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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Wednesday, August 31, 2011
The world is a comedy to those who think...

Small Dead Animals points out that a Vancouver group is developing an app for the homeless.

Stimulus didn't work

Garrett Jones and Daniel M. Rothschild actually asked businesses about their hiring practices in relation to the stimulus. Their findings are reported in the Mercatus Center study "No such thing as shovel ready: The supply side of the recovery act," and the conclusions are hardly surprising: Jones and Rothschild do not actually say whether the $787 billion American Reinvestment and Recovery Act worked or not, but their conclusion leans heaviliy toward no, saying "ramping up is hard to do." Kevin Drum looks at the same data and concludes otherwise.

The authors will expand on their findings in the coming months, including this working paper, "Did Stimulus Dollars Hire the Unemployed? Answers to Questions about the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act." Here is the key stat:

Hiring isn’t the same as net job creation. In our survey, just 42.1 percent of the workers hired at ARRA-receiving organizations after January 31, 2009, were unemployed at the time they were hired (Appendix C). More were hired directly from other organizations (47.3 percent of post-ARRA workers), while a handful came from school (6.5%) or from outside the labor force (4.1%).
Tyler Cowen explains his skepticism "about the job-creating magic of stimulus."

Three and out

3. Apparently a group in the Netherlands wants to host MLB games in 2014. If the group is successful, they would be bringing the first MLB games to Europe. Why is it any different than North American baseball being played in Japan or the NFL in London, England. As Craig Calcaterra says, starting the season for a few games in Europe for two east coast teams wouldn't be much different than a west coast trip, especially if they are given a day off after their European road trip.

2. The Pittsburgh Pirates are competitive for the first time since the early 1990s and the organization is (rightly) raising ticket prices for 2012, the first time in a decade. The Pirates says they will re-invest the resources in the team. And if you read Biz of Baseball, you can see that watching games in beautiful PNC Park is still a deal. Even better now that the Pirates aren't putting a terrible product on the field.

1. The Seattle Mariners have signed GM Jack Zduriencik to multi-year extension. Gerry Spratt of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer seems to like the moves the Mariners have made under Jack Z since he has taken over the team in October 2008 and indeed he has restocked the system with young players and drafted some quality youngsters. He was hired after the Mariners became the first team with a $100 million payroll to lose 100 games (61–101). The next year, Seattle won 85 games but they played above their talent-level and they signed Chone Figgins to add a productive bat in hopes of competing for the AL West division title, but Figgins has slipped and so did the team as they posted another 61–101 record in 2010. This year, the Mariners are 57-77. Rebuilding can take time, but they don't appear to even be headed in the right direction. Dubious move signing Zduriencik to a long-term deal.

Newsweek/Daily Beast's horny university methodology

Newsweek and Daily Beast rate the U.S's 25 horniest universities and it is laughable that they have a "methodology" and even more laughingly, the methodology is flawed. What it rates is not "horniness" but availability of sex. But even by that standard, the methodology is flawed. One of its considerations is, "the male-female ratio with data from the National Center for Education Statistics, with better scores given to gender egalitarian schools that ensure both genders have a fair shot at a hookup." I'm not sure that having equal numbers of boys and girls increases the amount of sex on campus because gender imbalances could radically change behaviour and thus availability. For example, if there are fewer men, women might have to make themselves more sexually available to attract a mate because sexually interested males can make more demands.

Four and down

4. Phillip Rivers could join elite company. Via @footballfacts: "Sid Luckman holds record w/5 straight yrs as YPA leader. Steve Young 4 straight yrs. Rivers could be 3rd to do it 4 in row."

3. ESPN's Mike Sando has some level-headed thoughts about Frank Gore's new contract. The San Francisco RB had been a holdout because he wanted a long-term deal even though he was signed for $2.9 million for the 2011 season. It seems that the new deal could be worth up to $21 million for three years, although these contracts almost never max out and you never know even what they are likely going to pay out until the details are released. Still, the bottom line, in Sando's words, is this: "If you're a 49ers fan, who cares? Gore's contract situation is no longer a contract situation."

2. The law of unintended consequences. The Wall Street Journal has a very good article on how the new kickoff rules could affect the development of young talent. Reed Albergotti says not every NFL star is a former university standout and many players prove their chops on special teams. By forcing more touchbacks, the NFL is "robbing the league of its best proving ground for the sorts of warrior players who've helped make the sport the spectacle it has become." Player safety is probably worth the trade-off, but we should make no mistake that potential stars are going to be left undiscovered because of kickoffs that start at the 35 yard line instead of the 30.

1. Ben Muth writes about offensive line play for Football Outsiders. Sounds boring, but it is very important and I can't think of any other football pundit who gives the O-line any analytical treatment. Muth explains in this season's inaugural column why he picked the three teams to focus on in 2011 that he did -- the Seattle Seahawks, Tennessee Titans, and New Orleans Saints. Give him a try and you'll understand the hidden parts of the game of a lot better.

Tehran's latest enemy: squirt guns and bags of water

The Wall Street Journal reports that Iranian authorities are cracking down on squirt guns which are, admittedly, being used in anti-government protests. Lines like this crack me up:

"These events are a disgrace to our revolution. Our security forces and judiciary must stop the spreading of these morally corrupt actions," said conservative lawmaker Hossein Ibrahimi, according to official media.
How long can such an out-of-touch ideology hold onto power.

Of course, Iran's Islamic governors are also upset with the fact that young men and young women are "interacting" in these protests.

Here are more amusingly absurd lines:

Fars News Agency, affiliated with Iran's Revolutionary Guards, blamed Zionists and Americans for corrupting the minds of the youth and coaxing them into water parks.

Pictures of the young women, their tight coats and colorful scarves drenched, squirting water at young men in wet, tight T-shirts surfaced on websites and newspapers, creating an uproar that reached the parliament.
This is, as some protesters observe, a sure sign that the government fears these protests, probably because the mullah's grasp on power is tenuous.

Here's a headline I didn't expect to see during Harper government

Toronto Star: "Star columnist Angelo Persichilli to join PMO."

'The rich are different from you and me'

The forthcoming Vanity Fair has an interview with Conrad Black in which he describes what life is like in prison and his relationship with Rupert Murdoch ("he's not a non-friend. Rupert is just Darwinian."), but I loved this part:

"I can live on $80 million," he says of his greatly reduced wealth. "At least I think I can."

This animated short has sold at least one book

I'm a sucker for this type of book: Grand Pursuit: The Story of Economic Genius by Sylvia Nasar, which will be released in two weeks. The video has a number of interesting facts, including these: in 1866 Karl Marx was among England's top 2% of income earners and that he wrote Das Kapital without stepping into a factory.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011
Goodnight Irene

Gregg Easterbrook's ESPN column on football is usually half about politics and entertainment news, including this bit on Hurricane Irene and how the media covered it:

Fortunately, Hurricane Irene did far less harm than feared, mainly because the cyclone was notably less powerful than predicted.

On Friday, the day before the storm came ashore in North Carolina, The New York Times predicted Irene would be a Category 4 hurricane when it reached New York City: This would have been cataclysmic. The Washington Post predicted Irene would be Category 3 at Manhattan. At the moment these forecasts were posted, the National Weather Service's National Hurricane Center was predicting Irene would reach New York as a Category 2. What was it the newspapers thought they knew that the National Weather Service didn't know? Actual: Irene was a tropical storm, no longer a hurricane, when it reached New York.

On Friday, The Weather Channel predicted Irene would be "unlike any storm residents from North Carolina to New England have ever seen." The storm ended up substantially less potent than Hurricane Gloria, which hit those places in 1985. Friday, had a red bar running on its screen saying, "EXTREME THREAT LEVEL."

TMQ's favorite weatherman, Joe Bastardi, who presents himself to the world as a genius weather forecaster -- this column has made sport of him before -- declared, "I am predicting 90 mph winds reaching Long Island and billions in damages there." On Long Island the highest recorded gust was 67 mph; the area suffered power failures but not much damage. Bastardi once was lead forecaster for AccuWeather. Now he's at a boutique site called WeatherBell, which charges $160 a year for these kinds of canny forecasts. Bastardi also declared last week that the East Coast earthquake was caused by the sunspot cycle, a view that is, let's just say, not standard among scientists.

The New York Times blog Five Thirty Eight, a veritable fountain of decimal-point predictions, forecast that 65 mph winds in Manhattan would cause a hyper-specific $1.384 million in damages. As it happened, 65 mph was the highest gust in Manhattan. Will this forecast come close? The Times veered into the daffy by estimating that 165 mph winds, far more than any ever recorded in New York, would do precisely $16,183,125,000,000 worth of harm.

