Tuesday, December 31, 2013


There are times when the raw numbers of a team's season do not tell us how good they are. This year, after losing to the NY Giants in Week 8, the Eagles were 3–5, and looked like they were on their way to 3–13. Then Nick Foles figured something out, and the Birds won 7 of their next 8.

Then there's Green Bay, with its lackluster 8–7-1 record. Stuck in the middle of their season, however, is a 2-5-1 mini-season when they were quarterbacked by guys not named Rodgers. In the other games, Rodgers was 6-2. And now, for the playoffs, he's back.

These are well known stories this year, as is the perennial tale of New Orleans, the “home” team. As usual, the Saints are 8-0 in Louisiana and 3-5 elsewhere. What you may not have noticed is that Cincinnati has the same home/away split.

Other teams have started strong and faded. There's KC, of course, but there's also Carolina, whose blow-out wins all came in the first half of the season. The most surprising fall-off was probably Indianapolis, which was outscored by its opponents over the last half of the season.

There's a lot of this stuff to keep in mind, even though I will be relying heavily, as always, on yards/pass adjusted for interceptions. This single statistic remains the only reliable measure of success in the playoffs and the Superbowl. Rushing yards, turnover ratios, sacks, FG%---all these things have their place, and each can be used to describe some aspect of football reality in a season or a particular game. What they cannot do is predict a winner. Adjusted yards/pass, however, though it has little descriptive value, acts like a chemical reagent to reveal something that would otherwise remain hidden---who is likely to win. In the morass of men and motivation and data and hope and history and expectation that is a yet-to-be-played game, there is a team destined to prevail, though its identity is obscured. Adjusted yards/pass dissolves that morass, lays bare the football truth and shows us that identity. It burns away the silt and clay and shows us the gold. Adjusted yards/pass itself has little to do with the football we see. Its meaning resides within the game rather than upon its surface. Adjusted yards/pass is the vehicle of the game's consciousness.

In the NFC, the six seeds are as follows:

1. Seattle
2. Carolina
3. Philadelphia
4. Green Bay
5. San Fran
6.New Orleans

My rankings are (with adjusted yards/pass in parentheses), are:

1. Carolina (7.2)
2. Seattle (6.6)
3. Philadelphia (7.2)
4. San Fran (6.2)
5. New Orleans (6.6)
6. Green Bay (6.1)

I also look at defensive yards/pass, which is not as important as offensive yards/pass, but it is the best measure of pass defense available. Here, since Seattle has the best pass defense and Philly one of the worst, it makes sense to flip them in the rankings.

For the AFC, here are the seeds:

1. Denver
2. New England
3. Cincinnati
4. Indianapolis
5. KC
6. San Diego
My rankings:

1. Denver (7.3)
2. Cincinnati (5.4)
3. New England (5.6)
4. KC (5.4)
5. San Diego (6.9)
6. Indianapolis (5.5)
The abberation is San Diego, with the worst pass defense in the tournament, though Rivers remains one of the league's elite quarterbacks (and he had a great year to boot). There are reasons they are 9-7 and needed miracles to make the playoffs.

The longterm prediction in the AFC is easy. No one is close to Denver. They will play in the Superbowl. It's hard to throw New England out of the mix, so I suppose I'll grant them a puncher's chance, but the other four have no shot in Colorado, even if they get there.

The NFC is much tougher. Carolina, Seattle, Philly and San Fran all have some realistic hope of playing for the ring. On the strength of Drew Brees, I would even give New Orleans a chance were it not for the fact they have played their last home game this year.

N.O. @ Philly (-2 ½)

It would be easy to take Philly here, and I do think Philly wins the game, but as a betting proposition it scares me. It is true that New Orleans lost five games on the road this year, but they lost mostly to good teams. The worst was St. Louis (at 7-9). The other thing that concerns me is that Drew Brees is always capable of lighting up a bad pass defense (e.g., 49-17 over Dallas in Week 10), and Philadelphia's is not good. The Eagle secondary appears competent, but pressuring a QB is not Philly's strong suit.

I can imagine Drew Brees putting up 42 points and winning this game. I can also see da Iggles posting 49 and beating him, but I ain't betting on it.

K.C. @ Indy (-2 ½)

Andrew Luck is a good quarterback and he is probably good enough to win a Superbowl for a good team someday, but I am tired of hearing him annointed as the next Brady, the next Manning, the next Brees, etc. He's not there yet and he may never be. Cam Newton had a better year than Andrew Luck. Philip Rivers had a much better year. And Alex Smith had at least as good a year.

Indianapolis was 11-5, which consisted of going 6-0 against the weak Tennessee, the wretched Jacksonville and the dreadful Houston, and then a mere 5-5 against the decent teams in the league. They were outscored by 4 points over the last eight games of the season. In addition, the Colts were BLOWN OUT (ten or more points) four times this season. Teams that challenge for the Superbowl almost never lose games like that. Denver didn't this year. Seattle didn't. New England didn't.

And yet...

Indianapolis is a puzzle. All my numbers tell me KC wins this game outright, so I'm taking a live dog here. However, even though I have grown to hate the hype about Andrew Luck (I don't even like his name!), the Colts, in the space of a month, beat San Francisco, Seattle and Denver. They also beat KC two weeks ago, though at that point most of the KC starters were homeless guys Andy Reid had picked up next to the dumpster behind Arthur Bryant's. The game was meaningless.

The heck with it. KC's offense is better, their defense is better, and Andy Reid has been resting his guys for most of December. KC wins.

S.D. @ Cincinnati (-7)

Cincinnati crushes teams at home. They have the best pass defense in the tournament. In the AFC, they have scored the third-most points and given up the least. San Diego, on the other hand, while it does feature the wonderful and charming (and fertile) Philip Rivers, has the very worst pass defense in the playoffs. They really shouldn't even BE in the playoffs because all they had to beat in their final game was more of Andy Reid's homeless guys.

I'm laying these points. You can never be entirely comfortable with a big line like this in the playoffs, but the Bengals are significantly better than San Diego, especially in Cincinnati. I view this as a mismatch.

San Francisco (-2 1/2) @ Green Bay

Looking at the Packers over the course of the season, one cannot like the Packers here. But then there is Aaron Rodgers, in Green Bay, in the playoffs, in January. Is he all better? Is he a bit rusty from his injury layoff? Are there things he can't do? I don't know the answers to these questions. I don't know if Mrs. Rodgers knows the answers to these questions. I don't even know if there is a Mrs. Rodgers. Maybe he's gay, like all the other NFL quarterbacks nowadays.

San Francisco is an excellent road team (6-2, +10.5 points/game). Though they had some hiccups early in the season, they have won six in a row and appear to have all their parts in working order. They are, as far as I can tell, better than Green Bay (and in a much tougher division). I have to pick San Fran to win this game. I won't bet on it.


Friday, December 27, 2013


A young lady I know teaches Spanish in a charter school in Philadelphia, and many of her students are Puerto Ricans. She mentioned the other day that she knows two pairs of twins with exactly the same names. In other words, there are twins in one of her classes who are both named Juan Carlos Menendez. In another class, there are twins who are both named Louisa Lopez. (I'm making up the names, but you get the idea.) She hypothesizes that this twin-naming practice is a (goofy) Puerto Rican custom.

