Sobering Thoughts

Comments on politics, the culture, economics and religion by Paul Tuns -- in short, everything about the human endeavour from a non-hyphenated conservative perspective. I am Toronto-based writer and editor, whose articles, columns and reviews have appeared in more than 35 publications. I am editor-in-chief of The Interim, Canada's life and family newspaper, author of Jean Chretien: A Legacy of Scandal and a regular contributor to the book pages of the Halifax Herald.

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Monday, June 30, 2008
 
Giambi tripled

With two outs in the bottom of the sixth inning, New York Yankee 1B Jason Giambi just tripled against the Texas Rangers. It is Giambi's first triple since 2002. A lot of people don't like Jason Giambi, mostly because he was suspected of and then admitted using performance enhancing drugs. I say that doesn't matter and even if it did 1) he is one of the few players to admit it and 2) he has remained a valuable player after his use. I have long liked Giambi's play -- he is a patient hitter who even with his middling batting average (after batting 300 over his first eight years he hasn't hit higher than 271 in the last seasons) is still a valuable bat due to the walks he takes and his power (he still slugs at his career average). Plus, his defense is getting better with age. And that incredible porno-stache.



 
All Star selections

I chose the American League All Star team yesterday and continue with the National League today. A few comments about All Star selections (to vote, until Wednesday, go here.) The basis of my decision is this: the player should be (at least) among the best at his position if not the best, be a genuine star over time or otherwise be someone I want to see start the All Star game because of their style of play or personality. The slash stats included for each player are batting average/on base percentage/slugging percentage; I also use OPS which is on-base percentage plus slugging percentage (probably the most important statistic for hitters) and VORP or value over replacement player, a Baseball Prospectus metric. I also make my OF picks not, as the ballot presents, just a outfielders but according to LF, CF, RF. Also, while pitchers are not on the ballot, I include them nonetheless, selecting the one I think the respective managers should choose to start the game. All stats are based on numbers through Saturday.

National League

Catcher: Russell Martin (Los Angeles Dodgers: 313/407/452): This is one of the toughest picks. Brian McCann has been great with the bat this year (300/371/544) for the Atlanta Braves and has been an All Star twice before and he's only 24. (Career: 297/355/501 in four seasons). McCann has a much better OPS (915 to 859) and a slightly better VORP (27.1 to 24.5) but Martin is as complete a catcher in the sport offers today and occasionally steals a base (7 in 11 tries).

1B: Albert Pujols (St. Louis Cardinals: 355/484/632): This is the toughest pick but Pujols is the best hitter in the National League, period. He hits for average and power, and walks a ton. He is a smart baserunner and he's the best defensive first basemen in the NL. Lance Berkman is having a monster year (365/447/698) for the Houston Astros but Pujols is consistently incredible, year in and year out. But this is close: Berkman leads the Majors in VORP (61.6) by a large margin (the next best if Chipper Jones with 50.5 followed by Pujols with 44.8) and OPS (1.146 over second place Pujols' 1.116). Normally I'd be a slave to a 16.8 point advantage in VORP, but Pujols is something special because he's putting up these numbers despite an elbow injury. Here's a question: if you were starting a baseball team would you pick Berkman or Pujols?

2B: Chase Utley (Philadelphia Phillies: 293/382/595): While Florida Marlins' 2B Dan Uggla (287/371/619) is putting up the kind of offensive numbers that Utley does, the latter is a gem defensively while Uggla is plain ugly on the field. VORP, which does not take into account defense, but before the glove is taken into consideration, it is close: 39.4 for Uggla and 38.4 for Utley. How strange is that the two leading HR hitters in MLB are 2B with names that start with 'u' (23 for Uggla, 22 for Utley).

SS: Jose Reyes (New York Mets: 294/356/488): The most exciting player in the Majors, his numbers almost do not matter. Hanley Ramirez might put up slightly better numbers (293/383/521) with 17 HRs and a 39.9 VORP but Reyes is not much worse with 9 HRs and 32.6 VORP. In something this close, I'll take the Gold Glove over the leaden glove.

3B: Chipper Jones (Atlanta Braves: 394/485/630): He is one of the best 3B of all-time (really) but the primary reason for the nod this year is that he carried a 400 average into late June. The funny thing is when one equalizes for the era in which hitters play, a 370 hitter in the 2000s is roughly the equivalent of hitting 400 in the early 1940s when Ted Williams, the last player to reach that mark, was playing. Since May 1st of last season, Jones has been batting well north of 370. It's tough not giving th nod to David Wright (288/381/493) who is probably a better, more complete player. But Wright will start plenty of All Star games in the future. Jones' singular accomplishment deserves the recognition of being among the starting nine.

LF: Jason Bay (Pittsburgh Pirates: 287/393/530): He is part of a tight three-way race for best LF VORP in the NL with Pat Burrell (31.2), himself (28.5) and Matt Holliday (28.3). He is 9th in OPS (923) in the NL, but behind Burrell and Holliday among LFers. Notably, while Bay has better slash stats, he is behind his fellow Bucs outfielders Nate McLouth and Xavier Nady in RBIs (51, 49 and 41 respectively), and he is tied with McLouth for the team lead in HRs (15). For me, the decisive factor in this case is past performance and the fact that during the off-season, baseball pundits were wondering if his early promise would go unrealized. Holliday's numbers are Coors Park-padded (his career OPS is about 300 points higher at home than the road) and Bay is the most likely to continue hitting regardless of where he ends up in the future. Bay is the biggest star in a three-way battle for this vote and that determines who gets my vote.

CF: Carlos Beltran (New York Mets: 276/378/491): It seems like Beltran is having a poor season but he is second among NL CF in VORP (27.7 just behind Pirates' Nate McLouth's 30.4). He's first among CFs in the NL for RBI (52) and has 12 HRs despite not being healthy for much of the season. He's stolen 11 bases in 12 attempts. But most importantly, his swing is so sweet and he seems to be able to hit the ball solidly even when the ball is pitched a foot out of the strike zone. He's a joy to watch, even when he isn't getting the results that improve his numbers.

RF: Kosuke Fukudome (Chicago Cubs: 301/407/441): He is living up to the hype he generated from Japan before arriving: he hits, hits moderate power for a Japanese player, walks (49 BB/50 Ks), plays good defense and can run. He is exactly what the Cubbies needed to make the jump from NL Central division winner to serious challenger for the World Series. He has the best OBP among everyday LFs. Brian Giles of the San Diego Padres is quietly putting up good numbers (303/402/445) despite playing in offense-suppressing Petco Park and Xavier Nady is having a great year (314/378/510) but the name of the game is All Star, so I give my vote to the player who is most the star and contributing to a winning team.

Pitcher: Edinson Volquez (Cincinatti Reds: 10-3, 2.72 RA, 110 Ks in 99.1 IP): Normally I wouldn't pick a player having a breakout year, but he is putting up phenomenal numbers, and he has really taken off after not being able to land a permanent job in three season with the pitching deficient Texas Rangers (20 starts over three years). He is first in the Majors in ERA (2.08 -- almost a half run better than second best in the NL, Tim Lincecum's 2.54) and second in the NL in wins (10). He strikes out 9.97 batters per nine innings. Ben Sheets (9-1, 2.67 RA, 84 Ks in 104.1 IP) and Lincecum (8-1, 2.89 RA, 103 Ks in 102.2 IP) both warrant consideration.


Sunday, June 29, 2008
 
All Star selections, Part I

Just a few comments about All Star selections (voting ends on Wednesday): those chosen should be (at least) among the best at his position, be a genuine star over time or otherwise be someone I want to see start the All Star game because of their style of play or personality. The slash stats included for each player are batting average/on base percentage/slugging percentage; I also use OPS is on-base percentage plus slugging percentage (probably the most important statistic for hitters), VORP or value over replacement player, a Baseball Prospectus metric. I also make my OF picks not, as the ballot presents, just a outfielders but according to LF, CF, RF. Also, while pitchers are not on the ballot, I include them nonetheless, selecting the one I think the respective managers should choose to start the game. Tomorrow I'll post on the National League. All numbers are as of Saturday.

American League

Catcher: Jorge Posada (New York Yankees: 302/382/483): Minnesota Twins backstop Joe Mauer is proving that his 2006 batting title was no fluke (326/411/446) but there might not a catcher more valuable to his team than Posada. And Posada has a proven track record of good hitting while getting better as he ages.

1B: Jason Giambi (New York Yankees: 268/404/555): The best hitting 1B in the American League and despite his reputation of being a pylon at first, this year he league average with the glove. Kevin Youklis, the Red Sox 1B currently leading All Star voting has only a slightly better VORP (27.1 compared to 26.1) despite Giambi's slow start. (Minnesota Twins 1B Justin Morneau, who is second in voting, has just a 22.8 VORP). Giambi has probably been the best hitter in baseball since the beginning of May (once he started growing a mustache) after failing to hit his own weight through the first month of the season leading to speculation he might be dropped from the team. His 17 HRs is third in the AL and is fourth in OPS (958).

