Monday, January 27, 2014


Those of you who follow this blog religiously (i.e., nobody) will have noticed that I began picking NFL playoff games in the 2010-2011 season, which means I have picked three Superbowls prior to this one. In 2011, I took the Steelers over Green Bay. Then in 2012, I chose the Patriots over the NY Giants. Last year, I took the 49ers minus the points and then watched the Ravens (almost) romp. I'm 0 for 3. Then there was the 2012 presidential election. I liked Romney in that one. How did he do?

This year, I'm taking Denver minus the 2 ½ points. A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of my little mind, and since I still believe an ability to throw the ball down the field is a prerequisite for success in the NFL playoffs, I have to pin my hopes on Peyton Manning. Denver's adjusted yards/pass number is 7.3, best in the league. Seattle's is 6.6.

Defensively, Seattle gives up an amazing (adjusted) 2.6 yards/pass, while Denver's number is a merely decent 5.2 yards/pass. Seattle led the league in interceptions with 28. Seattle gave up a league-best 231 points (only Carolina and San Fran joined them in the under-300 category). They truly have the best defense in the league.

On the other hand, Denver's accomplishments on offense were even more astonishing. Denver scored 606 points, which no team had ever done, and the second-highest number in scoring offense was Chicago's, with 445. Put another way, the Broncos scored 37.9 pts/gm, while the second-best offense in the league scored 27.5/gm.

This game, unlike many Superbowls, may very well be decided by the officials. Seattle's pass defense is not especially subtle or nuanced. It is simply brutal. Receivers coming off the Denver line will be pushed, grabbed, and knocked down. That's how the Seattle defense plays and it's how they have been allowed to play. It is not much of an exaggeration to observe that a flag might be thrown on the Seattle defense on every Denver pass play. Just ask Jim Harbaugh in San Francisco what he thinks of the way the officials have treated the Seattle pass defenders.

The referees will set the tone for this game in the first quarter. Certainly, they won't flag everything the Seahawks do; at this point in the season, after the Seahawks have been allowed to cheat all season, it would unfair to take their “game” away from them completely. On the other hand, what Denver has accomplished on offense this year deserves a certain amount of respect as well, and I would hope the zebras will not allow the secondary simply to flatten Denver receivers every time Peyton steps back to pass.


Sunday, January 26, 2014


In a recent article, Mark Steyn describes contemporary Japan as a sort-of dystopian theme park characterized by an “earnest childlike wackiness, all karaoke machines and manga cartoons and nuttily sadistic game shows.” The demographic meltdown in Japan has spawned a number of recent articles, all attempting, more-or-less unsuccessfully, to explain what has happened, why Japanese culture is dying, and what the island will look like in 2040, 2060 or 2100. I guess this is one more of those articles.

The arithmetic is inexorable. The fertility rate currently stands at about 1.39 babies per woman, a level from which no society has ever managed to recover. Since 2006, there have been more deaths than births in Japan. In 2012 there were 212,000 fewer people than there were at the end of 2011. It may be hard to see in the cities, but rural areas are depopulating rapidly. Small towns are empty, farmhouses are abandoned, and wildlife has taken over areas that once were developed.

Plummeting birthrates have also created a “gray” society, where there are more adult diapers sold than baby diapers. By 2040, the median age throughout the country will be 55 years. (The median age in the retirement community of Palm Springs, California is 52.) The collapse of Japanese society will likely occur long before that, however. Any young person capable of leaving Japan will do so rather than wait around for the nation to become a nursing home.

Europe does not face the same spectre of depopulation that Japan does, of course, because there are people in France and Belgium and Sweden and Italy who still have babies. They are the religious ones. They are the Muslims. Sweden in forty years will still have people in it, they just won't be blond and Lutheran; they will have dark hair and they will worship in mosques. The difference is immigration. Japan has none to speak of, so it is slowly emptying. The cities remain full (and the subways), and the rents are high. But the countryside is gradually returning to nature. Where once there were farms, now there are forests, and brush, and bears.

Japan is different in other ways as well. Italians are not reproducing either, but in Italy there is no sekkusa shinai shokogun, or “celibacy syndrome.” Italians (and Swedes and Spaniards and Greeks) still want to have sex. Young Japanese, however, do not. No, really. They're mostly uninterested in sex, dating, relationships, and everything connected with them. Really.

