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, December 31, 2012
 
Charitable giving and American/Canadian taxes
A guest blogger at Blazing Cat Fur says Americans give more to charity because they are taxed less:
The statistics back this up. Americans give far more money to charity than Canadians do. In fact, per capita, and as a percentage of GDP, Americans are the most giving citizens in the world. And don’t you think it might have something to do with the fact that they’re taxed less than the rest of us? (So far at least.) ...
Will Canadians ever be free so we can choose whom to give our money to rather than being forced to give to liberal causes against our will through the federal tax code?
The problem with that explanation is that the taxes paid by Americans and Canadians are very similar, and depending on the way it is calculated and at level of income, probably a little lower in Canada (see charts here for 2011 figures). Americans are more generous, but it is probably more cultural (level of religious observance, ideological views on the role of government vs. role of private sector) than tax rates.


 
The young shouldn't give (much) to charity
Explained at Rationalist Conspiracy:
What does matter is that 25-year-old’s human capital and social capital. The job they have, the skills they know, the connections they make… those determine, when they’re 60, whether they’re worth $1 million or $10 million or $100 million. If they donate half their wealth to charity, their human and social capital now determine whether that donation will be tiny or huge.
So, don’t donate that spare cash. Invest it in yourself. Donate a small amount, to keep yourself in the habit, and use all of the rest to make yourself a better, smarter, friendlier, and more capable person. Buy books. Take classes. Get a better job. Move to a better city. Throw parties. Get a gym membership. Go out dancing. Travel places you haven’t been. Build things you haven’t built. Start a business. Learn a craft. Do anything that levels you up. It not only feels good, it’s the virtuous thing to do.


Sunday, December 30, 2012
 
Gun insurance
Megan McArdle examines the case for gun liability insurance and finds it lacking.


 
15 16 Best books 2012
Updated below:
Eyeing my bookshelf these are the books that stand out as the best of 2012. I may have missed some. My reading in 2012 was limited to economics, Canadian and U.S. politics, policy, and history, baseball, and football. On the cusp of this list is The Honest Truth About Dishonesty: How We Lie To Everyone- Especially Ourselves by Dan Ariely, If Not Us, Who?: William Rusher, National Review, and the Conservative Movement by David B. Frisk (finally a biography of Rusher), Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty by Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson, and Spreading the Wealth: How Obama is Robbing the Suburbs to Pay for the Cities by Stanley Kurtz. In no particular order here are the 15 16 best books of 2012.
A Nation of Takers: America's Entitlement Epidemic by Nicholas Eberstadt. This is more a long essay with graphs or think tank report than a book. Eberstadt outlines the growth of the welfare state, the increase in entitlement spending, and its effects not just on government finances but the soul of the nation. This is the best policy book of the year and probably the best American politics book in years.
The Redistribution Recession: How Labor Market Distortions Contracted the Economy by Casey B. Mulligan. This is not the most reader friendly book, but it is original in pointing out that many of the measures meant to counter the problems of the post-2008 financial crisis recession made the economic downturn worse.
The Case for Polarized Politics: Why America Needs Social Conservatism by Jeffrey Bell. Bell marshals evidence in support of a big tent conservatism that not only includes socons but features genuine social conservatism as an important policy plank. Many blue collar voters will support Republicans because of moral and cultural issues even though they distrust them on foreign policy and (especially) economics.
Copyright Unbalanced: From Incentive to Excess edited by Jerry Brito. Copyright reform sounds boring, but it is an important topic and the brief essays collected in this slim volume are highly readable. Close second for best policy book of the year.
I Am the Change: Barack Obama and the Crisis of Liberalism by Charles R. Kesler. This year I read about 20 books on Obama and his time in office and most were okay at best. This one rose above the rest as Kesler describes how Obama is the personification of modern liberalism.
No Higher Power: Obama's War on Religious Freedom by Phyllis Schlafly and George Neumayr. Another good book about Barack Obama, although it is hard for such a volume to be up-to-date considering how antithetical the President is to organized religion.
Spoiled Rotten: How the Politics of Patronage Corrupted the Once Noble Democratic Party and Now Threatens the American Republic by Jay Cost. It is more historical and less polemical than the title suggests.
Takeover: How the Left's Quest for Social Justice Corrupted Liberalism by Donald T. Critchlow and W.J. Rorabaugh. If the title sounds interesting to you, you'll like this book, even if the authors sometimes are overly strident in making their case.
In Search of R.B. Bennett by Peter B. Waite. I spent much of 2011 and early 2012 catching up on a lot of Canadian history, but most of the quality stuff was written pre-1980. An exception is Waite's Bennett biography, the work of a historian as opposed to John Boyko's more popular biography Bennett: The Rebel Who Challenged and Changed a Nation (2010, with the paperback released this past year). If you're one of those people who find Canadian history boring, you probably won't like it, but I used to find Canadian history boring so minds can be changed.
Morality and the Law in Canadian Politics: The Abortion Controversy by Fr. Alphonse de Valk. Originally published in 1974, this book was reprinted for the retirement of Fr. de Valk as editor of Catholic Insight. It is a thorough retelling of the agitation to legalize abortion by different groups (the media, several denominations including the United Church of Canada, the professional associations for doctors and lawyers) and the committee hearings and parliamentary proceedings that led to the 1969 Omnibus Bill broadening legal abortion.
Lamar Hunt: A Life in Sports by Michael MacCambridge. Hunt was a revolutionary figure in North American football, soccer, and tennis. The story hums along nicely even in parts that interest me less (soccer and tennis, although I learned a lot). The best parts are about Hunt's role in creating the upstart AFL and the rivalry between the Dallas Cowboys and Dallas Texans and between himself and Pete Rozelle. Relatedly, Ten-Gallon War: The NFL's Cowboys, the AFL's Texans, and the Feud for Dallas's Pro Football Future by John Eisenberg was also released in 2012. Lamar Hunt looms large in this story, too. For those interested in the AFL-NFL story, this Ten-Gallon War takes a limited aspect of the competition for football fans to the micro level of one city. That the city is Dallas in the 1960s makes all the more interesting.
Slingin' Sam: The Life and Times of the Greatest Quarterback Ever to Play the Game by Joe Holley. Sammy Baugh, probably the greatest football player ever (one year leading the league in passing, interceptions, and punting), revolutionized the game during the leather helmet era by popularizing throwing the ball forward when the game still resembled rugby. Furthermore the Washington Redskins QB also appeared in several movies.
War Room: The Legacy of Bill Belichick and the Art of Building the Perfect Team by Michael Holley. The paperback version of this 2011 book came out this year, so I'm counting it as a 2012 book. Going beyond the coaching tree and a coach's impact on tactics, Holley examines the general manager side of the game looking at Belichick's influence on the likes of Scott Pioli (Kansas City Chiefs) and Thomas Dimitroff (Atlanta Falcons). Belichick's team-building strategies are explored back to his Cleveland Brown days, including the now famous trading early draft picks for more later picks. (Of course, the year after the book was released, New England traded up twice in the 2012 draft.)
Bill Veeck: Baseball's Greatest Maverick by Paul Dickson. Veeck was one of the most colourful sports owners and Dickson makes him come to life.
Pinstripe Empire: The New York Yankees from Before the Babe to After the Boss by Marty Appel. It is hard to write a history of a team as storied as the Bronx Bombers in less than 600 pages, but the team's former PR director does a pretty good job. Any fan of baseball, not just the Yanks, would enjoy this book.
Update:
The Last Headbangers: NFL Football in the Rowdy, Reckless '70s by Kevin Cook. I don't know how I forgot this one -- I'm reading it now. I like it for the Dallas Cowboys-Pittsburgh Steelers rivalry, but '70s football was so much more. This is my favourite sports book of the year and one of the three best books of the year.


Saturday, December 29, 2012
 
Modern journalism
Anecdotes = trends. Maclean's does this all the time, usually in stories about youth or schools. Elinor Oster notes a New York Times example. In another tweet, Oster notes that a handful-of-anecdotes-is-a-trend "explains" much of the Style section.


 
NYT congratulates self for improving wages & working conditions in China
China's a big country and it's hard to believe that foreign papers doing a little poking and prodding would change much. Alex Tabarrok and Tim Worstall respond to the self-congratulatory reporting and the New York Times' ignorance of the very phenomenon they are reporting on.


