2. George F. Will`s Newsweek column is a baseball quiz. Good luck.

1. A different kind of fantasy baseball: as part of`s Dream Matchup series, Tom Verducci has baseball covered and it features the 1975 Cincinnati Reds vs. the 1998 New York Yankees. It would have been more interesting to have the 1927, 1932, or 1939 Yankees vs. 1998 Yankees, but I`m highly partisan. (It says a lot that the 1961 Bronx Bombers team with Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris is the fifth best Yanks team of all-time.)

Tuesday, March 30, 2010
Four and down

4. Tim Tebow. Repeat that name a hundred times in a row and you'll sound like the football media's coverage of the upcoming NFL draft. Yet, paradoxically, all the hoopla is about a player the talent evaluators of the NFL suggest is not worthy of first-round consideration. No mock draft has him as one of the first two quarterbacks taken (that would be possible first overall pick Sam Bradford and Jimmy Clausen and maybe Colt McCoy). Cold Hard Football Facts says the talent evaluators are nuts. Tebow's college career is remarkable -- better than Peyton Manning's -- and while school success doesn't necessarily translate into professional success, it is better than the scout's record (Tim Couch and JaMarcus Russell?). Tebow should be seriously considered by any team in need of a quarterback of the future. End of discussion.

3. The Buffalo Bills confirm that they might have some interest in Tebow. The Bills, like every team with a need for a quarterback, is rumoured to be interested in Donovan McNabb of the Philadelphia Eagles. Of course, there is a difference between being interested and seriously looking at acquiring the former Pro Bowl quarterback. Tebow won`t cost as much next year and will be around for a reasonable price for a few seasons after that. No brainer to me.

2. ESPN has reported that the Oakland Raiders are more "interested" than most in McNabb. Passing as analysis as to why it might happen: "There also are connections between the Raiders and McNabb. Raiders owner Al Davis and McNabb each went to Syracuse." That's simply stupid. That the quarterback and owner went to the same university five decades apart is irrelevant, journalistic grasping at straws.

1. Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc., writing for an ESPN blog, says that the Chicago Bears signing of defensive end Julius Peppers, who can line up on either the left or right side, is a good move for the team. He concludes that "flipping him from side to side throughout the game could provide problems for the Bears’ opponents," because he "is a better football player than any offensive tackle in this division." The best OTs in the division -- not that the Bears only play the Green Bay Packers, Minnesota Vikings and Detroit Lions -- will need help to cover Peppers, or watch him "wreak havoc." All of this is true, but ignores the fact that the Bears desperately need offensive help. As far as I know, Peppers can`t catch. The defense should be better, and the D needs to get better (it isn`t the same defense it was three or four seasons ago) to offset the regression that comes with their aging players on that side of the ball. But the money (six years for $91.5 million, $42 million guaranteed, for an average of more than $15 million a season) spent on Peppers might have been better spent on Anquan Boldin or another elite receiver to give the (over-rated) Jay Cutler a target.

WSJ header a bit off

The Wall Street Journal headline: "New York Homicides Rise a Bit in 2010." The first sentence begins, "New York City's homicide rate is up nearly 23% this year..." That seems to be more than a bit.

Leftism is a religion

Dennis Prager at NRO:

Leftism, though secular, must be understood as a religion (which is why I have begun capitalizing it). The Leftist value system’s hold on its adherents is as strong as the hold Christianity, Judaism, and Islam have on theirs. Nancy Pelosi’s belief in expanding the government’s role in American life, which inspired her passion for the health-care bill, is as strong as a pro-life Christian’s belief in the sanctity of the life of the unborn.

Given the religious nature and the emotional power of Leftist values, Jews and Christians on the Left often derive their values from the Left more than from their religion.

Now, most Leftist Jews and Christians will counter that Leftist values cannot trump their religion’s values because Leftist values are identical to their religion’s. But this argument only reinforces my argument that Leftism has conquered the Christianity and the Judaism of Leftist Christians and Jews. If there is no difference between Leftist moral values and those of Judaism or Christianity, then Christianity is little more than Leftism with “Jesus” rhetoric...

Best. Headline. Ever.

In the National Post: "Environment minister's cat catches on fire during Earth Hour candlelit dinner."

What schools teach us

Robin Hanson on schools:

It seems that modern schools function in part to help humans overcome their (genetically and culturally) inherited aversions to hierarchy and dominance. Modern workplaces require workers who are far more accepting than are foragers of being told what to do when, and of being explicitly ranked, and our schools prepare kids to accept this more primate-like environment.
That`s from a post on our primate ancestors and forager ancestors.

'Bribing' kids

Slate looks at the difference between bribing children and rewarding them. I prefer the term incentivizing. If you accept that people are willing pay for what they want, what is wrong with paying for good behaviour or other desirable things from one's children? I ask that in all seriousness. You can email comments to paul_tuns[AT]

Three and out

3. Joe Posnanski has a long, sometimes rambling (even his digressions are enjoyable) post on unearned runs. Like most advanced thinkers, he doesn't like the concept of unearned runs. He looks at the phenomenon from a team perspective and finds that good teams score more unearned runs and poor-scoring teams score fewer unearned runs. Go figure. Once a player gets on base, it is irrelevant to how he got there and teams that can get baserunners around the bases to score are going to get the job done. Unearned runs count in the final score. Read the whole thing, digest the numbers, enjoy the digressions and be prepared to be convinced that the earned run/unearned run dichotomy is a silly distinction. Either the pitcher allowed the hitter to get on base or he didn't; it doesn't matter that a (subjective) fielding "error" was the cause. Posnanski also notes the lamentable contribution of the error to the trend to make baseball an individual game, rather than a team one.

2. Slate excerpts Dave Jamieson`s Mint Condition: How Baseball Cards Became an American Obsession. If you are at all interested in the cardboard collectibles, this is worth a read, although this excerpt focuses on cards as an investment.

1. The Boston Globe`s Nick Cafardo rates the MLB managers. First, gotta say, love the line about Tony La Russa being the ``Bill Belichick of baseball.`` That`s a good thing. I`m not sure how to rate most managers objectively; generally the stats cannot capture their contribution. I know who the bad ones are, I`m a little less sure who the great ones are, and am certain most neither help nor hinder their teams. Mike Scioscia of the Los Angeles Angels deserves to be on top considering how his teams consistently out-perform their Pythagorean record -- their expecteded record according to their runs scored and runs allowed. While hardly a widely accepted standard, I consider that the most (only) ``objective`` measure of a manager`s positive influence on the team. His style fits the team, they do the ``small things`` (mostly run aggressively) that can but usually don`t make much difference, but for the Angels it works. I would also put the Minnesota Twins skipper Ron Gardenhire nearer the top of the list (instead of ninth) because he consistently fields competitive teams despite the fact his organization doesn`t spend a lot of money on payroll. Also on the short list of helpful skippers: Tony La Russa (St. Louis Cardinals) and Fredi Gonzalez (Florida Marlins), and maybe Joe Maddon (Tampa Bay Rays) and Terry Francona (Boston Red Sox), in that they seldom do anything that costs their team games: they play their best linuep, leverage their role players on the bench and in the bullpen, and do a good job managing the personalities on their team. If you value that last attribute, Joe Torre (Los Angeles Dodgers) could be on the list but in the past he has been brutal to his bullpen and played favourites over obvious upgrades; that has cost his teams games. I think Joe Girardi over-manages and thus far it hasn`t hurt him but it is just a matter of time. Girardi, like Charlie Manuel (Philadelphia Phillies) will win considering the talent on the roster, so both are over-rated. I don`t know if Jim Leyland (Detroit Tigers) is still a great manager, or even a good one; he has a reputation for being a good manager, and that`s all you need in the business. Bobby Cox (Atlanta Braves) has a lot of victories, which is a testament to his longevity; he is neither a great manager nor a bad one, just a veteran in the dugout who hasn`t done a lot to make his team better than it really is, but neither does he cost them wins. Lou Piniella (Chicago Cubs) probably is making more bad decisions than good ones; ditto for Cito Gaston (Toronto Blue Jays). Jerry Manuel (New York Mets) and Dusty Baker (Cincinnati Reds) actively hurt their teams with their decisions -- Manuel with his handling of the pitching staff and Baker by refusing to play his best players (do we need to bring up leading off with Correy Patterson last year). Cafardo`s exercise of placing a number from one through thirty is silly. There are three or four tiers of managers: top tier (those rare skippers who make decisions that get the most out of their teams), a top middle tier (where most managers reside, they are mostly a non-factor), a bottom middle tier (mostly a non-factor but has tendencies that hurt the team on occasion), bottom tier (a handful managers that actively hurt their teams).