In Japan, of those under thirty years old, 30% have never dated. And of those unmarried people in the 18 – 34 demographic, 61% of men and 49% of women are not currently in any sort of romantic relationship. Even among couples of child-bearing age, 40% of marriages are categorized as “sexless” by the Japan Family Planning Association, meaning that such couples “rarely or never” have sex.

Why is this happening? Well, while Japan is racing toward extinction, French and Italians and Norwegians also are in a death spiral from lower-than-replacement-level fertility, and they will get there quick enough. (Trivia question: What is the most popular name for a boy baby in Belgium? Answer: Muhammad.) And the reason, wherever this is happening, appears to be the same. The churches are empty. Atheists do not reproduce much. And who can blame them? Without a transcendent meaning to life, what's the point?

When pollsters ask the Japanese about God, 70 – 80% of them say they do not believe in God or any religion. This is an extraordinary number, among the highest in the world, and it probably explains why the Japanese face the worst, and most rapid, demographic meltdown. There remains a tradition of Shinto and Buddhist ritual observance for funerals and weddings and the honoring of ancestors, but these are no longer religious practices, and God is not involved.

Here's a theory on the death of Japan: it's our fault.

Until, and during, World War II, the religion of almost everyone in Japan was something we now call State Shinto, under which the Emperor was a divine figure. Following the allied victory, emperor-worship was abolished. It became a crime. Religious observance in Japan declined rapidly, and apart from a very small number of Jews and Christians and Hindus, belief in the divine largely disappeared. And when the divine disappears, babies eventually stop getting born.

(The foregoing is an absurdly oversimplified description of Shinto and the kami, or “divine,” status of the Emperor, of course, but the history is true.)

There is no surer way to destroy a people than to destroy their belief in God, and that is what the U.S. and Douglas MacArthur did to the Japanese. The militaristic character of Japanese culture and religion certainly had a lot to do with starting the war in the Pacific, and we cannot blame MacArthur for crushing the institutional worship of the Emperor after that horrible, bloody conflict, but a more enlightened conqueror might have seen the wisdom in mobilizing a post-war army of Christian missionaries to replace the beliefs that were being banned. If Japanese people were Christians today, they would be in churches, they would be having babies, and they would still be here fifty years from now.


Thursday, January 23, 2014


In all the political talk about immigration and what is to be done with the 12 million or 15 million or 25 million illegals, it is assumed by both sides in the debate that the vast majority are caught in some twilight zone and yearn for a “path to citizenship,” or some legal way “out of the shadows.”

Undoubtedly there are such people, but I suspect that category of immigrant is much smaller than we are led to believe. I don't personally know any immigrants like that, but I do know some members of a group that is almost never discussed---the sojourners. These are Mexicans who work here, send money back to wives and mothers and other family, and have no intention or desire to become Americans. Because the border is so difficult and dangerous to cross, they remain here, working for years or decades, but they fully intend to go home someday to the family they have supported and the houses their money has built. The ones I know carry photographs of their families and of their homes. And some of these homes can only be described as mansions. “A hundred dollars here,” one of them said, “is a thousand there.”

The lucky ones work entirely for cash, but many are forced to use a fake social security number so that at least some of their earnings get taxed. It's the cost of doing business.

Much of the immigration debate is fueled by political forces that do not necessarily wish to address the reality of the situation. The reality includes a lot of sojourners, but their existence doesn't fit anyone's vision or anyone's political agenda, so they are never discussed.


Monday, January 20, 2014


The legalization of marijuana in Colorado and (soon) in Washington state, represents a tipping point. Like gay marriage, legal weed is now inevitable. Maybe we will have dope states and non-dope states for some years to come, but the culture has changed. This political battle is over.

What is interesting about this, politically, is who won. It is the first major Libertarian victory in American history. Most of the electoral juice came from the Left, of course, but the legalization could not have occurred without the Libertarians and the Libertarian wing of the Republican party.

The Left would never have done this alone. They have historically been behind the most draconian drug laws in America because, first of all, the War on Drugs was just the sort of big government program leftists love, and had the added benefit of allowing Democrats to appear tough on crime. The largest beneficiaries politically and financially have always been blue state Democrats like Rep. Charlie Rangel of New York City because the Drug War was a steady source of federal money. All the big Democratic cities with major drug problems lined up at the trough as well.