 
Pornoscanners
TSA officials might be using airport security scanners to rate the bodies of victims travellers. The report states:
Of course, the truth is that TSA agents are trained to look for weapons, drugs and other things that should not be boarding a plane, and that’s likely where their eyes are focused. After a while they probably stop noticing the bodies that may or may not be attached to these items in the first place.
In most cases anyway.
Of course, it was those cases TSA officials are not doing what they are supposed to that libertarians have been warning about.


 
Superheroes and super powers
Robin Hanson and Bryan Caplan both briefly discuss how ordinary individuals would react to the existence of real life mutants (X-men). My best guess is that we would be both infatuated/awed by them and fear them. Generally man hates the different, but in our celebrity culture it is easy to imagine a cult following developing. So as always, it is probably wrong to say "we" or "people" would react some way or another, because we'd probably be deeply divided in our reaction.
Writing in the Weekly Standard Concordia professor Travis Smith makes the case for Spider Man as the greater superhero over Batman. I'm not convinced, but it is interesting throughout (with references to Glaucon). It is also worth reading the final page (of three) for the case against the notion that Bat Man lacks actual superhero powers because he/Bruce Wayne have superhuman traits.


Friday, December 28, 2012
 
Four and down (top four games to watch Week 17 edition)
4. Kansas City Chiefs at Denver Broncos: The Chiefs have the worst scoring differential (-179), while the Broncos have the third best differential (+157). The Vegas line on this game is Denver by 16. Broncos could drop out of the second seed and bye with a loss so they should be trying to win this game. Bet on the game and watch in anticipation whether Denver can cover. That's about the only way this game will be exciting, but a bet on a three possession victory will be exciting to watch in what should otherwise be an effortless win for the home team.
3. St. Louis Rams at Seattle Seahawks: Both teams are playing for a lot in this contest. The 'Hawks, who are 7-0 at home, could win the NFC West with a victory and if the Niners lose to the Cardinals; they play at the same time, so Seattle will try to win this game. (If the Niners and Packers both lose and Seattle wins, the Seahawks will end up with the second seed in the NFC and a bye, but that seems like a longshot.) The Rams are going for their first winning season since 2003; at 7-7-1, they surprisingly have a chance to be above 500 in coach Jeff Fisher's first season. If the Rams defense doesn't hold up, Seattle could be looking for another lop-sided victory; their last three games have finished 58-0 (Cardinals), 50-17 (Bills), and 42-13 (49ers), which is doubly impressive considering two of those game were on the road (Arizona and Buffalo) and two of them were against top 10 defenses (Cardinals and Niners). Every game at CenturyLink Field sounds like a playoff game, so this should be a lot of fun with two teams playing their best on the last Sunday of the regular season. Seattle should win.
2. Green Bay Packers at Minnesota Vikings: Meaningful game for both. Packers clinch second overall and a first round bye with a win. Vikings are in the playoffs with a victory. (Minnesota can also be in the playoffs with a loss if the Bears, Cowboys, and Giants also lose.) Green Bay has won 10 of 11 and has the best quarterback in football (Aaron Rodgers). The sideshow is Adrian Peterson chasing both 2000 yards and his stated goal of breaking Eric Dickerson's rushing record. The safe bet is that Minnesota fans will be twice disappointed on Sunday.
1. Dallas Cowboys at Washington Redskins: The long-time rivalry continues as the experience of Tony Romo (no jokes, please) is pitted against rookie sensation Robert Griffin III (probably, although lately it doesn't seem to matter if it is rookie RG3 or rookie Kirk Cousins). By the time this game is played, it could be win-and-in although if the right confluence of events occur earlier in the day the 'Skins might back into the wild card and sixth seed with a loss. Either way, both teams will want to win the NFC East. The 'Boys look like the better team on paper but the 'Skins have a six-game winning streak and the game is in Washington. With the last six Dallas games (and 10 of their last 11) decided by seven points or less, this should be close. Indeed, the stats suggest it: the Boys allow 24.8 ppg, the Skins 24.7; Washington scores 27.2 ppg, Dallas scores 23.9. If there is a major difference between the two teams it is turnovers: Washington is +14 (tied for third best in the NFL) and Dallas is -10 (26th overall). This game could come down to a Dallas Cowboy mistake, but let's hope not. I'd bet on Washington winning the game at home with a heroic effort by RG3.


 
Kwanza is a bullshit day
Kathy Shaidles explains. Often.


 
Most popular Marginal Revolution posts of the year
Listed here.


 
10 brands likely to disappear in 2013
24/7 Wall Street says there are 10 brands that are not likely to survive 2013, including Research in Motion, JC Penny, Martha Stewart Living, and American Airlines. Last year they predicted the end of MySpace and Saab (both faltered), but also Sears and Soap Opera Digest (which are still around).


Thursday, December 27, 2012
 
Religion of peace
Via Blazing Cat Fur, there is this story of another day another honour killing, this time in Turkey:
A young woman who became pregnant after being raped by two of her cousins in the southeastern province of Batman was found to have been strangled by her family in an apparent “honor” killing on Monday ...
Often honor killings are not a heat-of-the-moment crime: the family members may gather together to form a family court, pass the death sentence on the young woman and nominate a young male relative to carry out the deed. He faces ostracism from his family unless he follows through.