2B: Ian Kinsler (Texas Rangers: 313/369/524): He is quietly assembling an impressive season, especially for a middle infielder. He has power (13 HRs, 25 2Bs) and speed (20 SBs in 21 attempts). His 36.6 VORP is second in the AL, and quite significantly ahead of the next best 2B in the AL (Baltimore Orioles' Brian Roberts, 30.1). Yankees' 2B Robinson Cano is hitting 400 over the past two weeks, raising his average 40 points, but his recent hot streak aside, he has had a pretty poor 2 1/2 months (241/279/359).

SS: Derek Jeter (New York Yankees: 285/345/397): I agree with the Sports Illustrated poll of nearly 500 Major Leaguers which found that Jeter was the most over-rated player in 'ball today. It is also true that he is having his worst season at the plate and he has always been a horrendous defender. Yet no SS other than the bland Michael Young (276/331/396) comes close to the hitting what Jeter is hitting. Jeter is first in the AL in VORP among SSs (15.7) although just 75th overall in MLB. Still, this is an All Star game and he is without question one of the two biggest stars in the Major Leagues today.

3B: Alex Rodriguez (New York Yankees: 327/409/605): Is there a bigger star in the sport? He is second in the AL in OPS (1.014), 3rd in VORP (33.5) and the Yankees are 23-13 since he returned from injury. No other 3B in the AL comes close to his production, although he might have a run for his money in the NL.

LF: Johnny Damon (New York Yankees: 322/390/474): He is having a resurgent season, currently fifth in the AL in batting average. Only Carlos Quentin of the Chicago White Sox hits like Damon does (289/399/531) and has a better VORP (27.9 compared to 25.3). But Damon wears pinstripes and his comeback is a better story than the ChiSox robbing Quentin from the Arizona Diamondbacks.

CF: Grady Sizemore (Cleveland Indians: 266/372/518): Last week he was on pace for a 39 homerun, 39 steal season. He is the best hitting centerfielder in the sport and wields a great glove, too. His 32.9 VORP is slightly better than that of Texas Rangers CF and AL HR (19) and RBI (78) leader Josh Hamilton. Sizemore is proven commodity while Hamilton's output is already sliding.

RF: Milton Bradley (Texas Rangers (330/452/630): The best hitter in the AL this year, he is line to win the sabermetric Triple Crown (on-base percentage, slugging percentage, OPS). Although there is some discount on his stats because he plays half his games in the Ballpark at Arlington, this year he is baffling those who wonder what his career might have amounted to were it not for his numerous injuries. J.D. Drew of the Boston Red Sox would have a strong case in any other year (309/417/583, and third in the AL with a 1.000 OPS). This is vote is complicated slightly by the fact that Bradley has been the DH for 46 of 67 games he has appeared in this year, but he is listed in the OF on the ballot.

DH: Hideki Matsui (New York Yankees: 323/404/458): Coming on the heals of an injury-plagued season, he has the fourth best batting average and fifth best on-base percentage in the AL. With Bradley listed as a DH and David Ortiz out with an injury and/or not hitting well (252/354/486) this is an easy pick.

Pitcher: C.C. Sabathia (Cleveland Indians: 6-8, 9.29 Ks/9 IP, 3.86 RA): Last year's Cy Young Award winner struggled in the first month, but has turned it around since, dominating opponents. In his last 10 starts, only once has Sabathia failed to pitch at least seven innings, and twice he's pitched a complete game shutout; that doesn't count eight shutout innings in his last outing against the Cincinnati Reds. In that time he has brought his ERA down from 6.55 on May 9 to 3.78 today. His 118 Ks lead the Majors and he's thrown 31 Ks in his last three starts. I want to see him face down the NL lineup at the start of the July 15 contest at Yankee Stadium. There is only one other pitcher I'd consider: Joba Chamberlain. Despite the supposed difficulty in transitioning him from the bullpen to the rotation, he has been a better starter than reliever. The Yankees are 5-1 in games that he has started despite his own 1-0 record as a starter. He has thrown 29 Ks in 26.2 IP including nine in an appearance which lasted less than six innings. He has given up five earned runs (and one unearned), good for a 1.69 ERA. He still has a reliever mentality of striking out every batter so he is perfectly suited for the 1-2 innings an All Star starter throws. But considering he has fewer than the equivalent of three full games under his belt as a Major League starter, this is probably not a justifiable call. And to anticipate the complaints of some who will say that Roy Halladay of the Toronto Blue Jays deserves the start, I will consider his qualifications. As one of the two or three best starters in baseball over the past 5-6 seasons, he is a strong contender for the spot. This year, he is 8-6 with five complete games (more than many teams), 3.12 ERA (6th in the AL), 1.09 WHIP (4th in AL), 100 Ks (2nd in AL), and 121.1 IP (1st in MLB). For stat-heads, he has the best K/BB ratio in the Majors. He is fourth in the AL among pitchers in VORP (25.4) just behind team-mate Shaun Marcum (28.7). He is quick and efficient and dull which in my book disqualifies him from starting. I want the drama of a strikeout king facing down the NL's best at the beginning of the game. Halladay doesn't fulfill that role.


 
Albertans don't vote -- and that's not a bad thing

The Calgary Herald has a 'new story' on declining voter participation in Alberta elections that treats the phenomenon as a serious problem.

One mayor, Linda Bruce of Airdrie, says "We're just so pathetically low, it drives me insane," as the paper explains she "is passionate about getting Albertans out to vote." If you want people to vote, create a crisis where their lives or livelihoods are at stake. Then people vote.

Don Getty and the reporters of the lengthy article inadvertently make this point. The former Alberta premier says that "probably, right now" there are people fighting wars for the right to vote. The Herald says "Getty's case is starkly illustrated by the presence of foreign soldiers in Afghanistan, where 86 Canadians have died over the past six years," where in recent years two-thirds of the locals have voted in elections. But Afghanistan is hardly the model of what Alberta or Canada should be; its economy is virtually non-existent, warlords control parts of the country and foreign armies (such as Canada's) must be present to try to keep the peace. That is, the stakes of Afghanistan's turnout for elections are high for a very good reason: it matters a lot who wins them. If Alberta wants Aghanistan-like turnout, it should develop Afghanistan-like problems.

I've written here and in daily papers many times before that low voter turnout is a sign of a healthy society. Voters become rationally disinterested in politics when governments do not have -- or it doesn't seem to have -- a direct effect on the their everyday lives. And that is a good thing.


 
Changing red to blue and vice versa

The Washington Post has the most in-depth and best analysis of the changing electoral map that I've seen thus far. The most important sentence is this one: "like-minded voters are clustering together, making the split shaped more by culture and region than by class." This has huge implications and one that is beneficial to the aspirational, forward-looking rhetoric Barack Obama than the traditional, honour-bound view of John McCain.


Saturday, June 28, 2008
 
Anglicans -- Choosing between God and liberal pieties

Charles Moore in the Daily Telegraph on next month's every-ten-years Lambeth Conference of 800 Anglican bishops:

"The issue that most divides them is not really homosexuality, but it is sparked by it. It is about what the Bible says, what tradition teaches, what a Church is, and who decides."

In essence, it is about whether Scripture means anything or whether a secular religion (liberalism) is more important than historic Christianity. This has real ramifications:

"In Nigeria, there are now perhaps 40 times more practising Anglicans than in Britain. And it is in places like Nigeria, where people's faith is often a matter of life and death because of the rise of militant Islam, that Anglicans have to be serious about what they believe.

In places where the Christian idea of marriage to only one woman requires constant upholding against local custom and rival beliefs, it seems incomprehensible that white Christians in the West are saying that men can marry men. Where, in 2,000 years of scripture and tradition, can that idea be found? Under apartheid in South Africa, the Dutch Reformed Church invented a bogus theology to justify white superiority. The western liberal Anglicans who want to make homosexual relationships the same as Christian marriage are doing something similar - twisting religion to suit the secular political culture of the time."


And what about the future of this church? Moore in his concluding paragraph says:

"Goodness knows how the Anglican Communion can run itself, and I use that phrase exactly - goodness knows. Most of the troubles in religion come from what my friendly bishop calls the 'fidget, fidget, fidget, fidget' of church bureaucracy and church politics."

Then Anglicanism began as fidget, fidget, fidget, fidget, didn't it?


 
Stephane Dion doesn't know economics

Terence Corcoran interviewed Liberal leader Stephane Dion about his Green Shift tax plan. Dion makes the claim that taxing carbon-producing industries will actually increase investment in the sector:

"I think it's very good for Saskatchewan and Alberta ... [the taxes will] attract a lot of investment [from around] the world. These companies are multinationals. If you ask them to invest in reduced emissions, they will invest in Canada.... This will happen if you tax the carbon."

As Corocran remarks, "Some of this is novel theory, more speculative and fanciful than hard economics. Taxes have never before been seen as a spur to more investment."

Remember Dion's ideas about taxation when he says that other aspects of his environmental program won't cost jobs because there will be new opportunities with the evolving green technologies; this is a guy who thinks that taxing carbon will attract foreign investment from the precisely those firms that will be punished by carbon taxes.