One ironic aspect of legalization is that it appears to be, at least in part, a reaction against the nanny state. Those of us who have grown weary of the constant drumbeat against potato chips and second-hand smoke and trans fats and sweet drinks and wheat and beef welcome this kind of rearguard action as a blow for freedom, regardless of our fondness or lack thereof for weed itself. And it's a major blow. All the other mini-fascist incursions of the punitive Left will now be much more difficult to justify. If I can legally smoke a joint in the park, what self-respecting policeman is going to write me up for sucking down a 2-liter Pepsi?

Do not be surprised if the next states to legalize dope are those with traditions of fierce independence and a distrust of government. These will be mostly western and southern states, rather than states dominated politically by leftist elites in big Democratic cities. Utah will legalize weed long before Illinois does. Texans will toke up before Massachusetts.


Friday, January 17, 2014

2014 NFL PLAYOFFS---Conference Championships

New England @ Denver (-5 ½)

The Patriots-Broncos tilt on November 24 was one of the more entertaining games of the year. Denver went up 17 – 0 in the first quarter, which featured a 60-yard fumble return, and entered the second half ahead 24 – 0. That's right. The Broncos were winning that game 24 – 0 before they lost in OT, 34 – 31.

As I mentioned last week, teams that can throw the ball down the field present a problem for Denver, and one thing you have to give the Patriots credit for is that they are a team (with or without gangster-killers), who can throw the ball down the field. Denver's loss of cornerback Chris Harris to a knee injury does not help the Bronco pass defense, which is not much better than mud and sticks and twigs to begin with. Even Gisele Bundchen understands the significance of Harris' departure.

The Broncos win the yards/pass contest against the Broncos by a 7.3 to 5.6 score. They (slightly) lose the defensive yards/pass battle by 5.3 to 5.1. They have been a much better team over the course of the season, they still are, and they probably squeak by in Denver. Considering Harris, however, and considering the history of the Brady – Manning wars, you CANNOT take Denver and lay these points.

If nothing else impresses you, consider this. Brady is 18 - 7 in playoff games. Peyton is 10 – 11.

Take the points. I still make Peyton a very slight favorite to win the game, but a Patriot victory would not be a surprise.

San Francisco @ Seattle (-3 ½)

These two met twice in 2013, with the Seahawks crushing the 49ers 29 – 3 on September 15 and San Fran winning 19 – 17 on December 8 on a field goal with 0:26 on the clock. Seattle wins the yard/pass battle 6.6 to 6.2 as well as the defensive yards/pass contest 3.9 to 4.5.

In other news, Seattle has given up fewer points this year than any other team. Also, before I looked at the numbers, I assumed San Fran had had a better second half of the season than Seattle. In fact, both teams went 6 – 2 over the last eight. Seattle outscored their opponents by 106 points over that stretch, while the 49ers outscored theirs by 61. And did I mention that the Seahawks have the best pass defense in the league?

It's not that San Fran is weak or has a lot of warts and nicks and cuts. San Francisco belongs here, in the Conference Championship. But Seattle is superior on both sides of the ball, especially in Seattle. I'm betting the Seahawks, minus the points.

A Note on the Games So Far

It is natural in the playoffs for players to get excited, to feel the pressure, to dread getting beaten, and that usually means there will be a bit more holding on the line of scrimmage. In addition, as receivers invade the defensive secondary, there may be more frequent collisions, and some hard feelings may result.

It is the job of the officials to maintain order in the game, and if that means throwing a few flags in the first quarter in order to set the proper tone, so be it. I'm disappointed because the refs have not done so. As they say in the broadcast booth, “The refs are letting them play today!”

In fact, the refs are not letting them play, they are letting them cheat. The game is less fun to watch when every receiver gets his jersey grabbed by a defensive player, defensive linemen routinely get tackled on their way to the QB, and nothing is called. (Or the occasional penalty flag is thrown, seemingly at random.) These are intentional violations of the rules. They are not accidental penalties, like jumping offside or colliding with a receiver when a pass is in the air. Holding a wide receiver's arm is always volitional. It's cheating, everyone knows it's cheating, and the only hope of the player who does it is that he will get away with it because the refs do not notice, or allow it to happen.