I asked my co-worker Benny (my main source for all things Puerto Rican) about this, and he immediately started chuckling. “Yeah, it's true,” he said. “I have twin cousins and they're named Nina and Lena. I never saw twins with the exact same name like your friend did, but Hispanics love their little jokes when they name kids. My mother is a twin and her name is Carmen Maria. Her sister is named Maria Carmen. I never thought it was a Puerto Rican thing, though. Mexicans do the same thing.”


There is one day each year when virtually all Chinese restaurants in America are closed---Thanksgiving. If you and your fiance work in Chinese restaurants (and most of your friends do, too), it might well be the day you pick for your wedding.


One of the more arcane legal doctrines thrust upon first year law students is the Rule Against Perpetuities, which arose in the Duke of Norfolk's Case in 1682. The Rule is often stated as follows: “No interest is good unless it must vest, if at all, within 21 years after the death of a life in being at the creation of the interest.” The gist of it is that there is a limit on the length of time a man may exert control over his property through his Will or trust instruments. A dead man cannot tie up title to land or other property forever.

As part of the Common Law we inherited from England, the Rule Against Perpetuities became part of the law in every state until twenty or thirty years ago when several states repealed it by statute. In one of these states, South Dakota, bankers quickly realized the potential of attracting enormous fortunes into the state by creating trusts that were practically eternal.

To simplify (actually, to oversimplify), what happens, a Very Rich Guy pours his assets into a trust and names his heirs (children, grandchildren, etc.), beneficiaries thereof. At that moment, the VRG doesn't own the assets anymore, so they do not pass through his estate (and probate) when he dies. Over the years, earnings from the trust will be paid to the heirs, and those sums will become subject to personal income tax, but the trust assets themselves never come under the Federal Estate Tax.

Avoidance of the feds is the purpose of the Dynasty Trust, as these things are called. If the heirs actually came into possession of the VRG's assets under a standard Will, the Federal Estate Tax would snag about 40% of it. And that process would be repeated for each succeeding generation. Instead, the repeal of the Rule Against Perpetuities in South Dakota means that the descendants of VRGs will be able to live off the trust assets for hundreds of years.


cybernation, n., (cyber + hibernation), the avoidance of harsh wintry weather by remaining indoors to shop, play games or view entertainment on line.


There was another school shooting in Colorado a few weeks ago, which means there are new demands for “gun control.” There are many ways in which schools might be secured, of course, but the Left doesn't seem to have any interest in doing that. Instead, they prefer to use these public shooting events as yet more fuel for their continuing campaign to disarm the innocent.

I have written before about “gun-free zones,” but there are actually two types of them.

The first type (let's call it Type-A), typically includes schools, many other public buildings, malls, and restaurants. Virginia Tech was this sort of “gun-free zone.” These are the most dangerous places in America, and they are where virtually all mass shootings occur because the only people who take guns into Type-A gun-free zones are killers and psychopaths. Decent, law-abiding types like me would never do so. It's against the law. The result is that when a lunatic decides to take down a dozen of his fellow humans in a festival of blood, he does it in a Type-A gun-free zone because he knows it will be a long time before anybody there stops him.

There is another kind, however. Type-B gun-free zones are places where serious efforts are made to keep guns out. Type-B zones exist, and they don't have any guns in them.

Federal courtrooms are Type-B gun-free zones, for example. You can't get into one without going through metal detectors that are manned by armed guards. Airplanes are also Type-B zones. We are often annoyed by the process of checking everyone and feeling up your nine-year-old daughter and searching in grandma's Depends, but passengers on planes don't have guns anymore, whether they are nuns or consigliores for the Gambino family or 20-year-old jihadists. Once you get to your seat on an airplane, you can be reasonably assured the guy sitting next to you will not shoot you..

The same process could be put in place in schools. It wouldn't be cheap, and it would take a long time to get every child in America through a metal detector every day, and with 100,000 schools in America, there would be weak spots and guards who become complacent, and the people who run many of our schools are often hopelessly incompetent so it would still be possible for a determined and clever madman to fight or trick his way into a building full of helpless children and kill a pile of them. But it would be a lot more difficult.

I'm not exactly recommending this, you understand. It's not a very good solution to the problem because of the trouble and cost and the very real danger that the system could be breached and that if it were breached, the body-count in a particular incident could be much higher. A much safer alternative would be to have lots of guns in schools, like they do in Israel. There is no such thing as a gun-free school in Israel. Some schools have armed guards, some have armed teachers or administrators, but all of them have guns in the house. It's a different situation, to be sure---they are worried about terrorists rather than loonies---but the goal is the same. Protect the kids. And Israel does a much better job of it.

But here in the USA, where the Left will not allow teachers or guards or anyone to fight back against people who want to kill children, maybe the Type-B gun-free zone is the best we can hope for. It seems a shame we have to tolerate these attacks, which average about one per month, just to provide the Left with ammo for their political arguments, but this situation has been in stasis for some years now. Considering the political impasse, metal detectors and TSA-like bureaucracy may be the only way America can address the problem.


Saturday, December 21, 2013


A number of commentators have predicted that once gay marriage becomes widespread, the legalization of polygamy is inevitable. There would be no logical argument against it. Marriage traditionally has been recognized and supported by civilizations as a means of protecting women, socializing men and nurturing children. But if it becomes accepted (as it obviously is) that the primary purpose of the institution is not to support families but rather to celebrate love and to sanctify loving relationships, everything changes. If it's only about love, well, why shouldn't gay people be allowed to marry each other? Love is love, and gender has nothing to do with it.

But of course, if gender has nothing to do with the reasons we officially dignify marriages, why should number? If society believes that the recognition of loving relationships is the purpose of marriage, why shouldn't three people marry each other, or ten? Polygamists are certainly as capable of love as are gay partners, so once gay marriage is accepted, there is no logical basis for drawing a line around “the couple.” Two is OK but three is wrong? Why?

But while the acceptance of gay marriage will lead inevitably to legal polygamy, “inevitably” seems to be happening a little quicker than anyone thought it would.

In Utah, with its history of LDS polygamy in the 19th Century, the ban on polygamy resides in an anti-cohabitation statute. A man who lives in the same house with several unrelated women violates that law because they are presumed to be (and almost certainly are), in a polygamous marriage. I don't know of other states that have laws like this, but then, there are no other states with Utah's history. The first anti-cohabitation statute was actually imposed upon the Utah Territory by the federal government in 1882. The suppression of polygamy was a condition of Utah being admitted as the 45th state in 1896.

Last week in Salt Lake City, in a lawsuit brought by the family in TLC's reality show “Sister Wives,” a Federal District Judge declared Utah's anti-cohabitation statute in violation of the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the US Constitution. The effect is to decriminalize polygamy in Utah.

Utah, like every other state, still has a bigamy statute, which provides that a person may have only one “official” spouse at a time, but this is of no significance to anyone. Polygamy was always a religious practice and an unofficial arrangement rather than something you registered down at the courthouse. The end of the anti-cohabitation statute means that polygamy is now legal in Utah.