 
Killing journalism

Virginia Postrel:

"I saw The New Yorker on the newsstand and considered buying it for this article on itching. (I'm a very itch-prone person.) But then I realized I could get the article free online and even print it out without ads, so I didn't buy the copy. I then forgot about it until a typographically shouting Tyler Cowen reminded me.

All of which is great until you start to wonder how anyone in this business is going to get paid."


I read a lot online, although I still subscribe to or regularly buy about 20 magazines regularly, but I, too, wonder about the future of journalism in an age when so many people (under 45) expect things to be free, especially if it is on the internet.


 
Rob Reiner on the 2008 election

The Hollywood director Rob Reiner was interviewed by Politico and says this about America's Messiah: "With someone like Obama, I think the whole country, the whole world will coalesce."


 
Marx & Engels gets it exactly backwards

Brad DeLong's comment on Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels' 1850 Neue Rheinische Zeitung Revue: "Mistaking the birth pangs of modern capitalism for its death throes."


 
LA Times on homeschooling

This Los Angeles Times editorial is not as good as it first appears. The paper says the California courts should decide that parents have the right to homeschool their children but that the state should be able to keep tabs on child abuse and negligence which is common sense, but the paper defines negligence broadly to include not properly educating one's child(ren). That is a thin edge of the wedge to closely monitor how parents are homeschooling and, possibly, bring homeschoolers under the jurisdiction of education bureaucrats. In many cases, that would defeat the purpose of educating children at home.

The Times is probably technically correct to argue that "parents have no absolute constitutional right to educate their children instead of sending them to school." I am not inclined to look up the ridiculously long and often amended California constitution. But parents are the primary educators of their children and their decisions on how best to educate their own kids should be sacrosanct.

Lastly, the issue of parents homeschooling their kids in order to hide the fact that they are abusing them is simply a red herring. It would be such a small number of parents as to matter; also, the matter speaks to the issue of child abuse rather than homeschooling.


 
There's no 'hope' for a 'change' of heart in Bill Clinton

The Daily Telegraph reports that Bill Clinton is none too pleased with Barack Obama winning the Democrat nomination is thus far resistant to helping the junior senator from Illinois in his pursuit of the office Billary once held:

"The Telegraph has learned that the former president's rage is still so great that even loyal allies are shocked by his patronising attitude to Mr Obama, and believe that he risks damaging his own reputation by his intransigence.

A senior Democrat who worked for Mr Clinton has revealed that he recently told friends Mr Obama could "kiss my ass" in return for his support."


Friday, June 27, 2008
 
Good news for McCain

Barack Obama is the new Mitt Romney; that is, he is shifting and exposing that he doesn't have a set of core beliefs, or at least not one that he isn't willing to jettison for political expediency. Jennifer Rubin explains at Contentions and says that the media is catching on and that will be a problem for Obama: "I sense the rules are changing and the New Obama is learning the new ground rules are far less accommodating than the old ones."


 
Global warming's anti-scientific science-has-spoken assertions

From mechanical engineer James Kerian in First Things' On the Square:

"The only evidence that can be said to support this so-called scientific consensus is the supposed correlation of historical global temperatures with historical carbon-dioxide content in the atmosphere. Even if we do not question the accuracy of our estimates of global temperatures into previous centuries, and even if we ignore the falling global temperatures over the past decade as fossil-fuel emissions have continued to increase, an honest scientist would still have to admit that the hypothesis of man-made global warming hardly rises to the level of 'an assertion of what has been or would be the result of carrying out a specified observational procedure.' Global warming may or may not be 'the greatest scam in history,' as it was recently called by John Coleman, a prominent meteorologist and the founder of the Weather Channel. Certainly, however, under the scientific method it does not rise to the level of an 'item of physical knowledge.'

Nevertheless the acceptance of man-made global warming as scientific fact has become so prevalent that the secretary-general of the United Nations, Ban Ki-Moon, recently declared: “The debate is over. It’s time to discuss solutions.” Leaving aside the question of the secretary-general’s qualifications that is certainly one of the most anti-scientific statements ever made. The first question that this raises is why have so many scientists chosen to ignore this glaring failure of the global warming hypothesis to meet the standards of their own profession? The second question is what, if anything, can be done about it?"


 
Modern weddings

I am surprised that I am not against this, from the New York Times:

"The eBay auction to be a bridesmaid in Kelly Gray’s wedding is officially over, but the surprises keep coming.

The winning bid of $5,700 was by the Dr Pepper Snapple Group.

'We heard about the contest and thought it was an amazing thing she came up with,' said Nick Rangone, a spokesman for the beverage company...

Initially shocked that a beverage company had won the right to march down the aisle with her, Ms. Gray, 23, a Virginia Beach hairdresser, received another surprise when the company decided to give her $10,000, rather than the $5,700 it had bid...

There is one hitch, though; Ms. Gray still does not know who is going to be in her wedding next April. Mr. Rangone said the company was thinking about having a contest to determine the bridesmaid, or perhaps asking a celebrity."


 
The decline of General Motors

CNBC has a story that puts the decline of General Motors -- once America's emblematic company -- in perspective. A few facts and figures:

* "[GM] has a stock market value of only about $7 billion. That compares with a market cap of about $56 billion in 2000..."

* GM's stock market value is 1/2 of Avon's, 1/3 of Carnival Cruiselines', 1/4 of Yahoo!'s, 1/5 of Ebay's, 1/6 of Home Depot's, and 1/66 of Exon's.


 
Ditto Cowen on RSS feeds

More than a year ago, Tyler Cowen wrote about RSS feeds:

"First, I like the look of individual blog pages. More importantly, reading blogs for me is a matter of mood. Right now I feel like reading, say Jacqueline Passey rather than EconBrowser, or vice versa, and I don't want all the new posts thrust in front of my nose at the same time. I also fear that ongoing use of RSS would lead to reading inflation; I would add new blogs to my feed because it is easy to do so, but encounter the intransitivity of indifference. I would end up overloaded.

My current reading method 'by hand' takes more time, but hey reading blogs is fun and it should stay fun at the margin. Who wants to be satiated in liquidity? My current method also brings more discipline."


 
On oil

Alex Tabarrok at Marginal Revolution: "[W]ho really cares what the price is? The issue is energy, not oil. I am confident that the long run price of energy will fall."


 
There's no pink in baseball






















From the Boston Globe :

"Anne Houseman was never into baseball, but after moving here in 2002, she became a devoted Red Sox fan. To pledge her allegiance to Red Sox Nation, she bought a pink Sox cap and wore it proudly around town and to Fenway Park. For a while, the convert shared a peaceful coexistence with lifelong Sox fans. But something changed in late 2004, after the Sox won the World Series.

Houseman, 28, soon found her pink hat was about as welcome here as an A-Rod shirt in the bleachers. Rather than a sign of support, the pink hat somehow outed her as a poseur, a bandwagon fan."


I'm torn. I think girls should wear more pink -- you should see when the Tuns family goes out, it looks like a pepto bismol explosion -- but am no fan of using baseball paraphernalia except in the official team colours. My baseball conservatism probably wins out over my traditionalism on women's dress so I'm coming out against the pink hats. (For the record, our girls had the blue and white Yankee dress and sleepers.)

The Globe, however, finds reason to commit sociology in the sports pages:

"The squabbling is about more than fashion, clearly. It's about the gentrification of Fenway and rising ticket prices and chicken Caesar wraps where Fenway Franks once reigned, unchallenged. Fans in pink hats are just the icing on the cake.

'When a team is winning, you're going to see more fans climbing aboard, creating more supply and demand,' said Shawn McBride, vice president of sports marketing for Ketchum, a public relations firm. 'It happened with the Patriots, it's happening now with the Celtics. But with the Red Sox, it's an even bigger phenomenon. It's not so much a bandwagon as a caravan'."


Although sometimes a tacky hat is just a tacky hat.


Wednesday, June 25, 2008
 
Supreme Court rejects death penalty for child rapists

The New York Times has the story here. The decision is here.

Writing for the majority, Justice Anthony Kennedy says that in crimes against individuals (as opposed to other crimes such as treason or espionage) that do not result in the death of the victim the ultimate punishment of death should be off limits. At one time, I fully and without reservation agreed. The death penalty, because of its severity and finality, must be reserved for the most heinous of crimes and that few, if any, rise to the level of murder.

Kennedy says that there are many more child rapes (vaginal, anal and oral rape of children under 12) than there are first degree murders of all people -- roughly 5,700 compared to 3,400. Kennedy cites these numbers as reason not to expand the permissible use of the death penalty, saying that it would broaden the number of executions in the United States. Many would look at those numbers and say they are good enough reasons to expand the use of the death penalty. I doubt it would have much deterrence effect except that it would permanently put away those people who sexually violate children and end the possibility of their committing such crimes again.

But Kennedy is being dishonest by insinuating that there will be thousands of child rapists executed. Just as every murderer does not face the chair or needle, not every child rapist would either. Only the worst, most depraved, criminals would face death. As Justice Samuel Alito says, the criminal and his specific act(s) should be considered when determining whether death is appropriate in a particular case of child rape. In the present case, the petitioner, Patrick Kennedy, raped his eight-year-old stepdaughter, attempted to cover up his crime and tried to frame someone else. She suffered severe physical harm (the doctor who treated her said he never saw such damage down during a sexual assault) and psychological and emotional harm. It was not the first time he sexually attacked a minor, having previously raped his ex-wife's eight-year-old cousin. It is hard to see how Patrick Kennedy does not deserve to die.