Central bankers are always fighting the last war against hyperinflation

New Yorker economics writer James Surowiecki says that the European Central Bank is too focused on fighting inflation rather than the real problems of debt and recession.

Government saved us from Hurricane Irene

Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank sets up a false choice: big government that protects people from big, bad hurricanes or death and destruction at the hands of natural disasters. Milbank seems to be giving credit to the state for the fact that Hurricane Irene was not as destructive as advertised.

Three and out

3. SB Nation's Rob Neyer says that considering that Cy Young voters focus on the traditional three pitching stats of wins, ERA, and strikeouts, even if they are not slaves to the win column anymore, they are still mired in traditional considerations and have not adopted sabermetric measures, and thus the 17-4 Ian Kennedy is a viable Cy Young contender. He won't win and he might not be deserving if you took advanced metrics into account, but Kennedy is a contender considering the way the award is decided in 2011.

2. Fangraphs' Dave Cameron says that Adam Dunn is having a bafflingly terrible season for a good player. In fact, according to WAR, Dunn is having the ninth worst season of the past 50 years, but none of the players who did worse was much of a hitter before their terrible seasons (young players, utility players).

1. Jayson Stark of has a fascinating article about technology and baseball. In short, its about how players are accessing information to make themselves better and how managers are using information to make better decisions. Stark says: "the average big league clubhouse seems to house more iPads than batting gloves," and "All of a sudden, those clubhouses are being occupied by a new generation of technologically aware baseball citizens who are willing to use that stuff." I highly recommend this article because it has neat tech bits but also some important insights into how the game is changing (for example, fewer fastball counts and more defensive shifts). And here's a provocative but plausible suggestion from Stark: perhaps the reduced number of runs over the past half decade has less to do with the supposed cleaning up PEDS in the sport as it is that pitchers are employing this information sooner and more completely than hitters.

Four and down

4. Self-proclaimed elite quarterback Eli Manning's first half on Monday night against the New York Jets: 12/25 for 174 yards, no TDs, and two picks. Manning's pre-season completion percentage is under 50%.

3. The New York Jets in the first half against the New York Giants: 43 running yards and 30 passing yards on 5/11. Seven of those rushing yards came on four scrambles by Mark Sanchez and if you take out Santonio Holmes' 17-yard TD, Sanchez threw for 13 yards on four passes. The battle of New York was a very sloppy game.

2. A note about the first half of the Oakland Raiders vs. New Orleans Saints game on Sunday night: it had a regular season feel to it and the Raiders offense flashed if not greatness, at least solidness. In other words the Silver and Black offense was better than I expected. However, Darrius Heyward-Bey looked awful on almost every play. Is it just me or does he seem incapable of doing anything but attempting to outrun defenders on straight routes? That isn't going to cut it in the NFL, Al Davis' penchant for drafting quickness notwithstanding.

1. Scott Kacsmar of the Cold Hard Football Facts says that Michael Vick is not among the elite class of NFL QBs (Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Ben Roethlisberger, Philip Rivers, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers) although he is paid like one. Yet, as ProFootballTalk's Mike Florio reports, the $100 million deal is not quite as advertised, even by the near fraudulent standards of advertised football contracts. Vick will never see the sixth year and final $20 million, but even before that the guaranteed money is only about $35.5 million. Back to those CHFF, Vick's numbers aren't that impressive in context: career high completion percentage, total yards, and touchdowns but all against a relatively easy schedule facing teams with poor pass defenses. But even if Vick's 2010 was real, there is the usual warning against rewarding players after one remarkable year and expectations of regression.

Clear and precise language

Kathy Shaidle is a national treasure because she simply cannot tolerate bullshit: "'Flash mob is a politically correct term for riot…"

Federal nobody won't seek NDP leadership

The Hill Times reports that Joe Comartin, a Windsor MP, who has never been seriously suggested as a contender for the NDP leadership, will not seek the position. The paper says Comartin was "touted as late as last week as a prospective candidate for the race to succeed Mr. Layton," but other than in speculative media accounts that cast a wide net for 15-20 possible contenders, I never saw any MP or strategist suggest Comartin's name. Political reporters and pundits mentioned Comartin as a possibility but only in long lists that included the likes of people who were never going to run, such as Lorne Nystrom, Bill Blaikie, and Gary Doer.

NDP have their Wellstone moment

In 2002, in the middle of the midterm elections, Minnesota Senator Paul Wellstone died. His funeral became an enormous election rally. Fortunately, it didn't work and the Democrats went on to lose his seat and perhaps hurt the party nationally as well. It is too soon to tell what the fallout of the state funeral love-in for Jack Layton will be, but make no mistake, it was less a funeral for the leader of the NDP than a celebration of his left-wing ideas. Ezra Levant has a must-read column on this precise point. An excerpt:

Just like everything else in the past week, it was handled by the NDP spin doctors. Even the eulogies were hyper-partisan — before Layton’s children were allowed to speak, the NDP trotted out their party spin doctor, Karl Belanger, and an old career NDP hack named Stephen Lewis.

Lewis’ eulogy wasn’t a eulogy. It was a campaign speech — but if you didn’t clap, or even give a standing ovation, you would be accused of being rude to the deceased body in the room...

Lewis said Layton “talks of social justice, health care, pensions, no one left behind, seniors, children, climate change, equality ... and argued for negotiations with the Taliban to end the carnage in Afghanistan.” Lewis himself said it: Layton was being honoured because he talked the right way.
Even the left admits the eulogy was a rallying cry. Toronto Star columnist Linda McQuaig:

Determined that the event be more than just a tribute to the goodness of one man, Lewis used the heft of the occasion, as Layton would have wanted, to drive home Layton’s social democratic vision for the country.
How often do you see Ezra Levant and Linda McQuaig agreeing?

Monday, August 29, 2011
Ron Paul is unambiguously pro-life -- always has been

National Review's Katrina Trinko has a very good report on the pro-life history and views of Rep. Ron Paul. More importantly than the politics is the philosophy because Paul locates his pro-life stance within libertarian principles:

Paul’s most valuable contribution to the pro-life movement may be his insistence that libertarian views not only are compatible with, but are reliant upon, pro-life views. That’s a perspective that distinguishes Paul from the other libertarian in the GOP race — Gary Johnson, who is pro-abortion — and one that he is unapologetic about.

Creativity is over-rated

Robin Hanson: "People like creativity less than they say, especially when they feel uncertain." Here's the study upon which the observation is based.

Three and out

3. Trevor Hoffman the best closer ever? Ethan Hammerman of Yes Network pointed out that San Diego Padres radio broadcaster Ted Leitner said former Pads reliever Hoffman was the "best closer" of all-time, adding: "This is not a Padre broadcast bias. It's not a Padre fan bias. We know this. The only true measure of a closer is how many saves did you get. So today, without any fear of argument, I tell you that, today, the San Diego Padres retire the number of truly -- by that benchmark, the only benchmark -- the greatest closer in the history of Major League Baseball." By that rather crude and disputable measure, Mariano Rivera, who is the best closer of all-time, is only eight behind Hoffman after tonight's save, so there should, at the very least, be a "fear of argument." But if you throw in Rivera's post-season saves, as Hammerman does, it isn't even close. Looking at most stats -- ERA, K/BB ratio, K/9 IP, WHIP -- it is actually pretty close. Rivera has a huge lead in ERA+ (MLB history best 204 vs. 141) and that puts Rivera significantly ahead in my books.

2. Should pitchers be eligible for the MVP? Joe Posnanaski is "neutral" on the question but presents numerous interesting facts to think about. The argument that pitchers have the Cy Young doesn't hold water if the MVP means either of the two things people think it does: that it goes to the best player or that it goes to the most valuable player which is defined as the player who made the biggest difference to his (usually winning) team. A pitcher can obviously be either of those, but if you take into account how little of the game pitchers play (starting either one out of five games or pitching in the last inning (on average) once every three days) you should be able to sympathize with those who say that pitchers should not qualify: the very best pitcher giving a team a chance to win once every four or five days vs. the best hitters who give their teams a chance to win every day requires a monumental gap between the pitcher and the hitter in the former's favour. The more I think about it, the more I'm inclined to not support pitchers for the award, although I would never want them deemed ineligible. If you read The Pos, you'll understand my thought process: unofficially rule out pitchers until the spectacular season requires serious consideration for such a recognition.