In an ironic coda to the decriminalization of polygamy, a different Federal District Judge in Salt Lake yesterday ruled that Utah's law prohibiting same-sex marriages violates the US Constitution. Gay marriages are now being performed in the Beehive State.


Sunday, November 17, 2013


Hillary Clinton's book “It Takes A Village” is, conceptually, quite simple. It consists entirely of a list of America's problems along with the solution for each. There are a lot of problems. In fact, it is surprising how many problems there are, but Hillary somehow comes up with a solution for each one. And the truly stunning aspect of “Village” is that each solution to each problem requires the federal government to get bigger in some way---for new rules to be written, or new taxes to be levied, or new government functionaries to be empowered. P.J. O'Rourke's famous two-sentence book review neatly captured the Hillary philosophy of governance: “Washington is the village. You are the child.”

As far as the Left is concerned, there is always a big-government solution. There is always a new bureaucracy to be built, or a wealth redistribution program to be expanded, or a new tax regimen to be imposed, or a freedom to be curtailed, or a world-government institution to be constructed. And after witnessing this process for several decades, those of us who do not share the statist utopian vision come to realize that the cart is actually pulling the horse. The “solutions” do not arise in response to the “problems.” Rather, the solutions are the entire point of the exercise. The goal is redistribution of wealth, or confiscation of property, or elimination of an inalienable right. The “problem” is identified only to justify the “solution.”

Otherwise, why would the “solutions” always be the same? If the global climate is getting warmer, why is the only “solution” to create international governing bodies with plenary powers and transfer vast amounts of wealth from rich nations to poor ones? If some people say things that offend other people, why is the only “solution” to use the coercive power of the government to silence the speakers? If there are a small number of Americans who find it difficult to secure medical care, why do all of us have to buy insurance products we don't want, pay for other people's abortions and buy Larry King his Viagra?

The list is endless. For public schools, the only “solution” the Left ever proposes is more taxes and more spending, no matter how much money has been wasted and no matter how many decades the schools have been failing to educate children. For the EPA, there is never a “solution” that does not limit a landowner's use of his property, that does not reduce its value, that does not impose the sort of centralized mandates that characterized the Soviet Union's environmental oversight at the Chernobyl nuclear plant. And if a lunatic shoots a dozen people for no apparent reason, why is the “solution” always to make it more difficult for me to defend myself against the next lunatic who comes along?

Never does the “solution” involve empowering individuals to make their own decisions and live their own lives. Instead, there are only new rules and new taxes, new licenses and permits, and the relentless attack on traditional freedoms.

When the Left agenda never changes, it is easy for us conservatives to see what's coming, and also to see that the Obamas and Bidens and Kerrys and Pelosis and Clintons who propose all these “solutions” don't care about me or my freedom or my republic, and have no real interest in the problems they claim to be so very concerned about. The “problems” are merely part of a necessary rhetorical exercise in the continuing process of gathering power into the state. Identifying a “problem” is simply a predicate to the exercise of a bit more coercion on the rest of us.“Power is not a means; it is an end,” wrote George Orwell. “The object of power is power.”


Tuesday, November 5, 2013


In a Rex Stout mystery from the 1930's, I recently stumbled across a discussion of ortho-cousins and cross-cousins, terms with which I was unfamiliar. Ortho-cousins are your first cousins from your parent's same-sex sibling. Cross cousins are your first cousins from your parent's opposite-sex sibling. Your father's brother's child is your ortho-cousin, as is your mother's sister's child. The child of your father's sister is your cross cousin, and so is the child of your mother's brother.

This distinction used to matter in a lot of places and it still matters in some. It is most significant with respect to incest laws and taboos. Though most of the world outside the US permits marriage between first cousins, there have always been places where ortho-cousin marriage was, and is, considered incestuous but cross-cousin marriage was permitted.

There are also places where ortho-cousin marriage is preferred. In England several hundred years ago, for example, property (especially land) passed exclusively to male descendants, and a marriage of a man to his father's brother's daughter would have the effect of keeping the family's wealth intact. This principle remains important across the Islamic world, where cousin marriage is very common. In much of the Middle East, marriage to a father's brother's daughter (“FBD”) is considered a man's legal right, and the FBD may not marry another unless the man consents to waive his rights.


On Saturday, October 12, the SNAP (food stamp) program in Louisiana experienced a series of service interruptions involving the Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) system. When a SNAP recipient takes food items to a cashier and presents a SNAP card, the EBT system compares the amount of the purchases with the amount of food stamp money the bearer has available in their account. There's a limit each month, in other words. On October 12, however, when SNAP cards were presented to cashiers at a Wal-Mart in Springhill, Louisiana, the limits did not appear on the cashier's screen.

This presented the management at Springhill Wal-Mart with a choice. They could shut down SNAP sales completely until the problem was fixed, they could apply a per-customer limit to SNAP sales ($30, let's say), or they could simply allow any and all SNAP sales to proceed regardless of the quantity.

For whatever reason, they chose the last of these alternatives. And all hell broke loose. Not only did SNAP customers race through the aisles filling up multiple carts of food but they called their friends and alerted them to the bonanza in progress. Within minutes, the store was packed with “customers” frantically filling carts with whatever food products they could stuff into their shopping carts, getting the food through the check lanes and into their cars, and then returning to the store to fill up more carts. All of it was a race to get as much food out of the Wal-Mart before the EBT system got repaired. When SNAP limits finally did begin to show up on cash registers, people simply abandoned their full carts and walked out.

This was not, let us remember, one or two or five or ten dishonest people. This was a frenzy of thievery that subsided only when the computer got fixed. Aisle after aisle and shelf after shelf of canned goods, dairy, meats and frozen foods were emptied. At the end, the only food left in the store was what had been abandoned in shopping carts when the EBT system recovered.

The news reports were bland, of course. It was an odd story from a Wal-Mart, and Wal-Mart is basically the lowest common denominator of nationwide retail so it produces its share of odd stories, but there was no hint of what this event said about the people involved or the human condition or the human spirit. Even to raise such an issue, or suggest that what people did was morally suspect, would be wrong or judgmental or even (OMG!) racist, I guess.

And I thought, “Wow. Am I really that out of it? Am I truly that old? Am I the only person left in America who remembers when poor people had dignity?” Because I do remember it. I remember it quite clearly. When I was young, in the 1950's, there were a lot more poor people around, both black and white, and they had a lot less than poor people do today, but the sort of instinctive stealing that occurred in Louisiana would never have happened back then. People may have been poor but they worked for what they had and they respected themselves. They got dressed up on Sunday, and they dressed their kids as well, and they all went to church together. There are still such people around, of course. The “working poor” are still among us; in fact, I work with some of them. But there are not nearly as many as there used to be, and there are a lot more of the debased welfare-dependent shoppers in Springhill than there ever were before.