 
Power Rankings (Week 16)
Rank, team, last week's ranking, record, this week's score
1. Seattle Seahawks: (4, 10-5) Seahawks 42, 49ers 13
The 'Hawks have won six of seven, and have been dominant lately, beating their last three opponents by a total of 150 to 30, or averaging a 50 to 10 score. They are ranked first in both Football Outsiders overall DVOA (offense, defense, special teams combined) and the Cold Hard Football Facts Quality Stats Power Rankings. Furthermore, they have an NFL-high six quality wins (victories over teams with records over 500).
2. Denver Broncos: (1, 12-3) Broncos 34, Browns 12
Broncos have a 10-game winning streak and according to Football Outsiders the best chance of winning the Super Bowl (about a 23% chance).
3. Green Bay Packers: (6, 10-4) Packers 55, Titans 7
Green Bay has quietly won nine of their last ten.
4. New England Patriots: (2, 11-4) Patriots 23, Jaguars 16
I go back to their game in Week 15 against the Niners in which they came back from a 31-3 deficit in less than a full quarter of play (only to lose 41-34). The Pats are never out of a game, in part because they're averaging 31.5 ppg, with at least 30 points in ten games.
5. Atlanta Falcons: (5, 13-2) Falcons 31, Lions 18
Despite clinching homefield advantage throughout the NFC championships, Atlanta is only 10th in offensive DVOA and 11th in defensive DVOA (all-encompassing Football Outsiders metrics), indicating that they are not as good as their record indicates.
6. Washington Redskins: (8, 9-6) Redskins 27, Eagles 20
Washington has won six in a row. RG3 should he be the rookie of the year, and in most seasons he would get MVP consideration: eight games with a passer rating over 100 (104.1 on the season, good for second overall) and 20 TDs and just five interceptions, to go along with the best ground game of any QB this year -- 752 yards rushing and 6 rushing TDs.
7. Houston Texans: (3, 12-3) Vikings 23, Texans 6
Houston has been outscored 49-82 over their last three contests and the once dominant Texans look vulnerable going into the playoffs.
8. San Francisco 49ers: (7, 10-4-1) Seahawks 42, 49ers 13
The Niners can still win the NFC West, but their once nearly unbeatable defense (about 14 ppg) going into week 14 has allowed 76 points over the past two weeks.
9. Baltimore Ravens: (11, 10-5) Ravens 33, Giants 14
Ravens were hoping to make a big leap in the offense, but they are just +2.2 ppg scoring (25.4 ppg) compared to last year and are 15th in total offense (352.5 ypg). Meanwhile, they're allowing 5.6 ppg more (21.4 ppg against) than last year.
10. Minnesota Vikings: (15, 9-6) Vikings 23, Texans 6
Vikes have a three-game winning streak against the Texans, Rams, and Bears who have a combined record of 28-15-1. Win and their in on Sunday, but they have to play the Packers and RB Adrian Peterson left the Houston game with abdominal pain, so the consolation prize of the all-time rushing record seems out of reach (too).
11. Dallas Cowboys: (9, 8-7) Saints 34, Cowboys 31 (OT)
WR Dez Bryant in his last seven games: 800 receiving yards and 10 TDs. Jason Witten set a record for most catches by a tight end in a season (in just the 15th game).
12. Cincinnati Bengals: (14, 9-6) Bengals 13, Steelers 10
For all the talk about second-year passing duo QB Andy Dalton/WR A.J. Green, it is the defense that is Cincy's greatest asset: Bengals have allowed more than 13 points only once in their past seven games (20 against Dallas in Week 14).
13. New Orleans Saints: (13, 7-8) Saints 34, Cowboys 31
The glass is half full view is that Saints have overcome the Bounty Gate penalties to battle toward 500 after starting 0-4 (and later suffering a three-game losing streak). But the defense, decimated by the Bounty Gate penalties and which was already in decline in the three seasons since they won the Super Bowl, is on pace to allow a record worst 6,946 yards of offense. Still a great season in which the team had to deal with a fair bit of adversity, including losing not only their head coach (Sean Payton) but also their interim head coach.
14. Pittsburgh Steelers: (10, 7-8) Bengals 13, Steelers 10
The Steelers are out of the playoffs and could finish under 500. But they were eliminated in a game in which the defense allowed just two field goals (the second time Pittsburgh lost this year when their D allowed just six points). The Steelers D dominates, but the offense hasn't quite clicked in the second half with the Ben Roethlisberger injury and either his replacements being lacklustre or Big Ben being substandard since his return.
15. Indianapolis Colts: (16, 10-5): Colts 20, Chiefs 13
Andrew Luck broke the record for most yards by a rookie (which now stands at 4,183 yards and will presumably be added to next week against the Texans). But Luck is over-rated: a 21 TD to 18 interception rate is not all that great. Overall, the team looks vulnerable as they are the last ranked defense according to Football Outsiders and according to Pro Football Reference's strength of schedule, the Colts have had the easiest schedule in 2012.
16. New York Giants: (12, 8-7) Ravens 33, Giants 14
After a 6-2 start, the G-Men went 2-5. One reason for the disappointing season is that New York is 30th in 3rd down conversions.
17. Chicago Bears: (17, 9-5): Bears 28, Cardinals 13
Chicago still has a good chance to make the playoffs, but a team scoring just 18.6 offensive points per game won't get far. Da Bears have lost five of their past seven.
18. St. Louis Rams: (19, 7-7-1) Rams 28, Buccaneers 13
While the Rams defense is middle of the pack according to traditional measures (14th in scoring and 15th in total yards), they are 8th overall in defense according to advanced metrics such as DVOA. When they win, it is due to defense: in six of their seven wins, they allowed 17 or fewer points.
19. Carolina Panthers: (22, 6-9) Panthers 17, Raiders 6
If Carolina had better field position (31st ranked special teams), the Panthers might have done better with their 12th ranked offense and 10th ranked defense (according to DVOA). There is definite improvement: last year Carolina allowed 26.8 ppg, and this year they're giving up 21.7 ppg (and surrendering just 33 points over their last three contests).
20. Miami Dolphins: (21, 7-8) Dolphins 24, Bills 10
This is entirely meaningless, but interesting: in their past eight games, the Fins have scored exactly 24 points three times, which is the only three victories they've had over that stretch.
21. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: (18, 6-9) Rams 28, Buccaneers 14
In mid-November, there was talk of Tampa Bay making the playoffs and then the Bucs lost five in a row. In a passing league, their aerial defense is terrible: worst in passing yards allowed (4545) and second worst in passing TDs allowed (29).
22. Cleveland Browns: (20, 5-10) Broncos 34, Browns 12
Cleveland has often been a tough opponent, but they are 1-8 against Quality Teams (teams over 500), which means they are getting the job done against teams they should win against (4-2).
23. San Diego Chargers: (25, 6-9) Chargers 27, Jets 17
The offense isn't a typical Philip Rivers offense (210.3 ypg, 25th overall), so it appears that they maybe they have missed WR Vincent Jackson, who was allowed to leave via free agency.
24. Arizona Cardinals: (23, 5-10) Bears 28, Cardinals 13
The Cards are solid on defense, but they are inept on offense: dead last with just 4.1 yards per play.
25. Detroit Lions: (24, 4-11) Falcons 31, Lions 18
On top of all their other issues, the Lions are the only team to allow both more than one punt return for score and one kick return for score. No other team allowed more than three combined.
26. Philadelphia Eagles: (28, 4-11) Redskins 27, Eagles 20
Fire Andy Reid if they want, but Philly's problems are about execution, most notably turnovers: -1.5 turnovers per game (only the Chiefs are worse).
27. New York Jets: (26, 6-9) Chargers 27, Jets 17
Jets allowed 11 sacks against the Bolts. On the season, their quarterbacks have been sacked on a league-worst 9.1% of all drop-backs (the league average is 6.1%).
28. Tennessee Titans: (27, 5-10) Packers 55, Titans 7
Their 48-point loss against the Packers was the sixth time the Titans lost by at least 20 points. Their -159 point differential is third worst in football.
29. Buffalo Bills: (29, 5-10) Dolphins 24, Bills 10
Buffalo had four turnovers in Miami and three of them looked like the Bills players were wearing butter not gloves. Over the past few weeks, the Bills have looked like amateurs.
30. Oakland Raiders: (30, 4-11) Panthers 17, Raiders 6
Raiders haven't scored a touchdown in their last two games and have just 78 points total in their last six games (13 ppg average over that stretch).
31. Jacksonville Jaguars: (31, 2-13) Patriots 23, Jaguars 16
Jags fans' attention is turning to the off-season and they are probably more excited about the possibility of acquiring New York Jets third-string QB Tim Tebow than they are getting either the first or second overall draft pick.
32. Kansas City Chiefs: (32, 2-13) Colts 20, Chiefs 13
The Chiefs have scored a dismal 208 points on the season and have the worst scoring differential (-179). This is mostly due to their weak quarterback play; of all quarterbacks with at least 100 completions, both Chiefs starting QBs, Matt Cassel and Brady Quinn, are ranked in the bottom three for passer rating (66.7 and 60.8 respectively). On the plus side, RB Jamaal Charles had his fifth consecutive season averaging at least 5.4 yards per run; Jim Brown, considered the greatest running back of all time averaged 5.2 yards per run over his career.


Wednesday, December 26, 2012
 
Four and down
4. The Seattle Seahawks have the best scoring defense and have just one defensive player on the NFC Pro Bowl team (was CB Richard Sherman kept off because of allegations of performance enhancing substances?) The Pittsburgh Steelers have the best total defense and have no players on the AFC Pro Bowl team. Meanwhile the Kansas City Chiefs (25th in scoring defense) send five defensive players to the Pro Bowl. Major snubs: Oakland Raiders kicker Sebastian Janikowski, San Diego Chargers safety Eric Weddle, Dallas Cowboys WR Dez Bryant, and Buffalo Bills RB C.J. Spiller. Underserving Pro Bowlers: Baltimore Ravens safety Ed Reed and Green Bay Packers center Jeff Saturday (who just lost his starting job in Green Bay).
3. Here's a question that no one is asking and I get why (just as the conventional wisdom has it quarterbacks shouldn't lose their jobs because of injuries, neither, I guess, should quarterbacks), but I'm not asking to be controversial: Indianapolis Colts coach Chuck Pagano is returning after missing 12 games due to cancer treatment, but why doesn't interim coach Bruce Arians get to keep his job, at least until the end of the playoff run. Pagano was 1-2 before taking a leave after being diagnosed with cancer; Arians has gone 9-3. The narrative is that the team rallied around the whole Chuckstrong motivation -- win one for the ailing coach -- but it could just as easily be that Arians called a better game. I'm not saying that Pagano shouldn't get his job back, but I do question the timing and do wonder about why no one is raising this issue.
2. Two weeks ago, seven of the eight division leaders were the teams that won their divisions in 2011, with only the Atlanta Falcons displacing the incumbent (New Orleans Saints). Now the New York Giants are out of the NFC East race and the San Francisco 49ers need a win or a Seattle Seahawks loss to repeat. I'd say two weeks can make a big difference but the Washington Redskins and Seahawks have had good runs (six consecutive wins and six wins in seven games respectively) over the past month and a half.
1. Indianapolis Colts QB Andrew Luck now has 4,183 passing yards, breaking Cam Newton's year-old rookie record of 4,051 yards in a season. Newton broke a record that had stood 13 seasons (Peyton Manning in 1998). The game has changed. I can't find the source where I saw this, but five of the top seven rookie QB passing yards seasons have been in the last two seasons.