1. The Milwaukee Brewers are freakishly good, opening up a 10-game lead in a month over the St. Louis Cardinals and closing in on the Philadelphia Phillies for the best record in baseball. The Hardball Times has a great graph that shows how a tight four-way race in July has turned into a rout. Yet, with all due respect to Hardball Times, they did not quite predict what has happened ("Here at THT, we can proudly say we saw some of this coming" -- no they didn't); around July 18, THT predicted the Brewers would play 522 ball over the remainder of the season while the Pittsburgh Pirates would fall behind and the Cincinnati Reds and St. Louis Cardinals would actually do better than Milwaukee. Being off by in winning percentage by 047 and 042 respectively is pretty significant but they were off by much more with regards to the Brewers, under-estimating their winning percentage by 247 as Milwaukee has won nearly 77% of their games since mid-July.

Was Irene over-hyped?

The Economist's Gulliver travel blog asks was Hurricane Irene over-hyped and answers no. In hindsight all the hype seems silly, but as Gulliver notes hurricanes are "serious business." The post employs some facts to back it up, but there is also this question which it overlooks: does over-selling natural disasters (hurricanes, snow storms, etc&) that do not turn out as bad as advertised, lower the chances that future warnings will be heeded? Intuitively the answer must be yes, but research is needed. Elected officials, bureaucrats, and the media have not only a responsibility to warn people about probable disasters, but also a responsibility to be responsible so that their future warnings are credible. If millions of people shrug their shoulders in the face of some future disaster that turns out to catastrophic, how much responsibility do the over-sellers of today's disasters shoulder? The obvious answer is "at least some."

Four and down

4. With all the usual caveats about pre-season football, I have really liked the pressure that the Houston Texans put on opponents. Some coverage problems in game two, but overall I like the defensive upgrades. If they can continue playing like this in the regular season -- admittedly a big if -- they could win 13 games and the AFC South. As I've repeatedly said, even a move from one of the worst defenses to league average defense could make the Texans favourites in the division, especially if Indianapolis Colts QB Peyton Manning does not fully recover from neck surgery. I'm not yet ready to bet against Manning and the Colts, but this could be a really interesting season in the AFC South.

3. In Indianapolis, the Colts sign retired QB Kerry Collins, a decision that ESPN's Ashley Fox says is long overdue. Collins is one heckuva insurance policy in case Peyton Manning can't play. I like this signing a lot. Without doubt, Collins is a step down from Manning but not as much a step down compared to any alternative either inside or outside the organization. I'm not as excited about the fact that Collins is one of just 12 QBs to pass for at 40,000+ yards (which is a function of playing for 16 seasons), than the fact that with the talent on the offensive side of the ball for Indy, Collins only needs to be a good game manager who doesn't lose games with bad decisions. That said, Fox is right to say that the Colts should have worked on Plan B a little earlier. In totally unrelated quarterback news, a headline from last week: "Cardinals sign QB Croyle, waive QB Hall." How bad are the backups if signing Brodie Croyle seems like a good idea?

2. While Rich Eisen is staying with the NFL Network, his moving on from Total Access is a huge hit on the channel's news coverage. I totally agree with Douglas Farrar that there are few hosts as skilled as Eisen at balancing a panel. Many panel shows are unwatchable, but Total Access was required watching for football fans. We'll see if continues to be sans Eisen.

1. Here are all 25 of "elite quarterback" Eli Manning's 2010 picks. Some are the fault of the receivers, but man, does he make some bad decisions. And while it is tempting to blame receivers for letting tipped balls get away ("he should have caught that ball") Manning made some bad throws (are WRs expected to securely catch every throw that is three feet above their head?).

America on the decline

Some of it is the fault of politicians, some of it is not. Some problems, such as the gap between the skills that employers are looking for and potential employees have, are a combination of political, cultural, and economic factors. A new ACT study entitled, "A Better Measure of Skills Gaps," concludes, in the words of the UPI report:

[T]here are major mismatches between the U.S. workforce and the skills required for many jobs. In particular, researchers said many workers in fields ranging from healthcare to construction are unable to read the charts, graphs and other information required for their jobs.

Clean air guy doesn't like my nuclear power column

Jack Gibbons, chair of the Ontario Clean Air Alliance, responds to my column last week in the Ottawa Citizen which criticized the Ontario NDP over its anti-nuclear power stance. Needless to say, Gibbons doesn't like my column but notice that he does not dispute the notion that nuclear power is safe or clean. Instead, as many environmentalists now argue, he says that it is too expensive:

The nuclear industry always lowballs their cost estimates, but they never keep their promises. Every nuclear project in Ontario's history has gone massively over budget - on average by 2.5 times. And it's the province's hard working families that end up paying the bills.
Without looking at the numbers I will grant that is probably true, but it is true of a lot of government-funded projects including his pet causes of wind and solar energy. Also, when comparing costs, I used international and American figures compiled by Robert Bryce in his book Power Hungry: The Myths of "Green" Energy and the Real Fuels of the Future, a volume that no doubt causes Gibbons massive fits, but at least it gets past the problem of cost industry estimates and compares actual costs. Furthermore, Gibbons ignores the cost of producing energy, a measure by which nuclear wins hands-down on a per megawatt basis over the long-term.

Sunday, August 28, 2011
Weekend stuff

1. has a great photo essay: "The long-lost propaganda posters that rallied the Soviets against Hitler."

2. New Scientist reports that "Microbes are smarter than you thought."

3. Slate on "How Hard Is It To Get a Cartoon Into The New Yorker?" Hint: Hard.

4. Some pretty amazing pictures of the lightning storm that hit Toronto last week. Highly recommended.

5. Shane Ryan writes about "The Wrestler in Real Life: Ric Flair's long, steady decline," at Grantland. More about Flair's tragic personal life than his ring persona.

6. Business Insider has the ten wealthiest members of Congress and how they got their fortune. It really isn't surprising, is it, that seven of them are Democrats.

7. 14 Biggest waves.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011
How to think about Jack Layton

Jack Layton would have loved the media orgy going on in the wake of his death. He was a media whore. When journalists go on TV and call him Jack, that's a closeness born of hours chatting it up at every given opportunity, whether in the corridors of City Hall and foyer at Parliament or over drinks after work or at social functions were the paths of journalists and a certain type of politician cross. You cannot imagine a reporter talking about Stephen and probably not even about Bob, but to anyone with a camera or microphone, Jack was Jack. To his credit, Layton's love of the spotlight led to agree to be interviewed by unfriendly media. I was at Our Toronto Free Press in the late 1990s and I interviewed him about some youth who were squatting on private property and whose actions he was defending. I asked him about the condoms that were strewn on the floor of their trailers and tents and which some of the youth were sleeping on. He said it was very important for young people to have access to condoms, just as important as food. I sarcastically asked if the poor, dirty, malnourished teens who were illegally on other people's property could eat condoms or clean up with condoms and he huffed that "condoms are a human right." Such were Layton's priorities just 13 or 14 years ago. It takes a certain worldview to believe that condoms are as important to street youth as food and that they are, in fact, a human right.

The slobbering over Layton by the media was unseemly but not unexpected. The media loves him, as I noted above, because he has taken out the time to spend with them. But they also love his causes: fadish big government, social liberalism, environmentalism, and the host of left-liberal issues that animate the NDP and the left-wing of the Liberal Party. Long before gay rights were popular, Jack Layton was trying to convince the city of Toronto to offer full spousal benefits for gay employees. That was in 1986. And, he said, if the city wasn't going to do it, it should stop offering any spousal benefits. His proposal didn't succeed at first, but he tried again and again and eventually the city was at the vanguard of gay rights.

Campaign Life Coalition has video from the tumultuous days of pro-life rescues in front of the Morgentaler Clinic in Toronto in the 1980s. The footage shows Layton, then a city of Toronto alderman, directing police to make arrests (and the police doing so). At the time, freestanding abortion facilities like Morgentaler's were in contravention of criminal law. A city politician should not be ordering police to make politically motivated arrests and a city politician definitely should not be working with police to defend an outfit like Morgentaler's that was clearly violating the law. The fact that the Supreme Court would later throw out the Criminal Code provisions on abortions does not exonerate Layton's interference in a police matter.