But the case for executing child rapists is not that it will deter future potential perpetrators but that the punishment is proportionate to the crime these people commit. The long-term psychological effects on children is devastating, possibly causing life-long pain and suffering, altering the person's sense of him or herself and the world permanently. In short, it potentially robs the child-victim of a normal life. (This is to say nothing of the physical damage such attacks cause.) Consider what Patrick Parkinson says in his book Child Sexual Abuse and Church: "The victim of traumatic sexual abuse who has not reached the point of being able to deal with the trauma may be trapped in a state of fear in which the world is seen as a dangerous and unpredictable place and in which she is unable to feel even a reasonable degree of safety."

Justice Kennedy says that the legitimate use of punishment as retribution -- causing harm to the perpetrator of a crime commensurate with the harm a criminal causes to his victim, to repay "the hurt he caused" -- "does not justify the harshness of the penalty here." He could not be more wrong. Kennedy obviously views the murder of an individual worse by an order of magnitude than the rape of a child. I, too, once that murder was a uniquely horrible crime, but have come to believe that child rape is tantamount in the scale of human depravity and the damage down to its victim. Here's Andrew McCarthy on proportionality, an essential concept in determining whether a punishment is just:

"And as for their 'proportional' punishment argue, I think it's silly on its face — read the almost unreadable (because it's so excruciating) account of the rape and ask yourself whether it is really "disproportionate" to administer lethal-objection execution to a man who committed this type of barbaric a sexual assault on a child."

As Jonah Goldberg observes:

"The death penalty used to be constitutional for barn-burning, horse stealing, fairly minor thefts etc. I completely agree that our evolving standards of decency make that seem like overkill, pardon the pun. But is it really a sign of our evolving standards of decency that brutally raping a child is also on that list? Are we more decent because we don't consider that a capital offense? I don't really see it."

Lastly, Kennedy says that killing child rapists is cruel and unusual because the public does not support it, noting just six states permit capital punishment for this crime ("[T]here is a social consensus against the death penalty for the crime of child rape"). Justice Alito effectively demolishes this argument in his dissenting opinion, noting how the Supreme Court's 1977 Coker v. Georgia decision has effectively squelched legislative action on this issue. (See page 1-8 of the dissenting opinion.) While the Corker decision (1977) was activist, I do not see how the current case (Kennedy v. Louisiana) rises (descends?) to bald judicial activism. That said, Alito does condemns judicial over-reach in the majority opinion when he says:

"A major theme of the Court’s opinion is that permitting the death penalty in child-rape cases is not in the best interests of the victims of these crimes and society at large. In this vein, the Court suggests that it is more painful for child-rape victims to testify when the prosecution is seeking the death penalty. Ante, at 32. The Court also argues that 'a State that punishes child rape by death may remove a strong incentive for the rapist not to kill the victim,' ... and may discourage the reporting of child rape...

These policy arguments, whatever their merits, are simply not pertinent to the question whether the death penalty is 'cruel and unusual' punishment. The Eighth Amendment protects the right of an accused. It does not authorize this Court to strike down federal or state criminal laws on the ground that they are not in the best interests of crime victims or the broader society. The Court’s policy arguments concern matters that legislators should—and presumably do—take into account in deciding whether to enact a capital child-rape statute, but these arguments are irrelevant to the question that is before us in this case. Our cases have cautioned against using '"the aegis of the Cruel and Unusual Punishment Clause" to cut off the normal democratic processes,' ... but the Court forgets that warning here."


Finally, I disagree with Kathryn Jean Lopez -- it can be the job of the Supreme Court to determine the line of what is proportionate punishment. I do not question their jurisdiction to make this determination; I profoundly disagree with their conclusion and their rationale.


 
New magazine for those interested in UK politics

Total Politics launched this week with lots of blogs and interesting features. Looks potentially interesting.


 
Understanding trade

At the Freakonomics blog, Daniel Hamermesh tells the story of his grandchildren to illustrate how children understand (or don't) the concept of trade, before raising an interesting question:

"The essence of a free market is exchange — you and I raise our utility voluntarily by exchanging things with which we are endowed. I wonder how early people learn this idea in a free-market economy.

My five-year-old grandson had a Mylar helium-filled balloon, and his two-year-old brother had another one. They were fighting over them and my wife asked the older boy how he got his.

His answer: 'We traded for it.' (There had been no fighting before — that trade was voluntary.)

The two-year-old then said, 'I want to trade.' I believe the older boy understood the nature of exchange but the two-year-old did not — he just expressed his wishes (his demand). Do kids in non-market economies learn the idea of exchange at this age? I wonder."


I have a slightly different question. It is not about when children learn about trade but when people in general lose the understanding of the benefits of voluntary exchange of goods and services?


 
Thank pharmaceutical companies for our well-being

In a study by Joe DiMasi and Christopher-Paul Milne of the Tufts Center for the Study of Drug Development, and Ben Zycher of the Manhattan Institute find that "the scientific contributions of the private sector were crucial for the discovery and/or development of virtually all of the thirty-five drugs and drug classes examined in this study." This goes against the popular belief that the public sector, such as the National Institutes of Health, have been critical in supporting scientific research to get these treatments to market. But that isn't quite true (which is not to say that publicly supported research is not valuable or yields results). As the researchers point out, even when publicly funded research is responsible for the original discovery, further development by the private sector is often responsible for getting the medicines to the point where they can help consumers. As the New York Sun headlines says, "Capitalism said key to finding new drugs."


 
Mugabe loses some African friends

Paul Wolfowitz -- there's a name we haven't heard in a while -- writes in the Wall Street Journal about the beginnings of one of the most significant shifts in recent African history: the willingness of African leaders to condemn one of their own. Consider this:

"Until now, the attitude of African leaders has been an obstacle to peaceful change. Despite everything, some still look to Mugabe's leadership in the historic fight against white supremacy. Most significant among them is President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa.

But breaks in this silence are starting to appear. The leaders of Botswana and Zambia have now criticized Mugabe strongly and publicly. Forty African civil society leaders, including 14 former presidents, issued a call for Zimbabwean authorities to allow a free and fair election. The foreign minister of Tanzania, one of Mugabe's traditional allies, has denounced the pre-election violence. Kenya's Prime Minister, Raila Odinga (a victim of election fraud in his own country), has called Mugabe 'an embarrassment for Africa.' In South Africa itself, Jacob Zuma, a populist who defeated Mr. Mbeki for the leadership of the African National Congress, has been openly critical. And last month, South African labor unions refused to unload a Chinese ship bearing arms for Mugabe, forcing the Chinese to beat a retreat."


This is significant -- indeed revolutionary -- but as Wolfowitz admits, "Words of condemnation help to deny Mugabe's claims of legitimacy, but words alone are not enough." He offers some concrete steps to help Zimbabwe and weaken its dictatorial leader Robert Mugabe:

"Specific sanctions against some of the leaders of the violence may also be useful, but their impact will be limited. Broad economic sanctions will only increase the suffering of Zimbabwe's people, whose misery has already been increased by Mugabe's refusal to accept emergency food assistance from the U.N.

There is also talk about U.N. peacekeeping forces or other forms of military intervention, but this does not seem to be what the people of Zimbabwe want. What the people of Zimbabwe clearly do want is to maintain the pressure on Mugabe and his cronies for peaceful, democratic change.

The international community should commit – as publicly and urgently as possible – to provide substantial support if Mugabe relinquishes power. Even if Mr. [Morgan] Tsvangirai [leader of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change] were to become president tomorrow he would still face a daunting set of problems: restoring an economy in which hyperinflation has effectively destroyed the currency and unemployment is a staggering 70%; getting emergency food aid to millions who are at risk of starvation and disease; promoting reconciliation after the terrible violence; and undoing Mugabe's damaging policies, without engendering a violent backlash.

The international community should also say it will move rapidly to remove the burden of debts accumulated by the Mugabe regime and not force a new government to spend many months and precious human resources on the issue (as Liberia was forced to do to deal with the debts of Samuel Doe).

Given the strength and ruthlessness of the regime, change will not come easily. Nevertheless, developing a concrete vision for the future would help to rally the people of Zimbabwe around a long-term effort to achieve a peaceful transition. It would give Mr. Tsvangirai important negotiating leverage. And it could attract disaffected members of the regime.

Most importantly, dramatic action by the international community could embolden other Africans to confront the tragedy in their backyard. One step would be to offer Mugabe an honorable way out. South Africa or some other country should offer Mugabe a safe and comfortable retirement if he leaves without further violence."


Tuesday, June 24, 2008
 
What I'm reading

1) Why Popcorn Costs So Much at the Movies & Other Pricing Puzzles by Richard B. McKenzie. And to get in the mood, I'm skimming the definitive and brilliant essay on prices, "I, Pencil" by Leonard E. Read.