Contrary to left-wing ideology, crime and poverty do not correlate very well with each other. The Great Depression, for example, was a time of very low crime rates across the US. The kind of thing that happened in the Springhill Wal-Mart has very little to do with poverty and a great deal to do with the loss of self-respect that accompanies dependency on welfare benefits. What happened at Springhill is what regularly happens now that socialist values have become embedded in the permanent underclass that was created by LBJ's Great Society and nurtured by the American left for the past fifty years.

A couple days ago, the Senate Budget Committee reported that over the past five years, the US government had distributed $3.7 trillion in means-tested welfare benefits. This does not include purely state welfare benefit payments and it does not include benefits that are not means-tested, like Social Security. The $3.7 trillion is about five times the amount spent by the federal government over the same period on education and transportation.

Margaret Thatcher spent her eleven years as Prime Minister re-privatizing industries that British socialists had nationalized in post-war Britain. In her speeches, she often emphasized that the problem with socialism, in Europe and the UK, was not merely that it was an ineffective economic system, but that it destroyed human beings:

“Socialism turned good citizens into bad ones; it turned strong nations into weak ones; it promoted vice and discouraged virtue . . . it transformed formerly hard working and self- reliant men and women into whining, weak and flabby loafers. Socialism was not a fine idea that had been misapplied, it was an inherently wicked idea.”


In the ancient art of falconry, there are two methods of hunting ducks.

In the first, the falconer takes his raptor to a pond and, if he is lucky, finds some ducks. After tossing a stone into the water so the birds take flight, he then releases his falcon. Soaring and swooping at up to 80mph, the falcon hits a duck in midair, kills it and brings it back to earth. The falconer races to the spot where the falcon is now feeding on the duck and steals the catch, giving the falcon a bit of meat for his trouble. That is how it is still done today.

The second method is no longer considered sporting, but it required great skill and provided a hefty reward when it succeeded. The hunter would seek a brace of ducks sitting on shallow water and, when he found them, would silently unhood his falcon and release it into the air. With the falcon circling above the pond, the ducks were now trapped. They would never take flight with a bird of prey in the air above them, so the hunter would wade into the water, wring their necks one by one and put them in a sack. All except one, of course. He would throw the last duck into the sky as a reward for his hunting partner.

The relationship between man and falcon is the fascinating aspect of falconry. It's a business arrangement, pure and simple. The bird is sheltered, fed and cared for. In return, he provides assistance to the man when they hunt. But the birds are not “domesticated.” A man and his falcon never become friends and the falcon remains a wild animal throughout the relationship, which may last years or may end whenever the falcon decides to fly away and not return. And they sometimes do.


On Monday,October 21, a 12-year-old boy in a Sparks, Nevada school fatally shot a teacher and wounded two other students before killing himself. Two days later, the papers reported:

As they try to understand what prompted a 12-year-old boy to open fire at his school, district officials were examining an anti-bullying video that includes a dramatization of a child taking a gun on a school bus to scare aggressors.”

The video was shown to the shooter and his fellow students as part of National Bullying Prevention Month. The behavior depicted in the film was apparently presented as a “bad example.” This disturbed 12-year-old, however, may have had a different interpretation.

This dreadful tale follows on the heels of a report in the Journal of Criminology. Seokjin Jeong, an assistant professor of criminology and criminal justice at UT-Arlington, reported that their study of anti-bullying programs in all fifty states revealed that students exposed to these programs were actually more likely to become victims of bullying after exposure to a program. He theorized that anti-bullying programs teach potential bullies new bullying techniques. They also may illustrate ways to escape responsibility by using the “right language” when confronted by teachers or social workers.

The term “unintended consequences” is insufficient here. We need a different term to describe training programs for schools that actually make an undesirable activity more likely to occur. “Paradoxical consequences”? “Indoctrination boomerang”?

D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) is the most famous of these feel-good time-wasters. It has now been around for thirty years and has been dumped into the heads of tens of millions of American schoolchildren. Yet there have now been a dozen studies concluding, as did the National Institute of Justice in 1998, that children subjected to the D.A.R.E. curriculum are more likely to drink alcohol, smoke cigarettes and use drugs than kids who somehow manage to avoid it.

There are many reasons for this phenomenon. One is the use of role-playing games where children may act out scenes of bullying (or purchasing drugs) in order to learn how NOT to do those things. In fact, role-playing can actually provide practice in activities that children might otherwise be too frightened to engage in.

The other reason often cited for indoctrination boomerang is that the programs tend to “glamorize” the behavior they seek to eradicate. There is some truth in this, I suppose, in the sense that spending millions of bucks on drug education or anti-bullying programs (instead of teaching math, for example), delivers a message that these topics are way more important than they actually are.

A bigger problem, however, is that children are lied to by the adults who design these things, the kids resent it, and they retaliate by ignoring the advice. Kids hate being lied to, they often know when it is happening, and the natural childish reaction is defiance. D.A.R.E. never tells kids that drugs are fun, or cool, or can get you laid, for example. And anti-bullying programs never teach kids that the most effective way to stop a bully is to pop him in the beezer. Never.

The lefties who create these things get millions in tax dollars in order to usurp the role in moral education that families have always provided. They know better than the rest of us poor slobs, you see, what our children should be taught about right and wrong, bad habits, what it means to be a good person, and so on. In order to advance what Thomas Sowell calls “the vision of the anointed,” they take money out of our own pockets and use it to inculcate our children with their superior values.

It's wonderful that many kids are not fooled. The phenomenon of indoctrination boomerang is something I celebrate. My son, for example, might not be the libertarian free-market conservative he is if he had not attended Masterman High School in Philadelphia and had not been force-fed the silliest imaginable left-wing drivel every day. He and others like him give me hope. They react to the lies and the intrusion into conscience in admirable ways.

If these indoctrination programs were 100% effective, I guess none of our kids would be bullies and none of our kids would ever fire up a doobie, and no guy would ever pat a girl's bottom in the hallway in high school, and nobody would ever eat a potato chip or buy a 32-ounce Coke. Some of those things might be good in some sense, but there's a price to pay for letting the anointed tell everyone what to think and how to behave, and the price is that we all wind up living in a place very much like East Germany.


Sunday, October 20, 2013


The Boston Red Sox are approximate 13-10 favorites to beat the Cardinals and win the Series. The line is not far off.

Both Boston and St. Louis won 97 games during the regular season. Each led their respective leagues in runs/game. Both led their leagues in batting average with Boston hitting .277 and St. Louis hitting .269. (The AL team is always higher because of the DH, and usually much higher. The Cardinals' .269 is actually “higher” than the Sox's .277, but not significantly so.)

The Boston ERA of 3.79 was 6th in the AL and the Cardinal's ERA of 3.43 was 5th in the NL, so there's not much to choose from in that department. (AL ERA's are always higher than those in the NL, also because of the designated hitter.)

Boston is clearly the best team in the American League and St. Louis is easily the best in the National League. The one big difference between them is home runs. Boston hit 178 of them, 5th in the AL. St. Louis hit only 125, 14th in the NL. This is a large gap, and it will decide the Series.