If is mandatory that the obituaries acknowledge Layton's passion and persistence and indeed he had these traits in spades. But it must be noted to what use he put these qualities, namely policies that advanced a left-wing agenda: diminished freedom, the promotion of social envy through progressive taxation and he redistribution of wealth, radical environmentalism that disguises opposition to private enterprise as concern for the planet, support for abortion and other assaults on traditional values. Based on his actions and policies, he hated other people enjoying freedom. As city councilor, there was never a cause he didn't back that didn't diminish the liberty of Torontians, from recycling programs to indoor smoking bans. All that seems perfectly sensible today because Layton and his ilk won the argument but it is folly for us to forget that we, mere citizens, homeowners and entrepreneurs, are less free today because of his actions at City Hall. If the NDP won power in May, all Canadians would be poorer and have less freedom tomorrow. The popular word for Layton's policy preferences is "progressive" but that's just socialism in a nice dress and lipstick -- kinda like Jack's Asian masseuse.

Missing from the obits are any tidbits of criticism. The fact that he and his wife were making city councilor salaries and living in subsidized municipal housing while there were tens of thousands of poor people on waiting lists. The whole Asian massage parlour incident has been buried, even though reporters in Toronto suspect that the events reported by by Sun News in May ("soiled" towel and all) is just the tip of the iceberg of his sexual follies. Christie Blatchord mentioned it, but few others have: Layton was obsessed with politics. Even good stories about him -- how he met his wife and they spent their first Christmas making political signs -- focus on his obsession with politics. It is so damn unseemly. Those who continually seek political office, which is all he did in his adult life, are power-hungry. But you can't say that because he has the "common good" in mind. It is funny how socialist policies are always equated with the common good.

I guess I have to offer the usual lines about Layton's death being a tragedy. Of course it is. As a faithful Catholic I pray for the dead and that their families find some consolation. But just because Layton's death a personal tragedy for those close to him does not mean we need to paint him as a saint without flaws and we shouldn't flinch from the truth about his political agenda. I guess I should say something nice about Layton so I'll acknowledge this: he did grow up in his time in federal politics, but as a 61-year-old, he certainly should have. But despite his emergence as a credible left-wing leader, we cannot deny his past.

Canadian politics was more lively because of Layton, but his policies were atrocious. Where he successfully implemented them, they do harm. Where he pushed for them, he has changed the political landscape for the worst. Our country is worse off because of politicians like Jack Layton and those traits that are so admirable were put to work for ends that shouldn't be celebrated.

May God have mercy on his soul and may humility and honesty rain upon future discussions of Jack Layton's legacy. Charity is great at times like this, but not at the expense of truth.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011
At least this will make the primaries fun

National Review is reporting that Sarah Palin could announce in late September that she is seeking the GOP presidential nomination. Contrary to conventional wisdom, it is not too late to join the fray -- most of the candidates who won the Republican nomination did not formally enter the race until the Fall of the year before the primaries, so this is not a late start. She has a large following, but probably not enough to win. She could help Rick Perry and Mitt Romney by taking votes away from Michelle Bachmann. (If conservatives are not yet convinced about Perry they might gravitate toward the former Alaska governor, but I'm not sold on that theory.) Palin is a terrible candidate and even if she could win the nomination, she likely can't beat Obama.

It is doubtful that Palin could win the nomination. Many states allow independents to vote in primaries and they won't vote for an ideological conservative, but more than that, they won't vote for someone who doesn't seem up to the job, who doesn't seem presidential. Henry Olsen writes in the Summer National Journal that most Republican primary voters are liberal, moderate, and "somewhat conservative," not "very conservative," and while the first three groups will support conservative candidates they must have a moderate temperament and a proven track record of achievement. The Republicans will nominate someone who is "steady and practical" and "conservative enough." Palin, like Bachmann, does not qualify.

Shaidle on Layton

Read Kathy Shaidle on Jack Layton's passing. This is important to remember when journalists call the late NDP leader "courageous":

With all due respect, I fail to see how concealing the fact he was at death’s door from the electorate was an example of political courage.
Layton has his reasons for doing so, but typically journalists would do some digging. Journalists in Ottawa actually did the opposite. It's funny how journalists who took part in the lie that Layton would return to Parliament in September are now talking about how frail he was and how tragic it is that he is no longer active in politics and that this was all evident when Layton made his announcement about his latest cancer battle last month. But, you see, Jack is such a nice guy that they cover him like a buddy rather than a politician. On TV, they even call him Jack. And friends lie for friends, don't they? My complaint is more about the media than Layton, although it is pretty clear Layton lied to the Canadian people about returning to politics. As Shaidle says, that's not courage.

Back to Shaidle's post. The opening bit about the public display of grief in today's secular culture has applications that go beyond Layton.

Monday, August 22, 2011
Jack Layton, RIP

I have nothing to say right now, but I hope to have a post in a day or so that is more critical of NDP leader Jack Layton than the disgusting media love-in that's occurring today. For a rare, more tempered view read Christie Blatchford's column at the National Post in which she challenges both Layton and the media. Blatch writes of the letter Layton left and described repeatedly by the CBC's Evan Solomon as "extraordinary":

Who thinks to leave a 1,000-word missive meant for public consumption and released by his family and the party mid-day, happily just as Mr. Solomon and his fellows were in danger of running out of pap? Who seriously writes of himself, “All my life I have worked to make things better”?

The letter was first presented as Mr. Layton’s last message to Canadians, as something written by him on his deathbed; only later was it more fully described as having been “crafted” with party president Brian Topp, Mr. Layton’s chief of staff Anne McGrath and his wife and fellow NDP MP Olivia Chow.

Me on Ontario NDP energy policy

I defend nuclear energy in the Ottawa Citizen today and explain why the Ontario NDP anti-nuclear policy is unrealistic and unnecessary. NDP leader Andrea Horwath is playing into unsubstantiated fears as I make the same point as Robert Bryce, author of Power Hungry: The Myths of "Green" Energy and the Real Fuels of the Future, in that nuclear energy's most serious problem is the opposition of the environmental movement. Nuclear power has a PR problem, not an environmental one. Dollar for dollar, pound for pound, nuclear energy is more efficient than renewable energy and safer than carbon-based energy.

Sunday, August 21, 2011
Two great comments about Ayn Rand

Both appear in an Alex Tabarrok's post on the children's book The Little Red Hen, which he calls "Atlas Shrugged for children."

I feel that if Ayn Rand has written the little red hen, then the other animals would have starved to death with the hen berating them on their deathbed about their parasitic ways.

Ayn Rand is the reason a lot of us hate libertarians. Sure, I agree with a lot of their ideas but I’d never want to have a beer with one. I guess we should thank Ayn Rand for helping them signal what lame people they are.
I thought that these were funny despite the fact I like Rand(her books -- she was obnoxious) and she was instrumental in my teenage journey away from Marxism.

Weekend stuff

1. Live Science examines winning Rock, Paper, Scissors strategy. Provides insight into game theory and human psychology.

2. Details profiles PayPal founder and Seasteading Institute funder Peter Thiel. Yahoo's Daily Brew has the Coles Notes version focusing on Thiel's support for seasteading.

3. Steven Heller of Imprint looks at 40 years of the Nike swoosh.

4. Two stories about rats. Historian Barney Sloane says in his new book, The Black Death in London, that rats are not to blame for the bubonic plague. Both The Week's First Post and Toronto Star have stories. Science Daily has an interesting article, "Parasite Uses the Power of Attraction to Trick Rats Into Becoming Cat Food." Toxoplasma can only reproduce in the intestinal track of cats and thus they trick rats to be less frightened of cat urine so they will be caught and eaten. Love this sentence: "[The researcher] used cat urine he purchased in bulk from a wholesaler. No actual cats participated in the experiments." Bulk cat urine?

5. The Wired's Danger Room has the silliest military uniforms. How can you not laugh at the Korean honour guard.

6. MSN Autos has "The 20 biggest flops in automotive history."

7. The Daily Telegraph reports on words that are going extinct. Many are the names of things that do not exist anymore or used any longer, but I'm sorry to see that succedaneum is becoming obsolete even though I did not know it was a word until it had vanished from our collective vocabulary.

8. Pittsburgh Steeler's QB Terry Bradshaw (from the 1970s) sings Hank Williams Sr's "So Lonesome I Could Cry." I expected awful. It wasn't.

Saturday, August 20, 2011
George Will: Christie won't run

George F. Will explains why New Jersey Governor Chris Christie will not run for the Republican presidential nomination. As Will points out, Christie 1) is a powerful politician in New Jersey and 2) has his priorities straight. Conservatives who like Christie should be patient. There will be future opportunities.

I have long contended that anyone who wants to run for high office should be disqualified for doing so because that desire is evidence they should get such power; conversely, those who don't want high office are the kind of people the country needs.