 
Les Miserables
I love the play, like the novel quite a lot, and haven't really enjoyed any of the movie versions. I will still try to see the new abomination that came out this week and do so with a relatively open mind, but I'm afraid I'll be influenced by what seems like an excellent review by Russell Roberts of what works and what doesn't. Roberts' bottom line:
Critics have said it’s too bombastic, too intense. Well of course it is. It’s Les Miz. That’s what makes it great. If you don’t like bombast, you won’t like the show or the movie. I found myself clutching my wife’s hand through huge stretches of the movie, on the emotional edge of my seat. So the bottom line is that it’s not as good as a staged version of the show but it’s awfully good and so much better than so many musicals that are ruined when brought to the screen ...
The thing I like about the play is that captures Les Miserables as a a story about grace, in some ways better than the book.


Tuesday, December 25, 2012
 
'Swell full of joy and merriment'
What better way to celebrate Christmas than with Bach?
Part 1 of J.S. Bach's "Christmas Oratorio" (full concert here):
Bach's "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring" might be the most perfect piece of music ever composed:
Have a blessed and merry Christmas.


Monday, December 24, 2012
 
Merry Christmas Eve


Sunday, December 23, 2012
 
The Immaculate Reception
40 years ago, one of the greatest, most improbable, and famous sports moments occurred: the Immaculate Reception. It was, depending on your partisan allegiances either a brilliant or controversial catch. Great write-up at Behind the Steel Curtain. Wikipedia's article is also very good, with both a breakdown of the play and the controversy. Here's the video. Grantland has the story of the person who got the ball (who hasn't given it away or sold it).


 
Capitalism and the Christmas tree
Onerous regulations made Christmas tree sales difficult in New York City. Greg Beato at Reason writes about the connection between capitalism and the Christmas tree, and concluded: "[T]he tree would not have caught on it as it did had it not been for the efforts of entrepreneurs determined to increase its availability and affordability."


 
The Year in Bans
Small Dead Animals brings out attention to the Year in Bans, from soft drinks and foie gras to Madonna on YouTube and super-eaters at a buffet.


Saturday, December 22, 2012
 
A terrible idea about guns
Amitai Etzioni at HuffPo on how to (using President Barack Obama`s words) "take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies" like Sandy Hook:
One way to proceed is to mark our homes, apartments and condos, with a "gun free" sign. Parents should notify their friends that they would be reluctant to send their child over for a play date unless the home was safe from guns. Residential communities should pass rules that ban bringing guns onto their premises, clearly marking them as gun free.
Anyone who puts up such signs will become an ambassador for gun control, because they are sure to be challenged by gun advocates to explain their anti-gun positions.
Russell Roberts has a very brief but effective response.


 
How to help a family in need
My own view is that there is almost no one in North America who has needs as great as those in the developing world. World Vision and Opportunity International (a micro finance organization)are very good charities. But many Canadians and Americans want to keep their charity dollars local. Most charitable organizations do not deserve help and giving directly to an individual family can be a good alternative. Simcha Fisher has suggestions on how to give gifts or assistance to a local family in need as part of your Christmas charitable giving (or, really, any time). Sorry it is a little last minute for Christmas, but it's still good advice. Good intentions are not enough; give in a way that allows the family or individual to maintain dignity.


 
Paglia on Hitchens
Camilie Paglia wasn't a fan of Christopher Hitchens, and Five Feet of Fury excerpts part of Paglia's interview with Acculturated:
Paglia first met Hitchens in the 1990s when she was participating in a panel on the culture wars that Hitchens moderated.
“Hitchens was a total ass—nasty, devious, chaotic, and slippery in his thinking,”Paglia recalls.
“I despised Hitchens from that point forth. He was glib—not at all brilliant or knowledgeable.”
Paglia calls Hitchens as “ethically contemptible” and gets nearly apoplectic when she thinks about the chorus of praise that emerged in the wake of Hitchens’s death.
“Christopher Hitchens,” she begins, “is a person who poisoned himself and killed himself with alcohol and cigarettes, a person who partied his whole life, who couldn’t stand before a crowd without being drunk—this is not a model of how to live.”


 
Being raised Catholic worse than child abuse: Dawkins
Blazing Cat Fur points to this story about how militant atheist Richard Dawkins told Al Jazeera that being raised Catholic is worse than the sexual abuse of children: "It seems to me that telling children that they really, really believe that people who sin are going to go to Hell and roast forever – that your skin grows again when it peels off with burning – it seems to me to be intuitively entirely reasonable that that is a worse form of child abuse, that will give more nightmares, that will give more genuine distress because they really believe." Of course, Dawkins wouldn't tell Al Jazeera that any aspect of Islamic teaching is worse than child abuse, would he?


 
Is Donkey sex constitutionally protected?
At Salon Tracy Clark-Flory says it is none of our business what a person and consenting animal do in the privacy of the barn. Ed Morrissey says, "I look forward to the development of the 'consenting critters' doctrine."


Friday, December 21, 2012
 
Interim's Person of the Year
It's Stephen Woodworth, of course. Since I've become editor in 2001 we've named only two.


 
NRA is wrong
The National Rifle Association's Wayne LaPierre wants armed guards at schools. Some schools might benefit from such a presence, but generally it seems like a dumb idea. I'm not a fan of turning schools into bunkers with metal detectors and guards. Airports are unpleasant places, so why do we want to replicate that experience at schools. But LaPierre is right to say, "The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun." Let teachers and administration arm themselves.


 
Four and down (Four games to watch Week 16 edition)
4. New Orleans Saints at Dallas Cowboys: When it comes to the NFC East, Dallas can't clinch or be eliminated. Technically, the Saints are eliminated but it would take a miraculous confluence of events to get them into the playoffs. But this game isn't exciting for its implications but the excitement on the field. Expect some gun-slinging. Drew Brees leads the league in yards per game with 310. Tony Romo is tied for second (with Tom Brady) with 305. Romo has thrown just three picks since the calendar flipped to November and his play since then has been stellar (13 touchdowns, just one game with a passer rating under 84, four over 100). Drew Brees is Drew Brees. The Cowboys have won five of six, but more importantly, their last four wins have been by five points or less. Since their week 5 bye, they've been involved in only one game decided by more than one possession. The 'Boys will either find a way to win or find a way to lose, but regardless expect a close, fun, back-and-forth game. And ignore the Sean Payton coaching the Cowboys in 2013 chatter.
3. Minnesota Vikings at Houston Texans: The Texans clinch homefield advantage throughout the AFC championships with a win. The Vikes hold the sixth wild card spot in the NFC, but is considered unlikely to hold it as they face Houston and Green Bay. But they'll be fighting for a playoff berth while giving Adrian Peterson enough carries to break Eric Dickerson's rushing record. AP needs 294 yards to do it, but he's facing a fifth-ranked Houston rushing defense that allows just 93.2 yards per game on the ground. It's strength vs. strength -- Peterson against the Houston defensive line -- in a game with playoff implications for both teams. Houston doesn't need to win to clinch first overall, Minny almost certainly needs to win to keep their playoff hopes alive, but the Texans are a much better team that is already 6-1 at home.
2. Cincinnati Bengals at Pittsburgh Steelers: These two teams seem to be headed in different directions: Bengals have won five of last six, the Steelers have lost four of their last five. Still, the Steelers control their playoff destiny: win the last two games and they're in; lose against Cincy, and Pittsburgh is out and the Bengals (and Indianapolis Colts) clinch. The Bengals can still win the AFC North, but need victories the next two weeks to do so (and a Ravens loss this week in New York). Andy Dalton has never beat the Steelers and he'll have to do it facing the top-ranked defense which allows just 180.6 aerial yards per game. The Bengals defense has been hot lately, averaging just 12.5 points allowed over the past six games. The contest is in Pittsburgh and despite their up-and-down season (and inconsistency within games), the playoff environment should be enough to tip the game in favour of the hometown team. And to add to the atmosphere, it is the 40th anniversary of the Immaculate Reception. (Speaking of which, here's video and here's a good USA Today story on the anniversary and controversary.)
1. San Francisco 49ers at Seattle Seahawks: The game was flexed into prime time, so that should say it all. Playoff implications are huge: Seattle clinches a playoff spot with a win, San Francisco clinches the NFC West with a victory. This game features two very exciting young quarterbacks (Colin Kaepernick and Russell Wilson) facing the top defenses in the NFL as both the Niners and 'Hawks are allowing just 15.6 ppg. Seattle hasn't lost at home all season, but San Francisco is coming off a victory in Foxboro where New England hasn't lost in December since 2002.