2) "In Defense of Biofuels," by Robert Zubrin in the Spring issue of The New Atlantis. I'm not buying most of it, as so much of it contradicts a lot of existing evidence and Zubrin's agenda is to end American dependence on foreign oil to help win the war on Islamic terror.

3) "Top Hat, White Tie, and Tails," an essay on Fred Astaire by Joseph Epstein in the June issue of Commentary. I'm looking forward to Epstein's book on the dancer that is coming out this fall.

4) I'm perusing the just-released June issue of the IMF's quarterly house journal Finance & Development. This edition is dedicated to the current financial market crisis.

5) "Pay for It," by Tyler Cowen in June 19 Forbes argues for privatizing water to help stem water shortages. For a contrary view see the 2006 briefing paper "Using Management and Lease-Affermage Contacts for Water Supply," from the Public-Private Infrastructure Advisory Facility. They find that the literature indicates that private-public partnerships increase access to water in the developing world.


 
Dion's green hill

Publius at Gods of the Copybook Headings says:

"When the big issues, the really big issues come up, [the politician] asks a harder question: Is this a hill I want to die on? It seems Stephane Dion has chosen his hill, last year's most fashionable political cause, the environment. He hopes that it will be this year's fashionable cause too."

Noting that environmentalism is the modern religion, Publius wonders whether it will the vogue religion when the election is finally called. He also argues that majority governments are won in the 905 region surrounding Toronto -- an area of the country "utterly dependent on the car." Leave it to Dion to plant his flag on the costly posturing of environmentalism with his Green Shift campaign precisely at the time when gas is at $1.35 per litre demonstrating his lack of political instincts.


Monday, June 23, 2008
 
Three cool things on YouTube

Introducing another semi-regular feature. By the way, what did people do before YouTube?

Gene Kelly tap dancing on roller skates (the tapping begins at about the 2:10 mark)

Johnny Cash singing Nasty Dan with Oscar the Grouch on Sesame Street.

The best hockey goal of all time by one of my all-time favourite players (Denis Savard).


 
Redistributing grades

An idea on fair grading from the mathematician Pietro Poggi-Corradini at ImaginaryPolitics:

"The way students usually earn their grades is by accumulating several points over the semester, then a grand total is computed, say between 0 and 100, and then the numerical score is converted into a letter grade. In other words students are evaluated along the unidimensional scale of “points collected”. This is highly unfair because it doesn’t account for the complexities of each student “realities”. So, I propose that once the letter grade is determined the professor should then collect a tax following a progressive scale (15% from the A’s, 10% from the B’s, and 5% from the C’s). These points will then be redistributed in various ways, depending on the priorities of the current university administration or following decisions taken by the president of the student body."

People who believe in progressive taxation and the redistributive state should applaud the idea.

(HT: Cafe Hayek)


 
Something neat and one thought about time-wasters

This: balancing 17 dominoes on one domino.

Have you ever thought that perhaps the cure for cancer (or the common cold) or a solution for some the problems afflicting those in abject poverty in the developed world such a malaria or malnutrition will be thwarted because some guy was instead wasting his time balancing dominoes on other dominoes? Or watching him do it?


Sunday, June 22, 2008
 
Hefner - how it all began

Watching 'stag videos' with friends, swinging with his brother, a little gay sex after being propositioned in Chicago and a self-made. Page Six of the New York Post reports on the salacious details of an authoritative book with which Hugh Hefner co-operated.


 
There isn't enough money in politics

I make these two points all time, both here and in conversation: 1) considering that amount of money redistributed by government, it is incredible that more money is not lavished on politicians by corporations, special interest groups and individuals to get a larger share of the pie. And 2) considering that what the private sector spends on promoting its products, the amount spent on campaigns is minuscule.

Edward J. Lopez, an associate professor of economics at San Jose State University,
makes the same point at Division of Labour (HT: Tyler Cowen):

"Consider two ratios.

1. In 2000 the federal government spent about 1.8 trillion (~18% of GDP), and total campaign expenditures on all federal elective offices was about $1.85 billion (about $1b on congressional races, $0.35b on presidential, and $0.5b in soft money). So federal public sector advertising was 1/1000th of federal public spending. Ratio 1 = 0.001.

2. In 2000 the private sector share of GDP was about $7.5 trillion (after federal, state and local spending net of intergovernmental transfers), and total private sector advertising, according to Advertising Age, was $240 billion (Statistical Abstract Table 1251). So private advertising was 3.2% of private spending. Ratio 2 = .032.

By this comparison, private sector advertising is more than thirty times greater than the amount we spend on federal elections trying to make sure we get the right person for the job."


 
Will strip clubs become a ubiquitous as Starbucks?

Jenny McCartney in today's Sunday Telegraph:

"The chic response to the lap-dancing and pole-dancing phenomenon, it quickly appeared, was to embrace it while wearing a skimpy fig-leaf of irony.

Various Sloane Rangers and Kate Moss gamely took up pole-dancing as a saucy way to keep fit; young women journalists attended the clubs to report back to goggling readers; and corporate City junkets to lap-dancing bars gradually began to be cited in industrial tribunals.

A decade or more on, and the media interest in lap-dancing has largely abated. So too has the pretence of laddish irony that once surrounded the transaction.

The clubs are now everywhere, offering instant gratification as routinely as McDonalds.

These 'Gentlemen's Clubs' struggle to project an aura of international sophistication while generating an air of parochial sleaze. Still, the profits keep rolling in: sophistication, after all, was never really the point."


McCartney asks: "Lap-dancing is a lucrative business, and despite increased regulation it is unlikely to disappear. Yet the rest of us are surely entitled to question the knock-on effect of its normalisation." The problem is, those of us who do question its normalization are widely viewed as old or prematurely old fogeys.


 
Understanding third world misery

Paul Collier, professor of economics at Oxford University, is the author of The Bottom Billion: Why the Poorest Countries Are Failing and What Can Be Done About It, writes in the Washington Post that Robert Mugabe's desperate struggle to remain in power in Zimbabwe and the refusal of Burma's leaders to allow assistance in a time of disaster remind:

"us of a central problem in trying to help ease the misery of the developing world, especially the "bottom billion" inhabitants of countries being left behind by global prosperity: Leaders in such sad little states as Zimbabwe and Burma are quite ridiculously powerful. They have turned parliament, the news media and the judiciary into mere implementers of their strangling systems of control. But the extraordinary lack of external restraints on these dictators is poorly understood.

Many people are still trapped in a politically correct mindset that sees a strong rich world bullying a weak poor world. The disastrous U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 played straight into this mentality of seeing wealthy countries as bullies. Yet the planet's key power imbalance is not between rich and poor; it is between confident, open governments willing to pool sovereignty to help their publics and crabbed, defensive governments determined not to give up a scrap of sovereignty. The former produce prosperity; the latter manufacture misery."


 
I don't get it

Allan Gotlieb, Canada's former ambassador to the United States, writes in the National Post that Canada should have sought a seat on the United Nation's Security Council. He said the Council is uniquely able to tackle a number of conflicts and issues and thus it increases the influence of members who sit on it, even temporarily:

"Why should Canada seek a seat on the Security Council? Asking this question is like asking "Why should Canada have a foreign policy?" For most states, the only way to achieve their foreign policy goals is through trying to influence other states to accept their point of view. The UN Security Council is a uniquely influential body in the structure of the international order. The product of the victors of war, it has the power, if a breach of international peace is found, to compel states, by force if necessary, to act in accordance with its resolutions. Unlike any other body before or since, it alone has the authority to impose legal obligations on states, regardless of their agreement or will. In terms of peace and security, it is the supreme legislature. It can even authorize the invasion of a state. Or, as in the case of Iraq, fail to do so. It can stop genocide. Or, as in the case of Rwanda, fail to do so."

So the logic is we should sit on a body that might or might not respond to genocide. Gotlieb says, the Council's "decisions (e. g., Korea) or inactions (e. g., Serbia) change the course of history." Its inaction in Rwanda and Sudan have certainly 'changed' the lives of millions for the worse; why would want to have our name attached to an institution that looks away from death the scale we have seen in Africa over the past decade is beyond me.


Friday, June 20, 2008
 
The top 11 of the Euro Cup so far

Here is my all-star team for the Group stages

Goal: Edwin van der Sar (Netherlands)

The Dutch defender edges out Italia's Gianluigi Buffon. Both made incredible saves but 1) van der Sar is the better goaltender and 2) he conceded just one goal in three games compared to four in three games for Buffon. Both my eyes and the stats say van der Sar was the best between the pipes.

Defenders: Khalid Boulahrouz (Netherlands), Pepe (Portugal), Robert Kovac (Croatia), Giovanni van Bronckhorst (Netherlands)

Pepe looked off at times in the game against the Czech Republic but scored two goals against Germany (one recalled due to an offside call). Kovac anchored the best defense in the tournament so far (Croatia and Netherlands each allowed just one goal). Boulahrouz and van Bronckhorst were often part of the attack, making crossing passes and sometimes taking shots, but they were seldom caught out of position during the counter-attack.