Three and out

3. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported yesterday that Atlanta Braves 3B Chipper Jones says he plans to return next year (his contract runs through 2012, but was rumoured to be retiring after this season). Jones is hitting 275/347/466 with a dozen dingers and 56 ribbies. Those are good but not great numbers. However, the MLB average this year for third basemen is 248/312/379, so Jones is a pretty big plus. As a Yankee fan who is watching some veterans struggle and decline, I appreciate that discerning Braves fans will have the conflicted feelings of watching a long-time star (possibly) decline before their eyes. He turns 40 next season and there is no guarantee that he will hit 275 with double digit homerun power. None of this should be a problem if the Braves are willing to bench Jones if it is necessary to to win. Problem is, few teams in the Braves position are willing to do that.

2. Of course, Jeter struggled early in the season and if I had been manager he would have been relegated to the bench. But since returning from the DL in early July, he has exceeded his career rates in batting average and on-base percentage. More recently, he has stepped it up another notch. Derek Jeter has an eight game hitting streak and over that time, he has seven multiple-hit games, including two 3-hit games and a 4-hit game. In eight days, Jeter raised his average from 271 to 292 going into tonight's game. DH Jorge Posada, who turned 40 this week, also struggled for the first few months, but has hit in the 270 range since then. Sometimes letting a veteran play through his troubles is the right move. The trick is knowing the difference between a hitting drought and a player with fading abilities.

1. The Chicago Cubs fired their general manager Jim Hendry. Probably the right move because he seems unable to piece together a team that will achieve what the organization wants and needs: a World Series appearance. According to this spreadsheet, the Cubs are 14th in wins during Hendry's tenure (which began in July 2002), but fourth in payroll (behind only the two New York teams and the Boston Red Sox). Despite spending $985.3 million over the past (nearly) nine years, they have about a season's worth of wins less than the Los Angeles Angels who spent $2 million less. Rob Neyer rates Hendry's deals (trades and free agents) and finds that there have been good and bad ones, but two high-priced contracts, OF Alfonso Soriano and pitcher Carlos Zambrano, have hampered the Cubs ability to fill holes by limiting the resources the team has to play with. Unfortunately, both Soriano's and Zambrano's contracts will hurt the Cubs next year and beyond, which will limit what Hendry's replacement can do to turn the Chicago Cubs into a World Series contender.

Pundits think every election is important or historic unless it isn't

Chantal Hebert's version applies to the coming Ontario election, but it comes with an interesting twist: it will be consequential because it will determine what the federal government does. Hebert says the winner of the Ontario election will determine if Stephen Harper has a free hand to put his conservative stamp on the country because no other province is in a position to challenge the Harper government's agenda. I buy it, but still...

Here's a general rule to remember about pundits and any election: it will be either inconsequential because they expect a similar result or it will the most important since FILL IN THE BLANK. Often it will be somewhere in between, but that story isn't as interesting. So here's my view of the Ontario election and every election anywhere: it is the most important election since the last one.

Joan Collins on relationships

I was big fan of Joan Collins in the 1980s. She was the reason to watch Dynasty. In recent years, it has been fun to read her occasional columns in The Spectator. Her politics are less annoying and more well-informed than most celebrities. She has a new book in which she offers her musings on (apparently) everything from overweight people to ageing, from politics to modern men. It will be serialized in the Daily Mail this week and the paper kicks off with a longish profile of the 78-year-old actress. This, quoted from the book, struck me as a little much: "I despair for my daughters’ futures as regards to men and lasting relationships." Joan Collins has been married five times and carried on an 18-month relationship with Warren Beatty in which they were briefly engaged. Then again, a lasting relationship might be a relative term.

Friday, August 19, 2011
'80s flashback Friday

Guns 'n' Roses terribly neglected song, "I Used to Love Her."

50% chance this cartoon is right

From the Hamilton Spectator:

Stay the course

Laval University economist Stephen Gordon provides six questions for Finance Minister Jim Flaherty and Bank of Canada Governor Mark Carney, both of whom appear today before the House of Commons Finance Committee. More importantly he provides the correct answer for each of the questions. His conclusion in answering the question "what do we do now?" is very important:

A couple of wild weeks in financial markets are too noisy a signal upon which to base a significant change in the government’s policy stance.
And in answering the question about whether or not Canada needs a new stimulus package, Gordon says:

[F]iscal policy is a clumsy policy tool whose effectiveness is weakened by difficulties in getting the timing right and in targeting spending where it would be most useful.

Thursday, August 18, 2011
One of the best articles this year

This is a few weeks old, but I just got around to the dead tree version. And normally I would stuff this on the weekend, but it deserves its own post. Business Week has a story on the "Rapture Profiteers" which is either disturbing or funny or a bit of both. There are amusing products and profiteers: Rapture Ready Consulting and the unrelated, an app for the unraptured and Rapture Erotica (nothing like staring at the end of the world to produce the best sex -- that's roughly a quote from the publisher). Then there is the atheistic entrepreneur who sets up heathen care for pets for those who are carried to Heaven, leaving their cats and dogs behind: a 10-year relocation policy for $135 and of course there are no refunds if there is no end of the world. This slideshow illustrates some of the products.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011
What I'm reading

1. After America: Get Ready for Armageddon by Mark Steyn. If you've been reading his blog and columns and listened to him hosting Rush Limbaugh, there is nothing new in After America and yet it is still a fantastic (if depressing) read.

2. The Social Transformation of American Medicine: The rise of a sovereign profession and the making of a vast industry by Paul Starr. It won the 1984 Pulitzer Prize for non-fiction. Sociology, not just economics and technology, is responsible for escalating health care costs.

3. Dune by Frank Herbert. Never read it, never saw the movie. Don't normally read fiction, but trying to make a better effort.

4. "When Nightmares Become Real: Modelling Linkages between the Financial Sector and the Real Economy in the Aftermath of the Financial Crisis," a C.D. Howe Institute study by Philippe Bergevin, Pierre Duguay and Paul Jenkins.

5. "The Rhetoric and the Reality of Alberta's Deficits in the 1980s, 1990s, and Now," a Fraser Institute study by Mark Milke.

6. "In America’s National Interest—Canadian Oil: A Comparison of Civil, Political, and Economic Freedoms in Oil-Producing Countries," a Competitive Enterprise Institute study by Mark Milke.

Republicans, like Democrats, will say anything to get elected

The Hill reports that Rep. Michelle Bachmann, who is running for the Republican presidential nomination, promised to get gas prices down to $2 a gallon if she is elected president. The right-wing press would be howling if Barack Obama or Joe Biden made that promise, and rightfully so. Drilling in Alaska isn't going to cut gas prices by 44%.

Bloomberg editors endorse consumption tax

The editors of Bloomberg think a consummption tax is like magic:

A 10 percent VAT with an income-tax credit would generate revenue equal to about 2 percent of GDP, covering about a third of the U.S. government’s fiscal gap. If states converted their sales taxes, the combined rate would be about 15 percent to 17 percent, lower than in most European countries. The time needed to implement a VAT -- as much as two years -- could even provide a much-needed economic stimulus. If people knew the tax was coming, they would probably make big purchases now.

Make no mistake: The VAT would be a new tax. It would raise the total burden on U.S. taxpayers and, once it takes effect, would almost certainly take a bite out of consumer spending. But done in concert with broader tax reform, it would go a long way toward solving the country’s fiscal crisis.
Whatever the problems with the current tax code (beyond punitively high rates), the problem with adding consumption taxes to the mix is simple: even with tax reform America would have more taxes that could be raised over time, taking more and more money from the productive classes.

Nice baseball story -- even non-sports fans will like it

The players on the Cleveland Indians pitched in to help another player get to his wife who gave birth to a premature baby. The Indians were in Boston and Jack Hannahan's wife was early in her third trimester when she went into labour, in Ohio. Hannahan's team-mates paid for the $35,000 charter jet to get him back home to be with his wife. Hannahan got to the hospital just 15 minutes before his son was born. Jack Hannahan V weighs in at two pounds, eleven ounces and will be spending some time in the NICU. Classy move on the part of Justin Masterson and the rest of the Cleveland Indians. The full story is here.

Three and out

3. Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports looks at the remaining schedules of the possible post-season contenders. The one division in which strength of schedule clearly benefits one team over another is the AL West where the Los Angeles Angels have a significant advantage over the Texas Rangers. Unfortunately, the Angels are a nearly prohibitive five games back. The New York Yankees, with their win yesterday, are a half game ahead of the Boston Red Sox and their schedule is a mixed bag: their opponents are weaker overall but the Yanks have more road than home games and (this is not noted) a few double-headers and missed off days due to rainouts earlier in the season. It appears a wash, and the division title might come down the games that are left between them; unfortunately for the Yanks, the BoSox lead the season series so far, 10-2.