Monday, March 29, 2010
Obama responsible for future Greeceification of America

Washington Post columnist Robert Samuelson says that some future budget crisis -- "a wrenching political, social and economic upheaval" -- is on the shoulders of the current president and Congress:

Should the United States someday suffer a budget crisis, it will be hard not to conclude that Obama and his allies sowed the seeds, because they ignored conspicuous warnings. A further irony will not escape historians. For two years, Obama and members of Congress have angrily blamed the shortsightedness and selfishness of bankers and rating agencies for causing the recent financial crisis. The president and his supporters, historians will note, were equally shortsighted and self-centered -- though their quest was for political glory, not financial gain.

More on Frum not being part of the AEI team

From Kenneth P. Green, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, commenting at Gerry Nicholls' blog:

David Frum is indeed a nice fellow, and I'd like to be able to say that I consider him a friend, but I really can't. For despite working at the same place for about four years now, I think I saw David at AEI perhaps half a dozen times, and then, only in passing at official events like our annual board luncheon.

I can't think of a single time for example, that David sat at the scholar's table in the AEI dining room, which, while good enough for Jeane Kirkpatrick, apparently wasn't good enough for David. I've dined with Charles Murray more than a few times, and had fascinating lunch discussions, and the same is true of virtually all of AEI's high-profile scholars and fellows, from Norm Ornstein, to Chris DeMuth, to Arthur Brooks, and on down the line.

I also can't think of a time that I saw David attend a regular AEI event such as a panel discussion, book panel, etc. He certainly didn't show up for events I've been involved in. Nor did I see David involved in publishing to AEI's blog, to AEI's print or online magazines, nor did I see him involved in things like email round-robins that periodically include most of AEI's researchers.

The fact is, AEI's management has made it eminently clear for the entire time I've been there that they place a very high value on collegiality, and on-site presence. I would much prefer to work from home, in some other city - I am not fond of the DC metro area - but I don't because my job requires my presence, and that presence is beneficial - interaction with other scholars leads to new ideas for research and intellectual development. And AEI's preference for on-site scholars is perfectly logical, especially when money is tight. That's when you most value people who can perform the full panoply of AEI functions, from writing, to organizing and hosting events, to moderating panels at colleagues' events, to being in-house (or local enough to turn up quickly) to brief visiting policy makers, or AEI donors, or to chat with visiting intellectuals. David acknowledges that he didn't do much, if any, of this.

Like many at AEI, I am unsettled by this public spat, and somewhat disgusted that people like Bruce Bartlett have tried to profit themselves by distorting what happened at AEI as regards David Frum. I think it is despicable for people whose intemperate and arrogant behavior cost them the respect of their peers to use events like this to portray themselves as martyrs.

(Emphasis added)
Green also says dissent from prevailing orthodoxies is tolerated at AEI:

[T]he idea that AEI would tell people what to think, or terminate them for their ideas is completely at odds with what I've seen at AEI in my time there. I know, for example, that my own non-dismissive view of climate science angers some of AEI's supporters. I am sure that my avowed atheism (which finds its way into my writing) isn't amusing to others. When I wrote that a carbon tax would be better than cap-and-trade, some other think tanks tried to get me censored or fired, and their efforts were laughed at by AEI's management.

Some truth here to how politics works

Patrick Ruffini is a little too much GOP flack for my liking, but he's right here about the interplay of politics and policy:

Debate the details of this all you want, but the political upshot of this would have been to render the health care issue, a major Democratic hobbyhorse, politically dead for a generation. A bill less ambitious in scope, designed to address real pain points not a quixotic campaign for 100% insurance, could have forestalled this bill even in the event of a complete Democratic takeover.

This may be oversimplified. There are certainly many very good conservative health care scholars whose work I should have been reading more closely these last few years. But politics is a battle of perceptions, and the perception -- that became reality -- was that Republicans brought a knife to a gun fight when it came a debate about the scope and reach of health care reform. We may have won the political battle over health care, in that a majority of Americans opposed Obamacare, but sometimes it is the policy battles that set the tone for the future political battleground, moving the entire spectrum on which they are fought further left.

IRS commissioner refuses to answer whether he fills out own taxes

This this under not really news but always amusing -- Jonathan Strong at The Daily Caller:

IRS Commissioner Doug Shulman practically ran away when The Daily Caller asked him whether he prepares his own taxes. Millions of Americans struggling through complicated IRS forms in the weeks leading up to tax day — April 15 — might like to know.

“I don’t have time for this … If you want an interview, you can call my office,” he said, speed-walking down an ornate hallway in the Longworth House Office Building. Shulman had just testified to the top tax committee in the House about steps he was taking to make it easier for people to file their taxes.

Three and out

3. Baseball Analysts has graphs that show the various projection systems and how they see each division races. Only consensus division winner? St. Louis Cardinals, with the New York Yankees off by just one. I like the Cards to win the NL Central and don't see any other team overtaking them, but I wouldn't be surprised to see a team (Chicago Cubs or Milwaukee Brewers) somehow pulling out some sort of upset. That said, I wouldn't be surprised if they ended up with the most wins the Majors, either. They should feast on the Houston Astros, Pittsburgh Pirates and maybe the Cincinnati Reds. The only other unanimous picks: Toronto Blue Jays last in the AL East (mostly just under 70 wins), Baltimore Orioles in fourth in the AL East (70-78 wins), Kansas City Royals last in the AL Central (although tied with the Detroit Tigers according to Chone, with wins in the high 60s to high 70s), and the bottom three in the NL East (in order) with the Florida Marlins, New York Mets and Washington Nationals.

2. This is a sad sight -- and site:

1. The Baltimore Sun reports that Orioles skipper Dave Trembley has 80% of his rotation figured out: Kevin Millwood, Jeremy Guthrie, Brian Matusz and Brad Bergesen are lined up to be the first four starters, and Trembley isn't revealing the No. 5. However, he said he is 'probably moving closer to making that decision' ...." Probably closer? He has less than a week to finalize his Opening Day roster. But as Rob Neyer notes, it probably doesn't matter much because the rotations of non-competitive teams are likely to radically change between now and June. For what it's worth, I wouldn't be surprised if the Orioles knock on the door of 500 ball sometime deep into the season.

Sunday, March 28, 2010
Weekend stuff

1. Evelyn Waugh reviews Garry Wills book on G.K. Chesterton in the April 22, 1961 edition of National Review.

2. Kottke has some interesting U.S. population density facts that he found at StrangeMaps, a site destined to waste much of my time in the future.

3. "Nominations for the least-accurate political memoir ever written," from last week's Washington Post Political Bookworm, with Steven Hayward, James K. Galbraith, Christopher Buckley, Ted Sorensen, Mike McMurray and Douglas Brinkley providing the nominations.

4. I thought this dress was so awful even Sarah Jessica wouldn't wear it.

5. Okay, back to StrangeMaps: "'Great Party Place, Wisconsin', or: America’s Beer Belly," and "Distilled Geography: Europe’s Alcohol Belts." There are non-alcohol related maps, too, such as Korea depicted as a tiger.

6. Don't worry about fat.

7. The "best 12-second video" Reason has ever produced?

Earth Hour -- the Day After

If you believed the pre-Earth Hour hype, everyone in Canada was practicing safe energy, but alas that doesn't seem to be true. According to the Toronto Star:

According to Toronto Hydro, fewer people participated this year — the utility recorded a 10 per cent power drop between 8:30 and 9:30 p.m. Saturday, March 27, 2010, compared with 15.1 per cent last year.
Irony alert: the culprit for a smaller reduction in energy use than in 2009? Colder temperatures. Ten degrees colder than 2009. Hmmm. Maybe last year's Earth Hour was enough.

And if the hour of self-righteousness doesn't do the trick, there's always the "Wish tree":

Hundreds of people gathered in Dundas Square to mark the occasion. As the flashing billboards went out one by one, they listened to musicians like Chantal Kreviazuk, and tied notes with environmental hopes to a wishing tree.

“Sustainable farms and farming,” read one. Clean energy was another common wish.

“I wish the province would honour its promise to build light-rail transit over the whole city,” said Mayor David Miller. At 8:30, the square went dark—except for the sign above Forever 21, which kept blazing, as did spotlights on the HNR tower at the square’s northeast end.
Because building light-rail transit won't take any energy.