Midfield: Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal), Wesley Sneijder (Netherlands), Rafael van der Vaart (Netherlands), Andrea Pirlo (Italy)

Ronaldo is probably the best player in the world today, although he would be challenged by some of the Oranje for the title of best in this tournament. He makes plays, scores goals, flies up the wings. Pirlo is great at long passes and set plays -- Italy would have been in serious trouble without him. Sneijder has emerged as a great winger and team-mate vander Vaart showed himself to be a sweet passer, quietly initiating numerous plays.

Forwards:

David Villa (Spain) and Robin van Persie (Netherlands)

Center fielder Villa is the best attacker this tournament, a sheer joy to watch as he makes his way past the defense and terrifies goaltenders. Van Persie scored two goals in limited play and showed outstanding play-making ability.


Reserves:

Goal:

Gianluigi Buffon (Italy) - Great goalie who would easily be the tourney' best if not for van der Sar.

Defender:

Josip Simunic (Croatia) - An integral part of the strong Croatian defense.

Fabio Grosso (Italy) - Great two-way leftback who wasn't on for the 3-0 demolition at the hands of the Netherlands.

Midfield:

Niko Kovac (Croatia) - Captained the midfield masterfully and made the whole Croatian midfield look great. Croatia won all three games because they controlled the games pace and didn't unnecessarily concede the ball between the 40 yard lines (to use an American football metaphor).

Luka Modric (Croatia) - Solid two-way midfielder, he scored a goal in the game against Germany.

Striker:

Lukas Podolski (Germany) - Wonderful final touch, he scored three goals in three games.


Thursday, June 19, 2008
 
Jays destined for mediocrity without radical change

"Let there be blood in the streets...," by John Brattain at Hardball Times. Brattain often writes about the Toronto Blue Jays and he has been incredibly patient -- I'd say too patient -- with general manager J.P. Ricciardi. But no more.

Brattain has correctly identified the three areas in which merely league average performance would catapault the Jays into top tier contenders: leftfield, designated hitter and hitting with runners in scoring position (RISP). Two paragraphs will suffice to present the pertinent information.

"In big situations the Jays strike out, hit ground balls at infielders, lazy fly balls and pop ups. To use one example, the Blue Jays are hitting .215/.256/.446 with the bases loaded, while the other 13 teams in the AL are batting .300/.362/.467. With RISP the Jays are hitting .233/.327/.325 with 32 GIDP; the other 13 AL teams are batting .269/.365/.412 averaging about 20 GIDP."

And:

"The Blue Jays are getting .258/.328/.359; 4 HR 29 RBI production out their No. 3 hitters (the AL average is .264/.350/.430; 10 HR 41 RBI) and are receiving .272/.344/.416; 7 HR 34 RBI production from the cleanup spot (AL: .275/.352/.445; 10 HR 41 RBI). How bad is that? Well, a league-average eight-hole hitter hits about as well as a Blue Jays three-hole (hitter) and an AL average 6-7 hitter (somewhere between those two averages) is what the Jays are getting from their cleanup spot. Put another way, take two hitters from the bottom third of an AL average team and that’s what Toronto is using 3-4 in the lineup."

The lackluster performance of the combination of DHs they've used since releasing Frank Thomas and the barely Major League level of hitting from their collection of leftfielders is bad enough. That Ricciardi will not call up Adam Lind who is hitting at an elite level with the Triple A Syracus Chief (330 BA, 391 OBP, 524 SLG) when he could easily improve either the LF or DH position is insane. Brattain concludes Ricciardi must go:

"He is completely oblivious to the fact that the Blue Jays' lineup is badly flawed and has been unable to find even league-average offensive performers for left field and designated hitter ... If he is aware of these flaws, then he should be fired for not addressing them. A general manager who cannot find two league-average bats for non-crucial defensive positions among 30 major league organizations is clearly incompetent."

I don't think much of manager John Gibbons but he is not at fault for the Jays sub-500 record this season. He is playing the cards he's been dealt -- the cards provided by Ricciardi.


 
U.S. politics to get even more interesting

Ross Perot is back, this time with a website: Perot Charts. This might be exactly what Dana Carvey's career needs.


 
Economist jokes

I've been having some fun reading the economics jokes at this site. (HT: Meagan McArdle) This is my favourite:

Experienced economist and not so experienced economist are walking down the road. They come across a pile of horse manure lying on the asphalt.

Experienced economist: "If you eat it I'll give you $20,000!"

Not so experienced economist runs his optimization problem and figures out he's better off eating it so he does and collects money.

Continuing along the same road they come across another pile of horse manure.

Not so experienced economist: "Now, if YOU eat this I’ll give YOU $20,000."

After evaluating the proposal experienced economist eats it and collects the money.

They go on. The not so experienced economist starts thinking: "Listen, we both have the same amount of money we had before, but we both ate horse manure. I don't see us being better off."

The experienced economist replies "Well, that's true, but you overlooked the fact that we've been just involved in $40,000 of trade."


 
Yanks win sixth in a row

And 11 of their past 14. They got past the San Diego Padres 8-5 in a game that always felt like they were ready to lose. Fortunately, they didn't. Since Alex Rodriguez returned from the disabled list on May 20, the Bronx Bombers are 19-9 and scoring nearly two more runs per game than they were while A-Rod was out (a mere 3.2 runs per game).


 
Euro 2008

The best and potentially most important game in the world of soccer yesterday was not even part of the Euro competition but the South American qualifiers for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. Argentina and Brasil played to a 0-0 draw -- a disappointment for Brasil after their 2-0 loss to Paraguay on the weekend. While it is unlikely that the South American soccer giant would fail to qualify for '10, they are clearly stuggling right now.

The Euro 2008 has been thrilling. There have been three dull games, all in the first leg of the group round: the two Group B games (Croatia beating Austria 1-0 and Germany defeating Poland 2-0) and the Group C game between France and Romania that ended in a 0-0 tie. In fact, the France-Romania game might have been the most uninspired game I have ever watched -- it was the kind of game Americans have in mind when they say soccer is boring; it is one thing to not score but quite another for a game to be devoid of any real scoring chances. Fortunately, the June 11 dullfest was the last such match and the rest of the tournament has provided some real thrills for soccer fans.

All the other games have had at least moments of brilliance and outbursts of excitement, while most have been consistently fun to watch from whistle to whistle. Spain's offense, led by David Villa has been electrifying to watch and Portugal (as loathsome as they are) have a lot of talented players who make riveting plays. Villa, the Valencia striker who is perhaps the most sought after transfer of the summer, seems to be a step faster than every defender, a sensational ball-handler, and wonderful shot. Whether it is charging through the middle or drifting to wings and coming back in, Villa always seems to be creating scoring chances for himself. In every major soccer tournament a single star shines, and in the 2008 Euro, it's Villa.

As fun as Spain's offense-oriented game is to watch, no one has played as breathtaking and gripping futball as the Netherlands. In all three games, they played thrilling, attacking soccer for all 90 minutes, even when they were ahead by three goals against both Italy and France, and so too in the meaningless game Tuesday against Romania which they won 2-0. Watching the Oranje on Tuesday you would have thought they had to win to move onto the next round even though they had already clinched the top spot in their group. And they dominated with a lineup of backups (although winger Arjen Robben and striker Robin van Persie would be starters on every other team). For the second time in as many games, van Persie made a shot from a nearly impossible angle coming up on the goalie's right side and scoring on the near side of the net. I barely believed these goals when I saw them. Also, midfielder Ibrahim Afellay who had his first start against Romania made a strong case for his regular inclusion in the lineup; he has great pace and is a deft passer. In the first game, against Italy, Dutch defender Giovanni van Bronckhorst so effectively shut down the play of Italian midfielder Mauro Camoranesi that it prohibited the Italian offense from creating quality scoring opportunities. Dutch goalie Edwin van der Sar, who is playing his last international games this Euro Cup, has stood out this entire tournament, making incredible saves. What sets him apart from almost all the other goaltenders is that he consistently tries to catch the ball when he can rather than punch it away. This prevents rebound opportunities for the opposing team and thus lessens the likelihood of scoring.

The Dutch are the best team after the group matches, but they cannot rest on their laurels. Many a team with great starts were declared the favourites to win it all only to be forced out early (recall Brasil at the 1982 World Cup and Argentina in 1994 and 2006 World Cups). The Dutch play a marvelous game up the wings, playing almost exactly on the sidelines, seemingly stretching the field five yards wider and thereby exhausting the opposition's defense. This, however, leaves them susceptible up the middle and opens up the relative weak defense to serious challenges. Both France and Italy created opportunities they failed to capitalize upon, but a team with a better striker (Spain's Villa, for example) would be able to score.