2. Chris Lund of Hardball Times has a good article on Toronto Blue Jays SS Yunel Escobar, who is, Lund says, "on his way to becoming the best shortstop in the American League."

1. Derek Jeter since coming off the disabled list: 326/383/457 in 34 games with 8 2Bs, 2 3Bs, 2 HRs.

Gay bullying

Kathy Shaidle at Pajamas Media:

It never seems to occur to Professional Gay People® that one of the reasons gays might just possibly get “bullied” is because other gays are so often bullies themselves: greedily hijacking everything from Shakespeare to Sesame Street to prove HOW NORMAL THEY ARE, DAMMITALL!
Another possibility is that professional gays are projecting; being bullies themselves, they see any criticism as bullying.

P.S. Make you sure read Showbiz Assassin: "Every Wednesday, I’ll bring you a sort of 'Page Six' round up of Hollywood news — if 'Page Six' was written by a snotty, right-wing broad with a GenX sensibility, a 20-gauge shotgun, and appallingly low-brow taste."

Tuesday, August 16, 2011
Envy is something to oppose not pander to

Bryan Caplan:

If people envy people richer than themselves, I say we should fight envy, not inequality.

Four and down

4. Will Carroll tweets: "Jets and Pats under cap. Big deal. What's left worth paying $9 mil for?" And to be clear individual teams do not actually have to spend 99% of the cap in 2011 (although teams must do so collectively).

3. ESPN reports that New York Giants QB Eli Manning says he is in the elite class of quarterbacks with Tom Brady. ESPN reports: "While Manning was fifth in the league in passing yards with 4,002 yards and fourth in touchdowns with 31 scores last season, his 25 interceptions are the number that jumps out the most." Those 25 picks jump out a lot. A lot. In 2007, Eli Manning threw 23 TDs and 20 picks (with a career ratio of good but not great 156:113). Passer rating has its problems as a stat, but coming in at 85.3 Manning was only good for 17th last year. More problematic is his career 58.0% completion percentage (and even his improving 62.9% in 2010 was only 9th in the NFL in 2010). By comparison, Drew Brees has a career completion percentage of 62.2% (and 67% in his five seasons with the New Orleans Saints) and Brady's is 63.6%. Eli's brother Peyton has a career completion percentage of 64.9% and 399:198 TD to pick ratio. Winning a Super Bowl puts Eli Manning in nice company, but QBs (like pitchers in baseball) should not get so much credit for winning games (or championships). Watching Manning play you notice he doesn't make the great plays like Brady, Brees, Ben Roethlisberger and the other Manning. He makes a lot of mental errors. Elite quarterbacks are like porn: I might not be able to define what it is, but I know it when I see it. Manning doesn't look like an elite quarterback because he isn't one.

2. The Buffalo Bills drafted Aaron Maybin 11th overall in 2009 and yesterday they released him. As the excellent Rochester Democrat and Chronicle football writer Sal Maiorana notes, Maybin ranks among the biggest Bills draft busts. But it isn't all Maybin's fault. They moved him out of position to fit their 3-4 defense and he didn't have the advantage of off-season workouts and practices this year. This fiasco, this terrible pairing, is more a reflection of Buffalo's inability to properly evaluate talent than it is Maybin's failures. There is reportedly a lot of interest in Maybin (the SF 49ers, Chicago Bears, and New York Jets to name just three) and I hope he gets another chance. Bills fans should reserve their ire for Bills management and not this young player. Maybin joins a long list that includes John McCargo, J.P. Losman, and Perry Tuttle.

1. Acknowledging all the usual caveats about pre-season games, I still loved the defense on the Houston Texans last night against the New York Jets. I've written already about the improvements in coaches and personnel that should, at the very least, improve the Houston D to league average. But last night, for 60 minutes, the Texans defense was aggressive and intelligent, showing different looks. It was exciting to watch. Wade Phillips had a great game plan and for the most part his players executed. If they can play at this level on the defensive side of the ball during the regular season, the Texans could win the division and go far in the post-season, but that's getting ahead of ourselves. For now, it is enough to say the Houston Texans defense is moving in the right direction.

GM: 'What’s a 75-year-old public broadcaster to do?'

Nowhere does the Globe and Mail's Kate Taylor consider the best answer: close the CBC's doors. And yet, that is the logical conclusion considering that Taylor accurately describes the CBC's problem: "Canadians want it to do everything and please everybody, but would rather not pay for it." Markets, not state-financed behemoths, respond to diverse audiences without forcing "everybody" to pay for it.

Just imagine if a Conservative said this about tracking foreigners

The Vancouver Sun reports:

No one knows how many foreign visitors who got into Canada using temporary visas never left, because no one keeps track, the federal government says.

"Canada does not systematically record the departure of travellers from Canada at this time," a Citizenship and Immigration spokeswoman said in an email.

The federal department can't say how many people - or which countries they hail from - run afoul of the authorities by staying longer than their temporary visas allow.

"Given today's technology, you'd think you would be able to do that," said Winnipeg North MP Kevin Lamoureux.
It makes sense to keep track of foreign visitors and whether they leave or stay (illegally). I'm worried a bit about privacy issues incumbent in using technology to track people's comings and goings, but visa requirements are an implicit contract between this country and the visitor. Why bother making stipulations if they are not enforced?

Canada would benefit from a real debate about this issue, but it ain't going to happen. Canada cannot have an adult conversation about foreign visitors because the Left will accuse the Right of bigotry faster than you can say "given today's technology." Just for a moment imagine the uproar if a Conservative backbencher said what Lamoureux said about keeping an eye on foreign travellers. The Liberal opposition would accuse the entire government of scapegoating immigrants and call for apologies and resignations, the Toronto Star would run an editorial and two indignant columns (one from Haroon Siddiqui worrying about the effect on other immigrants and one from Heather Mallick claiming this reflects Stephen Harper's mean, new right-wing Canada), and Warren Kinsella would bust loose on the keyboard with numerous blog posts infested with multiple references to the Reformatories. But it wasn't a Conservative who said it. It was Liberal MP Kevin Lamoureux who has Indian and Filipino constituents so the story will be relegated to a news brief buried deep inside the paper.

Monday, August 15, 2011
Heather Mallick just makes stuff up

Blazing Cat Fur has all you need to know about the Toronto Star apologizing for a Heather Mallick column that played fast and loose with the facts to totally misrepresent what Melanie Phillips said (and didn't say) about the Norway tragedy. Sometimes a lazy journalist makes a mistake that stems from terrible research, but there are others who are so selective in their reading of others that you have to believe the misrepresentation is deliberate. Mallick seems to fall into the latter category. The Star should but won't do something (beyond apologizing) about her.

Three and out

3. Jonah Keri's Grantland column has everything you need to know about the (alleged) Toronto Blue Jays sign stealing scandal. Links are worth clicking on. Here is the ESPN Magazine story that broke the whole darn thing open.

2. Eric Seidman of Fangraphs looks at how the Pittsburgh Pirates went from being over 500 and tied for first in late July to 13 games out of the division lead in just 20 days, going into tonight's game. That will happen when a team loses 10 games in a row. Now the question is whether they can get back to 500 ball. Seidman says yes and the Pirates helped their cause by beating the St. Louis Cardinals 6-2 tonight and getting their record up to 57-63. Seidman also defends Pittsburgh's decision to be a low-cost buyer at the deadline. Evaluate the process, not just the results.

1. Minnesota Twins DH Jim Thome became the eighth player and second fastest to reach (in terms of at-bats) to reach 600 HRs. He did it by hitting a pair of them tonight against the Detroit Tigers. Congrats a great player and future Hall of Famer.

Dolly speaks

Very enjoyable Daily Mail interview with Dolly Parton. Dolly is a lot more than the trashy image ("do you know how much is costs to look this cheap?") and those "historic breasts" (in the words of the Daily Mail); she is a great songwriter, terrific showman, and phenomenal voice. It is hard to believe that she is only 65 -- she's been around forever. There is a wonderful biography of Dolly at the Songwriters Hall of Fame. Her "Jolene" is my favourite non-Johnny Cash country & western song.

The next great normalization

Pedophilia. See Girl on the Right.

Sunday, August 14, 2011
I need to rethink everything I think about the Republican primaries

Other than a cheap shot against Texas Governor Rick Perry's intelligence (see Erica Grieder's post on under-estimating Perry), this analysis by David Frum seems quite accurate. I hate when I agree with Frum.