I was heartened by this report from the Calgary Herald which reports that Calgarians are apparently not being fooled by this feel-good exercise:

Well, Calgary, at least electrical consumption during this year's Earth Hour didn't go up.

Two years ago, the city suffered a public shaming when power use rose during the annual eco-friendly event.

On Saturday, things were a little better, with Calgary managing a small drop in power: half a per cent.

"It is a little disappointing," said Doris Kaufmann, a spokeswoman with Enmax Corp. "We would have actually hoped that people would have really gotten on board a little bit more."
The aforementioned Toronto Star story noted that Saint John, New Brunswick -- or as the Star calls it, St. John, New Brunswick -- didn't even officially take part. The Telegraph Journal has a reports that the city is doing things to save electricity, like reduce non-essential use during off-hours. Another important note from that Star story: the ads that went dark in downtown Toronto at Dundas Square at 8:30 pm, were "as bright as ever" at 9:30.

And here's a thought from John P. Palmer:

I really doubt that any of the local radio or TV stations who have been telling everyone to participate will go off the air.
Wonder if the Star shut off their computers or edited by candlelight at 8:30 last night. I bet not.

Gerry Nicholls is wrong

I know Gerry Nicholls. Gerry Nicholls is a friend of mine. David Frum is no Gerry Nicholls. Despite what Gerry says. Gerry suggests they shared similar fates, being fired from their respective organizations (Nicholls from the National Citizens Coalition and Frum from the American Enterprise Institute) after criticizing "the powers that be," -- the right-leaning political powers that be. The difference, however, is that Nicholls criticized the Conservative Party for not living up to its conservative principles, whereas Frum criticized the Republicans for not selling out their conservative principles. And that is all the difference in the world.

Nicholls says "organizations like the AEI and the NCC should allow and even encourage criticism of the political powers that be." I agree. But the role of the NCC and AEI is to strengthen the conservative position by challenging their own side to be better, offering conservative policies, and critiquing the weaknesses in the liberal agenda, not to perpetually criticize one's own. (That is not to say there is not a role for that, but as I've said often, Frum has become little more than the conservative-go-to-guy for criticism of the Right.) Nicholls says the "one idea conservatives must always embrace is the importance of free speech." True, but conservative institutions need not subsidize and give authority to the voices that undermine conservative principles.

Three and out

3) Now that Joe Girardi has announced that Phil Hughes will be the fifth starter, Dave Allen at Fangraphs looks at what should be done with Joba Chamberlain. On some level I agree that he should go back to the minors to work on being a starter because starters have so much more value than relievers (according to most advanced metric comparisons, elite closers are worth top-tier mid-rotation starters like John Danks or Nick Blackburn). But that is never going to happen: Chamberlain is a fan favourite and the team lacks a reliable setup reliever if Hughes in the rotation. I'd like to see him in more of a long reliever role to prepare him for the job of starter if the situation arises, but also to use him for as many relief innings as possible. That said, the best he's been in the majors is as a reliever in his rookie season and there has been steady statistical decline the more he starts. That isn't quite fair, but he has delivered in that role. Ideally, he'd be used out of the bullpen without any role, leveraging his enormous talent according to the needs of the game, not some pitch-by-numbers arrangement. But that is asking for a level of creativity and non-conformity from a manager than is realistic to expect. Steven Goldman at the Pinstriped Bible predicts that Joba won't hold onto the 8th inning role for long, but I think he is overly pessimistic about Chamberlain's trajectory.

2. I think Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Matt Kemp is a superstar in the making, destined for perennial All Star appearances and regular consideration for the MVP. He and Andre Ethier guarantee the Dodgers have one of the best outfields in the game regardless of who patrols the leftfield. But this isn't cool.

1. Just as people couldn`t be fans of both The Beatles and The Rolling Stones or The Who and The Kinks, I have largely ignored Seattle Mariners Ichiro Suzuki in favour New York Yankees Hideki Matsui. Of course, one can enjoy both Baba O'Riley and Waterloo Sunset and likewise there is no reason a baseball fan should not be able to admire and respect both Matsui and Suzuki. Joe Posnanski has a column that must be read to understand how unique Suzuki truly is -- he has played nine seasons in the Majors and led the American League in singles in all nine seasons. He missed 2000 (still playing in the Japanese league) but he had more hits than any other Major Leaguer in the 2000s by 90 (Derek Jeter was second). He draws favourable comparisons to Pete Rose. And defensively, he`s ... well, here's the Mays-like catch Suzuki made this week in Spring Training. I`m not going to get a Suzuki shirt, like I did for Matsui, but I can respect the singular talent that is Ichiro Suzuki.

The Washington Post lowers itself

Why does anyone care what Sinead O'Connor has to say about the papal statement on sex abuse in Ireland. Ripping up a picture of the preceding pontiff is not an qualification.

Frum and AEI

For his part, Frum is typically pissy in furthering the feud, blaming donor pressure and being his typical jackass self. You must read Charles Murray`s description of Frum`s non-involvement with the American Enterprise Institute in a post at The Corner that Murray acknowledges will probably end their friendship:

David got a handsome salary but, for the last few years, has been invisible as a member of the institute. Being a scholar at a think tank (or any institution) is not just a matter of acknowledging your affiliation in your books and op-eds. It’s also a matter of blogging at the institute’s blog, not just your own blog (David had a grand total of 3 posts on AEI’s blog in the year since it began), reviewing colleagues’ drafts, reacting to their ideas, contributing chapters to their books, organizing scholarly events, participating on the institute’s panels, attending the institute’s conferences, helping out with fundraising, serving on in-house committees, giving in-house seminars, and mentoring junior staff. Different scholars are engaged in these activities to different degrees.
That`s fair enough, but I go back to this fact, too: it is not that he criticized the Republicans than that Frum ceased being a conservative in any meaningful sense.

March Madness (Elite Eight, Part II)


I got both relatively easy picks right on Friday, with Duke (1) beating Perdue (4) and Baylor (3) beating St. Mary`s (10), so it looks like my Elite Eight prediction of Duke over Baylor stands. To repeat what I said on Friday, the Blue Devils play a great game on both sides of the court, have a deep and talented bench, and three superior big men up front. Baylor Bears guards Tweety Carter and LaceDarius Dunn can be counted on to cause Duke some trouble (Dunn scored 23 points against the St. Mary`s Gaels). But the player to watch is Bears power forward Ekpe 'Nightmare' Udoh who has great defensive numbers (9.7 rebounds, 3.7 blocks) to go along with 13.8 ppg. Matt Crossman at Sporting News Today says that Udoh studies a lot of tape and prepares better than most others. Both teams have a solid pair off the bench but there is a steep decline after that, so foul trouble could be a major factor. Baylor had an advantage on the boards against St. Mary`s that they won`t have this afternoon. The Bears are devastating if they get their transition game going, and I`m not sure Duke can stop it. I see Duke`s suffocating defense holding the Bears off, but it should be a great game -- it`s close enough that TSN is predicting Duke continues championship drought. I`m not confident in my pick, but I`m sticking with it.


I correctly predicted Michigan State (5) beating Northern Iowa (9), but got the Tennessee (6) game against Ohio State (2) wrong. The Vols beat the Buckeyes when Evan Turner failed to get a pair of three pointers off in the final ten seconds of the game. The Michigan State (5) contest with the Tennessee Volunteers (6) is the only game which features teams I care about at this point and I want to see the team that plays the better game win. I think that will be Tennessee. The games season stats are almost identical: Tennessee was 25-8, scoring 73.6 pp and allowing 64.9; MSU was 24-8, 72.6, 63.7. To repeat the well-worn phrase, Michigan State coach Tom Izzo prepares his Spartans like few coaches can. His team plays a grinding defense that controls the tempo of the game. Shooting guard Durrell Summers is an explosive scoring threat (19.7 ppg), and MSU`s ability to score will depend to some degree on his accuracy to sink treys. The Spartans didn`t seem to miss injured guard Kalin Lucas in the Sweet Sixteen, but the Vols aren`t the UNI Panthers. As`s Seth Davis says, ``Lucas is very important to everything the Spartans do`` -- he scores, creates plays, plays decent enough defense. They`ll feel his absence against the Vols. Tennessee has risen to the challenge to beat three great teams this year -- Kansas, Kentucky and, in the Sweet Sixteen, Ohio State. The Vols defense could be better, but they also grind down opponents. They are better at recovering missed shots than Michigan State, but just barely. Power forward Wayne Chism excels are grabbing rebounds and scoring. Tenny will try to speed up the game to take Michigan State off their game plan. Tenny, who are in the Elite Eight for the first time, goes to the final four, denying Izzo his sixth trip to the Final Four since 1999, edging the Spartans in a game that could be back and forth throughout.