A few thoughts about Italy and France. Both were old and a little slower. I blame the coaches in both cases for fielding veterans who, sure, might be more experienced but are hopeless against the relentless and fleet-footed Dutch offense; in the Italy-Netherlands game last week, there were only two starters for the Azzurri under 30 -- and it showed. It took all of five minutes for the whole world to see the Dutch were not playing for the tie in game one yet Roberto Donadoni did not alter the Azzurri's tactics or make the necessary substitutions; he needed to change his defensive alignment early in the game but no adjustments were made until it was too late. It is questionable whether center midfielder Massimo Ambrosini should have started the Dutch game, but it was indefensible that he remained in the game going into the second half; he was out-classed by the Dutch midfielders every moment of the first 45 minutes. Italian striker Luca Toni might be one of the offensive stars in the Bundeslegia, but throughout the tournament he was often a half step too slow to passes in the box or missing the net by a foot on the left side. How often did we see Toni falling to his knees in disappointment or shaking his head in disgust at the missed opportunities? He has no goals to show for his 280 minutes of play. For the Azzurri to do better in the next rounds, an offense of Fabio Quagliarella and Antonio Cassano might be more effective. Cassano is a master dribbler and he draws defenders off his fellow striker (as we saw with Toni's numerous missed opportunities against France) and he must be among the starting eleven for Italy to have a chance to stay in the game against Spain and, if they beat them, the Netherlands. Winning will be difficult as their anchor, midfielder Andrea Pirlo, and rugged midfielder Gennaro Gattuso, are suspended for the game against Spain after both acquiring their second yellow card in the final Group C game against Les Bleus (France).

Les Bleus were even more terribly managed than the Azzurri. Raymond Domenech played Franck Ribery as a forward midfielder in game one against Romania where he is ineffective. When Ribery was allowed to fly up the wings against the Netherlands in game two, Les Bleus had many more scoring opportunities. It was unfortunate for them to lose him in the opening minutes against Italy on Tuesday and it certainly affected the French offense. Throughout the tournament Thierry Henry did not look 100%; the combination of nagging injuries and age (he'll turn 31 this summer) meant he is simply no longer capable of carrying team on his shoulders anymore. Furthermore, I've never seen him as upset at calls or at himself as he was throughout this tournament. It was also mistake to have him as the lone striker in the game against the Netherlands. Karim Benzema, the 20-year-old Olympique Lyonnais striker, was not what many hoped he for, although a powerful, close kick was improbably saved by Gianluigi Buffon in the final 15 minutes of the Italy-France game. Benzema may still be the Henry of the future, but for now his play raises questions about why he and not Juventas striker David Trezeguet was included on the roster. (Was it because he plays in Italy? Was it because, as the media reported, the coach wanted more Muslims on the team?) The defensive line of Eric Abidal, William Gallas, Lilian Thuram and Willy Sagnol showed their age rather than their experience. And the French missed defensive midfielder Patrick Vieira, lacking other midfielders to start the offensive roll out from within their half. Offensive oriented attacking midfielder Samir Nasri (who was just signed by Arsenal) played a disappointing 32 minutes in two games; despite being an early substitute in game three, he was later taken out of the game due to his uninspired play.

I have a few comments, too, about the teams outside Group C, although I won't go into as much detail. All four group winners played attacking soccer (Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, and, to a lesser extent Croatia), which will augur well for the future of the sport. Croatia lacks the big names of the other three teams but they beat powerhouse Germany. Coach Slaven Bilic made the right roster moves and tactical decisions to keep the Croatian side winners in all three games, including an impressive and deserving 2-1 victory over Germany. The Portuguese are an immensely talented team with stars such as Cristiano Ronaldo and midfielders Deco and Simao who are all capable of making things happen; it is notable that one of their defenders, Pepe, is also an offensive spark plug. As much as I dislike the team, only the Dutch play as a more cohesive team than the Portuguest. And as good as David Villa is, Spain is hardly a one-man show with attacker Fernando Torres and midfielders Andres Iniesta and Cesc Fabregas initiating the play middle of the pitch. Iker Casillas is an under-appreciated goaltender and while he lets goals in (three in the three games), that is more a reflection of the weakness of Spain's defense than it is his skill level.

Sweden is always a threat because Zlatan Ibrahimovic, like Spain's Villa and Netherlands' van Persie, creates his own opportunities, breaking through the defense with seeming ease. He scored two of the more beautiful goals of the tournament. Unfortunately, the Swedes went down to Russia in game three and will miss the quarter-finals. Turkey twice came back in the second half to end up finishing second in Group A. Against the Czech Republic, rated sixth in the world by FIFA, Turkey scored three goals in the final 16 minutes of regulation time, including Nihat's two goals in 90 seconds in the final four minutes, to win. The game before, Turkey scored a goal in extra time to defeat Switzerland. The Turks are thuggish, lack any panache and have few go-to star players, but they have roared back twice in a row and have demonstrated why the beautiful game is also the unpredictable game. They could easily defeat Croatia and make it to the final four. They could also be demolished three-nil.

Germany played their typical efficient soccer that was good enough to get them to the quarter-finals and a match against Portugal. That should be a great game with two very different styles of play but with both teams featuring stars and superstars. Germany has the skilled players to advance to the finals but no one would be surprised to see them beaten badly at the hands of Portugal, either. Polish-born strikers Miroslav Klose and Lukas Podolski are always stellar and right midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger hasn't really shown us what he is capable of after an early second game red card that forced him out of that match and to miss game three. Center midfielder Michael Ballack is solid but seldom lives up to his billing as a phenom. 38-year-old German goaltender Jens Lehmann has been not been exactly sharp and will have to step up his game against the speedy Portuguese team. The Russians have made it to the elimination rounds but they might have do better if attacker Roman Pavlyuchenko were not quite so quick. He is often bursting into the opposition defensive lines alone and has no one to pass to; as a result he tries to do too much on his own and is easily stopped in his tracks as he is double and triple teamed.

Through 24 games there have been lots of thrills, whether the action is the rapid-paced attacks of the Dutch and Spanish or the methodical build up of the Germans and Portuguese, or the dramatics such as Turkey's comebacks. We are in store for much more of this excitement as the best eight teams in group action are now in the elimination rounds.


Wednesday, June 18, 2008
 
Incredible but not surprising

Over at The Corner, Mark Hemingway notes that Senator Christopher Dodd (D, Conn.), the chairman of the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee, doesn't have any idea what current mortgage rates are.


 
Shocking but not surprising

The West never followed through with their promises to celebrities, er, Africa, on providing more debt relief and aid for the dark continent. The Financial Times reports, "Rich countries have so far given only one-seventh of the extra aid they promised to Africa three years ago, with France particularly off-track." You see, there aren't photo ops every time the cheques are sent.


 
Dutch fans at Euro 2008



 
Economics from the Gray Flannel Suit era

Tyler Cowen:

"Postwar American economics was splendid. WWII meant that many thinkers (Friedman, Samuelson, Schelling, others) had real world experience with tackling big problems. At the same time these people were just getting their hands on quantitative thinking and some more technical tools, yet the profession still valued breadth to some degree."


 
Milton Friedman's grandson

One of Patri Friedman's favourite poem is this nonsense from Shel Silverstein.

Hug O' War

I will not play at tug o' war.
I'd rather play at hug o' war,
Where everyone hugs
Instead of tugs,
Where everyone giggles
And rolls on the rug,
Where everyone kisses,
And everyone grins,
And everyone cuddles,
And everyone wins.


 
104 Photos from the March for Life

Here at LifeSiteNews.



 
Potentially neat idea

Vertical farms. Environmentalists like the idea because it would reduce the transportation of agricultural products from rural farms to where people are in urban centers and restore rural land to non-human usage, or at the greens put it, return such land to its 'natural state'. Those are stupid reasons, but because land is valuable, if we could farm upwards rather than outwards, this is a potentially good idea if it is economically feasible. As we bump up against the limits of arable land, vertical farms probably will come into limited use for agri-products that can be grown at a profit with hydroponic and organic methods. That is, vertical farming makes sense not for environmental reasons but for bottom-line reasons when it passes a cost-benefit analysis.

For more on vertical farming, check out "Materializing the Idea: Innovative Solutions for the Vertical Farm," by Leslie-Anne Fitzpatrick, Rory Mauro, Kathleen Roosevelt and Athina Vassilakis, a 50-page document that examines the technical aspects of this concept.


 
Libertarian drug nuttiness

Over at Hit & Run, Radley Balko notes a Quebec jury decision acquitting a man who shot and killed a police officer during a botched drug raid. Balko links to a Montreal Gazette editorial and concludes his post thusly: "It's nice to see a sensible outcome to one of theses cases, even if it had to come from Canada." I'm not sure there is a sensible conclusion to a tragedy like this.


 
Back and forth with Adam

Adam Daifallah has another post on Tim Russert with which I must take issue.

I conceded yesterday that people did indeed go on Meet the Press despite the fact that some of them thought it was terrifying. Daifallah says that guests had to go on the show. That's true up to a point but if people stopped thinking that way and didn't go on his show anymore, it would no longer be true. The fact is that people went on his show because the political and media classes thought they ought to do that. That is a mentality that is easily changed and could be without any dramatic effect on politics. I'm not convinced that anyone would notice if a particular Congressman or administration official did not go on Meet the Press; the only people who would really care are those within the Washington fishbowl and others who are already politically engaged (that is people who have strong opinions about politics and who would probably not change their minds about people or issues based on a television program). It is easy to politicians, strategists, journalists and bloggers to exaggerate the influence of Sunday morning or other news programs; the fact is, most people don't care.