Economics in one easy sentence

Deirdre McCloskey in Reason's symposium on how to improve job growth:

"Jobs" are deals between workers and employers, and so "creating" them out of unwilling parties is impossible.

Saturday, August 13, 2011
Three and out

3. The logo the Milwaukee Brewers used from 1970 through 1977 might be the worst sports logo of all time.

2. Not that you probably noticed, but 40-year-old Minnesota Twins DH Jim Thome is on the verge of hitting his 600th HR. Dave Campbell notes that Thome is not getting much attention for approaching the milestone despite the fact that just seven other players have reached it. (Ryan Simon of the Bleacher Report asked and answered earlier this Summer: "Do most casual fans know who Jim Thome is? No.") Thome is seventh in career HRs (598) and 25th in career slugging percentage (557). He isn't tainted by allegations of steroid use, even though he played during the so-called Steroid Era. But when you look at Jim Thome or think about his career, do you think Hall of Fame? You should. Beginning in 2001, he had five seasons over the next six in which he hit at least 42 HRs (an injury in 2005 prevented what might have been a six-season streak of 40 or more HRs). He smacked at least 30 dingers a dozen times; last year, in just 340 at-bats, he hit 25 HRs. Thome received MVP votes nine times and finished in the top ten four times, yet was an All Star only five times. He has a career 402 OBP and OPS+ of 147. The knock against Thome is that he is second all-time in strikeouts by a batter, that his counting stats (HR totals) reflects longevity, and that he was not usually considered the best player on his team or the dominant player at his position for much of his career. I don't think these arguments hold much water. Thome will be in the Hall of Fame, but he might not get there on the first ballot.

1. Jorge Posada returned to the lineup for the first time since being stripped of the DH job last weekend. He went three for five with a grand slam HR and six RBIs against the Tampa Bay Rays. That does not mean he should return to the regular lineup. The fact is he should never have been benched because he was getting the job done against right-handed pitching. He has had a terrible season with slash stats of 230/309/372 which are pretty bad for a DH. But as Joe Pawlikowski of Fangraphs noted last week at one point in May (when he was demoted to the ninth spot in the lineup) Posada was hitting 165/272/349 and since then he has hit 272/333/387. Those numbers are not great (especially his slugging percentage) but is much more respectable and a better set of numbers upon which to base the decision to play Posada or not. In fact, it makes no sense to bench him after he has vastly improved his game when they gave him the opportunity to work through his problems for the past two-plus months.

Four and down

4. There is not much to make of the first week's pre-season games, but the Cincinnati Bengals first five minutes of the game against the Detroit Lions were about the worst five minutes of football I've seen. They did nothing to stop the third-year pro Matthew Stafford on the first drive in giving up six points, they fumbled a kickoff, they did not thing to stop Stafford's second drive, they gave up a pick in the first pass of their first possession. Terrible. And understanding the extremely small sample size, nothing in the game lent any confidence that Cincy rookie QB Andy Dalton is anything but a work in progress. Possible payoff in 2013.

3. Has nothing to do with the pre-season game (which Detroit won 34-3), but when I do a game-by-game prediction on the season, I have the Detroit Lions in the playoff hunt going into the final week. It would not surprise me if they win nine or ten games. I expect the Lions the offense (17th in overall offense) and defense (21st overall) to continue to progress but see a big jump in the D.

2. A quick comment about so-called quarterback controversies. Sometimes they are real, but often they are a figment of the media's imagination. Quarterback controversies are a staple of July-August NFL coverage.

1. One reason I think the Green Bay Packers and Pittsburgh Steelers are among the top four favourites to go to the Super Bowl is that they are veteran teams with very little turnover. That is, unlike other teams that are trying to acquaint new team-mates or players and coaches, the Pack and Steelers are relatively set. Indeed both have injured veterans returning, too, which might be good additions compared to rookies because they know the system. Incredible stat from Green Bay: 21 of 22 starters from the Super Bowl game are returning to start in 2011. All that said, there is a really good chance that neither will make it to the conference championship or Super Bowl because it is really, really tough to return to repeat. But until proven otherwise, along with the New England Patriots, they should be the favourites going into the season.

Weekend stuff

1. Lots of photos of the abandoned Six Flags amusement park in New Orleans. Some pictures have been manipulated and some are more artsy than documentary; the colours shouldn't be as vivid after so long in some of the photos. Pics #12 and #13 give a decent idea what happened post-Katrina.

2. Colourful ants doesn't really begin to describe the process and photos from the Daily Mail.

3. MSN Travel has the World's 10 most dangerous tourist attractions, from Chernobyl tours to bungee jumping into a volcano.

4. National Review Online has "10 TSA outrages."

5. Slate examines why restaurant websites suck.

6. Tyler Cowen's readers weigh in on what kind of books work best as audio books.

7. Slate asks, "Who is more grossly materialistic, Kanye or Jay-Z?"

8. The island of Niue has Star Wars characters on their legal tender.

9. Cool but potentially dangerous software that allows facial puppetry (via Kottke).

Being John Malkovich - ECCV 2010 from Ira Kemelmacher on Vimeo.

Friday, August 12, 2011
Four and down

4. For a number of reasons I thought the football punditocracy was wrong to label the Baltimore Ravens co-favourites with the Pittsburgh Steelers to win the AFC North. They are a lesser team than they were in 2010 on defense due to some aging and free agents who went elsewhere. But Baltimore addressed a major problem that was exacerbated earlier this month when they released several veterans including TE Todd Heap and WR Derrick Mason. Ravens QB Joe Flacco struggled to find receivers who could make big, game-changing catches. Today the Ravens traded a late pick to the Buffalo Bills for wideout Lee Evans. Evans hasn't been standout the past two seasons, but if he recaptures even part of his old self, he'll be a major contributor in getting the ball down field. Great move for Baltimore that narrows the talent gap between themselves and the Steelers and gives Flacco someone he should be able to count on when he goes deep.

3. The Buffalo Bills have lost a fair bit of talent this off-season -- Evans, former 1st round pick (2006) safety Donte Whitner, former 2nd round pick (2007) linebacker Paul Posluszny -- that it is hard to see them replicating their dreadful 4-12 2010 season. However, that doesn't mean the Bills have made the wrong moves. Buffalo is not even close to competing in a division with the New York Jets and New England Patriots. They need to get picks and rebuild and wasting money on a receiver who might not be part of the picture when the Bills are finally competitive again in 2013 and beyond is counter-productive. Getting even a fourth round pick is a step in the right direction. Or perhaps it hasn't. The Bills have not had good drafts in recent years; if they don't don a better job evaluating college talent and drafting to address their (many) holes, all the picks in the world won't help.

2. Maybe the Ravens haven't got any closer talent-wise to the Steelers. Pittsburgh signed former Jets WR Jerricho Cotchery. The move will either add depth to the Steelers receiver corps -- which is great considering that Pittsburgh likes to use a lot of multi-receiver looks -- or it adds insurance to a team that could regression in aging wideout Hines Ward or standout deep threat Mike Wallace or sophomore WRs Emmanuel Sanders (who has suffered a pre-season foot injury) and Antonio Brown. If everyone is healthy and the young players continue to improve and Ward does decline rapidly, the Steelers might have the best five-deep receiver set in the entire NFL.

1. Fox Sports columnist Jennifer Floyd Engel says it is time for critics to stop dissing Denver Broncos QB Tim Tebow's faith. Many of his fans love him because of his evangelicalism and many of his detractors no doubt hate how he is so unabashedly Christian. Indeed, I've wanted to see him succeed because of his very publicly stated views, but it is time to call it like it is: he is not quite a NFL-ready quarterback. Tebow has tremendous athleticism, but his arm isn't ready and perhaps neither is his head. In a very small sample size of limited playing time last year and a single pre-season game this year, I haven't seen a consistent ability to read coverage and make plays. Kyle Orton is an efficient QB that deserves to start but becomes a free agent after this season and Tebow was perhaps more than any other player hurt by the lockout by missing the opportunity to work with coaches and prove he is worthy of starting. It isn't bigotry to say so and it would be better if some of his critics would shelve their anti-Christian vitriol.

Is Michael Bryant wearing pants?