Saturday, March 27, 2010
March Madness (Elite Eight, Part I)


I got the East right, correctly predicting Kentucky (1) and West Virginia (2), but that was hardly surprising considering that they were both among the nation`s top six college team`s this year. Said the Elite Eight matchup will be the best in the tournament. The UK Wildcats are the best team left in the tournament and WV Mountaineers are probably the second best. I like WV's chances for an upset because they don't make turnovers, they pound the boards and they get a lot of offensive rebounds. But I think against Kentucky they'll feel the loss of their guard Truck Bryant. Kentucky can play punishing offense or stifling defense. They have a deep bench. They have the best playmaker in the tournament in point guard John Wall (8.7 assists per game). Center Kevin Jones has to be double teamed, leaving one of the Wildcats other forwards unguarded. Spectacular game in which Kentucky`s better bench could be very much a factor. Kentucky (1) beats West Virginia (2).


I predicted Syracuse (1) to beat Butler (5) and Xavier (6) to upset Kansas State (2). I got both wrong, but the Xavier-KS game went to double OT, so I`m going to claim I was close to 500. So instead of the `Cuse beating Xavier as I predicted, I`ll go with Kansas State beating Butler. Butler is a short team and KS should be exploit missed shots by beating them on the boards on both sides of the court. The KS Wildcats have a great perimeter game with the dynamic guard duo of Jacob Pullen and Denis Clemente -- the Pullen-Shelvin Mack matchups should be great to watch. I like Butler`s 6-9 power forward Gordon Hayward, who averages 15.3 ppg and 8.2 rebounds -- both good for the Bulldogs lead. But he is the tallest player on the team so he is asked to do more than might be reasonably expected, especially with the Wildcats having several big, contributors off the bench. Kansas State will need that bench because they played the late-night, double overtime game on Thursday. KS makes it two for two for teams called the Wildcats today.

Friday, March 26, 2010
March Madness (Sweet Sixteen, Part II)


This past weekend, I was just two for four in the South's round of 32: Right on Duke and Baylor, wrong on Villanova and Perdue. Dang, Perdue is a tough team to figure out.

Sweet Sixteen predictions

Duke (1) beats Perdue (4): The Duke Blue Devils play a great game on both sides of the court, has a deep and talented bench, and three superior big men up front. The Perdue Boilermakers have done fine without Robbie Hummel thus far but when you are missing your star you'll feel it against the bracket's top team. Perdue has remade itself into a defense-first, second and third team and that might keep it close, but it is hard to see how they have the offense to prevent the Blue Devils from going to the Elite Eight. Few possessions, low scoring but Duke breaks away near the end. All that and the fact that the Blue Devils just really, really, really have to win -- so says the New York Times.

Baylor (3) beats St. Mary's (10): Baylor's Ekpe Udoh should do more to keep Omar Samhan (13 for 16 shooting) in check than Villanova did. Of course, St. Mary's has good three-point shooting and spectacular two-point shooting, so the Baylor defense will be stretched to either stop the big guy up front or surrender a lot of treys by Mickey McConnell and Matt Dellavedova. To use the phrase used in three of four analysis/previews I read, the Bears will have to pick their poison. Still, it just seems unlikely that the Gaels will catch lightning in a bottle again and beat the third-seed a week after downing the second-seed. Baylor has their own pair of top guards in Tweety Carter and LaceDarius Dunn. (By the way, LaceDarius is either the coolest or gayest name in the tournament depending on your view of things). Either team can score from behind the arc so neither team should really ever be out of it. Baylor is going to win because of a big advantage on the offensive boards.

Elite Eight: Duke (1) beats Baylor (3)


Three for four on the weekend. I was right on Tennessee, Ohio State, Michigan State. Like everyone I was wrong on Kansas. Terrible clock management at the end of the Michigan State/Maryland contest for both teams.

Sweet Sixteen predictions:

Michigan State (5) beats Northern Iowa (9): Cinderella vs. Tom Izzo. Everyone talks about the Spartans like coach Izzo himself plays on the court. ("Never count out an Izzo team," etc...) Indeed, his teams go far, do well and probably overachieve because he does as good a job as anyone in preparing his players. The UNI Panthers have had a great run, have played extremely well and proved they can beat anyone, including the top program in the country. Michigan State will miss guard Kalin Lucas -- who led the Spartans in both scoring and assists -- but not as much as against other opponents because UNI doesn't press very hard. As Sporting News Today noted this morning, the Spartans are used to UNI's pace, a slow, low-possession style that frustrated the Kansas game; the Spartans out-rebound opponents by 9 ppg and that kind of advantage should mean they'll end the Cinderella run of the Panthers.

Ohio State (2) will edge Tennessee (6): I'm not crazy about what Sports Illustrated's Andy Glockner said about the Tennessee Volunteers: "If 'good Tennessee' shows up, the Vols could be in Indy. If 'bad Tennessee' shows up, the Vols could get smoked by Ohio State." That's not really analysis and it's probably true about any team in any game. Yet, there is a reason he says it: Tenny is frustratingly inconsistent. (There are other options Glockner does not examine, like 'good Tennessee' being beaten by Ohio State or a 'bad Tennessee' getting real lucky and upsetting the two-seed.) Tennessee is the only team to beat both Kansas and Kentucky this year -- college basketball's top two teams. They could beat Ohio State, but the chances aren't that great. The Vols defense isn't as stingy as its reputation has it, the Buckeyes starting five might be the best left in the tournament, and Ohio State has the TSN Player of the Year in Evan Turner and at this stage it is often wise to pick team's with the best player in the game. Vols play a grinding game that forces a lot of turnovers and Ohio State's usual superior ball-handling has looked surrendered more than their share of balls thus far in the tournament. But I don't see Tenny, even with its deep bench, stopping Turner, David Lighty, Jon Diebler and William Buford, all very good offensive forces (David Lauderdale is on the court for his defensive prowess). Game should be close, but Ohio State will move on to the Elite Eight on the way to the Final Four in Indianapolis.

Note: I hope I'm wrong on both of my Midwest predictions because I like Tenny and am enjoying watching Northern Iowa.

Elite Eight:

Ohio State (2) over Michigan State (5)

Frum gone from AEI

Howard Kurtz of the Washington Post reports that David Frum and the American Enterprise Institute have parted ways. It is about time. Frum has long ceased being a conservative in any meaningful sense of the term and his trade now seems to be nothing more than Republican-bashing. (That isn't to say that conservative can't or shouldn't criticize Republicans, I'm just saying there isn't much else to Frum at this point in his career.) Kurtz reports that Frum says "there was no suggestion" that his dismissal is connected to his criticism of the GOP's health care strategy. Probably not, but that might have been the last straw. On the plus side, he can go on criticizing conservatives including the Wall Street Journal and at least he can't be labelled as a conservative-in-good-standing by pointing to his AEI credentials. Here's his whiny no-doubt forced resignation letter.

The failures of the state never dampen liberal enthusiasm for more government

John Robson in the Ottawa Citizen writes about the passing of Obamacare:

While star-struck journalists were hailing this bill as on a par with civil rights, social security or Medicare, I was researching the latter and found this nasty tidbit: When created in 1965, Medicare was projected to cost $3.2 billion dollars a year. But it cost $4.2 billion its first year, $7.1 billion by 1970 and $18 billion by 1975 with its sibling Medicaid costing as much again. By 1989 the two combined were costing $76 billion and by 2004, $606 billion. So much for cost projections...

[A]s far as I can see big government social programs invariably cost way more than they were meant to and deliver way less.

Can you name one, here or in the United States, with which progressives are now happy? Can you tell me one significant social problem that was solved by a government program? And yet rhetorical outrage at the inadequacy of existing measures is invariably accompanied by unguarded praise for the next big thing. Why? Do we never learn?

'Pro-choice is an ideology, too'

That's the headline on a guest column by Margaret Sommerville in the Ottawa Citizen that is, as Tyler Cowen suggests, self-recommending. It concludes:

Ignatieff was saying, therefore, that his pro-choice values should not only prevail, but not be opposed. That's not how democracy works.