Another issue I have with Adam's post is his comment that the tributes on Sunday morning were moving. I found them maudlin and typically self-serving and self-congratulatory. Journalists love when the story is about one of their own or, better yet, about themselves and in Russert's passing they could do both. Rush Limbaugh explains:

"[T]his orgy of coverage from about four o'clock Friday afternoon on ceased to be about Tim Russert and instead it's been about the media and who they are and how important they are. It's almost taken on a Princess Diana circumstance, where everybody wanted to be part of the story. All these people, second and third, fourth, fifth tier people coming out, 'Yeah, Tim was a big friend of mine,' and telling all these stories. The media doing everything they could to make this about them and their role in American culture today. It got to be a little bit unseemly after awhile, as it went nonstop into Saturday and into Sunday."

It was enough to make you puke. This is a reflection not on Russert, who cannot be blamed for the excess in the remembrance of him, but on the way that the media generally works. As a friend of mine emailed Friday, "Oh no a journalist died ... Another September 11 could happen between now and Sunday morning and the story will be Tim Russert." After Sunday's Meet the Press, this same friend emailed me, the subject line being, "Giant mutual dick suck Sunday." Inelegant but accurate.


Tuesday, June 17, 2008
 
Leftists: getting it wrong time and time again

A short history is provided by Five Feet of Fury.


 
What I'm reading

1. "An Essay on the Principle of Population," by Thomas Malthus. For work reasons, I end up re-reading Malthus every other year or so. I'm working on a cover story for the July issue of The Interim on rising food and oil prices and population. Here's my one paragraph summary of Malthus' work. While his conclusions ended up being wrong, we should remember two things. 1) He had a biasing motivation -- he opposed charity and his work was, at least in part, an attempt to argue against private giving or government assistance to the poor. 2) His conclusion that population grew geometrically while food supplies grew arithmetically was a fairly accurate observation of the history of population and economic growth up to his time; it was only afterward (with the Industrial Revolution) that our ability to grow food or improve other economic activity was no longer a function of population growth.

2. "State of Major League Baseball - 2008" at the Biz of Baseball featuring responses from more than 30 of the best minds of baseball. Most are stat-heads (Jonah Keri, David Pinto) or those sympathetic to sabermetrics (Tim Marchman) so it is well worth reading because it avoids the sentimentality and nonsense that the Joe Morgans and Tim McCarvers of the world offer as baseball analysis and commentary.

3. "It’s the Thought That Counts: On Perceiving How Helpers Decide to Lend a Hand," by Daniel Ames et al from a 2004 edition of the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.

4. "Is Google Making Us Stupid?" by Nicholas Car in the July/August Atlantic Monthly. That goes nicely with "Lazy Bastards: How we read online" by Michael Agger in Slate.

5. "Low Incomes, High Standards: Can private schools make a difference for low income families?" by the Fraser Institutes's Claudia R. Hepburn and Andrew Douris. It looks at the Children First program that enables children to escape public schools and finds (not surprisingly) that parents are happier with the schools they chose than the comparison sample of parents who were not so fortunate as to win CF grants.


Monday, June 16, 2008
 
Boom!

Tony Schwartz has passed away. He made ads for Coca Cola and Chrysler but he'll always be remembered for the 'daisy ad'.


 
More on Barack's father's day speech

Yesterday, Barack Obama lamented that too few black fathers do not realize that they have responsibilities to their children after conception. But considering Obama's unlimited support for abortion, he doesn't seem to have any problem with women who shuck their responsibilities after conception.


 
Long before there were automobiles, there were sheep

The Los Angeles Times reports (via the Toronto Star):

"Over thousands of years of evolution, sheep, cattle and other cud-chewers developed a nasty habit.

They burp and break wind a lot.

That gives New Zealand a distressing gas problem.

The country’s 4 million people share two islands in the South Pacific with 40 million sheep, 9 million beef and dairy cattle and more than 1 million farmed deer, all producing the methane that many climate scientists say is one of the worst culprits behind global warming."


 
If you read one blog post all week, read Five Feet of Fury on Siddiqui

Kathy Shaidle slams Haroon Siddiqui, the Toronto Star's chief idiot (proof is in his latest column, a special kind of stupid). Here's a great line but you should read the whole thing:

"If people hate Muslims, blame the likes of admitted terrorism supporter Mohammed Elmasry and his three law student dupes, who brought Maclean's to court, and, among other things, condemned Mark Steyn's use of 'sarcasm' and 'subtle intellectual arguments'."

In other words, some people -- and peoples -- invite being hated.


 
Environmentalists hitting well below the Mendoza line

From Orange Punch, an Orange Country Register blog:

"Environmental scare batting average: oh for how many now?

If these greenie alarmists were baseball players, they’d be cut from the team. How many the-sky-is-falling scare stories have we had to suffer through so far? And how many have turned out true?"


 
Freedom under fire

Writing in the Calgary Herald yesterday, Mark Milke looks at the ways in which freedom is under assault in Canada from gag laws and human rights commissions. And where is the Supreme Court? Not protecting the free speech rights of Canadians; at least, not when it matters.


 
Next thing you know there will be a law banning bumper stickers and personalized plates

The Washington Post reports on the research conducted by William Szlemko of Colorado State University who finds that 'territorial markers' such as bumper stickers, window decals, and personalized license plates get angrier than other drivers while behind the wheel. As reporter Shankar Vedantam notes: "It does not seem to matter whether the messages on the stickers are about peace and love -- 'Visualize World Peace,' 'My Kid Is an Honor Student' -- or angry and in your face -- 'Don't Mess With Texas,' 'My Kid Beat Up Your Honor Student'." The theory is that once you view your car as "deeply personal space" like you do your house, you tend to defend your territory more strongly.


 
I owe an apology to Adam

Over the weekend I said that Adam Daifallah was wrong to call Tim Russert's questioning 'terrifying'. On Sunday morning's This Week Roundtable, Robert Reich, a former Labour Secretary, said being on Meet the Press with Russert was, indeed, 'terrifying'.


 
Diane Francis -- embarrassment to journalism

Adam Daifallah says that Financial Post columnist Diane Francis has finally provided the proof that she has 'lost it' -- as if further proof than her columns of the past 10 years were necessary. Francis says that when Barack Obama looks for a running mate, he should skip Hillary Clinton and pick Arianna Huffington. Daifallah notes that Francis has a small conflict here -- she sometimes blogs for the Huffington Post -- but there is a bigger problem with Francis' column. Never mind that it lacks serious analysis of Huffington as a candidate (Francis never considers whether Huffington is more likely to repel than attract voters by both her views and her personality or how she would handle questions about her personal life including whether she knew her former husband Michael Huffington was gay when she married him). No, more importantly, Huffington simply cannot run for vice president because she was born in Greece. In her column, Francis acknowledges that Huffington was born there and as an American citizen, Francis should know that foreign-born citizens cannot run for the presidency or vice presidency.

Francis is not a pathetic columnist because she barely notes her conflict of interest; she is a pathetic columnist because she writes silly and unreasonable columns, often ignoring inconvenient but pertinent facts. All too often, when she has the facts on her side, she is shrill. It is a wonder that anyone bothers to read her anymore. If Francis ever 'had it' she lost it a long time ago.


Sunday, June 15, 2008
 
Sometimes it is easy to forget that Obama is a dye-in-the-wool liberal

Barack Obama's father's day sermon/political speech includes this courageously true line: "If we are honest with ourselves, we'll admit that too many fathers are missing. You and I know how true this is in the African-American community," said the father of two." Perhaps he will go so far as to reform the welfare that enables such irresponsibility.


 
Stupid article on the Clintons in the Telegraph

Tim Shipman writes in the Telegraph:

"The argument goes like this: Mrs Clinton stood by her man despite his serial philandering in exchange for his support for her own political ambitions. Now that the 42nd president is himself partly blamed for her losing the nomination with his often-incendiary public comments, their relationship will go the same way as her candidacy."

If that was true, why is she deciding her political future while "relaxing at an undisclosed location with her husband, Bill, and daughter, Chelsea"? I'm not saying that the Clintons are going to stay together, I'm just thinking that the article presents incongruous facts and arguments.


 
'When you have a good idea, start a magazine'

Daniel Johnson is editor of Standpoint -- a magazine sponsored by the Social Affairs Unit dedicated to upholding the (unparalleled) principles of Western civilization. (As Johnson noted in The Guardian's Comment is Free, "I believe that there are limits to the toleration British society should extend to traditions that conflict with our laws and morality ... [N]or is one standpoint as good as another".) Read his essay that launches the magazine, in which he notes:

"The word 'magazine' (from the French magasin, which was borrowed from the Arabic) implies both a marketplace of ideas and a storehouse of intellectual ammunition. Standpoint aims to provide both."

Other pieces worth reading include essay on how not to help Africa, an even longer essay on the sad state of British universities and how to improve them, Jay Nordlinger's dispatch from America on that country's (post-racial?) politics, review of the history of the hamburger and Craig Brown's humour column on the top 10 public ineffectuals.

You can subscribe here.