High batting averages are impressive in the regular season, but they don't matter much in the playoffs. In the regular season, they are accumulated primarily against the 4th and 5th starters and the pitchers at the end of the bullpen. Hitters never see these pitchers in the playoffs, so the big innings that result from four or five or six hits rarely happen. Any pitcher who gives up even two hits in a row is likely to get yanked immediately in favor of the kid with a 97mph heater, and that's the end of the “rally.” Station-to-station hitting is not what wins a World Series. Neither are stolen bases. But homers matter.

A rational man probably does not nibble at the 13-10 line here. I think the Sox are a wee bit better than that, however, so if you are forced by your temperament or by federal regulations to bet on the Series, lay the odds.


Monday, September 30, 2013


In my travels through Target and elsewhere, I often see “service animals” that are not assisting blind people. There are more and more of these doggies wearing their distinctive orange banners. Sometimes they are so small they are carried around in shopping bags or ride in shopping carts and are indistinguishable (aside from the banner) from pets. There are organizations that will train dogs for various purposes and certify them, but there is apparently no standardized or required process. In other words, you can just buy a service dog banner, wrap it around Fido, and take him anywhere. And that's what people do. Many of them accompany their owners for unspecified psychological reasons.

Under the Americans With Disabilities Act, service animals cannot be denied admittance to areas of public accommodation, including airplanes, hotels and restaurants. A landlord may not refuse to rent to a person with a service animal even if the housing complex completely bans animals. Also, it is a violation of the Act to demand any sort of proof that the animal has been certified or trained.

I've never seen a man with one of these animals.


We have now learned that Aaron Alexis, the madman who killed twelve people at the Washington Navy Yard, was being treated by the VA for PTSD, which almost certainly means he was taking an SSRI (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor) drug. This SSRI group of pharmaceuticals is now the most-common form of antidepressant drug prescribed.

James Holmes, the shooter in Aurora, Colorado, was on sertraline, a generic version of Zoloft. Eric Harris (Columbine) was taking Luvox. (Medical records for Dylan Klebold remain sealed.) Seung Hui Cho, the Virginia Tech murderer, was also taking prescription medicines for psychological problems, though the name of the drug has never been released.

In fact, over the last twenty years, there have been dozens of cases involving crazed, motiveless homicide in which the killer was taking, or had just stopped taking, antidepressants. See:

This link between murder and antidepressants has gotten little publicity, for a number of reasons. First, the information may be released weeks or months after the killings, or may not be released at all. We still do not know whether Adam Lanza was on any medication when he murdered twenty-six at Sandy Hook Elementary. Second, lunatic shootings always raise new cries for gun control measures, and this dominates political discussion and leftist media coverage in the immediate aftermath, leaving little room for other issues to break through the din.

About fifteen years ago, my doctor put me on the antidepressant Wellbutrin because it is reputed to reduce nicotine craving in those who are trying to stop smoking. It didn't seem to work that way for me, but I took it for a couple of months while I was trying to quit.

At the time, I lived in South Philly and I spoke to my sister on the phone almost every day, often about our parents and other family matters. I should mention that my relations with my sister have always been good. There may have been the odd brother-sister disagreement once or twice, but never any major fights or feuds. We like each other.

After six weeks of Wellbutrin, however, I began to detect a sinister turn in her. It was never anything I could put my finger on, but after our conversations, there was always something that stuck in my head. What did she mean by that remark, I wondered. I would brood about these calls for hours, and sometimes burst into tears. I became convinced she hated me and was mocking me. But why? Why did she hate me so? What had I done to deserve this?

Then one night, my wife found me crying and demanded to know what was wrong. Blubbering, I tried to explain how my sister had turned against me, though I was aware even as I was telling the story how ridiculous it must have sounded. She cut me off.

It's that drug,” she said. “Stop taking it---now.” Two days later, my brain was working normally again. And I had learned something about psychotropic drugs.

If you start taking a new drug and it has some physical side-effect like insomnia or constipation or an upset stomach, you know it. It's obvious what is happening to you and you either learn to live with the side-effect or you stop taking the drug. Antidepressants may take a month or more to kick in, however, and when they do, the effects (good or bad) are all in your head, in your private thought processes. Most people have no way of examining, in some objective way, what is happening in their minds. I certainly didn't. There was no mechanism by which I could analyze my thinking and conclude: “Hey, Mike---you're insane.” Yet I was.

I was lucky. I had Sandy to tell me I was out of my mind. But many people do not. They live alone, or they isolate themselves and their thoughts from the scrutiny of friends and family members around them. With millions now taking antidepressant drugs, there will be people who suffer hideous mental side effects that no one notices. Until it is too late.


My buddy works at Neiman-Marcus in Las Vegas, in the cosmetics department, where there are forty or fifty young ladies and gay guys, and him, all selling high-end lotions and make-up and creams to filthy-rich wives of filthy-rich gamblers. Recently, his mother died and he took a few days off.

When he returned, various of his co-workers came to him and pressed sympathy cards upon him, five or six in all, each signed by six or eight or ten people. With each card came cash. The total was about $400. He called me about it. He was puzzled. He had never run into this before.

They're giving me money because my mother died?” he said to me. “I don't get it. It even pissed me off at first. Then I talked to my manager and she chilled me out, but I still don't quite get it.”

I have never run into this practice either, but since he told me about it, I have asked around. “Black people in West Philly do this,” I was told. “Italian families in the old neighborhood did the same thing,” someone else said.

Well, OK. There's a poverty angle that makes sense. It takes money to bury someone and throw a wake and miss some work, and if you're poor, it's nice that your friends and neighbors kick in a few bucks to help you out, and if you know everybody in the neighborhood you appreciate it and you do the same thing for them when the time comes.

But that's not the story in the Vegas Neiman-Marcus cosmetics department, is it? I'm not saying this group of retail salespeople is rich, but they have cars and they have apartments and they have nice phones and they hit the Vegas club scene once in a while. The sympathy cards with money in them is not about poverty. It's not like giving Luigi and Maria a few bucks in the “old neighborhood” when grampa Vincenzo dies.

It's not about poverty. It's about Vegas. Money is the language of Vegas, it's the lingua franca, it's the emotional currency. In a place where there is no “neighborhood,” where most people are driftwood, money and favors and tipping are how you communicate your bona fides, your status as a decent human being. Somebody gives you a lead on a job, well, you're going to take care of that guy. Or if somebody gets you and your girlfriend a comped meal at a fancy restaurant, a simple “thank you” isn't good enough. You arrange to get him a round of golf or a LeBron jersey, or something. It's how things are done. And if you don't do it, you're basically a jerk. In another place, you might say a novena for somebody or bring them a tray of macaroni and cheese. In Vegas, you tip the guy, one way or another. In Vegas, money is often not about money; money is also an instantly-understood and inoffensive way of expressing your emotions.

Friendships exist is Vegas as they do everywhere else. I'm not suggesting everyone is a stranger. But it's unlikely your best friend is somebody you went to elementary school with. It's unlikely you know his aunts and uncles, or the name of his first wife or whether he went to church as a kid, and if so, what church it was. This means that if your friend is experiencing one of those universal human events like a death in the family, and you want to make a gesture that says, “Hey, I'm human too and I care about you and I'm sorry about what happened,” your options are extremely limited. Some gesture from your traditions might be misunderstood. It might even offend. So you make a gesture that is pure Vegas.