Three and out

3. Boston Globe baseball writer Tony Massarotti has his pre-season power rankings by league. (Strange way to do it; I can't think of any other entity that separates the leagues.) No one would argue against the top three in the American League -- the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox and Tampa Bay Rays -- and I think the Minnesota Twins occupy the tier behind them, all by themselves in the fourth spot. The fifth through ninth spots are largely interchangeable depending on your analytical tendencies and how much you think the Seattle Mariners have improved, the Los Angeles Angels will decline, the Texas Rangers of '09 were 'real, if the Detroit Tigers can rebound and whether the Chicago White Sox have enough umph in their lineup to compete. There is a wide range of defensible answers to those. But I don't get the Kansas City Royals at 10th, ahead of the Baltimore Orioles, Oakland A's, and Toronto Blue Jays. The Royals are comprehensively awful until they prove otherwise and might only be better than the Cleveland Indians.

2. In the National League, Tony Massarotti has the Milwaukee Brewers as a 500 team and 11th overall. Are there really ten other teams in the NL who are better than 500? Seems implausible. The Brewers are a tough team to peg -- great lineup, but the pitching is unpredictable (at best) or terrible (at worst) -- but they are better than the Cincinnati Reds, Florida Marlins and San Francisco Giants. He has the Giants at 5th despite the lack of any hitter behind Pablo Sandoval. Like almost everyone, he under-rates the New York Mets.

1. At Fangraphs, Steve Sommer says that "Every season some teams spend money on players that are going to be on other team’s rosters." Of the top five teams with the highest percentage of payroll being paid to players on another team, four are expected to be competitive (both Los Angeles teams, the Milwaukee Brewers, and Texas Rangers). It is one season's worth of data so conclusions are really little more than speculation at this time but I'd suggest that this is true for any number of reasons from the weakish theory that teams that can afford to dump payroll like that are generally going to be larger market teams to the more persuasive notion that teams that understand sunk costs are likely to jettison players who are no longer useful and find better alternatives sooner even if that costs them some extra dough. Of course, those two theories are not unrelated, but the second part is, I think, essential to understanding the connection between winning baseball clubs and paying for players to suit up in another team's uniform. Interestingly, the team paying the highest percentage of payroll for players on other teams is the uncompetitive Toronto Blue Jays. That reflects bad decision-making on their part and considering that they are always crying the blues about lacking the finances to compete with the Red Sox and Yankees, it is inexcusable.

Thursday, March 25, 2010
The nanny state

The Montreal Gazette reports:

Parents and caregivers should immediately sift through their toy boxes and throw out all the old Fisher-Price "Little People" figures because a baby recently choked to death when the iconic toy became lodged in the infant's throat, Health Canada said Thursday.

The older "Little People" figures, which were manufactured before 1991, have a circular base approximately 2 cm (3/4 inch) in diameter, posing a risk of serious injury of death. The figures include a variety of characters, such as a little girl, a train conductor, a dog and a father.

The newer "Little People" figures have a larger circular base, approximately 3 cm in diameter. "These figures are taller, in chunkier shapes and are of sizes that cannot be taken into the throat of a young child. These newer figures are not the subject of this advisory," Health Canada said in a statement.
The action by federal nannies is the result of a tragic death that occurred ten months ago and just came to Health Canada's attention. So how serious of a problem is choking on two-decade old toes? The Gazette reports that "This isn't the first death linked to the older Fisher-Price 'Little People' series," noting that the company had a PR campaign in 1992 alerting the public that there were seven whole fatalities and one serious injury to children under three resulting from the use -- actually, misuse -- of these toys. Presumably, there haven't been many since then, or Health Canada or the Gazette should have noted it. So all those parents out there that don't know that they should watch their children and what they put in their mouth, Ottawa is there to save their children. For children ticked about losing a favourite toy, blame the bureaucrats who think that a single death in 18 years warrant an instruction to parents to dispatch dangerous toys that have probably been in the family for a few decades.

March Madness (Sweet Sixteen, Part I)


Last weekend I was three for four in the Round of 32 for the West. I was right on Syracuse, Butler & Xavier; wrong on BYU.

Sweet Sixteen predictions:

Syracuse (1) edges Butler (5): Everyone is talking about how far Syracuse goes if/when center Arinze Onuaku returns, but they've done well without him and a Onuaku that plays at only 60% or 70% capacity might not be enough to get past their remaining opponents. The 'Cuse Orange have hit 58% of their two-pointers this year and they're much better on the boards than Butler. This game should be close enough to maintain fan interest throughout, but not close enough that the result will seriously be in doubt in the closing minutes.

Xavier (6) edges Kansas State (2): Kansas State features an appealing pressure defense that creates loads of turnovers, but Xavier's starting guards (Terrell Holloway and Jordan Crawford) are superior ball handlers. Should be a great contest. KS gets more than their share of offensive rebounds but Xavier has has a rotation of three large forwards/centers that will limit the Wildcats chances at cashing in while crashing the boards. Kansas States has two three-point happy guards in Jacob Pullen and Denis Clemente, but Xavier was one of the best in the country in limiting three pointers (fewer than 30% of attempted treys were successful). With strength pitted against strength this could be the best game of the Sweet Sixteen.

Elite Eight:

Syracuse (1) over Xavier (6): The Orange should get past X, but I'd like to see how Onuaku does.


Two for four, but got the easy ones (1-2 seeds). Right on Kentucky, West Virginia. Wrong on Wisconsin, Washington; I really thought that the Badgers could get to the Elite Eight.

Sweet Sixteen predictions:

Kentucky (1) beats Cornell (12): notes that there are plenty of differences between the teams (the entire UK team receives athletic scholarships whereas the entire Ivy league got rid of them in the early 1990s, the Kentucky Wildcats have won seven NCAA tournaments while the Cornell Big Red have won two tournament games, etc...). The biggest difference is that as good as Cornell has played this in the first two rounds, the Wildcats are probably the best team still in the tournament and Cornell is probably the worst. That is not to say that Cornell is bad -- they've played excellently and deserve to be where they are -- nor is it to suggest that upsets don't happen -- although there is no analytical reason to predict one. Cornell should be proud of what they have achieved, but they are not likely to get past Kentucky. If Cornell can keep it close (and I wouldn't go so far as to predict that), it will be a really thrilling game to watch. As the saying goes, America loves an underdog.

West Virginia (2) over Washington (11): John Gasaway of Basketball Prospectus describes the West Virginia Mountaineers style of play as "low-turnover high-offensive-rebound brand of offense." That's tough to beat. WV will miss their 9.3 ppg guard Darryl "Truck" Bryant who sustained a foot injury and is out for the rest of the tourney, but the Mountaineers are probably the better team even without their guard.

Elite Eight: Kentucky (1) over West Virginia (2): could be the game of the tournament.


Tim Harford blogs about the UK budget and tries to put it into comprehensible terms. But he begins with this wisdom:

I try not to have strong opinions on the budget, for two reasons. First, macroeconomics is witchcraft. I’ll never understand it. Second, budgets are typically foolish exercises. In good years they drape tinsel over presents already under the Christmas tree. In bad years, they rearrange the deckchairs on the Titanic.

What happened to the Jayhawks?

I meant to get to this earlier this week, but read Joe Posnanski's article on why the number-one seed Kansas Jayhawks were dispatched in the second round of the NCAA tournament. In a word, it was the team's "effortlessness." That sounds like moralizing, but it isn't; it's observation.
Pos explains: "Their offense was sloppy, their defense uneven." I agree that they looked terrible against the 16th seed Lehigh in the first round and were they facing a better opponent, they wouldn't have gotten to the Round of 32. On Saturday, the Jayhawks were simply lacking in most of the game against #9 North Iowa. In the final few minutes the Jayhawks stormed back and put on the best full-court press I've ever seen. They were forcing turnovers, preventing their opponents from scoring, flying on the transition, scoring from everywhere. They were what everyone thought Kansas was coming into the tournament: dominating. But it was too little, too late.