 
Kathy Shaidle may have found the best quote about transgenders/transexuals
Here.


 
Government made health care costs worse
Maxim Pinkovsky examines the effect of government restrictions on HMOs on the cost of health care and surprise, surprise when you prevent cost-cutting initiatives, costs go up: "This paper will find that the managed care backlash, as proxied by the amount of legislation passed to restrict managed care cost containment practices (hereafter, backlash regulations), in fact had a causal effect on increases in health care costs." (HT: Marginal Revolution)


 
Never let a crisis go to waste
The Washington Examiner reports on how Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid plans to make the $60 billion Hurricane Sandy disaster relief bill appetizing to some Republicans:
For instance, the Army Corps of Engineers would be authorized to spend $50 million to ameliorate flood and storm damage caused by “Hurricanes Sandy and Isaac in the North Atlantic and Mississippi Valley divisions of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.” The original language, scratched out in pen, provided funding for Sandy relief only. Hurricane Isaac resulted disaster declarations in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida.
The new Reid proposal would also authorize the Department of Housing and Urban Development to spend $500 million on restoring housing and infrastructure, rather than the mere $100 million previously written in the draft. This funding is available to “small or economically distressed areas with a disaster declared in 2011 or 2012″ — so, damage caused by events unrelated to Hurricane Sandy.


 
I'm working on a column about this topic
Lindsey Fitzharris writes in The Guardian about the Sandy Hook shooter and how quick people are to blame mental illness (and, I would add, guns and violent media) and ignore the reality of evil. I'm writing a column for Catholic Insight for their February or March edition on how the modern mind, as represented in our political and media classes, cannot comprehend the reality of evil and ignore the free will of individuals.
The point I hope to make is nicely captured by these two Fitzharris paragraphs:
Today, the medicalisaton of deviant behaviour has made it difficult for us to accept notions of "evil". Nancy J Herman, associate professor of sociology at Central Michigan University, notes that "the diminution of religious imagery of sin, the rise of determinist theories of human behaviour, and the doctrine of cultural relativity" have led further to the exclusion of "evil" from our discourse.
Why do we find this narrative so appealing? Why are we so quick to assume a person such as Lanza is "sick?" In an article for Parade Magazine in 2002, Andrew Vachss, a crime fiction novelist and child protection consultant, noted that explanations of mental illness offer "the possibility of finding a cure" and "assures us that the predator didn't really mean it". In other words, it is unsettling to admit that someone who commits a horrible crime may have done so knowingly and without remorse.


 
The Obamaconomy
James Pethokoukis of the American Enterprise Institute has "The 7 most illuminating economic charts of 2012." Some of these charts show long-term trends that were going the wrong way before President Barack Obama took office in 2009, but take special note of charts two and three.


Thursday, December 20, 2012
 
Power Rankings (Week 15)
Rank, team, last week's ranking, record, this week's score
1. Denver Broncos: (2, 11-3) Broncos 34, Ravens 17
Broncos have a 9-game winning streak and nearly a 10 point per game scoring advantage (29.2 ppg scored compared to 19.6 ppg allowed). All three of their losses came in the first five weeks against teams that have already clinched their divisions (New England, Houston, Atlanta). Broncs finish the season at home against the Browns and Chiefs, two teams that combine for a pair of road wins this season, so it looks likely that they will be getting a first round bye.
2. New England Patriots: (1, 10-4) 49ers 41, Patriots 34
The Pats have the best scoring differential (+191), have scored 12 more TDs than the next most prolific team (61 compared to the Saints' 49), and came back to tie (although ultimately lose the) Sunday's game after being down 31-3. The Pats comeback in that loss said more about them than many of their impressive victories.
3. Houston Texans: (3, 12-2) Texas 29, Colts 17
Houston is tied with Washington for the fewest giveaways in the NFL: 0.9 per game. That helps with their league best turnover differential per game (+1.1).
4. Seattle Seahawks: (7, 9-5) Seattle 50, Bills 17
The Seahawks started 1-5 on the road, so football pundits understandably questioned their ability to win away from Seattle. In their last two games, both on the road, they are 2-0 and outscoring opponents 108-17. Right now with QB Russell Wilson and RB Marshawn Lynch the 'Hawks have the offense to go with the NFL's second stingiest defense. Seattle has won five of their last six.
5. Atlanta Falcons: (5, 12-2) Falcons 34, Giants 0
The Falcons made a statement by beating a good team Sunday. Too bad that good team has been playing so poorly lately.
6. Green Bay Packers: (4, 9-4) Packers 27, Lions 20
The Packers are first in the all-important stat of passer rating differential, a key predictor of who will win games.
7. San Francisco 49ers: (6, 10-3-1) 49ers 41, Patriots 34
The Niners became the first team to beat the Patriots in New England in December in the last 10 years. They almost lost it by not running the ball and taking time off the clock, twice throwing three consecutive incompletions and punting early in the fourth quarter. Bone-headed move for a Jim Harbaugh, a smart coach.
8. Washington Redskins: (9, 8-6) Redskins 38, Browns 21
The 'Skins have a five-game winning streak, in large part because the defense has improved since their bye: since November 18, Washington is allowing just 20.4 ppg.
9. Dallas Cowboys: (14, 8-6) Cowboys 27, Steelers 24 (OT)
The 'Boys have won five of six and find themselves in a three-way tie for first in the NFC East.
10. Pittsburgh Steelers: (10, 7-7) Cowboys 27, Steelers 24 (OT)
The Steelers have just one win in their last five games after starting 6-3. In those losses (including three games without Ben Roethlisberger) they were terribly inconsistent playing remarkably well for short stretches, interspersed with long periods of below average play. Still, Pittsburgh has its playoff destiny in their hands: if they beat the Bengals and then the Browns at home, the Steelers make the post-season.
11. Baltimore Ravens: (11, 9-5) Broncos 34, Ravens 17
Ravens lost their third straight game on Sunday and clinched a playoff spot. Baltimore has scored more than 20 points only once in their last five games.
12. New York Giants: (8, 8-6) Falcons 34, Giants 0
Of course, the G-Men are not that bad, but they are inconsistent; their scoring differential over the last five games: -34, +25, -1, +28, -18.
13. New Orleans Saints: (16, 6-8) Saints 41, Buccaneers 0
What a week for the Saints: they have a modicum of redemption in BountyGate (or at least their players do) and they shutout a division rival 41-0.
14. Cincinnati Bengals: (17, 8-6) Bengals 34, Eagles 13
The Bengals can clinch a playoff spot by beating the Steelers this weekend in Pittsburgh and can win the division by beating the Steelers and then the Ravens at home on the final weekend. Second-year QB Andy Dalton is 0-6 vs. Baltimore and Pittsburgh.
15. Minnesota Vikings: (18, 8-6) Vikings 36, Rams 22
Adrian Peterson has 1812 rushing yards and needs 383 yards to break Eric Dickerson's record of 2104. In his last eight games, Peterson's rushing totals have been 153, 123, 182, 171, 108, 201, 154, 212, for an average of 164. That isn't quite enough. But in his last three games, as Peterson admits he is chasing the record, he has averaged 192 yards per game. That would do it. Peterson has averaged less than six yards per carry in seven of his last eight games and in the one that he did not, he still ran an impressive 5 yards per carry. Eric Dickerson's record is in jeopardy, but it is still an uphill battle. More importantly, the Vikings currently hold the sixth and final NFC playoff spot, but face the Texans and Packers in their final two games.
16. Indianapolis Colts: (13, 9-5): Texas 29, Colts 17
The Colts are over-rated due to their record, but looking at various stats indicate the record is misleading: Rookie QB Andrew Luck is co-leader for most interceptions (18) and Indy has the fifth worst defensive passer rating (94.50).
17. Chicago Bears: (12, 8-5): Vikings 21, Bears 14
The defense isn't forcing turnovers at the same rate and haven't returned one for score in six games. They were never going to keep the level of play they began the season with -- seven pick sixes in eight games and 28 total forced turnovers -- but their luck in these areas in the first half of the season masked some problems in the Bears offense. Now the whole team looks listless.
18. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: (15, 6-8) Saints 41, Buccaneers 0
Bucs have lost four in a row. Their offense has also produced fewer points than the previous week in six of their last seven contests and never produced more.
19. St. Louis Rams: (19, 6-7-1) Vikings 36, Rams 22
Despite an impressive leap in offensive production (18.4 ppg compared to 12.1 last year, 332 ypg compared to 283.6 in 2011), they are still not very dangerous when they have the ball. Sam Bradford's output over the season is slightly above average (83.3 passer rating, 18 TDs and 11 interceptions, 60.2 completion percentage), but his yards per game this season is below his career average and he has five games with a passer rating under 70. He seems to have regressed since his 2010 rookie year.
20. Cleveland Browns: (20, 5-9) Redskins 38, Browns 21
The defense is a definite asset, ranking 8th in the CHFF Defensive Hogs Index. The offense isn't producing in the same way, but it is getting better.
21. Miami Dolphins: (21, 6-8) Dolphins 24, Jaguars 3
Bet the Fins are regretting their week 3 and 4 overtime losses. While technically not eliminated yet from the playoffs, Miami would have to like their chances better being 8-6 rather than 6-8.
22. Carolina Panthers: (29, 4-10) Panthers 31, Chargers 7
Carolina has won three of their last four, and scored at least 30 points in each of those victories.
23. Arizona Cardinals: (25, 5-9) Cardinals 38, Lions 10
Cards snapped a nine-game losing streak and did so impressively. Their D remains very good with a league-best defensive passer rating (68.01).
24. Detroit Lions: (22, 4-10) Cardinals 38, Lions 10
Considering this is essentially the same offensive team as 2011 (QB Matthew Stafford, WR Calvin Johnson), their offense is disappointing, and it's disappointing because they are 27th in offensive efficiency (17.2 yards per point).
25. San Diego Chargers: (23, 5-9) Panthers 31, Chargers 7
To lose at home by 24 points is indefensible for a team like the Chargers.
26. New York Jets: (24, 6-8) Titans 14, Jets 10
The Jets playoff hopes went extinct on a fumble. A fitting way to (effectively) end their season.
27. Tennessee Titans: (28, 5-9) Titans 14, Jets 10
After running just 45 yards in his first three games, Chris Johnson has 1,159 yards rushing on the season.
28. Philadelphia Eagles: (27, 4-10) Bengals 34, Eagles 13
The Eagles are a team that turns over the ball a lot, and not just this season. In both 2011 and 2012 they averaged 2.4 giveaways per game, good for dead last this season and second worst last year.
29. Buffalo Bills: (26, 5-9) Seattle 50, Bills 17
Two negative stories about the Bills from the Buffalo News: 1) coach Chan Gailey is complaining that the stats don't indicate the real level of the team's defense, which is always a bad sign, and 2) players are starting to complain on the record about having to play "home" games in Toronto. Here's the defensive stat that tells me Buffalo is a bad team: they've allowed at least 45 points four times this season.
30. Oakland Raiders: (31, 4-10) Raiders 15, Chiefs 0
Not many games will a team win by two possessions without once finding the end zone. Fluky.
31. Jacksonville Jaguars: (30, 2-12) Dolphins 24, Jaguars 3
The offense is getting worse; not only are they second last in ppg (15.6), over the past three contests, they've averaged just 10.3 ppg.
32. Kansas City Chiefs: (32, 2-12) Raiders 15, Chiefs 0
They scored no points against a Raiders team that gives up more points than any other team in the NFL.