You tip the guy.


Wednesday, September 25, 2013


As soon as my head hit the pillow, I began to dream. I was with my friend Sarah in her home on Catherine Street in South Philly, and we were walking from room to room in her rowhouse, which was completely empty of furniture. Neither of us spoke. There was no sound at all, not even the clicking of our shoes on her finished pine floors. Occasionally, our eyes would meet and she would flash me the smile I had seen from her a thousand times. I had last seen it through her oxygen mask. “Hey, Dragon,” I had said. “We've got to get you out of here.” And she smiled at hearing her nickname.

A week after that visit to her hospital room was the last time I saw her. She was still at Pennsylvania Hospital, and still in intensive care. She was alone in a room, supine on her bed, snoring rhythmically, hooked up to tubes and monitors that beeped quietly in the twilight. I watched her for a few minutes, then stepped out and found the nurse.

I'm a friend of Sarah's,” I said. “What can you tell me? Is she...still there?”

Sarah is not conscious any longer,” she told me. “We met with her family yesterday and treatment has been stopped, except for measures that will make her comfortable.”

I went back into the room and watched her breathe. Her cheeks were sunken into her face and her skin was pale and paper-thin. There wasn't much left of her anymore. Later, I learned she had lasted only a few more hours.

The dreams came about a week later, and though they were not unpleasant or frightening, I could not escape them. The first time, I awakened, shook my head, stared into the darkness for a minute, and then laid my head back upon the pillow. Instantly, I was back in her empty house with her next to me, walking through the house, floating effortlessly up the stairs and down again, and then the smile. Always the smile.

It continued all night. Though the dreams themselves were not nightmarish in any way, I began to feel trapped in them, and each time I awoke, I felt more and more uneasy. To banish them, I got out of bed, went to the john, checked the time, looked out the window, and consciously thought of other things in the hope my dreams would change. Sledding, fish in an aquarium, Chase Utley turning a double-play---anything to get my head out of that rowhouse. None of it worked. As soon as I closed my eyes, there she was, next to me---my drinking buddy, my racetrack buddy---now silent, now a wraith, but still my companion.

I awoke in the morning hardly rested at all and headed to the kitchen for a cup of strong coffee. I am a rational person. I am sometimes criticized for being too rational. However, I could not dismiss from my mind the legend or old wives' tale or whatever-it-is that the recent dead wander among us for a while before they find their rest. I am aware there are psychological explanations for what I experienced, but the feeling persists that this was not entirely a dream or a series of dreams. The feeling persists that it was Sarah.

The next night, I went to bed with some trepidation, but as I settled in and the haze of sleep began to descend upon me, I suddenly knew it was over, and that she would not return. “Goodnight, Sarah,” I whispered. “Goodbye, Dragon.”

There was no response.


Saturday, September 7, 2013


As I write this, President Obama dithers on about what sort of “message” he wishes to convey to the Syrian government. He says he strongly disapproves of Assad's recent use of chemical weapons on his people in an attack that killed hundreds and injured thousands, and he seems, at a minimum, intent in shooting a Cruise missile at something. Bill Clinton, in a similar one-off kind of military adventure, once blew up a couple of goat-herder shacks in Afghanistan and a pharmaceutical plant in Africa, and maybe that sort of manly gesture would suffice. Maybe not. With Obama, it can be hard to tell what he really cares about or thinks is important.

A guy like Bashar al-Assad is a problem. He's a truly bad guy, he's a thug, and he thinks nothing of committing any sort of atrocity to maintain his control over Syria. But he doesn't respond to conventional sorts of diplomatic pressure or economic sanctions, and even military action is probably going to have more of an effect on his already-suffering people than it will on him. So what should Obama do?

It's not the first time America has faced a problem like this. Gaddafi and Saddam Hussein posed similar dilemmas. Saddam was more than similar---like Assad, he used poison gas not only in the Iran-Iraq War but also against thousands of Iraqi Kurds in the town of Halabia.

The answer is obvious, but rarely gets said---you've got to kill the bastard. It makes no sense to destroy military assets or the poor soldiers who are forced to carry out the sick agenda of monsters like this. If Obama wants to send an unambiguous message that using chemical weapons is wrong, all he has to do is kill Assad. No explanation would even be necessary. And if the world's only superpower made it a policy to kill any person responsible for using chemical weapons, the guy who replaces Assad is going to be extremely reluctant to follow in his murderous footsteps.

Consider Exodus. Now, I don't wish to second guess God's decision in these matters, but instead of the frogs and locusts and boils and stuff, let's just suppose Moses and God had showed up at the Pharaoh's house one day and said, “Yo Pharaoh, let these Jews go---and I mean NOW!” And let's further suppose the Pharaoh said no, God vaporized him on the spot, and then trained his divine gaze on the Pharaoh’s son (who would now be the new Pharaoh).

Congratulations,” God says to the kid. “Now...what about those Jews?”

There is a myth that our law forbids a president from killing a foreign leader. This is not true. There are several Executive Orders which any president can withdraw or ignore at his pleasure. Then there is the War Crimes Act of 1996, which does not explicitly ban the killing of a guy like Assad. And let's face a more important practical point: Obama doesn't care what “the law” says. He rarely does. If he wants to kill Assad, the last thing he would ever worry about is the law.

But while the solution may be obvious, there are several reasons American presidents do not consider the option of killing a head of state. First, there is the modern idea of sovereignty. It used to be considered perfectly kosher to kill the other guy's king or hold him for ransom. (In 1192, Richard the Lion-hearted was captured by the Duke of Austria and held for ransom for more than a year.) The Congress of Vienna in 1815, however, in addition to sorting out the Papal States and the Swiss cantons and the detritus of the Napoleonic Wars, established a new tradition whereby heads of state agreed not to kill each other. There were still going to be wars, of course---no one had any delusions on that score---but decapitation of the state (or the duchy or the principality or the city-state or whatever) was forbidden.

The result, to this day, is a tacit reciprocal live-and-let-live understanding among world leaders. It makes no sense in terms of any identifiable moral principle, of course. In terms of legitimacy as rulers, Angela Merkel and Barack Obama have exactly nothing in common with Kim Jong-Un and Bashar al-Assad, and the recognition of the latter thugs as “government leaders” at all is difficult to justify. It is as if, in the 1950's, we had felt compelled to treat the Gambino family as a respected voice of the Italian-American community in New York City.

Yet this is how the world treats the various mass killers and torturers around the planet who manage to kill enough people and torture enough people so their local opposition dissolves in fear. They get welcomed to the UN and they get a spot at international conferences and they get really good seats to the Olympics. We call them bad names, of course, but the names are not that bad, and other world leaders pretend to respect them. Nobody ignores them or mocks them or sends them away and says, “No. Sorry. Go home and tell your stupid country to send us a real president.” And why not? What was gained (for example) by treating Muammar Gaddafi like a sort-of Dwight Eisenhower in drag for all those years? In geopolitical terms, why not laugh at them and refuse to take them seriously?