There are two reasons why March Madness is so exciting. (Well, actually more than two, but these two are the first that come to mind and they are both relevant.) The first is that teams like Kansas can play entire games as well as they played the closing minutes and such basketball games are a thing of beauty. The other is that there are Cinderella teams that are worth rooting for because by rights they shouldn't get to where they are but in the tournament anything can happen, even if most of the time it won't. It's worth watching for when it does. UNI did well and deserve their spot in the Sweet Sixteen. Kansas didn't do well, so they don't. And the madness continues. Except for Jayhawks fans.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010
Midweek stuff

1. The official website for Mad Men lets you rate Sterling Cooper ad campaigns.

2. From "Shark-Bitten Crocodile Poop Fossils Found."

3. Golf madness -- a fake golf tournament featuring 16 of the all-time greats from Ben Hogan and Arnold Palmer to Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus.

4. Tyler Cowen tweets the least enticing book blurb ever.

5. Via the Boston Globe, National Geographic Society photographs illustrating various aspects of water and water shortages. One need not be an environmentalist wacko to appreciate them or to be concerned about drought. I especially liked pictures 1, 13, 23, 40 and 41.

6. Fun anti-PowerPoint poster at BoingBoing.

7. "50 dazzling stunts in three minutes" -- I'm not sure that there are 50 'dazzling' stunts, but the ones at 2:06 and 2:40 certainly are.

Tipping taxi drivers

Mario Rizzo on tipping taxi cab drivers. He's against the practice and he defends his position using economic principles. He also defends his position morally: "I am not being selfish any more than the driver who wants a tip." Brad DeLong says Rizzo is a psychopath. It's funny but cab drivers are about the only people I tip with any regularity -- that's because I usually use them when I'm running late and am grateful for getting to where I need to go on time.

Live blogging the maternal health debate

I do most of my moral conservative commentary at Soconvivium, The Interim's blog. Today during the debate on the Liberal motion to require that abortion and contraception be made part of the government`s maternal health program I ``live-blogged`` the proceedings. Here are excerpts of my comments as the debate progressed.

11:09 am: Liberal MP Keith Martin in his contribution to the debate offered this nugget: “Doesn’t pro-life mean the ability to access safe abortions?” Can Martin himself believe such nonsense? Does he think he will persuade anyone with such a comment?

11:46 am: Bloc Quebecois MP Johanne Deschamps says she doesn’t “understand” how a maternal health program cannot include abortion for 12- and 13-year-olds who were raped in war. Is that the cause of 500,000 pregnant women dying every year or 9 million infants dying prematurely?

NDP MP Peter Julian said 30,000 children will die today due to hunger and charges that the Conservative ideology is opposed to abortion. The assumption seems to be if the well-refuted argument that there would be less hunger if only there weren’t so damn many people. Who’s being ideological now?

… Earlier Keith Martin said Canadian women have the right to abortion so the government is wrong to deny women abroad those same rights. But in many countries, abortion is not a right. Does Martin want to impose Canadian values abroad? Is he know a moral colonizer?

Liberal, NDP and Bloc MPs are repeatedly charging the Conservative government with being ideological and ignoring the “science” that proves the need for contraception and abortion.

12:27 pm: Liberal MP and former Minister of International Cooperation Maria Minna said that the current minister, Bev Oda, should resign because she isn’t doing her job if the government won’t fund contraception as part of maternal health. Is acting on behalf of Planned Parenthood part of the job description of Minister of International Cooperation?

12:52 pm: Keith Martin asked Candice Hoeppner that if she is truly pro-life why doesn’t she support giving women in the developing world the right to abortion. Hoeppner said she won’t be baited by the Liberals into debating abortion and accused Martin of playing politics with women’s health. Nice turning it around on the Grits…
The government wants to talk about health, nutrition and clean water; the Liberals want to talk about abortion and condoms.

1:54 pm: Bloc MP Nicole Demers apologized to women in the developing world for the “misfortune” of becoming pregnant in countries that don’t have health care. Demers lamented the lack of basic health care in the developing world. But isn’t that what the Conservative government is trying to address by focusing their maternal health program on clean water, inoculations, safe deliveries and nutrition programs?

4:41 pm: Liberal MP Carolyn Bennett said that abortion and contraception will be supported by Canadian taxpayer dollars only where they are already legal, which is the first time today any opposition MP has suggested such a limitation. She introduced a new formulation: abortion is a choice “between (sic) a woman, her doctor and, ah, her country.” Interesting phrase from an abortion rights defender; it implicitly admits that a country can regulate or restrict abortion.

4:58 pm: NDP MP Libby Davies on abortion as part of maternal health: “This is about empowering women.” And if we don’t offer abortion to women in the developing world Canada becomes “an international embarrassment, just like Copenhagen.”

5:45: The motion defeated 138-144. It appeared that three Liberals voted against the motion … Liberal strategist on CBC Newsworld John Duffy vowed that the issue isn’t going away.

Obamacare repeal

The Republican Party and their think tank and activist allies are justly calling for repeal of Obamacare. We'll see if that is the GOP's rallying cry come October (I doubt it). But Andrew Stuttaford offers some words of wisdom: "Obamacare 'repeal' in and of itself is not politically likely unless it is accompanied by some sort of constructive alternative."

Tuesday, March 23, 2010
Four and down

4. The NFL has approved a modified sudden-death overtime for playoff games that will allow for each team to have a possession unless the team that wins the coin toss scores a touchdown. This morning there were reports that the proposal from the competition committee would be tabled until a later owner's meeting because owners needed time to consider the facts. However, it passed 28-4, four more votes than it needed to carry. I like the rule change, but if it is good for the playoffs it should be applied to the regular season, too. The idea behind the change is that a team shouldn't be eliminated from the playoffs because they lost a game in which they don't have possession (unless their opponents score a TD); but teams could miss the playoffs by a single win because they lost an OT game in which they don't have a possession. How is that fair?

3. Peter King reports that many coaches are opposed to the change, but that is too be expected. The conservatism of professional sports (management, coaches, pundits) leads to decisions that eschew risk-taking; coaches are the ones who will be criticized by Monday Morning Quarterbacks: be aggressive to get a TD but miss and the media and fans will be calling for the coach's head because he shouldn't have taken a chance; be conservative and go for the field goal, but if the opponents score seven on their next possession they might be immune to criticism (the media doesn't usually attack coach's for playing it safe) yet they get the loss.

2. reports that the Dallas Cowboys are considering starting Felix Jones ahead of Marion Barber. The move would not be an easy one, but Barber seems fragile and keeping him healthy by minimizing his exposure to opposing defenses makes a lot of sense.

1. reports that WR Terrell Owens' agent says his client has offers from (unnamed) three teams. Sure he has.

The bureaucracy necessary to oversee Obamacare will not be cheap

Here is a useful timeline of implementing the health care reform plan which as much as anything I've seen explains the elements of the bill just passed. There is a lot of government in there: new programs and new oversight of the private sector. Won't be cheap.

Democrats create dependency out of self-interest
Or, Why Obamacare passed

George F. Will continues the theme that has consumed his column writing the past few months:

Promoting dependency is the Democratic Party's vocation. The party knows that almost all entitlements are forever, and those that are not -- e.g., the lifetime eligibility for welfare, repealed in 1996 -- are not for the middle class. Democrats believe, plausibly, that middle-class entitlements are instantly addictive and, because there is no known detoxification, that class, when facing future choices between trimming entitlements or increasing taxes, will choose the latter. The taxes will disproportionately burden high earners, thereby tightening the noose of society's dependency on government for investments and job creation.

Politics in a democracy is transactional: Politicians seek votes by promising to do things for voters, who seek promises in exchange for their votes. Because logrolling is how legislative coalitions are cobbled together in a continental nation, the auction by which reluctant House Democrats were purchased has been disillusioning only to sentimentalists with illusions about society's stock of disinterestedness.
That is why Democrats are willing to risk electoral defeat: in the long-run it will grow the state and thus people's reliance on Democrats. As Mark Steyn has pointed out often, conservative parties cannot win the game of how to improve health care unless they become liberals because the only political fix is more money and more regulations. That's why David Frum is wrong: there could be no compromise. A little bit of slavery is still slavery.

Three and out

3. Baseball Analysts look at which teams have the highest variation among the various projection systems. Florida Marlins have the least (78-80 wins) and the New York Yankees have the most (89-103). Teams that aren't that great but aren't awful will generally have less variation, while there is more range for a very good or very bad team (will the Houston Astros win as many as 71 or as few as 66?) That said, the Boston Red Sox have the second least variation because most systems will project them to finish somewhere in the vicinity of 94 wins.