 
Never mind socialized medicine, America has socialized housing
I dislike the the frivolous use of the word socialist, but this seems to qualify. Jesse Eisinger on the nationalized home mortgage industry: "The government has almost completely taken over the American home mortgage market."


 
The Bork legacy
Rush Limbaugh on Teddy Kennedy's despicable attack on Robert Bork: "I think this is the beginning of the present era which features the politics of personal destruction. This is the first time that it worked in a major, prominent way. It showed the Democrats the way forever after..." The Democratic Party/Bob Packwood/left-wing special interest groups attack was shameful, and the only thing worse than it be perpetrated against what is by all accounts a good man, is that it worked and such viciousness and lies became all too common in American politics.


 
I've had this idea before
Five Feet of Fury: "I wish someone would write a parody of 'Feliz Navidad' using Soledad’s name, and making fun of how dumb she is." The nation's collective IQ declines while 100,000 loyal CNN viewers watch Soledad O'Brien on TV. Soledad/Navidad is tailor-made for Paul Shanklin.


 
'Is there a great stagnation in action movies?'
Tyler Cowen discusses whether action movies are getting better? The answer, it would seem, depend on the starting point of the question. I tend to agree with Chris MacDonald that action movies and baseball management are two areas "where mechanisms exist to facilitate further improvement on a fairly reliable basis," but Cowen explains the (market) reasons why action movies are overly dependent on explosions and less reliably good on plot.
As for Skyfall, I like the opinion expressed in the comment section that it is a good movie but not a good Bond movie, even though I disagree with the assessment. Skyfall is fantastic, the best Bond movie since Roger Moore* left the franchise (I said the same thing about Casino Royale). I like the sociopathic James Bond which rings truer to how I imagine a spy with a license to kill to be and prefer the grittiness and realism of the fights (that "realism" should be in quotes, but at least Daniel Craig doesn't leave a fight with his hair and tux perfectly in place). The problem for the Bond franchise is that unwilling to confront Islamic fundamentalism, the enemies in a post-Cold War world aren't terribly compelling.
* And Roger Moore isn't as good as Sean Connery.


 
Tory Sikh MP pushes back against politically correct holiday messaging
God bless Nina Grewal.


 
Don't have yourself a locavore Christmas
Jayson Lusk and Henry I. Miller at Forbes.com:
Local foods may well be tastier (if you live in the right spot at the right time of year), but few of us need to be coerced into eating tastier food. And more important, in spite of what one might intuit, chances are that buying local isn’t any more environmentally friendly.
By feeling good about the consumer choices you make regardless of the facts (mostly about transportation efficiencies), you could be harming the planet you ostensibly care about.


 
Toronto homeless: nearly all look healthy-bodied and they are picky about the charity offered to them
Very good video from the Sun News Network's David Menzoid.


 
Will on Democratic voter registration drives
George F. Will warns that Democrats are setting the stage to make voting mandatory. Will, like all sensible people, dislikes the idea. He explains why low voter turnout is not a bad thing, but trying to artificially increase it is a dangerous idea:
Because the likelihood of any individual’s vote mattering is infinitesimal and because the effort required to be an informed voter can be substantial, ignorance and abstention are rational, unless voting is cathartic or otherwise satisfying. A small voting requirement such as registration, which calls for the individual voter’s initiative, acts to filter potential voters with the weakest motivations. They are apt to invest minimal effort in civic competence. As indifferent or reluctant voters are nagged to the polls — or someday prodded there by a monetary penalty for nonvoting — the caliber of the electorate must decline.


 
Remember all of Sam Donaldson's moralizing?
Former ABC White House chief correspondent Sam Donaldson has been arrested for driving under the influence. I think DUI is a bullshit charge because it is essentially pre-crime, arresting drivers who have had drinks because of the possibility they could hurt someone. Still, Donaldson would be the first to wag his finger at someone else caught doing the same.


 
Dianne Feinstein: hypocrite on guns
Technically there is a difference between wanting to ban so-called assault rifles and having a concealed carry permit, but the message is clear: it is okay for Senator Dianne Feinstein to protect herself, but not for others. (That said, she has also been a critic of concealed carry laws.