Another reason legitimate world leaders take a guy like Assad seriously, or pretend to, is...well, this is a guess, but maybe even the real ones like Merkel and Obama feel like their own hands are not as clean as they would like them to be. They know what deals they have had to make, of course, and some of those deals may look a little dirty in the cold light of day, and they wonder how much better they truly are than the psycho-killers of planet earth. They're wrong about this, of course. Barack Obama is not, morally, in the same universe as Kim Jong-Un. But we can understand how that thought could cross his mind.

But while we may understand the refusal to target Assad (or Gaddafi or Hussein) personally, American presidents make a fundamental political error by failing to do so. Several, in fact. First, they refuse to take advantage of the primary advantage democratically-elected rulers have over despots---legitimacy. While the popularity of a particular American president may rise or fall, they all achieve their position because, at one time, they were chosen by the American people. They got more votes than anybody else. This process is respected, which means that the individual and his office is respected even by many who dislike everything about him. An American president is, in a sense, an avatar of America itself. Many people who loath Barack Obama would view any attempt to physically harm him as an attack on the American system. I would view it as an attack on me. This is why any attack on a president (or even a former president) would be met by great vengeance and furious anger. A direct assault on an American president would be a grave strategic error for any foreign power.

Killing Assad, on the other hand, would have no such effect. A guy like him is never mourned by many and never for very long. Most Syrians would be happy to see him go, and any desire for payback would be limited to a very small number of his partisans and courtiers. Most importantly, killing Assad would not be viewed as an attack on Syria itself, but rather as the elimination of one particularly abhorrent individual.

Democracies have many disadvantages in military engagements with dictators. In a democracy, for example, it can be very difficult to forge the kind of political consensus that is needed to wage war, while all a dictator has to do is mobilize the army and start shooting. The asymmetry in the legitimacy of a dictator and a popularly-elected leader, however, is a tremendous advantage for the Obamas of the world, and it is foolish to throw it away. Assad can be killed, and apart from a few tut-tuts in certain editorial pages, no one will object.

So why not do it?


Sunday, August 11, 2013


Divorce is a specialized area of the law and it's not one I ever learned much about. However, there is one piece of advice I offer guys heading into a split. The advice is always ignored, usually to the regret of the poor suckers I offer it to. I tell them to get a lawyer immediately and do everything the lawyer says.

Unless the reason for the break-up of the marriage is that the woman has suddenly become a meth addict or has had affairs with a dozen of the husband's closest friends, the guy in a divorce is going to feel guilty. He's going to feel the divorce is his fault. He will feel that way if he has a new girlfriend, of course, but he will also feel guilty if he has simply grown sick of his wife for shrewish behavior, eternal complaining, uncontrolled spending habits or a doubling in her avoirdupois. Most guys will blame themselves for a divorce unless the wife actually has outstanding fugitive warrants against her from three states, recent children fathered by other men, and multiple STDs. That's how guys are. It's how they think.

Because of these feelings of guilt and failure, guys often do stupid things if allowed to negotiate their own divorces. They will often give up far more of their joint financial assets than they need to, for example. Every state has rules about property settlements and they are not all that complicated. Child support can add a level of complexity to the equation, but again, there are standard rules to be applied, and divorce lawyers are accustomed to dealing with them.

We all know guys, however, who will say, “Let her have it all---I just want to get it over with.” I think a man will take this attitude in the belief it will ease his conscience and will avert emotional unpleasantness with the soon-to-be ex-wife, though neither of these things ever happens. If he feels like a jerk for ruining his marriage, he will still feel like a jerk, and if the soon-to-be ex-wife hates him, she will still hate him, EVEN IF HE GIVES HER THE SAILBOAT. It is likely, in fact, that she will hate him MORE if he gives her the sailboat because she will understand he is doing it purely out of guilt, and she will conclude he has more to be guilty about than she had previously assumed.

It's all about emotion.

Men are aware that “emotions” happen during divorce proceedings. They know it from TV and movies. Unfortunately, most men don't know what an “emotion” actually is, and they certainly have no idea how women deal with them. In any divorce, in other words, men understand there is a minefield to be crossed, but it is a rare guy who has any of the tools he needs to cross it. This is because, at the most elementary level, guys don't know what emotions are. The vast majority of perfectly normal men would classify an urgent desire to urinate as an “emotion,” for example. And if you ask a man for a list of emotions, he would almost certainly include the following:

a) the adrenalin rush of beating a point-spread with a last-minute field goal,

b) the feeling he gets when he sees the newly-hired 22-year-old receptionist swinging her ass down the hallway,

c) the pride he feels in getting 36 mpg in his new Honda.

Women don't make these mistakes. They don't get confused about emotions because they begin studying them in the cradle. Women are never ever going to confuse the fact that a guy is a jerk with the fact he is offering them a sailboat, no matter how much they may want the sailboat. They will take the sailboat, of course, BUT THEY WILL NEVER FORGET YOU SCREWED THE BABYSITTER, AND THEY WILL NEVER FORGIVE YOU FOR IT.

My point is that there is no reason to give a woman a dime more than she is entitled to under applicable law. It won't buy you anything. Do what the law says and then be done with it. Do not go to some mediation program where you sit in a room with your soon-to-be ex-wife and a sociologist and discuss what your needs are. Do not, under any circumstances, engage in yoga. The divorce means at least as much to you as it does to your wife, but for a guy, trying to “care” in acceptable female ways only costs money.

Give some of that money to a lawyer instead. A good one. When getting a divorce, do not try to economize on legal costs and do not wait. Hire a lawyer. Immediately.


I like Bruce Springstein. I have never put him at the very top of the rock & roll pantheon, but I have listened to his music, and enjoyed it, for years.

But maybe I'm done. After forty years, the character he plays is worn out. I mean, the guy is a billionaire and he's never had what you would call a real job his whole life. Instead, he's had money for nothing and his chicks for free, and the working-class hero persona has become just so frayed and dreary that it's hard to listen to him anymore. It may be too late for him to invent a new schtick, but if he can't, he should just hang them up.

At this point, he has way more in common with Dick Cheney than he does with the young rocker just breaking into clubs that he pretends to be. Not that there's anything wrong with Dick Cheney, you understand. I just have no desire to hear him sing “Rosalita.”


I recently watched “Jiro Dreams of Sushi,” a documentary about a man who has been obsessed with preparing perfect sushi from the time he was 9 years old. He is now 86. He's a charming eccentric, an oddball, a loonie---but his 10-seat restaurant has three stars from Michelin. We all know having three stars means it's a good restaurant, but it actually has a more specific meaning, according to the Michelin folks. Three stars reflects their judgment that it is worth traveling to Japan for the sole purpose of eating in Jiro's restaurant.

Americans used to look to the British, with their bird-watchers and train-spotters and other assorted nuts, for the eccentric. Now, that country seems largely a nation of drunks, and the ones who are not puking in the gutter march in lockstep with the nanny-state fascist zeitgeist. There just don't seem to be many original ideas coming out of the UK these days. In terms of intellectual life, it appears to be just another piece of Europe, where all forms of creativity seem to have disappeared with the emergence of ABBA in 1974.