2. Marc Hulet of Fangraphs continues his examination of the fifth starter role (single fifth starter used for 24+ starts a year). He uses the Toronto Blue Jays as a real-life example and it is worth reading (Jays fan or not). So, too, is's Rob Neyer's response. Neyer agrees that the current system doesn't serve teams very well, but he doesn't think Hulet's suggestions are going to work for all (even most) teams because most managers aren't that creative and most teams don't have the resources for better back-end pitching. As Neyer says, a manager usually has to pick a fifth starter from among "three or four semi-viable candidates." That is the reality of choosing fifth starters and middle relievers. Most teams, the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox notwithstanding, don't have the luxury of having top-tier prospects or pricey middling veterans to drop into the final spot in the rotation (and even they had troubles last year -- Sergio Mitre and Chad Gaudin was giving starts for the Yanks for crying out loud); for most teams, top prospects and middling veterans are already in the middle of the rotation or the bullpen. So yeah, the current system of "throwing some Triple-A refugee out there and blindly hoping he'll win a dozen games" is the lamentable status quo, as Neyer concludes, yet "oddly enough, is what almost every team will do next month." Solutions will not come easily or cheaply and managers who are generally risk averse aren't going to take risks to improve their pitching situation if it means taking criticism if it doesn't work out (or doesn't work out immediately).

1. I don't trust John Heyman as a reporter/rumour-monger, but I'm salivating at the thought that the Yankees could land Tampa Bay Ray OF Carl Crawford. $15 million for great defense and speed, a good batting average, but not a lot of power is probably too much for most teams but not the Yankees -- or Red Sox or New York Mets. Tampa should be able to afford the $5 million annual pay increase for their star but they have decent outfield prospects in the wings, so they might let him go via free agency or, more likely, through a mid-season trade if they are on the outside looking in on the playoff picture. The Yanks, Mets and BoSox could all be in the market for outfield help next winter so the $15 million annually salary is probably a floor. Crawford would be making a mistake, leaving money on the table, if he re-signs with the Rays.

Monday, March 22, 2010
Mankiw on health care reform

This is an important insight because Greg Mankiw implies that the whole health care issue is about more than just costs or even health care, but rather than the fulfillment of the Democrats' fantasies about egalitarianism. The concluding paragraph in Mankiw's post-heath care reform vote post:

The Obama administration's political philosophy is more egalitarian and more communitarian than mine. Their spending programs require much higher taxes than we have now and, indeed, much higher taxes than they have had the temerity to propose. Here is the question I have been wondering about: How long can the President wait before he comes clean with the American people and explains how high taxes needs to rise to pay for his vision of government?

Government takeover of health care

David Gratzer explained on Friday Obamacare will grow the government and (almost) make the health care sector essentially government run. My main concern about the bill is how it will affect private insurance. Gratzer says:

Four, Obamacare gives the federal government the power to specify what every insurance plan must cover, and doesn’t touch the hundreds of state-level benefit mandates that are already in place. And, by the way, it’s a power that Washington will immediately use — both the House and Senate bills contain new mandates.
In other words, private insurance will be a bit of a misnomer. Tim Noah says that the just-passed reforms are but a step on the way to "single-payer" (read: socialist).

Caring for oneself is unacceptable to Obamacare

Arnold Kling notes that the health care bill passed yesterday limits Health Flexible Savings Account Contributions to annual contributions of $2,500. Kling says:

I assume that this refers to medical savings accounts, of the sort that I use -- and I contribute more than twice that much. I guess that won't be for long. I contribute a lot because I know what the arithmetic says is going to happen to Medicare by the time I need it. I guess the notion that I might want to save for my own medical expenses is the sort of thing that health care reformers cannot abide.


Scott Sumner at The Money Illusion has a long but worthwhile list of his influences, books and otherwise, sorted by topic. Highly recommended.

Media treats politicians with too much respect

Don Boudreaux:

On the 11pm local news last night – NBC News 4 (WRC) here in DC – U.S. Rep. Donna Edwards (D-MD) smilingly told a reporter that, now that Obamacare has passed, the health-care costs that until now troubled her district in Maryland “will go away.”

Why is a person such as the Hon. Ms. Edwards portrayed as being anything other than a clown? Why are her pronouncements about reality accorded more respect and treated as being more worthy than are pronouncements about string theory issued by a typical three-year old?
Read the whole, brief post including a great concluding quote. In another post, Boudreaux says of the Congressmen making lofty promises about health care:

These people look like serious adults; the timber of their voices make them sound like serious adults; and their titles are ones that are assumed to be reserved for serious adults. But, in fact, these people – from Obama to Pelosi to Hoyer to Reid – are nothing of the sort.

The Pelosi sausage factory

Kimberley Strassel in the Wall Street Journal:

Last week Republican Rep. Mike Pence posted on his Facebook site that famous Schoolhouse Rock video titled "How a Bill Becomes a Law." It's clearly time for a remake.

Never before has the average American been treated to such a live-action view of the sordid politics necessary to push a deeply flawed bill to completion. It was dirty deals, open threats, broken promises and disregard for democracy that pulled ObamaCare to this point, and yesterday the same machinations pushed it across the finish line.
David Harsanyi says (in the narrower context of deem-and-pass) process matters. Especially when such a sweeping and important piece of legislation is passed with the slimmest of majorities.

The coming health care monster

Wesley Smith on Obamacare:

The worst is yet to come as the 2500 pages of bill metastasize into 100,000 pages of undemocratically promulgated regulations.

Three and out

3. The Minnesota Twins were hoping for a successful season to open their new stadium, Target Field. Closers are over-rated and all but maybe a half dozen are truly lights out -- that is, actually, without a doubt, a "closer." One of those elite relievers is Joe Nathan. The Twins will have to try to make the post-season this year without him as he's undergoing Tommy John surgery. Nathan hopes to return to action by Opening Day 2011 (which seems a little optimistic). Baseball is a little worse off without him and the Twins are more than a little worse off. Minny has virtually no margin for error in the extremely tight AL Central and whoever replaces Nathan may end up losing an extra game or so that Nathan wouldn't; that might be enough to drop from first to out of the playoffs.

2. Speaking of the Twins, they agreed to an eight-year, $184 million contract extension with their All Star catcher Joe Mauer to keep the St. Paul native in a Minnesota uniform until 2018. It apparently includes a full no-trade clause. A case can be made that he is one of the best two or three hitting catchers of all time (327/408/483) having led the American League in batting average in three of his five full seasons; he has never hit less than 294 and batted 365 in last year's MVP campaign. He is also an outstanding defensive player, winning back-to-back Gold Gloves. I think eight years for a catcher is a little risky, but he is only 27 and a positional move down the road is not out of the question. I think some observers will be surprised by the average yearly salary of $26 million, but as I noted a week or so ago, Minneapolis isn't really a poor, small market team. It wouldn't appear that Mauer left much money on the table. While I was looking forward to Mauer hitting the free agent market next Winter when both the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees could be looking for a catcher, I doubt either team would have committed to eight years or more than $26 million a season. Good move for the Twins and Mauer and one that signals to fans that the Twins are serious about contending in the long-term. This seems unusually intelligent commentary from ESPN's Buster Olney: "A major challenge for the Twins -- who have evolved from a small-market team into a club with a mid-range budget -- will be how they can compete while paying one player such a high percentage of their payroll." He is one of the few mainstream sports writers to understand that Minny is not a "small market" organization.

1. At Fangraphs, Marc Hulet points out there is no such thing as a "fifth starter." Two-thirds of all teams don't even have a fourth reliable starter and just a handful used a single fifth starter consistently. Many reasons for it, mostly injuries and the dearth of quality starters being key among them. Good post and something for teams to think about when assembling a team.

Sunday, March 21, 2010
History-making day

Health care passes the House of Representatives and both the politicians and pundits are talking about it being a history-making moment. The journos on CNN are ridiculously giddy. It's all very nauseating.

For some reason it reminds me of other history-making days: October 29, 1929 and August 6 & 9, 1945.

14 books that influenced me

Tyler Cowen began a great meme, although he went with only ten (thus breaking his own rule about not trusting lists of nice round numbers like five or ten). He links here and here to numerous others who have followed suit (Will Wilkerson, Arnold Kling, Matt Yglesias, Bryan Caplan, etc&) and there are some good lists in the comments sections, too. I gave it a lot of thought on how to arrange this list (chronologically? by influence?). I went chronological.