In this Ontario News Watch "Thought Provoker" video, former Ontario cabinet minister Michael Bryant discusses economic growth. Two observations. First, I acknowledge that he does not officially represent the Liberals anymore, it is still noticeable that what he is saying could be mouthed by any Liberal or Conservative/Progressive Conservative federally or provincially anywhere in Canada. Does that mean that what he is saying is mere political rhetoric that doesn't really say anything at all or does that mean that the two major parties are not that far from one another, at least rhetorically, on how to grow the economy? I don't know but lean towards "a bit of both." (Third option: Liberals lie about their economic position and are, in reality, much more statist.) Second, look at the left-hand corner of the video. Those are pants with a belt attached hanging in the background. Is the former Attorney General and one-time manslaughter suspect pantless like Robert DeNiro's character in Casino while talking to ONW viewers?

'80s Friday flashback

The '80s featured bands with a lot of hair. So here's Platinum Blonde, they of big hair and pastel costumes. The girls loved this band in the mid-1980s when I was in junior high school, the guys not so much.

Not really

The Liberal Party of Ontario has sent out an email to supporters asking them to donate to help the Grits grow their campaign war chest. The letter, signed by Liberal MP and party campaign chair Greg Sorbara, begins:

Two important events are about to happen in Ontario: Our kids will be heading back to school and we will be choosing our next government in the provincial election.

The kind of future those students stand to inherit depends entirely on the party Ontarians choose to lead.
That's simply not true. The future never "depends entirely" on who is elected. The outcome of any election will affect many things in our lives, some greatly, some mildly, but ultimately our future is only partly dependent on political decisions. Economics, culture, family, and our own and aggregated decisions will matter as much as what party holds office during a few particular years.

Thursday, August 11, 2011
Four and down

4. First NFL pre-season games start today. Can't wait to watch the Philadelphia Eagles play the Baltimore Ravens. Both teams have compelling stories: Philly has vaulted to the top of the list of NFC favourites or co-favourites, the Ravens are challenging the Pittsburgh Steelers for dominance in the AFC North. Both teams have made a lot of off-season changes -- Philly adding free agents, the Ravens losing them. I don't think you can glean too much from 60 minutes of football action in a pre-season game that will be a step above rec play, but it will be fun.

3. The only other interesting game this opening weekend is the Monday nighter with the New York Jets playing the Houston Texans. While fans no doubt can't wait for some pro-football,there are too many Chicago Bears-Buffalo Bills games and Cincinnati Bengals-Detroit Lions match-ups.

2. I'm not ready to write-off the Indianapolis Colts until we have a better idea how Peyton Manning deals with his neck injury. Indy benefit from sharing a division with two teams that simply will not be part of the playoff picture: a Tennessee Titans team that is in transition and in denial over that fact and a Jacksonville Jaguars team that over-performed last year and will regress from their 500 record. That leaves the Houston Texans and while every year seems like their breakout year, with a little help from Indy (going worse than 12-4 for once?) the Texans could be a factor. Last year the Texans were 3rd in total offense (7th in rushing, 4th in passing) but were 30th in total defense including dead last (32nd) against the pass. Assuming they can replicate their offense -- the team is consistently a solid offensive threat; they have the best WR in the game in Andre Johnson; RB Arian Foster should repeat considering that he also ended 2009 on a high note, indicating his NFL-leading 1616 yards was not a fluke -- a simple improvement to league-average defense should add Ws to Houston's record. (Getting a softer schedule by finishing third and playing the Oakland Raiders and Miami Dolphins as well as both terrible AFC North Ohio teams also helps.) The defense should be much better. The Texans brought in Wade Phillips as their new defensive co-ordinator, named Vance Joseph defensive backs coach, signed the immensely talented free agent CB Johnathan Joseph to fill their biggest hole, added Danieal Manning as safety, and drafted Brandon Harris in the second round as defensive back help, so their atrocious pass defense should improve. Linebackers DeMeco Ryans and Brian Cushing should both be better: Ryans returning to health and Cushing bouncing back from a poor sophomore season. There is a path to a successful Houston Texans defense (for once) and if even some of it works out, the Texans could make the playoffs for the first time in franchise history.

1. I don't want to get into the habit of dissecting Power Rankings but the NFL list seems worse than many. The Houston Texans 20th? The Texans two behind the Oakland Raiders who have lost three key starters this month? How are five teams worse than the Buffalo Bills? And why no love for the San Diego Chargers who they rank 12th? Why the excessive love for the ninth-ranked New York Giants?

Canada has a productivity problem

Stephen Gordon and Tyler Cowen both delve into Canada's slipping productivity issues (up just 10% over the past half-century, but slipping 10% over the past decade). Cowen suggests, "arguably it is the success stories — Canada and Australia — which are scarier and more indicative of the true long-run problem," in part because, as Gordon says, "increased productivity - as it is usually measured - is not a sufficient condition for higher standards of living."

Wednesday, August 10, 2011
It could happen here

Ray Heard tweets:

Cars set ablaze behind industrial building in east end Toronto via @globeandmail Maybe its gonna happen here
Marty Peretz writes for The New Republic that the London rioters are as much victims as perpetrators. So who is to blame if Toronto sees London-like protests: Mike Harris or Stephen Harper?

Sports welfare

In a Freakonomics symposium on realignment in baseball Dave Berri, past president of the North American Association of Sports Economists, noted:

Robert Baade and Victor Matheson have noted that since 1991, 26 of the 30 Major League Baseball teams have had a new stadium built or an existing stadium extensively renovated. The cost of this construction has been $9.39 billion. Of this, $5.5 billion has come from taxpayers.
Berri says that one of the reasons that sports leagues don't expand faster is that if they did they would lose leverage against cities and states to extract subsidies for new stadia.

Conservatives love their big government, too

Liberals like spending money on social workers and teachers, conservatives like to spend money on tanks and bombers. Don Boudreaux:

Neocons, after all, are to spending on ... the military what “Progressives” are to spending on education: no amount is ever enough, and any cuts – even any proposed reductions in the projected growth rate of spending – are alleged to foolishly sacrifice this nation’s security and future on the altar of some misguided notion that government should be strictly limited in all realms.

Newsweek sucks

Slate's Jack Shafer explains. First, the Princess Diana made-up cover. And now it puts an unflattering cover photo of Michelle Bachmann to highlight her "rage".

Tuesday, August 09, 2011
The reading choice is yours

Reason's Ronald Bailey has a sympathetic look at the Alberta oil sands.

Slate's Jesse Bering writes about autofellatio.

Three and out

3. The pendulum swings.'s Tom Verducci says that young players and prospects are being over-valued by teams that refuse to trade them for mid-season upgrades. I agree with the general point, but I'm not convinced the example is right. Verducci writes of the Yankees: "New York has forfeited some of its advantage in resources for a second straight year by holding prospects as if it were a small-market team. (Prospects are more easily replaced by large market teams -- via free agency, over-slot draft picks and international signings -- and by definition should have a value proportional to resources.) It cost the Yankees the pennant last year when they held Eduardo Nuñez rather than include him in a deal for Cliff Lee. This year they will bring one reliable starter to the postseason, but still hold their best prospects." Sure, but know this about Verducci: if the Yanks traded prospects for high-priced rentals, this same writer would have criticized them for buying their playoff ticket.

2. Tampa Bay Rays beat the Kansas City Royals 4-0 with James Shields getting his fourth shutout of the season. Great for him. Better news for fans: the game lasted one-hour, 53 minutes. Furthermore, as Matthew Pouliot of HardballTalk notes that Shields and Derek Holland of the Texas Rangers are tied with four shutouts each -- twice that any AL pitcher had last year and the most any AL pitcher has had since 2000. Cliff Lee of the Philadelphia Phillies has five shutouts, the most in the Majors since Randy Johnson had six in 1998.

1. Despite the fact that the Los Angeles Angels are only 1.5 games behind the Texas Rangers in the AL West and the Arizona Diamondbacks are just a half game behind the San Francisco Giants, I don't see either team leap-frogging their way into the playoffs. Indeed, I would bet that every team currently in a playoff spot holds their playoff spot, including the wild card New York Yankees and Atlanta Braves. There are two potential upsets, but they seem far-fetched. Despite the fact that I could make a good case for the Milwaukee Brewers being the best team in the NL -- right now I'm predicting they represent the senior circuit in the World Series against the Boston Red Sox -- I think only two teams have a decent chance to knock off one of the division leaders: the Yankees over-taking the Boston Red Sox in the AL East and the St. Louis Cardinals beating the Brewers for the NL Central (they are 2.5 and 3 games behind the division leaders respectively). The BoSox would still get in on the wild card, but the Braves seem a lock (Baseball Prospectus playoff odds as the wild card over 80%) for the runner-up prize in the NL.