Cheating should not be allowed. There are just so many reasons to banish it. First, it rewards less-skilled players whose primary ability is their knowledge of how to cheat without being detected---this effectively punishes the best athletes by narrowing the gap between true superstars and those who are merely adequate. It also cheats the fans, like me, who just want to see the best athletes doing amazing athletic things. That's a big reason I watch football, and if the speed, and the moves, and the smarts of a great receiver can be thwarted by a defensive player who doesn't have the ability to cover him but is allowed to cheat---well, all football fans are losers. And finally, of course (you knew this was coming), there's the kids. Professional sports are supposed to be a meritocracy, and that's basically the lesson we want children to take from it: be the best, work hard, and you will succeed. The NFL is now presenting kids with an alternative path to success: figure out how to cheat and not get caught. We all know this alternate path is there, and it always has been, but the difference is that cheating is being legitimized. If that's how you need to win, well, just win, baby You can still be a hero, even if you cheat. Kids get cynical soon enough. We don't need to be teaching them there is no intrinsic value in honesty and sportsmanship.

All of which brings me to the San Francisco @ Carolina game and the embarrassing spectacle of wide receiver Anquan Boldin (SF) and safety Mike Mitchell (Caro), trying to figure out their respective gender identities on national TV in front of 30 million fans.

The entire first half of the game (and parts of the second) was dominated by these two jabbering at each other, bumping helmets, and delaying the game with a “qui-es-muy-macho” narcissistic psycho-drama that had nothing to do with the football game and everything to do with their own insecurities. Their behavior should not be confused with that of traditional, aggressive male athletes. Reggie White would get in your face if you tried to back him down, as would Lawrence Taylor, Brian Urlacher, Troy Polamalu, and thousands of others. Football is a violent sport and tough guys play it. The prancing, drag-queenish quality of Mitchell's and Boldin's pas-de-deux, however, was something else entirely.

It was embarrassing to watch. I am aware that Boldin and Mitchell are both young men and that young men are not always certain who they are and whether their primary sexual attraction is to boys or girls, BUT I DON'T CARE. I just wanted to watch a football game.

And again, the refs did nothing about it. Yes, there were a few flags thrown, at random moments, but that sort of intermittent reinforcement actually encourages players to cheat, act out their fantasies, and otherwise ruin the game. Both Mitchell and Boldin needed to be ejected from the game. Harsh justice, certainly, but that which gets tolerated (and rewarded) gets repeated, and the Mitchell/Boldin show should never be repeated.

BONUS---Scoring and Not Scoring

Over the last thirty years, the top scoring offense has made it to the Superbowl fifteen times. (That's almost half the time.) The best scoring defense has made it ten times. (You do the math.)

This year, Denver's top scoring offense (606 points) might wing up playing Seattle's league-leading defense (231 points allowed) in the Superbowl. The last time that happened was the 1990-1 season when the New York Giants (best D) beat the Buffalo Bills (best O) in the game that established Bill Parcells as a certified genius and Scott “Wide Right” Norwood as Buffalo's answer to Bill Buckner.

As luck would have it, this odd duck, statistically speaking, turned up the previous season when the 49ers (top-scoring) won the Superbowl against the Denver Broncos (stingiest defense).

The one other time this happened in the past thirty was in the 1984-5 season when the high-scoring Miami Dolphins fell to the league-best scoring defense of San Francisco.

You may be wondering whether any team has had both the highest-scoring offense and the stingiest defense, and in the past thirty years, there have been two teams to achieve this: the 1996-7 Green Bay Packers and the 1985-6 Chicago Bears. Both won the Superbowl in blowouts. The New England Patriots were, in each case, the victims.


Friday, January 10, 2014

2014 NFL PLAYOFFS---Round 2

New Orleans @ Seattle (-8)

Of course, it's hard to picture a Saints victory here. How would it happen? Does the entire Seattle starting secondary run into each other during warm-ups and suffer concussions before the game even starts? There is not much difference in the quality of these two offenses, but the Seahawks' defense gave up 14.5 points per game, lowest in the league. The Saints' defense was very good as well, but of the four NFC teams left, well, they're fourth.

This is the end for New Orleans. Their victory in Philly (by a hair) exposed some Eagle weaknesses but did not really make the case that the Saints are capable of going on the road and beating a genuine Superbowl contender like the Seahawks.

The Saints' worst loss of the year, 34 – 7, came in Seattle on December 2, and I don't think much has changed in either team since then. Drew Brees remains a superstar and he will score more than 7 points, but he won't score enough to win.

You have to like Seattle here, but do they cover? I offer no opinion.