1 & 2. Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal/Virtue of Selfishness by Ayn Rand. In the Summer of 1988 I moved from the Left to the Right, initially because I was disgusted by the Democratic National Convention during which I realized modern liberalism was complete BS. Shortly after that I met and befriended Kaye Sergeant, the leader of the Libertarian Party of Ontario. She gave me Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal and one of Rand's novels. I read Capitalism in a week. I immediately went out and bought The Virtue of Selfishness and began reading it. (I re-read the latter during the day my eldest son was born, through Christina's longish labour.) It didn't make me a Randian or even much of a libertarian but it completely turned me away from thinking the state was very benign and that government was indeed often a force for evil. Capitalism birthed my unwavering enthusiasm for free markets and (especially) entrepreneurs and the distinction between being pro-capitalism/pro-capitalist and pro-business. The Virtue of Selfishness also moved me off my teenage bigotry by exposing racism as being a form of collectivism. (Capitalism was published in 1967, Virtue of Selfishness published in 1964; read them both for the first time in 1988.)

3 & 4. Reflections on the Revolution in France by Edmund Burke and Rights of Man by Tom Paine. This is a bit of a cheat because I didn't read the books but rather excerpts for a high school history class. Fell in love with intellectual history and began to understand how ideas have consequences. Flirted for a while with studying philosophy but was more interested less in ideas than how ideas influence events. (Reflections on the Revolution in France published in 1790, Rights of Man published in 1791; read excerpts in 1988, read Reflections in 1989, Rights of Man in the early 1990s.)

5. Rotisserie League Baseball (2nd edition) edited by Glen Waggoner. Rotisserie baseball is fantasy baseball. I discovered this book during a family trip to San Diego when I was 15 and read it cover-to-cover twice during the drive from southern California to Las Vegas and back). The book was entertaining, even humorous (insulting mediocre players) and it deepened my appreciation of my favourite sport by broadening my understanding of statistics. It also introduced me to the concept of fantasy sports which had a tremendous direct influence on my university life; all my meaningful friendships at school were with fellow owners in hockey and baseball pools or people I met through those with whom I played. Of course, I continued buying the annual editions for RLB. (Published in 1988; read that Summer.)

6. Suddenly: The American Idea Abroad and at Home by George F. Will: I read Will's Newsweek column and watched him on This Week with David Brinkley, but reading a large volume of his collected columns turned me into a George F. Will fan, which had an enormous effect on me. It influenced my fledgling conservatism by Americanizing it and wrapping it within a political philosophy rather than a mere constellation of policies and principles. (It also probably saved me from becoming a radical libertarian.) It led me to think seriously about the role of journalism and commentary in public life. For unrelated reasons, it influenced my decision to become a journalist. Not only would my politics probably be different were it not for George Will, but my whole life, so I consider this my "most influential" book. (Published in 1990, read in 1990.)

7. Preferential Policies: An International Perspective by Thomas Sowell. I think this was the third or fourth Sowell book I read, and I wanted to put two of the first books I read by Sowell (A Conflict of Visions or Compassion versus Guilt), but Preferential Policies solidified my understanding of unintended consequences, taught me that nice motives don't mitigate against the harm of mistaken policies, and hammered home that rhetoric can't fix problems. It also showed that racial injustice is a global problem and that government can't provide easy solutions to the problems that arise when different cultures bump into one another. (Published in 1990; read 1990.)

8. Once More Around the Block by Joseph Epstein. I bought this book in Las Vegas when I was 21 and my future wife and I decided to take a break from handing our money to the casino and instead checked out a mall. I didn't know who Epstein was but the book looked mildly interesting and better than anything else that cost less than $20. I've gone on to read everything he's written (except his de Tocqueville book) and he influenced me in two important ways: I developed an appreciation for the familiar essay and an interest in serious literature and literary criticism. (I had previously eschewed non-fiction.) His promiscuous quoting of several authors (Proust, Faulkner, Auden, Orwell, Eliot, Henry & William James, F.R. Leavis, A.J. Liebling, Saul Bellow, etc&) hurt my bank balance as I sought several hundred used books (including The Great Book series), many of which are only half or quarter read. Also because of this book I began reading The American Scholar, the journal he edited at the time, which provided small pleasures in itself but more importantly led me the historians Jacques Barzun and Max Beloff. (Published in 1987; read in 1994.)

9. Leftism Revisited, From de Sade and Marx to Hitler and Pol Pot by Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn. The book like all of EvKL's writing is excellent, but Leftism and Leftism Revisited made it crystal clear that totalitarian governments, whether from the left (communist) or right (fascist) have more in common and are thus coupled on the same side of the ideological spectrum, rather than as opposites. I later read Leftism, From de Sade and Marx to Hitler and Marcuse. (Leftism Revisited published in 1990; read sometime between 1990 and 1994.)

10. Losing Ground: American Social Policy, 1950-1980 by Charles Murray. This was the first really serious, single-issue public policy book I read. Lots of lessons (road to hell is paved with good intentions, judging policies by the reality not rhetoric) but this book's most important influence was that it instilled a deep desire to read a lot of public policy books in general and to delve much deeper into poverty and welfare specifically. (Published in 1984; read for the first time in 1991 or 1992.)

11 & 12. The Creators: A History of Heroes of the Imagination and The Discovers: A History of Man's Search to Know His World and Himself by Daniel J. Boorstin. These books broadened my historical interests from politics and political philosophy to other intellectual matters (culture, science). His bibliography led to a productive extension of my own reading. (Discovers published in 1983, Creators in 1992. I began reading Creators when it came out and started Discovers early '93.)

13. Mind Game: How the Boston Red Sox Got Smart, Won a World Series, and Created a New Blueprint for Winning by Steven Goldman and Baseball Prospectus. This led to my next big jump in understand and appreciating baseball better. It also probably taught me to be a little more open minded when it came to baseball. The book led me to the Baseball Prospectus website. By sheer volume of time I spend on BP and similar sites this book deserves would be on this list because 1-2 hours of daily engagement with baseball numbers is a sizable commitment. (Published in 2005; read in 2005.)

14. Discover Your Inner Economist by Tyler Cowen. I was already on a major economics kick but Discover Your Inner Economist affected how I live and approach things by generally being more open-minded and increasingly concerned about whether I am right about my beliefs and positions. (On some level I think this is connected to my less "giving-a-shit" view of politics and the world in general, but I won't blame Cowen for that.) There are also a number of suggestions in the book on how to live; to name a few: using economic ideas to work better in groups, become more adventurous (in food and music, at least), be more effecient in my charitable and gift giving, and applying the principle of sunk costs to movies and books and relationships (leave them when they are bad). Cowen also offers the best advice I've ever read: "When in doubt, wait." (Published in 2007; read in 2007).


When I finished this list I was a little surprised at what didn't make it. Nothing religious or pro-life and no Chesterton. I think The Bible's influence is undeniable, but it's influence on me has been indirect through the teachings of the Catholic Church and Sunday homilies, a kindergarten to Grade 13 religious education, the values my parents taught me, the example of certain friends and family, etc&. If I had to name a religious book it would the The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis (1942) which I have read numerous times beginning in either late high school or early university. This series of fictional letters from a senior devil to a junior devil vividly demonstrated how Satan uses temptation to lead men astray. But I'm not sure I'd include it if I were to increase the size of the list by 50%. If the list was 15 long, I'd include George F. Will's Men at Work: The Craft of Baseball which taught me about subtlety in baseball and the hard work behind success -- and not just in baseball. Before there was Freakonomics or The Undercover Economist there was The Armchair Economist: Economics & Everyday Life by Steven E. Landsburg (1993), which I struggled with excluding. I read it sometime after reading multiple references to it in David Gratzer's London Free Press columns. It taught me that economics is about more than government balance sheets or business transactions and, of course, how to think a little like an economist. Cowen's Create Your Own Economy: The Path to Prosperity in a Disordered World (2009) furthered the lessons on tolerance that economics has provided, in this case by inculcating an appreciation of neurodiversity. If the list was 20, Steven Berlin Johnson's Everything Bad Is Good for You: How Today's Popular Culture Is Actually Making Us Smarter (2005) would be there. It taught me to relax a bit about the entertainment we consume. I said earlier I wouldn't blame Cowen for my "don't-give-a-shit attitude" and that's partly because I read Johnson's book at about the same time. I'm a little surprised that neither Paul Johnson's Intellectuals (1988) or Modern Times: A History of the World from the 1920s to the 1980s (1984) showed up, nor did any Adam Smith or F.A. Hayek, and that Burke made only a cameo (so to speak).