All our eccentrics are now Japanese.

For many years, the only Japanese people I knew were rather straight-laced corporate types from Sony and Toyota and other outposts of Japan Inc. Then, a few years ago, through my son, I became acquainted with a young woman named Naoko and the various members of her posse. Getting to know them has made me realize there is a silliness of unfathomable depth at the heart of Japanese culture, a silliness so profound that foreigners like me can be amused by it but can never fully understand it. And this has always been true, apparently. Even in the past, in more traditional Japan, though there was a great deal of pressure to conform, there was also an acceptance of, and even love for, the oddball.


Media F/X, Inc., our family corporation, just got a notice from the city of Philadelphia about a change in the rate for the Wage Tax, which is deducted from the pay of all employees who either live in Philly or work in Philly. For wages paid after June 30, 2013, the rate has been slashed from 3.928 % to 3.924%. For every $1000 our corporation pays Sandy, I used to send the city $39.28, but now I need send them only $39.24. In other words, we save four cents on every thousand bucks. By the time we get around to paying her $100,000 (and it will take a while), we will be saving $4.00.

I may be exaggerating slightly, but it seems to me that every tax collected by Philadelphia goes up every year. The real estate taxes certainly do, and there are twenty other levies---on sales, on parking, on business profits, on business income, on drinks sold in bars, on real estate transfers, hotel rooms, valet parking, amusements, billboards and car rentals---which, if they are not jacked up in a particular year, certainly never go down. Except for the wage tax. Every year it is cut by a few thousandths of a percentage point. This happens so that every mayor can claim he cut taxes, claim he's “business-friendly,” claim he's doing everything he possibly can to attract new jobs to our unemployed town.

In a general way, everybody likes tax cuts, but this is silly. Any change in tax rates or tax rules carries “compliance costs,” meaning that somebody has to spend time calculating the taxes, paying them, changing the software that cranks out the paychecks, paying the fines, dealing with the enforcement actions that happen when you pay the wrong amount, and so on. Lowering the Philadelphia wage tax by 4 cents per thousand dollars of wages costs the citizens of this fair city far more than Philly businesses and employees can ever save from the rate reduction. It is a testament to the dysfunctional governance in our city that even a tax cut winds up costing us money.


For years, I thought the misuse of the word “refute” was confined to a single headline-writer at the Philadelphia Daily News because headlines in the Daily News were the only place I witnessed this particular outrage. I would read “Clinton Refutes Claim of Affair with Lewinski,” or “Bonds Refutes Steroid Use,” or “NJ Troopers Refute Racial Profiling of Drivers,” but then the articles themselves would correctly inform me that Clinton and Bonds and the troopers had simply “denied” the charges against them.

Refute” has an entirely different meaning. To refute a proposition is to prove it false with evidence, logic, mathematics, or whatever else is required. The statement “2 + 2 = 5” can be refuted. The claim that Bill Clinton had an affair with Monica Lewinski could theoretically be refuted, but it would require mountains of documentary and other proof they had never been in the same room together or spoken on the phone to each other. Also, in the process of refuting the claim, Bill's denial would have no evidentiary value at all. “Refute” and “deny” have two entirely different meanings.

Anyway, I assumed the DN headline-writer was just one more indication that America's journalism schools are now simply academies designed to implant leftist beliefs and no longer teach any of the tools a kid needs to commit actual journalism. But it seemed to be a local outbreak of idiocy and was not, apparently, contagious.

Then I started seeing it in other places. I now see it regularly in newspapers, internet articles and blogs. Today, I saw it in a FoxNews.com piece entitled “GAO opens investigation into Planned Parenthood's use of taxpayer money.” The organization had been accused of fraud in billing a state health program. The article then continued:

“However, when finalizing the settlement, which included state and federal recovery money, Planned Parenthood strongly refuted claims it has frequently over-billed the system.” (Emphasis added.)

Obviously, PP didn't refute the claims, they merely denied them. If they had refuted them, the article would not have been written. “Strongly refuted” is a particularly annoying misuse, so much so that I suspect FoxNews.com did it on purpose just to drive me crazy. “Refute” is an absolute. Something is either refuted or it ain't. The verb will not take a comparative like “strongly.”

So goodbye, refute. You were a good word. Now I guess I'm stuck with “disprove” since “refute” can be taken for a mere denial. Still, it won't be the same. “Refute” is something we first encounter in high school geometry, but it goes much deeper than that. The idea of refutation is as old as logical thinking. “Refute” is something Aristotle did. ”Refute” is something that happens in the Talmud after a few thousand rabbis natter at each other for five hundred years. When you've refuted something you can shout “Aha!” and slam your scabbard on the banquet table. Sometimes women swoon. “Disprove” just doesn't capture it.


We have all heard of the “six flags over Texas,” if only because of the amusement park. It's a trivia question: what are the six flags that have flown over Texas? (These are all flags of sovereign governments; the current state flag of Texas doesn't count.) While looking up something else, I recently learned that Laredo, Texas had one more. There have been seven flags over Laredo.

In 1840, when Santa Anna was busy enforcing his dictatorial rule over what had formerly been the Republic of Mexico, a secessionist movement arose among Mexican patriots calling themselves the Republic of the Rio Grande. It lasted for about ten months, but it lasted long enough to design a flag, which flew over Laredo, its capital city.


Wednesday, July 24, 2013


Today, the little sicko Anthony Weiner admitted that he continued sending pictures of his junk to internet girlfriends long after he resigned from the House and long after he and his wife put on their media show about his repentance and their healing and so on.  Huma Abedin, his wife (and Hillary Clinton's closest advisor), was by his side at the press conference assuring America she was still standing by her man.

Many women, I think, witnessed Huma's performance with pity or disdain, asking "How can she stay with that beast?"  That was pretty much the reaction of my wife and my sister, for example.

If Huma Abedin really is a deep-cover spy for the Muslim Brotherhood, however, sticking with Anthony is the only sensible play.  If the marriage is merely part of her cover, why abandon him until it is absolutely clear his political career is over?  Weiner may still be elected Mayor of NYC; in fact, he probably will be.  It seems, for some reason, that Mr. Weiner could stagger down Broadway gibbering like a chimpanzee and brandishing his privates at passersby without eliciting the least measure of disapprobation from the voting public.  Such is the level of sophistication in the post-modern Big Apple!

So why dump him now?  Sticking with the Weiner not only gives the Brotherhood a path to influencing the mayor of America's biggest city, it also tends to cement Huma's sisterly ties to Hillary, who famously stuck by her own horndog of a hubby.  For Huma to leave Anthony now would be a silent rebuke to Hillary Clinton when Huma's path to Chief of Staff in the Hillary Administration seems closer than ever.  If Huma is a spy, it would be foolish for her to leave Weiner now.

Huma Abedin's actions today in supporting her husband only provide further evidence in support of the conspiracy theories that have followed her since she first appeared in 1996 with seemingly unlimited financial resources and a foggy personal history involving Islamist Saudi activists.