San Francisco (-1) @ Carolina

This is the easiest pick of the week. Carolina's adjusted yards/pass is a full yard higher than San Fran's (7.2 vs. 6.2), and the Panther defense is also stronger. Carolina should be favored by a touchdown. Carolina should be favored even if the game were in San Francisco. Carolina beat San Francisco in San Francisco in Week 10, and though the final was 10 – 9, the Panthers dominated the game. Carolina has another advantage as well---they are not coached by Jim “I'm the dopey” Harbaugh, the guy who is largely responsible for San Francisco's loss in last year's Superbowl.

There are two reasons San Fran is favored.

The first is that Carolina has not been nearly as dominant in the second half of the season as they were in the first half. Though they went 7 – 1, and beat San Francisco, New England and New Orleans, most of the scores were close. They only outscored their opponents by 27 points in the last eight games, so that makes them suspect.

The second reason is that San Francisco has cable cars and sushi and Allen Ginsberg and Lawrence Ferlinghetti and a quarterback with tattoos all over him. They're cool and they have lots of gay friends and multiple piercings. Carolina, on the other hand, well, where is it anyway? Is Carolina a city or is it one or those generalized geographical NFL team areas like “New England” or “Arizona” or “The Middle East”? And if this so-called “Carolina” is not actually a city, what city do they play in, exactly? Memphis? Tuscaloosa? Hong Kong?

Cam Newton is now a real quarterback. Carolina wins outright.

Indianapolis @ New England (-7)

Is a retractable roof a dome? Is Indy a “dome team?” I ask because I was wondering about the last time a dome team came to New England in December or January and beat the Patriots. I'm still wondering. I looked back through the year 2000 and I couldn't find a loss like that. Maybe it never happened. Maybe it happened in 1987. In any event, I'm predicting it won't happen this year either.

New England's 12 – 4 record this year may represent one of the best coaching jobs Belichick has ever done. At times, it seemed that all his receivers were in prison or in the hospital or catching passes thrown by Peyton Manning, and yet he somehow managed to find guys Brady could throw the ball to. Even with a great record and a first-round bye in the playoffs, you would still have to describe this as a rough year for the Patriots.

But they're better than Indianapolis and Brady is better than Luck, especially in New England. The yds/pass numbers are about the same, New England's defense is a bit better, and then there's the home field. This doesn't look like a championship season for the Patriots but they will beat the Colts.

As for laying 7 points, I decline. The line is about right.

San Diego @ Denver (-9)

Denver is the best team in the tournament by far, but this is a tough match-up for them. Though the Broncos have ten blow-out wins (by 10 or more points) this season, they have appeared mortal against teams with star quarterbacks and good passing attacks. Brady beat them in New England, Andrew Luck beat them in Indiana, and Romo put up 48 against them (though Dallas lost). San Diego, with Phillip Rivers, beat them as well. In Week 15, the Chargers went to Denver and handed them their only home loss of the year by a score of 27 – 20. (Earlier, in Week 10, the Broncos had beaten the Chargers 28 – 20.) In terms of passing yards given up, Denver has the 29th best pass defense in the league. It is their one area of vulnerability.

The line here is nine points, the biggest spread of the weekend, and it should be. Denver leads SD in yds/pass by 7.3 to 6.9; the Broncos lead in defensive yds/pass as well (5.3 to 6.6). These represent the largest spread in any of the games this weekend. Manning can outscore anyone, and he will outscore Rivers. Denver remains the favorite to win the Superbowl.

But Rivers will score. The Chargers seem to get more dangerous each week, and their somewhat supernatural win over Cincinnati last Sunday must give one pause.

I'm taking these points.

BONUS---Blowout Wins

In any sport, a team's record in blowout victories is a good indicator of just who is good and who is not. While sports commentators seem obsessed with one-run baseball games or buzzer-beaters in basketball, these records have very little predictive value. Winning a baseball game by one run probably means you were lucky that day. A 12-3 victory, on the other hand (or lots of them), probably means you are better.

I refer to blowout wins a couple of times above, and I used a definition of 10 or more points. In the following table, I use 8 or more points simply because it yields more results.

2013 Regular Season Record in Blowout Wins (8 or more points)

Denver 11 – 0
New England 5 – 0
San Diego 5 – 2
Indianapolis 6 – 4

Seattle 8 – 0
San Francisco 9 – 2
Carolina 7 – 2
New Orleans 7 – 2