Wednesday, December 19, 2012
 
More on Judge Robert Bork
First Things has links to Judge Robert Bork's work in their pages; I suggest reading his 1996 article, "Inconvenient Lives," and 1995 article "Hard Truths About the Culture War." The Wall Street Journal has excerpts from his work in that paper. This article at Commentary was sent to me although it's more political and well-worth reading. John Bolton has a good article at AEI, that focuses on the political fallout of his work during the Ford administration (Gerald Ford should have but did not appoint Bork to the Supreme Court in 1975).
I spent the evening re-reading Bork's The Temptation of America: The Political Seduction of the Law and the chapter on the Bork nomination in George F. Will's Suddenly, Will's collection of columns from the late 1980s. Recall Teddy Kennedy's hysterical attack on Bork: "Robert Bork's America is a land in which women would be forced into back-alley abortions, blacks would sit at segregated lunch counters, rogue police could break down citizens' doors in midnight raids, schoolchildren could not be taught about evolution, writers and artists could be censored at the whim of government ..." Yet Will notes that Bork was exceptionally mainstream as a Court of Appeals judge: not one of the more than 100 majority decisions Bork wrote was reversed by the Supreme Court; in more than 400 opinions, he had just 16 dissents and partial dissents. If Bork was extreme, so were his appellate court colleagues and the Burger court.
An excerpt from The Tempting of America, about constitutional law experts (professors, lawyers, judges):
Those who now dominate public discourse on these matters recognize that, if the Constitution is law, departures from the principles the ratifiers understood themselves to be enacting are illegitimate. Yet such departures are essential if the results desired by the liberal culture are to be achieved. It follows that the Constitution cannot be law.


 
NRA is not you think it is
Clayton Cramer: "I get some very odd reactions from reporters when I explain that I am adjunct faculty at a community college, and the average NRA member I know is usually addressed as 'Professor' not 'Bubba'."


 
Robert Bork, RIP
Robert Bork has passed away at the age of 85. Roger Kimball and the Washington Post on his passing. Mark Steyn has a nice tribute. Here's a Federalist Society video tribute. And read Andrew McCarthy's New Criterion review of the judge's essays. Steyn says that the vicious attacks by low-life senators like Teddy Kennedy during his Supreme Court nomination process -- one of the most despicable political moments during my lifetime -- never got Judge Bork down. I still hate Kennedy and his pathetic fellow travelers for what they did to smear Bork's reputation and sink his judicial nomination, but there is much to be said for eschewing bitterness. The United States is poorer for not having a great originalist legal mind on the Supreme Court (they got Anthony Kennedy instead). I'll have more to say in the February Interim.


 
People are dumb because life goes on while they are busy making plans
Ipsos Reid: "One in Five (21%) Canadians are Too Busy Preparing and Organizing Holiday Festivities to Fully Enjoy This Holiday Season." This is a classic example of putting the cart before the horse, with people fussing over that which is unimportant, and mixing up means and ends. Everyone: stop and enjoy life. Stop planning and do. Relaxing and enjoying is doing something, probably more than "preparing" is doing something.


 
Let me translate that for you
PostMedia headline: "Canadians want Stephen Harper to block foreign investment: poll." What that really means: "Canadians want Stephen Harper to make Canada poorer: poll."


 
Time's Man of the Year
Barack Obama. It makes sense. It is no small accomplishment for Obama to be re-elected after the four years he presided over.


 
Journalism = just making up stuff
Elizabeth Thompson at iPolitics: "Prime Minister Stephen Harper moved to quash rumors swirling around Parliament Hill Tuesday, saying he has no short term plan to prorogue Parliament or to shuffle his cabinet." Ah, yes, rumours. There are enough weasel words in Harper's responses that you never know and sometimes when he insists he will not do something he turns around and does it right away. But this standard Ottawa press corps trope of "rumoured" imminent cabinet shuffles have replaced the old rumours of there's-an-election-just-around-the-corner. The rumours are either started by journalists who are speculating on their own because they are too lazy to do real reporting or journalists reporting unnamed sources who are always on the outskirts of power (and knowledge) who are being mischievous. First rule of understanding media: discount 99% of any story that leads with "rumours."


 
Welfare paternalism
A Tory MP in the United Kingdom is sponsoring a bill that would allow a use-restricted welfare cash card. Tim Worstall's reaction is the right one:
We do indeed say that there are those who really don’t know what’s best for them. Those significantly mentally deficient for example. Children. The French.
But when we start adding the poor, or the pesantry, or the citizenry in general, to that list of those who should only get what they’re given or allowed to have, then we step over that line from civilisation into that ghastly authoritarianism. You know, the Jonny Porrits of this world who insist that there are just too many damn peasants who won’t do what they’re told. Or this fuckwit of a Tory MP who seems to think that those on benefits are not adults. You know, free people at liberty, free to take whatever liberties they like with the meagre incomes that they have.
I get that conservatives don't want people on social assistance wasting their money, but it is a dangerous line that they cross when they tell recipients how they can spend their welfare cheque cash card.


 
Reason's 'best books of the year'
Really, Steve Chapman? Many of the others are meh -- okay fiction and books about drugs/war on drugs.


 
Profiting from tragedy
Barack Obama.


 
Decoding centrist liberal rhetoric
Instapundit on this John Avalon column: "When people say things like 'don’t let this moment pass without acting on gun control,' what they’re really saying is our arguments are so unpersuasive that they can only succeed when people aren’t thinking clearly."


 
Ridley urges 'climate change' scientists to cool it
Matt Ridley in the Wall Street Journal:
The scientists at the IPCC next year have to choose whether they will admit—contrary to what complex, unverifiable computer models indicate—that the observational evidence now points toward lukewarm temperature change with no net harm. On behalf of all those poor people whose lives are being ruined by high food and energy prices caused by the diversion of corn to biofuel and the subsidizing of renewable energy driven by carboncrats and their crony-capitalist friends, one can only hope the scientists will do so.


Tuesday, December 18, 2012
 
Most and least libertarian Xmas movies
ReasonTV examines the promotion of liberty (or not) of various Christmas movies. A Charlie Brown Christmas is communist bullshit. Miracle on 34th Street has government come to the rescue (or does it expose corruption and the evil of involuntary commitment?). Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer celebrates difference.


 
How are Mayans preparing for December 21?
They're not. And the ones the Associated Press reporter talks to seem skeptical the date is significant.


 
Fittingly, an Obama signature turned vertical looks like a ...
Penis.


 
Accountability in development aid
Tyler Cowen is forwarded news of an important new initiative: "AidGrade (http://www.aidgrade.org) is a new, research-oriented non-profit. It is using crowdsourcing to compile results of impact evaluations of development programs, showing the different programs’ past effectiveness."


 
Gun owners/defenders to Obama administration: shut up, you have no right to lecture us
See this card.
Also, Five Feet of Fury has posted the Bullshit video on gun control. God bless Penn & Teller.


 
Proving Rush right
Rush Limbaugh calls the NAACP the NAALCP -- the National Association for the Advancement of Liberal Coloured People -- and this report proves the point: the NAACP is not excited by black Congressman Tim Scott being appointed to the Senate to replace Jim DeMint because they don't expect the proponent of "small government" to be much help to their agenda.


 
The problem with 'identity'
Dr. Paul McHugh of Johns Hopkins reviews Andrew Solomon's Far From the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity in the pages of the Wall Street Journal:
In fact, Mr. Solomon presents all the difficulties facing parents—which run from the impairments of Down syndrome to demands for transgender treatments—as difficulties that involve addressing a child's "identity." In Mr. Solomon's pages, identity, one of the great weasel words of our day, mixes two distinct aspects of child rearing: a child's "needs" and "wants." Needs and wants being different, parents must handle them differently. But Mr. Solomon, viewing the world through the lens of identity, would have parents treat all wants as needs and so plays down the prudential duties of parenting.


Monday, December 17, 2012
 
Top GOP donor is 'pro-choice', pro-Dream Act, and pro-socialized medicine
Casino owner and generous donor to the Republican Party Sheldon Adelson admits to being not much of a conservative in an extensive Wall Street Journal interview. My favourite part is his excoriation that (presumably) pro-lifers practice their faith privately and not impose their views on the public, while supporting socialized medicine because of his Jewish faith.


 
Worst airline ad ever
Turkish Airlines.


 
Chris Johnson to honour victims of Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre
USA Today reports that Tennessee Titans RB Chris Johnson has written the names of each of the 26 murdered children and teachers from the SHES massacre, and the NFL says that players acknowledging the victims on their clothing, in violation of league uniform rules, will not be punished.


 
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
I saw the movie on Friday and quite enjoyed it; I hope to see it again at theatres. It had more action than I was anticipating and there's nothing wrong with that. And I didn't find the CGI characters all that fake or off-putting as some critics are complaining. I like and mostly agree with Very British Dude's take and observations on the movie. (HT: Quotulatiousness)


 
Alan Moore
The Observer has an article on Alan Moore, author of the graphic novels V for Vandetta and Watchmen, on how he lives in the 73rd largest town in England and eschews Hollywood.


 
Term limits and spending
Ed Lopez has a good guest post at Marginal Revolution on the effects of term limits on government spending and much to the chagrin of those of us who like term limits, the news is not good: term limits correlate to higher spending. Lopez highlights three reasons:
1. Term limitation exacerbates fiscal commons problems within the legislature. Because term limits decrease the variance of tenure within a legislature, the relative power of party leaders and ranking committee members will decrease. As the distribution of power flattens, this increases the proportion of legislators who possess access rights to budget items, thus decreasing the control rights that a relatively few leaders and committee chairs would otherwise have. When everyone can get their pet project through, more projects get through.
2. Term limits shorten legislators’ time horizons. If legislators use their time in office to advance their careers, and if the career-value of being in the statehouse increases with the support of more spending, then term limits can impart an incentive to spend more and sooner. For example, rank-and-file legislators support more spending to secure leadership positions, and leaders let more projects through in order to quickly build durable coalitions.
3. Term limits might lure legislators into very wasteful forms of pork spending ...
Concern over government spending is not the only reason to favour term limits, but certainly the data Lopez points to takes away one of the most powerful arguments for limiting the time any individual can spend in a legislature. I think there is much wisdom to returning our politics to citizen legislators and taking power away from career politicians.


 
Actions speak more powerfully than words
Actor who stars in violent films says that violent entertainment is connected to real-life violence. So, asks Rick McGinnis, will Jamie Foxx turn down roles in violent movies in the future? Says McGinnis: "Because if he isn't this serious about the damage that he obviously believes onscreen violence is wreaking on society, he's just a concern troll who doesn't need a comments section."


 
Dukakis
The Hill reports that Michael Dukakis could be appointed senator if Senator John Kerry (D, Mass.) is appointed Secretary of State. If the best the Democrats can do in the most liberal state in America is appoint a governor from the 1980s, it isn't the Republicans who are in trouble.


 
The reason you don't know that guns save lives
A media blackout prevents public from knowing that private gun ownership (and use) might prevented a larger massacre in an Oregon mall last Thursday.


 
Religion of Peace
World Net Daily reports that a Muslim convert to Christianity was killed for leaving Islam. WND reports: "His body was split into two, then carried away, only to be dumped near the beach."


 
Media coverage of Sandy Hook
Instapundit points to this Matt K. Lewis must-read column in The Week: "The media should be ashamed of its Connecticut coverage." Glenn Reynolds adds:
But aside from the “Death Porn,” as some have called it, there’s also the instinct toward moral bullying and control coupled with appalling ignorance that was demonstrated by Rupert Murdoch and Mark Shields, both of whom seem to think that any American can just waltz up and buy a machine gun at the drop of a hat. Perhaps Murdoch’s ignorance is excusable because he’s a foreigner ...


Sunday, December 16, 2012
 
End gun-free zones that give feeling of comfort to would-be mass-murderers
Larry Pratt, executive director of Gun Owners of America, writes in USA Today:
What a lethal, false security are the "gun-free zone" laws. Virtually all mass murders in the past 20 years have occurred in gun-free zones. The two people murdered several days earlier in a shopping center in Oregon were also killed in a gun-free zone.
Hopefully, the Connecticut tragedy will be the tipping point after which a rising chorus of Americans will demand elimination of the gun-free zone laws that are in fact criminal-safe zones.


 
Misplayed
At the beginning of his USA Today column about policies that would not help prevent school massacres Glenn Reynolds quotes William S. Burroughs:
"After a shooting spree," author William Burroughs once said, "they always want to take the guns away from the people who didn't do it." Burroughs continued: "I sure as hell wouldn't want to live in a society where the only people allowed guns are the police and the military."
Great quote, dumb source to quote; in 1951, before he became a famous author, Burroughs shot and accidentally killed his common-law wife Joan Vollmer in a drink-induced game of William Tell.


 
Gun-free zones ensure the shooter is safe
John Fund at NRO: "The Facts about Mass Shootings." Must-read, but this point is key:
Gun-free zones have been the most popular response to previous mass killings. But many law-enforcement officials say they are actually counterproductive. “Guns are already banned in schools. That is why the shootings happen in schools. A school is a ‘helpless-victim zone,’” says Richard Mack, a former Arizona sheriff. “Preventing any adult at a school from having access to a firearm eliminates any chance the killer can be stopped in time to prevent a rampage,” Jim Kouri, the public-information officer of the National Association of Chiefs of Police, told me earlier this year ...


 
I was surprised this took so long
The "Queen James Bible" is, of course, gay friendly.


 
Don't outsource your and your family's safety to the state
This is from Business Insider's "These Are The 13 Rules Of Gunfighting Everyone Should Know":
The average response time of a 911 call is 23 minutes, the response time of a .357 is 1400 feet per second.
And:
Cops carry guns to protect themselves, not you.
Rules E and I are essential for gun-owners who intend to use firearms for self-defense.
(HT: Newmarks Door)


 
Gun control
David Frum probably wished Jews in Europe in the 1930s had guns.


 
A book for your kids
There is a wonderful series of books for children by Grosset & Dunlap, "Who is ..." that features the usual subjects (Rosa Parks, Thomas Edison, Jackie Robinson, William Shakespeare, John F. Kennedy ... Barack Obama) but also Steve Jobs. Who is Steve Jobs is 106 pages with copious illustrations and is written for an age range of 6-10. There are not enough books for children about entrepreneurs, so this fills a void. At only $4.99 in the US and $5.99 in Canada, they are easily affordable.


 
Buying good grades from children
This Wall Street Journal article says that for many families buying good grades is not the best way to get better academic results. The argument seems to come down to the idea that kids won't spend the money wisely. The article concludes:
"What will the money be used for? Will this be discretionary spending?" says Jordan Amin, a certified public accountant in Edison, N.J. "If little Johnny gets $10 every time he gets good grades and uses that to buy a new Xbox and there's no savings program put into place, how will that affect his future saving and spending habits?"
In our house, we don't buy good grades other than with praise; poor effort is also its own punishment, but if continuous poor efforts result in repeated poor grades, there are sometimes consequences (homework has to be done before TV or whatever). Still, I don't understand why so many people think money rewards for good grades (or better effort or whatever desirable process or outcome parents are looking for) is distasteful or mistaken. If you want more of something, paying (subsidizing) it is typically a good idea. We don't employ that strategy because we don't need to, but my guess is many families do.


Saturday, December 15, 2012
 
Sandy Hook school shooting
I love this story about Victoria Soto, the 27-year-old Grade 1 teacher, who tried to save children in her class by getting them into the closet and sacrificing herself in the process. We seldom remember the names of those who acted heroically, while the killers get the fame. Victoria Soto deserves to be remembered.


 
We should be more skeptical of local government
Donald Boudreaux: "[O]ne should heed Bryan Caplan and avoid over-romanticizing the loveliness of local governments, especially today when the sizes of the populations governed by many local governments in the United States are approaching – and in some cases have surpassed – the size of the population of the entire United States in 1789."


 
Who cares about privacy? We need to take this issue much more seriously.
Via Instapundit, we find this Wired.com report:
Transit authorities in cities across the country are quietly installing microphone-enabled surveillance systems on public buses that would give them the ability to record and store private conversations, according to documents obtained by a news outlet.
The systems are being installed in San Francisco, Baltimore, and other cities with funding from the Department of Homeland Security in some cases, according to the Daily, which obtained copies of contracts, procurement requests, specs and other documents.
The use of the equipment raises serious questions about eavesdropping without a warrant, particularly since recordings of passengers could be obtained and used by law enforcement agencies.
It also raises questions about security, since the IP audio-video systems can be accessed remotely via a built-in web server (.pdf), and can be combined with GPS data to track the movement of buses and passengers throughout the city ...
Transit officials say the systems will help improve the safety of passengers and drivers and resolve complaints from riders. But privacy and security expert Ashkan Soltani told the Daily that the audio could easily be coupled with facial recognition systems or audio recognition technology to identify passengers caught on the recordings.


 
The Case Against Education
Bryan Caplan has posted his revised table of contents for his next book The Case Against Education. There are two chapters on education and signalling and I'm most looking forward to chapter 7 ("The White Elephant in the Room: We Need Far Less Education") and chapter 8 ("1>0: We Need More Vocational Education"). I can't wait 'til this book comes out.